By Stan Friedman
CHICAGO, IL (June 27, 2014) — President Gary Walter’s report to delegates at the 129th Annual Meeting this morning highlighted the lives of people who have been transformed through local churches working together with their conferences and the denomination.
“However imperfectly, as a fellowship of some 850 churches we do sincerely seek to live in a simple two-step rhythm that we would call missional pietism,” he said. “We are pietists in that we prioritize cultivating a deeply personal walk with God, both entering that relationship with God and cultivating an ever-deepening walk.”
He continued, “We are missional in that we do not believe in a privatized faith, but we believe that when Jesus calls us to himself he calls us to also join him in his mission to the world.”
The results of that two-step rhythm were evident in the lives of the young people who had experienced new or strengthened faith through interdependent Covenant ministries. Walter showed images of several who wore tattoos of the Covenant’s logo.
One photo showed the tattoo on the ankle of Jennifer Dwight Haley, who Walter said had grown up in the church her entire life, attended local congregations and camps, and participated in mission trips. “Do you think it matters to kids who grow up in the church that we pull together?” Walter asked.
He also told the story of Christian Kerrigan, who described his own experience of walking away from God. Through the ministry of Covenanters, churches, and North Park University, his faith and relationship were renewed. As a permanent sign of that commitment, he had a large image of the Covenant logo tattooed on his back.
Walter recounted that Kerrigan said the 30 hours it took to finish the tattoo was well worth the time. “This tattoo reminds me where my faith has been nurtured,” he explained.
Walter also honored the life of Jerry Umanos, who grew up attending Covenant churches and camps and recently was martyred in Afghanistan when a gunman open-fired at the hospital where he worked. Also among the victims was former North Park University student Gary Gabel and son, John.
A series of other Covenant leaders shared brief reports from their ministry areas, including Covenant Kids Congo powered by World Vision (CKC) and Paul Carlson Partnership (PCP), which Walter described as complementary ministries.
Donn Engebretson, project leader for Covenant Kids Congo, told of “stunning progress on the ground” by the initiative. Students are getting fresh opportunities to receive quality education through new schools. Water projects are making a major difference as well, even though the projects are taking longer than the first hoped.
“It’s a long obedience in the same direction,” he said.
Merritt Lohr Sawyer, executive director of PCP, said the CKC had been good for the ministry she leads by drawing attention to medical needs of Congo. She also highlighted the newly launched Congo Clinic Initiative, which seeks to partner one Covenant church with each of the health clinics operated by the Congo Covenant Church.
John Wenrich, director of congregational vitality, said churches continue to take advantage of the vitality pathway, and materials developed for the several-year process are now being used and contextualized in countries around the world, including, Norway, Denmark, Germany, France, Czech Republic, Hong Kong, Mexico, Honduras, Ecuador, Colombia.
Cecilia Williams, ministry initiatives director for the Department of Compassion, Mercy and Justice, shared that grants are available for congregations seeking to develop CMJ ministries.
Aune Carlson, who oversees the early adult ministry area for the denomination, described the Solid Rock residential discipleship program and newly formed Covenant Schools of Discipleship.
Ed Delgado, president of Centro Hispano de Estudios Teologicos in Compton, California, said the ministry of the denomination’s Hispanic ministry training school continues to expand its reach through satellite campuses and partnerships with regional conferences.