The Young Pietists

by Rebekah Eklund

It all began as a late-night ramble among a few friends. We were in Washington, DC, attending Call to Renewal’s Pentecost 2004 conference on hunger and poverty. Call to Renewal (a national network of churches, faith-based organizations, and individuals working to overcome poverty in America) had encouraged us to come as part of an “emerging leaders” track (apparently, if you are under 30, you are “emerging”). It was exciting, a bit intoxicating even, to gather in one room with so many pastors, denominational leaders, and community organizers united around God’s call to care for the poor.

Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourners and the convener of Call to Renewal, issued a challenge I will never forget. Sometimes, he told us, we find ourselves waiting for the next Martin Luther King, Jr., the next great activist or preacher. Let us wait no longer, he said; in the words of one of his young friends, “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.” I, for one, felt a new sense of both empowerment and responsibility. Even at the scant age of 28 (as I was then), could I perhaps have an important role in the life of the church I loved?

So there we were: four young seminary grads just beginning ministry in or alongside churches. The first late-night talk turned into another, and then a third. We shared our love for the Covenant church, talked about the riches of the Pietist tradition and how it had formed us, how it could contribute to this conversation about poverty and justice, about our desire to serve our church and even to help shape it. We knew we needed a way to connect to others so that a network of encouragement, support, and shared action could begin to grow. And so the Young Pietists were born.

Of course, it is comparatively easy to be four friends with a dream, and much more difficult to give that dream shape and structure and kick it into action. For the sake of such structure, our statement of identity was created: “The Young Pietists are a group of seminary-trained and lay, under 35-year-old leaders, who are committed to: empowering the next generation of church leadership; witnessing to biblical justice through holistic and embodied discipleship; and serving and actively engaging the Evangelical Covenant Church so that together we may more faithfully embody the ekklesia, the ‘called out’ body of Jesus Christ.” Empowering, witnessing, serving, engaging: the core of who we are and hope to become.

If the Young Pietists have a patron saint, it is Dr. F. Burton Nelson, long-time ethics professor at North Park Seminary until his death last March. An article he published in The Covenant Quarterly in 1970 provided the inspiration for the name “Young Pietists;” Nelson claims, “Sons and daughters of the pietist heritage ought to be in the forefront of the social concerns of the Church today.”

Our slogan, as it were, is “Renewing a Movement for Justice within the Evangelical Covenant Church.” We hope to bring new life and our own voices to a movement that has always been a part of the Covenant’s heritage, from Spener and Francke to Burton Nelson and countless others and, finally, to us. It is the pietist heritage itself that led us here, to look at issues of justice and holistic, embodied discipleship. Whatever our backgrounds—and we hope they will become more varied and diverse as we network more widely—the Young Pietists are strongly committed to being a part of the Covenant and to contributing to its future.

The first concrete actions of the Young Pietists have been to launch a website for connection and conversation (youngpietists.org), create two resolutions which were adopted by the Covenant’s 2004 Annual Meeting, and publish the first newly-resurrected edition of The Narthex (see www.thenarthex.org). Borrowing the familiar model of heads, hearts, and hands, the Young Pietists focus their work around the head (conversation on the website and in The Narthex), the heart (transformation in our own lives and communities), and the hands (witness and active pursuit of justice and holistic discipleship, including regularly bringing resolutions on justice issues to the Covenant’s Annual Meeting). Of the two Young Pietist resolutions recently adopted by the Annual Meeting, the first encouraged the Covenant’s boards to actively seek out representation of young (under-35) leaders. The second advocated for local church support of Call to Renewal and Bread for the World, two movements seeking to overcome poverty in the U.S. (Call to Renewal, besides being the birthplace for the Young Pietists, convenes the broadest table of Christians focused on anti-poverty efforts, and Bread for the World is a nationwide Christian citizens’ movement devoted to lobbying the U.S. government on behalf of the poor.)

The movement we call the Young Pietists aims to gather, encourage, organize, and send out young leaders committed to justice and holistic, embodied discipleship in the Covenant Church. Pietisten readers are invited to visit our website and the Narthex site as well. Although it is our hope that leadership of the Young Pietists will always be taken up by new, young pastors and lay leaders, young-at-heart pietists of any age who share our vision are warmly invited to join with us.