By Nilwona Nowlin
(July 29, 2020)—When the COVID-19 pandemic led to the cancellation of Gather 2020, the Covenant Ministerium’s Executive Board jumped into action to explore how to create an online space for Covenant clergy to continue to learn and connect socially. “This online event was birthed several months ago as a creative response to a problem—without our regular denominational summer gatherings, how might we serve our pastors’ requests for regular and transparent communication, increased access and connection, and encourage each other even as COVID-19 and persistent, deadly racial injustice threaten our ministries?” explained Liz Mosbo VerHage, Ministerium president.
The result was the Ministerium’s first-ever virtual gathering, ReImagine. The one-day online leadership event included continuing education, ministry updates, breakout groups, and concluded with sermonettes from Covenant pastors.
A two-hour continuing education session featured an online session with Dr. Christina Edmondson, dean for intercultural student development at Calvin College and co-host of the Truth’s Table podcast. Her pre-recorded session included three modules that addressed implicit bias, talking about race, and why should Christians be anti-racist? The modules were created through a partnership between North Park Theological Seminary and the ECC’s Love Mercy Do Justice mission priority team, with guidance from Covenant ministers and leaders Dominique Gilliard and Michelle Clifton-Soderstrom, who were also featured. “Friday’s continuing education training for members of the ECC ministerium set a sound foundation for us to live into the ethos of the Anti-Racism Resolution that was passed at the 2019 Ministerium Annual Meeting,” Gilliard, who serves as the director for racial righteousness with the ECC, said.
During the event, Gilliard announced a new resource created specifically for Covenant clergy: a 12-month clergy pathway, which includes books, films/videos, and articles designed to facilitate growth and deepen one’s convictions and commitment to anti-racism.
The pathway is rooted in purposeful narrative, the fifth “P” of the Six-fold Test for Multiethnic Ministry. Groups of five to eight clergy will work through the pathway together. Separate pathways are available to white clergy and clergy of color, with resources curated specifically for each group. In addition, the training modules featuring Edmondson will be made available twice within the next calendar year to clergy who sign up to participate in the pathways. “The anti-racism clergy pathways will only deepen our denominational relationships and understanding of purposeful narrative in ways that cultivate eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to respond to racism,” Gilliard said. “These pathways are a great way for our clergy to demonstrate that we are all in this together, and they create unique opportunities for peer to peer engagement, encouragement, and accountability.”
In the afternoon, VerHage announced the recipients of the first annual clergywoman awards:
Cecilia Williams, president and CEO of the CCDA, received the SheLeads award for exceptional leadership capacities.
Gail Song Bantum, lead pastor of Quest Church, received the ShePreaches award for exceptional preaching abilities.
Juana Nesta, co-lead pastor of Stockton Covenant Church and president of Asociación Latina de la Iglesia del Pacto Evangélico (ALIPE), received the SheAdvocates award for exceptional gifts of advocating.
The daylong event ended with sermonettes from Catherine Gilliard, superintendent of the Southeast Conference; Stephanie Ahn Mathis, co-senior pastor of West Hills Covenant Church; Gricel Medina, speaker, consultant, and former Midwest Conference church planter; and Efrem Smith, co-senior pastor of Bayside Church of Midtown. Each shared a short message with the theme of how to reimagine leadership in this season.
ReImagine’s virtual platform made it possible for many members to attend their first Ministerium gathering, and this was reflected in the attendance numbers. More than 370 participants joined the continuing education session, over 200 live viewers, and 1.7K total views for the rest of the day’s activities.
“We sensed a need to try something innovative and collaborative that would make space for God to do something new—to speak and move and encourage leaders that in this season they are seen, they are not alone, and together we can try new things ahead,” said VerHage.
The Ministerium Executive Board says they hope to offer more online gatherings in the future, based on the expressed needs of clergy and the capacity of volunteers. Replays of the ministry update and evening preachers can be viewed here along with a recap of the day and instructions on how to sign up for an anti-racist clergy learning pathway.