Central Conference Serves Community, Celebrates Ministry

Post a Comment » Written on May 1st, 2009     
Filed under: News
By Cathy Norman Peterson

LAKE GENEVA, WI (May 1, 2009) – “Called to Serve” was not just the theme in the brochures of the 123rd Annual Meeting of the Central Conference—it was also an invitation.

Delegates began the two-day meetings held April 24-25 at Covenant Harbor Bible Camp in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, by serving the camp and its surrounding community. Among the many projects, they sorted clothes and food for a local food pantry, engaged with residents at a local nursing home, knit prayer shawls and baby caps for Swedish Covenant Hospital, and helped paint bathrooms at the camp.

The Friday evening worship service featured bluegrass music from Country Evangelical Covenant Church in Elgin, Illinois.

Debbie Blue, executive minister of the denomination’s Department of Compassion, Mercy, and Justice, shared stories of seeing children living in garbage dumps in India, village women who had been denied medical treatment in Sierra Leone, and the town of Phoenix, Louisiana, which remained underwater for more than a month after Hurricane Katrina.

“Do these stories make you uncomfortable?” she asked. “For me, yes. They are very uncomfortable stories.”

Blue recalled her former inclination to address poverty and injustice simply by writing a check. The experiences broke her heart, however, and she challenged listeners to let the world break theirs.

Willie Comer, pastor of the new Berean Covenant Church in Champaign, Illinois, spoke candidly about his reluctant response to God’s call to serve as a church planter. “I told God, ‘You have to open all the doors. I’m not opening any of them, so you have to do it.’ ”

Comer and his wife, Zabrina, are partnering with the Evangelical Covenant Church of Hinsdale, Illinois to plant the church. Associate Superintendent Jolene Bergstrom-Carlson led delegates in prayer for Comer and for Sergio Gonzalez and Daniela Flores, pastors of Iglesia del Pacto de Vida Plena, a church plant currently meeting at Fellowship Christian Church in Oak Park, Illinois

Superintendent Jerome Nelson led the delegates in prayer for Christ the King Covenant Church in Crown Point, Indiana, which closed, and for Iglesia del Pacto el Redentor in Indianapolis, which transferred out of the denomination.

Linda Cannell, dean of academic life at North Park Theological Seminary, shared how the school was working to better serve the denomination.

She addressed the questions, “Is there a future for theological education?” and

“Is theological education the same as seminary?”

“You and I both know that seminaries cannot and will never be able to provide all that is needed in the development of men and women to fulfill the mission of the church in the world,” she said. Still, Cannell, who joined the faculty last September, added, the school has a duty to serve the church by supporting ministers around the world throughout their careers.

“That means that we take some responsibility in working with Covenant departments to make sure that the kind of resources that are needed by people in congregations and other organizations are there, that they are healthy, that they are adequate, that they are available and accessible. The seminary will have a role to play in that.”

One resource that Cannell hopes to strengthen is the seminary’s doctor of ministry programs. A doctor of ministry of preaching is currently offered, but “we can go beyond that,” she said.

In other business:

  • Leaders presented the conference Compassion, Mercy, and Justice Award to Valeyo Garrett, in honor of her 20-plus years of service to Oakdale Covenant Church in Chicago. Garrett has developed ministries and created training materials and curricula for the church and its surrounding community. (Pictured: Garrett (center) with Debbie Griffith  (left), director of ministry development for the Central Conference; and Lisa Caridine, delegate from Oakdale)
  • Delegates approved a revised 2009 budget of $648,006 in revenues with $774,987 in expenses. They also approved a 2010 budget of  $665,505 in revenue with $780,537 in expenses. The deficits are being covered with reserve funds.
  • Delegates unanimously re-elected Jerome Nelson to a second term and approved 12 candidates for ordination and commissioning. There were 85 delegates and eight elected Executive Board members representing 49 of 107 churches in the conference.

Cathy Norman Peterson is the features editor for The Covenant Companion.

Photos by Kirsten Nelson Wagenius, director of communications for the Central Conference

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