Harold Spooner Honored with Irving Lambert Award for Urban Ministry

Harold Spooner was honored with the Irving C. Lambert Award for his commitment to urban and ethnic ministry at the 137th Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Covenant Church in Orange County, California today, June 30. Spooner’s life of service has been marked by an ongoing commitment to racial righteousness, community development, and the consistent pursuit of shalom for all of God’s people.

It’s no coincidence that Spooner’s time of service in the Covenant coincides with its evolution into a multiethnic mosaic. Spooner himself experienced the beginnings of that vision from a young age. He grew up in the housing projects of East Harlem in New York City and attended a Dutch Reformed Church pastored, he says, by a socially conscious white man who ministered through the neighborhood’s transition from white to Black and Latino. “He intentionally sought out people because he wanted that church to reflect the community,” Spooner told me in a virtual sit-down.

During his high school years, Spooner attended the Stony Brook School, which helped him navigate the white evangelical scene as many of the leaders of the evangelical movement in the area were the parents of his classmates. Between his freshman and junior years, the number of Black students at Stony Brook ballooned from three to 35. “They kind of wanted us there,” Spooner mused, “but they didn’t know what to do with us.”

He attended Houghton University, then worked for an interfaith organization in East Harlem engaged with prison reform. A year later, he moved to Chicago, where he served with the Reformed Church of America at the Douglas Tubman Christian Center doing outreach work in the Robert Taylor Homes, a notorious Chicago high-rise public housing apartment complex. He transitioned into outreach work at the Cabrini-Green public housing complex and eventually became the first Black regional director at Young Life.

After his time at Young Life, Spooner spent five years teaching at Stony Brook, then was recruited by Jim Lundeen in 1997 to begin working with the Covenant in its newly established Department of Compassion, Mercy, and Justice. “I was intrigued with the fact that an evangelical church even had an office of compassion, mercy, and justice,” Spooner said. “The good news was, they had the office. The bad news was, nobody knew what to do with it.” Spooner bonded with Lundeen over a shared desire to shake things up and a conviction that the church should be present in moments of racial crisis, such as the riots that engulfed Los Angeles after the beating of Rodney King just a few years prior. This was an inflection point in the Covenant’s becoming a more welcoming space for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and other people of color).

From that point on, Spooner has worn many different hats and occupied a variety of roles within the Covenant, including president of Covenant Initiatives for Care, vice president of community impact for Covenant Retirement Communities, and staff member-at-large for Love Mercy Do Justice. He has also spent significant time mentoring pastors within the African American Ministers Association (AAMA), an organization that he credits with helping to ground and establish his work in the Covenant.

Spooner also coordinated regulatory compliance with Covenant Ministry of Benevolence (CMB) and served as a liaison between the justice ministries he helped to oversee (like the first Sankofa journey which Spooner was instrumental in helping to create) and the business operations that helped to fund those ministries. “The church is not a business,” Spooner explained. “Because of the regulatory restrictions that the government places on businesses, you have to stay within those boundaries. You don’t have a lot of wiggle room. But the church needs to have the freedom to move in different ways than what a regulatory environment requires. That’s why CMB was created, to have a firewall between the church and its business and the reality of what it means to run a hospital or a retirement community.”

Paul Robinson, executive minister of Love Mercy Do Justice, presented the award, which is one of the highest given by the Evangelical Covenant Church. “Harold has been a drum major for injustice and a repairer of the breach,” he said. “You were there when the power of the multiethnic mosaic was just a dream.”

“I stand here not because of anything I’ve been able to do, but because there have been others who have gone before,” Spooner said. “We don’t do anything alone. We work in community. At the end of the day, let us act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God. Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to be God’s servant for this body of people.”


  • Jelani Greenidge

    Jelani Greenidge is the missional storyteller for the Evangelical Covenant Church and ministers in and around Portland, Oregon, as a worship musician, cultural consultant, and stand-up comic.

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