Our Shared Humanity – The 2017 Covenant Conference


November 8-10, 2017, Baltimore, Maryland

Two Top Preachers Will Lead Conference Worship


The Rev. Nancy Benson-Nicol

Worship is a vibrant and dynamic part of the Covenant Network conference each year, and this year’s conference worship will be led by two accomplished preachers who are leaders in the national church.

The Reverend Nancy Benson-Nicol will preach on Thursday afternoon, November 9, at the opening conference worship service. Rev. Benson-Nicol has served the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) as associate director, Theological Education Funds Development (Presbyterian Foundation), and on behalf of the marginalized as associate for Gender and Racial Justice (Presbyterian Mission Agency).

A nationally recognized preacher, she is also the author of the 2012-2013 Horizons Bible Study Dispatches to God’s Household: The General Epistles.   From 2006-2013, she served as university chaplain of the University of the Ozarks in Clarksville, Arkansas. Prior to that, Nancy served congregations in Arkansas and Michigan. Nancy currently lives in Houston, Texas, where she serves as a philanthropic consultant in the healthcare industry.


The Rev. Daniel Vigilante

The Reverend Daniel Vigilante will preach on Friday evening, November 10, to close the conference. Rev. Vigilante is co-moderator of the board of the Covenant Network of Presbyterians, on which he has served since 2008. In 2013, he was ordained as Minister of the Word and Sacrament, one of the first openly gay candidates to be ordained after changes to the PCUSA constitution permitting such an ordination in 2012.

He has served as pastor of Grace-Trinity Community Church in Minneapolis since 2012; previously, he served at St. Mark Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach, California. He has preached at national Presbyterian events and also a talented musician, playing piano and singing in the Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus. He and his husband James live in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Civil Rights Historian TAYLOR BRANCH to Keynote 2017 Covenant Conference

Author and public speaker Taylor Branch will keynote “Our Shared Humanity,” the 2017 national gathering of the Covenant Network of Presbyterians in Baltimore, November 8-10, 2017.

Taylor Branch is an American author and public speaker best known for his landmark trilogy on the civil rights era, America in the King Years. The trilogy’s first book, Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-63, won the Pulitzer Prize and numerous other awards in 1989. Two successive volumes also gained critical and popular success: Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years, 1963-65, and At Canaan’s Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-1968. Decades later, all three books remain in demand.

Branch has chronicled other significant moments in American history in print, digital media and film, including the Bill Clinton presidency and the role of the NCAA in college athletics.

Branch returned to civil rights history in his latest book, The King Years: Historic Moments in the Civil Rights Movement (2013).  He has taught classes at Goucher College, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the University of Baltimore.

Aside from writing, and teaching, Taylor Branch speaks before a wide variety of audiences. He began his career as a magazine journalist for The Washington Monthly in 1970, moving later to Harper’s and Esquire. He is a member of Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, where he also sings in a contemporary men’s singing group called Soulful Revue. He lives in Baltimore.  His career website is www.taylorbranch.com.

Taylor Branch will speak Thursday night, November 9.

Come consider, challenge and build the church’s witness at a critical moment

The Church is the place where our humanity—our creation in the image of God—is a reason for celebration. But the Church’s past and present, as well as our nation’s civic life, are filled with barriers, trauma, rules concrete or unspoken, that have had the effect of denying and obscuring God’s image in one another and leaving people on the outside starving or on the inside hurting.

This conference will illuminate and confront the ongoing exclusion encountered by LGBTQ people, people of color and others in the life of church and society. It will name the privilege in our midst and seek to harness it as a force to seek justice and practice radical hospitality. And it will seek to “make manifest Christ’s work of reconciliation” among believers, in congregations and councils and in all the world.

We’ll also celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Covenant Network’s founding and make some exciting announcements about our future!


Additional Speakers

A Conversation with the General Assembly Co-Moderator

Denise Anderson was elected co-moderator of the 222nd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in June 2016. It has been an eventful year since then for church and society, during which she has traveled the country and the world representing the denomination—and seeing its ministry and hearing its voices.

We’ll talk with Rev. Anderson about what she is seeing and hearing, especially when it comes to its work for inclusion and justice of all God’s children. How are we faithfully bearing witness, and where do we have work yet to do? What can your congregation—and you yourself—do to work for the reconciliation of the world?

The Rev. T. Denise Anderson is co-moderator of the 222nd General Assembly (2016) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and since 2014 has served as pastor of Unity Presbyterian Church in Temple Hills, Maryland. Rev. Anderson was born in Oxford, England while both of her parents served in the U.S. Air Force. She graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia and continued her studies at Howard University School of Divinity in Washington, D.C.

While under care, Anderson served on her presbytery’s Committee on Representation and as a Pastoral Assistant at Taiwanese Presbyterian Church of Washington, where she led the English Ministry. She wrote for National Capital Presbytery’s monthly newsletter, which later inspired her to start her own blog, SOULa Scriptura: To Be Young, Gifted, and Reformed. She is also on the NEXT Church strategy team, and continues to write, having appeared in a number of publications and contributed to the book, There’s a Woman in the Pulpit: Christian Clergywomen Share Their Hard Days, Holy Moments and the Healing Power of Humor (Skylight Paths).

Presbyterians, Inclusion and Justice for All

The story of Presbyterians in America and how we have wrestled issues of inclusion and justice is varied. We have stood for equality in our doctrine and in our practice … sometimes. We have fought for racial justice—and modeled great injustice ourselves. We have led the way in welcoming LGBTQ people while still systematically excluding them from leadership in some places today. We have lifted up the value of diversity, and remain more than 90 percent white.

Our plenary sessions will include presentations by church history professor William Yoo, whose scholarship tracks the history of Presbyterian witness for justice, both at home and in the mission field abroad. He’ll lead us in an honest look at our past, asking what it can and should mean for our future.

The Rev. Dr. William Yoo is Assistant Professor of American Religious and Cultural History at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia. He is the author of American Missionaries, Korean Protestants, and the Changing Shape of World Christianity, 1884-1965 (Routledge, 2017) and the editor of The Presbyterian Experience in the United States: A Sourcebook (Westminster John Knox Press, 2017). He studied at the University of Pennsylvania (BSE), Westminster Theological Seminary (MDiv), and Emory University (ThM, PhD). As a child of Asian American immigrants, he is attentive in his research and teaching to the experiences of marginalized and racial-ethnic minority Christians throughout U.S. history and their contested pathways to ecclesial leadership. He is a teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and a member of Cherokee Presbytery. One of his current research projects examines the history of race, racism, and reconciliation in American Presbyterianism from the colonial period to the present.

Dr. Yoo will speak at several points during the conference


Pre-Conference Special Events

An Introduction to Systemic Racism

Crossroads Anti-Racism Training’s Jessica Vazquez Torres presents highly acclaimed and life-changing training for individuals, church leaders and congregations. This workshop equips people to understand, talk about, and analyze the ways systemic racism operates in U.S. society and within organizations—including the church. This workshop can serve as a starting place for conversations about how to live in—and challenge—the status quo and build a more inclusive, equal, just community.

By participating in this conference, participants will be equipped to:

  • Understand racism is not a matter of individual choice or feelings but built into the social systems and institutions in which all of us participate.
  • Develop deeper language to articulate and expose the ways cultural dominance and institutionalized racism are contributing factors to the issues of poverty, gender inequity, lack of access to food and housing, et al. they will spend a year seeking to address.
  • Begin to discuss ways to challenge the dominant cultural status quo in their institutions and society.

This pre-conference is Wednesday, November 8, 1 p.m. to 8 p.m., and includes dinner. (It is tentatively set for First & Franklin Presbyterian Church, but the location may change to another nearby venue.) Cost is $50. By special arrangement with Baltimore Presbytery, members of local churches may attend for only $25.

Baltimore Mission & Justice Immersion Tour

The Center is a non-profit organization that works closely with the congregations of Baltimore Presbytery. The Center envisions neighborhoods transformed by congregations engaged in the justice-seeking, compassionate, and reconciling work of Jesus Christ. Through education, service, partnership, and advocacy, their mission is to equip congregations in Baltimore and beyond to transform neighborhoods by engaging in the justice and reconciliation of Jesus Christ.

The Center will lead a social justice immersion tour of Baltimore, Thursday, November 9, 9 a.m. to 12 noon. This will be a unique opportunity to learn about the history of boundary creation in the city (redlining, blockbusting, segregation) and how these historical decisions and practices still affect residents today. The tour will feature an overview of Baltimore history, as well as current political and social issues in the city. And we’ll hear how congregations in Baltimore are responding to the challenges of their communities. You’ll come away with fresh eyes, for Baltimore, but also with a deeper understanding of the boundary issues at play where you live and serve. The tour will depart from First & Franklin Church (where The Center is also located). Cost is $50.

Participants can join BOTH pre-conference events for the discounted price of $75.

Tentative Schedule Information

Wednesday, November 8

1:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.   Pre-conference event: Anti-Racism Training

Thursday, November 9

9:00 a.m. – 12 noon  Pre-conference event: Baltimore Mission Immersion Tour

Conference Begins

2:00 p.m.  Opening Worship service: The Rev. Nancy Benson-Nicol, preaching

3:15 p.m.   Plenary: Presbyterians, Inclusion and Justice For All, Part 1

4:30 p.m.  Community Hour – Sharing fellowship, making connections

5:00 p.m.  Dinner break (on your own)

7:00 p.m.  Plenary: Keynote address by Taylor Branch

         9:00 p.m.  Community Hour

Friday, November 10

9:00 a.m.  Plenary: A Conversation with the Co-Moderator

11:00 a.m.  Plenary: Stories of Action and Hope–Our Shared Humanity

12:00 noon  Lunch (provided)

1:30 p.m.  Plenary: Presbyterians, Inclusion and Justice For All, Part 2

3:00 p.m.  Community Time – Sharing fellowship, making connections

3:30 p.m. Workshops and Conversation Time

5:00 p.m.  Dinner (on your own)

7:00 p.m.  Closing Worship: The Rev. Daniel Vigilante, Co-Moderator of the Board of Directors of the Covenant Network of Presbyterians, and Pastor, Grace Trinity Community Church, Minneapolis


The conference will be held at First & Franklin Presbyterian Church in Baltimore. Founded in 1761, First & Franklin Presbyterian Church has a long history of seeking justice and welcoming all. Our conference and pre-conference events will take place in the beautiful Gothic Revival sanctuary beneath Baltimore’s tallest steeple. Learn more about the congregation: www.firstfranklin.org.

Registration and Cost

In spite of rising costs, we’ve worked hard to kept the conference registration rate to $225. College and Master of Divinity students can waive the registration fee (with only a $25 reservation charge), thanks to the generosity of scholarship donors. The pre-conference options will incur a modest additional registration fee.

It is our hope that no one who is unable to pay would be excluded from the conference. To discuss special arrangements, please contact Brian Ellison, executive director at [email protected].

Conference Hotel:

We are getting a special conference rate at the Hotel Indigo Baltimore Downtown, which is in easy walking distance of the church. These rates are only guaranteed for a limited time! To book at the conference rate (which is available Tuesday through Sunday the week of the conference):

  1. Click on this link, and you will be directed to the Hotel Indigo Baltimore website.
  2. Adjust the booking dates as needed (by clicking on the “Change Search” button).
  3. Follow the instructions to see the room types displayed. The conference rate for a king or two-queen room is $145/night. This rate includes free wi-fi and all standard room amenities.
  4. Continue through the reservation process, and use a credit card to guarantee.
  5. Guests can also call 410-625-6200, ask for reservations, and reference the Covenant Network of Presbyterians or group booking code CHU.

Click here to book online at the special conference rate with the Hotel Indigo.


The 2017 Covenant Conference is made possible through the generosity of our sponsors:

These and other groups will have display space and opportunities for conversation at the conference. To become a conference sponsor, contact Brian Ellison, executive director, at [email protected].


Feel free to contact Brian Ellison, executive director, with questions any time at [email protected].

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