Pastor Sharon Vandegrift (2004-2009) Remembers Covenant’s “Heart for Mission”

Dear Friends of Covenant Church,

I was privileged to serve Covenant from 2004 until 2009. When I ponder my time there, three words come to mind: Mission, Music, and Memorials.

Covenant’s heart for mission on global, national and local levels was always inspiring. A church, who realizes that they exist not for themselves but for the sake of others, is a church that has a chance of making it to a 100 year anniversary! During my years there, your global interest was evident in your support for the Zimmerman family who are UM missionaries in Nepal. Hosting them when they returned to the US was an opportunity that members embraced as an honor. Ongoing interest in Mark and Deirdre’s ministry, as well as generous financial gifts, was even more evidence of a commitment. I am certain they felt not only supported in their ministry, but loved like members of the Covenant family. On a national level, Covenant supported a variety of efforts, but the annual ASP trip that took a group of adults and teens to the Southeastern part of the US was always a congregational highlight. It was lovely to see so many out in the parking lot on the day the group was leaving. Folks would gather in a prayer circle, offering spiritual strength as they sent their ASP workers on their way. The congregation clearly felt a sense of pride in their ability to send their own missionaries out into the field! Locally, Covenant was often engaged in some outreach effort. Notably they were a key influencer in the Springfield Area Churches’ Souper Bowl of Caring Food Drive. I was astonished at the enormous stacks of cans and boxes ready to be distributed to local food banks! These and other projects are all a significant part of your legacy as a dynamic church.

Covenant’s excellent music ministry was a defining aspect of the weekly worship experiences at the church. I have a special fondness for my memories of Easter morning in the sanctuary. The choir would begin with an introit from the back of the sanctuary. It was peaceful and reminiscent of Mary’s first steps in the garden that morning. Eventually, that feeling evolved into rousing rendition of ‘Christ the Lord is Risen Today’ sung by the congregation and choir and complete with brass accompaniment! Oh how that musical feast embodied the Gospel narrative that rejoices in the movement from the dark of the tomb to the glory of the garden. Of course, there were many musical experiences during my years at the church that were moving and meaningful. A music program that truly feeds the soul of the congregation is a very special privilege. Covenant has been blessed with such an extraordinary gift.

I served Covenant at a transitional time. During my years there, a significant number of beloved members moved on from this life into eternal life. Though this is a seemingly sad aspect of ministry, I was continually touched by the compassionate response of the congregation to each passing. Naturally, families chose a variety of ways to say ‘good-bye’ to their precious loved ones. But whether that choice was a big church funeral or a small graveside service or a simple family gathering, each send-off was infused with an air of respect and dignity. It occurs to me as I write this reminiscence that the congregation may not be aware of the importance of this particular ministry. But those who experienced the blessing of being in the arms of the Covenant congregation during times of grief surely know what I am writing about.

After 35 years of ministry in the Eastern PA Conference of the UM Church I retired in 2019. I am thriving in retirement as I enjoy our first grandchild and look forward to a second one arriving this summer. Gardening and sewing and my new hobby as a beekeeper make life interesting. I am deeply grateful for my experiences at Covenant.

Happy 100th Anniversary! As you celebrate the past, may you embrace the future with a sense of optimistic curiosity about what God has in store for the next 100 years!

Fondly, Sharon Vandegrift

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