Conference News

2018 Winter High School Youth Event

Winter High School Youth Event 
March 9-11, 2018 at Luther Crest

Youth and adult leaders from around Minnesota are invited to spend a late autumn weekend at beautiful Luther Crest Camp  in Alexandria, MN. More details about the event are to come.

Registration will open January 1, 2018.

 

Questions? Contact the Conference Minister for Children & Youth.

Pilgrim Point Camp 2017 Season Wrap-up

We will love God, one another, and the Earth by providing sanctuary, radical hospitality and faith-forming ministry in a sacred outdoor space.

 

The summer of 2017 was a memorable one.  As we buttoned up camp the last weekend of October, we had many reasons to celebrate this season. Following are some of our favorites:

We invited new partners at Pilgrim Point through our Eco-Justice Retreat and Deaf First Family Camp, as well as welcoming our congregational campers, coming for the first time or returning, for beloved week-long or weekend camps. We lived into a fuller management agreement with Luther Crest Bible Camp, who provided necessay support for our site, including our amazing new chef Roger! Our Living Sanctuary theme encouraged guests to look within as well as around them, in a search for ways we embody sanctuary in ourselves, and out into the world. We explored how Pilgrim Point has been a touchstone for so many, the sacred sanctuary where campers come to refuel and reconnect.

We heard many stories from campers, here are some of our favorites: a young adult at our first Young Adult Retreat, claimed that PPC is a place of grounding and essential to their faith formation; a Youth Camper noted that changes made to camp that were infused with times of spiritual exploration, created “the best youth camp” she has attended in many years of attendance; a weekend congregational camp leader was grateful for “just the right amount” of programming that helped her congregation connect more fully with one another. And Deaf First Family Campers were so delighted with their stay, they created a Facebook page about their experience and booked for next summer before they even finished their week with us.

Next summer will see some new entries on the schedule, including an adult Mission Retreat focused on food justice, a middle school student/parent weekend based on the sexuality curriculum Our Whole Lives, an expanded Deaf Friends and Family Camp, a Men’s Retreat, and more! We also look forward to our continued partnership with Luther Crest, whose site management fed us well and kept our site clean and ready for new camps.

Camper relationships were enhanced by facilities upgrades in the North Shore cabin and the Poem Lounge, thanks to UCC New Brighton and Robbinsdale UCC. Benson UCC helped open our campground space for larger vehicles, added a new floor in the Poem Lounge, and did basic repair work that was needed throughout camp. A deep clean of our site filled seven dumpsters and helped our property be more welcoming and clutter-free. The final closing of camp has set us to have a stress-free opening in the spring. Thank you to all who added to our improvements or gave time in repair or cleaning!

I am looking forward to what next season will bring. Consider attending or contributing to camp, we have a vibrant ministry that is growing and we want you to be a part! Registrations will begin in January!

Lori Alford, Program Director and the PPC&R Committee

COMMAnts from the Conference Minister – November 2017

 

Celebrating our Small Churches

 

“We knew it was coming but it is still difficult.”

 

Those were the words of Rev. John Tschudy in a message to his parish in September, reflecting on the immanent closure of Pilgrim Congregational UCC in Williams.  After 102 years of service and ministry, Pilgrim Congregational UCC celebrated its last worship service on October 15 and closed its doors forever.

 

Pilgrim Congregational was one of three churches comprising our Rainy River Regional Parish, sprinkled along Highway 11 in northern Minnesota, along the Canadian border.  The parish shares one pastor, who has led worship in each of the Williams, Baudette, and Birchdale congregations on every Sunday and routinely ministers to members throughout the parish.

 

I preached at Pilgrim Congregational two years ago when they celebrated their 100th anniversary.  I vividly remember the joy present in that sanctuary, the fun-loving fellowship that followed, and the pride they took in their congregation and building.  But while on that particular day the pews were filled, worship attendance at Pilgrim more routinely averaged 6 people, and total membership on the rolls was 18.  While those numbers may seem extraordinary to some of us, many more of our congregations in the Minnesota Conference are not much bigger.

 

According to our records, 63 of our 128 congregations in the Minnesota Conference have 50 or less people in worship on an average Sunday.  That reflects national statistics in the United Church of Christ, where 2016 figures just released tell us that “49% of all UCC congregations now have a weekly worship attendance of 1-50 individuals”. (UCC Statistical Profile)

 

For these small congregations, many of whom have served their communities for over 100 years, part-time pastors are the norm.  Care and maintenance of the church building becomes an increasing – and at times, insurmountable – challenge.  Often, the decline of these once robust congregations can be attributed to the economic and population decline of the areas where they reside.

 

Nevertheless, the role of small churches and their pastors in their communities is significant.  These churches are often the heartbeat of the community.  They are the relational center of small communities.  They are often the initiators of essential community programs and outreach.  The clergy become pastor to members and townspeople alike, depended upon for wise counsel and community leadership, particularly in rural areas.  The church buildings become the focal point for all manner of community-wide events.  And the legacy these congregations have built over decades of faithful ministry is no less beautiful than any church twice as large or larger.

 

Small churches are vitally important in the life of their members and communities.  They can teach us about perseverance and the value of deep relationships.  And the depth of ministry and service they bear long witness to can be an example to all of us.

 

Let us hold all of our small Minnesota Conference churches in prayer.  And let us celebrate their beautiful, living testimonies of faith and hope among us.

 

Your partner in service,

 

 

 

Reverend Shari Prestemon, Conference Minister

Tom & Monica Liddle Send Greetings from Timor-Leste

Greetings from Timor-Leste!
We are writing to personally thank you for your generous contributions to our mission appointment through Global Ministries.  We are grateful to be here on behalf of the church as an expression of its commitment to the wider world.
Our work from day-to-day is both gratifying and challenging.  Tom has been working on continuing education for pastors in the Protestant Church of Timor Leste (IPTL) while also serving as a local church pastor.  Also, you may be aware that Global Ministries has been supporting a rural school in partnership with IPTL.  Tom is also working on a research project together with church leaders to assess the impact the school is having in that rural community.  If you want to learn more about the school you can visit Global Ministries web page.
Monica’s daily work in Clinic Immanuel is ever evolving.  The clinic continues to see between 30 and 80 patients a day, 5 days a week.  Over the past year, in partnership with its main funder, Uniting World of Australia, Clinic Immanuel has been moving more in the direction of health education and promotion.  A lot of this work takes place within the context of regular consultation, but the clinic has also been working with a remote village to try a more grassroots approach.  This project has involved monthly mobile clinics and health seminars and helping them reduce open defecation.  This past year we built 4 toilets in the community which motivated others to build their own toilets, doubling the number of families that have access to a toilet.  Our goal for the upcoming year is to help the community to reduce open defecation completely.  Everyone has a right to a toilet!
Our son Simon (7) is about to finish his 1st grade year in a public school and our daughter Hannah (13) recently returned from spending the summer in the U.S. and is back to her homeschooling.  We’re glad to have her back!
Once again, thanks so much for your continued interest and support.  We value very much the connection with you.  You are welcome to be in touch with us directly if you ever have questions or if there’s anything we can help you understand better about global mission or Timor Leste.  In case you’re not aware, we have a blog.  One of us tries to write on it monthly.
God’s Peace,
Monica and Tom Liddle

2020 Vision – Faith Formation Resource Network

In Spring of 2017, the Conference Board of Directors approved our “2020 Vision”, a set of eight strategic objectives that will focus our ministry together over the next few years, with full implementation by 2020.  These objectives align with our Conference’s existing strategic priorities, adopted in 2012.  Our “2020 Vision” was publicly launched at Annual Meeting 2017.  One of these objectives is around a faith formation resource network.  
 

Reverend Kevin Brown

In recent years, there has been an exponential increase in the availability of easily accessible, web-based curricula, devotional materials, at-home practices, and other faith formation resources. However, there remains a lack of readily available, easily searchable, and affordable theologically progressive, justice-focused resources. This resource gap has become a significant challenge for congregations in their primary task of nurturing faith for all ages.

Many pastors and other faith formation leaders from the Minnesota Conference and the wider Church are regularly developing high quality worship materials, curricula, and other resources for use within their individual faith communities. Most of these resources are developed for a specific ministry context, and are not shared widely within the progressive church.

As part of the 2020 Vision initiative, the Minnesota Conference United Church of Christ has developed the following strategic goal to support congregations in their ministries to nurture life-long faith development:

By the end of 2018 recruit and support a network of content creators/curators from across the UCC of theologically progressive faith formation resources and launch an accessible distribution platform for these resources.

The Conference has a unique opportunity to help create a network of faith formation leaders to develop and curate progressive resources for congregational and at-home use.  Our goal will be to encourage this network of people to share for wide distribution materials previously developed for their specific ministry contexts.  The Conference will also work to identify and cultivate partnerships to commission and develop new faith formation resources.

Simultaneous with the gathering of resources, we will explore the development of a searchable, web-based platform for collecting, maintaining, and distributing materials.  This process will included identifying potential partners in this project.  Organizations such as Vibrant Faith, Building Faith, and others, have each developed a platform for sharing resources with their particular constituencies.  These organizations represent potential conversation partners or collaborators in the development of this new progressive faith formation resource network.

To learn more about this new venture, please contact Kevin Brown, Associate Conference Minister of Faith Formation for Children & Youth.

COMMAnts from the Conference Minister ~ October 2017

HOW LONG?

“O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save?  Why do you make me see wrongdoing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise.”  Habakkuk 1:2-3

Grace and peace to all of you in these heart-wrenching days.

On Sunday night, we watched in horror as unspeakable violence and death unfolded in Las Vegas.    One lone gunman with an arsenal of weapons and an unfathomably evil plan laid siege to the open field where over 22,00 concert goers had gathered for a carefree night of music.

To date, 59 people have died.  Over 500 others were injured.

Perhaps you’ve experienced a rollercoaster of emotion similar to my own in these short days since.  I have cried and grieved the lives lost and the lives forever traumatized and changed.  I’ve given thanks for every individual who acted selflessly to help or save another in the middle of that unthinkable chaos. I’ve been angry….angry about the growing tide of violence in our society, about what I consider completely insufficient gun control laws in our nation, about the inadequacy of my prayers amid such vast suffering and senselessness. I’ve felt hopeless.  Speechless.  Exhausted.

How long, O God, how long?

Those were the words of scripture that quickly came to mind for me when I first saw this news.    How long, O God, must we endure this violence that breaks our hearts and rips at our collective souls? How long, O God?

These are words the people of God ask often throughout our sacred narrative, a kind of desperate lament that springs from moments of utter hopelessness and deep-seated fear.  They demand of God an answer that stills our anxiety and satisfies our hunger to understand the incomprehensible.

But I have the distinct sense now that the dialogue has been reversed, that God is asking that question of us.

 

How long, my people, will you travel this path of violence and destruction?

 

How long, my children, will you allow hatred and fear to conquer the love I have commanded you to share?

 

How long, my precious creations, until you learn the ways of peace?

 

How long?

 

Beloved, amazing Church, none of us by ourselves can heal what ails us or deliver the justice we thirst for or transform all suffering to hope.  We can only follow our true calling as Church, each doing our part to overwhelm this tattered, hurting world with an extravagant outpouring of love.

And so in this precious, tender moment after the tragedy and loss of Las Vegas, I call on each of us to be the Church at our beautiful best.  Love more boldly.  Dare to speak of peace.  Act courageously for change. Pray without ceasing.  Persevere in faith.

Be the Church.

With you on the journey,

 

 

Reverend Shari Prestemon, Conference Minister

2020 Vision Focuses on Church Renewal and Vitality

 “…there is still a lot about the relationship between vitality and numerical growth that is an unsolved mystery. One example is the chicken and the egg scenario…researchers don’t know whether vitality leads to growth, or whether growth leads to vitality. I think perhaps it could be a little bit of both.” Rev. Dr. Kristina Lizardy-Hajbi

Crossroads: Church Renewal and Vitality is a program that is part of the Minnesota Conference 2020 Vision strategic objectives.  The Minnesota Conference has teamed up with Vibrant Faith Ministries to offer a strategic church visioning program to engage congregations that find themselves at a ministry crossroads.  Churches across America struggle to varying degrees in attempting to understand “Who is God calling us to be and what is God calling us to do in this place and at this time?”

It’s the change of an era, and an era of change.  We are at a time of significant change in the Christian church.  Making disciples today, much less sustaining growth in faith throughout life, is not easy.  But you already know that.  What to do next is the uncertainty. Crossroads is about exploring every day.  Jim LaDoux of Vibrant Faith states that we “see that followers of Jesus and our leaders in churches are time pressed and stressed.  They feel ill equipped to practice faith and lead others in these shifting times.  The pressure to attract and keep things going is huge and hard.”

Crossroads replaces the New Beginnings program and offers an opportunity to begin a strategic visioning process of transformation of faith formation in our church communities. Crossroads will help congregations tap into their godly imaginations, turning their inspirations into ideas that are implemented.  Under Vibrant Faith’s guidance, congregations will:

  • Guide leaders through a visioning process that is easy yet effective, is tangible, and gets traction.
  • Engage in holy conversations as they review and honor the past, reflect on the present, and recreate a preferred future.
  • Learn ways to work well as a team to accomplish something significant that will have a lasting impact.

Crossroads is particularly focused on churches seeking not simply to reinvent themselves, but rather on those that are seeking ways to be relevant in our society while seeking to maintain the integrity of who we are as the church in our communities.  General Minister of the United Church of Christ, Rev. Dr. John Dorhauer states:

“We all bear responsibility for living out our shared mission. We will not achieve our full potential — nor maintain our full capacity for health, vitality, and relevance — without a clear sense of missional purpose and calling…”

Crossroads will guide your congregation to just that, as you develop your “road map” of church vitality and renewal of discerning, discovering, designing and doing God’s will for your congregation in this place and in this time.

For more information, please contact Rev. Steve Boorsma at the Conference office via email at steveb@uccmn.org or by calling 612-871-0359.  He will be glad to answer all your questions, and along with Jim LaDouz will be happy to come to your church and meet with your church leaders to discuss this opportunity and to answer any questions you may have.

By: Steve Boorsma, Associate Conference Minister

Harvey, now Irma…What happens next?

We are all saddened by the devastation from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, and many of us are helping with financial support or in other ways.  Please continue to provide support.

You may wonder how the response all comes together when a disaster occurs.  Who responds first?  How do you know what you can and should do and when to do it?  What is most helpful to the people affected?  And, what is the role of the UCC National Disaster Ministries and local congregations in these situations?

The first and most important consideration when a disaster is looming (hurricane) or sudden (tornado) is safety.  Local, County, State and Federal agencies are responsible for making sure people are safe in their homes or shelters.  At that time no non-government agencies are involved unless they have prior relationships with the official agencies.  One of the most important rules in responding to disasters is that organizations and individuals should not self deploy or send unsolicited donations.

The UCC Disaster Ministries is a member of the National Volunteer Organizations Assisting in Disasters (VOAD).  In fact, Zach Wolgemuth, the director of UCC Disaster Ministries is currently the vice chair of National VOAD.  Most states have state VOAD organizations to manage response to events in their states.  VOAD members are non-profit organizations committed to responding, both immediately and in the long-term.  Many of the organizations have identified and prepared for a specific niche in recovery.  For example, the Red Cross and Salvation Army respond immediately to provide support for shelter and feeding.  Southern Baptists do chain saw work to remove downed trees and debris removal; United Methodists do muck out.  Others provide warehousing and distribution of supplies, damage assessment, and case management.  The focus of the UCC is long-term recovery.  In other words, after the clean up is done, after needs have been assessed and cases assigned, after insurance claims are submitted and FEMA support is determined the long, arduous work of repair and rebuilding starts.  That’s when we roll in.  That process takes months to begin and years to finish.

That doesn’t mean we in the United Church of Christ cannot respond now.  There are important contributions we can make immediately while making commitments and planning for long-term recovery.

  • Financial support.  I know it seems like we keep repeating the request for financial support, but the need is unimaginable.
  • First UCC in Northfield assembles clean up buckets

    Specific materials and supplies for clean up.  Church World Service collects and distributes clean up and hygiene kits. The need for the cleaning kits starts after the initial muck out and clean up.  The kits are designed to be used by the volunteers or homeowners to remove or stop mold and get ready to reoccupy or repair.  That may be weeks or months after the event, or longer.  If you or your congregation do not think you can  prepare clean up and hygiene kits alone, do what one of our retired pastors did and ask friends, family, and associates on other organizations to also help.  Or, let me know and I can help coordinate efforts between multiple congregations.  We will also help arrange shipping or delivery for completed kits.  Any amount contributed or number of kits prepared helps.   Note: CWS needs completed kits, not funds.  They do not have the resources to prepare the kits.  They store kits until needed and manage distribution. Click here for information on the clean up and hygiene kits.  Don’t forget the UCC has matching grants for congregations to help with the costs (click here for more information).

  • Plan to be a part of a work team.  We will be coordinating with UCC National Disaster Ministries for locations and dates for much needed volunteers for repair and rebuilding.  Work camps will be set up with project managers and housing arrangements so groups going to volunteer do not need to make their own arrangements or decide what needs to be done.  If you are interested in being a part of a recovery work team, please contact Renee Pfenning at rpfenning@msn.com

The Minnesota Conference Disaster Ministries is also encouraging all congregations to have response and recovery plans for their church buildings and congregations and all members to have response and safety plans for themselves.  We have a variety of materials to help with that planning and Renee Pfenning will meet with congregations to help get the process started.  See our webpage.

 

And always, keep those impacted by the disasters in your prayers.

Renee Pfenning,

Conference Disaster Response Coordinator

Editors note:  We are hearing from many of our churches about what they are doing to help with Hurricane Relief.  Please contact the Conference Office and share with us what you are doing.

2020 Vision Focuses on Courage & Renewal for Faith Formation Leaders

“2020 Vision”, was developed by staff and recently adopted by the Board of Directors.  This bold set of strategic objectives will be implemented by the year 2020.  We want to be sure we communicate our 2020 Vision to as many of you as possible, and invite you to consider where you and your congregation can engage in this important work.  Whether you are in a rural or metro setting, are a small church or large church, there is something here for you! You can view 2020 Vision HERE.  Today we share another in a series of articles highlighting this work. Rev. Kevin Brown, Associate Conference Minister of Faith Formation, has information to share about Courage & Renewal for Faith Formation Leaders:

 

“Our deepest calling is to grow into our own authentic self-hood, whether or not it conforms to some image of who we ought to be. As we do so, we will not only find the joy that every human being seeks–we will also find our path of authentic service in the world.” 
~Parker Palmer
In a growing number of congregations both within the Minnesota Conference United Church of Christ and across mainline protestant denominations, intentional ministries of Christian faith formation are increasingly led by part-time staff or lay volunteers.  Even among congregations with full-time staff or clergy leading these ministries, many are facing cut-backs in resourcing, program support, and staff development.  Many individuals serving in these vitally important ministry roles have limited access to collegial support networks, continuing education opportunities, and financial support for professional development and personal spiritual renewal.  As a result, congregational faith formation leaders often report feeling isolated, under-valued, and depleted.

As part of the 2020 Vision initiative, the Conference has developed the following strategic goal to support the ministry of congregational faith formation leaders:

During 2018, launch a 6-month leadership formation initiative for up to 20 faith formation leaders from both the Minnesota Conference and other conferences within the UCC that supports peer connection and learning, creates space for personal spiritual renewal, and strengthens the capacity for participants to nurture faith within the congregations they serve.

Thanks to generous funding from the Ashley Endowment, we are delighted to collaborate with the Center for Courage& Renewal, the group co-founded by Parker Palmer, to develop a new peer support and leadership formation initiative, Courage & Renewal for Faith Formation Leaders. For two decades, the Center for Courage & Renewal has helped create safe spaces for people to gather for reflection and meaningful conversations designed to support vocational exploration, building and maintaining trustworthy relationships, and finding alignment between one’s inner life and outer work in the world. Grounded in this work, Courage & Renewal for Faith Formation Leaders will offer an opportunity for congregational leaders to renew, reflect upon, and reconnect with the heart of their vocation.

Through two retreats and monthly peer learning circles, participants will be invited to:

  • Slow down and disconnect from the busy pace of ministry life so that they can hear the voice of God within and deepen their spiritual practice
  • Witness and be witnessed to by kindred peers
  • Name the “leadership moment” they are in and investigate, talk through, and honor both struggles and successes while discerning a way forward
  • Learn new skills for strengthening the capacity to listen with no agenda, ask open-ended questions, hold tensions in life-giving ways, and build relational trust.

Our hope is that by connecting with one another in mutually supportive spaces and being attentive to the presence of the Spirit around and within them that participants will remember to listen deeply to the whispers deep within their soul – whispers calling them to whole-hearted and authentic lives of service in the world.

To learn more about this exciting program initiative, please click here to check out the program website.

COMMAnts from the Conference Minister – September 2017

LOVING THEM BACK TO LIFE

“The United Church of Christ is going to love you back to life.”

I’ve remembered and treasured those words now for 12 years.  When a staff member of the UCC’s national setting said them to me, it was the day after Hurricane Katrina and I was in my evacuation location, watching the images of devastation from the Gulf Coast roll across the television screen.  I knew already then that my life had just drastically changed, but it was only after returning to Biloxi, Mississippi two days later that I comprehended the enormity of the loss for all of us.  The unfathomable grief of Hurricane Katrina would characterize my life and thousands of other lives for the next several years, as the process of survival and then recovery unfolded…. grueling, slow, and heart-breaking at every step.

Now it is Hurricane Harvey that has wreaked its havoc in communities across Texas and Louisiana, and there are untold numbers of people in a dozen communities and cities who are weeping tears of grief.  And soon, it appears, Hurricane Irma may deal still more suffering across Florida.  Over the next several years, we will all have the precious opportunity in all these places to “love them back to life”.

I can tell you from my own experience as Executive Director of Back Bay Mission after Hurricane Katrina that I have never seen the United Church of Christ better than I saw it in the months and years following that disaster.  National setting staff offered constant support and encouragement during those exhausting years, providing advice, dollars and presence in the midst of it all.  UCC volunteer groups poured in from all over the country and helped us to literally re-build homes and communities.  Generosity flowed, as tens of millions of dollars were raised in the United Church of Christ for recovery efforts in Mississippi and Louisiana during that time.  That money allowed places like Back Bay Mission to increase direct services to families who had lost everything, multiply housing recovery efforts, and remain the solid source of support to the poorest neighborhoods that had relied on it for decades, even though the Mission’s own facilities had also been decimated.

Everything the United Church of Christ did after Hurricane Katrina was a precious life-line for those of us in the thick of the disaster.  It was all the most beautiful example of extravagant love that I have ever seen, precious hope embodied every day where devastation and loss otherwise ruled.  Even now, as I remember it all these years later, tears pour down my face in thanksgiving. The United Church of Christ really did love us back to life.

We can do the same for Hurricane Harvey survivors now. The most important thing you can do at this moment is to give generously.  The United Church of Christ has set up an emergency fund for Hurricane Harvey relief. 100% of every dollar given to this fund is utilized directly for long-term recovery efforts with those in the impacted areas.   There is also information available about a number of other ways your congregation can consider responding to these disasters.  And in time, these areas will be ready to receive volunteer groups to assist in the rebuilding efforts.  Our disaster coordinator, Renee Pfenning, and I have already talked about organizing groups from the Minnesota Conference to go when the time is right.  In the aftermath of Harvey, and perhaps in the wake of Irma to come, the need will be immense.  And the United Church of Christ will show up and remain over the very long haul of recovery.

Those impacted by these devastating storms are in a world of hurt right now, and the path before them is long and torturous.  So let’s be the Church at our best, and love them back to life.

Your partner in service,

 

 

 

Reverend Shari Prestemon, Conference Minister