The Evangelical Covenant Church, my grandfather, and the emerging church

The "immigrant experience" -- it's when you become displaced because where you have been for a while doesn't make sense or feel like home anymore, and you are compelled to leave, go somewhere else, and settle all over again. The classic example of the immigrant experience is moving from one country to another. We also have the immigrant experience when we change jobs, cities, lovers, churches, denominations, and so on. I would venture to say that most of us have the immigrant experience at least once in our lives.

Here are some reflections I was having last week on the immigrant experience as it applies to the denomination in which I serve, my grandfather, and the emerging church.

I am fairly new to the Evangelical Covenant denomination (, and I learned last week in one of my orientation classes that Covenant's identity is wrapped up in the immigrant experience. The denomination grew out of the Lutheran revival that happened in Sweden in the mid-1800s. People were finding a lively connection with God, close community with one another, and a great zeal for doing mission together. Many of those people immigrated from Sweden to the United States. They were on fire for Jesus, but they were in a new country where they needed to know how things worked, where things were, and what the new rules were. They found great comfort and joy in banding together. Not surprisingly, they were called "Mission Friends." So when you think of the Evangelical Covenant Church, think of people who place a great emphasis on new life in Christ, doing mission in community, and being a comfort to each other in the midst of the immigrant experience.

Angeles Temple
Interestingly, I recalled that the Beck family had a similar immigrant experience that landed my grandfather in the Pentecostal revival of the early 20th century. My grandfather, Thorvald Beck, immigrated from Denmark to the US around 1900 with his brothers and extended family. He left behind a lifeless and institutional Danish Lutheranism, and he experienced a powerful revival at Angeles Temple under the leadership of Aimee Semple MacPherson. He joined the fledgling Foursquare Church. Eventually my grandfather became a revival preacher who spoke in churches all over the country. In the Foursquare Church, he found a network of people who had been displaced from their former churches, experienced spiritual awakening, banded together, and charged out to engage the world with the good news about Jesus. They were friends doing mission. It interests me to see how the Covenant experience was mirrored in my own family's history.

I also think the so-called emerging church is another example of the immigrant experience. There is no dispute that our culture is undergoing a comprehensive shift. It is common to call the outgoing culture "modern" and the incoming one "postmodern" (postmodern being the one after modern... not a very creative name, is it?). Many people, especially those under 35, have come to feel displaced in traditional-style churches that have a reputation for being too inward focused. These folks are gravitating to churches that are open, honest, often a bit quieter, and more intentionally oriented around mission. I can't help but think of the "Mission Friends" and the immigrant experience. 

When people are immigrants, they are often open to finding God in new ways, and they are looking for company. We do well to understand our own immigrant experiences and to welcome the immigrants among us. They are in your life right now. You might be one. Here's to hoping God does new things in your life and the lives of the immigrants in your midst.


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