The Covenant’s Response to the Civil Rights Movement, 1963–1968

From Ramelia Williams, “The Evangelical Covenant Church’s Response to the Civil Rights Movement, 1963–1968”:

 

RameliaIn the shadow of World War II, the Covenant Church took an official stance against racial discrimination. The Annual Meeting of 1944 adopted a resolution that reads in part: “We believe that all men are of one blood, and that all discrimination, based upon race, creed or nationality, is not in keeping with the Christian profession and life, and further, that it fosters conflict and war” (YB 1944, p. 133)….Between 1946 and 1968, nearly every Annual Meeting issued a resolution affirming the equal dignity of all people and rejecting racial discrimination, with only six exceptions.

***

Annual Meeting resolutions did not emerge ex nihilo, but were brought by a commission that sought to resource local congregations and guide them in action. In 1944 the Covenant Church established the Committee on Civic Relations to mold a Christian mindset toward various matters of civility. The name was changed in 1948 to Christian Citizenship Commission (and in 1968 to the Commission on Christian Action). The Christian Citizenship Commission would study and offer its opinion on suffrage, civil rights, international wars, political affairs, social ethics, and other important civic issues.

***

The practical action of the commission primarily took place through congregational commissions established at their request and under their direction. At its inception, the commission recommended the establishment of a “committee on civic relations” in every Covenant church, sending letters to each congregation with this request in November 1947. As the 1948 report stated, “Commission members quickly realized that no program of information or action could be implemented unless there were local committees” (YB 1948, p. 92), reporting that sixty churches had formed such a committee. The basic task of these local committees was twofold: (1) to educate their congregation about moral issues facing nation and community, and (2) to guide them in an appropriate response….The 1961 Annual Meeting approved the commission’s proposal that race be adopted as the “issue of the year,” launching a year of “denomination-wide study of Christianity and racial relations.” (YB 1962, p. 163)

***

As recognized by the Covenant Commission on Christian Citizenship, resolutions would be effective only as “interpreted and carried out by the local committees” (YB 1962, p. 163). For this reason I surveyed two congregations located in cities that, historically, have served a prominent role in the denomination: Community Covenant Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and North Park Covenant Church in Chicago, Illinois.

***

Read the full article here, including accounts of particular Covenant congregations and publications.


For consideration and discussion:

  • The author expresses that her initial discouragement at the minimal involvement of Covenant congregations in the civil rights movement gave way to greater appreciation through her research. Has Williams’s research impacted your own thoughts on this matter?
  • A running theme through this piece is the ECC’s expressed desire to “bring our practices into line with our beliefs” (Covenant Yearbook 1950, p. 202), and the denomination’s attempts to empower local congregations to that end. How might Covenant polity have impacted – and continue to impact – those attempts, for better or for worse?
  • How does Williams’s historical study relate to the nation, denomination, and local church today? What can it teach us?

Exile & Migration: Toward a Biblical Theology of Immigration and Displacement

From Bo H. Lim, “Exile and Migration: Toward a Biblical Theology of Immigration and Displacement”:

 

bo lim

The Evangelical Covenant Church is an immigrant church, founded by Swedish immigrants in 1885. At its centennial celebration in 1985, Krister Stendahl exhorted the denomination to maintain its immigrant identity as it moved into its second century. Twenty five years later, marking its 125th anniversary celebration, the denomination yet again affirmed its character as an immigration church as central to its identity. The Covenant’s 2014 resolution on immigration opens with a summary of this identity, providing the foundation for the ethical discussion/exhortation that follows. The aim of this paper is to provide a better understanding of the biblical phenomenon of exile as it relates to immigrant communities so that church leaders might better appropriate this biblical motif for ministry.

***

There was no singular exilic experience. To assume that all Israelites were weeping by the rivers of Babylon under duress from foreign captors is simply inaccurate. Neither should one assume that every Israelite was able to climb the Babylonian social ladder and influence the royal court in the manner of Daniel and his friends. What these approaches reveal is that migration, while impacting groups, affects people differently at an individual and family level. In addition, generations within families may have experienced the exile in markedly different ways. For the poor peasant, exile may have meant no geographical relocation but experiencing colonization by the Babylonian economic empire. For a Judean youth from a class of social elites, exile may have meant living in a Jewish enclave in Babylon and exercising a relatively free existence.

***

Just as reading prophetic literature requires attention to the exegetical nuances of myriad migratory experiences of ancient Israel, Christian ministry demands that the church address the diverse experience of migrants and minority populations. It is no less irresponsible for me to say that the experiences of all immigrants to the U.S. are the same – even those experiences within a single ethnic group – than to assume that the exilic experiences addressed in Jeremiah, Isaiah, Psalm 137, Daniel, and Esther are all the same….Faithfulness requires knowing the particularities of each biblical text as well as the particularities of each individual experiencing migration. To flatten the experiences and texts of migration into one uniform category is not merely an act of intellectual dishonesty; it is an unwillingness to listen to the distinct message of particular texts and a disregard for the unique ways people are impacted by migration.

***

Given that as of 2015, 244 million international migrants live abroad and these numbers continue to climb, the church must develop resources to minister to these populations.

 

Read the full article here.


For consideration and discussion:

  • What narratives inform your thoughts about exile and migration? Biblical? Political? Historical? Experiential?
  • What narratives do you believe inform the thoughts of the people in your circles?
  • How do those narratives impact attitudes and actions?
  • Lim mentioned several people who have spoken into issues surrounding exile and migration, including John Ahn, Steed Davidson, and Frank Ames. Who are some of your favorite writers, thinkers, practitioners and theologians who are speaking into this topic, and what do they have to say?

Comment: CQ 74:2 (2016)

This past January, the United Nations declared escalating state violence against African Americans a human rights crisis:

“Contemporary police killings and the trauma it creates are reminiscent of the racial terror lynching of the past. Impunity for state violence has resulted in the current human rights crisis and must be addressed as a matter of urgency.”

The articles published in Covenant Quarterly 74:2 address this matter of urgency in varying ways. In the coming weeks we will focus on each of the following articles:

Cearleaf’s allusion to “black men . . . shot in the back” echoes in Gilliard’s lament that “a response, a look, a walk, or an action taken too quickly could cost a black or brown woman or man their life.” That this echo reverberates over half a century later, should convict and embolden the church. Two questions posed to the Covenant in 1963 remain as relevant and urgent fifty years later. Cedarleaf asks his congregation,

“Is it possible for us simply to sit here and hope somehow that maybe we will still be able, double-tongued as we are, to talk about the will of God while we have nothing to say about…a shot in the back?”

And from a pastoral letter to Covenant congregations, adopted two days later at the 1963 Ministerial meeting:

“In this Gethsemane of the church, shall we simply say, ‘Let this cup pass,’ without also adding ‘nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt’? Or shall we cast all our care on him and take council with our faith instead of our fears?”

And perhaps a third is in order: will these questions remain as relevant and urgent fifty years from now? Join us for dialog on these critical matters. [Access full issue comment here.]

 

Sneak Peek: CQ 74:2 (2016)

The summer issue of the Covenant Quarterly is published! The issue focuses on aspects of racial justice and injustice and features articles by Bo H. Lim, on biblical and contemporary exile and migration, and Ramelia Williams, on the Covenant Church’s pursuit of racial justice in the 1960s. These articles are paired with two sermons: one by Catherine Gilliard following the killing of Michael Brown and a second preached in 1963 by Covenant pastor Douglas Cedarleaf (1914-2000), in print for the first time with introduction and annotations. The issue concludes with the “North Park Seminary Faculty Statement on Race and the Justice System.” View and download full issue and individual articles at covquarterly.com. Here’s a sneak peek.


Bo H. Lim

Bo H. Lim

Bo H. Lim, university chaplain and associate professor of Old Testament at Seattle Pacific University, offers fresh readings of Israel’s exile that in turn resource contemporary ministry to immigrant communities.

“Engaging the topic of immigration through the lens of exilic biblical texts provides an opportunity for Christians who are deeply committed to the Scriptures to engage of most pressing issues of our day. For a denomination that self-identifies as an immigrant, Scriptural, and missional people, an understanding of the biblical exile is fundamental to living into its mission… Given that as of 2015, 244 million international migrants live abroad and these numbers continue to climb, the church must develop resources to minister to these populations.”

from “Exile and Migration: Toward a Biblical Theology of Immigration and Displacement”

 

Ramelia Williams

Ramelia Williams

Recent NPTS graduate Ramelia Williams surveys the Covenant Church’s involvement in the civil rights movement at the denominational and congregational levels.

“Initially discouraged by the minimal involvement among Covenant congregations, the more I researched the more I appreciated the remarkable courage required to fight prejudice in a racially hostile society. My research bears witness to the leadership of the Holy Spirit in the church and denominational leaders that defied the status quo and proclaimed through their actions the presence of the kingdom of God on earth.”

from “The Evangelical Covenant Church’s Response to the Civil Rights Movement, 1963–1968”

 

Douglas Cedarleaf, n.d., CAHL 5611

Douglas Cedarleaf, n.d., CAHL 5611

“Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will Be Done,” a powerful 1963 sermon by Covenant pastor Douglas Cedarleaf (1914-2000), is printed in transcription with a historical introduction.

“I am asking at this moment for you to decide in your own soul whether or not you can mix up God’s will with our keeping a tenth of our population submerged. Do you want to pray with me that God will sharpen the teeth of Bull Connor’s dogs? Do you want to pray with me that more black men will be shot in the back? Do you want to join me in prayer that the fire hoses be made ever greater in their pressure so we can mow down these people and put them back in their place where they belong? Now if you choose this road, you have a right to do this and defy the law of America. You have a right to do this and defy the law of God, if this is your wish. But no one has ever defied the law of God and found peace.”

from “Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will Be Done”

 

Catherine Gilliard

Catherine Gilliard

Catherine Gilliard is co-pastor of New Life Covenant Church in Atlanta, Georgia. Her sermon “Watching, Not Waiting,” was preached after the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

“Sadly we, the church, have also been far too silent about the tension arising in our nation—and far too silent about the present signs of God’s kingdom breaking through, even as the violence increases. The voices speaking about injustice are rarely people of God who bring the hope of Christ into the dialogue. It’s as if we too truly believe that there is another answer to the sinful activities that sustain injustice other than the power of Christ…. What is the redemptive story we offer local communities in this time when a great healing is needed?”

from “Watching, Not Waiting: A Sermon for the First Sunday of Advent”

 

This issue concludes with a statement by North Park Seminary faculty on race and the justice system.

“As faculty and staff of North Park Theological Seminary we join our voice to those of our university, denomination, neighborhood, city, and nation and declare unequivocally: Black lives matter. We affirm the dignity of every human being as made in the image of God, created to flourish physically, emotionally, spirituality, socially, culturally, and economically. As one body in Christ, if one part of the body suffers we all suffer; if one part of the body cannot breathe, none of us can breathe.”

from “North Park Theological Seminary Faculty Statement on Race and the Justice System”

 

View and download full issue and individual articles here. We will be hosting discussions on these articles and related topics here at Forum in the coming weeks; be sure to sign up for email updates and join the conversation.

Resources: Congregational Health, Culture & Leadership

Want to read more about adaptive leadership, transforming congregational culture, and other topics discussed in 74:1 Quarterly articles? We asked regional directors of congregational vitality what books & websites have proven valuable in their work. The following lists are gathered from their recommendations. [Editor’s note: additional recommendations, drawn from certificate in congregational vitality bibliographies, added March 31, 2016.]


Recommended websites

Recommended books

[additional resources from congregational vitality certificate bibliography; added March 31, 2016]

What resources have shaped your pastoral leadership? Share these in the comments section.


 

Congregational Vitality: The Board Game

In March 2015 North Park Theological Seminary, in cooperation with the Start & Strengthen Churches Congregational Vitality team of the Evangelical Covenant Church, launched a certificate in congregational vitality. The certificate is a collaborative initiative between the seminary and denomination to put the expertise of church and academy in service to current students and pastors.

The 12-credit certificate is comprised of courses in Foundations of Congregational Vitality, Leading Healthy Missional Change, and Strategic Ministry Planning, capped with an elective of choice.

Box Cover

Board game, created by Kendall Churchill

Kendall Churchill (MDiv, NPTS), pastor at Calvary Covenant Church in Evansville, Minnesota, is part of the certificate’s inaugural cohort. For his final project in Foundations in Congregational Vitality, Churchill developed a board game, now being promoted by the denomination. The game allows users to simulate the vitality pathway. According to Churchill,

“A major goal of congregational vitality is helping people understand what vitality is and how it works. I designed a game to help churches explore that concept. As a church begins the vitality pathway, people are given a lot of information to process. My game instructs users in the different types of churches, healthy missional markers, the pathway, and consequences of choices in each type of church. Playing the game helps users better understand the state of their own church and the consequences of upcoming choices.”

Churchill names the congregational vitality courses a “huge asset” in his ministry, giving him tools and confidence for church leadership.

Kendall & Tracy Churchill

Kendall & Tracy Churchill

“[Prior to completing the course] I didn’t feel ready or called to take a leadership role but that class gave me both confidence and a new perspective. Coming to Calvary Covenant as my first call was made much easier. The classes gave me language and perspective to understand church culture. The particular tips from the classes regarding starting in a rural church have been invaluable.”

While his design is intentionally simple, Churchill says users “can expect to find a depth of meaning” as they play the game. “I highly recommend playing it twice – once to understand the game play mechanics and a second to grasp the meanings behind the game play.” Churchill’s wife Tracy, graphic designer for the project, notes that the absence of words on the game board and pieces was also intentional, making the game accessible to non-English speaking congregations.

Find more information on the congregational vitality pathway board game, including ordering instructions here. Learn more about North Park’s Certificate in Congregational Vitality here and here.

Opinion: A Call for Comprehensive Assessment of the Vitality Pathway

In the 1840s, Oliver Wendell Holmes, father of the famous Supreme Court justice, was studying medicine in Paris. Mortality rates in European hospitals for women giving birth were at 10–35%. For a thousand years it had been believed that during childbirth toxic substances were released from deep within the mother’s body, causing fever and death. The unchallenged belief of the day was that these women died of “puerperal fever.”

Dr. Holmes theorized that the source of the infections was actually the hands of the physicians themselves. Doctors would come straight from working on cadavers to delivering babies without washing their hands or cleaning their instruments. They brought pathogens from the lab to the clinic. Dr. Holmes’ suggestion that the physicians were themselves causing illness was dismissed. Doctors would not consider the possibility that they were transmitting pathogens to their patients. Only with the work of Louis Pasteur, some twenty years later, would doctors accept their role in transmitting disease and change their procedures in caring for their patients.

This response comes from one who is both hopeful that the Vitality Pathway can assist the church I serve and concerned with the actual effects the program has on all of the churches in which it has been implemented. I was first introduced to the term “latrogenic” by Eugene Peterson. “Latrogenic” (“brought forth by the healer”) refers to a disease contracted in the process of being treated, especially by a doctor. While the ECC’s Vitality Pathway has resulted in renewal for many congregations, the experiences of others suggest it may also result in “latrogenic” complications.

The Vitality Pathway, like everything else devised by human beings, is flawed. Being flawed does not disqualify it from being useful. It does, however, mean we need to approach this program with both hope and care. My concern is that the possibility of “latrogenic” tendencies in the Vitality Pathway is not currently being considered, discussed, or addressed.

The Vitality Pathway begins with the Veritas Seminar and the admonition to “tell the truth.” While the Veritas Seminar intends to tell the truth about congregations, I have been unable to find materials that evaluate, or tell the truth about, the Vitality Pathway itself. Specifically, what is the range of experiences of all of the churches that have begun the Vitality Pathway? It is tempting to highlight those churches that have profited from this program. But what of those situations where the Vitality Pathway has failed to help churches produce the desired results?

In light of the Covenant’s promotion of this pathway as appropriate for all churches in the denomination, the Vitality Pathway has a responsibility to inform prospective churches of the full range of outcomes that have actually resulted from this program. It has the further responsibility of mitigating disruptive and divisive consequences that may result.

Therefore, I would urge the Evangelical Covenant Church to undertake and widely disseminate a comprehensive review of the effects the Vitality Pathway has had on all of the churches in which it has been implemented, including those churches that have dropped out of the program for any reason. If the Vitality Pathway is truly sound, it will withstand the scrutiny of a comprehensive review. We ought to apply the slogan “there is no vitality without reality” to the Vitality Pathway itself.

The majority of the women who gave birth in Paris hospitals in the 1840s would have praised the physicians who cared for them; the voices of the 10–35% who died in the hospital were not heard. This illustrates why it is crucial to go beyond highlighting those who thrive to consider those whose experiences range from problematic to damaging to fatal. The Vitality Pathway assumes that churches that do not benefit from, or are injured during, this program have difficulty solely because “toxic substances have been released from within.” This assumption needs to be interrogated.


Karl B. Larson serves as pastor of the Evangelical Covenant Church in Aurora, Nebraska.

Comment: CQ 74:1 (2016)

What characterizes a thriving congregation? What fosters vitality, and by what fruit might we assess it? The goal of the congregational vitality emphasis within Start and Strengthen Churches is that every Covenant congregation become a “healthy missional church,” which the ministry area defines as “pursuing Christ” (healthy) and “pursuing Christ’s priorities in the world” (missional). Assessment tools (PULSE), coaching, and workshops (Veritas, EPIC, ONE) guide established congregations on a path of corporate self-reflection toward greater vitality. It is these initiatives our 74:1 Covenant Quarterly issue explores and assesses.

In the opening article, John Wenrich, director of congregational vitality, grounds vitality in the person and work of the Holy Spirit, as both the Spirit of truth, enabling congregations to speak the truth about themselves, and the Spirit of life, breathing new life into old bones. (Read Wenrich’s article here.) Research results follow from two doctor of ministry projects that assessed the perceived success of vitality initiatives within congregations.

Ryan Eikenbary-Barber studied the impact of the vitality pathway as a whole on a single congregation. Through feedback collected in focus groups and surveys, he concluded that the pathway’s greatest impact was facilitating healthy conflict negotiation and commitment to deep cultural change. (Read Eikenbary-Barber’s article here).

Surveying a broad sample of Covenant congregations, Corey Johnsrud sought to establish how the Veritas seminar fosters increased capacity for mission. His research revealed that the principal felt-benefit was gaining language and opportunity to corporately take stock of present realty. It further revealed a common conflation of mission and evangelism. (Read Johnsrud’s article here.) Both studies revealed the importance of truth-telling, reliance on the Holy Spirit, and adaptive leadership in the pursuit of vitality.

Wenrich, Eikenbary-Barber, and Johnsrud converge in their insistence that no transformation precedes an honest account of that which is in need of transformation. All emphasize further that this commitment to seeking, accepting, and telling the truth is a necessary starting point that will lead nowhere if not acted upon in reliance on the Holy Spirit. Taken together, the authors call the Covenant to conscious dependence on the Holy Spirit (Wenrich), productive conflict (Eikenbary-Barber), and a restored tension between mission and friendship (Johnsrud).

Read the 74:1 issue here. Be sure to subscribe to be notified of upcoming Forum posts –  and join the conversation in the weeks ahead with these authors and more.


 

An Interview with John Wenrich

John Wenrich

John Wenrich

John Wenrich serves as the director of Congregational Vitality for the Evangelical Covenant Church and instructor in North Park Theological Seminary‘s certificate in congregational vitality. His article, “The Holy Spirit and Congregational Vitality,” leads our upcoming Quarterly issue. Here John shares his own journey into congregational vitality, how international and seminary teaching have shaped his ministry in North America, and his vision for the Evangelical Covenant Church. (Read the full issue here.)


What led you to the ministry of congregational vitality? What primary factors have contributed to your passion and gifting for guiding congregations toward vitality?

I came into the Covenant as a church planter in 1994. The concepts I learned in church planting prepared me for leading revitalization when I became pastor of First Covenant Church in Portland – a church established in 1887. I experienced firsthand the wind of the Spirit blowing through the valley of dry bones while leading the revitalization of First Covenant. Through the very rewarding experience of pastoring this congregation, God showed me that dying churches can change their trajectory as the Holy Spirit moves and guides. This is why I am passionate about church plants and established churches learning from each other.

As a young boy, I was very close with my grandfather. That significant relationship taught me how to treasure the elderly, listen to their stories and learn from their accumulated wisdom. I remember visiting the oldest living member, Harold Anderson, the very first week “on the job” at First Covenant. I asked him to bless me. I will never forget that experience. Something supernatural happened. God has given me a love for the local church and a passion to see the Gospel burn brightly and warmly in our hearts. I like envisioning, building, and casting a vision of hope.

In your experience, what are the strongest indicators that a congregation should begin the vitality process? Do the indicators look different depending on cultural context or socio-economic circumstances?

There are obvious indicators like flat or declining attendance, decreased giving and a lack of healthy missional leaders. But there are more subtle indicators: apathy, stagnation, a loss of hope, or living in the past. These indicators tend to cross cultures and class.

Yet there is a perception that the pathway is a last resort. Like postponing a doctor’s appointment, some congregations wait until the pain of not changing outweighs the pain of changing. The best time to work on vitality is now. This is true even for healthy missional churches. Our vision is for every church to walk the congregational vitality pathway regardless of their current state of health; we hope vitality becomes the new normal.

Statistics put out by Start and Strengthen Churches suggest that the majority of pastors entering the vitality pathway are white men. How do you interpret this? Is the vitality process culturally-specific? Is there a correlation between white churches and churches in need of vitality? 

It is no secret that the majority of established congregations in the Covenant are white and are led by white male pastors. Statistics refers to this as a distribution sample. This says more about established Covenant churches as a whole than it does about vitality. Most of the multi-ethnic growth in the Covenant is coming through the portal of church planting, not established churches. Continue Reading

1 Question: Gains & Losses on the Vitality Pathway

To generate reflection in anticipation of our upcoming Quarterly issue on congregational vitality, we asked Covenant pastors serving in a variety of congregational contexts, In your experience with the vitality pathway, what were the primary gains for your congregation? The primary losses? We invite you to share your own experience in the comments section.


KJohnston“Wakefield is a predominantly white church in rural northeast Nebraska, averaging about ninety in Sunday attendance. The vitality pathway has given us tools for conversation about our life and health and an awareness that we are not alone in our journey. The biggest challenge has been taking conversations to the next level to discern when and how to bring about real change, while also being realistic about the pace of such change. Our congregation has gained a healthier and happier pastor because of resources and connections the pathway provides. In particular, our involvement in Navigate put me in relationship with a handful of other pastors in similar settings, with a similar passion. After three and a half years, we still gather regularly to encourage and support one another in our ongoing efforts to lead vital churches. As a young pastor, this collegial support has been priceless for me, and I think, by extension, has benefited our church as a whole.” Kelly Johnston, pastor, Wakefield Evangelical Covenant Church, Wakefield, Nebraska


tvs at ipeap - Copy (002)“Iglesia del Pacto Evangélico de Albany Park has an average Sunday attendance of seventy, representing ten different Latino nationalities. Sixteen months in the vitality process have taught our current leadership new concepts and shown them new faces of authority from the denomination interested in the healthiness of our church. As pastor of a once-divided church, I have been revitalized through personal relationships with vitality staff and fellow-pastors on the Navitage. This has enabled me to continue leading church leadership through a major reorganization, focused on the realization of our vision and mission. Developing a behavioral covenant has helped participants understand the danger of conversations that inhibit growth as well as what we need to do to cultivate a healthier climate. The journey has not resulted in any losses in our first-generation, Spanish-speaking congregation. However as we forge along, it is evident that congregational follow-up and subsequent progress depend on the proactiveness and the vitality of a pastor who is both bi-lingual and bi-cultural.” Tomás Sanabria, pastor, Iglesia del Pacto Evangélico de Albany Park, Chicago, Illinois


Chapman“Countryside Covenant Church is a 73 member, 115 year old monoethnic church located on a county highway in rural LaBolt, South Dakota. The vitality pathway has given us language and constructs to understand what type of church we are and what is happening around us. We were able to hold the course of the changes the Holy Spirit led us to when the effects of those changes created tensions within the church. Through the behavioral covenant we gained the ability to speak the truth in love and to recognize that disagreement and conflict are normal and natural. We gained forward thinking, visionary and creative people being drawn to our church. Our greatest loss was people who left the church before they were able to understand or accept why and how their church was changing. Through the Holy Spirit, the vitality pathway has brought this rural congregation a hope and a future.” Mark Chapman, pastor, Countryside Covenant Church, LaBolt, South Dakota


Bea Radakovich (002)“I served as solo pastor for Buffalo Covenant Church, a small (<100), inner-city, multicultural congregation from 2009 to 2012. Chief among the significant gains BCC experienced was the ability to acknowledge our current situation and trajectory as an at-risk congregation. Our work developing and implementing a behavioral covenant was transformative in how we related to one another. Finally, the pathway helped us cast a growing vision for mission to a very needy community. I would mention one significant one: we entered the pathway too late. After a thirty-year decline, the congregation simply did not have the people power, financial muscle, or time to sustain a complete turn-around. It was heartbreaking to see such growth in health and mission and yet to still have to lead the congregation through the process of closing its doors and becoming a Living Legacy congregation. Don’t wait until it’s too late! The earlier a culture of vitality is embraced, the better.” Bea Radakovich, administrative coordinator for Start and Strengthen Churches, Evangelical Covenant Church


s200_hans-erik.nelson“Foothill Covenant Church is a semi-suburban congregation in the heart of Silicon Valley. The vitality pathway has helped us name where we are and where we need to go. It has encouraged us to create a new, healthier ‘normal’ for our interactions with each other. Our renewed health fills us with energy and optimism that God’s Spirit will guide us into the future to become a missional church that embodies the life of Christ and his priorities. We have lost un-health, and some unhealthy elements in our body.” Hans-Erik Nelson, senior pastor, Foothill Covenant Church


Pastor Todd with tree“Community Covenant Church, Eagle River, Alaska, is located in a suburb of Anchorage. The twenty-year-old congregation has a Sunday attendance of approximately five hundred. The vitality pathway has empowered our congregation to participate in a shared journey of becoming a healthy missional church. Several persons, having no previous church involvement, moved from being spectators to participants on vitality teams and continue leading church ministries. Our greatest gain has been our experience of vitality as a movement of the Holy Spirit. This is evidenced through the impact of a dynamic prayer renewal that is sweeping through our church. We are seeing Christ’s hope and healing bring wholeness to those whose lives are being transformed through the power of the Holy Spirit! Our greatest challenge has been helping some members understand that congregational vitality is not a program that offers a quick fix but a Spirit-led journey of personal and corporate renewal that awakens vision and new possibilities. Consequently, there have been a few who have left the church because they desired more immediate results.” Todd Michero, senior pastor, Community Covenant Church, Eagle River, Alaska


What has your congregation gained and lost in pursuit of vitality? What can other communities learn from your experience? Let us know in the comments section (link under title above).