NWC 2023 Annual Meeting celebrates many ways churches and ministries are ‘Rooted in Hope’
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.