An Open Letter to Covenant Women (1989)

Over the next few weeks we’ll feature a series of responses to Lenore Knight Johnson’s study, “Four Decades Later: Credentialed Clergywomen in the ECC.” We begin the series with a letter issued June 12, 1989, from the Board of the Ministry, responding to the ten-year study conducted by Mary Miller. The letter was written by Jean Lambert on behalf of the Board, and is reprinted in Kelly Johnston’s article, “Jean C. Lambert: Covenant Pastor, Theologian, Pioneer,” pp. 16-19.


An open letter to each woman seeking to obey Christ’s call to ministry in the Covenant Church, both volunteer lay workers in local congregations, and pastors, missionaries, and staff ministers.

We have been thinking together about the situation of women and men in ministry in the Covenant Church, and we want first to affirm some convictions, and then offer some interpretation we think important.

Convictions

  1. We are committed to an inclusive ministry in pilgrimage toward a whole church.
  2. We care about you. We value your commitment to Christ, respect your willingness to study and prepare for ministry, desire to be your colleagues.
  3. We hear your pain and respect your anger, as we heard it expressed by some of you in Mary Miller’s report of your responses to her questionnaire, published in the Covenant Quarterly.
  4. We are distressed by the continuing atmosphere of coolness or hostility encountered by all too many women who hold positions of leadership throughout the Covenant church.
  5. We do not claim complete understanding of the sexism that is one of the dominant evils in our society, yet we are committed to learning what it is, how it affects women and men, how it distorts our common life in Christ; we are committed to repenting of sexism so the Spirit of God can transform us. And,
  6. As part of our ongoing work in a church always being reformed by God’s Spirit, a church growing more whole as we believe Christ intends, we urge you to join us in considering some “facts of life” we believe affect our common life in church work: the search for a call, the consideration of volunteer possibilities, the selection or interview process, entering into work, how one is received, how one perceives oneself in ministry, how we respond to situations of frustration, conflict, and fulfillment. We think putting these facts into open conversation will help us all be stronger, saner, and more faithful.

Facts

Fact 1: American society is sexist, specifically masculinist. (It is also racist, ageist, classist…but we aren’t addressing all of that here!) Though we do not understand it fully, it is clear that sexism is both a psycho/cultural bias and complex of social institutions. It operates largely unconsciously, though its “symptoms” may be observed by the seeing eye. This complex reality – sexism – is based on an ancient intuition that the biological differences between men and women are a natural and revealed “message” about superiority/inferiority, value and worthlessness, competence/incompetence, appropriateness/inappropriateness.

To say our society is “sexist” has implications on three levels: Continue Reading

NPTS Post-Election Statement

The faculty and staff of North Park Theological Seminary offer the following statement in response to our current national climate. Though we write primarily to our students, we hope to bless our larger community of faith as we all engage in dialogue, discernment, and action.


The United States has experienced a contentious election and post-election season marked by fear, polarization, and violence. The political climate reveals longstanding national sins of racism, elevation of whiteness, misogyny, nativism, and economic disparity. As faculty and staff members of North Park Theological Seminary who represent varying degrees of privilege and power, we join our voices with those who are most vulnerable.

We submit to the Lordship of Christ who humbled himself unto death. As members of his body, we strive to consider others above ourselves (Phil. 2:2–8) and to serve one another in humility (Matt. 20:26–28). As one body, if one member suffers, all suffer (1 Cor. 12:26); if one weeps, the body laments with them (Rom. 12:15).

A large part of our community is weeping. The fear of deportation is real. The anxiety of being assaulted is real. The fear of being forgotten or mistreated is real. Many people of color, women, and other marginalized groups feel increasingly alienated not only in the political context but in much of the white evangelical culture as well.

Regardless of where Christians stand politically, the gospel demands we recognize vulnerable populations among us who find themselves further marginalized in the wake of the recent election. The gospel also demands that Christians recognize ways we benefit from and participate in structural injustices. Ignoring policies that denigrate and even endanger vulnerable groups is not a faithful option, even if privilege allows some to do so. When we have power, we use it justly and for the good of all.

In the midst of real suffering within our community, we seek not only to love our neighbor but to know our neighbor (Lk. 10:29), through our conversations, classroom discussions, and times of prayer. We hope to embody a community in which walls of hostility are broken down (Eph. 2:14) and where love casts out all fear (1 John 4:18).

 

Deb Auger
James Bruckner
Mary Chase-Ziolek
Stephen Chester
Michelle Clifton-Soderstrom
Paul de Neui
Timothy L. Johnson
David Kersten
Ellen M. Kogstad
Max Lee
Alexandria Macias
Hauna Ondrey
Amy Oxendale-Imig
Luke Palmerlee
Deborah Penny
John E. Phelan, Jr.
Elizabeth Pierre
Soong-Chan Rah
Stephen Spencer
Al Tizon
Emily Wagner


Related material | “NPTS Faculty Statement on Race & the Justice System”

Wrap Up & Look Ahead

THAT’S A WRAP

Our Aug/Nov 2016 issue of the Covenant Quarterly focused on the 125th anniversary of North Park Theological Seminary. Historians explored North Park’s origins (Philip J. Anderson) and David Nyvall’s founding vision (Scott Erickson). Former seminary student and professor John Weborg reflected on his rich experience at NPTS, and Al Tizon cast a portrait of the ideal seminary graduate seminary’s should be developing. Finally, seminary dean David Kersten and ECC president Gary Walter outlined challenges and opportunities facing North Park Seminary as it looks to the future.

74.3-4 contributors

The conversation continued on Forum, as a variety of scholars and pastors discussed the impact diversity should have on seminary curriculum (Phillis Sheppard, Mark Tao, Willie O. Peterson, & Jo Ann Deasy), and as current professor and former NPTS president and dean Jay Phelan responded to articles by Kersten and Walter. Thanks to all who contributed to our fall issue and Forum discussion.

UPCOMING

The upcoming Quarterly issue (February 2017) features the fourth decadal study on Covenant clergywomen, surveying and assessing the status of Covenant women in ordained ministry forty years after the ECC’s 1976 vote. The two articles that accompany the study (1) look back at the life and work of one of the first women ordained in the Covenant and (2) even further back to the range of ministry roles open to women within early German Pietism.

Stay tuned for publication – and please contact us if you would like to contribute to related Forum articles or recommend another author. We welcome your input!

“Jesus calls the church to a journey toward justice.”

From Catherine Gilliard, “Watching, Not Waiting: A Sermon for the First Sunday of Advent”:

 

gilliard memeJesus teaches his disciples about the pain and suffering that precede a new birth. Jesus urges the disciples to remain awake so they do not miss God’s work in the middle of the chaotic events unfolding around them…. And this is my call to the church today: we too must be watchful. This week we watched peaceful demonstrators march to the seats of government power in city after city, bringing awareness to racial injustices that plague communities across this nation. Jesus is no stranger to the unrest we have seen; in our text Jesus warns his disciples that persecution will come. Jesus himself and his disciples were betrayed, handed over to authorities, beaten, thrown in jail, and eventually sentenced to death. This is also the journey of justice marked for the church today.

***

The unrest in city after city is not just about the death of Michael Brown, no matter how badly organizers need a face as a banner for the movement. What is resonating with people throughout this nation is not the unrest in Ferguson alone. What is resonating in city after city are the signs of the simmering tension of systemic racism present across this country, racism that those in positions of influence and power do not want to discuss or confront. What’s resonating with people about Ferguson is how signs of racial and class tensions present in their own communities are not being discussed either.

And 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.

***

Jesus calls the church to a journey toward justice. The Holy Spirit calls the church to see what needs to change and then empowers the church to become advocates of that change. God calls the church to embody the power of the cross, crucifying evil and resurrecting God’s plan. God heals us! God delivers us! God uses us to proclaim and witness the Holy Spirit’s power to bring good news to all who are suffering in this world. So be on guard! Be alert! Keep watch, so those watching expectantly will not lose hope. It is through us, the church, that God’s love, forgiveness, and grace are experienced by the world. It is we the church who are called to bear witness to God’s power to dismantle walls of division and separation through our ministry of restoration, redemption, and reconciliation.

Read the full article here.

A Civil Rights Sermon, 1963

From Douglas Cedarleaf’s June 16, 1963, sermon, “Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will Be Done”:

 

cedarleaf 2 From the good news according to St. Matthew, chapter 6 verse 10, we read, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” It would be interesting to know how many voices have been raised all over the world in this particular prayer and in this petition this morning. Across all the barriers of race and class and denomination. Across the seas. Across misunderstandings….

It circles the globe, this heart cry of the human race. What will it be like when God’s kingdom comes? Do you hunger and thirst after it? Do you seek after it? Is your blood stirred by it like it’s stirred by a new home or a new car or a new washing machine?

***

If Jesus Christ came in and said, “You really want my kingdom to come? Is this what you’re after? You really want my will to be done in the whole world? In your life? In your job? In your home? Is this what you’re really after?” We would cringe and say, “God, go away! This isn’t what we want. Leave us alone. Leave us alone. We’re comfortable the way we are. We’ve got everything we need. We live in the greatest nation in all the world. The kingdom of America is good enough for us!”

***

Let me ask you where God is in this whole business where one tenth of the population of America is crying for justice. Is God hearing this cry? Will God answer this cry? When they cry, “Thy kingdom come, and thy will be done,” will God hear what they have to say? And if he hears it, what will happen to the nine-tenths of us who feel either, on the one hand, that these folks should be restrained, or else…we just let it go. We are just indifferent. We hope this big, bad ogre will go away. And it sounds to me as though the voice of God himself is thundering through the pain of these people, “You had best wake up, wake up, lest at last you shall be submerged in the wrath of the heavenly Father who will not allow one-tenth of the human beings in this nation to be denied their basic rights!”

***

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.

Read the full sermon here, then come back and discuss.

 


 

For discussion:

  • Cedarleaf challenged his congregation to consider whether they really wanted God’s kingdom to come, given the way it would shake up the status quo. His question remains relevant. What would it look like for the Kingdom of God to be actualized in your job, your home, your community, and your life? What part might you be called to play in that?
  • In what ways do Christians and churches still promote the idea that “The kingdom of America (or the nation of choice) is good enough for us?”

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?

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.


 

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