PHOENIX, AZ (June 24, 2016) – President Gary Walter told delegates to the 131st Evangelical Covenant Church Annual Meeting that the true picture of the denomination includes its strengths as well as its vulnerabilities.
“There is who we are when we are at our best, and there is who we are when we are not at our best,” Walter said. He added that we must focus on both—to avoid thoughts of “Covenant exceptionalism” on one hand, or being demoralized when only the weaknesses are considered.
Walter noted that the ECC has grown numerically for the twenty-third straight year and 231,000 people attend local congregations on any particular Sunday and 30 percent of those congregations are among populations of color or intentionally multiethnic.
He highlighted the fact that this year marks the fortieth anniversary of the ordination of women in the Covenant as well as the one hundredth anniversary of Women Ministries.
More and more women are serving in vocational ministry. Since 2000 that number has risen from 76 credentialed women to roughly 400, approaching one-quarter of the active Ministerium, Walter said.
He also stressed the importance of non-clergy women. “How long would any of your churches survive without the lay leadership and service offered by women using their gifts? Our mission would be irreparably impaired were women not empowered to use their gifts in any and all contexts.”
The denomination still has a long way to go on that front, however, he said. “The trajectory is in the right direction, but overall it is too low and too slow.”
Our mission would be irreparably impaired were women not empowered to use their gifts in any and all contexts.
“At times our women seminary graduates lag in placement,” Walter explained. “Movement from one call to another can take longer. Some who would prefer service in a church but not finding opportunity to do so then serve in contexts beyond the parish—good for that organization but a drain of talent for us. In supporting the giftedness of women, may we all find our place in supporting the call of women in that giftedness as well.”
Walter also addressed the challenge to Covenant connectivity, which he said remains strong but will requires deliberate efforts to be maintained as the denomination grows larger and more diverse.
When the denomination was 90,000 people, it was easier for clergy to know one another and there were often “three degrees of separation” among the laity. However, those relationships are “not as inevitable, not as virtually guaranteed as they once were.”
When those relationships are not so easy to develop, it also can be easier to pull away from one another during times of stress, Walter said. He called on churches and individuals to practice the “discipline of connectedness.”
In the polarization of these days, it is time for the Christian Church to show something different, and it is time for this church to lead the way in modeling that unity and common life and greater accomplishment can be found in the common ground we share in Christ.
Walter also addressed the topic of human sexuality. Affirming the Covenant’s existing position “centered in celibacy in singleness and faithfulness in heterosexual marriage,” he added, “Each and every person is created and loved by God. God stands ready to embrace anyone through the redeeming work of the cross and resurrection of Jesus.”
“But when we don’t do enough to equip and resource one another for more meaningful connection with real people who have real stories, that has real consequences, including for LGBT and their families who attend our congregations who end up hurt and disappointed by the church,” Walter said.
He asked everyone to examine themselves in regard to any role they may have played in causing that hurt. Walter said the denomination and conferences are working to provide additional resources.
Walter addressed the recent massacre in Orlando. With a photo of the victims displayed on the screen, he emphasized, “Each one is a loved one, a child, a brother, a sister, a friend. We grieve. Period. End of sentence. All life is sacred as each one of us is made in the image and likeness of God. We all share in the God-given gift of life itself. Jesus calls us to remain vigilant in our protection of life and human dignity.”
Walter also highlighted the ministry provided in Orlando by Sarah Robinson, pastor of Audubon Park Covenant Church in Orlando, and Jim DeGrado, a Covenant chaplain at one of the key medical centers who coordinated so much of the chaplain services for the entire area.
Finally, Walter stated that the church must lead the way on race. “In the polarization of these days, it time for the Christian Church to show something different, and it is time for this church to lead the way in modeling that unity and common life and greater accomplishment can be found in the common ground we share in Christ.