Conference News

Welcome to our Newest MN Conference Staff Member

Mark HannanLast week the office of the Minnesota Conference welcomed our newest staff member.  Alison Bents left her work with the MN Conference at the end of 2014. She is greatly missed. To serve as Administrative Assistant to the Conference Minister, the Conference has just hired Mark Hannan. Next time you call the office or drop by be sure to give Mark a hearty UCC welcome!

Mark is returning to Minnesota after five years working in Chicago, IL with a consortium of Midwest seminaries called SCUPE. This non-profit offers theological courses for seminary students interested in ministry in the urban context. In 2009, Mark was a student there himself as a part of coursework and an internship toward an Urban Ministry degree from Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN.

Previous to work in the non-profit arena, Mark was active for six years as Director of Youth & Family Ministry at an ELCA congregation in Rochester, MN. He is an avid reader, social justice advocate, and lover of all stringed instruments blessed with frets.

Please send all future COMMAntary
pieces to Mark at

FAQs Regarding the Search & Call in Minnesota

Mizpah UCC - COMMAntary

FAQs regarding Search & Call in Minnesota


How long does it take get a new settled Pastor?

  • It depends. Based on recent searches, between 10 and 24 months. Longer if there are significant issues for an Interim Minister to address, or if a church really likes its Interim Minister. Churches that really like their Interims tend to take longer with their searches.


How many applicants will the search committee get?

  • In the metro area, 30-50 is typical. Fewer if the position is not full-time.
  • In greater Minnesota, 10-30 for a full-time position. Fewer for part-time.


What kind of applicants will we get?

  • Many will be seeking their first call to qualify them for ordination. These people may be young or not so young, first career or 2nd– or 3rd-
  • Others will be more experienced. Note: 54% of all active (non-retired) UCC clergy are over 60 years of age. 83% are over 50 years of age.
  • ONA churches get more applicants. Based on recent searches, about 25-30% of applicants may be lesbian or gay.
  • Some applicants may be from other denominations. 20% of our congregations are served by non-UCC pastors.
  • The last 5 searches (1 metro, 4 in greater Minnesota) all called ministers from other states, specifically California, Colorado, Indiana, Washington, and New Hampshire.


How much should we budget for the search?

  • Committees should cover all costs for applicants who are interviewed in person. Between airfare, auto expenses, meals and accommodations, it may cost up to $1,000 for every in-person interview. Most search committees budget $3,000 to $5,000 for this.
  • Relocation costs: most searches are ‘capping’ the costs to move a pastor, or are negotiating them in conjunction with other compensation. Recent moves have cost churches between $3,200 and $8,000. Actual costs may be higher.


Who should be on the search committee, and how large should the committee be?

  • Qualities desired in search committee members: 1) currently active in, and committed to the church; 2) positive attitude; 3) team player; 4) open-minded (no hidden agendas); 5) able to maintain absolute confidentiality; 6) good listener; 7) trusted and respected by congregation . . .
  • Size of committee: 5-8. An even number is ok because most decisions are made by consensus.


When asked to describe their experiences as search committee members, some said:

  • “We loved working together – deep discussion, frequent laughter, and we felt honored to do this important work for the congregation.” “This was a good opportunity to get to know church members in more depth, and it was enlightening to see the range of applicants and how they do things.” “It was a faith-building experience, and we were heartened by seeing so many ministers with progressive ideals and strong faith.”


What advice do you have for churches anticipating a pastoral transition?

COMMAnts from the Conference Minister | February 2015

Mixing Faith & Politics

shari prestemonThe world took note this week as Pope Francis declared Archbishop Oscar Romero as a martyr, opening up the possibility that he might eventually be named a saint.

Romero was assassinated in El Salvador in 1980 while he celebrated a Catholic Mass. Prior to his murder, he had become a fierce human rights advocate, speaking out against repression and on behalf of the poor in a Salvadoran context that would soon erupt in civil war. In a homily he delivered just one day before he was killed, he preached: “In the name of God, and in the name of this suffering people, whose laments rise to heaven each day more tumultuous, I beg you, I beseech you, I order you in the name of God: Stop the repression!”

The announcement from the Vatican this week declaring Romero a martyr came after over 3 decades of debate in the Catholic Church about whether Romero was killed because of his politics or his faith.  My question is this: aren’t faith and politics inextricably linked?

Like Romero, I am a student of what’s termed “liberation theology,” an understanding of faith and of God that tells me an authentic struggle for social justice – ‘liberation’ from all that binds and oppresses God’s people — is an absolute requirement of our scriptural texts and the teachings of Jesus.  More than having been drawn by my readings about liberation theology in seminary, I saw liberation theology at work when I served as mission personnel in the Philippines, when I worked on the frontlines with the poor in Mississippi, and in countless other places across the world and in the U.S.  In each place, the struggle for justice and liberation became an act of faith itself, an empowering resistance to injustice grounded in the belief that God desires fullness of life for ALL God’s children.

That’s why Archbishop Romero dared to challenge an oppressive government and stand with the poor.  That’s why Back Bay Mission consistently advocates for the homeless on the Gulf Coast when few others will.  That’s why so many today across our nation and here in Minnesota are joining the “Black Lives Matter” movement.  That’s why in the United Church of Christ we work so diligently on issues like racism and immigration and LGBT rights and poverty and global peace. Because our faith demands no less of us.

Is that mixing faith and politics?  Perhaps.  After all, sometimes seeking justice means having to challenge systems and change policies.  And that necessitates a certain level of political involvement.  But where conventional wisdom might counsel against mixing faith and politics, I say “so be it.”  Let your faith lead you.  Let justice roll.

Grace and peace,

Shari signature

Reverend Shari Prestemon, Conference Minister

January 2015 Board of Directors Report

The Board’s January 10th meeting was hosted by Plymouth Congregational Church. Rev. Dr. Paula Northwood, Minister for education at Plymouth, welcomed the Board and led a time of prayer.

Sandy Lindahl from Ackley Consulting presented a draft of the case for support that will be used to conduct a campaign feasibility study. The case outlines two priorities: the Leadership Initiative and Pilgrim Point Camp. The Leadership Initiative, with a goal of $3,307,500, would expand our current programs in order to equip lay people and ministers to serve in these changing times. The goal for Pilgrim Point Camp is $5,218,500, which would ensure the long term sustainability of the camp’s physical site and life-changing ministry.

The feasibility study will take place in late February and will include about 45 in-depth interviews that will test the level of support across the Conference for the proposed campaign objectives and funding levels. Data gathered from the feasibility study will guide the Board in determining whether or not to conduct a campaign.  The Board will receive an initial verbal report from the study in March and the formal written report in May.

Conference Minister Rev. Shari Prestemon reported that she has hired a new administrative assistant who will begin on February 2. She spoke about the need for the Conference to adopt a more holistic approach to financial development and to develop better resources to interpret OCWM. She shared with the Board that the Church on the Move event in November brought together 45 people and 10 congregations to learn and reflect on issues of congregational vitality.

Associate Conference Minister Rev. Rick Wagner reflected on his work with search and call, explaining that around 50 percent of his time is spent in this area. Associate Conference Minister Wade Zick provided a summary of Ashley Mission and Service Micro-grants.

The Attorney General has approved the unrestricting of two small funds. The Board needs to decide about how to use the funds in the future. The Conference will soon begin developing its Budget for 2016.  At this time, staff and committees are giving their input. We exceeded our goal for Give to the Max Day and connected with four new donors.

In Oby Ballinger’s absence, Conference Minister Shari Prestemon provided the Board with an update from a task force working on the implementation of the Anti-Racism resolution passed at last June’s annual meeting.  The Task Force has identified a speaker for Annual Meeting and the Minnesota Council of Churches as a potential resource for small group conversations during the meeting. The task force is also developing a list of recommended resources for board and staff anti-racism training.

A purchase agreement has been executed for Pilgrims UCC/Maple Grove property with another faith community needing more space.

The Board considered whether or not to take action on a resolution submitted to General Synod from the Central Atlantic Conference: “Dismantling the New Jim Crow.” The board voted not to bring this resolution formally to the Annual Meeting but to ensure that a workshop happens on this topic at the meeting.

National Religious Leaders Speak Out Against House Ant-Immigrant Vote

WASHINGTON—National faith leaders have mobilized together to oppose the anti-immigrant vote passing the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act for 2015 in the U.S. House of Representatives on January 14, 2015.

Rev. John L. McCullough, President and CEO, Church World Service:
“This vote is a clear and present danger to our nation’s conscience and to victims of trafficking, unaccompanied children, DREAMers and undocumented parents of US citizens. In this new year, House Republican leaders had an opportunity to start fresh and place people over politics. Instead, their first moves were to scrap years of progress and victories for immigrant families. This is a moral outrage as millions threatened with deportation were just starting to breathe a sigh of relief. As this legislation moves to the Senate, we pray for all Senators – particularly Majority Leader Mitch McConnell – and urge them to stand firmly with America’s history as a beacon of hope, safe refuge and freedom.”

Sister Simone Campbell, executive director, NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby:
“It is outrageous that the 114th Congress chooses to focus its first immigration vote on something as destructive to the basic spirit of our country as this legislation. Not only does it strip protections from immigrants helped by the president’s executive action, but it also targets “Dreamers,” immigrant children who have grown up in the U.S., along with refugee children from Central America. Seeking to harm children and contributing members of our communities is not an American value, and Congress should be ashamed.”

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop and Primate, The Episcopal Church:
I give thanks for President Obama’s announcement that nearly five million undocumented immigrants will soon be eligible for relief from the threat of deportation. Too many families have lived for too long continually worried about parents being separated from children, wage-earners and caregivers from those who depend on them, and unable to participate fully in their communities and the nation’s economy.  Permanent and comprehensive reform of our broken immigration system through congressional action is still urgently needed, but the President’s action is a constructive step toward a system that honors the dignity and intrinsic value of every human being.

(Signed by 100 Episcopal Bishops, see

Mark Hetfield, President & CEO, HIAS:
“The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Appropriations bill is being hijacked by members of Congress who have been derelict in their duty to repair the nation’s broken immigration system. The President issued the Immigrant Accountability Executive Action only after waiting six years for Congress to present him with legislation to improve efficiency, humanity, and security in our country’s broken immigration system… Instead of fulfilling the shared American and Jewish value of treating the stranger as yourself, Congress’ only solution has been to push twelve million people living among us even deeper into the shadows. It is too bad the new Congress does not have a new approach to immigration—this country deserves a strong and secure system that treats all refugees, asylum seekers, and immigrants with dignity.”

Rev. Sharon Watkins, General Minister and President, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ):
“As a believer bound through God’s covenant of love to one another and to seek justice for the vulnerable, I am disheartened by today’s amendment votes which threaten to remove humanitarian and anti-trafficking safeguards for children, asylees, and others seeking safety, family unity, and hope. As one committed to seek wholeness and Justice for the weak, I am concerned that DREAMers and victims of domestic violence could be put at risk of deportation through the amendments just approved. Our ministries continue to advocate for immigration reform legislation that is just, humane, and compassionate, and for protections that will help families in our faith community contribute as taxpayers and leaders without fear.”

Nancy K. Kaufman, CEO, National Council of Jewish Women:
“The amendments to the appropriations bill for the Department of Homeland Security that would revoke protections against detention and deportation extended by President Obama strike a blow against progress toward permanent immigration reform, and endanger millions of hard-working immigrant families. Not only would the amendments reverse the deferred deportation of children brought to the US, they would also end the President’s ability to set enforcement priorities, resulting in random and arbitrary removal of individuals who have deep ties to the US or who have been the victims of domestic abuse… We urge the Senate to remove these provisions from the Homeland Security bill and instead return, with the House, to the difficult task of determining the fate of 11 million immigrants who need to become fully integrated into the American legal system.”

Sister Patricia McDermott, RSM, President, Sisters of Mercy of the Americas:
“I am deeply troubled that the House of Representatives continues to advance legislation designed to rip families apart, instead of voting on comprehensive immigration reform. The amendments that passed today call for deporting parents and DREAMers, thus perpetuating the suffering caused by our broken immigration system.”

Rabbi Steve Gutow, President, Jewish Council for Public Affairs:
“While this legislation passed in the House, it is unlikely to be approved by the Senate or signed by the President, therefore delaying the guarantee of needed funds for critical homeland security programs. Rather than continuing down this route, we urge Congress to come together to pass lasting immigration reform. We are an immigration nation and must be steadfast in our efforts to fix our broken immigration system. In the last Congress, the Senate approved a bipartisan immigration reform bill.  That bill should serve as a model for Congress today, both in substance and in how members of both political parties came together to address a pressing national issue. Jewish tradition teaches us to love the stranger, to welcome all into the fold and work towards building a better world together. We must remember these teachings and our history as the Jewish people, as wanderers in the land of Egypt and immigrants to the United States, as we secure a brighter future for all those who wish to call our nation home.”

Rev. Linda Jaramillo, Executive Minister, United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministry:
“The United Church of Christ is committed to supporting immigrant families in their quest for just immigration policies. Last year, we fully supported the executive action to provide relief from deportations for as many as five million undocumented people. We are deeply disappointed and troubled by the short-sighted and mean-spirited action of the House of Representatives which disregards the core values of our faith traditions to love our neighbor and welcome the stranger. The attempt to outlaw deferred action for parents and children sets a dangerous trend and we will stand strong in opposition to any attempts to rollback just administrative relief measures. Our journey toward justice will continue as we accompany our immigrant neighbors in their yearning to keep their families together.”

Ann Scholz, SSND, Associate Director for Social Mission, Leadership Conference of Women Religious:
The Leadership Conference of Women Religious is deeply disappointed that the U.S. House of Representatives has chosen to pass truly harmful amendments to H.R. 240, the Fiscal Year 2015 Homeland Security Appropriations bill.  The provisions in these amendments would have devastating effects on members of our communities including the DREAMers we teach and the immigrant families we serve.

Special note: Religious leaders are available for media interviews.

COMMAnts from the Conference Minister | January 2015

shari prestemonA couple of weeks ago I had the heavy privilege of sharing in worship with members of Freeborn Congregational UCC.  It was the last worship service this congregation would ever have, for it had made the painful decision to end its ministry and close its doors after 141 years of faithful service.  The grief was palpable in the sanctuary as they remembered together all the memories a local congregation creates over so many years.  There was also laughter and joy in the gathering, though, as they celebrated the bonds of the Spirit that were everywhere apparent. I pray for each of those members, and for their pastor Reverend Cherie Daniel, that they might know the enduring graces and strength of a God who binds us together wherever we worship and however we minister.

A church closing is a painful and sobering thing.  There have been 3 such church closings in the Minnesota Conference UCC in just the last year-and-a-half.  A recent article in the Christian Century said that on an average day in the United States, nine churches close their doors for good.  Such data adds to our sense of despair in the mainline church, as we wring our hands about the changing nature of church, its role in society, and its seemingly overwhelming challenges as we look to the future.

But while a church closure is always an occasion for grief and introspection, it can actually be the most faithful decision a congregation can make at a certain point.  Sometimes the less faithful decision is to keep a church open “no matter what”, especially when the actual ministry and mission of the church has all but disappeared long ago. Just this week a lay leader of another of our Minnesota Conference congregations called me to ask how their church should approach the question of whether to close or not.  I admired his desire to be prayerful and thoughtful about what will surely be an excruciatingly painful discussion among that congregation’s membership. After some conversation about some practical matters regarding congregational by-laws, decision-making procedures, and pastoral leadership, I left him with this question: what do you ultimately want your congregation’s legacy to be?

That’s a question worth considering when the matter at hand is how best to distribute remaining assets at the time of a church closure.  But it’s also a question with which all of us– from the most vital congregation to the ones struggling hardest to survive–   should wrestle.  What is it that we want our congregations to have ultimately contributed to not only our memberships, but to our communities, the wider church, and indeed the world?  What is the impact we want to make?  What are the unique ministries to which God is calling us in every stage of our congregational life?

Confronting these questions with bold honesty and with vision in our congregational and denominational life is itself an act of faith and a sign of vitality.  And we do so faithfully aware that God’s resurrecting power is always at work and stretching to breathe new possibility for mission and ministry, even when the church we’ve known and loved is no more.

May God bless this ministry we share,

Shari signature

Delegation Will Carry Your Letter to Child Detained at the Border

A delegation sponsored by the Mayflower (Mpls) Immigration Team is heading to the Texas-Mexico border on January 11 and would like to bring letters of support to detained children and mothers written by many members of the Minnesota Conference.

Imagine yourself having to leave your country because of policies inflicted on you from another country. That is what has happened to thousands of children and mothers who have been crossing the Mexico-Texas border. U.S. trade policies have led to the loss of millions of jobs in Mexico and Central America. In Mexico alone, low prices of U.S. corn made 8 million farms unsustainable. Because they have lost their way of making a living, migrants from Mexico and Central America cross the border in hopes of finding jobs that will enable their families to survive. It is a risky business, crossing the border! The increase in border security has made crossing even more dangerous. Seeing no other alternative, children and families choose to take the risk.

In the past year over 68,000 unaccompanied minors were apprehended at the border. A similar number of families was apprehended. This led to incarceration of these children and families even though they had committed no crime. About 300 of these children have come to Minnesota in the past several months due to family members living here.

On January 11, the Mayflower-sponsored group of sixteen will head for El Paso. The group will include Minnesota Conference Minister, Rev. Shari Prestemon. Through the organization Abriendo Fronteras, the group will be visiting family detention centers, talking to border control agents, visiting immigration court, meeting with people who working to help the families, and witnessing what some of our UCC churches are doing in the area. The group would like to take letters to the children who are in detention. The purpose of the letters is to let the children know that there are people in the US, and in particular, in Minnesota, who are thinking about them and wanting them to know that they care about what happens to them. We are inviting any child or adult to write a letter to a child in detention or to a mother. The Mayflower group will carry these letters to El Paso and hand them to the children and/or mothers. Please consider inviting the children in your Sunday School classes to write letters. If they know Spanish, please write in Spanish. If not, someone will translate the letters and attach the translation. It would be wonderful to have Minnesota Conference churches participate.

Contact Diane Haines, Mayflower Immigration Team, at if you are interested.

Why we support the Minnesota Conference UCC

Supporting the Minnesota Conference makes Rev. Frank Bennett, Assoc. Minister for Pastoral Care at Wayzata Community church, and his wife, Mary Lenard, very happy indeed!
Annalese Wright, Development Officer for the Minnesota Conference UCC, recently had a conversation with Rev. Frank Bennett, member of the Conference’s Board of Directors and ministry staff at Wayzata Community Church, about why he and his wife, Mary Lenard, choose to give generously to the Minnesota Conference.

When you last made a donation to the Conference, how did that make you feel?
Happy. Proud to support an organization doing tremendous work. It makes us feel hopeful that our donation will contribute to the future of the Minnesota Conference of the UCC – to ensure there is a future.

What would you tell someone who is thinking about donating to the Conference?
That this is a great faith-based organization that makes effective use of every donation. That their donation would have significant impact, and there would be tangible evidence of their support for their denomination and the work that it does supporting congregations, members and clergy as we work to bring peace on earth a little closer to reality.

Why do you donate to the Conference?
We give because we continue to be impressed with the results the Conference is able to achieve and the programs it offers with the resources it has. There are some organizations that do little with a lot of money, and then there are organizations like this Conference that do a lot with so little. We’re enjoying the benefits of being members of the United Church of Christ, we view it as our responsibility to support it. It’s part duty, but it’s also wanting to ensure that the UCC has the resources it needs to grow and develop. A donation to the Conference has tremendous impact on 132 churches and nearly 30,000 members. It’s really hard to find another organization where you can make that kind of impact.

Please consider joining me in making your contribution to the Annual Fund today! By making your gift today, you will make a tremendous difference in helping the Minnesota Conference continue in our mission work, and provide program offerings for churches, families, clergy and lay leaders.
Please make your donation before December 31st!
Thank you, and merry Christmas from the Minnesota Conference United Church of Christ!

You will be enriched

You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity which will produce thanksgiving to God. – 2 Corinthians 9:11

Already, we have entered into the season of Advent and await new birth and the coming of the Christ child. As we begin to think about Christmas, let us rejoice and be thankful for the blessings and abundance in our lives.

At the Minnesota Conference, we are grateful for your support. We count on you as one of our many blessings. As we move forward into Advent, please prayerfully consider how you might be able to further sustain our mission, programs and ministry.

We invite you to make your donation as a Friend of the Conference to the Annual Fund.
The impact of your gift is felt in multiple ways:

  • Healthier congregations in small and large, rural and urban communities during times of leadership transition, crisis, and change.
  • Trained and equipped clergy and lay leaders.
  • Advocacy for social justice and compassionate service to the world around us.
  • Prophetic witness teams who embrace positive change on issues such as immigration, poverty, racism, and homelessness.
  • Faith formation across the generations that occur in many settings.
  • Encouragement, training and resources for new and emerging pastors to serve in leadership roles.

You transform lives of clergy, lay people and church members of our UCC and beyond when you make your contribution.

Please remember to make your donation before December 31st, 2014.

Thank you for your continued support.

Donate Now

Graceful Journey

Every day 10,000 Americans become 65 years old, a demographic trend that will continue through 2029. This “age wave” impacts all sectors of our society, not the least of which is the faith community. How is your congregation strategically planning for the inevitable growing needs of an aging membership? Will your other vital ministries also be sustained? Does the church have a unique role to play in an aging mission field? When it comes to caring for people who are aging and nearing the end of life, we can strengthen our ministry with our Minnesota Council of Churches’ Graceful Journey program.

Graceful Journey is a unique public engagement program, providing support and tools through congregations to help people contemplate end-of-life decisions in the context of their faith community. Through Graceful Journey, a community experiences transformation as they, together, learn to support and care for each other during life’s ultimate journey. The program has two components: Workshops facilitated by trained Faith Ambassadors and delivered in congregations; and Congregation of Care team trainings that prepare congregations to develop distinctive support systems.

Minnesota Council of Churches developed Graceful Journey because we know that life is a journey. People make decisions at every stage of life – where to live, who to marry, which school to attend, what kind of vacation to take, what profession we choose. Although most people want to avoid talking about and making decisions about the end of life, the consequences of not having the discussion can be costly and grim. Graceful Journey presentations provide the tools to spur those conversations. They help people make important decisions in advance on the basis of deeply held religious beliefs, not in the moment when fear and anxiety are often more present.

Group-4 women426Graceful Journey workshops will soon be delivered in the Duluth area, and we are recruiting Faith Ambassadors to train for them. Faith Ambassadors should feel called to help people face the end of life in a more graceful fashion, be comfortable speaking in front of people, and be willing to receive a stipend on a per-presentation basis. Two days of training in the Graceful Journey modules will be provided. To learn more and apply to become a Duluth-area Faith Ambassador, click here.

In Congregations of Care, teams from different faith communities devise strategies and ministries to serve the aging in their context. They recommit to caring for the elderly members of their communities and innovate the best ways to do so as they meet with others about four times in the course of six months. Team members emerge with new information and a ready-to-implement ministry plan. This long-term training program has a waiting list. To add your name to the Congregations of Care waiting list, email Mary Walesch.