Volume 16, No. 49 | December 16, 2020

Equipping a courageous Church alive with Christ’s transforming love
Love in a Long December: An Advent Devotion
1 John 4:16

This past weekend, my best friend from college lost her dad to the effects of Parkinson’s disease. I grieve for her loss and for a good man I have known for 30 years.

My own father passed away 23 years ago on December 6 at the age of 52 from a heart attack. He went to sleep and never awoke. The unfolding events of the 24 hours that followed are burned into my memory. At that time, there was a popular band who had a hit song called “Long December.” I identified so closely with many phrases in the song. Here are the lyrics:

A long December and there's reason to believe
Maybe this year will be better than the last
I can't remember the last thing that you said as you were leaving
Now the days go by so fast 
The smell of hospitals in winter
And the feeling that it's all a lot of oysters but no pearls
All at once, you look across a crowded room
To see the way that light attaches to a girl
Drove up to Hillside Manor sometime after two A.M
And talked a little while about the year
I guess the winter makes you laugh a little slower
Makes you talk a little lower
About the things you could not show her
And it's been a long December and there's reason to believe
Maybe this year will be better than the last
I can't remember all the times I tried to tell myself
To hold on to these moments as they pass
And it's one more day up in the canyon
And it's one more night in Hollywood
It's been so long since I've seen the ocean
I guess I should
Grief has been such a significant piece of this pandemic year. Grief over “normal,” hugging, singing, celebrations, bedside vigils with our dying family members, funerals, baptisms, pastors arriving and departing churches, etc. has us bound in its grip. Like a country caught up in wartime, we soldier on and make the best of things, even as we mourn.

In the liturgical season of Advent, this fourth Sunday is about love. Amidst our blue Christmas, chocked full of grief and loss, we hold fast to what love has wrought us. Love has given us not only the people we miss but also those quarantined alongside us. Love has taught us that we are stronger when we work together rather than in spite of one another. Love has reminded us that we don’t need the distractions of this earthly world; in truth what we really need is one another. 

God comes in love to us in the form of a vulnerable baby. Perhaps that, too, is a lesson for us as we learn new ways of life after pandemic. Vulnerability in our love fosters more intimate care and stronger bonds. We connect more to God in the birth, life, and death of Jesus because the journey of this life is shared. As we close out this year, eager for a new one and the hope of returning to life as it was, let us not lose the valuable lessons love has taught us this year. May God abide as we find hope anew in one another and a tiny baby, wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger.

—Rev. Sheresa Simpson-Rice
Interim Associate Conference Minister
Outdoor Ministry Presents Creation Justice Series
Four events held on Zoom will offer different environmental topics for individuals, families, and congregations.Together we will consider our sacred connections to the lands, waters, and air, and how we might respond to the global environmental crisis. The events are free and open to all.

The Green Awakening: Churches and Environmental Justice Today
January 14, 7:00-8:30 pm
Rev. Brooks Berndt | REGISTER

How Then Shall We Live? Putting Faith Values into Earth Practice
February 18, 7:00- 8:30 pm
Buff Grace, Minnesota Interfaith Power & Light | REGISTER

What is Permaculture?
March 11, 7:00-8:30 pm
Heidi Morlock and Hans Peterson, permaculture farmers in Jordan, MN | REGISTER

The psychological impact of the environmental crisis
April 22, 7:00-8:30 pm
Dr. Teddie Potter | REGISTER

Conference News & Info
President Lew Zeidner to retire from United Theological Seminary

The Board of Trustees of United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities has announced the retirement of President Lew Zeidner, PhD. Following a significant tenure at United, Dr. Zeidner will retire in early 2021 when United welcomes an Interim President.

“We celebrate and are grateful for Dr. Zeidner’s significant contributions to United and the foundation they provide as United goes forward in educating world-transforming spiritual leaders in all areas of church and society,” said David Anderson, Chair of the Board of Trustees.

LOVE: Week Four of our Advent Family Toolkit
Love is always a risk, but it is a risk upon which the very heart of our life depends. To love is to touch the heart of God. —David E. Butler, Seasons of Hope: Readings for the Liturgical Year

Check out this week's videos, activities, Advent rituals, and contemplative practices.

The Amos Task Force Offers a January Authorized Ministers Book Study on Racial Healing

Realizing that everyone is buried in Advent and Christmas preparations, an article about considering a Lenten book study on racial healing may seem out of place. We want to think ahead, however, and encourage your congregation to consider a book read/study using The Racial Healing Workbook by Anneliese A. Singh. This is a wonderful opportunity to engage your congregation in doing something positive to address racial tension and the need for racial healing in each of our communities. This is not just an issue for our congregations in the Twin Cities. It is a statewide divide that keeps us all from becoming the type of community that fosters healing and growth for all people.

The Amos Task Force is offering a book study in January/early February for authorized ministers to explore The Racial Healing Handbook learn a model and the confidence to lead a Lenten study. There will also Conference-wide discussion of the book.

There will be two discussion sessions offered each week beginning on January 13 and 14 and continuing for four weeks. Authorized Ministers are asked to choose and attend one session each week. Wednesday sessions will meet from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. Thursday sessions will meet from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Registration will be available after New Year’s. Sessions will be led by members of the Amos Task Force Education Subgroup: Okogyeamon, Jill Sanders, Rebecca LeMenager, Beth Faeth, Christian Briones, and Anita Bradshaw.

The book read will count in meeting the new Anti-Racism training requirement. 
Owatonna Church Highlights Diversity with Stars

Associated Church In Owatonna has launched an initiative to celebrate everyone’s individual uniqueness while also shining a light on the fact that everyone is a part of humanity and a greater whole.

READ the wonderful story by Ashely Rezacheck in Southern Minnesota.
In challenging times, is there a better way to prepare your sermons?

The Good News is more important than ever. That's why The Damascus Project is partnering with Backstory Preaching to offer you a roadmap to a new approach rooted in prayer and best practices.

Sermon Camp is fully online, runs from January 11 to February 19, 2021, and costs $299. Questions? Contact Abby at info@the-damascus-project.org or 507-222-0194. LEARN MORE AND REGISTER.
2021 Data Hub Instructions

The UCC Data Hub will be open from January 6–March 3, 2021. for churches to input data about their staffs, membership, finances, and more. CLICK HERE for up-to-date instructions, and visit the Data Hub starting January 6 at noon.
Joys and Concerns
Rev. Frank Picard’s stepson, Brad, ended his life on December 10. The Minnesota Conference extends its deepest sympathies to Frank, his wife Betty, and all who loved Brad, and offers prayers that comfort may surround them as they grieve.

Rev. Harold David Walters died on December 14. David served for more than a quarter century in the Iowa Conference. He transferred his standing to Minnesota when he and his wife Deb became members of First United Church of Christ in Northfield. A funeral for immediate family will be held on December 17. The Minnesota Conference offers sympathy and prayers for peace to Deb and all who loved David, and thanks for David’s faithful service. 
Clergy Clusters
The Southwest Clergy Cluster is doing Advent work this month. They will meet next on January 21 at 11:30 am.
News & More Resources
  • The Conference website offers a wealth of resources related to ministry during the Covid-19 pandemic, post-election, and more. We also have a list of Advent and Christmas resources provided by folks in the MN Conference UCC. Our resources are updated frequently so check back regularly.

  • 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.
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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.