An open letter to the ECC congregations

In November 2022, a group of Covenant clergy circulated an open letter, inviting other clergy and laity to voice faithful dissent in the pending vote at the Evangelical Covenant Church’s 2023 Annual Meeting (“Gather”) on the removal of two churches over LGBTQ inclusion. Quest Church withdrew from the denomination voluntarily, prior to the annual meeting, but Awaken Community was removed involuntarily by vote of a majority of delegates. Pietisten is reprinting this letter here, with permission, as a resource for our readers.

Clergy, Congregation Leaders and Members, Mission Friends,

This Gather 2023, we will be voting on whether or not to remove the churches Quest (Seattle, Wash.) and Awaken (St. Paul, Minn.). The beautiful diversity of the ECC includes different theological beliefs including same-sex marriage; but our unity in Christ means we do not have to divide over this disagreement. We believe that remaining connected while having differences on non-essential matters is a key distinctive of being a Covenanter. Therefore, we are advocating that at Gather ’23, the ECC should decide not to remove Quest and Awaken because of their congregationally discerned positions on same-sex marriage. We deeply respect and love our conference and executive leaders and honor their calling, leadership, and work. We are also grateful for our polity that invites congregations and clergy to have voice and vote in the discernment process.

We encourage all Covenanters to recognize that we are in a historic moment in the world and the Church where collective trauma, pain, and loss have been experienced by all in varying ways. As we often collectively recite on Sunday mornings, “We humbly confess that we have failed in loving our neighbors by what we have done and by what we have left undone.” We acknowledge that this has hurt the witness of who God is in the world and has harmed many in the process.

We recognize that the difference on same-sex marriage is significant and important, but we believe that removal is not the only way forward. We know that clergy and congregations centered upon the Covenant Affirmations have reached differing approaches to same-sex marriage based on faithful, prayerful, honest and loving interpretations of Scripture. They do so in conscious dependence on the Holy Spirit, seeking to share the wholeness of the good news in their unique context, calling, and people. In a time when the world is being ripped apart through ideological fights, for the Covenant to choose to stay together sends a message of unity that witnesses to the way of Christ.

We want to invite all Covenanters to return to our Affirmations, especially our unique Freedom in Christ, that “continues to sustain the Evangelical Covenant Church as an interdependent body of believers that recognizes but transcends our theological differences.” As Covenanters, we proclaim that we are “Evangelical, but not exclusive; Biblical, but not doctrinaire; Traditional, but not rigid; Congregational, but not independent.”

Historically, the ECC has been a community that focuses on what unites followers of Jesus Christ rather than what separates them. The center of our commitment is a clear faith in Jesus Christ… Here followers of Christ find the security to offer freedom to one another on issues that might otherwise divide… This commitment to freedom has kept the Covenant Church together when it would have been easier to break fellowship and further divide Christ’s body. To some such freedom is no freedom at all… It is not easy to be free… In the meantime we offer freedom to one another, since for Covenant people freedom is not something we claim for ourselves, but offer to the other. In this we are simply sharing the gift of freedom God has given us in Jesus Christ. (from Affirmations)

Therefore, let us offer freedom to one another.

We are asking for:

Pastors and Congregants: To initiate open, courageous, and respectful conversations about our unity around non-essentials as it relates to same-sex marriage.

Churches: To send delegates to vote no on removing Quest and Awaken this 2023 Annual Meeting. Regardless of where you differ theologically, we are asking for each Covenanter to explore how their congregation can “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). May everyone know we are Jesus’ disciples by how we love one another (John 13:35).

Better Together in Christ,

Rev. Joel Sommer,
Rev. Jon Lemmond,
Rev. Stephen Bjorlin,
Rev. Mark Mathis,
Rev. Stephanie Ahn Mathis,
Pastor Rachel Gough,
Rev. Mat Hollen,
Pastor Sharad Yadav


Is opposing the removal of Quest and Awaken churches in violation of ECC ministers’ obligations under guidelines for faithful dissent?

No. Guidelines on dissent are developed in regards to direct contradictions to ECC positions. They do not pertain to our shared responsibility to determine how to navigate disagreements in those areas, or which remedies are most suitable.

Would a vote for keeping Quest and Awaken change the ECC’s Resolution on Human Sexuality?

No. The 1996 Resolution on Human Sexuality voted on by the 111th Covenant Annual meeting will remain intact as the official position of the ECC, providing guidance and counsel to pastors and churches. We acknowledge that more work may be required in the future to modify previous decisions, policy, practices and guidelines in ways that promote unity and clarity of responsibilities among ECC churches and pastors.

What will happen if the Annual Meeting does not reach the threshold of votes required to remove Quest and Awaken churches?

The churches will remain on the roster of ECC churches. While our ECC leaders will continue to grapple with how we navigate disagreement around same-sex marriage, our hope is that they will receive a clear message from the Annual Meeting that congregations are unwilling to divide by removing pastors and congregations solely based on disagreement over same-sex marriage.