Volume 16, No. 47 | December 2, 2020

Equipping a courageous Church alive with Christ’s transforming love
A Different Advent, and Yet …
Conference Minister Rev. Shari Prestemon

“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” Isaiah 40:3

Advent is upon us again, that season marked by heavy anticipation and the kind of hopefulness that has us holding our breath, watching for the newness of God to be born among us again.

Advent is traditionally a time of waiting, of making ourselves ready for the in-breaking of God in ways we cannot fully imagine.

But this year seems so different. Maybe it’s because it feels like all we’ve been doing for the last nine months is waiting… Waiting for the numbers of infected, sick and dead from COVID to lessen. Waiting for a vaccine to be developed and distributed. Waiting for this relentless pandemic to finally end. Waiting to worship and sing and gather in ways more familiar. Waiting to reunite with the family and friends from whom we’ve been separated for all these many months. Our waiting consumes our days now. And it feels more like endless, painful drudgery than sacred practice.

Yet into this exhausting reality the prophet’s voice still proclaims: “In the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” The ‘wilderness’ experience feels more familiar to us this year, too. We are somewhere we’ve never been, surrounded by uncertainties we don’t fully understand and cannot control, longing for a way out and forward. And yet it is in this very place that we are to prepare the way for God to enter in.

If we can relate more profoundly this year to the practice of waiting, to the experience of being surrounded by untamed wilderness, then perhaps this is also the year that we can more fully appreciate the invitations of Advent. Perhaps the proclamation of Isaiah that every valley shall be lifted up and the rough places made plain feels less a poetic abstraction than a steady drumbeat of prayer. And maybe the Hope that ushers us into this season feels more authentic, our trust in a God who has always done amazing things in entirely unexpected ways more full-hearted.

We are an Advent people, after all. May each of us journey in this blessed season more attuned to the ways God is abundantly still present, with a faith that believes God will indeed do a new and wondrous thing.

O come, O come, Emmanuel. Enter into our lives as they are, full of wilderness spaces and rough places, and make all things new. Reveal yourself among us, we pray, and transform our waiting to a hope that does not disappoint us. Amen.

With you in the waiting,
Reverend Shari Prestemon, Conference Minister
Reflections from Damascus Project Participants
The Damascus Project launched its 2020-21 program year with three fall courses—Leadership Skills, Faith Foundations, and Being a Faith Change Agent.

All three courses drew people from a range of professions, church settings, and even locations around the country. Here are a few of their stories:

Learning to be a better leader — inside and outside of church

Jean Ostrom of New Journey UCC in Hutchinson has served in many leadership roles — in her church and community and at work —but a desire to develop more faith-based leadership skills led her to The Damascus Project. “I would definitely encourage others to take the Leadership Skills course, as well as others through The Damascus Project,” she says. “The skills learned in this course will help anyone who takes it to become not just a better church leader but also a leader in their life outside the church.”

In particular Ostrom says she enjoyed learning about different personality types as well as different leadership types. “We have all different God-given gifts. Learning to balance our strengths and weaknesses with others with whom we serve will make us better leaders.”

Conference News & Info
Committee on Ministry Adopts New Anti-Racism/Diversity Training Requirement for Authorized Ministers

In keeping with the 2018 Manual on Ministry and the demands of our times, the MN Conference Committee on Ministry has adopted a requirement that all Authorized Ministers participate in anti-racism and/or diversity training every two years. Ministers who are white are expected to attend an anti-racism training under this new requirement and are also encouraged to take advantage of diversity training opportunities. Ministers of color are expected to avail themselves of a diversity training course or opportunity. The requirement goes into effect in January 2021. However, if an Authorized Minister has done anti-racism training in 2020 that may count toward the requirement in 2021.

There are many different ways to meet this requirement. The Damascus Project will be offering trainings that fulfill this requirement. The Authorized Minister Book Read of The Racial Healing Handbook in January 2021 (see below) would be another way to meet the requirement. The Committee on Ministry is willing to consider a variety of training opportunities as long as there is at least six contact hours and a substantial interactive component to the training. Experiential training is also encouraged.

More details forthcoming in January.
Amos Task Force Offers 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 and to learn a model and gain the confidence to lead a Lenten study. There will also Conference-wide discussion of the book.

Two discussion sessions will be offered each week beginning on January 13 and 14 and continuing for four weeks. Authorized Ministers are asked to attend one session each week. It is possible to join the Wednesday group one week and the Thursday group another week to make it easier to schedule. Wednesday sessions will meet from 1 pm to 2:30 pm. Thursday sessions will meet from 7 pm to 8:30 pm. 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. 
PEACE: Week Two of our Advent Family Toolkit!
Surely the peace of the world begins with the peace of a heart … At the heart of each of us, if we but seek it, there is a spirit that rests in the grace of God. David E. Butler

Check out this week's Advent toolkit for video reflections, spiritual practices, creative activities, candle lighting ritual, and a contemplative practice for parents.

Minnesota Conference UCC Hiring an Administrative Assistant

This full-time, non-exempt position supports the work of two staff members and a diverse number of activities and committees in the Conference. The position specifically supports the search and call process of the Conference (pastoral recruitment), the ministry teams and committees staffed by two of the Associate Conference Ministers, and a wide variety of conference-sponsored events. The Administrative Assistant reports to two Associate Conference Ministers. The salary and benefits package are competitive for organizations of the Conference's size. While working from home during the pandemic, normally the Conference staff works in offices located at 122 W. Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis. If interested, please submit a resume and three references to Rev. Dr. Anita L. Bradshaw at anitab@uccmn.org. No calls please, but if there are questions or to see a copy of the job description, contact Rev. Bradshaw.
What is Happening with Immigrants?”
December 7 from 7-8:30 pm

Three speakers will talk about what is happening at our southern border: Dora Rodriguez, an advocate and activist for migrant rights; Nellie Jo David, a member of the Hia-Ced O’odham tribe; and Dan Millis, program manager for Sierra Club Borderlands. Read more about our speakers.

This is an important time in our country as President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris have pledged to reinstate Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Temporary Protected Status (TPS), and to work toward comprehensive immigration reform. Join us December 7 to learn more. The event is free and open to all, but you must register to receive the Zoom link.
Blue Christmas Retreat for Faith Leaders
December 16, 3:00–4:30 pm

Join Damascus Project co-directors the Revs. Abigail Henderson and Tisha Brown for a contemplative, dedicated space for pastors and chaplains to process the grief, exhaustion, and complexity of this unprecedented season. Music, prayer, silence, and Word. More details forthcoming. (Please note: this event stands in for the December PRAXIS call.)
Deadline for 5 for 5 Contributions Recognition

A reminder to churches that the deadline for the Conference office to receive contributions for 2020 Five for Five recognition is Monday, January 25, 2021. Also, if you make a calendar year 2020 contribution after December 31, 2021, you must include “2020 payment” in the memo line of your check. Thank you for your cooperation, and for supporting the ministries of the United Church of Christ!
Joys and Concerns
Rev. Holly Pederson, chaplain with Kindred Hospice in Duluth, had surgery December 1, and will be recovering for a few weeksThe prayers of the Minnesota Conference are with her for renewed health, joy, and peace.
Clergy Clusters
The North Central Clergy Cluster typically meets on the first Thursday of the month. To receive a link to this week’s meeting, email Rev. Leslie Moughty.
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.