Conference News

Update from Global Missionary, Rev. Loren McGrail

from Rev. Loren McGrail, Minnesota Conference UCC Authorized Minister
and Global Missions Israel-Palestine Missionary

Israel.Palestine sunset photo

In memory of four boys killed playing football on the beach in Gaza: Mohammed Bakr, 9 years old. Ahed Bakr, 10 years old. Zakaria Bakr, 10 years old. Mohammed Bakr, 11 years old. (art by Amir Schiby).

In this time of fear and suffering, from Jerusalem to Gaza, from Hebron to Nazareth, we reaffirm that all people deserve security, justice, dignity, and peace. We mourn all who have died, been injured, or made homeless. This is not a conflict or a war. It is an offensive attack on a people who have no army, navy, or air force.

Operation Protective Edge is taking place in the context of Israel’s illegal military occupation and a seven year siege on Gaza. Israel controls Gaza from air, land, and sea therefore it is obliged to protect civilians not attack them according to the Geneva 4 Convention. It is criminal to collectively punish a whole population, or to target civilians, journalists, and medical workers. It is criminal to use banned weapons and gases that blow up bodies beyond recognition. These are crimes against humanity and violate humanitarian and international law.

We cannot be silent. We must hold Israel and all governments and companies accountable.

The above comes from my first Action Alert for our partner the YWCA of Palestine on the newest offensive bombardment on Gaza. I have written five alerts altogether because each week there have been new and more horrible events that we wished the world to know so it could act to end the violence.

Telling you that I am the Communications/Advocacy Officer for the YWCA may suggest that I spend my time writing annual reports or answering emails but the truth is I am engaged in witnessing and writing about what is happening here under the longest military occupation in history. You have charged me to support the important work of our partner as it seeks to provide vocational training to Palestinian women and their children and advocacy training on how they can advocate for their human and gender rights. Part of my work then is to write alerts or calls to action centered on important dates in our shared Christian life, Palestinian history or political moment. To do this requires deep listening to what my Palestinian sisters and brothers are experiencing and then crafting messages that expresses what they wish the world to know and how they wish them to respond or act. Because the YWCA has observer status in the UN and is committed to a rights based approach, these current action alerts on Gaza focus on violations to humanitarian law of which there are many.

Please visit the YWCA’s website to see all the action alerts at www.ywca-palestine.org. You will also find information about the YWCA’s advocacy project Fabric of Our Lives that I coordinate about the women in our refugee camps from 1948.

Please visit Global Ministries to learn how you can support my mission work.

If you are interested in updates on Palestine and my life as your missionary, you can follow me on facebook at Accompanying Naomi and on my blog at agarmentofdestiny.blogspot.com. You are also welcome to email me at loren@ywca-palestine.org.

A note from the Conference Minister

Dear Minnesota Conference family,

One thing that has become abundantly clear to me in my time as your Conference Minister thus far is that all of us are longing for relationships across the Conference that are deep and genuine. You want to know your Conference staff, and we want to know you. We long to gather together for fellowship, to learn from one another, and to experience mutual support of our ministries.

Church on the Move is designed to respond to our desire to be together more often as United Church of Christ family. Over the next 9 months there will be 4 events in different regions of the Conference, and you’re invited! You can come to the one nearest you or to all of them. At least two Conference staff will be at each of the events. By the way: this is definitely not just for clergy! Bring a car-load from your congregation, or a bus! Each Church on the Move event will be different, with varied speakers, workshops and worship experiences in each place. You’ll see more information about the first of these events, to be held in Duluth September 20, below.

I issued a challenge at Annual Meeting that we would have 4 events and a grand total of 400 participants by the time we’re done. I’m counting on you and your congregation to help me meet that goal.

4 events… 400 people

We can do it!

 

See you at Church on the Move! Registration is now open.

Grace and peace,

Shari Prestemon

Feeding our bodies and our spirits

In 2011, St. Mark’s United Church of Christ in Bloomington created a community garden. It all started with the vision of a couple of members of the church. St. Mark’s is surrounded by quite a bit of land and that land had sat dormant for many years. With a grant given by the city and a willing group of volunteers –fifteen 10 x 15 foot plots were created. Walking paths were also created between the plots making it easier to navigate between them. The soil was enriched by large truck load of compost and the garden began to take shape. The plots were quickly spoken for – by both church members and as well as members of the community. Each plot is rented for the season for $25 to help offset the cost of the compost and water. The gardeners are strongly encouraged to use organic methods rather than chemical methods of gardening. The following year, 3 more plots were added as well as a raised bed garden. More recently – a flower garden was added anchored by flowering crab tree given in honor of the confirmation class.

Four of the plots are reserved for growing produce for our local food shelf, VEAP (Volunteers Enlisted to Assist People). St. Mark’s has been a strong supporter of VEAP for many years – with donations and volunteers. This is yet another way in which we share our abundance with others in our community. Over the past 3 years, St. Mark’s has donated over 780 pounds of fresh produce. Our VEAP gardens are filled with cucumbers, carrots, onions, basil, tomatoes, peppers, beans, potatoes, greens and radishes. There is even one large plot filled with raspberry bushes. Often times, the produce is gathered on Sunday morning and then placed on the altar along with the offering plates. We give thanks to God that we can share our blessings – our abundance – with others.

There is work involved in maintaining the garden. Water barrels have to be filled when it doesn’t rain. The ground has to be tilled and weeded and produce picked and delivered. But it is all worth it. The tall sunflowers wave gently in the wind and the gold finches snack on the seeds. The bees buzz around the raspberries and butterflies flit about the flowers. Even the bunnies and deer glean from the gardens. It is a place of peace and beauty.

The community garden started with a vision of a couple members but it has grown to be an important ministry of the church – connecting people to the land – connecting community members to one another – providing healthy fresh food to those in need – and feeding not only our bodies but our spirits. It is yet another way in which St. Mark’s lives out its mission to serve humankind in a spirit of love.

… from Rev. Jennifer Jaimez, pastor of St. Mark’s UCC in Bloomington

Seasons of the Spirit featuring some of our own Minnesotans!

SeasonsIt was 2012 when Rev. Tim Johnson (Cherokee Park United Church, St. Paul) was approached by the editor of Seasons of the Spirit, a provider of lectionary resources for worship, faith formation and service. Rev. Johnson was asked if Cherokee Park would be interested in facilitating a writing team for an upcoming quarter of Seasons. A resounding “yes!” was the answer, and throughout 2013, a team of nine, five from Cherokee Park and four from other Minnesota Conference congregations, worked with the editorial staff from Seasons. The result is curriculum and worship material for this coming 2014/2015 Advent/Christmas/Epiphany season. The published materials include a summary of the host congregation, Cherokee Park United Church, and the collaboration team. That summary is included below. We are thrilled that the wonderful talents of this group of Minnesotans is going to be lifted up in such a special time of the church year. Seasons of the Spirit resources are widely used across many denominations in both the United States and Canada.

Above is the collaboration team including (L to R) Okogyeamon(Dr. Herbert Perkins) – Cherokee Park United Church; Rev. Doug Federhart – Living Table UCC, Minneapolis; Rev. Nancy Swanson – Cherokee Park United Church; Rev. Kay Welsch – New Brighton UCC; Rev. Tim Johnson – Cherokee Park United Church; Rev. Sandy Dodson – Cherokee Park United Church; Rev. Beth Donaldson – New Brighton UCC; Kay Myhrman-Toso – Cherokee Park United Church; (not pictured) Rev. Don Christensen – Macalester Plymouth United Church, St. Paul.

 

4 Seasons of the Spirit™ SeasonsFUSION Advent • Christmas • Epiphany 2014–2015 Copyright © Wood Lake Publishing Inc. 2014

The Development Community for Advent, Christmas, Epiphany 2014–15

Timothy Johnson

Cherokee Park United Church is a progressive congregation affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the United  Church of Christ, situated near the bluffs of the Mississippi in the urban core of St. Paul, Minnesota. In its mission statement, the congregation declares, “we seek to be an inclusive, multicultural, anti-racist, justice seeking, environmentally  responsible community of faith. We seek a new humanity where sexual orientation, age, gender, culture, or differing abilities are no longer a barrier to our living in just relationship.” It is the values reflected in this mission that put the congregation on the radar as organizers for a potential writing team. The writing team assembled by Cherokee Park United Church included five members from Cherokee Park United and four colleagues from UCC congregations in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area who also share these values and faith commitment. Among the growing edges for the congregation is its commitment to  antiracism, seeking to more fully understand the ways white supremacy has embedded itself in our culture, institutions, and religious life. Because white supremacy opposes and undermines the Realm of God claims of Christian faith, the  congregation takes as its responsibility to resist and dismantle racism. It is with this central claim of faith that the writing team began its study of scripture, with presentations on the theology of empire by a member of the writing team,  Okogyeamon (Herbert A. Perkins). Okogyeamon is the director of a program called ASDIC Metamorphosis (Antiracism Study-Dialogue Circles) and an adjunct faculty at area universities, seminaries, and colleges.

Okogyeamon’s presentation on the role and theology of empire was formative in both the subsequent conversations and writings of the team working on this Advent – Epiphany unit. Two essays by Okogyeamon are included among these resources (pp. 8–11), and will deepen readers’ understanding of the text, the reflections, and the worship resources. In the essays, Okogyeamon states, “Empire is one of those relations of power, and empire ideology is the story the agents of empire concoct to legitimate the ways they use violence to further the interests of empire.” He goes on to state, “our scriptures are stories, testaments of resistance, supported by an anti-empire counter-frame… In this alternate frame, the Reign of God frame, we live according to a world view, values, and way of thinking consistent with the teaching of the Hebrew prophets and teaching and actions of Jesus.”

Cherokee Park United Church is located in a mixed income, ethnically diverse neighbourhood of St. Paul. While the  congregation’s demographics do not yet reflect the diversity of the neighbourhood, there is ample evidence of its commitment to an anti-empire counter-frame in both faith and action. The congregation has developed a strong repertoire of global music, drawn upon each Sunday and woven throughout its worship. Themes of God’s justice are regularly encountered in worship. The worship space is commonly filled with art exhibited by area artists. The congregation has begun a conversation about its white stained glass Jesus and what that means for a congregation committed to antiracism. The antiracism work of the congregation is also reflected in its being the founding partners for an Overcoming Racism conference, now in its fifth year as a collaborative effort, drawing over 400 participants annually. The congregation has a growing relationship with and partnership with members of the Salvadoran community in St. Paul, and the Dakota who are the original people of Minnesota. Anti-empire counter-framing is reflected in a 25 plus year commitment to an after-school tutoring program, work for Habitat for Humanity, support of a meals program for the poor, legislative advocacy and participation in immigration justice work. The congregation is a strong supportive of marriage equality for LGBT brothers and sisters and worked to make marriage fully accessible in Minnesota. In 2012 Cherokee Park United Church became one of the first congregations in Minnesota to install solar energy, producing more electricity than is used. The writing team for this Advent, Christmas, Epiphany come from congregations all committed in their own ways to the Reign of God counter-frame and the Advent hope that it is through our faithfulness the empire resistant Reign of God comes to fruition.

You can meet the community and the writers for Advent, Christmas, Epiphany 2014–15 at www.seasonsonline.ca. Click on the “Explore Seasons” tab.

Committee on Ministry Retreat Recap

COM Retreat 01The Committee on Ministry held its annual retreat at Christ the King Retreat Center in Buffalo, Minnesota on July 17 and 18. The theme for the retreat was “Strangers No More, Making Connections and Being in Covenant.” The featured speaker at this year’s retreat was Rev. Kathryn Clark, from the UCC headquarters in Cleveland. Rev. Clark is the Minister for Members in Discernment for the Ministerial Excellence, Support and Authorization Ministry Team (otherwise known as MESA). She led sessions on several of the projects that the MESA team is developing. One session centered around the booklet, “Journaling the Journey,” a guide for engaging the Marks of Faithful and Effective Ministry in assessing candidates for ordination or licensed ministry. Rev. Clark also gave the Committee on Ministry an update on new programs and initiatives at MESA including a revisioning of the UCC Manual on Ministry.

The materials in “Journaling the Journey” and the assessment tools for the “Marks of Faithful and Effective Authorized Ministers” have been created to assist committees on ministry in their work with members in discernment seeking ordination and with individuals seeking to become licensed ministers. The materials also provide valuable guidelines for the work for committees on ministry in providing effective consultation and support to clergy. Kathy Clark did an excellent job of introducing these materials and demonstrating their incorporation into the work of the Committee on Ministry. The Committee was able to make good use of the “Marks” in conducting the Ordination Examination of Kathryn Morin which was done during the retreat. Kathryn passed with flying colors!

Worship services at the retreat center were led by Rev. Kathy Itzin (Parkway UCC, Minneapolis) and Rev. Sara Morse, chair (Hazel Park UCC, St. Paul). Diann Anders provided the music. The COM members who planned and organized the retreat were Sara Morse, Marsha Benshoof, Beth Faeth, and Leon Erstad, with assistance from Marita Karlisch and Rev. Rick Wagner. The facilities at the Retreat Center provided ample opportunities for reflection, connecting with others and relaxation.

…from Leon Erstad, Minnesota Conference UCC Committee on Ministry

They’re All Our Children

LIRS_Stand_for_WelcomeThe Border-Children-Refugee Crisis: Can You Help?

With funding from Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services (LIRS) and Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA), the Minnesota Community Support Initiative (CSI) works to provide a variety of legal and social services to immigrants in detention and removal (deportation) proceedings. Its Minnesota partners in this effort include Conversations With Friends – ending isolation by visiting and supporting detained immigrants (CWF), whose lead is UCC pastor, Rev. John Guttermann.

Now LIRS with its partners, including CWF, is asking interested congregations and communities to consider helping, beginning by assessing the local capacity to assist. In its letter to its partner organizations, LIRS President, Linda Hartke, says, “LIRS is reaching out to get an initial sense of the potential capacity in our networks and in the broader community of… social ministry organizations. Our ability to persuade the government to pursue alternatives to detention, treat families humanely, and provide funding for needed services will be enhanced if we can make a credible case for the capacity we can offer. At this point, we want to explore with you two different models of service that would be targeted to the different circumstances of detained Central American migrants.”

For help assessing the capacity of your congregation and community to help, please click here.

Here is a list of all of Minnesota’s LIRS-Presbyterian funded Community Support Initiative partners:

  • Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota (Legal Assistance)
  • The Advocates for Human Rights (Legal Assistance)
  • Interprofessional Center for Counseling and Legal Services, University of St. Thomas
  • Guadalupe Alternative Programs (Counseling)
  • Sarah’s Oasis (Housing)
  • Simpson Housing (Housing)
  • Conversations with Friends – ending isolation by visiting and supporting detained immigrants

For more information, contact Rev. John Guttermann, 651-485-3104, intpasj@mac.com.

 

immigration reform advocacyA Faithful Response to Unaccompanied Children – Resources from the Interfaith Immigration Coalition

The Interfaith Immigration Coalition (IIC) is one of the national interfaith organizations leading on an interfaith response to the child refugee crisis at our southern border. IIC is supported by the UCC.

  1. Webinar PowerPoint Presentation Download
  2. Webinar Audio Download (Also available by phone playback: call-in 1-805-399-1099, code 104402#)
  3. Demand that Congress reject rollbacks to child protection law – Phone and Twitter Advocacy Page
  4. Groundswell Petition
  5. Myths and Facts (contains many stats on indicators of violence in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala)

If you have problems with any of the links or have questions about the information in this article, please contact Rev. John Guttermann, 651-485-3104, intpasj@mac.com. For a presentation from your MN Conference Immigration Team, contact team chair, Susie George, susiemg7@yahoo.com.

 

Urgent: Call the Senate and House Today!

Demand that Congress REJECT Rollbacks to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. Proposals to “deport children more quickly” would return unaccompanied children to exploitation, trafficking and unsafe situations. To read more and find out how you can help, click here.

URGENT: Call the Senate & House Today!

Demand that Congress REJECT rollbacks to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act

Proposals to “deport children more quickly” would return unaccompanied children to exploitation, trafficking and unsafe situations.

As the U.S. government responds to the humanitarian crisis faced by unaccompanied children and families fleeing violence in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, both President Obama and some members of Congress are proposing changes to the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) of 2008. The TVPRA passed both chambers of Congress by unanimous consent and was signed into law by President G. W. Bush to address our international obligations of not returning bulnerable migrants to danger and to reduce the likelihood that the U.S. would deport children back into the hands of traffickers and others who would exploit them.

Changes to the TVPRA would mean that children would not have a meaningful opportunity to have their story heard, apply for asylum, or be cared for humanely by child welfare personnel, and would be deported to potentially life-threatening situations. Congress should not rescind this bipartisan law at precisely the time when more children are in need of these protections. The U.S. must show leadership by finding ways to reduce the violence these children face in their home countries, rather than immoral proposals to deport them more quickly. More than 4,000 people of faith have already urged Congress and the Obama Administration to uphold these protections in a letter delivered to Congress and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson. For more information, click here.

Call 1-866-940-2439 to be connected with the offices of your Representatives and Senators. You can also visit bit.ly/TheyAreChildren to call directly.

Here’s a sample script: “I’m from state/congregation/community and as a person of faith, I strongly oppose any rollbacks to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. Unaccompanied children fleeing violence should not be returned to unsafe situations, but must be protected and cared for humanely. As your constituent, I expect you to stand firm against any proposal that would sacrifice a child’s safety for expediency. The U.S. must instead find ways to reduce the violence these children face in their home countries and ensure that children who arrive to the U.S. have access to the legal counsel and services they need.” 

…from your Minnesota Conference Immigration Team

Postponed: Developing Vision

Unfortunately, due to low registration the Developing Vision workshop scheduled for Thursday, June 26 with Rev. Carol Howard Merritt is being rescheduled for some time in the next program year. Details will be announced when they are available.