Conference News

News from the Beloved Land (Timor-Leste)

Submitted by Rev. Tom Liddle who, along with his wife Monica and children Hannah and Simon, is a missionary in East Timor

Happy 2018!

I saw a woman on the main street of Lospalos selling vegetables the other day.  She was crouched on the sidewalk beside a bucket of jackfruit, selling big pieces of the sticky, succulent fruit for a quarter.  Her smile was as bright as ever despite the hard life she leads as a subsistence farmer.  She greeted me warmly and insisted on giving me some jackfruit for Simon.  I accepted gratefully.

There is a scabies epidemic in Timor.  In the last quarter of 2017 almost 20% of Clinic Immanuel patients had it and Clinic Immanuel is the only place in Lospalos that has medicine for treating it.  We were in a warung (small restaurant) today and met two nurses from Iliomar (2 hours away) and they said they are treating scabies with guava and tamarind leaves, made into a tea, then used for bathing, 2 or 3 times a day until better.  The nurses thought the treatment was working ok, and really, there is no option other than locally available traditional medicines.  Research on herbal medicines in Timor is needed.

On Christmas day I baptized 8 people at an IPTL church in the seaside village of Teno.  What a joyful occasion!  The church had a party afterwards serving homemade cake and Timor coffee – delightful Christmas breakfast.

Commentators say Timor-Leste’s government is teetering on the edge of collapse.  After the July election, no single party won a majority of seats in parliament so the president formed a minority government.  Unfortunately, the opposition coalition took “oppostion” literally and opposed everything the minority proposed, including a budget.  So the Prime Minister in turn decided not to convene parliament anymore.  So there you have it: Timor’s version of a government shut down.  Politicians more invested in ego struggles than the needs of the people.  Conversely, the people are going on with their lives and there seems to be little threat of civil unrest.  Praise the Lord!

We had a great vacation after Christmas that included a few days hiking in the mountain town of Maubisse and a few days relaxing on Timor-Leste’s unique Atauru Island.  Atauru has the highest marine biodiversity in the world.  Snorkeling was amazing.  One day a local fisherman took us out on a skiff to see a school of dolphins up close.

Hannah is now back to her homeschooling and is into doing craft projects these days.  She has recently designated the jazz classic So What by Miles Davis as the Liddle family theme song, so we must be doing something right as parents.  Simon is still on break for another couple weeks before starting 2nd grade.

People started planting corn before Christmas and it’s looking good in some places but failing miserably in others.  We are thus reminded of the tenuous reality of being a small farmer in a rural area.

The Peace of Christ be with you all.

Tom Liddle, Lospalos

Immigrants Among Us

At our 2016 Annual Meeting, the Minnesota Conference UCC passed a resolution declaring ourselves as an “immigrant welcoming” Conference {link to resolution}.  The General Synod of the UCC followed suit in July of last year.  The Immigration Team of the Conference invites your learning, advocacy, and engagement as we continue to live into this shared commitment.  Immigration-related issues like the status of the DREAM Act, current bed quotas, etc are currently urgent.  Follow THIS LINK to read a letter from your Immigration Team providing some facts and inviting your action as an individual or congregation.  Contact Diane Haines, Immigration Team Chair, diane.m.haines@comcast.netto learn more or invite a member of the team to your congregation.  Let us “welcome the stranger” in our midst, as our faith compels us.


From the Minnesota Conference UCC Immigration Team (I-team)


Dear Conference friends,


We continue to thank God that our Conference and our denomination have declared themselves to be Immigrant Welcoming.  At least 15 of our congregations have either become immigrant welcoming, sanctuary and/or sanctuary supporting.  We are taking seriously God’s call to us in Leviticus 19:33-34

                33 When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them.34 The foreigner

residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself,

for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.

Our Immigration Team wants to keep you informed about what is currently happening with the immigrants residing among us.  First of all, we learned in September that President Trump was rescinding the Executive Order that President Obama and issued in June 2012 which gave youth brought to the United States by their undocumented parents the opportunity to apply for a two year deferred status so that they could either work, attend college or be a part of the armed services of the US.  This was renewable every two years, with the hope that Congress would finally pass a Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill. Unfortunately, this has not happened.  With DACA being rescinded by the current President, those youth (Dreamers) become at risk of deportation when their applications expire.  Congress and the President indicated that they will provide legislation to protect these youth by the end of 2017.  That did not happen.  It continues to be discussed by Congress without agreement.  March is when many of these youth will find their applications expiring and will be in immediate danger of deportation.   Please be prayerful about this and call your Congressional representative and senators expressing your concern that a clean Dream Act be passed before March.  A clean dream act means one that does not attach to the bill stipulations for an increase in border protections.  There are already drones, a border wall, thousands of Border Patrol agents and ICE agents.  (Invite those who have made border trips to come to your congregation and share what they have learned.  Contact Diane Haines at for more info.)

The I Team is also concerned about the increase in deportations in Minnesota during this past year.  In the first 6 months, deportations increased by 32%.  This is due in part to an increase in raids in the state.  It is also due to ICE no longer having to follow a list of who should be deported (there had been an Executive Order that specified that ICE was to seek out terrorists, drug lords, murderers, felons, and on down to lesser crimes and at the bottom of the list were those who had crossed the border without papers.)  Present Trump rescinded that and now any of the 11 million undocumented immigrants can be sought out for deportation. The increase in deportations is also due in part to the lack of enough pro bono attorneys to represent asylum seekers. Immigrants with attorneys are twelve times more likely to win their cases.  Despite members of the faith community fighting for immigrant families not being separated due to deportations, many of them have been


Another change that Minnesota has experienced is the increase of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) beds in some of the five county jails across Minnesota that hold people suspected of being in the U.S. illegally — Nobles, Freeborn, Sherburne, Ramsey and Carver, and ICE wants to further expand to other counties in Minnesota. In June 2015 at our Minnesota Conference annual meeting we passed a resolution to ask Congress to eliminate the Bed Quota which stipulates how many immigrant beds are to be filled each night. The bed quota was eliminated from the DHS budget in May 2017 but it appears that the Trump Administration has been talking about requesting funding for fiscal year 2018 to hold up to 51,000 people at a time.  That is why they are looking to increase the beds in Minnesota by expanding to other jails.  We will keep you aware of the facts about this so that we can urge our Congress people to oppose any new bed mandate being attached to the DHS budget for 2018.  We hold fast to our Conference desire to not have the bed quota reinstated.


The Immigration team has allies throughout Minnesota with whom we work.  Most recently, MIRAC (Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Committee) brought a 13 step platform to the Minneapolis city council that would be more supportive of the immigrants in Hennepin County.  One of those items has already passed.  MIRAC was grateful for the endorsement by the Minnesota Conference!


The Immigration team also works with The Advocates for Human Rights, The Immigrant Law Center, Interfaith Coalition on Immigration (ICOM), The Center for New Americans, ISAIAH, the Asylum Seekers Network, and Navigate.  We are grateful for many partners working together to seek justice for immigrants.


The Immigration Team of the Conference encourages you to be prayerful about how you can live out God’s command in Leviticus to love the stranger and treat them as a citizen.  Here are some actions that we would like you to consider.

  • “Like” the Minnesota Conference I-team on Facebook and stay informed


      Call your Congress people and urge them to: 

  1. Pass a “Clean DREAM Act” that is not tied to border wall funding.
  2. No more ICE contracts in Minnesota
    • (D) Sen. Amy Klobuchar 612.727.5220
    • (D) Sen. Tina Smith 202-224-5641
    • (R) Rep. Tom Emmer 763.241. 6848
    • (R) Rep. Eric Paulsen 952.505.8510
    • (R) Rep. Jason Lewis 651.846.2120
    • (D) Rep. Tim Walz 388.2149
    • (D) Rep. Betty McCollum 651.224.9191
    • (D) Rep. Keith Ellison 612.522.1212
    • (D) Rep. Colin Peterson 507.537.2299
    • (D) Rep. Richard Nolan 218.454.4078.
  1. Contact your Conference Immigration if you want to be notified of ways to respond to immigration concerns. (
  2. Attend a monthly interfaith vigil at the Whipple Center at Fort Snelling on the second Tuesday of each month at 7:30 am.    This is in front of the building where the court immigrant cases are heard.
  3. Consider being a Conversations with Friends visitor in one of our detention centers.  This is a program started by the late Rev. John Guttermann which has provided human contact for incarcerated immigrants who are not allowed to see others face to face.  Contact Steve Kraemer at 952.240.3501

Should I Really Care About Offering Online Giving? YES!!

You would think that an old fundraising professional like me would know all there is about online giving. Well, you AND I would be very surprised by new data out from VANCO Payment Solutions, a specialist in faith-based online giving solutions that tracks online giving trends! Here are a few of their findings.

Older adults embrace e-Giving

While preferences for e-Giving remaining strong across all age groups, they’re much stronger among older adults than they were just two years ago:

  • Ages 45-54: 62% prefer e-Giving, compared to 50% in 2015
  • Ages 66-74: 58% prefer e-Giving, compared to 39% in 2015

What this mean for churches is that churchgoers in those age groups have become more accustomed to banking and paying bills online and using smartphones, and that is reflected in their wanting to give electronically as well.

More people are giving less often

Churches with declining weekly attendance also see a decline in weekly giving. Almost half of churchgoers made weekly offerings in 2015, but only about one-third do now. That’s led to an increase in the percentage of churchgoers who give less frequently:

  • Once a month: 23%, up from 20% in 2015
  • Every 2-3 months: 12%, up from 6% in 2015
  • Every six months: 8%, up from 2% in 2015

These results indicate that churches need to align giving options and strategies with the way churchgoers live.

Surprises from millennials

Millennial churchgoers ages 25-34 have the strongest preference for e-Giving, AND they’re also most likely to contribute more of their annual income to the church and to engage in church activities outside of worship services.

Millennials’ giving is influenced by their faith and feelings of responsibility to family and church, and they happily commit to causes they believe connect themselves with the church and community. Their giving is also influenced by the giving options available since they rely on debit and credit cards and their smartphones to make purchases.

Is an offering plate passed in the pew missing potential contributors? Yes! Contact the Minnesota Conference office for help in getting set up for online giving.

Bob Olsen

Development Officer

COMMAnts from the Conference Minister – January 2018

“Faithful in Every Good Work”

Blessings and peace to all of you in this new year of 2018!

As one year turns to another, our minds often fill with the regrets that have slowly accumulated over the 12 months past.  This is true for us in our individual lives and in our congregational experiences.  Our liturgical confessions give us some words for this, when we say: “We have sinned against you…by what we have done and by what we have left undone.”

In our church life, perhaps we have failed to summon the courage to tackle some of the more difficult questions or challenges facing us.  Maybe we have handled a congregational conflict with something less than grace and kindness.  It might be that we have chosen to do things “the way they’ve always been done” rather than boldly risk something new.  The church, while holding a most sacred calling, is nonetheless a human enterprise; we fall short of fully embracing that sacred calling again and again.

Yet this Church we cherish also has the boundless capacity to do good in the world and to be astonishingly faithful. And so as this new year begins, I’m reflecting on the beautiful glimpses I’ve witnessed of the Church stepping into our holy work with grace and grit, right here in the Minnesota Conference UCC.

I’ve seen some of you faced with painfully difficult decisions about the future of your congregation, questions of sheer survival. You’ve wrestled with questions about how it is God is calling you to be the church in new ways in this moment, or how you might ensure a legacy that will survive even if your congregation does not.  That is the Church faithfully at work.

I’ve seen others of you live into your prophetic calling with amazing passion and intention, protesting and organizing and creating change one determined step at a time, holding fast to the cause of justice and peace.  That is the Church faithfully at work.

I’ve watched students in seminary and clergy already serving who are so diligently working to discern God’s call upon their lives.  And I’ve seen how our Committee on Ministry and our staff accompany folk in their discernment with exquisite care.  That is the Church faithfully at work.

I’ve marveled at the work of our chaplains in hospitals and hospice programs and jails and other settings, where they share the love and healing powers of God with the most vulnerable amongst us.  That is the Church faithfully at work.

I’ve sat with our Board of Directors as it encounters each question that comes to it with a love for our collective ministry, a deep devotion to Christ’s Church, and with a sense of serious responsibility for wisely stewarding God’s good gifts.  That is the Church faithfully at work.

And I’ve experienced joy each time I see a congregation or a Conference committee or our staff dare to open themselves to the Spirit’s unfolding work amid a religious landscape that is profoundly changing right before our eyes. That is the Church faithfully at work.

I am so very grateful for all the ways we are faithfully being the Church together, hard at work in these dazzling times of change and challenge and possibility.  May we always remember that the work we do today lays a foundation for those who will follow us.  May they find us faithful in every good work.

Your partner in this sacred calling,




Reverend Shari Prestemon, Conference Minister

The Damascus Project

The Damascus Project is the leadership development collaboration of the Minnesota and Wisconsin Conferences formed in November 2017 during a three-day design workshop in La Crosse, WI. The Damascus project is a vibrant collective of individuals from both the Minnesota and Wisconsin conferences: Clyde Steckel, Anita Bradshaw, Ron Rindfleisch, Tim Perkins, Sandra Graham, Phil Milam, Lynne Krehbiel-Breneman, Kent Meyer, Jim Barbour, Vicki Wunsch and Tisha Brown. Pam Shellberg, Scholar in Residence at the BTS Center facilitated the design effort. The BTS Center will continue as a strategic partner. Although we came together as two separate teams, we left La Crosse as one body united in a shared experience, an emerging vision and a clear sense of the next best steps to take as we continue to explore this exciting collaboration.

Shaped by the story of Saul’s experience on the road to Damascus as told by Luke in the book of Acts, the Damascus Project has begun to discern God’s call to the WI and MN conferences to provide leadership development courses and experiences across a broad spectrum including faith enrichment, lay leadership development, preparation for authorized ministry, continuing education, and community development and transformation. We are convinced that God is calling us to be imaginative, creative and innovative in ways that honor the traditions and experiences of our past and also build upon them. Our sense of call is to find ways to meet the educational and formational needs and desires of today’s church and to also speak to the longing for spirituality, connection and belonging outside the walls of our congregations.

Our work is guided by these core assumptions:

  • We will take the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers seriously by lifting up and inquiring about the unique character of lay ministry and lay vocations in many forms.
  • While we hope that those interested in seeking authorization for ministry will enroll in our courses, we affirm our desire to reach a much wider audience with high quality, transformational courses and experiences
  • Courses will be offered through a blend of face-to-face and online modes
  • Cohort models are ideal when it comes to formation for ministry through relationships
  • All of our coursework will be grounded in the UCC’s Marks for Faithful and Effective Authorized Ministry
  • We are NOT replacing seminary; folks who can go to seminary should do so
  • This program must be flexible, lean, adaptive, agile and entrepreneurial
  • We must serve ALL of both states (and perhaps eventually other conferences) with a particular emphasis on rural communities and small towns
  • Committees on Ministry are the authorizing body
  • Our courses will be available to congregations, pastors and laity in both conferences
  • We have a strong commitment to reaching beyond the walls of the church with our efforts

For more information on The Damascus Project or other leadership development in the Minnesota Conference, please contact Rev. Vicki Wunsch, Director of Leadership Development at


A Letter from the Palestine/Israel Network of the MN Conference UCC


Dear Friends in Christ,

As we gather this Advent Season to sing the carols, tell the stories, and celebrate the coming of the Light of God into the world, let us also speak the truth of Bethlehem today – a Palestinian city on the West Bank, surrounded by a concrete wall and controlled by a brutal military occupation.

American Jewish author and activist, Anna Balzer, articulates clearly and succinctly what PIN (Palestine/Israel Network of the MN Conference UCC) believes to be the truth behind Trump’s declaration of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.  Here is Anna’s message:

“Last week, President Trump declared Jerusalem the capital of Israel and announced plans to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, flying in the face of international law and reversing decades of official U.S. policy, and much worse, legitimizing Israel’s ongoing process of “Judaizing” Jerusalem – which is code for violently driving out the native Muslim and Christian population and importing Jewish residents in order to establish an artificial Jewish majority in a city holy to so many religions.

These devastating developments are also opportunities to shed light on what has been the reality all along:  full military and diplomatic U.S. support for Israel as it perpetrates war crimes in the process of its ongoing colonization of Palestine.  President Trump’s declaration has pulled the hood off the illusion that the U.S. could ever be an honest broker for peace.  It cannot.  People are understanding that it is up to us, people of conscience, in solidarity with the Palestinian people, to build campaigns to hold Israel accountable.  As we get angry, we must also get to work.”

In a recent letter, a Palestinian Quaker and member of the Ramallah, West Bank Friends Meeting writes:  “May we be mindful that both freedom and liberation involve responsibility, as well as action, to build God’s realm on earth as it is in heaven…  In the light of advent that shines in the darkness, we pray and sing ‘Emmanuel, O come, and we will rejoice’.  May we do so through our actions, priorities and service.”

Members of PIN offer ourselves as resources for further discussion.  Let us know how we can accompany you as you have this conversation in your congregation.

May you be empowered by the peace of Christ Jesus,


Palestine/Israel Network of the MN Conference UCC

COMMAnts from the Conference Minister – December 2017

The Extraordinary Moment of Advent

                                                                                -by Reverend Shari Prestemon, Conference Minister


“The extraordinary thing that is about to happen is matched only by the extraordinary moment just before it happens.  Advent is the name of that moment.

The Salvation Army Santa Claus clangs his bell.  The sidewalks are so crowded you can hardly move.  Exhaust fumes are the chief fragrance in the air, and everybody is as bundled up against any sense of what all the fuss is really about as they are bundled up against the wind chill factor.

But if you concentrate just for an instant, far off in the deeps of yourself somewhere you can feel the beating of your heart.  For all its madness and lostness, not to mention your own, you can hear the world itself holding its breath.”

-Frederick Buechner

I have always loved the way Frederick Buechner freshly illuminates familiar Christian terms.  His narrative about Advent is marvelous.  It reminds us that Advent is not simply some busy and routine precursor to Christmas, but an “extraordinary moment” all its own.

These are the days when we pause to name our deepest hope for the world.  This is that remarkable time when we dare to have breathtaking expectations for what lies ahead.  This is that precious moment when we trust with all that is in us that God can accomplish with blazing love and purpose what we can no longer even imagine.

I need that quality of Advent this year.  I need the courage to summon hope in a world that often invites despair.  I need that unshakable faith that trusts God to overcome the madness.  I long for the child-like wonder that has me searching with wide eyes and trembling heart for some sign of the gloriously unexpected. I need Advent.

What hopes and dreams are you carrying with you this Advent?  What are you waiting for with bated breath? What places and circumstances are you trusting God to transform?

O God of infinite wonder and mystery, we hold our breath in these days of Advent, waiting to see what new miracles you can work in our lives.  We watch with hope for your grace-filled interventions when despair threatens. We dare to believe peace is possible, even as simmering tensions erupt in new violence all around us.  We persist in love, though ugly hatred seems increasingly the norm in our tattered world.  O God, stir within us your incomparable joy, rooted in the promises you never fail to keep. In the name of Him who is hope and peace and love personified, we boldly pray. Amen.


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