I grew up at First Covenant Church Oakland. My dad from birth grew up in that church. My mom moved out from the midwest. Because she grew up in a Covenant Church in Norway Michigan, she started attending First Covenant, met my dad, got married, and raised my brother and me at First Covenant. My grandfather and great grandfather were part of the Mission Friends revival movement in Sweden that became the Evangelical Covenant Church. When my grandfather emigrated to the United States, he joined First Covenant Church of Oakland.
Three generations have served, worshipped, been nurtured by this church which is now 129 years old. At First Covenant Oakland I was dedicated as in infant, spent time in the Nursery, attended Sunday School, worshipped with generations of adults, attended Vacation Bible School, attended Children youth rallies (invited Jesus into my heart each time–just in case!), went to summer camps, was involved in the youth group, was Confirmed, sang in the youth choir, noticed girls, was baptized, enjoyed a Swedish smorgasbord each Christmas season, had adventures with my best friend DJ, did beach evangelism, went on mission trips called Rural Outreach, sensed a call to ministry, and more.
After Scot McKnight shared about his home church, he writes:
Everything I learned about the Christian life I learned from my church. I will make this a bigger principle: a local church determines what the Christian life looks like for the people in that church. Now I’ll make it even bigger still: we all learn the Christian life from how our local church shapes us. These three principles are a way of saying that local churches matter far more than we often know. McKnight, Scot; A Fellowship of Differents: Showing the World God’s Design for Life Together (p. 12). Zondervan.
This was true for me. And this is one of the reasons why I am so committed to the ministry of the local church, and its leaders, in spite of its flaws, and stuttered progress, and messiness. And, as a side note, this is one of the reasons why I am an enthusiastic fan of the Fuller Doctor of Ministry Program, and why I am thrilled to lead this program.
First Covenant for me was family. It was the place where my faith took root and was nurtured. I was surrounded by surrogate mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, grandparents, brothers and sisters. We gathered to worship and to serve, but we did this as family. This made all the difference.
First Covenant was also the place where my call to ministry was formed. First Covenant has been a church that for decades has seen a number of young go into various forms of vocational ministry–as pastors, missionaries, Inter-Varsity and Campus Crusade staff, and more. (One of my friends from First Covenant,who is now a Covenant missionary in Congo, wrote a paper as a student at Moody Bible Institute, on a revival at First Covenant during WWII, as the church ministered to servicemen coming through Oakland. My friend wonders if the years of seeing young women and men go into diverse forms of ministry is the spiritual fruit of that revival in the 1940’s.)
My pastors during my high school years, Stan Henderson and Bob Herrington, let me shadow them as they did their work. Through hours of watching and observing, coaching and mentoring, and hands on experience, I learned what it meant to be a pastor. In very ordinary, relational, and intentional ways, Stan and Bob helped form me, and gave me a framework for being a pastor. They also taught me to love the Word, to be innovative, to reach for excellence, to love people, to help people grow as disciples. Later, Pastor John Notehelfer modeled being a shepherd-teacher as he preached the Word, and lead this congregation.
One of my adult lay youth leaders saw some giftedness for ministry, in very raw and embryonic form, and pushed me into leadership positions, and speaking opportunities. I had very little self confidence, but LeRoy encouraged me
As an new follower of Jesus in high school, I was also shaped by a small group of older high school and college students who nurtured me. Tic, Dave, and Scott showed me what it looked like to be a disciple of Jesus in ordinary time.
I am who I am today as a person, a pastor, a professor because of these people–pastors, lay leaders, members of the congregation, and friends. McKnight says: “We all learn the Christian life from how our local church shapes us.” I am grateful for First Covenant Church–my home church.