Testimonies and Stories

Honoring Rev. Dr. Dennis Edwards

1 Comment » Written on July 30th, 2018     
Filed under: Testimonies and Stories

Rev. Rose Lee-Norman is Associate Pastor of Family Ministry at Sanctuary Covenant Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota and has served there for eight years. She is pursuing a Doctor of Ministry in Transformational Leadership at Boston University’s School of Theology. She lives in North Minneapolis with her husband Ryan. They have been married eleven years and have two daughters, Esme and Isla.

A few years ago I attended Legacy, the pre-Midwinter Children and Family Ministry conference. During the conference my colleagues and I enjoyed connection, enrichment, and prayer in a conference room in Louisville, Kentucky. Prior to the conference Steve Burger and his team had contacted all of the senior pastors and asked them to write a letter of encouragement for their Children and Family pastor. Interspersed throughout the conference Steve read these letters aloud, asked the pastor to share about their ministry and context, and then we prayed over each colleague. It was an extremely moving experience.

When Steve announced my name and began to read, I felt a bit of nervousness. I preferred not to be the center of attention, though at that time was increasingly becoming more comfortable with my voice. The first words he read from Pastor Dennis were, “Pastor Rose…” While I listened intently I was moved that every time Pastor Dennis referred to me in the letter he used pastor as a descriptor. At the end of the letter I shared how much I loved serving at Sanctuary Covenant Church in Minneapolis, MN and how it has been a context of significant development for me and a space where my ministry dreams have come to fruition in many ways. After I shared we began to pray.

With Pastor Dennis’ words ringing in my ears, tears of thankfulness and appreciation began to flow. Following the prayer I opened my misty eyes to find I was not the only one teary-eyed. I saw many other women moved by the words of my senior pastor. When I went to sit down many women met me with various comments, such as,

“Wow, your senior pastor really gets it.”

“He calls you Pastor!”

“He so willingly lets you lead and preach.”

Humble, servant leaders like Pastor Dennis are needed in order for authentic, biblical partnerships between men and women in ministry to flourish. I know a majority of my male colleagues in the ministerium believe women are called as pastors, have gifts to lead in pastoral ministry, and want to be an advocate with women. Even some churches have joined in the “Four More Commitment” and that is a necessary beginning step. But active inclusion, faithful partnership, and yielding of one’s male power in the Church looks like what Pastor Dennis has done for years at Sanctuary Covenant Church. It involves verbally affirming women in church ministry and the female pastor(s) on staff. It includes providing supportive and healthy space for women’s voices through preaching, teaching, and leading. It means inviting women into networks and spaces they might not otherwise be included in. It embodies a humble disposition for a partnership to develop in healthy ministry practice.

I am deeply thankful for Pastor Dennis Edwards’ godly example and humble leadership. I write all of this because Pastor Dennis, after more than three decades of pastoral leadership is concluding full-time pastoral church ministry as he accepts an appointment at Northern Seminary teaching New Testament studies. While I envy his students there, I am thankful for the discipleship of Pastor Dennis. Because of his servant leadership and pastoral shepherding I know I do not need male pastors to approve of my calling or be my voice for me. Instead I know what a healthy partner in ministry looks like and I am empowered to hold my other male colleagues in ministry accountable to their beliefs of female inclusion in pastoral ministry. I hope you will join me in praying for Rev. Dr. Dennis Edwards in his faithful service in full-time church ministry and his needed voice and scholarship in Christian academia.

“Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”

Philippians 2:1-4

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A Need to See

Post a Comment » Written on May 7th, 2018     
Filed under: Testimonies and Stories

Susan Cosio is an ordained Covenant pastor, spiritual director and board-certified chaplain. She serves on the Pacific Southwest Conference (PSWC) Executive Board and is the creator and facilitator of a contemplative retreat for women in ministry called, “Echo: Women Who Hear and Respond to God’s Call.

On my commute home from the hospital recently, I heard an interview on NPR that gave me some words for my thoughts about women in ministry. Stacey Abrams is a politician, lawyer and businesswoman running for governor in the 2018 gubernatorial election. She is hoping to be the first black female governor in the United States. While Ms. Abrams is acknowledged by many as a qualified candidate, she admits she faces cultural and internal resistance. “When you haven’t seen something happen,” she says, “it is hard to believe it is possible.”

Her words echoed from my radio like a message straight to my heart. I almost pulled my foot right off the gas pedal. Her statement resonates deeply with my experience as a female pastor. Sometimes, it can be hard to see and believe that things are changing. While I serve in full-time ministry as a hospital chaplain, I make time to preach, to teach in our college ministry, and to meet with younger women who are sensing a call to ministry. My commitment – as a pastor, mentor, spiritual director, Executive Board
member and President of the ACCW—is to be a tangible reminder to women (and men) that we can make it happen.

I often have people comment on my sermons when I guest preach. Many tell me I am the first female pastor they have heard. One African American woman in our church said she waits eagerly for my sermons. Her 7-year-old son refers to me as “the lady preacher.” She says she wants him to see that this is not a contradiction.

This is one of the reasons I am excited about the Four More initiative, which encourages male pastors to invite women pastors to preach. These invitations give male clergy an opportunity to show with their actions that they can learn from called and gifted women.

And churches are exposed to women in the pulpit, the area of pastoral leadership our congregations are historically most resistant to embracing. I am proud of Rev. Devyn Chambers Johnson for leading this initiative, and am inspired and encouraged by my colleagues (male and female) who have responded.

Although the statistics on women in ministry are disappointing, I am committed to using my voice and my leadership roles to continue to advocate and represent. I am inspired by another observation of Stacey Abrams. “Leadership is not easy,” she says. “Convincing others (and often yourself) that you are capable of world-affecting change requires confidence, insight and sheer bravado – especially when the world has always told you ‘no.'”

I’ll admit I am not always confident, insightful or brave. But I am trying to be. And the movement of God that I see in our denomination gives me courage to work toward a resolute “Yes!” for women in ministry.

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Silence Breakers

Post a Comment » Written on January 15th, 2018     
Filed under: Testimonies and Stories

An important movement of the previous twelve months has been the #metoo campaign. As overwhelming as the stories have been to hear told, there is something very important about the flood of truth telling that has emerged from so many voices. Here is an article posted this month on Missio Alliance’s website entitled “The Silence Breakers: A Kairos Moment for the Church” by Carolyn Custis James. I find the words of the article incomplete but I do think the author’s point is true. I wonder what invitation the Spirit of God is inviting us as those who serve as pastors and ministers in the church? What might be do or say in response? What do you think?

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Four More Commitment

Post a Comment » Written on December 14th, 2017     
Filed under: Testimonies and Stories

Pastor Devyn Chambers Johnson’s “Four More Commitment” Facebook Challenge has gone viral in the past week. If you haven’t heard it yet, here is a link to the Facebook video.  If you would like to respond, sign up here.

The challenge’s transcript is below…

My name is Devyn Chambers Johnson, co-pastor at Community Covenant Church in Springfield VA.

I am forever grateful for the Evangelical Covenant Church for affirming the calling of the daughter of a Southern Baptist preacher. Long before I could admit my calling to preach and proclaim God’s word, others saw it in me and encouraged me to follow Christ into unfamiliar territory.

Because of individuals at Interbay Covenant Church, professors at North Park Seminary, and my current congregation, I have been able to claim God’s call on my life as right and good. I can stand confidently at this pulpit because individuals not only advocated for me but made space for me.

The Evangelical Covenant Church has ordained women for 40 plus years, and while the number of women ordained has risen steadily, the number of women regularly in the pulpit as lead or co-pastors is still shockingly low. The denomination has invested in education and advocacy but the place associated with ‘power’ in our churches—the pulpit–is still inhabited largely by men.
I applaud the men in our denomination who have advocated fiercely for my right to be here. But it is time to stop advocating. It’s time to start sharing. It’s time to make room.

Because when we advocate we speak on someone else’s behalf. When you make room, you let them speak for themselves. You see advocating, however noble and good, is still an exercise in power. And of course I’d rather people use their power for good than for evil but the radical gospel of Christ actually calls us to give up our power. If we take the radical gospel of Jesus seriously then it’s time to do more than advocate. It’s time for men, and particularly pastors in the ECC, to let go of their power. It’s time to make room, to make space for women.

And I know at this point some men are recoiling—because when you are accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.

But step back. Think about the kingdom. There’s enough work in the Kingdom for all of us.

But some of you are thinking: how? What does it mean to make room? Listen first and talk Less.

We can apply this to all sort of places: ministerium meetings, staff meetings, pastoral counseling and social media.

But let’s talk about the pulpit. Make room in the pulpit. Share the pulpit.

Talk less and listen to your sisters preach the word.

So if you make decisions about who fills the pulpit in your church, you can do one simple thing: commit to filling your pulpit four more times in the coming year with a woman. Maybe you already have women preach, but if your pulpit is filled by men more than 50% of the year you can still do four more.

Not four times when you are on vacation. Four times when you, along with your congregation, can hear the gospel of Jesus proclaimed by called and gifted women.
Ask your leadership for $500 to fund four additional honorariums. And if they can’t or won’t take a $500 pay cut.

That’s what making room looks like in a small but tangible way. It’s time to do more than advocate. It’s time to let go of power, position, and the pulpit and make room for women.

This is not official denominational appeal. I’m just a pastor who believes we can do better. Commit to four more. Four more women in the pulpit this coming year.

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My Experience Serving on the Commission for Biblical Gender Equality

Post a Comment » Written on November 8th, 2017     
Filed under: Testimonies and Stories

Jeff Ondrey is the Director of Nursing Home Operations for Heritage Ministries and is a member of First Covenant Church in Jamestown, New York. He recently completed his tenure of service as a lay member of the Commission of Biblical Gender equality.

I was asked to serve on this commission back in 2011 presumably because at the time I was finishing up as a board member for Camp Mission Meadows in western New York on beautiful Lake Chautauqua. This was also presumably because of the fact that my daughters and my wife had served or were serving the Covenant Church through employment or serving on the board of the Great Lakes conference. Upon agreement I received a packet of information about the Commission, its history, its challenges and its present status.

I was asked to read a book and submit a brief review of it for my first meeting. This book was by Gilbert Bilezikian, Beyond Sex Roles: What the Bible Says About a Woman’s Place in Church and Family (Baker Books, 1985). This book, in addition to the many resources that are listed to the right side of this blog, were instrumental in educating me to an area in the life of the Evangelical Covenant Church of which I had previously not been very well informed. After the first couple of meetings, it became apparent that a stated goal of the Commission was to establish a blog that could be used to inform and to enable conversation surrounding the issues that women and particularly women pastors regularly face. At that time my daughter Sarah was working for the denomination as the web content manager and in short order she was able to assist me in setting up the format and initiating a new blog on the Covenant web site.

I guess that if I look back and consider my six years of experience on this Commission, I would have to say that I have certainly gained an appreciation for the courage of women that have been called by God to enter seminary and ultimately to become pastors only to be thwarted in many instances because of the continued inability of some churches to get beyond their own biases and cemented theology that is not at all open to different interpretations of scriptures — this despite the fact that the denomination voted to ordain women over 40 years ago.

Never-the-less, the Covenant denomination maintains a congregational form of church governance. We are not ruled by the pope of the Covenant. I can only hope and pray that God will continue to inform pastors and members of our churches that God does in fact call women, who being created in the image and likeness of God were created as equally qualified for leading our congregations toward a fuller relationship with Christ. Let us all remember, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

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Like Pulling Teeth…

1 Comment » Written on October 18th, 2017     
Filed under: Testimonies and Stories

Mary Peterson serves as Pastor of Children, Youth and Family Ministry at Highland Covenant Church in Bellevue, Washington. She is also President of Advocates for Covenant Clergy Women and sits on the Commission of Biblical Gender Equality.

My almost nine year old son has a common problem… huge teeth and a little mouth. So we have ventured into the world of orthodontics early in his life. He was the first second grader to get braces at his school. Thankfully, this was a seriously cool moment in the life of my sanguine boy. The orthodontist explained the importance of making room early in his mouth to allow the permanent teeth to have a place to enter correctly. So with the addition of a spacer and some barbed wire, we have been making space for his new teeth to come through this past year. Overall the results have been amazing, but there are two incisors that are refusing to budge. They are his baby teeth, and they don’t want to come out. They are refusing to make space for the teeth who are anxiously waiting in the wings to make their appearances. My brave son has done the hard work of wiggling those obstinate teeth to encourage them to leave. He was successful with one of them, but the other will require assistance from our dentist to come out.

As I sat around a conference table last week, it struck me that this is the exact kind of work we are trying to do with women in church leadership. After decades of study of Scripture and context, we have decided to fully support the inclusion of women in all levels of leadership within our denomination. And it is difficult work.  I know so many women who are waiting in the wings for an opportunity to utilize their education, giftedness and calling. All they need is a space to do their work. We have to think strategically about where we need to make space for women to enter into leadership roles- to evaluate how the systems that naturally work to increase leadership capabilities in our male pastors need to shift to include women. Just like the spacer stretches the upper jaw to make room for those new teeth, we need to look for places to make more space.

Making room requires more than just stretching. We may also need to do some difficult work of removing obstacles that are preventing women from entering into the roles to which God is calling them. Do our church policies support women who are entering into ministry later in life? Do we support women who need a break to raise babies or care for aging parents? Do we value the life experience of women who took a long time to understand and envision God’s calling on their lives? Do we value the years of hard work in children or youth ministry as valid experience to move into senior pastor roles? Are we including women in church leadership at all levels? Do we listen for the voices of our sisters of color? Do our pay and benefit structures reflect our commitment to equality? Are there churches or organizations in our denomination who refuse to acknowledge the giftedness and calling of women?

It is difficult work to be self-reflective as an individual or an organization, but necessary for our healthy growth. We have lots of room to grow. I can only imagine the beautiful smile that God will have when he sees his church as he imagines it- women and men serving fully as they live and grow into their callings together. I have a feeling it will be an even bigger smile than when my kid gets his braces off in a few months.

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The Day of the Girl Child

1 Comment » Written on October 11th, 2017     
Filed under: Daughter, Testimonies and Stories
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Devyn Chambers Johnson serves as co-pastor of Community Covenant Church in Springfield, Virginia. Devyn, and her husband Ryan, are proud parents to two active young daughters. In addition to serving as co-pastor Devyn is pursuing her Doctorate in Ministry with an emphasis in leadership and ministry development. 

My husband and I are raising two amazing girls who I know will change the world. Our oldest is a natural performer who loves life, exudes joy and turns any social situation into a party. Our youngest, a mere 15 months old, is more reserved but determined, thoughtful and independent.

And they make me see my call as a pastor differently.

I was raised a pastor’s daughter and the most common avenue for ministry that I saw available to women was that of a pastor’s wife. Ironically, I married a pastor and now wear dual hats as both a pastor and a pastor’s spouse.

But my girls see the world so incredibly differently than I did as a young girl.

This summer we drove passed our neighborhood Lutheran church, where my friend serves as pastor and where oldest had attended Vacation Bible School. She began to retell the story of how she got scared but Julia’s mommy let her sit in her office and helped her feel better.

Making conversation I pointed out that Julia’s mom is the pastor of that church. To which my daughter responded “Yeah! She’s really nice.”

Then out of curiosity, and because you never really know the mind of a four year old, I asked “Who’s the pastor at our church?”

And as a true four year old she replied with her newfound know-it-all exasperation “you are mom!”

And I couldn’t help but smile. Not because I needed some sort of affirmation from my four year old but because I realized that to her it was a ridiculously stupid question. Her mom is a pastor (and her dad too!) and while that reality is still foreign to some—it isn’t to her.

And it hit me—that for all the advocacy and training I can provide for women in ministry the greatest gift of my call is the gift of normalcy to a younger generation.

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A Resounding “Yes”

Post a Comment » Written on September 5th, 2017     
Filed under: Testimonies and Stories

Brian Wiele has served since 2006 as the Lead Pastor of River Ridge Covenant Church in Olympia, Washington.  Brian and Linda have been married for 36 years, and have two children and two grandchildren.  He is an avid reader, and wishes he could play golf more frequently.

At Gather ’17 – the annual meeting of the Evangelical Covenant Church held in late June – something was formally renewed, a resounding “yes” from the delegates to work done so far and work still to be addressed. As that “yes” was affirmed, there was a silent accompanying “good-bye” said from afar by one person – a farewell spoken with joy and appreciation.  

What was renewed?  The continuing work of the Covenant’s Commission on Biblical Gender Equality.  Formed in 2002, the question comes up every five years – should we continue the work of educating about and advocating for women in ministry?  In those fifteen years, dozens of your fellow Covenanters have served in that effort to create documents, awareness, and hope.  

I am the one who said “good-bye” from afar, as I was not able to participate in Gather this year. I joined the commission in 2011, and served for two three-year terms. It has been an incredibly rewarding experience, and I considered it a special honor to have been asked to lead the effort as chair for four years. Having left the Commission, I have been asked to share some reflections, looking back upon where we’ve come and peering forward into the future.

I am thrilled with the progress that is being made.  We continue to rely upon solid resources [hyper-link to BGE resources here] that were prepared by the first members of the Commission.  But more importantly, we see an increase in gifted women thriving in various ministry callings, in the local church, in Covenant leadership, and in various segments of our culture.  As I write this, the new Chair of the Commission, Abby Jones, has begun her work as Lead Pastor at Paradise Valley Community Church in Phoenix.  Abby is the first woman to lead a multi-staff congregation in the Pacific Southwest Conference. May her tribe increase!

As I think about the present situation, with many women languishing without a call, and search committees refusing to look at their profiles, I’m struggling for a different word to use beside “discouraged”.  I am grateful for and appreciate how the Covenant works, where each congregation makes their own decisions. As a result, denominational leadership has no leverage in bringing about change.  Part of the Covenant DNA is to “keep the peace”, which often prevents pastors from starting the women in leadership conversation in their churches out of fear of potential dissension and division.  This is our disheartening reality, which means in one sense not much has happened after fifteen years of work for the Commission.  

I know well that pastoral concern, because that’s exactly how I operated for the first twenty years of my vocational ministry. My view on women in leadership had evolved by studying the scriptures more carefully, but I didn’t let my theology effect who preached on Sundays or who served as leadership Chair. That changed when my convictions were given a name, a gifted woman in our midst named Colette who was on a home assignment from her mission work in Mexico.

Which is why I am hopeful in leaving the Commission. In 2017 we launched Project Deborah, a wonderful set of tools for pastors and congregations.  Looking at the Old Testament leader raised up by God, people are encouraged to ask the questions: who are the gifted women in our midst?  Could God be raising up a Deborah among us, and what are we doing about that?  The Commission believes that Project Deborah will have a long-term effect, as dozens of individual women will be affirmed and encouraged in their local settings.

It may sound like I’m overstating the case, but my life has been changed by serving on the Commission for Biblical Gender Equality.  The issue of women in leadership has become far more for me than just another interpretive matter over which we can agree to disagree. To quote John Weborg, “all God’s people are called and gifted.” To prevent half the Church from fulfilling their call by misinterpreting a couple of difficult passages deeply offends me, and I believe it breaks God’s heart also. I will continue to advocate for women to serve passionately and faithfully in the Kingdom wherever God calls them.

I am so grateful for the leadership and encouragement I have received from the staff of Develop Leaders, especially Mark Novak and Carol Lawson.  It has been a joy and an honor to serve alongside them and so many others in this crucial work. There is admittedly still much to be done, but I have no doubt that God also contributes a resounding “yes” to his daughters who faithfully serve Him.  

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“That’s Where you Belong!” | Speaking Blessings in the Seasons of Life

Post a Comment » Written on August 27th, 2017     
Filed under: Testimonies and Stories

Rev. Rose Lee-Norman is Associate Pastor of Family Ministry at Sanctuary Covenant Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota and has served there for seven years. She lives in North Minneapolis with her husband Ryan. They have been married ten years and have two daughters, Esme and Isla. Rose is in a season of life that barely allows for much leisure and uninterrupted time, but when she has a day to herself she can be found reading, sewing and slowly redecorating (or at least dreaming about it) spaces she abides in.

Many people ask what my mom thinks about my calling and vocation as a pastor. They ask because my mom is a devoted Catholic and raised my siblings and I in that tradition. It’s wonderful to be able to say that she fully supports me and even sometimes, after attending Mass in her small city first, drives almost an hour to listen to me preach.

While she has always encouraged me in my calling to ministry, it was through her unbeknownst-to-her blessing she gave me 12 years ago that made all the difference.

Twelve years ago I was an undergrad student at North Park University (NPU). I knew I was called from a young age to seek a vocation in ministry, but was met by confusion with that call in the setting of my Catholic upbringing. Through God’s guidance I attended Covenant Bible College – Ecuador and later NPU.
It was a crisp fall day and a lazy weekend setting on campus as my mom and I walked around to the different buildings. When we came to an open area, she pointed and asked what that building ahead was. She was pointing to the seminary. I told her what it was and she said, “That’s where you belong!” She noted my desire to be a pastor and plainly stated a place like that is where a person like me belongs and should pursue.

Her words were a blessing. Not a blessing in the way we often think about in our Western culture where God gives us stuff we want. But similar to the Old Testament ritual of speaking a blessing over a family member or God creating the world and blessing it for God’s purposes, my mother’s words were a blessing in that season of life that opened up a deeper potential and movement.

Growing up Catholic and through my mother’s example I knew her faith was fundamental to her. In a way I did desire her blessing to go down another path and seek a vocation in ministry in Protestantism. While I did not go on to attend North Park Seminary, I did move to California and attended and graduated from Fuller Theological Seminary. It was a move I may not have taken without the blessing my mother gave me.

Her blessing has become a pivotal milestone for me in my faith journey. As I pastor families at Sanctuary Covenant Church in North Minneapolis, MN, I know the value of blessing another person, especially someone of another generation, to speak the value into another person’s faith and life process. Research shows that when we integrate our faith and model that faith for a person of another generation in healthy and holistic ways our and their faith will grow and is much more likely to sustain for a lifetime. And blessings are a way to integrate our faith through the various seasons of life. When we see and recognize God in the ongoing movements and seasons of our life and name that, we speak great power into another person’s experience.

Practically my husband and I have been trying to do this with our children. We have two daughters and before they go to bed we speak a blessing over them. It isn’t always the same, but we do try to connect it with what they’re experiencing in life in that season.

Blessings though do not have to have that same ritual. As women (and maybe some male readers, too) we know the power of another person validating and empowering us through a season. Many of us could share the encouraging words or poignant challenges we’ve received through our vocation and faith journey. My prayer is that we are aware of our power and voice so we can bless another woman to show them that they belong.

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Feminist Literature?

Post a Comment » Written on August 22nd, 2017     
Filed under: Testimonies and Stories

Here is a link to a recent post on Ellie VerGowe’s –one of the Commission’s contributors — personal blog site. It is entitled “Reading for Liberation.”

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