Conference News

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

Update from CUE


CTS_Fall_2015_ClassChicago Theological Seminary (CTS) welcomed our largest entering class since our founding in 1855. 104 students from 22 faith traditions are learning, engaging and preparing to be Leaders for the Next. Leaders for Ferguson. Leaders who will speak to what is happening in Palestine and Israel. Leaders who will create spaces for change right here in Chicago where young men and women are killed on the streets and children aren’t safe on their own front porches. We need the leadership these seminarians will share with our world. With your support CTS continues to rigorously prepare men and women as religious leaders who will transform society toward greater justice and mercy. Thank you for supporting Leaders for the Next.

We encourage you to engage with our vibrant community. Join us in-person or via our live-stream to participate in upcoming CTS events. Join us via free live stream at

September 17 – 7:00 p.m. Dr. Reza Aslan, “The Jesus of History and the Christ of Faith”

October 9 – 6:30 p.m. 8th Annual C. Shelby Rooks Lecture
, Dr. Renita J. Weems , Dean, American Baptist College and co-pastor of Ray of Hope Community Church.

Also, save-the-date for the CTS Spring Conference, “Selma: 50 Years Later and the Contemporary Context of Civil Rights” – Friday & Saturday, April 24-25, 2015. Confirmed speakers include author and advocate, Michelle Alexander and Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr.

For more information, please visit us at: or email Martha Stocker, at

General Synod 30: Unexpected Places

Call to General Synod 30 – Come to Cleveland

Cleveland is once again becoming a very special place. Not only is it home to the UCC national offices, it is also the site of the upcoming Thirtieth General Synod of the United Church of Christ. Yes! The General Synod of the UCC will take place in Cleveland, Ohio, June 26-30, 2015, and you are invited! Together we will build beloved community around the theme, “Unexpected Places” – finding God in “Unexpected Places.”

Of course, the General Synod is where we, the UCC, conduct the business of the wider church. However, you will also experience worship that inspires, speakers that challenge and inform, worship that equips, and exhibits that offer a full range of resources for ministry and mission. Additionally, Synod will feature hands-on volunteer service projects in the greater Cleveland area. There is no doubt about it! Come to General Synod, and you will find ample opportunity to work, learn, pray and even play.

This General Synod will be the third to take place in Cleveland. Cleveland was the site of our founding General Synod 1957. The city hosted us once again in 1989. However, if you have never been to Cleveland or if you have not visited in a few years, you may be pleasantly surprised, because Cleveland is a very different city, with much more to see and do than was possible just a few years ago.

Cleveland’s new state-of-the-art convention center will be the main venue for General Synod. Synod events, including the Youth @ General Synod program, will be held in the downtown area, where hotels are conveniently located and where there are many restaurants and entertainment venues within walking distance. Delegates and visitors will be able to make their way to various Synod and Pre-Synod events with ease.

Speaking of Synod events, the primary service project will embrace our next all-church mission initiative, “Reading Changes Lives.” Delegates and guests will have the chance to tour our national office building, not far from the convention center.

Registration will open on Monday, Sept. 8, 2014. We look forward to hosting you and your family in Cleveland. So come! Join in the company of sisters and brothers in Christ from around the nation and throughout the world in worshipful work and meaningful mission. Come and explore the possibility of finding God in “unexpected places.”

Peace and blessings,
Geoffrey A. Black

Registration is now open! All are welcome!

2014 Fall Leadership Retreat Recap

On September 5 & 6, 28 leaders of the MN Conference gathered together for the annual leadership retreat. Entitled, “Forward Together” the retreat focused on enabling the purpose and vision of the Conference into the future. Members of the Board of Directors, chairs or representatives of Conference committees and teams, and Conference staff and Sandy Lindahl, lead consultant for Ackley Consulting Group came to work together while enjoying the beauty and hospitality of Pilgrim Point Camp. United by prayer and worship, retreat participants engaged in energetic, creative and meaningful dialogue and activities.

Retreat participants identified and confirmed the MN Conference as a connecting, covenantal entity comprised of UCC churches throughout Minnesota; the embodiment of the wider body of Christ. Ms. Janet Bartz and the Rev. Cindy Mueller engaged the group in a review of the Conference purpose, vision, values and priorities and how we are being faithful to our plan. Our core purpose: “inviting and equipping inspired Christian leaders and communities” is supported by five core values: faithfulness, stewardship, empowerment, innovation and justice. The group identified and celebrated the many ways we are currently moving forward together to achieve our four strategic priorities: equip clergy and laity to lead; create and sustain healthy, vital congregations; strengthen faith formation across the generations; and increase our capacity for compassionate service and prophetic witness. Further work identified things we are grateful for from the Conference and national setting of the UCC, the important and essential support and resources provided by the Conference and what is needed in the future.

As has been previously reported, work is underway to consider the feasibility of a future financial campaign to enable critical ministries of the Conference into the future. Ms. Sandy Lindahl and the Rev. Shari Prestemon led the group in activities designed to further define the scope of such a campaign. Ms. Lindahl also reviewed current plans and timelines for the development of a campaign case for support and feasibility study.

Mr. Phil Hatlie facilitated a session on best practices of good governance and Associate Conference Minister for Faith Formation of Children and Youth Wade Zick provided tours of Pilgrim Point Camp to highlight the facility recommendations identified in the report from Kaleidoscope Consulting. Time and activities to build community were also part of the retreat.

Following the retreat, the Board of Directors met to: approve Boyum & Barenscheer as the auditor for the 2013-2014 fiscal year; authorize engagement of a realtor to assist with the sale of conference property in Maple Grove; and establish two workgroups to provide further definition of potential initiatives which might be part a future financial campaign.

…from Ms. Janet Bartz, Congregational Church UCC, Rochester, Vice-Moderator of the Board of Directors

New Solar Array On-line at St. Paul’s UCC, St. Paul

20140825_184406St. Paul’s United Church of Christ, St. Paul, deepened its commitment this week to being an Earthwise congregation by bringing a 39.6 KW solar array on line.  The $216,000 project involved no upfront cost to the congregation.  Instead, federal and state tax credits, and an Xcel Energy rebate flow through the congregation to a solar leaser who funded the project’s construction.  The solar leaser also receives the value of about two-thirds of the solar energy produced for five years at which time the congregation has the option of ending the lease.  Said the church’s business manager, Jeff Palmer, “This has been a win-win-win project:  With no upfront cost, we have re-committed ourselves to Earthwise values and reduce the congregation’s electric bill. How can you beat that?”

Word of the congregation’s experiment in solar energy has spread.  Last week a film crew for Al Gore’s endeavor, “24 HOURS OF REALITY: 24 REASONS FOR HOPE,” were on the church’s roof filming the new solar array for possible inclusion in the September 16-17th live streamed multi-media show highlighting 24 reasons to be hopeful about our future and positive steps underway to end human contribution to climate change.

Congregations interested in learning more about St. Paul’s UCC solar project are encourage to call Rev. Palmer at the church.

Fall Youth & Faith Formation Events

Picture3In many of our congregations this Sunday and the next will be “Fall Kickoff,” “Rally Day,” “Welcome Home Sunday,” “Christian Education Sunday” or some other catchy way to let folks know if they were away this summer – it’s now time to return or pay attention. In the area of Faith Formation and Youth Ministry for the conference we are shifting focus from summer camp season to Fall Youth Events, Fourth Thursdays, and special opportunities such as the Parables event sponsored by the UCC national setting and Wayzata Community Church. We will also be launching two grant opportunities in October in November for church micro-grants and mission trip grants and encouraging churches to become a 2014-15 Faith Forming Five Congregation.

Youth Opportunities:

Fall Middle School CYE (October 3-5)
High School CYE (October 17-19)

Leader Opportunities:

Fourth Thursdays (September, October, January-April)
Parables Event (October 26)

Please let us know if you have questions on any of these opportunities and hope you have a great September kickoff!