Covenant Mennonite Fellowship (Sarasota, Florida, USA)
Covenant Mennonite Fellowship, Sarasota, Florida, USA emerged from a vision for a nontraditional Anabaptist presence in the Sarasota community. Conversations began already in the early 1990s with members of local Mennonite congregations who felt called to a nontraditional Anabaptist witness in the community. The group became known as Covenant Mennonite Fellowship.
In January 1992, the group met both with representatives from the General Conference Mennonite Church and the local Southeast Mennonite Conference (part of the Mennonite Church (MC). Discussion centered on an Anabaptist fellowship that found meaning in worship that utilized symbol and ritual to nurture a deep spiritual life, with a particular witness to a post-modern late 20th century culture. Peace and justice would be central to the discipleship and outreach ministries of the fellowship. The group did not see itself as emerging from seeds of anger, but rather saw changes in the Mennonite Church as an opportunity to offer something for those who were not comfortable with a traditional Mennonite experience. Conference leadership encouraged the group to attend a church planning conference in Orlando, which they did.
From 1992 to 1996, the group met for worship and two small groups were formed among the membership. Covenant Mennonite Fellowship approached two established churches in the area (Bayshore Mennonite Church and Bahia Vista Mennonite Church) for financial support, but neither agreed to provide such support. With no pastoral leadership and limited resources, the group disbanded in the fall of 1996 and turned over its financial assets to the Southeast Mennonite Conference.
However, the desire for a nontraditional Anabaptist presence continued, and discussion took place in spring 1999 with the Southeast Mennonite Conference to re-energize the Sarasota church planting effort. The conference was undergoing considerable change at the time, and was not able to offer this support. By the fall of 1999, previous participants met to discuss how to move forward.
In January 2000, a remnant of the original group met to re-start the effort. In February they began meeting regularly on Sunday evenings for worship, sharing their spiritual pilgrimages and beginning to define their vision and mission statements. The group sought to confirm financial support and re-initiated conversation with the broader church, seeking counsel and support from both the General Conference and the Mennonite Board of Missions.
By March the group had outlined its bylaws, mission and vision and were officially incorporated as of 6 March 2000. They met with Dave Kniss and Rocky Miller of Southeast Conference to share their vision for what the group could become. In April the group’s documentation was submitted to the Conference. The group also called Barry Loop as a part-time minister.
Barry Loop accepted the call in May with a 1 June 2000 start date. By consensus the group agreed to be called Covenant Mennonite Fellowship. Dialogue continued with the Southeast Conference process the fellowship’s application for membership. On 18 June 2000 the church held its first public worship service at South Gate Community Center. Pastor Loop officiated at the service and preached on the parable of the prodigal son. More than 30 persons were in attendance.
During Pastor Loop’s year-long tenure, Covenant met Sunday evenings at South Gate Community Center in its large meeting room.
In 2003 Randall Spaulding was called to be a full-time pastor to the group, and the fellowship was accepted into full membership in the Southeast Mennonite Conference. The group began meeting on Sunday mornings at 3205 South Gate Circle in the Creekside Room. Pastor Spaulding served as full-time pastor from 2003 to 2009, and then three-quarters time from 2009 to 2011.
During his time with Covenant, Randall Spaulding made Covenant a safe place for persons who felt uncomfortable in traditional church settings. Persons who had questions about their faith, lived alternative lifestyles, were divorced, or otherwise considered outcasts in traditional congregations were welcomed into the fellowship. The following message appeared on the church sign: “God loves everyone—no exceptions.” Spaulding was also very active in community outreach, volunteering time at Resurrection House and encouraging the congregation to attend peace events and donate to Bethesda House Ministries. Covenant also took part in Family Promise, a ministry focused on homeless families; helped work on a Habitat for Humanity house (as a member of the Gulfcoast Affirming Interfaith Network (GAIN), and provided a major peace and social justice presence in the community as part of the Southeast Florida Coalition for Peace and Justice.
When Randall Spaulding came out in 2009 as a gay pastor, the Southeast Mennonite Conference removed his ministerial credentials and put the church on notice about its status. After several years of discussion with the conference, Covenant Mennonite Fellowship withdrew from the conference in July 2011 and became an independent Mennonite church. Spaulding left shortly thereafter to attend Yale Divinity School. In July 2014 the congregation became part of the Central District Conference of Mennonite Church USA.
The group then called Jim Miller II, a member of the church community, to serve as part-time minister. Pastor Miller was installed in March of 2012. He provided overall leadership to the congregation as it discerned a vision for the future. He resigned in 2014, and was followed by interim leadership.
In 2016 Covenant Mennonite Fellowship has continued to be a welcoming church. Church attendance has fluctuated with the seasons, but averaged 25-30 each week, with nearly that number on the membership rolls. Members were active in the local community, volunteering with various charitable organizations and working to promote peace and justice.
Pentz, Gail. "A Brief History of Covenant Mennonite Fellowship." Covenant Mennonite Fellowship. 2012. Web. 4 July 2016. http://covenantmennonite.com/.
Address: 3205 South Gate Circle, Sarasota, FL 34239
Covenant Mennonite Fellowship Pastoral Leaders
|Jim Miller II||2011-June 2014|
|July 2014-December 2014|
|Tara Hartman||December 2014-April 2016|
Covenant Mennonite Fellowship Membership
|Date Published||July 2016|
Cite This Article
Pentz, Gail. "Covenant Mennonite Fellowship (Sarasota, Florida, USA)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. July 2016. Web. 26 May 2019. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Covenant_Mennonite_Fellowship_(Sarasota,_Florida,_USA)&oldid=134873.
Pentz, Gail. (July 2016). Covenant Mennonite Fellowship (Sarasota, Florida, USA). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 26 May 2019, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Covenant_Mennonite_Fellowship_(Sarasota,_Florida,_USA)&oldid=134873.
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