President’s Report at Midwinter Calls Pastors to Help Bridge Divides

LOUISVILLE, KY (February 2, 2017) – As a prominent part of his annual Covenant update to Covenant clergy at the Midwinter Conference, President Gary Walter called on pastors to help overcome partisanship through discipleship.

“Friends, the church in the United States and in Canada must do better. Friends, the Covenant must do better. If we want better for our countries than what we are experiencing, we must expect better of ourselves as citizens first and foremost of God’s kingdom.”

Walter reminded the gathering that Jesus lived in deeply divisive times. “He disappointed every single political persuasion, from the radical Zealots to the conservative Herodians. The Roman leaders didn’t know what to do with him, and the religious leaders wanted to get rid of him. The people who hated Jesus the most hated him for not hating the things they hated.”

He continued, “Friends, the Lamb of God understands what it means to live in a fractured, contentious world. He came into one. And guess what? He came with a redemptive mission—not dismissive, not fatalistic, not hiding. He came with a redemptive mission to break down the dividing walls of hostility. There are times when we need to look deep and say, ‘Jesus help me, help us, to be on the redemptive side of the mission, not the sneering side.’”

Walter returned multiple times to the word “friends.” “Part of what God gives us is each other, to learn from, to grow with.”

The update included a panel of pastors and a layperson ministering in different contexts and who Walter said, “I know have been trying their best to figure out how to pastor in the partisanship and the racial divide.”

He noted that the members of the panel were not experts, nor did they represent a comprehensive view of every possible perspective.

Participants in the panel were:

  • David Swanson, pastor of New Community Church Bronzeville in Chicago
  • Lenore Three Stars, a member of the Oglala Lakota tribe, who has served Covenant ministry in several capacities as a lay leader, including as a facilitator for Journey to Mosaic
  • Matt Ness, co-pastor of One Church in Louisville, Kentucky
  • Ja’mel Armstrong, co-pastor of One Church in Louisville, Kentucky
  • Phil Nesta, pastor of Iglesia la Jornada in Brentwood, California
  • Mark Pattie, pastor of Salem Covenant Church in New Brighton, Minnesota

Walter closed the panel discussion, saying, “As we come today, our hearts are in so many places. Some come to this week fatigued of the news cycle, some come defensive, some come angry, some come fearful.” He added, “Forbearance works, not when there is perfection but when there is sincerity and resolve.…Just because we don’t always get it right doesn’t mean it isn’t right, and so we summon resolve and sincerity to keep moving forward.”

In other matters, Walter noted that the Covenant is engaged in ministries to help refugees from around the world, highlighting the work of Covenanters with those from the Middle East. “We are resolute in our commitment to refugee resettlement,” he said. The statement drew a sustained standing ovation.

Walter also noted the financial partnership among the local churches, conferences, and denomination. The new 3 Strand Strong initiative reframes some aspects of that partnership. Historically churches have been asked to give 10 percent of their income to the denomination and 5 percent to their conference.

The new initiative asks churches to contribute 6.5 percent to the denomination and 3.5 percent to the conferences, reflecting a combined tithe of 10 percent, as a way to model the kind of generosity congregations hope to engender in their own members.

Walter also referenced several other Covenant initiatives including the Community Bible Experience, which is an opportunity for churches to read through the New Testament together. More than 30,000 Bibles have been ordered, with more congregations planning to participate this spring. As well, BLESS, a new evangelism initiative, is also being rolled out this spring.

In global developments, he reported that the Covenant executive board has recognized a new mission region, known as the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), in part in response to the interest of ECC congregations having more opportunities for engagement with that region of the world.

Walter also celebrated that Covenant Kids Congo, powered by World Vision, has crossed the acquisition threshold of 10,000 child sponsorships and cash equivalents. Even so, he said there is much to do to sustain that level, given the deep needs in the area.

He also honored two retiring Covenant leaders, David Dwight, president of Covenant Ministries of Benevolence, and Jerome Nelson, superintendent of the Central Conference. Both will conclude their service after the ECC Annual Meeting in June where they will be officially recognized.

Walter introduced Renee Hale, the new executive director of the Paul Carlson Partnership, and Danny Martinez, the new nominee to be superintendent of the Central Conference.

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About the Author

Stan Friedman is the news and online editor for the Covenant Companion and is grateful for the opportunity to serve in a job that combines his newspaper and pastoral ministry experience. He has been to 15 Bruce Springsteen concerts in four cities and listened to “Thunder Road” an average of at least once a day for 41 years.

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