Commons church is part of the Evangelical Covenant Church and we face a critical moment in the history of our denomination. This week the Annual General Meeting of the ECC will vote on whether to remove a church for this first time in our history.
First Minneapolis Covenant Church, like Commons Church, has taken a position of faithful dissent with the Denomination’s position on human sexuality. As our local statement on LGBTQ inclusion says, “We believe that faithful people can and will come to different conclusions about the meaning of scripture. We believe that this church can include these different understandings within its life as it lives out its mission.” This is a core commitment at Commons, that we are better together particularly when we learn to listen to each other on contentious issues. There is no litmus test at Commons beyond a declared trust in Jesus as Lord, and how we treat each other in community. However, in order to include these different understandings honestly, we believe we must commit ourselves to treating all members of Commons equally and this creates a point of distinction between Commons and the communally discerned position of the ECC. At the same time, we recognize that every Covenant church is working to embrace their LGBTQ neighbours in the spirit of love and truth and we honour the complexity of this cultural moment.
The beauty of the Covenant tradition however, is that we have always affirmed the freedom in Christ to disagree in healthy ways. In fact, historically we have celebrated this as our core identity marker. As Hauna Ondrey Assistant Professor of Church History at Northpark Seminary writes, “The boundary for membership of congregations in the Covenant has always and only been faith in Christ. The Covenant’s confession of Scripture as ‘the only perfect rule for faith, doctrine, and conduct’ was a commitment to Scripture alone rather than a particular confessional interpretation of Scripture.” This has always been a precarious balance as the founders of the ECC described our denomination as “a turtle without a shell” but it is this very commitment to vulnerability and humility that has held us together over the past century.
Many of us at Commons are new to the denomination as we opened our doors in 2014 but at the same time our roots run very deep. Commons was formed as a new church plant coming together with the legacy of the Scandinavian Mission Church started in Calgary in 1911. For the 50th anniversary of that church in 1961, these words formed the basis of the celebration, "Our ideal is to be a church in which Christ is honoured through a fellowship of liberty and unity of love. Within a framework of basic Christianity, doctrinal variations are not to divide the church. The right of every believer to his own position is to be respected." This is a legacy that Commons has been blessed by and has worked hard to embed ourselves in.
In our current polarized context this commitment to love in the face of disagreement and to hold together even as we affirm our freedom can feel like disunity. But as Glenn Palmberg, former President of the ECC writes, “If one comes to the Covenant from a background in which you were taught to separate yourself from people who disagree, taught to reject or mistrust any person who holds a different view, Covenant freedom will not come naturally. For those people, honest, open discussion of the issues by biblically committed people may be an enigma. It is not our new friend’s fault if they fail to understand our openness and we did not tell them.”
Despite the complexity of this moment our hope is that the proposal to remove First Minneapolis Covenant Church will be overturned by a vote of the AGM and that the Covenant Church will enter a period of self-reflection and conscious return to the ideals that guided our founding. Commons Church is sending two delegates to Omaha to vote on our behalf and do what we can to ensure the Covenant Church retains space for faithful dissent in these difficult conversations.
1. The vote to remove First Minneapolis Covenant Church will require a two-thirds majority vote of all delegates to the Annual General Meeting in Omaha Nebraska.
2. The vote is scheduled to take place on June 27 or 28, 2019.
3. The vote does not immediately have ramifications for Commons Church but will set a precedent within the denomination.
4. The assets of Commons Church including the building and charitable number are controlled by the membership of Commons Church.
5. Commons Church has faithfully supported the ECC in Canada financially and has significantly increased that support over the last 5 years. We intend to continue in this support.
1. Commons Statement on LGBTQ Inclusion
2. Commons History
3. Harmony and Congregational Liberty in the Tradition of the Evangelical Covenant Church
4. Beyond Yes or No: Covenant History & the Third Way
5. Remembering Who We Are Before a Momentous Annual Meeting