Archive for November, 2016

Being a Woman

13 comments Written on November 29th, 2016     
Filed under: Testimonies and Stories

img_0223Ellie VerGowe is currently serving as Ministerial Resident for Community Outreach at First Covenant Church on Capitol Hill in Seattle. Ellie enjoys singing at the top of her lungs, being outside and reading a good book on a rainy day with a friend and a cup of tea.

In the weeks following the election I have felt a sinking feeling in my heart…a feeling that I wish weren’t so familiar.

My heart sinks to a familiar place when I hear that so many of my white evangelical sisters and brothers voted for our president-elect. While I love the church I serve (and oh do I love this church I call home!) and I find it to be a place that is working hard to value and respect women in every way, I have found various Christian spaces to be places where myself, my body, mind and thoughts are not fully welcomed in the female form they are in. My body and clothes are commented on and prioritized over the words of my sermons over the years. My marital status causes some to question my ability to serve in a church because some subconsciously believe my worth and what I can offer the world is defined by my relation to a man.

My heart sinks to its familiar place because I have experienced a lot of harassment on my way to work and to school throughout my life. It has little to do with the way I look and much more to do with my gender…I could wear a snowsuit covering my entire body and be catcalled (this has happened). I have been yelled at, grabbed, followed home and my only thought in those moments is to get to my destination safely, no matter the inner revulsion I feel at having to ignore the men who harass me. I want to defend myself and speak truth, but sometimes I must keep the peace to keep my life. I am certainly not alone in these stories…every woman I know has stories, and most of them are more painful than my own.

These are only a few difficult examples of what it means to be a woman in American society… and I while I had hope for a woman president, I wasn’t surprised that it has not yet come to pass. When a woman is grabbed and harassed even in places of worship, I knew a woman couldn’t be trusted by the powerful to lead this country. Even a wealthy, white woman like Hillary Clinton is too subversive and threatening to the powers that be.

We have a new president-elect that causes many women in our churches to feel afraid and even more inferior they they did before. So, my dear brothers and sisters…my friends in the Church (regardless of who you may have voted for)…what does God call us to do when someone in our midst feels alone and afraid? What does scripture tell us to do when one member of the body mourns? What do we do when we see injustice?

We need all people in the body of Christ to do justice for those in our midst who identify as women and girls. Perhaps your church could work to develop young women leaders in your congregation. You can find hymns and songs to sing in worship of our Creator that use inclusive language. You can make sure women around you are heard and you can refuse to interrupt them whose voices have been suppressed. You can call out harassment when you see it and make sure no man in your life ever catcalls a woman. You can listen to women’s experiences and refuse to blame them for the ways they experience sexism. You can read articles by women and seek to learn from their words, even if at first they don’t make sense to you because your story is different.

This may be a post on a blog on Biblical gender equality, but we have a lot more than gender to talk about too. White women like myself are threatened far less by our president-elect than many women of color are…or many immigrants…or many Muslims. I cannot speak for others, but I believe that the present and future witness of the Church depends on how we respond to the current climate through our treatment and valuing of all people created in God’s image, be they women, people of color, Muslims, people in the LGBTQ community, disabled persons, or any other vulnerable populations who have been targeted. This must be our priority. Our (mainly white) brothers and sisters…or perhaps we ourselves…voted unabashedly to elect a man who chooses white supremacists to work in his office, calls entire groups of people rapists, assaults women and openly mocks disabled people on national TV…to name only a few things we’ve all seen and heard. We cannot normalize this hateful behavior (before or after the election). The world knows Christians are called to love and work for justice and mercy. Let us not disappoint again and turn our faces away as this man’s administration continues to harass people and allows followers to do the same.

Please. Don’t let us down. Church: let’s do this together. Our hearts are crying out for it. May our witness be just, courageous, true and always full of love.


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Open Vulnerability

2 comments Written on November 21st, 2016     
Filed under: Testimonies and Stories

Rev. Jan Bros is the planting pastor of Abbey Way Covenant Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She serves on the Executive Board of the Northwest Conference and the Commission on Biblical Gender Equality. She is the proud grandma of seven grandchildren.

These past few months our congregation has been studying the psalms as a shaping source for our life in God. One of the things we have learned together as we have looked at various psalms is that we can bring anything–any concern, any emotion–in our vulnerability to God. This idea preaches well but is not always easy to put it into practice.

I have been challenged by the application of the psalmist’s example both in my personal life as well in response to national events of late. I have been forced to grapple with what it really means to bring my entire self to God when things are not going the way I thought and my emotions feel anything but “nice.” Am I willing to bring all me before God?

Sometimes when life seems uncomfortable or uncontrollable it is easier for me to talk to my spouse or friend then talk to God.

Equally problematic is my own forgetfulness to be thankful when life is good. I can count myself with the nine lepers in the New Testament who when healed didn’t express their gratefulness to Jesus.

But God wants us to come to Him–happy or sad.

But do I?

Do I readily go to God as my “first tell” to say what is on my heart? Do I just get on with life when I have no complaints or big needs not stopping to notice until I hit a bump in the road or take a wrong path? Or do I believe God will hear me when I cry out and my heart hurts and my doubts loom large? Or do I think I need to pretty my words up before I can speak? When life is easy or when it is hard, turning to God is an essential action of a vibrant spiritual life not just a theological premise or principle.

I want to want this kind of bold prayer life prayed by the psalmist. I want to want this sort of vulnerability with the Lord of the universe.

I think the same dynamics can be true in my pastoral leadership. As a female pastor, I sometimes want to appear stronger than I truly am. When given the opportunity, I don’t always speak up and bring myself forward because it feels too risky. I can fear others will take advantage of or find fault with me if I speak with passion or conviction about what I am grappling with in my own heart especially when it involves uncertainty or doubt. I can equally forsake to notice and name when life is good, missing to bring the powerful gift of affirmation and gratitude to those around me, instead choosing to be seen as efficient and productive.

Good peers are of great help to me here. They encourage me to bring my true self into view as scary as that can sometimes be. They can also help me stop and notice those around me.

As in prayer, I am always learning.

The psalms can teach us much about vulnerability before God. In turn, they teach us about being open with each other. May we be emboldened to pray and live in open vulnerability.


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White Women and Last Tuesday

8 comments Written on November 15th, 2016     
Filed under: Testimonies and Stories

mandiMandi Cherico is co-pastor of Sojourner Covenant Church in Evanston, Ill. Born on the East Coast and raised in the Midwest, she is passionate about safe spaces, beauty, the Bible and Beyonce.

Last Tuesday was bigger than politics. It was bigger than a victory for the Republicans or a defeat for the Democrats. Last Tuesday, a national message was sent to women, people of color, people with disabilities, immigrants, Mexicans, the LGBTQ community, muslims and every other group who has been insulted and threatened by the president-elect and his supporters. The message? You don’t matter. Marginalized groups stand to lose the most after last Tuesday. Make no mistake.

The president-elect did not invent modern sexism. Long before the tweets were published or the audio was leaked women were getting grabbed and interrupted and insulted by men. That’s unfortunately not new. What was so disheartening and frankly terrifying about last week was that a renowned practitioner of misogyny not only got away with it (this, too, happens all the time), but that half the country knew this and still handed him the world.

81 percent of white Evangelicals voted for the president-elect. That means most Covenanters. That means some people who are reading this. This was predictable. Since 1980, you’d be hard pressed to find a white Evangelical who would vote democrat, mainly because of the church’s deep connection to the ‘pro-life’ movement. Historically, white Evangelicals have always rejected the leadership of anyone who is not a white heterosexual male, so again, it’s not surprising that Hillary Clinton wasn’t a favorite.

It’s not surprising that most white men voted the way they did last Tuesday. It’s not surprising that most white Evangelicals voted how they did last Tuesday. However, there is one piece of data I can’t get out of my head: according to CNN exit polls, 53 percent of white women voted for the president-elect.

For this I grieve. For this I confess my role in not engaging more with my white sisters during this political process. White women saw or heard the sexist actions and words of the president-elect. They likely heard the Access Hollywood tape. They knew about the heinous online bullying. They saw his blatant disrespect of Hillary Clinton during the debates, during his own campaign appearances, in interviews. They saw all this and they still thought this man was worthy of the highest office in the land.

Somehow, white women found a way to differentiate ourselves from the women the president-elect has insulted or assaulted. We believed the fantastic stories of “it’s not that bad” and “it would never happen to me” – old lies propped up by the shaky scaffolding of lowered expectations and heightened class differences. Perhaps 8 years of an administration that at least projected a high regard for women has made us forget just how susceptible we are.

When the president-elect signs off on the assault of women, none of us are safe. The fact that white women couldn’t recognize this scares me more than any other statistic because it means that misogyny is stronger than I thought. It infects women more than I thought. I bemoaned this with some women pastors last week. The words of my classmate Baily Warman keep ringing in my head: “We can’t even show up for ourselves.”

This is why I grieve, and why the results of this election have me doubling down on my efforts to empower, partner with and educate women who look like me, not just for their sake but for the sake of the world. Because white women have relative power and privilege. We have the responsibility to use this power for the good of ourselves and other marginalized groups, as God calls. Make no mistake: no one will fight this battle for us. The Oppressor prowls around like a lion and tempts us to sell out for false morality and male acceptance. We are in the fight, whether we like it or not. All we get to choose is which side we’re on.

White women: if we want Biblical equality, if we want to see justice in this land, if we care about people on the margins of society, we have to participate in the work of the liberating Gospel. We have to take it personally. We have to practice ruthless respect of the divine image we and others bear.

We must learn to show up for ourselves.



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Project Deborah

2 comments Written on November 7th, 2016     
Filed under: Testimonies and Stories

carol-lawson-2Carol Lawson is the Director of Ministry Services for the Department of Ordered Ministry, Develop Leaders for the Evangelical Covenant Church and an advisory member of the Commission on Biblical Gender Equality.


The 40th anniversary of the decision to affirm ordination for women has been recognized and celebrated during 2016. The early years following that significant vote at the 1976 Covenant Annual meeting were marked by frustration and disappointment as women following their call into ministry struggled to find places to serve. We lament the loss of some of our female colleagues who ended up leaving our denomination to live out their call in other ministry settings.

The trajectory has changed since then. The approval of the Biblical Gender Equality Commission by the Covenant Annual Meeting in 2002 provided funding and a system to produce resource materials to educate our denominational body on this important topic. The number of women serving as solo pastors, as co-pastors, and in staff positions has grown significantly even since the 30th anniversary in 2006. We celebrate that good news!

However, the Commission realizes continued advocacy is necessary to move forward to fully embrace that all God’s people are equally called and gifted. Women have stories to tell of ways they have been encouraged, discipled and given opportunities to develop their leadership skills. And we all need to be challenged to look for girls and women in our congregations or ministry settings who are waiting for someone to ask them to consider ministry as a vocation. We desire a future when women serving as pastors in a variety of congregations is normative and natural.

To that end, Project Deborah, a Leadership Initiative of the Biblical Gender Equality Commission, draws on the Biblical text of Deborah the prophet, a leader to whom the Israelites went to have their disputes settled and from whom they heard the Word of the Lord. Project Deborah invites us to listen to Deborah stories of our clergy women who have been mentored and encouraged in their call to ministry to use their gifts as Deborah did. Project Deborah asks churches to provide places for women to serve as leaders, as teachers and as pastors, demonstrating that God gifts women for all facets of ministry. Project Deborah challenges male clergy to be advocates for their female colleagues, speaking for them when injustice arises. Project Deborah seeks to move us closer as a denomination to a place where all God’s people are equally called and gifted and women are directed into opportunities to lead.

Look for stories on this blog from clergy women who describe ways they have been developed as a Deborah. And hear from a few of our female colleagues at Midwinter who affirm “I am a Deborah.”

Whenever the Lord raised up a judge for them, he was with the judge. Now Deborah, a prophet, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at that time. (Judges 2:18, 4:4)



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Taking Off The Blinders

6 comments Written on November 2nd, 2016     
Filed under: sermons - messages

nilwona-nowlin-photo4-1Nilwona Nowlin serves as the Administrative Specialist for Governance for the ECC and is on the ministerial leadership team of Kingdom Covenant Church Chicago. She is a proud introvert and a redemptive artist, someone who believes in the power of the arts to bring about positive transformation and God’s shalom in individuals and communities. Read more of her writing at

(The following is an adaptation of a message I recently preached during a chapel service at Covenant Offices.)

One of last week’s lectionary texts was Deuteronomy 34:1-12, when Moses viewed the Promise Land from Mount Nebo. This passage jumped out at me because a year ago last week, I stood on Mount Nebo. As I read the passage, a lot of things jumped out at me; however, there was one part that stood out to me.

The end of this passage, verses 10-12, basically presented Moses as “the GREATEST prophet EVER!!!” Moses is depicted as a one in a million leader, the uncommon leader that everyone wants to be or wants to hire. This description of Moses is so glowing that it causes his meager beginnings to dim in comparison. While Deuteronomy 34 presents Moses the uncommon leader, Exodus 2 and 3 describes Moses the unlikely leader. The Bible presents plenty of examples of why we shouldn’t overlook the unlikely leader, those who don’t fit the “standard” image of a leader. As I was reflecting on the Deuteronomy text, some other examples came to mind.

Leaders: Unlikely to Uncommon
Ambrose, bishop of Milan, was one of the most notable Church leaders of the 4th century, but he didn’t even want to be a bishop! He was a Roman governor who was present at the bishop elections for no other reason than to prevent a riot. He wasn’t trained theologically, hadn’t been baptized and had aspirations of furthering his political career. Yet he gave himself wholeheartedly to his calling as a bishop. It was Ambrose’s sermons that provided the answers that Augustine was seeking as he contemplated whether or not to fully embrace the faith. Speaking of Augustine . . . Justo González calls him “the most influential theologian in the entire Western church, both Protestant and Catholic” (The History of Christianity, vol. 1, 2nd edition, 2010, pg. 252). However, his early days could be described as the full embodiment of “eat, drink and be merry!” Today, we would consider both Ambrose and Augustine to be great examples of an uncommon leader. But again, their earlier years may have suggested a different picture.

There are lots of reasons that unlikely leaders are overlooked; in the present day and age, implicit bias plays a major role. Implicit bias is the term that describes when our perception of/behavior toward a person is unconsciously affected by stereotypes. There are many examples of the negative impact implicit bias has had on people of color; for the sake of this conversation, I’m speaking specifically to the topic of identifying leaders.

Larry Nowlin grew up in the projects on the west side of Chicago. Known for his quick temper and ability to fight, it’s no surprise that he spent some time at an alternative school for “bad boys.” The common practice of overlooking “unlikely leaders” combined with implicit bias means that Larry never really had a chance at earning “uncommon leader” status. Yet, at his funeral, the Illinois General Assembly presented a resolution honoring his lifetime of service on behalf of Chicago Public School students. Similarly, Debbie Blue, a woman near and dear to the Covenant had a number of strikes against her. Blue, a black woman who also grew up in the projects on the west side of Chicago and was a divorced mother of two, wasn’t considered by many to be leadership material – and certainly not an uncommon leader. Yet, as many of you reading this can testify, she has greatly impacted individuals throughout the Covenant in ways that we will continue to discover generations from now. I consider it a blessing to call Larry my father and to call Blue my mentor and friend. What a privilege to have gleaned from the lives of these phenomenal leaders!

Moving Forward
So what does this have to do with the ECC? Deuteronomy 34 opens with Moses looking out at the Promised Land. I think that the Promised Land for the Covenant is the place in time when our identity as a multi-ethnic church is a lived expression and not just statistics in a pie chart. This means that our multi-ethnicity will be reflected in the language we use, the training/resources we provide, the images we project, the analogies we use, the songs we sing and our leadership at all levels (denominational, conference and local congregation). Relationships are the key to moving forward. Most of the people who have acknowledged/called out my leadership gifts have been people of color. I imagine that this is because they learned from their own experiences that no one else would do that for me. However, all of the people who have acknowledged/called out my leadership gifts were able to observe those gifts because they were walking alongside me in an authentic relationship.

While Moses laid hands on Joshua to publicly identify him as the next leader, God chose Joshua as the next leader. There are individuals within the Covenant family whom God has chosen to lead us into our next season, but we are blinded by our implicit bias. We’re blinded most often in the areas of ethnicity but are also blind in the areas of gender, age, class and physical abilities (or a person’s perceived membership in any of these categories). Building authentic relationships helps us take off the blinders and also provides opportunities for us to grow in the area of intercultural competence.

Do you constantly struggle to find leaders of color to serve in various capacities? If so, you should probably evaluate your circle of influence. Does it truly reflect the make-up of the Covenant? If not, why not? What can you do to change that? Who are you seeking to walk alongside in a genuine relationship? And when I talk about relationship, I don’t mean reaching out to someone because you want to know more about their experience as a Latina in the Covenant, or as a Chinese-American man in the Covenant or as a Covenanter with a disability. That’s like meeting someone in an elevator and asking them to share their most intimate secrets. I’m exhausted from well-meaning folks who attempt to start our relationship by asking me to rip open the wounds inflicted upon me by racism and sexism/misogyny. Maybe we could just start by talking about why we both love Pepsi and “24,” then wade into the deep waters at a more appropriate time . . .

Family, we’ve been “trying to be” and “living into” for quite a long time. Now, let’s take off the blinders, round up our leaders and be.

(One existing resource that can support efforts to move forward in the areas of ethnic ministry and diversity is the five-fold-test. For more ECC resources on intercultural development, visit the LMDJ resource page by clicking here.)



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