This Winter and Fall, our Associate Conference Ministers will be sharing their take on our Core Values and Strategic Priorities adopted by the Board of Directors on August 18, 2012.
January 13, 2015
Serving with compassion and advocating with passion, we seek a more just and peaceful world. We work to eliminate social, cultural and racial barriers, honoring each individual as created in the image of God.
I was raised on the far northwest side of Chicago. My grandfather’s “garden” was as far as my “farming” experience went – that is, until years later when I attended college in Iowa and met my future and current wife. Carla was raised on the farm and, compared to my grandfather’s patch garden, her garden was the size of a Chicago city lot! I quickly learned a lot about farming, but it was not until I entered ministry that I came to fully appreciate those farming lessons. And no one lesson is more important than the first one I learned – as in farming, so it is in ministry –“the work is never done.”
It matters not the ministry discipline, the work goes on and there are disruptions and things beyond one’s control that occur, and, like the farm, ministry has to find meaningful ways to respond to life issues and crises. This is never truer than when it comes to issues of JUSTICE.
At our 2012 annual meeting the Minnesota Conference passed a resolution supporting and commending to its member congregations the resources, witness, and programs of Prophetic Voices and encouraging congregations to become partners in this prophetic ministry. At that meeting three points from the national Justice and Witness Ministries of the United Church of Christ were identified:
- Has identified a broad range of issues on which it recommends reflection, involvement, and action, including (for example): Economic Crisis; Economic Justice Covenant Program; Immigration; Labor Unions; Poverty; Privatization; Race, Ethnicity, and Economic Justice; Workplace Justice.
- Is part of a nonpartisan coalition to protect voter rights convened by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, National Campaign for Fair Elections.
- Has expressed concern about the use of ballot initiatives that often undermine laws that protect many of the vulnerable populations.
I am proud of our denomination and inspired by my new conference home, as these efforts did not end with the passing of the 2012 resolution. The Minnesota Conference prophetic ministry teams – Justice & Witness, Global Partnership, Immigration, ONA/LGBT, and the newly re-instituted Antiracism Team – continue the prophetic work of raising awareness and acting in meaningful ways to affect change.
Some of this work has focused on:
- Gun control
- Promoting green justice
- The marriage equality “freedom to marry” act and LGBTQ awareness through PRIDE and Celebration events
- Bed Quota and border issues of abuse and oppression
- Being present and engaging churches on issues of Open and Affirming and on policies that restrict and oppress immigrants from obtaining citizenship, I.D’s and issues which either restrict or interfere with voting rights
- Increasing understanding and awareness of the experiences of our global partners in the Philippines as we work to “address justice issues common to our two regions, which include mining and environmental degradation, LGBT issues and interfaith conversation.”
- Prophetic ministry teams also address issues of life and faith. These include raising awareness of the realities of racism in police brutality, First Nation abuses, and oppressive environmental and economic policies that hurt those who often are unable to use their own voices, or make those voices heard.
There is indeed always work that needs to be done. The church is to the world what the farmer is to the land, nurturing and preserving this world we have been entrusted with, and to have “dominion” over. The Minnesota Conference Prophetic Ministry teams are the plows in the field, carving out the rows where the seeds are planted and nurtured, that we might grow the fruit of fairness, justice and equality in all its variations. I encourage each and everyone one of us to be engaged in these fields wherever and whenever we can, be it at our local churches, our conference or at the national level. The United Church of Christ is our church and it welcomes us; through our prophetic ministries and in covenant with one another we can make a difference in this world and in the lives of those whom God has placed here. We can change lives, because it is true – “Whoever you are, wherever you are, ALL are welcome here.” God is indeed still speaking, and God speaks through us. God continues to speak God’s truth – that has not changed – and we have been empowered to bring forth God’s truth of justice, equality and fairness.
December 30, 2015
Today, Rick Wagner speaks on Innovation
Innovation is one of the core values of the Minnesota Conference UCC. Part of what we mean by innovation is discovering, implementing and sharing new ministry practices. Where can you learn about these practices? Well, to start, consider the New Beginnings program, or Certification School for Progressive Youth Ministry, or Ministerial Excellence Groups, fall Clergy Convocations, or Church on the Move events. If you’ve attended recent Annual Meetings, you’ve witnessed innovative practices such as live-streaming. Or consider how meetings of committees, work groups, and teams are sometimes conducted by conference call, Skype, or other web-based video conferencing software such as Webex or GoToMeeting. To save money, time, travel and to lessen our carbon footprint, the Committee on Ministry has conducted ordination and member-in-discernment interviews using this technology. To cite just a couple of examples, Tom Liddle interviewed with the Committee on Ministry once from East Timor. Cecilia Baxter interviewed from Pennsylvania, Michael Fritz from Denver. And sometimes I meet with pastoral search committees via this kind of technology, helping them practice for interviews they will later conduct with applicants who live in other parts of the state or country.
Innovation can be part of any area of ministry. We see innovative practices in worship (going paperless, incorporating video links into preaching, trying different styles of music), administration and governance (policy-governed boards, leaner structures, new evaluation procedures), communication and outreach (email, Twitter, texting, Facebook), teaching (transforming traditional confirmation and Sunday School programs, promoting faith practices at home), budgeting (narrative budgets), database management and storage, fundraising, meal preparation and catering, building maintenance, utilities (conservation and efficiency practices, installing solar and geothermal energy systems), and more. If you have an innovation to share, or that you would like to hear more about, let us know.
The Church of the 21st century still deals with eternal truths like the good news of the Gospel, but the ways in which those eternal truths are communicated and lived out must change and adapt to fit the times. May your innovations be blessed!
December 23, 2015
Today, Steve Boorsma speaks on Empowerment
Affirming multiple approaches to accomplish God’s work, we identify and develop diverse leaders, share resources and information, and responsibly delegate accountability and authority to act.
Twenty-five years ago Barbara Brown Zikmund published: “Empowerment and Embodiment: Understandings of Ministry in the United Church of Christ.” In it she writes “The United Church of Christ states in its constitution that every member is called to participate in and extend the ministry of Jesus Christ by witnessing to the gospel in church and society. Through baptism the ministries of all Christians are “authorized.” However, the constitution also states that “the United Church of Christ recognizes that God calls certain of its members to various forms of ministry in and on behalf of the church for which ecclesiastical authorized is required by the church.” The publication goes on to offer encouragement and critical insights. Yet, it is important that we keep a critical eye on this process of ministry, particularly in light of the national office’s current process of re-working the Manual on Ministry, most affectionately known as M.O.M.!
The points that Barbara made 25 years ago are still relevant today. The work of the Committee on Ministry through sub-committees Discernment and Preparation for Authorized Ministry (DPAM) and Authorized Ministry (SAM) are evidence of that. The Minnesota Conference is committed to this process. COM Chair Rev. Sara Morse reported that the 2014 COM retreat focus “Strangers No More: Making Connections and Being in Covenant was an in-depth look at the covenantal nature of our work and how that intersects with Marks of Faithful and Effective Authorized Ministers of the United Church of Christ.
Ensuring that our authorized ministers are as prepared and empowered as they can be is important work. BUT – it is not a one-time function. In other words, ordained authorization is a forever event, much like baptism, and while we are baptized “once and forever” our engagement and empowerment activities are an on-going, life giving activity. And ordained authorization is not the only action of the Minnesota Conference. Authorization for ministry is granted for commissioned ministers, and for licensed pastors. Unlike ordained or commissioned ministers, licensed ministers are granted authorization for one year at a time and only at a specific ministry setting; there are also usually expectations for licensed ministers for education, spiritual and faith formation etc.
Fortunately, the work of the Conference does not end there. Empowerment of ministry is an inclusive activity. As Barbara Brown Zikmund points out we in the United Church of Christ see “ministry” as the responsibility of those authorized for ministry, but not solely those “authorized.” We also recognize the importance of lay members of the denomination and local church to engage the work God began in and through Christ. Scriptures teach that those “set apart” are not the only ones gifted to engage ministry.
As a denomination and as a conference of the United Church of Christ we take that seriously and strive to provide spiritual and faith learning and growing opportunities to empower all the members who make up the Conference. This may take the form of providing resources in all forms to assist members and congregations as they stretch themselves to be the church in meaningful ways in today’s changing cultures. During the past 24 months several “Church on the Move” events have been held for clergy and lay leaders and brought in speakers (i.e. Rev. Carol Howard Merritt author of “Reframing Hope: Vital Ministry in a New Generation) and workshops that included, Congregation Conversations and The Ins and Outs of how and when to use Social Media. The Clergy Convocation this year brought us author and pastor Rev. Dr. Robin Meyers. “His teaching and preaching offer a non-literal, non-dogmantic approach to Christianity, and his politics are neither left nor right, but rather subversive for the cause of love. He seeks to build, not a collection of “believers,” but a Beloved Community devoted to embodying peace and justice in a broken world.”
And Pilgrim Point certainly deserves mention for its outstanding work and experience promoting faith formation for all ages. It is not simply “Church Camp,” it is an expression of the empowering church work that takes place in the Minnesota Conference. It does not “just” happen. Guided by the power of the Spirit, staff and volunteers work tirelessly to provide meaningful experiences that will last beyond a summer event, but build on each event in the building of the body of Christ.
True to the core value of “affirming multiple approaches to accomplish God’s work…” there is not just “one way” to do the work that God calls us to do, nor is there one group of people called to do it. We are the United Church of Christ, and we are the “Covenantal” church working together to empower and be empowered with and by one another as we “embody the good news of the Stillspeaking God…”
December 9, 2015
Today, Steve Boorsma speaks on Faithfulness.
In my many trips to Appalachia and the Smokey Mountains I have had the privilege to worship in many faith communities. I always wanted to experience a snake-handling worship service (from the back pew of course-close to the door) but I never had the opportunity. Nevertheless, I have been assured that the phrase “Can I get a witness?” is heard in that worship experience, as it was in the Baptist, Church of Christ and various other independent congregations. “Can I get a Witness?” seems to be relegated to certain kinds of faith communities. The truth is, it is a phrase that has meaning in all congregations of all traditions. Different faith traditions have other words and ways to talk about “getting that witness.” We in the United Church of Christ call it: “Continuing Testament.”
Continuing Testament is part of the first of the five Core Values of the Minnesota Conference where we “… embody the good news of the Stillspeaking God …” When we speak of faithfulness it is framed as faithful discipleship as a people who “live out the shared commitment of the UCC,” by telling the story, extending extravagant welcome, and changing lives.
What we believe as the United Church of Christ is intentionally important, but equally, the what we believe is also the how we believe. We all come to faith in our own ways and on our many journeys, and therefore we recognize the importance of welcoming others and providing a safe place to make that journey. Our extravagant welcome is to ensure that safe place where one can journey and experience the Stillspeaking God. God’s story does not change. The Stillspeaking God is not saying anything radically different from what we find in the Bible. It is our hearing and acting that is radically different. As much as God’s story does not change, neither does God’s truth change. Our listening? Our understanding? Our journey? Yes, on all accounts those things change. This is, I think, not because of OUR extravagant welcome but because we have accepted God’s extravagant welcome to us, and our radical response is to extend that same welcome to others no matter where they are on their life journey. It is indeed our faithful following of Jesus’ response. We in the Minnesota Conference are committed to changing lives not by saying; “be/think this way or that way,” but rather by “giving a witness” in word and deed, or by our continuing testament of a loving, graceful God who is still speaking God’s message, of turning no one way from the table, by welcoming – feeding – clothing – visiting the stranger. Lives are changed as we journey together, led by God, to find renewed truth. Our actions are grounded in the apostles’ concept of grace: welcome the outcast and include the excluded.
The faithful continuing testament is not a break from the original testament. We are the church of the continued testament in that we have a message of vital importance for our time and place, a message grounded in the Stillspeaking God that makes that message vital and alive in today’s world.
November 4, 2015
Stewardship as a Core Value of the Minnesota Conference
The leaders of the Minnesota Conference strive to be responsible stewards of OCWM and the environment. We also need to travel to congregations around the state and include people from greater Minnesota on the Conference Board, committees and working groups. This is a balancing act because of the distances involved. As faithful stewards, the Conference staff carefully monitor their expenses, trying to arrange multiple contacts when traveling to parts of greater Minnesota. Sometimes renting a car is more cost effective than being reimbursed for driving one’s own vehicle, so we have a corporate account with Enterprise.
We use Skype, GoToMeeting, and Webex for videoconferencing, and some of our Teams and Work Groups hold meetings via conference call. Some of our Ministerial Excellence Groups meet by videoconference since the travel distances between members are so great. Even our Committee on Ministry has conducted Member-in-Discernment and Ordination interviews via Skype.
When doing Search & Call work, ACM Rick Wagner often encourages search committees to meet with him via Skype because these same committees will later be conducting some of their candidate interviews by Skype, and it’s good to practice ahead of time.
When the IRS set the volunteer mileage reimbursement rate for charitable organizations at 14 cents/mile, it was half the standard rate of business related reimbursement (28 cents/mile.) Business reimbursement rates have risen over the years (currently $.575/mile), but the volunteer rate has remained at $.14/mile. Believing this to be unfair and a hardship to our volunteers who travel significant distances to serve on Conference committees, the Conference’s own policy is to reimburse volunteers at half of whatever the current business rate is.
Even as the amount of written material used for meetings increases, we print far less and send very little by US Mail. Documents are scanned and emailed or uploaded to google docs for committee members’ perusal. We are by no means a paper-less office, but neither do the trees weep when we hold a meeting.
If you have suggestions on how the Conference can better embody its commitment to faithful stewardship, please contact us!
October 28, 2015
Today, Garth Schumacher speaks to: “Increased capacity for compassionate service and prophetic witness”. The Minnesota Conference UCC is a bold, widely-known, proactive and respected public voice of Christianity.
Compassionate Service and Prophetic Witness R-US
Wouldn’t that be an important thing to say about our churches and about our Minnesota Conference? Well, it can be. It’s one of our “Bold Inspirational Goals”: The Minnesota Conference United Church of Christ is a bold, widely-known, proactive and respected public voice of Christianity. You can look it up! It’s the first page of our newly published 2015-16 Directory.
How do we do that? How do we increase our capacity for compassionate service and prophetic witness? One thing I know as a teacher is, “the best ways to learn are to do and teach!” The following drawing gives us the basic hierarchy of learning (the lower levels being more effective):
What is it that usually prevents us from doing and teaching? One is the lack of opportunity. But, with Conference Minister, Rev. Shari Prestemon at our helm… She who formerly led the service and mission organization, Back Bay Mission through a full recovery from hurricane Katrina… I think we’ll have the opportunities. For instance, Barb and Bob Peterson are leading yet another large group down to Back Bay Mission in Mississippi this coming Winter, 2016… just the beginning of our mission opportunities. And, because last year’s Mission Camp was so well received, Pilgrim Point Camp is considering offering a 2nd Mission Camp experience for 2016!
Yet, even with the growing opportunities to expand our mission experience, “Prophetic Witness” may make us less comfortable. As Main-Line Protestant Minnesotans, we’ve learned all too well not to brag or testify. In fact, we get downright shy about sharing the justice message and/or the Good News of God’s love. But, we of the Minnesota Conference UCC are waking up to the fact that unless we speak up for the marginalized, the “widow and orphan,” and the earth… that justice will not be served. We are recognizing the need and call to say, “send me, God.”
There are almost an infinite number of ways to witness: word- both spoken and written; in song; in dance; marching the streets; standing alongside the marginalized; confronting the powerful; all the arts; educating one another with the goal of increasing our voices, etc.
But, once we’ve done our service and found our mode of witness, we still may have that lump in our throat. Putting ourselves out there to proclaim justice in our world takes sacrifice: our bodies; our emotional states; our money; our families; our time; our energy; some of our friends; you-name-it. It takes courage to speak truth to power! That need for courage in the face of the powers and principalities of this world is one of the primary reasons why we are called to dwell within the Body of Christ, our church.
We belong to a Christ who lived a life of sacrifice, even unto death. He did this for our emulation, but also to grant and encourage the gifts of the spirit within each one of us which then become vehicles for our own prophetic witness. As Paul reminds the Christian community of Ephesus, “The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…”(Ephesians 4:11-12) All of these gifts have capabilities to speak Christ’s “truth in love.” While some of us march, others support the marchers; While some of us teach, others create and improve our spaces for learning; While some of us preach, others allow themselves to live into the words and sacrament in community. By building up the Body of Christ within our church communities, we are not just one individual who witnesses the prophetic message, but the entire congregation… a congregation built on mutual sacrifice for and with one another and in God.
In fact, our newest leader for UCC Justice and Witness Ministries, Rev. Traci Blackmon has modeled that very “body of Christ” dynamic. As the pastor of Christ the King UCC, in Florissant, Missouri, she became “nationally recognized as the prominent voice for social change when Michael Brown was shot in Furguson, just miles from her church.” As UCC General Minister and President, John Dorhauer enthusiastically noted, “Traci is a game changer. If we are talking about our promise to live out bold and public witness, this woman lives that out to a level of which we can all be proud… This is a woman who can make a difference!”
While the powers and principalities of the world encourage fear, we are called by Christ to “fear not” and be courageous within God. When David faced Goliath, Goliath had all the weapons of the world, but David trusted and dwelt in God. May we courageously join together in Christ and boldly say, “We, of the Minnesota Conference are a bold, widely-known, proactive and respected public voice of Christianity.” So, it’s not just you or your church who marches. Your conference and your denomination marches shoulder to shoulder with you as well.
October 14, 2015
What’s with this new term “Faith Formation” instead of Christian Education? Why are we changing terms now? These are a couple of questions I’ve personally heard from parishioners and other clergy in my various interim settings. There are important differences between the two terms that resonate throughout each and every church.
Christian education really took off after WWII. Returning veterans and families were longing for a stable peacetime world after profound disruptions. With new growing families, our churches organically grew separate silos of Christian teaching. We began separating our church/Sunday schools and our children and youth from worship. And, much like secular schools, our curriculum focused on the development of faith through the mind. Then, we expected our children to be excited to celebrate the sacraments in worship with adults when they turned 18. So, how’s that been working for us? Exactly!
But today, as stated in the UCC’s 2012 study, “Foundations, Findings, and Futures Christian Faith Formation and Education in the United Church of Christ”: Churches are caught, today, in the practices of the modern world, struggling with radical shifts in culture, church, and technology of the post-modern world. This struggle includes the changing nature and practice of Christian Faith Formation in the church.
Faith Formation is the term being used to think about a more holistic approach to growing faith in our children, youth, families, and all adults. It is our attempt to grow both the heart and head together in Christ. A schematic drawing of this pedagogical difference might look like this:
Christian Education Faith Formation Spiritual Formation
Because most of our churches no longer have the luxury of a large educated and free workforce, we’re discovering what’s old is new! Combining the educational mind with the heart enlivening worship is not only exciting… it’s effective as well! Learning about and practicing our faith in the sanctuary, in all church events, and in the home is our new direction for faith formation. And, “people are desirous of teachers/facilitators/leaders who have a sense of grounding in their own faith and who are empathic/willing to listen. While knowledge is also a high desire, it is not as important as these other qualities.”
The Minnesota Conference is making faith formation a priority in growing Christ’s spirit in all our churches. Youth, children, adults, and families may be getting a taste of our progress at Pilgrim Point Camp, Conference Youth Events, and many other special events. Here’s a picture which helps define where we see faith formation being used in our lives and community:
May we all learn to express and grow our faith throughout all our lives. Amen.
September 30, 2015
How do we know when our Minnesota Conference churches are healthy, vital congregations? When “there is a welcoming, vibrant United Church of Christ community of faith accessible to all people of Minnesota”.
Surely, this can only be measured in a case-by-case, church-by-church basis?!? Actually no, this is one of those situations that call for “both-and” answers. We are a part of the Minnesota Conference for a reason. One reason among many is to support one another during our church’s journey with Christ. For whenever two or more are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them (Matthew 18:20 KJV). Yes, each church needs to continually be open to growing their emotional, spiritual, theological, etc. health. That can usually only be achieved at the local level. But, part of our calling as Christians is to share the gospel with all the world. Why? Hear these words of Jesus in his prayer to God for ALL his disciples (this means you, too) just before he arrives at the Garden of Gethsemane and his betrayal:
“As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world…I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, God, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us.” (John 17:18,20-21a)
You may have noticed our UCC logo quote, “that they may all be one”. Why would our UCC leaders have put that particular quote in if they didn’t believe it paramount to our denomination’s faith? I believe it is because our fore-mothers and fathers knew that our health and vitality as Christians depended on not only what we do inside the church, but also on what we do outside the church. Excessive internal focus soon becomes a bore, and nobody wants to be around a bore. There has to be an outward dimension to our faith development. Our vitality is counting on it!
I know, I know…I’m advocating the “E” word again…Evangelism. (One of the more frightening things to say in many of our UCC churches.) Why couldn’t I just write a nice little article quoting from Peter Steinke’s book called Healthy Congregations? Peter speaks about now anxiety is a part of any and all groups of people, including churches. In order for churches to think clearly and remain healthy, our leaders (clergy and laity) must be a non-anxious presence in the midst of the anxious community. (Easier said than done.) But, once a church reaches that baseline of calm, clear thinking and acting (health)…what then? Surely there is more, isn’t there?
Of course there is. To use a direct quote from Peter Steinke:
The purpose of the local church is not primarily to be one’s church home or extended family, though it can be at times. And it is not to survive by obtaining more people for its support base. Its purpose is to invite people to be part of the true mission of the church. Reception into the church in only a threshold to involvement in its mission. The task of the church is not to accumulate attendees. They church is a school for developing agents of the new creation from among those who are the beneficiaries of God’s grace.”
Our vitality is dependent on how we respond to God’s call to share the Good News with the world. For example, we in the UCC have a gift that many other denominations do not. We pronounce Christ’s open table. Our communion table is open to ALL the people. We believe that sacrament and word are co-equal and that the divine revelation of God’s presence in each and every one of our lives is available to anyone who comes into a UCC church and shares the cup and bread with us…so that we may be one.
Now that’s what I call “healthy and vital”. How can we not share that? We of the Minnesota Conference are called to have each other’s UCC back, to make sure that we are ALL one, healthy and vital.
September 16, 2015
Today, Rick Wagner speaks to “Leadership Development”.
Leadership development for clergy and laity: Minnesota clergy and laity are ready and equipped to lead in a rapidly changing world.