Covenant Reputation: ‘Fighting Above Its Weight Class’

Post a Comment » Written on June 22nd, 2007     
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PORTLAND, OR (June 22, 2007) – People outside the Evangelical Covenant Church are taking note of the denomination’s commitment to ministry, President Glenn Palmberg told delegates to the 122nd Annual Meeting this morning.

David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, told Palmberg that his organization has a saying about the Covenant: “This little denomination fights above its weight class.”

GlennA representative of the Lilly Endowment also has told Covenant leadership that the denomination has been setting the standard for using the foundation’s money for sustaining pastoral excellence. “You are the stars. No one is doing it like the Evangelical Covenant Church,” the representative said. The foundation has invited the Covenant to apply for another $800,000 grant.

The denomination’s ministry has led to growth for the 15th consecutive year, with 5,061 members being added in 2006, Palmberg said. That marks an increase of three percent.

To share some of Palmberg’s humor in introducing his report, please see “High Tech.”

Palmberg took issue with the “myth” that evangelism suffers when churches focus on ministries of compassion. “That does not have to be true.”

He told the delegates of how Bayside Covenant Church in Roseville, California, had been helping a local school when the principal attended to offer his thanks. The principal was not a Christian at the time, but several months later he was baptized.

Palmberg said he personally likes the philosophy of Ray Johnston, senior pastor of Bayside, who says, “Good works create good will that creates an opportunity for good news.”

Looking ahead, Palmberg suggested the Covenant will need to consider how to respond to caring for the environment and the immigration issue.

“This is not just an issue,” Palmberg said of immigration. “This is a matter of people and their lives. Covenanters will have to ask, not just what is a matter of law, but what, as followers of Christ, is the right thing to do?”

Twelve million people are concerned about having their families separated, Palmberg said. “It is a family values issue,” he added, noting that many undocumented families attend Covenant churches.

Although the church has been growing and its ministries have been expanding, Palmberg cautioned that local giving to the denomination needs to increase if the trend is to continue.

In his report later in the morning, Treasurer Dean Lundgren told delegates that giving to the Covenant Coordinated Budget had increased less than one percent in 2006 over the previous year. “Expenses came in well under budget,” Lundgren said, but the denomination still experienced a modest loss of $352,000, or three percent of revenue.”

Other areas of the denomination’s finances continue to be strong, he said, noting:
•    Excluding more than $2 million contributed to tsunami and hurricane relief, nearly $5 million has been contributed to Covenant World Relief. “The approximately four percent operating expense is well below that of most comparable relief organizations.”
•    The pension plan grew by $18 million to $152 million. The plan covers 953 active pastors and missionaries, and has 481 retirees and surviving spouses receiving monthly payments. In 2006, payments to retirees and surviving spouses were $5.1 million, up from just over $1 million in 1988. Over the past 10 years, more than $39 million was distributed in benefit payments.
•    The denomination assumes a seven percent annual return on its pension investments. Over the last 20 years, the investments have average a 9.4 percent return, which has enabled “benefit enhancements.”
•    Increases in medical insurance premiums have been far below the national average. Since 2003 national averages have increased 15 percent. Last year, Covenant premiums rose five percent last year.
•    During 2006, National Covenant Properties NCP) disbursed $27 million to fund 44 projects. Of Covenant churches that have loans, more than 80 percent are with NCP. Thirty-five percent of all Covenant churches have loans with NCP. Lundgren said administrative expenses have been less than half of one percent.

The accounting firm of Deloitte & Touche gave the denomination “a clean audit opinion,” Lundgren noted. He also pointed out that for the first time, individual paper copies of the audit were not distributed to the delegates.

By not distributing individual paper copies of the audit to each of the delegates, “we have saved the printing of 3.8 million pages,” Lundgren said. “If these pages were stacked on top of each other, they would be 136 stories high. By comparison, the Sears Tower is 110 stories tall.”

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