Volume 16, No. 35 | September 2, 2020

Equipping a courageous Church alive with Christ’s transforming love
Where Faith & Politics Meet
COMMAnts from the Conference Minister

“A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest. But he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather, the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.” Luke 22:24-27

Election season is in full swing. It feels to me as if an election cycle has never been stranger, the rhetoric more heated, or our choices more important. The polarization and divisiveness of our nation is on full display as we watch the back and forth among candidates up and down the ballot, our country’s most difficult and painful issues lightning rods for debate.

What does any of it have to do with us in the Church?

The principle of the separation of church and state hearkens back to our founders, when Thomas Jefferson referred to the First Amendment of the Constitution, saying: “I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof’, thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.” Ever since then our country has grappled with what it really means to have separation of church and state, and whether or not faith and politics, by extension, should ever mix.

While our sacred scriptures don’t have much to say explicitly about political elections, they do have a lot to say about leadership and how the character of leadership impacts the lives of people in ways that matter deeply to God. And while Jesus was not a political figure in the ways we understand that today, what he said and did most definitely had political implications. He was killed by the Romans because of it.

Our nation’s laws expressly prohibit churches from endorsing any one candidate or campaign. But we cannot ignore politics entirely. Elections, and the policy choices that result from them, have moral dimensions that we are called to care about as people of faith. Our scriptures call us to be co-creators with God in building relationships and communities based on love, mercy, compassion, and justice. That means we have to be willing to engage in processes that offer the best chance for those values and that vision to prosper.

As each of us prepares to make our own choices in November’s elections, there are several values integral to our faith story and faith practice that we can use to help us evaluate which candidates will get us closer to the beloved community our sacred teachings envision:
  • Servanthood: Which candidates understand the office they seek as one of humble service to the people and to the greater good rather than simply one of power over others?
  • Love of neighbor: Which candidates exhibit a capacity for genuine empathy, for recognizing the dignity and worth of each individual? Which candidate will advance policies that build up the beloved community and embody love of neighbor?
  • Stewardship: Which candidates seem most likely to practice good stewardship of precious resources, including money, people, and our sacred Creation?
  • Extravagant hospitality: Which candidates will draw the circle wide, invite the presence and gifts of immigrants and the ‘stranger’ among us, and lead with a spirit of invitation and collaboration?
  • Concern for the ‘least’ among us: Which candidates exhibit authentic concern for the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, the hungry, the stranger… those whom Jesus referred to as the “least of these”? Which candidates will translate that concern into action?
  • Shalom: Which candidates will seek wholeness and healing among us? Which candidate will best carve a pathway to peace based on justice?
  • Hope: Which candidates can articulate a vision for a future that is hopeful and full of promise? Which candidates seem to care about the things we hope for and aspire to in our world?

This is by no means an exhaustive list of faith-based values to consider when making your choices in this election season. But praying for the wisdom to discern these gifts among those who seek to lead us will help us approach this election season with our faith fully engaged. And that is a good and necessary thing in this season of such challenge and sorrow.

With you on the journey,
Reverend Shari Prestemon, Conference Minister

P.S. The United Church of Christ provides a host of wonderful resources for you and your congregation about how to engage in this election in a faithful and nonpartisan way. Check out Our Faith Our Vote.
Calling All Faith Leaders Who Are Navigating the New Reality of Covid-19
Save your spot in “Being a Faith Change Agent,” an adaptive leadership course from The Damascus Project!

“Faith Change Agents” help their communities recognize crisis and major change as opportunities for faithful action and organizational transformation.

The timing for this course could not be any better. 

As our churches are engaged in adaptive change – however successfully or not – it is the ideal time to learn the key moves of Faith Change Agents. Participate in a course that integrates adaptive change theory with an emerging pastoral leadership paradigm that plays out in real time. 

Join Mark Tidsworth – pastor, leadership coach, and congregational consultant – and a group of colleagues to explore what it means to be a Faith Change Agent from grounded practical and theological perspectives. Learn best practices, how to apply them in congregational and ministry contexts, and reflect upon your own leadership efforts in a supportive community of learners.

Recommended for: 

  • Pastors currently serving congregations
  • Lay leaders seeking to influence change in their congregation
  • Members-in-Discernment (extra fee of $80; learners will receive additional instruction and assessments appropriate for sharing with Committees on Ministry)

The course consists of six weekly Zoom sessions: Thursdays, 1:30 to 3:00 pm, October 1– November 5, with assignments between meetings. Registration deadline is Monday, September 28.
UCC Board Votes to Conduct Institutional Racial Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Assessment
The United Church of Christ Board, (UCCB) voted, unanimously to lead both the UCCB and national setting in an institutional racial diversity, equity, and inclusion assessment. The UCCB has issued a public Request for Proposal for a partner to guide this journey of self-examination by leading an objective racial equity assessment from which we will challenge and hold ourselves accountable. Read the full letter to the wider church detailing background and direction for this process.
Conference News & Info
Justice Talk to Justice Walk: Facing Our Past, Present, & Future: The Duluth Lynchings and Anti-Racism Work

September 15 @ 7:00 pm – 8:30 pm
Guest: Henry Banks, community activity & organizer

Henry L. Banks is a community leader, community organizer and racial and social justice activist residing in the Twin Ports of Duluth/Superior. He served the Duluth Superior region as founder and first co-chair of the Clayton Jackson McGhie (CJM) Memorial board and project, recognized by National Geographic as one of the top memorials in the U.S. Read more about Henry and RSVP.

Participants from MN Conference eligible for a $200 discount

The Minnesota Conference of the UCC is offering a new Courage to Lead series to help faith leaders (ordained and lay) call forth their best heart and soul for ministry. Using an extended, virtual model, the course will meet seven times over the course of five months. The cost for the retreat series is $400 (this can be payable in two equal installments by September 30, 2020, and January 31, 2021). Participants from the Minnesota Conference UCC are eligible for a $200 discount (use the code UCCDISCOUNT). Learn more and register.
Conference Outdoor Ministry Plans Three Contemplative Gatherings

The MN Conference Outdoor Ministry will present a three-part Contemplative Gathering to bring us into a place of mindfulness and peace as we enter a change of seasons, a time of thanksgiving, and a time of reflection and anticipation.

With the facilitation of three talented singer-song writers/theological artists, each Zoom gathering will involve story, song, and inspiration – open to all ages, congregations, and leaders. Participate in one, two, or all three; it's your choice! The first gathering is scheduled for October 17. Learn more and register.
COVID Updates & New Guidance from MDH

The mask mandate instituted by Governor Walz on July 25 remains in effect and includes our churches & sanctuaries. Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) Commissioner Jan Malcolm recently provided a sobering COVID-19 update, noting that Minnesota numbers have plateaued at a very high level of ongoing infections. Our rate of new cases in Minnesota is now higher than the national average. Commissioner Malcolm stressed that the concerning communal spread is a statewide problem, not just a metro issue. Here are some important new resources for you and your congregation:

FourTHursday (and 2nd Thursday) Returns Online this Fall

We are excited to invite faith formation leaders—clergy, lay staff, and volunteers—from around the Minnesota Conference to gather via Zoom on most second and fourth Thursdays this fall from noon to 1:30 pm. While we are not able to meet in person or share a meal together, we will create together an online space for conversation, questioning, and shared resourcing within a supportive community of colleagues.

Registered participants for each gathering will receive a free book or other ministry resource. 

The sessions this fall will focus on five key spiritual practices essential for adaptive leadership in this chaotic, anxious, and challenging season of ministry with children, youth, and families:
  • September 10 – Practicing Adaptability: Creating new patterns for children & youth ministry in virtual spaces and socially distanced gathering. Register
  • September 24 – Practicing Hope: Developing new rituals and practices for the season of Advent/Christmas during a pandemic. Register
  • October 8 – Practicing Justice: Engaging youth and families in the work of service and justice in their communities and the wider world. Register
  • October 22 – Practicing Strength: Building resilience and supporting mental wellness for those you serve and you, too!: Supporting mental health and wellness for children, youth, and families (and for yourself, too)! Register
  • November 12 – Practicing Gratitude: Helping families nurture compassion and connection during challenging times. Register

Registration is currently open for the September gatherings (add links for Sep. 10 and Sep 24); registration is free. Please contact Rev. Kevin Brown, Associate Conference Minister of Faith Formation for Children & Youth, (add email link) for more information or with any questions.
Power & Boundary Training Update

If you have completed the Lewis Center online course or are nearing completion, please plan to take part in the follow-up Zoom call with Anita Bradshaw and other Minnesota Conference clergy on Tuesday, September 15, at 3:30 pm for about an hour. 
We have, however, heard your concerns about that training and have made arrangements for a new training provider. No times or registration links are available yet but mark your calendar with one of the dates below if you need to take training in 2020. These trainings will be facilitated by our partners at LeaderWise. The cost is $50/person. Details will be published in COMMAntary in the coming weeks.The dates are:
  • October 21 & October 28: Any authorized minister
  • October 29 (morning): Specific to chaplains
Update on Zoom Calls with Local Church Pastors & Chaplains

Chaplain Support Calls: Based on feedback from chaplains in a recent survey of chaplains we conducted, we will now be offering support calls via Zoom for chaplains one time per month on every third Tuesday beginning September 15, 5:30-6:30 pm. Future dates are October 20, November 17, & December 15.

Local Church Pastor Support Calls: These weekly calls continue Tuesdays at 11 am.

NEW Monthly PRAXIS Calls: We will offer an additional monthly call for local church pastors, focused on practical questions and needs in the local church, on the second Wednesday of each month, 3:00 -4:30 pm via Zoom. The topic on September 9 is navigating the question of in-person, indoor worship & other activities.  Whether you've already returned to in-person, indoor worship or you're contemplating it, this call can be useful to you. Marge Higgins from the MN Department of Health will be with us to answer any questions you have for MDH. 

For the Zoom link to any of these calls, visit the authorized ministers Facebook group page.
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
An ecclesiastical council will be held for MaryBeth Harman on Wednesday, September 16 at 2:00 pm. Clergy and church voting delegates are encouraged to attend. For a Zoom link, contact janeta@uccmn.org with your name, church membership, clergy or lay status, and whether or not you are a voting delegate. To learn more about MaryBeth, read an introduction to the candidate and her ordination paper.
Rev. Vanessa Bradby is serving as Bridge Pastor at New Spirit in Savage. The Minnesota Conference offers congratulations to Vanessa and prayers for sound and joyful discernment among the church congregants in this period of change.
Revs. Andrew Greenhaw and Shannon Smith begin their ministry as co-pastors at Congregational UCC in Rochester on September 7. They arrive from the South Central Conference/New Orleans Association. Andrew is a lifelong member of the UCC, and Shannon will be seeking Ordained Ministerial Partner Standing in the UCC. She has standing in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). The Minnesota Conference offers welcome to Andrew and Shannon and gratitude for this ministry!
Rev. Rick King of Falcon Heights UCC asks for prayers for his son Samuel, age 20, who has been admitted to the hospital for severe tonsillitis and possible mononucleosis. Samuel has been having 103-degree fevers and is not responding to outpatient treatment. May God be with him, his family, and his medical providers.
Clergy Clusters
The North Central Clergy Cluster will meet in person on Thursday September 3, at 11:30 am at the Gregory Park picnic shelter, 511 N. 5th St. in Brainerd. Bring a lawn chair, mask, and something to eat! Send any questions to Leslie Moughty, pastorleslieucc@gmail.com.
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.
Like us on Facebook to stay up-to-date on news, events, jobs and more.

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.