Here in the Minnesota Conference, our Board of Directors held a retreat at the end of January to initiate an intentional, extended period of discernment and exploration in the Conference. Over the next several months, the Board will seek clarity about what local churches and leaders most need from the Conference today. Seeking input from you in a variety of ways during the process, we’ve covenanted together to make this journey one marked by honesty, transparency, an openness to the Spirit, and……………..courage! (Watch for a letter from our Conference Moderator, Janet Bartz, next week with further information about this process.)
The Council of Conference Ministers, which convenes all the UCC Conference Ministers nationwide, is also preparing for some courageous conversation. In March, we’ll gather to think about what it means to be a “whole-hearted church”, a church steeped in and devoted to courage, compassion, connection, and covenant. As key leadership in the United Church of Christ, we’re asking ourselves important questions about how we can work more collaboratively as leaders and as Conferences to accomplish the mission God places before us.
I hear these same echoes of courageous conversations in so many of our local churches. You’re asking yourselves what God needs of you today in your local communities and in the lives of your members. Some of you are trying to imagine how you can still “be Church” faced with declining memberships and dwindling resources. Others of you are asking yourselves how you can faithfully respond to pressing issues of our time like racism, immigration, and environmental integrity. All of you are wondering how to share our unique message of extravagant love and unyielding hope, rooted in Jesus Christ, at a time when fewer people in general seem interested in the institutional church.
At the heart of all these ‘courageous conversations’ is a recognition that we as Church are in a season of life that is deeply challenging, one that calls upon us to ask new, sometimes difficult, questions. We trust that God is “up to” something wonderful, that what we as Church have to offer the world is still relevant and exciting, but the details are just a bit blurry. We suspect that what God is doing in our midst might require us to think and behave differently, to embody and enliven the Gospel in a whole new way……and that’s a little scary!
Courage. I’m convinced that if we are to step with bold faith into the future that God has waiting for us, exhibiting courage will need to be one of our steady spiritual practices across the life of the whole Church. We need a willingness to wrestle with the hard, scary questions, and to accept answers that may stretch and push us.
What courageous conversations are you being invited into? Whatever they are, however unsettling they may be, trust in this much: wherever courage takes us, God will be there ahead of us. Have faith.
With you on the journey,
Reverend Shari Prestemon, Conference Minister