Conference News

COMMAnts from the Conference Minister | December 2014

Waiting for God’s Intervention

shari prestemonThe decorations have been pulled out of the attics or other deep recesses where they languished for 11 months. The frenzy of shopping and lists and social calendars and family events has begun. Favorite songs of Christmas cheer pour from loud speakers and clinking bells greet us at store entrances. All this is the familiar and frantic pace of these weeks before Christmas.

Yet, so little of that resembles what Advent is really about in our Christian life. This faithful season of pensive anticipation and hope-filled waiting for Christ to come is lost in the din of what has become our culture’s obsessive rush to Christmas. We have no time to reflect on the wonder of God born flesh among us, no patience for pondering how we need God still to enter our lives and world in stunningly unexpected ways.

Yet that is the quality of Advent we so profoundly need right now… an Advent full of quiet hope and prayerful anticipation, a time when we are willing to sit with the unrest and despair in our lives and await the intervention of God’s Word and fresh Promise. We need God’s Advent in Ferguson, Missouri and in all the places where injustice and brokenness dwell. We need God’s Advent in families and households where grief resides and hope is lost. We need God’s Advent in the Church, when we struggle to discern God’s call and purpose for us amid vastly changing times. We need Christ to enter in with unmistakable clarity and boldness. We need Advent.

As these weeks of Advent unfold before us, I pray that you might find the time and space to sit with all the places in your life that yearn for God’s wisdom and presence to be made known. I pray that in our sanctuaries and church life there might be a quality and character to this holy season that avoids the endless frenzy and embraces instead the gifts of prayerful anticipation and faith-filled hope. And I give abundant thanks for all the ways our ministry together in the Minnesota Conference United Church of Christ reveals whatever bits of God’s glory and promise the world so desperately needs.

May you know the wondrous blessings and persevering hope of the season,

Shari signature

A letter in the wake of the Ferguson indictment decision

But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

Then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

                                                                                Mark 13:24-27

Dear friends and colleagues in the Gospel,

We could not know what would come of the grand jury decision rendered last evening. For some, it meant a limited form of  justice; for others, a frustrating dissonance with the truth as they see it. How you see the decision probably depends upon your whole orientation as a human being, but is there more to see?

Mark’s Gospel lesson for this coming Sunday talks about people seeing more than they once were able to see. They see the Son of Man, who gathers the beloved of God, but not until a great cataclysm has occurred, when the powers of the heavens themselves are shaken. I do not take such words as literal predictions. Cataclysmic visions, in biblical times as well as our own, are reflections of actually witnessed events.

The disruption of the order of the world in Mark’s little apocalypse is described as the climax of a time of great suffering, as though the heavens themselves give testimony to the wrongfulness all around, and there is a bursting of the firmament, which is now dissolved, and then, in new clarity, the bearer of God’s incisive truth breaks through with light and a brand new truth.

Beloved, we need a brand new truth! We need something better than a grand jury truth, better than an assumption that real justice can be rendered in a setting where privilege and disadvantage go unremedied and unseen, better than all the efforts to find someone to blame. There is great sorrow for the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, but the greater sorrow is for the many young men who live today in hopelessness, because their future is bleak in the cities of America; and the greater sorrow is neighborhood businesses destroyed by a rage that is nurtured in people convinced that they have no place, and nothing to lose, within the economy of their urban setting; and the greater sorrow includes as well those law enforcement officers who walk fearful in their neighborhoods, because they are assigned to patrol hostile streets where they do not live, that are created by years of social neglect.

First there was a moment of death that became a symbol, then the appearance of regarding it as nothing; then the anger; then the blaming; then the usual official reaction; then the protest and more blaming; then the verdict; then the fire and the looting; then the endless interpretations. Now we need a brand new truth. We need to be a part of it.

“After that suffering…Then they will see… “ May it be so.

Pray this week for two pastors of the United Church of Christ who have been appointed to the Ferguson Commission by the Governor of Missouri: Traci Blackmon, Pastor of Christ the King Church in Florissant, and Starsky Wilson, Pastor of St. John’s Church on North Grand and Executive Director of the Deaconess Foundation. May each of our churches lift them up in prayer this Sunday, and thankfully commission them for this special sacred ministry to which they have been called. They honor us by their faithful witness.

Pray for the young people of Ferguson and other urban neighborhoods, where the dangers of childhood and the alienation of youth are daily challenges to hope.

Pray for the shopkeepers whose life dreams are destroyed by acts of vandalism.

Pray for the residents of neighborhoods made tense and untrusting by social forces beyond their control.

Give thanks for those who are bringing help and comfort in these difficult times – our CHSSM agencies, our parish nurses, our pastors who interpret, march, comfort, preach nonviolence and seek justice, and our friends and neighbors who engage in sacred conversations about race.

This is a day for re-envisioning, for seeing what we could not see before, for gathering with one another from the four winds of our differences, for sharing and volunteering and engaging one another in the ongoing ministry we share.

Rev. Allen Fluent
Acting Conference Minister
Missouri Mid-South Conference UCC

Drop-In Resource Center for Homeless Youth “Birthed” by UCC Church

opendoorsA new community resource will soon be opening in Elk River, thanks to the initial efforts of Union Congregational Church, UCC of Elk River. Open Doors for Youth will be a resource center where homeless youth, ages 16-21, can acquire both basic needs and access to essential community services. The center will be open Mon-Fri 2-6pm and will be staffed by trained volunteers. A site has been leased and the goal is to be operational this coming February. Our new website will be up by Nov 29th – check us out! www.opendoorsforyouth.org.

This project has a strong link to our being an affirming congregation. In April of 2012 Union Congregational voted to become an Open and Affirming (ONA) church. Like other ONA churches, we began to discern what it meant to live into this covenant. Youth homelessness was already a focus our church was active in. For years our young people had been participating in Night on the Street. We had also been doing charity drives with Avenues for Homeless Youth in Minneapolis. As we looked more deeply into this topic, we discovered the disproportionate numbers of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender young people among the homeless youth population. National estimates are 30-40% of homeless youth identify as LGBT. We also learned LGBT individuals experiencing homelessness are often at a heightened risk of violence, abuse, and exploitation compared with their heterosexual peers. Transgender people are particularly at physical risk due to a lack of acceptance.

opendoors 2As an affirming and welcoming church, we decided to think big and find a way to meet the needs of ALL the homeless youth in our communities. After much research, we decided the best approach would be to open a drop-in resource center. Realizing that this would be a huge undertaking and one that required participation from the entire community, we decided to restructure Open Doors for Youth as a nonprofit community organization. We are partnering with Sherburne County Area United Way, our local school district, county human services, local businesses, service organizations, and individuals who share our vision of empowering all youth experiencing homelessness to shape their futures as self-sufficient and thriving adults.

If you would like further information, please contact Cheryl Wold, cherylw.opendoors@gmail.com or 763-241-0199.

Why I support Our Church’s Wider Mission

Mary Caroline Henry is a member of First United Church of Christ in Northfield, and she is also a member of the Our Church’s Wider Mission (OCWM) Subcommittee. Feeling passionate about why church members need to support OCWM, Mary talks about her personal beliefs and commitment that transcends giving beyond her church’s stewardship campaign. While supporting our own church is clearly relevant, Mary speaks about how we as a church community come together to meet larger state, national, and international needs to fulfill the broader mission of United Church of Christ. Please take a moment to watch this video to learn more about why we need every church’s involvement in Our Church’s Wider Mission. If you would like additional information or to speak with a member of the OCWM subcommittee, please contact Alison Bents in the Conference office (alisonb@uccmn.org or 612-871-0359) and she’ll be glad to help you.

OCWM . Mary Caroline from Minnesota Conference UCC on Vimeo.

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.

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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,

Shari signature

 

 

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

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