NWC Q2 2024 Superintendent Kara Stromberg Update

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.

 

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

The UNITE North high school conference drew over 750 students and leaders from across the upper Midwest and Canada to Bethel University in Arden Hills, MN, July 14-17, to hear about the life-changing message of God.

“After the last four days of observation, and conversations and worship with students, I have so much hope for the future and the Church,” said Chris Kelly, Youth Pastor at Linwood Covenant in Wyoming, MN. “Students love Jesus!”

With dynamic speakers, worship music and engaging workshops, these teenagers grew in their faith and learned how they can impact the world for Jesus.

“There is hope! There is hope!” The cries of Bob Lenz rang through the auditorium on Sunday morning as hundreds of students and leaders stood to their feet in response to a call to discipleship. While we are besieged by news of teenagers walking away from God and the Church, this group was committing to let Jesus be in charge of their lives, to be held accountable and to get into the Bible daily.

This followed on the heels of Saturday night, where Terrence Talley challenged students to respond to the Gospel and 200 stood to commit to following Jesus, some for the very first time.

Welcome Party

UNITE North kicked off on Thursday with a massive Welcome Party. As music filled the air, students and leaders were greeted with a rock-climbing wall, inflatables, a community art wall where students used spray paint to create and express themselves, a tent where they could paint their own T-Shirt, lawn games and mini-golf, as well as hamburgers, sno-cones, cotton candy and popcorn.

MainStage

MainStage was a huge part of UNITE North. These morning and evening sessions were held in Bethel’s Benson Great Hall and marked by worship, speakers and artists. The UNITE North worship team created a holy space as students worshiped with perhaps the largest group they had been with in almost two-and-a-half years.

Cortland Pickens and the KNOWN choir, Candice Wynn and the Skit Guys were the featured artists the first night. The rest of the week, students heard from Laurel Bunker, Brannon Shortt, Terrence Lee Talley and Bob Lenz.

“God doesn’t want us to disqualify ourselves when God has already prequalified us for the next leg of the journey,” Wynn shared in her MainStage talk.

On Friday night, there was an incredible concert with Colton Dixon, from American Idol fame. As authentic off-stage as he was on, he stayed late into the night signing autographs and taking pictures with students.

After MainStage, youth groups gathered all over campus to talk about what they had learned and experienced throughout the day.

Melinda Fisher, Youth Director at New Day Covenant in Rochester, MN, said, “The conversations that we had during our small group time will likely stay with me forever. They were these beautifully sacred moments where I could see God actively forming hearts right in front of me.”

Experiential Learning

During the day at UNITE North, there were lots of opportunities for experiential learning. There were breakout seminars in the morning where students packed rooms to find out about their own or their friend’s mental health issues, reimagined Scripture with Theater for the Thirsty, explored the connections between the Old and New Testament in “Battle Royale,” learned how to share their faith in the Bless seminar, heard God’s call to live out the multiethnic kingdom, were challenged to listen and notice God’s movement, or practiced to be part of the UNITE North Worship Choir that performed Saturday night.

In the afternoons, students could head to Learning Labs where they heard about immigration stories and visited the Hmong market, or served by painting a house or weeding a garden. Some went to the world-renowned restaurant Owamni by The Sioux Chef and learned about native food practices and had a chance to eat buffalo tacos.

Others spent the afternoon on Excursions to Wild Mountain’s water park and alpine slides, or hiked at Afton State Park, or tried their hand at indoor sky diving or paintball.

Some students stayed on campus and competed in tournaments, played disc golf or watched the Family Camp movie, while others explored Sacred Space—a huge room filled with all sorts of creative spiritual practices designed to help people slow down and reflect on God’s work in their lives and the world.

“UNITE North was one of the best experiences I have ever had. I had fun, met lots of great people, and furthered my relationship with God in new and creative ways,” said a student named Aquiliana. “UNITE North was a wonderful adventure and I am so thankful that I was able to attend.”

UNITE North Team

UNITE North was created to fill the need for a large gathering event for high school students. This was after the Evangelical Covenant Church decided to postpone and then cancel the national UNITE (previously CHIC) due to COVID concerns. The ECC had been pondering whether it was time for regional high school events and it was clear, now was the time to test out that idea. Thus was born UNITE North (for churches in the upper Midwest and Canada), UNITE West (for churches from Alaska to California), UNITE East, Engage (Midwest Conference), and Serve Together (Central Conference).

“Our singular prayer was that UNITE North would be a catalyst for Christ-like transformation in the lives of students. Over four days, students heard from amazing communicators and participated in numerous faith forming activities,” said Brian Zahasky,  Chair of the planning team and Lead Pastor at Hope Covenant Church, St. Cloud, MN. “All of this culminated with over 200 students standing up on Saturday evening as an act of response to Jesus and a commitment to live for Jesus. To God be the glory.”

The planning team of UNITE North, with the exception of Ginny Olson and Bryan Malley (NWC staff members), was made up of people from local Covenant churches, many of whom had served on CHIC councils. As previously mentioned, Zahasky chaired the planning team. Erik Anderson was the producer. Also serving were Jessa Anderson, Michelle Beilby, Josh Danielson, Kevin Farmer, Mary Kate Fretheim, Katie Friesen-Smith, Sarah Hazledine, Rachel Jacobs and Paulita Todhunter.

Scores of people volunteered which was critical in an event of this magnitude. People put in long hours, serving in areas like medical services, the sensory room, security, prayer, photography, helping at the Welcome Party and much, much more.

“The gift of being able to gather for an event like UNITE North was an answer to prayers. Our students and leaders left this conference feeling filled and encouraged,” said Rick Penner, Student Ministries Pastor at Nelson Covenant Church (Canada). “The planning team did an outstanding job in building an intentional experience of encounter with Christ.”

In the words of one student, when they were asked what their favorite part of the week was: “Everything. I just don’t want this to end.”

Once again, we are celebrating the completion of our Adventures In Leadership (AIL) Program by 13 NWC high school students. The week-long event took place June 11-18 and its impact was recognized by the students.

How does it work? Through an intentional partnership between the Northwest Conference and Adventurous Christians. Together we facilitate an eight-day experiential learning adventure in Christian leadership with a defining tagline of: “Servanthood is the beginning and end of Christian leadership!”

We frame the experience in three sections. The first two-and-a-half days involve a base camp training pathway to sharpen both leadership insights, competencies and potentials for each student, along with the necessary 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. The canoe trip serves as a wilderness learning laboratory for the students by leveraging the required team dynamics, physical effort and unpredictable elements of wilderness canoeing/camping to maximize leadership growth opportunities from the experience.

By design we provide each student with the chance to lead their group for a portion of the trip in order to personally practice, test and evaluate with their peers what they have been learning about leadership.

The final 24 hours of AIL is dedicated to debriefing the experience and exploring what God may be preparing each student for in the coming weeks and months as leaders.

And speaking of impact, here’s what some of the students had to say:

“I so appreciated all the lessons on leadership provided through AIL. Growth and learning don’t just stop. I need to learn and apply new things daily.” – Dana

“AIL far exceeded my expectations. It was a lot more fun, exciting and meaningful than I expected. I gained greater confidence and a deeper relationship with God through it.” – Noah

“I learned that I am so much stronger than I think I am. I also learned that leadership isn’t all about being the loud, outgoing one. You can be an introvert and be a leader, too.” – Grace

“This program has one purpose: to make Christ-centered leaders. And the program accomplishes its purpose wonderfully.” – Dan

“AIL reinforced how the Bible should be a part of our everyday life and leadership.” – Rosemond

“This experience was great! The leadership training was very good and helped me get a better understanding of myself as a leader. I thought the daily journaling was really beneficial as well.” – Carter

We praise God for His continued hand of protection and blessing upon this unique journey we provide student leaders in our Conference. Congratulations again to our AIL Class of 22!

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.

 

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.

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

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

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.

God is at work among us, and we can see more evidence of that. In times of enormous challenges, we need the hope that only Jesus can provide. And that’s why we continue to plant churches.

On Saturday, Aug. 21, several Latino pastors from our region gathered at Bear Creek Christian Church in Rochester, MN, to celebrate the official launch of the eighth Latino church in our Conference. Our newest member of the NWC family is “En Su Presencia Ministerios Covenant,” led by Pastor Edgar and Lucia Ardón.

People from everywhere gathered to celebrate the launch of “En Su Presencia” that evening. It was a night full of worship, testimonies, inspiration and consecration that ended with a fellowship meal.

This church plant is the fruit of a journey that was initiated in conversations about two years ago. After going through the 18-month process of becoming church planters, Edgar and Lucia signed the Covenant Agreement at the Annual Meeting and started preparing for the big day.

We believe that every time we plant a healthy missional church:

  • people are reached,
  • lives are transformed,
  • communities are changed,
  • compassion is unleashed,
  • and the world has hope.

Please keep this new congregation in your prayers as they embark on a fantastic journey with us.

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.

Dear NWC Sisters and Brothers,

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I pray that this summer season is providing some time of respite even as I know that many of you are anticipating the upcoming school year and accompanying opportunities within your churches and ministries.

I have been truly blessed to serve at the Northwest Conference office since April of 2001. I am amazed as I look out at the Minnehaha Academy soccer field and realize that those who will be seniors this year were still a few years away from being born when I arrived! While I do not feel all that different from when I began, the years have certainly passed by quickly and the times have changed dramatically.

I have had the privilege of serving the Conference during times of great blessing and times of tremendous challenge. At last count, I have worked with almost 120 Pastoral Search Committees! This should give you an indication of just how long I have been involved in the broader ministry of our region.

I served as the Director of Administration and Church Development under Superintendent Paul Erickson, then as the Associate Superintendent with Superintendent Jim Fretheim. And now, I have served as the NWC Superintendent for the past 10 years. As I reflect back on my time in these roles, I am grateful for the many wonderful experiences that I have had…and for the many deep personal relationships that have developed through the years.

And yet, time and tide wait for no man. As such, it has been my increasing discernment that my time as NWC Superintendent is drawing to a close. Thus, I have alerted NWC Board Chair Jim Volling, ECC President John Wenrich, the NWC staff and the Council of Superintendents that I intend to conclude my service on June 30, 2022.

Over this next year, the Northwest Conference Executive Board will serve as the Superintendent Search Committee, along with President John Wenrich. A nominee will then be announced and will be up for election at the Northwest Conference Annual Meeting at Minnehaha Academy next April. Following this, the Superintendent-elect will be installed at the Covenant Annual Meeting next June in Kansas City.

As this process takes the better part of a year, it was my judgement that this disclosure was best to do now in order to allow the proper amount of time for the search of my successor to take place.

Once again, I am grateful to my Lord and to you for the opportunity to serve in this role. I have sought to be faithful in my calling and obedient to God’s leading, living into the vows and promises I made when being granted this position. If I have done anything well, I attribute it to the grace of God in my life. In the ways I have fallen short, I ask for your gracious forgiveness.

May God bless you as you serve Him and remain faithful to His Word.

Sincerely,

Mark R. Stromberg
Superintendent, Northwest Conference

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.”

“A very formative, bonding experience that focuses on the growth of character and the ways you become a leader like Jesus.” — Avary, MALA participant

In 2020, Minnehaha Academy (MA) launched its newly formed three-year Leadership Institute. The Leadership Institute exists to develop servant leaders who use their gifts to glorify God and bring good to their neighbor.

The Institute offers a leadership pathway through three distinct cohorts (Fellows, Athletes, Community) providing participants opportunities to explore leadership within the faith framework and further develop as leaders through practical leadership experiences and mentorship opportunities.

The Fellows Leadership Cohort is a three-year discipleship training program. Students participate in a weekly breakfast meeting where they learn about servant leadership and the life of Christian faith. The three-year commitment is comprised of the following development:

  • Year 1: Encountering Jesus – Understanding God’s Way of Servant Leadership
  • Year 2: Encountering Myself – Understanding Who God Made Me
  • Year 3: Encountering My Calling – Understanding Vocation & Cultivating My Potential

At the end of year one, students are also given the opportunity to attend a summer leadership training trip—now known as The Minnehaha Academy Leadership Adventure (MALA).

“This was an experience that I did not want to leave. Everything about it made me grow as a person and a follower of Christ, from the portages to the sunset, to quiet times at the end of the day.” – Lily, MALA participant

The inaugural MALA took place June 28 to July 2. Thirteen of the first-year fellows chose to participate. MALA was based on elements of the Northwest Conference’s Adventures In Leadership model. And in partnership with Adventurous Christians, MALA was also facilitated by NWC and AC leadership. The outcome: God again blessed and used this experience profoundly, this time with the MA students.

David Hoffner, Executive Director Faith Formation at MA, offered this reflection on the experience: “The first ever MALA experience was a huge success in forming whole and holy servant leaders. The students gained deep experiential insights into the practice of leadership, who Jesus is and going deeper as a community. The lessons learned by our students will be cherished for their lifetimes, and I’m excited to see the ways that the Lord will use this experience for His glory and the good of others. We’re grateful for the partnership of the NWC and AC in making this possible.”

Other students shared additional reflections on the experience:

“The MA Leadership Adventure is something that will push you and help you grow in your faith and your servant leadership.” – Anneka, MALA participant

“With this experience, it gives you a chance to slow down to learn more about leadership, God and yourself.” – Liam, MALA participant

This trip really changed my perspective on leadership as well as what it can be like to camp and work with others. Teamwork was so important on this trip, and many people stepped in when needed and led when they could.” – Abby, MALA participant

“The MA Leadership Adventure has been eye-opening in many ways. Not only did we learn about what servant leadership looks like and what it requires, but a big part we focused on was Jesus’ time on earth and the suffering and actions He took to be a servant leader.” – John, MALA participant

In the words of Hoffner again, we look forward to seeing the ways that the Lord will use this experience for His glory and the good of others through these students and future students as well.

As we peruse the biblical narrative, something we observe is how God has used the wilderness as a dynamic molder of leaders. For example, consider the stories of Elijah, David, John the Baptist and Jesus. Through God’s sovereignty, each of these leaders experienced the wilderness as a profound encounter with God and formational place in their lives.

So what is it about the wilderness that uniquely stages the potential transformation of a person? This space that is primarily uninhabited, uncontrollable, unpredictable, desolate, wild, removed from the “normal,” and yet remains under the steady care and presence of God.

David Collins suggests the following: “The wilderness is spiritually formative because it creates a setting where the comforts of life are stripped away, and you are placed in a more discomforting space. And it is in this disorientated space where the individual is more sensitized to new revelations and personal growth opportunities. Because in God’s creation you can slow down and reflect. You have time to let go of, disconnect from the worries of life and to rest. It’s also where, coupled with the wilderness vulnerability and discomfort, one finds it difficult to not let go of control and place God at the center of their life again.”

Since 1991, the Northwest Conference has tapped into this same wilderness potential in the forming of young emerging leaders from our churches. Yes, it was 30 years ago that Adventures In Leadership (AIL) was born. And this past month, we took this journey again with 13 NWC high school students and once again saw God do His transforming work. Truly, through our partnership with Adventures Christians over the years, this eight-day journey in Christian leadership continues to be a testimony of God at work in our students and a privileged space that we are humbled and honored to share in.

So what did the students have to say?

I spent a little over a week learning about who I am, who I can be and who God wants me to be. Then I was challenged in all of this by being thrown into the wilderness, and it was a perfect way for me to try out everything I had learned and find out actually what it is to lead.” – Lydia

“I would say that this experience completely blew my expectations away and I was very amazed! On the canoe trip I learned that through the ‘rapids of life’ we can stand together as a team.” – Corbin

“AIL is an awesome experience. I made great connections, furthered my relationship with God, and grew as a leader. This was a great space to disconnect from the outside world and truly grow.” – Lily

“AIL is a unique experience. I didn’t expect to connect with God as much as I did, and it was amazing. I built unbelievable relationships with my peers as well. I learned leadership skills and discovered talents that will help me in the future. It’s an eye-opening experience.” – Audrey

Praise God and may He bless this Adventure In Leadership for 30 more years!

The Northwest Conference was blessed to be able to share in the signing of Covenant Agreements for two new church plants at Gather 2021. Gather is the Evangelical Covenant Church annual meeting.

A Covenant Agreement signals the official start of a brand new church. The two churches that were started at Gather were, En Su Presencia Ministerios Covenant Church in Rochester, MN, with Co-Pastors Edgar and Lucia Ardon, and Catalyst Covenant White Bear Lake in White Bear Lake, MN, with Co-Pastors Cindy and Cory Jones.

The Ardon’s are very excited to be planting with the ECC. Mauricio Dell’Arciprete, the NWC Director of Latino Ministries, has been walking with them as they have gone through our planting process.

The Jones’s are planting a Catalyst network church. Catalyst Covenant in St. Paul, MN, with Pastor Jeff Olson, is the hub church they are partnering with. Jeff is also a Church Planting Associate with the NWC and has been working with the Jones’s to get them to this point.

We also recently signed a Covenant Agreement to plant a new church with Pastor Chris Auer of Risen Life Covenant Church. Risen Life will meet in the northwest metro, but a location has not been identified yet.

The planters of all three churches were recommended to plant through the ECC Assessment Center and completed the six-month Church Planter Training Course.

We are praising God that even through COVID, He continues to raise up gifted and called pastors for the mission field of church planting. Please be in prayer for these new churches as they do evangelism, gather people, work toward a unified vision, work toward developing ministry teams, develop leaders, disciple those God will bring, look for places to meet, plan for public worship, get equipment, raise funds and create a culture of stewardship, and equip folks to go out and share their faith.

It is a big call, but God is faithful to do what only He can do.

By Mike Brown, NWC Director of Church Planting

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.

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.

“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

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.

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

It seems like there is no end to the reasons we have to express sorrow and dismay at “man’s inhumanity to man” as we witness the continued display of racially charged actions all around us. In seeing what has been taking place, particularly in the San Francisco Bay area relative to violence against Asian-Americans, my heart weighs very heavy to the point of tears.

Saying, “I’m so sorry” is trite … but I am, truly. In fact, I have felt sick to my stomach as I have watched some of the footage of what has taken place, particularly toward the elderly within the Asian-American community. Such raw disregard for life … such irrational hatred and contempt! It is truly sickening …

I will readily confess that my heart is not only heavy with sorrow, but my natural-man instincts are not particularly Christ-like right now. Candidly, I would like to see severe punishment inflicted upon those who perpetrate such violence against those who are vulnerable … particularly upon those who deserve our care, honor and respect.

I pray that we can all agree that such despicable actions are demonic and worthy of our strongest condemnation. I also pray that we will be paying attention to what is taking place and offer words of care and encouragement to our Asian-American sisters and brothers in Christ, but also to work associates, neighbors and other friends who have been jarred by this display of hostility toward those sharing the same ethnicity. Are we paying attention? Are we showing love?

Pacific Northwest Conference Superintendent, Greg Yee, has shared a moving reflection about recent events. I would encourage you to read what he has written here: Heavy Hearted this New Year.

Further, the Rev. Mary Chung March, NWC Pastor and President of the Covenant Asian Pastors Association (CAPA) and the Mosaic (Ethnic) Commission for the ECC, along with her husband, Rev. John March, shared a video this past weekend with their congregation at New City Covenant Church (Edina). I would encourage you to watch what they shared at: Beneath the Cross – Reflection on Anti-Asian Elder Abuse.

As Mary reflected in an email to me and also reiterated in the video:

“Someone asked me, ‘What do we do?’ There are so many things people can do (learn the history and read books of Asians in America, watch some YouTube videos or documentaries, get onsite and become friends with more Asians, sign petitions to stop AAPI Hate (Asian American Pacific Islander). But if that feels too overwhelming, I think if one just answers the following question, it is a start. ‘If your grandma or my grandpa was kicked in the face or as s/he walked the streets of her/his own neighborhood, someone shoved them down. What would you do? What would you do to make sure that couldn’t happen again?’ You would speak up, demand change, and show up for them as family does.”

Dear friends, how are we showing up for those within our family of Asian descent?

By Mark R. Stromberg, Superintendent

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

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.

“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.

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

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

 

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.

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

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.

Dear Friends in Christ (May 28, 2020),

As we have engaged with many NWC churches over the past few months, we have heard stories of how they are navigating the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on congregational life.

Many churches have been pleasantly surprised that giving and online attendance have been stable. In other conversations, we have heard that giving is actually increasing and online participation remains strong. We are also hearing of people committing their lives to Jesus Christ. Further, many of our NWC churches have not found it necessary to tap whatever reserves they might have. For all these things we give glory to God, and we pray that these churches may continue to experience fruitful ministry.

However, we have also been hearing stories from some NWC churches that are more discouraging, particularly among those led by bi-vocational pastors and/or many of our ethnic congregations.

For some there is an increased challenge as the pastor is dependent on another job for his/her primary income. Some of these pastors are now unemployed or unable to work, leaving families with little coming in. In fact, we have heard stories of some clergy who are struggling to simply purchase groceries and provide the basic necessities for their families or members of their congregations. We have heard stories of families unable to pay rent, utilities and medical bills. We continue to pray for these churches and pastors, as well.

Yet, we have wanted to do more, so the NWC has already come alongside some of these pastors and churches with financial assistance from a variety of sources. However, while we have been able to provide some help to meet these urgent needs, in many cases, it is simply not enough. This is especially true as the needs will continue for the foreseeable future.

How can you help?

If your congregation is doing well, would you be willing to provide some direct assistance to a pastor and congregation that is in need? We hope that those blessed with many “loaves of bread” would be willing to share with a church that does not even have one.

Our role at the NWC office would simply be to match your church with another church and pastor that are struggling. While it would involve providing financial help, your church may also be able to assist in lending a helping hand in some other tangible way.

If your church would be willing to partner with a church in need, please contact the Northwest Conference office and we will connect you with a ministry and pastor that could really use your help.

Sincerely,

Mark R. Stromberg,
Superintendent

Mike Brown,
Director of Church Planting

Dear Northwest Conference Sisters and Brothers in Christ Jesus (May 27, 2020),

There are moments when it is difficult to know what to say as leaders. Many of us find ourselves in such a moment as we try to comprehend the terrible circumstance that led to the senseless taking of George Floyd’s life in Minneapolis just two days ago. And this, following the heinous murder of Ahmaud Arbery in recent weeks. And the life before that … and the one before that …

Yes, it is hard to know what to say. After all, words are just words if not followed up by actions.

However, to say nothing can also be understood to be saying something, even if unintended. Therefore, this tragic loss of life and the injustice these recent events illustrate cannot be ignored or explained away. Actually, these have never been things to explain away, though sometimes some of us may have tried to do so.

What will it take before we fall on our knees before God and plead for forgiveness? How long will it take? We can no longer say that it is always the “other guy” who is responsible for these reprehensible deeds. For even as we bear responsibility for the nailing of Jesus to the tree, we bear responsibility as part of “Adam’s race” for the dehumanization and mistreatment of others for whom Christ died; for those we are called to love.

I know that I am not alone in feeling heart-sick today, but also feeling a bit helpless. I don’t always know where to turn to or what to do with my thoughts or feelings, lest I do or say something that adds further pain, though unintended. However, on behalf of all of us on the Northwest Conference staff, I express deep sorrow for the pain and dismay that our sisters and brothers of color are experiencing as we know that these are both deeply felt and justified.

We also cannot continue to say that we are “in It together,” unless we are also willing to be in “all of it together.” Our togetherness cannot only remain so long as it serves our own self-interest, without regard to how it is impacting those we claim to love. After all, we are reminded in Scripture that when one part of the body suffers, we all suffer. Or do we?

Personally, I am sorry for not suffering enough alongside those of you that do. I am sorry for the blatant disregard of those in our own communities that have not been given equal treatment or respect as men and women, boys and girls created in the image of God and the nobility that suggests. I am especially sorry for the burdens born by our African-American sisters and brothers at this time, though this is nothing new … just more of the same … tragically.

We have to do more, and we have to do better as the people of God.

Merciful Lord, we are weak but You are strong. We are burdened with grief; our hearts are heavy, our spirits are crushed. Be our strength in times of weakness. Be our shelter from the storm. Be especially near and dear to our African-American sisters and brothers on this day as they feel the weight of this latest tragedy most acutely. Be their rock and shield. Forgive the rest of us for the times we have turned a blind eye to the injustices facing so many in communities of color. Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. AMEN.

Mark R. Stromberg,
NWC Superintendent

Dear NWC Sisters and Brothers in Christ (May 15, 2020),

I pray this letter finds you healthy and finding a sustainable rhythm in this time of disequilibrium and change. Please know that our pastors, churches and affiliate ministries remain in our prayers on a regular basis.

As the weeks go by we know that there are many in our midst who are growing increasingly anxious by our present circumstances and the restrictions that we are all experiencing—both personally and in our shared lives together. We also know that there are differing opinions, some held strongly, which stand in stark contrast. This has further led to levels of deep frustration for some. This should not come as a surprise to any of us and as a result, we are receiving more inquiries seeking guidance and direction.

I would like to share a few high-level considerations as we move toward the summer months. While this is not exhaustive, I hope that you find these helpful. While none of this can be mandated by NWC leadership, I believe that they do represent wise and prudent counsel.

  • The NWC and ECC strongly encourage our churches to continue to follow the guidelines and recommendations of both federal and state officials regarding any stay-at-home directives. Further, we hope that we would continue to be good and conscientious citizens by following the safe practices being promoted by our leaders.
  • Please resist the impulse to read in to our present circumstances any “conspiracy” interpretation. At this time, it is important to discipline our thinking and to not ascribe malicious intent to any action or perspective with which we disagree. Please seek to give others the benefit of the doubt.
  • Remain realistic in your expectations. We will likely experience ebbs and flows in the months ahead.
  • Be sure that you continue to read the current information available on steps leading to re-opening, whenever that might occur. You will find some of these resources on the NWC website at northwestconference.org.
  • Related to this, invite other leaders in your church to sign up for the NWC weekly electronic UPDATE to stay abreast of unfolding information. In order to do so, please contact Cheryl Theilen at the NWC office, or click here.
  • When the time comes that churches can gather for worship and other activities, be sure that you are able to do what is necessary before you make the decision to meet corporately. Count the cost versus the benefits to your congregation. Are you truly able to provide a safe environment for your people?
  • Evaluate whether the quality of what you can do in person is, at least, as good as what you are able to provide electronically.
  • Related to the above, please be aware that when you are able to meet in person, things will most likely not feel the same as they did pre-COVID-19. This will be important to keep in mind lest we express our sense of grief and loss in ways that are counter-productive. An example of this might be to blame pastors or lay leaders for worship experiences that do not “feel” the same as prior to the pandemic. Be self-aware enough to handle your personal emotions in appropriate ways.
  • Consider ways that you can especially care for those most vulnerable in your congregation. Opening prematurely, even if allowable, could place your elderly population at great risk as many of these older saints may be the very ones who will feel the most obliged to come back to church once it reopens. Please watch out for those who may need the most encouragement to continue social distancing.
  • For many of our churches, a new online ministry opportunity has unfolded. Think carefully about what your church needs to do with your online presence, both for people from outside of your church who have been tuning in as well as for your own congregants who may need to continue to shelter in place.

While there is much more that could be stated, I hope that you continue to move sensibly and use good judgment as events unfold and restrictions are loosened. Certainly, while we can provide some guidance, it is the responsibility of each church to stay informed on current developments.

I would invite you to click on the following link to access some strategic considerations relative to reopening your church. This brief PowerPoint (Reopening Process Strategies) is adapted with permission from Howard Burgoyne, East Coast Conference Superintendent.

Certainly there are many logistical things to consider and great discernment is needed. However, as NWC Superintendent I am also concerned with the manner in which decisions are made and the spirit of unity that will allow congregations to thrive in the midst of these anxious and challenging days.

May God provide both wisdom and the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit as your congregation moves into a future known only to Him.

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:37-39).

Sincerely in Christ,

Mark R. Stromberg
Superintendent

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

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

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

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.

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!

A very extensive Lily Endowment project, called “Clergy, Ministry Life and Wellbeing,” has been going on since 2011. The lead researchers are Matt Bloom of the University of Notre Dame and Chris Adams of Azusa Pacific University.

The project has included 400 extensive face-to-face interviews and now over 12,000 on line participants across a broad range of denominations. There are a lot of findings that are coming out of this project but one sentence captured my attention and the attention of our newly formed Ministerial Care and Development Committee:

“Clergy is the only helping profession we have studied in which wellbeing declines over one’s career in ministry.”

That is something we certainly want to address. For denominations that have over 400 participants in the study, particular results for your group are provided. The ECC reached that threshold of participation earlier this year and the preliminary findings are being assessed for our denomination.

Of the four main criteria evaluated in the project, Covenant pastors had the lowest scores in resilience:

  • The capacity to adapt, adjust and change
  • Our ability to respond effectively to life’s challenges and crisis and not to be diminished or damaged by such experiences

Stress is not unique to pastors, but the common ways to address stress provide some unique challenges for pastors.

For example, an important recovery experience to make you more resilient to stress is complete mental detachment from your work. Ideally, that should occur every day for a brief period of time.

For a local church pastor the experience of complete detachment is often more like a small business owner trying to detach from their work. It can be done, but it is not a natural or comfortable posture because the work is intertwined with all of the rest of your life.

While the daily detachment for a short period of time is very difficult, the weekly detachment of a protected day off, the annual detachment of vacation and the periodic detachment of a longer ministerial renewal leave or sabbatical become integral to flourishing in ministry.

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.

It’s been said that finding the right person is the most important indicator of how fruitful a ministry will be. The next most important determinate, I believe, is coaching

On Aug. 14-16, the Evangelical Covenant Church hosted Dr. Keith Webb, author of “The Coach Model” and the CEO of Creative Results Management, to lead our new emphasis on coaching. The Directors of Church Planting and church planters from around the U.S. and Canada gathered at the Covenant offices in Chicago to learn from Webb and practice developing good coaching skills. Good coaching involves learning to listen well, and ask the right kinds of questions that allow the individual to create their own action steps to the issues they are facing in their ministry.

The hope is to roll out this coaching model at all levels of the ECC. Developing coaches will allow us to scale our Church Planting efforts, and to plant more churches that are better supported and resourced.

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 newest ministerial affinity group in the Northwest Conference is the Interim Pastor’s Connection. The Covenant, along with many other denominations, is experiencing unprecedented numbers of pastoral transitions. In the NWC we are seeing more than double the number of pastoral transitions than have been typical in years past.

When such transitions occur, the Conference staff becomes involved in walking with both churches and pastors. Such times are filled with a mixture of emotions—grieving what is being lost and also anticipating what is to come.

Such liminal moments are unsettling and at times vulnerable. In most cases, before we ever begin to help guide the process of finding the next pastor, we are called on to help fill an immediate need for what we have traditionally called an “interim pastor.”

Such pastors can be full-time or part-time, and their roles can be quite different based on the unique church setting and place. We currently have 10 pastors actively serving in interim roles in our Conference. They are a very diverse group of pastors, each with unique skills and stories.

It might surprise you to know that only three of those 10 are pastors who are serving in retirement. Some are serving as interim pastor but have other jobs as well. Others are serving churches in transition while they themselves are in transition from one assignment to the next. Some are very experienced at the role of interim, having served in many churches in that role, and others are serving in that role for the first time—and even serving for the first time as a lead or solo pastor.

Because of the large number and diversity of experiences in the role, we have started an Interim Pastor’s Connection. We meet monthly at the Conference office for the purpose of providing support, encouragement and connection.

At the most recent Midwinter Conference, the Covenant piloted a training program for “Transitional Pastors,” the newer term being used to describe the role. This training identifies three broad categories that transitional pastors operate in:

  • Those called to maintain
  • Those called to maintain and do some remodeling of systems and ministries
  • Those called to maintain, remodel and to guide in critical moment discussions about the future

We are blessed to have such a deep pool of possible servants for these key roles.

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!

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!

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.

 

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!”

“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/

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.

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.

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 greeted meeting attendees and shared, “Without the support of this school, I would not be the person I am today, and I am truly grateful for the many ways in which the Covenant Church has invested to make Minnehaha possible.”

Throughout the weekend, meeting attendees and delegates were invited to tour both of the school’s campuses, the Alumni House, and the recently updated Northwest Conference office.

Friday Business Session

Gary Walter, president of the Evangelical Covenant Church, participated in many aspects of both the Ministerial Association and Northwest Conference Annual Meetings, including a report during Friday’s business session. Walter announced the recent contribution of $25 million worth of medicine by a British aid organization to the denomination’s Covenant Kids Congo initiative.

Northwest Conference Superintendent Mark R. Stromberg shared about the many things that churches can do when united together in service.

“It is an honor to serve our churches, to spend time with our churches, and to spend time with so many of you,” Stromberg said. “In the many ways we serve you, and in the many ways we unite churches together, these endeavors are worthy of your support.”

Stromberg announced to delegates to the 2013 Annual Meeting that the 2013-14 budget includes funds to create two new part-time staff positions, a Director of Pastoral Care and Development, and an Associate Director of Pastoral Care and Development.

“It is our desire that we engage our pastors, not just when the bottom is falling out in their lives, but in an ongoing, intentional and proactive way. We want to provide the very best care and resourcing possible for those in ministry; to come alongside our pastors in both their ‘walk’ and their work,” Stromberg said.

Delegates approved the $1,093,169 budget at the meeting’s second Business Session on Saturday morning.

Minnehaha Academy President Harris shared many highlights from the life and activities of the school, including news coverage of the school’s Centennial year, the recent Boys Basketball state championship, and the CHET partnership with the NWC and ECC.

“We solicit your prayers as we discern together the direction for God’s school for the next 100 years,” Harris said.

The Northwest Conference presented Minnehaha Academy with a gift of $10,000 to commemorate the Centennial milestone.

Jon Kramka, director of congregational vitality, was joined by a panel of pastors and lay leaders from Edina Covenant Church in Edina, MN, and Bethlehem Covenant Church in Minneapolis, MN, who reflected on their experiences engaging the Vitality Pathway.

“The entire pathway allowed us to look at ourselves and see if we were in tune with what God wants us to do, and center ourselves as a church,” said Brandon Peterson, lay leader from Edina Covenant Church.

Mike Brown, director of church planting, shared about the strong momentum of planting and parenting new churches in the Conference. During Brown’s report, delegates approved recommendations from the NWC Executive Board to welcome five new churches into membership at the 2013 Evangelical Covenant Church Annual Meeting in June. The new churches include: Awaken Covenant Community (Lilydale, MN), Blue Oaks Covenant Church (Brooklyn Park, MN), LaBendición Covenant Church (Brooklyn Park, MN), Real Life Covenant Church (Waseca, MN) and Restoration Covenant Church (Apple Valley, MN).

Kara Stromberg, director of children & family ministry, shared about recent developments in resourcing children and family staff and volunteers in Conference churches. Stromberg and the Children & Family Commission are working to build regional networks of churches that can meet more regularly to learn from and share with each other.

Ginny Olson, director of youth ministry, shared highlights from MOVE, which took place two weeks prior to the Annual Meeting. Olson also highlighted other NWC youth events like MUUUCE, Emerge and Adventures in Leadership, which call students to closer relationships with Christ.

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 Denomination ministries and organizations.

Friday Worship Service

The worship team from Minnehaha Academy led attendees in worship during the Friday evening worship service, and various music groups from the school also performed, including the school’s Chamber Orchestra and Madrigal Singers.

The 2013 Candidates for Ordination (9) and the new churches (5) joining the Covenant were also recognized and prayed for during the worship service. Members and attendees of the new churches joined their pastors and representatives from parent churches on stage during the service 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 services raised an additional $2,500 to support the ministry of Minnehaha Academy.

Kara Powell, author and executive director of the Fuller Youth Institute and a faculty member at Fuller Theological Seminary, shared a message titled, “Sticky Faith Churches: The Relationships and Worship that Benefit All Ages.”

“As adults take time to invest in young people, it brings a spiritual vitality to them too,” Powell said, as she challenged churches to bring an “intergenerational spin” to their existing events.

Saturday Business Session and Workshop

During Saturday’s Business Session, delegates approved a ballot that included: electing Lowell Peterson to serve as NWC Executive Board Chairperson, electing Rebecca Olson (Brookdale Covenant Church, Brooklyn Center, MN) and Jim Volling (Excelsior Covenant Church, Excelsior, MN) to 5-year terms on the NWC Executive Board, and electing Calvin Allen (Sanctuary Covenant Church, Minneapolis, MN), Susan Poston (Salem Covenant, New Brighton, MN) and Jon Taylor (Emmanuel Covenant Church, Shoreview, MN) to 5-year terms on the Minnehaha Academy Board of Education. Delegates also approved the NWC and MA budgets.

Following the Business Session, Powell presented a workshop called “Sticky Faith: Practical Ideas to Deepen Your Ministry.”

“Share with young people the spirituality you already have—verbally and explicitly,” Powell said.

Saturday Service Project and Sunday Centennial Celebration

On Saturday afternoon, immediately following the Annual Meeting, attendees participated in a local Centennial Mission Service Project called “Covenant Partners Community Service Day.” Minnehaha Academy students, parents and alumni worked alongside members of NWC churches to prepare school readiness kits for North Academy of Arts and Communication.

Minnehaha Academy will mark 100 years of integrating Christian faith and learning with the Centennial Worship Celebration on Sunday, April 28, at 3 p.m. The service will feature musical performances by a variety of student groups. Special guests at the service include: Dr. Gary Walter, president of the Evangelical Covenant Church; Rev. Mark Stromberg, superintendent of the Northwest Conference; Craig Nelson and John Engstrom, former school presidents; and David and Jeanne Anderson and Courtney DaCosta, Centennial chairs.

Videos

View NWC Annual Meeting videos on our site’s Videos page

View/Download/Embed NWC Annual Meeting videos on Vimeo

View/Download Embed Covenant Mission & Ministry 2013 video on Vimeo

Photos

View collection of photos on our Photos page

View/Download gallery of photos on Flickr

MOVE-webOn April 12-13, almost 300 students and youth workers from throughout the Northwest Conference converged on First Covenant Church in Minneapolis, MN, for MOVE 2013—a weekend of teaching, worship, service and experiential learning. This year’s theme was “Invisible: Who are you not seeing?”

The weekend kicked off with a worship service that featured a performance by hip-hop artist Stephone, praise music and a challenging message from Amy Williams, an 18-year youth ministry veteran who ministers to teens involved in gangs, youth on probation or parole, and those lost in the juvenile justice system. As a certified Gang Intervention Specialist, she heard God’s call to move into a Latino gang neighborhood in Chicago’s Humboldt Park community to be a “Hope Dealer” doing street outreach.

“Your perception of someone determines your reaction toward them, but perception is not reality. There’s more to a story,” Williams said. “People are invisible because of the way you see them. The responsibility is on you to make sure they are not invisible.”

Williams challenged students to take a “helicopter view” of those around them—to try to see people as God sees them.

Before heading to bed Friday night, students spent time with their youth groups preparing for the next day’s experiences and enjoying games facilitated by the staff of Lake Beauty Bible Camp.

On Saturday morning, youth groups fanned out to 13 different agencies and ministry sites across the Twin Cities for three hours of service, which ranged from preparing meals for homeless, to organizing storage rooms and cleaning stained glass windows along with other cleanup projects, to playing with shelter kids, to the restocking of supply shelves at thrift centers and distribution warehouses.

Steve Moen of Living Hope Ministries expressed how grateful he was for the MOVE help. The groups moved massive storage shelves, cut insulation, tested computers and more. One of the leaders brought out his tool belt and pitched in with carpentry needs.

“They did the things that I don’t have the time to do [with a busy ministry schedule],” Moen said.

Saturday afternoon students and leaders were given $1 each and were challenged to go out into the neighborhood to find lunch. Some creatively pooled their resources and figured out how to create a lunch for their group. Others chose to fast and donate the money to other people looking for food. Later that afternoon, students had the opportunity to hear stories of invisibility arising from their own group. These stories highlighted the personal sense of invisibility that can come from family struggles, physical limitations and the awkwardness of feeling left out.

“This year’s MOVE experience was valuable for our group because it opened our eyes to the hard work being undertaken by urban ministries to meet the needs of often invisible populations, and helped us come to grips of issues of invisibility in our own communities and selves,” said Ben Pease, youth pastor at Salem Covenant Church in New Brighton, MN.

MOVE 2013 concluded with another powerful worship session and message from Williams, who shared her insights on spreading hope to those around us.

“It doesn’t sound like much, but boy, hope is a powerful thing,” Williams said. “As Christians, hope is an assured thing for us. We know that there’s hope—it’s not a ‘maybe,’ it not an ‘if.’ … Hope is being a light in someone’s darkness.”

Visit the Children, Youth and Family media page to see a video and photo gallery from the event.

MA-B-ball-StateMinnehaha Academy captured its first-ever Class 2A boys’ basketball state championship on Saturday with a last-second defensive stop that preserved the 56-54 victory over Litchfield.

The prep school is a ministry of the Northwest Conference.

The Redhawks (24-6) entered the tournament as the top seed. They adjusted their style of play throughout the tournament, and pulled out wins whether playing up and down the court in the semi-finals or the slow half-court finals matchup.

Saturday’s game was close throughout and remained in doubt until the final buzzer. Minnehaha’s John Pryor and Kaharri Carter denied a last-second Litchfield layup attempt.

Redhawk Marcellous Hazzard told the Minneapolis Star Tribune, “We adapt. We’re chameleons that adapt to anything.”

The lead in the game changed six times and the score was tied four times. Minnehaha Academy’s largest lead was six points and Litchfield’s largest lead was one.

The first state title is a great way to celebrate the school’s Centennial.

Grand OpeningMainStreet Covenant Church recently held the Grand Opening of its dynamic new venue in the Stonegate Plaza strip mall in downtown Mound on March 17 after a kick-off concert on March 9. Both events drew capacity crowds with standing room only for the first Sunday service. The venue is designed to feel more like a coffee shop than a church building.

MainStreet Pastor Jeremy Berg said, “The vision of MainStreet is to imitate the Apostle Paul who engaged unbelievers not just on Sunday morning in the sanctuary but ‘in the marketplace daily with all who happen to be there’” (Acts 17:17).

Berg said the idea for a church acting as a community-gathering place began from his experiences when he was involved with youth ministry in Mound a few years back. In 2005 he began using music events to connect with local area teens.

“I noticed a trend of people running away from the church,” he said. “We started hosting live music events, and young people flooded the place looking for a spot to gather.”

The new building features a café gathering area and an auditorium for hosting open mic nights, hot topic discussion forums, providing an after school youth hangout, a place for community groups such as book clubs, Zumba, etc.

“Every city needs a place for people to connect and grow,” Berg said. “Why should coffee shops have all the fun when we’re serving up something far more potent and life impacting than mere coffee!”

MainStreet began this ambitious building project only a few months into their first year as a church, believing this kind of a space is what is required to be faithful to God’s unique vision for MainStreet.

“God has been faithful every time we have stepped out in faith and obedience,” Berg said. “We raised the money for the project in only a few months’ time thanks to the generosity of many supporters, especially our sister church Excelsior Covenant.”

Berg shares how he first peeked through the windows of their new space over 7 years ago and wondered if that empty storefront might someday be used for ministry in Mound.

“God honors big dreams when we place them in his hands,” Berg said. “After a year and a half of meeting first in a senior center and later in a nursing home facility, it was a pretty amazing moment to stand up that first Sunday and say, ‘Welcome to Main Street—for real!’”

Learn more about the unique vision and mission of MainStreet Covenant Church at www.mainstreetcovenant.org.

Faith Covenant Church in Burnsville, MN, will host a Hymn Sing event at 4 p.m. on Sunday, March 17, led by Gary Nyquist and Hymn Sing America. 

“This is a fantastic ministry that is centered in the heart of worship and can provide a healing touch of grace over the proverbial worship wars,” said John Foley, co-lead pastor at Faith Covenant. 

For more information on the event, contact Faith Covenant church at 952-895-1129. 

The Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC) is seeking a Director to start as early as April 1, but no later than May 1, within the Department of Compassion, Mercy, and Justice (CMJ). 

The ECC is a rapidly growing multi-ethnic denomination with 820 churches domestically and additional ministry partnerships in over 30 countries.    

The Department of CMJ seeks to serve the local church in addressing the mission priorities of the ECC with a holistic focus on Love Mercy-Do Justice. Ministries of compassion and mercy stretch far and wide as the ECC responds to domestic and global needs. CMJ builds on that strong foundation and continues to lead and coordinate efforts as we “join God in making things right in our broken world.”

Visit CovChurch.org for more information about the ECC and CMJ. Covenant Offices is located in Chicago, IL. 

The Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC) is seeking an executive director of strategic communication. The executive director of communication will serve as visionary, senior leader in the church’s messaging and publishing efforts. The successful candidate will help shape the mission message to tell a great story, and guide the communication of the church’s priorities to both internal and external audiences across all available channels and forms of communications.

The executive director will oversee and manage a professional team, creating and leading a vision for communication that can fulfill and complement the needs of the ministry departments and the denomination as a whole.

The ECC is a rapidly growing multi-ethnic denomination with 800 churches domestically with additional ministry partnerships in nearly 30 countries. See www.covchurch.org for more information. This position will be is located at denominational headquarters in Chicago, Illinois.

Read the full post about the position and download a more complete description here.

Converge-2012-webMore than 100 people from 25 Northwest Conference churches gathered to learn and be inspired at Converge 2012, which took place at Redeemer Covenant Church in Brooklyn Park, MN, on Oct. 27.

The day kicked off with worship led by a team from Redeemer, and a message from Curt Peterson, executive minister of World Mission for the Evangelical Covenant Church. Following worship, attendees enjoyed a variety of workshops on topics relating to church ministry.

“Converge was a great way to get inspired and equipped for the mission of the church,” said Brian Majerus, director of Christian Formation and Family Ministries at First Covenant Church of River Falls, WI. “It was a good time to network with Conference staff and other churches, as well as find training opportunities for areas of ministry that you can’t find anywhere else, such as Church Finances and Communications. Thanks for offering this!”

During lunch, Peterson shared details about Covenant Kids Congo, and attendees were able to connect during the meal. Another round of workshops took place in the afternoon, and the day concluded with worship and a message from Kara Stromberg, director of Children & Family Ministry for the NWC.

To see a collection of photos from the event, visit our Photos page.

CPBC-Slider-Gospel-Celebration-NWCYou are invited to an evening of gospel music, with all proceeds going to help kids in need have a chance to go to Covenant Pines Bible Camp. This benefit is Sunday, Nov. 4, 4-7 p.m., at the Robert L. Williams Fine Arts Center on the north campus of Minnehaha Academy. Silent Auction begins at 3 p.m. (an hour before the concert) and continues during intermission. Purchase tickets at gospelcelebration.eventbrite.com or at the door.

Robert Robinson: The Minneapolis Star Tribune named Robert “Minnesota’s Master Male Vocalist.” Robert served as Executive and Artistic Director of the Twin Cities Community Gospel Choir for 20 years. He was a two-time Minnesota Music Award Winner for Best Gospel Artist and Group. His music catalog includes 12 solo projects and many collaborations.

Tecora Rogers: Born and raised in Chicago, Tecora is a prolific and internationally renowned singer, composer, teacher, and producer. Her musical roots can be traced back to singing in her church choir at the tender age of 6. Inspired by her spiritual upbringing and her love of jazz, Tecora infused the two musical genres creating “power jazz,” which combines the complexity of jazz with the electricity of gospel, a sound that differentiates her from other jazz musicians.

Come for an entertaining evening while supporting kids who would love to spend a week next summer at Covenant Pines Bible Camp!

Faith Covenant Church in Burnsville, MN, is hosting a 50th Anniversary Celebration Dinner on Sunday, Nov. 11 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Royal Cliff Banquet Center. The event will feature “food, fellowship and music” and “tribute to the ways God has worked through our church to bring hope to our community and world,” according to promo materials. 

Tickets for the event are $35 each and can be purchased at the church on Sunday mornings up until Nov. 4, or by email at jsorensen@faithcovenant.org.

Daybreak_newsThe next Daybreak Human Trafficking Awareness Forum, titled “Cries from the Wilderness,” will take place Nov. 3 from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Bloomington Covenant Church.

“Our target audience is men, but it will be geared to all people,” explained Cyd Johnson, Daybreak founder. “Our goal is to increase the awareness of the increased demand for prostitution and the resultant market for the enslavement of women and young girls.”

The forum will feature speakers Nimi Ocholi, education director of Men Against the Trafficking of Others, and John Tanagho, Chicago attorney and anti-trafficking activist. The event will also include a panel discussion with other trafficking experts, including Ruth Hill.

Registration and check-in for the day begin at 8:30 a.m. There is a suggested Donation of $10 per person. To pre-register for the event by Oct. 31, email daybreakforum@gmail.com or call 952.831.8339. Download a promotional flyer for the event.

2012-09-18 13.35.16First Covenant Church of Superior, WI, will celebrate its 125th Anniversary during the weekend of Oct. 13-14.

“We thank God for His faithfulness and ongoing ministry here in the Twin Ports Area,” Karl Freeberg, First Covenant pastor.

NWC Director of Church Planting Mike Brown, as well as the Rev. Jeff Burton of Lakeview Covenant Church, will be preaching during the weekend. Celebrating God’s goodness and faithfulness together.

BloomingtonBloomington Covenant Church will celebrate its 60th Anniversary the weekend of Oct. 13-14. The church will host a catered dinner on Saturday, Oct. 13, and the Rev. Jim Fretheim will be the guest preaching for a special service on Sunday, Oct. 14.

The deadline to purchase tickets for the banquet dinner is Sept. 17. Contact the Bloomington Covenant Church office at 952-831-8339 for more information.

The Northwest Conference is pleased to announce that Kara Stromberg has accepted the call to be the Director of Children & Family Ministry. She will begin serving in the new role on Sept. 15.

“This is a newly developing position,” said NWC Superintendent Mark Stromberg, “and we are pleased to have a quality leader like Kara join our team. We are confident that she will help us live into our stated ministry priority of Children, Youth & Family. Further, we believe that she will work alongside Ginny Olson, our Director of Youth Ministry, very well. We believe that they will make a great team. And just for clarity’s sake, Kara and I are not related!”

A believer in children, families and emerging generations, Kara brings extensive ministry experience. A native of Sioux Falls, SD, she felt a call to ministry as a junior in high school. Upon graduation from Bethel University, she served as Pastor to Youth and Families at Roseville Covenant Church in Roseville, MN. Kara graduated with an M.A. in Christian Education with an emphasis in Youth Ministry from Bethel Theological Seminary in 2005 and was ordained to Word and Service in the ECC in 2010.

Recently, she worked as Director of Training at Youth Leadership. Kara currently teaches adjunct courses in Mentored Leadership Development at Bethel Seminary and is a member of the Evangelical Covenant Church speaker team.

Kara and her husband, Nate, along with their children, Ben and Greta, live in St. Paul and are active members of First Covenant Church in St. Paul. Having served as a staff minister, a deacon and volunteer, Kara understands the unique challenges of ministry teams and is excited for this opportunity to focus on children and families.

“I love working with staff ministers, parents and volunteers, helping them discover creative ways to bring faith into the home,” she said.

Kara also actively works to create partnerships with churches and the local community, and believes a strong emphasis on children and families is the most important thing we can do to ensure the next generation has faith. Kara states that she is honored to serve in this new position for the Northwest Conference.

“I’m also excited to continue to build on the good work Jon Kramka and the Children & Family Commission have begun. I’m passionate and concerned about young families as well as helping 5th and 6th graders transition into junior high. I look forward to working closely with Ginny Olson to equip and resource churches with this transition into youth ministry.”

Please join with us in welcoming Kara Stromberg to her new role; praying for God’s special blessing on her as she seeks to help our churches develop more healthy and missional Children & Family Ministries.

Grandview-100-2Grandview Covenant Church in Larchwood, IA, will mark its 100th Anniversary with a celebration on Sunday, Aug. 26. The day will include a special church service at 9:30 a.m., followed by a catered meal and outdoor festivities.

“The outward appearance of our little church has changed and evolved with time but our purpose of demonstrating true Christian love and service and spreading the Good News has remained intact.,” read a note from the event’s planning committee.

 

NWC-SB-floodingRecent flooding at Covenant Pines Bible Camp has forced the cancellation of several camp sessions and caused unprecedented damage to the camp and Silver Beach Family Area properties.

According to the CPBC website: “Round and Davis Lakes are about 5’ above their normal water levels. These lake elevations cause flooding of the ball field with up to 3’ of water, the Davis Lake trail was under 3’ of water and the access to camp on the county roads were under 14” of water.

“The high water caused one of our septic systems to collapse at Silver Beach. The lower level of the Silver Beach house had a foot of water, causing some significant damage to the walls and flooring and to furniture.”

To read more about the flood losses and learn about the new Flood Fund established to help offset financial losses, click here.

AIL-2012-NewsCan high schoolers lead? Sure they can lead their peers, but can they lead the church? The Northwest Conference is banking on it.

Developing strong Christian leaders is a core value woven throughout the NWC’s priorities. For over 20 years, they’ve fostered this value with high school student leaders via Adventures in Leadership, an experiential leadership challenge in the north woods of Minnesota.

This annual leadership development experience took place June 16-23. Twenty-one high school students and a group of youth pastors and wilderness guides joined together at Adventurous Christians in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) where they learned what it means to be a Christian leader.

“Participants were challenged in conversations, teaching times and time out on the trail, to discover what gifts and talents God has given them for leadership and how they need to steward those gifts in ministry and in their communities,” said Ginny Olson, NWC director of youth ministry. “They discovered how their personality impacts their leadership, how to collaborate together under difficult circumstances, how to cultivate a disciplined spiritual life, and how to serve sacrificially when that’s the last thing you want to do.”

This year, the group experienced over five inches of rain while on their 4-day canoe trip in the BWCA. Being a servant leader took on new meaning for the students as they slogged through soggy and sometimes overgrown portages, carrying packs and canoes, while soaked to the core.

“They learned how to make difficult decisions for the team and to consider the needs of others before their own,” said Jon Kramka, NWC director of congregational vitality, and a key planner and facilitator of the event.

Upon their return to base camp, common themes voiced by the students were: the importance of relying on God as they discovered their own leadership abilities in relation to the leadership role, a realization that they actually could lead others, and a deeper appreciation for their teammates—and for dry socks.

As youth pastors around the country wrestle with how to develop strong leaders among their students, Adventures in Leadership is becoming recognized by others as a strong and effective way to raise up young leaders. In late July, youth pastors from several other conferences will head to Adventurous Christians to experience this leadership adventure with some of their students.

View photos from AIL 2012 on our site

View/Download photos from AIL 2012 on Flickr

Crowder-300x225Caleb Gotz, a member of The Gallery Covenant Church in St. Paul, was celebrating his high school graduation when internationally known Christian artist David Crowder showed up.

Caleb, who has Down syndrome, first invited Crowder five years ago as the teenager looked ahead to his high school graduation. Caleb delivered the invitation personally during a Crowder performance in Chicago.

Dana Gotz followed up this year when she sent Crowder an invitation with a picture of him and Caleb hugging backstage at the show and that it was her son’s dream to have him at the graduation. Dana never heard back.

None of the family members and 250 guests expected that Crowder would show up a half hour into the graduation party for Caleb. Caleb dropped to his knees and bowed to one of his musical heroes.

“He rocks,” Caleb said of Crowder when interviewed for a story that appeared in the Star Tribune. “I love his hair.”

Crowder didn’t play any music, but played games and ate dinner with everyone. Dana said the artist flew from Arizona to the Twin Cities especially for Caleb’s party.

Caleb is as well known around his community as Crowder is among Christians who listen to contemporary Christian music. Caleb’s elementary gym teacher, Denny Larson, said everyone in the community knows the 18-year-old.

His enthusiasm for life, as well as the unconditional love and kindness he shows others have been a strong witness. Larson said Caleb frequently sends inspirational letters to friends, classmates, and teachers and often ends them with the exhortation, “God loves you in so many ways.”

Copyright © 2012 The Evangelical Covenant Church.

Prayer-1-300x200Ribbon-cutting for a new half-mile prayer trail at Cedarbrook Church will take place at 1 p.m. on Sunday, June 10, at the church located at N6714 – 470th Street in Menomonie, WI.

The recently completed prayer trail traverses a ridge on church-owned property situated behind the church facilities. Members of the community are invited to join in the festivities and walk the trail.

The idea originated 10 years ago before Cedarbrook began meeting. A small group had been meeting with pastor Remy Diederich, studying different ways that people can connect with God. The idea of connecting with God through nature dominated the conversations.

The pastor said he thought it odd that more churches do not offer opportunities for people to experience God that way.

“Everything is typically indoors,” he observed. “And then I dreamed a bit and said, wouldn’t it be great if we could have enough land some day to build a prayer trail where people could walk the land and connect with God through nature? Amazingly, 10 years later we have a church building, spare land and now a prayer trail. I guess it pays to dream!”

Church members provided the labor, a good mix of engineers, landscapers, contractors and volunteer workers.

The trail is more than a half-mile in length and offers seven stations where visitors can pause and meditate on a theme displayed on a posted sign. The seven themes are comfort, guidance, provision, healing, hope, restoration and consecration. Five decks are built into the hill with a bench so individuals can stop and reflect in comfort. There are three large crosses at the summit of the trail with poured concrete to facilitate gatherings of small groups.

The Department of Natural Resources is working with Cedarbrook to establish prairie grass on the trail – the second time the two groups have worked together. Another recent project established a martin colony on the property.

Copyright © 2012 The Evangelical Covenant Church.

The Northwest Conference is currently seeking applications from individuals interested in the newly created staff position of Director of Children & Family Ministry for the region. This position is to assist in advancing one of the highlighted strategic priorities of the NWC, as it relates to children and family ministries. It will serve to resource existing children’s ministry staff, as well as volunteer children’s workers in Conference churches.

Interested individuals should submit a pastoral profile/resume no later than June 15, 2012. Interviews will take place in July. The tentative start date for this new position will be Sept. 1. Please send requested information to the attention of Jon Kramka at the Northwest Conference office or email Jon at jon@northwestconference.org.

NWC-Site-1Northwest Conference Superintendent Mark R. Stromberg announced to delegates to the 2012 Annual Meeting that the 2012-13 budget includes funds to create a new, part-time staff position to call a Director of Children & Family Ministry. The announcement came during the meeting’s first Business Session on Friday, April 20, at Alexandria Covenant Church in Alexandria, MN. Delegates approved the $965,679 budget at the meeting’s second Business Session on Saturday morning.

“This is such an important, important thing for us to be about. It is essential that we connect with young people in our churches,” Stromberg said. He reflected on the power of culture and how kids are being drawn away from the Church and Christ’s redemptive influence, and that it is our responsibility to do all we can to reverse that trend.

Stromberg explained that the conference staff has been undergoing reorganization to align positions with the NWC’s Ministry Priorities of Congregational Vitality, Church Planting, and Children, Youth & Family. The area of Children, Youth & Family is divided into two part-time positions: Director of Youth Ministry and the new Director of Children & Family Ministry.

“This person would resource children’s directors in our churches, and also dream up ways to help our under-resourced churches in this key area of ministry,” Stromberg said.

In addition, Stromberg shared about a new “Care to Pastors” initiative that is intended to provide proactive support and encouragement to the members of the Northwest Conference ministerium.

“In the ideal, I would envision having a full-time ministry staff person whose focus is the personal and positional health of our pastors, as we believe that this is essential to the missional health of our churches,” Stromberg said. “This is the first baby-step in that direction.”

Friday Business Session

Other news from the Friday Business Session included the debut of three new videos highlighting the Ministry Priorities of the Northwest Conference. Each video features interview segments with church staff, lay leaders and pastors, intermixed with animations of statistics and key statements designed to help explain each priority.

The videos are designed for use throughout the year in church new member classes, services and other adult education opportunities to help congregations better understand and engage the work of the NWC. The delegates from each church left with a DVD copy of the videos, and the series is available on the NWC web site’s video page (www.northwestconference.org/resources/videos) and Vimeo Channel (http://vimeo.com/channels/northwest).

Ginny Olson, director of youth ministry, shared her appreciation for the long legacy of youth ministry in the NWC. She also reported that other regional conferences in the ECC are piloting Adventures in Leadership programs, based on the longstanding NWC event, this summer.

Mike Brown, director of church planting, challenged churches to think freshly about how Church Planting could fit into their ministry plans. During Brown’s report, delegates approved a recommendation from the NWC Executive Board that Catalyst Covenant Church, which was planted in Alexandria in July 2010, be welcomed into membership at the 2012 Evangelical Covenant Church Annual Meeting in June.

Jon Kramka, director of congregational vitality, told delegates about the many churches that are engaging the resources in the “Vitality Pathway” and reinforced the conference’s strong commitment that all churches become more healthy and missional.

In addition to staff reports from the NWC, delegates to the meeting heard from affiliated ministries including: the Ministerial Association, the Town and Country Commission, Women Ministries, Covenant Enabling Residences of MN, Covenant Retirement Communities of MN, Parish Nursing, Covenant Trust Company, and a NWC camping ministry representative.

Dr. Donna Harris, president of Minnehaha Academy, also shared highlights from the school, and announced the formation of a new committee to strengthen the relationship between the school and conference. Minnehaha Academy, which will celebrate its 100th Anniversary next year, will also host the 2013 Northwest Conference Annual Meeting.

Friday Worship Service

The worship team from Alexandria Covenant led attendees in worship during the Friday evening Worship Service. The 2012 Candidates for Ordination and Commissioning (9) and the new church joining the Covenant (Catalyst) were also recognized and prayed for during the worship service.

Ask the Lord of the Harvest commitment cards were collected, and a special offering raised $1,986 to support the Northwest Conference Compassion, Mercy and Justice grants.

Rev. Dr. Soong-Chan Rah shared a message titled, “Joy Comes in the Mourning,” challenging churches to consider the theological difference of perspective between the “haves” and the “have-nots.” Rah is Milton B. Engebretson Associate Professor of Church Growth and Evangelism at North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago, IL and the author of “The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity.”

“How are we, as people—called toward justice and coming out of celebration—learning that when we encounter suffering, that there’s not just something we offer, but there is something we also receive?” Rah asked. “When we find these places of suffering, may we recognize that the poor are not a target to be marked for action, but they are a gift to us, that the hungry are a gift to us, that the alien among us are a gift to us.”

Saturday Business Session and Workshop

During Saturday’s Business Session, delegates approved a ballot that included: electing John Stewart to serve another term as NWC Executive Board Chairperson, appointing Jan Bros (pastor of Abbey Way in Minneapolis) and Marc Peterson (pastor of Crossroads in Forest Lake, MN) to 5-year terms on the NWC Executive Board, and appointing Troy Lucht (member of Roseville Covenant in Roseville, MN) and Polly Wright (member of Faith Covenant in Burnsville, MN) to 5-year terms on the Minnehaha Academy Board of Education. Delegates also approved the NWC and MA budgets, as well as changes to the NWC Constitution, Bylaws and Articles of Incorporation.

Following the Business Session, Rah presented a workshop called “Evangelism and Justice: Two Sides of the Same Coin.”

“The work of evangelism is not just about proclamation. The work of evangelism is also demonstration,” Rah said. “It’s not just about teaching and saying the right words, it’s about how we live our lives and demonstrate it.

“Here’s my church growth book, it’s going to be one page long—sell all you have and give to the poor, and that’s how you grow,” Rah continued. “It is actually the life of the church, the self-sacrificial life, the way we care for the least of these, that’s what actually brings folks to the church. That is why evangelism and justice are never at odds with one another. They are actually two sides of the same coin.”

For a full list of videos, photos and downloadable resources, visit our 2012 Annual Meeting page.

MOVE-home-page-newsOn March 30-31, 250 students and youth workers from throughout the Northwest Conference converged on First Covenant Church in Minneapolis, MN, for M.O.V.E. 2012—a weekend of teaching, worship, service and experiential learning. This year’s theme was “TRU: Faith. Justice. Love.”

The weekend kicked off with a worship service that featured praise music and a challenging message from Chris Brooks, vice president of GoodCities and organizational leadership expert. Brooks asked students to consider their responsibility to others, and to think about who the orphans and widows of today are.

“Once you have yourself figured out, and love yourself, Jesus is always going to push us to overflow,” Brooks said.

Before heading to bed Friday night, students spent time with their youth groups preparing for the next day’s experiences and enjoying games facilitated by the staff of Lake Beauty Bible Camp.

On Saturday morning, youth groups fanned out to 17 different agencies and ministry sites across the Twin Cities for three hours of service, which ranged from preparing meals for homeless, to lawn care and clean-up projects, to playing with shelter kids, to the restocking of supply shelves at thrift centers and distribution warehouses.

“The Dassel and First Covenant Minneapolis teams that came to Hospitality House Youth Development were amazing: hard working, responsive, great teens and leaders! We so enjoyed them and appreciate all their help,” said Deb McCullough of Hospitality House.

Saturday afternoon M.O.V.E. participants embarked on a Light Rail Tour of Minneapolis. Students and leaders were divided into eight groups and boarded the train near the Metrodome. At each of five stops between downtown and the Mall of America, groups got off the train and heard presentations about issues facing that part of the city, including: Immigrant Issues, Urban Development and Gentrification, The Historical Treatment of Native Americans, Human Trafficking and Homelessness.

“Our group had a great time, and they’re not always easy to please with this event,” said Mark Hakanson, youth pastor at Community Covenant Church in Minneapolis. “Thanks for all the hard work piecing together the light rail experience. It was a highlight.”

M.O.V.E. 2012 concluded with another powerful worship session and message from Brooks, who challenged students to “live the life” of a true Christian.

“There should be something about us as Christians that makes us different,” Brooks said. “Do you have a passion for the lost? Do you have a passion for those people you come into contact with every single day?”

Visit the Children, Youth and Family media page to see a video and photo gallery from the event.

Calvary Covenant Church of Evansville, MN, will be celebrate its 125th Anniversary on June 10. Morning worship will begin at 10 a.m.

Donn Engebretson, Executive Vice President of the Evangelical Covenant Church, will be the speaker. Noon lunch will be served, foll0wed by an informal service of words and music at 2 p.m. Everyone is welcome.

For more information, contact Lois Larson at 320-834-4413 or rlarson@gctel.com.

The 2012 Founder’s Day Celebration Service will take place at 6 p.m. on March 18 at Covenant Village of Golden Valley. Executive Director for Ministry Development, Dick Lucco, will be the featured speaker.

An offering will be taken to benefit covenant ministries, and light refreshments will follow the service. For directions to Covenant Village, visit http://www.covenantvillageofgoldenvalley.org.

Bloomington Covenant Church in Bloomington, MN, will host the Daybreak Spring Forum (download flyer), a one-day anti-trafficking event on March 10 from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Anyone is welcome to attend, but it is especially targeted to clergy, medical personnel, and social service workers. CEU credits will be available for nurses, educators and social workers.

“The response to and participation in our Fall Forum was wonderful,” said Cyd Johnson, coordinator of the event. “We have been greatly encouraged and feel compelled to continue with our mission to provide on-going education regarding this topic.”

This event will involve more in-depth lecture and plenty of time for questions with Stephanie Holt, founder and director of Mission 21, an anti-trafficking service provider committed to the complete restoration of child victims of sex-trafficking. The course curriculum will be available for use and for sale as desired. There will be a mid-morning coffee break where light refreshments will be served. There is a suggested donation of $10 for the class.

Please contact Johnson or Daybreak with questions. Pre-registration is due by March 2. To register, please email daybreakforum@gmail.com or call Bloomington Covenant Church at 952-831-8339.

Salem Covenant Church in New Brighton, MN, will host “Across the Divides: Across Cultures, Across Generations”—Feb. 17-19. The Hagman Lectures in partnership with the Compassion, Mercy, and Justice Team invite you to this weekend seminar led by Rev. Dr. Soong-Chan Rah from North Park Seminary.

Rah is the author of “Many Colors: Cultural Intelligence for a Changing Church” and “The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity.”

Throughout the weekend, attendees will have a chance to “look at how our changing culture requires intentional theological reflection by Christians as we engage the challenges and opportunities of reaching across divides.”

For more information, contact Salem at 651-633-9615, or download the bulletin insert.

Schedule

Friday Workshop // Feb. 17, 7 p.m.
“Understanding the Need: Our Changing World”

Saturday Workshop // Feb. 18, 9:30 a.m. to Noon
“From Generation to Generation: Examining a Social History of American Christianity”

Sunday Sermon // Feb. 19, 8:30, 9:50, and 11 a.m.
“Reaching Across the Divide: Understanding Mercy from the Prophet Jeremiah”

Robert-Robinson-Concert-BenefitRobert Robinsin, First Covenant Church, Minneapolis Artist in Residence, is bringing his Christmas concert experience for all ages, “Journey to Christmas,” to First Covenant Church on Friday, Dec. 16 at 7:30 p.m. (Doors open at 7 p.m.).

Proceeds will support the 50-bed emergency homeless shelter at First Covenant. Purchase your tickets on Sundays in the Main Foyer or through brownpapertickets.com. Adults are $25/youth 14 and under are $20. Come enjoy a mix of seasonal arrangements in true holiday spirit.

Daybreak3More than 220 people attended the recent anti-trafficking conference, Daybreak, held at Bloomington Covenant Church on October 28-30.

The church’s anti-trafficking task force sponsored the event, which targeted clergy, medical personnel, and social service workers but was open to anyone.

On Friday evening, some of the attendees walked individually and as small groups through the Mall of America. Numbers vary greatly as to how many girls are tricked into or snatched from there to become prostitutes, but most law enforcement officials believe it happens at some level.

Most of the event focused on trafficking in Minnesota, which a government report said was thirteenth in the nation for sex trafficking. Discussions also included information about international slavery.

The forum addressed the realities of trafficking, each session building on the previous ones:

– The Realities for Kids on the Street

– The Realities in Law Enforcement Regarding Human Trafficking

– The Realities Show Up: Victim Identification

– The Realities for the Survivor

In a blog post, attendee Nancy Nordenson lamented that few law enforcement officers are specifically designated to fight human trafficking, and fewer than 100 recovery beds exist for rescued women and children. There is a long wait to get into the scarce recovery centers. (One of those centers is New Day for Children, started by members of First Covenant Church in Oakland, California.)

Nordenson, a member of Bethlehem Covenant Church in Minneapolis, wrote that the subject matter can make people uncomfortable, adding, “To be honest, I don’t even like having such darkness on this blog.”

The Sunday morning worship service, which included music written for the weekend, continued to shed light on the issue. North Park University professor Boaz Johnson spoke from the Book of Ruth and called on the attendees to pursue justice for people who have been enslaved.

Boaz grew up in the slums of New Delhi. Although he was not trafficked, some of his friends were, and he never saw them again.

Cyd Johnson was a pediatric urology nurse at a local medical clinic for children and became concerned over the high number of children from other countries who were treated for various issues, some of which turned out to be related to being trafficked.

In January she quit her job to engage in anti-trafficking work full-time. She started an anti-trafficking task force at Bloomington Covenant Church, where her husband, Tim, is the pastor. She is working to connect Northwest Conference churches around the issue and has started to make presentations at various groups and churches.

Article by Stan Friedman. Copyright © 2011 The Evangelical Covenant Church.

Mainstreet-lets-rebuild-webMainStreet Covenant Church hosted its second preview service in Mound on Oct. 16 at The Gillespie Center. An enthusiastic team of volunteers from MainStreet, and partner church Excelsior Covenant, welcomed many local visitors.

A youthful team of Crown College musicians led worship, and Pastor Jeremy Berg, himself a native of Mound, used Nehemiah’s rebuilding project to inspire the hometown congregation to unite in building up a new church in Mound—something Mound hasn’t seen in over 60 years. The service concluded with a powerful visual as MainStreet volunteers each carried a cardboard “brick” to the stage, signifying their servant role, and built a wall together.

“The miracle is that we did not know 95 percent of these people a year ago when Keri and I set out planting MainStreet,” Berg said. “God provides when we’re obedient to His call.”

MainStreet’s first two preview services have drawn a combined total of 270 people, and the excitement and anticipation in this small community is growing day by day. MainStreet’s next monthly preview services are Nov. 13 and Dec. 11 with the hope of going weekly in January 2012. Thanks to all our Covenant friends for investing in our vision and supporting NWC church plants.

Salem-140th-Ann-web-2After 140 years of ministry, Salem Covenant Church in Pennock, MN, is still thinking outside its own doors. The church gathered to celebrate this special anniversary Aug. 20-21, and part of the weekend’s events was the dedication of a new playground area.

“Attracting young families is part of the mission and vision of Salem. And as part of the vision the park area between the church and parsonage was updated with new playground equipment and a picnic shelter,” said Pastor Mike McCain. “We believe that the park area will not only attract young families, but will be used extensively for family gatherings, celebrations, receptions, VBS, AWANA, children and youth ministry, and other community ministry activities.”

Funds from the NWC Second Miler program helped provide the seed money for the project.

“We are grateful to all those who participate in the Second Miler program,” McCain said.

The weekend celebration began on Saturday in the new park with fellowship, games and a meal. That evening, the church gathered in the sanctuary for a night of music and testimonies. Former Salem pastors Lloyd Melvie and Phillip Griepp were both on hand to share memories and reflections.

“Pastor Kevin Melin of Crossview Covenant Church in North Mankato, MN, grew up and came to Christ here at Salem,” McCain said. “Kevin shared fond memories of his growing up years here.”

Salem’s celebration continued on Sunday morning as the church gathered for worship and received a message from Donn Engebretson, executive vice president of the Evangelical Covenant Church.

Founded in 1871, Salem Covenant Church is the oldest active congregation in the Northwest Conference.

Daybreak webCyd Johnson was a pediatric urology nurse at Children’s Hospital who was concerned over the high number of children from other countries who were being treated for various issues. Many of them were Somalians.

Then she heard the news reports of a nationwide sting targeting a Somalian child-trafficking ring. “That was like a gut bust to me,” she says.

In January she quit her job to engage in anti-trafficking work full-time. She started an anti-trafficking task force at Bloomington Covenant Church, where her husband, Tim, is the pastor. She is working to connect Northwest Conference churches around the issue and has started to make presentations at various groups and churches.

On October 28-30, her church will sponsor Daybreak, a three-day anti-trafficking forum. Anyone is welcome to attend, but it is especially targeted to clergy, medical personnel, and social service workers. CEU credits will be available.

Johnson also serves on the Evangelical Covenant Church’s Human Trafficking Task Force and has authored one section of the PROTECT resource that will be published this fall as a part of the “Just Women” initiative developed by the Department of Women Ministries.

Johnson hopes to someday start a formal CEU trafficking-awareness program for nurses.

Even professionals frequently don’t recognize the “red flags” of slavery, a crime that is far more frequent than most people think. Johnson says she wishes she had recognized the signs while working at the hospital.

The same was true at the church. She says a woman came to the church multiple times looking for financial assistance. “Over time, she revealed she didn’t feel comfortable where she lived.”

The woman said that men would line up outside the door of the apartment across the hall from hers. Young girls also were coming and going. The woman thought it probably was drugs. Instead, the girls had been forced into prostitution.

Several years ago, police shut down a brothel where trafficked girls were forced to service clients. The brothel was just four blocks from the Johnsons’ home and across the street from the local high school.

The three-day conference, which seeks to help educate others in the effort to stop trafficking, will feature a variety of activities.

On Friday, participants can walk the Mall of America with a prayer team. Federal authorities have said the large shopping center is a location where girls are sometimes lured into sexual slavery.

On Saturday, experts in the anti-trafficking field will speak. Among the presenters will be Vednita Carter, a former slave who founded Breaking Free, an organization that works with “women and girls involved in systems of abuse, exploitation, and prostitution/sex trafficking.” Exhibits also will be displayed, and crafts from developing world countries will be sold.

The forum will conclude Sunday, when Boaz Johnson, professor of biblical and theological studies at North Park University, will discuss human trafficking based on his experience growing up in India and his current work as part of the modern abolitionist movement.

A song is being written for the event, and Lauren Catlin, a spoken-word artist, also will participate. (Many of her performances are available on YouTube).

For more information or to pre-register, call the church at 952-831-8339. Registration is a suggested donation of $10 for adults and $5 for students.

For resources and information about how congregations can address the issue, visit the Covenant’s human trafficking website.

Article by Stan Friedman. Copyright © 2011 The Evangelical Covenant Church.

MUUUCE-2011MUUUCE 2011 marked 25 years of gathering junior high students from across the Northwest Conference for a weekend of high-energy activity, worship and learning Aug. 18-20. Featuring a pirate theme, the Most Unbelievable Ultimate Urban Camping Experience was a “grand, splendid, extraordinary time full of fun and deep spiritual growth,” according to Adel Irwin, student leadership coordinator at Faith Covenant Church in Burnsville, MN.

Groups of students packed out two roller rinks, and enjoyed rides at Valleyfair and waterslides at Cascade Bay. Back at Faith Covenant Church, students participated in C.H.A.O.S. (Crazy Humans Attempting Outrageous Stuff).

“They started out with a rockin’ dance off, then bobbed for treasure, completed a peg-leg relay, had a spaghetti-eating contest, and enjoyed seeing their youth leaders shove their faces into whip cream pies,” Irwin said.

The weekend also offered many opportunities for students to connect with God through worship activities. When asked if she liked the worship band, one junior high girl responded, “Did I like the worship? No … I loved it!”

Speaker Kara Stromberg encouraged students to place their treasure in Christ. Highlighting the passages Matthew 6:19-21 and Matthew 13, Stromberg helped students learn how the treasure they find in Christ is so exciting that nothing else matters in comparison.

At the end of the weekend Stromberg shared jolly ranchers with each student. As they rode home enjoying the sweet taste of candy, they were reminded to not keep their treasure to themselves but to share it freely with others.

Junior high students at MUUUCE gave $1,765 in offering, which will be donated to Alaska Christian College to help the school buy desks for classrooms in its new building. Alaska Christian College is geared toward bringing a Christ-centered education to Alaska’s native population.

To see photos from MUUUCE 2011 visit NWC Youth Ministry Photos page.

MINNEAPOLIS – Mary Pawlenty, former First Lady of Minnesota and wife of presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty, grew up attending Edina Covenant Church where her parents were charter members.

Mary Pawlenty

“I have fond memories of growing up there,” says Pawlenty. “Truly kind-hearted people from Edina Covenant—including Pastor Ben Larson and his wife, Joan—exemplified the fruit of the spirit and had a meaningful impact on my life.

“It was where I learned the great hymns of the faith and the importance of worship,” she says, musing, “I am reasonably sure I could sing most of the first verse of Children of the Heavenly Father in Swedish.”

Edina Covenant also is where the Pawlentys were married. Leith Anderson, pastor of Wooddale Church where the couple attends, officiated.

She mentions the church in the first words of a recent campaign video that focuses on the couple’s faith.

Pawlenty’s parents, Wilfred and Beulah Anderson, were charter members of the church when it was organized in 1944. “At the time, the tiny congregation met in what was called Grange Hall before eventually building on the current site,” Pawlenty says.

The beauty of the current building still inspires her. “Lovely stained glass windows and a sense of reverence in its architecture gives the church a special quality,” she says.

Pawlenty’s Swedish roots run deep. Her grandfather emigrated from Sweden through Ellis Island before moving to Minnesota.

Pawlenty’s parents began attending Wooddale when she was 15, but kept close ties with Edina members.

The family ties to the Covenant continue in other ways. Their daughter, Anna, graduated from Minnehaha Academy this year. Daughter Mara is part of the school’s class of 2014. The former governor delivered the commencement address at the school this year.

Mary Pawlenty, a former judge, works with the Gilbert Mediation Center.

Article by Stan Friedman. Copyright © 2011 The Evangelical Covenant Church.

Stromberg-web-2Mark Stromberg was installed as superintendent of the Northwest Conference during the evening worship service on June 29 at the 2011 Evangelical Covenant Church Annual Meeting in Estes Park, CO. He assumed the new position July 1.

“I am so pleased to be able to continue to serve the Lord through my work with Northwest Conference churches and other fine ministries,” Stromberg said. “To stand before delegates representing the broader Covenant and affirm my commitment to the work within the Northwest Conference was a humbling and holy experience for me.”

Stromberg was joined by his wife Terri, daughter Amy and son-in-law Kevin Pieh, sisters Julie Tutt and Teri Oelschlager, and in-laws Roland and Shirley Danielson.

“I am grateful for the rich heritage I have received from being a child of the Northwest Conference. However, my passion and commitment has much more to do with the future than the past. Thus, I pray that I am used to move our collective ministry forward in the years ahead,” Stromberg said.

Fretheim honored for service

Delegates attending Thursday’s business session honored retiring conference superintendents Ken Carlson and Jim Fretheim, and Rodney Sawyer, regional field director of the Evangelical Covenant Church of Alaska.

Fretheim has served as Northwest Conference superintendent since 2003. In his introductory remarks, Walter said he was discussing with Fretheim about what it was like knowing that this would be his last day in office—asking how does he prepare for the future. Walter said it quickly became clear that Fretheim already had plans – someone had spotted his fly-fishing pants already packed in his car.

“I want to thank the churches of the Northwest Conference for the privilege of serving as their superintendent,” Fretheim said. “What a joy to be a superintendent and serve with my great team of colleagues and good friends. I look forward to tight lines, ducks coming into my blind, and other chances to serve the Lord.”

Following the evening service, Stromberg, Fretheim, and other leaders were honored at a reception hosted by Covenant Ministries of Benevolence.

The Gallery

Delegates to the 126th Annual Meeting also welcomed 11 churches into membership, including The Gallery Covenant Church in St. Paul, MN.

To view a small collection of photos from installation and reception, visit the NWC Photos page. For more complete coverage of the 2011 ECC Annual Meeting, visit www.covchurch.org/am.

By Stan Friedman

MINNEAPOLIS, MN (May 23, 2011) – Jeremy Scheller was hosting a birthday party for his son when a tornado ripped through his community in north Minneapolis.

“We were playing games and then the power went off and then the sirens started,” says Scheller, director of communications, technology, and media for Sanctuary Covenant Church. The adults rushed the children to the basement where they all listened as the twister passed.

“It moved fast,” Scheller says. “It was over in about 30 seconds.”

In that brief period, however, it killed one person and injured at least 30 others. The twister also smashed houses, uprooted large trees, and destroyed vehicles.

Trees fell on the home of Sanctuary’s associate pastor Cecilia Williams, causing the roof to collapse. No one was injured, but the family was one of many who have had to find shelter elsewhere.

A lot of the congregation’s members live in the area. “We’re all calling each other to check to see if they’re okay,” Scheller says.

The twister tore off parts of the church office roof – inside areas sustained water damage, Scheller says. Vandals broke into the church, but apparently did not take anything of value because members had secured the computers and other equipment shortly after the storm. The church plans to set up its offices temporarily in another local Covenant church, Scheller says.

Associate Pastor Kevin Farmer, a former emergency medical technician, tried in vain to safe the life of the one resident who was killed. The 59-year-old man died in his car when a large part of a tree went through his front windshield and struck him.

The church and its nonprofit organization, Sanctuary Community Development Corporation, have opened a disaster response staging area in cooperation with the city and another nonprofit group. Other Covenant churches in the area also have begun to offer assistance to local residents.

The tornado was one of three that struck the area. It tore through a five-mile path from suburban St. Louis Park, where it hit a condominium complex and two businesses, and continued through north Minneapolis, according to press reports.

“Many residents were walking around their shattered neighborhood in a daze, astonished at the devastation,” said a report in the Bemidji Pioneer.

Copyright © 2011 The Evangelical Covenant Church.

NWC-AM-2011-3Delegates to the 2011 Northwest Conference Annual Meeting voted to approve the Rev. Mark R. Stromberg as the next superintendent during the meeting’s first Business Session on Friday, April 29, at Crossview Covenant Church in North Mankato, MN.

Stromberg has served on the conference staff for the past 10 years; first as director of administration and church development, and then as associate superintendent for the past 8 years. He will be installed as superintendent during the Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Covenant Church in Estes Park, CO, June 28-30.

During the meeting, Stromberg shared with both the pastors and delegates his commitment to the work of the NWC and the debt of gratitude that he feels to the conference churches, camps and school that have been so influential in his own faith journey.

“ECC President Gary Walter has often expressed his commitment to the broader church, partly due to his gratitude for its mission extension through the local Covenant church in which he came to know the Lord,” Stromberg said. “I have that same sense of gratitude to the Northwest Conference. I am pleased to know that I will have the opportunity to give back to those who have given so much to me.”

However, superintendent-elect Stromberg reflected, “While many of us are grateful for what we have experienced in the past, our eye has to be looking forward … to the next chapter. The best way we can honor those who have given so much to us is to ‘pay-it-forward.’”

Stromberg continued, “We must use what we have received in order to pour into those who are both younger and newer in our churches and communities. That is how we show our appreciation and respect for those who came before us. Therefore, we remain deeply committed to our priorities of congregational vitality, church planting, and ministry to children, youth, & families.”

Delegates approved the proposed budget of $1,114,893 to support these ministry priorities.

Honoring the theme of the meeting, “Mission Friends: The Next Chapter,” the NWC debuted a series of videos highlighting unique ministries in nine conference churches during Friday’s Business Session. Each video features interview segments with church staff, lay leaders and pastors—intermixed with video footage from the churches highlighted—telling stories of transformation and innovation in ministry.

The videos are also designed for use throughout the year in church new member classes, services and other adult education opportunities to help congregations better understand and engage the work of the NWC. Each church’s delegates left with a DVD copy of the videos, and the series is available on the NWC web site’s video page (www.northwestconference.org/resources/videos).

Following staff reports from the NWC, delegates to the meeting heard from affiliated ministries including: the Ministerial Association, the Town and Country Commission, Women Ministries, Covenant Enabling Residences of MN, Parish Nursing, and a camping ministry representative. Dr. Donna Harris, president of Minnehaha Academy, also shared highlights from the school, as well as some details on her hopes for the future.

Friday Worship Service

The worship team from Crossview Covenant led attendees in worship during the Friday evening Worship Service. The 2011 Candidates for Ordination (5) and New Church Joining the Covenant (1) were also recognized and prayed for during the worship service.

“There is an intangible value in simply being together with other brothers and sisters in Christ on the same mission,” said Brad Kindall, pastor of The Gallery Covenant Church in St. Paul, MN. “As The Gallery was officially welcomed into the Covenant, I was reminded we are not alone. We are surrounded by such a ‘great cloud of witnesses’ in the Covenant and in the Northwest Conference.”

One Step Closer commitment cards were collected, and a special offering raised $1,241 to support the Northwest Conference Adventures in Leadership youth training program.

Jim Fretheim, retiring superintendent of the NWC, shared a message examining truths that result from the fact that “Jesus is, in fact, Lord of all.” Fretheim challenged attendees to consider that what they say has eternal significance.

“We need to let people know that Jesus is real, and He’s alive and He’s present. … How strong is the chord between your resurrection faith and the real life ministry of your church?” Fretheim asked. “What are we going to do with the opportunities to witness that come before us as a church?”

Following the message, those in attendance gathered at the front of the sanctuary, surrounding Fretheim and his wife Kathy, and offered prayers of thanksgiving for his family and lifelong ministry. A reception honoring his faithful service to the NWC followed the service.

“I am grateful for the affirmation of the meeting and the prayers that were offered at the end of the worship service on Friday evening,” Fretheim said. “Thanks to our host church for the reception that followed the service. The treats and the music added a special touch!”

Leadership Workshops

Following worship and a brief Business Session on Saturday morning, attendees participated in various leadership workshops led by conference staff and other facilitators. Workshop topics included communications, church governance, church finances, strategic planning, exploring community mission, and more.

If you would like to see more pictures from the 2011 Northwest Conference Annual Meeting, visit our photos page.

MOVE-11-thumbOn April 1-2, 320 students and youth workers from throughout the Northwest Conference converged on First Covenant Church in Minneapolis, MN, for M.O.V.E. 2011—a weekend of teaching, worship, service and experiential learning. This year’s theme was “The Price of Justice.”

The weekend kicked off with a worship service that featured praise music and a challenging message from Eugene Cho, pastor of Quest Church in Seattle, WA, and founder of One Day’s Wages. ODW promotes awareness, invites simple giving (one day’s wages), and supports sustainable relief through partnerships, especially with smaller organizations in developing regions.

“We have to act upon our convictions. We have to act upon our faith in Jesus Christ. Everyone loves the idea of justice until it involves a personal cost or sacrifice,” Cho told the students. “We do justice not only because it matters to God, but because in that process we will be changed.”

Before heading to bed Friday night, students spent time with their youth groups preparing for the next day’s experiences.

On Saturday morning, youth groups fanned out to 18 different agencies and ministry sites across the Twin Cities for three hours of service, which ranged from preparing meals for homeless, to lawn care and clean-up projects, to playing with shelter kids, to the restocking of supply shelves at thrift centers and distribution warehouses, to packaging books for Africa.

Saturday afternoon M.O.V.E. participants experienced “Face the facts: Understanding Urban Poverty,” a simulation exercise created by Urban Immersion Service Retreats and the Greater Minneapolis Council of Churches to help people step into the shoes of a family struggling with their finances. During the experience, participants were broken into families of five and given a scenario based on current statistics for people living at the poverty level here in the Twin Cities.

While “playing” the game, students found themselves having to navigate systems and make difficult decisions to secure housing, employment and transportation, among other basic needs. By keeping a ledger of their finances and reflecting on both the positive and negative consequences of their decisions and situations, participants became more acutely aware of the realities of the working poor in our society.

M.O.V.E. 2011 concluded with another powerful worship session and message from Pastor Cho. Cho reminded everyone that justice requires faith, compassion, collaboration, perseverance and creativity. As a statement of support to Cho and the efforts of One Days Wages an offering of $850 was collected to support ODW’s rebuilding efforts in Haiti.

M.O.V.E. 2011 once again lived up to our expectation of expanding the worldviews of the participants and reinforcing how every individual motivated by God’s spirit can make a profound difference in the world.

Visit the Children, Youth and Family media page to see videos and a photo gallery from the event.

Dr. Mark McCloskey, Professor of Ministry Leadership at Bethel Seminary, led the workshop. McCloskey noted, “In the last 10 years there has been a fundamental shift in how leaders need to lead in order to be effective. This is as true for church leaders as it is for business leaders. We want to make sure leaders in smaller churches have the resources necessary to be effective.”

The workshop was a follow-up to a seminar that the Town and Country Commission held last fall for pastors in conjunction with the Ministerium Retreat. That seminar, also conducted by McCloskey, focused on how pastors can be more effective leaders and how they can help their lay leaders develop their leadership skills.

“Next fall we will be having McCloskey back again to lead a seminar focusing on how Town and Country churches can develop effective goals and visions,” noted Randy Young, chair of the commission. “This is a logical extension of our efforts to help local church leaders develop their leadership skills.”

Shelter-womens side webThe Minneapolis City Council approved a permit for First Covenant Church to operate a homeless shelter just hours before the congregation welcomed their first 18 “guests” on Friday, Dec. 10.

First Covenant expects to serve as an overnight shelter for up to 50 homeless people a night during the winter months.

The church is working in cooperation with the Salvation Army’s Harbor Light Center. At times the center, which has had an overflow of up to 100 people, sought assistance from other organizations to relieve overcrowding at their facility.

Other organizations know that Harbor Light is the only shelter in the Twin Cities that does not turn people away when the center has reached capacity. When the other shelters are full, they direct homeless people to Harbor Light.

Last month, the online news publication MinnPost published stories that focused on the overcrowding problem and told of people sleeping on chairs and in hallways because there was no other space for mats.

Numbers of homeless people in the county are at a 10-year high, with some advocates estimating 300 or more Hennepin County residents sleep outdoors each night, the MinnPost reported.

First Covenant’s lead pastor, Dan Collison, says the church wants to ease the burden while helping the citizens of Hennepin County.

A survey published last year found that nearly 20 percent of the county’s homeless residents had been laid off in the previous six months. The lack of employment opportunities was cited as a major barrier to escaping their circumstances.

Heading Home Hennepin, a comprehensive 10-year plan launched by Hennepin County and Minneapolis to end homelessness, will fund most of the program at First Covenant. County commissioners recently authorized $117,000 to cover operating costs.

Financial contributions from the congregation and other members of the community will provide the additional funding that is needed. Harbor Light employees and volunteers from the church will staff the shelter at First Covenant.

In November, the church showed a 30-minute video on homeless ministry in the city to prepare the congregation for welcoming and better understanding their guests and their needs.

Collison says the church already has received support from other neighborhood groups and businesses. “They recognize that the homeless are already on our streets in east downtown and Elliot Park and that we have to be part of the solutions rather than just saying ‘go away.’”

Check out the KSTP TV video news story

Copyright © 2010 The Evangelical Covenant Church.

Eugene Cho: One Days WagesThe Northwest Conference is happy to announce that Eugene Cho has agreed to be the speaker at M.O.V.E. 2011. Cho is the founder and Lead Pastor of Quest Church, an urban, multicultural, and multi-generational Covenant church in Seattle, WA, and the founder and Executive Director of Q Cafe—an innovative nonprofit community cafe and music venue.

Cho and his wife, Minhee, are also the founders of One Day’s Wages, “a new movement of people, stories and actions to alleviate extreme global poverty.”

The strategy of ODW is to create a collaborative movement via integrating Human Relationships, Social Media/Technology, and the Power of Story.

ODW promotes awareness, invites simple giving (one day’s wages), and supports sustainable relief through partnerships, especially with smaller organizations in developing regions.

M.O.V.E. is “Mission Outreach Venture and Experience,” an opportunity for senior high students (9th-12th grade) and youth leaders to have a “hands on” mission experience in an urban setting. In addition to Cho, John Lee and the Church of All Nations praise team will be leading in worship. Look for more details coming soon!

Mark Stromberg webMark Stromberg has been recommended to replace Jim Fretheim as superintendent of the Northwest Conference of the Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC) when Fretheim retires next year.

Stromberg currently serves as associate superintendent of the conference, focusing in areas of leadership development, revitalization, strategic planning and church health assessment. He also handles legal, financial, property and other administrative issues.

“Mark is very passionate about the people and churches in the conference,” said search committee chair John Stewart of Stromberg’s selection. “He is a humble man, sincere in his call.” Stewart and his wife, Kris, serve as co-pastors of First Covenant Church in Worthington, MN.

Stromberg also has been part of the team developing new directions for conference ministries over the past three to four years, Stewart pointed out. “There was no preference shown because of his involvement with the conference,” Stewart emphasized. “However, what we’ve heard from our churches is that they like the direction we’re going—the emphases on church planting and revitalization, our children, youth and families—and they want to keep that momentum going.”

That sentiment was echoed by Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC) President Gary Walter, who characterized Stromberg as “a proven leader who knows the conference and the entire Covenant very well.

“The conference has solid momentum right now, building on the leadership of Superintendent Fretheim and the whole team,” Walter observes. “This continuity will only reinforce it. The whole of the Covenant is grateful for the ministry of the Northwest Conference.”

Fretheim also is pleased with the continuity of vision that Stromberg’s selection affords. “I am very pleased that the conference and the team will continue to pursue the vision and God’s leading under Mark’s leadership. It is a good day for the conference as we continue to trust God.”

Stromberg’s selection by a 15-member search committee concludes a nine-month process that began in April when Fretheim announced he would not seek another term. Bylaws call for the conference executive board to serve as the search committee, says Stewart. To ensure broad diversity in a number of areas, additional members were added to the committee.

The conference executive board met with Walter in mid-July to outline the search process. A letter was sent to all conference churches in late August describing the search process and requesting input—what churches desire in a new superintendent as well as recommendations of individuals as potential candidates.

Approximately 35 names were received by the committee, which studied biographical profiles for each one. The board met with Walter in October to review information for all candidates and develop a list of finalists. Interviews were conducted last Friday with a decision reached on Saturday afternoon.

“I was deeply impressed with the committee’s work,” Walter said. “It was thorough, rigorous, and done both carefully and prayerfully with a breadth of perspectives and candidates. The members served with distinction, particularly evident in their hunger to be open to God’s leading throughout the process.”

Stromberg received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Bethel College, a Master of Divinity from North Park Theological Seminary, and a Master of Arts from Bethel University Graduate School. He was ordained by the Covenant to Word and Sacrament in 1989. He served as a development pastor at Countryside Covenant Church in Clearwater, FL, and as associate and then senior pastor at Brookdale Covenant Church in Brooklyn Center, MN, before working in areas of recruiting, training and marketing for two companies in the late 1990s.

He then assumed a position as pastor of ministry development at First Covenant Church in Minneapolis before joining the Northwest Conference staff as director of administration and church development. He moved into the position of associate superintendent in 2003. Stromberg has played a significant role in advancing the mosaic of the conference—while serving as director of church planting, he initiated the calling of the first church planters of color in the conference as well as the first women church planters in the region.

“I am honored to be the candidate,” Stromberg said today. “As a child of the Northwest Conference, this is particularly meaningful to me. The conference staff and board, working with many leaders throughout the conference, have worked hard to develop a vision for healthy, missional churches. We also have endeavored to encourage, enable and equip leaders—both lay and clergy—as we believe this is the best way to empower healthy, missional churches.”

Stromberg will stand for election during the Northwest Conference Annual Meeting next April in Mankato, MN. If elected, Stromberg will be installed during the ECC annual Meeting in June at Estes Park, CO. He would assume his new responsibilities July 1, 2011.

Copyright © 2010 The Evangelical Covenant Church.

Converge WebDespite the largest November snowstorm in 19 years, 90 people braved the elements to attend the first NWC CONVERGE event at Roseville Covenant Church in Roseville, MN on Nov. 13.

“As NWC staff, we were amazed at the number of people who braved the elements and still participated in CONVERGE—in spite of the weather and road conditions. We look forward to repeating many of these same workshops, with some helpful modifications, at our NWC Annual Meeting in Mankato in April,” said Mark Stromberg, NWC associate superintendent. “We believe that providing these practical workshops can be of great assistance to our churches, as it allows us to lean into our NWC mission of empowering and equipping healthy missional leaders.”

The one-day leadership training event featured workshops designed to equip church leaders in a variety of areas. Workshops at Converge included: “Effective Church Finances,” “Developing a Powerful Communications Strategy for Your Church,” “MissionInsite,” “How to Evaluate the Effectiveness of Church Programs,” “Church Constitutions and Local Church Governance,” “Exploring Community Mission: Reaching Your Jerusalem,” and “KidShift: It’s a New Day for Children & Family Ministry in Today’s Effective Church.”

Visit our Photos page to see a small collection of images from CONVERGE 2010.

THRIVE 2010 thumbMore than 400 people descended on Hope Covenant Church in Grand Forks, ND, Oct. 15-16, for two days of inspiration, teaching, worship and workshops designed to spread encouragement. THRIVE ND, which was hosted by Hope and co-sponsored by the Northwest Conference, was facilitated by a team from Bayside Church in Granite Bay, CA.

Ray Johnston, founding pastor of Bayside and keynote speaker on Friday evening, opened THRIVE ND by challenging pastors and lay people to embrace vision, compassion and hope.

The early Church had a “vision that was greater than their fear,” Johnston said. “A lot of churches today, their only vision for the future is to bring back the past.”

Asking churches to choose compassion over apathy, Johnston explained that “good deeds” can lead to “good will,” which can eventually lead to openness to the “good news” of the gospel. As he closed the session, Johnston said that churches must also be a place of hope and encouragement for those who already attend, and those who are new to the church.

On Saturday, attendees—who came from almost 30 different churches—had the opportunity to choose from breakout sessions designed to equip them for various aspects of ministry. Breakout workshops covered a range of topics, including: Preaching and Communication Dynamics, God-Size Your Church, Worship Leading and Leading Worship from the Heart, and What is a Thriving College Ministry?

Bayside, which hosts an annual version of THRIVE at its campus in California, hopes to continue to replicate the event on smaller scales at venues across the country.

Visit our photos page to see a collection of images from the weekend.

AC Banquet NWC imageAdventurous Christians is celebrating another successful year of wilderness ministry. The theme for 2010’s fundraising banquets is: “Led By God: 40 years in the Wilderness”

“AC has wrapped up its 40th year in ministry and the prospect for this small, quaint ministry to continue strong has never looked brighter,” said Mike Nelson, camp director.

Details:

First Covenant Church, Duluth // Friday, Oct. 29
6:00 p.m. Gathering Time
6:30 p.m. Dinner

Salem Covenant Church, New Brighton // Saturday, Oct. 30
5:30 p.m. Gathering Time
6:00 p.m. Dinner

A Silent Auction will be held at the Twin Cities event; must be present to bid. Preview auction items and download invites and response cards at www.adventurouschristians.org. Please mail your Response Card by Oct. 10.

“We invite you to come and help celebrate Adventurous Christians and to hear of the great things He is doing,” Nelson said. “Your presence at one of these banquets is important to us. If you cannot attend one, you can still support AC through the use of programming, prayer, volunteering, and/or with your year-end giving.”

HF 2010 Passport 1-1_1BROOKLYN PARK, MN (September 13, 2010) – La Bendición Covenant Church will give local residents the opportunity to tour all of Latin America in an afternoon when they host the Hispanic Heritage Month Festival at Redeemer Covenant Church on Sept. 19.

Twenty-two booths will be set up representing a different Latin American country where people can learn more about the culture, ask questions, and sample food. Native costumes and music from the different countries also will be featured. Hispanic pastors from metro area churches will share their testimonies and brief gospel messages, according to La Bendición Pastor Juan Lopez.

The celebration will conclude with a time of prayer for Latino nations and the United States. Although the countries each have their unique identities, they have experienced similar histories, Lopez says. “As Hispanics, we share the same heritage of conquest and independence, the same language, and many cultural roots that unite us.”

The festival also represents the continued shared ministry between La Bendición and Redeemer Covenant, who hope the event will serve as an outreach to the Twin Cities Hispanic communities. This is the second year for the event, which was a huge success last year, says Lopez. The city and police department have expressed interest in participating in next year’s event, Lopez says. “Passports” will be available for a donation of $5 per person or $10 per family. The
event will be held from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, visit the Redeemer Covenant website or email Lopez.

Copyright © 2010 The Evangelical Covenant Church.

Alaska webRodney Sawyer, field director for the ECC of Alaska, says that bush villages often are geographically isolated and suffer unemployment rates that can reach 80 percent. Many villagers must live off the land, hunting and farming for their food. Living conditions for pastors can be harsh; some live in poor, unhealthy conditions.

The Northwest Conference has the privilege to partner with our sister churches in Shaktoolik and Unalakleet, Alaska, to assist and encourage their ministry efforts and lend a hand with building projects. Last summer we sent three work teams to Unalakleet to repair and rehab the parsonage where Pastor Joel Oyoumick lives with his family.

This summer, two teams went to rehab the church in Shaktoolik, and one team returned to Unalakleet to finish work on the parsonage. Following are the reflections of one of the July 17-27 team members who visited Shaktoolik this past month.

Reflections on the Alaska Mission Trip – July 17-27, 2010

The wind had increased all morning and now in the early afternoon our jackets felt good and our baseball hats were pulled low as the threatening rain encouraged us to work at top speed. This was our second day on top of the Shaktoolik church roof. The old layer of roofing was all removed and the second half of the ice and water shield was almost completed. The white caps on each wave of Norton’s Bay—100 yards to the west—promised more wind and rain as we quickly glanced at each other and decided it was time to get off the roof. God’s plan for us that day was clear; we were in for a “Blow.”

Our work crew of eight had traveled from Minnesota to “The Bush” of Alaska to upgrade the Shaktoolik church building, encourage the native Covenanters and serve the Lord. Little did we know that God’s plan included harsh weather, late supplies, limited visibility and restricted travel.

Our “Mission Trip” at times felt more like the TV show “Survivor.” But those harsh facts were totally surpassed by the genuine friendliness and hospitality of the residents. Our plan was to give, but in the end we received so much more that we shed tears as God showered us with multiple blessings through the people of the village.

The Team …

  • worked together through the challenges,
  • had excellent attitudes,
  • appreciated the support of locals Gary Bekaolok and Palmer Sagoonick who helped us out immensely,
  • repeatedly received expressions of gratitude for our willingness to work on the church,
  • was delighted to see vacation Bible school program go from four kids the first night to 17 the second night,
  • received no injuries,
  • really cherished our one calm, warm day,
  • was pleasantly surprised that sleeping accommodations in the parsonage were much better than expected and we ate a great variety of good food.

Memories from the trip:

  • one village family brought us 20 snow crabs for supper one night,
  • the village store had one large container of ice cream just for Glen Mehrkens,
  • those who went fishing caught some very large salmon,
  • our replacement group arrived on schedule and we were able to fly out on time allowing everyone to make the flight home connections,
  • we enjoyed two great Sunday services with the villagers,
  • the villagers sing with much gusto and emotions,
  • Palmer repeatedly expressed how encouraged he was to see the improvement to the church,
  • we experienced how tough the simple things can be in the bush of Alaska,
  • and appreciated how weather plays a huge factor in village life.

God is working in Alaska and we were able to be a small part of His mission.

Jon, Tim, Dave, Brad, Dale, Rick, Glen and Bob.

Written by Bob Bangtson of First Covenant Church, Red Wing, MN

Ordination-serviceSunday morning’s worship service at the 125th Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Covenant Church celebrated the ordination, commissioning and consecration of new ministers and missionaries as they prepare to further their work in sharing the gospel with a rapidly changing world.

The service also brought to a close the four-day celebration of the Evangelical Covenant Church.

Seventeen ministers from the Northwest Conference were ordained during the service, including: Stephen D. Allison, Prince of Peace Evangelical Covenant Church, Mondovi, WI; Stephen L. Anderson, Excelsior Covenant Church, Excelsior, MN; Keith R. Becker, Hope Evangelical Covenant Church, Grand Forks, ND; Janice E. Bros, Abbey Way Covenant Church, Minneapolis, MN; Kevin W. Farmer, The Sanctuary Covenant Church, Minneapolis, MN; Stephen J. Grosz, Kennedy Covenant Church/Teien Covenant Church, Kennedy, MN/Drayton, ND; Terri L. Gunderson, First Covenant Church, Willmar, MN; David R. Harlow, Thomastown Covenant Church, Staples, MN; Kyle R. Kachelmeier, Winthrop Covenant Church, Winthrop, MN; Jonathan E. Kramka, The Northwest Conference, Minneapolis, MN; John B. March, New City Covenant Church, St Louis Park, MN; Colleen R. Nelson, Roseville Covenant Church, Roseville, MN; Terrance J. Rollerson, The Compass Covenant Church, St. Paul, MN; Efrem D. Smith, The Sanctuary Covenant Church, Minneapolis, MN; Kara J Stromberg, Youth Leadership, St. Paul, MN; Benjamin J. Swanson, Edina Covenant Church, Edina, MN; Kyle J. Vlach, St. Francis Regional Medical Center, Shakopee, MN.

Peter T. Cha, an ordained Covenant minister who serves as an associate professor of pastoral theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, noted a dramatic shift in the questions asked by people outside the Church.

Cha recalled that when he attended seminary in the 1980s, ministers were reading books written by Paul Little, director of evangelism for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF), as they considered the best way to respond to the world’s needs. Little had interacted with students on hundreds of different college and university campuses, asking what the students most wanted to know about Christianity. Previously, college students asked questions primarily focusing on issues of doctrine and the nature of God and Christ: “Is there a God? Is Christ God? Did Christ rise from the dead? Is the Bible reliable? Is it full of errors?”

Recently, Rick Richardson, a contemporary leader of IVCF, has been asking the college students about their religious questions. Their focus had undergone a dramatic shift from Little’s days. Today, students primarily are concerned about how the church responds to the world and how it uses its power: “How can I trust the church that has done terrible things in the name of Christ? Does your religion help our society, especially those who suffer and are marginalized? Aren’t you just another self-serving group? Doesn’t the church justify and maintain racial and gender hierarchical structures in the society?”

Cha added, “There is a deep sense of suspicion and even accusations that shape the questions that are being asked today.”

Because of that suspicion, Cha asked his own question of the ministers being commissioned and ordained today: “So how are we to proclaim and live out the good news of Jesus in a time such as ours?”

Cha offered his own answer based on his reading of Isaiah 58:6-14. “The passage powerfully calls us to be the light of the world,” he said.

Cha contrasted the response of the church in two Asian countries and how they affected the spread of the gospel. Christians in Great Britain did nothing to challenge the opium trade from their country to China in the mid-1800s, he observed. British companies profited greatly from the sale of opium that had been introduced to and forced on China. The opium led to widespread addictions. Famed missionary Hudson Taylor was one of the few who protested the evil actions of his country, writing in 1882, “The opium trade made England’s profession of Christianity hollow and sincere.” His voice fell on deaf ears.

Because the Chinese came to associate the church with the opium trade, Cha said, “Becoming a Christian was tantamount to being a traitor to your people.”

The opposite happened in Cha’s native Korea, even though the country shares a Confucian-based culture with China. Missionaries coming to Korea found a people in despair because of a growing Japanese influence over their country. Unlike in China, the missionaries brought a gospel of hope. They built hospitals and schools, including universities for women. Japan was closing many Korean schools, but they would not touch the missionary schools for fear of offending the United States, Cha said.

Most of the graduates of these schools not only became fine Christian leaders, but also became leaders of the independence movement in Korea. The gospel had encouraged them, not only the hope of eternal life for individuals, but also offered a hope of freedom for their colonized nation.

Cha said he was glad to be part of a denomination that takes seriously God’s mandate for justice and mercy. To not include that work as part of evangelism is to embrace an incomplete gospel. Cha also urged ministers to pay attention to their own spiritual life with God so that they would “love God with our whole selves.”

The symbol of the cross is appropriate for Christianity because it was the means by which Jesus sacrificed his life, but also because it is an intersection of vertical and horizontal lines. “As Christ followers, we are to carry our cross—be attentive to both our vertical relationship with God and our horizontal relationship with our suffering neighbors. However, if we are not careful, instead of carrying a cross, we can just end up carrying a stick and use it to beat up others.

“As long as we continue to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God, I am certain that the mission of the Evangelical Covenant Church will bear much fruit because that is what the sovereign God promised,” Cha concluded.

Following the sermon, the newly ordained, consecrated, and commissioned ministers were prayed over and received vests, which are an ancient symbol of being yoked to Christ’s ministry.

A string-tying ceremony also was demonstrated by long-time missionary Paul De Neui, along with Khampan Sudcha, president of the Thailand Covenant Church, and his wife, Tipawan Sudcha, also a leader in the denomination.

The Asian blessing practice, which dates back to at least 300 years before Christ, was added. It symbolizes a bond between people going through a significant transition. Following the service, those in the audience tied strings on the wrists of the ministers and pronounced a blessing on their transition into a new phase of ministry.

To see a collection of photos from the ordination, commissioning and consecration service, visit the NWC photo page.

Copyright © 2010 The Evangelical Covenant Church.

Family-Festival-NewsThe Evangelical Covenant Church hosted a Family Festival and Picnic on Raspberry Island on June 26 in celebration of its 125th Anniversary. The event, which featured musical acts, a puppet show, food vendors, children’s activities, and more, was held in conjunction with the 2010 ECC Annual Meeting in St. Paul, MN, June 24-27.

“It’s been fabulous. We’ve just had a wonderful time,” said Pat Trautman, member of Redeemer Covenant Church in Brooklyn Park, MN. “I can hardly take two steps and I know someone else. My whole family is here.”

Volunteers from NWC churches and ministries helped staff the event by taking tickets, helping run carnival events, and overseeing stage entertainment. The Family Festival Stage featured many talented musical acts from local and national churches.

A team of students from Alaska Christian College performed traditional Alaskan tribal music, as well as modern Christian songs. Other acts to grace the stage during the festival included: Heart Song Reunion, Steadfast, Emmanuel Covenant Church, Joel Bowers, Vanessa Gamble, Marcus Singleton, Ebony Ramquist, Geoff Bullock, and the Brookdale Covenant Church Puppet Team.

“This is a significant week for us because we became a member church yesterday. As part of the family, you just participate,” said Phil Nelson, director of worship development and director of communications at Emmanuel Covenant Church in Shoreview, MN. “Every time we do a Covenant event, we’ve been impressed.”

Despite warm, humid conditions, festival attendees of all ages enjoyed the variety of activities and information booths throughout the afternoon.

“It’s kind of what you hope a fair would always be. Really fun. Really relaxing. This is amazing,” said Dawn Burnett, co-pastor of Prairie Hills Covenant Church in Sioux Falls, SD. “This Annual Meeting shows some of the best prepared hospitality I’ve ever seen. It’s just been great.”

To see a collection of photos from the Family Festival, visit our NWC photos page.

 

pp1The theme of Friday’s message for those attending the 125th Annual Meeting worship service could not have been more appropriate to the venue – “Down By the Riverside.”

Kris Causton, associate pastor at Excelsior Covenant Church in Excelsior, MN, took advantage of the geography and the Covenant’s historic commitment to spiritual formation and discipleship in guiding her audience to the riverbanks of Scripture where she challenged listeners to take a leap of faith. The service also honored those who have gone to be with the Lord during the past year and concluded with communion.

Causton began on a light note, bragging about the many notables whose roots are embedded in the land of 10,000 lakes —people like Judy Garland, Prince, Bob Dylan and Garrison Keillor. Another notable feature of this state is the headwaters of the Mississippi River that originate just above Lake Itasca – it is possible to step across the tiny ribbon of water that eventually winds its way 2,500 miles to empty into the Gulf.

“Here we are … down by the riverside,” she observed, noting that the tiny stream has widened into a broad waterway by the time it hits St. Paul, and grows even larger as it winds its way south.

“Appropriately, in the Bible, God does stuff down by the riverside,” Causton said in turning her attention to the core of her message. In a rapid delivery, she traveled through multiple passages recounting the relationship of rivers to the work of God: the river that ran through the Garden of Eden, where God gave life, or the image of the river that flows from the temple in Ezekial’s vision where everything lives, or Revelation’s river of life.

Not only is it at the river that God gives life, but also where he gives us our identity, she noted. Moses’ mother floats the baby on the Nile—and it was God who gave him his name. Or Jesus being baptized by John—and God names his son.

“By the riverside is the place where God gives us our name and identity,” she said.

Rivers are not always placid places, but often are filled with rapids and swift currents. “What God is inviting us into is not a wading pool, but a swift current,” she said. “That requires faith.” The alternative is to remain in the wilderness and miss the opportunity to discover God’s greatness.

“God’s call to Israel was to go all in, all the way,” Causton said. “These biblical figures are there to challenge us. Are we willing to jump in and follow God today? Can you recall a riverside moment in your own life?” she asked her listeners. Tying her message to the 125th Covenant anniversary theme, she observed that the Covenant has its share of people who were all in too—the Pietists, or the band of people who 125 years ago started the denomination. “That’s an all-in move.”

That mandate continues today, with current examples of people who are all in for God trusting God to transform their lives. “That’s the goal of spiritual formation—to get people down by the riverside to see what God will do and to hear his call to get all in.

“We are a denomination that takes spiritual formation seriously,” she said in citing the triennial CHIC event as one example. “CHIC is all about getting adolescents down by the riverside, a place where some hear the good news for the first time, a place where some hear the call to service and respond. All in.

“So, here we are, down by the riverside—125 years of ‘getting in’ to celebrate,” she continued. “But, what’s next? We are here at the invitation of God. The question of the evening is simple: are you in? Are you still standing on the shore, or are you all in to see where God will take you?”

Causton outlined three “currents” she believes God is calling the Covenant to wade into as Covenanters contemplate the next 125 years:

  • The called and gifted current – “1976 was a riverside moment with the ordination of women to word and sacrament … and 34 years later some are still not in that current.”
  • The multiethnic current – “we proclaim that we want to reflect the whole of God’s Church, but it is not acceptable to stand on the shore … it is either in or out.”
  • The current of justice – “we have been a church of compassion … but there is a call to go further into an even more dangerous current, searching for those who are oppressed and finding out why and doing something about it.”

“Are you ready to jump in?” she asked in closing. “For the next 125 years? If we are, we’re in for the ride of our lives. One day, we will see the river in the city of God and will understand what all these riverside moments were all about.

“Until then … .”

Copyright © 2010 The Evangelical Covenant 

NWC-Church-PlantsDuring the Friday morning Business Session of the 125th Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Covenant Church, eight new churches from the Northwest Conference—along with churches from across the country—were received into membership.

Mike Brown, director of church planting for the Northwest Conference, introduced each church and its pastor to the delegates and attendees at the meeting.

“Today was a very exciting day for our new churches and our conference. We celebrate with our new churches as they join the Covenant family,” Brown said. “These new churches represent the culmination of countless hours of planning, prayer and hard work.”

Visit our photo gallery page to see pictures of each church being received.

The churches that were received into membership include:

Abbey Way Covenant Church: Founded in January 2007, Abbey Way Covenant Church is a growing faith community meeting Sunday evenings in Northeast Minneapolis. They follow in the footsteps of an ancient way of Gospel living through a shared commitment to common spiritual practices, corporate rhythms and intentional relationships.

Cedarbrook Church: Cedarbrook Church has been a non-denominational church plant in the Menomonie, WI, community for about 5 years. Cedarbrook was born to provide a place for the many people who had given up on church, even though they hadn’t given up on God.

The Compass Covenant Church: The Compass is a 2-and-a-half-year-old, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural congregation that desires to impact inner city St. Paul. The mission of The Compass has been to take Jesus out into the community as they love, give and serve the people who live around them.

Emmanuel Covenant Church: Emmanuel Covenant Church has been meeting in the Shoreview area for 3 years. They have been very active in engaging the community through outreach events, mission projects and through Sunday worship gatherings. Emmanuel Covenant Church embraces historic Christian beliefs while creating a unique identity as a local church.

Living Stones Covenant Church: Living Stones is a 3-year-old church plant committed to serving the South Minneapolis community. Living Stones was born out of Pastor John Foley’s tenure with Dinomights Hockey Ministry (Hockey in the Hood). The church is a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural congregation desiring to help people who are far from God find a place to meet Him and grow in their relationship with one another and Christ.

NewDay Covenant Church: NewDay Covenant is a 1-and-a-half-year-old church plant born out of Rochester Covenant Church. They intentionally chose the YMCA as their place to meet for worship because of its role as a gathering place for people from different ethnicities, economic circumstances, social groups and neighborhoods.

Nueva Vida Covenant Church: Nueva Vida is a 4-year-old church plant sharing facilities with Monticello Covenant Church. The church has been reaching out to the growing Hispanic population in the area, meeting tangible needs by providing school supplies, help in navigating language barriers, help with housing, help with immigration issues and other practical needs.

Verbo en Accion Covenant Church: The name of the church translates, “The Word in Action.” For this 2-year-old church plant—which shares a facility with Crosstown Covenant Church—this is an apt description. Verbo hosts “The House of Mercy,” which is a residence for men who have been gathered off the street, mostly homeless and many with substance abuse issues. Verbo provides everything needed to help these men develop a relationship with Jesus and become a part of the church, all the while providing for all their basic needs and helping them to be released from addiction.

ECC-AM-opening-worshipThe 125th Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Covenant Church, taking place June 24-27 at the RiverCentre in St. Paul, MN, kicked off with a worship service Thursday evening. The event featured Northwest Conference churches and leaders, as well as leaders from across the globe.

The choir from Community Covenant Church in Minneapolis provided prelude music for the service and backed up the worship team, which included a full band of musicians and vocalists singing a variety of hymns and modern worship.

Anne Vining, pastor of First Covenant Church in St. Paul, joined three other pastors from across the country to lead a call to worship for the service. The centerpiece of the stage for the meeting included an historic pulpit from First Covenant.

“It is here as a symbol of the continuing of the word of God preached and proclaimed as the center of our life together,” Don Engebretson, executive vice president of the Evangelical Covenant Church, said of the pulpit.

Konroy and Heidi Boeckel, from Hope Covenant Church in St. Cloud, MN, were among a group of missionaries commissioned during the service. The couple will help educate missionary children and serve in ministries of compassion in Cameroon.

Gary Walter, president of the Evangelical Covenant Church, delivered a message entitled “Mission Cubed.” Drawing from Galatians 2:1-10, Walter exhorted the gathering to address three critical challenges that have faced Christians since the gospel was first proclaimed: to share a gospel of unconditional love, to be inclusive of different cultures, and to live compassionately and justly.

“In case you haven’t noticed, the world is growing tired of angry and cranky evangelicals. And so am I,” Walter said. “We can show—the Covenant can show—the world a renewed kind of evangelicalism, not that arrogantly and angrily shakes a stick at people in anger, but that takes the cross in love and hope and courage into the pain of this world, just like our evangelical forebears in the 1800s, whose faith compelled them to be at the forefront of abolition and suffrage and temperance (we’d call it addiction today), and education, and care for the sick, and care for the handicapped and care for the elderly.”

Read complete coverage from the opening worship service on the Covenant website. See a collection of photos from the evening.

May-23-CelebrationCovenanters from across the Twin Cities gathered at Crosstown Covenant Church in Minneapolis, MN, on the evening of May 23 to celebrate the ministry of the Northwest Conference. The first of three Northwest Conference Celebrations scheduled for 2010, the event featured reports on a variety of ministries, various forms of worship music and challenging messages from church leaders.

“It was a great evening of fellowship and challenge. God is doing great things through the ministries of the Northwest Conference,” NWC Superintendent Jim Fretheim said.

The service kicked off with a welcome from Fretheim, Crosstown Covenant Church Pastor John Jacobi, and Verbo en Accion Covenant Church Pastor Juan Ovando. Jacobi and Ovando, whose churches are involved in ministry sharing, welcomed attendees in English and Spanish.

Throughout the service, videos from the NWC Mission Friends series were shown to highlight the ministry areas of Congregational Vitality, Mission Development and Children, Youth & Family.

Kenny Oyederu, mission and outreach commission chair at Redeemer Covenant Church in Brooklyn Park, MN, shared the story of how the church welcomed his family. Oyederu immigrated to the United States from Nigeria in 2001, and his family followed in 2006.

Oyederu, who works in the Minneapolis Public Schools as a physical education instructor, praised RCC for welcoming and embracing people of all nationalities.

“That church is just like heaven on earth,” Oyederu shared.

Denise Kesanen, executive director of RiverWorks Community Development, told the story of how the organization was born out of Riverwood Covenant Church in Rockford, MN. With mentoring and support from the Northwest Conference, the leaders of RiverWorks developed a vision for “community helping community.”

During the organization’s formative stages, the Rockford City Council provided a former fire station as a free location for RiverWorks to open a community food shelf. In March 2010, the food shelf opened, and in April the outreach initiative was already serving 109 households in need from the community.

Steve Anderson, pastor of student ministries at Excelsior Covenant Church in Excelsior, MN, credited the Northwest Conference for “reaffirming, challenging and equipping” him for ministry at various times throughout his career. He praised the monthly NWC Youth Pastor’s Connection meetings, and said participation in conference youth events has expanded his student’s perspective on their role in the Covenant Church.

A Second Wind

The message for the evening, titled “A Second Wind,” was delivered by Efrem Smith, founding pastor of The Sanctuary Covenant Church in Minneapolis, and Superintendent elect of the Pacific Southwest Conference.

“The Church has an opportunity, if we’re willing to run a little further and endure a little pain … could it be that God would bless us with a second wind?” Smith asked during his message. “The second wind brings new possibilities, and we are empowered by the second wind.”

Smith said the Evangelical Covenant Church experienced its first wind 125 years ago at its founding. As we embrace our second wind, it enlarges the scope of the Covenant to become more multi-ethnic and multi-cultural.

Church growth and evangelism efforts are another way of embracing the second wind, according to Smith. As other denominations see declines, the Covenant keeps on growing because we are rooted in God’s word and embracing His second wind, he said.

Following the service, attendees were treated to a buffet-style Hispanic meal by parishioners from Verbo en Accion Covenant Church.

Two more Northwest Conference Celebrations are scheduled for the fall-in Duluth, MN, on Oct. 10 and Dassel, MN, on Oct. 24. To see more pictures from the May 23 event at Crosstown, visit our NWC photos page

2010-Annual-Meeting-thumbIn keeping with the theme “Mission Friends: The Journey Continues,” the 126th Northwest Conference Annual Meeting, which took place at Crossroads Church in Woodbury, MN, April 23-24, was a celebration of ministry and opportunities throughout the region.

“We had a wonderful annual meeting. One-hundred-nine of our 140 congregations were present to celebrate the good things God is doing in our conference,” said Jim Fretheim, NWC superintendent. “We left the meeting with a renewed sense of excitement for the ministries we are involved in.”

Video series debuted in Business Session

During the business session on Friday, April 23, the Northwest Conference debuted a series of video segments designed to highlight ministry priorities of the conference, including: Congregational Vitality, Church Planting and Children, Youth & Family. Each video features interview segments with NWC staff, lay leaders and pastors-intermixed with photos and video footage from the churches highlighted-telling stories of how the conference has influenced and aided ministry on the local level.

The videos are also designed for use throughout the year in church new member classes, services and other adult education opportunities to help congregations better understand and engage the work of the Northwest Conference. Each church’s delegates left with a DVD copy of the videos, and the series is available on the new NWC web site’s video page (www.northwestconference.org/resources/videos).

Conference leadership also introduced and affirmed seven new church plants and one church adoption during the business meeting.

Following staff reports from the NWC, delegates to the meeting heard from affiliated ministries including: the Ministerial Association, the Town and Country Commission, Women Ministries, Covenant Enabling Residences of MN, Parish Nursing, and a camping ministry representative. Dr. Donna Harris, the recently installed president of Minnehaha Academy, also shared highlights from the school, as well as some details on her hopes for the future.

“I was encouraged by the ministry training, inspired by the ministry reports, and challenged by the proposed vision and strategy for the future of the Northwest Conference,” said Dan Collison, new senior pastor of First Covenant Church in Minneapolis and new delegate to the meeting.

“Very few of our members grew up in the Covenant. The Annual Meeting provided a glimpse of what it means to be ‘in it together’ with our Covenant Family,” said Chris Studenski, pastor of Emmanuel Covenant Church in Shoreview.

Friday Worship Service highlights diversity

Friday evening’s Worship Celebration highlighted the diversity of ministry taking place throughout the Northwest Conference. The service opened with a Call to Worship written by Brad Kindall, pastor of NWC church plant, The Gallery Covenant Church, and read in Lao, English and Spanish.

The Crossroads Church Worship Team led attendees in modern and traditional songs, and the service featured special music by the First Covenant Church of St. Paul Youth Worship Band. Comprised of 12 musicians from the church, the group’s spirited performance of “All the Nations” by Chris Davis was a highlight of the evening.

The 2010 Candidates for Ordination (17) and New Churches Joining the Covenant (8) were also recognized and prayed for during the worship service.

Phil Print, senior pastor of Crossroads Church, shared a message from 2 Kings in which he challenged attendees to consider that good news is to be shared, not stockpiled. Print asked leaders and lay people to “ponder the plunder” or “assess the stockpile” of all that God has blessed them with. He then called on all in attendance to “invest in others and invite them to the plunder.”

Following Print’s message, One Step Closer commitment cards were collected, and a special offering raised $2,000 to support the Northwest Conference Alaska Project 2010 in Shaktoolik, AK.

Leadership training

On Saturday morning, April 24, the NWC Annual Meeting continued with a time of teaching by Dr. Sam Rima, author of “Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership,” director of the Doctor of Ministry Program at Bethel Theological Seminary, and faculty at the Center for Transformational Leadership. Rima challenged church leaders to become aware of and deal with their own dark sides.

“It is impossible to be spiritually mature and emotionally immature. I don’t care how many Bible verses you’ve memorized. I don’t care how long you’ve been in the church,” Rima explained.

In seeking to become more mature, and deal with personal issues, Rima challenged pastors and leaders to become more transparent. He also called on the church to become a place of openness and honesty.

“Sometimes I think the church is one of the only places where you can’t be who you really are,” Rima said. “We are so afraid that if we share, people are going to judge us and use those things against us.”

Rima said that rather than always banking on their strengths, leaders should take seriously the teaching in Scriptures that the power of Christ is perfected in our weakness.

“It was truly an honor hosting the 126th Annual Meeting of the Northwest Conference. It gave our staff and volunteers an up-front look at the wealth of work of the conference,” Print said. “And to see the energetic response of the delegates and guests to the Friday night Crossroads-led worship experience (we weren’t sure if people would sing out or walk out!) made our day! We look forward to hosting again some year.”

On April 9-10, 350 students and youth workers from throughout the Northwest Conference converged on First Covenant Church in Minneapolis, MN, for M.O.V.E. 2010-a weekend of teaching, worship, service and experiential learning. This year’s theme was taken from Micah 6:8:”Act Justly…Walk Humbly…Love Mercy.”

The weekend kicked off with a worship service that featured praise music, spoken word, and a challenging message from Efrem Smith, pastor of The Sanctuary Covenant Church in Minneapolis. Before bedding down in sleeping bags throughout the church building, the students spent time with their youth groups preparing for the next day’s experiences.

On Saturday morning, youth groups fanned out to 22 different agencies and ministry sites across the Twin Cities for three hours of service, which ranged from lawn care and clean-up projects, to playing with kids, to the  restocking of thrift centers and distribution warehouse supply shelves, to spending time serving at homeless shelters.

Upon returning to the church, the students participated in a Global Lunch Experience, which was designed to illustrate the disparities of wealth and food across the globe. A small fraction of the students received a full-service, multi-course meal with fine linen and table service. Another portion of the students were served a more basic, but still filling meal at tables. The bulk of the students received a small portion of beans and rice, warm water, and were all seated in mass on the floor.

Following lunch, youth groups participated in an Issues Tour where groups rotated through three presentations entitled, “The Immigrant Journey: The story and choices of a Somali refugee,” “The Culture of Poverty From a Local Perspective” and “Sankofa: Looking Back, Looking Forward at Cultural Patterns of Discrimination.” M.O.V.E. 2010 concluded with another powerful worship session and message from Pastor Efrem.

M.O.V.E. 2010 once again lived up to our expectation that participants would have their worldview expanded, be inspired as God’s Kingdom workforce in the world, and to have opportunity to extend the hope and love of Christ with those experiencing unmet needs.

Visit the Children, Youth and Family media page to see a video and photo gallery from the event.

As part of the ongoing advancement of ministry at the Northwest Conference, we have recently launched our completely redesigned web site. The new site visually matches the rest of our ongoing branding efforts.

The site also features a far more robust collection of media, information and resources pertaining to the various events and ministry areas of the NWC. The home page, and many other areas of the site, have been designed to be much more dynamic and house more up-to-date materials.

It’s our hope that the new web site will serve as a more useful tool to spread news and information about ministry within and throughout the Northwest Conference. Thanks for visiting and look for more updates coming soon.

Once a year we gather as a body to learn about and celebrate the work being done in and through Covenant churches in the Northwest Conference. Make plans now to join us on April 22-24 at Crossroads Church in Woodbury, MN, for the 2010 NWC Annual Meeting. With a theme of “Mission Friends: The Journey Continues,” we’ll look to the future of ministry in our region and explore the opportunities that lie ahead.

Friday evening (April 23) during the Annual Meeting will feature a Worship Celebration Service at 7:30 p.m. Phil Print, pastor of Crossroads Church, is the featured speaker. We will also welcome new churches to the conference, introduce the 2010 ordinands, take a special offering for the Alaska Project 2010, and collect One Step Closer Commitment Cards (formerly Bringing My World to Christ). 

Visit the 2010 Annual Meeting page to learn more. 

A new name, “Renewal Event” with a theme focused on HOPE. Friday night Vanessa Gamble will present “The Bigger Picture,” Saturday is filled with worship, inspiration, growth events, service opportunities and ministry moments. 

Join us on March 26 & 27 at the Evangelical Covenant Church in Alexandria, MN. Click here visit the Women Ministries page with links for more details and downloadable material for registration. ALL women are invited.

We are pleased to announce that the 2009-2013 Centennial Long-Range Plan Brochure is now available from the Minnehaha Academy website under the heading, ABOUT US. We have received a number of requests for additional copies of this brochure in recent months and it is our hope that this new and convenient access to the Centennial Plan from our website will provide a more ready access for all.

Susan Gilbertson
Assistant to the President
Minnehaha Academy
(612) 728-7720

Twin-Cities-Gospel-Choir-smallFirst Covenant Church in Minneapolis hosted the Annual Covenant Founder’s Day Worship Service on Feb. 21. Around 400 people attended the special worship event.

Themed “Growing Together in Mercy,” the service focused on prayer and giving as a response for the people of Haiti. A special offering at the service raised $6,123 for Covenant World Relief.

“I was deeply moved by the several hundred people that came from both Covenant Churches and non-Covenant churches to pray and give on behalf of the people of Haiti,” said Dan Collison, lead pastor at First Covenant Church in Minneapolis. “It was a living expression of mercy!”

The speaker for the service was Gary Walter, president of the Evangelical Covenant Church. Music was led by the First Covenant Worship Arts Team and special music was performed by the Twin Cities Community Gospel Choir.

Worship Experience to Support the People of Haiti. On Sunday, February 21, at 6 p.m.

First Covenant Church is hosting an event called “Growing Together in Mercy: A service of prayer and giving. A response for the people of Haiti.”

The worship will be led by the First Covenant Worship Arts ministries and is sponsored by the Twin Cities Covenant Ministerium. This is the designated worship experience for the Annual Founder’s Day in which our focus on Haiti will demonstrate our passion for Christ’s mission to a world in need.

Gary Walter, President of the Evangelical Covenant Denomination will be the guest speaker and a free will offering will be taken to support Covenant World Relief in their earthquake recovery work.

LF 2010 thumbThe Jan. 16 NWC Leadership Forum-entitled “The Heart of Racial Justice” and featuring Dr. Brenda Salter McNeil-drew approximately 200 people to First Covenant Church in St. Paul. The forum drew attendees from Covenant churches, as well as from other churches and organizations in the broader church in the Twin Cities.
During the morning session, Dr. Salter McNeil gave a presentation titled, “Embracing the Cultural Mandate of God.” During the afternoon, she shared on the topic, “8 Habits of Inter-culturally Competent Leaders.”

Rev. Dr. Brenda Salter McNeil is the author of the new book, “A Credible Witness: Reflections on Power, Evangelism and Race” (IV Press 2008). Through her speaking, teaching and writing, Dr. Salter McNeil boldly declares a vision that unites, transforms and brings healing to people from every tribe and every nation. Together with her husband, Dr. J. Derek McNeil and their two children, she stands at the forefront of an international movement to advance the Kingdom of God.

Visit the NWC Facebook page to see a gallery of photos from the event, courtesy of Denise D. Peterson.

LF 2010 sponsors