Volume 18, No. 30 | August 31, 2022

View as Webpage

Equipping a courageous Church alive with Christ’s transforming love

Navigating Conversations Around Covid

Earlier this summer, Rev. Torri Vande Zande and church leaders at Union Congregational UCC in Hackensack decided that the congregation needed to take some time to talk about what had happened at the beginning of and during the pandemic in the church, and what would happen in the future.

"We are a small congregation in a rural community," says Vande Zande. "Our diversity lies in our political views. Like many communities, we had disagreements about masking and vaccinations, and there was fear about closing the doors and opening them back up."

As Vande Zande witnessed other congregations in the Minnesota Conference in a similar situation, she and church leaders felt a strong need to open communication to build understanding. "We didn't stop being the church, even if the physical building wasn't open," she says. "But to many, that was the fear. We needed to talk about that."

Union made giant strides with technology during the first year of the pandemic, learning to stay connected in ways they had never expected. "I felt like a shepherd whose sheep were all in the woods and I couldn't get to them," Vande Zande said. "But through the support of an amazing team, we found new ways to worship and grow."

Vande Zande took the congregation through a detailed timeline of events, sharing how and why she and other leaders made decisions at difficult junctures. They took special care to show how the many ministries of the church had continued to operate and even grow in new ways, with the support of technology and creative thinking. "I wanted this conversation to unify us and make sure people knew they weren't forgotten, ever, that even though we functioned differently, we were still very much active," she says.

The preparation for the presentation and conversation paid off. At the end, one member commented, "In my 20 years here, I have never seen a presentation lay out in such clear terms what is going on in the life of our congregation—and who is going on."

Vande Zande knows that one conversation won't resolve all the disagreements, but she said it was an important step forward. "People are still processing, but we have gotten positive feedback about being transparent."

Has your congregation had challenging conversations around Covid? If so, we'd love to share more stories of what you are doing in future editions of COMMA. Contact communications@uccmn.org.

Conference News & Events

Last Call for the September Men's & Women's Retreats

Who doesn't need a few days of time in nature to reconnect and reboot?! The Minnesota Conference UCC Outdoor Ministry invites you to join the:

Parents & Caregivers as Sexuality Educators

Equipping congregational leaders to facilitate small group sessions with parents and caregivers

Thursday, November 10, 9:30 am – 4 pm | Carondelet Center, St. Paul, MN

Cost: $25 (includes continental breakfast & lunch)

Join colleagues in ministry to learn how to implement a new resource to help parents and caregivers explore their roles as primary sexuality educators of their children. Whether you are a local church pastor, youth ministry or faith formation staff, or volunteer in your congregation’s ministry with children, youth, or families, this training is for you.

Written with UCC prayer, scripture, and reflection pieces, this small group ministry resource can be used with parents and caregivers of any age children or teens and is customizable to your group's particular interest. Download your FREE COPY of the resource and REGISTER.

We are delighted to welcome Rev. Amy Johnson as our training facilitator. Amy serves as Minister for Sexuality Education and Justice in the national setting of the United Church of Christ. She is a trainer for all levels of Our Whole Lives/Sexuality and Our Faith nationwide and internationally. Amy is passionate about dismantling shame and stigma about bodies and relationships, as well as helping faith communities integrate conversations about healthy sexuality as a part of being and becoming healthier places to belong.

Register Now for the Minnesota Conference UCC Clergy Retreat

November 1-3, 2022 (Tuesday 5pm – Thursday 11:30am)

Christ the King Retreat Center, Buffalo, MN

Registration fee: $200, private room | $170, shared double room | $100, commuter



After a long season of being apart, and a few rescheduled dates over the last year, we are delighted to host the fall clergy retreat. All actively serving clergy from around the Minnesota Conference UCC are invited to come together with colleagues for a few days of renewal, rest, and reconnection. We will be guided throughout our time by our retreat facilitator, the Rev. Dr. Martha Brunell, and our guest musician, Richard Bruxvoort Colligan.

Proof of vaccination against COVID-19 will be required for all participants, and face masks and physical distancing may be required in some spaces throughout the event. You will find the Conference’s COVID-19 Safety Guidelines here. Please contact Rev. Kevin Brown, Associate Conference Minister, for more information and with any questions.

Neighbors In Need Materials Available


October 2 is this year’s United Church of Christ Neighbors In Need special offering. Numerous FREE materials are now available to churches! Visit the Neighbors In Need website HERE for more information. Thank you for participating in this important ministry!

Covenant Days: Coming to a Church Near You!

Covenant Days are a time to gather together and be the church. This year, the Minnesota Conference will offer five Covenant Days around the state. These will be days filled with workshops, worship, food, and fellowship – a time for members, lay leaders, and clergy of local congregations to connect with one another and Conference staff.

The first two dates and locations are:

Saturday, October 8 – Peace UCC, Duluth | REGISTER

Saturday, November 12 – First Congregational UCC, Alexandria | REGISTER

Faith and Reproductive Choice: a Webinar for Minnesota UCC Clergy and Laity

Thursday, September 29, 7:00-8:30 pm | Free of charge

Many Christians struggle with the issue of abortion morality and find themselves conflicted or confused in today’s intense, polarized political environment. Others support reproductive choice politically, but still feel that abortion is shameful. This webinar invites participants to step back a bit from politics to explore positive positions on abortion in terms of biblical theology of “living beings” and pastoral concerns about people’s real lives. Led by faith leaders with time for Q&A, REGISTER

Damascus Project Courses Now Available for Lay Leaders, Seekers, and Clergy

In Faith Foundations we:

  • Practice talking about faith and what we believe
  • Form a sacred learning community where questions are embraced
  • Dive into the world of the Old Testament
  • Explore a wide range of thoughts and language about God

The fall unit of Leadership Skills is "Leading Faith-Filled Meetings (or how to avoid meetings from hell)"

  • Help your faith community thrive
  • Build community while doing business
  • Include diverse viewpoints
  • Welcome healthy conflict
  • Lead efficient meetings with confidence

Running out of ideas for Advent programming, worship, sermons?

This course will help you prepare for the season of preparation.


Partner News & Events

Suicide Prevention Conference for Rural Faith Leaders

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture and the Minnesota Department of Health are sponsoring a free event that brings together rural faith leaders to discuss, learn, and share suicide prevention information and resources.

Who should attend? Rural clergy, spiritual and faith leaders, including chaplains, elders, deacons, sisters, youth pastors, parish nurses, church board members, church staff, and congregational suicide prevention advocates.

When and Where:

September 27, 2022, 8:30 am – 4 p.m. at Evangelical Free Church Bemidji | REGISTERSeptember 29, 2022, 8:30 am – 4 p.m. at Mankato Event Center Mankato, MN | REGISTER

Leadership Center for Social Justice Launch Event

Thursday, September 22 at 6:00 pm CT for the official launch of the Leadership Center for Social Justice at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities. We will gather in the evening to celebrate the launch of the Center and to connect with each other over appetizers and drinks.

We will also hear reflections from our Teaching Fellows, and meet the members of the inaugural cohort for the Leadership Center for Social Justice program. MORE INFO

Leadership Center for Social Justice Partners with Anti-Racism Study Dialogue Circles (ASDIC) for Clergy-specific Anti-Racism Workshops


Are you a clergy member looking for a way to fulfill requirements for six hours of continuing education in anti-racism? The Leadership Center for Social Justice invites you to participate in Discerning Whiteness: The Unacknowledged Barrier. These two clergy-specific workshops will be led by the Anti-Racism Study Dialogue Circles (ASDIC). Two sessions over Zoom on October 13 and October 27 from 9 am-noon CT. Cost is $90. Contact Stella Pearce at spearce@united.edu to register.

Take Care of Yourself, Be Good to Your Ministry, Enrich Your Congregation

Register now for ConNExt Summit 2022: In the Way of Jesus: Gracious Idleness, Scrappy TRansformation, Radical Belonging. This is an opportunity for clergy, faith formation leaders, volunteers or staff to renew and rejuvenate along the scenic cliffs overlooking beautiful Buffalo Lake. REGISTER TODAY, August 31, to receive the early bird pricing.

Joys & Concerns

Rev. Martha Hendricks passed on August 21. A memorial service will take place on Friday, September 2, at Hulke Family Funeral Home, 3209 Rudolph Road, Eau Claire, WI. Visitation is at 1 pm and the service starts at 2 pm. Read Rev. Hendricks' obituary.

Our hearts goes out to Rev. Paul Bauch and families for the loss of their father, Rev. Ardeen (Dean) Bauch on August 15. The service will be at Trinity United Church of Christ in Quincy, IL.


Our condolences to Rev. Bill Baldwin and his family. Rev. Bill’s mother, Doretta Baldwin, passed away peacefully at home on Sunday, August 7, at age 92.

Grace United Church of Christ in Millville invites you to the celebration of installation of Rev. Ana Wilson, M.Div., BCC as pastor on Sunday, September 11, at 2:00 pm at 300 Division Street, Millville, Minnesota. Clergy are invited to wear the stole of their choice. RSVP to Lesley Balcome or call or text 507-226-4193 by Friday, September 2. The service will also be available on Microsoft Teams meeting.

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 faith formation, racial justice, and more.

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.