Mission Friends for Inclusion

Reflecting on Gather ’18

It has been several days since Gather ’18 has ended, and we are still tired (for those who missed our social media updates throughout the week, check out our summary of events after this reflection). This has been a long few months for us. But we are not discouraged, even though a motion to discuss a motion to create a task force on sexuality was defeated 65% to 35%. Even though we heard people say that there are more important topics to discuss. Even though we could not be Covenant and talk about what is on the hearts and minds of so many.

We heard critics telling us things are never going to change. We heard Covenanters tell us we should leave. We heard people charging us that our cause for justice will lead to a split. We heard from our own allies that talking does no good and that we are wasting our time.

We disagree.

First of all, Christ is the great world-changer. We follow Christ. Secondly, we have not discerned a call to leave. Rather, we have heard many Covenanters express their gratefulness that they are not alone. Thirdly, we know many who, because they, their family, or their friends are LGBTQ, have been forced out or could not in good conscience stay in this denomination. The current position and posture are already driving people away. Finally, we believe in the power of prayer and relationships. We are Covenant; we believe we are better together. We understand not all are called to stay. We respect those whose decision is different than ours. But for this time and this place, we are glad we are here and that you are here with us.

There are TEN reasons we left this meeting grateful.

  1. Many voices spoke up during the debate to have the motion added to the agenda and others raised questions during the nominations. Some included personal stories. Perhaps for some delegates, those were the first stories from LGBTQ Covenanters they had ever heard. Stories change hearts. Praise God for all the brave people who told their stories in the meeting and around the hotel.
  2. As the motion to create a task force was never added to the agenda, it was never voted down. In this particular gathering, we now believe it would have been voted down. We harbor no ill will towards the Northwest conference (which did a great job hosting) urging all of its churches to send delegates; we would hope any conference would do the same. May more of us get involved and make our voices heard!
  3. All of you are so much more engaged because the motion to discuss was voted down. We hope this strengthens you to do what we have been encouraging: a) start conversations in your church, and b) start telling your church you want to be a delegate to the next annual meeting, and the one after that, and the one after that. These meetings are amazing. To hear the stories of what God is doing through the Covenant for countless people is awe-inspiring. To vote on matters that impact what happens to you, your loved ones, and your church is a serious responsibility.
  4. Two hundred ninety-four delegates, representing 35% of those present wanted to have a conversation about sexuality. That is a strong minority! We are grateful for all of those who went through the process to become delegates, took time off from work and family to attend, and showed up!
  5. A lot of stage time was given to the topic of sexuality. President Gary Walter made it his third point in his reflection on the year. Rev. Michelle Sanchez explained the Embrace program with its point to offer more resources for ministry with and for LGBTQ people. Nominees for leadership addressed questions about it. While we feel the programs and resources offered by the ECC are in some ways too limited, we are thrilled that so much time was devoted to speaking about and acknowledging the pain the LGBTQ community has often felt in church.
  6. We had many conversations with Covenanters, those who disagreed but wanted to hear our thoughts, those who agreed and wanted to tell their stories, and those who were conflicted. It was a joy and an honor to interact with each person.
  7. The titles of some of our favorite books were read (by request) in the Q&A session when we asked if books that represented other perspectives on the theology of Christian sexuality might be added to the resource list. If you have not read these books, we recommend you find and read Ken Wilson’s A Letter to My Congregation, David Gushee’s Changing our Mind, and James Brownson’s Bible, Gender, Sexuality.
  8. Many were inspired by hearing both Rev. Steve Armfield and Rev. Judy Howard Peterson preach at First Covenant Church the Sundays before and after the business meeting.
  9. A different motion to create a task force on sexuality was sent from the Ministerium to the Board of Ordered Ministry. We will publish more information on this motion once we know more information.
  10. None of the suspended pastors had their ordinations revoked.

God’s spirit was there at Gather ’18. Organizational change takes time. Some of us have been on this journey for decades; they are still with us and so is God. Amen and amen!

Perspective is important when we analyze results. We prefer to avoid false dichotomies which turn everything into right or wrong, win or lose, this issue or that issue. We saw progress. We heard conversations. We prayed together.

We are deeply grateful to all who lifted up the Covenant in prayer. We share your lamentation that some of the words we heard were hard. But we also tend to take the long view, understanding that all fights for justice take a long time. We are glad that we are surrounded by so many who want to stay Covenant, who want to make a difference, and who trust that while we must each do our part, God is in charge of the whole. In God we put our trust and our hope.

Stay in touch. Consider how you can help. Even if you can’t be a delegate next year, perhaps you could raise money for someone who wants to attend. Have a meeting with your leadership team or council regarding who’s missing from your table. In all things, continue to pray.

Summary of events:

Sunday, June 17: Rev. Steve Armfield preached at First Covenant Minneapolis.

Monday, June 18: Rev. Dan Collison’s suspension was sustained. His response:

My wife Holly and I are so deeply grateful for the more than 50 supporters who showed up in person [Monday], and for everyone’s prayers and support across the Covenant over the last month, and through today’s Board of Ordered Ministry appointment. The meeting resulted in a continued suspension of my ministry credentials. Yet, there is reason for hope as long as we continue to pray and dialogue together about these critically important matters. I said this in my meeting: “as a missional pietistic people, we have a very capable vehicle to carry us into the future. We simply have to trust that the Holy Spirit and our historic commitments will help us now, more than ever, discover new ways to be better together!”

Tuesday, June 19: Rev. Judy Peterson’s suspension was lifted. She was placed on provisional probation.

Wednesday, June 20: Rev. Steve Armfield’s suspension was lifted. He was placed on provisional probation.

Thursday, June 21: The Covenant Ministerium held their Annual Meeting. A motion for a task force on sexuality was referred to the Board of Ordered Ministry.

Friday, June 22: The Annual Meeting of the ECC commenced, and it was a busy day for us. A sampling of details:

  • Retired Covenant pastor Herbert Hedstrom presented an amendment to the agenda: a motion for a task force on sexuality.
  • Delegates spoke in favor and against adding this motion to the agenda.
  • Pastor Mark Nilson spoke beautifully in favor of adding the motion to the agenda, telling the assembly he could not marry either of his sons because one is gay and one is straight, and he cannot do for one what he cannot do for both.
  • The motion to amend the agenda and add a motion to form a task force on sexuality failed 294-538.
  • During discussion on the nomination of Rev. John Wenrich to be President of the ECC, Tyler Krumland asked one of the questions Rev. Wenrich had previously declined to answer.
  • Rev. John Wenrich was elected with a vote of 671-142.
  • During discussion on the nomination of Rev. Lance Davis to be Executive Minister of Develop Leaders, Rev. Paul Corner asked a question about intersectional justice including LGBTQ people.
  • Rev. Lance Davis was elected nearly unanimously.

Saturday, June 23: The Annual Meeting continued:

  • We had many personal conversations with people coming from many different perspectives.
  • Krista Brumberg Stevens asked a question about whether the Embrace resources might include other perspectives, suggesting several of our favorite books.

Sunday, June 24: Rev. Judy Peterson preached at First Covenant Minneapolis.