Conference News

Transformational Learning


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

daoud nassar

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

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

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

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PARABLES: An Inspiring Model of Ministry


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

Fall Youth Events at Pilgrim Point Camp!

10450373_10152780295022328_4612119657578952472_nThis past weekend 16 congregations sent middle school youth and leaders to Pilgrim Point Camp for the Middle School Conference Youth Event with a theme of “Extravagant Welcome.” The 87 participants were led in song and programs by Bryan Sirchio, singer / songwriter and author of The 6 Marks of Progressive Christian Worship Music. The energy was high as you might imagine, the message that every young person was welcomed and loved by God was boldly proclaimed and the hospitality through site staff and volunteers met with extremely high praise. Many thanks to all the leaders, volunteers and site staff who helped make the weekend so successful!

10659302_10152780295367328_5797214503604779752_nNext weekend, October 17-19, high school youth from around the conference will have their fall youth event at Pilgrim Point Camp with this coming Monday as the last day to register. Our keynoter is Hilary Flynn, High School Ministries director at Wayzata Community Church, leading us around the topic of “Courageous Conversations.” We will be dealing with how to truly listen to one another and discuss topics that at times can be both difficult and at the same time helpful to address. We will also spend time playing, singing and building great friendships across the congregations.


Registration for the High School Youth Event closes in 5 days!
Register Today!
Registration: $85 youth, $60 adult

Deadline for all registrations is October 13
Questions? Contact Zac Norenberg at or 612-871-0359.

Youth events are funded by participant fees and also offset through the continued generosity of OCWM giving and the Ashley Endowment of the Minnesota Conference UCC.


2014 Middle School Fall Conference Youth Event
Pilgrim Point Camps & Retreats

COMMAnts from the Conference Minister

Today marks my 1-year anniversary of being the Conference Minister of the Minnesota Conference United Church of Christ. What a challenging and blessed year it has been! I have learned so much from all of you as I have visited congregations, chatted with you at events, and worked alongside you in this vast ministry we share. So today I simply want to offer my gratitude to you for this journey we’ve been on together…

  • Thank you for your ministries in so many settings and places. Whether in congregations, chaplaincy settings, through our mission partners and educational institutions, or in your own communities and work, I am humbled and inspired by all you do to faithfully discern God’s call.
  • Thank you for your participation in the life of the Conference. When you serve on one of our committees or teams or work groups, when you attend Annual Meeting or a clergy cluster, when you gather with others from across the Conference at a Pilgrim Point retreat or some other Conference-sponsored event, you show me that you understand we are one family woven together in covenant and called to be Church as one. Your participation shows me you care about the wider church and value our relationships.
  • Thank you for your deep reservoir of passion and commitment to the work of seeking justice, building peace, and being in mission. I have been deeply moved by all the ways you engage in this essential work of our faith – as congregations and as individuals – and by your clear expectation that we as a Conference do the same.
  • Thank you for the many ways you share your gifts to strengthen our ministry and witness. Your generous giving to Our Church’s Wider Mission (OCWM) or to the Conference and Pilgrim Point Camp through “Friends of the Conference” empowers so much more than we could ever do as congregations or individuals alone. You allow ministry to multiply and God’s Good News of love, mercy, and extravagant welcome to unfold.
  • Finally, thank you so much for your patience and your graces as I have begun my ministry with you, climbed some learning curves, and acquainted myself with all the complexities of the Minnesota Conference and this particular calling. I treasure your welcome and your partnership.

I look forward to all we have ahead of us in the Minnesota Conference and United Church of Christ, and invite you to join me in steadfast prayer and in the ongoing work. The Conference is ALL OF US…..together!

Blessings and peace,
Shari signature

Open and Affirming Team Event Planning Meeting

Please join the Open and Affirming Ministry team as we begin planning 2015 events. We will gather at Mayflower Congregational UCC at 106 East Diamond Lake Road in Minneapolis on Saturday, October 11th from 10 am – noon. Following an introductory session in the church Fellowship Hall, we will divide into smaller groups to begin working on the ONA Celebration event on February 14th, the gathering before the Minnesota conference in mid-June, and planning for participation in Pride celebrations both in the Twin Cities and around the state next summer. This meeting is open to all who are interested in helping. Please contact Kim Graff at or at 651-768-0889 for more information. To aid in scheduling, it would be great if you could RSVP by October 9th and please indicate which event(s). If you would like to help but are unable to attend this initial meeting, please let us know and we will add you to the list for future meetings.

“THESE GORGEOUS PEOPLE in Mapleton, Minnesota are GOOD NEWS.”

Why in the world would a progressive, passionately Christian “mommy blogger” with over 254,000 likes on Facebook, a New York Times bestselling book, and a TEDx talk to her name notice a group of “gorgeous people” from a small church in Mapleton, Minnesota? I have no idea, but it happened on September 4th, 2014 right here. Glennon Doyle Melton is the woman behind the website, where she writes a blog, among many other awesome things. It was on her blog that The United Church of Mapleton got noticed because of our work this year with Church World Service (CWS).

The United Church has, for many years, been a faithful contributor to the CWS Kit program, providing school, hygiene, and baby kits for those in need both domestically and internationally. Earlier this year, our CWS kit point people, Hugo and Pat John, heard about the matching grant program offered this year by UCC Disaster Ministries for CWS kits, and were immediately inspired.

In the past, The United Church has sent an average of thirty or forty CWS kits each year. Inspired by the grant opportunity and the Spirit of God, the Johns seriously raised the bar for The United Church, issuing the challenge for us to send 100 school kits this fall. To be perfectly honest, as the pastor of The United Church, I was a little worried that we had bitten off more than we could chew, even with the help of the matching grant! 100 kits’ worth of school supplies and shipping is a lot of money and a lot of donations to come from a small congregation.

Clearly, God is still speaking in the midst of our community, and the donations quickly poured in from our congregants as well as from other nearby churches and friends of our congregation. In just over a month’s time, we assembled and shipped off 178 kits: 126 school kits, 32 hygiene kits, and 20 baby kits. Exceeding the challenge we had taken upon ourselves in service of the Kingdom of God was a moment of joy and celebration for us, knowing that our hard work and sacrificial giving would truly change someone’s life for the better.

Going back to where I started, how did we end up on Momastery? CWS is the kind of organization that I believe everyone can get behind: feeding the hungry and helping those in need. I have no idea how or why Glennon developed a passion for the work of CWS, but I’m glad she did. CWS featured The United Church’s kit efforts in two articles on its website here and here.

Apparently even famous bloggers like Glennon read the CWS news articles and get excited about how the Spirit of God moves in the world yet today. That’s surely where she saw “these gorgeous people in Mapleton, Minnesota” and was inspired to call them “good news” for their work in making sure that “kids in Missouri… and Serbia, and thousands and thousands more children like them in the US and around the world will have the supplies they need to go to school.”

And I’m blessed to call “these gorgeous people in Mapleton, Minnesota” my congregants. I give thanks to God for their work in not only assembling and sending off a record number of CWS Kits, but also that they continue to be attentive to the calling of God to be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ in the world today… even when their pastor is a bit skeptical… and doing this good, hard work whether or not they get noticed by famous bloggers, but because it is our calling as the people of God. Thanks be to God!

…from Rev. Ashley Whitaker, pastor, The United Church, Mapleton

Need a Kick-start on $tewardship?

The Center for Progressive Renewal (CPR) is providing an Intensive Online Stewardship Workshop for up to eight Minnesota Conference Churches.  Each church will able to send a team (up to 4 participants).  The workshop begins with a live online session at 9:00 a.m. (Central Time) Saturday, October 25, and ends with another live online session on Saturday, December 6th, also at 9:00 a.m.  The Workshop has five modules (including the online sessions on Oct. 25 and Dec. 6), and will include resources, reading assignments, group interaction through online forums and live and pre-recorded teaching.  CPR Director of Church Vitality, Rev. Michael Piazza, will be teaching 21st century stewardship leadership. Each participating church will be asked to prepare a Stewardship Action Plan to be reviewed by Rev. Piazza.

Costs to participate are based on the church’s annual budget.  For a church with a budget between $100,000 and $350,000 the cost will be $400.  If interested, or if you have questions, contact Rick Wagner at, but hurry, spots are filling up fast!

Let it Rain | First Congregational UCC, Brainerd

Brainerd celebrates the Mississippi River running through our city. When the Crow Wing Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) announced a community grant program last spring to help reduce impacts of rain and snow melt runoff (which ends up in the river), members of the First Congregational United Church of Christ of Brainerd saw an opportunity. The church was dealing with a couple of issues including standing water for long periods of time in the parking lot and excess roof runoff causing church building foundation problems. The congregation was awarded a grant to install two rain gardens and two rain barrels.

Brainerd Rain Garden 05The project did not come without challenges. The parking lot had a natural slope to where the south rain garden was installed, but due to a drop in elevation of the parking lot on either side, directing water to the garden was an issue. Fortunately we have members with architecture, construction and stormwater mitigation experience. We also tapped into the expertise of the SWCD technician. We designed and installed two valley gutters to intercept and direct runoff from the building, parking lot and adjacent alley into the rain garden. We installed a catchment to capture excessive sediment from the gravel alley (see photo).

The second rain garden was designed to absorb church building roof runoff and overflow from two 250 gallon rain barrels. We sloped the ground away from the building foundation into the rain garden. A rain garden berm outflow allows for excessive water to drain away from the garden and building for those really big rain events. We will install the rain barrels next spring. The water harvested will be used in a straw bale garden in which vegetables are grown for our local food shelf and flowers for the soup kitchen.

Brainerd Rain Garden 04August tends to be pretty dry, but not this year! We had a couple of wash-outs and a few other delays during construction, but overall the project went extremely well due to the dedication, persistence and willingness to show up by the many church members who helped with all aspects of the project. Both rain gardens were planted with native species of grasses, sedges and flowers the first week of September. Both are functioning as designed to absorb 1.25 inches of water within forty-eight hours after a rain event. They look lovely and will look even more attractive as the plants grow. Besides fixing the building and parking lot excessive water problems this congregation is practicing environmental stewardship by reducing the amount of stormwater runoff and snow melt entering the Mississippi River and instead recharging the groundwater which supplies our city’s drinking water.

We have plans to install one or two benches near one of the rain gardens so members and neighbors may sit, visit and enjoy.

If you would like to learn more about this project please contact Ellie Burkett (, Coleen Carder ( or Nancy Gould (

…from Ellie Burkett, project coordinator, First Congregational UCC, Brainerd