NWC Rural Impact Leadership Conference Webinar – Living in the Middle of Everywhere

Ben Winchester is a rural sociologist with the University of Minnesota- Extension. For the 2024 Rural Impact Leadership Conference, Winchester provided a pre-recorded workshop called “Rewriting the Rural Narrative,” which was available to online participants. On April 4, Winchester provided a free follow-up webinar to RILC attendees called “Living in the Middle of Everywhere.” An overview of the presentation, related resources and a recording of the webinar are provided below.

The notion that rural residents live “in the middle of nowhere” continues a negative narrative that is not based on the reality of community life. Modern life is complex as we live, work, shop and play in a wide region. At the same time, most of our planning is done at a city or county level. In “Living in the Middle of Everywhere” we will explore the implications for tourism, marketing, transportation planning, resident recruitment, housing, community development and the Church. One specific way of gaining a better understanding for this web of regional activity as it varies by age and interests is through an Asset-Based Community Development exercise that has some simple, but deep, learning outcomes.

Resources:

 

Watch the video below for updates on Northwest Conference ministry from Superintendent Kara Stromberg.

 

The energy and engagement from the 160 people that gathered in person for the third annual Rural Impact Leadership Conference (RILC) was evident throughout the day. In addition, 25 online attendees from 11 states joined the event, which took place March 16, 2024, at Alexandria Covenant Church in Alexandria, MN.

Worship was a blessing!

The conference opened and closed with music sets that bookended the day from a posture of worship! In the opening and closing sessions, Dr. Jeff Clark invited the audience to take a fresh look at the components involved in restoring a missional mindset and pathway forward for their church.

The practical insights and inputs from the day were timely!

Workshops that explored contextual applications and approaches to various ministry areas were scattered throughout the day. This included: “Daily Living as Witnesses,” “Leading Effective Change,” “Discipline That Connects with Your Child’s Heart,” “Building and Supporting a Volunteer Ministry Team,” “Asset Mapping of Congregations,” “Transforming Communities through Cross Cultural Friendships,” “Rewriting the Rural Narrative” and “Community Engagement Through Partnering with Community Leaders.”

In-person participants were also offered pop-up conversations that included: “Youth Ministry Issues in the Smaller Church,” “Faith Formation of Children,” and “How an Evangelistic Culture Change Can Happen for a Congregation.”

It was a full and fruitful day!

Exhibitors offered an array of resources for church ministries and mission. These included: Broken Strength, Child Evangelism Fellowship of MN, Connected Families, ECC Missional Vitality, EvangelismSHIFT USA, Growing Hope Globally, Helping Churches Thrive, Living Works, LunchBox, NextStep Resources, Oak Hills Christian College, Transform MN, Village Missions, WorkForce Hope, and Youth Ministry Consultants.

Alexandria Covenant Church was so welcoming!

We praise God for how He blessed and used this day in the nurture of rural churches. We look forward to the continued effect of the Rural Impact Leadership Conference, even as we anticipate RILC 2025 on March 15!

Watch the video below for updates on Northwest Conference ministry from Superintendent Kara Stromberg.

 

A  primary basis for all these webinars is the realization that ministry is always geographically, culturally, and locally contextual. Therefore, the rural church is a unique contextual ministry category with its own set of relationships and dynamics. So, in this webinar we unpack further how rural churches think and operate in order for us to lead the church more effectively in its mission.

To help inform this particular conversation, Dr. Jeff Clark, Director of the Rural Matters Institute at Wheaton College, joined us as our guest presenter. Some of the areas addressed within this conversation are: the distinctives within the rural church compared to the suburban church, insights on how a person raised in an urban or suburban setting can succeed in ministry within a rural setting, the required process to gain acceptance for a pastor by the church and its community, the importance of learning the relational interplay within rural communities and churches, and what are most asked questions from new pastors just starting in a rural church.

The webinar concludes with a time of questions and answers from the participants.

Welcome new Associate Superintendent, Scott Nelson! Watch this video to hear more from Scott and his heart for ministry in the Northwest Conference.

Superintendent Kara J. Stromberg’s 2023 Letter to Churches Gathering in Annual Meetings is now available for download.

Feel free to include this letter in your annual meeting booklets or provide a copy to your church family via a bulletin insert.

Leading missional change for kingdom impact is essential to fulfilling the purpose of the Church. In this webinar we explored this critical leadership task in a conversation with Dr. Rick Weinert, based on his new book, “Four Essentials: Leading Effective Change in a Rural Church Setting.”

As implied in the title, Weinert introduces four essentials for leading effective change. He then offers further detail into establishing clarity of direction and exegeting one’s congregation and community.

In the final section, the whole group engaged in shared reflections around the formation of spiritually/emotionally/relationally healthy leaders for congregational health and leadership effectiveness.

Download Webinar transcript with additional resources

 

The Northwest Conference is pleased to announce the appointment of the Rev. Scott Nelson as Associate Superintendent. The search team conducted an extensive search to discern the right candidate for this position.

“Scott is highly qualified and uniquely gifted for this role,” said Kara Stromberg, NWC Superintendent. “God has been preparing Scott to serve the Church in this way, and I could not be more excited to add him to the NWC team.”

Nelson has been the founding and Lead Pastor of Covenant Grove Church in Modesto, CA, for the last 14 years. Covenant Grove also planted a church in 2021. He has served for five years on the Pacific Southwest Conference and ECC church planting teams, helping with coaching, assessment and training. Nelson got his start in ministry as youth pastor at Plymouth Covenant Church in Plymouth, MN. Nelson attended seminary at North Park and Bethel and received his doctorate from Fuller Seminary. He recently published a book called “Supply Lines,” about the key support planters and pastors need to flourish in ministry.

Nelson brings a deep love for Christ’s Church, a heart for evangelism and discipleship, is a great encourager and practices what he preaches. A high capacity leader, he is well connected throughout the Covenant and eager and willing to serve the Northwest Conference.

This position will work closely with Superintendent Kara Stromberg and the rest of the staff. The Associate Superintendent will focus on re-engaging with church planting, as well as leadership development initiatives, assisting churches with pastoral transitions, and support and resourcing of pastors and churches.

“I am humbled and honored to be returning to the NWC and joining the Conference team,” Nelson said. “I am excited to serve the pastors and churches of the NWC as we move the mission of God forward together.”

Scott and his wife Hannah have been married for 24 years and have five wonderful children, Ben (21), Ruth (19), Emma (18), Janie (16) and Hope (12).

Please join us in giving Scott and family a warm welcome to the Northwest Conference. We look forward to opportunities for Scott to engage with leaders and churches in coming months. Scott begins the role on Jan. 1, 2024. Congratulations, Scott!

MUUUCE—the Most Ultimate, Unbelievable, Urban Camping Experience—celebrated its 37th anniversary Aug. 10-12, with 402 middle school students and leaders from 22 Northwest Conference churches.

MUUUCE began in 1986 when the youth pastors at Faith Covenant Church in Burnsville, MN, created an event to reach middle schoolers. It quickly grew to serve all of the churches in the Northwest Conference. Faith Covenant hosted it until 2011. Crossroads Church in Woodbury, MN, then hosted until 2022. Buffalo Covenant Church in Buffalo, MN, became the host church for the first time this year.

The MUUUCE fun was spread out over three days—starting with a massive MUUUCE Blitz Thursday night that included nine giant inflatables, a field full of games like 9 Square in the Air and Gaga ball, indoor arts and crafts, and ice cream from a local ice creamery.

Friday’s excursion was the annual trip to Valley Fair, where after a great day in the park, as they were loading the busses to go home, a large hailstorm missed the group by a few miles. Friday night after worship was another party with something for everyone—a movie in the sanctuary, Capture the Flag under the lights, and a huge game show in the Youth Room. Those who wanted a quieter experience could do crafts like making buttons and bracelets or hanging out at the fire pit with guitars and s’mores.

The worship sessions started with games to get the group connected and energized. Then the youth worship team from Crossroads Church did a fantastic job of pivoting the energy in the room toward worship.

One youth leader observed, “It was really cool to quietly witness my students’ comfort level with large group contemporary youth worship grow as the weekend went on. It started with clapping along/following along with some actions that went along with certain songs. It turned into tentative opened palms, then bolder opened hands, and by the end of the weekend some students had their arms fully raised in praise to God!”

Speakers Craig and Molly Sanborn fleshed out the theme of “Extraordinary” (based on John 10:10) for this rapt audience of 6-9th graders. Craig was formerly the high school pastor at Plymouth Covenant Church in Plymouth, MN, and Molly is a frequent speaker at youth conferences, where she’s known as the Cheese Ball Chick. Together, they travel all over the country, speaking to students and adults.

Their heart for middle schoolers was evident as their ministry at MUUUCE continued off-stage. They talked with long lines of students after the worship sessions and again while they hung out with them at Valley Fair. Their speaking created some memorable moments of life change.

A youth pastor captured it well: “One of our boys in the Friday night small group said, ‘It felt like the Holy Spirit was present and moving.’ … We had a boy and a girl accept Christ for the first time that night.”

MUUUCE couldn’t happen without over 150 Buffalo Covenant Church volunteers who worked long hours doing everything from serving 1,200 hot dogs, popping popcorn, and manning the inflatables at the Blitz, to arriving at 6 a.m. to make 15 bags of sausage and 400 eggs, cutting up dozens of muffins and bagels, cleaning bathrooms, or serving all night in security shifts to provide a safe place for students and leaders to sleep.

The MUUUCE 2023 planning team comprised pastors and youth pastors from several churches and the staff of Buffalo Covenant Church. The group met several times in the months leading up to MUUUCE to determine how to create an atmosphere that contained elements of fun, surprise and worship. The team was made up of James Brown (Real Life Church, Waseca, MN), Rocky Hovda (First Covenant Church, Willmar, MN), Zach Klein (Community Covenant Church, Upsala, MN), Christian Krohg (Prairie Hills Covenant Church, Sioux Falls, SD), Kara Larson (Buffalo Covenant Church, Buffalo, MN), Taavi Larson (Buffalo), Dave Macalena (Buffalo), Darren Olson (Buffalo), Kelly Totushek (Buffalo), Karina Winkleman (Roseville Covenant Church, Roseville, MN), Brian Zahasky (Hope Covenant Church, St. Cloud, MN) and the NWC staff.

One youth worker summed the event up well: “MUUUCE is my favorite event that is put on each year. I hope we can keep it going strong. These students are being impacted for the kingdom through everything we do at this event!”

Embarking on Adventures in Leadership is not just about paddling through serene waters and exploring the beautiful Boundary Waters Canoe Area—it is an adventure that shapes teenagers into servant leaders.

Eleven students from all over the Northwest Conference learned to navigate through big waves and rough portages. They discovered the essence of servant leadership, teamwork, communication and resilience. The journey is not only about conquering nature’s forces—it’s also about conquering their inner fears and doubts.

 

One student put it this way, “It was overall an amazing experience! It truly pushed me out of my comfort zone, helped me to lean on Jesus when the portages got rough. [It] also taught me patience, love and control.”

Experiential learning is the framework of AIL, and it’s a powerful tool for developing leadership skills. Students develop problem-solving skills by facing real-life challenges, making real-time decisions and learning to think strategically.

Through AIL, students gain a deeper understanding of their strengths and weaknesses, allowing them to grow and improve as leaders. They understand that each team member brings unique strengths and perspectives, and the leader must leverage these strengths effectively. The lessons learned during AIL stay with students long after the adventure ends, shaping their approach to leadership in all aspects of their lives.

In the words of one of the participants, “It definitely was not what I was expecting, but [it] built my character and helped me get a better perspective.”

AIL is designed to build Christ-based confidence and resilience and allow students to lead in an emotionally encouraging but physically challenging environment.

One participant said, “It was one of the most intense, enjoyable experiences of my life so far.”

Besides learning crucial wilderness skills, participants also spent time in creative learning sessions, putting servant leadership into action, and in worship and reflection. Students are encouraged on their journey of faith, self-discovery and leadership development. Through facing challenges, working as a team and honing their communication and decision-making skills, they gain invaluable experiences that will shape their future as leaders, whether at their home church, at school or in the community.

The AIL team was made up of Brian Zahasky (Hope Covenant, St. Cloud), Shawn Brown (Oxboro Free Church), Dave Cairns (Covenant Pines Ministries), and Ginny Olson (Northwest Conference), along with two trained guides from Adventurous Christians—Trisha and Gus—who are AIL alumni. The Adventurous Christians base team: Matt, Lina and Dana (also an AIL alumni), played critical roles in the success of Adventures in Leadership.

Information for AIL 2024 will be available in January.

Building off Part 1, in this webinar we explore additional contextual factors that impact our understanding of leadership in the rural church. We give primary attention to unpacking the growing phenomena identified as reverse migration—that being growing numbers of people moving from urban/metropolitan settings now into the countryside. With this migration we observe a newer cross-cultural intersection for rural communities to navigate—the intersection or collision of the rural mindset with the urban (metropolitan) mindset. It’s within these relational encounters that dynamics like contrasting cultural assumptions, lifestyle distinctives, and varied perspectives on resources, decision-making and leadership surface and must be led through well.

In addition to this featured area of the webinar, participants identified and discussed other contextual factors like the pace of change and the related levels of grief and loss experienced within communities/congregations; competing political and sociocultural voices/movements outside and within the church; dramatic shifts to the scope and scale of farming and other land-based enterprises; and generational differences also being critical areas for leadership awareness and approach.

The following links provide access to the supporting presentation and other resources provided:

With a theme of “Rooted in Hope” the 2023 Northwest Conference Annual Meeting took place at Bemidji Covenant Church in Bemidji, MN, April 28-29. The Ministerial Annual Meeting also took place in Bemidji from April 27-28.

“This ministry that we are all part of, the ministry of your church, is so much bigger and broader than any of our individual ministries on its own. I hope you are encouraged as we celebrate the Lord’s work among us,” Superintendent Kara Stromberg shared. “This is a celebration of God’s work in our midst.”

Throughout the weekend, pastors, delegates and attendees heard video and spoken testimony on the topic of hope from a variety of ministry leaders.

Friday Business Session

The Northwest Conference Annual Meeting opened with the business session on Friday afternoon.

“We pray that your time here in Bemidji will be filled with special blessings,” said Todd Ertsgaard, Lead Pastor of Bemidji Covenant Church, during a host church greeting.

Marti Burger, ECC Director of Vocational and Spiritual Development – Develop Leaders, brought greetings from the Evangelical Covenant Church.

“Coming to the Northwest Conference is coming home. This is the place where I came to faith, and received my call to ministry. I have the privilege of walking beside other leaders to be able to celebrate and thank you for our partnership,” she shared. “God is doing amazing things in your church. We’ve walked through really tough times, but you’ve stayed healthy and confident, and leaned on the Spirit as you have walked alongside others. Thank you for that partnership.”

During her report, Superintendent Kara Stromberg praised delegates, attendees and churches for remaining committed to a shared purpose.

“I’m here to remind us that church matters. Your individual churches matter and our collective, shared ministry as part of the NWC and ECC matters,” Stromberg said. “It warms my heart to see this room full of faithful people who are serving churches—pastors and lay leaders who are working together in Christ’s mission.”

Stromberg shared that the NWC Ministry Priorities remain unchanged and are focused on Church Planting, Congregational Vitality and Children, Youth & Family ministry. She explained that while Church Planting remains a high priority, the implementation of an interim Church Planting leadership team is intended to help strengthen new and existing church plants following a difficult few years of ministry.

Stromberg expressed excitement about leaning into “developing our multi-ethnic mosaic, particularly in leadership development so we can represent the fullness of God’s kingdom here on earth,” and providing new training and resources for lay leaders serving as church or board chairpersons, and finance teams.

In place of individual reports, this year’s meeting featured a NWC Ministry Staff Panel where Conference staff shared what brings them hope in their areas of ministry oversight throughout the last year.

Hollis Kim, Director of Pastoral Care & Development, highlighted a lunch meeting he participated in with a cohort group of young leaders in their first lead pastor call that also included a retired pastor and another pastor that completed the cohort a few years earlier.

“That gives me great hope because these are all folks who are hard at work, and the work is hard,” Kim said. “It’s wonderfully hope-bringing to hear folks say, ‘Let’s continue to be in it together.’”

Jeff Olson, Church Planting Associate, shared, “In the last several years I’ve seen a lot of tenacity and hustle out of planters, and that’s given me a lot of hope.”

He shared examples of planting pastors trying different ministry opportunities, adjusting to facility changes, and experimenting with different models to invite people to experience faith.

Sara Sosa, Director of Children & Family Ministry, said the NWC is a leader among Conferences in the Evangelical Covenant Church.

“A lot of innovation comes out of the people that serve in leadership positions at the local church level in our Conference,” Sosa said.

She highlighted LunchBox (lunchbox.group), a new initiative created within the NWC to provide resources, training opportunities, best practices and tools to those serving in ministry to children and families across the denomination.

Ginny Olson, Director of Youth Ministry, shared startling statistics about high levels of reported adolescent trauma, stress and depression in recent years.

“What gives me hope in the midst of this is looking at this last year, with two big events that we did—UNITE North and MUUUCE—I watched adult leaders step into the gap and communicate to these kid that they are loved and there is a God who loves them,” Ginny Olson said.

Jon Kramka, Director of Congregational Vitality, pointed to partnerships with Start and Strengthen Churches to train seasoned pastors to serve as coaches to younger pastors, and Oak Hills Christian College and other NWC pastors to provide contextual resources and training to rural and small town churches.

“God is the same yesterday, today and forever. We also know that the gospel still holds truth and power to transform individuals and communities,” Kramka said. “I also get hope when I think about the hard seasons that we’ve just come through, and I think about many of our pastors that continued to try to help one another determine how to pastor well—even in hard times—because what we do matters.”

Mauricio Dell’Arciprete, outgoing Director of Latino Ministry, shared the hope and joy he has found in witnessing the resilience of local pastors.

“Over the last year I saw the resilience of our pastors in doing difficult things,” he said. “I also saw the generosity from the ECC and NWC, but also pastor to pastor and church to church. The opportunity to be generous demonstrates that truly we can do more together than we can do alone.”

At the end of the Ministry Staff Panel, Jon Kramka was honored for 20 years leading the Adventures in Leadership youth program.

“At his core, he’s a coach and a teacher, a firm believer in equipping these next generations for godly leadership,” Stromberg shared. “He knows firsthand how formative the wilderness can be and embraces the fullness of that. Jon, we love you and we celebrate you. Thank you for your faithfulness in investing in this next generation of leaders over more than two decades.”

Following the afternoon sessions, delegates and attendees had the opportunity to attend continuing education workshops that included: “Your Mission, Your Community: The Six Critical Questions of Context,” Dr. Martin Giese, President of Oak Hills Christian College; “We Love Our Church! How Do We Cultivate Pastoral Fortitude and Fruitfulness as a Church Staff,” Marti Burger, ECC Director of Vocational and Spiritual Development – Develop Leaders; “Trauma Informed Youth Work,” Ash SanFilippo, Vice President of Strategic Expansion & Technology, TreeHouse.

Friday Worship Service

The Bemidji Covenant Church worship team led attendees in worship during the Friday evening worship service. Six Candidates for Ordination were also recognized and prayed for during the service.

A special offering taken during the service raised $1,400 to benefit the Bemidji Community Food Shelf.

The Rev. Colleen Nelson, Pastor of Bethlehem Covenant Church in Minneapolis, shared a message titled, “Rooted in God’s Presence.”

Nelson challenged attendees with the question: What do you pay steadfast attention to?

“The materials that we build with matter,” Nelson said. “There’s evidence in systems all around us that are reminders that we haven’t always built with the best materials.”

Nelson went on to say that Acts 2:42-47, the Scripture for the evening’s message, includes the raw materials that are meant to root us deeply in the presence of God.

“I do believe that we serve a God that is breaking into our world and cultivating a group of people that are responding to the very Spirit and presence of God,” she said. “And that’s what I hope for. That’s what I long for.”

Nelson pointed out that the church community in Acts 2 devoted themselves and were committed to being active disciples, believing that God is actively present in every moment of every day.

“They rearranged their lives accordingly, and these verses are the wild ride of what happened,” she said. “Isn’t it great?”

Saturday Business Session

Galen Nordin, Pastor of Lancaster Covenant Church in Lancaster, MN, offered a devotional reflection to start the morning session.

“Roots do matter. Foundation matters, and where our hope lies matters,” he shared.

Minnehaha Academy President Donna Harris shared a presentation from the life of the school that featured recent accomplishments and activities of MA students.

Harris highlighted a recent initiative by kindergarten students at Minnehaha Academy that created a phone line to spread joy and uplifting messages throughout the Twin Cities. By calling 612-728-7799, community members can hear a variety of messages of encouragement, Bible verses, a prayer, birthday greetings and even songs from these enthusiastic kindergartners. Each message is designed to uplift and spread kindness.

“Teachers and leaders are critical in the faith formation of our students,” Harris said. “Students are in need of relationships and we know we can foster those at our Christian schools. We strive to communicate to our students in word and deed, that they are known and loved.”

Minnehaha Academy continues to see continued growth in its enrollment, and will continue to pursue growth through its ongoing Strategic Plan approved in 2021.

“With God’s help, our students are growing and thriving, and their God-given potential is on display,” Harris said. “It’s just amazing how our students are impacting the world.”

During Saturday’s Business Session, delegates also approved a ballot that included the election of Nikki Kahoud (Rochester Covenant Church, Rochester, MN) to serve a 1-year term as NWC Executive Board Chairperson, Rev. Dave Hugare (Lakeview Covenant Church, Duluth, MN) and Mike Mrosko (Excelsior Covenant Church, Excelsior, MN) to 5-year terms on the NWC Executive Board, and electing Dave Cairns (Epiphany Covenant Church, Minneapolis), Milton Dodd (Plymouth Covenant Church, Plymouth, MN) and John Schroeder (Restoration Covenant Church, Lakeville, MN) to 3-year terms on the Minnehaha Academy Board of Trustees.

Delegates approved the NWC budget of $1,345,560, as well as the budget for Minnehaha Academy.

Bylaw amendments for both the NWC and MA were also approved.

On Saturday morning, attendees also heard reports from leaders of Camping Ministry in the NWC, Women Ministries of the NWC, Solid Rock School of Discipleship, Covenant Ability Network, National Covenant Properties, Covenant Trust Company and Covenant Benefits.

Attendees also had opportunity to learn about a variety of Conference and denominational ministries and organizations at display tables, and through one-on-one conversations throughout the weekend.

As the meeting was concluding, NWC Board Chair Jim Volling invited the delegates to come to Redeemer Covenant Church in Brooklyn Park, MN, for the 2024 NWC Annual Meeting Celebration next April 25-27.

Superintendent Stromberg then closed the meeting with a prayer of thanksgiving for those who have served in the ministry of the NWC as well as those who are newly elected to various positions.

While the winter winds and loose snow blew across the greater Minnesota landscape, 115 rural/small-town pastors, leaders and ministry students gathered for the second annual Rural Impact Leadership Conference (RILC) on March 18, 2023, at Alexandria Covenant Church in Alexandria, MN.

In addition, 35 virtual attendees from Minnesota, North Dakota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Florida, California, Washington, Saskatchewan and Alaska joined online.

“The entire day was great.”

The conference kicked off with a wonderful time of worship and an opening address by Dr. Glenn Daman entitled, “Finding Stability in a Changing World.” Taking from the first chapter of James, Daman built upon the foundational principle found in verses 17-18—that our stability in a changing world comes from the very nature of who God is.

God’s nature throughout time demonstrates that God’s character remains unchanging, God’s message does not change and God’s mission remains the same. Therefore, in a changing world—which he reminded everyone will only continue—the most important decision we make as the people of God is to affirm what we cannot change and build upon those things.

In many ways, Daman’s remarks set the stage for the remainder of the day. For embedded throughout the workshops, conversations, exhibiting resources and the closing session, the conference centered on the contextual application of the rural church in faithfully living out the mission and message of Jesus.

“Worship was amazing.”

Some specific areas regarding contextual application explored through the day’s workshops were: evangelism in a context where there are few strangers; equipping lay leaders for advancing the mission of the church; loving our neighbors who face mental health challenges, or who are culturally different from us; and how to effectively transfer faith to the next generations.

For those onsite, exhibitors offered an array of resources including: published materials on rural ministry; children, youth, and family ministry coaching, formation resources, and training opportunities; educational opportunities in the form of a “gap year’ discipleship program for students, along with a rural ministry certificate program; mental health supports and resources for local pastors and churches; and specialized ministries representing wilderness adventure experiences, global hunger partnerships, and pastoral transition services—all providing further ways to resource thriving churches.

“I appreciated the welcoming atmosphere.”

One other experience we must highlight is how on-site participants were recipients of the over-the-top hospitality ministry of our host church. This was stated best by one attender who said, “I was wowed by the dessert table at lunch today!”

The closing address was delivered by the Rev. Heidi Wiebe, in which she reminded everyone of the importance for the Church to pursue mission clarity within each season of ministry. She highlighted this for several reasons.

First, mission—our sense of shared purpose—creates hope and reminds us that God designed us to live for something bigger than ourselves. Second, with mission clarity comes a greater motivation and focus on our Kingdom call and impact. Third, mission engagement or participation also produces joy for those involved. This in turn fosters hope, a renewed excitement and a deeper commitment. It is a deep, sustaining kind of joy that we find enduring through all seasons.

And it is this same joy, embedded in the day’s experiences as well as rooted in a shared faith, that framed our closing worship, as well. At its conclusion, this was captured well by one who said, “This was a ‘good’ day!”

Here’s what a few other participants shared about their experience:

  • “I appreciated so much how applicable the content was to the rural context.”
  • “This was my first time, I thought it was great!”
  • “Today I learned about better ways to connect with my community.”
  • “The topics addressed throughout the day were so relevant.”
  • “I’m ready for more. How about two days?”

We praise God for how He blessed and used this day in the nurture of thriving rural churches. We look forward to the continued effect of the Rural Impact Leadership Conference even as we anticipate RILC 2024 on March 16!

The plenary sessions and workshops were recorded and are available for purchase here.

Note: all registered attenders will be given access to the recordings.

The clarion call of the Great Commission is simple: make disciples in Jesus’ name. Implementing a discipleship strategy, however, is mainly dependent on context.

I recently moved to a small town as a pastor whose vocation is discipleship. With me came my big-city discipleship experience and mindset. Discipleship and God’s call were no less urgent in my new, smaller community. Yet I was humbled rather quickly when I realized that what worked in one place did not have the same result in another.

I’m convinced that the discipleship principles that apply in any setting include biblically-grounded instruction and regular shared experiences of vulnerability together. Teaching people God’s Word and sharing life as God’s people are the key ingredients to obeying the Great Commission—no matter where ministry happens. As such, the Church and Bible-loving leadership are indispensable. So, shouldn’t they translate seamlessly from a suburban to a rural context?

In a suburban setting, getting people to “do life” together was more complex, but vulnerable sharing came readily. There are more people with less association in more significant population densities. Because they likely didn’t work and live in the same circles, the risk was lower to being vulnerable, while the challenge of the gathering was higher.

The reverse is true in rural settings. If you’ve lived in one, you know. Life together is everywhere because you know half the grocery store when you walk in. That means vulnerability comes with a greater risk because people work, play and live in your circle. Discipleship thrives at the crossroads of God’s Word and vulnerable communities.

Both suburban and rural settings are fertile ground for Great Commission work. To the suburban discipler, put effort into the gathering. Getting people together for discipleship will be your context’s most significant challenge. To the rural discipler, foster vulnerability by building trust. People are already gathering, so your challenge will be to encourage deep dialogue. God’s Word and our tenacity to keep it front and center must remain committed for both.

Dave Mergens is the Pastor of Adult Formation at Alexandria Covenant Church, host of the 2023 Rural Impact Leadership Conference. Dave’s passion for discipleship has been a mainstay value in his 20 years of vocational ministry. He’s an avid outdoorsman who enjoys quality time with his family and friends doing life in adventure settings.

This article was originally published by Transform Minnesota and is reused by permission.

As a farmer, Peter Haugen from Dawson Covenant Church in Dawson, MN, knows farming and faith go hand in hand.

He shared, “It has always been really humbling to have so many stories in the Bible linked to farming.” It’s the connection that has led him and others to support farmers in the developing world through Growing Hope Globally.

The Northwest Conference has had a long relationship with Growing Hope Globally (formerly Foods Resource Bank), as a missional way to engage in supporting the work of Covenant World Relief and Development (CWRD) and other organizations that are responding to hunger through agricultural development. This happens through Growing Projects, which are local community-based projects that work with farmers, churches and others in the community to raise financial resources, by leveraging a portion of a harvest or some other commodity. The financial resources then go to help farmers in the developing world grow their own food.

Duane and Peter Haugen started the Prairie Water Growing Project in 2014. Duane was a part of another Growing Project, but when Peter started farming with his dad, they wanted to do something more locally.

“Our Growing Project has changed and evolved greatly over the years,” Peter said, “It started with businesses contributing some money or resources to help cover costs on the acres that were being donated. Today, it is composed of individuals from the church and community that donate a portion of their proceeds to send overseas. It has ranged from a pastor raising goats, a church member with hives of honey bees, a young boy selling eggs, to farmers selling a few acres of crops from a field.”

They also find ways as a congregation to celebrate the work they do together.

“We gather each fall at the end of September to join in a meal at the church and have an update from the Overseas Projects we support,” Peter said. “This day also includes activities at a farm, like apple squeezing, a corn pit, a bale maze, and if it is possible, harvesting of some crops.”

Over the years their Growing Project has developed relationships with the programs they support. Covenant missionary Roy Danforth visited them and Dawson Covenant Church to share about the research and training farm in the Central African Republic that the Prairie Water Growing Project was supporting at the time. Peter was also able to visit the farm and see the work they were doing to equip people to grow nutritious food for themselves.

This last fall Philipine (Pini) Kidulah from West Pokot, Kenya, was able to visit his farm along with sharing her story with the congregation. Pini leads Jitokeze Wamama Wafrika, an organization that empowers women in agriculture and community development, which is supported by CWRD and Growing Hope Globally.

Growing Hope Globally is a Christian response to hunger that helps farmers in the United States support farmers in the developing world through agricultural development. Since it’s inception it has helped more than 2.1 million people move towards food security. CWRD is one of Growing Hope Globally’s several denominational partners that work together through a shared commitment of growing lasting solutions to hunger.

Peter says, “We like working with Growing Hope Globally because they do their homework on Overseas Programs tofund, and they do such a good job with updates and making connections. We aren’t just writing a check and wondering if the money is helping, we are investing resources and getting regular updates from the dividends of ourinvestment.”

When it comes to the idea of starting a Growing Project, Peter says, “Go for it! It doesn’t have to be this grand, showy thing. … Growing Hope Globally has a great support staff with resources to help share the story of what is being accomplished.”

If you would like to learn more about Growing Hope Globally and what it means to start a Growing Project visit www.GrowingHopeGlobally.org or contact their Regional Director Mark Swanson, who is also a Covenant Pastor, at mark@growinghopeglobally.org or (509) 494-9850.

In this Part 1 webinar we begin to look at some key rural contextual dynamics and related leadership principles for leading the rural church well. Because of a high relational value within smaller communities we explore the importance of trust, collaboration, facilitation, tenure, influencers, time, learning, etc. in establishing healthy leadership posture and effectiveness. In addition, we touched some on matters of decision making, social exposure and relational risks around conflict situations, conflict avoidance, closed systems and change.

 

Over the past two years, we’ve been blessed by many in the Northwest Conference who have shared an Encouraging Word video in our email Updates. Thank you to all who have contributed to this ministry of encouragement these past many months.

Today will be the last of our monthly Encouraging Words. While this Update item ends for now, let us continue to “…encourage one another and build one another up” (1 Thess. 5:1).

 

As a source of encouragement throughout this stressful time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff, as well as pastors and leaders from our churches and affiliated ministries, share a reflective thought and prayer each month. View the next installment from Dan Pearson, Pastor of United Covenant Church in Clear Lake, WI.

 

This webinar gives recognition to the fact that for rural congregations to thrive, the congregation—in partnership with lay leadership and the pastor—must share the work of the ministry. Therefore, churches need to develop effective ways to equip their people for doing the ministry.

This webinar highlights the importance of current leadership modeling a learning posture, insights on the mobilizing, training, and empowering of laity for ministry, along with generational considerations for effective leadership development.

“Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ.” – Ephesians 4:11-12

A few Resources for Life-Long Learning by Pastors

Thoughts on the recruitment, training and deployment of lay leaders in ministry- Giese

 

As a source of encouragement throughout this stressful time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff, as well as pastors and leaders from our churches and affiliated ministries, share a reflective thought and prayer each month. View the next installment from Doug Giese, Executive and Family Pastor at Bemidji Covenant Church in Bemidji, MN.

 

Superintendent Kara J. Stromberg’s 2022 Letter to Churches Gathering in Annual Meetings is now available for download.

Feel free to include this letter in your annual meeting booklets or provide a copy to your church family via a bulletin insert.

As a source of encouragement throughout this stressful time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff, as well as pastors and leaders from our churches and affiliated ministries, share a reflective thought and prayer each month. View the next installment from Mark Habluetzel, Chaplain to the airmen of the 319 RW, Grand Forks AFB, ND. Mark’s role is to care for airmen and advise leadership in all things related to religious and spiritual matters, including worship services, counseling, resiliency and religious accommodations.

 

Based on the experiences of the past several years, this webinar recognizes the need for discerning a “new normal” as “mission critical” for pastors/leaders and for congregations as a whole. So, in this webinar we look specifically at intentionally calibrating the real tensions of Being vs. Doing and of Competing Expectations—both personally and congregationally—as vital to the establishment of sustainable rhythms, ministry expectations and plans that foster greater missional health and momentum for the church.

Book references related to the Being vs Doing

Rural Webinar Notes- Sep 22- Dr. Weinert

Rural Webinar- Sep 22- summary reflections on expectations- Dr. Giese

 

As a source of encouragement throughout this stressful time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff, as well as pastors and leaders from our churches and affiliated ministries, share a reflective thought and prayer each month. View the next installment from Neil Vance, Director of Youth and Children’s Ministries at First Covenant Church in River Falls, WI.

 

After a two-year COVID hiatus, youth pastor Nathan Nelson said it well, “It feels so good to be back.”

From Aug. 4-6, 417 middle school students and leaders from 23 Northwest Conference churches gathered at Crossroads Church in Woodbury, MN. For three days they played, worshiped, laughed and learned about following Jesus.

The staff at Crossroads Church leads MUUUCE, and starts planning in the depths of winter to design an event that meets the needs of middle schoolers. Joey King, one of the youth pastors at Crossroads, said his vision for the event was for students to have “altar moments.”

That vision came to fruition when Eric Samuel Timm, who is both a speaker and an artist, presented the gospel in a way that immediately connected with the middle schoolers. He painted an umbrella and talked about how life may be hard, but you’re under the cover of God’s umbrella. He went on to challenge them to make a public declaration of their faith.

Over 100 middle schoolers said “yes” to Jesus for the first time, and over 200 recommitted their lives. One youth pastor said it was a holy moment watching the students stand in groups and lock arms as they prayed for each other.

The three days included a massive Welcome Party with inflatable games, food trucks, as well as trips to The Fun Lab and Valley Fair. The Silent Disco was a huge hit. Students danced, only able to hear the music through their headphones. Students rushed to the stage during worship designed with middle schoolers in mind.

The small group times were vital. One pastor said, “The conversations that came out of the small groups were the start of some new beginnings.”

MUUUCE wouldn’t happen without over 100 Crossroads volunteers who served long hours doing everything from chaperoning the Welcome Party to cleaning bathrooms and vacuuming confetti. Sandra Florin is the administrator who coordinates the details of MUUUCE along with Joey King and the whole Crossroads team. They work for months to create an affordable and memorable event for our Northwest Conference churches.

MUUUCE is one of the few events in a middle schooler’s life where the church designs an event specifically for them. An event where fun and Jesus go hand in hand, where their questions about faith and life are taken seriously, and where they can know they are deeply loved by God and their youth leaders.

As a source of encouragement throughout this stressful time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff, as well as pastors and leaders from our churches and affiliated ministries, share a reflective thought and prayer each month. View the next installment from Nathan Nelson, Youth Pastor at Mission Covenant Church in Poplar, WI. He has served in this calling since 2016 and is grateful to minister in his home church alongside his father and Senior Pastor Darrell Nelson. Nathan has been in youth ministry for nine years, and he and his wife Nicole have two children, Madelyn (2.5 years old) and Eli (4 months old). Nathan is also an avid outdoorsman, videographer and producer.

 

As a source of encouragement throughout this stressful time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff, as well as pastors and leaders from our churches and affiliated ministries, share a reflective thought and prayer each month. View the next installment from Ryan Starr, Pastor of Worship Arts at Lakeview Covenant Church in Duluth, MN. He loves spending free time outdoors skiing, hiking and biking with his wife Laura, their three kids and their dog. Ryan enjoys good coffee and honest conversation. After enjoying adventures in Mount Vernon, WA, Grand Rapids, MI, and Chandler, AZ, he is thankful that God has brought them to northern MN.

 

As a source of encouragement throughout this stressful time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff, as well as pastors and leaders from our churches and affiliated ministries, share a reflective thought and prayer each week. View the next installment from Mark Stromberg, NWC Superintendent.

Thank you to everyone who has contributed an Encouraging Word to our weekly updates over the past two years. They have brought fresh reminders of God’s constancy and grace to the wider Northwest Conference. Beginning in July, we’ll continue these on a once-a-month basis.

 

As a source of encouragement throughout this stressful time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff, as well as pastors and leaders from our churches and affiliated ministries, share a reflective thought and prayer each week. View the next installment from Jo Anne Taylor, Interim Pastor for the United Methodist Church in Willmar, MN. She is ordained to Word and Sacrament in the Evangelical Covenant Church and is certified as a Transitional/Intentional Interim Ministry Specialist. Jo Anne has previously served as Senior Pastor for First United Methodist Church in New Ulm, MN, and as Worship Pastor for Bethlehem Covenant Church in Minneapolis. She also taught music at Minnehaha Academy South Campus for 14 years. She is married to Bruce, and they have two grown sons.

 

As a source of encouragement throughout this stressful time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff, as well as pastors and leaders from our churches and affiliated ministries, share a reflective thought and prayer each week. View the next installment from Mike Brown, NWC Director of Church Planting.

 

In August 2017, a devastating gas explosion destroyed Minnehaha Academy’s upper school. Two lives were lost and many injured. In this moment of crisis, Minnehaha’s executive leadership team looked to the Lord and got to work.

At the 2022 Northwest Conference Annual Meeting, attendees heard a presentation titled “Trusting the Good Shepherd: God’s Leading Through the Valley” from a team of leaders from Minnehaha Academy, including Rev. Dr. Donna Harris, President, David Hoffner, Executive Director of Faith Formation, and Sara Jacobson, Executive Director of Institutional Advancement.

Learn practical, transferable leadership principles for your ministry setting, and hear testimony of God’s faithfulness and provision through difficult times to lead this institution toward a hopeful and inspired new future.

Download the Minnehaha Academy Presentation PowerPoint

 

As a source of encouragement throughout this stressful time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff, as well as pastors and leaders from our churches and affiliated ministries, share a reflective thought and prayer each week. View the next installment from Hollis Kim, NWC Director of Pastoral Care & Development.

 

The prolonged nature of the COVID-19 pandemic and the related social/cultural forces that emerged from it have been identified by many as “the Great Disruption.” Within this disruptive season came experiences of isolation, loss, dislocation, conflict, grief, change, disorientation and new opportunities to name a few.

In this webinar, we held open conversation on the direct impact all this has had on the composition and body life of the local church pre-COVID to now, along with discussion of key factors related to the renewing of our fellowships for increased missional impact.

Koinonia (Fellowship) as Framed in Scripture – Dr. Rick Weinert

 

As a source of encouragement throughout this stressful time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff, as well as pastors and leaders from our churches and affiliated ministries, share a reflective thought and prayer each week. View the next installment from Don Ruffenach, Director of Youth and Children at Salem Covenant Church in rural Pennock, MN. He has served in youth ministry as a volunteer or clergy for over 35 years. Don is married to Lisa with four adult children who are also active in volunteer and professional ministry.

 

The Presidential Nominating Committee (PNC) for the ECC has put forward a nomination for the 11th President of the Covenant, the Rev. Tammy Swanson-Draheim. Currently, Tammy serves as the Superintendent of the Midwest Conference.

The NWC hosted a one-hour Zoom call on May 9, designed to allow you to “meet the nominee.” Tammy addressed questions and topics submitted from participants to help you and your church delegates prepare to discern and vote for a new president at Gather’ 22, to be held in hybrid format (in person and online) June 23-25, 2022 in Kansas City, MO.

 

As a source of encouragement throughout this stressful time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff, as well as pastors and leaders from our churches and affiliated ministries, share a reflective thought and prayer each week. View the next installment from Sarah Holt, Director of Student Ministries at Bemidji Covenant Church, in Bemidji, MN. She and her husband Joseph have two fantastic adult kids and their first grandchild coming in May. She loves all things family, teenagers and Tolkien, in that order.

 

With a theme of “Glimpses of Hope: Signs of Grace” the 2022 Northwest Conference Annual Meetings—for both the Ministerial Association and church delegates—took place at Minnehaha Academy in Minneapolis, April 28-30.

The Rev. Kara J. Stromberg, who was elected to serve as the next NWC Superintendent, shared her intention to continue developing new resources for rural and small town churches, maintain a strong emphasis on the ministry priorities of Congregational Vitality, Church Planting and Children, Youth & Family Ministry, and “lean into our multiethnic mosaic and develop multiethnic leaders so that we can have a fuller picture of the gospel.”

Throughout the weekend, pastors, delegates and attendees heard video and spoken testimony on the topic of hope from a variety of ministry leaders.

Friday Business Session

The Northwest Conference Annual Meeting opened with the business session on Friday afternoon.

“I hope this space is as nourishing to the heart, mind and soul during this meeting as we have found it to be for us here at the school,” said Donna Harris, President of Minnehaha Academy, as she welcomed delegates and attendees. “I pray that in this season where much hurt abounds, that the healing touch of your ministry is felt outside the walls of your churches, for God’s glory.”

John Wenrich, ECC President, brought greetings from the Evangelical Covenant Church.

“I want you to know how much I appreciate you and the outstanding collective work of the Northwest Conference. Together we are making a difference with God and for God,” Wenrich said. “We come together as one to accomplish the mission. We certainly can do more together than we can separately. On behalf of a grateful denomination, I want to say thank you for your support of our shared mission.”

During his report, outgoing Superintendent Mark Stromberg reflected on his years of service to the Northwest Conference.

“It has truly been one of the greatest privileges of my life to serve, not just as Superintendent, but to serve the Northwest Conference in ministry,” Mark Stromberg shared. “I am grateful to God and humbled by this opportunity that I’ve had.”

Mark Stromberg shared how the COVID-19 pandemic has connected many NWC churches in ways that might not otherwise have happened.

“I’ve been so encouraged in the midst of our challenges, by the faithfulness of so many of our churches and affiliates,” Mark Stromberg said. “So many of the challenges we’ve faced have propelled us even further.”

Mark also praised then Superintendent nominee Kara Stromberg, for serving sincerely, wisely and calmly during their shared time in ministry, saying, “She will make a wonderful Superintendent. I am grateful to be able to turn over the reins to a new leader whom I trust and admire.” He then ceded a portion of his report time to her.

“It’s with a spirit of gratitude and humility that I stand here before you as the nominee for Superintendent of the Northwest Conference,” Kara Stromberg said. “I look forward to opportunities to continue and guide the ministries and priorities we have going here in our Conference, and also try some new things in the direction God is leading us.”

Mike Brown, NWC Director of Church Planting, then introduced two new churches joining the ECC: Lakeside Covenant Church, Pastor Steve Anderson (Chanhassen, MN), and Midcurrent Covenant Church, Pastor Sten Carlson (Hudson, WI). He also introduced four new church fellowship groups, including: Risen Life Covenant Church, Pastor Chris Auer (Coon Rapids, MN), Catalyst Covenant Church White Bear Lake, Pastors Cory and Cindy Jones (White Bear Lake, MN), En Su Presencia Covenant Church, Pastors Edgar and Alva Ardon (Rochester, MN), and Local Covenant Church, Pastor Seth Lindberg (Champlin, MN).

Minnehaha Academy President Donna Harris shared a slideshow of photos from the life of the school that highlighted recent athletic and academic accomplishments of MA students. She also shared that MA is experiencing record attendance and fundraising as it rebuilds and recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In this year of challenge God has blessed us, and the school was able to pay off its debt,” Harris said. “Students are helped to realize who they are created to be and what they’re appointed to do, leading to a deeper sense of purpose.”

Harris also shared that the Board of Trustees of Minnehaha Academy approved the school’s Strategic Plan last fall, and the school is now in the implementation phase of projects that were identified in the plan. The school also recently launched its own version of a past NWC Children & Family Ministry event called Go:Serve, with over 140 families participating in service projects as a community.

It was announced at the end of the Business Session that delegates approved the election of Rev. Kara J. Stromberg to serve as the next Superintendent of the Northwest Conference.

During Friday’s Business Session, delegates also approved a ballot that included the election of Jim Volling (Excelsior Covenant Church, Excelsior, MN) to serve another year on the NWC Executive Board as Chairperson, Mark Coronna (Calvary Covenant, Stockholm, WI), and Dora Wagner (Catalyst Covenant, St. Paul, MN) to 5-year terms on the NWC Executive Board, and electing Tim Carlson (Crossroads Church, Eagan, MN), Lynn Farmer (Epiphany Covenant, Minneapolis, MN), Rose Lee-Norman (Sanctuary Covenant, Minneapolis, MN) and Greg Siwek (Crossroads Church, Eagan, MN) to 3-year terms on the Minnehaha Academy Board of Trustees.

Delegates approved the NWC budget of $1,607,404, as well as the budget for Minnehaha Academy.

Bylaw amendments for both the NWC and MA were also either presented or approved.

Attendees also had opportunity to learn about a variety of Conference and denominational ministries and organizations at display tables, and through one-on-one conversations throughout the weekend.

Friday Worship Service

A Minnehaha Academy worship team led attendees in worship during the Friday evening worship service. Special music was provided by the Minnehaha Madrigal Singers throughout the service as well. Three Candidates for Ordination were also recognized and prayed for during the service, as were the two new churches joining the ECC.

A special offering taken during the service raised $2,060 to benefit the UNITE North Scholarship fund and The Minnehaha Leadership Institute.

NWC Superintendent-elect Kara Stromberg, shared a message titled, “Strength for the Wilderness.”

Stromberg challenged attendees to consider Jesus’ time in the wilderness, found in Luke 4: 1-13, and what lessons we can learn from his example.

“Right away as Jesus begins his ministry, he’s not out taking a victory lap. It gets hard and it gets real right away,” she said. “In hard times it’s tempting for us to believe God is not who He says He is, and that we are not who He says we are. … How does Jesus respond in that moment in the wilderness? He returns to Scripture and the promises of God. In times of difficulty, of scarcity and confusion, will you trust in the Lord?”

Stromberg encouraged attendees to learn from Jesus’ investment in a life of spiritual discipline, seeing the benefits over time.

“I hope that we as a Church—specifically the Evangelical Covenant Church and the Northwest Conference—I hope that we will be wilderness people, committed to prayer and spiritual discipline, and who know and love God’s word and are guided by it,” Stromberg said. “I hope that we will be a movement that is committed to the slow, formative work of God.”

Saturday Business Session

In place of individual reports, this year’s meeting featured a NWC Ministry Director Panel where Conference staff shared what glimpses of hope they saw in their areas of ministry oversight throughout the last year.

Kara Stromberg, Superintendent-elect, cited the continued and ongoing faithfulness of Children, Youth & Family leaders, as well as the formation of the new Disability Ministry Cohort in the NWC.

“I’m energized by seeing this group come together to resource our churches and ask how we can create safe and welcoming places in our churches for people with disabilities,” she said.

“Church planting is complex, and I couldn’t do it alone,” Mike Brown, Director of Church Planting, shared. “We have a team of church planters who are actively planting, but they volunteer their time to plan our monthly gatherings so we can resource each other.”

Brown also thanked those who work in the area of coaching in the ECC.

“God continues to raise up gifted leaders and church planters to reach people and neighborhoods we might not reach in any other way,” Brown said. “I am hopeful because God is in control.”

Hollis Kim, Director of Pastoral Care & Development, highlighted the “courage of pastors who are continuing to be evangelists,” as he shared about witnessing baptism services at Real Life Covenant Church in Waseca, MN, and Alexandria Covenant Church in Alexandria, MN, during the pandemic.

“This denomination is committed to walking with our pastors when they are really in a bad place,” Kim said. “Praise Jesus for the heart for pastors that is so clearly manifested in our denomination.”

Ginny Olson, Director of Youth Ministry, said witnessing youth pastors gather together to improvise and organize the One Big Day event when MUUUCE was cancelled, brought her hope. One of the students who came to faith during the event and was baptized just a few weeks later.

“Our youth pastors, our leaders, paid or unpaid, are doing whatever it takes to reach these kids,” Olson said.

Olson also thanked the team working on this summer’s UNITE North event, taking place at Bethel University, July 14-17.

Jon Kramka, Director of Congregational Vitality, mentioned strong participation in the ministerium anti-racism cohort, and the NWC partnership with Oak Hills Christian College to tap into rural expertise and provide contextual training through webinars, and the new Rural Impact Leadership Conference, which took place March 19 at Alexandria Covenant Church in Alexandria, MN.

“What gives me hope is the consistent response that I saw in our pastors through the really challenging season we found ourselves in,” Kramka said. “Together, pastors linked arms and really supported each other as we struggled together through the pandemic.”

Mauricio Dell’Arciprete, Director of Latino Ministry, shared how he’s seen churches push forward in ministry during the pandemic.

“Going through this as a church planter has been tough, but also trying to come alongside all the church planters has been a challenge,” Dell’Arciprete said. “What gives me hope is to see the resilience of these leaders throughout this pandemic. The way we do ministry right now is different, but the mission is still the same.”

On Saturday morning, attendees also heard reports from leaders of Camping Ministry in the NWC, Women Ministries of the NWC, Solid Rock School of Discipleship, Covenant Ability Network, National Covenant Properties, Covenant Trust Company and Covenant Benefits.

Trusting the Good Shepherd: God’s Leading Through the Valley

Following the Saturday Business Session, attendees heard a presentation from a team of leaders from Minnehaha Academy, including Rev. Dr. Donna Harris, President, David Hoffner, Executive Director of Faith Formation, and Sara Jacobson, Executive Director of Institutional Advancement.

“Nearly five years later after the tragedy that struck Minnehaha, I confess to you that I still don’t understand the ways of God,” Harris said. “But through God’s power and grace, we can claim victory in the middle of a storm.”

Harris shared how God used the tragedy for His glory through deeper relationships with God and among school staff.

“We locked hands and hearts and moved forward toward healing and rebuilding,” Harris shared. “We were confident that the same Savior that was faithful before our tragic blast, was the same God that would be faithful after it.”

“You can’t just assume that community is going to stay connected and engaged and together,” Jacobson said. “So we were very intentional to create opportunities to build community (in the days following the explosion).”

Jacobson encouraged listeners to “keep your messaging on point and be courageous about sharing your mission.”

“We trust in the Good Shephard to lead us, and he is leading us even when it’s dark and disorienting,” Hoffner said. “Few things mean as much in leadership as being told by your community that they trust you. We had an amazing team, and all hands were on deck.”

Hoffner shared about how both Northwest Conference and Minnehaha Academy staff provided pastoral care to community members and students in the days, months and years following the tragedy.

“Our communal identity is not up for question. We know what we’re about at Minnehaha Academy,” Hoffner shared. “We know who we are, we know why we serve, and we will protect this. We have a foundation that cannot be shaken.”

As the meeting was concluding, Pastor Todd Ertsgaard invited the delegates to come to Bemidji Covenant Church for the 2023 NWC Annual Meeting next April.

NWC Board Chair Jim Volling then closed the meeting with a prayer of thanksgiving for those who have served in the ministry of the NWC as well as those who are newly elected to various positions.

Glimpses of hope and signs of grace were evidenced throughout the weekend.

As a source of encouragement throughout this stressful time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff, as well as pastors and leaders from our churches and affiliated ministries, share a reflective thought and prayer each week. View the next installment Rachel Jacobs, Executive Director (Worship & Youth) at Hope Covenant Church in St. Cloud, MN. Rachel recently got married to the most awesome guy she’s ever met, JJ, in October 2021 and is enjoying the newlywed life alongside their little doggo, Minnesota (Mini for short).

 

As a source of encouragement throughout this stressful time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff, as well as pastors and leaders from our churches and affiliated ministries, share a reflective thought and prayer each week. View the next installment from Ginny Olson, NWC Director of Youth Ministry.

 

As a source of encouragement throughout this stressful time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff, as well as pastors and leaders from our churches and affiliated ministries, share a reflective thought and prayer each week. View the next installment from Brian Burton, Pastor of Cook Evangelical Covenant Church in Cook, MN. He and his wife Liz have served in Cook since August 2019.

 

As a source of encouragement throughout this unprecedented time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff, as well as pastors and leaders from our churches and affiliated ministries, share a reflective thought and prayer each week. View the next installment from Linda Freeman, Hospital Chaplain at Essentia Health-Virginia Hospital in Virginia, MN. Linda has volunteered for 30 years at 12 regional nursing homes doing weekly worship with music. She joined Essentia Health in 2016 and leads Grief Support Groups, visits with hospital patients, and is helping with Celebrate Recovery 12 step groups.

 

As a source of encouragement throughout this unprecedented time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff, as well as pastors and leaders from our churches and affiliated ministries, share a reflective thought and prayer each week. View the next installment from Todd Spieker, Lead Pastor at Rochester Covenant Church in Rochester, MN.

 

Now that an individual with disabilities is attending our church, what’s next? Hear practical steps to welcome, learn about, plan supports and connect them to the Body of Christ.

On March 3, 2022, we were delighted to have Amie Lorence Grubidge return to the NWC Disability Ministry Connection. She shared on the topic of “On-boarding: Practical Steps to Engaging Families Impacted By Disability Into Our Churches.”

Amie has a Bachelor of Arts in Communication from Bethel University, as well as a Master of Arts in Special Education with teaching licenses in Specific Learning Disabilities, Emotional Behavior Disorders, and Academic Behavior Strategies from Bethel University. She has over 10 years’ experience as a special education paraprofessional, case manager, and department lead. She is currently a Montessori educator, adjunct instructor at Bethel University, and Disability Coordinator for Salem Covenant Church in New Brighton, MN.

Download Presentation PDF
Download Salem Covenant Church Thrive Questionnaire Sample

 

As a source of encouragement throughout this unprecedented time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff, as well as pastors and leaders from our churches and affiliated ministries, share a reflective thought and prayer each week. View the next installment from James Walsh, Associate Pastor at Mission Covenant Church in Poplar, WI. He has served the church since 1998. He is married to Heather and they have two adult sons.

 

We praise God for his grace and blessing upon our inaugural Rural Impact Leadership Conference (RILC) on March 19.

Beginning with the warm and generous hospitality provided by Alexandria Covenant Church, around 90 rural pastors and lay leaders experienced a full day centered on nurturing thriving rural churches. In addition, another 20 or so participants joined in online.

The day included times of worship, plenary presentations, workshops on targeted areas of ministry, fellowship and learning with others from similar contexts, exhibitor resources and surprise giveaways.

Here is just a snapshot of what we heard from participants:

“This conference was for us, the rural church! It was not only honoring and life-giving, but also insightful and full of practical ideas.”

“The worship was truly driven by the Holy Spirit. I felt like I was present in the worship—it really touched me sitting at the computer. Well done! I plan on next year to attend in some way. Thanks for putting this event together. There are things I can use from the whole day. I will need to listen again, which is great feature.”

“Great day to help refill our tanks.”

“Logistics went well. Love the conference. Speakers were very good, with helpful insights. Keep these resources for small and rural churches coming.”

“Good connections, good workshops, good worship, good food, good prizes and great pointing to God through it all!”

We want to say thank you to all of those who contributed to the success of this day—speakers, worship and workshop leaders, hospitality team, exhibitors, Alexandria Covenant staff, partners and the RILC steering team!

We look forward to gathering again next year for RILC on March 18, 2023, in Alexandria, MN.

Photo Gallery

Rural Impact Leadership Conference 2022

As a source of encouragement throughout this unprecedented time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff, as well as pastors and leaders from our churches and affiliated ministries, share a reflective thought and prayer each week. View the next installment from Tim Johnson, Lead Pastor of Bloomington Covenant Church in Bloomington, MN. He has served the church since May 2005, and previously served churches in Minnesota, Michigan and Maryland. He’s married to Cyd (Cyndi) and they have three adult children and four grandchildren. They have a Wheaton terrier, Ole, who makes them laugh every day.

 

As a source of encouragement throughout this unprecedented time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff, as well as pastors and leaders from our churches and affiliated ministries, share a reflective thought and prayer each week. View the next installment from John DuBall, Lead Pastor at NewDay Covenant Church in Rochester, MN. John is the planting pastor at NewDay and has been serving there for 13 years.

 

As a source of encouragement throughout this unprecedented time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff, as well as pastors and leaders from our churches and affiliated ministries, share a reflective thought and prayer each week. View the next installment from Kyle Gunderson, Lead Pastor at Cedarbrook Church in Menomonie, WI. Kyle has served over 20 years in the NWC. He was a youth pastor at Maple Grove Covenant and International Falls Covenant before moving to Menomonie in 2011. He and his wife Anna have four sons ranging from age 10 to 16 years of age.

 

As a source of encouragement throughout this unprecedented time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff, as well as pastors and leaders from our churches and affiliated ministries, share a reflective thought and prayer each week. View the next installment from Jamey Cassell, Pastor at New City Covenant Church in Edina, MN. He fills several roles overseeing worship services, managing the church facility and leading worship.

 

As a source of encouragement throughout this unprecedented time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff, as well as pastors and leaders from our churches and affiliated ministries, share a reflective thought and prayer each week. View the next installment from Vicki Newendorp, member of the NWC Disability Ministry Connection leadership team. Vicki attends Faith Covenant Church in Burnsville, MN, with her sweet family.

 

As a source of encouragement throughout this unprecedented time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff, as well as pastors and leaders from our churches and affiliated ministries, share a reflective thought and prayer each week. View the next installment from Dennis Anders, Pastor of First Covenant Church of Virginia, MN. He is in his 37th year of ministry in the Evangelical Covenant Church.

 

The Northwest Conference Superintendent Search Committee received 43 nominations for 23 different potential candidates, as well as many comments and suggestions about the search process. After reviewing that information and candidate profiles, and after prayer and deliberation, the Committee selected four final candidates to move forward in the process.

Three of those final candidates accepted our invitation, and thereafter they submitted essays in response to specific questions and links to videos of sermons they had given, as well as provided references who were then contacted.

On Saturday, Jan. 28, the Committee interviewed the three final candidates, deliberated, prayed and reached a unanimous decision to nominate the Rev. Kara Stromberg to the Northwest Conference Annual Meeting to succeed the Rev. Mark Stromberg as the Northwest Conference Superintendent.

We are so pleased that she has accepted our nomination. Additional information about Kara Stromberg and her nomination will be provided by the Northwest Conference in the coming days.

Thank you so much for your participation in the search process and for your continued prayers and support.

James L. Volling
Northwest Conference and Superintendent Search Committee Chair

All behavior is a form of communication. When encountering challenging behaviors in our church settings, the goal is to gain understanding of the need, and respond so that everyone gets what they need.

On Jan. 6, 2022, we had the privilege of having Amie Lorence Grubidge share at the NWC Disability Ministry Connection meeting on the topic of “Tools and Strategies for Working with Challenging Behaviors.” Amie has a Bachelor of Arts in Communication from Bethel University, a Master of Arts in Special Education with teaching licenses in Specific Learning Disabilities, Emotional Behavior Disorders, and Academic Behavior Strategies from Bethel University. She has over 10 years’ experience as a special education paraprofessional, case manager, and department lead. She is currently a Montessori educator, adjunct instructor at Bethel University, and Disability Coordinator for Salem Covenant Church in New Brighton, MN.

View the entire webinar below, or download a PDF of Amie’s presentation.

 

As a source of encouragement throughout this unprecedented time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff, as well as pastors and leaders from our churches and affiliated ministries, share a reflective thought and prayer each week. View the next installment from Jim Murphy, Lead Pastor at First Covenant Church, Red Wing, MN. Jim just completed his first year in Red Wing. He and his wife Deanna have two daughters, Natalie (19) and Greta (16).

 

As a source of encouragement throughout this unprecedented time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff, as well as pastors and leaders from our churches and affiliated ministries, share a reflective thought and prayer each week. View the next installment from Dave Hugare, Lead Pastor of Lakeview Covenant Church in Duluth, MN. He and his wife Leslee have two children, Ethan and Macy.

 

As a source of encouragement throughout this unprecedented time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff, as well as pastors and leaders from our churches and affiliated ministries, share a reflective thought and prayer each week. View the next installment from Pastor Kecia Stroot, Hospice Chaplain for LifeCare Medical Center in Roseau, MN. She and her husband Rob are mom and dad to 11 kids of their own, as well as frequent kids through the foster care program. God has also called them to start a charity, Faith and Action, that works with pastors in Haiti meeting the needs of some of the poorest in that country. Faith and Action is in the process of building its second school in Haiti.

 

As we have stepped into a new year, we remain mindful of how the residual effects of this past year continue to impact our daily experiences. These challenges are real. Yet even in times of great challenge, God desires for each of us to flourish within our calls for Kingdom impact.

This webinar explores three key areas to foster greater resilience and renewed motivation for ministry. The three areas covered are boundaries, support systems and fresh vision. A narrative that helps to frame this conversation is that of Elijah. In addition, the 3 Pillars of Missional Ministry construct was introduced along with several books. Those are offered below for your reference and continued learning:

Foundation for Missional Living (PPT)
Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives by Richard Swenson
Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation by Ruth Haley Barton
Soul Feast: An Invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life by Marjorie J. Thompson
Thinking, Fast and Slow by David Kahneman

 

As a source of encouragement throughout this unprecedented time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff, as well as pastors and leaders from our churches and affiliated ministries, share a reflective thought and prayer each week. View the next installment from Adam Christian, Lead Pastor at First Covenant Church in River Falls, WI.

 

As a source of encouragement throughout this unprecedented time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff, as well as pastors and leaders from our churches and affiliated ministries, share a reflective thought and prayer each week. View the next installment from Dan Swartz, Youth and Young Adults Pastor at Emmanuel Covenant Church in Shoreview, MN. Whether it’s working with 4th-12th grade students, wrangling young adults or chasing his little girls (ages 1 and 4) and their dog Spruce with his wife, Bethany, Dan says, “I’m pretty blessed all around.”

 

As a source of encouragement throughout this unprecedented time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff, as well as pastors and leaders from our churches and affiliated ministries, share a reflective thought and prayer each week. View the next installment from Chanda Winkels, Children’s Pastor at Alexandria Covenant Church in Alexandria, MN. She has a Child and Family Master’s degree from Bethel Seminary. Chanda has two adult daughters, a son-in-law, and two grandchildren. Hiking, reading and baking are favorite activities.

 

Superintendent Mark R. Stromberg’s 2021 Letter to Churches Gathering in Annual Meetings is now available for download.

Feel free to include this letter in your annual meeting booklets or provide a copy to your church family via a bulletin insert.

As a source of encouragement throughout this unprecedented time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff, as well as pastors and leaders from our churches and affiliated ministries, share a reflective thought and prayer each week. View the next installment from Amy DuFrene, Christian Formation Pastor at Oak Heights Covenant Church in Hutchinson, MN. She has served the church for the last 12 years. DuFrene and her husband Mike have two boys—Malachi (10) and Nathaniel (8). They spend most of their spare time jumping rink to rink since the family loves hockey.

 

As a source of encouragement throughout this unprecedented time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff, as well as pastors and leaders from our churches and affiliated ministries, share a reflective thought and prayer each week. View the next installment from Hollis Kim, NWC Director of Pastoral Care & Development.

 

As a source of encouragement throughout this unprecedented time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff, as well as pastors and leaders from our churches and affiliated ministries, share a reflective thought and prayer each week. View the next installment from Matt Kennedy, Lead Pastor at Roseville Covenant Church in Roseville, MN. Matt lives in South Minneapolis with his wife Nicole and three children Lucinda, Benno, and Rollo. He has served a number of Covenant churches in the Twin Cities over the last 10 years.

 

As a source of encouragement throughout this unprecedented time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff, as well as pastors and leaders from our churches and affiliated ministries, share a reflective thought and prayer each week. View the next installment from Aaron Thompson, Community Life Pastor at Crossview Covenant Church in North Mankato, MN. He lives there with his wife Stina and their four children Ruth (9), Iris (7), Eden (3), and Zion (19 months).

 

This webinar is built on the foundation established in “Let’s Talk About the Elephants in the Room, Part 1.”

Part 2 explored further how our own personal self-awareness contributes to our ability to bring a non-anxious presence into our interactions with others. Navigating interpersonal dynamics amidst contextual and cultural realities with others especially in times of conflict and challenge stretches the best of us.

This webinar provided practical insights for rural ministry leaders who desire to lead well within these times and circumstances.

 

As a source of encouragement throughout this unprecedented time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff, as well as pastors and leaders from our churches and affiliated ministries, share a reflective thought and prayer each week. View the next installment from Rachel Hart, Worship Pastor at Linwood Covenant Church in Wyoming, MN. Hart loves making music with others and leading God’s people in musical worship. If she’s not making music you can find her reading a good fiction book, enjoying conversation around a campfire, or sharing a cup of coffee with friends.

 

As a source of encouragement throughout this unprecedented time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff, as well as pastors and leaders from our churches and affiliated ministries, share a reflective thought and prayer each week. View the next installment from Scott Sagle, Pastor of Calvary Covenant Church in Grantsburg, WI. Sagle and his wife Monica—along with their two children, Emma (17) and Micah (14)—have served Calvary Covenant for over 15 years.

 

As a source of encouragement throughout this unprecedented time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff, as well as pastors and leaders from our churches and affiliated ministries, share a reflective thought and prayer each week. View the next installment from Rob Jacobson, planting Pastor of Restoration Covenant Church in Burnsville, MN. Rob coaches pastors and church planters around the Covenant. He is married to Michele and has three teenaged children. He enjoys running with his wife, cheering on his kids and caring for his two apple trees. Fun fact: Rob still rides the same motorcycle he bought at 16 years old.

 

As a source of encouragement throughout this unprecedented time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff, as well as pastors and leaders from our churches and affiliated ministries, share a reflective thought and prayer each week. View the next installment from Jonna Fantz, Worship and Community Life Pastor at Salem Covenant Church in New Brighton, MN. Jonna has also served as a spiritual director and Adult Discipleship Pastor in the Twin Cities area for over 20 years. She brings all her passion to bear as she writes and teaches and preaches, encouraging people to experience God through His word. She also makes a mean lasagna.

 

As a source of encouragement throughout this unprecedented time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff, as well as pastors and leaders from our churches and affiliated ministries, share a reflective thought and prayer each week. View the next installment from Brad Kindall, Lead Pastor at Faith Covenant Church in Burnsville, MN. Brad has been a Covenant pastor in the Northwest Conference for over 28 years.

 

As a source of encouragement throughout this unprecedented time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff, as well as pastors and leaders from our churches and affiliated ministries, share a reflective thought and prayer each week. View the next installment from Paula Frost, a Covenant pastor residing in Bayport, MN and currently serving as a spiritual director and coach for clergy and ministry leaders. She is delighted to be married to Herb and loves spending time with their grown children and spouses. She is purposefully and prayerfully investing in Kingdom leaders and her incredible grandchildren.

 

We recognize that we are living in highly charged and complex times that have contained cycles of dislocation, division, disorientation and loss. As pastors and leaders it is of utmost importance that we frame our challenges biblically, along with practicing self-control over our own emotional responses in situations where anxiety is high.

This webinar presents different constructs to consider as ways to better frame these challenges, and better navigate relationships impacted by them. Relational wisdom practices, the Approaching Differences Framework, and Choice Map were all offered as resources to help frame the discussion. These resources, with accompanying notes, are offered below for your continued education.

Approaching Differences diagram- IV
Approaching Differences Framework- insights
Choice Map- Adams
Relational Wisdom- Relational Wisdom 360

 

As a source of encouragement throughout this unprecedented time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff, as well as pastors and leaders from our churches and affiliated ministries, share a reflective thought and prayer each week. View the next installment from Jim Black, Pastor of Catalyst Covenant Church in Alexandria, MN.

 

As a source of encouragement throughout this unprecedented time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff, as well as pastors and leaders from our churches and affiliated ministries, share a reflective thought and prayer each week. View the next installment from Jamie Staples, planting Pastor of Renew Church in Eau Claire, WI. He is married to Emily and is Dad to “three pretty awesome kids.”

 

As a source of encouragement throughout this unprecedented time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff, as well as pastors and leaders from our churches and affiliated ministries, share a reflective thought and prayer each week. View the next installment from Tim Shekleton, Pastor of Bethlehem Covenant Church in Wheaton, MN.

 

As a source of encouragement throughout this unprecedented time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff, as well as pastors and leaders from our churches and affiliated ministries, share a reflective thought and prayer each week. View the next installment from Joel Osterlund, Chaplain with Mayo Hospice in Rochester, MN, and Youth & Children’s Pastor at Salem Road Covenant Church. He has had the privilege of serving at various churches and camps in the Conference including Covenant Pines and Covenant Park Bible Camps. Joel is married to Merilea and they have two children, Jeremiah (19) and Anna (17).

 

On Saturday, Aug. 7, around 280 middle schoolers, leaders and volunteers from all over the Northwest Conference converged on Minnehaha Academy for One Big Day. It was a day packed with fun and faith, all designed with middle schoolers in mind.

The day began with a massive Welcome Party. There were giant inflatable games, a mini-golf course built by a member of Dassel Covenant Church in Dassel, MN, 9-square in the air and corn hole, arts and crafts, colored hair spray, and sno-cones and gigantic donuts. One student exclaimed as he walked in and surveyed the scene, “You mean all this is for us?”

After a Chick-Fil-A lunch, students headed to different stations to learn about four of Jesus’ miracles through hands-on, interactive lessons. For the blind man who was healed, for the paralyzed man whose friends put him on a cot and ripped apart a roof to get him before Jesus, for the 5,000 who were fed, and for the fishermen whose nets were almost broken by the weight of the fish they caught … the day those miracles happened was their One Big Day.

At the different stations, students heard from the former owners of the Rustic Inn about what it would take to actually feed 5,000 people. They heard from a fisherman about what it would be like to catch that many fish. They learned about the miraculous creation of an eye. They built cots out of wood and rope and had to carry a teammate across the gym floor, experiencing a taste of what those friends might have experienced 2,000 years ago.

From the miracle stations, students headed out to the Minnehaha football field for an epic tournament. Through screams of laughter and cheers, four teams battled to win crazy, creative camp games.

Pausing to catch their breath and eating giant ice cream sandwiches, students headed to the final session. There they experienced C.H.A.O.S. (Crazy Humans Attempting Outrageous Stunts). There were reverse charades, competitive cheese ball tossing, and more.

In a way that only middle schoolers can pivot, they turned to dynamic worship led by Emmanuel Covenant. When Greg Speck got up on stage, he had the room laughing and groaning as he talked about his One Worst Day. And then had them leaning forward in anticipation as he told them about meeting Jesus and how that was his One Big Day.

Youth pastors lined the chapel, praying with and for students, some who came to know Christ for the first time, others who were renewing their commitments and yet others who just needed prayer.

One Big Day was led by a team of youth pastors from across the Northwest Conference who met for months planning and designing the event: Mike Bechtold (First Covenant Church, Red Wing, MN), Rocky Hovda (First Covenant Church, Willmar, MN), Evan Kolding (Lakeview Covenant Church, Duluth, MN), Chris Kelly (Linwood Covenant Church, Wyoming, MN), Zach Klein (United Covenant Church, Clear Lake, WI), Luke Korthuis (Salem Covenant Church, New Brighton, MN), Annie Larson (Plymouth Covenant Church, Plymouth, MN), Dan Swartz (Emmanuel Covenant Church, Shoreview, MN).

Our NWC youth workers shined as they shepherded their students. The backbone of the day was a team of amazing volunteers who made it all possible: they set up and swept up, stood in the rain, greeted and cheered. They fed hungry kids, bandaged bumps, took photos, led games, picked up garbage, refilled water jugs, handed out masks, and, most importantly, prayed.

It was a day overflowing with fun and with moments of joy and connection with each other and Jesus. It was One Big Day.

On a June evening in 2020, I received a phone call asking for help. Phone calls asking for assistance are nothing new in ministry. In the midst of a pandemic where we were still getting our bearings around in-person services with masks and social distancing, asking our rural church if we could help someone develop their ministry seemed—on the surface—daunting.

We were still wondering if we would be able to do any fall ministry with the restrictions we were navigating. Nevertheless, my initial conversation with Paul Menne resulted in a one-on-one meeting to see if we could help in his journey.

In Paul’s words: “I felt a calling toward Army Chaplaincy and worked toward that calling for the past five years by going to Bethel Seminary, serving as a Chaplain Candidate in the Minnesota Army National Guard, and going through the Covenant Orientation program. While finishing all these tasks and looking forward to the next chapter of life, I knew that I wanted to be better equipped for what was ahead. I also had a mentor suggest I look for opportunities to serve as I applied for Army Chaplaincy. I reached out to the Northwest Conference and let them know my situation and what I was looking to do. They connected me with Pastor Gary and Winthrop Evangelical Covenant Church.”

Our initial discussion provided clarity in what Paul needed to help him move forward in his journey. Additional experience in preaching and teaching, along with a working familiarity in pastoral ministry responsibilities would provide Paul with the experience and tools necessary to minister as an Army Chaplain.

New pastoral internship

My experience as Academic Dean in a Canadian Bible College included designing pastoral internships for our students so, along with our Leadership Team, we designed a six-month pastoral internship. Paul and I would meet weekly where we would discuss ministry issues, expectations and topics relevant to pastoral ministry and how that would dovetail into his chaplaincy.

We started small by having Paul lead in certain aspects of morning worship, and we built up his involvement in the services to the point where he would lead the service and give the morning message. Paul preached four times in conjunction with the current sermon series. Involvement in weddings and funerals, along with Leadership Team meetings, also helped in Paul’s development.

The pace and program that was developed helped to build Paul’s confidence and comfort within the community of Winthrop Covenant.

The outcomes of this internship became evident for both the church and for Paul. As far as Winthrop Covenant is concerned, what this internship did for the church was remind them that when we remain available to God for opportunities to minister, He will provide those opportunities. Internships, equipping the saints, preparing people in their call to ministry is not something reserved for the urban church. The rural church can be just as effective when open to the Spirit’s leading.

From Paul’s perspective, “They [Winthrop Covenant] opened their hearts and doors for me to be a pastoral intern with them. All despite not knowing me and this being in the middle of the COVID pandemic. When other churches had shut their doors, gone virtual and were no longer offering up internships, they went the other direction. They ran into the fire with me and for me.”

Winthrop Covenant contributed to Paul’s commission to the United States Army and he, along with his wife, Mary, and their nine children, are stationed at Fort Jackson in South Carolina. Paul is the Chaplain to the recruits as they arrive for boot camp.

For the benefit of the Kingdom

As Paul reflected on his experience with Winthrop Covenant, he shared: “Winthrop was able to not only develop this program to meet my needs, but also to meet the needs of the church community. The ability to balance and reconcile the needs of what was seemingly different things led to a connection of love between myself and Winthrop ECC. Even after I completed my internship, I returned to preach and lead once more before moving to South Carolina to assume my new position as an Army Chaplain.”

“The love Winthrop ECC had for me, and my family was and is something truly special that I did not expect, nor think would be available to me. But it was, and they showed me what kinds of ministry a small rural church can do,” he continued. “There is a whole untapped resource out there within the ECC body that I hope other churches can experience. I am grateful for Winthrop Covenant and for Pastor Gary for being exactly what I needed, exactly when I needed it, for the benefit of the Kingdom as I continue on my journey.”

We praise God for His work in our lives and continue to search for other opportunities as He gives them.

By the Rev. Gary Gilkinson, Lead Pastor of Winthrop Evangelical Covenant Church

As a source of encouragement throughout this unprecedented time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff, as well as pastors and leaders from our churches and affiliated ministries, share a reflective thought and prayer each week. View the next installment from the Rev. Steve Fitzhugh, former elder and current Interim Youth and Families Director at Sanctuary Covenant Church in North Minneapolis. He is a best-selling author, and a long-time national itinerate speaker. In addition to serving youth, as a former NFL athlete himself, Steve is a consultant for the NFL mentoring both rookies and newly retired players.

 

As a source of encouragement throughout this unprecedented time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff, as well as pastors and leaders from our churches and affiliated ministries, share a reflective thought and prayer each week. View the next installment from Steven Osborne, Pastor of Salem Covenant Church in Duluth, MN. In the video, he recounts the church team’s recent experience of God’s faithfulness in Haiti during a mission trip in days following the July 7 assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse.

 

Living Waters Covenant Church took to the water on a recent Sunday morning. Located in Worthington, MN, the town and country congregation delivered flyers to all the houses around Lake Okabena, inviting them to a worship service on the shore on July 18.

“We had a worship service with a few songs, scripture, prayer and a message—and then the hosts had coffee and donuts available as well,” said John Stewart, Co-Pastor of Living Waters.

The church estimates about 80 people attended—both on the shore and in boats.

“The ‘congregation’ that Sunday was a combination of people from our church as well as people from the community,” said Kris Stewart, Co-Pastor of Living Waters.

A DJ provided music before, during and after worship.

“It was a beautiful weather day as well, which might not seem like a big deal, but it is almost always windy in Worthington,” Kris Stewart said. “To have a sunny, calm day made it even better. The feedback was very positive with people commenting that we should do it again next summer.”

One person who attended commented, “I have lived on the lake for 30 years and I realized that I take the lake for granted, and I have to admit that I take Jesus for granted as well. This was really impactful for me.”

As a source of encouragement throughout this unprecedented time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff, as well as pastors and leaders from our churches and affiliated ministries, share a reflective thought and prayer each week. View the next installment from Herb Frost, Covenant pastor currently serving as Director of Vocational and Spiritual Development for the Evangelical Covenant Church. He is married to Paula, also a Covenant pastor, and they are living in Bayport, MN. They have three married adult children and four grandchildren, all of whom are true delights in their lives.

 

As a source of encouragement throughout this unprecedented time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff, as well as pastors and leaders from our churches and affiliated ministries, share a reflective thought and prayer each week. View the next installment from Deb Westphal, a founding member of the Real Life Covenant Church plant in Waseca, MN. She has served in many areas of leadership, started small groups and been a core volunteer in the Children’s Ministry. She is currently serving with her husband John at Community Covenant Church in Huntley, MN, as part-time ministers while she takes classes at Oak Hills Christian College. John and Deb have 2 amazing children, Ethan and Jacqualyn.

 

While the Northwest Conference is home to approximately 140 churches, about half of them are outside of metro areas. Whether in a town of 10,000, or 100, or located in the country, these churches have a great mission field.

The majority of people in rural communities do not attend church. This positions rural churches with the opportunity to come into people’s lives and introduce them to Jesus. One of the ways churches do this is by coming alongside each other—collaborating and serving their communities together. It’s a beautiful representation of spurring one another on toward love and good deeds as admonished in Hebrews 10:24-25.

Community Covenant Church is located in Huntley, MN. Population 154. The church was established in 1986 and drew members from many surrounding communities over the next 30 years, according to the church’s chairwoman Kay Sauck.

“While the membership numbers have always been very good for a church located in a small community, our numbers started dropping over the past four or five years,” Sauck said.

As of 2019, the church was without a pastor, and by 2021 it was home to a core group of about 15 people. Sauck contacted the Northwest Conference while the church was in a climate of change and again when they were wanting to move forward.

“Kara Stromberg (NWC Associate Superintendent) was available to take my call, and I am forever grateful. She listened as I shared what we had been through and that we needed to move forward. Before the call ended Kara assured me she would be working on our behalf,” Sauck said.

Waiting and praying

Those at Community Covenant waited and prayed.

Sixty miles northeast of Huntley, Michael Behm is the pastor of Real Life Church in Waseca, MN. Although he grew up in the suburbs, during seminary Behm felt God’s call to give his best to rural areas and small towns. Stromberg reached out to Behm about potentially providing sermons for Community Covenant. The leadership at Real Life connected with the remaining members in Huntley, and a collaboration began.

At first, Community Covenant watched Behm’s services online, along with pre-recorded messages specifically directed toward its congregation on special occasions. But God had more in store for the two churches.

“I thought, ‘What if we could establish a relationship and have something more ongoing?’” Behm explained.

Without hesitation

Enter John and Deb Westphal. The Westphals have been active members of Real Life since the very first service of the NWC church plant on their screened-in porch. God had been moving in their marriage, laying a desire on both of their hearts to pursue rural ministry together. When Behm asked the couple if they’d like to join him in meeting with Community Covenant, they agreed without hesitation.

“The core group who are left in Huntley are great people, they have a real heart for serving others. When I recognized that about them, I said, ‘I’m all in,’” John Westphal said.

From that point forward, the Westphals committed to coming alongside the people in Huntley—with John providing two messages each month in person and Deb taking on the role of shepherding. They also, along with their two children, enjoy taking part in ministry opportunities in Huntley including the monthly dinner the church provides for its community.

Deb will be going back to school for a rural leadership and ministry program at Oak Hills Christian College in the fall. She is excited to see how God will use this program to further what she and John are doing at Community Covenant. Deb also hopes to be an encouragement to the congregation.

“I want to be that person to talk to if someone is going through a difficult time or needs prayer. The people here give so much of themselves to the church and to others, and I want to make sure they are being fed as well,” Deb Westphal said. “So, I will be starting a Bible study in the fall with the goal of feeding God’s servants through His word.”

“I have been reminded that all churches go through changes, and for those of us still at Community Covenant Church, it feels as if we are starting new,” Sauck said. “We not only feel unified, but it feels like family, and we pray that God’s will continues to be done here.”

God is present and at work

Although the changes have not been easy, the congregation is thankful for the help they’ve received and hopeful for what God has planned for the future.

When the Westphals walk through the doors of Community Covenant, they sense God’s presence.

“What I see in them now is a sense of happiness and joy—they are reinvigorated,” John Westphal said. “Deb nor I take credit for it. God is present and at work. A sense of togetherness has really taken hold there.”

While the collaboration between Real Life and Community Covenant is still in its infancy, the overall goal is to come alongside one another long-term.

“It turned into something even more than I imagined. We want to see Community Covenant grow in number and bring more people on board, so they’ll be able to afford to hire a pastor. It could be John and Deb, or it might not be. We’re leaving it open,” Behm said.

Behm’s passion for rural churches has been a blessing to the congregation of Community Covenant.

“That’s really my heart—specifically small-town churches, but any church that wants to connect Jesus with their community. I’m all about it. Let’s connect and see how we can help one another,” Behm said. “There are incredible people, some great leadership and a lot of talent in these small towns—and they’re consistent, which is huge.”

Behm encourages others to not overlook the rural church. Regardless of location, there are countless people still needing the hope of Jesus.

Story By Katie Honnette, freelance writer and member of Trimont Covenant Church.

As a source of encouragement throughout this unprecedented time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff, as well as pastors and leaders from our churches and affiliated ministries, share a reflective thought and prayer each week. View the next installment from the Rev. Dr. Rose Lee-Norman, Formation Pastor at Sanctuary Covenant Church in Minneapolis. She is grateful to have served there for the past 11 years.

 

The first-ever virtual Evangelical Covenant Church Service of Ordination, Commissioning, and Consecration was held Saturday, June 26, for 99 candidates who took holy orders. Most of the service was pre-recorded in Anderson Chapel at North Park University.

The Northwest Conference hosted a service at Minnehaha Academy South Campus in Minneapolis. More than 100 people gathered to watch 12 ordinands be ordained. Highlights of the service included the taking of vows before God and His Church, the laying on of hands, the giving of Bibles and the vesting of stoles.

Candidates for Ordination included:

  • Erik Anderson – Crossroads Church, Woodbury, MN
  • Michael Bechtold – First Covenant Church, Red Wing, MN
  • Nicole Bullock – Blue Oaks Covenant Church, Crystal, MN
  • Kari Jacott – Fernbrook Family Center, Owatonna, MN
  • Laura Johnson – Pinehaven Community, Pine Island, MN
  • Andrew League – Community Covenant Church, Lowry, MN
  • John Meader – Crossroads Covenant Church, Forest Lake, MN
  • Chad Melton – Crossroads Church, Eagan, MN
  • Linda Norlien – Prairieview Covenant Church, New Richmond, WI
  • Marvin Norlien – Prairieview Covenant Church, New Richmond, WI
  • Jack Shields – The Door Covenant Church, Blaine, MN
  • Derek VanderMolen – Air Force Chaplaincy, Ft Meade, MD

We rejoice with these friends and partners in God’s work on this special occasion.

As a source of encouragement throughout this unprecedented time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff, as well as pastors and leaders from our churches and affiliated ministries, share a reflective thought and prayer each week. View the next installment from Caitlyn Stenerson, Connections Pastor at Emmanuel Covenant Church in Shoreview, MN.

 

“Just come up here for a visit,” said Roger as my wife Liz and I were searching for God’s placement for us in ministry. “Up in the frozen north? Cook, MN? Not a chance,” I said under my breath.

I experienced great fellowship over the phone with Roger, a member of the pastoral search team at Cook Covenant Church, but I gave the obligatory answer, “We’ll pray about it.” Meaning, “Not very much.”

Months before the call, Liz and I had prayed, “Lord, we will go where you want us.”

Some churches said no to us, and we said no to some churches. Months went by since the call with Roger and suddenly God hit me with a 2×4: “How can you say you will go anywhere I send you without even checking out the church in Cook?”

The church was not what I had in mind. And besides, Liz gets cold easily and her mother lived close to us. I called the search team and arranged for a quick visit thinking I would just satisfy God and move on.

To our amazement, we loved our visit and fell in love with the people! On the way back, Liz and I looked at each other and said, “This is God’s call.”

This was the first of many “God sightings” involving Cook Covenant Church. Liz’ mom responded saying that she would not even visit us up there. Soon, however, she would be living with us in Cook and finding her own place on the lake in Duluth, MN.

‘Little’ victories

Since coming here to Cook, we have learned to count “little” victories. For example, I counselled and married a couple just before the pandemic with the husband coming to trust in Jesus as his Savior.

Then the pandemic hit—and we were dragged, kicking and screaming, into the 21st century regarding technology. Attendance was very low, but sometimes up to 400 people tuned in on facebook.

And that couple? They came back to our church and are now running our technology ministry.

Deaf ministry

Even further north, there is an off-grid cabin we considered buying as a getaway spot since the next-door neighbors came to our church. Since it was quite far, and I didn’t like the idea of having to make our own electricity, we passed.

A deaf woman named Alisha bought the place, and her neighbors brought her to church. Alisha is a vibrant Christian and ministers encouragement very naturally. But communication was a problem. She had a writing tablet, and we downloaded an app called “Live Transcribe” so she could participate in worship.

In addition, we had close to 20 people sign up for Zoom training in American Sign Language (ASL) from the American Association for the Deaf. When Alisha told us she was bringing a friend on a recent Sunday, we assumed that friend would also be deaf. But instead, Anne is hearing and very fluent in ASL. She said she would like to come every other weekend—clear from Wisconsin—to worship with us.

Our people responded with even greater desire to learn ASL. Alisha is now teaching us conversational ASL every Tuesday and letting Jesus shine. I recall that I took a sign language class as an elective in college. Over the years I wondered about possibilities for deaf ministry. I don’t know what God will do, but He remembered those possibilities too.

We’ve been learning so much. Deaf people don’t consider themselves disabled, and we have changed our thinking too. God ministers not only to the deaf, but through the deaf, with “like precious faith.” Many deaf or hard of hearing people are overlooked in ministry. Our church sees a door opening.

Northern Grace Ice Cream

Coincidentally, Alisha is now working for us. As a bi-vocational pastor, I was looking and praying for summer work. One day God simply said, “Ice Cream.”

Somehow I knew that God was meaning to make my summer gig an ice cream business. Liz and I wanted to make it an outreach and a ministry. That’s how Northern Grace Ice Cream was born.

Our tag line is: “Just a little taste of Heaven.” Our mission statement is: “Serving up God’s grace one scoop at a time.”

Alisha is very outgoing and wants to meet people, and we do too—witnessing to the grace of God as much as we can. It’s been a lot of work, but we were finally able to open a few weeks ago. In addition to our own livelihood and support to our church, we are contributing to the local food bank, a food and ministry program for a Maasai village in Kenya, and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

God is at work in the “frozen north,” and we are thrilled to be a part of what He is doing.

Follow Northern Grace Ice Cream on Facebook

Read more about the formation of Northern Grace Ice Cream in the local paper

By Brian Burton, Pastor of Cook Covenant Church

As a source of encouragement throughout this unprecedented time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff, as well as pastors and leaders from our churches and affiliated ministries, share a reflective thought and prayer each week. View the next installment from Trinity Opp, Senior Pastor at Alexandria Covenant Church in Alexandria, MN. Trinity is married to Gwen, and they have five children, Josiah (15), Grace (14), Noah (9), Luke (7) and Anna (3). In his free time, Trinity enjoys riding his motorcycle, spending time outdoors and playing games with his family.

 

As a source of encouragement throughout this unprecedented time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff, as well as pastors and leaders from our churches and affiliated ministries, share a reflective thought and prayer each week. View the next installment from Dave Mergens, Pastor of Adult Formation at Alexandria Covenant Church in Alexandria, MN. His area of oversight includes all adult ministry, pulpit support and discipleship processes.

 

As a source of encouragement throughout this unprecedented time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff, as well as pastors and leaders from our churches and affiliated ministries, share a reflective thought and prayer each week. View the next installment from Michael Behm, church planting Pastor of Real Life Covenant Church in Waseca, MN. According to Behm, “I have a great passion for the small town church, an amazing wife that I love doing ministry with, and two incredible boys—Levi (10) and Matthias (7)—that keep me young and feeling old all at the same time.”

 

As a source of encouragement throughout this unprecedented time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff, as well as pastors and leaders from our churches and affiliated ministries, share a reflective thought and prayer each week. View the next installment from Darren Olson, Lead Pastor of Dassel Covenant Church in Dassel, MN. Darren and his wife, Brenda, have served in ministry together for over 30 years. They are blessed with five adult children.

 

The 2021 NWC Annual Meeting featured a theme video with testimony from leaders of four NWC churches about their ministry journeys through the challenges of 2020. The last in a four-part series taking a closer look at each church’s story, watch the video below to hear how Destino Covenant in Minneapolis adapted its Sunday worship and other offerings to reach more people during the pandemic.

 

As a source of encouragement throughout this unprecedented time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff, as well as pastors and leaders from our churches and affiliated ministries, share a reflective thought and prayer each week. View the next installment from Jessa Anderson, Director of the Cultural Field Experience program at Minnehaha Academy’s Upper School in Minneapolis. Jessa is working to educate, equip and empower students to engage in communities both locally and abroad. She lives in St. Paul, MN, with her husband, Erik Anderson—a pastor at Crossroads Church in Woodbury, MN—and their 14 year old daughter, Nosipho.

 

The 2021 NWC Annual Meeting featured a theme video with testimony from leaders of four NWC churches about their ministry journeys through the challenges of 2020. The third in a four-part series taking a closer look at each church’s story, watch the video below to hear how Alexandria Covenant Church in Alexandria, MN, responded to community needs during the pandemic by creating the Salt and Light Initiative.

 

As a source of encouragement throughout this unprecedented time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff, as well as pastors and leaders from our churches and affiliated ministries, share a reflective thought and prayer each week. View the next installment from Brian Asker, Co-Planting Pastor of Crossview Rosa Parks in Mankato, MN. Brian loves to run, swim and play strategy games. He got a degree in computer science, but realized during his senior year of college that what he really loves is helping people connect to Jesus. He spent 17 years helping college students connect with Jesus before planting Crossview Rosa Parks.

 

Leading Kingdom Change in Uncertain Days is the second in a 2-part series on leading change in rural contexts. This webinar addresses spiritual and cultural factors that impact leading congregational change, including lingering effects of COVID-19, and technology, facility, and infrastructure considerations. Additionally, the webinar includes practical examples and rich discussion on best practices specific to discerning/leading change, congregational life, and community mission.

Download Webinar PowerPoint

 

The 2021 NWC Annual Meeting featured a theme video with testimony from leaders of four NWC churches about their ministry journeys through the challenges of 2020. The second in a four-part series taking a closer look at each church’s story, watch the video below to hear how Epiphany Covenant Church in Minneapolis, and its new church plant on the Turtle Mountain Reservation in Belcourt, ND, found hope in relationships during COVID.

 

As a source of encouragement throughout this unprecedented time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff, as well as pastors and leaders from our churches and affiliated ministries, share a reflective thought and prayer each week. View the next installment from Joelle Hassler, Executive Pastor of Discipleship at Crossroads Church in the Twin Cities. She enjoys helping people come to know Jesus and take the next step in their faith—whether that’s through weekend teaching, small groups, baptism or mission trips. When she isn’t at Crossroads, you can find Joelle enjoying time with her husband of 16 years, Adam, and their kids Ryan (11) and Hannah (9). Joelle is also a big fan of coffee, cooking, running and staying up very late.

 

During the 2021 NWC Annual Meeting, delegates and attendees had the opportunity to attend educational workshops hosted on Zoom. We’re pleased to be able to share recordings of three of the workshops, including: Looking Ahead in the ECC, Faith and Fake News, and Managing Finances and Facility During a Crisis and Beyond.

 

The 2021 NWC Annual Meeting featured a theme video with testimony from leaders of four NWC churches about their ministry journeys through the challenges of 2020. The first in a four-part series taking a closer look at each church’s story, watch the video below to hear how Brookdale Covenant Church in Brooklyn Center, MN, experienced unexpected blessings as it opened its facility to three other NWC churches.

 

As a source of encouragement throughout this unprecedented time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff, as well as pastors and leaders from our churches and affiliated ministries, share a reflective thought and prayer each week. View the next installment from Keith Robinson, Senior Pastor at Riverwood Covenant Church in Greenfield, MN. He’s married to Amy, and they have four children and nine grandchildren, all of whom they get to see almost every week.

 

With a theme of “Hardship to Hope,” the 2021 Northwest Conference Annual Meeting took place online, with some elements streaming live from Crossroads Church in Woodbury, MN, on April 24.

Over 150 Zoom users participated in the NWC Annual Meeting, including some households and churches with multiple viewers in one location. The day before, over 150 pastors took part in the Ministerial Association Annual Meeting as well.

The Apostle Paul says in the meeting’s theme verse, Romans 5:3-5, “Therefore, we rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us.”

Throughout the worship, business session and educational workshops, pastors, delegates and attendees heard video and spoken testimony of God’s faithfulness as we’ve all had to cling to the hope we have in Christ throughout the COVID pandemic and recent racial injustices.

Saturday Worship

The Northwest Conference Annual Meeting began with a time of worship, prayer and reflection at 9 a.m. The worship session opened with a spoken word video called Lament—a short film addressing the grief and challenges caused by the pandemic, and sharing the message of hope found in Jesus.

NWC Superintendent Mark Stromberg then welcomed delegates and attendees, saying, “Is there any better time in which to preach the Gospel? Is there any better time in which people need the saving grace of Jesus Christ? Now is the time to lean into the very thigs that we say, the very things that we profess to be true.”

Following the greeting, a slideshow of photos from the 2020 ministry year (below)—submitted by NWC churches, camps and Minnehaha Academy—told the story in images of how we moved from hardship to hope.

NWC Associate Superintendent Kara Stromberg offered a devotion, highlighting the many hardships of 2020—from COVID to injustice, violence and a racial reckoning, to a contentious political environment and presidential election.

“In all of this, we lament and grieve. We long to lament and grieve together but we can’t get together except on Zoom. And yet, as Christ followers, we are not without hope. We may be hard pressed on every side, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed but not in despair. Persecuted, but not abandoned. Struck down, but not destroyed,” she said. “And through it all, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4, we do not lose heart … we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

Stromberg encouraged listeners to put their hope in Jesus, saying, “As Christ-followers, our hope is not cancelled.”

“Hardship and hope are foundational to our faith and to our life together as believers. We should not be surprised by this because God’s people have always been formed in the hardship,” Stromberg said. “As Christ followers, let’s let hardship and hope be our soundtrack. This is what it means to be the people of God.”

The worship session concluded with a performance of Deitrick Haddon’s “He’s Able,” by the worship team at The Sanctuary Covenant Church in Minneapolis, MN.

Saturday Business Session

After a short break, NWC Executive Board Chair Jim Volling called the Business Session to order and offered a prayer for the meeting.

Attendees then heard testimony from leaders of four NWC churches about their ministry journeys through the challenges of 2020. The Hardship to Hope video (below) highlights Epiphany Covenant Church (Minneapolis, MN, and Turtle Mountain, ND), Destino Covenant Church (Minneapolis, MN), Brookdale Covenant Church (Brooklyn Center, MN), and Alexandria Covenant Church (Alexandria, MN).

In place of individual staff reports, this year’s meeting featured a joint report given by Superintendent Mark Stromberg and Associate Superintendent Kara Stromberg.

During his report, Mark shared some of the many blessings of God in the adversity of 2020.

“We couldn’t meet in person, but we could innovate and meet online, maybe reaching people who would never darken the doors of our church buildings,” he said. “We couldn’t gather for Northwest Conference events, but we could host cohorts and webinars and workshops, allowing some to participate who would never be able to make the drive down to the Conference office to meet onsite.”

Superintendent Stromberg highlighted how the pandemic, loss and discomfort of the ministry year, and more, brought on a time of awareness, maturity and growth.

“As Northwest Conference leaders, we have certainly observed the full gamut within our Northwest Conference fellowship. Some have handled these stresses and strains very well, while others not so much,” he said. “But, whether we feel like we have hit a home run or whether we feel like we struck out—swinging and hitting nothing but air—this does not deter the working of God through His people—through you and the churches and ministries you represent—bringing hope in a world that so often feels hopeless.”

He also thanked attendees for their faithfulness during these challenging days, as evidenced by ongoing support of the NWC, Covenant camps and Minnehaha Academy, through prayers, finances and a willingness to serve.

“Let each one of us commit to being part of a solution to whatever hardships we face, rather than being part of the problem,” he said. “Let’s each one of us bring a spirit of hopefulness and encouragement, rather than a harsh word and an impatient spirit.” 

“Yes, even in these challenges that we continue to face relative to the pandemic, injustice and strained relationships across political and racial lines, may we be able to say, ‘But, I sought to bring peace and hope to those who sorely need it—in my own family, in my church, in my place of work, in my community, in the denomination,’” he continued. “Let’s be part of the solution, not part of the problem. And may God grant us wisdom to know how to be that kind of witness in this kind of world.”

During her report, Associate Superintendent Kara Stromberg shared how the NWC staff pivoted throughout the year to adjust to the realities of COVID and other hardships.

“This past year, our staff spent a lot of time connecting with and supporting pastors and chaplains, participating in many Zoom meetings for times of consultation and encouragement,” she said. “Pastoral connections happened regionally and also by affinity group—planting pastors, children, youth, a vitality cohort, women clergy, worship leaders and more all met regularly online to resource and encourage one another.”

Kara highlighted how NWC staff members coordinated requests for counseling and spiritual direction, increased communication and online resourcing throughout the year, helped churches navigate health department guidelines for re-opening, continued to assist in planting new churches, supported children and family ministry leaders as they adapted to new realities, and continued to walk alongside churches in the journey toward vitality.

“Through a broad survey and conversations with ministry leaders across our Conference, we determined that one of our priorities going forward is to help resource churches in the area of technology—specifically AV production, website development and social media,” she announced. “The important work we did in 2020 will inform our priorities in 2021 and beyond.”

Four churches that will be removed from the roster of the Evangelical Covenant Church were announced: Monticello Covenant Church (Monticello, MN) and Grace Outreach Covenant Church (Coon Rapids, MN) concluded their ministries, and Abbey Way Covenant Church (Minneapolis, MN) and Genesis West Covenant Church (Robbinsdale, MN) made the decision to disaffiliate with the ECC.

The Minnehaha Academy report began with a video of the Upper School choir’s performance of “Stand Up” from the movie “Harriet,” filmed for the 2021 Revue—exemplifying creativity in fine arts programming during COVID.

Minnehaha Academy President Donna Harris then greeted attendees via a recorded video message (see Videos tab below), saying, “As a ministry of the Northwest Conference, Minnehaha Academy has been blessed and encouraged by our ongoing partnership.”

Harris shared how school faculty and staff worked to prepare MA campuses for in-person learning during the pandemic—including modified schedules, health protocols, upgraded ventilation systems and reduced cohorts of students.“Students and parents have been overjoyed to be in person this school year,” she said. “Our faculty have really been our heroes. The sheer number of hours to modify instruction to be appropriate for online and in-person pushed teachers beyond what they believed was their capacity. … But they have remained so steadfast.”

Harris shared a slideshow of photos from the life of the school that highlighted recent athletic and academic accomplishments of MA students, the new Minnehaha Leadership Institute and increased enrollment statistics—despite the “unusual” school year.

“I am so proud of the efforts of our students, and I’m so thankful for the commitment of our talented faculty,” Harris said.

During the Business Session, delegates approved a ballot that included the election of Jim Volling (Excelsior Covenant Church, Excelsior, MN) to serve another year as NWC Executive Board Chairperson, Nikki Kahoud (Rochester Covenant, Rochester, MN) and Dan Riley (Buffalo Covenant, Buffalo, MN) to 5-year terms on the NWC Executive Board, and electing Erica Jensen (Sanctuary Covenant, Minneapolis, MN), Jenny Johnson (First Covenant, St. Paul, MN) and Aaron Kardell (Sanctuary Covenant, Minneapolis, MN) to 5-year terms on the Minnehaha Academy Board of Trustees.

Delegates approved the NWC budget of $1,607,404, as well as the budget of $15,234,200 for Minnehaha Academy.

A special offering was taken to benefit Covenant Ability Network-MN Group Home Residences, serving those with physical and mental disabilities. The amount to be given will be announced at a later date. The funds will be used to bless these front-line workers who work tirelessly to care for those among us who need additional assistance to live full and meaningful lives, seeking to focus on what these residents can do rather than merely the challenges they face.

The Business Session concluded with a video from the Evangelical Covenant Church called 3StrandStronger.

Eleven candidates for Ordination were recognized in a pre-meeting slideshow.

Workshops

Following the Business Session, delegates and attendees had the opportunity to attend educational workshops hosted on Zoom, including: Looking Ahead in the ECC, Looking Ahead in the NWC, Managing Finances and Facility During a Crisis and Beyond, Faith and Fake News, and First Steps: Equipping Parents for Discipleship in the Home. Recordings of three of the workshops are available here.

As a source of encouragement throughout this unprecedented time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff, as well as pastors and leaders from our churches and affiliated ministries, share a reflective thought and prayer each week. View the next installment from Char Rotvold, Family Life Pastor at Faith Covenant Church in Burnsville, MN. In addition to serving at the church, Char is wife to Kirk, and mom to Kyle and Erika.

 

Dear NWC Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

The long-awaited trial for Derek Chauvin has rendered its verdict of guilty on all counts. There may be a collective sigh of relief over justice being rightfully carried out in the unjustified killing of George Floyd, yet we also know that there remain many reasons for us to reflect with sober judgment on all that has taken place in the past year relative to race relations in our land.

This particular verdict does not answer the question as to how we move forward from here. We know that hearts remain heavy, even as levels of fear and mistrust persist. We know that prejudice and racial disparities exist. We know that there are many questions left to be answered and so many different perspectives on how our world can become more caring and just.

And while there may be nearly universal acknowledgment that the courts got this one right, we also recognize that, even within the Church of Jesus Christ … within the Covenant … yes, within the NWC … there are differing vantage points on the broader complexities upon which we do not all agree.

It is during such times that I ask you to pray and keep your hearts and minds centered on our Lord. After all, our unity and hope are found in Him, not in our politics or personal experience or preferences. We will never be “cookie-cutter” people, nor is that what Christ calls us to be. However, we are called to be conformed to His image. In this, we are called to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice. We are called to bear one another’s burdens and to count others as better than ourselves. We are invited into a relationship with our Heavenly Father which truly binds us together as His sons and daughters.

As we continue to pray, may God grant us wisdom and grace as we seek to walk in obedience and live into His high and holy calling as children of the heavenly Father … brothers and sisters in ways that both honor and transcend ethnicity and culture.

Courage!

Mark R. Stromberg
NWC Superintendent

In the weeks leading up to our Annual Meeting, we’ll be introduced to each of the 11 pastors who will be ordained this summer. Normally we’d hear from them at our NWC Annual Meeting, but this year we’ve asked each one to combine a bit of their Ordination Testimony (Word of Witness) with an Encouraging Word for the wider NWC as part of our ongoing series.

We pray that you will be blessed and give thanks for each of these sisters and brothers who have been set apart for pastoral ministry in the Evangelical Covenant Church.

View the next installment from Erik Anderson, Campus Pastor at multi-site Crossroads Covenant Church in Woodbury, MN.

 

In the weeks leading up to our Annual Meeting, we’ll be introduced to each of the 11 pastors who will be ordained this summer. Normally we’d hear from them at our NWC Annual Meeting, but this year we’ve asked each one to combine a bit of their Ordination Testimony (Word of Witness) with an Encouraging Word for the wider NWC as part of our ongoing series.

We pray that you will be blessed and give thanks for each of these sisters and brothers who have been set apart for pastoral ministry in the Evangelical Covenant Church.

View the next installment from Chad Melton, Campus Pastor at Crossroads Church’s Eagan location. Melton and his wife Becky are parents to five children, also serve as foster parents when possible.

 

In the weeks leading up to our Annual Meeting, we’ll be introduced to each of the 11 pastors who will be ordained this summer. Normally we’d hear from them at our NWC Annual Meeting, but this year we’ve asked each one to combine a bit of their Ordination Testimony (Word of Witness) with an Encouraging Word for the wider NWC as part of our ongoing series.

We pray that you will be blessed and give thanks for each of these sisters and brothers who have been set apart for pastoral ministry in the Evangelical Covenant Church.

View the next installment from Dr. Jack Shields, founder and Pastor of The Door Covenant Church in Blaine, MN. The Door is “an imperfect church for imperfect people,” and Shields still loves surprising people with how good God is.

 

In the weeks leading up to our Annual Meeting, we’ll be introduced to each of the 11 pastors who will be ordained this summer. Normally we’d hear from them at our NWC Annual Meeting, but this year we’ve asked each one to combine a bit of their Ordination Testimony (Word of Witness) with an Encouraging Word for the wider NWC as part of our ongoing series.

We pray that you will be blessed and give thanks for each of these sisters and brothers who have been set apart for pastoral ministry in the Evangelical Covenant Church.

View the next installment from John Meader, Associate Pastor at Crossroads Covenant Church in Forest Lake, MN. She is married to Geoff and they have two children. He leads the adult equipping ministries, while managing the overall financial and business affairs of the church. With a passion to know and experience Jesus, John has a heart to teach and bring others into a deeper, richer understanding of Christ and His kingdom.

 

In the weeks leading up to our Annual Meeting, we’ll be introduced to each of the 11 pastors who will be ordained this summer. Normally we’d hear from them at our NWC Annual Meeting, but this year we’ve asked each one to combine a bit of their Ordination Testimony (Word of Witness) with an Encouraging Word for the wider NWC as part of our ongoing series.

We pray that you will be blessed and give thanks for each of these sisters and brothers who have been set apart for pastoral ministry in the Evangelical Covenant Church.

View the next installment from Nicole Bullock, Lead Pastor of Blue Oaks Covenant Church in Crystal, MN. She is married to Geoff and they have two children. Nicole is a gifted communicator and has taught on many platforms including being the adjunct professor of preaching at Bethel Seminary.

 

At Gather, the Annual Meeting for the Evangelical Covenant Church (June 2021), a Resolution developed by the ECC Christian Action Commission on the “Doctrine of Discovery” will be acted upon. As a prelude to this action by the delegates, the Northwest Conference is seeking to help our pastors and churches become more aware of what will be presented for action.

Alaska Conference Superintendent Curtis Ivanoff and NWC Pastor and Chair of the ECC Christian Action Commission Luke Swanson, led a discussion around this proposed resolution, and more broadly, what it means to be an ECC family that bears the pain and stories of our indigenous brothers and sisters.

You can access the ECC Resolution here. See the Resources tab below the video for more information.

 

In the weeks leading up to our Annual Meeting, we’ll be introduced to each of the 11 pastors who will be ordained this summer. Normally we’d hear from them at our NWC Annual Meeting, but this year we’ve asked each one to combine a bit of their Ordination Testimony (Word of Witness) with an Encouraging Word for the wider NWC as part of our ongoing series.

We pray that you will be blessed and give thanks for each of these sisters and brothers who have been set apart for pastoral ministry in the Evangelical Covenant Church.

View the next installment from Laura Johnson, Chaplain at Pine Haven Community Care Center in Pine Island, MN. Pine Haven is a 68-bed skilled nursing facility.

 

It has been said, “If you’ve seen one rural county, you’re seen one rural county.” The reality is rural communities are complex and varied. So, there is no one-size-fits-all approach for the church. We see rural congregations occupying the center of busy town squares to churches dotting the sides or unpopulated state roads. This presence is amidst what represents a changing, complex and culturally conflicted segment of America.

It is in these settings that factors of growth, decline and change present on-going challenges and opportunities for the Church and its mission. In this webinar, we unpack a biblical foundation for change, as well personal and practical implications for the leader.

 

In the weeks leading up to our Annual Meeting, we’ll be introduced to each of the 11 pastors who will be ordained this summer. Normally we’d hear from them at our NWC Annual Meeting, but this year we’ve asked each one to combine a bit of their Ordination Testimony (Word of Witness) with an Encouraging Word for the wider NWC as part of our ongoing series.

We pray that you will be blessed and give thanks for each of these sisters and brothers who have been set apart for pastoral ministry in the Evangelical Covenant Church.

View the next installment from Andy League, Pastor of Lowry Community Covenant Church in Lowry, MN. He is married to Shannon and they have 4 children.

 

NWC Pastors sat down with Bill Doherty and David Lapp, founders of Braver Angels for a brave discussion on navigating divisive political conversations in our churches and communities. Braver Angels is a nonprofit organization that seeks to bring “reds” and “blues” together for civil conversation and understanding.

In this webinar, we began to unpack what this can look like in the church, and how pastors and church leaders can lead well in divisive times, while working to depolarize communities and congregations. For more information on what Braver Angels does, visit their website here. Also, view this link that shows a CNN video that features Braver Angels https://youtu.be/XipezLfJenY.

If you are interested in further conversation on the work of Braver Angels or want to explore hosting a workshop in your community, please reach out directly to David Lapp (dlapp@braverangels.org) or Hollis Kim (hollis@northwestconference.org).

 

In the weeks leading up to our Annual Meeting, we’ll be introduced to each of the 11 pastors who will be ordained this summer. Normally we’d hear from them at our NWC Annual Meeting, but this year we’ve asked each one to combine a bit of their Ordination Testimony (Word of Witness) with an Encouraging Word for the wider NWC as part of our ongoing series.

We pray that you will be blessed and give thanks for each of these sisters and brothers who have been set apart for pastoral ministry in the Evangelical Covenant Church.

View the next installment from Kari Jacott, Covenant pastor and Clinical Mental Health Therapist at Fernbrook Family Center in Owatonna, MN. Kari loves to run, have outdoor adventures, golf, and spend time with her husband and children.

 

A strong marketing and communication strategy can make the most of readily available, low cost tools to keep your congregation engaged and get your church in front of new audiences. As more churches and public spaces open up throughout 2021, now is the time to consider how the pieces of your brand, website, and marketing efforts work together.

In a series of previous stories, we’ve taken a close look at questions and process related to branding and website design. If you missed those four stories, see the links at the end of this article.

Once your brand is buttoned up, and your website is meeting your visitors’ and congregation’s needs, it’s time to start expanding your reach and driving traffic to the site. Think of your website as the hub of your marketing efforts—and email, social media, print and other tools as your primary drivers to the site.

Here are a few of the essential marketing platforms every church should consider using to connect with people.

Email newsletters are common ground.

An email newsletter is one of the best ways to communicate regularly with your congregation. People all have their preferred social media platforms, but virtually everyone has email. And there are many great options for free or relatively inexpensive email marketing platforms.

The two most common, and most user-friendly services are:

  • MailChimp: Featuring a more advanced and easier to use email builder, MailChimp is free for users with under 2,000 contacts, making it a great fit for most churches.
  • Constant Contact: The email platform of choice for the NWC, Constant Contact pricing starts at $20/month, and there are more pre-designed templates to choose from, as well as a recently improved email builder. Contact management and email archiving options are slightly more user-friendly on Constant Contact, but the trade off may not be worth the cost for most users.

A weekly email newsletter provides consistency and opportunities to drive traffic to the website. Keep in mind that people scan content quickly, and you will need to repeat important event promotions and other key content for several weeks before many will take notice and click to learn more.

Provide short blurbs that link to longer form content on your website. Give your readers just enough info to glean key details, and entice them to click links or buttons to learn more or register for events.

Social media is for viral content.

The goal in using all social media platforms is to create content that compels people to interact and share. Unlike email newsletters, social media tools are, by design, meant to connect your church with new people via the social networks of those who already follow.

Regardless of the platform, try to include specific calls to action, prompts to share, and questions that require a response. It may feel “pushy” or inauthentic at times, but social media users are accustomed to being asked to like, share and comment. So go ahead and ask away.

The three social media platforms that work well for most churches are:

  • Facebook: Although it’s become overrun with advertising and hot-button political content, Facebook still has the most robust tools for churches to facilitate groups, promote events, and share a wide variety of types of content.
  • Instagram: Focused on photo and video content, Instagram is a great way to give followers visual insight into the life of your congregation. Make sure to vary your content so the feed doesn’t become exclusively promotional in nature. Check out the Crossroads Church feed for a great example of content mix.
  • YouTube: While it’s a great platform for hosting video and livestreaming, remember that YouTube is at its core a social media tool. Make sure to pay attention and respond to comments, and tag content to increase the likelihood of showing up in the platform’s powerful search tool.

With any social media platform, plan to drive some content to your website for event details, sermons and news items, but do make sure to mix it up with posts that are created purely for social media. This will add to the personal and interactive feel of your feed.

Print is not (quite) dead.

Most churches have cut way down on common print materials like bulletins, printed newsletters and other paper goods. Depending on the demographics of your congregation, you may even be entirely paperless. Or you may find that your particular audience still likes to hold onto an order of service or receive mail from the church.

There is no right answer here, except to stay tuned to the needs of your congregation. Even if you’re mostly paperless, consider investing in well-designed welcome packets and seasonal promotions.

For example, during the 2020 holiday season, one church located just west of the Twin Cities created a custom printed Advent calendar with daily spiritual activities for families to engage in while they weren’t able to gather. The campaign connected families worshipping at home across the church body and was a huge success.

Whatever stage your church is at in the development of your brand, website or marketing strategies, it’s important to remember that there’s always room to grow and learn and evolve. And it’s perfectly fine to think of these areas of ministry as a journey. The important thing is to start somewhere, stay active, keep moving and be flexible.

For other stories in our Communications 101 series, visit:

By Bryan Malley, NWC Director of Communications

In the weeks leading up to our Annual Meeting, we’ll be introduced to each of the 11 pastors who will be ordained this summer. Normally we’d hear from them at our NWC Annual Meeting, but this year we’ve asked each one to combine a bit of their Ordination Testimony (Word of Witness) with an Encouraging Word for the wider NWC as part of our ongoing series.

We pray that you will be blessed and give thanks for each of these sisters and brothers who have been set apart for pastoral ministry in the Evangelical Covenant Church.

View the next installment from Mike Bechtold, Associate Pastor at First Covenant Church in Red Wing, MN.

 

The Northwest Conference conducted a survey during November/December 2020 to request feedback on how we are currently doing in our ministry partnership with our churches, where may we be falling short, and how our pastors/churches are doing in this current season. This report is to offer summary highlights of our key findings and process.

Download the 2020 Leader Survey Report

In the weeks leading up to our Annual Meeting, we’ll be introduced to each of the 11 pastors who will be ordained this summer. Normally we’d hear from them at our NWC Annual Meeting, but this year we’ve asked each one to combine a bit of their Ordination Testimony (Word of Witness) with an Encouraging Word for the wider NWC as part of our ongoing series.

We pray that you will be blessed and give thanks for each of these sisters and brothers who have been set apart for pastoral ministry in the Evangelical Covenant Church.

View the next installment from interim Covenant pastor Linda Norlien below. Linda and her husband Marv are co-pastors who serve Covenant churches as interim pastors. They are currently between churches and look forward to serving another church in the near future. They are both finalizing their transfer of ordination into the Evangelical Covenant Church.

 

Redesigning a website is no small task. There is a lot of information to gather, hundreds of decisions to make along the way, and many hours required to plan, design, build and launch a successful project.

The job may seem daunting at times, but as the “new front door” of your church, your home on the web must get the attention it deserves. And as noted in Part 1 of this series, now is the time to consider updating your online presence as we move toward re-opening public spaces.

Whether you’re working with a website design agency, a freelancer or a team of volunteers from within your church, keep your project committee small (3-5 people), make sure you have input from key decision makers from the start and try to have a single point person for designers and developers to work with.

Process: How do you get started?

As with most any type of design project, a website redesign should begin with conversation. There is a lot to think about—and even more to do—once you get started.

Here are a few of the questions often used by professional designers at the start of a website project:

  • List 3-5 main goals for your new website. (Examples: Drive traffic to contact the church, convert site visitors to church visitors, explain ministry offerings, promote events, etc.)
  • Define 3-5 key audiences the new website must reach. Include as much information as you can about the demographics and expected behavior of each group as they interact with the new website. For example, a key audience of young families might be expected to search out information on children’s ministry programming over other types of content.
  • Provide a short description of your brand using language that describes the “personality” of the brand.
  • Are there clear colors, styles of illustrations, graphics, functionality or anything else you absolutely need to avoid because of history or the specifics of your audience?
  • List the URLs of as many of your “competitor’s” websites as possible. How are you different from your main competitors?
  • List the URLs of any and all inspiration websites you can think of. Provide examples from other churches and from any other sites in other industries you feel have qualities you’d like to see in your new site.
  • Describe any unique functionality or how you’d like particular features to work on your new site. Are there external systems the new site needs to integrate with, such as a church database or email newsletter platform?

The answers to these questions should help guide all the decisions that will be made along the way related to words, images, organization and design elements that will come together to comprise the new site.

Start with UX Design …

User Experience Design (often referred to as UX Design), as the name suggests, is the practice of thinking through expected and desired user behavior and organizing a website and its pages in a way that will meet the visitor’s needs most effectively. UX Design includes creating a “site map” of pages, as well as planning what will go on each page from top to bottom.

Plan a site menu structure that uses plain language and is organized with the new visitor in mind. You may have developed some catchy language for your ministry priorities or individual ministry areas, but often these terms don’t make strong navigational items for those who don’t already know what they mean.

A good rule of thumb for your top level menu is to have 7 (+/-2) items that can house most of the other pages required to fill out the site. Some common examples include: Welcome, Ministries, About Us, Events, News, Contact, Giving.

Once you have a complete and organized list of what will go where, you can start to think about the individual pages of your new site.

  • Home Page: The most important page on your site, it’s a good idea to start with broad messaging for new visitors, use pictures wherever possible, sprinkle in brand messaging and funnel down to specific promos for things like events, sermon series or news.
  • Landing Pages: Are there certain pages on the site that deserve extra hierarchical and/or design attention? Significant design energy will go into the Home Page, but often there’s a second tier of important pages that also require strong design. Examples of Landing Pages might include: I’m New, Events, Sermons or a Ministries page that provides a simple overview of your key offerings and links out to specific pages.
  • Standard Pages: Can you create a template that would serve most other page needs? Because church websites often require a higher page count to ensure each group or ministry is represented, you will save significant time and energy if you can plan a single page template with the components required to cover the bulk of the sites third tier pages.

Before you start the Visual Design process, your team should already have a clear vision for how these key page types will take shape, and how a visitor will move through the site.

Visual Design should flow from brand identity.

The UX Design plan, coupled with details about your brand identity, will be the jumping off points to move into this next stage. Visual Design should bring together color, type styles, photos, icons and other graphic elements and result in a website that “feels” like your church.

  • The website is a digital extension of your church, and therefore should always flow from the brand identity.
  • Use real photography of real people to give an accurate sense of what your church community is like.
  • The visual hierarchy of every page should follow your content hierarchy. Bigger, bolder, simpler things go at the top, working downward to more specific, longer form content as needed.
  • White space, simplicity and large text are your friends. These design qualities will keep things uncluttered, improve accessibility for users with special needs and keep the new visitor from feeling overwhelmed.

It’s important to visitors as they navigate your site to lean on visual cues that feel familiar. Avoid the temptation to break the mold and be overly creative with placement of key elements from page to page. Certain pages will vary in obvious ways, but visitors should always feel like they’re still within your website.

Why does mobile responsive design matter?

With the proliferation of mobile devices, it’s absolutely critical to make sure your website is mobile responsive. In other words, the display of the website should adjust based on the pixel width of the screen upon which it’s being viewed. According to an article from Sweor called, “27 Eye-Opening Statistics About User Experience, Website First Impressions, and Website Design That You Should Be Taking Very Seriously”:

  • 57% of internet users say they won’t recommend a business with a poorly designed website on mobile.
  • 85% of adults think that a company’s website when viewed on a mobile device should be as good or better than its desktop website.

Your designer should provide you with layouts for larger desktop monitors, as well as specifically-designed versions of pages for tablets and mobile phones. Often the elements of each page will stack on top of one another, some desktop design elements may be hidden for mobile devices and your site’s menu should feature a mobile-friendly design.

Content and SEO go hand in hand.

Most church website projects will have many stakeholders contributing ideas for what should go on the various pages of the site. In order to maintain a consistent brand voice, and to capitalize on Search Engine Optimization (SEO), there should be one team member aggregating and editing the words for your website.

Here are a few important things to keep in mind:

  • Use welcoming and inviting language, not insider speak, to ensure your messaging resonates with new visitors.
  • Most internal pages of the website should aim to have 500-750 words on the page. Too much or too little could result in dings against search rankings.
  • Determine a key word or phrase for each page, and try to make sure that word appears in the meta description (the snippet shown in search results), first headline and several times throughout body copy on the page.
  • Consider using tabs or other methods of organizing less important content for pages that need to house a lot of details.
  • Based on your UX Design plan, provide a framework to ministry leaders or staff members submitting content. This helps them tailor their content, along with word counts, and standardizes information delivery from page to page.

You can certainly take SEO further using add-on tools, plugins and tactics to improve your organic search results, but the best starting point for most churches is to remember these basics when drafting content for your pages. Google and other search engines mainly want to know that you’re the “expert” on your specific content. Writing with SEO in mind by having the right amount of content on each page and using keywords enough, but not too much, should result in strong SEO over time. Having strong SEO means that when people search for “church in Warroad, MN” or “youth ministry in Grand Forks” your church will rise to the top of their search results list.

What Content Management System (CMS) is best?

There are myriad options for platforms on which to build a website and almost as many opinions about which CMS is best. The “right answer” to this question is probably a combination of your church’s needs for functionality, your developer’s preferences and your comfortability with the administrative interface for updating the new site.

  • Avoid using proprietary CMS options offered by some software developers. These lesser-known platforms don’t have the benefit of open-source development, have less user-friendly interfaces and sometimes result in clients needing to pay for simple changes.
  • WordPress is a great option for stand-alone or self-hosted sites with a large enough budget to customize the CMS and front-end design. An experienced design team can do just about anything using WordPress as the underlying platform, without the restrictions of some of the more common hosted platforms below.
  • SquareSpace and Wix are good options for simpler projects that don’t require a lot of developer customization. Both platforms offer templates and easy to use page builders for putting together a site without much code knowledge.

With strong design and content, your website has the potential to convey a lot about your brand identity, give new visitors a glimpse into what your church is like, serve your members and attendees with the most up to date info and become the hub for other marketing and communications efforts.

This article is the second in a two-part series on church websites. To read part one, click here.

Also, be sure to check out our two-part series on branding at the links below:

By Bryan Malley, NWC Director of Communications

Over the next 11 weeks, we’ll be introduced to each of the 11 pastors who will be ordained this summer. Normally we’d hear from them at our NWC Annual Meeting, but this year we’ve asked each one to combine a bit of their Ordination Testimony (Word of Witness) with an Encouraging Word for the wider NWC as part of our ongoing series.

We pray that you will be blessed and give thanks for each of these sisters and brothers who have been set apart for pastoral ministry in the Evangelical Covenant Church.

View the next installment from interim Covenant pastor Marv Norlien below. Marv and his wife Linda are co-pastors who serve Covenant churches as interim pastors. They are currently between churches and look forward to serving another church in the near future. They are both finalizing their transfer of ordination into the Evangelical Covenant Church.

 

Amid the pandemic, a unique phenomenon occurred. The challenging circumstances magnified occupations that had easily been overlooked in the past and revealed those careers and services that are vital. From the checkout clerk to the childcare provider, communities got a glimpse at how intertwined our society is and how much we rely on each other in our day-to-day lives.

The Northwest Conference is home to countless individuals whose work was impacted by the pandemic. In this story, we look at four people in different careers and how COVID changed their work environment.

Educator

David Hoffner is a long-time teacher and the Executive Director of Faith Formation at Minnehaha Academy.

David Hoffner is a long-time teacher and the Executive Director of Faith Formation at Minnehaha Academy. At MA, COVID ushered the faculty, staff and students into another season of crisis. In August of 2017, the school suffered a tragic explosion and loss of life. They had to rebuild and were only in the renovated school building for six months when the pandemic shut down in-person learning last spring.

“It has been a time of great stress, with people working so hard to deliver on our mission to provide high quality education integrating Christian faith and learning in unique circumstances,” Hoffner said.

Minnehaha leadership had to look at school from a new angle. They currently offer both in person and online learning, all modeled to keep students and teachers safe. For instance, instead of one classroom having 18 kids, students would now learn in two pods of nine.

“We have smaller pockets all engaging together, meeting in separate rooms,” Hoffner said.

The lunchroom was converted into space for three additional classrooms and, at the Upper School, chapel goes out on a live feed to the students instead of gathering together in a large group. To move kids around and spread them out physically, additional staff were hired as well. Teachers had to sort out new technologies and design lessons differently to accommodate both students in the classroom and at home simultaneously.

“I could not be more proud of my colleagues who, every day, show up and deliver on our mission and don’t complain,” Hoffner said. “They continue to hammer on for the good of the kids.”

Students adjusted quickly to wearing masks, staying in small groups and eating lunch in the classrooms. However, the feel of the school building changed.

“There used to be a buzz in the hallway all the time. Now there’s just less movement,” Hoffner said.

Teachers have adapted, but all the changes have required a heightened level of creativity and resourcefulness to engage students.

“Many of us are used to a certain level of energy and engagement in the room and it’s difficult to do when there are socially-distanced desks and people in masks. Teachers have to work that much harder to find creative ways of engagement,” Hoffner said.

As a result of their due diligence, the school has been able to offer in-person learning throughout the year and has seen no community transmission of COVID thus far.

“We’ve shown it can be done, but it’s coming at a great cost,” Hoffner said. “It’s beautiful and meaningful work that has placed an amazing amount of stress on teachers.”

Teachers are exhausted and stretched thin.

“This is a sabbath type of vocation because you have breaks built in,” Hoffner said. “My colleagues have earned this coming summer in a remarkable way and I’m so grateful they have that coming.”

Food Retail Worker

Mark Dischinger of Brookdale Covenant is the maintenance manager at a Cub Foods in Minneapolis.

Mark Dischinger of Brookdale Covenant is the maintenance manager at a Cub Foods in Minneapolis. He was an integral part of putting safety precautions in place throughout the store.

“When we realized that it was a pandemic, the safety procedures fell into place rather quickly,” Dischinger said.

They installed plexiglass shields around the checkout counters, began scheduled wipe-down procedures for shopping carts and other surfaces, placed spacing requirements throughout the building and limited the number of people that could enter the store at once. His employer also adjusted the hours to allow a reserved time for elderly and high-risk shoppers.

After the initial rush for toilet paper and sanitizers last spring, Dischinger noticed a lull in foot traffic through the store.

“It became apparent that people were doing a pretty good job of monitoring their own safety and spacing themselves out,” Dischinger said.

Online services picked up considerably. Instead of shopping in store, many customers opted to order online and pick-up groceries curbside. The store also had to adjust inventory to keep up with the high demand on emergency products, cleaners and shelf stable items such as pasta and rice.

By its nature, being an essential worker increased the employees’ potential risk of contracting COVID.

“There were a few people who came into the store coughing, obviously in respiratory distress, and there were certainly concerns that disease may be more impactful on their lives than those in other circumstances,” Dischinger said.

While these encounters caused some trepidation, Dischinger said that his co-workers seemed to take it all in stride.

“They kept fairly calm in their approach to it,” he said.

First Responder

Daisy Anderson, wife of Lakeside Covenant Church planter Steve Anderson, is a first responder in Chanhassen, MN.

Daisy Anderson of Lakeside Covenant is a first responder in Chanhassen, MN. Local fire departments continually provide EMT and first responder training. When the pandemic hit, there was a large shift in how this training was done.

“We had to do a lot of online learning or have small groups train more often,” Anderson said. “[The Chanhassen Department] has turned more to paid on call. It’s starting to shift towards someday being a full-time department but it’s not yet.”

In the past, when a page went out, any number of volunteers who were able to respond would arrive at the station. Because of COVID, they changed to shift work to minimize the amount of people in the building at one time.

“Now we have three person shifts just so we wouldn’t have pages where 40-some people show up,” she said.

The department installed touch free devices and instituted cleaning procedures that each shift helps carry out.

The pandemic also changed how the department responds to calls.

“We always wear protective equipment, but we’ve gotten a lot more strict on how much we wear on which kinds of calls,” Anderson said.

If someone calls 911 for difficulty breathing, dispatch does a quick screening and lets the first responders know if COVID might be a factor.

“At that point, we just prepare assuming it’s COVID. We wear a gown, face shield, mask and gloves—a lot of extra stuff we didn’t necessarily do before,” she said.

Since the pandemic began, Anderson has noticed a couple notable trends in their community. First, car accidents have significantly decreased.

“So many people are working from home that there simply aren’t as many people driving around as before and so we have not seen as many accidents,” Anderson said.

Second, there was an uptick in small residential fires related to ovens or stovetops.

“Most of these calls were a result of having more kids at home trying to cook for themselves,” she explained.

For the most part, though, Anderson says that morale is good at the department.

“It’s our job and what we like to do, and [everyone] seems to be doing okay,” she said.

Funeral Director

Gordon Swanson of First Covenant Church in St. Paul is a funeral director at Wulff Funeral Home.

Gordon Swanson of First Covenant Church in St. Paul is a funeral director at Wulff Funeral Home. Swanson notes that the pandemic has impacted how and when people mourn.

“A good many of us went into this industry to serve people and we’re doing it in a much different way than we had before the pandemic,” Swanson said.

For those arranging and helping with funeral services, they have learned a whole new set of technical skills. They have adapted to state and CDC mandates of social distancing for in-person ceremonies as well as adhered to various church’s guidelines.

“Quite often when we hold a funeral at a church, it’s the first time they’ve had any kind of service in that building since the pandemic started. Their protocols in place are new and haven’t been worked out in its entirety,” he said.

Because of state restrictions, many families have decided to delay or not have funeral services at all in this past year.

“Especially at the beginning of the pandemic, we had families who postponed services until a later date thinking it was going to be a short-term situation. Now, a year into it, they decided not to have any ceremonies at all because they have moved on,” Swanson said. “To go back a year and revisit the loss is no longer something they need or desire to do.”

While funeral services look different right now, Swanson urges churches to continue reaching out to their grieving families.

“The loss is real and still immediate,” he said.

Contact the family with a phone call or send a sympathy card, pray for them and offer provisions and meals. These small gestures express love and help in the grieving process.

“People can do this in new and innovative ways, while some of the old traditions are still valid,” Swanson said.

Naming the Sacrifice

A common thread runs through each career. Regardless of where people work or what they do, everyone benefits from a word of encouragement and show of gratitude. Thankfully, difficult circumstances often inspire the community to show appreciation to first responders.

“Quite often, in times like this, the community encourages us with letters from kids or baked goods—things that show our department that people notice we are working hard to protect them,” Anderson said.

Churches can make a huge impact by recognizing those lesser-known or overlooked front-line workers.

Teachers serving in the classroom come alongside families and help them thrive.

“Being seen and known for that names the sacrifice,” Hoffner said.

Likewise, the service industry allows the minutiae of everyday life to continue.

“A number of times, people who came in the store would show appreciation for the work that was being done and say thanks,” Dischinger said. “The recognition of the fact that people working [at the grocery store] help supply the needs of the community really encourages people.”

It can also be as simple as recognizing and acknowledging a person’s role in the community.

“Noticing the sacrifice and the courage in which they’re doing it means a lot to people,” Hoffner said.

Story By Katie Honnette, freelance writer and member of Trimont Covenant Church.

As a source of encouragement throughout this unprecedented time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff, as well as pastors and leaders from our churches and affiliated ministries, share a reflective thought and prayer each week. View the next installment from Renee Franzen, Lead Pastor at Brookdale Covenant Church in Brooklyn Center, MN.

 

Maybe you’ve heard the phrase “your website is the new front door” of your church. While it’s true that people may first come into contact with your congregation through a variety of sources, your website is still the number one place most will turn when taking a closer look.

Every day, people in communities across the Northwest Conference are searching for a church. Even before the COVID pandemic—and even more so because of it—they are far more likely to visit your website before checking out a Sunday service.

Your website is a digital extension of your church. Are visitors getting an accurate and enticing glimpse of your brand and what your church has to offer?

Before discussing how to approach the process of a website redesign, there are some big important questions to answer first.

Who is your website for? 

In my experience, having been a part of many church website projects over the years, the question of who the website exists to serve might be the most overlooked.

The conversation often begins with, “We need a new website, and we need it to do this, that and the other thing.” Most of those requests for features and functionality revolve around serving existing members and attendees.

It is definitely possible to design and build a website that meets those needs and more, but a church website should exist primarily for the new visitor. Here’s why: Those who are already a part of your community can be trained to find information about events, sermons and all the other important details of church life over time. You only have one shot to capture the attention of the new visitor, so you must meet their needs in the first few seconds of their visit.

However they arrive at your site, the number one question a new visitor is asking—either consciously or subconsciously—is, “Will I fit in here?” Your goal is to help answer that question quickly with the words and images that are used on the home page and throughout the website.

  • Use real photography of real people to give an accurate sense of what your church community is like
  • Use welcoming and inviting language, not insider speak, to ensure your messaging resonates with new visitors
  • Give new visitors a clear path to an area of the site with detailed information about what they can expect during a first visit, the core beliefs of your church and the ministry work you do

The truth of the matter is only the new visitors that are actually a good fit for your church family will stick in the long run. So it’s important that you focus on giving new visitors a realistic vision of who you are, and work to attract the people most likely to resonate with your church experience.

Why does design matter so much?

Studies show it takes about 0.05 seconds for users to form an opinion about your website, and first impressions are 94% design-related. This becomes the key factor in determining whether visitors stay or leave.

A visitor’s perception of your website carries over to the way they perceive your church as a whole. Is it trustworthy? Does it seem credible? Is the user experience and navigation of the site intuitive and similar to what’s expected?

Why is performance important?

Modern, responsive websites that load quickly and are built on solid user experience design deliver instant credibility. And credibility keeps users on your site longer, increases interaction with the site’s calls to action and is likely to result in people recommending the site to others.

On the other hand, users will bounce quickly from sites that load slowly, aren’t compatible across a range of devices, or are frustrating to move around. Before you start down the path of designing a new website, spend time evaluating your options for hosting and site organization.

How will you keep it fresh?

Stale, dated content or imagery will also cause new visitors to question how active your church is in real life. Before embarking on a project of this scale, or creating new features that require regular posting, consider whether you have the staff or volunteer infrastructure in place to keep content fresh.

Upkeep your website like you do your building, especially since it’s your “new front door.”

This article is the first in a two-part series on church websites. In Part 2 of Website 101, we’ll take a look at a process for engaging a website redesign project.

By Bryan Malley, NWC Director of Communications

As a source of encouragement throughout this unprecedented time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff, as well as pastors and leaders from our churches and affiliated ministries, share a reflective thought and prayer each week. View the next installment from Khanh Nguyen, member of Sanctuary Covenant Church in Minneapolis. She’s a wife and mother of two children and runs her own Diversity & Inclusion ministry called C3: Cultural Competency Consulting.

 

As a source of encouragement throughout this unprecedented time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff, as well as pastors and leaders from our churches and affiliated ministries, share a reflective thought and prayer each week. View the next installment from Mark Stromberg, Superintendent of the Northwest Conference.

 

“Stay safe.” It was the mantra spoken over 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic swept through the nation. Regardless of whether a person contracted COVID or not, everyone has been impacted by the societal shifts that happened this past year. Social distancing, mask mandates, long-distance learning models and stay at home orders deeply affected everyday life—and people’s mental health.

The Northwest Conference is home to many experts who care for families and children and those who serve residents within long-term care facilities. In this story, we focus on two individuals who attest to how COVID and the resulting safety-focused disruptions have put a strain on emotional well-being.

Families and Children

Kari Jacott is a clinical mental health therapist at Fernbrook Family Center who counsels individuals, couples and families.

Kari Jacott of Owatonna, MN, was previously on staff at Linwood Covenant Church and currently serves as interim guest pastor for Monticello Covenant Church. She is a clinical mental health therapist at Fernbrook Family Center who counsels individuals, couples and families.

“The normal societal systems that create structure and normalcy were significantly altered [this past year],” Jacott said. “That brings a lot of grief and loss.”

Within her practice, Jacott has seen how the disruptions have significantly affected families.

“It’s exposed family systems that were already struggling and exacerbated it even more,” she said.

Juggling a changing work environment with overseeing children’s schooling in and out of the classroom has put added stress on parents.

“They are experiencing an experiment of schooling none of us have ever dreamed would happen in our lifetimes,” Jacott said. “Truancy is increasing, and parents and teachers are at a loss as to how to get students to comply.”

Jacott also sees that the isolation children are experiencing has negative impacts on their mental health. In the fall, Jacott’s daughter contracted COVID which placed the entire family on quarantine. Her 10-year-old son missed being in school and, on the day he went back, his teacher announced that they would be returning to distance learning because COVID numbers were increasing in the community.

“He related to me that one of his classmates burst into tears, followed by other children crying. He said to me, ‘Mom, I wanted to cry too, but I didn’t.’ My heart just broke as he shared, and we cried together,” Jacott said.

While the implications of isolation are not fully realized yet, anger is a common emotion Jacott hears about.

“[This] prompts me to ask what is below the surface, as anger is a secondary emotion usually expressed on the surface,” Jacott said. “For children, this will be emotions like frustrated, disappointed, overwhelmed, scared, confused, etc.”

This season has revealed fragility and how much people need physical connection, as well as the importance of societal structures for normalcy.

“Especially for children, we need to have things that are predictable. And this past year has been very unpredictable,” Jacott said. “For people who have anxiety over illness, [COVID has] intensified it even more. For people who were already lonely, it increased their loneliness and isolation. I think we have to look at those things and really be mindful and aware of them.”

Jacott has seen how COVID has brought fears and anxieties to the surface and said it’s important for churches to have honest conversations about them.

“Our fear of death, of illness and of the unknown: talking about it will create more transparency in our communities,” she said.

Long-Term Care

Randy Thyberg is a chaplain at the Golden Valley, MN, campus of Covenant Living long-term care facility.

Randy Thyberg is a chaplain at the Golden Valley, MN, campus of Covenant Living long-term care facility. He works directly with residents, serving the spiritual needs of those in skilled nursing, memory care and transitional care units.

State and federal guidelines have required keeping residents socially-distanced from one another and restricting visits from family and friends. While these protocols were put in place to keep the residents safe, they have resulted in people being more isolated than they would have been otherwise.

“This has made the visitation and encouragement of our residents all the more of a priority for me,” Thyberg said. “They desperately need the encouragement and one-on-one conversation that a chaplain can and should provide.”

Like all staff at the long-term care facility, Thyberg is required to adorn full PPE before providing care to individuals.

“It’s changed my routine here considerably in that I’ve had to change in and out of PPE as much as a dozen times in the course of a day,” Thyberg said.

The barrier of protective clothing was initially awkward but, as the COVID pandemic progressed, Thyberg said it has become the new norm for everyone at the facility.

“I think that the PPE issue has taken secondary place to the appreciation people have to have someone there to listen and pray for them and be with them,” he said. “Somehow, some way, the Lord is allowing us to cross that barrier and still communicate our love and care for these folks.”

Thyberg has witnessed long-term care staff members commit themselves to the emotional needs of their residents.

“The residents here have done surprisingly well because of efforts of the staff to engage them in other ways,” Thyberg said.

They work hard to keep the residents socially connected without breaking protocol. They make sure that patients can interact with their families using social media technology, such as Facetime and Skype visits with their loved ones.

“That’s been extremely important to their mental health,” he said.

Thyberg calls on churches to pray for residents and those working in long-term care facilities.

“Pray for the staff to remain strong and faithful in the work they’re called to carry out. Also, pray for the residents—for their spiritual and physical wellbeing,” Thyberg said.

Moving Forward

Health concerns coupled with the countless societal changes people endured this past year have taken a toll. People are weary and in need of healing—physically, mentally and emotionally.

“We are all over the place as far as being in the stages of grief and loss as a community, and as a world for that matter,” Jacott said. “We are still in the middle of this, and frankly, it’s going to be a mess for a while. I hope we can take time for each other, be more patient with each other and listen well, with the intention of just listening, maybe not fixing.”

During difficult times in the past, such as the Great Depression, people developed resourcefulness and began to help each other more.

“I’m hopeful that, out of this, we will see our own resourcefulness and ability to be resilient,” Jacott said.

That includes finding creative and resourceful ways to connect with others. Churches can play a huge role in helping people’s emotional well-being. It begins with noticing one another.

“There are so many people flying under the radar in our communities inside and outside the church,” Jacott said.

Making a call, sending cards, meeting virtually, joining the prayer chain or going on a walk with someone are safe and intentional ways to reach out.

“We are created for relationships, and we also need to be creative in making space and time for relationships,” she said.

Story By Katie Honnette, freelance writer and member of Trimont Covenant Church.

The human brain is programmed to identify things quickly. If something is not clearly labeled, we will automatically give it our own label. Branding is about attempting to control what label gets applied to your church via brand identity—messaging, visuals and experiences.

In a healthy brand environment, decisions about website design, promo material design, social media and marketing visuals, signage, apparel and more all flow from the curated brand identity.

So how do you go about distilling the big ideas about your brand down to actionable words and visual elements you can use to help control the narrative?

What’s a healthy process for brand identity creation?

Every freelance designer, small design studio or large branding agency has a unique process to guide clients through branding. While brand designers often approach the challenge in their own way, the process always involves a funnel-like method aimed at distilling many points of information down to a set of parameters that can be used to develop symbolism, styles, colors, words, logos and much more that communicate brand identity effectively.

Here’s an outline of the questions and process often used by professional designers to create visual identities that reflect the essence of the brand identity.

  • What is your mission?
  • What is your vision?
  • What are your core values?
  • What does your church do on a practical level?
  • What does the name of your organization mean to you?
  • What is your positioning statement (often called a tagline)?
  • Define your 3-5 key audiences and provide as much demographic information as you can about the expected behavior of each group as they interact with your brand.
  • What is the personality of your brand? To spur your thinking in this area, ask yourself: “If someone were to describe your church as if it were a person, what characteristics would they use?”
  • What visual characteristics of your brand might capture the key aspects of your mission, vision, values and position?
  • What imagery might capture some of the conceptual ideas from Mission, Vision, Brand Characteristics and Positioning Statement?
  • Are there color, styles of illustration or photography that should be avoided based on history or specifics of your key audiences?
  • List similar organizations and competitors and define how you are different from them.

An experienced brand designer will take your church’s input on these questions, help identify challenges and opportunities, point out conflicting inputs and ask follow up questions designed to gain a deep understanding of who you are and who you want to be, before putting pen to paper to create anything visual.

This outside perspective will often bring new ideas to the forefront, challenge existing assumptions and should result in a tightly defined and agreed upon plan to move forward in the creation of brand messaging, strategy and visual identity, often called a Creative Brief.

Whether you choose to work with an experienced team or agency, or a less experienced freelancer in the creation of the visuals, it’s absolutely critical that there is a process in place to guide design. The results of the process will be the lens through which you evaluate the success of proposed visual solutions and all future design, marketing and communications efforts.

How do you choose a partner?

The visual identity systems that best communicate brand identity don’t stop with a logo. In fact, I’ve heard a logo described as the “period at the end of the sentence,” or the flag you fly to identify yourself. This is because no logo can say all there is to say about a brand identity. It’s but one tool in a toolbox—and all the tools in the toolbox will be needed to help with the fix.

Graphic design, as a profession, covers a wide range of areas of expertise. There are illustrators, publication designers, website designers, production designers, font designers and on and on.

If you’re searching for a partner to guide you through branding, it’s important to connect with a person or team that can show experience in creating and executing a brand identity system. The designer you work with will need to both be able to design a logo, color palette, typography system and set of initial styles that solve your problem AND apply that system in appropriate ways across print, digital and promotional channels.

When you’re deciding who to partner with, take a comprehensive look at their body of work. Do they show work that might resonate with your audience? Can they demonstrate systematic thinking beyond logo design? And do they have any past experience or clients in church or nonprofit branding?

Once you’ve narrowed your list of partners down, ask questions. Interview them as if they were joining your team, because in many ways, they will function that way in the short and long term. How will they approach the challenge? What’s the estimated cost for various phases of the project? What are the final deliverables and who will own the intellectual property?

What’s the ROI?

The branding process is often illuminating, sometimes surprising and should be fun. It’s not always easy, but at the end of the journey you should be equipped with messages and visual tools to better influence perceptions and attract new people to your ministry.

The return on investment is that a fresh brand identity will be a jumping off point for the coming relaunch of in-person worship, future website design, marketing and communication efforts and everything you do to convey brand to the world for years to come.

This article is the second in a two-part series on church branding. To read part one, click here.

By Bryan Malley, NWC Director of Communications

We have observed how this past year both exposed and accelerated various issues/dynamics within rural/small town community life and congregational ministry.​ ​In light of our current landscape, we are pleased to partner with Oak Hills Christian College leaders to reflect on what we learned in 2020 that will inform our ministry in 2021.

Specifically, how do conflict and power inform leaders’ pastoral call and kingdom mission? How can pastors maintain a kingdom focus in divided times? What does self-care and resiliency look like in a season of crisis? This webinar is intended for rural leaders, but is also a helpful education piece for all ministry leaders who desire to understand how our kingdom mission plays out within our current climate and settings.

 

Evangelical Covenant Church President John Wenrich’s end of year letter to churches is available to download. Click the link below, and copies of the letter are also being mailed to each church.

Download letter

As a source of encouragement throughout this unprecedented time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff, as well as pastors and leaders from our churches and affiliated ministries, share a reflective thought and prayer each week. View the next installment from Hector Calvo, Next-Gen Pastor at Destino Covenant Church. Hector, his wife Pierina and his three children Caleb, Mila and Aylee live in Brooklyn Park, MN.

 

The current “COVID pause” that churches and businesses are enduring imposed many types of hardship throughout 2020. While things are definitely not “business as usual”—especially for churches—the “new normal” that seemingly everyone has been talking about throughout the pandemic will be accompanied by opportunity to jump start your ministry’s brand.

This article is the first in a two-part series on church branding. To read part two, click here.

New year, new you

While it’s true that churches across the Northwest Conference have found creative ways to shift their ministry online and serve many people from a distance, at some point in 2021 the doors will be open again, and your ministry will have the chance to “relaunch.”

Many people have used the time away from church buildings to explore other worship settings. And many who previously did not attend church may be looking for new ways to emerge from isolation and experience community.

Simply put, when it’s time to go back to church, your brand will be part of the decision-making process for those who are looking for a new place to call home.

What is brand?

“Brand” is one of those words that gets applied to so many different things that it’s lost its meaning over time. Let me be clear at the outset: Your brand is not your logo.

Your brand is the perception of your church as it exists in the mind of each individual, family or community—formulated over time by various levels and types of interaction with your organization.

Another way to say it is, your brand is your reputation. Your brand is what people think of you.

In an ideal world, this reputation is a close to accurate reflection of who your church really is, and what its ministry priorities and offerings are. You can’t control what people think of you, but you can act to influence their perception.

Brand vs. branding

If brand is what people think of you, then the process of branding is doing what you can to control the narrative about your church. Branding your church is about clarifying your mission, vision, values, offerings and organizational personality, and then crafting a strategy to use the tools at your disposal to consistently communicate truth about your brand.

The companies and organizations with the most effective branding are those who have taken the time to put definition to what’s “on the inside”—what their brand is and what they want their brand to be—and then invested in a strategy for communicating that value proposition consistently using messaging, visuals and in-person experiences to attract the right people.

This strategy and toolset is often referred to as “brand identity.”

Why does brand identity matter?

The goal in creating and maintaining this strategy is to align what comprises your brand (values, beliefs, reputation and personality) with your “brand identity.” If your brand identity doesn’t align with your brand, people won’t connect.

In my observation working with churches and nonprofits over the years, many have already taken the time to process through the big ideas about their brand. They have at least written down mission, vision, core values and how they want to be understood in the world.

But most have not invested enough in the next step, which is the creation of a strategy, visual identity and tools to accurately portray those big ideas across every possible point of interaction to consumers.

This is the number one area of disconnection for most churches—the quality and construction of the visual identity, website and marketing and communication efforts does not reflect the quality of the actual church experience.

Think of it this way: If your church were a person, then your clothing, hairstyle, cars, house, social media postings, and much more are communicating to others about your brand identity. And that brand identity is being used to formulate reputation.

Since your church is a church, it’s your logo, color palette, photography, signage, website, social media properties, messaging and in-person interactions that make up your brand identity.

Here’s a quick summary thus far:

  • Brand – What people think of you
  • Brand Identity – What you’re saying and doing to influence what people think of you
  • Branding – The process of defining brand, creating brand identity and crafting messaging and visual identity
  • Messaging – The words you, your team, and your congregants (brand ambassadors) say about you
  • Visual Identity – Logos, graphics, colors, patterns, photos … anything that can be seen and communicate about brand identity

Are the external signals of brand identity doing their job to convey truth about your brand?

Brand assignment this week:

  • Ask three people who don’t go to your church to take a look at your website. Have them:
    • Describe what they think is important to your church based on what they see.
    • Explain what they think the vision, mission and core values of the church are (without looking it up).
    • Choose five words to describe your church.

In Brand 101 Part 2, we discuss how to go about evaluating your brand identity and choosing a design partner to guide the process.

By Bryan Malley, NWC Director of Communications

COVID. It’s a word many of us would like to erase from our vocabulary. Its sheer presence turned our nation on its head, precipitated widespread grief, and, for those people in the medical profession, it caused extraordinary challenges.

The Northwest Conference is home to many healthcare workers who fulfilled their call to care for patients amidst this overwhelming season. In this story, we’re focusing on three of them.

Vida Kent is an active member and elder of Sanctuary Covenant Church in Minneapolis and has been a midwife at Park Nicollet for 20 years. Both David Warner, MD, and Lynne Reichmann, RN, attend Salem Road Covenant Church in Rochester, MN. Warner is an anesthesiologist at Mayo Clinic. He does clinical work, research and leads some of the educational programs at Mayo. He’s also an associate dean at the clinic’s medical school and is secretary of the American Board of Anesthesiology. Reichmann is a clinic nurse at the urology department at Mayo Clinic.

In their roles, each medical professional experienced the learning process that took place during two distinct surges of COVID-19. The first came in the spring of 2020, followed by a much larger one in the fall.

First Wave

“Where we are now compared to in March are two very different things,” Reichmann said.

Early in the pandemic, when faced with this novel virus, the medical system lacked knowledge of its transmission and desperately sought the research needed. However, health care workers did their best to triage the number of COVID patients needing care.

Vida Kent is an active member and elder of Sanctuary Covenant Church in Minneapolis and has been a midwife at Park Nicollet for 20 years.

“When the state began shutting down, it was scary because we didn’t know what to do or how to manage keeping our patients and us safe,” Kent said.

She remembers receiving new emails from her employer regarding protocol seemingly every hour as more research and information flooded in.

On March 23, 2020, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz suspended all elective surgeries and procedures in the state. This executive order was incredibly disruptive to the medical system. The abrupt pause caused many nurses and anesthesiologists to be furloughed. Then, as fear of the virus began to take root, Kent noticed a large drop in the number of people coming to the hospital for routine appointments.

“Financially it put a strain on the OB GYN department [where I work] because patients weren’t coming in for their yearly physicals, or anything. Clinic schedules were low.”

As a result, Kent’s salary was slashed by 30 percent. Most hospitals also shifted to offering more remote visits for routine care. Reichmann was put on a COVID hotline team that received countless calls coming into Mayo Clinic.

Thankfully, there was a silver lining to the approximately seven-week disruption.

David Warner is an anesthesiologist at Mayo Clinic and attends Salem Road Covenant Church in Rochester, MN.

“The shutdown gave us the time we needed to plan and prepare so that when another and, in fact, a much larger surge came in November, we were ready,” Warner said.

Hospitals used the season to plan, stockpile protective equipment and prepare for another potential wave of the virus. By taking the time to think through possible scenarios and to put plans and contingencies in place, hospitals were better able to cope with the later large influx of COVID patients needing medical care.

While some people are bound to wonder if the executive order was worth it, Warner explains that it gave Minnesota time to prepare.

“The reason we didn’t look like New York and New Jersey did in March and April was because we had a head start. If we had the spike in cases in the spring that we had in October and November, it would have been a disaster,” Warner said. “The sacrifices that folks and churches made really was worth it.”

He says it allowed the healthcare system to be ready to face its storm.

The November Surge

Although hospitals were better prepared to care for COVID patients in the fall, the strain on individual health care workers is evident.

“I truly think people working on the frontlines are incredible people,” Reichmann said. “They work double shifts, put in countless overtime hours and are often unable to go home. That kind of workload burns people out and makes them more susceptible to getting sick.”

While those on the first line of COVID experience the primary impact and strain of the situation, it complicates other elements of the healthcare system as well.

Lynne Reichmann is a clinic nurse at the urology department at Mayo Clinic and attends Salem Road Covenant Church in Rochester, MN.

Reichmann has seen what happens when the pandemic hits a staff. She contracted COVID from a coworker and, thankfully, was able to manage her care at home. Reichmann works with a team of 30-35 nurses and when she was quarantined and recovering from COVID, three other nurses were also home sick.

“When we’re short on nurses, we need to figure out how to pick up the pieces. It’s mentally and emotionally draining,” Reichmann said.

Kent’s role as a midwife has been impacted tremendously as well. When the surge began this fall, many women who came to the hospital, in labor, were positive for COVID.

“We have to put on a lot of PPE in order to provide care for them and that’s not what midwifery is,” Kent explained. “Midwifery is hands-on, staying connected, talking and massaging in order to help our moms who are in labor.”

But, for COVID-positive moms, the staff is required to wear two gowns, two face masks, two pairs of gloves and goggles. And, the woman has to wear a mask while in labor.

“It changes the entire dynamic of care,” she said.

Looking Ahead

Since December 2020, there has been a downward trend in positive COVID cases, but there’s always a chance of another surge. Many medical professionals are encouraged by the approval of a vaccine.

“Eventually, vaccinations are what’s going to help us get through this,” Warner said.

When COVID first hit, Kent spent a lot of time in the Word and in prayer.

“First, I thanked God for people working directly with COVID patients and my next prayer was for a vaccine. When news came out that it was actually happening, I wept,” Kent said.

She considers the vaccine a step in the right direction.

“The only way we’re going to eradicate this is through herd immunity, and immunity comes through immunizations,” she said.

Albeit difficult, Warner is hopeful that important lessons were learned this year.

“Hopefully we can use what we learned to make medical care better in the future as well as just be better prepared for the next time this happens, because the potential for something like this is always out there,” he said.

The same is true of our churches. This challenging time has sparked creativity as congregations find new ways to serve, worship and pursue community.

“This was a good opportunity to learn that there are lots of different ways we can be in church, and that we can have an effective ministry even when we can’t be together,” Warner said.

However, the medical profession is aware that not being able to gather together is also taking a toll.

“For anyone isolated or with mental health issues, this is an extremely hard time. People are lonely and scared. We need human connection,” Reichmann said. “In our house, we believe in science, absolutely, but there’s another component that people are losing and that is the social aspect.”

She encourages people to find that needed connection with others. Even with social distancing measures in place, it’s imperative to not forget this element of care.

“I always encourage people in our congregation to do virtual things with other people in the church and to remind each other that we’re not alone; you’re not doing this by yourself,” Kent said.

Story By Katie Honnette, freelance writer and member of Trimont Covenant Church.

As a source of encouragement throughout this unprecedented time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff, as well as pastors and leaders from our churches and affiliated ministries, share a reflective thought and prayer each week. View the next installment from Collin Quinn, Minnehaha Academy teacher and Director of the Minnehaha Leadership Institute. Collin lives in South Minneapolis with his wife, Lisa, and their four kids, and has worked at Minnehaha since 2012.

 

There is a huge increase in mental health issues with teenagers during the pandemic. Our youth pastors have been ministering on the front lines of this rise, which is getting worse in these dark days of winter.

In light of that, we hosted a pop-up training on mental health and students on Friday, Dec. 18. Tim Cryer helped us learn what questions to ask and how to do a support group with students to delve beneath the surface. We’ll actually ran a beta support group and you can see what it looks like and how to do it yourself.

Tim Cryer has a Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy and has worked at TreeHouse for over 10 years working with teens, parents, and communities throughout Minnesota. He, like many of you, is struggling as a spouse, dad, employee, and person during this time.

 

As a source of encouragement throughout this unprecedented time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff, as well as pastors and leaders from our churches and affiliated ministries, share a reflective thought and prayer each week. View the next installment, the third in a series of three videos featuring students from Minnehaha Academy reflecting on leadership. Emma, Uyi and Elsie are members of the Minnehaha Leadership Institute serving as chapel interns at the Upper School. The Minnehaha Leadership Institute exists to develop servant leaders, who, through God’s story of redemption, are striving to become whole and holy people.

 

Pastor Linda Norlien, retired Chaplain (Lieutenant Colonel) in the U.S. Army, recently shared this reflection on what it takes to minister well in difficult circumstances and consistently over a long period of time.

May it be an encouragement to us all as we look toward 2021.

Ministry during a global pandemic is presenting challenges most of us have never faced before. Our training and prior experience comes up short in equipping us to face the increases in leadership challenges, decisions and fatigue.

Based on my experience as a retired Army chaplain, I would say this ministry context most resembles the challenges Army chaplains face while deployed to a combat zone. 

Ministry in a combat zone

Perhaps a brief account of an experience I had in 2006 in the dining facility at Camp Bucca near Umm Qasr, Iraq, will reveal the resemblance I see. I had just finished my meal when I spotted a fellow chaplain and took the opportunity to walk over and see how he was doing. It was breakfast time and my friend looked exhausted.

I sat down and heard his account of visiting his night shift personnel. He was eating breakfast and preparing to head out to check on his day shift. He was noticeably thin and completely ragged out. Since he was the only chaplain of his military branch on the base, he felt the weight not only of making sure all of his personnel knew him, but that he had addressed all of their religious support needs.

He was weeks into his pattern of making rounds across the entire base—visiting both day and night shifts. He was lacking sleep and losing weight, to say nothing of the strain on his emotional and spiritual life.

I was senior to him in date of rank and on my second combat deployment. I also knew his supervisory chaplain was located on another operating base, so I took the chance to offer him some friendly advice. As we talked, I was able to help him see that he desperately needed to develop a battle rhythm that included regular sleep, quality nutrition, quiet time with the Lord, physical exercise, phone or video conferences with his family back home, regular office hours and some body-and-soul-relieving relaxation with people.

His day and night shift visits were commendable—demonstrating that his heart was in the right place—but not the most efficient pace for long term, sustainable ministry in a combat zone. He thought that the place he was needed most was out where his people were, but he could only be in one place at a time. He was wearing himself out visiting with each of his personnel, but at any given time there might be 10 others unable to locate him.

I conveyed my genuine concern that he was on a trajectory that made him inaccessible to most of his personnel most of the time. He was also harming his health and he would not have the needed reserve energy to draw from if there were a serious incident requiring him to be at his peak emotionally, spiritually and physically.

Our visit went well and ended with him thanking me for my concern. He also pledged to give my recommendations genuine consideration.

Lessons we can use

We know from the testimony of others that the stress and strain of leading churches during this global pandemic is pushing pastors toward exhaustion. So, allow me to offer you some of the lessons we learned as military chaplains while deployed to combat zones.

The most important first step, as I told my friend in Iraq that morning, is to develop a weekly written plan for your time. In the military we called it our “battle rhythm,” which we printed and posted on the doors of our office, chapel and dwelling. That posted schedule informed everyone in our unit, from the most junior soldier to the staff and commander, where we were 24/7. We also made sure everyone had our contact information, so we were accessible, as needed.

An important principle we must recognize is that we cannot physically be everywhere we could possibly be used, so we must be accountable to others for where we are so they can locate us. Treat that plan as your rule of life and exercise and refine it week by week. By making your schedule available, you force yourself to be accountable to discipline your time. Developing and refining that plan every week helps you identify areas you might be neglecting like enough sleep, time with family and personal devotion time.

A second key principle is that it is not enough to simply be present physically if you are so spiritually and emotionally and physically depleted that you are not worth anything when you get there. The most important thing you bring into any conversation, meeting, study, worship service or counselling appointment is your well-rested, emotionally-healthy, Holy Spirit-filled presence.

I am not saying that God will not equip you beyond your own normal capabilities when the situation requires more than you have at that time. However, we are foolish to consistently live beyond our physical and emotional and spiritual capacities, and then expect God to use us when a need presents itself.

To minister well, consistently over a long-term time of unusual stress and strain, we must increase our planning and collaboration time and prioritize better than ever. Look for and ask God where He is working and resist distractions. Choose wisely so you can join God deeply.

In order to build your perseverance watch for and cultivate sources of joy. Have a sleep plan and keep working and refining it. Eat healthy food and drink more water. Nurture healthy friendships of all sorts. Ask God to help you resolve any personal conflicts you have and nurture family relationships, spiritual companions, and hobby and exercise friendships.

Stay connected with those you love intimately. Resist the temptation to take your closest relationships for granted. That will undermine the long-term health of those relationships. Instead, address loneliness before it sets in by connecting deeply.

Be careful to resist the tendency to ignore, deny or dismiss your needs of any kind. Remind yourself that any need you deal with in an unhealthy manner opens up a vulnerability to temptation. Give yourself permission to be affected by the challenges of the situation and address your needs in the moment.

Enjoy healthy sources of humor, sip your coffee slowly, listen to jazz, play your instrument, do art and read a fun novel or biography. Nurture gratitude and actively refuse fear and panic. If you know your Myers-Briggs Personality Type or your Enneagram number, use that insight to be the healthiest version of yourself, addressing the shadow sides of your personality.

Seek God’s presence and involvement in all you are responsible for by cultivating breath prayers, so you can be in an attitude of prayer continually. Recognize and acknowledge beauty and goodness wherever it can be seen. Grieve with faith by putting your confidence in God.

Times like these help us to recognize that what people need most comes from God, not us. But, we do have the privilege of reminding them of that. Nurture collaboration with other ministers and ministries, refusing competition that might have existed before.

In fact, identify what you admire and respect of other leaders and humbly learn from them. Refuse superficiality and legalism, genuinely making more time for the Lord to speak to you. If you have never engaged in the classic disciplines of the Christian faith like silence and solitude, and devotional Bible study, do so now.

Studying for sermon preparation is not the same as employing your contemplative imagination as you reread the stories of Jesus in the Gospels, seeing yourself as the person Jesus is forgiving and healing.

Empower other paid or lay-leaders to lead by coordinating a plan to share, or even hand off, responsibilities appropriate to their gifts and maturity. By prioritizing being accessible you entrust others to contact you when you are most needed and sustain your physical, emotional and spiritual resources, so when you get there you actually minister meaningfully.

Make and keep your appointments with your spiritual director, your counselor, your medical doctor, dentist and physical therapist. In fact, address your medical needs especially if they include pain or interrupted sleep. Remember, God meets us and blesses us where we are, not where we wish we were.

No time is too late to turn your situation over to God and listen afresh for his quiet whisper. Your schedule will still be full, but the planning, preparation and prioritizing I am recommending will equip you to minister well. You will be awake enough to be present and aware enough to be meaningfully working alongside God in what He is busy doing in each life and each ministry opportunity you encounter.

Ten Years Later

Ten years after our time at Camp Bucca, I bumped into my chaplain friend who was now an instructor in the basic course for chaplains just entering service. We had a joyful reunion and he introduced me to his students, by saying this is the Army chaplain I told you about who very likely saved my life.

It turns out that he took my counsel that day in Iraq and used it in every applicable situation thereafter. Now, he was passing the same healthy battle rhythms to these young chaplains who were headed to their own exciting but challenging ministries.

Pastor Linda Norlien
Chaplain (Lieutenant Colonel) US Army, Retired

Superintendent Mark R. Stromberg’s 2020 Letter to Churches Gathering in Annual Meetings is now available for download.

Feel free to include this letter in your annual meeting booklets or provide a copy to your church family via a bulletin insert.

As a source of encouragement throughout this unprecedented time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff, as well as pastors and leaders from our churches and affiliated ministries, share a reflective thought and prayer each week. View the next installment, a Christmas greeting from ECC President John Wenrich and his wife Julie.

 

As a source of encouragement throughout this unprecedented time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff, as well as pastors and leaders from our churches and affiliated ministries, share a reflective thought and prayer each week. View the next installment from Paul Robinson, Executive Minister for the Love Mercy Do Justice Mission Priority of the Evangelical Covenant Church.  Paul, his wife Kim and daughter Danyelle live in Blaine, MN.

 

As a source of encouragement throughout this unprecedented time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff, as well as pastors and leaders from our churches and affiliated ministries, share a reflective thought and prayer each week. View the next installment, the second in a series of three videos featuring students from Minnehaha Academy reflecting on leadership. Ava, Annika and Lily are members of the Minnehaha Leadership Institute serving as chapel interns at the Upper School. The Minnehaha Leadership Institute exists to develop servant leaders, who, through God’s story of redemption, are striving to become whole and holy people.

 

As a source of encouragement throughout this unprecedented time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff, as well as pastors and leaders from our churches and affiliated ministries, share a reflective thought and prayer each week. View the next installment from Tim and Linda Anderson. The Andersons are currently retired and have moved into Covenant Living in Golden Valley, MN. After retiring from First Covenant in Red Wing, MN, they have served in three interim positions.

 

As a source of encouragement throughout this unprecedented time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff, as well as pastors and leaders from our churches and affiliated ministries, share a reflective thought and prayer each week. View the next installment from Natalie Swanson, Program Director at Covenant Pines Bible Camp. Swanson has called CPBC home for the last three years, and loves “creating spaces for campers and guests to play and listen for God’s voice more clearly in retreat experiences.”

 

Roger and Anna Ross are planting Epiphany Covenant – Turtle Mountain, a network church located in northern North Dakota. November is Native American Heritage Month, and in a recent interview the couple shared insights on the challenges and opportunities facing American Indian people.

Tell us a little about you, your family, your call.

Roger: I was born and raised in Denver, CO, and moved to Kansas when I was recruited to play football for the University of Kansas. I lived in KS for over 15 years. After getting married I moved to North Dakota and lived on my wife’s reservation.

We have been married for 10 years and we have four beautiful children. After a year of marriage, my wife and I moved to Minneapolis where we lived for eight years. In January 2018, I began to feel an overwhelming call to leave our lives in the Twin Cities and return to the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation to start a church—and after much discussion, my family moved back to North Dakota that summer.

What can you help us understand about the history of others in your context?

Roger: The people of the Turtle Mountain Indian reservation have a history of hurt from various religions and denominations sent here to “save” the American Indian people. My observation now is that this community is a combination of people practicing Catholic faith and people trying to find spirituality and healing.

As a church, the ECC is endeavoring to repudiate something called the “Doctrine of Discovery.” What can you tell us about the impact of the DoD on your community?

Anna: The Doctrine of Discovery was created to give justification for taking and colonizing any land not inhabited by “Christians.” How did this impact my tribe? My community? My people? Well … that is a loaded question!

The DoD supported the dehumanization of Native people living on those lands and forced assimilation by any means necessary—including rape and murder. This is not history that just goes away, it continues to impact generations of people within Native communities.

How are families impacted when young men or boys are sent to boarding school, murdered or imprisoned? If they survive and are eventually able to return to their families, the traditional training and ceremonies to transition them into manhood have been lost. They no longer understand their traditional tribal family structure.

The women in the families are often forced to take on new roles while dealing with their own trauma they might’ve faced. These things completely alter the fabric of a community, and new “norms” are created that are often very destructive. This is just ONE example of how the DoD has impacted our people.

The Doctrine of Discovery is a symbol of destruction to the Indigenous people of this country. Destruction that came from people who did horrible things in the name of “Christianity.” If we, as a church, do not take a stand but still expect to make an impact in tribal communities, we are just spinning our wheels.

The ECC needs to make a large statement in order to regain not only the trust of American Indian people, but also to those in other communities of color. Scholars believe that the Doctrine of Discovery fueled white supremacy insofar as white European settlers claiming to be instruments of divine design and possessing cultural superiority.

Is this what we stand for? Sometimes a wound has to be reopened before it can properly heal. We cannot continue to ignore this or act as though this doesn’t exist.

What do you love about the context in which you live? How does that help you to experience God in a unique way?

Roger: I love living in this community because I am not only learning about the history of what American Indian people have endured for centuries, but I am also constantly reminded of the hope and resiliency of these people.

God created these people who have an unbelievably beautiful culture. For decades, the government and various religions have shared a mission to take that culture away.

What do you see as important needs in your community or about those in your context?

Roger: Our community has several needs. This reservation has an unemployment rate which exceeded 60 percent pre-pandemic. The tribe and a few other outside entities have addressed food shortages with food pantries, food drives and soup kitchens.

One immediate need that I see right now is winter gear for those cold North Dakota winters; hats, gloves, scarfs and winter coats.

Are you part of a particular association or ethnic-specific part of the ECC? What can you tell us about that?  What do you enjoy about being a part of this community?

Roger: I am a part of the African American and Native American groups within the ECC. As a Black man, it has been great having the support and encouragement from both groups. My wife is also a part of the Native American group and has found connections and family who continue to encourage and support her as well.

What resources would you recommend for those who want to learn more?

Christian Action Commission (CAC), with the support of the Mosaic Commission and LMDJ, will be presenting a resolution in June at Gather 2021, regarding the repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery.

Want to learn more about the Doctrine of Discovery? Here are two ways you can do that:

  1. Take this survey to help us gauge where our denomination is on this topic.
  2. Join a panel discussion on Tuesday, Nov. 24, at 2:30 p.m. We will be hearing stories about the Doctrine of Discovery’s direct impact from some of our Indigenous brothers and sisters. To join us for this webinar, please register here.

As a source of encouragement throughout this unprecedented time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff, as well as pastors and leaders from our churches and affiliated ministries, share a reflective thought and prayer each week. View the next installment, the first in a series of three videos featuring students from Minnehaha Academy reflecting on leadership. Miriam, Catania and Tobias are members of the Minnehaha Leadership Institute serving as chapel interns at the Upper School. The Minnehaha Leadership Institute exists to develop servant leaders, who, through God’s story of redemption, are striving to become whole and holy people.

 

Rural ministry matters. With a significant number of NWC churches serving rural communities, we want to be intentional about resourcing and equipping all of our ministry leaders and churches. This webinar is the first in a regular series on rural ministry, and includes conversation on rural contextual distinctives, discipleship and isolation.

We are grateful to the Oak Hills Christian College team for their decades of ministry experience and expertise in this area. The next rural ministry webinar will be on Jan. 13, 2021. For more information on the Oak Hills Certificate Program in Rural Leadership and Ministry, download the flyer.

 

This fall, classrooms and hallways rang out with the sound of students learning and growing friendships with other children and their teachers. The staff of Minnehaha Academy thanks God for His faithfulness as they navigate educating and caring for children preschool to grade 12 during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This summer, leaders at Minnehaha Academy worked with faculty, staff and experts in the field to determine possible options for students returning to school this fall. After much discussion, the Stay Safe Plan was developed.

The comprehensive plan includes requiring a daily health screening by all in-person community members, reduced class sizes, social distancing, face masks, as well as bi-polar ionization air filtration, among other measures, designed to keep the Minnehaha Academy community as safe as possible.

Families had the opportunity to choose either distance learning or in-person learning for their children—both options offering the caring community and exceptional education that families in the Twin Cities expect from Minnehaha.

While life in the classroom looked a bit different from previous years, faculty were still able to deliver engaging, hands-on lessons.

COVID under the microscope

All Upper School students (grades 9-12) are putting coronavirus under the microscope in science class. Student scientists are investigating COVID-19 in a two-week unit developed by our faculty. Students are learning about the virus and applying a variety of disciplines in their study.

They will learn about the history of pandemics, decode the science behind the structure of the virus, study the physics of how masks work, and will delve into the Bible, remembering that God is with us even though we walk through difficult situations.

Upper School students test the state of the Mississippi River

“What’s going well in the water?” “What’s not going well in the water?”

These are the questions Upper School biology student scientists were tasked with answering during their study of the Mississippi River. Recently, Upper School biology student scientists spent time at the Mississippi River testing its water quality.

Teacher Ms. Cripe started out the visit with a reading of the first verse of “Oh, God of Wonders.” Then she invited students to find a quiet place along the river alone to take in the beauty and think about our “God of wonders and his wonderful work.”

After a student waded out into the river to get a good water sample, student teams conducted water quality tests. The students looked for cyanide, mercury, lead, nitrates, phosphates and other contaminants.

What a blessing to be within walking distance of this national treasure.

A microscopic view for Middle School scientists

“This is so cool!” “Amazing!” Wow!” “Awesome!”

Middle School scientists had a blast making microscopes, connecting them to their iPads, and then using them to take a deep look at fern samples and pond water samples. Ordinary pond water came alive under the glass of the microscope and students saw the life that is invisible to the naked eye.

Lower School writers perform digitally

Each year, first grade students participate in a writing celebration following the self-publication of a book that they write and illustrate themselves. The writing celebration includes visiting the preschool students and reading their newly published books to our youngest students.

This year, first graders had the opportunity to integrate technology into their learning. They recorded each other reading their books and then sent their video stories to the preschoolers.

Embracing creativity and flexibility

Creativity and flexibility have been key skills in creating a welcoming and encouraging environment for each of our students to grow and learn. We are thankful for our teachers and families as we work together to help our students not just survive but thrive in this challenging time.

For the latest information about Minnehaha Academy, visit minnehahaacademy.net

As a source of encouragement throughout this unprecedented time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff, as well as pastors and leaders from our churches and affiliated ministries, share a reflective thought and prayer each week. View the next installment from David Hoffner, Executive Director of Faith Formation at Minnehaha Academy. Hoffner lives in South Minneapolis with his wife Sarah and their three kids, and he has taught at MA since 2006.

 

Seth Bjornrud, Lead Pastor at International Falls Covenant Church, recently shared how he and a church member lived into their Relational Covenant, practicing civil engagement with each other in processing a disagreement over wearing masks at church.

May this encourage us all as a real-time example of godly conversation and committed community:

On Aug. 1, I accepted my first call to be Lead Pastor of the same church where I had served as youth and worship pastor. As I prayed about what my first sermon series would be, I knew it had to be about how we live together as brothers and sisters of Christ.

I found a document in our church called a “Relational Covenant” that was drafted by the leadership team over 10 years ago as a rule of life for how to treat each other and handle conflict in our church.

On the fourth Sunday of the series, I preached our promise to be “Considerate and Respectful.”

Under that heading our Relational Covenant says:

  1. We will offer our opinions with clarity and humility
  2. We will build each other up and not tear down

This is not the way we see disagreements being handled very often in our politically-polarized world. As I was preparing my message, I realized that I had experienced this Relational Covenant in action with someone in my congregation.

This person (who I will call John) told me one day that he did not agree with our church’s decision to require masks at our services during the COVID-19 pandemic. In our conversation we were able to discuss our disagreement while being considerate and respectful of each other. When we left, neither of us changed our opinions but we left appreciating each other more.

I asked John to join me up front on a recent Sunday where I shared about our conversation and we both got to answer these three questions in front of the congregation.

  1. What mischaracterization is said of your side of the argument that do you not appreciate?
  2. What is a strong point of the other person’s argument that challenges you and makes you think?
  3. What do you appreciate about the other person in your conversation with each other?

It was communion Sunday, and so we planned after the questions to take communion together in front of everyone else to show people how we can be considerate and respectful—even in our disagreements.

Jesus taught us not just to love the people who agree with us, but to love everyone. To me John is not a monster or an “other.” John is my brother in Christ.

As a source of encouragement throughout this unprecedented time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff, as well as pastors and leaders from our churches and affiliated ministries, share a reflective thought and prayer each week. View the next installment from Rick Carlson, Pastor of Prairie Hills Covenant Church in Sioux Falls, SD. Throughout his career, he has also served the Evangelical Covenant Church as a music composer and video producer.

 

Children and family ministry leaders regularly get together to share ideas and pray together. At a recent gathering, one ministry leader shared about how her church was starting a mentoring program for kids since COVID-19 has upended ministry as we used to know it.

As the group ruminated on that idea, Polly Inestroza of Crosstown Covenant in Minneapolis wondered about having families “adopt” one another to make sure each family had someone else in the congregation that is caring for them, and checking in with them regularly in this season when we can’t all be together.

Below are Polly’s reflections on Crosstown’s Adopt a Family initiative, two months in:

Polly Inestroza, Children’s Pastor at Crosstown Covenant in Minneapolis (pictured here with her family) helped create the Adopt a Family program to make sure each family had someone else in the congregation that is caring for them during the COVID pandemic.

I feel the need to begin this faith story with the disclaimer that this was all God. Down to every detail, God orchestrated this celebration for His glory! I had a prompting of the Holy Spirit one day in late July to go to people’s homes and visit. More specifically, to pray for families. To pray over kids and their parents as they embarked on the school year ahead. To claim joy and victory for people even though they didn’t feel it was theirs to claim.

After months of feeling mildly effective in my role as Children’s Pastor, I knew all I could really contribute for my families was prayer through the Holy Spirit.

I began setting up home visits with all the families at our church—many of whom I hadn’t seen for months. After the first three visits, I was completely amazed with a tension I had never experienced before. I left feeling extremely excited, high, overjoyed and completely full! Which makes sense, right?

I need kids and parents to energize the ministry call that is imprinted on my heart. But, I was also incredibly burdened. The first two home visits, the moms cried when I prayed for them. I could sense the pressure, anxiety and passion in families. I was also amazed that the families I was visiting were willing to enter a holy space on their front steps, with me.

I sat with this tension for a few days before realizing that this burden that I was carrying is not mine alone, but the Church’s. I could visit all 25 families’ homes, take all their prayer requests before the Lord daily and carry this with Him and me. Or, I can delegate this gift to the congregation, and we can all carry each other together. With that, I tweaked an idea that I had heard and created the Adopt a Family ministry, which launched September 2020.

Adopt a Family exists for two purposes: 1) covering each Crosstown family in prayer, and 2) encouraging one another during this difficult time. Each of our families were “up for adoption” and adopted by someone else in our congregation. The adopters vary in age and life stage. One couple recently underwent surgery, and I was able to place them with a COVID-cautious family who is uncomfortable with visitors!

In the welcome packets, adopters were given a list of ideas to encourage—fun little things that would bring joy to a home. Ages of kids and “get-to-know-you questions” were also included, along with a picture of the family.

It’s funny, I heard from a teen household that it has “been interesting receiving cards in the mail from a woman I do not even know.” And, while yes, that may seem weird, isn’t it cool to know you are a part of a bigger movement that cares for each other!

We belong to one another. Praying for and encouraging each other at Crosstown belongs to our whole congregation. Our Adopt a Family ministry not only shares in that work, but I would say it relishes in the glory too. As I left homes feeling energized and purpose-charged, I couldn’t hoard that all to myself.

Praying for one another and encouraging one another can energize all of us, and fuel us through this pandemic!

As a source of encouragement throughout this unprecedented time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff, as well as pastors and leaders from our churches and affiliated ministries, share a reflective thought and prayer each week. View the next installment from Living Waters Covenant Church Co-Pastors Jon and Kris Stewart below. The Stewarts have served the church in Worthington, MN, for the past 16 years.

 

As a source of encouragement throughout this unprecedented time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff, as well as pastors and leaders from our churches and affiliated ministries, share a reflective thought and prayer each week. View the next installment from Pastor Stephanie O’Brien, Lead Pastor at Mill City Church in Northeast Minneapolis. She is also a professor of ministry at Bethel University and Seminary in St. Paul, MN. Stephanie has opportunities to coach leaders around the world through speaking, developing resources and her podcast Lead Stories with her friend Jo Saxton. She is a sought after leadership coach, helping women and men to be intentional with their influence in all aspects of their lives. Pastor Steph is passionate about communities and individuals participating in the mission of God to the world. Her first book was released in the fall of 2019 – “Stay Curious: How Questions and Doubts Can Save Your Faith.” Stay curious with Pastor Steph at www.pastorsteph.com.

 

Crossview Rosa Parks co-pastor Sandi Asker (right) and her running partner Gretchen.

Brian and Sandi Asker moved to Mankato in February 2019 to partner with Crossview Covenant in planting a new network church. Sandi recently shared this encouraging story of interpersonal ministry as they work to launch Crossview Rosa Parks:

We had a wonderful realtor, Gretchen, who has now become one of my favorite running, swimming and biking partners. When the pandemic began, we decided to be in “each other’s COVID bubble,” along with another friend of Gretchen’s.

I love making new friends in a pandemic! This friend, Gretchen and I have had wonderful conversations as we run miles around the country in the wee hours. Spiritual things often come up and recently, this friend asked me questions about a book on meditation she had been reading.

Gretchen has also opened up a new set of relationships for both Brian and me. We swim with a group at a local high school, and Brian recently went biking with a group of adults who meet on Saturdays. She is a great networker.

These two women were my lifeline in the first months of the pandemic when I thought I would get depressed, slothful and dead in my ministry of starting a new church. Instead, I found these women encouraging—even joining in some of our online small group or prayer meetings.

Since we returned to in-person worship mid-summer, Gretchen has started to serve. She has helped as a greeter and is going to try her hat at Kids’ Ministry this weekend. She rarely attends church alone, always inviting a friend or relative along. We also write to a female inmate in prison, through a program at Crossview.

The best part, other than the 5 a.m. runs in the rain, is watching lightbulbs going off while she studies Scripture with our small group on Tuesday nights. We are studying the Kingdom of God in the Sermon on the Mount.

It can be easy to isolate in these days, assuming no one is interested. Or assuming new relationships cannot be formed. But God is up to something new, even in the midst of COVID and in the lives of our friends. I am happy to be along for the ride (or run, as such).

“Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another” (1 John 4:11).

Sandi Asker
Network Church Pastor
Crossview Rosa Parks

Minnehaha Academy dedicated its new Bethlehem Amphitheater on Sunday, Oct. 4, named for the church that has had close ties with the school for nearly 100 years.

The school is owned by the Northwest Conference and has been recognized nationally for its academic excellence. Minnehaha educates student in grades pre-K through senior high school.

The new amphitheater is part of reconstruction efforts following an explosion in 2017 that destroyed or made unusable the school’s Upper Campus. The explosion killed 47-year-old receptionist Ruth Berg and 81-year-old custodian John Carlson. Carlson was a former student who grew up attending Bethlehem Covenant. The school reopened in 2019.

Donors often have buildings named after them, but the donors, who wanted to remain anonymous for this story, thought it was more appropriate to have the amphitheater named for Bethlehem Covenant said Rick Mylander, transitional pastor at the church.

The school was started in 1913, and the church began as a Sunday school class that met there in the early 1920s.

Five of the school’s eight presidents were members of Bethlehem Covenant. More than 60 church members have served as staff, teachers, administrators or board members, according to congregation member David Swanson. Twenty-five members worked at the school more than 20 years, including Guido Kauls, who taught German and coached soccer for 44 years.

This story originally appeared in the Covenant Newswire. Used with permission.

As a source of encouragement throughout this unprecedented time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff, as well as pastors and leaders from our churches and affiliated ministries, share a reflective thought and prayer each week. View the next installment from Steven P. Larson, Senior Pastor of Oak Heights Covenant Church in Hutchinson, MN. Larson is “praising the Lord for the new call to a wonderful congregation in a community where the churches are working together for the sake of the Gospel.”

 

Over 60 Northwest Conference Pastors gathered Oct. 7 for the 2020 Ministerial Association Digital Half Day Retreat, titled “Flourishing in a New Normal,” led by the Rev. Peter Sung. Peter serves as the Conference Coach for the Pacific Northwest Conference and is finishing his doctoral dissertation on performance and organizational leadership psychology.

What Peter shared was so timely for this demanding season, discussing four key areas vital to flourishing in this time. He gave us a process document (Helping Leaders and Churches Adjust to the New Normal) which started with the topic of “Personal Well-Being” and this quote:

“The well-being of leaders is of primary importance. The nature of the leader’s presence, the quality of the self that is brought to bear on the work, the relationship or the crisis, determines, more than any other factor, what happens next. How are you?”

Other important topics included leadership engagement, five key functions of the pandemic, and the timing and the gifts inherent in these moments. The recording of the retreat is available below.

Both the recording and process document are meaningful resources to help assess where pastors and leaders are personally and can be used by teams in ongoing leadership development and engagement. Sung also cited further research and resources that would be valuable for individual and group use.

 

As a source of encouragement throughout this unprecedented time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff, as well as pastors and leaders from our churches and affiliated ministries, share a reflective thought and prayer each week. View the next installment from interim Covenant pastor Marv Norlien below. Marv and his wife Linda are co-pastors who serve Covenant churches as interim pastors. They are currently between churches and look forward to serving another church in the near future. They live in Southeastern Minnesota near the small town of Houston.

 

Mauricio Dell’Arciprete is the NWC Coordinator of Latino Ministry and Pastor of Destino Covenant Church in Bloomington. In a recent interview, he shared insights on the challenges and opportunities facing the Latino community.

As we celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month, what can you help us understand about the history of our Latino brothers and sisters?

Latin America has a very diverse population with many ethnic groups and different ancestries. As an example, we have more than 1,000 ways to say “Hello”!

Although Spanish is the most predominant language, Latin America is home to hundreds of indigenous languages—before the European conquests, it is estimated that there were as many as 1,750 different languages.

Even before the U.S. existed as a republic, people from “Hispanic” and Indo-America have been incorporated into the culture, history, life and occupational fabric of the United States. (You will find more about the impact of Latino culture in the USA on this page: https://artsandculture.google.com/project/uslatinocultures).

In our region, Latinos come from many different places and backgrounds. For example, at Destino Covenant Church, we have people from around 20 different countries. Some speak Spanish as a second language, English as a third language. Some people came escaping from social, political and economic adversities. Others came to find new jobs or career opportunities. From refugees to business owners, we have a lot of diversity. In any case, seeking the best for their family is a high priority for many Latinos.

What do you love about the context in which you live? How does that help you to experience God in a unique way?

I love the seasons we have in Minnesota, and I love the cultural and ethnic mosaic we have in Minneapolis. When you listen to faith stories coming from people that have very different backgrounds than you, you can appreciate the beauty of the body of Christ and learn a lot from their experiences.

The richness that comes from doing life together with people who are different than you is fantastic!

What do you see as important needs in your community, particularly in light of COVID-19 or the current political climate?

COVID-19 has several implications. One noticeable aspect is physical health, where, for various reasons, Latinos are more exposed to getting infected. The statistics are showing us that.

Also, there is an economic impact, where many Latinos work in jobs that have been affected greatly.

There is also an emotional impact. This pandemic forces us to practice “social distancing” and to avoid fraternal expressions like handshake and hugging. This proves to be very hard in the Latino culture in particular.

In the area of immigration there continues to be much uncertainty. Due to COVID-19, immigration cases that were already in process, have been put on hold or postponed. Not much attention is given to the human rights violations at the border, families being separated, children being caged, and refugee status being denied before a trial or hearing.

Are you part of a particular ethnic association within the Evangelical Covenant Church? What do you enjoy about being a part of this community?

I am part of the ECC’s Asociación Latina de la Iglesia del Pacto Evangélico (ALIPE) as a member and serving on the board since 2014. The Association exists as an ethnic commission helping the ECC Latino Pastors to move forward in their ministries, representing the Latino voice in the ECC, and working in partnership with the other ethnic Associations of the ECC.

This is a space where Latino Pastors can find contextualized training, webinars, resources and community. I love the energy, the openness and the authenticity that flows from this community.

What resources would you recommend for those who want to learn more?

  • “Mañana: Christian Theology from a Hispanic Perspective” by Justo L. Gonzalez
  • “Brown Church: Five Centuries of Latina/o Social Justice, Theology, and Identity” by Robert Chao Romero
  • “Prophetic Lament: A Call for Justice in Troubled Times” by Soong-Chan Rah
  • “Rediscipling the White Church: From Cheap Diversity to True Solidarity” by David W. Swanson
  • “A Future for the Latino Church: Models for Multilingual, Multigenerational Hispanic Congregations” by Daniel A. Rodriguez

For more information about this topic, I recommend contacting Juana Nesta, President of ALIPE, or Fil Nesta, Director of Latino Ministries for the Pacific Southwest Conference.

As a source of encouragement throughout this unprecedented time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff have been sharing a reflective thought and prayer each week. We’re opening up the Encouraging Words video series to feature more voices from throughout the Conference. View the next installment from retired Covenant pastor Alan Johnson below. Johnson served as a Covenant pastor for four decades and is now retired to a lake home near International Falls. He enjoys the North Country with his wife, Elaine, and continues serving as Church Chair.

 

As a source of encouragement throughout this unprecedented time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff have been sharing a reflective thought and prayer each week. We’re opening up the Encouraging Words video series to feature more voices from throughout the Conference. View the next installment from Plymouth Covenant Church Pastor to Kids and Families Sara Sosa below. Sosa has been married to her husband Carlos for almost 24 years, and they have two children—Emma who is a senior at North Park University, and Matteo who is a senior at North Lakes Academy High School.

 

“They don’t respond to emails, phone calls or texts. Exactly how are we supposed to reach young adults?” For those frustrated by ministry with digital natives, especially during this pandemic, there’s hope.

Mark Matlock and co-author David Kinnaman (President of Barna) spent three years researching what discipleship looks like in this age of screens. Their findings have been published in this recent book.

Matlock joined NWC staff for a webinar to unpack best practices for reaching Millennials and Gen Z, plus bonus content at the end on moving beyond “sit and stream” as a level of engagement with virtual audiences.

Matlock is the principal of WisdomWorks, a consulting firm that helps Christian leaders leverage the transforming power of wisdom to accomplish their mission. He is the former executive director of Youth Specialties.

 

As a source of encouragement throughout this unprecedented time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff have been sharing a reflective thought and prayer each week. We’re opening up the Encouraging Words video series to feature more voices from throughout the Conference. View the next installment from Roseville Covenant Church Associate Pastor Colleen Nelson below. Nelson lives in Roseville with her husband, Chris and three kids, Anneka, Broder and Jakob.

 

As a source of encouragement throughout this unprecedented time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff have been sharing a reflective thought and prayer each week. We’re opening up the Encouraging Words video series to feature more voices from throughout the Conference. View the next installment from Minnehaha Academy Director of Diversity Initiatives Paulita Todhunter below. Todhunter works closely with the Office of Faith Formation to ensure diversity and equity goals are achieved throughout all areas of Minnehaha Academy. She also serves as a mentor for students endeavoring to be agents of racial reconciliation at school and in their communities.

 

As a source of encouragement throughout this unprecedented time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff have been sharing a reflective thought and prayer each week. We’re opening up the Encouraging Words video series to feature more voices from throughout the Conference. View the next installment from Emmanuel Covenant Church founding Pastor Chris Studenski below. Studenski also serves on the NWC Executive Board. He lives in Shoreview with his wife Laura and his daughters Emma and Andra.

 

Within a few short months, life in the Twin Cities flipped from status-quo to unrest. To start, a pandemic resulting in a stay-at-home executive order altered daily life. Then, old wounds, hidden under the surface of time, were reopened in the cities when George Floyd died at the hand of a police officer.

In the days following, peaceful protests rose up throughout the city. But at night, smoke rose from burned buildings and torched cars, glass littered the sidewalks from smashed storefront windows, and alarms blared as rioters wreaked havoc.

The destruction rendered parts of Minneapolis and St. Paul unrecognizable. The nightly rioting left people afraid and desperately needing safe places to find relief. But looted stores were boarded up. Public transit halted. People had nowhere in their neighborhood to buy groceries and supplies. They were scared and needed help fast.

Three Northwest Conference churches, right in the epicenter of all the chaos, quickly chose to be the hands and feet of Jesus to the people in their communities. Sanctuary Covenant and Community Covenant of North Minneapolis and Destino Covenant of South Minneapolis responded with emotional, physical and spiritual aid—while other churches in the Conference supported their efforts.

March 2020

COVID-19 forced churches to look at ministry differently. The Rev. Luke Swanson, Lead Pastor of Community Covenant credits networking as the primary reason they were able to begin live-streaming services and figuring out ways to stay connected virtually.

The Rev. Edrin Williams, Senior Pastor of Sanctuary Covenant, saw a need to bring awareness and education to the community.

“We talked a lot about what it means to be a good neighbor and how we could serve one another and curb the spread,” Williams said.

At Destino Covenant, the exposed iniquities created a catalyst for the church to go out and make connections.

“Even though we needed to close our physical doors, God actually opened spiritual doors,” said Mauricio Dell’Arciprete, Destino Pastor and NWC Coordinator of Latino Ministry.

May 25, 2020

Protocols in place, the churches were navigating ministry amid the virus. Then, on May 25, George Floyd was killed. All three pastors had seen similar tragedies happen within their communities before, and they knew instinctively that the response was not going to be good.

Church staff and congregations came together in prayer. This moment required leaning in, and by living into their unique church missions, each was able to touch hurting people with the love of Jesus.

Sanctuary Covenant Church: Be Present

“There was already a very strained relationship between the community and the police,” Williams said. “We wanted the community to see that we were angry and hurting as well and absolutely demanding justice happen as quickly as possible.”

Church staff and congregation members began grilling hotdogs and handing out water, providing space for people to be together and express their displeasure and outrage. Once the riots started, they were able to assess needs quickly.

“A part of our deeply-held theological beliefs is that the spiritual and the physical are deeply connected,” Williams said.

Word spread that SCC was providing lunch and that they needed more BBQ supplies. It quickly became bigger than people dropping off simple supplies for grilling. Minneapolis residents were looking for places to donate and help. Vehicle after vehicle began dropping off food, diapers, cleaning supplies and more. Literally overnight, Sanctuary pivoted from a neighborhood BBQ to becoming a major food distribution site.

Donations of food and toiletries as well as money continually poured in. Determined to serve everyone who came, there were many “fishes and loaves” moments where little provisions stretched to meet numerous needs resulting from damage to over 85 local grocery stores.

However, one day, the church did not have adequate supplies so they decided to place an order for everything they needed which came to $15,000. Within an hour of making the large purchase, Williams received a call from a local high school football coach. His team had raised $15,000, and he was on his way to drop off the check.

More miraculous stories followed. In mid-July they weren’t sure if they would have enough supplies for everyone. The last person in line received the very last bag of food.

Sanctuary wasn’t alone in their ministry. Churches, organizations and individuals from the metro area, as well as greater Minnesota and Wisconsin, organized food drives and teams of volunteers to help. Over 10 Covenant churches from outside Minneapolis rolled up their sleeves to assist.

Some drove hours to bring teams of volunteers and supplies. Others donated their monthly benevolence and compassion funds. Some of the volunteers became regulars.

Adriana Forsman, Youth Pastor at Dassel Covenant, came six consecutive weeks with students.

“Even though out here at Dassel Covenant Church we live in what is sometimes called ‘the middle of nowhere,’ after the protests in late May we wanted to get involved in doing something to help our state, and the city of Minneapolis specifically,” Forsman explained. “We sent out an email to our church family explaining there were a few Covenant churches in Minneapolis stepping up as a distribution center for food and necessary items, and the response was immense.”

Dassel raised approximately $4,000 to purchase food, hygiene products and other necessary items for distribution.

“I was honored to take point on spending those donations by purchasing and bringing the supplies to three different churches: Sanctuary, Destino and Community. But I did not do it alone,” Forsman said. “Over the course of the six times I dropped off donations and volunteered at Sanctuary Covenant, I had seven students and four adults join me. It was an absolute joy and blessing to serve both our fellow churches and the community.”

When Sanctuary concludes their food assistance program on Aug. 28, they will have served between 500 and 550 families each time they opened their doors with over 2,000 volunteers having served.

Community Covenant Church: Creating Places

“North Minneapolis is an under-resourced community with a long history of political and economic neglect,” Swanson said.

The immediate need was to bring people together, albeit online, to have what he calls “courageous conversations.” The church established a nightly prayer time and worked to create places of healing and hope.

“People needed some space to touch Black rage and Black trauma, and create a place where people could have community together, talking about their experience with racism,” Swanson said.

When the rioting began, it was the first time many long-term residents felt afraid in their own homes.

“I personally had seen white nationalists with swastikas on their arm in the neighborhood,” Swanson said. “We came together to push against fear.”

Then, when the neighborhood grocery store burned to the ground, the church found its next opportunity to help.

Stemming from needs found in the church’s ministry for teen moms, staff made a request on social media for diapers, formula and baby supplies. By the next day, organizations were dropping off pallets of food and provisions. Pews were pushed out of the way and the church sanctuary transformed into a food and emergency supply distribution center.

Swanson began networking with other churches and community organizations.

“At one point, there was a line down the street of trucks and cars wanting to drop supplies off,” he said.

The small church body saw God’s miraculous provision in the generosity of others and volunteers from surrounding Covenant churches.

“We couldn’t have pulled this off without the partnership of other people and churches,” Swanson said.

Destino Covenant Church: Making Connections

“Many people have said, ‘COVID-19 was a huge hit, but what destroyed us was the riots,’” Dell’Arciprete explained.

Growing up in Argentina, Dell’Arciprete had seen rioting as a child and he remembers the feelings of uncertainty and terror. Destino’s diverse congregation includes people from Ecuador, Mexico, Columbia and Costa Rica, who had experienced similar trauma.

“When everything started here, those feelings and memories came back,” he said.

On the Tuesday evening following George Floyd’s death, Dell’Arciprete sent out a text to church leaders, asking them to pray.

“I knew something was going on in the city. There was spiritual warfare and God was moving in my heart,” he said.

Many of his congregation members live within blocks of the George Floyd memorial and did not feel safe. Church families opened up their homes to take in those who lived where the uprising was taking place. Many men stayed in their homes to embrace whatever would happen, while sending their families away.

“It was beautiful to see the church moving,” Dell’Arciprete said.

Businesses that had just reopened were destroyed, and the physical and emotional needs of the community increased. The church began a food shelf and created a new ministry for children.

“The little ones were suffering a great deal,” Dell’Arciprete said. They started providing “boxes of hope” filled with toys, activities and devotionals as a way to remind kids that they are loved and not alone. Destino also established a community needs task force to help with financial needs, such as rent.

“We’re trying to focus on spiritual, physical and emotional needs of all ages. It’s a big task but we’re doing our best,” Dell’Arciprete said.

Amid all the difficulties, one church member was diagnosed with a tumor in her left eye. After six prior surgeries, this new prognosis meant a very tough and expensive operation. The church prayed and fasted diligently for her healing. When she went back to the clinic, the tumor was gone.

“This unexpected miracle in the midst of everything else felt like God said, ‘I’m still at work!’”

New Partnerships

Crisis has a way of revealing those things that really matter. It unites people around a common cause, and it breaks down barriers. Countless churches within the NWC rallied behind Minneapolis, sending money, donations and people-power to help.

“Alexandria Covenant Church is grateful and has been blessed to partner with Destino Church in providing food and other essential services during a time when people in their neighborhood have been greatly impacted by the rioting and unrest in South Minneapolis,” said Pastor Trinity Opp. “We had the privilege as a pastoral staff to visit with Pastor Mauricio, see the affected community and pray with him and others. We plan to work closely with their task force to provide ongoing support for the community.”

The work has required long hours and has been physically demanding, but the God moments and encouragement from sister churches helped keep Sanctuary, Community and Destino pressing on.

“Looking down the street, seeing volunteers calling on other volunteers to please come help as pallets were being dropped off. The level of different churches wanting to do something in this moment to me was miraculous,” Swanson said. “I don’t think we could have done it without Plymouth Covenant Church. They really responded. So did Brookdale Covenant Church and Bethlehem Covenant Church (Minneapolis), and Grace Covenant Church.”

“So often we feel detached from the problems and realities of those living in urban areas, but we knew this was a chance to partner with members of the body of Christ to help hurting people through both prayer and physical gifts,” said Kendall Churchill, Pastor of Calvary Covenant Church in Evansville, MN.

A request went out on a Tuesday for donations that would be driven down on Thursday morning.

“In that window, we received gifts from our church and community to fill our car and raised $1,500! It was particularly touching to have one set of parents explain their decision to give sacrificially, and how their middle school kids gave generously from their saved allowances too,” Churchill said. “When my wife and I volunteered that day, it was overwhelming to not only see the level of need but the impact the church can have in serving the hurting and power of churches supporting one another. … “We might be small, but together we are strong; the problems of our world are big, but Christ is even greater.”

Missions Reinforced

Throughout all the difficulties of the past five months, each pastor saw their church’s established missions reinforced.

“Although this has been a bigger project than we’ve ever done before, the spirit of it aligns with who we’ve been trying to be since day one,” Williams said.

That sentiment echoes throughout the three Minneapolis churches. They intend to continue focusing on servant evangelism by serving and sharing the love of God within their communities.

“This has been a clear and tangible example of what is possible when we lean in and trust God, and do the things we’ve been talking about forever,” Williams said. “We have a solid theological foundation, and now practical experience, for us to continue to serve the community in really tangible ways.”

Story By Katie Honnette. Additional reporting by Ginny Olson, Director of Youth Ministry.

As a source of encouragement throughout this unprecedented time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff have been sharing a reflective thought and prayer each week. We’re opening up the Encouraging Words video series to feature more voices from throughout the Conference. View the next installment from NWC Executive Board Chair Jim Volling below. Volling also is a member of the Minnehaha Academy Board of Trustees. He and his wife Connie are members of Excelsior Covenant Church. He is an attorney and practices law in Minneapolis.

 

As a source of encouragement throughout this unprecedented time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff have been sharing a reflective thought and prayer each week. We’re opening up the Encouraging Words video series to feature more voices from throughout the Conference. View the next installment from Sandi Asker, Church Planting Resident and Co-Pastor of Crossview Rosa Parks, a new network church plant in Mankato, MN, below.

 

Dear NWC Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

Grace and peace to you in the Name of the Lord Jesus … the Name above all names!

As most of you know, the Northwest Conference 2020 Annual Meeting that was to be held last April at Minnehaha Academy had to be cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, we missed out on a wonderful time of fellowship, encouragement and inspiration. We were also unable to attend to some of the normal business that is always part of each April gathering. 

With all that has emerged related to the pandemic, as well as more recent events surrounding the terrible death of George Floyd and subsequent upheaval in our nation, it has felt like a “disconnect” to send out information relative to that which would have been shared at the 2020 Annual Meeting. 

Quite frankly, it feels like there has not been an appropriate time to provide a report on past ministry in the NWC from 2019 with all that our churches and pastors have had to do in these days of disequilibrium.

And yet, NWC leadership is ultimately accountable to our churches and those delegated to represent them under normal circumstances. Therefore, we have now chosen to make the information that would have been distributed in person via hard-copy available in electronic form on the NWC website.

Again, please keep in mind that this material is primarily intended to be a retrospective accounting of ministry in 2019. Therefore, do not be surprised that it is shared without many references to current events which were unknown at the time that these materials are intended to address.

We offer this in thankfulness for the ways that God blessed our shared work in the past, confident that He will continue to use all of us for His glory and neighbor’s good, even in the midst of our current challenges and opportunities.

Mark R. Stromberg, Superintendent

Download 2019 Ministry Report PDF

As a source of encouragement throughout this unprecedented time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff have been sharing a reflective thought and prayer each week. We’re opening up the Encouraging Words video series to feature more voices from throughout the Conference. View the next installment from Winthrop Evangelical Covenant Church Pastor Gilkinson below.

 

As a source of encouragement throughout this unprecedented time in our world, nation and region, NWC staff have been sharing a reflective thought and prayer each week. We’re opening up the Encouraging Words video series to feature more voices from throughout the Conference. View the next installment from HOPE Church Lead Pastor Paul Knight below.

 

In these uncharted times, our desire as leaders is that our congregations stay connected with God, each other and the mission of God. This webinar explores a vehicle for helping our communities stay connected called “Digital Neighborhoods.”

These are geographically based groups that connect online with a format that allows for rich discussion, prayer and commitment to God’s mission. Rev. Stephanie O’Brien, better known as “Pastor Steph,” co-leads Mill City Church in Minneapolis. She discusses how these groups have led their church to stay connected in this time, as well as led to a deepening of relationships organically. The tools and resources linked below the video are referenced throughout her presentation. They can be changed and shaped for your context.

Sign up for the UPDATE e-mail newsletter to learn about future NWC webinars and resources.

 

Juana Nesta is President of the Asociación Latina de la Iglesia del Pacto Evangélico (ALIPE) and Pastor of the multicultural Stockton Covenant Church in Stockton, CA. In a recent interview, she shared insights on the challenges and opportunities facing Latino people.

What is your life like in Oakley, CA?

I never would have believed it growing up in Los Angeles, but we are currently on an acre of land 45 minutes outside of San Francisco. It is almost a farm as we have corn growing, chickens and a pony named Coco.

We have three daughters. Our oldest is in L.A., our middle is a college student currently home and our youngest is our miracle baby. She has special needs and was unlikely to survive past six months. Victoriah is now 10 years old. The pony is a therapy animal for her.

I am married to a church planting pastor and I have always been bi-vocational. I am co-pastor of our church while also serving as a teacher. I have taught preschool to junior high and am currently teaching first grade, and have for the last few years.

What did you learn during your time teaching during the stay at home order?

I had to learn to teach 24 first graders online. And I really feel more called to being in the classroom, more than ever. In person teaching really does make a difference.

Our district is 68% Latino. As time at home continued, I became even more aware of the disparities. There are some children I never connected with and am still concerned about them.

AILPE worship service during Midwinter 2019

What can you teach us about what it is like to be a part your community?

The Latino community is very family oriented. Community is central. The ECC is an extension of our community, our family.

But we do feel unseen at times. All too often, since Latinos frequently exist on the margins and in the shadows, we get overlooked when racial issues are accessed. It would be tragic and irresponsible to repeat this mistake. So, looking forward we need to make sure that we are listening to the voices of the whole mosaic. For the Latino community, we must remain vigilant to address other issues such as immigration, poverty and police brutality.

Also, a word regarding language. The term “Hispanic” was a term handed to us. It has been used to describe Spanish-speaking countries. This term also carries a sense of dominance or the heaviness of the Doctrine of Discovery. It is a limiting, unhelpful term.

We would prefer to use the term “Latino.” This includes non-Spanish speaking cultures which are closely related, such as Brazil or Portuguese. Latino is a more inclusive word, hence, the reasoning behind the name change.

What are the needs of your community?

The biggest issue we face is immigration. It is very uncomfortable for some to discuss. We can say we love Jesus but then we pick and choose what to care about. But fear is alive and well in those I serve. I long for us to ask the question: How can we love our undocumented pastors, people and neighbors?

Within the system there are issues of justice and we need to rise up. We are trying to have a voice at the table within the denomination so that we can help make changes within the ECC and within our country.

Within the MOSAIC (ECC ethnic associations) we are trying to work together for change. The fact that the four associations exist (ALIPE, IMA, CAPA and AAMA) is a picture of how the Church can work for change. We are so different and come from so many different places, yet we are trying to empower one another and influence our denomination to be more reflective of the Kingdom.

One of the reasons my community has unique challenges is that many of us do not speak English. There is a language barrier on both sides.

But we are resilient and hard workers. We are valuable and worth a listen. It grieves me that they aren’t always given a chance to speak and are often overlooked.

What can you tell us about ALIPE?

It is the association for Latino pastors and lay leaders of the ECC. We are actually working on a publication about our history. But from what I know, the first Latino church was established in the early 1970s and the association that was then known as MHIPE (Ministerios Hispanos de la Iglesia del Pacto Evengelico) began sometime in the late ’70s or early ’80s. Currently we have about 80 Latino churches across the U.S., including church plants.

As the president of ALIPE, I also represent us at an international level with the participation in CIPE (Confraternidad de Iglesias del Pacto Evangélico), the network of Covenant churches across Latin America.

What would your encouragement for us be in these days filled with conflict, pain and challenges regarding justice?

The Dead Sea is rich in minerals and people can lie down in it because it is so full. However, it is dead. There is no life there.

We can learn and learn, get so full we can lie down in our knowledge. But we can remain dead. Instead, listen and learn. But live it.

The Six-Fold Test can help us to live it. As we have power, let us share and give it away. Share space. Share stories. Share power. Be accountable. Let’s help our churches remain accountable to one another, to the denomination. And I believe using the Six-Fold Test can help us to do this. Learn it. Live it.

What resources would you recommend for those who want to learn more?

  • “Brown Church: Five Centuries of Latina/o Social Justice, Theology, and Identity” by Robert Chao Romero
  • “Santa Biblia: The Bible Through Hispanic Eyes” by Justo L. Gonzalez
  • “The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism” by Jemar Tisby
  • ECC Immigration Immersion Experience: tour into L.A. and Tijuana (transformational even for those of us who understand what happens and are living it everyday)

If you look at a typical youth ministry summer calendar, it’s packed with events and experiences: mission trips, camps, Vacation Bible School, bon fires and backyard grilling. These events create opportunities to build relationships as well as opportunities for discipleship. But this summer, youth ministry leaders have been scrambling to figure out what ministry looks like when summer programming is anything but typical.

We asked our youth pastors on Facebook about how their youth ministries have changed—or perhaps, have stayed the same—this summer. Here is what we heard:

“Our youth ministry looks incredibly relational. Running programming has gone closer to the bottom of our list of priorities, and spending time with students has moved to number one,” said Sophie Arland, Youth Pastor at Crossroads Church in Woodbury. “There has been no planning of services, events, and such. Rather, the question has been: How do we maintain and grow relationships during this season? Relationships with students and students’ relationships with God. The difficulty has been how to invest in those relationships and grow them while staying safe and keeping the engagement of students.”

The students at First Covenant in Red Wing gather outside at a weekly bonfire as they follow maximum size and social distancing recommendations. Knowing that youth ministry isn’t just about students, Mike Bechtold, Associate Pastor for Youth, also started a podcast for parents, talking about developing faith at home (www.redwingfirstcov.org/faithathome).

“Our group has been gathering every week for the last five weeks at our normal times and such, but we are doing more of a Bible study/group discussion format as opposed to our ‘traditional’ setup. We just started doing a game again last week,” said Jake King, Youth Pastor at Braham Covenant. “We’ve met outside until last week around the fire where we have tackled some of the deeper issues that are in our culture now. Being so far north there is a disconnect from many of the issues among students, but it has been very beneficial as it’s led to other biblical discussions. I plan to take the time to grow relationships deeper both with students and me and leaders and the students amongst themselves.”

He went on to say, “We also did a Q&A night which we haven’t done in a while, even before COVID. It really seems to help newer students click and feel like part of the group. Events are at a minimum for now, but I am planning some small group things like meeting at other leaders’ homes throughout the rest of the summer and fall.”

At United Covenant in Clear Lake, WI, Youth Pastor Zach Klein said, “We are meeting weekly all summer, which is actually a change.”

In order to keep socially distant, they’ve worked hard to create games that can be played spread out. They also split their group into two smaller groups to keep numbers down, but Zach noted, “Our numbers have grown since we started doing this!”

First Covenant in River Falls is still meeting weekly. Youth director Neil Vance said that rather than leadership team students hosting at their homes, “We are requiring that we meet at one of the parks in town where we are outdoors and there is enough room for everyone to spread out better.”

Linwood Covenant’s summer youth ministry is called “Summer Set” and has been meeting the last four Thursday nights in the backyard of the church. Chris Kelley, Associate Pastor of Youth & Families, observed, “We’ve had a smaller group (less than 20) each week, but it’s been wonderful to open the Word together, eat ice cream and play some volleyball together. Our current series is called, ‘Can I Ask That?’ It’s a series about questions students are often hesitant to ask. It’s been really good!”

No matter how youth ministry has changed this summer, it’s clear that two priorities are at the forefront: keeping students healthy and keeping them connected to Jesus and each other.

How can pandemic advice from 500 years ago inform how we’re leading today? In this fascinating webinar, the Rev. Jonathan Wilson and the Rev. Mark Stromberg explore how the writings of Martin Luther help us build a solid ethical and theological foundation for the practical decisions we’re having to make every day as church leaders in a pandemic.

This conversation was based, in part, on Wilson’s recent work, “Luther’s Theology and Ethics, and the Adapted Ministries of the Church, in the COVID Spring, 2020.”

Full Webinar

Segments

Why start with Luther? A summary of Jonathan’s paper on Luther.

Highlight:

“… If you are coaching your communities regarding social distance and putting interests of your neighbor above your own … then you are on solid ground ethically, theologically, biblically. And you are right in line with history’s first evangelical.”

What do the ethics of being a good neighbor look like in a time of crisis?

Highlights:

“The Christian ethic … in a time of disease is governed by a love for one’s neighbor.”

“… I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence,” Martin Luther

How Luther’s principles apply to today’s pandemic.

Highlight:

“As medical knowledge advances, then you follow along with the preponderance of opinion. Not the outliers, but the preponderance of the medical knowledge.”

How should we be thinking about communion?

Highlights:

“Looking back, Luther was devising this as part of pastoral ministry for the first generation of Protestants that they understood from the Catholic traditions that there was a time when communion was not taken in the main sanctuary in community with everyone else. That is a time when it’s appropriate to have communion in a private home or at a bedside.”

“Looking at Luke 24:30-35 when the disciples said that they recognized Jesus in the breaking of bread, what was the context? The context was Jesus and two disciples in a private home.”

What are the obligations of church leaders to law, authority and government?

Highlight:

“All of us need to step back and really realize that yes, we are in a different socio-political environment than Martin Luther. With that, let’s understand that the President of the United States always and ever will be for the last 200 plus years, a partisan political figure. 2020 is an election year. Partisan political figures will appeal to their base, whatever they think that might look like. There is a difference and a distinction we need to make between posture and policy.  And when you look at the federal guidelines for how churches are to reopen, in fact, from coming out of the CDC you find all kinds of measures about social distancing, wearing face masks, suggestions about not singing, and those kinds of things. Luther would have someone squarely in the camp of “you follow the policy,” Because the policy that is the law. It is not the posture that’s the law.”

How do I lead a congregation that’s divided?

Highlight:

“If you read Covenant documents relative to freedom in Christ, it speaks about the fact that our freedom is not something that we take for ourselves. It’s something that’s bestowed on others. And there’s a responsibility with freedom. This may be an opportunity coming out of crisis to acquaint some of our people in our church setting with what does it really mean when we say ‘freedom in Christ.’”

Thanks to Pastors Rose Lee-Norman and Luke Swanson for their candid, humble thoughts on unpacking what it means to be white in America today, becoming aware of power and privilege and an invitation to discipleship.

For further reflection, consider the following resources:
Sanctuary Covenant’s resources for Racial Righteousness
Engage and Respond, Evangelical Covenant Church

 

The Rev. TJ Smith is President of the Indigenous Ministers Association (IMA) and Pastor of New Song Covenant in Anchorage, AK. In a recent interview, he shared insights on the challenges and opportunities facing Indigenous people.

What is your life like in Anchorage?

As we live here, we see Creator (God) in all we see. As I fish, I give thanks to the Creator that allows us to catch it, share it with our family and eat it. Currently the salmon are starting to run, and I am fishing for my family and elders.

I am also currently re-learning my Lakota language. I am at least the fourth generation away from the last Lakota speaker in my family. As I learn it, I find myself at peace with it. I was created as a Lakota. As I learn my language it helps me become more of who I was created to be, who I am.

My goal is to learn one to two words each week and use them in my prayer and everyday life. Even my dogs are learning it as I speak to them. An example is I tell our dogs hiya and wasté all the time (no and good).

What can you help us understand about indigenous people?

We, Indigenous people, are a people that are often unseen, invisible to most people. Often, we are left out of the conversations about racism or injustice that has or is being done to people of color.

In American history, and the founding documents of the United States, blacks were considered 3/5 human and Native Americans were considered merciless savages.”

There are over 570 nations in the USA and Canada. Historically, Canadian experiences are different because of British influence. The Canadian Federal Government has given a public apology to the Metis, First Nation and Inuit people. Here in the United States, Doctrine of Discovery was practiced in the early days of Europeans coming to these lands. In 1492, the Pope gave Portugal the Doctrine of Discovery—and other nations accepted it and used it in claiming lands that we already occupied by Indigenous people around the world. It was used as people “used” the Bible to justify their colonizing lands as a way of finding a new Promised Land, bringing salvation to heathens and having Gods blessings in it all.

In the times of the “explorers” they allowed anyone to claim any lands as they saw fit for the flag of the country they were under. If they got to the mouth of a river and planted their nations flag, that river and all tributaries and the land where then that country. It continues to impact policy and our world today.

We can see current examples in pipelines at Standing Rock, water rights in California where a nation lost the federal recognition in 1982 as the Shasta dam wiped out their land and sacred land in 1941. We can see it in Hawaii with the desire to build a 15th telescope on sacred ground at Mauna Kea. Even as recent as the Governor of North Dakota telling the nine reservations to open their borders to let the traffic flow free although they had closed the borders of the reservation to protect the people from COVID-19.

We are thankful that the Evangelical Covenant Church is formally working to have the repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery in Gather 2021. Philimayé (thank you) to Paul Robinson of LMDJ and Lenore Three Stars for your unending work in getting this repudiation done.

IMA official gathering at Midwinter 2020

What are the needs of your community?

Many times people see a movie or read a book and think, “I know the people and the cultures.” Or because they understand one Indigenous people they think they understand all Indigenous people.

Of the 570 Nations in Canada and the United States, each Nation is independent, each has their own language, culture, traditions, foods, regalia, etc. Do not try to be an expert after reading one book or watching one movie. Keep learning. If you go and serve on a reservation, go asking, not assuming you know what they need.

Revelation 7:9 (CEV) is my heartbeat: “After this, I saw a large crowd with more people than could be counted. They were from every race, tribe, nation and language, and they stood before the throne and before the Lamb.”

I long to see all nations, all tribes, all tongues worshiping Jesus each as we are created to be. Worship, as you are created to worship. And welcome others to do the same. For myself, as an Indigenous person I do not separate who I am, my culture from my faith. It is an Indigenous mindset. Everything we do is sacred, our life and relationship with Wakan Tanka, Creator, is integrated. All part of who we are.

See us. We are an invisible people. We may not be loud, but we are striving for equality and peace. Much has been taken from us, before Columbus landed on North America it was 100 percent Indigenous land, now we are less than 4 percent Indigenous land being put on a reserve or reservation with 20 percent of that being “owned by non-Indigenous people.”

Walk a mile in our shoes. When everything has been taken away from you, language, culture, traditions, traditional food that we can no longer gather or hunt … Do not judge us but listen to our stories. It will take us time with you as every treaty that was signed in Canada and by the United States government has been broken, so we rightfully do not trust those in authority or those outside our people and community.

What can you tell us about the IMA?

There has been an indigenous voice at the table of the Ethnic Association of the ECC since 2004. Now we officially have a vote at the table, along with the original Association AAMA, then CAPA and ALIPE. IMA was officially recognized by the Executive Ministers of the ECC in March of 2020.

We currently have 14 nations as part of IMA. We gather to learn to drum together, be in community as Indigenous people together. At Midwinter 2020, we had our first association dinner to gather together. It was encouraging to have Indigenous people come together. Though we are each unique, we have some common traditions; to share our stories, to hear our elders share their wisdom and to affirm our cultures.

We have often been told by some of our families, by the culture of the United States and Canada, to be ashamed of being who we are created to be. At IMA we are striving to be who we are created to be through the use of sharing our languages, cultures and traditions—all while we serve the Creator together in the ECC.

What resources would you recommend for those who want to learn more?

Listen to Supaman: He is from the Crow Nation and does hip-hop and rap. He is a follower of Christ and shares his culture through dancing in full regalia as he shares his humor, Scripture and injustices in his songs.

Listen to One World: We Are One, a group of singers and rappers, all indigenous artists.

Listen to Broken Walls, it is a Mohawk worship group. They do some songs in their language and use the drum for worshipping the Creator.

Some books to read include:

  • “Crazy Horse and Custer” by Stephen Ambrose. A historical novel that compares the mindset of Crazy Horse and Custer and the cultural differences.
  • “Unsettling Truths” by Mark Charles and Soong-Chan Rah. A great book about the Doctrine of Discovery and the damage it has and continues to do to People of Color.
  • “Neither Wolf nor Dog” by Kent Nerburn (also made into a movie). It gives great insight to how an Indigenous elder see the world.
  • “One God Many Tribes” and “Rescuing the Gospel from the Cowboys” by Richard Twiss, an Indigenous Theologian.
  • “Jesus and the Eskimo” by Fred Savok.

In film:

“Indian Horse” where a Canadian First Nations boy survives in a residential school in the 1970s and the impact of it on his life.

Some online resources to check out include:

Check your March/April Covenant Companion for recent stories of Indigenous Ministers

Also please contact TJ Smith for further conversation and to learn from his stories.

Paul Robinson is the Executive Minister of Love Justice, Do Mercy, a mission priority of the Evangelical Covenant Church. During this NWC webinar, Paul helps pastors and church leaders think through the impact of the death of George Floyd on the world. We also discuss the roots of racial injustice in Minnesota. Included are practical steps for moving forward, both for individuals and churches.

 

Pastors from throughout the Northwest Conference joined together June 2 to “bear silent witness” in a Minneapolis march that concluded at the location where George Floyd was killed on May 25. A similar, second march along University Ave. in St. Paul followed. Nearly 40 Covenant pastors from the NWC participated in the two events—part of crowds that spanned several city blocks in each location.

The silent march was organized by African American ministers in the Twin Cities.

“It was a very calm and prayerful march,” said Kara Stromberg, NWC Associate Superintendent. “It was reverent with a sense of lament. We knew we were bearing witness to something significant.”

Stromberg said the crowd represented a cross-section of faith traditions including Jewish leaders and many evangelical and mainline leaders. Participants wore masks and practiced social distancing.

“The African American clergy led the march and everybody else fell in line behind, as if to say, ‘We have your backs,’” Stromberg said.

“It was an honor and privilege to participate in the Black-led clergy march,” said Dave Hugare, Lead Pastor of Zion Covenant Church in Ellsworth, WI. “If I can go to the cities for dinner, to eat, for entertainment, then as a follower of Jesus and a minister of the Gospel, I felt compelled to go and stand shoulder to shoulder with our Black sisters and brothers to speak out against the murder of George Floyd.”

When they reached the place where George Floyd died, the crowd knelt together and recited the Lord’s Prayer.

“It was a surreal and holy moment to kneel with so many brothers and sisters in that place and pray the Lord’s Prayer together,” said Joel Johnson, Minnehaha Academy Middle School Bible Teacher. “I thought, too, as we approached the memorial at 38th and Chicago that it felt like a kind of Golgatha—a place of death and pain but with the potential for resurrection and new life for our city and our country.”

Mary March, who serves as co-pastor of New City Covenant Church in Edina, MN, chairs the ECC’s Mosaic Commission, and serves as President of the Covenant Asian Pastors Association, says it was a solemn and peaceful event.

“It was a mix of mournful and hopeful,” March said. “These days have been heavy and hard. There is a lot of pain, but this was a beautiful moment. We were seeing people show up, saying, ‘Count me in. I’m done being quiet and still and inactive.’”

The video of George Floyd’s murder broke some people, March says.

“The question now is how do we use our brokenness and lead our pastors to do advocacy, influence power structures, and change the way we address systemic racial issues? That’s the work that needs to be done,” March explained.

“It was a reminder to show up and stand for justice and not be silent,” Stromberg said. “It was also an invitation for accountability going forward. Months and years from now, communities of color have every right to ask if white leaders still stand with them like we did that day.”

This article originally appeared in the Covenant Newswire. Edited with permission. Photos provided by Joel Johnson (Minnehaha Academy) and Tim Johnson (Bloomington Covenant Church).

People and churches are looking for ways to provide tangible support to communities impacted by COVID-19 and the recent riots following the tragic killing of George Floyd. Twin Cities Covenant churches are stepping up to help meet those needs. If you or your church would like to support these efforts, we have developed a list of churches and ministries, along with their needs. Please note that the list changes often as different needs emerge.

Destino Covenant Church – South Minneapolis

Destino Covenant Church in South Minneapolis served as a food and supply collection and distribution site through the end of June. Mauricio Dell’Arciprete, Destino Lead Pastor and NWC Coordinator of Latino Ministry, and his wife Jacquelyn, who serves as Spiritual Formation Pastor, filmed this brief thank you message highlighting the church’s efforts and needs: https://destino.pub/ThankYou

DCC has asked for prayer, gift card donations, and monetary donations to the Community Needs Crisis Fund for financial aid, legal aid, counseling and more to continue serving the community. You can find a complete and updated list of drop-off items online at https://bit.ly/donate2destino

Community Covenant Church – North Minneapolis

Needs: Tangible goods and financial donations

Due to changing variables Community Covenant Church is switching their community relief efforts back to their on-going food shelf services based out of the church on the third Wednesday of each month. With this transition they can continue to benefit from some particular donations as noted below:

  • Cleaning supplies
  • Toilet paper
  • Paper towels
  • Detergent
  • Toiletries

You can also contribute via the CCC website, or to their Crisis Relief Fund via Paypal using the email church@cccminneapolis.org.

Sanctuary Covenant Church – North Minneapolis

Needs: Volunteers, tangible goods, and financial donations

Sanctuary Covenant Church representatives say the community around the church in North Minneapolis is struggling to figure out the grocery situation. SCC plans to continue food and supply distribution through at least Aug. 28.

Both volunteers and donations are needed, with toilet paper, diapers, laundry soap, small jars of peanut butter and jellies, beans, cereal, personal hygiene items (shampoo and conditioner for textured hair, soap, lotion, toothbrushes, deodorant, feminine hygiene products, body wash) being the most urgent needs. We discourage giant bulk sizes. Most people are walking or taking public transportation. For example: 16 oz. peanut butter rather than a 40 oz. jar. Buy 16 oz. liquid dish soap rather than 40 oz.

Any help a church or ministry can provide is greatly appreciated! Sanctuary needs both donations and volunteers any time between 10 a.m. – 2 p.m., on Wednesdays (for sorting donations) and Fridays (for food & supply distribution). For groups of 5 or more volunteers, or an unusually large donation, please contact Tyler Dixon-Ross: tyler@sanctuarycov.org

For up to date information about needs and opportunities, visit https://sanctuarycov.org/peace-prayer/

Roots Covenant – St. Paul

Roots is partnering with Black-led initiatives in St. Paul. Contact Pastor TC Moore for info.

Other Community Organizations who are excellent partners:

Community Emergency Services (CES)

Need: Volunteers and financial contributions

CES is a longtime partner of the community and largest distributor of Meals on Wheels. Financial donations will be used to purchase food from their supplier. Donate here: https://cesmn.org/donate-again

“If anyone from your church would like to help distribute meals next week or help at the food shelf, here is the volunteer contact info. If you have any questions please let us know. We’d be glad to help you get connected with the ongoing food needs in the community.”

https://www.cesmn.org/contact-us/to-volunteer

The One Fund

Needs: Finances

The One Fund exists to support the work of local African American churches and ministries whose communities, due to historic inequities, are disproportionately impacted by the recent crises in our Twin Cities. These inequities, caused by systemic injustice, have been clearly exposed again by the effects of COVID-19 and the trauma surrounding the horrific death of George Floyd.

The Black Church has a historic role of faithfully meeting the spiritual, social and physical needs of its community. Right now these front-line churches and ministries are stretched and stressed as they seek to serve and support vulnerable communities impacted by COVID-19 and these recent traumatic events. We can help!

Partner with these churches and ministries to ensure they can continue providing critical life-giving spiritual and practical service and support to their communities.

If you have additions or changes to the list, email Ginny Olson at the NWC office.

“When will we meet face-to-face again?”

That is the driving question in the church these days. We interviewed Paul Lessard (Executive Minister, ECC Start & Strengthen Churches) about what it means to realistically regather in-person. There were 5 priorities that emerged. One was discern and communicate with your context at the forefront. Watch the webinar for the other four, and make sure to check out the Webinar Resources tab below the video.

 

Recently, we spoke with Rev. Mary Chung March, President of the Covenant Asian Pastors Association (CAPA) and President of the Mosaic (Ethnic) Commission, to share insights on the Asian North American experience. March serves as co-lead pastor of New City Covenant Church in Edina, MN. She is married to John (co-pastor at NCCC) and is a mom of four.

As we celebrate Asian American Heritage Month, what in particular are you grateful for or celebrating?

I am grateful to my parents, my family, my Korean heritage and my Korean immigrant church in Jersey City, NJ. I am grateful for the legacy of prayer and ministry of the Korean immigrant church.

I celebrate our CAPA clergy and lay leaders who have navigated cultural, achievement, and systemic barriers to serve and love their churches sacrificially—especially in our current COVID-19 realities. I’m grateful for our denominational family of churches who is leaning into practicing solidarity with one another in our multiethnic mosaic.

Can you help us to better understand the history and experience of our Asian brothers and sisters?

The term “Asian American” or “Asian North American” (including our Canadian ECC Asian brothers and sisters) refers to more than 24 Asian ethnicities, each with distinct culture, history and lived experience.

CAPA has 135 credentialed clergy. Of that 135, we have 53 lead pastors, 18 missionaries, 12 chaplains, three full-time professors (North Park Theological Seminary, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Seattle Pacific University) and several adjunct professors, five senior administrators and directors, and two regional coordinators.

In terms of the diversity and heritages within CAPA, there is diversity in the term Asian North American. Chinese, Indian, Japanese and Korean may be among the first of such ethnic groups that come to mind, but “Asian American” and “Asian-North American” is also reflective of Hmong, Bhutanese, Mongolian, Cambodian, Laotian, Nepalese, to name just a few.

When we use the term “Asian North American,” we include more than 24 ethnicities. Despite how many distinct ethnicities, they can share the common experience of being seen as the “model minority” or “perpetual foreigner.”

Also worth mentioning is that fact that 75 percent of Asians in the U.S. are immigrants or children of immigrants (18 and under). In terms of Asian Americans, is it helpful to note that they have widely diverse and divergent experiences across generational and class lines. They are not all equal in their levels of education and social access.

Subjected to certain social myths, the most pervasive of which are the myths of the “model minority” and the “perpetual foreigner,” Asian Americans are not permitted to fit in, no matter how many generations they have been in the U.S. These myths are harmful to the Asian American identity and in relating to Asian Americans.

“When such umbrella terms are used to describe the varied experience of 20 million people hailing from diverse contexts and backgrounds, we unintentionally conflate (and flatten) the lived experience of people of Asian descent residing within the U.S.” (from the Midwinter 2019 CAPA workshop put on by Dominique Gilliard, Director of Racial Righteousness and Reconciliation for the Love Mercy Do Justice mission priority of the Evangelical Covenant Church, and Mark Tao, former CAPA Board Member and Pastor).

CAPA’s hope, and my own, is to broaden the conversation concerning the Asian North American experience and to bring greater awareness of the primary issues facing the Asian North American population in the U.S., Canada and in the Evangelical Covenant Church as a whole.

A 125-person luncheon of the four ethnic associations coming together to lament and pray for one another at Midwinter 2020.

What do you see as some of the most important needs for our Asian pastors or churches within the ECC? What can we be praying for?

Right now, we need solidarity and people speaking up when they see xenophobia or acts targeted against Asian North Americans.

Russell Jeung, a professor of Asian American Studies at San Francisco State University, started tracking these attacks on a new website he helped launch called Stop AAPI Hate. In the site’s first eight days, it received more than 650 reports of discrimination—largely against the Asian American community. In four weeks, 1,500 reports filed in. And these are only the ones being reported.

Here in the Twin Cities, Asians have received hate letters taped to their door, an elderly Asian woman was even kicked in the face.

Pray for Asian and Asian American communities impacted by xenophobia, racial/ethnic profiling, scapegoating, hate crimes and business boycotts. We need your prayers. I know you’ve all heard stories. They are real. People are being attacked like the two-year old and six-year old children who were stabbed at the Midland, TX Sam’s Club.

There was a recent story in Woodbury, MN, of someone posting a racist note on an Asian couple’s door. The note said “We are watching you. … We don’t want you hear (sic) infecting us with your disease.”

There are so many more not being recorded. Romans 12:9-10 calls us to authentic love. To hate evil and cling fast to the good. One way we can do that is to pray and speak up if you see something.

What is the mission of CAPA and when do you meet?

The mission of the Covenant Asian Pastors Association is to support and encourage Asian North American credentialed clergy, seminary students and any clergy and ministry leader of Asian descent serving in an Asian context.

It also strategically partners and assists the wider Evangelical Covenant Church as a denomination and its regional conferences on issues that affect Asian ministers, their congregations, and the greater multi-ethnic mosaic.

We hold our annual CAPA business meeting and dinner on Wednesday of Midwinter followed by our CAPA After Party. CAPA also hosts a Pre-Gather Retreat where we take time to encourage, mentor and minister to CAPA members.

Recommended Reading and Next Steps

CAPA 2020 Board

Rev. Mary Chung March (President)
Rev. Stephanie Ahn Mathis (Vice-President)
Rev. Manoj Mathai (Vice-President)
Rev. Brian Hui (Treasurer)
Rev. Ancy Post (Secretary)

CAPA Website: https://www.ecccapa.org

CAPA email: ecccapa@gmail.com

Find CAPA on Facebook at: facebook.com/groups/ecccapa

Dominique Gilliard, Director of Racial Righteousness and Reconciliation for the Love Mercy Do Justice mission priority of the Evangelical Covenant Church, interviewed Rev. Dr. Alex Gee (right) about Ahmaud Arbery, and what his killing means for our nation, the Church and the ECC.

They also discussed Rev. Gee’s racial righteousness work in Madison, WI, through the church’s nonprofit, and the Justified Anger movement it is spearheading in the city. Rev. Gee serves as the senior pastor of Fountain Of Life Covenant Church, and is also the Vice President of the ECC’s African American Ministers Association.

The interview is broken up into topical video segments with links to view each video below:

For further process and/or questions with this story and its related resources, feel free to contact Gilliard directly using the information below.

Dominique DuBois Gilliard
Director of Racial Righteousness and Reconciliation
The Evangelical Covenant Church
Dominique.Gilliard@covchurch.org
(773) 299-7271

In these anxious and uncertain days, as the world faces the threat of COVID-19, we remain the body of Christ, dependent on God’s grace and dependent on each other. The Evangelical Covenant Church continues to develop resources covering a range of topics and areas of ministry on its COVID-19 Resources site.

The growing and regularly-updated website offers General Resources, Mission Priorities Resources, details on the ECC’s Financial Relief Initiative, FAQs regarding the decision to cancel Gather 2020, and more. The site also includes resources specific to Latino churches.

The General Resources offered include links to stay connected to the ECC through social media, the Covenant Newswire, weekly prayer gatherings via Facebook Live, and resources from the CDC. General Resources are also offered in specific areas of ministry such as Leadership, Reopening Church, Legal & Financial matters and Technology.

The site also features a section of resources specific to the ECC Mission Priorities.

  • The Serve Globally tab includes ways to stay connected to Covenant churches around the world via prayer updates, giving opportunities and articles about how the pandemic has impacted the global Church.
  • Make & Deepen Disciples has provided links to online gatherings for Youth Workers and the Crescendo team, as well as Youth & Kids resources, Spiritual Formation resources, tools for small groups and the Blazing Center Resource Suite.
  • The Love Mercy Do Justice tab covers Racial Reconciliation and Righteousness, Advocacy for Victims of Abuse, Ministry Development in Season of Crisis, Social Enterprise and additional resources.
  • Throughout the Covenant, women are finding ways to help, lead and adapt. They are serving as first responders, ministry workers, and witnesses in their communities of God’s powerful and soothing presence in this pandemic. A Women’s Initiatives tab includes stories of these courageous acts form across the denomination.

Check back often as new resources are being added on a regular basis. We remain grateful that even as we navigate new ways of being in community, the ECC is leading the way forward: https://covchurch.org/covid-19/

Anxiety is running high right now: among our people and among ourselves. This two-part webinar with psychologist and author Dr. Linda Solie, gives pastors practical strategies on dealing with anxiety, stress and isolation.

Part 1 of the webinar focuses exclusively on coping skills for managing anxiety. In part 2, Dr. Solie presents additional methods for combating anxiety, as well as ideas for coping with isolation.

Dr. Solie is the author of, “Take Charge of Your Emotions: Seven Steps to Overcoming Depression, Anxiety, and Anger.” She is a member of Bethlehem Covenant Church and serves on the executive board of the Northwest Conference.

 

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ (April 27, 2020),

Greetings in the Name of Jesus! 

We want to thank you for the many ways that you continue to serve the Lord and your people in the midst of these challenging days. It has been encouraging to hear stories arising from our churches about people coming to faith in Christ and others connecting to our churches in ways that they have not done in the past. Your faithfulness, creativity and commitment is inspiring as you continue to minister to your people and broader communities. Thank you!

The Northwest Conference has also had to adapt to changing circumstances and needs. NWC staff members have been convening many ZOOM meetings and trying to connect with pastors and churches as much as possible. The NWC Executive Board has also had to make adjustments in its role due to the cancellation of the NWC Annual Meeting which had been scheduled to take place this past weekend.

As the Annual Meeting did not convene, the Executive Board is continuing to serve on behalf of the churches and delegates until such a time as we are able to meet again. As a result, the board convened late last week to act on several pressing matters on behalf of the NWC.

First, the Executive Board approved the NWC budget for fiscal year 2020-2021 that it was going to be recommending to the 2020 Annual Meeting of $1,704,733. It was approved with the awareness that it may need to be revisited throughout the coming months if necessitated by continued challenges presented by COVID-19 and potential financial implications. 

Further, the Executive Board approved the 2020-2021 budget for Minnehaha Academy of $15,746,600. This was brought to the NWC Executive Board by the Board of Trustees for MA. It was also going to be recommended by the NWC Executive Board to the Annual Meeting. This budget will also be monitored by both the Minnehaha Board and the NWC Executive Board in the months ahead.

Beyond these budgets, the board approved the addition of three new NWC Executive Board members. We welcome Jane Palmer (Faith-Burnsville), Dora Wagner (Catalyst-St. Paul), and Joe Watson (Sanctuary-Mpls). Approval was also given for James L. Volling (Excelsior) to serve another year as NWC Board Chair. Further, it approved the addition of Sarah Swanson (Community-Mpls) to the MA Board of Trustees. We thank each of them for their willingness to serve. You will find brief biographies for each here.

We also thank both Sheila Anonsen (Grace-Fargo) and Paul Knight (Hope-Grand Forks) for their faithful service to the board and NWC. Sheila has served for the past 5 years and Paul has been on the board for 6 years. Thanks Sheila and Paul!

Once again, many thanks to all of our churches and other ministry partners for your faithfulness in service and commitment to your people and to Christ, the Head of the Church. If you have any questions, please contact the NWC office and someone will be available to respond to your inquiry.

Sincerely,

James Volling,
NWC Executive Board Chair

Mark Stromberg,
NWC Superintendent

An interview with Mauricio Dell’Arciprete, Pastor of Destino.Church and NWC Coordinator of Latino Ministries

It was a Wednesday. We were preparing for the Sunday service, as we always do, when we heard the World Health Organization declare COVID-19 a global pandemic. From there everything started to change by the hour.

We had three emergency meetings in less than 48 hours, until we made the final decision to suspend all church meetings and activities until further notice. That’s when we invited the whole congregation to worship God connected online!

Describe your experience moving Destino Covenant Church online due to the current situation.

Our first online service was audio only, basically a podcast. The following week we prepared a video recorded service using an iPhone, including a welcome, announcements and message. Still very basic.

The week after that we were able to create more of the structure you see today, following a similar flow to our regular gatherings. We are now including testimonies from church members, recorded and shared using smart phones.

How did the congregation adjust to this new method of worship?

The first Sunday, people didn’t know exactly what to expect. Honestly, we didn’t either. The following week, we started using the free Church Online Platform provided by Life.Church and that was a huge step forward. The sound and video quality, the chat, the live prayer and the interaction with the congregation changed the initial resistance.

There is a difference between an “audience” and a “congregation”—the sense of community. This platform is allowing us to create community through live interaction with people.

On Easter Sunday, 12 people made a commitment to follow Jesus during our Salvation Call, and many more committed to their next step on their journey of faith though our online service!

We didn’t stop there. After the service, all of the attendees were invited to a Zoom meeting to celebrate the Lord’s Supper together. Many joined us in our first ever Communion at Home. It was really memorable!

How has the current crisis impacted ministry beyond the Sunday service?

We quickly realized that the “why” we do what we do has not changed. However, everything else has changed, as you know. So we asked ourselves, how can we be disciples who make disciples during this time of crisis?

COVID-19 is not the only disease out there: anxiety and depression are threatening our lives and are devastating individuals and families. Social distancing has led to many feeling isolated and alone during this time. People are more aware of their need to connect with God and others than ever before.

That is why at Destino, we moved our Bible Institute and weekly discipleship gatherings online using Zoom and made the commitment to double the amount of small groups we previously had.

Technology is challenging for some, but with guidance and encouragement it has been embraced. One member said, “I was very skeptical about Small Groups Online, but after the first meeting I realized how much I needed to feel connected, heard and loved.”

Do you have a word of encouragement for other Pastors?

We know that the “Church” is not a building. It’s the ministry we do every day in every way. We don’t go to church, we are the Church. And nothing can stop us from sharing the love of Jesus with a hurting world.

Our methods might change but our mission remains the same. Don’t be afraid to find new ways to fulfill God’s call on your life.

The hush of Holy Week has felt especially poignant this year as churches are figuring out what it means to create community and worship from afar. Across the Northwest Conference, churches are creatively designing services that fit their people and their context. Several our pastors shared what they’re doing this Holy Week:

At Catalyst Covenant in St. Paul, they are integrating art and worship. They are having an artist do three time-lapse videos in their Good Friday service of three paintings. Pastor Jeff Olson is creating three short talks to go with each painting.

Tim Coyer, pastor at Prairieview Covenant in New Richmond, said, “We will do Holy Week Services online; Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter. We are putting together Holy Week supply bags that people can either pick up tomorrow or have delivered to their house on Thursday. The bags have communion elements, a candle for our Good Friday service, coloring sheets for the kids, Blazing Center devotionals for our post-Easter series and some candy.”

Faith Covenant (Burnsville) is doing a Tenebrae service for Good Friday. Charlene Rotvold, Family Life Pastor, said, “Six members of our congregation taped a reading and written (by them) reflection on one of the seven last ‘words’ of Jesus. And our children’s and youth directors are taping special devotions for our kids and youth.” For Easter, they’re asking members to send in a video of their family saying, “Happy Easter!” to begin the service.

Living Waters Covenant (Worthington) is doing Holy Week services online: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, a Saturday prayer vigil and Easter. They sent out questions centered on the Easter story asking for responses which they’ll use during worship in a “talk show” format. They’ve also asked people to chalk “He is risen” on their sidewalk/driveway and submit pictures of their families around it.

Pastor Kris Stewart described the format of the Saturday prayer vigil. “We’ve been prerecording our services rather than going live. It will begin with welcome/explanation, people are invited to light a candle/dim the lights and then they’ll be guided through prayers/scripture readings. There will be pauses built in. However, since it is prerecorded, they will be invited to ‘pause’ for longer periods if they so choose. The service will be approximately 15-20 minutes long.”

T.C. Moore, pastor of Roots Covenant (St. Paul), held an online communion service for Maundy Thursday, using bread from a common loaf. He described it, “Osheta [Pastor of Community Life] and I will bake rolls from the same dough, individually wrap them and deliver them to each household on Wednesday.”

HOPE Covenant (Grand Forks) had people pick up communion elements, palm branches and kid packs last weekend for Palm Sunday. They also have daily devotions and a daily worship song. Pastor Paul Knight said that for Good Friday, they’ll have online drama monologues. The Easter service will be online, followed by an all-city (“We hope,” commented Knight) Easter car parade.

Moose Lake Covenant is using several different platforms to communicate with their people Pastor Craig Johnson said that they will be meeting for services via Zoom on Thursday night, a Friday night Tenebrae, and for Sunday school. Their Easter service will be via YouTube.

At Thief River Falls Covenant, Pastor Bert Foster said, “For Maundy Thursday we are doing a prayer and communion service via Zoom. We are doing recorded video services for Good Friday and Easter Sunday.”

At Monticello Covenant, Pastor Jane Spriggs led a Maundy Thursday service via Zoom. She described the service as, “fairly contemplative with music, Bible readings, prayers and communion.” She will be broadcasting Easter Sunday via Facebook Live from her house. She described it as, “Interactive with live prayer requests, greeting and communion in homes.”

This is a sample of all the creative ways our churches are seeking to meet the needs of their churches during this extraordinary Holy Week.

Many of these can be done in a low-key way, without speedy internet! 

Sometimes when we see lists we get overwhelmed. Instead, we hope this list gives you some ideas not to add one more thing to your plate—but to help your people connect with each other and their risen Lord, and experience a deep time of worship and renewal even in this moment. 

Remember, you can’t do everything. Give yourself grace. Rest well and seek to serve God and the people in your community strategically. Pick a few things or one thing and do them well. 

  1. Encourage your church to do a time where you all pray or read scripture at the same time of day. Even if your tech does not allow you to connect, this is a fantastically simple and ancient community activity. Some churches are even mailing out daily devotions to parishioners.
  2. Invite your church to each send a picture over text or e-mail to other members of your church along with a prayer or note of encouragement on Easter Sunday. Again this is highly relational and easy to do. Think of it like a digital calling tree. 
  3. Ask each member of your church to rent or stream a movie like the “The Passion of the Christ” or read the Easter account from scripture and invite your community to a moderated conversation online to discuss the text/movie. 
  4. Create an Easter playlist on Apple Music, Spotify or some other streaming service. Don’t have access? Invite people to suggest their favorite Easter music, make a list and mail that to people. Or photocopy pages of the hymnal and mail to people.
  5. Find another pastor or ministry leader, call them and swap “best ideas” for Easter. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel! 
  6. Host a QR code (Geocache) Easter egg hunt in your neighborhoods. That way no one has to touch anything and if it’s outside you are social distancing. This works well for small town churches where most of the church lives within a 10 minute radius.
  7. If you are looking for a way to pray through Holy Week this year, Lilly Lewin (author of “Sacred Space”) designed a prayer experience based on a centerpiece and five candles that can be used on your dining or coffee table and prayed around with your family, housemates or on your own. It starts on Sunday and finishes on Easter Sunday morning, taking you through the last week of Jesus’ life: https://godspacelight.com/2020/03/27/freerange-friday-holy-week-at-home-praying-with-a-centerpiece/. The website GodSpaceLight.com has other experiential Holy Week resources as well: https://godspacelight.com/church-calendar/
  8. Online Passover. Register for a time to experience the ancient Jewish feast of Passover and the last supper Jesus shared with his disciples. Meet Jewish staff from around the world, hear their life-changing stores and ask questions through an interactive Q&A: https://jewsforjesus.org/christ-in-the-passover-online
  9. Chalk the Walk, print yard signs with service times, and other practical ideas for inviting your neighbors to online church from LifeChurch.tv: https://openblog.life.church/ideas-for-easter-at-home/
  10. Low tech option: Movie theatre “drive-in church” or “drive-up prayer” stations. See these cool stories on doing this here: https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/churches-offer-drive-services-coronavirus-forces-social-distancing-n1170896
  11. Create a “Zoom Easter Coffee Hour” for your church. There is a free version of this software that is easy to set up and a fun way to see faces on Easter Sunday. Have kids make “lego tombs” to show off during the coffee time (https://zoom.us). More advanced Zoom options (for a pretty cheap purchase price) can even be an option to host services online. 
  12. Signs of Hope outreach idea. Good exercise, community connections and creative evangelism. 
  13. We are not the only ones trying to figure this “digital Easter” thing out! Here are a few other denominations or organizations putting out creative guides that are feasible and not overwhelming! https://www.la-umc.org/easter2020 and https://churchmarketinguniversity.com/the-ultimate-coronavirus-guide-for-churches/ 
  14. If you want to “live stream” your services, Facebook and YouTube are the most user friendly. BEWARE however that you need good internet speed and Sunday a.m. on Facebook has been a bit iffy given how many churches are using this option … So what if you plan a “live digital” service on non-peak time? You can also upload services ahead of Sunday mornings to make them run smoother and not demand fast internet connections during the actual time the service is streamed by your people. Details here: https://www.wix.com/blog/2019/02/how-to-upload-video-youtube-guide/. Note: YouTube uploading and streaming is slightly less intuitive than Facebook and you need a YouTube account first to post or stream. Use Google to find out more. 
  15. Online giving is also something to consider if you currently don’t have a provider for this. Many options are available: Tithly https://get.tithe.ly or https://www.planningcenter.com/giving are two of the easiest to use. Obviously this is not the point of Easter but was added to the list given the nature of the moment.

NWC staff members have compiled this growing, curated list of resources and articles as we continue to learn together how to do ministry in this time of coronavirus. Please use common sense and always follow the guidelines outlined by your state and regional health departments. if we can be of continued service to you, please do not hesitate to contact a NWC staff member directly or the Conference office at 612-721-4893.

Last updated 12/11/2020.

Dear Friends in Christ (March 25, 2020),

As the days unfold and news continues to proliferate regarding COVID-19, please know that the Northwest Conference staff and Executive Board members are praying for our churches, camps, schools, pastors and leaders. This is particularly true as decisions are being made locally about how to continue in both mission and relationship during this time of physical distancing leading to a greater risk of isolation.

Even as you are adapting in the midst of ever-changing circumstances, NWC leaders find themselves in a similar position. Just last week we announced that our scheduled upcoming gathered Annual Meeting at Minnehaha Academy was cancelled, but we intended to conduct the business portion of the meeting digitally. However, as we have followed recent events and considered current projections, the decision has been made to cancel the NWC Annual Meeting (including the Ministerial Association meeting) in its entirety. This is a decision that has also been made by several other regional conferences in the ECC.

Once things normalize, we may be able to offer another occasion to convene to conduct the business of the Conference, but we do not believe that now is the time. We know that you, our co-laborers in Christ, have your own hands full as you navigate the complexities of your local ministry.

What are some things to know?

  1. The NWC Executive Board will continue to serve conscientiously as a decision-making body until the next time NWC delegates are convened. Among other things, this will involve recommendations surrounding both NWC and Minnehaha Academy budgeting and board involvement.
  2. NWC leadership will remain in conversation with denominational leaders regarding the implications for the Covenant Annual Meeting, ordination and credentialing requirements, and other such business as would ordinarily come to the ECC at its June meeting.
  3. Any church that has sent in registration fees for the NWC Annual Meeting will have them returned to the church in full.
  4. Even while we will not convene the meeting, the NWC office will still be sending out a 2019 Ministry Report booklet to churches as a matter of record and accountability. However, this booklet may not be sent out until sometime this summer.
  5. During this time of challenge, our hope is to send out a weekly digital UPDATE to those who are signed up to receive it. If you are interested in signing up, please contact Cheryl Theilen at cheryl@northwestconference.org.

Along with you, we are keeping abreast of further developments and recommended restrictions by state and federal health officials. We strongly urge you to heed all of the recommendations and live within the bounds of what is being advised by those who are charged with our health and wellbeing. Therefore, please do not think that your setting is an exception to the rules. It is not. We want to be good citizens, and we also do not want to inadvertently put other people at risk.

If we can be of continued service to you, please do not hesitate to contact a NWC staff member directly or the Conference office at 612-721-4893. We are all accessible at this number, even as we work remotely. We want to be of assistance to you, even as we are also working away from the office.

Please be assured of our continued prayers on your behalf.

Sincerely in Christ,

James Volling,
NWC Executive Board Chair

Mark Stromberg,
NWC Superintendent

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:6-7

The World Health Organization has declared the coronavirus (COVID-19) a global pandemic, and we want to encourage you and provide resources as you minister in these difficult and uncertain days. We rejoice that as Christ-followers, we do not live in fear and anxiety, yet understand the pull toward the constant 24-7 news cycle.

It is imperative that we educate ourselves, and we look to the CDC and the MN, SD, ND and WI state health departments for up-to-date guidance on best practices for social distancing and hygiene, while we remain in God’s Word for perspective on how we are to live as Christ-followers in challenging times.

We know you are making crucial, timely decisions about your worship services and ongoing ministry, and we wanted to provide some resources to help you in your decision-making.

Consider these practical tips for group gatherings:

  • Encourage people to practice social distancing by staying 3-6 feet from others, and to not shake hands or hug. Replace with a wave, peace sign or “holy elbow bump.”
  • Remind people to stay home if sick, even if they are scheduled to serve.
  • Adapt activities that cause germs to spread. For example:
    • Communion: use pre-filled individual packets of wafers and wine (juice) that you can purchase on-line
    • Offering: rather than pass a plate, have a basket at the back of the sanctuary where people can leave their offerings
    • Passing the peace: consider an elbow bump or a slight bow
    • Serving food: consider a food shelf where congregants can pick up any staples they might need.
  • Frequently clean and sanitize touchpoints, such as door handles, handrails and children’s toys
  • Hand washing with soap and water is most effective in combatting the spread of this virus. Provide signage and reminders for people to do this, and teach children to do the same.
  • If you decide to stream your service, consider CCLI licensing requirements with streaming music. You will need a streaming license. Here is a resource for taking your church online fast;  and a YouTube video for how to send audio from a mixer to an iPhone or iPad.

When we bring an attitude of calm and care to the changes forced upon our ministry, our congregation and leaders will reflect our posture.

Additional Resources

This week, the Humanitarian Disaster Institute (HDI) at Wheaton College released four new resources to help churches and church leaders prepare and respond to the coronavirus outbreak in their congregations and communities: an online resource hub; a Friday webinar series, “Preparing Your Church for Coronavirus,” kicking off Friday, March 13 at 12 p.m. CT; a new manual, “Preparing Your Church for Coronavirus (COVID-19): A Step-by-Step, Research-Informed and Faith-Based Planning Manual”; and a planning template.

All can be found online here.

The “Church Planning Template” can be found here.

Christianity Today has also produced practical resources – Coronavirus and the Church: CT’s Latest News and Advice, including a helpful downloadable guide for churches

Stay up to date on how the virus spreads and how we can work together to slow the spread.
https://www.flattenthecurve.com

A great article on practical action steps by Andy Crouch: Love in a time of coronavirus

Know that we are in communication with our national ECC leadership, and we are all monitoring this situation daily. You can expect to hear updates from us in the coming days and weeks regarding plans for our upcoming NWC Annual Meeting and monthly Connection gatherings. Please reach out if there are ways in which the NWC can support, encourage or resource you.

Most importantly, we encourage everyone to be praying for those living and serving on the front lines of response, particularly those in public health, medical and government leadership. Consider how this might spur you on toward love and being a good neighbor.

We find comfort in remembering the words of Psalm 46:1, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.”

Grace and peace,

The Staff of the Northwest Conference

Recently, we had the privilege of interviewing the Rev. Bryan Murphy, President of the AAMA (African American Ministers Association). Bryan is a friend and an important and wise voice at the ECC Mosaic Commission Table.

Bryan, will you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I grew up in Indiana and went to school at Purdue before I moved to California in the early ’90s to work in Silicon Valley. After a few years in California, I started to sense a call to ministry and went into full time ministry in 2007. I have been the Lead Pastor at my church, Southbay Community Church in Fremont, CA, since 2011.

I have been married to my wife for 20 years. We have three children and three grandchildren who are the joys of our lives.

As we celebrate Black History Month, what in particular are you grateful for or celebrating?

During Black History Month, I am grateful for the growing broader understanding of the contributions of African Americans in our country. I feel like the conversation is broader than just Martin Luther King Jr. and the contributions of this one man.

To really understand the broad and rich heritage we have, we look to black writers, philosophers and inventors. Understanding the breadth and depth of contributions enlightens and encourages people to appreciate the richness of a heritage that they can be proud of.

For many segments of black America, the culturally normative reality is that we have been and continue to be second-class citizens and are considered “less than.” The celebration of Black History Month each February gives us an opportunity to celebrate. Black History Month is not just for ourselves but for the entire nation to celebrate with us the rich heritage and contributions of our culture.

Related to that is my growing excitement that the conversation is becoming broader than just one that is held in a particular segment of American culture. I saw a post on Facebook the other day that was encouraging because majority culture people are using this month as an opportunity to tear down some of the historic divisions and stereotypes and educate themselves and their children.

And so, the thought of this month not just being for a segment of our culture, but for the entire culture to celebrate the mosaic and our diversity, is exciting to see. There is a perspectival shift starting to happen.

It is deeply encouraging to see the whole mosaic celebrating and engaging Black History Month in different ways. Can you tell us a little bit about AAMA, its mission, when it meets and who serves on the Executive Board?

The purpose of the AAMA is to 1) support African American credentialed clergy and African American seminary students who desire to transition to ministries requiring clergy credentials and 2) serve as a partner with the ECC and its regional conferences on issues affecting African American ministers and the ministries they lead in pursuing the goals of the Covenant and its vision to impact the world for Christ.

We have three major gatherings every year. Peer Mentoring is an event that we host in October. It is a great opportunity for fellowship and mutual encouragement. We also gather at Midwinter and at Gather each year.

Our AAMA Executive Board consists of me as President, Brandi Sanders as the First Vice-President, Michael Thomas as the second Vice-President, Nilwona Nowlin as Secretary and LaNiece Thomas Flagg as Treasurer.

As president of AAMA, what do you see as the most important needs for our AAMA pastors and churches within the ECC? What can we be praying for?

Many of our AAMA churches are serving under-resourced communities and one thing that would be beneficial is to have sister Covenant churches (particularly those who have resources, facilities, or things that could be a benefit) partner with AAMA churches. I think it’s very much an Acts 2 model. That is a tangible thing that could help establish stronger ministry connections across the Mosaic and heighten the ability to reach more people.

Outside of that, I think a continued validation of the effectiveness of ministries outside of the suburban context, and affirmation that there is a validity and a recognition that God is moving in our communities and people are coming to Christ. People in our communities are being healed and transformed in contexts where thriving can be difficult. It would be mutually beneficial to celebrate these stories, and to have those stories be a part of our joint purposeful narrative at local, conference, and denominational gatherings—informing and shaping our theology, voice, space and story as we see and appreciate how God is moving within our multiethnic mosaic of churches.

I think this is more of a touch point than a need. I think we can also be praying for marriages, families and God’s provision. And as you would pray for your pastors and peers, pray for our churches and pastors and the weight and burden of ministry and leadership our pastors carry in the contexts they are serving. Pray that we still find balance and rest and that we are living faithfully to the call but not burning out in the process. Many of our pastors are solo pastors and so they carry almost the entire weight of their ministry on their own. This references back to the partnership thing.

What are some resources you would recommend that would give us greater understanding of the history and needs of our AAMA community?

Resources:

  1. I would recommend watching this short YouTube video, “Systemic Racism Explained” and write down some thoughts, questions, or prayers that arise after watching it.
  2. Consider signing up for one of the ECC immersion experiences like Sankofa (Oct. 15-18, 2020 or Journey to Mosaic, Immigration Immersion Experience, etc.) or if you are hoping for something more local, ask your conference office to consider hosting one in your area. https://covchurch.org/justice/racial-righteousness/sankofa/
  3. Consider engaging a resource on Dominique Gilliard’s blog on “Black History Month Recommendations”  https://dominiquegilliard.com/blog/

Great resources. Thank you for that. Lastly, for those who aren’t familiar with AAMA, what would be a good way to learn more about the association or get involved?

You can get involved by coming to one of our three annual meetings at Midwinter, Gather and Peer Mentoring. Our website is https://www.aama-ecc.org/. Or feel free to contact us at info@aama-ecc.org.

Salem Covenant Church in New Brighton is excited to welcome Rev. Dominique Gilliard on Sunday, Feb. 16, to preach at our worship services in the morning (9 and 11 a.m.). In the afternoon (4 – 6 p.m.), he will share and facilitate a discussion about his book, “Rethinking Incarceration: Advocating for Justice that Restores.”

Dominique is the Director of Racial Righteousness and Reconciliation for the Love Mercy Do Justice (LMDJ) initiative of the Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC). His book, “Rethinking Incarceration: Advocating for Justice that Restores,” won the 2018 Book of the Year Award for InterVarsity Press. Gilliard also serves on the board of directors for the Christian Community Development Association and Evangelicals for Justice.

The United States has more prisons, jails and detention centers than we do degree-granting institutions. We have more people locked up than any other country in the history of the world. Come learn how we got here, what pipelines are funneling people into the system, and how we can fix it all.

In “Rethinking Incarceration,” Dominique Gilliard explores the history and foundation of mass incarceration, examining Christianity’s role in its evolution and expansion. He assesses our nation’s ethic of meritocratic justice in light of Scripture and exposes the theologies that embolden mass incarceration. Gilliard then shows how Christians can pursue justice that restores and reconciles, offering creative solutions and highlighting innovative interventions. God’s justice is ultimately restorative, not just punitive. Discover how Christians can participate in the restoration and redemption of the incarceration system.

“The church has the power to help transform our broken criminal justice system.”

Come discover how we can advocate for and participate in the restorative justice needed to bring authentic rehabilitation, lasting transformation, and healthy reintegration for returning citizens.

Crossview Covenant Church in North Mankato has been connecting people to Jesus for 130+ years in Southern MN—2020 will be the year Crossview plants its first church. Brian and Sandi Asker, pastors of the new plant, have been in Mankato for a year, learning and working at the North Mankato location and praying about the new network church.

“We have hosted two preview services at the Howard Drive location. Our launch team has grown each week and we launched Preview Services at our Rosa Parks Elementary School location Jan. 12.  We will be heading towards weekly services in April,” the Askers shared.

“Recently, one of our launch members heard a sermon on Being Present with Strangers from John 4. She went to work at a coffee shop Sunday afternoon, started a conversation with an Egyptian Grad Student, which was way out of her comfort zone. They talked about faith. She invited him to church, and he came! He connected with a different family after the service, spent Christmas Day with them and was back to worship Jan. 5. He is a highly skeptical scientist who is open to learning and conversation!

“This is why we are in the business of planting new churches. Both to train launch team members to share their faith, and to see how God uses us in the lives of those who do not yet know God loves them.”

What an amazing weekend of basketball for the Minnehaha Academy community! On Thursday, Jan. 2, the boys’ basketball team welcomed our youngest Redhawks onto the court for a fun morning of basketball games, crafts and celebration. The boys were excellent role models for our Lower School students, making sure all students had fun and were included in the activities. The event was a fun way for families and young student to connect with Upper School student athletes and show their Redhawk spirit.

On Friday, Minnehaha Academy welcomed 2,000 people into our Upper School gym to watch two basketball games—Minnehaha Academy v. Park Center and Sierra Canyon v. The Patrick School. The games were broadcast live on ESPN 2 and ESPN 3.

Our prayer for the evening was that the Holy Spirit would be present, and that every person who came through the door would sense that abiding presence. The event was a success, and the Redhawks celebrated a victory against Park Center. Attendees left the evening with smiles on their faces after having enjoyed a great night of basketball, community and Redhawk hospitality.

On Saturday, Minnehaha Academy boys’ basketball played against Sierra Canyon at the Target Center for the ESPN Clash of Champions. Fans filled up 17,378 seats (almost near capacity at the Target Center) to watch an exceptional game of basketball. Additionally, more than 17,000 fans watched the game live on ESPN3. It was an exciting and fast-paced game, with the Redhawks winning 78-58.

It wasn’t just our student-athletes that shone this weekend. Student Grace Anderson’s beautiful voice filled the arena on Friday and Saturday night with the National Anthem. With her strong stage presence and musical talent, she set the tone for a night of excellence.

We are thankful for the opportunity given to us to let the light of our students shine on a national stage. We are grateful for God’s goodness and many blessings.

Superintendent Mark R. Stromberg’s 2019 Letter to Churches Gathering in Annual Meetings is now available for download.

Feel free to include this letter in your annual meeting booklets or provide a copy to your church family via a bulletin insert.

The Department of Labor is increasing the minimum salary requirement for exempt workers from $455 to $684 per week effective January 1, 2020. This means that if you currently pay an employee a flat (salary) amount less than $35,568 per year, overtime pay rules will apply effective January 1, 2020.

See page 4 of the Hiring Guide in the Downloads tab below for all the requirements that must be met for an employee to be considered exempt from minimum wage and overtime laws.

At its recent meeting, the Northwest Conference Executive Board approved the recommendation that the Rev. Kara Stromberg be selected as the new Associate Superintendent for the NWC.

Stromberg has served on the staff of the Conference as Director of Children & Family Ministry for 7 years. Prior to that, she served in a variety of roles, including Pastor to Youth and Families at Roseville Covenant Church (Roseville, MN), Director of Training at Youth Leadership, adjunct instructor at Bethel Theological Seminary and interim pastor at Roots Covenant Church in St. Paul, MN. A graduate of Bethel Seminary, Kara was ordained in the Evangelical Covenant Church in 2010.

Having served churches in staff, volunteer and consultant capacities, Kara understands the unique leadership challenges of ministry teams and is excited to step into this new role with the NWC.

Superintendent Mark Stromberg (no relation) stated, “I could not be more pleased as it will provide the opportunity for Kara to utilize her gifts more fully on behalf of the churches, leaders and pastors in our region.”

Kara and her husband, Nate, live in St. Paul with their three children, Ben, Greta and Juniper. Congratulations, Kara!

Jeff Olson joins the NWC Church Planting Team

The NWC Executive Board is also pleased to announce that the Rev. Jeff Olson has joined the NWC Church Planting Team as a new part-time associate. Rev. Olson is currently the church planting pastor of Catalyst Covenant Church in St. Paul, MN. He has also been involved on the EMBRACE Team for the ECC, assisting in the development of resources for pastors and churches.

“I am so excited to have Jeff joining our church planting team in the NWC. Bringing Jeff on our team highlights our unwavering commitment to church planting,” said Mike Brown, NWC Director of Church Planting. “We also recognize that a team approach will allow us to best reach our goals as I serve both the Conference and Denomination. Jeff’s gifts and passion for planting and planting pastors will allow us to better assess and deploy those sensing a call to plant a church.”

Jeff earned his undergraduate degree in Philosophy and Religious Studies from Bethel University. He continued into seminary and attended classes at Gordon Conwell, North Park and finished his Masters in Divinity at Bethel Theological Seminary.

He has had the pleasure of serving in three church ministries in the past 17 years, as well as at a Christian college. All of these roles have had pioneering aspects to them where Jeff has helped to create and develop teams, services and ministries—preparing him for this exciting role with the NWC.

Jeff and his wife Lisa have three active boys, Jonas (7), August (5) and Elias (3).

Just over 80 people enjoyed being together Oct. 7-9 for the 2019 NWC Ministerial Association Retreat at Lake Geneva Christian Center in Alexandria, MN. Peter Haas of Substance Church encouraged and inspired listeners, sharing amazing stories of how God has led and miraculously provided for Substance.

A Preaching Seminar led by Phil Print and Stephanie Williams O’Brien infused strength and renewed many in the work of preaching. Attendees also heard from Colleen Nelson, Kyle Gunderson and Hollis Kim about how God has been moving in their lives and ministry.

There was plenty of time and space for rest and retreat as well and connecting with pastoral colleagues old and new. We thank God for his renewing work among us those days.

On Sept. 29, 2019, the Minnehaha Community—alumni, current families, current and former faculty and staff, and current and former Trustees—gathered for a service of remembrance and hope at the Building Dedication. Together, we remembered the tragic events of Aug. 2, 2017, and God’s faithfulness through the days, months and years that followed as we rebuilt the Upper School.

Holding the tension of tragedy and hope can be a challenge at times. We mourn the loss of two dear friends and colleagues, but also look to God’s faithfulness and His promise to His people in Isaiah 43:19:

See, I am doing a new thing!
      Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
      and streams in the wasteland.

This promise has been imprinted on many of our hearts and is what we look to as we dedicate the rebuilt Upper School to God for his glory. Composer Daniel Kallman of Northfield, MN, wrote a beautiful composition to mark this new chapter in our school’s history. The piece was performed at the Building Dedication by the Minnehaha Academy Singers, Orchestra, and Symphonic Wind Ensemble. This commissioned piece is based on Isaiah 43:19, Lamentations 3:22-24, and Hebrews 10:23.

Our community appreciated the special remarks by President Rev. Dr. Donna Harris, NWC Superintendent Rev. Mark Stromberg (‘74), former faculty member Rev. Paul Swanson (‘51), Chair of the Board of Trustees David Anderson (‘67), and Chair of the Together We Rise Campaign Marc and Alicia Belton.

A video was created for the service to mark the events that happened from the explosion on Aug. 2, 2017, to the opening of the new building. This video, along with the Building Dedication Program can be found on the Minnehaha Academy website.

Thank You

Thanks to all who worked to make the Building Dedication Service a beautiful and meaningful event. Thanks to all who attended the service and to those who have offered their support over the past two years as Together We Rise!

Imagine 614 middle schoolers learning about what it means to be unleashed for Jesus. That was the theme of this year’s MUUUCE (the Most Unbelievable, Ultimate, Urban Camping Experience). From Aug. 1-3, 614 students and youth leaders from 40 Northwest Conference Covenant churches gathered at Crossroads Church in Woodbury for this awesome middle school event.

The three days included a massive Welcome Party with inflatable games and food trucks, a trip to the Big Thrill Factory and Valley Fair, lots of pizza and Chick-fil-A, as well as worship, teaching and small group discussions that are designed specifically for them.

During the worship sessions, Karl Romeus, the student pastor at Bayside Church in Sacramento, CA, confronted students to think about what it means to be unleashed for Christ as young adolescents. They leaned in to hear his stories and his challenges. The Crossroads worship team created a powerful worship experience designed to help middle schoolers connect with God.

Chad Melton, pastor of middle school ministry at Alexandria Covenant said that a highlight for him was witnessing God soften a student’s heart.

“That this student encountered Jesus after a year of praying for that breakthrough… it’s beyond words,” Melton said.

MUUUCE is led by a team of a few paid but mostly volunteer leaders at Crossroads and a few other Covenant churches. This team meets all year to create and implement this crucial large-scale event for our Conference. They work hard to keep the cost affordable and still give students a memorable experience.

As you can imagine, feeding that many teenagers gets expensive. With that in mind, one of the 210 Crossroads attenders who volunteered for MUUUCE is Wendy Rhein. She spearheaded an effort to get local businesses to contribute to help defray the cost. For example, Chick-fil-A in West St. Paul donated chips and gave a huge discount on sandwiches and delivered them free of charge. Kwik Trip in Woodbury donated 120 pounds of bananas as well as pop. Dairy Queen in Woodbury gave MUUUCE a huge discount on Dilly Bars. Green Mill in Maplewood gave a discount on burritos and pizzas, and Cub Foods in Cottage Grove cut their price on donuts, watermelons and carrots for MUUUCE.

In a world that thinks middle schoolers are too young to think about the things of God, too squirrely to make a decision to follow Christ, too immature to handle spiritual questions, MUUUCE is a rare event that is designed to help these students understand that they are deeply loved by God, and that church is a place where you can have fun.

Rachel Lassen, the youth pastor at Hope St. Cloud, summed these amazing three days up well: “What was especially meaningful for our crew was that many of our students got to conquer ‘firsts’ together … first time on a rollercoaster, first time hearing the good news, first big-time retreat and first major encounter with God.”

Twelve high school students were chosen to participate in this year’s Adventures in Leadership [AIL] from June 15-22. AIL is an intense week of leadership development at Adventurous Christians on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.

Students spend the first part of the week at AC learning crucial camping skills as well as what it means to be a leader who follows Christ. They spend time exploring how they’re wired to lead and what it means to be a servant leader, then put that knowledge into action out on the trail in the Boundary Waters.

Throughout the week, they are leading and reflecting on their experience with guides and their peers. For example, Jasmine from Brookdale Covenant, wrote in her reflection, “I learned that there are different kinds of leaders and you don’t have to try and be like everyone else. I also learned about my own strengths and weaknesses.”

Christian from the Covenant Church in Bemidji offered this perspective: “I like how AIL not only teaches us about leadership but lets us put what we learn into practice.”

This year students had a front-row experience of observing leadership in the midst of a crisis. They had just arrived back at camp from their trip and were cleaning their gear when a fire broke out in the AC sauna. They watched as the Gunflint Trail Volunteer Fire Department swarmed in from the surrounding area to deal with the fire and kept it to just a loss of the building and nothing more.

Jon Kramka, NWC Director of Congregational Vitality, observed, “It could have been so much worse, and I was so proud of how our AIL students responded during this crisis. This brought the ‘adventure’ element of this years’ experience to a whole new level.”

As a follow-up to the AIL experience, there is a leadership challenge extended to student’s home church: partner with the student to make sure they are growing in their leadership abilities over the next year. Each student’s home church receives an evaluation of the student’s experience from the AIL staff, as well as ways for the church to engage each student further in leadership learning and experiences. They are also given support materials to assist them with this process.

Precious, an AIL student from Community Covenant, summed it up well, saying, “AIL went beyond my expectations because it really mapped out what it means to be a leader.”

Applications for next year’s Adventures in Leadership will be available in early February 2020.

Linwood Covenant Church in Wyoming, MN, invites you to join them Sunday evening, July 14, at 7 p.m. for a time of singing the hymns of our faith and an ice cream social. Linwood Covenant Church is located 40 miles north of Minneapolis.

Download the Hymn Sing Flyer for more details.

URGENT: AIL students and staff are fine and should be arriving home on Saturday as scheduled.  If there are further updates, they will be posted on Facebook on the Northwest Conference Youth Ministry page: https://www.facebook.com/nwcyouthministry/

From Covenant Pines Ministries: “Shortly before 3pm today, the office/sauna building at Adventurous Christians burnt to the ground. Staff were working in the office when the fire was discovered. We give prayers of thanksgiving that no one was injured. Pray for our staff as they are shaken by the trauma. Pray also for the students who are on trail now and will be returning tomorrow. And pray for the upcoming trips yet to go out this summer.

With the loss of the office, all communication with AC is currently down. We will be monitoring emails remotely as we explore ways to reestablish communication.

Despite this tragedy, we are fully able to serve the campers who will Experience the Wonder of Christ through AC this summer. God is good.”

June 11, 2019

Dear NWC Friends and Delegates,

Many of us are experiencing a time of disappointment and sadness as the Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC) is in deliberation and discernment about the status of First Covenant Church of Minneapolis, Minnesota (FCCM).

While the need to engage in this matter may feel sudden to some within our midst, the Executive Board of the Northwest Conference (NWC) wants to assure you that this has neither been a hasty process nor undertaken lightly.

You will be able to see by the Engagement Timeline, as posted with the ECC Annual Meeting documents relative to FCCM (Agenda Item 10.b.), there were numerous attempts over a number of years by both ECC and NWC leaders to seek clarification and a possible path forward toward alignment with the communally discerned and reaffirmed position of the ECC on human sexuality and marriage. Unfortunately, all of this has not yielded the outcome that would have prevented this current course of action from being considered at the 2019 Annual Meeting.

While conversations had begun between ECC, NWC and FCCM leaders back in 2013, it was in 2014 that NWC Executive Board members first became involved. The NWC Executive Board has been regularly engaged in conversations at each of its meetings since then about the trajectory of the church.

Ultimately, growing concerns regarding that trajectory led to an invitation by the NWC Executive Board to the Leadership Team and pastoral staff from FCCM to meet for face-to-face dialogue in 2015. Following this, conversations with both ECC and NWC leaders continued.

In 2017, the NWC Executive Board met with ECC leadership to process next steps as there had been little progress in any movement of FCCM back toward the ECC. There was then a second meeting with the FCCM Leadership Team attended by both ECC leaders and representatives of the NWC Executive Board. Subsequently, there was yet a third meeting with FCCM, ECC, and NWC Board representation. At this meeting, we were advised that FCCM was undergoing a “period of discernment” as to its future.

In 2018, following the publication of a “Love All” statement on the FCCM web site in which FCCM declared a different ethic concerning human sexuality and marriage, the NWC Executive Board received a letter from a number of NWC pastors requesting that it address concerns about what FCCM had published. Consequently, the NWC Executive Board met with the Leadership Team of FCCM in August 2018, asking the church to come back into harmony. We believe this request was seriously considered by FCCM leaders, but ultimately was beyond what the church was either willing or able to do.

Thus, following this August 2018 meeting and much prayer, and in keeping with ECC process, the NWC Executive Board unanimously approved a recommendation to the ECC Executive Board that it conduct its own independent investigation because FCCM appeared to be “out of harmony” within the meaning of the ECC Bylaws. At that juncture, the NWC Executive Board concluded its efforts relative to the matter, although it has remained an item for discussion at NWC Executive Board meetings due to the public and important nature of the concerns.

While more can be reviewed on the Engagement Timeline contained in the Annual Meeting Delegate materials as found on the ECC website, this letter is written to convey to NWC Gather 2019 delegates that this has been a prolonged and difficult process; one in which the NWC Executive Board sought to be gracious, deliberate, and clear, while also being cognizant of the seriousness of its deliberations and their potential implications.

However, while fully accepting our obligations and responsibilities in the process, we are also grateful that this weighty decision is not ours to make. We are appreciative of the ECC Executive Board for its own due diligence, knowing that it is not in the position to make a decision either. Rather, we know that any decision is by the authority of the ECC Annual Meeting through delegates representing constituent ECC churches.

May God grant each delegate and church wisdom.

Sincerely in Christ,

James L. Volling
NWC Executive Board Chair on Behalf of the
Executive Board of the Northwest Conference

The following is in response to an Open Letter published June 2019 by Rev. Dan Collison.

Dear Northwest Conference Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

God’s grace and peace to you in these days of challenge.

For those of us who serve in broader Covenant or Conference ministry, we find ourselves placed in challenging positions, though we are certainly not alone in this. We are engaged in work that is often highly sensitive and difficult. It can be heart-wrenching and requires discernment. It can also lead to difficult decisions through which one knows that he or she will have to pay a personal price, whether warranted or not.

It is especially challenging if those on different sides of a dispute do not abide by the same rules. This is particularly true if one party seeks to maintain confidentiality while the other feels under no such constraint. When this happens, the party which decides to share that which is deemed confidential often has the advantage of setting the public narrative and tone, while the other party still feels the ethical responsibility to maintain discretion. As such, the narrative first expressed is often perceived to be reality, like it or not.

However, there comes a time when one has to respond to inaccuracies and misleading statements. This is what I am doing now, as Rev. Daniel Collison is seeking to impugn my character and motives as NWC Superintendent in a very public manner. I realize that this is further complicated by the highly emotional topic of human sexuality. Yet now, I do feel obligated and have been encouraged by both ECC and NWC leaders to respond to his impassioned appeal relative to several points of misinformation:

  1. I was deeply involved in facilitating the arrival of Rev. Collison to First Covenant Church of Minneapolis (FCCM) in 2009. It was a vulnerable congregation that happens to be my home church. Rest assured that Rev. Collison would never have been advanced by me nor called by the members of the church at that time had he disclosed his position that stands at opposition to that of the ECC.
  2. Further, in 2013, Rev. Collison requested a meeting with Rev. Jon Kramka and me to inform us that he had changed his position on human sexuality, contrary to his assertion that he never “obfuscated” his position in any way. Rev. Kramka (the NWC Director of Congregational Vitality) had been the former chair at FCCM for a couple of years prior to the time that Rev. Collison made this announcement to us. Rev. Kramka can attest to the veracity of what I am sharing with you. At that time, Rev. Collison assured us that he would still live within the boundaries of the ECC position and not let his personal beliefs overshadow that of the ECC. Regardless, we were both caught off guard by this revelation. It happened following Rev. Collison’s interview with the NWC Committee on Ministerial Standing (COMS) in 2012 and shortly after the time that Jon concluded his term as chair.
  3. Moreover, while there had been some questions that arose relative to Rev. Collison’s COMS interview paper, his verbal answers of explanation to the committee in 2012 had provided assurance that he was compatible with the ECC on this matter. After-the-fact, committee members felt that they had been misled by him.
  4. Rev. Collison states that, to the best of his memory, I made a statement regarding the ECC avoiding conversations on human sexuality because people will “tend to change their minds.” This is categorically untrue. I never made any such statement to him as it is not even an opinion I hold. Therefore, it appears that his memory is not clear on this particular matter.
  5. Rev. Collison further states that I became increasingly angry and also intimidated FCCM board members. I have never raised my voice to him nor any board member, though I have had voices raised at me and other NWC and ECC leaders. There are other leaders who can attest to this, as well.
  6. Additionally, I believe that those who know me will verify that they have never observed this as my pattern of behavior, even under duress. And I would suggest that a superintendent seeking to hold a pastor accountable to his or her ordination vow and installation promise is hardly the same as bullying or displaying anger. Rev. Collison and I are simply in strong disagreement on what it means to live faithfully in to our calling as ECC pastors. Thus, Rev. Collison is overstating the intensity of any of my actual interactions with him. Disagreement is not the same as anger.
  7. Rev. Collison speaks of isolation and a refusal to meet with him. He also states that, “At a loss, I began to interact with Rev. Mark Novak (then Executive Minister of BoOM) and Rev. Dick Lucco (then a representative from ECC President Gary Walter’s office).” As he describes this, it appears to imply that he was the initiator of the original conversations with ECC leaders. This is misleading. Actually, most of the initial interactions were instigated by these leaders in conjunction with NWC leadership as a result of the growing frustrations expressed by then FCCM church members, FCCM staff members, and NWC leaders. Further, I can say with certainty that there is no pastor in the ECC or NWC who has had more interaction with leadership than has been afforded to Rev. Collison over the past 6 years. Unfortunately, most of these interactions have centered on concerns relative to his growing public advocacy for a position that overshadows the discerned position of the ECC on human sexuality.
  8. Rev. Collison encourages the readers of his letter to “engage in their own due diligence and independent discernment to gain a complete narrative.” The reality is that this is not possible, as not all information can or should be aired publicly. However, I would encourage you to consider that a “complete narrative” implies that there is usually more to the story and truth is not determined solely by who speaks first or most eloquently or writes most prolifically.

Please know that I take no delight in any of what is taking place, either with Rev. Collison or my home church. Moreover, my prevailing emotions are weariness and disappointment, not animosity. I have never written anything in the past to publicly shame or undermine Rev. Collison. I have not been part of any “systematic initiative” that goes beyond simply working within the prescribed role of a superintendent when seeking to address concerns with a pastor relative to questionable teaching or practice. Further, I am grateful that I am not the final determiner of what happens at the upcoming ECC Annual Meeting, as it is important for the broader Church to make decisions about its future based upon what it aspires to be.

In conclusion, I wish that I did not have to write this type of public response, as it is never comfortable having to defend oneself. After all, you just sound defensive. It also plays into so much of the hostile social media chatter that has been neither helpful nor redemptive. Sadly, I realize that this will probably continue. Yet, it would not be right to allow the things conveyed to stand without objecting to the validity of much of what Rev. Collison has written. The reality is that I am either leading with integrity or I am not. I pray that I am.

I would also request that you keep in mind that, regardless of interactions with me or any other NWC staff or board member in the past, both the ECC Executive Board and its Board of Ordered Ministry have found reasons to bring actions against both FCCM and its pastor after subsequent independent investigations, apart from any further input from the NWC. To suggest that this is all a result of some personal vendetta I have toward Rev. Collison is both a trivialization of genuine ethical concern and a deflection. And, most importantly, it is simply not true.

May God grant our Church wisdom and discernment.

Sincerely,

Mark R. Stromberg
Superintendent
Northwest Conference

With a theme of “Sharing Our Hope:Raising the Temperature on Evangelism” the 2019 Northwest Conference Annual Meetings—for both the Ministerial Association and church delegates—took place at HOPE Covenant Church in Grand Forks, ND, April 25-27.

Northwest Conference Superintendent Mark R. Stromberg, who was re-elected to serve a third four-year term, shared, “I’m grateful to God to be able to serve the very churches and ministries that have played such a significant role in my own life.”

Throughout the weekend, pastors, delegates and attendees heard video and spoken testimony on the topic of evangelism.

Friday Business Session

The Northwest Conference Annual Meeting opened with the business session on Friday afternoon.

“We exist primarily for the benefit of those who don’t know Jesus Christ yet. The Church is the only organization that exists for its non-members, instead of its members.” said Paul Knight, Lead Pastor of HOPE Covenant Church, as he welcomed delegates and attendees and set the tone for the meetings that followed.

Michelle Sanchez, ECC Executive Minister of Make & Deepen Disciples, brought greetings from the Evangelical Covenant Church. Sanchez shared that “disciples making disciples through evangelism” is one aspect of ECC President John Wenrich’s six-point vision for the denomination. She announced that the ECC will soon be hiring a Director of Evangelism.

During his report, Superintendent Stromberg shared about the many good things that can happen when we join together, including sending missionaries, starting new churches, resourcing existing churches, facilitating group homes for the developmentally disabled, supporting Bible camps and much more.

He also reflected on his years of service to the Northwest Conference.

“Even with the changes and challenges through the years and all around us, aren’t you grateful that the Bible tells us that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever?” Stromberg said. “While we can’t control what others do with the Gospel in our ever-changing world, we are responsible for the message that we have been given. And we are to hand it down to others faithfully.”

Stromberg shared that Director of Pastoral Care & Development, Jeff Burton, will retire from full-time ministry this summer but will continue to serve the NWC in a part-time capacity. Pastor Hollis Kim was announced as the incoming Director of Pastoral Care & Development.

In place of individual reports, this year’s meeting featured a NWC Ministry Director Panel where Conference staff shared how their areas of ministry oversight have seen fruit in the area of evangelism.

“We plant churches because it shows our love for those God has placed around us,” Mike Brown, Director of Church Planting, shared. “More churches results in more church attendees. Church Planting is a very effective way for us to reach the unchurched.”

Brown explained that the NWC helps church plants reach new people through ongoing resourcing and coaching.

“Lost people matter to God, and they matter to us,” Brown said.

Jeff Burton, Director of Pastoral Care & Development, highlighted the work the NWC does to help its pastors have a healthier rhythm in ministry—and “have a life outside the Church,” in order to stay healthy and continue the work of being in evangelism.

“If you’re a pastor, you’re around a place that people will often go to when they’re in crisis. That’s a unique opportunity to present the Gospel,” Burton said. “Pastors have some really unique opportunities when it comes to evangelism.”

Ginny Olson, Director of Youth Ministry, said research shows students often make a decision to follow Christ when they are in a setting that’s “away from their normal environment.” Special events like the NWC’s MOVE, Adventures in Leadership and MUUUCE, give students an opportunity to pause, reflect and experience Christ during this adolescent time of life.

“My role in this position is to help you and your churches help your youth workers thrive in ministry,” Olson said. “Youth leaders are a non-parental force for good in students’ lives.”

Olson announced the formation of a Youth Ministry Coaching Cohort launching in September. The cohort is a nine-month program to pair youth workers with coaches, facilitate retreats and walk with younger youth workers in their ministry.

Jon Kramka, Director of Congregational Vitality, shared that many churches are seeing success in evangelistic efforts through affinity groups, created around common points of interest, that allow for fresh intersection with others—particularly those who are not yet followers of Christ.

“Intentional evangelism is a fundamental component to being and becoming a healthy, missional church,” Kramka said. “We know that to continue to foster healthy, missional, vibrant churches, much of our work is also about culture change—a cumulative development of patterns and habits that are developed over time by a group of people. We know we need to change our evangelism culture in the Covenant.”

Kara Stromberg, Director of Children & Family Ministry, said evangelism is most effective among kids and young people because children are so receptive to the Good News of Christ.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity to share the Gospel with and through children,” Stromberg said. “Ministry to kids is peer-based, family-based and intergenerational.”

Stromberg shared that her ministry area works with Minnehaha Academy, with Covenant Camps and summer camp speakers, new church plants and established churches—in a variety of ways—to strengthen ministry to kids in the Conference.

“I work with a team of ministry leaders who are available as a resource to you, to help determine how children’s ministry can have a broader role in your church life,” she said.

Following a short break, it was announced that Superintendent Stromberg was elected to serve a third term.

Mike Brown then introduced three new church fellowship groups, including: The Crossing Covenant Church, Pastor Michele Arndt (Houlton, WI), North City Covenant Church, Pastors JD and ChristianAnn Larson (Minneapolis, MN), and Nuestra Esperanza Covenant Church, Pastors Hector and Betty Reyes (New Hope, MN).

Mauricio Dell’Arciprete, Coordinator of Latino Ministry, shared that over 40 students are being prepared for ministry through CHET happening in two Covenant church locations in the Twin Cities.

“If you feel from God that there is something that you need to do to bless the Latino community around you, please reach out to me,” Dell’Arciprete said. “I want to be able join with you in what God is doing through your ministry in the Latino community.”

Minnehaha Academy President Donna Harris again expressed gratitude for the pastoral support from the NWC and its staff following the Aug. 2, 2017, explosion at the school’s Upper Campus, as well as for the financial support given by the NWC and its churches.

“May God strengthen you daily for the work God has called you to do,” Harris said. “Minnehaha is blessed to be under this umbrella.”

Harris shared a slideshow of photos from the life of the school that highlighted recent athletic and academic accomplishments of MA students, as well as highlights from the reconstruction of the Upper Campus. Substantial completion of construction is expected by the first week of August, with students returning this fall for the 2019-20 school year.

“We believe that when students shine in all the ways we want them to shine, especially in the dark, they attract others to them,” Harris said.

Attendees also had opportunity to learn about a variety of Conference and denominational ministries and organizations at display tables, in special workshops and through one-on-one conversations throughout the weekend.

Friday Worship Service

The HOPE Covenant worship teamled attendees in worship during the Friday evening worship service. Nine Candidates for Ordination were also recognized and prayed for during the service.

A special offering taken during the service raised $2,500 to benefit the HOPE Church Community Care Center & Food Pantry. Church representatives also brought forward prayer bookmarks collected as part of the ECC’s BLESS Intentional Evangelism initiative, which will be brought to Gather 2019, the national Covenant annual meeting in June.

All three of the New Church Fellowship Groups recognized during the Business Session earlier in the day, signed Covenant Agreements on stage during the service.

Michelle Sanchez, Executive Minister of Make & Deepen Disciples, shared a message titled, “Our Great Commission to BLESS the World.”

Sanchez challenged attendees to consider the question: “What is it that we can do now, as followers of Jesus, which we can’t do forever? The answers to that question are the things that we should be ‘majoring in’ now as the Church.”

To be “blessed” was God’s original intention for us all—it was His original intention for the world, she shared.

“We are here and God is calling us to continue the good work that He started. He came to bless,” Sanchez said. “The Great Commission to make disciples of Jesus is the best way to bless the world, because Jesus IS the blessing.”

Saturday Business Session and Workshops

During Saturday’s Business Session, delegates approved a ballot that included the election of Jim Volling (Excelsior Covenant Church, Excelsior, MN) to serve another year as NWC Executive Board Chairperson, Paul Knight (HOPE Covenant, Grand Forks, ND) to a 1-year term, Linda Solie (Bethlehem Covenant, Minneapolis, MN) and Chris Studenski (Emmanuel Covenant, Shoreview, MN) to 5-year terms on the NWC Executive Board, and electing Sean Mahoney (Plymouth Covenant, Plymouth, MN) and Todd O’Bert (Bethlehem Covenant, Minneapolis, MN) to 5-year terms on the Minnehaha Academy Board of Trustees.

Delegates approved the NWC budget of $1,619,175, as well as the budget for Minnehaha Academy.

On Saturday morning, attendees also heard reports from leaders of Camping Ministry in the NWC, Women Ministries of the NWC, the NWC Ministerial Association, Covenant Enabling Residences of MN, Covenant Village of Golden Valley, National Covenant Properties and Covenant Trust Company.

Sharing Our Hope: Words of Witness

Following the Saturday Business Session, staff and lay leaders from several NWC churches shared examples of how evangelism is practiced in their local contexts. Teams from Excelsior Covenant Church (Excelsior, MN), Dawson Covenant Church (Dawson, MN), HOPE Covenant Church (Grand Forks, ND), Eden Community Covenant Church (Coon Rapids, MN) and Unidad Covenant Church (Fridley, MN) shared stories of life change through intentional evangelism.

Mission Covenant Church in Poplar, WI, will celebrate its 125th Anniversary on May 8, 2019.

The congregation will commemorate this milestone in two parts this spring and summer. The first celebration will be at the May 5, 2019, Sunday morning worship services. In these services the actual founding of the church will be commemorated with a focus on the anniversary theme of “God’s Faithfulness Lives On” from Psalm 100:5, “For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.”

Part two will occur in the summer during an official designated anniversary weekend of July 27-28, 2019. A Saturday evening banquet will feature church historical memorabilia, worship music —some of which will be sung in Swedish—along with a meal. President of the Evangelical Covenant Church, Dr. John Wenrich, will be the keynote speaker.

Sunday morning will include two worship services, the middle Sunday worship service will be dropped in lieu of a fellowship time. The Rev. Mark R. Stromberg, Superintendent of the Northwest Conference, will give the morning messages on July 28. The Sunday morning worship services will be followed by a pot-blessing meal in the church’s multi-ministry center.

For more info on the 125thAnniversary celebrations, and detailed historical accounts of church history, visit https://missioncovenantchurch125.weebly.com.

“True evangelical faith cannot lie dormant. It clothes the naked, it feeds the hungry, it comforts the sorrowful, it shelters the destitute, it serves those that harm it, it binds up that which is wounded, it has become all things to all people.”

These words were written in 1539 by Menno Simons, the founder of the Mennonite movement. They could’ve easily been written in April 2019.

April 5 and 6 to be exact. Over those two days, 132 high school students and their leaders from 17 NWC churches gathered at Hope Covenant Church in St. Cloud to focus on living out Jesus’ words in Matthew 22:37-39, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’(NIV). No excuses.

MOVE is like other high school retreats in that there’s worship. Lawrence Miles and his band did an amazing job of leading the students. And there’s teaching. Stephanie O’Brien challenged MOVE participants to wrestle with their excuses and to get creative in living out Jesus’ commands.There’s sleeping on church floors. Hope Covenant was an incredible host. And there’s lots of pizza and donuts. HUGE donuts. Donuts the size of pies.

What makes MOVE different is that it’s focused on putting faith into action. Right here. Right now.

Early Saturday morning, students and leaders put their faith into action by spreading throughout St. Cloud and serving with ministries and organizations that are addressing tough issues and situations in their communities. Groups assisted newly arrived refugees to the United States, learned about those who are being forced into sex trafficking, and heard stories about the needs of those who are in the foster care system. They walked the neighborhood and learned about those who call St. Cloud State home. They picked up trash and cleaned up boulevards.

What also makes MOVE different is that it’s focused on putting faith into action in the future. At home—in students’ own towns and cities and suburbs.

Saturday afternoon, students investigated their own community’s issues and then brainstormed solutions, ala Shark Tank. After presenting their ideas to the Shark Tank judges (Stephanie Williams O’Brien – pastor and author, Kirsten Wagenius – InterVarsity staff at St. Cloud State, and Josh Svendsen – K-YES Radio), First Covenant River Falls was awarded the Judges’ Choice Grant. They received $250 to implement their idea of creating tied fleece blankets to bring comfort to those in the mental health system in the River Falls area.

Hope Covenant (St. Cloud) won the People’s Choice Grant of $100 for their idea of raising concern about sex trafficking in St. Cloud. The last time MOVE did Shark Tank, Bemidji Covenant received the Judges’ Choice Grant and started a color run to bring awareness to addiction issues in their community. That color run is still going on to this day.

MOVE is a unique retreat. It’s filled with eye-opening experiences, hard and dirty work, challenging topics and uncomfortable lodging. It’s not for every student. But for those who come, they walk away with a clear sense of Menno Simmons exhortation, “True evangelical faith cannot lie dormant.”

Minnehaha Academy’s Cultural Field Experience program was back this year after missing last year due to schedule changes from the tragic explosion at the school’s Upper School. What a come-back year it was!

Students, faculty and staff were spread out all over the Twin Cities, nation and world, in the 1-2 week cultural immersion program that happened this March. Participants plugged in, served and learned from local organizations, schools, building projects, arts and culture from all parts of the globe. Each group was led by one or more of our incredible faculty or staff members at Minnehaha Academy.

The majority of students participated in service sites in St. Paul and Minneapolis, including places like The Sheridan Story, The Veterans Home of Minneapolis, the International Institute of Minnesota, Achieve Language Academy and many more. Students spent the week working with kids in classrooms, packaging food for the homeless, helping teach English to ESL adults from other countries, visiting and learning from different faith backgrounds, learning about Native American culture and history, and working in a variety of ways to be of service and learn from members of our community.

Many of these experiences were deeply impactful for partner sites and students. One ninth grader, whose group worked at an Elementary school that works with a nearly 99% Somali population, reflected on one of her days saying: “I experienced Christ today through the kids because they showed me love no matter what and they were so patient. I think talking with a group of girls today was so special and meaningful because they talked to me about their culture and what they do. I am so so so thankful for this class and the group of kids I am working with.

Several students participated in CFE National and International trips as well. This year, MA had groups in Kentucky, New York City, Slovakia, Roatan, Greece and Italy, and Vietnam. Each experience—unique in its own way—was life-changing for the students and leaders. Students got a chance to work hands-on to build homes for the working poor in Appalachia, participate in a renowned concert festival in New York, experience the rich history and art of Europe, continue to build the bond between a “sister school” in Slovakia, pour into a wonderful and impactful relationship with a Children’s Home in Roatan, and hike up mountains into villages to teach Hmong children in school.

The opportunities were endless and all of our students and leaders went above and beyond in representing Minnehaha, Christ and themselves in unbelievable ways!

The goal of the Cultural Field Experience program is to allow students to dive into an experience that will not only teach them about the world around them and the importance of empathy, but also to empower and equip them to learn from others and learn how much they have to offer. Ultimately, as people who bear the image of Christ, our hope is that we can be a representation of Jesus to others and this world.

We are so thankful and so proud of our students, faculty and staff for an amazing Cultural Field Experience year and all of the incredible work that was done!

Mercy Commons Covenant is hosting the 2019 IF:Gathering and we are so excited to invite you to a gathering of women here in our city for two days of worship and fellowship together. Together we’re going to learn what it means to rely on the wisdom of God and not rely on our own understanding.

Tens of thousands of women participate in the IF: Gathering via a livestream from a sold out event in Dallas, Texas. With a variety of cultures and denominations represented, these women hold one thing in common: they want to live like God is real. The IF:Gathering provides space for women to wrestle with essential questions of faith, to dream and to connect during a two- day gathering.

This event will be held Feb. 8-9 at Mercy Commons. Cost is $40 for the 2 day event which includes all of your meals.

You can find out more information and register to join here:

https://mercycommons.iflocal.com/

NWC-2015-Supt-LetterSuperintendent Mark R. Stromberg’s 2018 Letter to Churches Gathering in Annual Meetings is now available for download.

Feel free to include this letter in your annual meeting booklets or provide a copy to your church family via a bulletin insert!

Epiphany Covenant Church, a new church plant in South Minneapolis, celebrated its Launch Sunday on Nov. 4!

Epiphany Covenant Church is an intentionally multi-ethnic congregation that meets at Hope Academy in South Minneapolis. They are planting a church that is diverse across racial and class lines reconciled to one another and God.

Northwest Conference Superintendent Mark Stromberg, Director of Church Planting Mike Brown, and Robert Owens, representing World Impact, were all present for the big day.

Pastor Cecelia Williams delivered the sermon, challenging the church to reach their community and beyond. It was a tremendous celebration of God’s faithfulness!

Pastor Mauricio Dell’Arciprete has been called as the new Coordinator of Latino Ministry for the Northwest Conference beginning Aug. 1, 2018. Dell’Arciprete currently serves as the pastor of Destino Covenant Church (formerly known as New Covenant), a newer church in the NWC, which meets at Bethlehem Covenant Church in south Minneapolis. He will continue to minister there, even as he serves in this new role part-time for the Conference.

We are so pleased that Pastor Mauricio is willing to serve our broader region in this ever-growing part of our shared ministry. Mauricio has many gifts, is well respected, and has a great heart for coming alongside our Hispanic churches and pastors.

He will continue to assist our churches that desire to be involved with CHET. However, he will also engage intentionally with all of our Spanish speaking pastors and their congregations. In this way, we hope to increase our capacity to serve them well and be a catalyst to give birth to even more Latino churches as part of our “50 by ’25” Church Planting initiative. Mauricio and his wife, Jackie, have two daughters and live in south Minneapolis.

If you are interested in engaging around Hispanic ministry opportunities in the NWC, please email him directly. ¡Bienvenido Mauricio! Que Dios le bendiga su ministerio.

Mike Brown

In other NWC staffing news, Director of Church Planting Mike Brown has been asked by the ECC to serve on an interim leadership team for church planting through the Start and Strengthen Churches ministry priority. In this half-time role that will be in effect from Nov. 1, 2018, through Oct. 31, 2019, Mike will lead the coaching initiative across the ECC. The goal is to have 50 trained church plant coaches by Jan. 1, 2020.

Mike will also provide support to at least four other regional Conferences, as well as serve as a resource to other Conference Directors of Church Planting. In this, he will develop the training and onboarding process for new Directors, as well as provide continuing education for those currently serving. Mike will also be making recommendations to help strengthen current church planting standards and systems, and participate in a denominational think-tank around future church planting.

We are pleased to assist the broader Church within the Covenant by sharing Mike’s passion and expertise with others. We are also assessing the best way to provide mentoring support to our NWC church plants and will be utilizing other coaches to work with our current and future church plants. In this way, we believe we are being good stewards of the gifts and resources God has provided to us.

Rochester Covenant Church will host Transform Ideas: Awakening the Church to Mental Health on Nov. 29 from 7 to 9 p.m. This Transform Ideas forum will address the calling of the Church to care for people and their families who are struggling with common mental health concerns.

We will explore the physiological and spiritual aspects of mental and emotional health. Experts will discuss the role of medical intervention alongside prayer and scripture, and ways to diminish the stigma associated with mental illness.

Come hear courageous personal stories of lives deeply affected by mental illness, and learn how the Church can best offer hope and support to someone with mental health issues.

This is event is free for the public; registration is required and can be found online here.

Sexual exploitation and sex trafficking are terms we are increasingly seeing in the media. On Nov. 14 from 7 to 8:30 p.m., at the Shoreview Community Center, we will be introduced to the basic facts and hear stories from a local organization, Trafficking Justice, that is on the front lines.

Learn about the reality of trafficking in the Twin Cities and leave with ideas of how you can be a part of the solution. Download the event poster.

Register Online

About 120 pastors, chaplains, ministry staff and spouses gathered Oct. 8-10 at Pier B Resort in Duluth, MN, for our annual NWC Ministerial Association Retreat. Attendance reflected a 20 percent increase over the past three years.

The keynote speaker for the retreat was Lance Davis, newly elected Executive Minister of Develop Leaders for the Evangelical Covenant Church. Davis brought challenge and encouragement to us from Isaiah 58:1-14. The title for the experience was “Repairers of the Breach,” taken from Isaiah 58:12.

His words moved back and forth from the need for each of us to give care to our own soul—with both honesty and hope—to our corporate need as a Covenant to so the same. He spoke of his confidence that the Lord wants to revive us, and further that he believes that the Lord wants to use a revived Covenant to be instrumental in reviving the Church in our country.

“As newcomers to the ECC, we especially enjoyed how people went out of their way to meet and get to know us. We felt the presence of the Holy Spirit and enjoyed the worship and sharing of Communion together,” Marv and Linda Norlien said. Linda recently finished a 20-year career as an Army Chaplain, and Marv has followed her career, serving as an interim pastor in each of the communities they found themselves in, from Minnesota to Hawaii, from South Carolina to Washington. “We felt such a genuine, warm-hearted fellowship with everyone so that we immediately felt right at home with the group. … What a privilege we have to be joining this group!”

John Wenrich was able to join us Monday evening and Tuesday morning and was interviewed by NWC Superintendent Mark Stromberg about his initial journey as the newly elected President of the ECC. Themes of honesty and hope were heard again.

Worship was led by Mauricio and Jackie Dell’Arciprete (Destino Covenant Church, Minneapolis), Lisa and Jeff Olson (Catalyst Covenant Church, St. Paul), and Ben and Dre Zabel (Living Springs Church, Brandon, SD). One of the songs the team led attendees in had an unusual power in the moment we stood in. The song “Here As in Heaven” begins with the quiet lines, “The atmosphere is changing now, for the Spirit of the Lord is here. The evidence is all around, that the Spirit of the Lord is here.

As we sang together looking out the large windows of our meeting room, a storm was brewing on Lake Superior and powerful winds and waves swept in—a story that ultimately made the national news. Our worship connected with what was going on in the room, and what was going on outside, in a memorable way.

The planning for next year’s retreat is now in the hands of the newly created Pastoral Care & Development Committee. Times and dates will be announced in the near future.

North Park Theological Seminary’s Third Biennial Faith and Health Symposium will take place from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m on Saturday, Nov. 10. Covenant Village of Golden Valley will serve as a satellite location, hosting a livestream of the event titled “Being Well: Connecting Church, Faith and Health.”

The Church has an important role in helping people be well, in addition to caring for the sick. Understanding health as shalom recognizes the integration of body, mind and spirit in human wholeness both for individuals and for communities. Now more than ever, the Church needs to claim its role in health promotion rooted in scripture and tradition, and our communities need to create opportunities for wellness for all. Working together, congregations and healthcare professionals can collaborate in responding faithfully to the challenge of health promotion, considering what can be done together that neither can do alone.

This Third Biennial Faith and Health Symposium is provided by North Park Theological Seminary and North Park University School of Nursing and Health Sciences as continuing education for healthcare and ministry professionals in service to the church. The keynote speaker for 2018 is Ruth Haley Barton.

The cost of the event if attended in Chicago at NPTS is $115, but the satellite livestream event at Covenant Village is $25 (which includes snacks and lunch).

Download the event flier, or learn more here.

How many pizzas do you need to feed 644 middle schoolers and their leaders? One hundred sixty, which were devoured in less than five minutes. It also takes 689 Chick-fil-A sandwiches, 4,320 bottles of water, 32 watermelons and 180 volunteers.

From Aug. 2-4, middle school students and leaders from 43 NWC churches gathered at Crossroads Church in Woodbury for MUUUCE: the Most Unbelievable, Ultimate, Urban Camping Experience. MUUUCE has been going on not just for years, but for decades. For a few days, middle schoolers learn more about Jesus at an event that’s designed specifically for them.

On Thursday afternoon, students unpacked their gear in one of two huge school gyms  where they would camp for the next few days (there was no air conditioning, hence the “camping” part of the event). They then headed out to a massive field where they were greeted by a Welcome Party that was a middle schooler’s dream. It included lots of giant inflatable games, hair painting, a huge video game where students were actively part of the on-screen action, mini-donuts, ice cream bars, Mountain Dew, tacos, sno-cones and popcorn.

After the worship session that evening, students headed to the Big Thrill Factory where they could ride go karts, climb high ropes, spend time in the arcade, jump on trampolines or let loose with laser tag.

Friday morning kicked off with another great worship session featuring Leonard Davis from Young Life in Kansas City talking about the theme, “Trusting Jesus.” Worship was led by James Howard and the worship team from Crossroads. That afternoon, everyone loaded on the bus and headed to Valley Fair. The day finished up with another worship gathering and then the final service took place Saturday morning before they headed home.

Sydney Zenk was a student at MUUUCE just a few years ago. Now, she was participating for the first time as a leader with Countryside Covenant. She reflected, “Coming here [as a student] was my first big step into the faith. It’s cool to be able to come back and help other kids take that first, second or third step in their faith.”

MUUUCE is led by a team of a few paid but mostly volunteer leaders at Crossroads and a few other Covenant churches. Tim Stanley, pastor of the Crossroads Hastings Campus was the MUUUCE director and Sandra Florin and her team provided the creative and administrative backbone to the event.

Luke Korthuis (Salem Covenant, New Brighton, MN) and Alica Vela (Roseville Covenant) were active on the leadership team as well. This group meets all year to design an event that will help middle schoolers understand that they are deeply loved by God and that church is a place where you can have fun.

CHIC 2018 was an amazing week full of powerful preaching, incredible worship, unbelievable concerts, great teaching and a whole lot of fun! With 1,105 students and leaders from 69 of our churches, the Northwest Conference was the largest group at CHIC.

During morning Basecamps (experiential education sessions), students had a chance to interact with four of the priorities of the Covenant: make and deepen disciples, serve globally, develop leaders, and love justice and do mercy. In the afternoons, participants had a chance to head off campus on excursions like white water rafting, horseback riding and exploring caves. Some stayed on campus where they could swim or hang out at the Nest where they had crafts, conversations, and a chance to connect with others in the denomination.

The evenings were marked by powerful gatherings called “MainStage,” at the University of Tennessee’s basketball arena. Five thousand people worshiped together, led by the CHIC band. They heard from world-class speakers like Megan Fate Marshman and Eugene Cho. Included in the evening sessions were artists like For King and Country and Andy Mineo. On Tuesday night, students and leaders alike participated in communion. Those who were sensing a call to ministry or missions had the chance to be anointed with oil.

The Northwest Conference had leaders woven throughout CHIC. They put in long hours serving on the Counseling, Excursion, Security, Production and the Prayer teams. Yet others served the NWC participants as Resident Supervisors and Dorm Pastors.

There’s a post-CHIC curriculum available for the whole church to use. This all-church initiative rallies around the “I Am” statements used during MainStage at CHIC. It is written by several Covenant pastors and leaders and the hope is that the momentum of #CHIC2018 can carry over in to your entire congregation.

Again this summer, like over the past 30+ years, the Northwest Conference made an investment in a select group of emerging high school leaders through our Adventures In Leadership (AIL) camp. Like with the example of the Apostle Paul affirming young Timothy for his leadership calling and gifts, and then pouring further knowledge and insight into Timothy as he grew as a leader, AIL continues to do so with our students each year.

AIL is an intentional partnership between the Northwest Conference and Adventurous Christians. It is an eight day experiential learning adventure in Christian leadership with a defining tagline of: “Servanthood is the beginning and end of Christian leadership!”

The experience is framed in three sections. The first two-and-a-half days provide a base camp training environment to sharpen both Christian leadership insights and potentials for each student, along with providing each student the necessary base skills to negotiate a wilderness canoeing/camping adventure.

The next four days are dedicated to a student-led canoe trip in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area of northern Minnesota. In essence, the canoe trip becomes the learning laboratory whereby each student provides leadership for their group during a portion of the trip, and in the process practices, tests and evaluates what they have been learning about leadership. Following their time as group leader each student is then provided feedback from the group on their leadership as a source for their continued growth and learning.

So in summary, over the first seven days students experience:

  1. Exploration/practice of the spiritual disciplines; taking a personality inventory; participating in group leadership simulations; investigating biblical leadership models of the shepherd and the servant; engaging in acclimatization, navigation and orienteering activities, and giving & receiving feedback for the purposes of personal/group growth & learning.
  2. Serving as the group leader for ½ of a day on their canoe trip.
  3. Discover and develop positive team dynamics where each person’s gifts and abilities are uniquely supported, utilized and valued by the group.

The final 24 hours of AIL is dedicated to debriefing and processing the experience and pondering what God may be preparing each student for in the coming weeks/months as leaders. In addition, as the students return home we encourage their church to take an active role in building upon AIL and walking alongside their student over the next year as they assume new or greater leadership roles within their church, school or community at large.

Following are a few brief reflections offered by some of our students this year:

  • “The whole thing was one of the greatest things I have ever been a part of.” – E.
  • “This experience helped me grow in so many ways and go deep.” – A.
  • “This was amazing! I didn’t think it would impact me this much. I learned that I can be a strong leader.” – M.
  • “I will never forget AIL.” – A.
  • “I went into this not really knowing what to expect. I learned and grew so much!” – O.
  • “AIL has changed me forever and I have built life-long friendships.” – B.
  • “I was super scared going into it, and it turned out to really be a life-changing experience.” – T.

We praise God for His continued hand of blessing upon this unique journey that we have taken with student leaders over all these years. And we look forward to our next leadership adventure with students in 2019.

In its fifth year, Go:Serve was held Thursday, June 21, in partnership with the ECC Annual Meeting, called Gather. Sixty+ participants, ages 5 and up, met at Sanctuary Covenant Church in North Minneapolis, for a crash course on culture and ministry in the Twin Cities.

From there, participants loaded onto a bright yellow coach bus (courtesy of Richfield Bus, who transports our high schoolers to CHIC) for a short ride to South Minneapolis, where we learned about Bethlehem Covenant Church’s partnership with Ace in the City. Launched in one of the most diverse neighborhoods on the planet, Ace in the City builds community through relationships. Go:Serve participants learned about their ministry, then helped create backpack tags for children who will benefit from Ace’s back-to-school backpack drive, held later in the summer.

From Bethlehem, participants walked four blocks down the road to observe and to pray for Minnehaha Academy, a PreK-12 school that is a ministry of the Northwest Conference. Minnehaha’s Upper School was devastated by an explosion last summer that destroyed much of the building, injured many, and two employees lost their lives. You can read more about Minnehaha here: http://www.minnehahaacademy.net.

After the prayer walk, participants hopped back on the bus to head to Hmong Village for lunch. Hmong Village is the largest Hmong-owned and operated indoor shopping mall/market in the cities, and possibly the world. Participants enjoyed a variety of foods, including pho, tri-color drink (nab vam), stuffed chicken wings, papaya salad, Hmong sausage and purple sticky rice.

With full bellies and many stories to tell, participants rode the bus 5 minutes down the road to First Covenant Church in St. Paul to learn about the refugee experience in Minnesota, hosted by Arrive Ministries. In the midst of a difficult time in our country, Arrive is committed to providing top-notch resettlement services and compassionate care for displaced refugees, immigrants and asylees who now call Minnesota home. We were grateful for the chance to dialogue about practical ways to partner with those who are trying to build a new life for themselves and their children after fleeing difficult circumstances.

Overall, it was a good day! Children and adults left with much to ponder about how Christians can engage with the world around them, starting with learning about the needs of others, and then dreaming about how to serve those in our communities in Jesus’ name. Maybe your church could envision hosting a Go:Serve-type event in your community?

With a theme of “Forward in Hope,” the 2018 Northwest Conference Annual Meetings—for both the Ministerial Association and church delegates—took place at Buffalo Covenant Church in Buffalo, MN, April 26-28. Throughout the weekend, pastors, delegates and attendees heard video and spoken testimony on the topic of ministry with Children, Youth & Families and participated in workshops offering different perspectives on this vital ministry priority.

“So many of us here are products of the fact that there were people in preceding generations that poured into our lives,” said Superintendent Mark R. Stromberg. “The reality is that people like me are the church of yesterday and today, but children are the church of today and tomorrow. And today and tomorrow, has to trump yesterday and today.

“It is worth noting that, in God’s providence, some of the very young people we pour into today, as we continue to get older, will turn right around and be the ones ministering to us … and themselves also reaching a newer generation still,” Superintendent Stromberg continued. “I’m so grateful that we’re able to celebrate this ministry priority with our theme this year.”

Friday Business Session

The Northwest Conference Annual Meeting opened with the business session on Friday afternoon. Superintendent Stromberg expressed his enthusiasm for the theme of the 2018 meeting and shared the story of his first faith commitment and call to ministry as a child at Covenant Pines Bible Camp.

Stromberg pointed out that the NWC is fortunate to be staffed around its Ministry Priorities—with staff members dedicated to Youth Ministry and Children & Family Ministry. In fact, some other regional conferences have now begun to adopt this model, as well.

In place of individual reports, this year’s meeting featured a NWC Ministry Director Panel where Conference staff shared how their areas of ministry oversight interact with ministry to Children, Youth & Families.

Jon Kramka, Director of Congregational Vitality, encouraged churches to work with whatever resources they have available in stewarding God’s mission in ministry to young people.

“Give what you have, place it in the hands of the almighty God, step forward in faith in what He’s asking you to do, and watch God work,” Kramka said. “God wants every church to be found faithful and fruitful in every circumstance and season.”

“Every one of your churches was at one point a church plant,” Mike Brown, Director of Church Planting, shared. “The beauty of that is you have a blank slate, but the challenge of that is you don’t have any systems in place.”

Brown explained that the NWC helps church plants take stock of what they have, and make use of internal resources to reach children and youth.

Jeff Burton, Director of Pastoral Care & Development, highlighted the work the NWC does to care for those who minister to children, youth and families in Conference churches.

“Children, youth and family ministry is difficult and requires a lot of energy. If you find yourself depleted, you’re not going to do well at this,” Burton said. “When we’re not well, we don’t have good relationships. We can’t afford to be in that condition if we’re going to do this work God has called us to.”

Kara Stromberg, Director of Children & Family Ministry, shared that often ministry to children and families is somewhat “hidden” in our churches. She encouraged churches to “start with what you’ve got,” and consider how their budgets, buildings and staffing reflect how kids matter.

“It’s not all about running programs and recruiting volunteers to make things happen inside the walls of the church,” Stromberg said. “It’s also about reaching out to the families so that kids can have that solid base in the home.”

Ginny Olson, Director of Youth Ministry, said youth ministry should not just be the responsibility of the paid youth pastor.

“It is vital that the whole church owns youth ministry,” Olson said. “A youth ministry thrives in a church where the whole church says ‘these are our kids.’”

Following the panel, Brown introduced five new church fellowship groups, including: Crossroads Covenant Church, Pastor Tim Stanley (Hastings, MN), Eden Covenant Church, Pastor Trin Peterson (Coon Rapids, MN), Epiphany Covenant Church, Pastor Kevin Farmer (Minneapolis), Genesis East Covenant Church, Pastor Aaron Freer (White Bear Lake, MN), and New Evangelical Covenant Church, Pastor Erico Ortega (Fridley, MN).

Brown also recognized six churches to be recommended for membership at the 2018 Evangelical Covenant Church Annual Meeting in June, including: Catalyst Covenant Church, Pastor Jeff Olson (St. Paul), City of Lakes Covenant Church, Pastor Dave Berge (Minneapolis), Genesis Covenant Church, Pastor Steve Wiens (St. Louis Park, MN), Grace Outreach Covenant Church, Pastor Paul Robinson (Coon Rapids, MN), New Evangelical Covenant Church, Pastor Mauricio Dell’Arciprete (Minneapolis), and Renew Covenant Church, Pastor Jamie Staples (Eau Claire, WI).

Moreover, Brown also reported that the NWC will be calling Pastor Mauricio Dell’Arciprete to serve in the new role of part time Director for Hispanic Ministries in the NWC. His work will focus in on an expanding base of Spanish speaking congregations, including providing assistance in the development of CHET classes in local church settings.

Minnehaha Academy President Donna Harris expressed gratitude for the pastoral support from the NWC and its staff following the Aug. 2 explosion at the school’s Upper Campus. Harris shared a slideshow of photos from the life of the school which included damage from the explosion, prayer vigils and support events, school activities at its temporary campus in Mendota Heights, rebuild plans, and special gifts and recognitions MA has received since the explosion. The NWC and some of its churches presented a check to the school for $100,000 in recent months.

“We are just thankful to God. He has been so present, and He has truly shown Himself merciful and given us grace, Harris said. “And we continue to solicit your prayers for us.”

Harris also introduced David Hoffner, MA’s new Executive Director of Faith Formation, who told attendees, “Thank you for the generosity you’ve shown to our school this year, through your prayers and gifts. Continue to lift up our community in prayer. It’s a very humbling task to be in this role I’m in, but I love this school dearly.”

Attendees also had opportunity to learn about a variety of Conference and denominational ministries and organizations. Immediately following Friday’s Business Session, attendees were dismissed to rooms to hear from several leaders of NWC Covenant camps.

Friday Worship Service

The Buffalo Covenant worship team led attendees in worship during the Friday evening worship service. Special music was provided by the Minnehaha Academy Madrigal Singers, and Buffalo Covenant’s Generations Choir. Sixteen Candidates for Ordination were also recognized and prayed for during the service.

A special offering taken during the service raised over $3,000 to provide scholarships for students attending CHIC 2018. Church representatives also brought forward prayer bookmarks collected as part of the ECC’s BLESS Intentional Evangelism initiative, which will be brought to Gather 2018, the national Covenant annual meeting in June.

First Covenant Church (Ashland, WI) was honored with a special Living Legacy Litany. The church held its final service in 2017. Three of the five New Church Fellowship Groups recognized during the Business Session earlier in the day, signed Covenant Agreements on stage during the service, including: Eden Covenant Church, Pastor Trin Peterson (Coon Rapids, MN), Epiphany Covenant Church, Pastor Kevin Farmer (Minneapolis), and New Evangelical Covenant Church, Pastor Erico Ortega (Fridley, MN).

Tiger McLuen, Former President of Youth Leadership, shared a message titled, “Sharing Faith on the Road of Life.”

“Any ministry to any group of people requires proximity,” McLuen said, as he encouraged attendees to come alongside young people in their congregation. “When we think about the next generation, we often think ‘we used to be their age once.’ But I’ll tell you, you were never their age in this age. It’s a whole new day.”

Saturday Business Session and Workshops

During Saturday’s Business Session, delegates approved a ballot that included: electing Jim Volling (Excelsior Covenant Church, Excelsior, MN) to a 4-year term as well as to serve another year as NWC Executive Board Chairperson, Hollis Kim (Brookdale Covenant, Brooklyn Center, MN) to a 2-year term, and Paul Robinson (Grace Outreach Covenant, Coon Rapids, MN) and Cindy Owen (Hope Covenant, St. Cloud, MN) to 5-year terms on the NWC Executive Board, and electing Sue Poston (Salem Covenant, New Brighton, MN), Jon Taylor (Emmanuel Covenant, Shoreview, MN) and Dave Cairns (Maple Grove Covenant, Maple Grove, MN) to 5-year terms on the Minnehaha Academy Board of Trustees.

Delegates approved the NWC budget of $1,625,356, as well as the budget for Minnehaha Academy.

Ed Gilbreath, Executive Director of Communications, brought greetings and a ministry update from the Evangelical Covenant Church to delegates at both the Ministerial Association and Northwest Conference Annual Meetings.

“I want to thank you, Northwest Conference, for all that you do and all the amazing ministry that you represent,” Gilbreath said. “We want an informed, connected and growing Covenant community. As Superintendent Stromberg has said, ‘We’re better together.’”

On Saturday morning, attendees also heard verbal reports from leaders of National Covenant Properties, Covenant Trust Company, Covenant Enabling Residences of MN, Covenant Village of Golden Valley, the NWC Ministerial Association, Women Ministries of the NWC and CHET NWC.

The Northwest Conference is comprised of roughly 140 churches, ranging from rural to urban, big to small. As generations change, churches continue to seek out new approaches to ministry rooted in the unchanging fundamental of God’s desire for His Church to be fruitful.

One trend among rural churches in the NWC has been an emphasis on moving their ministry reach beyond just the local community, out into the broader region.

Dawson Covenant Church in Dawson, MN, and Mission Covenant Church in Poplar, WI are two examples of churches that have experienced this shift over the past decades. Their pastors, the Rev. Erik Carlson and the Rev. Darrell Nelson, recently shared insights from their experience.

How and when did you move from a community church to a regional church?

Nelson: We transitioned from a community church to a regional church in the early 1990s. As a result of our church’s music ministry, strong preaching and good youth and children’s programming, we started to experience growth to the point of needing a new church building.

In 1996, we transitioned from our old building to the new building and continued to add on in the following years as the church continued to grow.

Carlson: Our church has had members from nearby towns for decades, but in the past five years there has been significant growth from outside our immediate community. I don’t think we did anything intentional to target regional growth at the outset. Our focus was to be a healthy missional church that welcomed visitors and demonstrated God’s love.

Over time, we noticed more people coming from different communities on verbal recommendation. Any assessment, however, of how we became a regional church would not be fair without recognizing the larger demographic/church declining trends in our surrounding area. We are the only Covenant church in about an hour’s drive, and one of the few “evangelical” churches in the region.

Transitioning to a regional church happened to us, we weren’t directly striving to make it happen. Yet, what our church did recognize was God’s movement. We’ve hoped to cooperate with these changes as faithfully as possible.

What does ministry at your church look like as you have moved toward becoming a regional church?

Nelson: Our facility has really enabled us to host many large sized events to love, serve and share our faith with those in our community and region. We host weekly children’s playgroups, day care programs, sporting events, Boy Scouts, a Karate club, a monthly food-share program to help feed families in our region and much more in support of our greater community.

The average person attending our church drives 13 miles one way. As a result, we try to do everything really well in short blocks of time. We only offer one youth and one adult Bible study on Sunday mornings. Confirmation is offered on Sunday morning or Wednesday night, whichever meets the parents and families’ schedules and travel needs. We have a full hour Children’s Church and three Sunday morning worship services.

One of the real draws is the fellowship time between and during services in the fellowship hall. Coffee and refreshments are served and people just enjoy being together in community. We also have a variety of small groups located geographically in the regional communities for people who attend our church from further away.

Carlson: Over the church’s 125+ years, we have gone from ministering to Swedish immigrants in the township, to people from a variety of backgrounds from two counties. The church has always been tasked with making disciples. Our mission has just expanded from sending disciples into one community to many.

Recognizing that people were hearing about the church and were willing to drive a distance led us to make changes. Some of our events like ‘Lucia’ were beloved, but did not speak to the growing numbers of people that didn’t grow up in the Covenant and had no Swedish heritage. We transformed that fellowship event so that it invites people to bring whatever heritage foods they like.

We also had to rethink how we were making a broad spectrum of decisions based on a multi-community rather than a single-community model. What is unique about the ministry that you are doing?

Nelson: We have the only youth pastor in the region (rural churches). I believe also the only full-time youth pastor in the Evangelical Covenant Church in America in this small of a community—the Village of Poplar—603 people. Our youth programs draws youth from around the region.

Our Children’s Ministry, Mission Kidz!, is also really a huge focus in our church. We do not do Sunday School for our young children anymore, but strictly put all of our efforts into Mission Kidz! Children’s Church as we have a greater opportunity to reach non-churched, non-Christian families that way.

In addition, we have Individual Education Plans for any special needs children and will pair up a highly-skilled personal attendant to work with them alongside of the class. This ministry has had a powerful influence in our region and community.

Carlson: The church also took a leap of faith in hiring a full time youth pastor (the first additional pastoral staff in the church’s history) and building an addition focused on reaching the youth in the region. My understanding is that we are the only church in a 40-mile radius with full-time youth staff and regular weekly gathering.

What is your hope/vision for the future of your church and your region?

Nelson: Our area is in serious economic and social decline as people regularly leave for employment, schooling, opportunities, etc. The opioid/drug epidemic has also hit our county and neighboring county hard.

Certainly, we need revival and we need to faithfully continue all of our outreaches with the gospel and our ministries to our community. We want to continue to love God and love our neighbor!

Carlson: It is my hope that our church will continue to be a loving and welcoming place, and that God can use us to form mature disciples who will go on to make more disciples. I believe God wants to use our church to sustain and minister to the surrounding region for generations to come.

The Music Department at Bethel University will host the Södra Vätterbygdens Folkhögskola (SVF) Vettern Choirfrom Jönköping, Sweden in concert on Thursday, April 19, 7:30 p.m. in Benson Great Hall. The choir will present a “Nordic Voices” concert with choral music from various musical traditions. This free concert is part of their 2018 spring tour of Illinois and Minnesota. In addition, the SVF Vettern Choir and Bethel Choir will join together to present a couple of choral numbers.

Södra Vätterbygdens Folkhögskola (SVF) is a private school in Jönköping, Sweden. It is one of 150 schools for adult education known as “folkhögskola.” This is a form of adult education, called “folkbildning,” that is typical in Scandinavia. The mission of schools like SVF is to offer education in numerous subjects, in formal or non-formal studies, based on students’ needs. The music program at SVF is an extensive music academy, preparing students in a variety of genres of choral performance, from sacred to show tunes, and folk music to pop. SVF is owned by the Mission Covenant Church of Sweden and enjoys a friendly relationship with the Evangelical Covenant Church in the United States.

For more information, visit the event page.

Crosstown Covenant Church in Minneapolis will host “Rethinking Incarceration” with Dominique Gilliard on May 14 from 7 to 8:30 p.m.

Dominique DuBois Gilliard is the director of racial righteousness and reconciliation for the Love Mercy Do Justice (LMDJ) initiative of the Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC). He serves on the boards of directors for the Christian Community Development Association and Evangelicals for Justice. In 2015, he was selected as one of the ECC’s “40 Under 40” leaders to watch, and the Huffington Post named him one of the “Black Christian Leaders Changing the World.”

Advocating for Justice that Restores

The United States has more people locked up in jails, prisons, and detention centers than any other country in the history of the world. Mass incarceration has become a lucrative industry, and the criminal justice system is plagued with bias and unjust practices. And the Church has unwittingly contributed to the problem.

Dominique Gilliard explores the history and foundation of mass incarceration, examining Christianity’s role in its evolution and expansion. He then shows how Christians can pursue justice that restores and reconciles, offering creative solutions and highlighting innovative interventions.

The Church has the power to help transform our criminal justice system. Discover how you can participate in the restorative justice needed to bring authentic rehabilitation, lasting transformation, and healthy reintegration to this broken system.

An ordained minister, Gilliard has served in pastoral ministry in Atlanta, Chicago, and Oakland. He was executive pastor of New Hope Covenant Church in Oakland, CA, and also served in Oakland as the associate pastor of Convergence Covenant Church. He was also the campus minister at North Park University and the racial righteousness director for ECC’s ministry initiatives in the Pacific Southwest Conference.

With articles published in the CCDA Theology JournalThe Covenant Quarterly, and Sojourners, Gilliard has also blogged for Christianity TodayFaith & LeadershipRed Letter ChristiansDo Justice, and The Junia Project. He earned a bachelor’s degree in African American Studies from Georgia State University and a master’s degree in history from East Tennessee State University, with an emphasis on race, gender, and class in the United States. He also earned an MDiv from North Park Seminary, where he served as an adjunct professor teaching Christian ethics, theology, and reconciliation.

The event is co-sponsored by Transform Minnesota, Crosstown Covenant Church and the Northwest Conference. For more info, visit transformmn.org/event/rethinking-incarceration/

Salem Covenant Church in New Brighton, MN, will host “An Afternoon of Hymns and Spiritual Songs,” a sacred music concert, on Sunday, March 18 from 3 to 4:15 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.

Musicians featured during the concert include Herbert Johnson (piano), Cindy Reents (organ) and Gerard Sundberg (baritone). For more information, contact Cindy Reents. Download a flyer and postcard for promotional use in your congregation.

Top Ten Reasons to Ride the NWC CHIC Bus

  1. You get to play endless rounds of Bloody Knuckles without having to pay attention to the GPS.
  2. That one kid who drinks 12 cans of Mountain Dew? There’s a bathroom on the bus.
  3. You don’t have to worry about an exhausted leader falling asleep behind the wheel. Seriously important.
  4. There’s a spare bus that rides with the caravan in case something happens (vs. being stuck in the middle of a cornfield with that broken-down beast of a church van).
  5. Flight from MSP to Knoxville: $400. Bus trip: $230. Haven’t you done enough fund-raising?
  6. The volunteer with the smelly feet? You can move to another part of the bus.
  7. Every bus rider gets a highly collectable T-shirt, included in the price!
  8. You don’t have to worry about herding cats, … er… kids, through the airport, and wonder if that one kid will start joking with TSA.
  9. No need to worry about getting extra insurance for the church van to cover the volunteer drivers or buying new tires to make sure you make it to Knoxville and back.
  10. You get a chance to hang out with other youth workers from all over the Northwest Conference!

COST

$230 per person (students and adults)

Cost includes transportation to and from the University of Tennessee in an air-conditioned coach bus. Individuals will be responsible for the cost of meals (2-3 fast food meals each way plus snacks) during the trip. There is not a reduced transportation cost option for one-way riders.

DEADLINES

  • March 1 – Registration form and $100 per person non-refundable deposit due
  • June 1 – Final payment due ($130 balance per person)

Please note: CHIC and Northwest Conference payment deadlines are different. The NWC has extended our deadlines to accommodate and encourage your fundraising efforts.

REGISTRATION

Download and fill out the PDF registration form, with names of students and adults riding the bus. Be sure to indicate which bus stop you are requesting. Send one church check payable to the Northwest Conference for the transferrable, but non-refundable, deposit due for all the students and adults in your group by March 1. Changes (additions or substitutions) can be made by e-mailing the NWC office (cheryl@northwestconference.org).

For more information, including registration forms, scholarships and tentative bus stops, go to: https://www.northwestconference.org/event/chic-2018/

Minnehaha Academy is set to host its first ever Vespers Service on February 23, 2018 at 7:00pm.

The service will be held in the Monson Family Chapel at the Lower & Middle School campus. The Vespers Service will be a contemporary worship experience led by alumni and young adults with a passion for the Lord, music, and ministry.

All are welcome to join!

Come and join with Minnehaha Academy for an amazing and passionate night of worship.

In 1885, congregants from the Swedish Tabernacle in Minneapolis felt called to bring ministry to the North Minneapolis community. A group from the church began preaching and ministering in the area and soon felt called to plant a church.

They built a chapel that mainly housed space for Sunday schools. In 1890, the group formally split from the Swedish Tabernacle and began the Swedish Mission Church. When the congregation became too large in 1905, the church moved to a lot at West Broadway and Aldrich and changed its name to Broadway Temple—and eventually Broadway Covenant Church.

The church built a sanctuary to seat 1,000 people with the hope of a thriving local ministry. In 1958, after many years reaching the community, the congregation moved to a new location—due to the high cost of building maintenance and a neighborhood rapidly changed by new businesses resulting in the relocation of its members. After struggling to find a buyer, the congregation sold the property to a car dealership and the church was torn down.

Sixty years later, a new Covenant church with a heart for North Minneapolis would break ground and dedicate a new church building across the street.

Sanctuary Covenant Church

Sanctuary Covenant Church was birthed 14 years ago by a group of believers—including Pastor Efrem Smith, Cecilia Williams and Kevin Farmer—to bring reconciliation, multicultural worship, and embrace diversity in the community of North Minneapolis.

Sanctuary became a voice of reconciliation and cultivated a new sense of worship and outreach. In 2011, many of the key senior leaders of the church were called to serve in other locations, and Sanctuary was forced to consider what God’s intentions were for the church in the years to come.

“While there was a focus on deepening in our commitments to one another and God, we realized that our growth and potential was constantly bumping up against the reality that we didn’t have a 7-day-a-week welcoming place in the community,” said Mike Hotz, Associate Pastor of Care and Outreach. “The question we felt God asking was, ‘Who are you becoming?’”

Senior Pastor, the Rev. Dr. Dennis Edwards, who joined Sanctuary in 2012, along with other key leaders in the church began the conversation about building a “Gathering Place.” After meeting in local public schools for over 14 years, they knew they needed a place that could offer more effective ministry.

“We imagined a building as a resource for our neighbors,” Edwards said, “not just for ourselves. We wanted a multi-purpose auditorium, not a Sunday-only room with fixed pews/chairs, to ensure that the space could be flexible. In my experience as an urban church planter and pastor, I know that church buildings must be flexible community spaces.”

As they prayed for space in North Minneapolis, they searched all over and found nothing. Then, in 2013, they found an available space located in one of the busiest areas of North Minneapolis, almost directly across the street from the former Broadway Covenant Church that had the same heart for its community over 100 years ago.

“Many other ministry leaders have affirmed how strategic our location is near the busy Lyndale and Broadway intersection,” Edwards said. “This location creates opportunity for us to shift resources to build better connections with our neighbors. We believe our church—the building and our congregation—are assets to our North Minneapolis neighbors.”

On Jan. 7, 2018, Sanctuary Covenant Church officially celebrated with its congregation and neighbors in dedicating the new building at 710 West Broadway Ave. The ministries that will continue to happen in this new location will carry out the vision and calling that has been working in the hearts of God’s people in this neighborhood for many years past—and many to come.

On August 2, 2017, a natural gas explosion destroyed the center portion of the Upper School. It was an explosion that shook the entire building, and it shocked thousands of people who have known, loved, and called Minnehaha home.

The decision was made to demolish the two oldest and most effected buildings and rebuild on the existing campus. Minnehaha Academy has provided two live feeds from the site, showing progress as they prepare to rebuild Minnehaha’s Upper School.

Follow along with the progress by viewing the live feed HERE.

For continued updates and more information, please visit the Minnehaha Academy blog.

 

 

NWC-2015-Supt-LetterSuperintendent Mark R. Stromberg’s 2017 Letter to Churches Gathering in Annual Meetings is now available for download. See below for a link to download.

Feel free to include this letter in your annual meeting booklets or provide a copy to your church family via a bulletin insert!

About 100 pastors, chaplains, ministry staff and spouses gathered at Lake Beauty Bible Camp for the annual NWC Ministerial Association Retreat, Oct. 9-11. This year represented many changes to our regular format.

Being at the one of our camps brought back memories for many and a level of extravagant hospitality (thank you Brian Alnes and staff).

Speaking slots were filled by our colleagues who are serving in the trenches with us. Paul Knight, Lead Pastor of Hope Covenant in Grand Forks (ND), Jodi Moore, Rural Ministry Partner for our mission priority of Start and Strengthen Churches, Jim Murphy, Associate Pastor for NexGen Ministries at the Covenant Church in Bemidji (MN), and Jamie Staples, Church Planting Pastor at Renew Covenant church in Eau Claire (WI).

Free time activities included such unique things as mountain biking in 400 acres of fall colored woods, horseback riding, and the building of usable guitars from cigar boxes.

Glenn Kaiser from Jesus People USA served as our worship leader and concert musician. He partnered with the worship team from Hope Covenant in Grand Forks in leading worship. His concert Monday evening during dinner was performed with various cigar box guitars (even one made from a cookie tin), using a small copper pipe fitting as a slide for the strings. The simple and piercing quality of his redeemed instruments and prophetic lyrics gave us something more than food to chew on.

The combination of all of these differences led to a unique experience—an experience that while hard to repeat was easy to enjoy.

Next year’s retreat is scheduled for Oct. 8-10 in Duluth, MN, at Pier B Resort—a new resort on Lake Superior adjacent to Bayfront Park, the Great Lakes Aquarium and Canal Park.

Ginny Olson, Northwest Conference Director of Youth Ministry, was presented with the first Rev. Dr. Gary Downing Leadership Award by Youth Leadership (YL) at its 50th Anniversary dinner on Thursday, Oct. 5.

Olson is currently serving as the interim director of Youth Specialties as well. She’s been involved in youth ministry for several decades on a variety of levels: youth pastor, professor, speaker, consultant and writer.

She taught in the North Park University Youth Ministry Department from 1995 to 2011, and was co-director and assistant professor at the NPU and North Park Theological Seminary Center for Youth Ministry Studies from 2001 to 2011.

Olson said the award was extra special to her because it is named in honor of a Covenant colleague who taught her first youth ministry class, adolescent counseling.

Downing had been pursuing a nuclear physics degree at the U.S. Naval Academy, but while driving a bus of high school students to a Young Life camp, he suddenly developed a desire to go into youth ministry.

He went on to work for Young Life and then served as pastor at several churches, including two Covenant congregations in Minnesota—Faith Covenant Church in Burnsville and Rochester Covenant Church.

The award was presented by longtime friend and mentor Tiger McLuen. Downing’s widow, Kathy Downing and their children participated in the presentation as well.

The event also celebrated McLuen, who recently retired as YL Executive Director, and Eric Iverson, the new Executive Director.

By Stan Friedman | This article originally appeared in the Covenant Newswire and is reused with permission.

The Northwest Conference phone lines have been restored to working order. We can be reached at 612-721-4893.

If you have been using our temporary number, please discontinue the use of that number.

Salem Covenant Church is excited to announce that Chris Gehrz and Pastor Mark Pattie have written a book: The Pietist Option. To celebrate, we will be hosting a Book Launch on Tuesday, October 10 at 7:00 p.m.

We would like to invite you to join us as Chris and Pastor Mark share about the book, read excerpts, and sign copies.

As it works in your setting, please use the promotional materials available below to communicate this opportunity to congregation.

For further information or questions, please reply to this email or call Alice Johnson, Executive Pastor (651-633-9615).

The Most Unbelievable, Ultimate, Urban Camping Experience is the Northwest Conference’s annual middle school summer blow out. From Aug. 3-5, 625 middle school students and their leaders from 42 Covenant churches gathered at Crossroads Church in Woodbury, MN, for fun, worship, middle-school-focused teaching and small group discussions.

When students arrived on Thursday afternoon, they were greeted by a massive Welcome Party that was a middle schooler’s dream. It included lots of giant inflatable games, a GAGA ball pit, hair painting, mini-donuts, sno-cones and popcorn. After the worship session that evening, students headed to the Big Thrill Factory where they could ride go karts, climb high ropes, spend time in the arcade, jump on trampolines or let loose with laser tag.

Friday morning kicked off with another great worship session featuring Ben Kerns talking about the theme, “Jesus Is.” Ben is a long-time Covenant youth pastor from Marin, CA. He’s a speaker, author and blogger at www.averageyouthministry.com. Worship was led by James Howard and the worship team from Crossroads. That afternoon, after downing 152 pizzas, the students loaded on the bus and headed to Valley Fair. The day finished up with another worship gathering where the students raised $1,882 for Covenant Kids Congo. A final service took place Saturday morning before they headed home.

Lauren from River Falls observed about the three days, “It’s fun and exciting. You get to connect with people and learn about Jesus.”

Hannah from Vista Covenant Church, said, “My favorite part was the church. The music was powerful. I learned that God loves us just the way we are.”

One middle schooler exclaimed, “I haven’t been on my phone all day!” And another mused, “You don’t sleep; you eat.”

Phil Tolbert, Director of Children, Youth and Family Ministry at Dawson Covenant Church, said, “It’s a great experience for our middle school kids to break away from their normal lives and to meet God where they’re at.”

Anna Cornell, Pastor of Student & Family Ministries at Bloomington Covenant, remarked, “This is the first time our kids have been part of a larger church experience. It’s like a mini-CHIC. They get to experience the Covenant as a whole.”

MUUUCE is led by a team of paid and volunteer leaders at Crossroads Church. This group meets all year to design an event that will help middle schoolers understand that they are deeply loved by God, and that church is a place where you can have fun. The Crossroads team again did a fantastic job designing and hosting the event, with a team of 198 volunteers working different shifts to make it run seamlessly.

Faculty and staff at the Minnehaha Academy Upper School applauded the 350 returning high school students as they entered the building that will be their temporary campus this year.

Classes began Sept. 5, just a month after a natural gas explosion collapsed a major section of the Upper School’s building on Aug. 2, killing two people and injuring others. The Academy is leasing a building in Mendota Heights that once housed Brown College, a for-profit school that closed its doors in January.

School officials said that because the building already was being used by an academic institution, the transition was easier to make. The building has no gym or kitchen, so meals will be catered.

Over the weekend numerous volunteers helped assemble and organize 900 pieces of furniture, bring in books and other supplies, as well as do other preparations.

The school is naming an administrative section of the building in memory Ruth Berg and John Carlson, the two employees killed in the blast.

By Stan Friedman | This article originally appeared in the Covenant Newswire and is reused with permission.

Mahtowa Covenant Church in Mahtowa, Minnesota will be celebrating its Centennial Anniversary on September 16th and 17th with a special dinner and services.

The original Swedish Evangelical Church of Mahtowa was organized in 1917 by twelve charter members who had come from Sweden and settled in the area.  They met in homes until 1923, when a church was built two miles south of Park Lake, close to where Covenant Park Bible Camp is located now.  In the early years the church shared a pastor with the Covenant Church in Moose Lake.  The church building was moved from Park Lake to the town of Mahtowa in 1948 and the name was changed to Mahtowa Evangelical Covenant Church in 1965.  In 1978 the old church building was torn down and the current building went up, with additions in 2007 and 2010.

Mahtowa continues to be thankful for all those who came before and for God’s leading and provision along the way.

 

On Tuesday evening, Aug. 15, two weeks after Minnehaha Academy was rocked by an explosion that killed two staff members and injured several others, nearly 1,000 people from the Minnehaha community gathered for a “Unity Walk.”

Participants walked from the Upper Campus, where the explosion took place, to the Lower Campus, where the primary and middle schools are located. Minnehaha officials described the event as “an opportunity to come together” for prayer and remembrance and “look forward” to the new school year.

The gathering was both solemn and hopeful, as students, parents, alumni and community neighbors joined together to pray, sing and encourage one another.

Minnehaha Academy President Donna Harris warmly greeted marchers from the rear of a fire engine, and Minnehaha students and alumni sang “The Lord Bless and Keep You” to the first responders in attendance who were on the scene in the aftermath of the blast. The one-mile trek between campuses concluded with a fellowship time on the south campus lawn.

Earlier in the day, a communion service brought faculty and staff together to pray for the new school year. During the service, ECC president Gary Walter and Northwest Conference Superintendent Mark Stromberg each addressed the assembly.

“There are many who are rallying to the cause right now, which is tremendous,” said Walter. “But in the end, it will be what happens in each individual classroom that will carry Minnehaha forward.”

To that end, Walter presented a check for $10,000 from the ECC to be used toward out-of-pocket expenses teachers typically incur, especially at the start of a new year. Stromberg made an additional contribution of $10,000 from the Northwest Conference for teacher development.

Stromberg thanked the teachers and administration for their unique partnership with the Conference. He added, “While it is true that the Northwest Conference owns Minnehaha, we prefer to refer to it as a ministry of the NWC and a ministry partner. As such, our relationship is one of collaboration.”

During the communion service, Harris also announced that a temporary site had been secured for the high school classes to meet at while the Upper Campus is restored: the former Sanford-Brown College in Mendota Heights. Classes are now scheduled to begin on Sept. 5. The audience greeted the news with applause.

At the service, Bible instructor Jeff Crafton brought the message. Click here to read what he shared.

Minnehaha Academy, which opened in 1913, is operated by the Northwest Conference of the ECC. The Aug. 2 explosion and building collapse took the lives of 47-year-old receptionist Ruth Berg and 81-year-old custodian John Carlson, and injured more than a dozen others.

By Ed Gilbreath | This article originally appeared in the Covenant Newswire and is reused with permission.

While buffalo were still roaming the plains of America, a group of Swedish immigrants moved from Lockport, IL to the Dakota Territory, arriving on May 16, 1873. The destination of this determined group of pioneers was the Swedish settlement named Swedona, in present Brandon, South Dakota.

On April 9, 1877 a meeting was called for the purpose of organizing a church, and 140 years later, we are thankful for the dedication and perseverance of the 36 charter members who helped begin our church.

On Sunday, September 17, Swedona Covenant Church will observe it’s 140th anniversary. Swedona predates the Evangelical Covenant denomination and is one of the oldest Covenant churches in the conference that is still active. The guest speaker at the 10:30 am service will be the Rev Donn Engebretson. A noon dinner will be followed by a 2:00 pm anniversary service.

Dear Friends in Christ,

We have been shocked and saddened by the recent explosion and loss of life at our beloved school, Minnehaha Academy.

We especially grieve with the loved ones of Ruth Berg and John Carlson in their deaths as a result of the blast. We also remain concerned about those who have been injured and others traumatized by what they either experienced or witnessed.

As such, we are calling our NWC churches to pray for Minnehaha Academy this Sunday, Aug. 6. Would you please include the school, its leaders and the Northwest Conference in your prayer time? And, if not this Sunday, the next?

We also invite the prayers of Covenant churches beyond our region to participate, as well.

May God redeem even this for His glory and our good.

Sincerely in Christ,

Mark R. Stromberg
Superintendent

Thirty-one families from 16 different churches converged on Redeemer Covenant Church in Brooklyn Park, MN, on June 28 for NWC Family Go:Serve, a day of service and experiential learning for families.

This is the fourth year for Go:Serve, an event designed for families with children in PreK-upper elementary school. The day was an opportunity for families to learn and grow together in a family-friendly, yet stretching environment suitable for younger children.

The event kicked off with activities for kids, including a prayer wall and a binocular-making craft as a visual reminder to be careful observers of the world around us. After worship, Covenant missionary Sue Peterson led the kids in an activity where attendees learned about sharing the love of Christ with others as the paralytic’s friends did when they brought him to Jesus on a mat. Sue reminded kids that God calls people at all ages to serve God as missionaries—whether overseas or in our own communities.

Kids were given an official Go:Serve passport to carry with them throughout the day and received a sticker in their passport after completing each ministry project. Kids were also in charge of the family debriefing throughout the day, using the questions provided in their passport books.

Families participated in three ministry projects—assembling birthday bags for homeless kids, creating joke-themed care packages for staff at our five Northwest Conference camps, and creating encouraging and hopeful placemats for kids at the children’s hospital. The planned free community-based car wash was rained out, but families rallied around the indoor projects. Kids expressed interest in learning about the different ministries, and participating in these projects showed that even young kids can make a difference.

Volunteers from Linwood Covenant Church donated the supplies to assemble the birthday bags. Each child received a homemade, reusable bag, a few small toys and a boxed cake mix with frosting so they could celebrate their birthday with a small party.

After a delicious taco lunch, families got in their vehicles and drove down the street to Dragon Star Foods, where they each had $5 to spend on dessert. Families purchased all kinds of interesting candy and food, and experienced new cultures, foods and smells. One participant shared that the supermarket was the most stretching experience of the day.

Another parent summarized the most meaningful part of the day this way: “Seeing children find joy in serving Jesus by caring for others,” while others appreciated that the event “exposed needs of people in our communities.” All enjoyed being able to serve alongside kids and families from other Covenant churches.

Families gathered back at Redeemer Covenant for a chance to share highlights and stories from the day. Kids and families were sent out with a blessing to go and look for ways to serve their communities back home. We hope families from your church can join us for Go:Serve next year, or dream about hosting a similar event in your own community!

What a game! Congratulations to Minnehaha Academy Boys’ Baseball team for winning their second consecutive 2A State Championship!

They defeated a solid Pierz team 6-4 at Target Field and had the support of many Minnehaha fans.

It was a great day – thanks to all of you who came out and cheered on the team to victory.

Read more about the game

With a theme of “Develop Leaders,” the 2017 Northwest Conference Annual Meetings—for both the Ministerial Association and church delegates—took place at Maple Grove Covenant Church in Maple Grove, MN, April 27-29. Throughout the weekend, pastors, delegates and attendees heard video and spoken testimony on the topic of leadership development and participated in workshops offering different perspectives on leading in the Church.

“We know that healthy, missional churches occur when there are healthy missional leaders,” NWC Superintendent Mark R. Stromberg shared. “When leaders are healthy it tends to start infecting the church in a good way. And so, we are about empowering and equipping healthy missional leaders in our churches, both pastoral and lay.”

Friday Business Session

Mark Seversen, Director of Missional Congregations, brought greetings and a ministry update from the Evangelical Covenant Church to delegates at both the Ministerial Association and Northwest Conference Annual Meetings.

“Each and every one of your churches has been given a unique call to serve around the world,” Seversen said. “Our job is to figure out ways to optimize Great Commission impact in our churches. We just want to serve you and your churches in that way.”

Superintendent Stromberg thanked churches for their individual ministries doing Kingdom work in the area in which they reside.

“The horizontal work we are called to do as followers of Jesus must be the result of our vertical relationship with God … It is not our job to make the Gospel more palatable to others, though we certainly do not want to be an obstacle. Rather it is to be faithful with what has been handed down to us, that we are to then hand on to those who follow after us,” Stromberg said. “Evangelism is not a dirty word. My friends, this is our call. We have a Christian mandate to preach the Gospel, to make disciples.”

Stromberg highlighted the NWC Second Miler program, which collects gifts from individuals within the Conference and distributes them in the form of quarterly grants to churches with specific needs.

“This is a practical way that you as an individual can become a blessing to another congregation,” Stromberg said.

Jon Kramka, Director of Congregational Vitality, said, “In the NWC, we are building a regional culture that fosters the development and support of vital, thriving and fruitful congregations.”

Kramka shared that throughout the last year, eight churches began their journey in revitalization through Veritas. Many congregations also helped their people connect to the personal discipline of Bible reading through the ECC’s Community Bible Experience.

Seven churches utilized Pulse to assess how well they are living out the 10 Healthy Missional Markers of a congregation—the largest number in a single year since Congregational Vitality efforts began in the NWC. And clusters of pastors and congregations that are “traveling the Vitality Pathway” together are forming around the NWC for mutual support and encouragement.

“God is pulling for your church to flourish in your pursuit of God and God’s mission,” Kramka said.

During his report, Kramka interviewed Todd Spieker, Pastor of Bethel Covenant Church in Ellsworth, WI, about the impact of Congregational Vitality resources in his church.

“My relationship with Congregational Vitality started right after I started at Bethel. It really gave me a lot as a new pastor—a framework for leadership and tools to help me understand what it means to lead people,” Spieker shared. “We’ve seen a tremendous change from an ‘anxious leadership culture’ to one where our leaders are growing as spiritual leaders, knowing that if we want to lead anyone, we have to go there first as leaders.”

Mike Brown, Director of Church Planting, shared that since launching “50 by ’25: Our Mission to Plant” at the 2014 Annual Meeting, the NWC has seen 11 new churches started.

“We heard the call of Jesus to go and make disciples, and where new disciples are being made, new churches are being born,” Brown said.

Brown introduced one new church fellowship group, Lighthouse Covenant Church, Pastor Dee McIntosh (Minneapolis), which began earlier in 2017. Three new church plants also signed new Covenant Agreements on stage during the meeting, including: Awaken Covenant Community, Pastor Dan Lukas (St. Paul), Midcurrent Covenant Church, Pastor Sten Carlson (Hudson, WI), and Lakeside Covenant Church, Pastor Steve Anderson (Chanhassen, MN).

“Welcome to the maternity ward today. Covenant Agreements signal the official birth of a new church—a new mission outpost to reach more people for Jesus,” Brown said. “Today we are witnessing God’s Kingdom expansion, and our Conference is growing as well.”

Kara Stromberg, Director of Children & Family Ministry, shared that one-third of churches in the NWC have a paid staff person serving in children’s ministry leadership (50 people). And of those paid staff positions, only 18 are full-time positions, with the other 32 staff members serving in a range of part-time roles. This means that 90 churches in the NWC have entirely volunteer-led children’s ministries.

“Some churches really invest in this area and are seeing much return on there investment, and some want to invest but can’t for a variety of reasons,” Stromberg said.

She then shared research from the Fuller Youth Institute that suggests that intergenerational relationships are one key to building lasting faith in students.

“I get really excited thinking about some of these smaller, volunteer-led ministries that have lots of opportunities for intergenerational interaction,” Stromberg said.

The role of children and family ministry leaders is always changing and the skill set is always broadening, Stromberg explained.

“Ministry is about more than good intentions. Without ongoing resourcing, these leaders will burn out because the task is too overwhelming and exhausting,” Stromberg said. “The culture is changing rapidly around us, but the mission of passing on faith to the next generations remains the same. Christ is still the hope for all of us, and that’s especially true for these next generations.”

Stromberg then highlighted the NWC’s efforts to equip staff and volunteer leaders in Conference churches through ongoing initiatives like Go:Serve and monthly Connection gatherings for leaders.

Ginny Olson, Director of Youth Ministry, highlighted the fact that nearly one-fourth of the U.S. Population—70-75 million people—now belong to Generation Z.

“This is a population that we cannot afford to ignore,” Olson said. “We have youth workers who are trying to figure out what it means to do ministry with Generation Z. Students are dealing with more now than ever before. We need youth workers that are trained, connected, resourced and coached.”

Olson praised NWC churches that are “stepping out in faith” to hire new youth pastors—with 12 new youth pastors starting ministry in Conference churches this year alone. She also highlighted NWC youth events like MOVE, MUUUCE and Adventures in Leadership, which call students to leadership in the Church.

“I have watched as we do Adventures in Leadership, and identify key young leaders in your churches, and we pour into them and encourage them that, yes, you can be a leader,” Olson said. “On a national level we do CHIC, where students come together to learn what worship is and hear the call of God in their lives.”

Jeff Burton, Director of Pastoral Care & Development, highlighted two trends witnessed in pastoral ministry throughout the NWC—increased conversations with local churches around issues of caring for pastors (fair compensation, healthy workload, sabbaticals), and the sheer number of transitions that pastors are experiencing within the Northwest Conference (retirement, moving from one congregation to another).

Due to the variety of roles each pastor has to play, Burton explained that development of competency, character and constancy are essential to pastoral care.

“While in most professions, the training is focused on competency, the greatest measures for success for staying in the job for pastors are more often character and constancy,” Burton explained.

The ministry area of PC&D in the NWC supports over 500 church staff and other leaders, spread over four states.

“It is a privilege to serve our pastors on your behalf,” Burton said.

Greg Ellis, Coordinator of CHET NWC, shared the vision of CHET to transform communities with the good news of Jesus Christ through Latino and Latina leaders. While experiencing a lower number of registrations than in years past, CHET NWC is continuing to evaluate its programming to ensure “we are developing leaders in the way that best fits the need” to develop Hispanic leaders in the Twin Cities and beyond.

“When the Covenant started our language was Swedish, and people needed to hear the Good News in Swedish. Then we changed over time to English,” Ellis said. “And now … people need to hear the Good News in their language. And this is why we have CHET NWC. To develop leaders whose heart language, whose native language is Spanish.”

Attendees heard a report celebrating 40 years of women in pastoral leadership from Jan Bros, Pastor of Abbey Way Covenant Church, liaison to the NWC for Advocates for Covenant Clergy Women, and a member of the ECC’s Commission on Biblical Gender Equality, which works to help clergy women fully live into their calls.

“What will the next 40 years look like? As much good conversation can happen, and as many good plans can be made and executed … it can all be in vain if the Lord does not build his house,” Bros said. “My payer for us is, may God open our eyes to see. May God open our ears so that we might hear. May God open our voices so that we might affirm and teach, so that all might live into the beauty and majesty of God’s Kingdom come. Men and women together.”

The ECC’s 3StrandStrong giving initiative was also introduced during Friday’s business session. The ECC’s and NWC’s hope is that every congregation would advance its percentage giving over time to both the Covenant and Conference toward a combined 10 percent or beyond as together we pursue God-orchestrated opportunities to do Kingdom work.

“We are a covenant of churches, not of individuals,” Stromberg shared. “The resources that we have are truly necessary for the ministry we all share. While the local church does many things best, some things are best done as we join together.”

Minnehaha Academy President Donna Harris shared highlights from the life and activities of the school, including new action on the results of a recently conducted Spiritual Formation Assessment through Arbor Research Group.

The study affirmed MA’s clear Christian distinctive, the positive and life changing experience at MA, the Christian model of faith by devoted faculty, and the safe space for students to express doubt and ask questions.

ARG recommended that MA operationally define faith formation, develop a fresh faith formation scope and sequence, assess and strengthen the role of Chapel in faith formation, consider the role of a faith formation advocate at MA, and conduct ongoing faculty development in faith formation to facilitate spiritual curiosity and development (or growth) in students.

Harris shared updates on each recommendation, including the creation of a Faith Formation statement, and the creation of a new Executive Director of Faith Formation position at the school.

Related to the theme Develop Leaders, Harris shared how the school desires to support students with learning differences, continue to grow its STEM program, expand fine arts opportunities, and leverage students hearts to find ways to bless the community through social entrepreneurism.

“We are thrilled to be able to journey alongside our students, who are today’s and tomorrow’s leaders,” Harris said.

Delegates also heard reports from leaders of the Ministerial Association of the NWC and Covenant Trust Company. Attendees also had opportunity to learn about a variety of Conference and Denominational ministries and organizations.

Friday Worship Service

The Maple Grove Covenant worship team led attendees in worship during the Friday evening worship service. Five Candidates for Ordination were also recognized and prayed for during the service.

A special offering taken during the service raised over $2,200 to support the Solid Rock School of Discipleship at Lake Beauty Bible Camp. Church representatives also brought forward prayer bookmarks collected as part of the ECC’s BLESS Intentional Evangelism initiative, which will be brought to Gather 2017, the national Covenant annual meeting in June.

Emmaus Road Covenant Church (Hopkins, MN) and Good Shepherd Covenant Church (Blaine, MN) were honored with a special Living Legacy Litany. Both churches held their final services in 2016.

Marcy Baumann, Pastor of Crossroads Church, Eagan Campus, shared a message titled, “Experience It!”

“Healthy leadership flows out of a humility, the kind that offers help and the kind that also readily asks for it,” Baumann said. “The bottom line is that we cannot develop as leaders until we drop the pose and take hold of humility and community. The health of your home, your church and God’s Church is at stake.”

Saturday Business Session and Workshops

During Saturday’s Business Session, delegates approved a ballot that included: electing Jim Volling (Excelsior Covenant Church, Excelsior, MN) to serve another year as NWC Executive Board Chairperson, Nichelle Kaul (Salem Covenant, New Brighton, MN) and Jeff Laabs (Mission Covenant, Poplar, WI) to 5-year terms on the NWC Executive Board, and electing Tim Carlson (Crossroads Church, Eagan, MN), Vanda Niemi (Bethlehem Covenant, Minneapolis, MN), and David Sylvester (Bethlehem Covenant, Minneapolis, MN) to 5-year terms on the Minnehaha Academy Board of Trustees.

Delegates approved the MA budget, and the full NWC budget of $1,566,047. On Saturday morning, attendees also heard verbal reports from leaders of Covenant Enabling Residences of MN, Camping Ministry in the NWC, and Women Ministries of the NWC.

“So much rises and falls on healthy and missional leaders,” stated Superintendent Mark Stromberg. “This is true in a local congregation, a regional conference, or a denomination. May God give us the courage to do the right thing because it is the right thing to do.”

On Friday, March 31, 185 students and youth workers from throughout the Northwest Conference converged on Minnehaha Academy’s south campus in Minneapolis for MOVE 2017—a 2-day experience of teaching, worship, service and experiential learning.

This year’s theme was “Illuminate,” focusing on God’s calling for His people to be bold in sharing the light of Christ through what they are doing and who they are. During MOVE, students had the opportunity to seek out what it means to illuminate the world around them through service and learning experiences.

The weekend started with a special concert from TRU-SERVA, a Twin Cities based hip-hop artist who uses music as a way to preach the gospel and encourage positive change.

“The walls of the church need to fall down,” says TRU, “and people need to get out of their seats and go out.”

The evening continued with a worship service that featured the Covenant Worship Team. This multi-generational, multi-ethnic group is made up of members of New Covenant and Bethlehem Covenant churches in Minneapolis, and Maple Grove Covenant Church in Maple Grove, MN. Between the three churches, they have people from the USA, Mexico and 14 other Latin American countries.

“I really felt a connection to God through worship this weekend!” said one student, who was deeply impacted by the genuine and passionate worship experience brought by the team this year.

Edrin Williams, Pastor of Equipping and Formation at Sanctuary Covenant Church in Minneapolis, delivered a message on Friday evening and Saturday afternoon. He spent the weekend challenging students to “Light it Up” for the Lord. Using Matthew 5:14-16, as a scripture reference, Williams encouraged students to not be held back by the things in their lives that trip them up, but rather to change the world with their light.

After the message on Friday, churches were given time to talk and pray as a group and prepare themselves for the following day of service and learning experiences. Before the night ended, all of the churches joined in Minnehaha’s hockey arena (sans ice) playing games like Nine Square and Gaga Ball, taking pictures in the photo booth, and enjoying late night Taco Bell tacos and burritos.

On Saturday morning, youth groups spread out across the Twin Cities to serve at 11 different organizations. They played with children at a domestic abuse shelter, sorted donations at a thrift store, painted rooms at a respite care facility, and helped with spring cleaning at several churches. Each of these ministry sites is deeply grateful for the servant-hearted work that is put in by these students and leaders. The impact is long-lasting.

After a morning of service, students headed out to locations throughout the Twin Cities for an “Urban Plunge” challenge. Each person received one dollar for lunch, the objective being to allow students to experience a little of what it might be like to struggle with poverty. Students were faced with the reality of limited opportunities and resources as they sought to provide lunch for their group with the money they were given.

“It was so great for our students to walk the neighborhood and be engaged in the culture,” said Amy Dufrene, Youth Pastor at Oak Heights Covenant Church in Hutchinson, MN. “I will be doing this at other times throughout our year as well!”

Students also used this time to explore the neighborhood, tasked with being aware of who might be considered “invisible,” and what resources may be lacking or harder to access as a person who lives in poverty.

At the completion of the challenge, groups headed back to Minnehaha Academy for a time of worship and another powerful message from Williams.

“This event was awesome,” said Josh Hodgson of Community Covenant Church in Upsala, MN. “Our students definitely left thinking hard and being changed by their experiences!”

This seminar (60 min. seminar, 30 min. Q&A) will take place at BCC in the West Room, and there will be childcare available (suggested $10 donation per family). The content will be geared toward parents of children and youth.  

Details: Saturday, April 29 from 3 to 4:30 p.m.

According to promo materials: This seminar will focus on increasing your own emotional intelligence so that you can model and teach your kids to be emotionally intelligent too. This skill is important in order to be able to identify and regulate emotions as well as be able to connect with others in the midst of experiencing emotions.

Some of the topics that will be covered include dysfunctional vs. functional stress, staying emotionally healthy in your own relationships and/or marriage, creating an emotionally safe family culture and looking at red flags of anxiety and depression. We all have space to learn how to better identify and handle “big emotions” and the more we understand ourselves, the more we can help our children.

Amanda Nephew is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who is in private practice in Lino Lakes and Blaine as well as serves as an Adjunct Professor in the Psychology Department at University of Northwestern- Saint Paul. She has over 12 years of working therapeutically with adolescents and now focuses on couples and family therapy in her practice.

Download Promo Flyer

The Minnehaha Academy Redhawks captured the Class 2A boys state basketball championship on Saturday, March 25.

The Christian school is a ministry of the Northwest Conference of the ECC.

The top-seeded Redhawks, known for their offensive prowess, fought a defensive struggle to earn the 47-36 victory over Crosby-Ironton. They held the Rangers to just 30 percent shooting from the floor.

It was the school’s first state championship since 2012. The team is set to make future runs as it is stacked with undergraduate talent. Freshman Jalen Suggs already is considered the nation’s top high school point guard.

Coach Lance Johnson is the son of Barbara and Paul Johnson, who is a retired Covenant minister.

The Second Miler program in the Northwest Conference brings together willing people to further the ministry of NWC churches and constituent ministries by giving financial assistance to help with the immediate needs, specifically related to capital improvements, in many of our smaller or newer churches.

Since 1959, Second Milers have provided assistance to nearly 400 projects. Answering the call of Jesus in Matthew 5:41, we have responded to the needs of congregations by “going the second mile” and serving them in His Name.

Four times each year (quarterly), Second Milers receive a notice about a new project. By giving a suggested donation of $20 each time, we are taking the next step … going the second mile … making a difference in a tangible way in the life of a sister congregation or ministry. This is part of what being connected is all about—lending a helping hand.

Our goal in 2017 is to sign up 50 new members. Would you be willing to be one of them?

Please sign up today by contacting Jessa Anderson by phone at 612-721-4893, or using the contact form on our Staff page.

The main objective of the course Sharing Lives is to help Christians change their attitude towards Islam and Muslims from one of fear to one of grace and to encourage them to develop meaningful relationships with Muslims in their neighborhoods, in order to share their lives and the Gospel of Jesus Christ with them.

  • Four Wednesday evenings – Feb. 8, Feb. 22, March 8, March 22, from 6:30 – 7:45 p.m.
  • Hosted by Bloomington Covenant Church, 10150 Xerxes Ave. S. Bloomington, MN 55431
  • Course will be taught by Barbara and Steven Swanson – Covenant Missionaries working with refugees in Europe

To register or for more information contact:
Barbara Swanson
612-469-8809

God has strategically placed churches in rural areas and small towns in order to impact our culture for the Kingdom of God. This conference will provide pastors and board members  of these churches information on how to minister effectively, encourage them to see their unique role in God’s plan, and help them take the steps that can impact their world for all of eternity.

Join keynote speaker, Leith Anderson of Wooddale Church and many other incredible speakers for a time of encouragement, growth, and resourcing.

Date: March 11, 2017

Location: Cornerstone Church, Litchfield, Minnesota

Registration Cost: 

Early Bird Pricing Ticket (through February 1, 2017)

$ 34 per person

$ 29 per person when you register 4 or more people from the same church.

Includes lunch!

This discounted price is only valid through February 1. All registrations thereafter will be $39 per person.

 

To register or for more information, please visit www.growmn.org.

Enrich your Easter preparation with a “John: The Gospel of Wisdom” Conference and Concert weekend with musician and teacher Michael Card, hosted by First Covenant Church of River Falls, WI, March 24-26.

As part of Card’s Biblical Imagination Series, he has studied and written books on each of the gospels. Come focus upon Christ as shared by the “disciple whom Jesus loved,” John.

Come join a weekend of study and music or just come enjoy a concert! (Earlybird pricing through Feb. 21.) Learn more and register here.

NWC-2015-Supt-LetterSuperintendent Mark R. Stromberg’s 2016 Letter to Churches Gathering in Annual Meetings is now available for download. See below for a link to download.

Feel free to include this letter in your annual meeting booklets or provide a copy to your church family via a bulletin insert!

Solid Rock School of Discipleship and Minnehaha Academy are teaming up to host a night of worship and discussion on racial reconcilation. The evening will feature a keynote address by Dr. Michael Emerson, along with a panel discussion featuring area ministry leaders.

Date: Feb. 16 from 7-9 p.m.
Location: Minnehaha Academy Upper School
Cost: FREE & Open to the Public

Dr. Emerson will be speaking on what the biblical picture is (God’s vision) of us living together as reconciled people and then from his research, giving the actual reality. Then we will have a panel of pastors who will discuss how reconciliation is (or can be) lived out in their contexts.

About Dr. Michael Emerson
Dr. Michael Emerson, one of the nation’s leading scholars on race and religion, serves as provost of North Park University in Chicago. Prior to that, he was the Cline Professor of Sociology and the Co-Director of the Institute for Urban Research at Rice University in Houston, Texas. Dr. Emerson has authored or co-authored 15 books and monographs and over 60 journal articles and reports. His books include “Divided by Faith” and “United by Faith” and “Religion Matters: What Sociology Teaches Us About Religion in Our World.”

folk-art-clipart-free-red-white-scandinavian-motifBethlehem Covenant Church will be hosting a Lucia Gift Shop Saturday, December 10th from 7:30am – 1:00pm and Sunday, December 11th from 8:30am – 2:00pm. The gift shop will be selling home decor, clothing, toys, baked goods, and many other Scandinavian treasures. This event is open to the public and there is no fee to enter. Come shop, eat, and celebrate the season!

Located at Bethlehem Covenant Church in the Community Room.

3141 43rd Ave S, Minneapolis, MN 55406

caringforcreationMinnehaha Academy will welcome meteorologist Paul Douglas and Evangelical Environmental Network Director Mitch Hescox for a not-to-be-missed community conversation and book release event about climate change and the biblical call for Christians to care about the earth. The conversation at Minnehaha Academy will provide an in-depth look into the compelling reasons why caring about climate change isn’t political, it’s about being a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Paul Douglas is a respected meteorologist with 35 years of TV and radio experience. A successful entrepreneur, he appears regularly on MSNBC, CNN and other media outlets. Paul and his wife live in Minnesota. Learn more at pauldouglasweather.com.

Mitch Hescox leads the Evangelical Environmental Network (EEN), the largest evangelical group dedicated to creation care, and is quoted often in national media. Prior to EEN, he pastored a church for 18 years. Mitch and his wife live in Pennsylvania. Learn more at creationcare.org.

The first 500 attendees to this event will receive a free copy of Hescox and Douglas’ new book “Caring for Creation: The Evangelical’s Guide to Climate Change and a Healthy Environment.”

This event will take place on Nov. 15, 2016 at 7 p.m. at Minnehaha Academy’s Upper School. The conversation is free and open to the community.

RSVP to reserve your free copy of Caring for Creation: The Evangelical’s Guide to Climate Change and a Healthy Environment by Paul Douglas and Mitch Hescox.

solidrockprev2On Oct. 29, 2016, Solid Rock School of Discipleship will host a Preview Day for prospective students and their families.

Solid Rock is a 9-month post-secondary academic, discipleship program focused on developing Christ-centered disciples and leaders. It is affiliated with the Evangelical Covenant Church’s Covenant Schools of Discipleship.

The event will take place at Lake Beauty Bible Camp and allow for students and parents to meet the professors and staff, tour the school, enjoy free food and participate in fun activities! Preview Day is open to students and their parents grades 9-12.

 

Please contact Tyler Menssen, Solid Rock Director, for more information at tyler@solidrockmn.org.

decmcSolid Rock School of Discipleship and Riverwood Covenant Church are joining together to host a seminar called “Deciphering the Millennial Code: Understanding, Reaching and Teaching
Millennials.”

The seminar will feature guest speakers Dr. Megan Brown, Assistant Professor of Christian Ministries at University of Northwestern, and Jenna Thompson, Spiritual Formation Associate at University of Northwestern, as they navigate this relevant and important discussion and offer practical tools and wisdom to ministry leaders and students.

The event will take place on Saturday, Dec. 3, at Riverwood Covenant Church.

For more information, please contact Tyler Menssen, Solid Rock Director, at tyler@solidrockmn.org.

https---cdn.evbuc.com-images-23570214-9500627095-1-originalJoin us as we explore the intersection of faith and justice in the Church. At this year’s justice weekend we will focus on the concept of Shalom and Witness with author Lisa Sharon Harper.

Justice Weekend Registration Includes:

  • Keynote, Interactive Workshop, Q&A and booksigning on Saturday, October 1, 2016, 9am-3pm, with Lisa Sharon Harper
  • Lunch
  • A copy of Harper’s book, The Very Good Gospel.

Registration Fee: $20

Open to all: Sunday worship service at The Sanctuary Covenant Church with special guest Lisa Sharon Harper on Sunday, October 2, 2016, 10am.

For more information or to purchase tickets, click HERE.

13882079_10153653645097204_5353902543341590100_nFrom Aug. 6-8, 605 middle schools students and their leaders from 45 churches gathered together for creative craziness, on-their-feet worship, formative teaching and incredible fun at Crossroads Church in Woodbury, MN. There were several NWC churches that have been coming all 30 years of MUUUCE (Most Unbelievable, Ultimate, Urban Camping Experience), dating back to the event’s creation at Faith Covenant Church in Burnsville by youth pastors Tony Deach and John Skelly.

This year, the speakers had all spoken at previous MUUUCEs: Cesar Castillejos (2015), Kara Stromberg (2011), and Erik Anderson and Eric Bemowski (2014). They focused their talks on the theme of Pixels: “When we come together, we make a beautiful picture.” The house band at Crossroads led worship that had this crowd on their feet. One youth leader choked up as she shared, “It’s amazing to see jr. highers freely raising their arms as they worship Jesus.”

A massive Welcome Party greeted students when they arrived. Giant inflatable games, a fair hair booth where students and leaders could get spray painted or crazy extensions put in, a gaga pit, spike ball, quad carts and a low-tech bean bag toss game greeted students, along with tons of middle school-approved snacks like sno-cones, mini doughnuts, popcorn, pizza as well as kiddie pools stocked with water and soda. That evening they had the choice to go to Grand Slam, Vertical Endeavors or Sky Zone. On Friday, attendees spent much of the day at Valley Fair. All together, they went through 1,100 hot dogs, 153 pizzas, 30 gallons of milk, 3,520 bottles of water, and 1,215 cans of pop.

13925846_10153656012407204_2638053599455610295_oIt takes a massive amount of volunteers to pull off an event of this size. Crossroads has a MUUUCE leadership team that meets for eight months to design an event with middle schoolers in mind: the messages, the worship, the games and the discussions are all geared towards helping middle schoolers realize they are loved by God, they’re important to the church, and that fun can be a big part of their faith journey.
Crossroad’s has over 200 volunteers who serve throughout the three days, many of whom take vacation time and have done so for years. It takes over 35 volunteers just to run the Welcome Party alone. Others arrive at Lake Middle School (where everyone slept in the gyms) at the crack of dawn to set up breakfast, while others work late into the night cleaning bathrooms, vacuuming and setting up for the next day. There was even a team of volunteers who created a “lounge” for when adult leaders needed a break and stocked it with homemade treats and strong coffee.

As one youth pastor put it: “It’s my favorite event of the year. It’s with our Covenant family, it’s super for building relationships with students and I don’t need plan any of it.”

Another one said: “It’s great for smaller churches that typically don’t have access to these kind of events or experiences. It’s a function that brings jr. highers together where they can be focused on God with a little fun mixed in.”

Solid Rock School of Discipleship at Lake Beauty Bible Camp will host “Boundaries in Ministry,” a seminar addressing appropriate professional and personal boundaries, Thursday, Sept. 29 from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. The event is for “all those serving in ministry, whether for one year or 31 years.

The seminar will be co-led by the Rev. David Kersten, Dean of North Park Theological Seminary, and the Rev. Carol Lawson, Director of Ministry Services for Develop Leaders, Evangelical Covenant Church.

KerstenRev. David Kersten became Dean of North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago in 2012. As Dean, Kersten oversees the vision of the institution and the equipping of future Covenant pastors and leaders for mission and ministry. He came to North Park following 11 years serving as Executive Minister of the Ordered Ministry of the Evangelical Covenant Church. While serving as Executive Minister, he oversaw the credentialing, care and discipline, and continuing education of the Covenant’s 1,900 credentialed ministers. Kersten has also served as pastor to congregations in Alabama, Florida, Washington and Minnesota. He has been married to his wife Sandra Kay for 37 years and they have three adult children.

LawsonRev. Carol Lawson has served for 17 years on the Ordered Ministry team of the Develop Leaders Mission Priority. Previously she served on staff with the Northwest Conference as Director of Congregational Services in Minneapolis and on the Central Conference staff in Chicago as Christian Education Consultant Coordinator. She holds a Master of Arts in Christian Education, a certificate in Spiritual Direction, and is Ordained to Word and Service in the ECC. She has been married to Bruce for 42 years and has two adult children, one of whom is married. She believes their grandchildren, Connor (5) and Linnea (2), are the cutest kids on the planet!

Boundaries in Ministry is free of charge, and lunch will be served at 12:30 p.m. Those interested in attending should RSVP to Tyler Menssen (tyler@solidrockmn.org), Director of Solid Rock Discipleship, no later than Sept. 22.

Living-Hands-PuppetsAfter 18 years of ministry, Brenda Johnson, Director of Living Hands Puppet Team, is hanging up her puppet hat. Living Hands Puppet Team is a ministry that has touched the lives of many children throughout the years. Performing in churches and at Covenant Pines Bible camp as the “special speakers” for Kids Kamps, their performances have brought the message of the gospel to life in compelling and joyful ways for thousands of kids.

As this incredible ministry comes to a close, Brookdale Covenant Church is inviting all who have been impacted to come join in a final farewell. Come see and share in the experience of what the 2nd and 3rd grade campers of Covenant Pines Bible Camp learned this year, and celebrate the wonderful ministry that has come out of Living Hands Puppet Team!

When: Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2016

Time: 6-7 p.m.

Please join us at 6 p.m. for a light supper. The performance will begin at 6:30 p.m.

Where:

Brookdale Covenant Church
5139 Brooklyn Boulevard
Brooklyn Center, MN

763-535-6305

CHET-GraduationCHET Northwest Conference recognized student achievement at graduation on Monday, May 23, held in Minnehaha Academy’s Hognander Chapel. Twelve students completed the six-course certificate program on the Life of Jesus.

For one couple, this was the first graduation either of them had experienced. CHET Northwest Conference is so very proud of the accomplishment of these students and their perseverance to arrive at this point!

The Ceremony was marked by participation from around the Covenant: Superintendent Mark Stromberg and other Northwest Conference staff were present, local pastors (both Hispanic and Anglo) were present, CHET Board President Captain Rich Martinez was present to confer their status as graduates, ECC Missionaries Julio Isaza and Erika Clausen were able to participate in the ceremony as they have been on home assignment. Julio gave the commencement address, and Erika gave the closing blessing.

The next round of CHET classes will begin on Sept. 12, with registration on Aug. 22. For more information about this ministry of the Northwest Conference, go to CHET NWC’s website or Facebook page.

Bob-Stromberg-Connection-2Roughly 60 people from four connections who have been meeting monthly this year gathered together for one big celebratory end-of-year event with author, storyteller, speaker and comedian Bob Stromberg.

The event included lunch (the bring-your-own kind) and testimonies of how God is at work in our lives and ministries. Children and youth ministers, church planters and senior leadership all mingled together in a mixer that tested everyone’s linguistic skills in creating crazy run-on sentences about ministry.

Bob shared for nearly two hours about creativity and how everyone was born to create. He claimed that to get your masters in creativity, you have to GIT it! The acronym “git” stands for grab, interrogate and transform.

First, you grab any thoughts or ideas that move you emotionally, and capture them somehow so you don’t forget. Step two is interrogate—frequently coming back to your list to wonder about why these thoughts still grab you. Transforming involves finding a proper form for the idea—poetry, preaching, dance, theater—then practice, practice, practice. Ministry leaders were sent into the summer months with a mandate to create!

The staff of the Northwest Conference believes strongly in the value of connections. It is our hope that all pastors and ministry leaders will be connected somehow to one another so that we can all be encouraged and strengthened in ministry. Look for details about fall connections later this summer, or contact the Northwest Conference to see how you can network with others in ministry.

NWC-Event-GoServe-2016-600x350-2Twenty-six families from 13 different churches converged on First Covenant Church in St. Paul, MN, on May 7 for NWC Family Go: Serve, a day of service and experiential learning for families.

This is the third year for NWC Family Go: Serve, an event designed for families with children in PreK-upper elementary school. The day was an opportunity for families to learn and grow together in a family-friendly, yet stretching environment suitable for younger children.

One parent summarized the most meaningful part of the day this way: “Being able to expose my children to some of the brokenness of our world and what it means to help make those things right. I find meaning in seeing my children find joy in helping others in need. Loved the exposure to other cultures!”

The event kicked off with activities for kids, including puzzle piece prayers and a binocular-making craft to help remind us all to be careful observers of the world around us. We transitioned into worship led by a team from Crossroads Church in Woodbury, MN.

Pastor Touger Thao of Roots Covenant Church shared with the group how the Twin Cities became the home of the largest urban population of Hmong in America, due to refugees settling here after the Secret War in Laos. Attendees learned some Hmong words, and he helped the group get excited to sample Hmong food and culture at Hmong Village later in the day.

Kids were given an official Go:Serve passport to carry with them throughout the day, to be stamped at each ministry site. They were also in charge of the family debriefing in the car, using the questions provided in their passport books.

Families served at two ministry sites, both focusing on homelessness in the Twin Cities. Serving at the Union Gospel Mission and making sandwiches for the Sandwich Project showed that even families with young kids can make a difference. Allan Law came to pick up the sandwiches the groups had made and shared how he will take those same sandwiches out for delivery to homeless men and women that night. In addition, those who wanted to could make themselves a bologna and cheese sandwich so they could experience eating the same meal a homeless person would eat.

Union Gospel Mission in St. Paul invited families to decorate placemats with messages of hope for residents, then led attendees on a brief tour of UGM facilities. Families learned about the importance of donations—specifically nice work clothes people can wear as they gain job skills and interview for positions. Families were given coupons for a free meal that can be given to homeless people they meet out in the community.

“We loved being able to work as a family in a service capacity,” said a parent. “It was incredible to see our children’s faith come out in the form of Bible verses, ‘God Loves You,’ etc., on the placemats.”

At Hmong Village, the group was warmly greeted by the general manager before exploring this indoor mall that houses well over 200 vendors, including a full a farmers market, meeting rooms and many food vendors. Families tried egg rolls, noodles, boba tea, fried plantains and other delicious and curious treats. A few people were brave and ordered a whole fish!

Families gathered back at First Covenant for ice cream sandwiches and a chance to share highlights from the day. We hope families from your church can join us for Go: Serve next year, or dream about hosting a similar event in your own community!

IMG_4065.JPGBrad Shannon, the new Camp Director at AC, has served as Lead Pastor of New Life Covenant Church in Twig, MN, for the past 13 years. An ordained Covenant pastor, he has previously served on staff at Bloomington Covenant Church and Covenant Pines Bible Camp.

Brad is no stranger to camping, having been on summer staff at Bluewater Covenant Bible Camp, summer and full time staff at Covenant Pines Bible Camp, on the board of Covenant Park Bible Camp, as well as on the Adventurous Christians Commission.

Brooke, who will serve as Guest Services Director at AC, has worked alongside Brad as a significant volunteer at New Life Covenant, coordinating the VBS program and Women’s Bible studies. She has been through Tentmakers training, led multiple mission trips and served as a backpack guide in Colorado. Brooke has also worked the past 10 years as Town Clerk.

The Shannons have three children, J (11), Ryan (10) and Katie (5). Brad made news two years ago when he snowmobiled over 1,800 miles from Twig, MN, to Churchilll, Manitoba, as a fundraiser for a new church building.

“I have known Brad for many years and am excited to work alongside him and Brooke at AC,” said CPM Executive Director Dave Cairns. “Brad has a heart for ministry and a love of God’s creation. I’m excited for what the future holds at Adventurous Christians under his leadership.”

The Shannons will begin in early July.

NWC-News-2016-AM-600x350With a theme of “Serve Globally,” the 2016 Northwest Conference Annual Meetings—for both the Ministerial Association and church delegates—took place at Lakeview Covenant Church in Duluth, MN, April 28-30. Al Tizon, the new Executive Minister of Serve Globally (formerly World Mission) for the Evangelical Covenant Church and featured speaker for the meetings, asked churches to consider what it means to be a “witnessing, reconciling and worshiping Church” moving toward God’s future.

“I believe deeply that the local church is God’s primary agent of change to Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth,” Tizon said.

Throughout the weekend, pastors, delegates and attendees heard video and spoken testimony of God’s activity around the world from various Covenant missionaries, including Nils and Erika Clauson (Mexico), Julio and Katie Isaza (Colombia), and Randy Bevis, Special Assignment Missionary with Serve Globally.

Friday Business Session

NWC-News-2016-AM-2-600x350Tizon brought greetings and a ministry update from the Evangelical Covenant Church to delegates at both the Ministerial Association and Northwest Conference Annual Meetings.

“The sort of work we do cannot be done without the commitment to do it together,” Tizon said.

Northwest Conference Superintendent Mark R. Stromberg shared about the impact that churches can have when united together in service.

“It’s an honor to serve our churches. And because we are better together, I do want to thank our churches for providing resources—both in terms of financial support and time given by people from our churches,” Stromberg said. “When you go home, please remind your people that your church is part of something bigger and grander, and that while the local church does most things best, there are other things which can only be accomplished as we work together.”

Stromberg highlighted an upcoming Evangelism Cohort pilot program that will be facilitated by the ECC in the NWC, and the new Covenant Community Bible Experience offered to all churches in the Denomination in the fall of 2016 and beyond.

Jon Kramka, Director of Congregational Vitality, emphasized the “deeper faith and renewed faithfulness” he’s witnessed within NWC churches in the 10 years since the ECC named Congregational Vitality a ministry priority.

“It started with just a shared value for congregational vitality, and out of that common value we’ve developed a common language and passion for church health,” Kramka said.

Kramka pointed to many advancements in the Congregational Vitality program over the last 10 years, including: the formation of the 10 Healthy Missional Markers of a congregation; the creation of quality resources, tools and strategies contextualized to local church level and available at no charge to local churches; regular engagement with Relational Covenants and evaluation tools as a means to spark honest, Christ-honoring conversations in local churches; the creation of the Vitality Pathway, designed to guide churches forward in this journey; and the integration of Congregational Vitality into programs at North Park Theological Seminary.

“We have indication that we have stopped the trajectory of decline in our existing churches,” Kramka said. “We’re starting to recapture again the essence of this church movement, centered around the movement of the Holy Spirit among us. Turn-around stories are happening in our family of churches.”

Mike Brown, Director of Church Planting, shared that since launching “50 by ’25: Our Mission to Plant” at the 2014 Annual Meeting, the NWC has seen seven new churches started—one new church about every 2.5 months.

“Church planting was and is one of the very normative ways that churches engage in mission. Healthy missional churches reproduce,” Brown said. “Church planting is normative and it is something we need to be engaged in.”

Brown introduced three new church fellowship groups, which are The Door Covenant Church (Blaine, MN), Seeds Covenant Church (SE Minneapolis), and The Story Covenant Church (Powderhorn, Minneapolis, MN). He also introduced Vong Luangkhamdeng, new pastor of Laotian Covenant Church (Brooklyn Center, MN), who will be leading the 14-year-old church plant following the departure of founding pastor, Soudinh Penkhay, who has become a Covenant missionary in Thailand.

Kara Stromberg, Director of Children & Family Ministry, highlighted the NWC’s efforts to equip staff and volunteer leaders in Conference churches through ongoing initiatives like Imagine, Go:Serve, the CY&F Sabbath Retreat, and monthly Connection gatherings for leaders, among other programs.

“The reason I love serving in children and family ministry is it’s a constant reminder to me that the kingdom of Jesus Christ is upside down … Jesus’ approach to, and love for, children is a reminder to all of us to have faith like children,” Stromberg said.

She also referenced her office’s role in offering ministry support to volunteers and lay leaders, personal and professional development opportunities for pastors and staff, monthly communication to ministry leaders, and efforts to equip solo pastors, church planters and parents in NWC churches.

Ginny Olson, Director of Youth Ministry, shared highlights from MOVE, a ministry service event for high school students, which took place two weeks prior to the Annual Meeting. MOVE 2016 featured a Light Rail train com­munity exploration tour addressing justice issues in the urban context.

“It’s not crazy to like cold pizza and stale Mountain Dew … in Jesus’s name,” Olson shared. “This is a calling. The crew of youth pastors we have in the NWC are amazing.”

She also highlighted other NWC youth events like MUUUCE and Adventures in Leadership, which call students to closer relationships with Christ, and the NWC’s strong representation at CHIC 2015.

Jeff Burton, Director of Pastoral Care & Development, gave a report of the work to support the “personal and professional growth of our pastors and ministry staff.” Burton highlighted the many challenges of pastoral service in today’s ministry environment. The ministry area of PC&D in the NWC supports over 500 church staff and other leaders, spread over four states.

“It’s a very complex system in which to provide leadership,” Burton said. “The heaviest costs of being a pastor are not financial. It is a privilege for me to be a servant, on your behalf, to those who are carrying the weight and bearing the wounds for the sake of Christ.”

Greg Ellis, the new Coordinator of CHET NWC, shared the vision of CHET to transform communities with the good news of Jesus Christ through Latino and Latina leaders. Ellis shared that he will soon travel to CHET LA to meet with Manuel Valencia, Dean of CHET, to discuss specifics of CHET’s Ministerial Program. The Ministerial Program builds on the foundation of the Pre-Ministerial Program and the ECC considers graduates of this program ready to begin the process of ordination.

Minnehaha Academy President Donna Harris shared many highlights from the life and activities of the school, including renovation plans for Upper School science spaces, team awards in art, athletics and academics, student involvement in local outreach and ministry efforts, and the undertaking of a new Spiritual Formation Assessment through Arbor Research Group.

Related to the theme Serve Globally, Harris shared about recent student and leader Cultural Field Experiences where participants went all over the Twin Cities, country and world to be immersed in dif­ferent communities and cultures.

“Know that we stand with you and the ministry of the NWC, and particularly in serving globally,” Harris said.

NWC-News-2016-AM-3-600x350Delegates also heard reports from leaders of the Ministerial Association of the NWC, and the Solid Rock School of Discipleship at Lake Beauty Bible Camp.

Attendees participated in companion Mission Experience and Ministry Fair events where they had opportunity to learn about a variety of Conference and Denominational missionaries, ministries and organizations.

Friday Worship Service

The Lakeview Covenant Worship Band led attendees in worship during the Friday evening worship service. The 2016 Candidates for Ordination & Commissioning (15) were also recognized and prayed for during the service.

A special offering taken during the service raised over $5,100 to support the Rev. Soudinh Penkhay, who is now serving as a Covenant missionary in Thailand. Members of Twin Ports Chinese Christian Fellowship, which has been connected to Lakeview Covenant Church for eight years, provided special music during the offertory.

The Compass Covenant Church (St. Paul, MN) and True Light Covenant Church (Minneapolis, MN) were honored with a special Living Legacy Litany. Both churches held their final services in 2015.

Al Tizon shared a message titled, “The Church of the Multicultural Future: Unity in Mission and Worship.”

“The Bible teaches that it’s through global mission that we move toward the end of the world as we know it and into God’s amazing future,” Tizon said. “What kind of Church do we need to be today, in order to reflect God’s tomorrow?”

Saturday Business Session and Workshop

During Saturday’s Business Session, delegates approved a ballot that included: electing Jim Volling (Excelsior Covenant Church, Excelsior, MN) to serve another term as NWC Executive Board Chairperson, Barb Dusek (Faith Covenant, Burnsville, MN) and Mark Hovestol (Roseville Covenant, Roseville, MN) to 5-year terms on the NWC Executive Board, and electing John Ahlquist (Maple Grove Covenant, Maple Grove, MN), Erik Anderson (Crossroads Church, Woodbury, MN), Tom Johnson (Roseville Covenant, Roseville, MN), Keith Meyer (Hope Covenant, St. Cloud, MN) and Kathy Parten (Bethlehem Covenant, Minneapolis, MN) to terms of various lengths on the Minnehaha Academy Board of Trustees.

Delegates approved the MA budget of $12,499,100, as well as the NWC budget of $1,528,598—which includes a designated Church Planting budget of $423,817—at the meeting’s second Business Session on Saturday morning. During that meeting, attendees also heard verbal reports from leaders of Covenant Trust Company, Covenant Enabling Residences of MN, Camping Ministry in the NWC, and Women Ministries of the NWC.

Following the Business Session, Tizon presented a workshop called “Missional Worship.”

“Churches almost certainly have worship committees and mission committees, but I’m not sure if they ever compare notes,” Tizon said. “It seems like these two groups in the Christian community run on parallel tracks. The truth is worship and mission are related—inseparably so.”

NWC-News-2016-MOVE-600x350On April 15-16, 200 students and youth workers from throughout the Northwest Conference converged on Minnehaha Academy’s south campus in Minneapolis for MOVE 2016—a weekend of teaching, worship, service and experiential learning.

This 2016 theme of “Unsung” focused on the truth that God still uses the average person to do amazing things. With examples like kids in the Bible stepping out in faith to help feed over 5,000 people, or the ordinary people who risked their lives for their Christian faith, students were challenged to step out of their comfort zones and allow God to show them how to be “unsung” followers of Christ.

The weekend kicked off with a session that featured the returning Blue Oaks Covenant Church worship team, led by Nicoshia Wynn. This multi-generational group brought high-energy worship that had students on their feet.

“We loved them last year, and we loved having them here again this year!” said one student, who was deeply impacted by the passion, excitement and spirit-filled worship.

The evening continued with a message from Hector Saucedo, a dynamic speaker out of Norwalk, CA, who was featured at CHIC and works with Urban Ops Music. He spent the weekend challenging students to think about obstacles, options, opportunities and obedience.

“If out of obedience you can give God a little of what you have, God is going to do great things with it,” Saucedo said.

Messages throughout the weekend encouraged students to use their past, present and future to be a light for God and in their communities.

“God desires to do in your neighborhood what you allow Him to do in you,” Saucedo told students.

Friday night, churches were given time to talk and pray as a group and prepare themselves for the following day of service and learning experiences. Before the night ended, all of the churches joined in Minnehaha’s hockey arena (sans ice) playing games like Nine Square in the Air and eating late night pizza.

MOVE-2016-BuildingsOn Saturday morning, youth groups spread out across the Twin Cities to serve at 11 different organizations. They played with children at a domestic abuse shelter, sorted donations at a thrift store, made and served breakfast at North High School in Minneapolis, helped sell shoes for a food shelter ministry and cleaned several churches. Each of these ministry sites is deeply grateful for the servant-hearted work that was put in by these students and leaders—the impact is long lasting.

After a morning of service, students headed to the Boy Scout Base Camp at Fort Snelling to grab a quick lunch. Churches were then split into small groups and sent out on Light Rail trains for a community exploration tour addressing justice issues in the urban context.

Groups had a chance to travel through Minneapolis, making stops at places like Government Plaza Station, the new US Bank Stadium, the Cedar/Riverside neighborhood and Lake Street, to hear speakers talk about issues such as the Black Lives Matter movement, sex trafficking, immigration, Native American concerns and urban gentrification. Tour guides included Mike Hotz and Marque Jensen of Sanctuary Covenant, Amy Long of Redeemer Covenant, Bob Slandered of the Dakota Tribe, and Leya Copper of InterVarsity. Each guide offered a unique perspective on these major issues that surround the Twin Cities and beyond.

“I can’t think of a better way of engaging our Covenant students on issues of faith and justice than MOVE 2016,” said Hotz, who guided the session on Black Lives Matter. “It’s in struggling with complex issues like the ones we tackled that a vibrant and lasting faith is inspired!”

At the completion of the tour, groups headed back to Minnehaha Academy for a time of worship and another powerful message from Saucedo.

“It was awesome to see students come together through teamwork,” said Tyler Menssen, the new director of Solid Rock Discipleship Program at Lake Beauty Bible Camp. Solid Rock students participated as leaders and volunteers throughout the weekend. “This event was truly a chance to see the fulfillment of the mission of Christ carried out in our youth. It was an incredible weekend and we are thankful for the opportunity we had to be there.”

NWC-Event-ECC-2016-Triennial-600x350As guests of the Conference, they are available to visit local churches and speak about their work in God’s kingdom.

During the weeks of July 14-25, Rhonda Egging and Marisete, from Sweden will be our guests. These women are helping refugees from the Middle East as they arrive in Sweden. If your church is interested in hosting them overnight or for an event in your area, please contact Global Chair, Bonnie Eng global@wmnwc.org or President, Marlys Wilson president@wmnwc.org.

Rhonda and Marisete will be joining the WMNWC bus traveling to Kansas City for Triennial. When they return from the conference, they will fly home. All of this travel, hosting and Triennial expenses are funded through Raise the Flag.

To donate to this exciting adventure, send funds to WMNWC Financial Secretary, c/o 3106 47th Ave S., Minneapolis, MN 55406.

church photo (newer)This year marks a significant milestone for the Evangelical Covenant Church of New London, which had a humble start. Between 1886-1890 some ‘Swedish mission friends’ in the New London area started meeting for prayer and testimonies in homes and at the Village Town Hall. Eventual charter member, Benjamin Bredberg, consulted with then pastor/evangelist/revivalist, Rev. E. August Skogsberg, about formal organization which took place on Feb. 5, 1891. That mission friend gathering of early Swedish immigrants became the thriving church that now worships over 200 and is known as the Evangelical Covenant Church of New London.

The first building measured 38′ x 24′ and cost $500 to erect in 1892 on a lot that cost $25. The first chairman, John E.F. Erickson, was the carpenter and one of the original contributors along with its seven charter members. The first pastor was Rev. O.H. Myhren and he led the newly-birthed congregation until 1895.

It wasn’t until Rev. John Anderson, who served from 1923-1932, that English was used, but even then only for the Sunday evening services! Rev. Chester Dahlberg followed Anderson and was significant as he was a son of the church having deep roots in New London, along with the Covenant, communities. Dahlberg served three parishes, in New London, Lake Florida, and Litchfield traveling in his Model T Ford to the area churches. During Rev. Paul Hedberg’s pastorate the congregation bought its first parsonage which was in 1940 which cost the congregation $2,700.

Remodeling and Relocating

In 1950 the original church was completely remodeled, enlarging the sanctuary and adding the nursery, pastor’s study and chancel. This expansion was during the tenure of a vivacious and rather humorous pastor by the name of Rev. L.O. Anderson. To know L.O. was to love him! In 1978, during Pastor Eric Josephson’s pastorate, the congregation moved to its present site and has had another two additions and remodeling projects through the years.

Much has changed since the beginning of all of this but somethings remain. The Evangelical Covenant Church of New London continues as it started, deeply committed in prayer and the message of new life through Jesus Christ along with great testimonies of what God has done through the lives of many faithful saints throughout its 125 year history.

Celebrating 125 years

The church will celebrate the work of Jesus Christ in their midst through three events in the course of 2016. First, was a 125th Anniversary Sunday, Feb. 21 2016. Rev. Tim Anderson, a former pastor from 1982-1990, spoke at the event. Sharing in the service was Rev. Jerome Johnson who pastored the church from 1957-1961. Denominational representative Rev. Mark Stromberg presented congratulations and a certificate. An anniversary photo and potluck followed.

Still upcoming is a June 25-26 reunion weekend, which will be held with festivities on both Saturday and Sunday. Past pastors and youth pastors will be returning along with alumni from both near and far. Call the church (320-354-2544) or check www.nlcovchurch.org for details as we get closer to the event.

On Sunday, Nov. 13, the congregation will celebrate its 125th Harvest Festival Event with a 70×7 reunion concert at 3 p.m., followed by a pie & ice cream social. The 70×7 singing group formed and sang throughout the New London area in the ’70s & ’80s and included many area voices, many of which will reunite for this event. The public is invited to all of these festivities!

IMG_9135Some might say that “youth ministry” and a “youth lock-in” go hand in hand. For many youth, few things are more exciting than staying up all night with  their friends being loud, eating junk food and playing crazy games. For youth pastors like Zach Klein of Maywood Covenant Church in Foley, MN, it is a strategic and potentially hugely influential event that is not for the faint of heart.

In 2013, when Klein started at Maywood, he was told that part of his job would be to host a lock-in for the youth group at the church. Although around 25 kids showed up to the first lock-in, Klein knew that he needed to do something different in order to bring more kids to this event and allow for the lock-in to play a bigger purpose in the lives of the students in Foley.

The following year, he decided to ask another local youth pastor, Nick Benson of New Life Church of Foley, to join forces to create a new level of excitement for the lock-in. They used the local high school’s swimming pool for part of the evening and planned for 60 students to attend. That year, the lock-in brought 93 students. They knew something was changing and agreed to keep planning for bigger and better.

The 2015 lock-in was a spectacular event. They were given permission to use the local high school for the entire night, brought in a speaker, and amped up the level of games and activities. The final count was 167 kids

“The night went off without a hitch, and we were very excited with how God worked that night,” Klein said.

IMG_9416Students had a blast, and most importantly, they deepened their relationships with Jesus. There were even several first-time commitments that evening.

God was doing huge things and Klein and Benson were ready to continue trusting that greater impact was in the future.

That is why in 2016, when 256 students showed up, Klein and Benson were not surprised. They rented inflatables, played games and even had a special concert from John Chuck & The Class. Students from the Solid Rock Discipleship Program at Lake Beauty Bible Camp were recruited to help out for the night. As an incentive to bring friends, Klein promised to let kids give him a makeover—including hair dye, makeup and waxed legs! The evening also included a special worship band and a guest speaker, Phil Johnson from the Twin Cities, who gave an altar call to which many students responded.

“This event has really shown me that God can use anyone,” Klein said. “Even two mid-20s guys can do great things for His Glory.”

After three great years at Maywood, Klein recently accepted a new call and has just moved into the position of Youth Pastor at United Covenant Church in Clear Lake, WI.

0301-menssen-from-companionSolid Rock Discipleship Program has named Tyler Menssen as its new director beginning April 4.

Menssen will oversee all aspects of the program: scheduling classes, working with faculty, promotion, recruiting students and coordinating churches involved in the ministry.

Solid Rock is a Covenant School of Discipleship operating out of Lake Beauty Bible Camp in Long Prairie. It serves students who have recently graduated high school and are looking to spend nine months in a community learning about God and nurturing their faith. Students can earn 26 college-level academic credits that will transfer to North Park University or select Christian colleges in the upper-Midwest.

“What drew me to this position at Solid Rock was the opportunity to lead a program I feel will provide a pathway for students to have their lives impacted positively by Christ and community,” Menssen said. “I am thrilled with the opportunity to be able to walk alongside students and help them build a foundation of faith that will be instrumental regardless of what career path they follow.”

Menssen earned a master of divinity from North Park Seminary in December 2015. He has been working as an assistant to the dean of NPTS on special projects and initiatives and was an assistant in the Develop Leaders mission priority of the ECC. Prior to living in Chicago, Menssen was a pastoral intern at Trimont Covenant Church, and said he looks forward to returning to Minnesota.

He was the focus of a cover story of the May 2014 issue of the Companion.

Lake Beauty Executive Director Brian Alnes said, “Tyler has a great gift of communication. God has worked in Tyler’s life in such amazing ways. I hope that he will be able to share that into the lives of many young adults in the years to come.”

The cover story in the June/July 2015 issue of the Companion focused on the school and the impact it was having on students, including the article’s writer, Evelyn Jorgenson. For more information on the program call 320-732-3218 or email solidrock@lbbc.com.

This article originally appeared on covenantcompanion.com, and is reused with permission.

NWC-2015-Supt-LetterSuperintendent Mark R. Stromberg’s 2015 Letter to Churches Gathering in Annual Meetings is now available for download. See below for a link to download.

Feel free to include this letter in your annual meeting booklets or provide a copy to your church family via a bulletin insert!

crossroadsCrossroads Church in Woodbury, MN, launched its Christmas series the weekend of Dec. 5-6 by hosting International Justice Mission’s Larry Martin. The weekend theme was “All I Want for Christmas Is … A Better World.”

IJM, a Christian organization that shows up, speaks up and stands up for the oppressed of the world, is one of Crossroads’ strategic mission partners. Crossroads has supported IJM in many ways—including a trip several church members took to Uganda 2 years ago to help organize and find paperwork within the court system to return widows and children back to their stolen land.

Crossroads leadership knew they wanted to start the Christmas series out differently this year. They also knew that they had the ability to do life-changing work. “We wanted to step out in faith and allow God to use us for something big, something radical,” said Erik Anderson, Director of Weekend Ministries. “If not us, then who?”

And so, as a part of the weekend, Crossroads made a goal to provide funding for four “rescue operations” (girls in forced prostitution, people sold in slavery against their will, etc.). Each rescue operation costs around $5,000.

onemoreThe church produced long-sleeved T-shirts that said “ONE MORE #fourfreedom” and sold them throughout the weekend to fund the rescues.

Over $48,000 was raised in just 24 hours. On Tuesday, Crossroads found out that an anonymous donor had matched their funds – bringing the total raised to $96,000. The money will now go toward over nineteen rescue operations through the work of IJM worldwide.

“This is what Jesus-like people do. They carry the baton of justice and they work to set the captives free,” said Phil Print, lead pastor at Crossroads Church. “I’m so proud of the Crossroads family. To God be the glory!”

1125-protest-photos-from-last-weekCovenant pastors in Minneapolis and Chicago are calling on the church to be instruments of peace in pursuing short and long-term solutions to racial issues between police and the African-American community.

Protesters have camped and demonstrated in front of the Fourth Precinct police station in Minneapolis following the shooting death of Jamar Clark, a 24-year-old African-American, on Nov 15. On Tuesday, Chicago officials released a video that shows a Chicago police officer killing a 17-year-old African-American, Laquan McDonald. The officer shot him 16 times.

Clark was shot during what police say was a scuffle with officers who responded to an assault of a woman in which he was a suspect. Some witnesses say Clark was handcuffed at the time, which police have denied. A state criminal investigation and a federal civil rights probe are underway.

Protesters had gathered outside the Precinct 4 station since the incident, and five were shot on Monday by several men wearing ski masks. No one was killed, and four suspects were arrested.

Community Covenant Church is located blocks from the police station and held a gathering for prayer and discussion on Tuesday night that was attended by roughly 120 members of other Covenant congregations and people who live and work in the area. Covenant congregations represented were Sanctuary Covenant Church, First Covenant Church of St. Paul, First Covenant Church of Minneapolis, and Roots Covenant Church.

The meeting opened with a period of prayer and song that was followed by an open-microphone time in which people could share their fears, hopes and concerns and then discussed actions going forward, said Dennis Edwards, pastor of Sanctuary. His church meets at a school located five blocks from where Clark was shot.

“Anger was a word that was mentioned a lot,” Edwards said. “There also was a strong desire to be instruments of peace.”

Edwards said the Covenant congregations agreed to form a committee of members from each church that would help them plan coordinated ways to pursue justice and reconciliation.

Edwards said the short-term solutions should include peaceful protest in the same way the Apostle Paul did in Acts 16 when he demanded public recognition of the injustices, which included jailing and beating, that were inflicted on him and Silas.

“Unfortunately, there’s not a short-term solution to the problems,” Edwards said.

Members of several Covenant congregations were among the people who have protested outside the police station.

Luke Swanson, pastor of Community Covenant, lives just several blocks from where the protests are occurring and heard the shots that wounded five people Monday night. He had been at the protest earlier in the day.

On Tuesday, he said, “I’m heartbroken this morning.” The shootings have heightened the tension, Swanson added.

Swanson’s church has experienced the racism that many say lies beneath the surface of Minneapolis society but is not discussed enough and rarely addressed. His church was the victim of arson, and the arsonist scribbled racist-graffiti on church walls.

Prior to the Tuesday evening meeting, Swanson wrote in an email, “There is an opportunity for the Church to be a nonviolent presence for peace and justice. I have reminded others in the community to be careful with language and words because our children are listening and watching.”

Swanson added, “I have been encouraged by the many conversations I have had with community leaders and residents seeking change for our community. This is not a time for finger pointing but to be united. No matter what one’s opinion is, Christians can make space to grieve with people, to call everyone to value the human dignity of all people, to point the way to justice and help be a peaceful presence.”

Pursuing peace will mean telling and listening to difficult, painful truths amid the “chaos” that comes whenever communities move from having surface discussions to really trying to engage one another, Swanson said.

Pastors said that although they believe a majority of police try to do a good job, incidents of racial injustice are frequent and that the judicial system, as well as other aspects of society, are stacked against minorities.

In Chicago a judge ordered Chicago city officials to release the video of Laquan McDonald being shot after police refused requests that the public be allowed to see it. The officer was arrested for first-degree murder hours before the video was released on Tuesday.

Police, the district attorney, and mayor have been criticized because it took 14 months to charge the officer although the video clearly shows the deceased walking away from officers in direct contradiction to earlier police statements.

Bryan Hodges, pastor to men at Oakdale Covenant Church, said getting all the facts on each incident is important in forming a particular response. That can be difficult, however.

“One of our biggest issues is how the media fuels the way they want you to respond. They want to see a violent protest,” Hodges said.

Hodges agreed the video was horrific, and he questioned why there was such a long delay before an arrest was made. On Saturday, a men’s breakfast at the church involved several police officers from the congregation discussing issues related to law enforcement, the justice system, and relationships with the community.

This article originally appeared on covenantcompanion.com, and is reused with permission.

NWC-News-2015-Clark-Vigil-600x350Community Covenant Church is responding to the shooting death of Jamar Clark in North Minneapolis by holding a Service of Prayer on Tuesday, November 24. The incident, which took place just blocks from the church, has resulted in many different protests throughout the city, some of which have turned violent. Church leaders from the community have participated in these protests to encourage people to remain peaceful and nonviolent.

The upcoming service will be held as a continued encouragement and reminder of peace, justice, and unity in the midst of a heavy and volatile time.

The prayer service will start at 7 p.m. on Tuesday.

For more on this story, please click here.

FotorCreatedBrookdale Covenant Church invites you to an Art Exhibit starting November 1 – December 29, 2015.

Five Courageous Women: Wounded Women Who Found Their Voice and the Red Sea Band is a series of 16 Quilted Icons depicting 16 women of the Bible, who are vital to the Christian story. Tamar, Ruth, Rahab, Mary and Bathsheba not only  find their place in the genealogy of Jesus, but also lead the band of biblical heroes who urge us to join in and take our part in the great story of God’s people.   Each image prov
ides a brief biblical history of the character and reflection questions meant to stir personal contemplation and prayer.

Meet local artist, author and Spiritual Director: Janet Hagberg,  Sunday, November 1 at 9am for an hour of exploration, contemplation and prayer.  The event will be at Brookdale Covenant Church, 5139 Brooklyn Boulevard (Hwy 100 & Brooklyn Boulevard) in Brooklyn Center.  Call to arrange private or group showings.

Contact Pastor Renee Franzen at 763-535-6305.

 

The-choir-performed-a-rousing-concertThis past August, First Covenant Church of St. Paul hosted its first Gospel Music workshop. The three day event, featuring T.J. Smith and the Oakdale Christian Academy Choir of Chicago, IL, opened the door to an incredible learning experience of history, music, and intercultural relationships. The workshops were free and open to the public, offering an opportunity to join in a gospel experience and to learn and worship with others in the Twin Cities area.

Several other Covenant churches in the area, such as Abbey Way Covenant and Roots Covenant, helped to comprise the almost 90 people who participated in this event. The final night hosted a concert with a mix of both contemporary and traditional styles of gospel music and featured singing from both novice and experienced gospel singers. Nearly 200 people attended the final concert and close to 200 people viewed the concert via online streaming.

For more on this story from Transform Minnesota, click here.

MUUUCE-2015-Web-2Imagine 661 middle schools students and their leaders gathered together for three days of amazing worship, fantastic teaching and awesome fun. The energy, the passion, the laughter, (okay, and the smell) all melded together to make the 29th annual MUUUCE (Most Unbelievable, Ultimate, Urban Camping Experience) an incredible event. The team from Crossroads Church in Woodbury, MN, again did a fantastic job designing and hosting the event with a team of over 160 volunteers working different shifts to make it run seamlessly.

From the Welcome Party to worship, students knew they were at an event designed with them in mind. Whether it was giant inflatable games, a huge GaGa ball pit, color hair spray experts, mini-donuts and sno-cones, or Cesar Castillejos’ highly-visual teaching, students got the message that there is a God who cares for them. One student reflected, “You have a lot fun but you also learn about God.” Cesar (who also spoke at MOVE earlier this year) drove home the Amplify theme with this perspective, “Our true identity is the cross and that’s what we amplify—His work in us.”

MUUUCE provides a great opportunity for youth leaders and pastors to build relationships in their youth ministries and help their students connect with Christ. Youth pastor Mikey Bechtold (Crossview Covenant, North Mankato, MN) put it this way, “I love MUUUCE because it creates a space for middle schoolers to engage in faith and to build a close relationship as a group.”

Luther Brown (Lakeview Covenant, Duluth, MN) noted, “Kids are on fire and are finding their light in Christ.”

As one middle schooler put it after a full day of fun and worship, “This was the best day of my life!”

Mark Chapman, pastor of Countryside Covenant Church, says he knows it might seem strange for a congregation of around 70 attendees to construct a $550,000 building out in the country and change its name—but the people believe it is a sign of hope for their area.

0804-outside-labolt-churchPeople in rural areas struggle with the same personal and community issues as those in suburban and urban regions, Chapman says, with the added stress of declining populations. The move is a statement that the church exists to serve people.

The members of what was once simply Evangelical Covenant Church voted on July 26 to change the church name to Countryside. They chose from among four names.

“Countryside just soared to the top,” Chapman said.

With the name change the congregation wanted to send a message that “We are a welcoming church and more of a regional congregation,” Chapman explained.

He explains that the church had been known as LaBolt Covenant Church, but in their rural area, residents are less likely to attend a church attached to a specific nearby community, sometimes due to longstanding rivalries of one sort or another. “We’ve actually had people tell us they would attend our church if we moved out of town into the country.”

The new facility is 7,000 square feet, up from its current 4,000 square feet, and will enable the church to have a dedicated youth room as well as much more multipurpose space.

“Currently we hardly have room for our potlucks,” Chapman said. A new foyer with chairs and a fireplace will give people a place to linger.

 

Chapman says workers are 0804-labolt-inside-churchracing to complete construction prior to the move-in date of Sept. 1. A dedication service is slated for Sept. 20.

The church was originally founded in 1900 wit the name Swedish Christian Mission Church of LaBolt and joined what is now the Evangelical Covenant Church. In 1965 the name was changed to the Evangelical Covenant Church of LaBolt.

The decision to relocate was part of a long discernment process that has included being part of the denomination’s Vitality Pathway. “We were on the pathway before there was a pathway,” Chapman said.

National Covenant Properties helped fund construction. “They really cared about our overall ministry as well as the building,” Chapman said. “They made this possible.”

Story originally published by Covenant Newswire.

“No one can do everything, but each of us can do something to help turn the tide against global poverty.”
– Richard Sterns, president and CEO of World Vision

Guests experience first hand what it's like to live in World Vision sponsorship regions such as South America, Africa, and South Asia through audio and visual aides in the World Vision Experience mobile exhibit at Faith Community Church in Hopkinton, MA.

Throughout August and September, three Northwest Conference churches will be offering a unique and powerful experience to see the effects of extreme poverty from the perspective of the world’s most vulnerable. Crossroads Church in Cottage Grove, MN, Crossview Covenant Church in North Mankato, MN, and Salem Covenant Church in New Brighton, MN, will be hosting the World Vision Experience Bus.

The nationally touring exhibit gives an opportunity for an interactive and life-changing confrontation with the effects of global poverty, sex trafficking, and refugees. Visitors will be given a chance to walk through a “global village” during a 20-minute audio-guided journey and hear the true, life-changing stories of four young children in extreme conditions.

The Covenant denomination is proud to partner with World Vision as they continue to bring awareness and global change to people who suffer in the margins. “World Vision, unfortunately, cannot take thousands of Americans to places like Bangladesh, Syria, or Uganda to personally witness the tragedy of extreme poverty,” says Sterns, “So we’ve created this exhibit to enable people to virtually experience the effects of some of the greatest causes of our day and how they can help.”

This event is free at each church location. For families with children, please be aware that this event is rated PG-13. Parental discretion is advised.

Times and Locations are as follows:

Crossroads Church – Cottage Grove Campus
7955 Ivystone Ave., Cottage Grove, MN 55106

Aug. 13-16
Aug. 13 — 4 p.m. – 8 p.m.
Aug. 14 — 4 p.m. – 8 p.m.
Aug. 15 — 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Aug. 16 — 10 a.m. – 7 p.m.

Crossview Covenant
2000 Howard Drive W, North Mankato, MN 56003

Sept. 10-13
Sept. 10 — 9 a.m. – 12 p.m., 3 p.m. – 7 p.m.
Sept. 11 — 9 a.m. – 12 p.m., 3 p.m. – 7 p.m.
Sept. 12 — 9 a.m. – 12 p.m., 3 p.m. – 7 p.m.
Sept. 13 — 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Salem Covenant
2655 Fifth Street NW New Brighton, MN 55112

Sept. 24-27
Sept. 24 — 9 a.m. – 12 p.m., 4 p.m. – 8 p.m.
Sept. 25 — 9 a.m. – 12 p.m., 4 p.m. – 8 p.m.
Sept. 26 — 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Sept. 27 — 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Roughly 1,300 attend from NWC

CHIC happened! Over 5,500 people attended the Evangelical Covenant Church’s triennial youth event, CHIC, July 12-17 at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Roughly 1,300 of those were from the Northwest Conference, and we certainly made our presence known.

The theme of SHIFT invited students to make a shift in their worldview, commitment to Christ and view of the Holy Scriptures. In addition to powerful speakers, robust worship, interesting and educational morning base camp sessions, students found time for rafting, hiking, cave tours, swimming and other activities on and off campus.

In case you have people at church wondering if all the fund-raising, long road trip, and sleepless nights are worth it, read youth pastor and CHIC council member, Ben Kerns’ thoughts on why CHIC is so important.

CHIC is more than a one-week experience for high school students. Click here for a free 6-week, all-church discipleship curriculum, written specifically as a follow-up to CHIC. The SHIFT curriculum includes a sermon series, adult bible study, and youth and children’s ministry program elements.

Click here for a link to music, stories, devotionals and information about Project Blue, the clean water initiative in partnership with Covenant World Relief, the Hindustani Covenant Church and Water First.

NWC-News-2015-TW-Anderson-Award-600x350David L. Swanson helped build three Covenant camps, participated in multiple global mission trips, and played an instrumental role in the founding of one of the Covenant’s most successful global mission initiatives. In June, he was presented with the T.W. Anderson Award at the 130th Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Covenant Church.

The award has been presented at each Annual Meeting since 1985 to laypersons in recognition of their outstanding service to their church, community, profession, and the broader world. It is named in honor of the only layperson ever elected president of the ECC.

Swanson, who lives in Minneapolis with his wife, Ann, has been an active member of Bethlehem Covenant Church for more than 70 years. He has served the congregation in just about every capacity possible, and members of the church call him their “go-to person.”

Pastor Philip Stenberg says Swanson’s training as a mechanical engineer has been invaluable during the church’s various renovation projects, especially in the design and construction of a new addition.

“Having a history in the building trades, Dave served as the general contractor, working with the architects in the planning and then with various subcontractors in the building project,” he says. “The new addition has greatly enhanced the church ministry in the neighborhood.”

Swanson has applied his skills to helping others outside the church walls as well. When Habitat for Humanity homes in Minneapolis began to crumble, Swanson organized teams of volunteers from several area churches to renovate and rehabilitate the buildings.

Covenant Pines Bible Camp

He also helped start Covenant Pines Bible Camp in McGregor, MN. He was a member of the founding board of directors and invested his own money and time in the construction of the first structure on the property—the dining hall. Between 1957 and 1991, Swanson served various terms on the board, many of them as chairperson.

His dedication to the camp did not stop there. At one point, Swanson sought to acquire a small piece of land surrounded by Covenant Pines property, even flying to California to negotiate the deal with the property owners, who lived there. When the deal fell through, Swanson called the blow “devastating.”

But to everyone’s surprise the landowners eventually decided to donate the land to the camp. “All of the effort and all of the time I put in seemed to finally convince the owner that we were the proper people to own the property,” Swanson said. “And that was a wonderful feeling.”

Bruce Peterson, recently retired executive director of Covenant Pines Ministires, says that Swanson’s heart for camping ministry ultimately allowed more children to experience camp.

“With campers on a waiting list, Dave provided funds and workers to construct a ‘temporary cabin’ to house campers, enabling 50 more campers to attend camp for the summer,” he said. “That temporary cabin is still in use today, serving campers that would otherwise have been turned away.”

“The education and spiritual formation of young people is so important,” Swanson says, “because young people are an important part of the church. That is why I support camp ministry.”

Swanson has helped organize, led and participated in many short-term missions trips, including trips to Japan, Ecuador, Mexico, Alaska, DR Congo and Chile.

“I was not part of the evangelism arm of the church; my background was in construction,” he says. “So what I was doing on the mission field was just a small part in helping to push evangelistic work forward.”

He also played a major role in the formation of Covenant Mission Connection, an organization that paired congregations, groups and individuals wishing to undertake mission work with short-term trips and long-term ministries.

“Through this network, he encouraged, recruited, prepared, organized and supervised the participation of many more people in his passion to serve Christ’s mission around the world,” Stenberg said.

Covenant Mission Connection has since merged with Covenant World Mission, and its spirit lives on in the multitude of short and long-term mission opportunities offered by the Covenant Church.

To combine his passion for world missions and his love of camping ministry, Swanson led large groups of Covenant camp employees in the construction of two camps in Reynosa, Mexico, and Concepcion, Chile. This program is still in place today and camps are continuing to be constructed around the world.

Story originally published by Covenant Newswire. Used with permission. 

NWC-News-2015-FCC-Willmar-Hymn-Sing-600x350On Sunday, Aug. 9 at 6 p.m., First Covenant Church in Willmar, MN, will host its 15th Annual Old Fashioned Hymn Sing. Chuck Gustafson will once again serve as song leader for the evening and will be accompanied by musicians Don Franklin and Saralyn Olson.

“We humbly ask that this announcement be made during the appropriate time of your Sunday Worship service and included in announcements in your Sunday bulletin and other communication to your congregation. This is a wonderful opportunity for people to gather together to sing their old favorite hymns in praise to God,” reads a media release from the church.

Refreshments will follow the hymn sing service. For more information, visit fccwillmar.org.

MA PrincipalMinnehaha is pleased to announce the appointment of its new Upper School Principal, Jason Wenschlag.

Wenschlag brings 13 years of public school administration in his roles as Dean of Students, Assistant High School Principal, and Elementary and Upper School Principal. His most recent position is principal of Richfield High School where he has served for the past three years.

Faith and commitment to Christ is strong and evident in his life.

“The most important thing I can do is continue living by grace and striving to reflect God’s character. I place an incredible amount of importance on integrating my personal and professional life, and being in a position where I am growing, and I cannot imagine a better fit at this point in my career and life. God has certainly been at work in recent months and all the glory goes to him!” Wenschlag said.

In a letter sent to parents of Minnehaha students, Dr. Donna Harris, school President, said, “I am thankful for the input I received from staff, faculty and members of the Board of Trustees as I moved through a diligent and prayerful process. I believe that Jason is an excellent fit for MA at this time in the life of our school. He brings a wealth of experience in and passion for education, strategic vision, strong interpersonal skills and a humble and gentle spirit.”

Wenschlag will be on campus June 11 and 12 for a “meet and greet” for those who will be on campus to spend time with Nancy Johnson and Mike DiNardo. His first official day is July 1 when he will begin getting to know Upper School faculty and members of the Board of Trustees.

Jason is married to Amy Lynn and has lived in the same South Minneapolis community all his life. He and his wife are very active members in their church, River Valley, located in Eden Prairie.

We are excited to have him aboard as a crucial part of the ministry and leadership of the Northwest Conference and Minnehaha Academy.

NWC-News-2015-Solid-Rock-Graduation-600x350On May 16, 2015, Solid Rock School of Discipleship at Lake Beauty Bible Camp celebrated its first ever graduating class. The ceremony took place in the newly refurbished chapel at Lake Beauty and included nine students who shared about their experience of learning and deep spiritual growth over the past year.

Excited family members, friends, Board Members, professors and camp staff joined in as the students led music and spoke of their accomplishments and future plans. Many students shared stories of how their lives had been transformed over the past year, and all in attendance were able to watch a video of the students bestowing their wisdom and thoughts for the upcoming students of next year. Board Member Steve Weihsmann reflected on the celebration saying, “Many had refurbished lives and bore witness during the proceedings to the work of the Holy Spirit in their hearts and around their circumstance.”

Keynote speaker Keith Robinson, professor in the program and Senior Pastor of Riverwood Covenant Church, addressed the graduating class with encouraging words and reflections on the “stones” of remembrance, opportunity, cornerstone and the kingdom. His address focused on the recognition of Revelation 2:17, which ended with students receiving white stones with individual names written on the back “which no one knows but the one who receives it.”

Dan Pearson, Pastor and Lake Beauty Board Member, responded to the graduation by saying, “I can’t say enough about how impressed I was with the nine students who graduated. It is plain to see they were handpicked by God to be there and that the Lord has wonderful things in store for each of them.”

Pearson’s grandfather played a key role in the foundation of Covenant Bible College, which closed in 2007.

“This further instills in me the idea that discipleship is not taught as much as caught,” Pearson says, encouraged by the opening of a new program for young leaders that focuses on discipleship and personal relationships.

The ceremony ended with a time of prayer over the students and a celebratory ringing of the chapel bell by the entire class—sounding an end to one phase of life and the beginning of another.

“It is impossible to capture in a few words what was happening and being felt on graduation day,” Weihsmann said. “They are now equipped not completely, but solidly, to go and rock their world!”

Congratulation Solid Rock Class of 2015!

NWC-News-2015-CPBC-Cairns-600x350The Board of Directors of the Covenant Pines Ministries is pleased to announce the hiring of David Cairns as Executive Director. His overall responsibilities will include Adventurous Christians Ministry, Covenant Pines Bible Camp Ministry, Day Camp Ministry, and Silver Beach Ministry.

Dave comes to us with a wide breadth of relevant knowledge and experience. This includes terms as Executive Director of Pilgrim Pines Conference Center of Swanzey, NH and Associate Director of Covenant Pines Bible Camp of McGregor, MN. Dave is a graduate of North Park Theological Seminary and is an ordained Covenant Minister. He and his wife Becky have three children: Drew–16, Trent–14, Annis-11.

Dave will assume his duties as Executive Director of Covenant Pines Ministries at the conclusion of the summer.

NWC-News-2015-GoServe-600x350By Kara Stromberg

Nearly 40 families from 14 different churches converged on Redeemer Covenant Church in Brooklyn Park, MN, on May 2 for NWC Family Go: Serve, a day of service and experiential learning for families.

This is the second year for NWC Family Go: Serve, an event designed for families with children in PreK-upper elementary school. The day was an opportunity for families to learn and grow together, in a family-friendly, yet stretching environment suitable for younger children.

The event kicked off with worship music led by First Covenant Church of St. Paul’s youth worship band and an interview with Pastor Yeak Monneh, a local pastor who grew up as a World Vision-sponsored refugee child in Liberia, now serving the Liberian community in Brooklyn Park. Families learned about Pastor Yeak’s desire to ensure families back home in Liberia had adequate medical supplies during the Ebola crisis.

Pastor Kari Jacott from Linwood Covenant Church in Wyoming, MN, asked Yeak why so many Liberian families came to live in cold Minnesota. Yeak replied, “Because we have family and friends here! We come here to take care of each other.”

Pastor Amy Long from Redeemer explained the contents of bags given to each family, full of supplies they would need that day—a magnifying glass to encourage them to look more closely at the world around them, a puzzle piece to help them remember that they were an important piece of doing God’s work in the world, and a rubber band to remind them that they will feel stretched.

Before families dispersed to assemble sandwiches, they watched this news story that showed how these sandwiches are distributed for homeless people in the twin cities.

After the morning session, families grabbed boxed lunches, then drove to ministry sites to serve.

Serving at the ministry sites showed that even families with young kids can make a difference. Families sorted through over 1,500 pounds of clothing at ARC’s Value Village Thrift Store (the equivalent of 30 hours of work for one ARC employee), packed 24,192 meals which will be sent to Haiti to feed 66 kids for a year at Feed My Starving Children, prepared and packaged 600 sandwiches for the homeless, and collected food for the Brooklyn Park Area food shelf, serving homeless youth in the Brooklyn Park area.

Food was a big part of the day. After serving at their ministry sites, families were given a map and $5 with instructions to visit a local ethnic grocery store and purchase food they would like to try. As families wandered through the grocery stores, they pondered whether to buy frogs, seafood, durian fruit, Asian jello cups or plantain chips. As families made their purchases and trickled back into the church for a late lunch, the energy changed as everyone shared their food items. Families also enjoyed homemade Kenyan bread—fried donut-like treats made by a friend of one of our pastors.

Said one parent, “Anytime you give families a shared experience where they can talk about this stuff, it’s a win. This was awesome.”

“I loved serving at ARC! I want to go back there next year,” said a second grader.

Families were sent home with a guidebook that included debriefing questions, additional service ideas and space for families to write their next step as they seek to live lives of service and generosity.

NWC-News-2015-Annual Meeting-600x350With a theme of “Strengthen Churches,” the 2015 Northwest Conference Annual Meetings—for both the Ministerial Association and church delegates—took place at Salem Covenant Church in New Brighton, MN, April 16-18. John Wenrich, Director of Congregational Vitality for the Evangelical Covenant Church and featured speaker for the meetings, challenged churches to consider their own vitality through the lens of the activity of the Holy Spirit and in light of internal and external challenges.

“If we are going to learn as Covenant Christians how to be more dependent on the Holy Spirit, we need more teaching,” Wenrich said. “Show me a church that’s strong in the Ten Healthy Missional Markers, and I’ll show you a church that’s relevantly connecting the Gospel to people.”

Friday Business Session

Steve Dawson, President of National Covenant Properties, brought greetings and a ministry update from the Evangelical Covenant Church to delegates at both the Ministerial Association and Northwest Conference Annual Meetings. David Kersten, Dean of North Park Theological Seminary, was also in attendance.

Northwest Conference Superintendent Mark R. Stromberg, who was re-elected to serve another four-year term, shared about the many great things that churches can do when united together in service.

“Though it’s not easy, our work and service to the Lord has eternal importance; it is of infinite value,” Stromberg said. “We believe that we are being allowed to be part of the fruitfulness happening in many of our congregations and ministries.”

Stromberg highlighted many changes in the ministry of the NWC in recent years, including: the addition of staff to new roles, the expansion of the Adventures in Leadership program to other conferences, greater collaboration with Ministerial Association leaders, the Minnehaha Academy Centennial celebration (2013), the welcoming of new churches, the kick-off of the “50 by ’25” Church Planting initiative, the expansion of resources and support for children and families, and the growth of CHET Northwest Conference.

During his report, Stromberg also announced new resources the NWC will make available to pastors and lay leaders on the topic of human sexuality throughout 2015-16. The NWC will host a series of workshops and conversation groups designed to assist congregations in learning to minister well from within the position of the ECC.

He also highlighted his intention to spend more time resourcing and supporting NWC staff, fortifying CHET Northwest Conference, identifying, developing, resourcing and supporting young pastoral leaders, and helping to build capacity for “50 by ’25: Our Mission to Plant,” the Church Planting initiative whereby the NWC will seek to start 50 new churches in the next 10 years.

Jon Kramka, Director of Congregational Vitality, emphasized the important role that sharing stories can play in building momentum in church health. He highlighted the story of Zion Covenant Church in Ellsworth, WI, and shared a video featuring Zion’s story.

“Zion represents one story of God’s gathered people, sent on mission, and making a difference in their world,” Kramka said. “We really are in this together, and you need to know that as your Conference staff, we fully understand that our success is really tied up in your success as we are a family of churches.”

In addition to providing updates on “50 by ’25,” Mike Brown, Director of Church Planting, shared about new churches and the strong impact they are having in the region.

“The mission field demands that we go to people groups and neighborhoods and communities that we have not reached yet,” Brown said. “Since our last Annual Meeting, we’ve seen four new churches started as God has raised up planting pastors. It happened because our NWC churches partnered to make it happen.”

Brown introduced the four new church fellowship groups, which are Catalyst Covenant Church (St. Paul, MN), Genesis Covenant Church (St. Louis Park, MN), Nuevo Pacto Covenant Church (Minneapolis, MN) and Renew Covenant Church (Eau Claire, WI).

“If your church has yet to say yes to becoming a Church Planting partner, please contact our office and find out how you can be part of seeing 50 new baby churches birthed in the next 10 years,” Brown said.

Kara Stromberg, Director of Children & Family Ministry, referenced the NWC’s efforts to equip staff and volunteer leaders in Conference churches through ongoing initiatives like Imagine, Go:Serve, the CY&F Sabbath Retreat, and monthly Connection gatherings for leaders, among other programs. She also highlighted her office’s role in offering ministry support to volunteers and lay leaders, personal and professional development opportunities for pastors and staff, monthly communication to ministry leaders, and efforts to equip solo pastors, church planters and parents in NWC churches.

“It’s an honor to serve in this role. It’s challenging, it’s exciting, it’s encouraging,” she shared. “Together, I hope that we can work to ensure that this next generation has faith.”

Ginny Olson, Director of Youth Ministry, shared highlights from MOVE, a ministry service event for high school students, which took place a week prior to the Annual Meeting. MOVE 2015 featured a “Shark Tank” experience where all 19 youth groups were challenged to develop new ministry ideas to reach their communities. Two churches went home with grants from the NWC to help “their kingdom dreams become reality.”

Olson challenged Annual Meeting attendees to ask middle and high school students, “What are your kingdom dreams? And how we can come alongside you in making those dreams a reality?”

She also highlighted other NWC youth events like MUUUCE and Adventures in Leadership, which call students to closer relationships with Christ.

“I absolutely love serving in this position, and if I can come and be of help to you and your team, please let me know,” Olson said. “We are truly better together.”

Jeff Burton, Director of Pastoral Care & Development, and Judy Swanberg, Associate Director of Pastoral Care & Development, gave a joint report of their work to support the “personal and professional growth of our pastors and ministry staff.” The ministry area of Pastoral Care & Development in the NWC supports over 500 church staff and other leaders, spread over four states.

“We know that being alone in ministry is very, very hazardous,” Burton said. “There’s a need to be in connection with people who understand your world and can walk alongside you.”

PC&D staff announced the creation of new “Mini-Retreats” for pastors, as well as newly developed resources to help churches reformat their Pastoral Relations or Mutual Ministry Committees.

“We are trying to help develop healthy leaders, because they are essential to healthy churches,” Burton said. “Thank you, on behalf of a lot of pastors we represent, for being so proactive in providing resources and support to your leaders.”

Minnehaha Academy President Donna Harris shared many highlights from the life and activities of the school, including the recent groundbreaking on a 3,000 sq. ft. STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) Lab at the Upper School, an increase in the school’s scholarship endowment fund, new language immersion courses at the Middle School, and a renovated science exploration lab and innovation center at the Lower School.

“Our prayer is that as students graduate, that they will leave well educated, profoundly loved and challenged to grow in their faith,” Harris said. “As a Christian school, we pray that our ministry strengthens churches,” she told delegates.

In addition to staff reports from the NWC, delegates to the meeting participated in the “Celebration of Mission” Ministry Fair where they had opportunity to learn about a variety of Conference and Denominational ministries and organizations.

Friday Worship Service

Various choirs and musical ensembles from Salem Covenant Church led attendees in worship during the Friday evening worship service. The 2015 Candidates for Ordination & Commissioning (10) were also recognized and prayed for during the service.

A special offering taken during the service raised an additional $1,925 to support CHIC 2015 scholarships for students in Northwest Conference churches.

Maplewood Covenant Church (Maplewood, MN) and Evangelical Covenant Church (Deerwood, MN) were honored with a special Living Legacy Litany and a video showing highlights from throughout the ministry life of Maplewood. Both churches held their final services earlier in 2015.

Worship service attendees also heard testimony from two students enrolled in the Solid Rock Discipleship Program at Lake Beauty Bible Camp, both of whom thanked supporters and relayed the impact the discipleship school has made in their lives.

John Wenrich shared a message titled, “The Holy Spirit and Congregational Vitality.”

“Congregational vitality begins with a person: the Holy Spirit,” Wenrich said. “I believe with all my heart that as you open up your ears to what the Holy Spirit has to say to your church, and have the courage to follow through, the best is yet to come.”

Saturday Business Session and Workshop

During Saturday’s Business Session, delegates approved a ballot that included: electing Jim Volling (Excelsior Covenant Church, Excelsior, MN) to serve as NWC Executive Board Chairperson, electing Sheila Anonsen (Knollbrook Covenant Church, Fargo, ND) and Dennis Edwards (Sanctuary Covenant Church, Minneapolis, MN) to 5-year terms on the NWC Executive Board, and electing Chris Gehrz (Salem Covenant Church, New Brighton, MN), Greg Karpenko (Bethlehem Covenant Church, Minneapolis, MN) and Jane Matheson (Linwood Covenant Church, Wyoming, MN) to 5-year terms on the Minnehaha Academy Board of Trustees.

Delegates also approved the MA budget, and the full NWC budget of $1,497,013—which includes a designated Church Planting budget of $418,445—at the meeting’s second Business Session on Saturday morning.

Following the Business Session, Wenrich presented a workshop called “Current Challenges Facing Today’s Church.”

“Our job with the Gospel is not preservation. It’s multiplication,” Wenrich said. “Remember this theme when you think about external challenges our church might face.”

 

NWC-News-2015-MOVE-600x350On April 10-11, 217 students and youth workers from throughout the Northwest Conference converged on Minnehaha Academy’s south campus in Minneapolis, MN, for MOVE 2015—a weekend of teaching, worship, service and experiential learning.

This year’s theme was “Now What?” based on James 2:14-17. Students go to church, attend Bible studies, and head to camp where they’re learning what it means to become followers of Christ. But with all that input, the questions arise—“Now what? What do I do with all that I’ve learned? How do I put it into action in my community?” At MOVE, over 200 students and leaders considered what it means to take a holy risk of faith where they live.

The weekend kicked off with a worship service that featured Blue Oaks Covenant Church’s worship team, led by Nicoshia Wynn. This multi-generational group brought high-energy worship that had students on their feet. In the words of one ninth grade boy, “That was the best worship I’ve ever experienced in my life.”

Friday night’s message was brought by Cesar Castillejos, from Young Life. He challenged students to consider, “Now what? You get out of the boat, you’re here, now believe in the power and presence of Jesus and see where he calls you to go … then go.”

Before heading to bed Friday night, students spent time in Minnehaha’s hockey arena (sans ice) playing games led by the staff of Lake Beauty Bible Camp and students from Solid Rock Discipleship School. The massive space was filled with students playing Gagaball, Nine Square in the Air, and board games while chowing on pizza. Youth groups gathered to end the day to discuss what they learned and to prepare for the next day’s experiences.

On Saturday morning, youth groups fanned out to serve at 10 different organizations across the Twin Cities. They played with children at a domestic abuse shelter, cleared out insulation at a local community ministry, sorted donations at a thrift store, and cleaned several churches. This gritty servant work is deeply appreciated by the sites.

Students returned to Minnehaha that afternoon for the first-ever Shark Tank: MOVE edition. Each youth group identified a need in their community and developed a plan to deal with the challenge. Some groups dreamed about community gardens that would address the need for fresh vegetables in their communities, while others developed plans to connect with the local senior center through art.

The youth groups were coached by a “shark”—someone who was experienced in starting their own ministry or knew how to create a ministry based on community needs. For example, one shark was Dawn Anderson from Bloomington Covenant Church, who started Closet of Hope to help meet the clothing needs of that area. Another was Mike Hotz, who guides the process of awarding MicroMission Grants through Sanctuary Covenant Church.

The Evangelical Covenant Church of Bemidji won the $500 Shark Grant. Their idea: start an annual 5K “color run” to draw attention to drug dependency among adolescents in their area. The $250 People’s Choice Grant went to Crossroads Church in Woodbury, MN, for the idea of developing a peer-counseling network to address bullying and depression at their schools.

MOVE 2015 concluded with yet another powerful worship session and message from Hope Smith, Young Life leader and Sanctuary Covenant member. As Brooke Shannon from New Life Covenant Church said, “[It was] so cool for us to serve side-by-side, out of our comfort zone and for the Kingdom. For a small, rural church, what a gift to be part of the larger NWC church worshipping and serving together!”

NWC-Awaken-PosterJoin us as we host Scott Erickson and his one act “play of sorts.” Scott Erickson is an artist on staff at Imago Dei in Portland (Donald Miller’s church).

During this live art and storytelling event, Scott explores what happens when your faith doesn’t insulate you from the things you thought it would like fear, doubt, anxiety and depression. It’s his own dark night of the soul and wrestling with fear, doubt, depression and faith.

When: Sunday, April 26 @ 7pm
Where: 506 View St., Saint Paul

Suggested donation on the night of the event ($5). First 275 people who sign up are guaranteed seats.

For more info or to register, click here.

Brookdale Covenant, Community Covenant, Redeemer Covenant, The Sanctuary and the Daybreak Human Trafficking Task Force are joining together to host an anti-trafficking forum.

Brookdale Covenant Church, 5139 Brooklyn Blvd, Brooklyn Center, MN

Saturday, April 25th, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.

The sex industry is booming in the Twin Cities.

Recent research shows that the victims of sex trafficking are disproportionately girls from North Minneapolis and the near North suburbs.

As people of faith and people of the Book, we must engage.

We are called to be “Repairers of Broken Walls, Restorers of Streets with Dwellings” (Isaiah 58:12).

The work of anti-trafficking is for the whole church—women and men, youth and adults.

This work begins with us—within our families, our churches and our neighborhoods.

It’s time to come together.

Come together to gain awareness about trafficking in North Minneapolis and the near North suburbs. Come together as congregations in order to gain an understanding of the issue, and then work to create interventions in order to reclaim the dignity of our youth, our families and our neighborhoods.

Speakers include:

  • Linda EagleSpeaker, Sacred Journey Program Director, MN Indian Women’s Resource Center
  • Rev. Alika Galloway, Co-Pastor, Kwanzaa Community Church & Northside Women’s Space
  • Minister Geraldine Anderson, Trafficking Survivor
  • Sergeant Grant A. Snyder, Crimes Against Children Unit & Juvenile Trafficking Team, MPD

Gift card giveaway for youth! CEU credits available for adult professionals!

Parents & Youth Workers: This event is recommended for students in Middle School and up.

Suggested donation: FREE for students (18 and under), $10 per adult. Lunch will be provided.

RSVP by Monday, April 20 to Denise at (763) 535-6305 or defendingdignity@gmail.com. Download a flyer to promote the event in your church.

david_larsen-72Dr. David Larsen will be at Plymouth Covenant Church on the weekend of March 21-22 sharing four different messages from God’s Word on the topic “Zechariah for Today.”

Saturday 6:30 p.m. – What is holding us back?
Sunday 9:00 a.m. – The Thrust we Need
Sunday 11:00 a.m. – When Jesus Came
Sunday 6:30 p.m. – When Jesus Comes Again

Dr. Larsen was raised in Minneapolis, educated at Bethel College, Stanford University, Fuller Theological Seminary and North Park Theological Seminary. He was a pastor for 32 years (including First Covenant Church in downtown Minneapolis) before becoming the chair and professor of practical theology position at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Dr. Larsen is the author of 17 books and the Professor Emeritus of Preaching at TEDS. He loves the church and is eager to share about preaching, evangelism, pastoral theology, Christian spirituality and Bible prophecy.

Visit the Plymouth Covenant Church event page for more info.

NWC-News-CCC-Refine-Us-1.15-600x350Crossroads Church in Woodbury, MN, will host the Refine Us Marriage Conference Jan. 23-24. Northwest Conference church staff, members and attendees are welcome to register for the event.

Description: Justin and Trisha Davis, bloggers, speakers, authors of the book “Beyond Ordinary” and founders of Refine Us Ministries will be at Crossroads to share their story of marriage, and the danger of settling for ordinary. Their story will be a spring broad to help couples choose the path to the marriage God had in mind.

They cover topics such as: intimacy, truth-telling, conflict resolution, sexual intimacy, forgiveness and resentment, and living intentionally.

When: Friday, Jan. 23, 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. and Saturday, Jan. 24, 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Cost: $10 per person (email is ticket and confirmation.) Tickets are non-refundable. To register, click here.

Who Should Attend: Everyone is welcome, singles, engaged, divorced, separated, married, etc.

Please Note: There is NO childcare for the event. People with newborns can use the family room, but other arrangements should be made for childcare for children.

For more information, visit http://www.crossroadschurch.cc/connect/adults/marriage/

Hello Dolly is First Covenant Church of Saint Paul’s most recent example of our commitment to build strong partnerships with our neighborhood public schools to invest in the lives of children and youth. What started in 2006 as a collaborative experiment with Farnsworth Aerospace School elementary students and First Covenant children has expanded to include students from both campuses of Farnsworth Aerospace School and Johnson High School who perform musicals each fall and spring.

Young people learn skills in voice, dance, acting, set design and building, lighting and sound arrangement. Confidence is built as students work as a team, set and meet goals and experience success in a major production. Academic performance is also impacted as young people discover new insights about their own abilities and dare to dream of future success.

Ultimately, these partnerships are about building relationships between peers and caring adults, with the hope that these relationships pave the way to a deeper connection with the church, and provide an in-road to a relationship with Jesus Christ. It’s inspiring to see our young people not just catch a glimpse for their academic future, but also dream about how Jesus is transforming their lives. Young people have gone on to attend Covenant Pines Bible Camp, VIVE and CHIC as a part of their connection with this church community.

Please join us at any of our three performances Dec. 5 (7 p.m.), Dec. 6 (6 p.m.) or Dec. 7 (10:30 a.m.) at Johnson High School. Admission is free, we do hope that you are able to attend this inspiring and fun event for all!

Download the Hello Dolly promotional poster

Submitted By Kate Makosky, Minister to Youth + Families, First Covenant Church of Saint Paul

Redeemer Covenant Church in Brooklyn Park, MN, will host an Ebola Awareness & Prayer Service on Saturday, Oct. 18, at 6 p.m. The event will feature special guest speaker Mrs. Decontee Sawyer, the widow of Patrick Sawyer, the first American to die from Ebola. She is also a trained mental health counselor who has worked with trauma survivors.

“There have been nearly 3,000 deaths as a result of this deadly virus, but together we can make a difference! There will be a special collection taken to support our African brothers and sisters in the fight against Ebola,” according to a poster for the event, which can be downloaded here.

For more details on the event, visit http://www.redeemercov.org/index.php/upcoming-events/499-praying-for-west-africa.

NWC Gardens Pic-2 copyFirst Covenant Church in St. Paul offers a portion of their land to Urban Roots, formerly Community Design Center of Minnesota, a Saint Paul-based organization. Urban Roots employs 30 teen interns from East St. Paul to operate six neighborhood gardens and grow and sell a variety of vegetables and herbs to the community. One of these partners, Roots for the Home Team, makes this produce into salads to sell to Twins fans at Target Field.

Karmel Covenant in Princeton, MN, has operated a garden on their property for the last 5 years, a vision of former pastor Allan Johnson. All plants for this football-field sized garden are donated from Uproot Farms, a local organic nursery, then planted, cultivated and harvested by volunteers from the church. All produce is donated to the local food shelf in Isanti County.

Karmel Covenant’s garden ministry took a heartbreaking turn recently when lead volunteer and caretaker, Tom Krebs, lost his battle with cancer in June 2014. Volunteer new caretaker, Steve Anderson, said “Tom had everything laid out on paper where the plants should go. We followed that to a T and that made it pretty easy, actually.” Pastor Gary Tonn says that Krebs had a heart for feeding the hungry and the church is dedicated to carrying on this vision, naming the garden the “Tom Krebs Memorial Garden.”

Such creative use of space!

Photo caption: Donovan DeGaetano, Pastor to Children and Families from First Covenant Church in St. Paul, enjoys a salad from Roots for the Home Team at Target Field.

On Sunday, Aug. 10 at 6 p.m., First Covenant Church in Willmar, MN, will host its 14th Annual Old Fashioned Hymn Sing. Chuck Gustafson will serve as song leader for the evening and will be accompanied by musicians Don Franklin and Saralyn Olson.

“This is an opportunity for people to gather together to sing many of their old favorite hymns and choruses.  A large crowd is expected so come early and be prepared to sing with gusto to the glory of God,” reads a media release from the church.

Refreshments will follow the hymn sing service. For more information, visit fccwillmar.org.

With a theme of “Start Churches,” the 2014 Northwest Conference Annual Meetings—for both the Ministerial Association and church delegates—took place at Rochester Covenant Church in Rochester, MN, May 1-3. Conference leadership announced “50 by ’25: Our Mission to Plant,” a new initiative to plant 50 churches in the region by 2025.

“The mission field is huge … 83% of the population in our region is not attending church and needs to hear the good news,” said Mike Brown, NWC director of church planting. “We need to accelerate the pace of Church Planting to see the kind of impact we desire to see. We need to start planting some oaks in the NWC.”

Because the Church Planting process is a three-way partnership between the NWC, the Evangelical Covenant Church and local congregations, the Conference is calling on churches to consider how they might provide resources and support to see the family of God expand within its geographic region.

“Our intention is to see 50 new churches—50 mission outposts in 50 new locations—started by 2025. We need the support of our local churches to be able to plant,” Brown said. “We want to see new churches in every corner of the NWC, not just in the Twin Cities, but all across the region, because the need is huge.”

Delegates approved the full budget of $1,406,502 at the meeting’s second Business Session on Saturday morning, which includes a designated Church Planting budget of $381,560.

Friday Business Session

Gary Walter, president of the Evangelical Covenant Church, shared with delegates at both the Ministerial Association and Northwest Conference Annual Meetings via a video presentation highlighting the work of the ECC. Carol Lawson from the Department of Ordered Ministry, and David Kersten from North Park Seminary, were also in attendance.

Northwest Conference Superintendent Mark R. Stromberg shared about the many great things that churches can do when united together in service.

“We are churches that have covenanted to do life and mission together. It was never the intent for us to be completely independent and disconnected from one another. And while the local church does many things best, other things are best accomplished when we work together. The work of the Covenant, the work of the Northwest Conference, these things are worthy of your support, therefore I do not apologize for asking for it,” Stromberg said. “We need you to engage in our joint mission.”

Stromberg announced to delegates to the 2014 Annual Meeting that the 2014-15 budget includes funds to create a new, three-quarter time Director of Finance position. He also highlighted his intention to spend more time resourcing and supporting NWC staff, fortifying CHET Northwest Conference, identifying, developing, resourcing and supporting young pastoral leaders, and raising funds to build capacity for “50 ’by 25: Our Mission to Plant.”

Jon Kramka, director of congregational vitality, was joined by Keith Meyer, lead pastor of Hope Covenant Church in St. Cloud, MN, who shared how a Vitality Team has contributed to momentum and growth at his church.

“The Holy Spirit, through this process, reestablished what the mission was and healed relationships so that we could move forward. The Lord lifted our faces up,” Meyer said. “I think it’s very important that you have a commitment to this process that will last over many years. We are beginning to see answered prayer but it takes time, and a lot of work.”

Kara Stromberg, director of children & family ministry, asked attendees: “How do we help churches and families understand that the development of young people is an intergenerational opportunity?” She highlighted “Go: Serve,” a new service and learning event for NWC families with children, which took place April 26 at Redeemer Covenant Church in Brooklyn Park, MN.

Families at the event sorted 3,000 lbs. of clothing at Arc Value Village thrift store, packed enough meals to serve 63 kids for one year at Feed My Starving Children, made 600 sandwiches for the homeless through the Sandwich Project, and donated 310 lbs. of food to the Brooklyn Park area youth food shelf.

Ginny Olson, director of youth ministry, shared highlights from MOVE, a ministry service event for high school students, which took place a few weeks prior to the Annual Meeting.

“It was powerful to watch students and leaders come together and confront injustice together,” Olson said. “In this sacred space we watched as student said ‘I want to take a stand, but also I am stuck.’ This is why adults leaders are so important, to come alongside adolescents at these points in their lives.”

Olson also highlighted other NWC youth events like MUUUCE, Emerge and Adventures in Leadership, which call students to closer relationships with Christ.

Jeff Burton, director of pastoral care & development, and Judy Swanberg, associate director of pastoral care & development, gave a joint report of their work to support the “personal and professional growth of our pastors and ministry staff.” The ministry area of Pastoral Care & Development in the NWC supports over 475 church staff and other leaders, spread over four states.

“Many pastors feel the pressure of having to cover more ground, with higher expectations and yet accomplish all of this with steeper cultural incline,” Burton said. “To be able to lead, our pastors have to be an example of the healthy missional life.”

In addition to highlighting “50 ’by 25,” Mike Brown, director of church planting, shared about new churches and the strong impact they are having in the region. During Brown’s report, delegates approved recommendations from the NWC Executive Board to welcome two new churches into membership at the 2014 Evangelical Covenant Church Annual Meeting in June. The new churches include: MainStreet Covenant Church (Mound, MN) and New City Covenant Church (Edina, MN).

“Every one of these changed lives, every one of these new mission outposts, owes its existence in part, to churches like yours,” Brown said. “We need you on the team. I need you to put on your gloves and help put some seed in the ground. It’s time to plant.”

Conference leadership honored the ministry of Bethany Covenant Church, which closed in 2013, with prayer for the legacy of the church and its pastor at the time of closing, Greg Ellis.

“Courage and obedience says ‘that’ is what I would prefer, but ‘this’ is what I’m going to do,” said Superintendent Mark Stromberg as he commented on the church’s decision to close. “Sometimes God calls us to be an apple and produce seeds, and other times he calls us to drop the seeds to plant new trees.”

Minnehaha Academy President Donna Harris shared many highlights from the life and activities of the school through a video presentation. It is now entering its second century of ministry in the Name of Jesus Christ and delegates had an opportunity to be encouraged by the many ways that the school is remaining deeply connected to the broader mission of the NWC.

In addition to staff reports from the NWC, delegates to the meeting participated in the “Celebration of Mission” Ministry Fair where they had opportunity to learn about a variety of Conference and Denominational ministries and organizations.

Friday Worship Service

The worship team and choir from Rochester Covenant Church led attendees in worship during the Friday evening worship service. The 2014 Candidates for Ordination (17) and the new churches (2) joining the Covenant were also recognized and prayed for during the service. Members and attendees of the new churches joined their pastors and representatives from parent churches on stage for presentations of new church “birth certificates.” Parent churches were also given trees to serve as a reminder of what has been planted in Jesus’ name.

A special offering taken during the service raised an additional $3,200 to support the ministry of CHET Northwest Conference Conference, following a powerful word of testimony by one of its new graduates, Carlos Anzo Gonzalez.

Greg Ellis, chair of the NWC CHET Committee observed, “The Northwest Conference is doing an amazing job of supporting this ministry … a ministry to make sure that when Hispanic churches are planted, they are rooted and grounded in the Word of God, and they have the support of a loving denomination that was started by immigrants.”

Bethany Covenant Church was again honored with a special Living Legacy Litany and recognition of Greg Ellis and other church leaders present at the service.

John Teter, church planting team leader for the Evangelical Covenant Church, shared a message titled, “Church Planting in the New World.”

“As you think about your life and as you think about partnering and being a part of God’s movement here, I exhort you to suffer. … When we get to the city of God, not one of us will say I suffered too much,” Teter said. “I am utterly confidant you will see God move in ways you never dreamed. I am utterly confidant you will see this vision to plant 50 churches come to pass.”

To close the service, attendees celebrated the long history of church ministry within the Conference with “All Churches Once New.” The lights in the sanctuary were turned off, and everyone in attendance was given a flashlight to turn on as the period of time their church began was mentioned during a special reading. The end result was a room illuminated by participants’ individual lights, representing the past and future impact of starting new churches. “And so our lights shine … and so our light shines,” reflected Superintendent Mark Stromberg, prior to concluding the service with the singing of the Doxology. 

Saturday Business Session and Workshop

During Saturday’s Business Session, delegates approved a ballot that included: electing Lowell Peterson to serve another term as NWC Executive Board Chairperson, electing David Brown (Brookdale Covenant Church, Brooklyn Center, MN) and Paul Knight (Hope Covenant Church, Grand Forks, ND) to 5-year terms on the NWC Executive Board, and electing Marc Belton (Sanctuary Covenant Church, Minneapolis, MN), Steven Larson (Redeemer Covenant Church, Brooklyn Park, MN) and Bob Swanberg (Community Covenant Church, Minneapolis, MN) to 5-year terms on the Minnehaha Academy Board of Trustees, and Tom Verdoorn (First Covenant Church, St. Paul, MN) to a 3-year term. Delegates also approved the NWC and MA budgets.

Following the Business Session, Teter presented a workshop called “Church Planting in the New World.”

“People are asking in your church not, ‘Why should we make new disciples?’ They’re asking, ‘How?’ Do you have a plan? Do you have a system?” Teter challenged attendees. 

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Go-Serve-1-270Nearly 200 children and family members from throughout the Northwest Conference converged on Redeemer Covenant Church in Brooklyn Park, MN, on April 26 for NWC Family Go: Serve, a day of service and experiential learning for families.

Go: Serve is a new Northwest Conference event, designed for families with children in PreK-upper elementary school. The day was an opportunity for families to learn and grow together, in a family-friendly, yet stretching environment suitable for younger children.

The event kicked off with a visit from “supernintendo” Mark Stromberg, and an opening session that framed the day for families. Each family was given a bag with supplies they would need that day—a magnifying glass to encourage them to look more closely at the world around them, a package of Gushers so they can burst forth with the love of Christ, and a rubber band to remind them that they will feel stretched.

After the morning session, families grabbed a snack to go, then drove their own family vehicles to four different ministry sites near the church.

Serving at the ministry sites showed that even families with young kids can make a difference. Families sorted 3,000 lbs. of clothing at ARC Value Village Thrift Store, packed meals to feed 63 kids for a year at Feed My Starving Children, prepared and packaged 600 sandwiches for the homeless and collected 310 pounds of food for the Brooklyn Park Area food shelf, serving homeless youth in the Brooklyn Park area.

“After I packed food for hungry people at Feed My Starving Children, it made me not really want to eat my lunch,” said Ben (age 8).

“Serving others made me feel good in my heart,” said Baevinn (age 5).

Food was a big part of the day. After serving at their ministry sites, families were given a map and $5, with instructions to visit a local ethnic market and purchase food they would like to try. As hungry families trickled back into the church for a late lunch, the energy changed as everyone shared their food items. All ages sampled quail eggs, papaya, dragon fruit, African bread, Asian jello cups, pickled rattan shoots and assorted wafers, cookies and treats.

Families were amazed at the range of ethnic markets in the northern suburb of Minneapolis.

“I had no idea Brooklyn Park was so diverse!” said one participant.

Everyone was encouraged to reflect on the role food plays in our lives, and what it feels like to be hungry. In addition to the food families bought at the markets, Jon Villa worked with a team of volunteers to create an amazing menu of Japanese noodle stir-fry, tortilla soup and Indian daal. Children and families were encouraged to try new food that was enjoyed by people from other cultures.

After lunch, children and families added their prayer requests to the prayer wall by tracing their hands and writing a prayer request in the space, then placing their hand over someone else’s request and praying for what was on someone else’s heart. Prayers ranged from “Hungry people” to “That my brother does not be mean to me!”

Families were sent home with a passport booklet that included processing questions, additional service ideas and space for families to write their next step as they seek to live lives of service and generosity.

Mission Covenant Church in Poplar, WI, was founded on May 8, 1894. The celebreate this milestone, the church will have a special emphasis in the four weekend services May 3-4 devoted to the 120th Anniversary. 

Included in the weekend will be a slide show of the church’s history, readings from early church days’ archives, displays of church pictures and memorabilia as well as key dates, mission trips and pastoral staff that have served at the church.

In addition, there will be video testimonies of people who have come to Christ at Mission Covenant Church along with baptisms to celebrate the church’s ongoing ministry. The opportunity for fellowship and refreshments will also be a part of the weekend festivities.

All are invited to attend this celebration of what the Lord has and continues to do at Mission Covenant Church in Poplar, WI. Visit missioncovenantchurch.org

MOVE-2014-2On April 4-5, 268 students and youth workers from throughout the Northwest Conference converged on First Covenant Church in Minneapolis, MN, for MOVE 2014—a weekend of teaching, worship, service and experiential learning.

This year’s theme was “Lose Yourself,” based on Matthew 16:24-25.

The weekend kicked off with a worship service that featured a performance by hip-hop artists Urban Jerusalem, praise music by Dan Rodriguez and his band and a challenging message from Tim King, chief strategy officer at Sojourners.

King shared about his experiences at North Park University, first spending a night on the street with homeless people in Chicago, and then going back, bringing food, home cooked meals and “hanging out and sharing stories.” He said that getting a chance to serve and get to know those being served began to challenge his assumptions about homeless people.

“It’s when you begin to get to know Jesus, and when you begin to lose your life, that you begin to find it again in some unexpected places,” King shared with students during the Friday night session. “What is it that is so hard, back in your town or back in your school, that Jesus might be calling you to do?”

Before heading to bed Friday night, students spent time with their youth groups preparing for the next day’s experiences and playing games facilitated by the staff of Lake Beauty Bible Camp.

On Saturday morning, youth groups fanned out to 12 different organizations and ministry sites across the Twin Cities for three hours of service, which included painting walls at churches, bundling up old clothes for thrift stores, cleaning storage spaces, and more. This unglamorous work is deeply appreciated by the sites. Many of them look forward to MOVE to get things done that they otherwise wouldn’t have the resources to accomplish.

After students painted a high profile wall at Crosstown Covenant in Minneapolis, Pastor John Jacobi said, “This was an incredible gift of the Holy Spirit at the right time. They did high quality work.”

When one of the Crosstown parishioners asked, “Why did they do this for us?” Jacobi responded, “This is one of the many advantages of being part of a larger church body.”

Saturday afternoon students and leaders came back to First Covenant for three different learning experiences. One experience concentrated on identifying issues in students’ home communities and helping them learn how to advocate for change. Another was a video that focused on what it means to live on minimum wage for 30 days. And the third was an interactive worship experience designed by worship curator Lilly Lewin.

MOVE 2014 concluded with yet another powerful worship session and message from King, who challenged students to serve even if they were never noticed for doing so.

Daybreak-ImageThe next Daybreak Human Trafficking Awareness Forum, which will feature a student focus on identifying dating violence, alertness to trafficking risks, and making safe choices, will take place Feb. 22 from 1 to 3 p.m. at Bloomington Covenant Church.

“It is a student-focused event, so we are encouraging youth groups as well as individual students to attend,” said Bethany Abramson. “The event is not limited to students though, and like our other events we will offer CEUs for educators, nurses and social workers.”

The forum will feature experts from Cornerstone and The Dwelling Place.

The event is free for students, and there is a suggested Donation of $10 per others. To pre-register for the event, email daybreakforum@gmail.com or call 952.831.8339.

Download the event flyer

Jay Phelan, Senior Professor of Theological Studies at North Park Theological Seminary, will be at Bethlehem Covenant Church for three gatherings this month.

  • Friday, Feb. 21 from 7 to 9 p.m.
  • Saturday, Feb. 22 from 9 a.m. to Noon
  • Sunday, Feb. 23 for Adult Sunday School (9:50 a.m.) and Worship (11 a.m.).

Phelan served as President and Dean of North Park Seminary for 14 years. Previous positions also included Executive Director of Publications for the Evangelical Covenant Church.

The end times are often viewed as a strange or dangerous part of the Bible. Some seem to think only scholars or cranks could be interested in such an esoteric topic. Jay will argue that, far from being weird, eschatology (the study of last or ultimate things) is a profoundly practical discipline. Far from being marginal to the Christian faith, it is at the heart of our faith and practice.

“We’d like to invite you to be present and hear Dr. Phelan speak about the end times and how it shapes our behavior today,” a release from the church read. “Come and learn from a world-class scholar about the Christian hope.”

Bethlehem Covenant Church
3141 43rd Ave. S.
Minneapolis, MN 55406

Phone:  612-721-5768
Website:  www.bethlehemcov.org

RobAmy_AboutsmallBuffalo Covenant Church in Buffalo, MN, is hosting “God’s Grand Vision For Your Home” with author and speaker Dr. Rob Rienow, Feb. 22-23. All sessions are free. Childcare and Children’s activities available through grade 5 by reservation. Sign up with the Buffalo Covenant Church office.

Buffalo Covenant Church
1601 Highway 25 North, Buffalo MN 55313
763-682-1470
www.buffalocov.org 

Saturday, Feb. 22

9:30 to 11:30 a.m.

Never Too Late: The Prodigal Problem

This session is provided for parents of teens and adults whose children have walked away from their faith, or are questioning their faith. This is a great session for anyone who is not sure how to approach their adult kids or teens on a spiritual level. It will also offer hope and help to families who want to influence their teens and young adults to stay faithful to the truth of the Christian faith.

6 to 8 p.m.

Building Christian Worldview in your kids

A wonderful chance for parents to learn how to influence the Christian character development of their children. Worldview is how we look at life—do we view life from a Biblical, Christian perspective, or do we look at life from a human, worldly, cultural perspective? What is our first response to an event, a thought, an idea? That’s the topic for this two-hour session. This is practical, timely teaching for every parent facing the pressures of raising Christian kids in a non-Christian culture. Every parent with children or grandchildren is urged to be present.

Sunday, Feb. 23

8, 9:30 and 11 a.m.

God’s Plan for the Family in the Church.

Dr. Rienow will be speaking in all three Sunday morning services

3 to 6 p.m.

Visionary Marriage Seminar

This seminar is for married couples and those considering marriage. What does God say through the Scripture about marriage? How can couples strengthen their commitment to each other and to the Lord? How can you make your marriage stronger and better? No matter how long you have been married, no matter how good your marriage is—it can be better! Join other couples and learn how to make your marriage a “Visionary Marriage!”

PW-pic1The interns at the First Covenant / Crossroads Church in Duluth, MN, have created a Young Women’s Conference for 9th-12th grade girls. The conference will focus on areas the event creators struggled with as high school girls—in efforts prepare young women with Godly knowledge about “the lies we believe, our image and boys.”

The event is inspired by a book the group read together called, “The Lies Young Women Believe and the Truth That Sets Them Free.” The Young Women’s Conference will take place March 1, and is an all day event held at First Covenant / Crossroads Church in Duluth, MN. The day will be filled with worship, speakers, small group time, games and food. The cost for the day is $12 if registered before the Feb. 22, and $15 after Feb. 22.

For more details and to register, visit http://duluth-ywc.org.

Bloomington Covenant Church invites NWC churches to attend “the marital intimacy hierarchy” seminar presented by Linda Solie on Jan. 19. Download the promotional flyer for more information and to use to promote the event in your church. 

Lunch and childcare will be provided. Please RSVP by Jan. 12 to office@bcov.org.

VIVE-NewsSome were bleary eyed and quiet, others who had been to VIVE before, arrived bouncing with anticipation for the day. A mix of students and parents and adult leaders milled around Crosstown Covenant Church in Minneapolis with massive donuts and orange juice in hand, talking to several college representatives as they waited for the day to kick off.

This was the day where students moved closer to their dream of going to college. There were seniors who were making their final college selections, all the way to 5th and 6th graders who were starting early to plan for their futures. It was a day filled with hearing from expert college-prep coaches, inspirational speakers, recent college grads and current college students.

Students were challenged and led by former Denver Broncos player Steve Fitzhugh, as well as Richard Harris, college guidance counselor at Minnehaha Academy. Parents and leaders learned the ins and outs of preparing for college from Marcio Thompson, a financial aid counselor at University of Minnesota, and Meshia Jones, an admissions and outreach associate at North Park University. One of the highlights of the day was hearing stories about former VIVE students who were now succeeding in college and passing on their wisdom to younger students.

0927-Layettes-281x300At the Covenant Village of Golden Valley retirement community, 72-year-old Nancy Anderson and 74-year-old Jo Goodwater have been quietly mobilizing a crew of seamstresses to help folks halfway around the world and at home in Minneapolis.

In the last two and a half years, Anderson and her team have created hundreds of items for people in Democratic Republic of the Congo: 138 dresses that Congolese girls can wear to school, 66 baby layettes for newborn Congolese babies, 105 reusable surgical masks, 100 reusable surgical caps—50 for men and 50 for women who need a bit more room to accommodate their hair.

The outreach started when the Covenant Village activity staff asked Anderson, a retired consumer science teacher, to teach a class. She agreed, but noted, “The only thing I really wanted to do was something for someone else.” Many of the retired missionaries who live at Covenant Village had served in Congo, and Anderson was aware of the needs. She and her sister Jo Goodwater, also a Covenant Village resident, hatched a plan.

The schoolgirl dresses, made from used pillowcases, were the first Congolese project. After advertising the project within the Covenant Village community, collecting pillowcases from Covenant Village residents, and shopping thrift stores for pillowcases, Anderson and Goodwater soon had enough material to get started. They designated workdays. Each time, 10 to 15 volunteers came to the community’s creative arts center to cut, pin and sew. That established the procedure for future projects.

The layettes, consisting of a blanket, bonnet and shirt, came next. Anderson and her sister found flannel on sale, and the village seamstresses set to work. The sisters thought stretchable knit caps would be more useful than fabric, so they provided a pattern, knitting needles and yarn, and Covenant Village’s volunteer knitters created 200 tiny caps. Five workdays and innumerable knitting hours later, 66 layettes were ready to ship.

Surgical masks and caps were the most recent project. Anderson created patterns from disposable samples. Made of brightly colored and printed fabrics and bound with twill tape, the masks and caps are operating room supplies unlike any you’ve seen in the U.S. The bonus for Congolese surgeons low on all supplies: the masks and caps are reusable.

Anderson and Goodwater are interested in helping at home as well as overseas. Their very first project, in the summer of 2010, was 45 pairs of lined fleece mittens for the needy and homeless in Minneapolis. They repeated the effort in 2013, upping the donation to 75 pairs of mittens.

Living at a retirement community with a skilled nursing center on site, they know that nursing home residents stay cozy with lap blankets. So they mobilized the Covenant Village stitchers to create 35 lap quilts for Minneapolis-area nursing homes.

Supplies and shipping expenses could mount up for projects like these. But the sisters tapped their creativity for funds.

When their mother lived at The Holmstad, the Covenant retirement community in Batavia, Ill., they helped her make American Girl doll clothes and accessories to sell at the community’s annual Christmas bazaar. Now that they’ve moved to Covenant Village, they stitch doll clothes to sell at bazaars so they can buy needed supplies for their philanthropic sewing.

“When we were doing the pillowcase dresses, people wanted to give us money for the project,” recalls Anderson. “We didn’t want to accept donations, so we talked to the chaplains here at Covenant Village. They designated one Sunday’s collection as a postage fund for mission projects.”

“We want to help other people,” says Anderson. “And we’re trying very hard to be an asset here at Covenant Village.”

From the volume of material they’ve donated since 2010, it’s safe to say Anderson and Goodwater have achieved their first objective. When Anderson reflects on the Covenant Village sewing sessions, she’s hopeful they’re accomplishing the second as well. “We’re really concerned about building community and having people get to know one another. The work sessions have built some friendships in the community. I’ve gotten to know people better by doing this. That and Christ’s love are what keep us going.”

A lifelong Covenanter, Anderson attended Orchard Covenant Church in Springfield, Mass. Today she attends Redeemer Covenant Church in Brooklyn Park, Minn. Goodwater attends services at Covenant Village of Golden Valley.

By Colette Claxton. Copyright © 2013 The Evangelical Covenant Church.

Cov News - Crosstown WVA group of runners from Crosstown Covenant Church outpaced all others in fundraising for Team World Vision during the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon last Saturday, and one member of the congregation raised more money than any other individual.

The Crosstown team raised at least $30,000. Thirteen of the 15 congregation members finished the race, even though many of them had never done any distance running, and only four had run a marathon, which is 26.2 miles.

Team World Vision involves athletes participating in public events such as marathons or half-marathons. The humanitarian organization views the team as a way of encouraging health among the participants as well as a way to raise funds for projects.

Several Covenant churches in the area, including Faith Covenant Church in Burnsville, and First Covenant Church of St. Paul, had teams, as did Minnehaha Academy. Crosstown member Nathan Johnson led the Minnehaha team, which raised the third-most amount of funds.

Altogether World Vision raised more than $200,000, said Crosstown Pastor John Jacobi.

The Crosstown team actually had 17 members but two were unable to run due to injuries. One of them was Josh Smith, the church’s director of worship arts, who was 290 pounds at 6-foot-4-inches tall when he enlisted. During his training, he lost more than 50 pounds.

Smith told a local news outlet earlier this year that he ran because, “Kids are near and dear to my heart. I can’t imagine a 12- or 13-year-old’s (being) worried about getting abducted on the way to get water. No kid should have to make that decision. I am doing something that’s tough for me, so they don’t have to make those tough decisions.”

Other team members included a woman who was four months pregnant and a woman in her fifties who had never run a marathon.

Crosstown member Karl Palmer, also a first-time marathoner, raised the most of any participant—$5,360. As a result of that accomplishment, he will have lunch with World Vision President Rick Stearns on Oct. 18.

“I never realized there would be an opportunity to meet with Mr. Stearns for being a top fundraiser,” said Palmer. “I was mainly motivated to tell people of the need to provide clean water for people in Africa.”

Palmer far surpassed his personal goal. “I planned to just get to $1,310 so I could focus on training for the marathon. As I continued my training, I continued to tell people about running for clean water. I am very blessed to know many generous people who offered their financial support.”

Jacobi was excited that so many people from his congregation, which has an average attendance of “maybe 200,” chose to participate. “The Holy Spirit challenged people to step outside of their normative life patterns and embark on ‘something great for God.’ ”

Crosstown has sponsored 40 children through Covenant Kids Congo powered by World Vision and would have designated their funds from the marathon to that project, but the charity already had decided that all of the money would go to Zambia water projects.

Jacobi also praised team leaders Sarah and Matt Zamastil. “I had nothing to do with organizing this, which is always great for a pastor,” he said.

The marathon effort benefited the congregation as well, Jacobi said. “It brought out leadership gifts and drew people closer together.”

Copyright © 2013 The Evangelical Covenant Church.

0917-palmyra-pastors-270The 150 people attending the 125th anniversary service at Palmyra Covenant Church on Sunday, Sept. 17, far exceeded the capacity of the building, so about 60 attendees sat underneath a tent outside and watched the service on a video feed.

“It was the first multi-site service in the history of our church,” quipped pastor Steve Hoden.

People traveled from as far away as Florida, Georgia and California to celebrate with the rural congregation that serves this community of 1,200 people. Five previous pastors came with their spouses to share how the church had helped form their own ministries.

Among them was Noel Cisneros. The church was the first congregation he served, and it also allowed him to enter the Army Reserves as a chaplain. Cisneros recently retired from military service. Other former pastors attending were Scott Christensen, Rudy King, Tom Klasen, and Paul Peterson.

Mark Stromberg, superintendent of the Northwest Conference, spoke at the morning service. At an afternoon gathering Hoden spoke about how the church can continue to be a missional and healthy church in years to come.

People who also had attended the centennial anniversary said there was an aspect of Sunday’s celebration they liked far better—the weather. Twenty-five years ago, attendees suffered through temperatures that hit 105 degrees during the multi-day gathering.

“The church didn’t have central air conditioning then,” Hoden noted. The temperature barely hit 65 degrees on Sunday, Hoden said. “So they were loving it.”

Copyright © 2013 The Evangelical Covenant Church.

SCC10Sanctuary Covenant Church invites you to an evening of food, comedy and magic show, live music and both live and silent auctions on Friday, Oct. 11 at Minnehaha Academy.

Music will be provided by the Sanctuary Worship Team and the event will feature an entertainment lineup with actor, comedian and radio personality Shedrick “Shed G” Garrett and comedian and magician Devin Henderson.

“And while the music, food and comedy will be well worth the night out, the most exciting element of the night is the opportunity to create a legacy of academic achievement in our community through supporting the Efrem and Donecia Smith Young Heroes Scholarship Fund!” according to a release from the church. All proceeds beyond the cost of the event will support the Young Heroes Scholarship Fund.

Tickets are $20 per adult, $10 for youth and childcare is available for $10 as well. Learn more and register for the event.

Fresh Alaska Silver Salmon caught off shore in Nome, Alaska, is the featured entrée for a Fundraising Dinner on Tuesday, Oct. 1, at 5:30 p.m. at Bethlehem Covenant Church (3141 43rd Ave. S., Minneapolis 55406). Providing the salmon and the after-dinner presentation will be Dennis Weidler, general manager of KICY AM & FM of Nome.

Fundraising for the operation of the 50,000 watt AM station and 1,000 watt FM station brings Weidler to Minneapolis. Both stations are owned by the Evangelical Covenant Church and are staffed by volunteers. Some are long-term missionaries and the rest live and work in the community of Nome, a largely Inupiaq Eskimo community of 3,700 on the southern coast of the Seward Peninsula.

KICY AM-850, which celebrated 50 years of service on April 17, 2010, is the only radio station in the United States licensed by both the F.C.C and the International Telecommunications Union in Geneva, Switzerland, to broadcast into a foreign country in their language. Every evening from 11 p.m. to 4 a.m., the station turns their 50,000 watt signal westward and broadcasts into the Russian Far East in the Russian language.

The Russian Program Director, Luda Kinok, listened to KICY as a young girl growing up in the Chukotkan village of Sereniki. After eight years in Nome, Luda has returned to Chukotka but still provides 5 hours of Russian programming every evening via the Internet.

“It is amazing we have this kind of unique international license. Nome is only about 160 miles from the Russian mainland,” added Weidler. “When the full power of this station is turned to the west, it is equal to 200,000 watts. We have a signal from 1,500 to 3,000 miles into Russia every day.”

Most of the fundraising efforts are to offset rapidly escalating fuel costs. In Nome, a gallon of heating oil or diesel fuel costs $6.25 per gallon and is delivered by barge from the lower 48 states. All electricity is produced by diesel generators as the nearest power grid is 550 miles away, and there are no roads connecting any of the Bush Villages. In addition, no fuel can be delivered from October through May as the harbor is frozen to a depth of 4 feet. Prices are literally “frozen” for a full eight months.

For additional information, contact: J. Dennis Weidler by phone at 1-800-478-5429.

NWC-Staff-Pastoral-CareThe Northwest Conference is pleased to announce that Jeffrey Burton has been called to be director of pastoral care and development, and Judy Swanberg has been called to be associate director.

Burton and Swanberg will begin in their new positions Oct. 1 and will be formally introduced at the Conference’s Ministerial Association Fall Retreat at Sugar Lake Lodge in Grand Rapids, MN.

The new positions approved at this year’s NWC Annual Meeting are intended to provide greater encouragement and support for those serving in vocational ministry. Currently, both positions will begin on a part-time basis with the intention of each role increasing in both scale and scope over the next few years.

“It is my prayer that those serving in ministry positions in our region will feel better supported and resourced through the calling of these two individuals to specifically come alongside of them,” said Superintendent Mark R. Stromberg. “Our NWC executive board and local church delegates have made a big commitment by allocating funds in our budget for these new positions.”

The Conference is the first in the denomination with positions dedicated to a pastor’s spiritual formation and both personal and professional development.

“It would be extremely gratifying if the Northwest Conference could become known as a place where a new standard is set on what it means to both resource and support those in ministry,” Stromberg said.

Currently, Burton is serving as lead pastor at Lakeview Covenant Church in Duluth, MN. During his 35 years in pastoral ministry, Burton previously served Covenant churches in Minnesota and Florida.

Recently, he has served as a pastoral ministry coach, and has also been serving on the Co-OP (Coaching of Pastors) Management Team and PULSE Interpretation Team for the Department of Church Growth & Evangelism. He has helped lead the Northwest and Southeast conferences by serving twice on each of their executive boards. He is married to Gina, and they have two grown sons.

“Serving as a Conference executive board member, now twice for the Northwest Conference and also twice for the Southeast Conference, has been a blessing and a chance to use my gifts,” Burton said.

Swanberg recently concluded her time as chaplain at Covenant Village of Florida in the city of Plantation. She has served as a director of Christian education, a director of children’s ministry, and as a Christian formation consultant for the Central Conference and associate superintendent of the East Coast Conference. She also has served as an interim pastor, spiritual director, retreat speaker, and adjunct seminary instructor as well as on the denomination board of Ordered Ministry, North Park University Board of Trustees, and the Northwest Conference Executive Board.

“Since my mid-20s, many pastors, lay leaders, and seminarians have invited me into personal conversation and have shared deeply with me,” Swanberg said. “This call to be a listening companion, to speak the truth in love, and to encourage leaders has been affirmed over and over again, without regard to age, gender, race, denomination or theological preferences.”

Her interest in spiritual direction began more than 20 years ago, “when a friend gave me a book entitled ‘The Art of Christian Listening’ and I read for the first time about the ancient practice of spiritual direction, realizing that others had long perceived my gifts as a spiritual director.” Swanberg said she now prefers the Celtic term “soul friend.”

“Jesus as the friend who listens and shares during a limited time together while walking to Emmaus is my favorite Bible story,” she added.

Swanberg and her husband, Bob, have been married for nearly 44 years and have lived in several diverse communities. Bob retired in June 2013 after teaching middle-school social studies for 39 years. They have one adult son.

Copyright © 2013 The Evangelical Covenant Church.

On Sunday, Aug. 11 at 6 p.m., First Covenant Church in Willmar, MN, will host its 13th Annual Old Fashioned Hymn Sing. Chuck Gustafson will serve as song leader for the evening and will be accompanied by musicians Don Franklin and Saralyn Olson.

“This is an opportunity for people to gather together to sing many of their old favorite hymns and choruses.  A large crowd is expected so come early and be prepared to sing with gusto to the glory of God,” reads a media release from the church.

Refreshments will follow the hymn sing service. For more information, visit fccwillmar.org.

Torched-PianoMembers of Community Covenant Church have shed many tears surveying the destruction of their sanctuary from a blaze set by one or more arsonists on July 11.

The fire ruined everything. The electronic equipment melted. The pews, chairs, altar and baptismal were destroyed. Soot covers the walls of the entire first floor. The Covenant hymnals were soaked as firefighters fought the flames.

“But the overall sentiment is for the loss of the grand piano,” said pastor Luke Swanson. “To see the piano in ashes is devastating.”

The piano was where the arsonist or arsonists chose to use an accelerant and light the fire. That only worsens the pain for church members, Swanson said.

Twenty years ago, Community Covenant Church held a joyous service in which they blessed their new grand piano. “They had worked hard to raise the money for that piano and get it refurbished,” said Swanson. “This was a big deal for a small inner-city church.”

In the two decades since, it has been the primary instrument for the congregation. “The music has gone hand in hand with the mission for decades,” Swanson said. He points out that the congregation of 200 has a children’s choir of 65 kids.

“We like to say that you can tell if a person is doing well spiritually if they have a song in their heart,” Swanson said.

The piano was not the only part of the sanctuary the congregation had reclaimed for use. Church members found the altar in an alley after someone dumped it there.

Like the piano and altar, the lives of people have been reclaimed through the church, and the sanctuary was “a sacred space that was full of stories,” Swanson said. “There are a lot of memories in a sacred space. It’s where people have heard God’s word and God’s call.”

On Sunday, the congregation worshiped in large grass field next to the church. Among the songs they sang was “We’ve Come this Far by Faith.” Swanson said, “It’s a gospel song that has been very meaningful to our people.”

The church will continue to look to the future with the same kind of faith, he said. “No one can stop us from worshiping.”

Swanson added, “We serve a living God. What I’m told is, he’s pretty good with ashes.”

The church building will not be restored until at least October, Swanson said. Until then, the congregation will worship in a college preparatory school down the street.

On Friday night, the church held the closing picnic for its vacation Bible school in the same field where they worshiped Sunday. Joining them were members of Sanctuary Covenant Church, which had partnered in the VBS, and others. At least 250 people attended.

Swanson said his appreciation for the broader church has only grown in the fire’s aftermath. Minnehaha Academy, which is operated by the Northwest Conference, supplied a portable sound system for the Friday and Sunday events.

Numerous people from around the country have called to ask how their congregations might help, Swanson said. The church has established a relief fund. Anyone who wants to donate can send contributions to the church at 901 Humboldt Avenue North, Minneapolis, MN 55411, or visit http://givemn.razoo.com/story/Cccfirerelieffund.

Authorities continue to look for whoever set the fire, which is believed to have started some time after 11 p.m. The vandals broke in through a window.

The fire was discovered by church members who were looking for a lost key in the nearby field and saw the smoke around 11:30 p.m. “If parishioners hadn’t been looking for a key, the whole place would have gone up,” Swanson said.

Seventy percent of the congregation of Community Covenant is African American. Before setting the fire, the arsonist(s) spray-painted racial epithets on the building. “There was a lot of foul language and use of the N-word,” Swanson said.

Eight fires were set in the neighborhood that night, including to wood fences and cars. The church was the only structure on which racial remarks were scrawled, Swanson said.

Swanson said Friday that arsonists had also set fire to the building in the 1960s. “They didn’t like our congregation then, and there are people who don’t like it now.”

“As we learned this week with the children at VBS, we can stand strong in Jesus,” Swanson said Friday. “Community Covenant is united in Jesus, and we will clean up and rebuild. We will also pray for those who persecute us.”

He added, “I think the real story is we’ve been a worshiping community for 65 years in a low-income neighborhood, and we are going to continue being a worshiping community and salt and light.”

Copyright © 2013 The Evangelical Covenant Church.

Comm-Cov-Upsala-125The Community Covenant Church in Upsala, MN, is celebrating 125 years of service to the Lord. According to a church announcement, everyone is invited to celebrate in Upsala with a pie social and variety show on Saturday, July 20, at 7:30 p.m.

Following the Sunday 9:30 a.m. worship service on July 21, there will be a group photograph and a meal. On Sunday evening the church will host a bonfire and worship songs behind the church from 7 to 10 p.m.

125 years ago the Swedish Evangelical Mission Church in Upsala officially began. Prior to 1888, a large number of worshipers met in homes, barns or at the Swedback’s Store.

“In January of 1888, the believers were gathered, and the question was whether a stronger association was needed in order to perform God’s work,” read a statement form the church. “All present voted by standing up in jubilation and triumph. A congregation was thus formed.”

Download the event flyer for more information. Please let Community Covenant Church know you’re coming by calling 320-573-2672.

YancyAs part of its 2013 Vacation Bible School, Salem Covenant Church in New Brighton, MN, will host a concert with Yancy on Aug. 2 at 7 p.m. Yancy will be performing a variety of songs, including those written for “God’s Backyard Bible Camp VBS.” Samples can be found at yancynotnancy.com.

Tickets are $10 (non-refundable). For more information and to purchase tickets, please visit the Salem website (www.salemcov.org; click on VBS link) or contact the Church Office (651.633.9615).

Download the promotional poster here.

In celebration of Salem Covenant Church’s 125th Anniversary, the New Brighton, MN, church will host a Song Fest and Coffee Party (FIKA) on Sunday, June 16, at 3 p.m. Come and sing hymns, choruses, camp songs, Sunday school songs, and contemporary praise songs.

“Ken Fenton will lead us as we sing our way through the years in a concert of praise. After the singing, we will have a grand coffee party,” read a release from the church.

Anniversary coffee mugs will be available for purchase. Download the promotional flyer for more info. If you have any questions, please contact Salem’s church office (651-633-9615). Salem Covenant Church is located at 2655 5th Street NW, New Brighton.

Covenant Trust Company will host two Duluth events featuring its President Ann Wiesbrock.

On May 17 area Covenant pastors and church leadership teams are invited to a lunch at First Covenant Church in Duluth. This lunch will provide opportunity to meet Wiesbrock, hear updates on what’s new at CTC, and learn more about its mission to be a unique financial resource for you and your church community. Download the event invitation for more details.

A May 18 presentation titled “Women & Finance … Let’s Talk!” will take place at Lakeview Covenant Church in Duluth from 9:30 to 11:45 am. The presentation is designed for women of all ages and will address financial preparedness for women who find themselves the sole financial decision maker at some point in their lives. Down the event invitation for more details. 

Curt-PetersonYou are invited to join other Covenant Church pastors and mission teams who want to find out what is happening in world missions through the Covenant Church.

Lunch with Curt Peterson / Saturday, May 18, from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Curt Peterson will be at Redeemer Covenant Church for lunch and then a time of interactive sharing. There will be fresh information on the Covenant Kids Congo project, as Curt has recently returned from Africa. All Covenant churches from the Northwest Conference are invited to send their leadership and mission committees and teams. A freewill offering will be received.

Interested in attending? Contact the church office at office@redeemercov.org or calling 763-561-8769.

Worship with Curt Peterson on Pentecost Sunday / Sunday, May 19, 8:45 and 11 a.m.

Curt Peterson will be preaching at Redeemer Covenant Church both the 8:45 a.m. and 11 a.m. worship services on May 19. It is Pentecost Sunday, and our worship will make use of the varied cultural expressions that make up Redeemer Covenant Church. During the education hour, we are planning a special time of prayer and fellowship in the multipurpose room. Come on May 19 and renew the wind of the Holy Spirit in our church and in our lives as we hear how the Spirit is moving in the Covenant Church around that world!

Who is Curt Peterson and what does he do?

Since September 2003, Curt Peterson has served as executive minister of the Department of World Mission of the Evangelical Covenant Church. As executive minister, Curt oversees administration, pastor support, strategic direction and training for 135 Covenant missionaries serving in 27 countries. He travels extensively and interacts with national church leaders in these countries in order to facilitate effective partnerships in evangelism and church planting, pastoral education and leadership training, and transformational development.

Church-PlantWith a theme of “Make & Deepen Disciples,” the 2013 Northwest Conference Annual Meeting took place at Minnehaha Academy, April 26-27. The school’s Centennial year was celebrated in many ways throughout the weekend. To read about the Centennial Worship service, read the Covenant Newswire story.

Dr. Donna Harris, president of Minnehaha Academy, welcomed delegates and attendees and shared how integral the Northwest Conference was in the school’s formation.

MA senior, Rebecca Lundberg, also greet