Volume 18, No. 9 | March 2, 2022

Equipping a courageous Church alive with Christ’s transforming love
Drawing Nearer to God
“You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:19)

Today is Ash Wednesday, the doorway to the forty days of Lent. We journey in this season toward the Resurrection of Christ and the amazing hope we receive through it of life eternal and joy unleashed.

But first there are ashes. First comes the sobering reminder that no matter how much we think we are fully in control of our busy and scattered lives, in the end we are merely mortal.  To dust we shall return.

Not exactly the burst of hope we’re desperately needing in these disheartening days, is it?

Our current context and experience hardly requires further reminders of our finitude and mortality. This month marks a third year of the COVID-19 pandemic. Throughout these ghastly pandemic years our vulnerability has been on full display as this stubborn virus has wreaked havoc with our world and taken nearly 6 million precious lives across the globe.

Our bodies and spirits are now a kind of tired we can barely describe. Communities of color are exhausted in additional ways the rest of us can’t even comprehend, besieged by constant and violent reminders that they still are not afforded the same protections and privileges that others take for granted. Little seems reliable any more, the only constant the ceaseless churn of change.

And now we witness daily the horror of war as Russian forces and artillery decimate Ukraine. Despite the inspiring courage and perseverance of the Ukrainian people, the cruel toll of war is already adding up: deaths of soldiers and civilians; the destruction of cities; the desperate fleeing of Ukrainians from the nation they love; the moral injury to all involved.

Ash heaps surround us.

This Ash Wednesday, and in the days of Lent that follow, we likely don’t need reminding of our fragility in this life. But our full awareness of just how vulnerable we are can draw us nearer to God in a way that is more honest, more humble. It can strip our normal defenses and help us embrace our reliance on God more readily. We can come before God, eyes tearing and spirits sagging, hungrier for the enfolding grace and abundant mercy God provides.  We draw nearer to God, trusting that God also draws nearer to us. These are the practices of a faithful Lenten journey.

O God, our need of you is so clear. Receive with gentleness our frail spirits and exhausted bodies. Help us sink gratefully into the sure promises of your abiding mercies and to trust in your constant love and presence.  Amen.

Reverend Shari Prestemon, Conference Minister
Ukraine Emergency Appeal

On February 24, the Russian military attacked Ukraine. By March 1, more than 670,000 persons had already sought refuge outside of Ukraine and even more had remained in the country but were displaced from their homes. The humanitarian crisis is accelerating in Ukraine and in neighboring countries as the violence escalates and the number of people on the move multiplies.

The United Church of Christ is appealing for support for refugees and for elderly and other vulnerable people who are displaced within Ukraine and unable to leave. As a member of the ACT Alliance, UCC support is being targeted to people most in need through humanitarian relief partners with a history of working in the region. Aid also is being extended through Hungarian Reformed Church Aid, the relief agency of the Reformed Church in Hungary. The UCC’s long-term relationship with the Reformed Church in Hungary is held through the Europe and the Middle East Office of Global Ministries. 

Gifts made to UCC Ukraine Relief Fund will provide shelter, food, and other care to war refugees and internally displaced people. It also will help refugees and asylum seekers from African, Middle Eastern and other countries who had sought refugee in Ukraine and now are twice displaced, as well as other citizens of more than 125 countries living in Ukraine.

Uniting in prayer, action, and giving, we stand as a people of faith in love and compassion with the people of Ukraine and all who are affected, and with our global partners who are welcoming those driven from their homes.

All donations will be deposited into the International Disasters fund designated for “Ukraine Relief.” Your generous financial support will be used by our partners in the areas of greatest need. One can also mail a check made payable to the United Church of Christ PO BOX 71957 Cleveland, OH 44194. Please be sure to note “Ukraine Relief Fund” on your check in the memo section.
A Prayer for Peace and Those Who Pursue It

Written by Rev. Shari Prestemon, Conference Minister, Minnesota Conference United Church of Christ

O God our help in ages past, our hope in present days: our stomachs churn as we witness Russia wage war in Ukraine. We watch with horror as lives are upended and an entire region thrown into disarray by unrestrained egos and useless conquest.

O God who journeys with us, lend comfort and courage this day and in however many days may follow, to families who now fear for their futures, to those who prepare to flee for safety from the places they call home & those who cannot leave, to those forced to fight and defend their beloved country.

Grant true wisdom to decision-makers and elected leaders who huddle together in frantic planning, who strategize for the restoration of peace and the provision of aid.

Stir among us the things that make for peace. Prompt the small daily mercies that make even the hardest days bearable. Set before us your vision of swords transformed to plowshares, and cause our lives to pursue that vision in all we do and say.

We remember what your Son Jesus proclaimed, that peacemakers are blessed, that our love of you and our love of neighbor are requirements of this faith we claim.

Strengthen our prayers and deepen our faith. For while our hearts may quake and our world may tremble, our trust is in You, present yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Amen.
Conference News & Events
Join the Outdoor Ministry's Spiritual Immersion

“And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul” ― John Muir 
March 17–19, Good Earth Village

You are invited to a new space in Minnesota, to rest and renew. Come to find reconnection for your body, mind, and soul. Register now for one or more of these seasonal retreats.

Wilderness Travelogue: Stories of Faith, Doubt, and Longing
Lenten Family Toolkit

The season of Lent is here and we are delighted to launch our weekly toolkit for families and faith formation leaders. Each week features a video with clergy from around the Minnesota Conference in conversation and reflection on the themes and texts for the week. The toolkits also provide a rich and diverse collection of at-home games, activities, book and film recommendations, spiritual practices, and service ideas for individuals and families of all ages.

Organizing as Evangelism

Join The Damascus Project for a Leadership Skills learning experience on the topic of organizing. The Rev. Casey Martinez-Tinnin leads the Zoom sessions on March 25 and 26. Self-directed learning March 28–April 21.

Community organizing in the Progressive Christian world is the new “evangelism.” We seek not to welcome people into our churches, but rather we invite the church to go out into the community and find out what God is already doing, and how we might come alongside and tap into the good work that is already being done. It is the job of spiritual leaders to learn how to listen to the needs of the community, and attach those needs to resources for change. Community organizing is the best tool to transform a congregation, a community, and our world.

Our Church’s Pledge Goals for Mission and Ministry Forms Update

Church 2022 Our Church’s Pledge Goals for Mission and Ministry forms should have been filled out and returned to the Conference office by February 28 as a part of a congregation’s financial covenant with the United Church of Christ and for Conference planning purposes. If your church has not already done so, you can get a copy of the form by clicking HERE and choose the Our Church’s Pledge Goals for Mission and Ministry form. Questions? Contact Bob Olsen at development@uccmn.org or by phone at 612.230.3375. 
New Materials Available for Stewardship
“From Bread and Cup to Faith and Giving” makes the connection between our experience of God and our generosity as disciples. It includes practical tools such as logos, commitment cards, bulletin inserts, and letters. The materials also provide resources for preaching and teaching about stewardship throughout the year. Campaign guidance and calendars help leaders make the best use of these robust materials for their specific context and size. Visit the video above to learn more about these materials. Materials are available for purchase at ucc.org/stm2022.
There's Still Time to Submit Your Church Data for the UCC Yearbook

If you have not submitted your church data to the UCC Data Hub yet, you can send it to the Conference Office and we will do our best to get it in. The last day for this offer is March 15. The information we will need can be found here (pages 7-14 are a worksheet to fill out with the information to be entered).
Joys & Concerns
  • The Committee on Ministry will be hosting an Ecclesiastical Council for JD Haas via Zoom on Thursday, March 3, at 6:30 pm via Zoom. This is an opportunity for our member churches to participate in the Conference’s discernment for our candidates for ordination. Please join us in this important process. Read JD’s ordination paper and learn more about him. RSVP to kellyg@uccmn.org to receive the Zoom link.
Upcoming Conference Events
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.