By Don Meyer
CHICAGO, IL (March 12, 2012) – Two key leadership nominations, the future of theological education, new evangelism and justice initiatives and approval of the agenda for the upcoming 127th Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC) were among highlights of this weekend’s meeting of the ECC Executive Board at Covenant Offices.
The board approved the nominations of David Kersten to serve as dean of North Park Theological Seminary and Garth McGrath to serve as superintendent of the Great Lakes Conference. Kersten’s nomination will come for action by Annual Meeting delegates in June, with McGrath’s nomination coming before delegates attending the conference annual meeting in April. If approved, both will be installed during the June ECC Annual Meeting. A search for Kersten’s replacement is under way with plans calling for a nominee to be presented to delegates in June.
Theme of this year’s ECC Annual Meeting is “Found Faithful: Serving Globally,” which is the first of five mission and ministry priorities to be highlighted over the next five years. The other four priorities are Developing Leaders, Starting and Strengthening Churches, Making and Deepening Disciples, and Love Mercy, Do Justice.
Several workshops are planned as part of the June gathering, with two ministry site visits already scheduled – one to the CHET campus and one to the Fountain of Life Covenant Church planted by John Teter, who serves as evangelism team leader for the denomination.
Reflecting on the newly introduced “Found Faithful” theme, ECC President Gary Walter recalled the influence of one individual who was instrumental in introducing him to faith, citing other similar examples. He stressed the importance of being faithful to God’s leading in every aspect of life, especially in the small acts of obedience that often escape attention. “You never know what God is setting in motion by any single act of simple faithfulness,” he observed.
Walter briefly reviewed what he terms “marks” of having been found faithful as a denomination:
- The Covenant last year grew by more than three percent – the 20th consecutive year of growth – doubling in size over that time
- In Covenant churches today, there is an average attendance of 184,050 on a given weekend – and given absences, the true constituency more likely is 250,000 to 300,000 who identify with a local Covenant congregation
- One-half of all new Covenant church plants today are ethnic, multiethnic or multicultural
- A number of new leaders are coming on the scene – new superintendents in the Midwest, Northwest and Great Lakes conferences as well as the regional director for Alaska; the new executive minister for Women Ministries and new seminary dean, to name a few
- The upcoming CHIC youth gathering with more than 4,000 already registered
Walter highlighted three initiatives growing out of the Organizing for Mission work that will receive considerable attention this year: the Matthew-Micah initiative that will focus on the challenges surrounding mass incarceration and the prison system in general, the new “72” evangelism initiative, and the new Covenant Kids Congo partnership with World Vision.
Giving to the denomination increased 3.7% during 2011, reported Dean Lundgren, who serves as vice president for finance and treasurer. A year-end operating loss of $70,000 was characterized as modest and relatively small compared to the overall budget size, Lundgren noted. He also reported that the 2011 annual audit of financial affairs for the denomination is well under way.
In addition to general sessions, numerous committees conducted individual meetings over two days with the following updates presented during Sunday afternoon’s concluding general session:
Christian Formation – a key emphasis will focus on developing youth ministry leaders, along with a new songwriting and publishing initiative in collaboration with Covenant Communications
Church Growth and Evangelism – there is a renewed emphasis on resourcing under-resourced churches, as well as leveraging partnerships among conferences. This group will be working to refresh church planting protocols and focusing on ethnic church planting efforts. A search is also under way for a new director of church planting.
Covenant Communications – this group is focusing on creative and effective ways of communicating the five mission and ministry priorities, as well as a broad communications strategy needed to educate the larger church on the new Covenant Kids Congo initiative. The group also discussed transition issues related to the retirement of the executive minister at the end of this year.
Compassion, Mercy & Justice – plans for an upcoming criminal justice think tank were shared, along with reflections on a recent trip to Israel and the West Bank. A recent Sankofa trip included a significant representation of Asian, Hispanic and Native American participants. Updates also were shared on the work of Covenant World Relief and the search for a new executive director of the Paul Carlson Partnership.
World Mission – emphasis was focused on launch of the Covenant Kids Congo project later this year.
Personnel and finance committees shared updates, with two proposed resolutions also reviewed by the board. The first, a Resolution on Domestic Violence, was presented to delegates at last year’s Annual Meeting for reflection and response, with final action set for this year’s meeting. The second, a Resolution and Stewardship and Generosity, is in draft form and will be presented to delegates this June, with final action scheduled in 2013.
A number of affiliated ministries also shared reports:
Women Ministries – Mending the Soul is a new initiative, with the PROTECT initiative nearing launch as well.
Covenant Ministries of Benevolence – plans call for construction to begin soon in Lenexa, Kansas, on a new, smaller model of a continuum of care based on a rental concept – scheduled for completion in 2013.
Covenant Trust Company – 2011 was a record year with more than $50 million in assets brought under management – it is possible that total assets under management may reach $500 million by year’s end. Some $9.5 million from endowments was distributed to Covenant causes last year. Plans are also moving forward on a new turnkey endowment program that will be available to local churches and other institutions.
National Covenant Properties – this ministry area distributed $30 million in loans to local Covenant churches last year, with assets increasing five percent during the year.