Volume 16, No. 21 | May 27, 2020

Equipping a courageous Church alive with Christ’s transforming love
In Memory of George Floyd: What Shall We Say as Church?
by Rev. Shari Prestemon, Conference Minister
“Please. Please. I can’t breathe.”

That desperate plea was among the last words spoken by George Floyd, a black man who was killed on Monday night at the corner of 38th and Chicago Avenue in Minneapolis.

After being detained & handcuffed by police on a non-violent charge, one policeman ground his knee into the back of Mr. Floyd’s neck and held it there for approximately eight minutes while other officers stood watching.

Mr. Floyd’s appeals for help all went unanswered and he appeared to lose consciousness before an ambulance arrived to take him to Hennepin County Medical Center, where he later died.

Family members and friends now grieve the bitter, brutal loss of their loved one. Protesters have taken to the streets. News reporters are casting a spotlight on the horrific, truth-telling video. And social media is blowing up with outrage. 

But what shall we say as Church?

We must unequivocally affirm that George Floyd’s life mattered. His black life mattered. He was a precious Child of God.

We must confess that the evil scourge of white supremacy, historically aided and abetted by the Christian Church and its self-avowed faithful, has pressed its full weight into the necks of black bodies for centuries and is still actively doing so. 

We must lament our own complicity in systems that privilege many of us while those same systems from which we benefit oppress and kill communities of color.

We must let the cry of Amos roar from our pulpits and pour out into our streets: “let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:24)

We must declare that the Jesus we follow, who preached in word and deed the love of neighbor, care for the least of these, and abundant mercy, would weep and rage over George Floyd’s brutal, needless death. Because George Floyd begged for mercy and was given none. George Floyd asked for water and was denied. George Floyd cried in pain and was subjected to yet more pain. George Floyd said he couldn’t breathe, and he died.

In the name of Jesus Christ, in whose name we worship, we must say “no more.” We must call for change and demand justice. We must be the change we say we want. We must join with the prophet Amos to “seek good and not evil”, to “hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate” (5:14-15)

Beloved, may it be so.
Interfaith Vigil and Call to Action in Response to George Floyd Murder

Thursday, May 28, 5 pm via Facebook Live
Join the Minnesota Conference of the United Church of Christ, the Muslim-American Society of Minnesota, and other interfaith representatives from the Twin Cities, Minnesota and beyond for a vigil in response to the police slaying on Monday night of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

We will lament the death of another unarmed black man, confront the idolatry of white supremacy that underlies it, offer responses from our faith, and commit to ongoing action for safe, multiracial public life in Minnesota. Join the event on Facebook via this link.
Making Faithful Decisions in Challenging Times
As churches consider Governor Walz’s new guidance to faith communities , clergy are increasingly at the center of intense discussions about when and if to resume in-person ministries.

Some churches find themselves the only faith community in town not resuming in-person worship. Some pastors find that congregants are not of one mind on the issue. This situation can be especially burdensome and lonely for a pastor. 

This past week, I issued my own guidance, but I will add this: The state guidance offers a ceiling on our activities, not blanket encouragement to quickly re-gather. The change in guidance was primarily the result of considerable political pressure from several directions and was not prompted by any new data. While the Governor issued these relaxed limits, his broader comments and the wider guidance of the document still urge extreme caution and thoughtfulness, including the continuance of virtual worship if at all possible.

The numbers of positive COVID-19 cases in Minnesota and the numbers of deaths are still on the rise; in fact, Minnesota has been one of the states in recent days with the fastest growing number of cases. Our "peak" is not likely to hit until at least mid-summer. Scientists recommend that we look for a period of consistent decline in cases and deaths over a 14-day period before making any moves to relax restrictions. These are the facts. I urge you to continue to respect the science, the numbers, and the facts.

But that candy store and places like Home Depot are wide open! Why shouldn't our churches be wide open too?
This is the increasingly common refrain of those who insist faith communities are not being treated fairly and that our freedoms are being more severely restricted than other sectors. It is a meaningless and unhelpful comparison. When we gather, our practices are nothing like shoppers in a store. We arrive, linger, make contact with a million surfaces, sing, laugh, and preach. When we step through the doors of our churches, we are instantly a beloved community; we gravitate toward each other for handshakes, hugs, pats on the back, and enthusiastic conversation. Many of us are in high-risk categories. 

In the end, each congregation must make its own decision. I encourage you to be thoughtful, smart, and driven by facts. Please be gracious and kind to your clergy; make decisions together with clergy, with grace and kindness and care. And please, call on the Conference if you need guidance or a helpful ear. We are your partners in faithful ministry.

—Rev. Shari Prestemon, Conference Minister
Conference News & Information
Conference Welcomes Three Youth Engagement & Social Media Interns

Three young adults with a long history of participation in Conference youth programs and activities worked this spring with staff to plan, develop and launch the Conference’s Instagram  channel.

We are delighted to announce that each of the young adults who were part of this initial project –  Cecilia Alexander  (UCC New Brighton),  Cole Marshall  (First Congregational UCC, Anoka), and  Kristen Peterson  (First Congregational UCC, New York Mills) – will continue to work with the Conference this summer as Youth Engagement & Social Media Interns. They will work with the Outdoor Ministry Program Director and Associate Conference Minister of Faith Formation to manage content and campaigns on Instagram, help plan and facilitate online gatherings for youth and young adults, and consult with staff about how to build broader engagement with youth across the Conference.

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. As one, the national officers have collectively identified $2.6 million in COVID-19 relief, $1.5 million in loans administered through the Cornerstone Fund  and another $1.1 million in micro grants. Grant applications open June 1. Grant money will be available through the process described here .

Applications are now being accepted from Minnesota Conference UCC congregations for the Pandemic Relief Loan Program. Loan requests may range from $5,000-$20,000. Access the application and further details here.

The Conference's grant program is also underway. Congregations may 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.
Faith Formation Leaders Zoom Gathering

Thursday, May 28, 12:00–1:00 pm
Join us for our bi-weekly gathering of faith formation leaders from around the Conference to share ideas and challenges, get inspired, and be empowered to innovate your way through this summer with your youth. The Zoom link to join is  HERE . If you prefer to join via telephone, call 1-312-626-6799 and use meeting code 997 774 390. 
Taking Flight: Restarting Your OWL Program

Unique challenges and opportunities arise when restarting Our Whole Lives programs that were interrupted during the pandemic. Please join us for a sharing of questions, concerns, ideas, and recommendations! Open to OWL facilitators and program coordinators in all settings, religious and secular. Featuring input from:
  • CB Beal, former UU DRE; OWL trainer; founder, Justice & Peace Consulting
  • Candace Woods, UCC youth minister, OWL program & training coordinator
  • Amy Johnson, UCC Minister for Sexuality Education and Justice; OWL trainer
  • Melanie Davis, UUA OWL Program Manager; OWL trainer
  • You!

Sharing Space with a Preschool or Childcare Program?

Thursday, May 28, 2 pm
The Conference is hosting a Zoom gathering for pastors, other congregational staff/leaders, and preschool program directors/staff to talk through any issues and questions you are holding regarding safely maintaining childcare/preschool programs while reopening your facilities for congregational gatherings. Please invite others from your congregation's staff and forward to staff and directors of preschool/childcare programs housed in your facility. Join via this link or by phone at 312-626-6799, Meeting ID: 824 3149 4946
Conference Website Giving Portal Updated

Churches and individuals will find the DONATE section of the Minnesota Conference website updated to be both more informative and easier to use!

Individuals will find better information on supporting Conference ministries like the Annual Fund and the Pandemic Relief funds, and churches will find expanded explanations on supporting Per Capita Annual Dues, Our Church’s Wider Mission (OCWM), One Great Hour of Sharing (OGHS), Neighbors in Need, Strengthen the Church, and the Christmas Fund.

Your financial support during these days of pandemic is more urgently needed than ever before. Thank you for supporting all the ministries of the Minnesota Conference.
Being in Covenant: AIR Forms Due July 31

About 25 percent of authorized ministers have submitted 2020 Authorized Minister Information Review forms to the Minnesota Conference office.  Thank you!  These AIR forms are due annually as part of the covenantal responsibility for being ordained in the conference. As with power and boundary training, not attending to this matter can jeopardize ministerial standing. Ordained, licensed, and commissioned ministers may fill out the form online or by hand and return it to Janet Anderson by  email  or by mail. 
Notices & Invitations
The Ministry Lab has  three liturgical pieces  for online worship this Pentecost Sunday: a multi-language, "online chorus" reading of Acts 2:1-21; a music video for the Joel Preus song I Will Pour out Water; and a  Visual Word  that will function as both a sermon and/or a contemplative prayer moment. Links will be available via The Ministry Lab's website by Friday!

What is your church doing in these challenging times? 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.
Upcoming Events
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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.