On the first Sunday of October 1954, a small Christian community officially gathered for worship as the Church of the Covenant in Lynchburg, Virginia. Co-founded by the Reverends Beverly R. Cosby and Irving Stubbs, the church came into being with a particular vision. First, it was to be a spiritual community in support of a mission already underway. A small recreation program for children had begun in 1950 in the basement of the Cosby family home. Where will the children play? That was the inviting question that called into being what developed into the Camp Kum-Ba-Yah summer day camp program and, for a number of years, an inner city program for children.
Lynchburg Christian Fellowship was a partnership of individuals from several churches in the city, including the Church of the Covenant, that formed to support this ministry to children. In years to come, Lynchburg Christian Fellowship would become Lynchburg Covenant Fellowship, welcoming into partnership Agudath Sholom Synagogue. LCF would become a major provider of housing for low-income persons and families.
In those early years, Camp Kum-Ba-Yah, Lynchburg Covenant Fellowship, and the Church of the Covenant arose as a partnership to respond the needs of the wider community, particularly its poorest and most marginalized citizens. When the Church of the Covenant came into being that World Communion Sunday, a central part of its vision was set: the church of Jesus Christ exists not for itself but for the sake of service in and to the world.
The second dimension of the church’s vision had to do with what sort of church it was to be. From the beginning, it was decided that the church and the camp would be open to anyone, regardless of race. It is easy to take this for granted these days, but in the early 1950s, in the solidly segregated city of Lynchburg, this was a radical intention of the highest order.
The church also determined to be a community of persons committing themselves to the call of Jesus Christ in their daily lives. Membership was to be framed in terms of a commitment to spiritual disciplines or practices that would guide, deepen, and intensify one’s relationship with God and discipleship to the living Christ. A statement of membership entitled “Our Covenant One with Another” was developed and continues to be the framework for those making a commitment to Covenant Membership.
In 2005, Community Membership was developed for those who do not feel called to Covenant Membership but desire to make a commitment to similar, though in some ways less specific, spiritual practices. A free, committed response to the call of Christ to follow him has remained the definition of what it means to be part of Christ’s community as manifested in the Church of the Covenant.