Volume 16, No. 31 | August 5, 2020

COMMAntary
Equipping a courageous Church alive with Christ’s transforming love
A Song of Faith
Rev. Shari Prestemon, Conference Minister

For several mornings in a row, I awakened with the strains of an old hymn immediately on my lips.

When peace like a river attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll,
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say:
It is well, it is well with my soul.

The irony was that my soul was actually feeling pretty tattered that week. My beloved grandma’s health was failing, and her death seemed imminent. After 101 years on this earth, this resilient, funny woman who had always been the center of our family was slipping away from us. The heavy prospect of her loss filled me with grief even as the words of that hymn stubbornly filled my head.

Grief is something nearly all of us are experiencing these days. The COVID-19 pandemic has imposed all sorts of loss in our lives. There are the daily things that stack up as the months wear on: the dependable routines now shattered, the cherished time planned with family and friends put on hold, vacations and events cancelled, our church life changed, even our children’s education thrown into disarray. 

Much of the loss during this pandemic is especially profound. For some, there have been furloughs or job losses and frightening economic hardship. For many, the job they still have is now fraught with risk as they labor on the pandemic’s frontlines or have no option but to report to work and simply hope for the best. And then there are those who have suffered the unfathomable deaths of their loved ones from COVID, lives and families forever changed. All of this is layered upon other griefs we may feel about the current state of our nation politically and socially, and the heap of uncertainty this pandemic still delivers every day.

Loss and grief run deep in this pandemic season. The toll on our collective spirits is real. I read somewhere recently that the only cure for grief is to actually grieve. So we must acknowledge that these sufferings are part of this present moment, that our spirits are understandably weighed down. We must allow ourselves to grieve, even as we look to the resurrection promise of our faith and trust in new life to come.  

On the day my Grandma passed from this life into the next, I sat at her bedside, held her hand, and quietly sang the hymn that had refused to leave me for days: “Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say: it is well, it is well with my soul.” Even while my heart broke and my voice quivered, I sang with confidence, because I knew that for her all would indeed be well. Her Creator was ready to receive her, and her suffering was about to end.

Days later that hymn still nags at me, its words rising within me unbidden nearly every morning. Some days they’re harder to sing than others. But I’ll keep singing them nonetheless. For in joy and in sorrow, no matter how long and stumbling the path, I know that God walks with us, and all will indeed be well.

Grace and peace,
Reverend Shari Prestemon, Conference Minister

I welcome your comments and questions. Please contact me at sharip@uccmn.org.
Join us Thursday for "Justice Talk to Justice Walk" with Samantha Fuentes
Join a discussion this Thursday, August 6, from 7:00–8:30 pm with Samantha Fuentes (pictured above at left), a survivor of the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and leader in March for Our Lives.

Samantha will share her story of resilience and healing that fuels her commitment “to uplift the voices of the silenced, and remind us that ALL our experiences matter regardless of color, religion, gender, age, or sexual orientation."

The webinar, the third in the Minnesota Conference's "Justice Walk to Justice Talk" series, will be co-moderated by Cecilia Alexander (pictured at right) and Rev. Kevin Brown. Cecilia is serving as a Youth Engagement & Social Media Interns with the Conference this summer to help build broader engagement of youth and young adults.
Pastors: Equip Your Lay Leaders!

We all know churches face unprecedented challenges and decision making in this time. That’s why The Damascus Project is offering a unique resource to equip and encourage lay leadership. This 10-month learning experience is fully online and ideal for moderators, council members, task force chairs, and others called to serve your church. 

Participants will:
  • Strategize, share resources and give and gain support in a community of leaders 
  • Learn to lead more effective meetings to get things done in church
  • Learn an approach to leading change and transformation
  • Discover their PeopleMap personality type and how to develop their strengths and avoid their Achilles’ heels
  • Discover the gifts, joys, and challenges of the UCC

We invite you to consider: Do you know a lay leader who would benefit from this experience? Does your church have the resources to support their participation? 

Learn more and register here. Special payment options are available. Please read the full course description before making your purchase. If you have questions, contact Abby or Tisha at info@the-damascus-project.org or 507-222-0194.
Conference News & Info
Family Toolkit Week 5:
Creating a More Just World – Find Your Heroes!

Check out week 5, the final week in our our Family Connections Toolkit. This wonderful resource supports parents with at-home resources and a wonderful array of games, activities, and practices during this time of COVID-19, when so many summer plans have been disrupted.
Keeping Current During Covid-19

A reminder to churches that OCWM and Per Capita payments are the lifeblood to Conference ministries, especially during these uncertain times. Thank you for supporting the work of the Minnesota Conference to deepen connections, develop leaders, advocate for justice and mercy, and communicate God’s love locally, nationally, and around the world!
Boundary Training Follow-Up Sessions

Ordained, licensed, and commissioned ministers due for power and boundary training this year are required to take the Lewis Center online learning course Maintaining Boundaries in a Digital Age. No code is required for registration. Having completed the course, ministers should email copies of their certificates to janeta@uccmn.org in order to receive a link to a one-hour Zoom follow-up conversation with Rev. Dr. Anita Bradshaw. Those conversations will take place on the third Tuesday of the month at 3:30 pm.
Get Support and Resources from Peer Congregations

Check out our COVID-19 resources page where we are posting sample policies on reopening; baptisms, weddings and funerals; check lists, and more. See full list of resources.
POC/BIPOC Clergy Group Forming

The lack of support for clergy of color in the Conference was a topic of discussion in the newly formed Amos Task Force. As a response to that need, a clergy group is forming to link clergy of color with one another and to identify ways of support. Rev. Okogyeamon, Pastor of First Congregational UCC in Montevideo, has agreed to convene and facilitate the group. If you identify as a POC/BIPOC authorized minister in the Minnesota Conference, please contact Okogyeamon to be added to the list for the group. A meeting will be organized in the near future.
Financial Assistance for Congregations from Conference and National Setting

The United Church of Christ National Setting is offering financial assistance to local churches whose ministries have been challenged by the novel coronavirus pandemic. Applications are now being accepted. See the process described here.

Applications are being accepted from Minnesota Conference UCC congregations for the Pandemic Relief Loan Program. Access the application and further details here. The application deadline for this loan program has been extended to December 31, 2020.

Congregations may also apply for emergency grants to cover operating expenses, technology needs, or community ministries; grants to cover the cost of website development; or counseling assistance grants for authorized ministers.
Joys & Concerns
A farewell service will be held for Rev. Cathy Kolwey at St. John’s UCC (Bongards) in Norwood Young America on Sunday, August 9, at 10 am (outdoor service). The Minnesota Conference prays for fruitful discernment as Cathy and the congregation each listen for the people and places that are calling to them.
Tell Us Your News!
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.

Check out the employment opportunities portion of our website for all open positions.
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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.