Conference News

COMMAnts from the Conference Minister – January 2017

shari-favorite-head-shotPray for the Peace of Jerusalem

“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: “May they prosper who love you.  Peace be within your walls, and security within your towers.”  For the sake of my relatives and friends I will say, “Peace be within you.”  For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek your good.” (Psalm 122:6-9)

In just a few days, I will depart for Israel-Palestine with 11 others from the Minnesota Conference.  Together we will embark on a sacred journey to that cradle of three Abrahamic faiths…and a region riddled with conflict and complexity.*

While there, our days will be filled with visits to the holy sites of the land: Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Galilee and Nazareth, Jericho, the River Jordan, and much more.  But as important and inspiring as these experiences will be, I suspect the most transformative moments will come from our interactions with the “living stones” of Israel-Palestine:  Jews, Christians, and Muslims who are the people of this complicated, beautiful, and divided place, and who daily navigate a twisted web of political, social, and religious realities.  Peace in that “holy land” is far distant; security is a mirage built by walls and check-points. And true justice for many there is still just a dream.

peace-doveThe prayer of Psalm 122 for peace and security within the hallowed walls of Jerusalem is still a poignant one today for those who claim Israel and Palestine as their rightful home.  It is also a prayer, it strikes me, that we in the United States would do well to pray in these times for our own nation and peoples.

As a new leader prepares to step into the Presidency, our nation is sorely divided…by politics, by fear, by clashing world-views and stark racism.  Genuine and deep peace eludes us, as well.  The path to our security is a constant source of disagreement, one that often comes at the expense of our neighbor’s justice.  And the common good is often sacrificed on the altars of greed and self-interest.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem. Pray for the peace of our nation and world.  Pray for the sake of all those who our faith demands we love as our neighbor. And strive to seek the good of all.  These seem like ample prayers to ground and guide us in the new year now before us.

Shalom.  Salaam.  Peace.

Shari signature

 

 

 

Reverend Shari Prestemon, Conference Minister

*Read the resolution passed by the 2015 Annual Meeting of the MN Conference about Israel-Palestine [here].  Please hold our Conference’s Sacred Journey participants in your prayers as they travel January 9-20.

COMMAnts from the Conference Minister ~ All That is Sacred

shari-favorite-head-shotLast month, I gathered with 500 other faith leaders from 20 diverse faith traditions to stand alongside the Water Protectors at Standing Rock in North Dakota.  At issue was the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), which was routed to cut through sacred burial grounds of the Sioux tribe and underneath the Missouri River.  It was a threat to the water supply of the area, and one more grievous offense in a long, historical string of them against our nation’s Indigenous peoples.

As first dawn broke that day, hundreds convened at the Oceti Sakowin camp, hunkered down in a crowded circle around the camp’s central fire.  Amid songs and prayers and presentations, there came an invitation to the women to participate in the Women’s Water Ceremony, a daily ritual.  About 20 of us lined up behind three tribal women, who led the small procession down to the distant Cannonball River, one of them carrying with her a golden pitcher of water.

As we moved along the dirt road, flanked on each side by flags of the various tribal nations represented in camp, we would stop seemingly at random.  Toward the back of the procession, I couldn’t see why we were stopping at first, and found myself impatient with the slowness of our progress.  Then I realized that we were pausing to provide a blessing… People who were just emerging from their tents and teepees for the day would approach us to request a blessing, and be splashed with water from the golden pitcher.  And then we would proceed, blessing given, our steps marking a path made more holy by the encounters.

At last we reached our destination.  One by one we stepped down a small, rickety dock perched out over the river to toss tobacco from our left hand and pour water in with our right hand.  Each of us lifted prayers of our hearts, thanksgiving for God’s Creation.  And then we lined ourselves up along the river’s bank, faces to the water, hands raised to the heavens, to offer final prayers before making our way back to camp.

I realized something that morning that I confess to you today: I am often too hurried and impatient to make room for the sacred along the way.  I hasten from one thing to the next, eager to finish my tasks, too seldom taking pause to recognize the blessings all around me.  But for our Native brothers and sisters at Standing Rock, it’s all about honoring the inherently sacred nature of everything and everyone around us .

The struggle at Standing Rock is an environmental fight, to be certain.  But for our Native brothers and sisters, it is first and foremost a matter of deep spirituality. This fight at Standing Rock is about protecting what is thoroughly sacred to the Native peoples, in a way that most of us outside Native spirituality find it difficult to fully comprehend.  But on that day last month I experienced what it’s like to see each step, each bit of ground under our feet, each drop of flowing water and each interaction with the other as the truly sacred opportunity each represents.  And I was blessed along the journey.

We progress in these weeks through the holy season of Advent, stepping ever closer to the miracle of God’s birth among us. My prayer is that we might move more mindfully and prayerfully through these days, taking time to honor all that is sacred in our lives and in our world, making room for the holy to break into our hurried routines along the way. And may you find profound blessing and abundant hope at each step of the journey.

Shari signature

 

 

 

Reverend Shari Prestemon, Conference Minister

Note: We give thanks for dozens of MN Conference UCC clergy and lay persons who stood with the Water Protectors at Standing Rock over the last several months. Read an update about what’s happening at Standing Rock here: http://www.ucc.org/news_standing_rock_water_protectors_celebrate_victory_stay_vigilant_12052016

COMMAnts from the Conference Minister ~ Post-Election Thoughts: The Sacred Work Before Us

shari-favorite-head-shotThis morning we awakened to the news that Donald Trump is our nation’s President-Elect.  The reaction of many has been a visceral one.  For some, this election result feels like a capitulation to an anger and fear and hatred in our country that is unfathomable and unacceptable.  And yet for others this election marks the beginning of a time they hope will “make America great again”.  Both views are now undeniably part of this nation’s worn and tattered fabric.  Both views will be present in our church pews across the Minnesota Conference this Sunday.

Last week I reflected on the stark divisions this campaign season has clearly revealed for us, and the jagged social wounds we as Church must address:

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.

 

The time for this sacred work is now.  Whatever else may have seemed to radically shift overnight, this much remains…Our God is a God whose love excludes no one, whose power and possibility are timeless, whose care for us endures.  Our God is a God who sees each and every one of us – immigrant, LGBTQ & straight, black and white and brown, differently-abled, male and female, rich and poor, conservative and liberal – as precious beyond measure.  Our faith is a Resurrection Faith that proclaims stubborn hope amid the deepest despair, a faith resilient enough to navigate the peaks and valleys of our lives.  And our United Church of Christ is a multi-racial, multi-cultural, anti-racist, open and affirming, accessible to all, justice-loving, peace-making, extravagantly loving kind of Church.

That is exactly the kind of Church we must fully and passionately be now.  A verse in the lectionary assigned for this Sunday warns us to not be idle and offers this commission:  “Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.” (2 Thessalonians 3:13)

And this is my prayer for us all on this day.  Let us not be weary.  Let us not allow our anger, our despair, or our fear to squelch our passion or to dim the light we must dare to shine on injustice and wrong. Let us work daily to embody the kind of vision for our world and for our neighbor that our scriptures call us to boldly build.  Let us be the Church that Christ implores us to be— yesterday, today, and tomorrow.  And let us overwhelm the light of day with unquenchable love, undaunted purpose, and unbounded grace.

With you in this sacred work-

Shari signature

 

 

 

Reverend Shari Prestemon, Conference Minister

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.