NWC 2021 Annual Meeting highlights shared hope we have in Christ
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.
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.
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.