Conference News

MN Conference UCC Chaplain Network Meeting

MN UCC Conference Chaplain Network

Tuesday, April 25, 2017 11:30-1:00

MN Church Center

122 W Franklin Ave, Minneapolis


“Medical Aid in Dying—The Facts”

Rev. Kevin Bradley, MDiv

Chaplain, Heartland Hospice

Founding member of Interfaith Clergy for End-of-Life Options (ICELO), Compassion & Choices Minnesota

Compassion & Choices is the largest national organization educating the public and working with legislators to make Medical Aid in Dying legal. The mission of ICELO is to promote understanding and acceptance of diverse spiritual beliefs related to end-of-life decisions.

Come to learn what Medical Aid in Dying is and what it is not and how this legislation is working in several states. Both sides use religion to support or oppose this bill. Kevin has testified at a MN Senate committee hearing for the 2016 version of the Death with Dignity bill sponsored by Sen. Chris Eaton. He will bring his passion and expertise to our discussion of this important topic.

This event is open to all UCC authorized ministers who are currently serving in chaplain ministry.

Lunch will be available for purchase in the cafeteria, bag lunches are not allowed in conference rooms by building policy.


Contact Kathryn Morin at

or Catherine Duncan at


MN UCC Chaplain Monthly Coffee Gathering

The MN UCC Chaplain Coffee Gathering continues to meet each First Friday of the month, 8:30-10:00 AM at Turtle Bread in Linden Hills.  Come for a cup of coffee, good conversation, and colleague support.

St. Anthony Park UCC, St. Paul

St. Anthony Park UCC is located in St. Paul, near the State Fair grounds and the University of Minnesota St. Paul campus. The church was founded in 1886, so we’re 130 years old.  Our tagline is:  “Christian Tradition, Progressive Faith, All Are Welcome”

Our church members represent all ages, every decade, from newborns to our oldest member who is 106 years old.  We have more than 50 children and youth, so we do A LOT of intergenerational ministry. We have hosted an All-Church retreat at Pilgrim Point camp.

We concentrate on building amazing disciples/followers of Jesus, not an amazing church. We take action as public witnesses:  marching in the Gay Pride parade, serving on a phone-bank for marriage equality, and taking part in the Service of Lament and Prayer after the Philando Castile shooting. We attend the Prayer Vigil at the Ramsey County Detention Center where immigrant detainees are held, and we are in the discernment process about becoming a Sanctuary Supporting Church.

We are a financially generous congregation (we’re 5 for 5! among other giving) and are fiscally strong. Our church recently hosted two benefit concerts to raise funds and awareness – one for the ACLU of Minnesota, another for the Center for Victims of Torture. We try new things, such as sponsoring a refugee family from Syria, going on a Mission Trip to Back Bay Mission in Biloxi, renovating /”greening” our building to be more energy efficient .

We open our building to the Schubert Club-Music in the Park Series, St. Anthony Park Co-op Preschool, Boy Scout Troop 17, and the Full Moon Meditation Group. Members of the church march in the classic small-town St. Anthony Park 4th of July parade.

The church sponsors three ongoing support groups:  Caregiver, Bereavement, and Depression. We enjoy one another’s company.  We love one another. We carry each other through the river of life.

At St. Anthony Park UCC we prioritize our connection with the Minnesota Conference UCC and all UCCers with whom we are in covenant.

Minnesota Conference UCC Welcomes Lori Alford as Pilgrim Point Program Director

Lori Alford has been hired to serve as the Pilgrim Point Camp Director. In this new role, Lori will be the primary onsite program staff at Pilgrim Point Program Camp throughout the camping season, providing spiritual leadership, program direction, and support for congregation and conference sponsored camps and retreats. She will work closely with the Associate Conference Minister for Faith Formation for Children & Youth to develop and lead Conference-sponsored youth programs and will help coordinate the development, planning, and leadership for other Conference-sponsored programs at Pilgrim Point.


Lori is eager to get back to the UCC after a brief hiatus serving in the PC(USA). Her past involvement includes working at various UCC churches in the Twin Cities, and even once on Conference staff as an assistant to Wade Zick. In the past year, Lori also began the Marriage and Family Therapy program at St. Mary’s University, inspired through her work with Our Whole Lives to work with individuals and families experiencing a wide variety of issues around sexuality. She will begin an internship with a clinic in Edina in the fall of 2017. Lori has a career goal of blending together her three passions: Pilgrim Point Camp, OWL, and work as a therapist, as they represent the spiritual, relational, and healing arts she has been crafting for many years.


Pilgrim Point is a place of connection for Lori, as she grew up in the Alexandria area and feels at home at the camp. She is passionate about the ministry that happens at camp and feels Pilgrim Point is a deeply sacred space. She is thrilled to be starting in this new role and can’t wait to welcome you all to camp this summer!


Lori will begin her ministry with the Conference on April 4, 2017.  Please join us in providing a warm welcome to Lori as we begin this adventure of ministry together!

Anti-Hate Letter

The UCC Palestine Israel Network Steering Committee, (a committee of the national UCC) has issued a statement regarding its rebuke of hate and stereotyping directed towards our Jewish and Muslim sisters and brothers. That statement is available here.

Lay Leadership Development Initiative Launched in Minnesota Conference

What is one of the most important challenges for the Church looking forward?  Some say it is ensuring that competent, trained leadership remains accessible to congregations of every size and location amid dwindling resources.

In the Minnesota Conference UCC today, 65 of our congregations have either ordained or licensed part-time pastors. That’s fully 50% of our congregations that can no longer afford full-time pastoral leadership, and that number is likely to increase. At the same time, a growing number of people who feel a call to ministry cannot entertain a traditional path of seminary education and training for a variety of reasons. The combination of these factors and much more is creating a mounting concern about the future leadership capacity of our Church.

The Conference Board of Directors has approved a new effort to address these challenges and concerns. In recent month, it authorized resources to develop a program that “will grow lay leadership capacity across the Conference, provide for multiple paths to ministry, and equip the church for the future.”

Reverend Vicki Wunsch has been hired by the Minnesota Conference to serve as our new Director of Leadership Development. This part-time position will guide our new efforts in this arena, including working with the Wisconsin Conference to develop a new, joint lay leadership development program and preparing for the Conference to host a multi-church Young Adult Service Community.

Vicki’s breadth of work experience will serve her well in this new Conference position. She has worked in non-profit organizations and churches for nearly 20 years. Her experience includes working as a national trainer to help churches become welcoming to the LGBT community, training congregations on faith-based community organizing, engaging faith communities and training clergy in supporting families effected by violence, and curriculum development. She has most recently provided pastoral care and grief support at Fairview Hospitals chemical dependency services. Vicki received her Master’s Degree in Adult Learning and Development from the University of Minnesota, and her Masters of Divinity at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities. She is ordained in the United Church of Christ and a member of Mayflower UCC in Minneapolis.

“I am excited to be part of this initiative that will strengthen and grow our church by creating new ways we can engage and develop lay leaders from around the Conference,” Vicki says. She has begun her work with the Conference as of March 1.

Stay tuned for news about how this major initiative is unfolding, and for opportunities for you to provide your input into the planning process!

COMMAnts from the Conference Minister – March 2017

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

These are the words that usher us into Lent, a season of repentance when we are asked to dig deep inside ourselves to reflect on the substance of our faith.  We begin with a reminder that we are mere mortals, birthed from dust and destined for dust, removing from us any illusion that we are all-powerful or indestructible.

Today some will attend a simple, quiet worship service and have gritty ashes imposed upon their forehead.  Others may make a quick stop at an “Ashes 2 Go” station, where pastors meet the penitent on sidewalks and in parking lots to bestow those ashes with a few words of blessing.

And then some will begin their journey of Lent by choosing to give something up: a vice, a bad habit, some temptation we have succumbed to far more often than is good for us.  There have been times I’ve taken that path and given up something I loved — pizza and chocolate have made frequent appearances.  But it never seemed to me that giving those things up actually did anything to bring me closer to God or to deepen my faith. They were just things I should have given up anyway, and Lent offered a convenient prompt to do so.

This Lent, there are no doubt several things I’d be well advised to give up.  But what my heart really longs for is to draw nearer to God.  I want God to walk with me, guiding my discernment about what it is God needs of me and helping to illumine all the hope God carries for my life and for our ministry together in the Conference.  I want to know that God’s love for me is steadfast, even on my least lovable days.  And I want to trust more fully that new life and radical possibility are always just a bit further down the long and winding road, just as the Resurrection promise will emerge once again at the end of this ash-strewn Lenten path.

What will your Lenten journey look like this year?  Will you give something up?  Or will you give yourself TO a more full-hearted search for God’s presence and purpose in your life?

May God bless your journey,

Reverend Shari Prestemon, Conference Minister


Global Ministry Partners Don & Maryjane Westra Visit Minnesota

Don and Maryjane Westra have called Minnesota home since 1990.  They are members of Federated Church, United Church of Christ in Fergus Falls. Their faith and values led them to join Global Ministries in 2009. The Westras’ first assignment was in the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe.

In 2013 they moved to Honduras. Don worked with the students and teachers at the Center for Vocational Education of the Evangelical and Reformed Church (CEVER). Maryjane assisted in the administrative department of CEVER. She also counselled students with family problems.

Don’s ministry was supported by One Great Hour of Sharing. Don and Maryjane are planning to spend time with the MN Conference April 2- May 7. They would enjoy sharing their experiences with us.

Maryjane and Don would love to come to as many Minnesota Conference Churches as they can to share their experiences.  Sundays have been booked, but they are happy to come any time during the week to meet with any church group, meeting or simply a weekday or evening.  The Westras have quite the story to tell and it is a wonderful opportunity to see the United Church of Christ Global Ministries in Action.  To schedule a time for Don and Maryjane to visit your church, please call Rev. Steve Boorsma at the Conference office:  612-230-3367 or the Rev. Ava Adams-Morris at 507-243-3891.

Sanctuary Church Movement Growing in MN Conference

Yes, MOVEMENT is indeed what is happening in our Conference when it comes to providing “Sanctuary” for immigrant families facing deportation.

The Sanctuary Movement traces its roots to the 1980’s, when many congregations were led to provide housing and other assistance to Central American refugees who were being denied asylum by the United States.  Today the movement is experiencing a resurgence.  In 2016, 400 congregations of various traditions were “sanctuary congregations”; since the Presidential election, that number has increased to 800 nationwide. UCC congregations participating in the movement have gone from 15 last year to 50 most recently.

Several congregations in the MN Conference are among that number.  At least 5 congregations have already voted to be either a Sanctuary Church or Sanctuary Support Church.  Several others are in discernment about the possibility.  On February 18, the Minnesota Conference Immigration Team led a forum on Sanctuary and Becoming an Immigrant Welcoming Congregation.  There were 45 people in attendance that represented 13 churches.  The Immigration Team will be offering another forum at Pilgrim Point in the spring (details available soon).  In the meantime, they are always willing to do a presentation in your congregation.  Simply contact Diane Haines to arrange for that.

Here’s what some of our churches said about their journey in discernment about becoming either a Sanctuary Supporting or Sanctuary Church:

  • Rev. Eliot Howard of Linden Hills UCC, Minneapolis was interviewed on Minnesota Public Radio yesterday (listen to the entire interview and their story on this topic here) and he said “I personally felt the tug of conscience and faith and got out ahead of things by declaring Linden Hills church a sanctuary congregation.”  He had heard stories from teachers in the congregation about Latino students afraid to go to school or worried for their parents’ safety.  “That frankly, overruled the decisions and attention to process,” he said.  There is also a lead story in the Star Tribune today on this topic with their own interview with Eliot.  You can read that article here.
  • Rev. T. Michael Rock of Robbinsdale UCC says: We became a Sanctuary Congregation in December 2014. We took this leap of faith with the support of Rev. John Gutterman and the MN Conference Immigration Team. We heard the stories of two families in our congregation who lived through a deportation experience and we vowed to do what we could as a congregation to not let that happen again. We feel blessed with many resources and relationships and feel that becoming a Sanctuary Congregation was central to our faith and understanding as people of Radical Hospitality in the United Church of Christ.
  • Rev. Todd Smith Lippert in Northfield shared: On December 11, 2016, First UCC declared itself a sanctuary, a place of refuge for undocumented immigrants facing an immediate threat of deportation.  We made this declaration because we feel that current immigration policies are a violation of Christian values.  This is one way we can love and stand with our immigrant neighbors.  Our Sanctuary Team has created a living space in our church (see photo).  We invite other congregations to become a part of the sanctuary movement.
  • Rev. Emily Goldthwaite Fries says “Mayflower Church became a Sanctuary Supporting Church by a vote of our Church Council this spring and announced this to the congregation on Easter Sunday to much applause. We partner with Robbinsdale UCC, in the event that they host someone we would be right there providing support and amplifying the story of immigrants’ struggles in the fear of deportation. A year ago, you may remember the primary force driving the need for Sanctuary was the Obama administration’s raids – often targeting people who had actually come to the US seeking asylum during the summer. Our congregation hosted two listening sessions to hear feedback, which followed an intensive and well-attended series of educational offerings on immigration issues. The main concern we heard was, what if the need becomes even greater after the coming election? That question seemed far-off at the time, but it guides us now in discerning how to respond to this human rights crisis in these days. We encourage other churches to join in this movement.”
  • Rev. Robin Raudabaugh, pastor at Union Congregational UCC in Elk River, shared: “Union Congregational UCC  is immersed in the process of how to move toward becoming ever more immigrant welcoming.  Our goal is to declare ourselves a sanctuary church by first being a sanctuary supporting church as well as encouraging our members and friends to participate in vigils, conferences, being early responders to churches who may be further in the process than we are.  Elk River is a community with a relatively large population of Central American and Mexican folks – many who come to work in potato fields.  We are currently as church deep in learning, conversing, and moving toward declaring our inclusion and hospitality to all who need it.”

There are several resources that can help inform and guide congregations’ discussion on the Sanctuary movement.

The Conference holds in prayer those who are ready to serve as Sanctuary or Sanctuary Support churches and those who are in discernment on this question.  And we hold in prayer also those who today live in fear of being deported and separated from their families.  We remember holy scripture:  “When an immigrant resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the immigrant.  The immigrant who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the immigrant as yourself, for you were an immigrant in the land of Egypt.” (Leviticus 19:33-34)

COMMAnts from the Conference Minister – February, 2017


How is God calling me right now? How can I be most faithful?

I have had countless conversations over the last few months that have all contained some version of these heartfelt questions.  Even in ‘normal’ times, these questions are important ones of faithful discernment.  These days, though, there’s an urgency that is markedly different. Whether these questions are being asked by clergy, lay persons, Conference Minister colleagues, or national staff members, all of us seem overwhelmed with what feels like social upheaval to many of us.  It’s causing us to carefully examine how we are being called in new ways in “such a time as this”. And we really want to get it right.

I celebrate this kind of intentional discernment of our individual and collective calls to service and discipleship.  It’s deep, important, faithful work in which all of us should engage.  Especially now.  Because this is indeed a time that needs us to bring our best and whole selves.

Less than two weeks into a new administration in the White House, we are being bombarded by new policies and attitudes that assault many of the bedrock values of our nation and core tenets of our faith.  It’s enough to make your head spin……..and your heart literally ache.

So what are we to do?  How are we to respond as people of faith in this time?  And how can we tend to our souls along the way?

Here are some things to consider:

  • Choose your issue(s) and be steadfast about them. None of us can be passionate and authentic advocates on every single issue that touches our hearts.  We can try, but exhaustion will quickly get the best of us and we’ll inevitably fall short.  Figure out what you’re most passionate about, or what most deeply affects your community, and concentrate your efforts there.
  • Don’t try to go it alone. This is a time for all of us to strengthen our networks, build new collaborations in our communities, and leave our “lone ranger” selves behind.  Who else in your community cares about the same issue? What other church can you partner with? Who are the colleagues you can turn to for strength and encouragement along the way?  And how can the Conference and our staff support you?  This is a perfect time to strengthen your connections to colleagues and the wider church.  I’d love to hear from you about the ways you need the Conference to accompany you in your work.
  • Dig deep spiritually. Remember as you engage in whatever issues you choose that you are a person of faith. Our Facebook post recently listing Biblical references to immigrants and refugees got a huge  amount of attention.  That tells me that you’re hungry to meaningfully connect your faith to your passion for justice.  Rely on the lessons of our faith and the disciplines of our faith to sustain your spirit over the long haul.  Call on God’s wisdom and help daily, remembering that you are a partner with God in the work. Attending to your spirit is essential to remaining healthy and grounded in the life-giving but daunting work of doing justice and loving kindness.  Don’t forget the third part of the equation:  walk humbly with God.  (Micah 6:8)
  • Build some bridges.  These are tumultuous times.  Acrimony seems on the rise in our country…and perhaps we see that close-up in our churches, our communities, and families.  Find ways to make connections with those whose opinions differ from yours.  Seek real understanding.  Reflect in your own relationships the kind of community and mutual respect you long for in the world.  Let it start with you.

Let us hold each other in unwavering prayer, as each of us discerns how it is that God is calling us in this unique and challenging moment.  Be faithful.  Be brave.  Be loving.  Be the Church!

With you on the journey,



Reverend Shari Prestemon, Conference Minister