CHICAGO (June 14, 2019)—In the June edition of CovChurch Now, a monthly video update from Evangelical Covenant Church President John Wenrich to Covenanters, he addresses the pain over the coming decision before the Covenant’s Annual Meeting on whether to involuntarily dismiss First Covenant Church of Minneapolis from the roster of Covenant churches due to its having been found out of harmony with the denomination on human sexuality and pastoral credentialing.
The transcript of the video is below. To watch the video and to read FAQs and other resources about the FCCM matter, please click here.
CovChurch Now Video Transcript — June edition
Message from Evangelical Covenant Church President John Wenrich:
Greetings, Mission Friends.
I am heartbroken today. I am heartbroken over where we find ourselves now. And I am heartbroken by the pain we’re all experiencing. I love this denomination, and I am so proud of our Pietist heritage as Mission Friends.
I am saddened we are in the midst of this difficult decision coming before us at our Annual Meeting after the Covenant Executive Board has recommended we dismiss a church from the roster of Covenant churches because it has been found out of harmony with our credentialing process and the Evangelical Covenant Church’s communally discerned position on human sexuality.
I apologize I did not communicate the depth of my sorrow as well as I could have in our previous communications. This is an uncomfortable place for many, including me. I am also aware of how this situation further marginalizes and pains our fellow Covenanters who identify as members of the LGBTQ community and their families.
I want to be clear, and I want to speak from my heart. In the Covenant, we lead with love. We love all people. We recognize each person as made in the image of God. And we welcome all people in our Covenant churches. We grieve the ways in which our church has fallen short of this ideal. We are invested in equipping our churches to flourish in love for all people, including LGBTQ people.
I know there is a lot of engagement around this coming Annual Meeting, to be held during Gather 2019 from June 27-29, because of the anticipated vote surrounding the involuntary dismissal of First Covenant Church of Minneapolis, or FCCM, from the roster of Covenant churches.
I know firsthand how much FCCM cares deeply about reaching and serving its surrounding community. I have invested in this church. In 2009 and 2010, I personally coached FCCM in congregational vitality, and I saw the church revitalize. So many good things were happening that we asked FCCM to host the Navigate Vitality Conference for three years in a row: 2011, 2012 and 2013.
And then, in 2014, three weeks before the Navigate Vitality conference, we made the decision to move to another venue because we could not in good conscience run Navigate at a church that was rapidly moving away from our communally discerned position on human sexuality.
Over the past five years, Covenant leaders have met repeatedly with FCCM. We’ve prayed with this church. And we’ve urged this church to change their direction. Along with the chair and vice chair of the Covenant Executive Board, I went to visit this past April. I enjoyed seeing familiar faces and catching up with people. It hurts me deeply we’ve come to this point. Regardless of what we decide at the Annual Meeting, I will always wish First Covenant well.
At the same time, in the Covenant we are Covenanted together, which means we have agreed to partner together in mutual mission and in mutual accountability. When a church is out of harmony with the Covenant, it is not actually operating within our mutual agreements. Other churches in similar positions have voluntarily withdrawn -in part because their own integrity demanded it and in part to spare all of us this specific situation.
As a pastor, I have watched other denominations tear themselves apart when they have prioritized the appearance of unity over unity in substance. False unity does not last, as other denominations have discovered.
Let me also emphasize that a vote to release FCCM from the Covenant means an end to the Covenant endorsement -but by no means does it mean the end of FCCM’s ministry as a church. FCCM can continue to engage in ministry regardless of the decision made at the Annual Meeting. They can keep their building and other assets.
I know there are a swirl of questions around this recommendation for removal.
Our Evangelical Covenant Church leadership has thought carefully through these questions and in the posture of love and clarity, we have posted an initial document answering these and other Frequently Asked Questions. I encourage you to visit CovChurch.org/gather19resources to check it out, and if you have more questions, please send an e-mail to email@example.com, which our team will regularly review. As additional questions and comments come in, we will also continue to update the FAQ.
Let me say this again: In the Covenant, we lead with love. So as we go to the Annual Meeting in Omaha, Nebraska, I encourage us all to engage with love and kindness even, and especially, when we disagree with each other. The decision around FCCM is in the hands of our churches and their delegates now. One pastor told me the Annual Meeting needs to be a place where we respect, explain and invite all voices. Our role is to come together as a church and discern where the Spirit is leading us. Let us listen to one another and to the Spirit.
If you haven’t done it yet, please register to attend Gather at gather.covchurch.org. We’ll continue to make resources available through CovChurch.org and through the Embrace initiative at CovChurch.org/embrace.
As we close, I want to remind us of one of Covenant affirmations: a conscious dependence on the Holy Spirit. I think about Acts 15, when the leaders of the church gathered for a very challenging decision. Here is what the people said in describing that experience: “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us.” May that be our sentiment at this year’s meeting, and may people everywhere know that we are followers of Jesus by the way we love.