Conference News

Pastoral Letter from the Conference Minister: The Work We’re Called To

My partners in faith,

In the wake of events in Bloomington, Minnesota and Charlottesville, Virginia, we in the Minnesota Conference must have moral and theological clarity.  When we see a homemade bomb thrown through the window of an Islamic Center, when we watch a white supremacist, torch-wielding mob pummel others with clubs and shout “Jews will not replace us”, we are seeing evil personified.  It is morally wrong.  It is theologically offensive. We must resist this evil with everything in us.

These actions have been promulgated by those whose hatred against Muslims, Jews, immigrants, African Americans and all persons of color drives everything else in their lives.  Their actions are rooted in their insistence on their own superiority as persons with white skin.  They claim God is on their side, that somehow God’s love and blessings are shared with them alone.

That is theologically repugnant.

We know from the long narrative of holy scripture that the call of God in Jesus Christ is a call for justice, a call to expansive love, a call to honor the image of God in each beautifully diverse one we encounter, a call to humble service and abiding grace.  God sets before us a vision of peace and justice and wholeness and fullness of life that we are called to embody fully, “on earth as it is in heaven”.

So we have work to do…

  • The work of confession. Those of us who are white must confess our own complicity in our white privilege and the structures of racism that maintain it. We must acknowledge that our experience in the world is nothing like the experience of persons of color, and that the disparity between these experiences is sinful. We must confess that these latest events are merely the latest in a long history of racist violence and oppression in our nation, the effects of which are felt daily by persons of color.
  • The work of theological discernment. Too often our discussion in these days becomes a purely political one, but our task as Church is to consider how our faith and what we know of God from our scriptures informs this moment and should shape our response. How can we prevent the message and purpose of God from being distorted and used as a weapon of those who hate?
  • The work of witness and sanctuary. I borrow this from Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas, the Dean of Episcopal Divinity School at Union Theological Seminary in New York.  She wrote:  “To be a sanctuary means that wherever we are present no one should feel diminished or unsafe because of who they are or are not…Proactive witness means, in the least, calling out racism, xenophobia and any other ism or bigotry for what it is…We must refuse to be silent until these systems and structures are dismantled.”  (

I am heartened by and sincerely grateful for all the ways so many of our churches, clergy, and lay leaders are already doing this work with creativity, commitment, and authentic faithfulness.  I urge all of us, in every church and community, to engage this work fully and for the long, determined haul.

Preach.  Protest.  Pray with your words and your feet.  Talk with your elected officials. Build relationships with persons of color in your neighborhood.  Reach out to someone of another faith.    Have authentic conversation about the difficult subjects.  Advocate for policy change.  Resist and persist.  And examine scripture for wisdom in all of it. This is the discipleship our God of justice and peace calls us to every day. So let’s get to it.

Your partner in the work,



Reverend Shari Prestemon, Conference Minister

P.S. Let me know what your congregation is doing or plans to do to engage in this important work.  I’m interested!

2020 Vision

At our Annual Meeting in June, Conference Minister Rev. Shari Prestemon shared an exciting new strategic plan, “2020 Vision”, 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 received a lot of wonderful feedback about these plans from Conference members at the Annual Meeting and since then.  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 begin a series of articles highlighting this work. Steve Boorsma, Associate Conference Minister, has information to share about the “White Privilege, let’s talk” curriculum.  The Conference is preparing to provide training on this curriculum in the coming months.

There is no escaping the reality that racial injustice continues to be a plague in society.  Conversations on race are often uncomfortable, if not frowned on, but there is much at stake if we give in to the temptation to avoid having these conversations.  The Minnesota Conference continues its commitment to dismantling racism through sacred conversation and action.  At the 2014 Annual Meeting the Minnesota Conference approved the resolution:  “Dismantling Racism and Creating Diversity in the Minnesota Conference.”

The full resolution is too long to post here, but it reads in part:

WHEREAS the historic legacy of systemic racism has created social, cultural and religious barriers that are an offense to the oneness God desires for us all. The historical legacy of racism has privileged and advantaged those who are white at great cost to people of color; including but far from limited to the following, theft of land, theft of labor, conflating Christianity with white culture enabling the negation of values, culture and religious traditions of people of color while supporting the supremacy of white culture, the creation of discriminatory laws and policies that exclusively benefit whites, the continued maintenance of institutions and institutional practices designed for the benefit of whites and unwelcoming to people of color.

In our continued commitment to these conversations, one of the Strategic Objectives that Rev. Shari Prestemon rolled out at Annual Meeting 2017 is:  “Engage at least 10 percent of our congregations in use of the UCC’s “White Privilege” Curriculum 2017-2019.  The term “privilege” is not without its controversy, which is why this curriculum is important.  As the 2014 resolution states:

WHEREAS following the Way of Jesus means living in a prophetic tradition committed to truth telling and confession, actively and intentionally working toward the day when all God’s Children will be fully included at the Great Banquet of God’s Realm, trusting that the seeds we plant today will yet bear fruit in the future.

The curriculum “White Privilege, let’s talk” does just that.  “It continues the sacred conversation that identifies racism not by labelling some people as good and others as bad.  Rather it is about looking at the ways power benefits some and not all based on the color of our skin” (Decorah UCC).  Rev. Ashley Harness, pastor at Lyndale UCC, Minneapolis said, “The (White Privilege) ‘Let’s Talk’ curriculum gave us the tools and freedom to do just that – talk about racial justice with our whole congregation involved.  It has changed the culture of our church.”  Rev. Eliot Howard, pastor of Linden Hills Congregation UCC, Minneapolis said that his church has also participated in a church wide study of the curriculum, stating that those who participated found it transformational and very meaningful, which prompted good conversations and some “eye- opening” moments.”

Rev. John Dorhauer, UCC general minister and president, writes: “This curriculum, written by five gifted authors with decades of experience teaching about race and privilege, is presented to enable such dialogue to take place at every level of the church.”  The UCC white privilege curriculum is divided into four key focus areas, each one introducing a different aspect of the dynamic of white privilege.  Each of the four sections in the guide will have material from all five authors, with every author contributing a different perspective to the subject matter.

Rev. Dorhauer encourages every one of the UCC’s more than 5,000 congregations to participate.  “In partnership with a Holy Spirit who envisions a future in which the United Church of Christ matters … I call all covenant settings to engage in a safe, meaningful, substantive, and bold conversation on privilege.”  You can find the downloadable curriculum at:

COMMAnts from the Conference Minister – August 2017


“So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them…..” (Genesis 1:27)


The headlines were appalling: a truck trailer sitting in the blazing summer sun outside a San Antonio WalMart, filled with undocumented immigrants. Ten would die.  30 others were hospitalized.  Some guessed there had been as many as 200 persons stuffed into that big rig as it traversed Texas.

It was perhaps the worst case of human trafficking in the U.S. in recent history.  And it laid bare a lot of very complex questions about the state of immigration in our country: the desperation of those who illegally cross our borders, the system of illegal cartels and smuggling operations that further victimize the desperate, and a web of immigration policies that is woefully inadequate and unjust.

But what really hit me when I first heard of this tragedy in San Antonio was the complete disregard for human life it reflected. And that’s a deeply theological problem.  Because if each of us carries the holy imprint of God, as the first chapter of Genesis suggests, then when we treat other people as human cargo or anything less than profoundly sacred, we commit the gravest of sins.  We wound God’s precious image in the other.

This time it was undocumented immigrants with brown skin in a semi-trailer.  But it was once Africans with black skin loaded into ships and sold as slaves.  And still now, those with skin of darker shades than my own suffer from a system that every day in a million ways fails to fully honor their inherent sacredness as children of God created in God’s own image.  That’s systemic racism.  And that’s a theological problem that we who call ourselves Church must actively confront and dismantle.

In our nation and world today, there seems a daily onslaught of disregard for the sanctity of “the other”.  My prayer for us as Church is that we would offer, in our speech and in our deeds,  an alternative and public witness that honors that holy imprint of God in every Child of God.  Our faith undeniably requires it.

With you on the journey,




Reverend Shari Prestemon, Conference Minister

(The Minnesota Conference and the United Church of Christ are “Immigrant Welcoming”.  Read more about what that means here.  Learn more about the UCC’s “White Privilege” curriculum here.)

Leadership Development in the Minnesota Conference

What Does Leadership Development look like in the Minnesota Conference?

Rev. Vicki Wunsch, Director of Leadership Development

At Annual Meeting, Conference Minister Shari Prestemon announced eight strategic objectives that will guide the work of the Minnesota Conference over the next 4 years. These strategic objectives represent new initiatives that we believe will enrich our ministry overall and strengthen the entire Body of Christ.

Some of the new initiatives address the need for leadership and development of lay leaders.  On a broad view, my position as the new Director of Leadership Development includes the following areas that will help achieve these goals.

Lay Leadership and Development Academy (in collaboration with the Wisconsin Conference) –   Currently, 52% of our congregations can only afford a part-time minister; that number is likely to increase.  This initiative will create strong lay leadership, provide for multiple paths to ministry, and invigorate and equip the church for the future.

Young Adults Service Communities (YASC) – This is a national program that places three or more young adult interns recruited from across the country to live in intentional community and do meaningful work with local host congregations and local non-profit organizations.  We envision a pilot project here in the Minnesota Conference that would engage 3-4 congregations in a collaborative involvement in YASC. The hope would be to replicate this model in succeeding years.

Providing Support and Practical Resources for Local Congregations  – Our goal is to serve as a clearinghouse for practical resources while at the same time fostering deeper connections with local church leaders.

It’s a big job, but an exciting new adventure.  I can’t do it alone so, if you have any questions or comments, please contact me.  I would love to hear your thoughts about these new initiatives.  I can be reached at

COMMAnts from the Conference Minister – July 2017

Loving the United Church of Christ

Did you know that the United Church of Christ recently celebrated its 60th birthday?  On June 25, 1957, this amazing denomination was birthed when two denominations — the Evangelical & Reformed Church and the Congregational Christian Churches —took a magnificent ecumenical leap of faith and merged into one.  Embracing the prayer of Jesus in John 17:21, “…that they may all be one..” as their scriptural anchor, the crafters of this historic moment carved out a path where their origin and their future would reflect a commitment to being a “united and uniting” church.

60 years later, the United Church of Christ has just completed its 31st General Synod, that biennial gathering of the denomination where all the wonder and messiness and passionate witness of this beautiful church are on full display.  Over several long and very full days, we renewed our covenantal bonds, debated issues ranging from revisions to UCC constitution and by-laws to becoming an immigrant welcoming church and disability justice.  We worshiped and prayed and sang and learned and planned.  And we caught a glimpse of the United Church of Christ that is wider and deeper than any view we could catch from our own local church or even our Conference. And what a beautiful view it is!

I love the United Church of Christ.  I was born and baptized into the United Church of Christ ten years after this denomination’s birth.  I grew up in a UCC congregation in a small rural town in Iowa.  I was actively involved in another UCC congregation through my college years.  I went straight from college to seminary and have served in a variety of UCC settings continuously since then.  I’ve been described as a “UCC nerd” and even a UCC “junkie”, and I claim those titles gladly!

I know that we have entered what some term a “post-denominational” era of the church.  Those who seek out a church home rarely do so anymore based on any kind of denominational loyalty, but more typically because a particular congregation aligns with their personal values and preferences and needs, regardless of the church’s denominational ‘brand’.  This is a time when we are truly called to think ecumenically and expansively, like those brave souls who founded the UCC 60 years ago, looking beyond the artificial confines of individual denominations.

But I still love our denomination, the UCC, and you can’t shake it out of me.  I love who we are and who we strive to be.  I love our unyielding commitment to social justice and our penchant for being the first denomination to step out on the edge of controversy when we believe God calls us to be on that edge.  I love our global presence, informed and invited by worldwide partners we’ve accompanied for decades and longer.  I love the diversity of our worship and our people. And I love the way this Church propels us into the public square, demanding more than personal piety.

We’re not perfect in the UCC….far from it!  We have a messy polity that lends to stubborn, go-it-alone attitudes and often prevents cohesive action.  We imperfectly embody our proud claims of inclusivity and radical hospitality.  And sometimes our confident prophetic witness drowns out smaller voices that also deserve to be heard.

Yet for all our flaws, I do love this church. And I feel so very grateful to continue serving within it and alongside all of you.

What do you love about the UCC?  How has it shaped and changed your life?  I hope you’ll have these conversations in your own congregation, and celebrate with me 60 years of faithful, wonderful ministry in this united and uniting church.

Your partner in service,



Reverend Shari Prestemon

Conference Minister

General Synod Daily Updates

Synod Blog – July 4, 2017

Submitted by Rev. Jacob Kanake

Make Glad the City of God: Be Still Know I am God (Ps 46)

This is the last update of the 31st United Church of Christ General Synod that met in Baltimore, Maryland from June 29 to July 4, 2017. The conference was attended by 2,751 delegates representing various church bodies: the youth, diversity, gender, race, laity, clergy and ecumenical/associations. The synod gathering began each day with worship and shout-out session followed by the plenary to discuss business and vote on the resolutions. During the shout-out session, Hawaii Conference delegates presented a ritual that was deeply inspirational and spiritual: they ritually decommissioned their retiring Conference Minister and welcome a new Conference Minister in front of the delegates.

On 4th July 2017, the synod delegates recognized the American Independence Day. During that time one speaker reminded me and the delegates “A call for civil disobedience is not a sin” because that is how American freedom was achieved. And he added that, when the freedom is born; it must be sustained.

The plenary discussed the resolutions on gun violence; the care of the disabled people, and just economy for all. I heard various speakers speaking of their experiences on gun violence especially in Chicago. And echoing the spirit of the debate the moderator also reminded the delegates that gun violence is real threat to public life. He said, “from when we started this meeting 7 people between 13 and 30 years have died in Chicago due to gun violence”. Also, the young people encouraged adults in the United Church of Christ to nurture relationships with youth who are “at the corner, those who do not go to church” and teach them best use of guns. The young people’s call touched my spiritual core and I kept wondering whether the adults forgot their God given mission of bringing up well-disciplined children! Can adults engage the young people and teach them? The youth are aware they cannot help other youth due to peer pressure that stand on their way to help their peers. If I did not get help from the older people, I would not be who I am today. I understand what the young people in the church are asking; they hope “people of wisdom can help them to deal with the gun violence”. Gun violence resolution passed with 98% of the vote.

And the resolution on disability was passed with overwhelming votes and the resolution on the caring for adult survivors of children abuse was voted 98%. I was lucky to be in the committee on adult survivors of children abuse, this committee was deeply engaged with sense of urgency to see the survivors’ spiritual needs were addressed. I am blessed to have been part of Synod. The delegation from the Minnesota Conference was involved in most of these resolutions. These resolutions respond to Jesus’ mission for which He died. He came so everyone can enjoy life in its fullness (John 10:10).

Reflections were given at the end of every plenary session by the two theologians; their reflections uplifted my spirit. The 4th reflection reminded me and the delegates to pray for every resolution coming for vote. The believer’s prayers may direct them to God’s intent for each resolution. The delegates were often reminded that their decisions change lives and make people one through God’s spirit “spirit of the living GOD Fall afresh on us”.

To sum it up, Minnesota delegates remained engaged sharing their faith with other delegates on the plenary floor, in committees, and in our Conference gatherings. We went in to General Synod to learn, debate, and share our faith with others. On a personal level, I visited with some of our delegates and people of other Conferences. I was fortunate to be part of this vibrant team. It was a privilege of a lifetime.

Blessings to you readers,

Rev. Jacob Kanake

Synod Blog – July 3, 2017

Submitted by Janet L. White

There is a river, there is a river, there is a river whose streams make glad the city of God.

This is day four of the UCC General Synod in Baltimore, Maryland. This is my first time attending Synod and it has been wonderful, uplifting, informative, and just plain great. Being in the company and communion with the people of God is truly amazing. The energy that radiates from each of God’s creations is contagious.

I have learned a lot about the organizational structure of the church from the inside; I have met people from California, Nebraska, Texas, Georgia, and many other states and regions and even from areas within Minnesota I’ve only heard about. And guess what, we are all working with the same heart, love, spirit of unity – the same togetherness, working for justice and equality in an ever changing world for all people. We are a United Church.

From the time I arrived at Synod, people were buzzing about the nomination of Rev. Traci Blackmon to the board of Justice and Witness Ministries. When she was introduced, and I had the honor of hearing her speak, I understood the excitement that surrounded this woman of God and her being part of the leading body of the United Church of Christ. In her message she challenged us to not only be good supporting spectators of others, but we need to be about the work of becoming participants in our journey of building a just world. On Saturday evening I was especially honored to witness the nomination and whole body acceptance of Rev. Traci Blackmon as Executive Minister for Justice Witness Ministries – unanimously. Amen!


Day four began with a 6:30 a.m. caucus call (Uggggggh). Our Conference Minister, Shari Prestemon, greeted Kathy and me with her usual cheery smile and warm words “Was it harder to get up this morning”? After a third cup of coffee, and light breakfast food, the blended Conference groups engaged in a small, clarifying discussion on some resolutions that had passed, were waiting to come to the floor or wanted answers on why a procedure went as it did. We appreciate the persons who came to help with our understanding of these matters. These individuals sat on those particular committee and were able to put our minds at ease.

At 8:30 a.m. we gathered for Plenary #4 to continued listening to and voting on resolutions and being spiritually uplifted. When the speakers were called forward to introduce their resolutions, I was reminded of the saying that ‘all shall become one’ (John 17). This is the journey we all embarked on when each of the Minnesota delegates accepted the call to become a delegate for the 31st UCC General Synod. This call and its purpose became evident as discussions ensued, amendments were made to some resolutions and ratified, and others were not. In the midst of it all we sought to find common ground with understanding where ‘all shall become one’ (John 17).

During our lunch break I had opportunity to participate in the Right of Immigrants Walk. This demonstration was in support of the resolution that passed supporting this cause. Now it’s time to decide whether to go back to the room and rest for 30 minutes, or stay in fellow/sister-ship with others. I stayed — you get the feeling of missing something if you leave. Yes, the experience is well worth the long days, but the experience, the knowledge, and the feeling that we are standing strong and getting stronger is well worth every minute.

– Janet L. White

Synod Blog – July 2, 2017

Submitted by Rev. Beth Donaldson

Here are some of the words that have caught my attention thus far (in a sea of rich experiences that have repeatedly spoken to my heart, mind, and spirit!):

  • “Because they are, we are.” – Ubuntu
  • “Does our faith HOLD truth?” – Rev. Taci Blackmon
  • “Balconies (places where people have been marginalized and ostracized) have no place in our churches.” – Traci and “It will take a different set of tools to dismantle them than the ones used to build them.” – Audre Lourde
  • “I believe justice is possible because I believe Jesus is present.” – Traci Blackmon
  • “Until the lion tells its own story, the hunter will always be thought the hero.” – African Proverb
  • “Jesus is used to my anger and handles it well.” – Traci Blackmon
  • “Heartbreak is not to be avoided – but is the greatest clue to our lives – toward our purpose and toward finding our tribe.” – Glenon Doyle

Rev. Beth Donaldson of UCC New Brighton speaks to the Synod body in support of resolution “On Becoming an Immigrant Welcoming Church”

These are just a few of the powerful expressions of our faith I have been able to capture. There are so many; too many to try to share here. But I share these few because they represent the great energy embodied in this gathering of our denomination. This is such a wonderful time of celebration and re-commitment; of inquiry and re-connection; and of sharing and renewal. For me as a person born into the UCC (quite literally – into a UCC Mission Community in Zimbabwe), and who has worked in the UCC my whole adult life, I was equally moved by the powerful recognition of the people who have served the UCC in a variety of capacities over the decades of my past, and the profound gratitude shared in recognizing the “water protectors” of Standing Rock — young people devoted to caring for creation and community into the future. It’s been a joy to reconnect with friends and colleagues from previous chapters of my life and work. I’ve been brought to tears, brought to my feet over and over, and, if I’m honest, even “brought to Jesus” a few times — confronted with the ways I may need to open my heart and have more compassion. But the over-arching experience of this time for me is a wonderful tension between a feeling of deep belonging and noticing how many new members of my UCC family there are to meet and know and share with. And though there seems to have been a great sea-change in the leadership and “faces up front,” I have been reassuredly comforted by the persistence of the ethos of who we are: a people committed to love and justice for all — no exceptions.

I thank you for allowing me this opportunity to attend General Synod as a delegate from Minnesota. I look forward to more opportunities to share my experiences and continue the connections.

With gratitude,

Rev. Beth Donaldson

Synod Blog – July 1, 2017

Submitted by Rev. Désirée Hartson Gold

UCC General Synod 31 is in full swing and delegates from the Minnesota Conference are in the thick of it. Most of us descended upon the Baltimore Convention Center Friday afternoon. Our official Synod experience began with educational intensives to learn more about the resolutions assigned to us (we were randomly assigned to different committees, and no one from Minnesota is on the committee to which I was assigned). Then, all Synod attendees gathered for a rousing opening worship service led by the Rev. Traci Blackmon, who was one of the keynote speakers at our very own Minnesota Conference Annual Meeting in 2016. Rev. Blackmon declared that the Church must not only watch and listen; we must act.

Following worship, we had our first plenary session, then most of us went to committee meetings to discuss and wordsmith our assigned resolutions or bylaws changes. Based on descriptions given by several of our Minnesota delegates of their committee meetings, I think I got off easy. My committee finished by 9:00 p.m., after a healthy and not too contentious discussion. Several of the committees went late into the night and/or were unable to complete their work on Friday evening.

On Saturday morning, we arrived for a 6:30 a.m. Minnesota Conference caucus well rested and ready to start the day! Okay, maybe not, but coffee and tea were provided for those who needed it. During our caucus, we heard from an advocate for a resolution on medical aid in dying and were also visited by UCC General Minister and President, the Rev. Dr. John C. Dorhauer. We were joined by the Northern Plains Conference delegation, which I greatly enjoyed, since I grew up and was ordained in that conference.

After caucus, we rejoined the full Synod for a brief morning worship and our next plenary session. That plenary was chock full, but there were several highlights for me: (1) Rev. Starsky Wilson advocated for the nomination of Rev. Traci Blackmon as the new Justice and Witness Ministries Executive Minister; (2) Rev. Blackmon herself spoke again; and (3) A group of young Water Protectors from Standing Rock received the Movement Makers Award from Justice and Witness Ministries.

Saturday’s keynote speech was by New York Times Bestselling Author Glennon Doyle. In addition to speaking at length about her personal journey, she brought such quotes as “The biggest indicator we would have marched with MLK is whether we’re marching with Black Lives Matter now,” and “I would never be part of a church that would not welcome everybody else.”

After we heard Ms. Doyle speak, we listened to a report by John Dorhauer, resumed business, then adjourned for lunch.

My “official” day ended when I was one of four panelists at a workshop called “The Silence That Kills: Gender Violence and Bias in Our Church and Communities.” My colleagues and I presented material from the Lenten study we cowrote this spring called “With Hagar: A Study of Gender and Scripture.” During this time, other members of our delegation attended workshops led by the likes of the Rev. William Barber II or Bishop Yvette Flunder.

Of course, General Synod is not all scheduled meetings and business. Like the Minnesota Conference annual meeting (only on a larger scale), General Synod is a family reunion for UCC folk. We see people we haven’t seen in years; we meet new friends; and yes, we hang out with members of our delegation. We enjoy fleeting “hellos,” like the one I shared with former Minnesota Conference ACM, the Rev. Elena Larssen, her husband, the Rev. Mark Pettis (former pastor in Moorhead), and their young son. Or we enjoy sharing longer conversations over meal, or while taking in one of Baltimore’s many tourist attractions, with friends old or new.

I think I’m safe in summing up the experience your Minnesota delegation has had so far this way: We’re tired; we’re exhilarated; we’re learning a lot; and we are doing the best we can to represent the Minnesota Conference at General Synod 31!

– Rev. Désirée Hartson Gold


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.