Conference News

Living Sanctuary at Pilgrim Point Camp

As we welcome the official arrival of summer this week, we are also celebrating the kick-off of the 2017 summer camping season at Pilgrim Point Camp & Retreats. The program and site staff and volunteers at Pilgrim Point have been working hard to prepare a welcoming space at Pilgrim Point for you to enter and explore this season’s theme, “Living Sanctuary.”During this first week of the season, Pilgrim Point is hosting the first Deaf First Family Camp, a week-long camp for families with members in the deaf and hard of hearing community. Thirty-eight participants are taking part in this initial camping experience. We are grateful for the strong and creative leadership and vision provided for this camp by Joyce Atchison and her team of dedicated program volunteers and ASL translators, without whom this week would not be possible.

During this first week of the season, Pilgrim Point is hosting the first Deaf First Family Camp, a week-long camp for families with members in the deaf and hard of hearing community. Thirty-eight participants are taking part in this initial camping experience. We are grateful for the strong and creative leadership and vision provided for this camp by Joyce Atchison and her team of dedicated program volunteers and ASL translators, without whom this week would not be possible.

Whether you participate in one of our conference sponsored camps or retreats or come to Pilgrim Point as part of a local congregation’s retreat, we look forward to welcoming you to camp! We hope that as you spend time within the living sanctuary of Pilgrim Point, you will find rest for your body, renewal for your spirit, and re-connection with the divine made manifest in the faces of family and friends and within yourself. We also hope that your time at Pilgrim Point will provide an opportunity to live within an alternative rhythm of life, so that you may

Whether you participate in one of our conference sponsored camps or retreats or come to Pilgrim Point as part of a local congregation’s retreat, we look forward to welcoming you to camp! We hope that as you spend time within the living sanctuary of Pilgrim Point, you will find rest for your body, renewal for your spirit, and re-connection with the divine made manifest in the faces of family and friends and within yourself. We also hope that your time at Pilgrim Point will provide an opportunity to live within an alternative rhythm of life, so that you may re-enter the world more grounded and attentive to the movement and call of the holy within every moment of your life.

There are several opportunities for you and your family to spend time at Pilgrim Point this summer:

  • July Family Camp, Celtic Spirituality and an evening of story and song with Doug Wood, on July 16-21, 2017. July Family Camp is open to ALL! Learn more on the Pilgrim Point website or register now.
  • Young Adult Retreat, for those aged 18-29, August 4-6, 2017
  • August Family Camp, featuring an evening of story and song with Minnesota musician and author Doug Wood (creator of the classic children’s picture book series, “Old Turtle”). July 30 – August 4, 2017
  • Trans & Gender Non-Conforming Retreat, September 8-10, 2017
  • Women’s Retreat, Facilitated by Dawn Carlson Conn, UCC Commissioned Minister for Liturgical Art, September 22-24, 2017
Blessings as you move through the wonder of these summer days. We look forward to seeing you at Pilgrim Point Camp & Retreat this season!
Rev. Kevin Brown
Associate Conference Minister of Faith Formation for Children & Youth
Minnesota Conference United Church of Christ

COMMAnts from the Conference Minister – June, 2017

“Embracing God’s Promise, a Future with Hope”

What’s the dominant narrative in your congregation?  When you talk about your church’s future, what is the general tone of that conversation?  What is the impression that people who are not members of your church have of you, or what vibe do they pick up on if they visit?

In today’s world where challenges to the church are indeed many, it can be easy to fall into the abyss of despair, worry, grief, and scarcity thinking.  But if that’s the sum total of the conversations you’re having, it’s time to do something about that.

This year’s Annual Meeting is designed to help us all change the narrative from one of gloom and doom to one of recognizing the gifts and opportunities we have in front of us.  All of our churches, of every size and in every location, have things worth celebrating.  But sometimes we’re more adept at seeing what we lack rather than recognizing what’s possible. The vitality of our congregations isn’t merely about the number of bodies that sit in our pews on a Sunday morning.  It’s about the ways we make a difference in our communities, the witness we offer the world, the love we share with others, the faith that transforms lives.  Vitality is about utilizing whatever gifts we have, large and small, for the profound good of others.

I hope you’ll be with us this weekend to think together about what vitality might look like where you are.  What are the possibilities that lay before you?  How can you embrace God’s promise and trust in a future filled with hope?  Even if you can’t be with us at our Annual Meeting, I invite you and your congregation to think about where you are experiencing new life, or where God may be calling you to embrace fresh possibility.

As we like to say in the United Church of Christ: “God is still speaking”.  Now let’s be sure we’re listening!

Your partner in service,

 

 

 

 

Reverend Shari Prestemon, Conference Minister

An Opportunity for which the Church Was Born

The Executive Officers and Council of Conference Ministers of the UCC released this statement today in regards to U.S. plans to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord. It reads in part:

“This historic moment provides Christian communities with a powerful opportunity to bear witness to the sacredness of God’s creation and the urgent call to preserve it. This is our chance to be the church.” Click to read the entire letter!

Come and Listen: Global Partnership Missionaries share stories and experiences

Don and Maryjane Westra have completed their fourth year of service in Honduras and their eighth year with Global Ministries.  Prior to Honduras, they served in Zimbabwe with a short stint in Mozambique.

Please join us from 1.30 pm to 3.00 pm on Wednesday, May 3rd at the Minnesota Church Center at 122 West Franklin Ave, Minneapolis to meet and welcome the Westras home.  Their story is intriguing and inspiring.  We seldom have an opportunity to hear stories directly from those who do this work on behalf of the church, both nationally and locally.

Don’s education and background is in Mechanical Engineering Technology and Maryjane’s education and background is in Family Service and Social Work.  Both Don and Maryjane were raised in the church and credit their parents with giving them a good foundation, with Don adding “Marrying a pastor’s daughter also had an impact!”  They have been involved in the life of the church their entire lives, Maryjane adding; “I was probably one of the few people on the planet who continued to attend church through high school, college and during our ‘before-children stage of marriage’ and Don leading youth group at 24!

Don reports that in 1990 he and Maryjane uprooted their eight children, moved from Chicago to western Minnesota, and started a business.  At times, he says, his faith was challenged, but also strengthened.  Don and Maryjane have both experienced the typical faith journey as well as the extraordinary that has been challenging, humbling and nurturing.  Don said of his time in Honduras “Now we live in Honduras, one of the most dangerous countries in the world in which to live.  People live their faith by thanking God every day for giving them one more day to serve God.  If watching that doesn’t help one’s faith grow, nothing will.

When the Westras are asked how they ended up overseas, they reply “The short story is, for our whole married life we planned to do international work.  We considered joining the Peace Corps when we were young, but instead we got jobs, babies and a large mortgage.  The last baby moved out of the house and we looked at each other and said, ‘now’s the time.’  We were invited to Zimbabwe and had to look it up on a map before we remembered that the country was named Rhodesia when we were learning geography.”

Although, technically, they are missionaries in that they are sent by a religious organization and are on a mission, they prefer to be called mission partners or mission personnel.  Maryjane notes that the term missionary has connotations we do not like to identify with.  Maryjane recommends Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible to illustrate her point.

In Zimbabwe Don worked in agriculture and Maryjane worked beside the administrator of a mission hospital and a children’s home. After three and a half years in Zimbabwe, they were invited to Honduras in 2013.  Come hear about their work in Honduras and Zimbabwe.

April COMMAnts from the Conference Minister

The Walls We Build”

I remember the feeling of the place like it was yesterday.  Oppressive.  Scary.  Dangerous.  It was 1986 and I was in Berlin, moving through the checkpoint to pass from West to East, from free society to Communist society.  I was one of a group of youth and young adult members of the United Church of Christ traveling through Eastern Bloc countries that summer.  We audaciously called ourselves a peace delegation, connecting with peace groups and local (mostly “underground”) congregations in that Cold War era when peace and organized religion were both scarce.

The Berlin Wall through which we passed that day stood 12 feet high and 96 miles long, a bulwark of bricks and barbed wire and stern soldiers with guns at the ready.  The East Germans built it in 1961 to staunch the tide of Eastern Bloc defections to West Berlin and western Europe beyond it. But still people fled, over the wall and under it, at risk of their lives, in search of freedom and new possibility for their lives.

Thirty-one years later, I stood at the foot of another wall with eleven other members of the Minnesota Conference in January of this year.  The “separation barrier”, as the Israelis refer to it, snakes through this Holy Land, separating the occupied West Bank from Israel.  This concrete wall stands as high as 26 feet, and will be 440 miles long once completed.  The State of Israel began construction on this wall during the Second Intifada  (late 2000) as a security measure to stem the surge in violence.  But the effect of this wall has been far more complex.  Its checkpoints daily diminish the dignity and rights of Palestinians.  It separates Palestinians from precious access to water, from their fields, from essential services like medical care, and from loved ones.  And this wall largely prevents normal, everyday interactions between Israelis and Palestinians, thereby further eroding the possibility for healthy relationships that could lay a stronger foundation for peace.

Now in our own country, there’s talk of building a wall at our southern border with Mexico.  The stated plan is to build a wall 1300 miles long  and 40 feet high (at least 600 miles of fencing already exists along our border with Mexico) at an estimated cost of at least $10 billion, or about $7.4 million per mile.  The intent of this wall would be to keep out illegal immigrants, a costly reaction to increasing xenophobia and irrational fears. Whether it gets built, who will pay for it, and what the real and human costs of such a wall would remain to be seen.

Walls.  The world is apparently obsessed with them these days.  A New York Times article (Tom Vanderbilt, “The Walls in our Heads”) reported back in November that there are “actually more border walls [today] than during the most tense periods of the Cold War… According to the geographer Elisabeth Vallet, there are more than 50 border walls in the world today; 15 were built last year alone.”

Walls, it seems, are an increasingly popular response to intensely complex social and political realities.  But what can we say about walls from the perspective of our faith?

Our own scriptures give us evidence that societies have always been fascinated with walls.  The walls of Jericho were purportedly built to provide safety and security, to keep out unwanted foreign elements, especially those fleeing unrest and harm in other places.  Then there were the walls of Jerusalem, Nehemiah’s great building project, part of a larger work to restore Jerusalem to a place of strength and vigor, in part by keeping out foreign aggressors.

But the walls of Jericho came tumbling down, and Jerusalem remains a conflicted, unsettled place to this day.  Those ancient walls turned out to be inadequate responses to anxiety-filled times, symbols of power and might that failed to effectively address deeper problems and questions.

Walls are designed to keep people out, to send a message that those outside of our walls are not welcome while those inside the walls have all we need. And yet we’re called by our faith, from the prophets to the example of Jesus and the words of the apostles, to welcome the stranger and to love our neighbor as ourselves.  We’re commissioned not to build walls but to break them down.

Paul puts it this way in his letter to the Ephesians:  “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.  For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.” (2:13-14)

The politicians will wrangle about their dreams of high and mighty walls.  But let us, as people of faith, persist in our own dreams of a far more excellent way……….a way of hospitality and welcome and unobstructed love.

Your partner on the journey,

 

 

 

Reverend Shari Prestemon, Conference Minister

The Earth is the Lord’s

Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical and Orthodox Christians unite around this core proclamation. We recognize that unity around this foundational awareness, that the earth is the Lord’s, is important, consequential, and faithful. The same recognition brings together Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Jains, Native Americans and so many more.

It is time to join our voices and our bodies as we witness on behalf of the thousands of climate scientists whose findings over the past 50 years have led to the unassailable conclusion that climate change is real and is caused by humans. Our generation will either embrace profound change or life as we have known it will be unknown to our children’s children.

In 2013, the United Church of Christ became the first religious organization to call for the divestment of funds from companies that primarily profit from fossil fuels. We believe this to be a theological imperative, a faithful response to a theological emergency. We believe that the current rate of fossil fuel consumption is a death trap from which we will not escape without deep commitments to significant changes. The modest steps taken by the previous administration to comply with the Paris Accords were helpful and necessary. Recent actions by the Administration to rollback environmental protections and responsible measures to address climate change are seen by us as a crime against humanity – an act that ensures the ongoing destruction of the planet and endangers future generations on whose behalf we are charged with stewarding God’s creation.

The response of the faith community must be proportional to the threat. Because climate change makes all other injustice worse, now is the time for us to step up.

We call upon the authorized ministers and leaders of our denomination to raise their voices in support of the faithful stewardship of creation, and against the actions of a government that doesn’t see environmental protection as its mandate.

We call upon the members of our denomination to write their elected representatives and express their concern and outrage at the Executive Order signed yesterday that rolls back commitments to protect and preserve the environment; and to urge them to put pressure on the President to reconsider this action and to continue to support the Paris Agreement.

We call upon the church to embrace Jesus’ assurance that the truth will set us free by learning about the science of climate change, the jeopardy of our current situation, and the actions we can take to assure that our progeny will have a livable planet. This crisis requires every person of faith to be informed, engaged, and committed to preserve God’s creation.

We call upon the people of faith to advocate for policies and laws that will increase our commitment to renewable energy and to oppose any additions to our fossil fuel infrastructure.

We call upon people of faith to demonstrate in voice and in action the core belief that the Earth is the Lord’s, and that we are charged with stewarding creation in ways that ensure it will be here to care for future generations.

What does it mean to live with privilege?

At a recent gathering of the Conference Ministry staffs of the West Central Region (Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Northern Plains, South Dakota, Missouri-Mid South, and Kansas-Oklahoma), these 7 Conferences agreed that each would submit an article on a topic related to racial justice over the next several months, for publication in each of our Conference newsletters.  This reflects our shared commitment to keeping the struggle for racial justice “front and center” in the lives and ministries of our Conferences.  This article is the second in that series, written by Rev. Ginny Brown Daniel, Conference Minister in the Missouri Mid-South Conference.

What does it mean to live with privilege? I have been consciously wrestling with this question ever since the White Privilege curriculum was introduced from the United Church of Christ. But if I am honest, I have been unconsciously wrestling with this spiritual question my entire life. Growing up in Alabama in the 1980s, I wrestled with our communal sin called racism. I was fortunate to grow up in a progressive college town, where education for all was the bedrock of our community. In high school, I worked at a drug store, where James, an African-American in his 50s, taught me what subtle Christian racism looked like as an older customer entered the store with a nice smile and James whispered the customer’s 30-year old sins of beating him for going to the “wrong bathroom.”

The more personal expression of racism took many more years to process and confess: my family’s sin of paternalistic racism. They disagreed with Governor George Wallace, who stood in my dad’s high school doors, emphatically pronouncing segregation. Years later my family bemoaned Wallace’s shrill actions when they could have worked toward a more peaceful resolution (which was a stalling tactic just as sinful as Wallace’s doorway demands). They eventually fled their hometown when African Americans rightly boycotted my grandfather’s business. But they did so because they had the financial means to leave and move to another town. Privilege.

I have privilege. I am a white, middle-class, middle-aged southern, educated woman. For many years, I was reticent to identify my privilege lest it sound like bragging in a terribly superior manner. But if I don’t name my reality, I cannot breathe God’s goodness and peace into my reality. I have been poor, but I have always known that I had a safety net to protect me from imminent financial danger. I have experienced sexism, but I have always had enough power to pick myself up, dust myself off, and start all over again.

When I named my privilege, it was as if I was finally open to healing within my body, mind, and spirit regarding my privilege and my racism. My spirit sought the stories of Jesus and how he interpreted and lived out his privilege. Jesus indeed had privilege. He was a man. He was Jewish. He was a rabbi. And he was educated enough to know, recite, and preach from the scriptures. In Jesus’ privilege, he listened to the stories of the oppressed (Samaritan Woman), he gave his privilege away (healings on the Sabbath), and he spoke truth to the powerful (turning the tables in the Temple).

Recently I asked myself how I live out my privilege. How do I listen, give away my privilege, and speak truth to the powerful?  After the Executive Order banning entry into the United States for Muslims from seven particular countries, I really wrestled with my privilege. What do I do with the power, prestige, and privilege I have been given as a UCC Conference Minister? And what is my spiritual obligation with this privilege? And so I decided that my Lenten spiritual practice would be to wear a hijab, or head scarf, to spiritually reflect on who God created me to be while giving my privilege away. I sought to stand in solidarity with my Muslim sisters and brothers, who are unfairly being judged and discriminated against because of how they worship God.

And so on Ash Wednesday, I donned a head scarf and began my journey. To be honest, wearing a hijab has been an eye-opening experience. Watching those who look past me, when they normally greet me warmly. Listening to people processing their own privilege as they admire my “courage” for this practice. And receiving racism in verbal and non-verbal expressions especially when I am at the airport. Last week, as I entered the St. Louis airport, there was a woman with a head scarf on and we looked at each other with big smiles on our faces. Talk about extravagant hospitality! There were people who were extra nice to me, and even a flight attendant who winked at me! Her wink lifted my spirits because, not 15 minutes earlier, a man gave me an ugly stare as we boarded the plane. At first, I forgot about my hijab and wondered what I had done to cause such an ugly stare. And then I remembered. And I stared at him right back as if to dare him, “Bring it on, you mean man! I’ll take you down!” (Not quite the loving spirit of Jesus but I’m being honest). In my wearing a hijab, I have also committed to reading books by Muslim American women about their spiritual lives. I am currently reading “Threading My Prayer Rug,” by Sabeeha Rehamn (here is a youtube interview with Ms. Rehman) to hear the story of one Muslim-American woman.

I have learned more about my white privilege wearing a hijab than ever before in my life.  I am more concerned when I walk through the security line (even in the privileged TSA Pre-check). I am more aware that, as they say in the broadway play Avenue Q, everybody is a little bit racist. I am more aware that discrimination stems from other people’s own fears and has  nothing to do with the person being judged. I am more aware that there will always be compassionate people willing to stand with the powerless and oppressed. I am more aware that my privilege is not granted because of who I am as a child of God. I am more aware that I have a deeper spiritual responsibility to give my privilege away by listening to the heart of others, by giving my privilege away, and by speaking truth to the powerful.

I, like all of you, have been created in God’s image. Our spiritual work will always be to live into who God created us to be while we give our privilege away. This indeed will be a just world for all!

MN Conference UCC Chaplain Network Meeting

MN UCC Conference Chaplain Network

Tuesday, April 25, 2017 11:30-1:00

MN Church Center

122 W Franklin Ave, Minneapolis

 

“Medical Aid in Dying—The Facts”

Rev. Kevin Bradley, MDiv

Chaplain, Heartland Hospice

Founding member of Interfaith Clergy for End-of-Life Options (ICELO), Compassion & Choices Minnesota

Compassion & Choices is the largest national organization educating the public and working with legislators to make Medical Aid in Dying legal. The mission of ICELO is to promote understanding and acceptance of diverse spiritual beliefs related to end-of-life decisions.

Come to learn what Medical Aid in Dying is and what it is not and how this legislation is working in several states. Both sides use religion to support or oppose this bill. Kevin has testified at a MN Senate committee hearing for the 2016 version of the Death with Dignity bill sponsored by Sen. Chris Eaton. He will bring his passion and expertise to our discussion of this important topic.

This event is open to all UCC authorized ministers who are currently serving in chaplain ministry.

Lunch will be available for purchase in the cafeteria, bag lunches are not allowed in conference rooms by building policy.

Questions?

Contact Kathryn Morin at kmorin@stcroixhospice.com

or Catherine Duncan at catherine@duncanfamily.com


 

MN UCC Chaplain Monthly Coffee Gathering

The MN UCC Chaplain Coffee Gathering continues to meet each First Friday of the month, 8:30-10:00 AM at Turtle Bread in Linden Hills.  Come for a cup of coffee, good conversation, and colleague support.

St. Anthony Park UCC, St. Paul

St. Anthony Park UCC is located in St. Paul, near the State Fair grounds and the University of Minnesota St. Paul campus. The church was founded in 1886, so we’re 130 years old.  Our tagline is:  “Christian Tradition, Progressive Faith, All Are Welcome”

Our church members represent all ages, every decade, from newborns to our oldest member who is 106 years old.  We have more than 50 children and youth, so we do A LOT of intergenerational ministry. We have hosted an All-Church retreat at Pilgrim Point camp.

We concentrate on building amazing disciples/followers of Jesus, not an amazing church. We take action as public witnesses:  marching in the Gay Pride parade, serving on a phone-bank for marriage equality, and taking part in the Service of Lament and Prayer after the Philando Castile shooting. We attend the Prayer Vigil at the Ramsey County Detention Center where immigrant detainees are held, and we are in the discernment process about becoming a Sanctuary Supporting Church.

We are a financially generous congregation (we’re 5 for 5! among other giving) and are fiscally strong. Our church recently hosted two benefit concerts to raise funds and awareness – one for the ACLU of Minnesota, another for the Center for Victims of Torture. We try new things, such as sponsoring a refugee family from Syria, going on a Mission Trip to Back Bay Mission in Biloxi, renovating /”greening” our building to be more energy efficient .

We open our building to the Schubert Club-Music in the Park Series, St. Anthony Park Co-op Preschool, Boy Scout Troop 17, and the Full Moon Meditation Group. Members of the church march in the classic small-town St. Anthony Park 4th of July parade.

The church sponsors three ongoing support groups:  Caregiver, Bereavement, and Depression. We enjoy one another’s company.  We love one another. We carry each other through the river of life.

At St. Anthony Park UCC we prioritize our connection with the Minnesota Conference UCC and all UCCers with whom we are in covenant.

Minnesota Conference UCC Welcomes Lori Alford as Pilgrim Point Program Director

Lori Alford has been hired to serve as the Pilgrim Point Camp Director. In this new role, Lori will be the primary onsite program staff at Pilgrim Point Program Camp throughout the camping season, providing spiritual leadership, program direction, and support for congregation and conference sponsored camps and retreats. She will work closely with the Associate Conference Minister for Faith Formation for Children & Youth to develop and lead Conference-sponsored youth programs and will help coordinate the development, planning, and leadership for other Conference-sponsored programs at Pilgrim Point.

 

Lori is eager to get back to the UCC after a brief hiatus serving in the PC(USA). Her past involvement includes working at various UCC churches in the Twin Cities, and even once on Conference staff as an assistant to Wade Zick. In the past year, Lori also began the Marriage and Family Therapy program at St. Mary’s University, inspired through her work with Our Whole Lives to work with individuals and families experiencing a wide variety of issues around sexuality. She will begin an internship with a clinic in Edina in the fall of 2017. Lori has a career goal of blending together her three passions: Pilgrim Point Camp, OWL, and work as a therapist, as they represent the spiritual, relational, and healing arts she has been crafting for many years.

 

Pilgrim Point is a place of connection for Lori, as she grew up in the Alexandria area and feels at home at the camp. She is passionate about the ministry that happens at camp and feels Pilgrim Point is a deeply sacred space. She is thrilled to be starting in this new role and can’t wait to welcome you all to camp this summer!

 

Lori will begin her ministry with the Conference on April 4, 2017.  Please join us in providing a warm welcome to Lori as we begin this adventure of ministry together!