NWC Q2 2024 Superintendent Kara Stromberg Update

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

 

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

“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.

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.

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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.

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

How can pandemic advice from 500 years ago inform how we’re leading today? In this fascinating webinar, the Rev. Jonathan Wilson and the Rev. Mark Stromberg explore how the writings of Martin Luther help us build a solid ethical and theological foundation for the practical decisions we’re having to make every day as church leaders in a pandemic.

This conversation was based, in part, on Wilson’s recent work, “Luther’s Theology and Ethics, and the Adapted Ministries of the Church, in the COVID Spring, 2020.”

Full Webinar

Segments

Why start with Luther? A summary of Jonathan’s paper on Luther.

Highlight:

“… If you are coaching your communities regarding social distance and putting interests of your neighbor above your own … then you are on solid ground ethically, theologically, biblically. And you are right in line with history’s first evangelical.”

What do the ethics of being a good neighbor look like in a time of crisis?

Highlights:

“The Christian ethic … in a time of disease is governed by a love for one’s neighbor.”

“… I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence,” Martin Luther

How Luther’s principles apply to today’s pandemic.

Highlight:

“As medical knowledge advances, then you follow along with the preponderance of opinion. Not the outliers, but the preponderance of the medical knowledge.”

How should we be thinking about communion?

Highlights:

“Looking back, Luther was devising this as part of pastoral ministry for the first generation of Protestants that they understood from the Catholic traditions that there was a time when communion was not taken in the main sanctuary in community with everyone else. That is a time when it’s appropriate to have communion in a private home or at a bedside.”

“Looking at Luke 24:30-35 when the disciples said that they recognized Jesus in the breaking of bread, what was the context? The context was Jesus and two disciples in a private home.”

What are the obligations of church leaders to law, authority and government?

Highlight:

“All of us need to step back and really realize that yes, we are in a different socio-political environment than Martin Luther. With that, let’s understand that the President of the United States always and ever will be for the last 200 plus years, a partisan political figure. 2020 is an election year. Partisan political figures will appeal to their base, whatever they think that might look like. There is a difference and a distinction we need to make between posture and policy.  And when you look at the federal guidelines for how churches are to reopen, in fact, from coming out of the CDC you find all kinds of measures about social distancing, wearing face masks, suggestions about not singing, and those kinds of things. Luther would have someone squarely in the camp of “you follow the policy,” Because the policy that is the law. It is not the posture that’s the law.”

How do I lead a congregation that’s divided?

Highlight:

“If you read Covenant documents relative to freedom in Christ, it speaks about the fact that our freedom is not something that we take for ourselves. It’s something that’s bestowed on others. And there’s a responsibility with freedom. This may be an opportunity coming out of crisis to acquaint some of our people in our church setting with what does it really mean when we say ‘freedom in Christ.’”

Pastors from throughout the Northwest Conference joined together June 2 to “bear silent witness” in a Minneapolis march that concluded at the location where George Floyd was killed on May 25. A similar, second march along University Ave. in St. Paul followed. Nearly 40 Covenant pastors from the NWC participated in the two events—part of crowds that spanned several city blocks in each location.

The silent march was organized by African American ministers in the Twin Cities.

“It was a very calm and prayerful march,” said Kara Stromberg, NWC Associate Superintendent. “It was reverent with a sense of lament. We knew we were bearing witness to something significant.”

Stromberg said the crowd represented a cross-section of faith traditions including Jewish leaders and many evangelical and mainline leaders. Participants wore masks and practiced social distancing.

“The African American clergy led the march and everybody else fell in line behind, as if to say, ‘We have your backs,’” Stromberg said.

“It was an honor and privilege to participate in the Black-led clergy march,” said Dave Hugare, Lead Pastor of Zion Covenant Church in Ellsworth, WI. “If I can go to the cities for dinner, to eat, for entertainment, then as a follower of Jesus and a minister of the Gospel, I felt compelled to go and stand shoulder to shoulder with our Black sisters and brothers to speak out against the murder of George Floyd.”

When they reached the place where George Floyd died, the crowd knelt together and recited the Lord’s Prayer.

“It was a surreal and holy moment to kneel with so many brothers and sisters in that place and pray the Lord’s Prayer together,” said Joel Johnson, Minnehaha Academy Middle School Bible Teacher. “I thought, too, as we approached the memorial at 38th and Chicago that it felt like a kind of Golgatha—a place of death and pain but with the potential for resurrection and new life for our city and our country.”

Mary March, who serves as co-pastor of New City Covenant Church in Edina, MN, chairs the ECC’s Mosaic Commission, and serves as President of the Covenant Asian Pastors Association, says it was a solemn and peaceful event.

“It was a mix of mournful and hopeful,” March said. “These days have been heavy and hard. There is a lot of pain, but this was a beautiful moment. We were seeing people show up, saying, ‘Count me in. I’m done being quiet and still and inactive.’”

The video of George Floyd’s murder broke some people, March says.

“The question now is how do we use our brokenness and lead our pastors to do advocacy, influence power structures, and change the way we address systemic racial issues? That’s the work that needs to be done,” March explained.

“It was a reminder to show up and stand for justice and not be silent,” Stromberg said. “It was also an invitation for accountability going forward. Months and years from now, communities of color have every right to ask if white leaders still stand with them like we did that day.”

This article originally appeared in the Covenant Newswire. Edited with permission. Photos provided by Joel Johnson (Minnehaha Academy) and Tim Johnson (Bloomington Covenant Church).

People and churches are looking for ways to provide tangible support to communities impacted by COVID-19 and the recent riots following the tragic killing of George Floyd. Twin Cities Covenant churches are stepping up to help meet those needs. If you or your church would like to support these efforts, we have developed a list of churches and ministries, along with their needs. Please note that the list changes often as different needs emerge.

Destino Covenant Church – South Minneapolis

Destino Covenant Church in South Minneapolis served as a food and supply collection and distribution site through the end of June. Mauricio Dell’Arciprete, Destino Lead Pastor and NWC Coordinator of Latino Ministry, and his wife Jacquelyn, who serves as Spiritual Formation Pastor, filmed this brief thank you message highlighting the church’s efforts and needs: https://destino.pub/ThankYou

DCC has asked for prayer, gift card donations, and monetary donations to the Community Needs Crisis Fund for financial aid, legal aid, counseling and more to continue serving the community. You can find a complete and updated list of drop-off items online at https://bit.ly/donate2destino

Community Covenant Church – North Minneapolis

Needs: Tangible goods and financial donations

Due to changing variables Community Covenant Church is switching their community relief efforts back to their on-going food shelf services based out of the church on the third Wednesday of each month. With this transition they can continue to benefit from some particular donations as noted below:

  • Cleaning supplies
  • Toilet paper
  • Paper towels
  • Detergent
  • Toiletries

You can also contribute via the CCC website, or to their Crisis Relief Fund via Paypal using the email church@cccminneapolis.org.

Sanctuary Covenant Church – North Minneapolis

Needs: Volunteers, tangible goods, and financial donations

Sanctuary Covenant Church representatives say the community around the church in North Minneapolis is struggling to figure out the grocery situation. SCC plans to continue food and supply distribution through at least Aug. 28.

Both volunteers and donations are needed, with toilet paper, diapers, laundry soap, small jars of peanut butter and jellies, beans, cereal, personal hygiene items (shampoo and conditioner for textured hair, soap, lotion, toothbrushes, deodorant, feminine hygiene products, body wash) being the most urgent needs. We discourage giant bulk sizes. Most people are walking or taking public transportation. For example: 16 oz. peanut butter rather than a 40 oz. jar. Buy 16 oz. liquid dish soap rather than 40 oz.

Any help a church or ministry can provide is greatly appreciated! Sanctuary needs both donations and volunteers any time between 10 a.m. – 2 p.m., on Wednesdays (for sorting donations) and Fridays (for food & supply distribution). For groups of 5 or more volunteers, or an unusually large donation, please contact Tyler Dixon-Ross: tyler@sanctuarycov.org

For up to date information about needs and opportunities, visit https://sanctuarycov.org/peace-prayer/

Roots Covenant – St. Paul

Roots is partnering with Black-led initiatives in St. Paul. Contact Pastor TC Moore for info.

Other Community Organizations who are excellent partners:

Community Emergency Services (CES)

Need: Volunteers and financial contributions

CES is a longtime partner of the community and largest distributor of Meals on Wheels. Financial donations will be used to purchase food from their supplier. Donate here: https://cesmn.org/donate-again

“If anyone from your church would like to help distribute meals next week or help at the food shelf, here is the volunteer contact info. If you have any questions please let us know. We’d be glad to help you get connected with the ongoing food needs in the community.”

https://www.cesmn.org/contact-us/to-volunteer

The One Fund

Needs: Finances

The One Fund exists to support the work of local African American churches and ministries whose communities, due to historic inequities, are disproportionately impacted by the recent crises in our Twin Cities. These inequities, caused by systemic injustice, have been clearly exposed again by the effects of COVID-19 and the trauma surrounding the horrific death of George Floyd.

The Black Church has a historic role of faithfully meeting the spiritual, social and physical needs of its community. Right now these front-line churches and ministries are stretched and stressed as they seek to serve and support vulnerable communities impacted by COVID-19 and these recent traumatic events. We can help!

Partner with these churches and ministries to ensure they can continue providing critical life-giving spiritual and practical service and support to their communities.

If you have additions or changes to the list, email Ginny Olson at the NWC office.

“When will we meet face-to-face again?”

That is the driving question in the church these days. We interviewed Paul Lessard (Executive Minister, ECC Start & Strengthen Churches) about what it means to realistically regather in-person. There were 5 priorities that emerged. One was discern and communicate with your context at the forefront. Watch the webinar for the other four, and make sure to check out the Webinar Resources tab below the video.

 

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

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

NWC staff members have compiled this growing, curated list of resources and articles as we continue to learn together how to do ministry in this time of coronavirus. Please use common sense and always follow the guidelines outlined by your state and regional health departments. if we can be of continued service to you, please do not hesitate to contact a NWC staff member directly or the Conference office at 612-721-4893.

Last updated 12/11/2020.

Dear Friends in Christ (March 25, 2020),

As the days unfold and news continues to proliferate regarding COVID-19, please know that the Northwest Conference staff and Executive Board members are praying for our churches, camps, schools, pastors and leaders. This is particularly true as decisions are being made locally about how to continue in both mission and relationship during this time of physical distancing leading to a greater risk of isolation.

Even as you are adapting in the midst of ever-changing circumstances, NWC leaders find themselves in a similar position. Just last week we announced that our scheduled upcoming gathered Annual Meeting at Minnehaha Academy was cancelled, but we intended to conduct the business portion of the meeting digitally. However, as we have followed recent events and considered current projections, the decision has been made to cancel the NWC Annual Meeting (including the Ministerial Association meeting) in its entirety. This is a decision that has also been made by several other regional conferences in the ECC.

Once things normalize, we may be able to offer another occasion to convene to conduct the business of the Conference, but we do not believe that now is the time. We know that you, our co-laborers in Christ, have your own hands full as you navigate the complexities of your local ministry.

What are some things to know?

  1. The NWC Executive Board will continue to serve conscientiously as a decision-making body until the next time NWC delegates are convened. Among other things, this will involve recommendations surrounding both NWC and Minnehaha Academy budgeting and board involvement.
  2. NWC leadership will remain in conversation with denominational leaders regarding the implications for the Covenant Annual Meeting, ordination and credentialing requirements, and other such business as would ordinarily come to the ECC at its June meeting.
  3. Any church that has sent in registration fees for the NWC Annual Meeting will have them returned to the church in full.
  4. Even while we will not convene the meeting, the NWC office will still be sending out a 2019 Ministry Report booklet to churches as a matter of record and accountability. However, this booklet may not be sent out until sometime this summer.
  5. During this time of challenge, our hope is to send out a weekly digital UPDATE to those who are signed up to receive it. If you are interested in signing up, please contact Cheryl Theilen at cheryl@northwestconference.org.

Along with you, we are keeping abreast of further developments and recommended restrictions by state and federal health officials. We strongly urge you to heed all of the recommendations and live within the bounds of what is being advised by those who are charged with our health and wellbeing. Therefore, please do not think that your setting is an exception to the rules. It is not. We want to be good citizens, and we also do not want to inadvertently put other people at risk.

If we can be of continued service to you, please do not hesitate to contact a NWC staff member directly or the Conference office at 612-721-4893. We are all accessible at this number, even as we work remotely. We want to be of assistance to you, even as we are also working away from the office.

Please be assured of our continued prayers on your behalf.

Sincerely in Christ,

James Volling,
NWC Executive Board Chair

Mark Stromberg,
NWC Superintendent

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:6-7

The World Health Organization has declared the coronavirus (COVID-19) a global pandemic, and we want to encourage you and provide resources as you minister in these difficult and uncertain days. We rejoice that as Christ-followers, we do not live in fear and anxiety, yet understand the pull toward the constant 24-7 news cycle.

It is imperative that we educate ourselves, and we look to the CDC and the MN, SD, ND and WI state health departments for up-to-date guidance on best practices for social distancing and hygiene, while we remain in God’s Word for perspective on how we are to live as Christ-followers in challenging times.

We know you are making crucial, timely decisions about your worship services and ongoing ministry, and we wanted to provide some resources to help you in your decision-making.

Consider these practical tips for group gatherings:

  • Encourage people to practice social distancing by staying 3-6 feet from others, and to not shake hands or hug. Replace with a wave, peace sign or “holy elbow bump.”
  • Remind people to stay home if sick, even if they are scheduled to serve.
  • Adapt activities that cause germs to spread. For example:
    • Communion: use pre-filled individual packets of wafers and wine (juice) that you can purchase on-line
    • Offering: rather than pass a plate, have a basket at the back of the sanctuary where people can leave their offerings
    • Passing the peace: consider an elbow bump or a slight bow
    • Serving food: consider a food shelf where congregants can pick up any staples they might need.
  • Frequently clean and sanitize touchpoints, such as door handles, handrails and children’s toys
  • Hand washing with soap and water is most effective in combatting the spread of this virus. Provide signage and reminders for people to do this, and teach children to do the same.
  • If you decide to stream your service, consider CCLI licensing requirements with streaming music. You will need a streaming license. Here is a resource for taking your church online fast;  and a YouTube video for how to send audio from a mixer to an iPhone or iPad.

When we bring an attitude of calm and care to the changes forced upon our ministry, our congregation and leaders will reflect our posture.

Additional Resources

This week, the Humanitarian Disaster Institute (HDI) at Wheaton College released four new resources to help churches and church leaders prepare and respond to the coronavirus outbreak in their congregations and communities: an online resource hub; a Friday webinar series, “Preparing Your Church for Coronavirus,” kicking off Friday, March 13 at 12 p.m. CT; a new manual, “Preparing Your Church for Coronavirus (COVID-19): A Step-by-Step, Research-Informed and Faith-Based Planning Manual”; and a planning template.

All can be found online here.

The “Church Planning Template” can be found here.

Christianity Today has also produced practical resources – Coronavirus and the Church: CT’s Latest News and Advice, including a helpful downloadable guide for churches

Stay up to date on how the virus spreads and how we can work together to slow the spread.
https://www.flattenthecurve.com

A great article on practical action steps by Andy Crouch: Love in a time of coronavirus

Know that we are in communication with our national ECC leadership, and we are all monitoring this situation daily. You can expect to hear updates from us in the coming days and weeks regarding plans for our upcoming NWC Annual Meeting and monthly Connection gatherings. Please reach out if there are ways in which the NWC can support, encourage or resource you.

Most importantly, we encourage everyone to be praying for those living and serving on the front lines of response, particularly those in public health, medical and government leadership. Consider how this might spur you on toward love and being a good neighbor.

We find comfort in remembering the words of Psalm 46:1, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.”

Grace and peace,

The Staff of the Northwest Conference

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).

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.

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!

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 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.

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!

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.

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.”

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!

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-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-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-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-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.”

 

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. 

Videos

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

View/Download/Embed NWC Annual Meeting videos on Vimeo

Photos

View collection of photos on our Photos page

View/Download gallery of photos on Flickr

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.”

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.

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.”

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. 

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