By Curtis Ivanoff
ANCHORAGE, ALASKA (June 25, 2014) — The Covenant Church in Alaska (ECCAK) has a rich history, one that reminds us of God’s faithfulness and of the transforming power of the gospel. Today we are living and serving in a time here in Alaska where one chapter is about to end and a new one will begin. The Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC) has initiated movement for ECCAK to change its status from a mission field to becoming a newly established conference. This will be a momentous benchmark, and I think it is helpful to look back in order to better understand the significance of this shift.
I currently serve as ECCAK’s “field director.” This position title is rooted in history and reflects the relationship between the Alaska ministries and the national denomination headquartered in Chicago. Until 1972, the work of the Covenant Church in Alaska was a ministry of the ECC World Mission department. In other words, the work in Alaska was in the same category as work in Japan or the Congo, even though we were one of the fifty states of the U.S. The group that led the work here was known as the Covenant Mission Council of Alaska, largely comprised of the missionaries who had moved from out of state to serve in Alaska. You can see from that name how there was a sense of Alaska being a mission field.
Things shifted in 1972 when the Covenant work in Alaska was moved from World Mission to Home Mission, and in 1973 ECCAK as we know it was formed. The name “field director” was given to the person who would oversee the work of the Alaska field.
One of the reasons for the shift was the hope and goal that the ministry in Alaska would one day become a self-governing conference. That hope may soon become a reality as the ECC has initiated a process for ECCAK to become a conference. When that happens, my title will change to “superintendent,” reflective of the organizational change. Leaders of the regional conferences in the lower-48 have this leadership title. I have been included as a colleague with the other superintendents already, and I meet with them three times a year for fellowship, encouragement, and discerning God’s movement for the larger work of the Covenant.
Many pastors and leaders over these decades have had the desire for this move to become a reality. I believe it is a Spirit-led affirmation of confidence and respect by the denomination. In my conversations with ECC leaders, the message I consistently hear is, “We recognize that who better to lead and steward the work in Alaska than Alaskans?”
What will this change mean for us in Alaska?
Being a financially self-supporting entity has been a key benchmark in order to become a conference, one that we have yet to reach. As recently as 1978, the work in Alaska comprised nearly half of the budget of the Department of Home Mission! Things have changed quite significantly in recent years, though we still receive appropriations to supplement ministry expenses. No doubt we will continue to pursue the goal of supporting our ministry with our own God-given resources. Until that time, the ECC will continue to assist the work in Alaska financially and in other ways as we mature in our standing as a conference.
Over the next few months, you will have the opportunity to engage in this important process. Here is a sketch of what the steps will be:
- Read and review the conference constitution draft. Between now and our next Annual Meeting in March 2015, you are invited to review the proposed constitution, which is more extensive than our current one. The ECC requires a one-year review so churches and individuals may give necessary input. Please send comments, suggestions, and questions about the process and/or the proposed constitution to constitution(a)eccak.org.
- The delegates of the 2015 ECCAK Annual Meeting will vote to adopt the constitution. Amendments can be made between now and then and the General Council will have ongoing discussion regarding any that may surface.
- The ECC Executive Board will vote to approve ECCAK becoming a conference. After an affirmative vote at our Annual Meeting, a vote for confirmation will occur.
- Name the conference contest! ECCAK is soliciting name ideas for the new conference until October 10, 2014. Suggestions so far have included “Alaska Conference,” “Denali Conference,” “Arctic Conference,” and “Arctic Circumpolar Conference.” Our name is important, and your input is valued. You may email our office or submit an idea on our website.
This is an exciting time for the Covenant in Alaska. The work does not rest on our ideas or strategies, but rather, like the word of the Lord to his people through his prophet Zechariah, “So he said to me, ‘This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty’ ” (Zech. 4:6).
We rejoice in what God is doing in Alaska. It is God’s ongoing story that is unfolding, and we are the characters in a new chapter being written. We were exhorted by Pastor Joel Oyoumick at the Annual Meeting, “Let us prepare ourselves by putting up new sails so that we can catch what God will give us and move forward.” I like that.
Time to put up new sails, ECCAK.
Curtis Ivanoff is the field director of The Evangelical Covenant Church of Alaska.
(Editor’s note: This article is adapted from the latest issue of The Sinew, the newsletter of the Evangelical Covenant Church of Alaska).