Support First Covenant Church - Minneapolis and Pastor Collison
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Sign this Petition to (1) add your name to a letter supporting First Covenant Church - Minneapolis, (2) show your support for other LGBTQ inclusive Covenant congregations, and (3) declare your belief that the Covenant is better together.
This Petition is in response to a number of recent and unsettling events in the Evangelical Covenant Church (“ECC”). We are fellow Covenanters, who deeply love our denomination and who also support and stand with Covenant congregations that choose to fully include our LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters in Christ in the life of their congregations—including membership, leadership, and pastoral care. We believe that we can and should be able to support LGBTQ+ inclusive congregations within the context of a unified denomination and that all Covenant congregations—irrespective of their position on LGBTQ+ inclusion—are better together.
Here’s a brief synopsis of recent events:
In April 2018, the Leadership Team of First Covenant Church – Minneapolis (“FCC-M”), a historic church within the ECC, completed and adopted an extensive, new ministry direction statement. The statement is entitled, “How we live together well and what it means to ‘love all,’” and it describes at length the congregation’s vision for their life and service together in Christ. FCC‑M adopted this new ministry direction statement only after a months-long, intensive discernment process. One portion of the statement includes the following: “As a community, we seek to be known as people who . . . [w]elcome all persons and families, including LBGTQ+, to participate at all levels of community: serving in ministry, joining as members, holding staff and leadership roles,” and who “[o]ffer full pastoral care to all in our congregation without regard for ability, race, sex, gender identity or sexual orientation . . . , includ[ing] (but . . . not limited to) spiritual counsel, prayer, baptism, weddings, funerals, and visitation during illness.”
The national and regional leadership of the ECC responded to FCC-M’s new ministry direction statement in two ways:
First, in a letter dated May 17, 2018, Richard B. Lucco, Interim Executive Minister of the Board of Ordered Ministry (“BoOM”) of the ECC, in consultation with Gary Walter, President of the ECC, and Mark Stromberg, Superintendent of the Northwest Conference, suspended the credentials of FCC-M’s pastor, Rev. Dan Collison. Pastor Collison is now required to appear before a committee of BoOM during BoOM’s annual meeting in June 2018 to review his suspension.
Second, on May 11, 2018, 27 Covenant pastors sent a letter to the ECC’s Northwest Conference (“NWC”) Executive Board stating that they believed that the portion of FCC-M’s ministry statement regarding human sexuality was “outside of the Covenant position,” and they demanded “an immediate investigation and action to be taken.” In a separate letter dated May 17, 2018, James L. Volling, Chair of the NWC, informed the Chair of FCC-M that the NWC Executive Board had voted to initiate an “out of harmony process” against FCC-M as provided in the ECC’s Constitution and By‑laws. This is the first step in a process that can result in the dismissal of FFC-M—a congregation of more than 600 attendee Covenanters (90 official members)—from the ECC. (You can find more detailed information about these events and read the referenced letters at www.MF4I.org.)
The suspension of a pastor’s credentials in conjunction with the invocation of an “out of harmony process” is an extraordinary event in the life of our denomination. Indeed, we believe that this is first time the “out of harmony” provision of the ECC’s Constitution has been invoked in the history of the Covenant. We are deeply unsettled and saddened by the unprecedented action our Covenant leadership has visited upon the FCC-M congregation and its leadership. We do not believe that these sanctions are consistent with the Covenant’s history, ethos, or its Six Affirmations—in particular the Sixth Affirmation, which professes “the reality of freedom in Christ.” In unity with FCC-M, we support their full inclusion of LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters in Christ in congregational life, but we simultaneously believe that all Covenant congregations—whether they are LGBTQ+ inclusive or not—are better together. Thus, we expressly disavow the use of these measures—the suspension of pastoral credentials and the “out of harmony” process—as appropriate tools in these circumstances.
Here’s what you can do:
1) You can add your name to a letter in support of the congregation at FCC-M and Pastor Collison. Over 180 Covenant pastors, retired Covenant ministers, and lay leaders have signed a letter declaring their fervent support for the FCC-M congregation and Pastor Collison, denouncing the “out of harmony” process that has been initiated against FCC-M, and declaring that we are all Covenanters and we are all better together. The letter was sent to (1) James L. Volling, Chair, NWC of the ECC, (2) Mark Stromberg, Superintendent, NWC, (3) Alice Lee, Chair, Executive Board of the ECC, (4) Gary Walter, President of the ECC, (5) Richard Lucco, Interim Executive Minister of Develop Leaders, (6) John Wenrich, Nominee for President of the ECC, (7) Lance Davis, Nominee for Executive Minister of Develop Leaders, (8) Stephen N. Wong, Chair, BoOM, (9) Mark T. Pattie, Secretary, BoOM, and several others. The text of this letter is set forth in full below. You can add your name to this letter by signing the petition. In the “comments” section, please state your Covenant affiliation (past or present) and why you are signing. The results of this petition will be sent to a wide swath of ECC regional and national leaders.
2) Share the Petition. You can also share this petition with your Covenant friends on social media. We are hoping to get as many signatures as possible prior to the ECC’s annual meeting that begins on June 21, 2018.
Finally, thank you for your love for and support of our Covenant brother and sisters in Christ at FCC-M.
Here's the text of the letter to which you will be adding your name by signing this petition:
Dear Fellow Mission Friends:
We are aware of and are responding to the recent decision of the Northwest Conference Executive Board to initiate an “out of harmony” process with First Covenant Church of Minneapolis, a congregation that predates the organizing of the Evangelical Covenant Church by eleven years. We trust you are aware that this is an extraordinary step. We have consulted several people with long memories within the ECC and none of us can recall Section 4.4 of the Constitution and Bylaws ever being invoked.
The Covenant Companion recently published a warm and mutually affirming conversation between President Gary Walter and Craig Groeschel, pastor of Life Church, an ECC member congregation. The online faith statement of Life Church includes a believer baptist section with no mention of the possibility of infant baptism. We seriously doubt that Life Church will ever be charged with being “out of harmony” with the ECC. We have always honored theological diversity and have a history of using gentle persuasion rather than coercion when serious differences arise.
In 2004 the Annual Meetings of the Ministerium and the Evangelical Covenant Church voted to make the 1996 resolution of human sexuality “1) the guiding statement on human sexuality and the marriage ethic" and "2) the basis for ECC policy, practices, and guidelines on these matters.” A delegate moved an amendment to add “3) The Annual Meeting urges clergy and churches to neither seek nor maintain standing within the Covenant unless they affirm this position both privately and publicly.” The motion to amend failed. That fact has, apparently, been ignored.
Section 4.3 of the ECC Constitution places several responsibilities on member congregations including “regular financial support of the denomination.” No congregation has ever been found “out of harmony” for failure to provide “regular financial support” of the ECC, yet some of our largest and most prestigious congregations commit only minuscule proportions of their income to the ECC.
For over forty years the ECC has been ordaining women to ministry. There are still ECC congregations that will not call women to a pastoral position and, particularly, to the position of lead or senior pastor. Those congregations have never been formally censured, despite their lack of harmony with the discerned position and policy of the ECC. Instead we have attempted to follow a course of gentle persuasion, despite the harm done to many faithful and gifted ECC clergy.
Six years ago the Covenant Companion published an article by Dan Collison identifying many of the steps First Covenant had been taking to reinvent itself after a long period of decline. What was laudable then is, apparently, unacceptable now.
Finally, and ironically, First Covenant has a long history of being a gadfly congregation within the ECC. For example, the only two charges of heresy ever brought against North Park Theological Seminary faculty members were brought by First Covenant pastors. Neither of those charges was sustained. Nor should the present charges against First Covenant and against its pastor be sustained.
Neither the Northwest Conference nor the Evangelical Covenant Church will be able to achieve some state of imagined purity by purging away congregations and persons who disagree with current policy. We, the undersigned, stand with Dan Collison and with First Covenant Church. We are Covenanters and we are neither leaving nor volunteering to be removed. We passionately believe that there is and should be room within the Evangelical Covenant Church for Dan Collison, for First Covenant, and for us. We hope and pray you will agree. We are Covenanters and we are convinced that we all really would be better together.
In the strong bonds of Christ,
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