Against Isolation

5 comments Written on December 2nd, 2014     
Filed under: Testimonies and Stories
k hinzKaren Hinz is an ordained Covenant pastor who is serving as solo pastor of Mission Covenant Church in Ishpeming, Michigan, a position she has held for four years. Before that, she was pastor at Covenant Harbor Bible Camp in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin for 13 years. She has served on the ACCW board and BGE commission. Her personal life right now is filled with being a wife and mother of two teenagers and still trying to do some reading, scrapbooking, and genealogy.

What are the strengths of the Evangelical Covenant Church? Devotion to Jesus. A straightforward, biblical theology. A generous attitude that trusts people’s faith experiences. An acceptance of mystery and no need to claim to have all the answers. And certainly, an emphasis on being relational.

The relational aspect of the denomination is what replaces edicts with conversations. It is what makes shared ministry a joy rather than an annoyance. And this fits a faith based on a relationship with Jesus. We ought to be people who value relationships and who invest in them. It is out of this desire for relationships that we place emphasis on being together.

The ECC has lots of gatherings: district pastors meet, conferences meet, various churches develop relationships with each other. Our denomination-wide meetings of Midwinter, The Gathering, CHIC, the Feast, and Triennial are key to preserving identity and experiencing diversity. Many would say the “hallway conversations” at our gatherings are at least as important as the sessions with the big-name speakers. And despite the wonders of technology that allow remote-access to gatherings, they can’t get us into the same hallway for relationship-building.

This emphasis on relationships is what keeps us returning to Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” In faith, relationships take on a different quality than they do in the world. Paul points to race, economics, and gender as three areas that can be transformed. Areas where inequality has been more the rule than the exception. And the Covenant has grown in the areas of race and gender. There is more work to do, but there have been serious, intentional efforts and much progress made.

But what about the “third rail” of Galatians 3:28? Are we making progress toward economic equity? Economic equity directly affects relationships because in the economics of the local church, sending pastors to Midwinter and delegates to The Gathering (Annual Meeting) and even students to CHIC is one of the first things to go when the budget gets tight. This is true of many churches in rural settings and also smaller urban settings.

I have been privileged to attend many Covenant gatherings. But lately, the economics of my church have kept me from doing so. This has led to my awareness of this issue in a new way. That is to say, I miss people! I realize the value of being in the same room, of rehashing a speaker’s topic together, of having someone offer to pray for me in the moment, of meeting new people and having my worldview expanded, of unexpected connections that address a problem in my ministry. In the past these have all been gifts brought to me by gathering. And I miss them. I am aware of many pastors who have never been able to enjoy these gifts. And I think that our Ministerium is diminished without their voices present to the conversation.

How is economic equity a gender issue? Even though there are certainly more men than women serving economically challenged churches as pastors, as a percentage, I would guess that more women, and maybe especially women of color, find themselves in these settings, and therefore cut off from consistent relationship-building. In the same way that women continue to struggle for pay equity in the secular workplace, women pastors are under-represented in wealthy congregations and over-represented in poorer congregations. This means fewer women at gathered events, fewer women connected to colleagues in ministry, fewer women in hallway conversations that lead to becoming trusted and entrusted with other assignments. For the women – and men – who find themselves pastoring in economically challenged church settings, I long for a different day. A day in which the ground levels out for pastors from all settings to attend gatherings and to be part of the conversation.

This is not a new problem or a simple one. But can we invite creativity to the table? Is there a solution to having pastors and congregations cut off from relationship by economics? Are less-expensive venues possible? Is the ECC’s upper-middle-class orientation a barrier? Would it be possible to pair or cluster churches together to see that “everyone goes”? Is cost-sharing the answer? Is there a way to fund “full ride” scholarships to events? Do our regional gatherings need to become primary? Do we need to return to the days when Covenanters opened their homes to house pastors and delegates to make meetings affordable? What do you think?


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Report This Post

5 comments “Against Isolation”

Really excellent and important post, Karen. Salary issues definitely impact women more than men. Women are often tracked to smaller churches and once in a smaller church their “career trajectory” means that they will pretty consistently serve churches with low salaries. Please do not hear that I believe ministry in smaller churches is any less valuable than ministry in larger churches. It is just that proportionately more women end up in these positions which suggests that it is not just an issue of “calling,” but an economic issue connected to gender as well.

Report This Comment

Without clergywomen being present at Midwinter and Gather events the gifts of their voices and the relationships that will never deepened sustain what is broken on a larger scale. Male pastors need to experience relationship with women pastors as a integral part of their formation as a pastor. Women pastors who have wonderful and deep relationships with male pastor speak often of the rich wisdom and insight that both have gained from walking as companions into deeper and more diverse ministry. Our desire to hear from these missing voices should fuel more creativity to have them present whenever the church is gathered regionally and nationally. And a huge ‘Amen!’ to Jo Ann’s comment as women clergy struggle to move to find ways that a small church ministry can produce a living wage. All of these are matters for prayer and wisdom as the church is truly missing these voices and being together as a ministerium with our clergy women present. I miss hanging out, laughing and visioning with you at Midwinter Karen. We’ve spent many late nights in prayer for our denomination and our churches. There has got to be a better way, my sister. Got to be a better way.

Report This Comment

The amazing community of the Covenant is one of the things that drew me into this denomination. In the Pacific Northwest Conference we are doing a “Raise the Barn” initiative to get every kid to CHIC.  Maybe we need to start something like that in the Ministerium… “Every Pastor to Midwinter.” Hope to meet you someday soon!

Report This Comment

Thank you, Karen for posting about this important issue. I know I am always encouraged, challenged, inspired and rejuvenated when I go to Mid-Winter. Let’s keep communicating with our churches the importance of pastors getting together.

Report This Comment

Yes, thank you Karen.  A very critical conversation to be had.  And I wholeheartedly agree Catherine!  We all miss out when women are not present and the conversations in collegial gatherings are missing the voices of half of humanity.  Yes records also show that women of color experience more isolation due to economic circumstances.  This is also because some of our colleagues have not come to understand the importance of and advocate for pastoral licensing of women serving in pastoral roles which then helps legitimize theirs roles, gives access to scholarships to gatherings and access then to conversations.  Lets keep praying and advocating and talking!  Thankful for you Karen.

Report This Comment

Leave a Reply

Report This Blog