By Stan Friedman
DETROIT, MI (June 28, 2013) – The opening worship service of the Evangelical Covenant Church’s 128th Annual Meeting on Thursday night was a time in which the success of Mission Detroit was celebrated, but also one in which the Covenant family was exhorted to “scoot closer” to the people being assisted while also confronting the systems that solidify the injustice that makes such missions necessary.
Alex Gee, one of the newest African American pastors in what he calls the Covenant family, said he wanted to speak as an insider, but also bring the sometimes uncomfortable insights of a person coming in from the outside.
“As we become more diverse, we just have to ask ourselves: ‘Guess who’s coming to dinner.”
Gee said his church, Fountain of Life Covenant Church, had been non-denominational for 20 years, but sought to join the Covenant after he met pastors from the denomination who encouraged him to consider joining. He had been impressed by the Covenant’s commitment to pursuing compassion, mercy, and justice, which includes racial reconciliation.
Preaching primarily from Micah 6:8, a key verse in the Covenant’s Matthew Micah Initiative, Gee warned that he would be bringing “radical ideas” and joked, “The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the Central Conference of the Evangelical Covenant Church.”
Gee told of a counselor friend, who said that in order to help someone whose views and experiences were different than his own, he found that the the proper response was to “scoot closer” and not yield to the automatic response of wanting to lean away.
The theological term for scooting closer is “incarnation,” Gee added.
He recalled that it was a white pastor from the south who was serving a Baptist church in Madison, Wisconsin, where Gee lived, that provided the pivotal point in his life. The pastor, Julius Stagner, was determined that his all-white congregation become integrated.
He started a bus ministry – known as the “Happy Bus” – to pick up black children to join the congregation’s children’s ministry. In response, 40 percent of the deacon board resigned and much of the church – including major donors – left, but Stagner persisted.
“I appreciated that he did that because I was one of those kids,” Gee said. Stagner and the church members who remained had scooted closer.
Click here to read more of Gee’s reflections about Stagner and the impact of the Happy Bus ministry.
He charged the gathering to not stop short in pursuing justice, by making certain they seek to tear down the systems that perpetuate injustice rather than merely giving the impression the work has been done. Nearly all white Evangelicals who had pursued abolition in the 1800s never followed up and sought equality, he said.
He concluded with a challenge to the Covenant, to not forget its beginnings when Swedes who had been marginalized started the denomination, the faith family that he says he is proud to now call his own.
Earlier in the evening, the service included the Detroit Children’s Choir leading a portion in singing. Click here to read a previous Covenant News Service story on the choir.