During this season of social distancing and self-isolation, Covenant Communications is making the Covenant Home Altar available online at no cost beginning the week of March 29. A devotional guide, the Home Altar, invites us to take time for God’s word, quiet meditation, and prayer. The daily reflections are written by Covenant pastors, laypersons, and administrators, representing a variety of experiences and contexts. In a few weeks, the featured devotional will be written by Pastor Jorden. In addition to this daily devotional, our denomination has a number of rich resources available. According to the Associated Church Press and the Evangelical Press Association, the Evangelical Covenant Church has the best denomination magazine! Click here to see all of those resources available to you.
By Ronda Ooms
“Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed. The Lord works out everything for His own ends…..In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.”
Proverbs 16:3, 4a and 9
These verses have been ones that have continually come to mind during this season that we find ourselves in. We had plans for what outreach would look like this Spring. We were gearing up for our Spring Carnival and pancake breakfast at Miller. I was working with Bauer on who would take care of what events on April 4. The pancake guy was secured for our breakfast, and the Easter eggs had been mostly stuffed for the Easter egg hunt. March 13 everything changed. We quickly realized that our Spring outreach would not look anything like what we had planned.
What would God have us do? It was obvious that God had put us in the Miller/Bauer neighborhood and that they needed us now more than ever! It was an easy decision to continue the Thursday night meal at Bauer Community Center that we have hosted for the past 12 years. What could that look like, and how could everyone keep safe? We’d always created a sense of community during our meals. It was/is very important that each person that attends our meals feel loved and cared for and is able to eat home cooked food with others from the community. Because of the restrictions we knew that we could not allow anyone to come into Bauer to be served a meal. We set up a drive through in the alley by Bauer and have been serving take out style since March 19. The first few weeks, we served 175 meals and every week after we have served between 240 and 280 meals. That amount of meals is 3 times (plus) what was our normal previous to the virus issues. We work hard to be sure that each person that comes through to pick up meals or that walks up feels loved and cared for. Each week we have bags of groceries and various bonus items that they can have. Some weeks, it’s toilet paper, some weeks it’s cleaning products, and once a month we have homemade cookies lovingly baked by some of our ECC attenders.
ECC preparing to handout meals in the alley behind Bauer
I’ve been blessed by the desire of our ECC congregants to serve and to be at this meal each week. Colleen Schornstein cooks all the food with Reba Kinder filling in once a month. Reba and Fran Nance work with Colleen weekly to get the food prepped and ready for the meal. They are such a blessing and are so humble about what they do. Between 20 and 33 volunteers have helped each week with various aspects of getting the meal distributed. Each person wears a mask, and we try to abide by the 6 foot distancing rule with those outside of our families. It looks like we will need to continue to serve in this fashion throughout summer 2020.
Over the past weeks, we have partnered with Miller School to deliver 200 bags of food every 2 weeks as a part of the Backpack Program that we are a part of during the school year. Miller staff and ECC volunteers deliver the bags to the homes of families in need as determined by principals Deb Patterson and Greg Louk. Eight ECC couples/families have regularly been involved in this effort.
This year we have decided to continue the backpack program throughout the summer because of the economic situation that many of “our families” are in. Because this is outside of the school year, ECC will need to come up with the funds to pay for the food that we will give out. If you would be interested in helping to fund this effort we ask that your donation would be above your regular tithe. Checks can be made out to ECC with Community Outreach in the memo portion.
Outreach statistics since the stay at home orders began:
How Can You Help
It never ceases to amaze me how God takes a situation and uses it to bring glory to himself. As we maneuver through this season of the unknown, let's look to see where God is at work. I can tell you that God is there on Thursday evenings when we distribute meals. He’s there when we deliver bags of food to Miller families. He’s there when I contact our Afterschool JAM families. It’s nothing like what we thought we’d be doing this Spring, but in typical God fashion, “We know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28 He can do amazing things in situations that have us grasping for control. Thank you God for guiding and caring for us in this time of the unknown.
By Kristin Devine Mueller
Almost two months after we were first given the direction to begin social distancing and stay at home, our plans for Summer XP look much different than we ever would have imagined! Ministry groups all around the country are working to figure out what Vacation Bible School might look like as we move out of a full quarantine into a world where we still attempt to stay 6 feet away from each other. Everyone involved in these conversations knows that it’s impossible to keep a group of children 6 feet apart! Like many other churches around the country, ECC has been working to figure out what a new type of summer experience for children might be.
We’re sticking with our plan of an online Summer XP, but as we get closer, some different things are becoming clearer. We’ll have a video set to premier each night at a set time. We have a music team working on songs for the week to bring the message of God’s love and light to children in a memorable, screen-based way. We’ve ordered our giant sunglasses because we know that Mr. Louk and our team will still be working hard to incorporate the element of silliness and fun!
In the midst of these changing plans, we still want the children in our community to experience the love and care of a relationship with a real, live person who asks and listens to what is happening in their lives. We’ve got a two-fold plan to achieve this, and it’s a plan where both adults and children can get involved.
First, we want to continue to offer a small-group experience as part of our Summer XP. In early June, we know it’s not the right time to safely meet with a group of children in person. We’ll continue to use the technology available to us so that we can meet online in small groups. Our hope is to have Zoom groups set up for groups of 5-10 children, with 2 adults, and also possibly a teen. These groups will spend 4 nights together on Zoom, so by the end of the week we pray that they know each other deeper, that new friends have been connected, and that these people will have a foundation to build on when they are able to see each other in person again. Pray with us for both leaders and children to sign up and participate fully in this experience.
Second, we want our children to invite friends from their neighborhood to join with them in this online, virtual week of Summer XP. Prior to Summer XP, each child who is registered for the event will receive a kit with the resources and activities that they will need for the week. This kit will also have a second set of supplies, so that children can go out into their neighborhood and invite a friend to participate with them. Since we will be online, friends can log in from their own homes and participate along with us. These friends will have the option of joining a Zoom group with their neighbor, but our kids will also have the option of talking about the activities and doing them together at home, if their families are comfortable with their kids being in the same space together. Pray with us that our children will have hearts for sharing this experience, and for sharing God’s love, with the children on their very own block.
Since many of our volunteers will also be able to participate from home, we encourage you to get involved in the ways that you are able. To register as a volunteer, or to register a child so that the child receives a kit and is assigned to a Zoom group, follow the link at www.ecclife.net/xp. This summer isn’t shaping up to look like anything we expected, but pray with us that God will shape this experience into more than we would have asked or imagined!
By Pastor Kurt Kincanon
I hear the word “Pivot” quite a bit these days. From a business or organization standpoint, a pivot is a fundamental change in the product or service or perhaps in the way that product or service is delivered. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, over the last two months all organizations, including business, schools, non-profits, and churches, are pivoting. We are changing the way we deliver our products and services. Some organizations are making new things like ventilators and hand sanitizer. Many non-profits and churches are pivoting how we go about our mission.
As we at ECC explore the book of Acts in our current series, we see that the concept of pivoting isn’t new to the church at all. In fact, it was part of God’s original intent for the church in Acts. In his introductory sermon in our Acts series, Pastor Stacey identified the six panels and summary passage in the book of Acts. These six passages are connected to one another by five brief summary verses of the spread of the gospel message and the growth of the Church. Those summary passages are found in Acts 6.7; 9.31; 12.24; 16.5; and 19.20. In one sense, these six panels follow the outline Jesus gives us in Acts 1.8, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” As Stacey stated, that outline and those six panels are a model for our ministry as the Church still today. When you think about that verse and the context of the first century church, how can the disciples accomplish such a thing without some significant pivots?
The book of Acts is loaded with preachable content, and there are more important stories than we can preach over the Sundays available this summer, so we must jump over some. One of the events we are jumping over this week is Stephen’s sermon and his subsequent martyrdom. It is one of the pivotal points in Acts. As you may recall, as the Jerusalem church grew, it was necessary that overseers were chosen to care for and feed widows. One of these, Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, performed great wonders and signs, which in turn created opposition from Hellenistic Jews from outlying areas. Events unfolded leading to a trial. And not unlike Jesus’ trial, false witnesses were drummed up, and Stephen is accused of “blasphemous words against Moses and against God.”
All this leads to Stephen being seized and brought before the Sanhedrin. Side note, since Jesus' trial in front of the Sanhedrin back in Mark 14, the Sanhedrin has been quite busy dealing with Peter, John, and the apostles on at least two recorded occasions so far in the book of Acts, and their frustration must be mounting. People are repenting and believing the gospel, the apostles continue to preach despite threats, and even jail cells will not hold these disciples. Now for the fourth time since Jesus paraded into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the Sanhedrin are confronted once again with another follower of “The Way” who is disrupting their world.
Stephen delivers the longest recorded sermon or speech in the book of Acts which is captured in chapter 7. This speech is a history of Israel that encompasses Abraham's call and God’s covenant promise to create a great nation of people, the patriarchs including Joseph saving his people from the famine, and Moses and his call to lead the Israelites out of slavery including Moses's prediction that God would some day raise up a prophet like Moses from His own people. At the end of the lengthy speech, Stephen turns the tables on his accusers demonstrating that they are the “stiffed necked” people just like their ancestors who have killed prophets and now they have killed the “Righteous One.”
Well, that did it. Those word pushed the mob over the edge. The mob act as judge, juror, and executioner, and Stephen is stoned. He cries out to Jesus to receive his spirit, and in true Christlike fashion, forgives his persecutors, and…the church pivots. The young Greek speaking, Roman citizen, self-proclaimed “Pharisee of Pharisees” Saul watches the cloaks of those who do the dirty work. Saul, who was also possibly a member of the Synagogue of the Freedmen mentioned in chapter 6, that drummed up the false charges and killed Stephen, is empowered by this event and goes on a rampage as a great persecution breaks out.
But what looks like a pivot in the favor of the Sanhedrin is actually the pivot necessary for Acts 1:8 to be fulfilled. From this point, Luke, the author of Acts, will write very little about the activity of the church in Jerusalem. Instead in the subsequent chapters, he turns his attention briefly to one of the other servants, Phillip, who we will look at the next two Sundays, and then ultimately to Paul (Saul) and his mission. This is a major pivot. A pivot Jesus predicted. A pivot for which we are all thankful because the gospel has reached us. What was the catalyst for this pivot? Persecution, hard times, seemingly unexpected opposition, and obstacles.
Sound familiar? Perhaps there is no better time for us as a church to be walking through this fantastic book of Acts. We as a church have already had to pivot in terms of how we conduct corporate worship, how we minister to our children and youth, how we care for those in need, and how we make and deepen disciples to name a few. We aren’t done pivoting yet. As we look to the future for what reentry looks like, it is clear to me that we will not be the same. Much of my and my colleague’s thoughts are currently focused on what worship and church will look like when we start to open back up and return. Some of the things we have added are here to stay. Some things we aren’t currently doing may not come back. We will pivot again. Just like our first century brothers and sisters did. Just like the church has done in the years that have followed. We pivot…for the sake of the gospel.