‘Glimpses of hope’ shared, Kara Stromberg elected as next Superintendent during NWC 2022 Annual Meeting

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.