Volume 18, No. 18 | May 4, 2022

Equipping a courageous Church alive with Christ’s transforming love
Be Faithful Anyway: COMMAnts from the Conference Minister
Last Sunday I had the pleasure of worshiping with St. Paul’s UCC in Delano, and it was yet another occasion for me to give thanks for our precious presence as the UCC across the Minnesota Conference.

St. Paul’s is a small congregation; there were about 30 people in worship on that particular day. Delano itself is a small town, in an area that St. Paul members described as very conservative. 

When Rev. Bridget Haefner, pastor and teacher at St. Paul’s, invited prayers from the congregation that morning, a member who was there worshiping with his wife and young daughter stood up to share the difficult news that their family would soon be moving away. He talked then about how important that church had been for their family, how much they were going to miss it, and how grateful their family had been for a church that offered a different voice in Delano than the more prevailing attitudes of exclusion and troubling conservatism. It was clear the church had been a refuge of sorts for them, a blessed community that more closely aligned with the values important to them and made the harshness of the surrounding world more bearable. 

That member’s heartfelt words were powerful testimony to the importance of our witness as the United Church of Christ, perhaps particularly in communities where our values of inclusivity, extravagant love, and wide welcome are not broadly embraced. As I mingled with others after worship last Sunday, heard about their various activities in the community, and listened to others’ gratitude for their church, it was clear that St. Paul’s offers an alternative witness and presence in that little town that matters immensely, to its own members and to our collective faithful enterprise as the Church in the world.
As small, rural towns struggle to survive, it gets harder and harder for our churches in them to survive too as membership and resources slowly dwindle. Although church closures and hardship are not only in small, rural communities, it is where we now see a growing number of our congregations struggling. Yet it is in these same places that our churches’ witness seems especially important.

It can often feel these days as if hate, anger, white supremacy, misogyny and all the forces that damage and destroy are overwhelming the kind of Resurrecting, Radical Love we choose in the United Church of Christ, the kind of love that lies at the heart of the Gospel. Our voices can feel so small, our efforts so futile against a backdrop of all that other noise. 

Be faithful anyway. Do justice anyway. Show loving kindness anyway. Follow Christ’s example anyway. Be a courageous church anyway.

Trust that whatever bits of faithfulness and love you dare to share with the world will make a difference to someone, somehow, that the tiny seeds you plant will bear fruit in ways you cannot imagine.

With you on the journey,
Reverend Shari Prestemon, Conference Minister
Reproductive Justice & the United Church of Christ

Recent news of a leaked draft opinion from the Supreme Court of the United States on a case that will determine the future of reproductive rights signals that the Supreme Court is likely to overturn Roe v Wade.

For nearly 60 years, the United Church of Christ has affirmed the right of an individual to determine for themselves, according to their own moral and religious conscience and in consultation with loved ones and medical professionals, whether or not they will make the painful decision to terminate a pregnancy. The United Church of Christ has also lifted up the importance of access to a full range of reproductive health services, regardless of economic circumstance. 

LEARN MORE about the UCC’s historic stances on these issues and check out the worship resources and a wealth of other background information.
Conference News & Events
Saying Farewell to Conference Staff Members

The Conference bid fond farewells to two members of the staff team recently:

Renae Shields, Director of Finance, left her role at the end of March to return to her consulting business full-time. Renae began her work with us in July 2019 and did an incredible job providing accurate and easily understood financial information to our Board and Finance Committee. She also provided excellent advice on occasion to local church leaders who had questions about best practices in church finance. Carita Zimmerman has joined the staff as the new Director of Finance.

Rev. Abby Henderson concluded her service as our Director of Leadership Development on April 29. Her work had focused solely on our innovative partnership with the Wisconsin Conference UCC, “The Damascus Project.” Together with her Wisconsin-based co-director, Rev. Dr. Tisha Brown, Abby helped strengthen and expand this program to build excellence in leadership across the Conference. Abby departs to give full attention to her family’s needs. She had served as the Conference’s Director of Leadership Development since October 2019.

We give thanks for the many gifts Renae and Abby shared with us during their time on our Conference staff and pray blessings on their next paths.
Rest and Renewal is Around the Corner!

An update on the 2022 Annual Meeting from Robin Raudabaugh

O faithful people, we have joyfully hugged, shaken hands, been face to face, and said to one another, 'I see you,' and 'I am so grateful.' Restore and renew us, O God.” 

Annual meeting will be here before we know it and the planning team is so excited to be offering three worship times and Bible study to sandwich the business and Rest and Renewal activities of the weekend.

Plan now to arrive in time for the opening worship that starts our meeting on Friday at 10:30 am. Because you won’t want to miss the Falcon Heights Emerge youth will calling us to worship with enthusiasm and excitement and drama.

At the beginning of each plenary there will singing – many of your favorite, easy-to-sing hymns. This know this is a time we need to restore and renew so we don’t want you to work too hard learning new, complicated songs.

Informal worship will precede the Friday night banquet. Bible Study with Molly Marshall of United Theological Seminary (UTS) will begin Saturday morning and our final big worship service will closer our meeting on Saturday. Justin Sabia-Tanis, Assistant Professor of Social Transformation at UTS, will preach, our Conference staff will provide worship leadership, Falcon Heights Emerge youth will dramatically present the scripture, and Covid-safe communion will be served. And, yes, there will be singing. All worship will be hybrid – live and virtual. We cannot wait to see you!  

Announcing the Annual Meeting Workshops & Hearings

For all who are registered for the 2022 Annual Meeting of the Minnesota Conference UCC, many exciting workshops and informative hearings have been planned for Annual Meeting week. Once you are registered, you will have access to the links to all of these excellent opportunities that will take place via Zoom on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday (June 6 - 8) at various times. You are free to attend as many workshops as you want once you are registered. REGISTER TODAY and you'll be all set to attend!

Here is a list of the workshops and hearings:
  • Ministerial Standing in the MN Conference UCC
  • Ambiguous Parables: Coping Well with Uncertainty
  • Becoming a WISE Congregation for Mental Health Diversity and Accessible to ALL
  • Art Bright, a program for declining memory
  • Working Together to Eliminate Medical Debt
  • Moderator's Gathering and Training
  • Called to welcome the stranger and set the prisoner free
  • Your Churches Financial Covenant Matters!
  • Planned Giving - A Roadmap for Individuals & Churches
  • Is Your Church Struggling or Facing an Uncertain Future
  • Community/Church Based Resettlement
  • Hearing on a resolution Protecting God's Earth and Its People with Electrification
  • Church Consolidation
  • Hearing on A Resolution Supporting Public School Educators, Academic Freedom, and Equity Efforts in Schools
  • 2023 Budget Hearing
  • 2023 Compensation Guidelines Hearing
Celebrating Holy Humor Sunday

The Federated Church of Morris celebrated Holy Humor Sunday on Sunday, April 24. For centuries in Eastern Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant countries, the week following Easter Sunday—including the Sunday after Easter, which was known as “Bright Sunday”—was observed by the faithful as “days of joy and laughter” with parties and picnics to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. The custom was rooted in the musings of early church theologians—such as Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa and John Chrysostom—that God played a practical joke on the devil by raising Jesus from the dead. The early church theologians called it “The Easter laugh.”
Federated churchgoers and pastors played practical jokes on one another, told jokes, drenched one another with water, dressed in brightly colored and silly clothes, and sang and danced. Noisemakers were used as part of the Call to Worship and during the hymns. Congregants were invited to tell jokes that brought both belly laughs and groans. Although a new experience for the congregation, people embraced it, says Federated’s pastor, Rev. Matt Orendorff (pictured), adding, "After all, Jesus did say, 'The laugh shall be first'.”
Boundary Training Offered for Retired Clergy

Monday, May 9, 5:00–8:00 pm CT,
with Revs. Tara Barber and Stephen Boyd

The Committee on Ministry invites non-exempt retired clergy who are not serving consistently in interim, parish or settled ministry to consider this Boundary Training. The Subcommittee for Authorized Ministry approves this Boundary Training for Retired Clergy who are available for occasional service. This does not fill the requirement for retired clergy who serve as interims or consistently in a parish or chaplain setting.

Maintaining healthy boundaries is challenging at any stage in ministry and it is particularly tender and difficult attending to boundaries as we transition out of our last call, and while in retirement. Using "A Sure Foundation", "The Ministerial Code" and Rev. Dr. Bruce Epperly's new book, "The Jubilee Years," Rev. Stephen Boyd and Rev. Tara Barber will offer a focused Boundary Awareness Training for those entering and living in retirement. Note - This training completes individual requirements for boundary training ONLY WHEN authorized by a local Committee on Ministry.
Strengthen the Church Special Offering is June 5

The Strengthen the Church (STC) special offering gives individual church members the opportunity to support local and national efforts that build up the United Church of Christ. Contributions to STC are split 50/50 between the Minnesota Conference and the national office of the United Church of Christ. In 2021, the total amount of STC contributions received was $17,900, of which $8,950 stayed in Minnesota to:

  • Fund the costs related to our Open & Affirming consultants in the conference (two individuals who accompany congregations who are seeking to go through the open and affirming process).
  • Support 25 of our churches throughout the state in a clergy search (plus additional churches that sought conference support to fill sabbatical supply). These 25 congregations represent small, medium and large congregations in rural, urban, metro and suburban areas. Of these 25 searches, 14 were completed in 2021.
  • Help create and support a new part-time staff position – Steward of Search & Call and Congregational Legacy Planning — to provide ongoing support for churches in transition and those facing an uncertain future. Since the inception of this new staff position, five congregations became involved in legacy planning ministry in 2021. A support gathering of the minister’s serving these congregations began in 2021 alongside the monthly national UCC gathering of ministers involved this sort of specialized ministry. Materials have been curated to support these ministers in their congregations.

Strengthen the Church is one of the "5 for 5" UCC funds, along with One Great Hour of Sharing, Neighbors in Need, the Christmas Fund, and your congregation's covenantal commitment to Our Church's Wider Mission (OCWM) basic support. Resources to support generous giving to STC are available HERE.
Upcoming Conference Events
Joys & Concerns
We offer prayers for Peace UCC in Rochester, whose facility suffered significant damage from a fire on Easter night.
More Resources & Opportunities

  • Send story ideas, insights and more to communications@uccmn.org. COMMAntary is published on Wednesdays; submissions are due the Monday prior to publication at noon.

  • The Conference website offers a wealth of resources related to Covid, racial justice, and more.
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This newsletter is brought to you by generous contribution to Our Church's Wider Mission.

The Minnesota Conference United Church of Christ (UCC) equips a courageous Church alive with Christ’s transforming love. Through advice, support, and resources, we strengthen the 126 congregations throughout the state to do the redemptive work of God in the world.