Conference News

Tomorrow is Give to the Max Day!

Please remember to “Give to the Max” tomorrow on our givemn.org page. Give to the Max is the day when Minnesotans come together to raise as much money as possible for nonprofits in 24 hours.

The Minnesota Conference has been hard at work in the last year, and your donations have made a difference! We have some inspiring stories to share with you of how we are fulfilling our mission, upholding our core values, transforming lives, advocating justice and fostering faith formation.

Please visit our Give to the Max page to see how your contributions have made our programs and projects possible throughout the year. We hope to accomplish even more in the year ahead, and your support is critical to taking us to that next level!

You can join 10 of your fellow Minnesotans in scheduling your payment for Give to the Max Day today! By contributing to the Minnesota Conference Give to the Max campaign, you demonstrate to the world that you stand behind our mission.

Thank you for your support!

Bombings in the Land of Promise

“We ask the evacuees to leave the classrooms during the day and for them to find refuge in the nearby fields, while we let the children, our students to get into the classroom so that we then hold our classes during the day. When classes are over in the afternoon, the evacuees again can come in and use the classrooms for their shelter at night.” This has been reported by Aida Mangagsakan, Principal of one elementary school in Pikit, North Cotabato last August 2013. At least 436 families from five villages have been displaced due to fighting between the government forces and members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in the remote villages of this town.

Archbishop Orlando Quevedo of the Roman Catholic Church, had just read his Sunday’s homily in July of 2009, when an explosion set off a pandemonium of the jam-packed cathedral of Immaculate Concepcion in Cotabato leaving 5 dead and several others severely wounded. The bombing occurred only 14 hours after an explosion rocked another town hall in the province of Maguindanao nearby, wounding three civilians. Bombing incidents in the province of No. Cotabato are not an unusual occurrence. Two other bombing incidents took place in the Province of No. Cotabato in 2013. One on Sept. 12 in Pikit Town and another in Kabacan Town, in Kidapawan on October 21. In 2014 more bombing incidents were reported on January 13 in Arakan and on Feb. 26 in Kabacan Town.

On October 7, 2014 as a Wednesday Prayer Meeting was ending at a local United Church of Christ church, a grenade exploded inside the church, immediately killing 2 church members and wounding several others. After a few days, another church member died in the hospital, leaving a total of 3 local members dead from the blast. According to the local church pastor, the Rev. Jerry Sanchez, ”We condemn this act. I have no idea why our church was attacked.” In a recent interview with the South East Mindanao Jurisdiction, United Church of Christ – Philippines (UCCP), Bishop Hameul Tequis, he reported that according to the local police, “they are still investigating on all the possible angles.” He added that the community has strong interfaith organizations that are working for peace in the community. Their Muslim partners have condemned the bomb attack saying that “It is forbidden in Islam to kill the innocent.”

So far a sketchy military report said that the explosive used by the unidentified attackers may have been fired from an improvised 40 mm rocket-propelling pipe. There were 2 motorcycles seen leaving the area immediately after the bombing, with 2 men riding in tandem on one and 3 men on the other. There are theories and speculations but no concrete proof as of yet as to the reasons for the bombings, according to UCCP Bishop Reuel Marigza who headed to the location of the incident right away and was in consultation with the local authorities. He has then urged, for all those working for justice and peace in the area, that as the church is condemning this attack in the strongest possible term, he is calling for ecumenical and inter-faith partners to continue to rally for unity and justice and peace in the land. He also encouraged the authorities to speed up the process of their investigation and to leave no stone unturned to bring the perpetrators to account for their crimes.

The bombing of a UCCP church in Pikit, No. Cotabato is not an isolated case in the so-called “Land of Promise,” which is Mindanao. In order to understand the context it is important to go back to its historical context (which we do not have time here). The situation in Mindanao is not only complex and complicated but it is replete with players on many levels. There are native indigenous communities here who mostly have been pushed deeper and deeper into the mountains. Then there is the Muslim population who arrived before the Spaniards came to colonize The Islands and who are now vying for independence and/or autonomy.  There is also the Christian population who are mostly more recent settlers who were encouraged by the government to “go and till the empty vastness of Mindanao” and who now mostly run the local governments and have titles to their land. This is a land very rich in natural resources, in fact No. Cotabato is called the “Food Basket” of Mindanao. But the most important players in the field right now are the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), the New People’s Army (NPA), the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), and the Philippine military. In addition, there is the Abu Sayyaf, an Islamic separatist group involved in criminal activities like kidnapping for ransom and drug trafficking. For years there have been armed conflicts between the Philippine government and various Muslim separatist groups. MNLF wants total independence. MILF agrees to work with the government as long as they are given the opportunity for self-determination. Finally after 15 years of hard work, the Bangsamoro Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed on March 27, 2014 between the MILF and the Philippine Government. Herein lies the mixed feelings and reactions of many peoples in Mindanao. That is why the story does not end here.

The U.S. government is complicit with what is happening in this part of the world. In the war against so-called global terrorism, the U.S sends millions of dollars as military aid to the Philippines in order to fight these wars, not withstanding that thousands of innocent civilians are deemed collateral damage. U.S. forces are also present in some parts of Mindanao because of the Visiting Forces Agreement between the two countries which was signed into force on May 27, 1999.

Another significant piece to the context in this particular area of Mindanao is the Liguasan Marsh, which spans 543,631 acres and lies along the provinces of No. Cotabato and Maguindanao. The Moro people have been claiming this as part of their ancestral domain. Being the country’s largest wetland, it holds a huge reservoir of natural gas that once explored will amount to $580 billion business profit. The Marsh is connected to Rio Grande de Mindanao, the 2nd largest river system in the Philippines. As the river emerges onto the Cotabato plains, it deposits fertile mountain silts into Cotabato River Basin finally emptying into the Moro Gulf, with Cotabato City at its mouth. There are speculations that the current fear and terror sowed in these parts of Mindanao is very much part of the struggle to achieve “peace” in the Moroland so that eventually the resources in the Liguasan Marsh can be explored. But for whom? That is the question.

… from Josephine A. Fernandez, Member, Global Partnerships Team

8 more days!

Just eight more days until Give to the Max Day! Make your pledge to support the Minnesota Conference today!

Please visit our Give to the Max page to read over how your donation is hard at work. We have some inspiring stories to share with you of how we are fulfilling our mission, upholding our core values, transforming lives, advocating justice and fostering faith formation.

Please consider the impact of your contribution. By having everyone participate on Give to the Max Day, you demonstrate to the world that you stand behind our mission by putting your faith into action. And every additional gift will increase our odds of receiving prize money giveMN.org is giving away throughout the day.

You don’t have to wait until November 13th to make your commitment to the Minnesota Conference. You can schedule your online donation on the giveMN.org website today. We look forward to your participation on Give to the Max Day. Thank you for your support!

COMMAnts from the Conference Minister | November 2014

It was a moment of historic importance for the wider United Church of Christ and for the Minnesota Conference. On Monday, United Church Funds opened a new Beyond Fossil Fuels investment fund with $21 million dollars from investors across the United Church of Christ. The Minnesota Conference was one of those founding investors, making our own initial investment in the fund of $1.75 million.

At our Annual Meeting of 2013, the Minnesota Conference UCC passed a resolution urging divestment from fossil fuel companies. This action was followed less than a month later by the passage of a similar resolution at the General Synod of the United Church of Christ, our national biennial meeting. In both cases, the resolution was an attempt to align our prophetic commitments and our sacred role as caretakers of God’s Creation with how we manage our financial resources. These were decisions of stewardship… our stewardship of God’s precious Creation and our stewardship of our money.

This is the season for many of our churches when we talk more often and reflect more prayerfully on our stewardship as congregations and as individuals. Sometimes we treat stewardship as if it were only about paying the church’s bills or satisfying a budget. But to consider our stewardship is to really ask ourselves questions far deeper than how we can meet the budget. Budgets are our mission statements; they are a reflection of our priorities and our intentions for our ministry in the world. And our decisions about money – how we spend it, how we share it, and how we invest it – are really an expression of our own values and commitments as people of faith. But somehow when we start talking about money, we often lose sight of our mission and values and faith.

None of us are perfect when it comes to stewardship, but every once in a while we get it right. The roll-out of the Beyond Fossil Fuels Fund in the United Church of Christ, and our Conference’s investment in it, is a bold step in the right direction. There is certainly more work yet to do on this front. But I celebrate this significant and historic moment and what it signals about our willingness to make our money follow our mission.

Does your passion for your church’s mission in the world fuel and shape your discussions about money? Or do your conversations about money tend to obscure the faithful purposes to which you’re called? May God bless each of us as we consider our own stewardship in the world.

Grace and peace,

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November 2014 Board of Directors Report

The most recent Board of Directors meeting was hosted by the Congregational Church UCC in Rochester on November 1, 2014. Our meeting began with a welcome from this church’s pastor, the Rev. Dr. Teresa Roberts.

Conference Minister, Rev. Shari Prestemon presented a review of the Ackley Consulting report on a potential campaign for the Minnesota Conference UCC ministries, including Pilgrim Point Camp. Ackley interviewed approximately 50 persons from across the Conference in four focus groups and at the Fall Leadership Retreat.

One of the areas for investment that attracted interest and support during this process was developing more leaders in our Conference. As a result, the Board formed a task group led by Board members Janet Bartz, Dave Kettering and Chelle Lyons Hanson, to imagine, define, and elaborate on how leadership could be developed in, by and for Minnesota Conference churches, clergy, and laity, especially young adults.

This initiative of investing in multigenerational leadership was affirmed by the Board and seen as an investment in people and ministries. The ministry of the Minnesota Conference is all of its members and not limited to buildings or “a place.” We are focused on developing an Academy for Leadership and Service, both through online and in-person resources. More work will be needed by Board and staff before we are ready to present these concepts in a case for support to be tested for feasibility.

The Pilgrim Point Camp Committee presented its priorities for investing in camp facilities. The decision was made to present the Pilgrim Point Camp Committee’s full capital budget needs (approximately $5.2 million) in a feasibility study to prospective campaign donors, as opposed to a phased approach.

Rev. Steve Boorsma has joined our staff as Associate Conference Minister (ACM). Rev. Rick Wagner (ACM) has been active in recruiting clergy and laity to many opportunities to serve local churches and Conference ministries. Shari Prestemon has joined the Search Committee to select the next General Minister and President of the national UCC.

United Church Funds launched a new fossil fuel-free investment fund on November 1. In compliance with a resolution passed at the Minnesota Conference Annual Meeting in 2013, the Conference has begun to move our investments into this fossil fuel-free fund.

The Conference finished its fiscal year on September 30 with a small operating loss. Our Church’s Wider Mission (OCWM) contributions declined again this past year but positive investment performance from our endowment funds helped limit the fiscal loss.

A revised process for submitting resolutions to the Annual Meeting or a Special Conference Meeting was approved. The resolution process was drafted and reviewed by staff and Board Members and will be forwarded to the Annual Meeting Planning Work Group.

The Pilgrims UCC church property in Maple Grove has been listed for sale. A subgroup of the Board of Directors, along with others, will be inventorying all its contents that will later be made available for purchase via the COMMAntary by our Minnesota Conference churches.

Recognizing that people seeking internships as they move toward a career in ministry now come to the Minnesota Conference UCC from more than the ranks of seminary students, the Board enlarged the definition of those who are eligible to apply for grants from the Conference’s designated fund for supporting ministry fieldwork.

The Board approved $52,000 in unused Ashley funds from Fiscal Years 2013 and 2014 to support the ministries of Pilgrim Point Camp and faith formation in the Conference and to support the broader work of faith formation in the wider United Church of Christ.

…from Rev. Frank Bennett, Board Member At-Large

Give to the Max Day is coming!

MINNESOTA CONFERENCE UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST | GiveMNMark Your Calendars for November 13th, and remember the Minnesota Conference United Church of Christ on Give to the Max Day!

We have some inspiring stories to share with you that demonstrate how we are fulfilling our mission, upholding our core values, transforming lives, advocating for justice and fostering faith formation. So, please, take a minute to see how we are living out our faith when we invest in the Minnesota Conference.

Show your support by remembering to Give to the Max and sharing the good news of the Minnesota Conference on November 13th.

By making your donation on Give to the Max Day, you show that you care and uphold our work. You can help us leverage prize money that givemn.org is giving away. The more money we raise on Give to the Max Day, and the greater the number of people who participate in this campaign, the more we increase our odds of winning prize money.

Consider the impact of your contribution: by having everyone participate on Give to the Max Day, we show the world that we stand behind our mission by putting our faith into action. We look forward to your participation on November 13th – Give to the Max Day!

Transformational Learning

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UCC CPE student, Deb Braun, working with LSS Refugee Services

One UCC pastor came back to the Greater Minneapolis Council of Churches (GMCC) to do Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) after years in ministry because he wanted to increase his skills in offering pastoral care to people struggling with addiction and living into recovery and sobriety. He had been mentoring an ex-offender who was living the Twelve Step way of life. His church had AA and Al Anon meetings in the evenings. When he did a unit of CPE with his placement at Hazelden it was not as relaxing as most of his previous sabbaticals but he said his growth was tremendous.

Instead of returning from sabbatical to enthusiastically encourage his parishioners “to overextend and over commit in another new area of mission” he instead was drawn to just listen more purposefully to his church members, what they were struggling with, surviving from, note their spiritual survival skills and witness their sparkling moments when they knew God was with them. He also worked The Steps for himself, reviewed parts of his own life story through narrative therapy, aired out some complicated story lines and came to see his hard won strengths in an all new way.

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UCC CPE student, Cecilia Baxter, working with LSS Refugee Services

Transformational learning – that is what happens in the Social Justice based units of Clinical Pastoral Education at The Greater Minneapolis Council of Churches. We began the CPE program in the prisons inviting pastors and seminarians into the cell blocks in 1998. Since then we have done CPE in close to 100 placements. They have included homeless shelters like Dorothy Day, and wet and dry houses like Glenwood and Evergreen, Refugee Services with families just arriving in the airport, a Trucking Company in Menomonie, a food shelf specializing in their work with Hispanic people who go without food on days they fear ICE will show up, drop in centers where folks living with chronic long-term mental illness find community at Positive Avenues in Eau Claire or at Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Dignity Center in Minneapolis – places where all are welcome and pastors both seek to be healed and offer the healing care of listening.

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Rev. Dr. Allers Hatlie received the Emerging Leader award at the ACPE national meeting in May, 2014 for innovative CPE in prophetic ministry settings. She is pictured with Rev. John MacDougall from Hazelden and Rev. Gary Sartain, Regional Director of ACPE.

We also offer CPE in many congregational based settings such as Messiah Lutheran, the church community that is our partner with Lutheran Social Services at the Center for Changing Lives (CFCL). The CFCL at 2400 Park Ave is our classroom and all of our CPE pastors, faith leaders, and seminarians become part of the ministry of bridging when they walk in the door there. On the marquis it says “Be Loved Here.” It is the place where all lives are changed for the better. Other partners are The Recovery Church, Redeemer Lutheran and Camden Promise in north Minneapolis.

We create CPE placements to fit the needs and interests of pastors and seminarians who have a sense of where their next learning, where their own next healing might come from, and what they are drawn to do in ministry. We also welcome ideas for placements and are looking for pastors to mentor new faith leaders coming out of the five seminaries in our area. Have a great idea for a CPE placement? Feel free to contact me by email!

…from Rev. Dr. Susan Allers Hatlie (pictured at right), Director of Pastoral Education at the Greater Minneapolis Council of Churches and Minnesota Conference UCC Authorized Minister

Daoud Nassar, Palestinian Christian: Steadfast Witness

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Winner of Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture’s Peace Site Award, 2010

Daoud Nassar, Palestinian Christian

Fall 2014 US Tour: Steadfast Witness

Please join us for a presentation by Daoud Nassar, a Palestinian Christian farmer whose family works its 100-acre farm and orchard just outside the town of Bethlehem. It is on this farm that the family members strive to maintain a haven of peace and brother/sisterhood through activities at the Tent of Nations (TON.)

This dynamic peace and local education center was established by the Nassar family in 2000. International visitors, including many Israelis, join together to plant trees, harvest olives and fruit, teach at the Women’s Education Center, lead activities in Youth Summer Camps, and come together in solidarity and shared goals in the pursuit of a just peace through non-violent activities.

In the last seven years, Daoud has traveled to the U.S on 13 occasions, and spoken at nearly 350 sites in over 50 cities and towns in 130 churches, 85 universities/colleges and at 18 conferences. He is an engaging speaker, and his message is a call to both justice and to reconciliation. 

You are invited to hear Daoud Speak:

  • Saturday; November 1st; 9:30 am; Middle East Peace Now Forum @ Lutheran Church of Christ the Redeemer; Minneapolis.
  • Sunday, November 2nd; 9:30 am Adult Forum; @ Macalester Plymouth United Church; St. Paul
  • Sunday, November 2nd ; 12:30 pm @ Central Lutheran Church, Minneapolis
  • Sunday, November 2nd ; 5:00 pm @ Christ Presbyterian Church, Edina
  • Monday, November 3rd ; 7:00 pm @ Westminster Presbyterian Church, Minneapolis
  • Tuesday, November 4th ; 7:00 pm @ United Theological Seminary, New Brighton
  • Wednesday, November 5th; 8:00 am; People of Faith Peace Makers @ African Development Center, Minneapolis
  • Wednesday, November 5th ; 7:15 pm @ Unity Unitarian, St. Paul
  • Saturday, November 8th ; 9:00 am @ Northfield United Methodist Church; full day conference
  • Sunday, November 9th 8:30 & 11:00 am @ Mayflower Congregational UCC, Minneapolis

FRIENDS OF TENT OF NATIONS NORTH AMERICA (www.FOTONNA.ORG) is a volunteer organization that supports the work of the Tent of Nations by organizing educational tours for Daoud Nassar. For questions regarding the above schedule you may contact ebmoore1@live.com.

Thanksgiving Day Free Store

The Thanksgiving Day Free Store will be open for business for the 20th time this November distributing winter coats and other necessities to individuals and families in need. As the name implies, everything in the store is free. The Thanksgiving Day Free Store is held at St. Stephen’s School building on Clinton Avenue in Minneapolis, and is only open on Thanksgiving Day. In 2012, more than 700 people were served. The guests were mostly men, but there were more than 100 women and more than 70 children. Many were homeless.

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060 resizedThis yearly event started in 1995 by Jo and Don Senander as an outreach of Union Congregational United Church of Christ in St. Louis Park, Minnesota. Their tireless efforts have sustained the project for the past two decades with the assistance of hundreds of other individuals. Although it began within the church, it now draws many, many volunteers from outside the Union congregation.

The event was organized to increase the dignity of individuals and families in need by distributing, free of charge, winter clothing and other basic personal items including winter coats, hats, boots, sweatshirts, socks, underwear, and personal care products.

There are many ways that you can become involved in this important mission. Donations of new or gently used winter coats are especially needed. Many more coats are needed before this year’s event. Donations of hats, gloves, sweaters, belts, backpacks, and duffel bags are also needed. Other items for the event must be purchased such as thermal underwear, sweatpants, socks, personal care products, and backpacks and school supplies for children. Cash donations are needed to make these purchases possible.

In recent years, another avenue for involvement has emerged as knitters at Union UCC have organized to knit winter hats for the free store. These volunteers have continued to challenge themselves and now provide about half of the hats that are given to guests.

104 resizedIn the weeks before Thanksgiving, a tremendous number of volunteers are needed. Coats and other items must be moved from off-site storage locations to Union church to be sorted. The week before Thanksgiving, the church is bursting as volunteers spend days sorting items and organizing everything by size. A night or two before Thanksgiving, everything has to be moved to St. Stephen’s. This effort takes two large trucks, a number of vans and dozens of volunteers. Setting up and running the store starts early on Thanksgiving morning and also requires dozens of volunteers. There is no better way to spend Thanksgiving than giving others more to be thankful for and reminding yourself of your own blessings.

You will find many details about the Thanksgiving Day Free Store including how you can donate and volunteer at www.tdfreestore.org.

…from Kathy Hunter, member of Union Congregational UCC, St. Louis Park

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PARABLES: An Inspiring Model of Ministry

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WCC _Inspire_logo_final_colorThe National Office of the UCC has chosen the PARABLES Worship Service at Wayzata Community Church as an “Inspiring Model of Ministry” for churches across the country! To celebrate this honor, on Sunday, October 26th, WCC, the National Office and the Minnesota Conference of the UCC will be hosting a day long event inviting pastors, worship leaders, Christian educators, lay leaders and seminary students to experience the PARABLES ministry first hand. This will include attending the worship service, fellowship with families, reflection over lunch and time to consider how to bring a Parables-like service out to other churches.

Here is what Rev. Dr. Lorna Bradley, a Fellow at the Hope and Healing Institute in Houston, Texas had to say about her recent PARABLES Experience

“Hospitality and welcoming in worship are things we all know about. Hopefully we’ve all experienced both. Sadly, as parents of children with special needs, that hospitality is often lacking – so when we truly receive it, we know how precious a gift it is.

I recently attended worship at Parables. I knew about the service. I read about it, watched a video, and talked at length with the founding pastor, Rev. Leslie Neugent. KNOWING about Parables and EXPERIENCING Parables were different matters entirely. It was boundary-breaking, joy-filled worship with surprises and the in-breaking of God at every turn. If you live anywhere near Wayzata, MN, you must experience this worship for yourself. Even if you don’t live near, it’s worth the trip! I flew all the way from Texas and know without a doubt it will not be my only experience of Parables. If your church could use an infusion of radical hospitality to the special needs community in worship, go to Parables!  

What’s so different about this service? It is worship created for and led by people with special needs. I wrote in my blog recently a prayer, ‘Please God, let something happen in worship today

that isn’t printed in the bulletin.’ That prayer was answered. Big time! Picture a parade of whoever cares to participate processing down the aisle, singing, shaking tambourines, hand in hand with the pastor. A young man with sensory issues held his hands over his ears even as he marched in joyously, and then decided to go sit on the chancel steps for the rest of the service. A fine plan! It has the best view! During a break in the action a young lady who was late to church gave the pastor a seemingly never-ending hug, marching onto the altar to do so. Why should it matter? A young man, who was until very recently non-verbal, went around the room during the time of greeting saying, ‘Hello. How are you?’ It made me cry tears of joy. I saw the hands and feet of Jesus at work in these participants.

How often are people with differences celebrated in worship? How often do they get to offer their gifts and let them shine?”

Please join us at Wayzata Community Church for a day of sharing the inclusive love of Jesus. Register now!

…from Rev. Leslie Neugent, Wayzata Community Church