By Stan Friedman
CHICAGO, IL (January 28, 2014) — The Covenant’s Annual Meeting is being re-imagined and renamed to provide more opportunities for attendees to minister and worship together, President Gary Walter announced during his report today at the Midwinter Pastors Conference.
The new name, Gather, reflects a change in emphasis so that the business meeting is part of the larger event. Walter drew laughter when he described it as “more Midwintery or Feasty.”
Gather 2014 will encompass Experience Chicagoland, the Covenant Ministerium Annual Meeting, and the Covenant Annual Meeting and will be held June 23 to June 28.
Experience Chicagoland will be held June 23 to June 25. It will expand on Mission Detroit, which was held prior to the 2013 Annual Meeting and offered multiple opportunities for Covenanters to engage in service projects and gain a better understanding of justice issues. The event encouraged participants to consider how they could take what they learned and apply it to their contexts.
Experience Chicagoland will include workshops, service projects, and tours of ministries as well as regular attractions such as Millennium Park.
Walter rooted much of his talk in Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, which reads, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help. Again, if two lie together, they keep warm; but how can one keep warm alone? And though one might prevail against another, two will withstand one. A threefold cord is not quickly broken” (NRSV).
It is a strength the local churches, regional conferences, and denomination need in order to share the gospel in a world where it is increasingly difficult.
“Interdependence is the biblical pattern that leads to the flourishing of all,” Walter said, noting that denomination’s name includes “Covenant” because it represents our covenant with one another as well as with God. “At our best we are all strengthened by the intertwining of our lives.”
Walter told the ministers, “Your local church is the center of all that we do. We exist to serve our churches and to unite our churches together into service.”
He declared that the denomination would be at the forefront of numerous ministries, including church planting and providing opportunities for women clergy.He got the loudest applause when he added,“We’re going to end the Evangelical silliness that thinks that evangelism and compassion, mercy, and justice aren’t intertwined in the gospel. Walter exhorted the pastors to guide their congregations into strengthening the three-chord strand deeper involvement with the denomination. He said he was heartened by the times when people ask how their congregations can assist the larger Covenant.
He told the ministers to, “Ask yourself what you expect of your people in their relationship with your church and then apply that same standard to your church’s relations to the conference and the denomination.”
That would include offering up concerted prayers for the larger ministry, attending regional and denominational events, finding ministries to serve, and increasing percentage giving.
The larger church includes serving Covenanters in their work around the world, he said. The Democratic Republic of the Congo, where the Covenant has served for more than 75 years, remains one of the poorest countries in the world, he noted.
He highlighted the travails of two of DR Congo’s neighbors, where the Covenant also ministers. Central African Republic and South Sudan, also among the world’s poorest countries, have descended into near chaos from internal fighting.
“You have 20,000 Covenant brothers and sisters in South Sudan who are now faced with persecution and death, separation of their families, uncertainty about what life will bring,” Walter said. “You think it matters to them that we’re strong?”
Walter added, “While they are hiding out, they know one thing. They know they are not forgotten. They know there are people praying for them. They know there are people who are standing with them.
Walter also highlighted the work of four Covenant leaders who are retiring or have transitioned to other ministries: Dean Lundgren, vice president of finance and director of the Covenant Pension Plan; Doreen Olson, executive minister of the Department of Christian Formation are retiring. Efrem Smith, former superintendent of the Pacific Southwest Conference (PSWC) resigned last year to become president and CEO of World Impact; and Marti Burger, former director of youth ministry, has transitioned to director of the Events Office.
The president also welcomed Tim Ciccone, the new team leader of youth ministry; Rebecca Gonzalez, executive director of operations; Ed Gilbreath, executive director of the Department of Communications; and Paul Wilson, the nominee to be the next PSWC superintendent.