Conference News

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

2020 Vision Focuses on Nurturing Faith Forming Congregations

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 share the third in a series of articles highlighting this work. Rev. Kevin Brown, Associate Conference Minister of Faith Formation, has information to share about our “Nurturing Faith Forming Congregations:

In her book, Eighth Day of Creation, Elizabeth O’Connor reminds us that a “primary purpose of the Church is to help us discover and develop our gifts and, in the face of our fears, to hold us accountable for them so that we can enter into the joy of creating.” These words point toward a key dimension of the work of faith formation – helping people name, discover, and develop gifts for ministry and holding one another accountable for faithfully engaging these gifts in creating a world aligned with God’s vision of justice for the world.

Local faith communities that fully live into this work of lifelong faith formation understand that everything they are and do is essential in helping nurture a deep spirituality and sense of vocation for individuals within their community. Every aspect of their shared life becomes an intentional space for forming faith – worship, ministries of service and justice, building relationships, leadership development, and nurturing spiritual practices at home.

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:

During 2017-2018 engage up to 5 congregational leadership teams in a 12-month coaching/mentoring process to develop a comprehensive vision and ministry plan for lifelong spiritual formation in each participant congregation.

This new initiative, “Leading Well: Nurturing Faith Forming Congregations,” will be a collaborative partnership between the Minnesota Conference United Church of Christ and Vibrant Faith. Vibrant Faith was the key partner in the conference’s Progressive Youth Ministry Certification Program, which was jointly sponsored for multiple cohort groups.

“Leading Well” will provide an opportunity for congregational leadership teams (clergy, staff, and lay leaders) to come together for two retreats and to connect for monthly peer learning opportunities.  These spaces of connection will provide opportunities to learn from the wisdom and experience of the group and share stories of successes and growing edges.  The leadership teams will be paired with a Vibrant Faith coach who will work with them throughout the 12-18 months of the program to develop and implement a ministry plan for their congregation.

Along the way, individual leadership teams will be given tools to assess their ministry context, name the ways in which their congregation currently engages in intentional faith formation for all ages, name and celebrate the particular strengths and gifts of the congregation, and develop a ministry plan rooted in their congregation’s areas of strength.

We hope that through this initiative more congregations within the Minnesota Conference will fully embrace their role as communities that nurture lifelong faith by helping folk discover, develop, and engage their truest gifts in the work for justice in the world.

May it be so.

 

 

Rev. Kevin Brown

Associate Conference Minister of Faith Formation for Children & Youth

2020 Vision – Focuses on YASC

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 share the second in a series of information highlighting this work. Rev. Vicki Wunsch, Director of Leadership Development, has information to share about YASC (Young Adult Service Communities):

YASC are a unique opportunity for young adults to grow professionally, grow spiritually, and grow personally by living intentionally in community with others who share a commitment to service and social justice and serve in local nonprofit agencies, which are dedicated to justice advocacy and collaborative action. Together, participants find the space to reflect on questions of meaning and to network for change.

This fall Macalester Plymouth United Church in St. Paul is a host church for our first YASC volunteer.  By next fall, we hope to engage 3-4 congregations in a collaborative involvement in YASC.

Details about YASC are available here.  If your congregation is interested in being part of this exciting new initiative or for more information, please contact Vicki Wunsh via email or by calling her at 612-871-0359.

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.”  (https://btpbase.org/charlottesville-truth-america/)

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: http://privilege.uccpages.org/

COMMAnts from the Conference Minister – August 2017

A THEOLOGICAL PROBLEM

“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 vickiw@uccmn.org.

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