It was the summer of 1997 when founding co-moderators John Buchanan and Robert W. Bohl, a committed board of respected church leaders, and Covenant Network of Presbyterians’ founding executive director, Pam McLucas Byers, united Presbyterians from all theological backgrounds to pursue justice for LGBTQIA+ Presbyterians. Their work has borne fruit now for a quarter-century, playing a critical role in changing church policies and continuing to strengthen the church to live into its promises to all God’s people.
“We have a lot of progress to celebrate for LGBTQIA+ people in church and society. And I’m especially grateful that the Covenant Network of Presbyterians has been part of those steps forward in the PC(USA),” said the Rev. Brian Ellison, executive director of the Covenant Network of Presbyterians since 2012. “But this is absolutely not a time for nostalgia. There’s way too much work left to do for that. This is a time for recommitment and ever-deeper investment in ensuring the church’s welcome of all God’s people is authentic, effective and complete.”
Beginning June 1, the Covenant Network of Presbyterians will roll out a churchwide celebration remembering its past, launching new efforts in the present, and taking steps to ensure the work continues as long as it is needed. Coinciding with LGBTQIA+ Pride Month and coming just before the convening of the 225th General Assembly, the anniversary celebration will frame a season of celebration, re-commitment, and hope for the future.
Celebrating history and Its continuing impact
As part of the organization’s 25th anniversary celebration, Covenant Network of Presbyterians will reflect on progress through a partnership with the Presbyterian Historical Society (PHS) and its Pam Byers Memorial Collection.
Since 2016, PHS has collected personal papers, organizational records, oral histories, and audio-visual materials that document the movement for LGBTQIA+ ordination and marriage in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). These materials will be shared by both PHS and CNP across digital media platforms.
Written and video materials will engage the intersection of those historical moments with challenges those in the LGBTQIA+ community continue to face in the present, and conversations with leaders of CNP across its 25 years will interpret and enlighten this current moment.
“The challenges we face, and the solutions the Covenant Network seeks, are necessarily different today than they were 25 years ago,” said the Rev. Jenny McDevitt, co-moderator of the board of directors. “With faithful discernment and the support of a broad cross-section of the church, transformation can and will still happen. But only if we work at it.”
Expanded programs to equip and engage
The anniversary celebration will also include the introduction of several new program initiatives, in addition to expansion of the existing Covenant Conversations, which are presbytery-based events for education, dialogue and community-building around expanding the church’s welcome of LGBTQIA+ people. (Covenant Conversations are already scheduled for June 4 in Sacramento and October 27 in Oklahoma City.)
One new project is a video series to assist LGBTQIA+ people in the call and search process, with elements geared toward pastor nominating committees, presbytery staff and committees, candidates and inquirers, already ordained call seekers, and seminaries. That project will be directed by CNP board member the Rev. Landon Whitsitt, who developed the widely used Theocademy series when he was serving the Synod of Mid-America.
Another project will develop the next generation of leadership for resourcing congregations and councils to effectively address LGBTQIA+ inclusion in our conflicted times. Diverse and broadly experienced teachers will be trained, supported and resourced to consult and coach congregations and church leaders in how to navigate difficult conversations and do the ever-more important work of building welcoming and affirming faith communities.
Securing the Network’s future
“We are stewards of a deeply faithful tradition,” said the Rev. Lucy Strong, co-moderator of the board of directors. “When I think of the time, energy and personal risk that some of our predecessors undertook to make the Covenant Network happen, it fills me with gratitude.”
Moved by that gratitude, the anniversary celebration will include intentional efforts to ensure that the work of seeking true justice and hospitality in the church continues well into the future. The board hopes to expand from the current membership of nearly 400 congregations to 500 by the end of the year. CNP is also encouraging every congregation in the network to consider its financial contributions for this work, as well as inviting special one-time gifts from the network of generous supporters.
“With threats to LGBTQIA+ equity appearing more and more frequently in headlines, the Covenant Network of Presbyterians is persevering in the work for a more just and equitable world,” said Ellison. “We hope all will join us in living into the expansive love of God, now and for generations to come.”
by Covenant Network of Presbyterians, Special to Presbyterian News Service