Conference News

Leadership Development in the Minnesota Conference

What Does Leadership Development look like in the Minnesota Conference?

Rev. Vicki Wunsch, Director of Leadership Development

At Annual Meeting, Conference Minister Shari Prestemon announced eight strategic objectives that will guide the work of the Minnesota Conference over the next 4 years. These strategic objectives represent new initiatives that we believe will enrich our ministry overall and strengthen the entire Body of Christ.

Some of the new initiatives address the need for leadership and development of lay leaders.  On a broad view, my position as the new Director of Leadership Development includes the following areas that will help achieve these goals.

Lay Leadership and Development Academy (in collaboration with the Wisconsin Conference) –   Currently, 52% of our congregations can only afford a part-time minister; that number is likely to increase.  This initiative will create strong lay leadership, provide for multiple paths to ministry, and invigorate and equip the church for the future.

Young Adults Service Communities (YASC) – This is a national program that places three or more young adult interns recruited from across the country to live in intentional community and do meaningful work with local host congregations and local non-profit organizations.  We envision a pilot project here in the Minnesota Conference that would engage 3-4 congregations in a collaborative involvement in YASC. The hope would be to replicate this model in succeeding years.

Providing Support and Practical Resources for Local Congregations  – Our goal is to serve as a clearinghouse for practical resources while at the same time fostering deeper connections with local church leaders.

It’s a big job, but an exciting new adventure.  I can’t do it alone so, if you have any questions or comments, please contact me.  I would love to hear your thoughts about these new initiatives.  I can be reached at

COMMAnts from the Conference Minister – July 2017

Loving the United Church of Christ

Did you know that the United Church of Christ recently celebrated its 60th birthday?  On June 25, 1957, this amazing denomination was birthed when two denominations — the Evangelical & Reformed Church and the Congregational Christian Churches —took a magnificent ecumenical leap of faith and merged into one.  Embracing the prayer of Jesus in John 17:21, “…that they may all be one..” as their scriptural anchor, the crafters of this historic moment carved out a path where their origin and their future would reflect a commitment to being a “united and uniting” church.

60 years later, the United Church of Christ has just completed its 31st General Synod, that biennial gathering of the denomination where all the wonder and messiness and passionate witness of this beautiful church are on full display.  Over several long and very full days, we renewed our covenantal bonds, debated issues ranging from revisions to UCC constitution and by-laws to becoming an immigrant welcoming church and disability justice.  We worshiped and prayed and sang and learned and planned.  And we caught a glimpse of the United Church of Christ that is wider and deeper than any view we could catch from our own local church or even our Conference. And what a beautiful view it is!

I love the United Church of Christ.  I was born and baptized into the United Church of Christ ten years after this denomination’s birth.  I grew up in a UCC congregation in a small rural town in Iowa.  I was actively involved in another UCC congregation through my college years.  I went straight from college to seminary and have served in a variety of UCC settings continuously since then.  I’ve been described as a “UCC nerd” and even a UCC “junkie”, and I claim those titles gladly!

I know that we have entered what some term a “post-denominational” era of the church.  Those who seek out a church home rarely do so anymore based on any kind of denominational loyalty, but more typically because a particular congregation aligns with their personal values and preferences and needs, regardless of the church’s denominational ‘brand’.  This is a time when we are truly called to think ecumenically and expansively, like those brave souls who founded the UCC 60 years ago, looking beyond the artificial confines of individual denominations.

But I still love our denomination, the UCC, and you can’t shake it out of me.  I love who we are and who we strive to be.  I love our unyielding commitment to social justice and our penchant for being the first denomination to step out on the edge of controversy when we believe God calls us to be on that edge.  I love our global presence, informed and invited by worldwide partners we’ve accompanied for decades and longer.  I love the diversity of our worship and our people. And I love the way this Church propels us into the public square, demanding more than personal piety.

We’re not perfect in the UCC….far from it!  We have a messy polity that lends to stubborn, go-it-alone attitudes and often prevents cohesive action.  We imperfectly embody our proud claims of inclusivity and radical hospitality.  And sometimes our confident prophetic witness drowns out smaller voices that also deserve to be heard.

Yet for all our flaws, I do love this church. And I feel so very grateful to continue serving within it and alongside all of you.

What do you love about the UCC?  How has it shaped and changed your life?  I hope you’ll have these conversations in your own congregation, and celebrate with me 60 years of faithful, wonderful ministry in this united and uniting church.

Your partner in service,



Reverend Shari Prestemon

Conference Minister

General Synod Daily Updates

Synod Blog – July 4, 2017

Submitted by Rev. Jacob Kanake

Make Glad the City of God: Be Still Know I am God (Ps 46)

This is the last update of the 31st United Church of Christ General Synod that met in Baltimore, Maryland from June 29 to July 4, 2017. The conference was attended by 2,751 delegates representing various church bodies: the youth, diversity, gender, race, laity, clergy and ecumenical/associations. The synod gathering began each day with worship and shout-out session followed by the plenary to discuss business and vote on the resolutions. During the shout-out session, Hawaii Conference delegates presented a ritual that was deeply inspirational and spiritual: they ritually decommissioned their retiring Conference Minister and welcome a new Conference Minister in front of the delegates.

On 4th July 2017, the synod delegates recognized the American Independence Day. During that time one speaker reminded me and the delegates “A call for civil disobedience is not a sin” because that is how American freedom was achieved. And he added that, when the freedom is born; it must be sustained.

The plenary discussed the resolutions on gun violence; the care of the disabled people, and just economy for all. I heard various speakers speaking of their experiences on gun violence especially in Chicago. And echoing the spirit of the debate the moderator also reminded the delegates that gun violence is real threat to public life. He said, “from when we started this meeting 7 people between 13 and 30 years have died in Chicago due to gun violence”. Also, the young people encouraged adults in the United Church of Christ to nurture relationships with youth who are “at the corner, those who do not go to church” and teach them best use of guns. The young people’s call touched my spiritual core and I kept wondering whether the adults forgot their God given mission of bringing up well-disciplined children! Can adults engage the young people and teach them? The youth are aware they cannot help other youth due to peer pressure that stand on their way to help their peers. If I did not get help from the older people, I would not be who I am today. I understand what the young people in the church are asking; they hope “people of wisdom can help them to deal with the gun violence”. Gun violence resolution passed with 98% of the vote.

And the resolution on disability was passed with overwhelming votes and the resolution on the caring for adult survivors of children abuse was voted 98%. I was lucky to be in the committee on adult survivors of children abuse, this committee was deeply engaged with sense of urgency to see the survivors’ spiritual needs were addressed. I am blessed to have been part of Synod. The delegation from the Minnesota Conference was involved in most of these resolutions. These resolutions respond to Jesus’ mission for which He died. He came so everyone can enjoy life in its fullness (John 10:10).

Reflections were given at the end of every plenary session by the two theologians; their reflections uplifted my spirit. The 4th reflection reminded me and the delegates to pray for every resolution coming for vote. The believer’s prayers may direct them to God’s intent for each resolution. The delegates were often reminded that their decisions change lives and make people one through God’s spirit “spirit of the living GOD Fall afresh on us”.

To sum it up, Minnesota delegates remained engaged sharing their faith with other delegates on the plenary floor, in committees, and in our Conference gatherings. We went in to General Synod to learn, debate, and share our faith with others. On a personal level, I visited with some of our delegates and people of other Conferences. I was fortunate to be part of this vibrant team. It was a privilege of a lifetime.

Blessings to you readers,

Rev. Jacob Kanake

Synod Blog – July 3, 2017

Submitted by Janet L. White

There is a river, there is a river, there is a river whose streams make glad the city of God.

This is day four of the UCC General Synod in Baltimore, Maryland. This is my first time attending Synod and it has been wonderful, uplifting, informative, and just plain great. Being in the company and communion with the people of God is truly amazing. The energy that radiates from each of God’s creations is contagious.

I have learned a lot about the organizational structure of the church from the inside; I have met people from California, Nebraska, Texas, Georgia, and many other states and regions and even from areas within Minnesota I’ve only heard about. And guess what, we are all working with the same heart, love, spirit of unity – the same togetherness, working for justice and equality in an ever changing world for all people. We are a United Church.

From the time I arrived at Synod, people were buzzing about the nomination of Rev. Traci Blackmon to the board of Justice and Witness Ministries. When she was introduced, and I had the honor of hearing her speak, I understood the excitement that surrounded this woman of God and her being part of the leading body of the United Church of Christ. In her message she challenged us to not only be good supporting spectators of others, but we need to be about the work of becoming participants in our journey of building a just world. On Saturday evening I was especially honored to witness the nomination and whole body acceptance of Rev. Traci Blackmon as Executive Minister for Justice Witness Ministries – unanimously. Amen!


Day four began with a 6:30 a.m. caucus call (Uggggggh). Our Conference Minister, Shari Prestemon, greeted Kathy and me with her usual cheery smile and warm words “Was it harder to get up this morning”? After a third cup of coffee, and light breakfast food, the blended Conference groups engaged in a small, clarifying discussion on some resolutions that had passed, were waiting to come to the floor or wanted answers on why a procedure went as it did. We appreciate the persons who came to help with our understanding of these matters. These individuals sat on those particular committee and were able to put our minds at ease.

At 8:30 a.m. we gathered for Plenary #4 to continued listening to and voting on resolutions and being spiritually uplifted. When the speakers were called forward to introduce their resolutions, I was reminded of the saying that ‘all shall become one’ (John 17). This is the journey we all embarked on when each of the Minnesota delegates accepted the call to become a delegate for the 31st UCC General Synod. This call and its purpose became evident as discussions ensued, amendments were made to some resolutions and ratified, and others were not. In the midst of it all we sought to find common ground with understanding where ‘all shall become one’ (John 17).

During our lunch break I had opportunity to participate in the Right of Immigrants Walk. This demonstration was in support of the resolution that passed supporting this cause. Now it’s time to decide whether to go back to the room and rest for 30 minutes, or stay in fellow/sister-ship with others. I stayed — you get the feeling of missing something if you leave. Yes, the experience is well worth the long days, but the experience, the knowledge, and the feeling that we are standing strong and getting stronger is well worth every minute.

– Janet L. White

Synod Blog – July 2, 2017

Submitted by Rev. Beth Donaldson

Here are some of the words that have caught my attention thus far (in a sea of rich experiences that have repeatedly spoken to my heart, mind, and spirit!):

  • “Because they are, we are.” – Ubuntu
  • “Does our faith HOLD truth?” – Rev. Taci Blackmon
  • “Balconies (places where people have been marginalized and ostracized) have no place in our churches.” – Traci and “It will take a different set of tools to dismantle them than the ones used to build them.” – Audre Lourde
  • “I believe justice is possible because I believe Jesus is present.” – Traci Blackmon
  • “Until the lion tells its own story, the hunter will always be thought the hero.” – African Proverb
  • “Jesus is used to my anger and handles it well.” – Traci Blackmon
  • “Heartbreak is not to be avoided – but is the greatest clue to our lives – toward our purpose and toward finding our tribe.” – Glenon Doyle

Rev. Beth Donaldson of UCC New Brighton speaks to the Synod body in support of resolution “On Becoming an Immigrant Welcoming Church”

These are just a few of the powerful expressions of our faith I have been able to capture. There are so many; too many to try to share here. But I share these few because they represent the great energy embodied in this gathering of our denomination. This is such a wonderful time of celebration and re-commitment; of inquiry and re-connection; and of sharing and renewal. For me as a person born into the UCC (quite literally – into a UCC Mission Community in Zimbabwe), and who has worked in the UCC my whole adult life, I was equally moved by the powerful recognition of the people who have served the UCC in a variety of capacities over the decades of my past, and the profound gratitude shared in recognizing the “water protectors” of Standing Rock — young people devoted to caring for creation and community into the future. It’s been a joy to reconnect with friends and colleagues from previous chapters of my life and work. I’ve been brought to tears, brought to my feet over and over, and, if I’m honest, even “brought to Jesus” a few times — confronted with the ways I may need to open my heart and have more compassion. But the over-arching experience of this time for me is a wonderful tension between a feeling of deep belonging and noticing how many new members of my UCC family there are to meet and know and share with. And though there seems to have been a great sea-change in the leadership and “faces up front,” I have been reassuredly comforted by the persistence of the ethos of who we are: a people committed to love and justice for all — no exceptions.

I thank you for allowing me this opportunity to attend General Synod as a delegate from Minnesota. I look forward to more opportunities to share my experiences and continue the connections.

With gratitude,

Rev. Beth Donaldson

Synod Blog – July 1, 2017

Submitted by Rev. Désirée Hartson Gold

UCC General Synod 31 is in full swing and delegates from the Minnesota Conference are in the thick of it. Most of us descended upon the Baltimore Convention Center Friday afternoon. Our official Synod experience began with educational intensives to learn more about the resolutions assigned to us (we were randomly assigned to different committees, and no one from Minnesota is on the committee to which I was assigned). Then, all Synod attendees gathered for a rousing opening worship service led by the Rev. Traci Blackmon, who was one of the keynote speakers at our very own Minnesota Conference Annual Meeting in 2016. Rev. Blackmon declared that the Church must not only watch and listen; we must act.

Following worship, we had our first plenary session, then most of us went to committee meetings to discuss and wordsmith our assigned resolutions or bylaws changes. Based on descriptions given by several of our Minnesota delegates of their committee meetings, I think I got off easy. My committee finished by 9:00 p.m., after a healthy and not too contentious discussion. Several of the committees went late into the night and/or were unable to complete their work on Friday evening.

On Saturday morning, we arrived for a 6:30 a.m. Minnesota Conference caucus well rested and ready to start the day! Okay, maybe not, but coffee and tea were provided for those who needed it. During our caucus, we heard from an advocate for a resolution on medical aid in dying and were also visited by UCC General Minister and President, the Rev. Dr. John C. Dorhauer. We were joined by the Northern Plains Conference delegation, which I greatly enjoyed, since I grew up and was ordained in that conference.

After caucus, we rejoined the full Synod for a brief morning worship and our next plenary session. That plenary was chock full, but there were several highlights for me: (1) Rev. Starsky Wilson advocated for the nomination of Rev. Traci Blackmon as the new Justice and Witness Ministries Executive Minister; (2) Rev. Blackmon herself spoke again; and (3) A group of young Water Protectors from Standing Rock received the Movement Makers Award from Justice and Witness Ministries.

Saturday’s keynote speech was by New York Times Bestselling Author Glennon Doyle. In addition to speaking at length about her personal journey, she brought such quotes as “The biggest indicator we would have marched with MLK is whether we’re marching with Black Lives Matter now,” and “I would never be part of a church that would not welcome everybody else.”

After we heard Ms. Doyle speak, we listened to a report by John Dorhauer, resumed business, then adjourned for lunch.

My “official” day ended when I was one of four panelists at a workshop called “The Silence That Kills: Gender Violence and Bias in Our Church and Communities.” My colleagues and I presented material from the Lenten study we cowrote this spring called “With Hagar: A Study of Gender and Scripture.” During this time, other members of our delegation attended workshops led by the likes of the Rev. William Barber II or Bishop Yvette Flunder.

Of course, General Synod is not all scheduled meetings and business. Like the Minnesota Conference annual meeting (only on a larger scale), General Synod is a family reunion for UCC folk. We see people we haven’t seen in years; we meet new friends; and yes, we hang out with members of our delegation. We enjoy fleeting “hellos,” like the one I shared with former Minnesota Conference ACM, the Rev. Elena Larssen, her husband, the Rev. Mark Pettis (former pastor in Moorhead), and their young son. Or we enjoy sharing longer conversations over meal, or while taking in one of Baltimore’s many tourist attractions, with friends old or new.

I think I’m safe in summing up the experience your Minnesota delegation has had so far this way: We’re tired; we’re exhilarated; we’re learning a lot; and we are doing the best we can to represent the Minnesota Conference at General Synod 31!

– Rev. Désirée Hartson Gold


Living Sanctuary at Pilgrim Point Camp

As we welcome the official arrival of summer this week, we are also celebrating the kick-off of the 2017 summer camping season at Pilgrim Point Camp & Retreats. The program and site staff and volunteers at Pilgrim Point have been working hard to prepare a welcoming space at Pilgrim Point for you to enter and explore this season’s theme, “Living Sanctuary.”During this first week of the season, Pilgrim Point is hosting the first Deaf First Family Camp, a week-long camp for families with members in the deaf and hard of hearing community. Thirty-eight participants are taking part in this initial camping experience. We are grateful for the strong and creative leadership and vision provided for this camp by Joyce Atchison and her team of dedicated program volunteers and ASL translators, without whom this week would not be possible.

During this first week of the season, Pilgrim Point is hosting the first Deaf First Family Camp, a week-long camp for families with members in the deaf and hard of hearing community. Thirty-eight participants are taking part in this initial camping experience. We are grateful for the strong and creative leadership and vision provided for this camp by Joyce Atchison and her team of dedicated program volunteers and ASL translators, without whom this week would not be possible.

Whether you participate in one of our conference sponsored camps or retreats or come to Pilgrim Point as part of a local congregation’s retreat, we look forward to welcoming you to camp! We hope that as you spend time within the living sanctuary of Pilgrim Point, you will find rest for your body, renewal for your spirit, and re-connection with the divine made manifest in the faces of family and friends and within yourself. We also hope that your time at Pilgrim Point will provide an opportunity to live within an alternative rhythm of life, so that you may

Whether you participate in one of our conference sponsored camps or retreats or come to Pilgrim Point as part of a local congregation’s retreat, we look forward to welcoming you to camp! We hope that as you spend time within the living sanctuary of Pilgrim Point, you will find rest for your body, renewal for your spirit, and re-connection with the divine made manifest in the faces of family and friends and within yourself. We also hope that your time at Pilgrim Point will provide an opportunity to live within an alternative rhythm of life, so that you may re-enter the world more grounded and attentive to the movement and call of the holy within every moment of your life.

There are several opportunities for you and your family to spend time at Pilgrim Point this summer:

  • July Family Camp, Celtic Spirituality and an evening of story and song with Doug Wood, on July 16-21, 2017. July Family Camp is open to ALL! Learn more on the Pilgrim Point website or register now.
  • Young Adult Retreat, for those aged 18-29, August 4-6, 2017
  • August Family Camp, featuring an evening of story and song with Minnesota musician and author Doug Wood (creator of the classic children’s picture book series, “Old Turtle”). July 30 – August 4, 2017
  • Trans & Gender Non-Conforming Retreat, September 8-10, 2017
  • Women’s Retreat, Facilitated by Dawn Carlson Conn, UCC Commissioned Minister for Liturgical Art, September 22-24, 2017
Blessings as you move through the wonder of these summer days. We look forward to seeing you at Pilgrim Point Camp & Retreat this season!
Rev. Kevin Brown
Associate Conference Minister of Faith Formation for Children & Youth
Minnesota Conference United Church of Christ

COMMAnts from the Conference Minister – June, 2017

“Embracing God’s Promise, a Future with Hope”

What’s the dominant narrative in your congregation?  When you talk about your church’s future, what is the general tone of that conversation?  What is the impression that people who are not members of your church have of you, or what vibe do they pick up on if they visit?

In today’s world where challenges to the church are indeed many, it can be easy to fall into the abyss of despair, worry, grief, and scarcity thinking.  But if that’s the sum total of the conversations you’re having, it’s time to do something about that.

This year’s Annual Meeting is designed to help us all change the narrative from one of gloom and doom to one of recognizing the gifts and opportunities we have in front of us.  All of our churches, of every size and in every location, have things worth celebrating.  But sometimes we’re more adept at seeing what we lack rather than recognizing what’s possible. The vitality of our congregations isn’t merely about the number of bodies that sit in our pews on a Sunday morning.  It’s about the ways we make a difference in our communities, the witness we offer the world, the love we share with others, the faith that transforms lives.  Vitality is about utilizing whatever gifts we have, large and small, for the profound good of others.

I hope you’ll be with us this weekend to think together about what vitality might look like where you are.  What are the possibilities that lay before you?  How can you embrace God’s promise and trust in a future filled with hope?  Even if you can’t be with us at our Annual Meeting, I invite you and your congregation to think about where you are experiencing new life, or where God may be calling you to embrace fresh possibility.

As we like to say in the United Church of Christ: “God is still speaking”.  Now let’s be sure we’re listening!

Your partner in service,





Reverend Shari Prestemon, Conference Minister

An Opportunity for which the Church Was Born

The Executive Officers and Council of Conference Ministers of the UCC released this statement today in regards to U.S. plans to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord. It reads in part:

“This historic moment provides Christian communities with a powerful opportunity to bear witness to the sacredness of God’s creation and the urgent call to preserve it. This is our chance to be the church.” Click to read the entire letter!

Come and Listen: Global Partnership Missionaries share stories and experiences

Don and Maryjane Westra have completed their fourth year of service in Honduras and their eighth year with Global Ministries.  Prior to Honduras, they served in Zimbabwe with a short stint in Mozambique.

Please join us from 1.30 pm to 3.00 pm on Wednesday, May 3rd at the Minnesota Church Center at 122 West Franklin Ave, Minneapolis to meet and welcome the Westras home.  Their story is intriguing and inspiring.  We seldom have an opportunity to hear stories directly from those who do this work on behalf of the church, both nationally and locally.

Don’s education and background is in Mechanical Engineering Technology and Maryjane’s education and background is in Family Service and Social Work.  Both Don and Maryjane were raised in the church and credit their parents with giving them a good foundation, with Don adding “Marrying a pastor’s daughter also had an impact!”  They have been involved in the life of the church their entire lives, Maryjane adding; “I was probably one of the few people on the planet who continued to attend church through high school, college and during our ‘before-children stage of marriage’ and Don leading youth group at 24!

Don reports that in 1990 he and Maryjane uprooted their eight children, moved from Chicago to western Minnesota, and started a business.  At times, he says, his faith was challenged, but also strengthened.  Don and Maryjane have both experienced the typical faith journey as well as the extraordinary that has been challenging, humbling and nurturing.  Don said of his time in Honduras “Now we live in Honduras, one of the most dangerous countries in the world in which to live.  People live their faith by thanking God every day for giving them one more day to serve God.  If watching that doesn’t help one’s faith grow, nothing will.

When the Westras are asked how they ended up overseas, they reply “The short story is, for our whole married life we planned to do international work.  We considered joining the Peace Corps when we were young, but instead we got jobs, babies and a large mortgage.  The last baby moved out of the house and we looked at each other and said, ‘now’s the time.’  We were invited to Zimbabwe and had to look it up on a map before we remembered that the country was named Rhodesia when we were learning geography.”

Although, technically, they are missionaries in that they are sent by a religious organization and are on a mission, they prefer to be called mission partners or mission personnel.  Maryjane notes that the term missionary has connotations we do not like to identify with.  Maryjane recommends Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible to illustrate her point.

In Zimbabwe Don worked in agriculture and Maryjane worked beside the administrator of a mission hospital and a children’s home. After three and a half years in Zimbabwe, they were invited to Honduras in 2013.  Come hear about their work in Honduras and Zimbabwe.

April COMMAnts from the Conference Minister

The Walls We Build”

I remember the feeling of the place like it was yesterday.  Oppressive.  Scary.  Dangerous.  It was 1986 and I was in Berlin, moving through the checkpoint to pass from West to East, from free society to Communist society.  I was one of a group of youth and young adult members of the United Church of Christ traveling through Eastern Bloc countries that summer.  We audaciously called ourselves a peace delegation, connecting with peace groups and local (mostly “underground”) congregations in that Cold War era when peace and organized religion were both scarce.

The Berlin Wall through which we passed that day stood 12 feet high and 96 miles long, a bulwark of bricks and barbed wire and stern soldiers with guns at the ready.  The East Germans built it in 1961 to staunch the tide of Eastern Bloc defections to West Berlin and western Europe beyond it. But still people fled, over the wall and under it, at risk of their lives, in search of freedom and new possibility for their lives.

Thirty-one years later, I stood at the foot of another wall with eleven other members of the Minnesota Conference in January of this year.  The “separation barrier”, as the Israelis refer to it, snakes through this Holy Land, separating the occupied West Bank from Israel.  This concrete wall stands as high as 26 feet, and will be 440 miles long once completed.  The State of Israel began construction on this wall during the Second Intifada  (late 2000) as a security measure to stem the surge in violence.  But the effect of this wall has been far more complex.  Its checkpoints daily diminish the dignity and rights of Palestinians.  It separates Palestinians from precious access to water, from their fields, from essential services like medical care, and from loved ones.  And this wall largely prevents normal, everyday interactions between Israelis and Palestinians, thereby further eroding the possibility for healthy relationships that could lay a stronger foundation for peace.

Now in our own country, there’s talk of building a wall at our southern border with Mexico.  The stated plan is to build a wall 1300 miles long  and 40 feet high (at least 600 miles of fencing already exists along our border with Mexico) at an estimated cost of at least $10 billion, or about $7.4 million per mile.  The intent of this wall would be to keep out illegal immigrants, a costly reaction to increasing xenophobia and irrational fears. Whether it gets built, who will pay for it, and what the real and human costs of such a wall would remain to be seen.

Walls.  The world is apparently obsessed with them these days.  A New York Times article (Tom Vanderbilt, “The Walls in our Heads”) reported back in November that there are “actually more border walls [today] than during the most tense periods of the Cold War… According to the geographer Elisabeth Vallet, there are more than 50 border walls in the world today; 15 were built last year alone.”

Walls, it seems, are an increasingly popular response to intensely complex social and political realities.  But what can we say about walls from the perspective of our faith?

Our own scriptures give us evidence that societies have always been fascinated with walls.  The walls of Jericho were purportedly built to provide safety and security, to keep out unwanted foreign elements, especially those fleeing unrest and harm in other places.  Then there were the walls of Jerusalem, Nehemiah’s great building project, part of a larger work to restore Jerusalem to a place of strength and vigor, in part by keeping out foreign aggressors.

But the walls of Jericho came tumbling down, and Jerusalem remains a conflicted, unsettled place to this day.  Those ancient walls turned out to be inadequate responses to anxiety-filled times, symbols of power and might that failed to effectively address deeper problems and questions.

Walls are designed to keep people out, to send a message that those outside of our walls are not welcome while those inside the walls have all we need. And yet we’re called by our faith, from the prophets to the example of Jesus and the words of the apostles, to welcome the stranger and to love our neighbor as ourselves.  We’re commissioned not to build walls but to break them down.

Paul puts it this way in his letter to the Ephesians:  “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.  For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.” (2:13-14)

The politicians will wrangle about their dreams of high and mighty walls.  But let us, as people of faith, persist in our own dreams of a far more excellent way……….a way of hospitality and welcome and unobstructed love.

Your partner on the journey,




Reverend Shari Prestemon, Conference Minister

The Earth is the Lord’s

Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical and Orthodox Christians unite around this core proclamation. We recognize that unity around this foundational awareness, that the earth is the Lord’s, is important, consequential, and faithful. The same recognition brings together Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Jains, Native Americans and so many more.

It is time to join our voices and our bodies as we witness on behalf of the thousands of climate scientists whose findings over the past 50 years have led to the unassailable conclusion that climate change is real and is caused by humans. Our generation will either embrace profound change or life as we have known it will be unknown to our children’s children.

In 2013, the United Church of Christ became the first religious organization to call for the divestment of funds from companies that primarily profit from fossil fuels. We believe this to be a theological imperative, a faithful response to a theological emergency. We believe that the current rate of fossil fuel consumption is a death trap from which we will not escape without deep commitments to significant changes. The modest steps taken by the previous administration to comply with the Paris Accords were helpful and necessary. Recent actions by the Administration to rollback environmental protections and responsible measures to address climate change are seen by us as a crime against humanity – an act that ensures the ongoing destruction of the planet and endangers future generations on whose behalf we are charged with stewarding God’s creation.

The response of the faith community must be proportional to the threat. Because climate change makes all other injustice worse, now is the time for us to step up.

We call upon the authorized ministers and leaders of our denomination to raise their voices in support of the faithful stewardship of creation, and against the actions of a government that doesn’t see environmental protection as its mandate.

We call upon the members of our denomination to write their elected representatives and express their concern and outrage at the Executive Order signed yesterday that rolls back commitments to protect and preserve the environment; and to urge them to put pressure on the President to reconsider this action and to continue to support the Paris Agreement.

We call upon the church to embrace Jesus’ assurance that the truth will set us free by learning about the science of climate change, the jeopardy of our current situation, and the actions we can take to assure that our progeny will have a livable planet. This crisis requires every person of faith to be informed, engaged, and committed to preserve God’s creation.

We call upon the people of faith to advocate for policies and laws that will increase our commitment to renewable energy and to oppose any additions to our fossil fuel infrastructure.

We call upon people of faith to demonstrate in voice and in action the core belief that the Earth is the Lord’s, and that we are charged with stewarding creation in ways that ensure it will be here to care for future generations.

What does it mean to live with privilege?

At a recent gathering of the Conference Ministry staffs of the West Central Region (Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Northern Plains, South Dakota, Missouri-Mid South, and Kansas-Oklahoma), these 7 Conferences agreed that each would submit an article on a topic related to racial justice over the next several months, for publication in each of our Conference newsletters.  This reflects our shared commitment to keeping the struggle for racial justice “front and center” in the lives and ministries of our Conferences.  This article is written by Rev. Gordon Rankin, Conference Minister in the South Dakota Conference.

I propagate the evils of racism.  Let me just name that from the beginning.  It is not intentional.  Usually it is the result of my own lack of self-awareness or laziness.  I support companies that take advantage of people from other countries and cultures.  Yes, that propagates the evils of racism.  I elect public servants who pass “whites first” policies that harm those of other cultures and races.  That too propagates the evils of racism.  I preach of loving all but don’t explicitly name that loving people means celebrating all that makes them unique – their culture, their language, their history, their spirituality.  Too often the evils of racism are perpetuated by my lack of clarity, consideration or courage.  I name that and own it.  And I work daily to repent of it.

But there is a whole other aspect to racism that I believe needs to be addressed.  We need to be talking more about historic racism.  One of the blessings and challenges of serving where I do in South Dakota is that it has stirred a lot of soul-wrestling within me about where my faith asks me to stand with regards to historic racism.

Here in South Dakota the historic racism that I come face to face with most every day is the history of colonial oppression towards our Lakota, Nakota and Dakota sisters and brothers.  But let me make it even more clear.  If you are my age or older, and you lived on one of the South Dakota reservations, you at some point were removed from your family and sent to a boarding school.  Of course, these boarding schools differed from one another.  I have heard tales that some were not all that bad.  However, the explicit purpose of most of their boarding schools was assimilation.  Boarding schools existed to strip Native youth of the language and culture and make them “civilized” like us white folk.

The late Reverend Sid Byrd spoke powerfully of his time at a boarding school.  He would share of the deep pain he felt when, after a couple of years, he was allowed to visit home.  He found that he was no longer able to speak to his grandparents as they could only speak Lakota and he could only speak English.

Let me draw an even finer point on this.  One of the chief builders of boarding schools in South Dakota, cooperatively with the United States government, was the American Missionary Association.  The American Missionary Association has significant historic ties to the United Church of Christ.  The church that I love, the church that I serve, is a part of this ugly, ugly history.  Moreover, those who wore my face (a white man’s face) and held similar roles to the one I do were intricately involved in this harmful, racist history.

I have already named my own complicity in propagating the evils of racism.  But what am I to do with these acts that occurred generations before and yet I find are so intertwined with who I am and what I do today?  I know there are those who would say these are not my sins to worry about.  But if not me, then who?  If I am not willing to be present to our Native sisters and brothers and say to them that my church…our church…was wrong, then who will?  I have come to see that it is my responsibility and calling to name this historic sin, to repent of it (and call others to repentance), to seek restoration in all ways possible, and to find a different way to be in this world.

But this is not just about me.  It is about all of us.  When, in the face of historic racism, are we going to stop worrying about whose sins are whose?  When will we let go of our need to not be the cause and fully embrace the responsibilities of being healers and builders of beloved community?  I fear that until we do we will continue to live under the weight of historic racism.

Gordon Rankin
South Dakota Conference


At a recent gathering of the Conference Ministry staffs of the West Central Region (Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Northern Plains, South Dakota, Missouri-Mid South, and Kansas-Oklahoma), these 7 Conferences agreed that each would submit an article on a topic related to racial justice over the next several months, for publication in each of our Conference newsletters.  This reflects our shared commitment to keeping the struggle for racial justice “front and center” in the lives and ministries of our Conferences.  This article is the second in that series, written by Rev. Ginny Brown Daniel, Conference Minister in the Missouri Mid-South Conference.

What does it mean to live with privilege? I have been consciously wrestling with this question ever since the White Privilege curriculum was introduced from the United Church of Christ. But if I am honest, I have been unconsciously wrestling with this spiritual question my entire life. Growing up in Alabama in the 1980s, I wrestled with our communal sin called racism. I was fortunate to grow up in a progressive college town, where education for all was the bedrock of our community. In high school, I worked at a drug store, where James, an African-American in his 50s, taught me what subtle Christian racism looked like as an older customer entered the store with a nice smile and James whispered the customer’s 30-year old sins of beating him for going to the “wrong bathroom.”

The more personal expression of racism took many more years to process and confess: my family’s sin of paternalistic racism. They disagreed with Governor George Wallace, who stood in my dad’s high school doors, emphatically pronouncing segregation. Years later my family bemoaned Wallace’s shrill actions when they could have worked toward a more peaceful resolution (which was a stalling tactic just as sinful as Wallace’s doorway demands). They eventually fled their hometown when African Americans rightly boycotted my grandfather’s business. But they did so because they had the financial means to leave and move to another town. Privilege.

I have privilege. I am a white, middle-class, middle-aged southern, educated woman. For many years, I was reticent to identify my privilege lest it sound like bragging in a terribly superior manner. But if I don’t name my reality, I cannot breathe God’s goodness and peace into my reality. I have been poor, but I have always known that I had a safety net to protect me from imminent financial danger. I have experienced sexism, but I have always had enough power to pick myself up, dust myself off, and start all over again.

When I named my privilege, it was as if I was finally open to healing within my body, mind, and spirit regarding my privilege and my racism. My spirit sought the stories of Jesus and how he interpreted and lived out his privilege. Jesus indeed had privilege. He was a man. He was Jewish. He was a rabbi. And he was educated enough to know, recite, and preach from the scriptures. In Jesus’ privilege, he listened to the stories of the oppressed (Samaritan Woman), he gave his privilege away (healings on the Sabbath), and he spoke truth to the powerful (turning the tables in the Temple).

Recently I asked myself how I live out my privilege. How do I listen, give away my privilege, and speak truth to the powerful?  After the Executive Order banning entry into the United States for Muslims from seven particular countries, I really wrestled with my privilege. What do I do with the power, prestige, and privilege I have been given as a UCC Conference Minister? And what is my spiritual obligation with this privilege? And so I decided that my Lenten spiritual practice would be to wear a hijab, or head scarf, to spiritually reflect on who God created me to be while giving my privilege away. I sought to stand in solidarity with my Muslim sisters and brothers, who are unfairly being judged and discriminated against because of how they worship God.

And so on Ash Wednesday, I donned a head scarf and began my journey. To be honest, wearing a hijab has been an eye-opening experience. Watching those who look past me, when they normally greet me warmly. Listening to people processing their own privilege as they admire my “courage” for this practice. And receiving racism in verbal and non-verbal expressions especially when I am at the airport. Last week, as I entered the St. Louis airport, there was a woman with a head scarf on and we looked at each other with big smiles on our faces. Talk about extravagant hospitality! There were people who were extra nice to me, and even a flight attendant who winked at me! Her wink lifted my spirits because, not 15 minutes earlier, a man gave me an ugly stare as we boarded the plane. At first, I forgot about my hijab and wondered what I had done to cause such an ugly stare. And then I remembered. And I stared at him right back as if to dare him, “Bring it on, you mean man! I’ll take you down!” (Not quite the loving spirit of Jesus but I’m being honest). In my wearing a hijab, I have also committed to reading books by Muslim American women about their spiritual lives. I am currently reading “Threading My Prayer Rug,” by Sabeeha Rehamn (here is a youtube interview with Ms. Rehman) to hear the story of one Muslim-American woman.

I have learned more about my white privilege wearing a hijab than ever before in my life.  I am more concerned when I walk through the security line (even in the privileged TSA Pre-check). I am more aware that, as they say in the broadway play Avenue Q, everybody is a little bit racist. I am more aware that discrimination stems from other people’s own fears and has  nothing to do with the person being judged. I am more aware that there will always be compassionate people willing to stand with the powerless and oppressed. I am more aware that my privilege is not granted because of who I am as a child of God. I am more aware that I have a deeper spiritual responsibility to give my privilege away by listening to the heart of others, by giving my privilege away, and by speaking truth to the powerful.

I, like all of you, have been created in God’s image. Our spiritual work will always be to live into who God created us to be while we give our privilege away. This indeed will be a just world for all!