Born of love for the church and concern for its future, the Covenant Network of Presbyterians was begun in August of 1997. Its purpose, according to the first newsletter article from founding co moderators Bob Bohl and John Buchanan (two former moderators of the General Assembly), was to work for the passage of “Amendment A,” repealing the recently added “fidelity and chastity” language that prevented the ordination of LGBTQIA+ people in the church.
As we celebrate the 25th anniversary of that faithful initiative, we admit the project took longer than expected! The amendment itself wasn’t approved until 2011, and in many ways, the hope of equity for people of all sexual orientations and gender identity still has a long way to go. But the enduring legacy and continuing impact of that work shines bright, as CNP equips, educates and engages the congregations and councils of the church toward a fuller inclusion and a more authentic welcome of all people.
The 225th General Assembly offered plenty of hopeful signs of the real progress and potential in today’s Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) for LGBTQIA+ people in its actions:
- The creation of an LGBTQIA+ Equity Advocacy Committee within the denominational structure;
- The requirement of inclusive gender options on any forms where the church collects gender information or statistical reporting;
- Recognition of the crisis of violence against trans women of color, including a time of remembrance at the next General Assembly;
- New commitments by General Assembly agencies to provide safe and inclusive spaces.
The Covenant Network was proud to work alongside others for the passage of these actions, and we will always advocate for transformation, casting a vision for greater equity and holding councils accountable to fulfill the church’s promises to LGBTQIA+ people.
Even with those successes, however, our work has largely shifted from the national to the local, where the need for education and advocacy is great. Dozens of presbyteries and thousands of congregations still have not ordained or installed an openly LGBTQIA+ person. And even the most progressive and welcoming churches often feel ill-equipped to make this welcome known in their communities.
Even before the pandemic, we moved away from our large national conferences to emphasize locally-focused gatherings. Our signature Covenant Conversations are held in partnership with presbyteries to foster dialogue and help congregations at all points on their journeys of inclusion take positive steps forward. This year, North Central California Presbytery, the three presbyteries of Oklahoma, and Olympia Presbytery are all partnering with us on these events, which offer speakers, worship, workshops and opportunities to connect.
This anniversary year also includes two major new initiatives. We’ve heard that an area of continued struggle is in the search and call process, where both candidates and congregations struggle to talk about sexual and gender identity in authentic, helpful ways. To help, we’re producing a series of video resources intended as training tools for Pastor Nominating Committees, presbytery committees and leaders and those seeking a call, all designed to foster truly inclusive search processes that result in more opportunities and healthier fits for LGBTQIA+ people in the church.
We’re also committing to expansive leadership development. A wider and more diverse corps of church leaders needs to be equipped to work with congregations seeking to expand their welcome, and the Covenant Network is rolling out an effort to equip a new generation of such leaders. Watch for more details this fall!
The more than 400 congregations and thousands of individuals who comprise the Covenant Network have a lot to celebrate over these 25 years, and we hope you’ll join us. Congregations can become part of the network simply by affirming its mission, and there’s plenty more work to do. God’s faithful, unwavering impetus is, in the words of our late founding executive director Pam Byers, “toward a church as generous and just as God’s grace.” We invite all who want to keep building that kind of church to join us.