In this place in the summer of 1954, was born the Church of the Covenant. The members entered into covenant with God and with one another to dedicate their minds and hearts and strength to the doing of the will of God. As our first brochure stated: The object of this new church was to “bind together followers of Jesus Christ for the purpose of sharing in the worship of God and in making his will dominant in the lives of men (and women), individually and collectively, especially as that will is set forth in the life, teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and in the Holy Scripture.”
This fellowship had embarked on a great adventure, a journey of faith, a pilgrimage of discovery. As a condition of spiritual growth through which each would receive strength and encouragement, the membership jointly embraced with freedom and joy the disciplines known as “Our Covenant One With Another”. This covenant is the heart of the uniqueness—past, present, and to continue—of the Church of the Covenant.
Irving Stubbs and Beverly Cosby co-pastored the church for the first few years, after which Irving left to serve a Presbyterian church as pastor. Bev continued, inspiring us by teaching the concepts of church renewal, ecumenicity, smallness of membership, the Church as the Body of Christ, the priesthood of all believers, the simplification of life, and inclusiveness of all who would join us.
The Church of the Covenant belonged to the Congregational-Christian Church, which later merged with the Evangelical and Reformed Church, forming the United Church of Christ in the late 1950’s. For nearly a half-century, Beverly Roy Cosby led, nurtured, challenged and confirmed this small expression of the United Church here on this ground, and at the points of mission, which began to spring up throughout our Lynchburg community.
The thinking and commitment of Elton Trueblood, Rachel Henderlite, C. S. Lewis, Gordon Cosby, Betty O’Connor, Douglas Horton, Mary Ely Lyman, Wesley Shrader inspired us. Kindred expressions of Christian Community- the Church of the Savior, the Iona and Taize Communities, supported and fed this church as it matured. The Lynchburg Covenant Fellowship had preceded the Church of the Covenant, and the LCF’s program of spiritual guidance and recreation for youth, evolved into Camp Kum-Ba-Yah. The church’s primary local outreach in those early years was through the LCF, which envisioned a new ecumenical strategy for ministering to the Lynchburg community in the Faith Community context. The Lodge of the Fishermen, City Gate, The Wood Ministry, Interfaith Outreach Association, New Land Jobs, New Land Industries, New Land Samaritan Inns, Miriam’s House and other ministries emerged one by one out of the LCF and the Church of the Covenant, nurtured by those who captured the vision and were called to put themselves in need’s way. Most of these ministries continue to flourish, evolve and are points of hope and renewal for many today.
But the Church of the Covenant was not built on popular so-called successful strategies. God worked through Bev to help us, to some degree at least, choose the narrow way. Bev was most of all courageous and uncompromising on the issues of peace, equality and justice. His vision of the church was to primarily side with the last, the least and the lost, as did Jesus. This was a difficult way for many of us, but God called a sufficient number of people to either readily embrace this path, or at least to hang in and work through some of the agonies involved when rough waters were encountered, so that the community abides today.
Fifteen months ago, most of us came through this chapel to express our sorrow following Bev Cosby’s untimely death, which had occurred on January 21, 2002. Grieving and yet celebrating his life, the Church of the Covenant was also aware of perhaps its greatest challenge ever. Was this church’s life totally dependent on our beloved, saintly, life-long committed, founding leader and teacher? With his passing, could the church survive? This grieving, fragile little church soon set to work to define its vision for the future of the church community, including its leadership needs. The vision of its life and growth included the continuance of two basic cornerstones. The first is the spiritual dimension or the “inward journey”- worship, study, prayer and meditation, retreat, for which we envisioned a dynamic, nurturing leader as a necessary ingredient. The second cornerstone is mission or the “outward journey”- call and the discovery of one’s gifts, for investment in some aspect of the world’s need. The consensus was that if the church could be carried forward firmly set on these same cornerstones, it would continue to be the Church and a vital beacon of transformation and hope and pursue the narrow way of discipleship.
Flashing back to the late 1960’s a young Lynchburg College student had frequented the Lodge of the Fishermen, to enjoy it himself but also to help create the ambiance that helped others to enjoy it even more. That young student’s name was David Edwards. He went on to graduate in 1970 from Lynchburg College and in 1975, from Lexington Theological Seminary with a Master of Divinity degree in theology. David spent six more years in Kentucky, fifteen years in Lynchburg as minister of First Christian Church and then in Indiana, six and a half years as minister of Greenfield Christian Church. While serving at First Christian here in Lynchburg, David and Bev began to really get to know each other. With similar approaches to the church and the world, many touch points evolved for these two servant-leaders. David had also taken courageous, unpopular stands for peace and non-discrimination. Bev and David held each other in high esteem, nurtured each other, and became close friends. Many of us were moved at Bev’s memorial service, when David fulfilled Bev’s request to sing and play his original song “This Body is Clay,” which had been inspired by Bev’s words to David.
Since 1911 the UCC predecessor bodies and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) have been conversing about the essential unity of Christ’s church. In 1990 the two denominations declared and celebrated that a relationship of partnership in full communion now exists between both churches. Today, thirteen years later, an appreciation and indeed a confirmation of this partnership is alive and well in Lynchburg. In late 2002, David Edwards received a call from the Church of the Covenant to become its pastor. He responded positively to that call, and began his ministry here on March 1, 2003. The honeymoon is in full swing. God has richly blessed us by his call and his presence with us. The adventure continues with so many opportunities on the horizon that we have trouble containing ourselves. Kaye, David’s wife, has just come to join him. We hope their son, Kent, here today, and their daughter, Shelley (unable to be with us today) will visit often and find home here again. Today Elton Trueblood’s and Betty O’Connor’s books are joined on our bookshelves by the more recently published titles of Henri Nouwen, Jean Vanier, Matthew Fox, Thomas Keating, even one by David Edwards. The Church of the Covenant is deeply invested in a unique partnering with LCF and Camp Kum Ba Yah with whom we share these 40 acres. We are also excited and inspired by the forthcoming of a L’Arche Home to our own Lynchburg community, as one of the 120 worldwide L’Arche Communities. The Haven has received its 501(c)(3) status as the next stage in its journey to provide longer term, drug and alcohol-free, supportive housing for single men and women. The Lodge of the Fishermen Support Group continues to offer a ministry of hospitality at the Thursday night buffet dinner and on Sundays, with lunch after worship. The Festival Center Mission Group is establishing a center for community and ministry in the central city of Lynchburg, in the historic Western Hotel/Joseph Nichols Tavern.
The Church of the Covenant carries the vision for deeper inward journey work among us — on prayer and study, on the simplification of life, on worship and commitment. The needs of our world are constantly calling us to invest ourselves, individually and as a community, our individual and our corporate gifts in the outward journey. Some of our current concerns are for more effective care and nurture of our young, the homeless, the mentally, physically and resource challenged, for a more just and peaceful world and for continued openness to choose carefully the ways we translate our concern into meaningful action.
With David among us, may we be prepared, courageous and full of hope and joy as we embrace the mission to be and become a faithful expression of God’s community in the world. At this momentous juncture we are poised and expectant for the unfolding of God’s plan as we continue the journey.