By Stan Friedman
OMAHA, NE (April 18, 2011) – Delegates to the 125th Annual Meeting of the Midwest Conference this past weekend not only celebrated their past accomplishments, but also made history by electing Tammy Swanson-Draheim as the first female to hold the position of Midwest Conference superintendent and welcoming the conference’s first Korean congregation.
The new superintendent responded by saying she will spend the coming year traveling among churches in the conference. “I look forward to hearing what’s on your heart, to listening to what God is saying to you and to us together.”
She succeeds retiring superintendent Ken Carlson, who has served 16 years in that position and eight years previously as associate superintendent.
In his final report, Carlson exhorted delegates to meet modern challenges with the same passion, patience, and perseverance their predecessors had when they came together as Mission Friends even before the conference was formed in 1886. His call was in keeping with the meeting’s theme “Bold Mission-Bright Future.”
Those challenges include ministering in a society that is being reshaped by technology and rapidly changing in ethnicity and demographics. “How do we deal with change in healthy ways?” Carlson asked. “How do we live out the whole gospel?”
Carlson added, “The church doesn’t have a mission, but the mission has a church.” In recalling the passion with which conference founders responded to the mission, he noted that they started schools in McPherson, Kansas, and Keokuk, Iowa.
The first Mission Friends’ patience was seen in how they worked together for 17 years before the conference was started. “They were more committed to being the body than they were to structure and an organization,” Carlson said. “I think some people would say “amen” to that.” And they did.
The early Covenanters also persevered at sharing the gospel despite challenges that included the lack of convenient transportation as well as struggling through the Great Depression.
Carlson also spotlighted the ministry of town and country churches, which he said often are overlooked. “In our conference, we are committed to all our churches including our town and country churches and their ministries.” He noted that 40 percent of the congregations in the conference are in rural settings.
They face difficult and painful challenges that include shrinking populations, consolidating school districts, and the loss of small farms. “In many cases, people think bigger is better,” Carlson said. “That’s not true.”
He encouraged delegates to read a column by John (Jay) Phelan in the January issue of The Covenant Companion that touts the importance of small churches. Reading from the column, he quoted Phelan as saying, “(A church) doesn’t have to be big to transform lives.” That drew the loudest “amen” of the day.
Noting that the Covenant began and continues today as an immigrant church, Carlson addressed the increasing number of immigrants into the conference. “We need to continue to find ways to reach their hearts,” he said.
The church also will need to be open to transformation in the way it ministers in an age of technology, said Carlson, because Twitter, Facebook, and satellite broadcasts are changing the landscape.
Carlson said at one time he never imagined churches would increasingly use satellites to have messages piped in or that ministries would be on Twitter and Facebook.
The conference already is confronting the challenges as evidenced by the welcoming of two new churches – Crossroads Covenant of Greeley, Colorado, and Logos Central Chapel. The latter is the first church of Asian descent in the conference and the first English-speaking Asian church in the Denver area.
Logos pastor Matt Kim said he recently learned he had Covenant roots – he was baptized as an infant in one of the denomination’s churches.
During the business session, delegates approved a budget of $917,240. Carlson announced that the conference would donate travel expenses and the time of associate superintendent Dave Benedict to help the Southeast Conference, along with a gift of $5,000. He encouraged congregations to continue living with the same generous spirit in helping others.
Roughly 400 people attended a banquet honoring Carlson and welcoming Swanson-Draheim on Friday night. Mark Carlson, co-pastor of McMinnville Covenant Church in McMinnville, Oregon, presented his father with a book filled with “words of encouragement” written by people who have known him and have been blessed by his ministry.
Carlson compiled the book and said he had to edit out a verse that people kept referencing because it was becoming “so redundant.” Instead, he included the verse – Philippians 1:3-6 – at the back of the book.
Carlson and Chris Nelson performed Henry Purcell’s Trumpet Voluntary in C Major and were accompanied on the piano by Dirk Lindner. Nelson is the pastor of Oberlin Covenant Church in Oberlin, Kansas. Lindner directs worship at First Covenant Church.
President Gary Walter preached during the banquet, addressing the topic “When Hope Shows Up.”
Some delegates had difficulty getting to the conference due to inclement weather that produced storms throughout the region. Those who flew reported severe turbulence that buffeted the planes. Prayer was offered for communities struck hard by tornadoes, including Mapleton, Iowa, where 142 homes were damaged or destroyed the previous weekend.