MINNEAPOLIS, MN (June 22, 2018) — John Wenrich was elected today to be the new president of the Evangelical Covenant Church by delegates to the denomination’s 133rd Annual Meeting.
Of the 827 votes cast, Wenrich received 671 (82.53 percent) in support, 142 (17.47 percent) in opposition, with 24 abstaining.
After the vote, Wenrich, who has served as executive minister of Start and Strengthen Churches since 2016, said he was humbled by the election and committed to leading with humility. “I was a servant before, and I am a servant now. So in one sense everything has changed and in another deeper sense, nothing has changed.”
In his initial remarks, Wenrich, 56, said that when he joined the Covenant, “I felt like I found a pearl of great price. I want you know that I still feel this way.” He added, “That phrase ‘mission friends’ is not something I just lifted from the history books; it is right here in my heart.”
Prior to the election, in response to delegate questions, Wenrich affirmed the Covenant position on sexuality and vowed to strengthen the relationship between North Park University and local churches, as well as be a strong advocate for women in ministry.
Several delegates asked him about his views on sexuality and willingness to allow conversation on that topic. Wenrich said he held firmly to the denomination’s stance against same-sex marriage and expects clergy to abide by the guidelines. But, he said, there still is a lot of room for discussion within the Covenant’s position, which he said is theologically sound, pastorally sensitive, in alignment with 2,000 years of church history, and witness of the global church.
Wenrich also told delegates, “I want to be compassionate, and I also want to be clear. In the Covenant we always lead with love….If the gospel is not good news for LGBTQ persons, then the gospel is not good news for anyone.”
Wenrich also said there were other issues the Covenant also needs to address. “This is an important issue, but there are other important issues that we really need to spend time talking about—issues like systemic and everyday racism and going beyond the optics,” he said. “I want us to spend a lot of energy talking about immigration, I want us to spend a lot of energy talking about incarceration. I want to spend a lot of energy talking about the fact that as long as we say women in leadership is such a strong value for us, why is it that only seven percent of our lead pastors are female? These are the kinds of questions I really want to put a lot of energy into.”
Liz Mosbo VerHage, a pastor at Quest, a Covenant congregation in Seattle, asked Wenrich how he would push for more churches to include women in leadership roles and who were women who had shaped his life.
“It is a real concern for me,” Wenrich said. “My word to describe the future of the Covenant is ‘flourish’…. Even though I want to see every affiliate and every ministry and every initiative flourish in the Evangelical Covenant Church, I’m particularly interested in women flourishing in ministry. I want to be the number one advocate for women in ministry in our denomination. And I would not be here today if it were not for strong, confident, godly women building into my life.”
He said women who have been influential in his life included his former preaching professor at Denver Seminary, who was in the audience, as well as Michelle Sanchez, the executive minister of Make and Deepen Disciples, and Debbie Blue, former executive minister of Love Mercy Do Justice.
Asked about his commitment to evangelism, Wenrich responded, “The greatest challenge facing the ECC today is not human sexuality; the greatest challenge facing the Evangelical Covenant Church today is evangelism.” He added, “This is my heart. It’s the most important thing that we do.”