Conference News

A Statement of Witness

Our Conference Minister and Associate Conference Ministers of the MN Conference have gathered with other Conference staffs in the UCC’s West Central Region over the last three days, and have issued this joint statement regarding racism and white privilege in our times:

 

A Statement of Witness from the Staffs of the Conferences

of the West Central Region of the United Church of Christ

November 2, 2016

 

Provoked by the Holy Spirit, we bear witness to the congregations, communities, and pastors of the Conferences of the West Central Region of the United Church of Christ:

  • God calls us to lean in, look hard, and pay close, prayerful, purposeful attention to the devastation caused by White Privilege in America.
  • It is the responsibility of white people to do this leaning, hard looking, and close attending.  It is the responsibility of white people to raise and name terrible truths, trusting God who lovingly convicts and redeems.
  • We refuse the vision of shallow, fragile tolerance among muted peoples.  We watch for the way to reparation as a prelude to reconciliation.  We pray and work for the day when every racial uniqueness is passionately celebrated as a reflection of the face of God.
  • We honor the sovereignty of First Nation peoples. We stand, speak, and act in solidarity with the people of God whose holy ground is called Standing Rock Reservation.  We move at their invitation, grateful for their leadership, with offerings of prayer, provision, and presence.

We are more fully the people God calls us to be when we are together – learning together, working together, moving together.

COMMAnts from the Conference Minister – November 2016

Politics, Polarization, & Us

shari-favorite-head-shotIn less than one week it will all be – thankfully – over.  Voters will have had their say, and our nation’s next President will (presumably) have been elected.  But regardless of who wins, so much of what has been horribly revealed by this campaign season will remain painfully with us.

Through the primary season and then on past the party conventions, what we’ve seen over the last several months has been sobering, to say the least.  The rhetoric and behavior of candidates and citizens alike have often been shockingly divisive, violent, and hate-filled.  There’s been very little that has inspired, even less that has called upon our “better angels”.  This political season has exposed quite devastatingly the polarization that presently characterizes our nation and world.  And at the root of it all is an anger and fear that has us unraveling.

Our country has certainly known other moments in its history of such rancor and division.  Abraham Lincoln profoundly acknowledged one of those moments at the close of the Civil War in 1865, when he said in his second inaugural address, “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

Binding up the nation’s wounds is once more the profound task we all face. My question for us today is this: how shall the Church participate in that sacred work?

We have a moral and theological imperative to be fully engaged in the healing, restorative work our nation now so desperately needs.  As a prophetic church, we must be willing to name and confront the social sins — racism, sexism, xenophobia, etc.—that this campaign season has so harshly laid bare.  But at the same time we as Church have to find a way to make real our own theological language of grace, forgiveness, and redemption.  We need to call upon that extravagant love we proudly profess to begin stitching the gaping wounds of our nation back together.  And while doing it we need to be willing to see the sacred and inherently good image of God in every single person we encounter, even and especially when the person in front of us is the person with whom we have adamant disagreement.

In the United Church of Christ, we like to think of ourselves as a big enough ‘tent’ to welcome all voices,  theologies, and political persuasions.  This is one of those moments that tests this treasured image.  We are also a church that believes firmly in the intersection of faith and the public square.  Today that public square is riddled with disunity, distrust, and dangerous rhetoric. May we step into that square bearing the prophetic wisdom, unyielding love, and abiding hope that makes our unique voice an essential one for these days.

Ever grateful for your ministry and witness,

Shari signature

 

 

 

Reverend Shari Prestemon, Conference Minister

Minnesota Conference Participates in Border Convergence Trip

-Submitted by Diane Haines, Chair of the Immigration Team

The Minnesota Conference voted in June at our annual meeting to become an Immigrant Welcoming Conference and we called on our churches to become active “Immigrant Welcoming Congregations and Communities.”  We celebrate this! 

border-convergence-trip-2016Participating in the border trip is one way to begin to witness what happens to immigrants when they are picked up by the Border Patrol.  Nine members of Mayflower UCC (Minneapolis) attended the School of the Americas Watch border convergence as well as the Southwest Conference events in the Tucson area prior to the SOAW offerings.  We walked one of the migrant trails where we saw crosses covering graves where bones of three who lost their lives were buried.  We witnessed the unjust practices of immigrants forced to go through Operation Streamline (a fast-tracked court process where rights are neglected.)  We attended a vigil with 400 people from around the country, in front of the Eloy Prison (a for-profit facility where immigrants are often abused medically, physically and emotionally).  We attended workshops, participated in a march to the border with 1000 people protesting the wall and all it stands for.  We were able to stand together for just treatment and loving welcome of these our brothers and sisters who, due to dire circumstances in their home countries, have fled to the US.

 

As a church that holds fast to God’s command to welcome the stranger and to love them and treat them as citizens among us, we stood as witness to that message.  At the wall 50 UCCers participated in a time of prayer and witness led by Rev. John Dorhauer, our General Minister and President, who said:

          “The United Church of Christ, the Southwest Conference and members of our local churches are here to demonstrate our love               for all people and our commitment to an immigrant justice that makes sense”

 

We are grateful for the witness of Rev. Dorhauer (read about his experience of the border trip), SW Conference Minister Bill Lyons and 50 UCC members from around the country for their combined witness to the love of God.  We thank God for a denomination that speaks out for justice for immigrants.

 

Mayflower members are willing to share this experience with your congregation through a presentation of “Voices from the Border.”  Consider inviting us to participate in an education event at your church or to lead a worship service.  Contact Diane Haines for more information at diane.m.haines@comcast.net.

Fall Youth Events – “Creating Racial Justice in Our World”

14670833_10154589799767328_1790790409460263422_nOver the weekend (and this coming weekend) our Minnesota Conference youth are being led through difficult and timely discussions on racial justice by two skilled facilitators from the Connecticut Conference UCC, Emily McKenna and Isaac Monts. Our youth and leaders are being led through discussions of racial justice, Black Lives Matter, and micro-aggressions — along with ways to take care of one’s emotional health throughout these intense interactions in our group and society.

I14601013_10154589800317328_2972546215764092470_nn the natural beauty of Pilgrim Point, we’re learning that racism is a combination of racial prejudice plus power. That it’s the intentional (or unintentional) use of power to isolate, separate and exploit others. We’re discovering and learning about the four realms of racism: Personal, Interpersonal, Institutional, and Cultural. For change to be lasting, we must encompass all four of these realms. In other words, healing just one or two of these realms isn’t enough to create the racial justice that God is calling for us to co-create in our world.

We’re delving into the deep meaning and hurtfulness of micro-aggressions; the brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative slights and insults toward people of color. We also found out that micro-aggressions affect all minority communities, not just along racial lines.

Since a vast majority of our MN Conference members are white, we began understanding how white privilege can be our subconscious underpinning to these forms of injustice. Easy to hear? No. Easy to say? No. Necessary in our world today? Definitely! Was it heard by our youth and leaders? You Betcha!

I’m proud of how our Middle School and High School students have picked up the gauntlet for creating racial justice in our world. They are leaving the CYE with a firm dedication to BE a healing force within our various communities of faith and our world. They are to be honored and congratulated for their bravery and their new-found ministries.

See more photos from the weekend on the Pilgrim Point Camp Facebook Page.

Blessings,
Rev. Garth Schumacher
Interim Associate Conference Minister of Faith Formation

Minnesota Conference UCC Welcomes Rev. Kevin Brown to Staff Team

 

Reverend Kevin Brown

Reverend Kevin Brown

The Board of Directors has approved the unanimous recommendation of the search committee that Reverend Kevin Brown be our next Associate Conference Minister for Faith Formation with Children and Youth.

Kevin has outstanding experience in leading faith formation in congregations.  He currently serves as the Director of Faith Formation with Mayflower Community Congregational United Church of Christ in Minneapolis.  He previously served as Director of Faith Formation at Union Congregational UCC in St. Louis Park and in similar positions at Judson Church in Minneapolis and Affton Christian Church in St. Louis, Missouri.  He earned his Master of Divinity degree from Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis.

“I’m really excited for Kevin’s ministry with us to begin,” Conference Minister Shari Prestemon remarked.  “Kevin has a deep respect for the ministry of the local congregation and comes to us eager to help congregations strengthen their faith formation practices.  He understands Pilgrim Point Camp as a primary and cherished space of ministry within the Conference. He also has a wonderful vision for making the Minnesota Conference a true leader in faith formation across the United Church of Christ.  All of that plus his engaging and thoughtful personality will make Kevin an amazing addition to our Conference staff team.”

In the life of the Minnesota Conference UCC, Kevin has served on the Conference Faith Formation Team since 2013 and has chaired that team since 2015.  He has also served as part of the leadership team for congregational camps and has been a speaker at Conference Youth Events at Pilgrim Point.

Kevin and his wife Monica have four young adult children and have lived in the Twin Cities area for the last nine years.  He enjoys playing his trumpet and listening to music, has a passion for cooking and eating, and loves a good book or movie.

Search Committee members, L-R: Shari Prestemon (Conference Minister), Kim Shaffer (Mankato), Abigail Henderson (Northfield), Sheri Nelson (Wadena), Hathan Holst (Duluth)

Search Committee members, L-R: Shari Prestemon (Conference Minister), Kim Shaffer (Mankato), Abigail Henderson (Northfield), Sheri Nelson (Wadena), Hathan Holst (Duluth)

As he contemplates his move to Conference ministry, Kevin says, “I feel privileged to join the staff of the Minnesota Conference UCC and look forward to beginning this wonderful and challenging ministry.   I am excited to join my gifts in collaboration with so many other innovative and creative leaders from around Minnesota and within the wider church as we engage the vitally important work of articulating an authentic, justice-focused, and theologically progressive vision for faith formation with children and youth.  My hope is that the Minnesota Conference will continue and expand its leadership in the work of connecting and supporting faith formation leaders, providing rich opportunities for faith exploration and development for children and youth, and become a catalyst for the development of relevant, faith-nurturing resources for congregations, families, and individuals.”

Kevin will begin his ministry with the Conference on November 16, 2016.  Please join us in providing a warm welcome to Kevin as we begin this adventure of ministry together!

COMMAnts from the Conference Minister – October 2016

What Legacy Will You Leave?

shari-favorite-head-shotLast week I had one of those unique opportunities afforded a Conference Minister from time to time.  Reverend Carolyn Fure-Slocum, one of our own authorized ministers and College Chaplain at Carleton College, asked me to speak at an event marking the 100th anniversary of the chapel at Carleton in Northfield.  It was part of a larger celebration honoring the 150th anniversary of the college.

Carleton College was founded in 1866 by the Congregationalists, one of four streams of church that eventually became the United Church of Christ.  This much I knew, but when I started doing some more extensive research in preparation for my evening at Carleton, I was inspired by what I learned.

The founding of Carleton was a visionary, risky, and thoroughly faithful enterprise of the Church.  The Congregationalists in Minnesota back then were at the vulnerable place of their own very tender beginning.  A book titled “Congregational Work of Minnesota, 1832-1920” described it this way: “The territory of Minnesota had been organized only in 1849.  Its population at that time was about 4000.  When the decision was reached in 1860 to found a Congregational college, the population [of MN] had risen to 172,023.  There were, in the MN of 1860, 47 Congregational churches, ten of them less than a year old, and the average membership of all of them 28.  There were only 30 ministers and about 12 church buildings.  Not more than three of the congregations were self-supporting.”

Just think of that!  Just 47 small churches with a tenuous grip on their own future made the bold commitment to found a college.  And that college still flourishes today, nurturing the intellectual and spiritual development of students, reflecting those foundational impulses of the Congregationalists all those years ago to blend a zeal for learning with a deep respect for the sacred.

This narrative of our church ancestors’ forethought and vision causes me to think about the concept of legacy. What legacy are we in the Church of today leaving for those who come after us?

It seems a worthy exercise for us to consider this question. Each of the four predecessor churches of the United Church of Christ left its own imprint on the United Church of Christ of today and on our world.  Educational institutions, health & human service organizations, bold missions, & a daring witness for justice in critical moments of history are all part of the enduring legacy they left us.  What will our legacy be?

The legacy we leave depends on the vision and character of our ministries today.  So take some time to consider questions like these with leadership in your ministry setting:

  • What enduring impact does your ministry have on the lives of others? How is that impact evident?
  • What are you so passionate about doing in your community that the ripples of that work are felt far beyond the doors of your building?
  • How are you planning today for the legacy you wish to leave in the future? Does the vision you have for your congregation’s ministry somehow extend beyond the confines of your current reality?  Are you willing to take a risk for the sake of something bold?
  • If your church were to ever make the very difficult decision to close, how could your plan for the distribution of your remaining assets leave a legacy that would far out-live your building and your church?
  • What do you want your ministry’s legacy to be? What can you do to ensure that legacy?

The context of Church is very different today than it was when our ancestor Congregationalists stepped up so faithfully to found Carleton College.  Yet I hope we remain today a people of bold vision and faithful forethought, eager to leave behind a legacy that endures.

With gratitude for all you do,

Shari signature

 

 

 

Reverend Shari Prestemon, Conference Minister

Camp Director Gigi Nauer to Depart

gigi-w-drumAfter five seasons at Pilgrim Point Camp, Gigi Nauer is bidding a fond farewell to her duties there as Camp Director.  In her letter of resignation, Gigi stated, “I have been offered a faith formation position in a local church, and since mid-August have been contemplating the ways that I could combine both the church position and the camp position.  After examining and experiencing the two simultaneously, I have determined, unfortunately, that it will not be possible to do them both.” Gigi will be serving as Director of Faith Formation and the Hand Bell Choir Director at Union UCC in Elk River, where her spouse Robin is the pastor.

“So many throughout the Minnesota Conference have benefitted from Gigi’s spontaneous and loving spirit, her amazing gift of music, and her deep commitment to Pilgrim Point Camp,” said Conference Minister Shari Prestemon. “We are truly sad to see her leave her position at camp, but we give thanks for what has been and look forward to her continued presence with us in the wider life of the Conference.”

Gigi reflects on her ministry at Pilgrim Point Camp: “It has been a blessing for me to help create a sacred space where anyone who comes senses the presence of the Holy.  I have seen even a few short days become a healing, transformative, life-changing time.  I am grateful to have been a part of making that happen at Pilgrim Point Camps & Retreats and believe it will continue to be a vital ministry of the Minnesota Conference UCC.”

Gigi will finish out the remainder of the 2016 season at Pilgrim Point Camp and close up the site before winter settles in for one last time.  Watch for future announcements about an opportunity to celebrate her ministry with us in the next weeks.  In the meantime, feel free to share your well wishes and thanks with her at gigin@uccmn.org.

Women’s Retreat ~ A time of Weaving Baskets and Life Stories

cropped-group-photoLast weekend, almost 50 women gathered at Pilgrim Point Camp for a Women’s Retreat.  Workshop Leader Kaila Russell led the women in a weekend of connecting the ordinary skill of basket weaving with the sacred as they noticed the parallels of weaving and their life’s journey.  The act of weaving creates a space to share stories and realize that we are connected – woven together in lots of different ways.

Here is what participants share of their experience from the weekend:

  • fb_img_1474777391880I have wanted to attend the Women’s Retreat for years, but it never seemed to work out.  This year, five women from our church attended.  This was one of the most wonderful experiences of my life – making baskets and sharing life stories.  What amazed me was the baskets all started out the same, but each ended up as unique as the weaver. Gigi and the staff were so caring and helpful.  Oh, and the food was wonderful!
  • The retreat was fantastic!  Kaila is the most affirming woman I have ever met. Robin Raudabaugh’s communion invitation humanized the gift of bread and wine. Gigi Nauer obviously loves what she does, and is infectious! This annual weekend is about more than a weekend away from work and dishes.  It is a weekend of bonding with other women over life issues, a personal introspection, an opportunity to positively impact someone in need, and a chance to simply be grateful.
  • I had a wonderful time at the women’s retreat! The atmosphere of acceptance and permission to relax and care for ourselves and each other was exactly what I needed. Weaving baskets was a wonderfully symbolic exercise in acceptance of our flaws, being kind to ourselves, and recognizing our beauty. I made new friends, reconnected with old friends, and left feeling refreshed and strengthened to face my everyday life again. I wish it was longer than two nights! Pilgrim Point is a wonderful place to relax and energize. Being there with loving women from all over the state was a very special treat. I’m definitely going back next year.
  • I absolutely loved the entire weekend and enjoyed making many new friends across the Conference.  The basket weaving activity and inspirational messaging felt like the entire weekend was designed just for me.  Thank you to everyone that had a hand in making it such a success.
  • Last weekend I went to the Women’s Retreat at Pilgrim Point.  I loved how Kaila led us all in weaving our stories into our baskets, it’s something that will stay with me forever.  Everyone is very welcoming and I always felt like I was a part of something great!  I am already planning on attending next year.  Thank you to all who helped make this a wonderful experience.
  • I found that the whole of the weekend, with Taize and the basket weaving, so lovingly led by wonderful women, to be very meditative. I thoroughly enjoyed this experience.

Each Fall there is a Women’s Retreat at Pilgrim Point Camp & Retreat Center in Alexandria.  If you didn’t sign up this year, based on these comments you won’t want to miss out next year.

2016 Fall Leadership Retreat

leadership-retreat-2016We just finished our annual Leadership Retreat at Pilgrim Point Camp. Thirty Board members, staff, and chairs of various committees, teams, and work groups spent two days learning about good governance and imagining new ways of working together to advance the mission of the MNCUCC. And we had some fun in the process!

Heather Kimmel and Richard Hilbrich, the General Counsel and Associate General Counsel of the United Church of Christ, were our keynote presenters.  

We discussed principles of good governance.  These principles include being accountable to and concerned with the health and well-being of the entire conference, exhibiting a clear and unified vision and mission, and functioning with transparency and openness. fall-leadership-retreat

We talked about the Board’s work of discerning the movement of the Spirit in the Conference, providing strategic direction, and providing oversight of our ministry and resources.  We discussed the ways that the Board of Directors are entrusted with the mission of the Conference, and we heard the ways the work of various committees, teams, and work groups fit into the overall mission of the Conference.

Governance conversations get a bad rap.  People hear governance and imagine boring or even painful conversations that remind them of a dentist’s waiting room or sitting in a dental chair.  Not this time!  Retreat participants were engaged and focused.  We recognize that good governance is crucial for the Minnesota Conference if we want to live out our mission as effectively as possible.  Good governance allows us to be faithful to God and to be good stewards of the gifts God has given the Minnesota Conference of the UCC.  Deepening the faithfulness of the Minnesota Conference is very interesting indeed! 

We also enjoyed meals together, socializing, high stakes team building competitions, and, of course, the beauty of Pilgrim Point.     

Respectfully Submitted,

Rev. Todd Smith Lippert

Senior Minister, First UCC Northfield

Vice Moderator, Conference Board of Directors

COMMAnts from the Conference Minister, September 2016

“Conversion Experiences”
shari-favorite-head-shotOn Sunday, I returned home from a two-week partner visit with the SE Mindanao Jurisdictional Area (SEMJA) of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP). The Minnesota Conference has enjoyed a global partnership with SEMJA since the 1980’s, and has strengthened that partnership through a number of visits both directions over that span of 30 years.  This time there were three of us from the Minnesota Conference who traveled to the Philippines; I joined Global Partnership Team members Thom Haines and Josephine Fernandez.

Such visits are a time to build relationships, gain clearer understanding of the other’s cultural and socio-political context, and observe the unique witness of the Church in that setting.  We seek to embody partnership values of accompaniment and mutuality in our time together.  All of that happened on this particular trip as expected, as we traveled with UCCP leaders, worshipped in UCCP congregations, and talked together about the issues that shape their ministries today in the Philippines.

But for me, this trip was also a bit like going home.  Twenty-five years ago, I served in the Philippines as a Peace & Justice Intern on behalf of the UCC’s Board for World Ministries .  I was 23 years old at the time, had just one year of seminary under my belt, and was questioning whether or not I was really called to the ministry.  Sensing that I needed a break from academics and longing for an experience that would stretch and test me in new ways, I departed for a year of global mission service.

I got exactly what I said I wanted; I was profoundly stretched and tested.  My culture shock was severe.  I struggled with the language, and for the first few months my naturally extroverted self suffered from enormous isolation because of my inability to easily communicate with others.  I was forced to confront my own vulnerabilities and inadequacies head-on, and leaned heavily on my faith and my God in the process.   Navigating through that experience was one of the hardest things I have ever done, and yet I can also say with complete honesty that serving in the Philippines was one of the best decisions I have ever made.  It was a conversion experience of the best kind.

We don’t talk much about “conversion” in the United Church of Christ.  We’re more likely to use words like “transformation” or refer to “mountaintop experiences”, because the concept of “conversion” has been unfortunately sullied for us by the ways more conservative elements of Christianity have used and abused the term.  But as we see in the example of Saul on the road to Damascus  (Acts 9), “conversion” is simply a way of describing an encounter with Christ that profoundly changes the nature and substance of our faith, how we see the world, and how we understand ourselves.  And that kind of conversion is most definitely the work of the whole Church, including the United Church of Christ.

My experience in the Philippines all those years ago was undoubtedly one of conversion.  It was during that year that I discovered within myself an inner strength I didn’t know I had.  It was the experience that revealed to me in fresh ways the power of God in my life and the lives of others.  It was a time of witnessing the great possibility of faith and Christ’s Church in ways that mattered deeply, as I met UCCP pastors who literally risked their lives for the sake of “the least of these” and for justice rooted in their faith understanding.  It re-awakened my own call to ministry and sent me straight back to seminary to pursue that call.  I was converted from a kind of hum-drum, taken-for-granted faith to a faith that was bursting with new life and purpose.  That conversion still shapes my faith and ministry to this day.

As Summer turns to Fall and our ministries in every setting ramp up, my question for all of us is this: how are we creating space for conversion to take place today within our own faith communities?  Are we making room for the Holy Spirit to truly move us and change us?  Are we giving others the tools to experience their own conversions, and to recognize them when they happen?  Or are we just cultivating a sort of “status quo” faith that fails to breathe new life into tired, worn out places and people?

Conversion of the type I’ve described lies at the heart of our task as Church.  I pray that what we do and who we are in the United Church of Christ always offers room for conversion….of lives, of faith, of systems and communities.  Let us convert all that lacks love and hope and faith into places and people bursting with new possibility and purpose.  That’s a conversion we should be proud to claim and cultivate.

With prayers and thanks for your ministries,

Shari signature

 

 

 

Reverend Shari Prestemon, Conference Minister