As I share these final thoughts, I need to make it clear that I’ve probably had a different experience than many others because I was in a class all week learning about the Evangelical Covenant Church.
From what I’ve heard, the conference itself was quite encouraging.
Anyhow, here are some final thoughts/highlights from my time:
1) Meeting some “Living Legends” of the ECC was a Real Highlight - On Wednesday night, our class had a chance to visit a retirement community from the Evangelical Covenant Church, and we had the opportunity to hear from men and women in their 70s-90s who had served in vocational ministry in various places around the world ranging from San Diego to Ecuador. Collectively, there was over 500 years of vocational ministry experience amongst this distinguished yet anonymous group (btw, they didn’t call themselves Living Legends – we did).
Some were church planters, some missionaries, a professor, and also the wife of an ECC missionary who was martyred in the Congo.
It was an EXTRAORDINARY time.
Some notable quotes:
“Anybody can count the seeds in an apple, but nobody can count the apples in a seed”
“You know you have worked on a sermon when the sermon has worked on you.”
“God is no respecter of denominations when we stand before him.”
I could have sat at their feet all day long to hear their stories and glean their wisdom.
2) The Culture of the Evangelical Covenant Church is One that Really Attracts Me - The culture of the denomination is hard to describe, but after a week of hanging with Covenant folks, I think I have a clearer sense of why people say that “Covenant is caught, not taught.”
One can read all about the Covenant and learn of its immigrant history and humble beginnings, its emphasis on being mission friends rather than parsing theological minutiae, and its heart for the whole gospel for the whole world.
But here are some things in the culture of the denomination that I “caught” at Midwinter.
- Humility – It’s always hard to say something self-complimentary about humility, but yeah, the Covenant, especially its leaders, are really humble people.
In our class, we had some big-wigs come to our class, people I have no business hanging with, and they each came and presented with such humility, grace, and hospitality.
These people were kind, gentle, self-deprecating – it was awesome. Each session we as a class had a chance to come around these folks and pray for them.
And here’s when I “caught” it.
In our classroom of about 40-ish students, It seemed like we had the most AV problems I’ve encountered since 1995 (this is a joke but you get my drift).
But all the presenters, including the president, just flowed with it and didn’t get frustrated or perturbed in the slightest bit. He even laughed it off!
At one point, one of our regional superintendents went up to the powerpoint and started manually hitting the space bar to help out one of the other instructors as he was teaching.
No complaining, no “I’m better than this”, no “what’s the problem”.
It was awesome.
I couldn’t have “caught” this culture of mutual service and humility without being there.
- Ministry to the Under-resourced - At the beginning of our class, we all had a chance to go around the room and share about our ministry contexts around the country.
What really stood out to me was how many churches talked about their ministries to the under-resourced, despite the varying size of their city or church.
I was really struck by this, and I could see how mission really is a common thread in ECC churches/ministries.
- Race, Compassion, & Justice – I must admit, I was a bit shocked at how many white people there were at Midwinter. But then I remembered it was founded by Swedish immigrants!
But, I could see how intentional the ECC is in empowering people of color and women on stage and in positions of influence.
In one of the main evening sessions of the conference (I was able to attend evening sessions), the topic – from sermon to songs to prayer – was on compassion and understanding toward immigrants.
Uh, how many denominations are devoting an entire plenary on that subject?
- Generous Orthodoxy - Throughout the week I heard people quote Desert Fathers, Greg Boyd, Soong-Chan Rah, Rob Bell, & John Piper.
I don’t think all these people will be dining together soon, but at the Covenant table, we’re all welcome as we discuss “Where’s it written?”
3) I Really Love our East Coast Conference – I absolutely LOVE hanging with these cats. I especially appreciate the leadership of Howard Burgoyne, Jason Condon, and Kreig Gammelgard, because they embody so much of the above.
Plus, they know how to throw a great dinner party. Those tacos… wow!
4) I Love What We’re Doing at Hope Church NYC, and I Love Working Alongside Craig Okpala - I’m so energized by what’s happening at Hope, and I’m so excited for its future. It felt really meaningful to be so new to the denomination and yet to hold to much of what the Covenant is about.
And yeah, I’m just so, so excited about all that’s to come for us as we seek to extend hope in Astoria and beyond.
I also got to spend the week with Craig Okpala, and that’s been so much fun. We shared, laughed, ate lots of Mexican Food, and even had all-you-can eat Korean BBQ in Los Angeles. So much fun.
I’m so honored to be planting this church with Craig, and I’m thankful to be working with someone I greatly respect but also someone I’m privileged to call my friend.
I think what’s been most fulfilling about church planting in general has been being able to do life and mission with my friends, and that seems wholly appropriate for us as we’re part of a movement that started out with the title “Mission Friends”.
I like that.
I like that very much.