Volume 17, No. 7 | February 17, 2021

Equipping a courageous Church alive with Christ’s transforming love
Churches Find Creative New Ways to Observe Ash Wednesday and Lent
This Ash Wednesday, some churches are hosting "bring-your-own-ashes" services on Zoom. Others will administer ashes with disposable swabs, applied by masked ministers to worshippers in a drive-thru ritual. Still others are creating containers of ashes for pick up and Lent kits for at-home practices.

"This pandemic has brought great creativity to our congregations," says Conference Minister Rev. Shari Prestemon. "I've heard a marvelous array of ideas from all corners of the state about how our churches are observing Ash Wednesday and planning for Lent."

Pulling Out All the Stops
First Congregational UCC in Moorhead is an example of this creativity. Rev. Michelle Webber (pictured above) says the church created ashes on seed paper crosses for every church member. "We had an opportunity for folks to pick them up at church before we mailed them and it was so much fun," she says. "It was way below zero, but both of us at church went out to every car together because the fellowship of seeing our people, even masked, through a car window, warmed our hearts so much! We will use these crosses for a virtual imposition of ashes on Zoom. Everyone will be encouraged to plant their ash crosses so that we will see new life grow out of our ashes."

As for Lent, First Congregational UCC is using resources from The Salt Project to bring focus to the season. Check out the video on Facebook. The church will also host a talk show-style Zoom every Wednesday night during Lent. "We'll have special guests from our church who have found a way to meet Jesus in the messiness of the past year," says Webber. "Our topics are prayer and meditation, with our pets, in chaplaincy work, in creativity, in doubt, in music."

Focusing on Giving To Instead of Giving Up
During Lent, the Open and Affirming Coalition of the United Church of Christ is hosting a contemplative service of Taizé morning prayer at 8 and 10 am (CST) in the Coalition's Zoom Chapel. "Many of us are wondering how we can observe Lent this year: many of us feel that Lent 2020 never ended, and after a year of restrictions and sacrifice we've had enough of 'giving up,'" say the group leaders. "But Lent is also about giving to: works of love are an ancient spiritual practice during Lent. And so is prayer." Each service is about 20 minutes and draws from ancient Christian practices of daily prayer, in inclusive, non-binary language. You can join on Zoom or Facebook Live.

Building Practices at Home
The Conference is offering weekly toolkits to help families build at-home practices during Lent. See the article below for more information and bookmark this link to check on updated content, released every Wednesday.

Tell Us What You're Doing!
What is your church doing this Lenten season? We would love to hear and feature the creativity of our Conference. Please tell us what you're doing and send pictures!
Anita Bradshaw Announces Retirement
Associate Conference Minister Rev. Dr. Anita Bradshaw has announced her retirement, effective April 9. Anita has a long history of serving in various roles on the Conference staff, and has served in her current position since March 2018.

As Associate Conference Minister, Anita has supported congregations and pastors in the southern half of the Conference, staffed the Subcommittee on Authorized Ministry of the Committee on Ministry, and served as the staff liaison to the Conference’s prophetic witness teams, including the Amos Task Force. She has provided significant leadership to re-imagining power and boundary training for authorized ministers, has offered consistent pastoral presence to clergy and congregations, and is highly respected in our Conference life.
“It’s always difficult to lose a member of the Conference staff team, especially one who is so gifted and beloved," says Rev. Shari Prestemon. "I give thanks for Anita’s outstanding service to our shared ministry in the Conference and wish her a retirement of rest, joy, and contentment.”
Anita says it has been an honor, privilege, and a joy to serve in the Minnesota Conference. "I have had many wonderful opportunities and gotten to know so many of you in working together. I will miss those relationships, but we are not leaving Minnesota. Our paths will continue to cross as I look forward to being active in my home congregation, Mayflower. Thank you for receiving my ministry. I'm excited that I have an opportunity to pursue other interests, and Sherrie and I want to travel when the pandemic is behind us. Gratitude and blessings to my colleagues on the staff and to all in the Conference."

A virtual celebration of Anita’s ministry will be scheduled prior to her departure. Watch COMMAntary for details.
Conference News & Events
The Racial Healing Handbook: Join the Conversation!

A book study for The Racial Healing Handbook by Annelise Singh will be held Mondays from 7 to 8:30 pm March 1, 8, 15, and 22.

Clergy and lay people alike are invited to participate. Participants should purchase the book and register for the read. Participation will qualify for meeting the anti-racism requirement for authorized ministers. REGISTER
How Then Shall We Live? Putting Faith Values into Earth Practice

Creation Justice Series Returns Thursday, February 18
7:00 pm - 8:30 pm with Buff Grace, Minnesota Interfaith Power & Light

Christian faith like other religions calls us to live in harmony with the planet and peace with one another. But how exactly do we do that in our daily lives in the society in which we live? How do we choose our next steps amid the myriad of “green” options? What makes the most impact? What practice can we sustain? What deepens our growth and relationships? Whether you have been responding to the climate crisis for years or are just beginning, this session will help you take the next step. LEARN MORE
Practicing Emptying: Check out the Lenten Family Toolkit

Being emptied in Lent makes room for different kinds of fullness. Feeling empty reminds us to not stuff ourselves with the distractions that never really satisfy. Embracing emptiness helps us see that we are already full of the Divine. Check out the video below and then visit our Lenten Toolkit page to see this week's installment. If you would like to receive a direct email each week, please email Sandy Kellen.
The Damascus Project Offers Ministry with LGBTQIA+ Youth
March 12-13 | Only $49 |  INFO AND REGISTRATION

When we baptize children into our community, we promise to nurture them in the faith and support them as they grow. In addition, many of our churches make commitments to be open and affirming. But what does that support really look like for LGBTQIA+ youth? How do we proactively create spaces in church so LGBTQIA+ youth in the wider community know they are welcome? 

This weekend workshop from The Damascus Project will include practical and meaningful information for building or strengthening a ministry among LGBTQIA+ youth in your church. Check out the video below for more info.

This learning opportunity is generously underwritten by the Ashely Endowment of the Minnesota Conference UCC. Authorized pastors in the Minnesota Conference, please note: this course satisfies the diversity requirement, but not the anti-racism training requirement.  
Church Annual Reports Due: Data Hub Open Through March 3

The Data Hub is open to church administrators through March 3rd!  All churches in the conference are requested to submit data that informs us about our shared regional and national resources in a movement of faith and love. Click here for instructions. Contact Catherine Cejda at the Conference office if you experience problems with the process. The deadline for submissions is March 3. Thank you for your time on this project! 
Complete Your Church’s Goals for Mission and Ministry SOON

A reminder that the Our Church’s Goals for Mission and Ministry financial covenant pledge form should be sent to the Conference office shortly after your church’s annual meeting. The form is available HERE, and includes sections for Per Capita Annual Dues, OCWM, and the four UCC Special Offerings. Questions? Contact Bob Olsen. Thank you!

  • The Conference website offers a wealth of resources related to ministry.

  • The United Church of Christ National Setting is offering financial assistance to local churches whose ministries have been challenged by the pandemic. See the process.

  • 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.
Clergy Clusters
The BIPOC Clergy Cluster meets monthly on the second Thursday of the month from 5:00–6:30 pm on Zoom. To receive a link to the meeting, email Rev. Nikki Frontz.
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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.