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Cascade Covenant Church

I had reason when I was home last summer [2011] to visit Cascade Covenant Church, a short walk from my mother’s house, where she, though a lifelong Catholic, helps with the Snoqualmie Valley’s only Sunday school for children with special needs. The pastor’s wife is also a colleague of hers in special education at the public schools, and they worked together to develop the ministry.

Given how little encounter with, and regularly innacurate assumptions about, Protestants and protestant worship that many of my Catholic colleagues have in Rome, especially regarding the small denominations and the nondenominational movements, it was interesting to reflect on a few of the liturgical and pastoral or administrative aspects of this community.

Many Catholic parishes are named for a patron saint. Cascade Covenant has instead a patronal verse:

“I have come to give you life – life in all its fullness.” -John 10:10

The elements, if not the order, of worship should be quite familiar for the liturgically oriented:

  • Worship music
  • Opening prayer by the music leader/associate pastor
  • More music
  • Announcements (with a video clip)
  • Communion
    •  Served from three tables with bread, juice, and water.
  • Preaching in breakout sessions
    • Digging into the Bible
    • Understanding the Facts of Christianity (apologetics)
    • Spiritual Formation 101: Reflections on authentic growth and transformation
    • A Time for Prayer

The music included not only popular Christian worship songs, but also the Sanctus and the Gloria. During Communion, people processed up to the tables, and were invited to use the water to bless themselves in some way, such as a sign of the cross on the forehead, in remembrance of their baptisms.

The community was celebrating baptisms later that day, and was the cause for this additional element at the communion table. While describing Baptism, it was referred to as a sacrament, but not as conversion which is said to be separate. Baptism was a sign of new life in Christ, and would take place at the river that afternoon.

Instead of a single sermon or homily, people were invited into breakout sessions for preaching, and from these concluded separately. I got the impression this was an experimental approach being used over the summer to see how it worked.

Compared to many Catholic churches, both ancient and modern, the facility was better suited to the many needs of a parish community. They had a fireside room/library ideal for a medium group of adults, a multipurpose worship center, classrooms and meeting rooms that were used by Sunday school and others. There were classrooms for all ages from preschool to adult, including space for a dedicated program to children with special needs, and it was clear these could be used for a day school program, but not dominated by it.

A welcome center described on the front of the bulletin invited people to receive a free gift, arrange to meet one on one with one of the pastoral staff. There was also additional ministry information, and several of the staff were circulating regularly through both of their morning services.  It was clear throughout that there was a great emphasis on mission and service to the greater community, both local and international.

On the negative side, though, the sanctuary was really a multipurpose room that could easily have served as a banquet hall or conference room as it could a worship space. The center of focus seemed to be the band, rather than altar or pulpit – just a modernized version of churches dominated by the old pipe organs. Despite being in an ideal location, they had not made use of the spectacular view of the local mountain with large windows, which may have been structurally necessary, but was aesthetically disappointing.

The annual budget for the parish was $800,000. The pastoral staff included a Lead Pastor, an Associate Pastor/Worship Director, a Welcoming Ministry Leader, Children’s Ministry Director, and Ministry Leaders for High School, Middle School, Elementary, and Pre-K. Support staff included a Facilities Director and an Administrative Assistant.

Cascade Covenant is part of a communion called the Evangelical Covenant Church, founded in 1885 by Swedish Lutheran immigrants, and now has 800 congregations in the United States and reports 180,000 Sunday worshipers (but only 125,000 members!). This makes their average parish congregation one with 225 people on Sunday, and just over 150 of which are members. The denominational headquarters are in Chicago, IL.

By comparison, the Catholic Church in the U.S. has about 68 million members in 18,992 parishes, of whom about 31 million attend Sunday liturgies. This makes the average parish congregation one with 1640 worshippers on Sunday, but about 3580 members.

The parish tagline was “No Perfect People Allowed! Come as you are and grow in new ways!” with a motto or theme of “Fully Alive”.

The Evangelical Covenant Church describes itself as

  • Evangelical, but not exclusive
  • Biblical, but not doctrinaire
  • Traditional, but not rigid
  • Congregational, but not independent
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