Volume 20, No. 35 | October 14, 2023

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Equipping a courageous Church alive with Christ’s transforming love

Three Churches Join to Study the Newly Acknowledged Fifth Stream of the UCC

“I grieve that, now having celebrated our 66th anniversary, three generations of United Church of Christ children have gone through confirmation being told that there were only four streams present at our birthing. There were always five.” — Former General Minister and President the Rev. John Dorhauer


This past summer, during the plenary session at the UCC's General Synod, Rev. John Dorhauer apologized for the denomination's failure to acknowledge the Afro-Christian Convention as its "fifth stream."

In fall 2022, the UCC’s Historical Council had officially named the Afro-Christian Convention as one of the five major traditions that formed the Church, joining the already acknowledged Congregational, Christian, Evangelical and Reformed traditions.

Rev. Danielle Bartz, senior pastor at First Congregational Church of Winona, learned about this newly acknowledged fifth stream from her colleague Jerry Locula, licensed minister for racial justice at Peace UCC in Rochester. For her, this was a momentous announcement — one she wanted more people to understand. "This reshapes the history of the UCC and acknowledges that our denomination flows directly from Africa," she says.

Bartz and Locula reached out to The Congregational Church in Rochester and the three churches decided to host a five-week discussion series and book study on the "fifth stream," using the book Afro-Christian Convention, edited by the renowned UCC elder Yvonne V. Delk.

In an interview with the UCC News, Delk said, "It’s not sufficient to see the Afro-Christian story as a hidden history or as a footnote. It has to be a headlight, empowering the United Church of Christ to live out its identity and its mission in new ways.”

The response to the five-week series, being held on Zoom, has been exciting, Bartz says. Approximately 30 people from the three congregations are participating. One session featured Brenda Billips Square, the archivist of the UCC. "She was fabulous," says Bartz. "She talked about the records she has discovered related to this fifth stream. We were mesmerized by her and her commitment to understanding and passing on this history. This whole series is helping us recognize that who we think we are is actually much broader. We hope other churches in the Minnesota Conference will be inspired to learn more about this important recognition."

View the study guide the three churches are using.

To learn more about the discussion series, contact Rev. Danielle Bartz.

Conference News & Events

Re-Imagination Grant Applications Now Being Accepted

In her State of the Conference remarks at Annual Meeting in June, Conference Minister Shari Prestemon invited congregations in the Conference to a time of intentional discernment and faithful re-imagination. “Re-imagination is a core strategy for our future, a tool for noticing and seizing the new thing God is longing to do in this 'Age of the Spirit'," she said. "We need to re-imagine what it looks like to 'be Church' in this historical moment for the sake of a Gospel and a witness that this world and our communities sorely need.”


Applications are now being accepted from congregations for “Re-Imagination Grants” to support this faithful, creative work. A single congregation applying may request up to $1,000; two or more congregations applying together may apply for a maximum of $2,000. Applications are being accepted now through December 25 and will be reviewed as they are received. Grants will be awarded until all money allocated for these grants has been depleted. These grants are being funded by the Conference’s 21st Century Church Fund and the Ashley Fund.


Review grant guidelines and all details, and find the application form HERE.

Last Chance to Register for October Power and Boundary Training!

Training with Rev. Kelly Gallagher & Rev. Kevin Brown (registration ends this Thu 10/12)

Tuesday, October 17, 9:30 am – 3:30 pm


We had so much fun last fall we thought we would do it again! This Power and Boundary Training will meet the standing requirements for authorized ministers in the Minnesota Conference. It will be in-person roughly 9:30 am to 3:30 pm. Place to be determined. We will cap participation at 35.

Faith Formation Leader Retreat: What Is Saving Your Life Now?


October 22 (4 pm) – 24 (11 am)

ARC Retreat Community, Stanchfield, MN

$175 (scholarships available)


In her 2009 book, An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith, Barbara Brown Taylor remembers being asked once to talk about what was saving her life now. As we gather in autumn of 2023, we consider what might save our human lives now within a wider lens that embraces what might save the wide interconnected web of life now. In another voice, Howard Thurman could inquire about what makes us (and the wide web of creation) come truly alive.


During this retreat, we will gently immerse ourselves in the common challenge we face—to be still; the common call we receive—to be co-creators; and the common crisis of our lives—to accept life’s ongoing and spiraling cycle of life, death, and life beyond death. Indoors and outdoors, as weather allows, our time together will be resourced with a handful of spiritual/contemplative practices and the wisdom of the earth. We will step away into a beautiful place, in the company of one another, with both traditional and emerging practices, to perceive the next right steps in our unfolding lives.


This retreat is underwritten with generous support from the Ashley Endowment of the Minnesota Conference UCC. Additional scholarships are available. Please contact Rev. Kevin Brown, Associate Conference Minister for Faith Formation, to inquire about scholarships or for more information about the retreat.


Retreat Leadership: Rev. Dr. Martha Brunell is an experienced UCC pastor. Her current ministry includes work as a spiritual director, a retreat and workshop leader, and a writer and writing group convener. She is an advanced certified labyrinth facilitator with Veriditas, a SoulCollage® facilitator, a forest therapy guide with the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy (ANFT), and a grief educator. Martha’s life is animated at the intersection of earth wisdom and spiritual/contemplative practice. Her ministry of presence, programs, and practices is called Oak Leaf Oasis and is home based in Chicago. LEARN MORE

New Multi-Conference Partnership for Antiracism Training Announced

The UCC is joining with the Network of Wider Church Youth Ministries (NOWCYM) to develop a pool of sixteen facilitators to help lead Crossroads Anti-Racism Ministry Training in the UCC. The Minnesota Conference is helping fund this initiative.

"This program creates space for reflection and dialogue, so we are seeking facilitators who have solid group leadership skills," said Jennifer Ringgold, member of NOWCYM executive team Michigan Conference staff. "Crossroads will provide orientation to the content and also follow-up coaching. This is a great opportunity to serve the church and its leaders, and facilitators will be compensated for their time."

The training is geared for youth leaders, faith formation leaders, and clergy. LEARN MORE

Youth & Adults Gather for Fall Conference Youth Event

More than 30 youth and adult leaders from seven congregations participated in the Fall Conference Youth Event (CYE) last weekend. Osprey Wilds Environmental Learning Center in Sandstone was our host site, giving us great hospitality and food from their gardens.

Rev. Hans Peterson and Heidi Morlock helped us learn more about the connection between ourselves and nature, while finding space to connect with each other and make new friends. Saturday afternoon was filled with high-energy activities, such as climbing a wall in the hay loft and learning more about predators and prey in the wild. We followed up with s'mores at the campfire before saying our goodbyes Sunday morning.

Our Spring CYE is scheduled for April 2024 at Camp Onomia. Be sure to check for early registration coming out at the beginning of the year.

Register Now for the Fall Clergy Retreat

November 14–16, Christ the King Retreat Center


We are excited to gather again this fall for our Clergy Retreat. This year we are blessed to have Dr. Jean Chagnon leading us through our time of “Reimagining Our Connection to Self and Spirit.” Together we will seek to reconnect spiritually in a time where many feel ungrounded, lost, and overwhelmed. Using ritual, experiential exercise, and meditation we will focus on developing skills and strategies to help us be more centered and aligned even amidst polarization and chaos.

Partner News & Events

The Ministry Lab Offers Four Learning Opportunities

These are liminal times, threshold times, times of significant upheaval and uncertainty, kairos times.

The Ministry Lab’s 2023-2024 Transformative Innovations Series invites clergy, faith formation leaders, and lay members to discover God already at work, lean into current realities, and re-invigorate for ministry that is transformational, sustainable, and life-giving. Discover tools for congregation-wide innovations; learn best practices for creating safe and hospitable spaces for diverse peoples — including yourself— living with traumas; engage deeply in the work of antiracism; and find hope for a financial future that can reinvigorate your entire community.

Joys & Concerns

You are invited to a farewell service for Rev. Daniel Harrell on Sunday, October 29, at 9:30am at People’s Congregational Church, 309 3rd St N, Bayport, MN 55003.

You are invited to a service of ordination for Natalie Owens-Pike Sunday, October 29, at 3 pm at Mayflower UCC in South Minneapolis. RSVP at this link (including to receive the livestream link).

The Committee on Ministry is pleased to host an Ecclesiastical Council for Privilege of Call for the Rev. Steve Wiens at Wayzata Community Church on Monday, October 16, at 6:30 pm. Read Steve’s theological perspectives paper and learn more about him here. Join by Zoom through this link.

Upcoming Conference Events
More Resources & Opportunities

  • Send story ideas, insights and more to [email protected]. 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 faith formation, 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.