Volume 16, No. 17 | April 29, 2020

Equipping a courageous Church alive with Christ’s transforming love
Minnesota Conference UCC Pandemic Relief Grant Application Process Now Open
Applications are now being received for grant awards to Conference congregations and authorized ministers.

Grants will be awarded in three categories: 1) emergency grants for congregations, which may include help with meeting operating expenses, support for community ministries, or technology support; 2) counseling assistance for actively serving authorized ministers; or 3) website development for congregations.

Full details on eligibility criteria and benefits of each type of grant are available in three separate grant applications . Questions and completed applications can be directed to Conference Minister Shari Prestemon at sharip@uccmn.org . There is no application deadline but grants will be awarded on a first come, first-served basis until all allocated funds have been utilized.

These grants are made possible thanks to the generosity of donors to the Conference Minister Discretionary Fund and the Disaster Emergency Fund.
All God's Creatures Have a Place in the Choir
When Union Congregational UCC in Hackensack invited Rev. Torri Vande Zande to interview for its open clergy position back in fall 2018, the committee had a pressing question: “Will your dog Caesar be joining you?”

Pastor Torri was taken aback at first. How did they know about Caesar? “I realized they had looked me up on Facebook and saw how important he is to me,” she says. “They told me ‘We’re dog lovers, too, and you can tell a lot about a person by the way they treat their dog.’”

She didn’t bring Caesar to the first interview, but shortly after, when the congregation voted to call her, he made his first appearance and was “extravagantly welcomed,” she says. Today, Caesar, a six-year-old, German Shepherd mix whom she adopted from a shelter in Iowa, is wholly ensconced at Union Congregational. In fact, he was given a certificate of installation at the same time the Minnesota Conference installed her!

“Caesar comes with me for office hours,” Pastor Torri says. “He’s in every meeting that has food. He is that dog fix for older people who can’t adopt a pet at this stage in their lives and he’s learned to play hide and seek with the children in our drop-off program.” ( editor’s note: this was shared prior to the shelter at home restrictions). Perhaps most prominently, Caesar writes a column, appropriately titled “Caesar’s Tales.”

Read more about Pastor Torri and the remarkable (and fun!) insights of Caesar , especially in this time of sheltering in place.
Conference News & Information
Circle of Faith in Waubun shares beautifully decorated windows with the community.
New resources from last week’s FourTHursday:
Reminder about new bi-weekly Zoom gatherings, beginning April 30
Conference staff will convene bi-weekly Zoom gatherings for faith formation leaders throughout the time congregations are required to meet online only. Join us for mutual support and to share questions, ideas and resources regarding the currently reality of ministry. Join us every other Thursday from noon - 1 pm, beginning Thursday, April 30, via Zoom . If you prefer to join via telephone, call 1-312-626-6799 and use meeting code 997 774 390.
Last Chance to Claim a Spot in Online Church Conversation with The Damascus Project

  At the beginning of quarantine, local church pastors made a quick transition to doing much of their work online. It has been a time of rapid on-boarding of new skills and ways of being in community.
Now we invite you to take a step back and consider: What about your congregation’s online worship experiences and gatherings are going well? What isn’t? What are the challenges? Opportunities? Is your current way of doing online church sustainable? Is it meaningful? When you consider the possibility that we may need to do church this way, on and off, for a while, what do you feel and what do you need?
Just two slots remain (out of 10) for this Damascus Project conversation, held during four 60-minute Zoom sessions of reflection and learning around these questions. REGISTER HERE.
Join a Conversation with Dr. Michael Osterholm May 5 at 2:00 pm

Although we are still under a stay-at-home order in Minnesota, conversations about when and how to resume in-person worship are beginning within some congregations. To help faith leaders make informed decisions with their congregations, the Minneapolis Area Synod ELCA is hosting a virtual conversation with Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota and a member of an ELCA congregation. You are invited to join a live stream of this event on Facebook on Tuesday, May 5 at 2:00 p.m. 
To watch live, visit the Minneapolis Area Synod's Facebook page. Find the "Posts" or "Video" tabs in the menu on the left side and click on the red "live" button when it appears.
 Courage & Renewal Retreats for Clergy, Staff & Lay Leaders

The Minnesota Conference UCC wants to offer clergy and lay leaders a virtual retreat space for intentional reflection, celebration, and connecting . Winton Boyd , (UCC pastor,  Center for Courage & Renewal ) and  Sara Thomsen  (Duluth area singer/songwriter) will offer mini-retreats as a time to pause from our routines to reflect on what we have learned and are learning about being a leader now.

Exploring Gratitude in These Days
May 5 from 10:00 - 11:30 a.m. CDT or May 21 from 10:00 - 11:30 a.m. CDT (90 minutes)
Rooted in Sara Thomsen's song,  Rhapsody of Rest , based on Psalm 92 (A psalm, a song for the Sabbath day)

This 90-minute session will be offered twice; utilizing the  Circle of Trust process , the retreat will include individual and group reflection, silence and music. Advance registration required and is limited to the first 20 people for each retreat, but there is no cost to participate. Register for May 5

Returning to the Source of our Call in These Days
June 4 from 9:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. CDT (3 hours)
Rooted in Sara Thomsen's song,  Root of the Root  and Romans 10:15 ("How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news?")

This 3-hour session will utilize the  Circle of Trust process   and will be more spacious, providing more extended time (both online and offline) for individual reflection, as well as time in triads and as a large group. Advance registration required and is limited to the first 20 people for each retreat, but there is no cost to participate.  Register for June 4

Once you are registered, you will receive an email from the retreat facilitators a few days before the event that will provide you with the Zoom link and further details about the retreat you have signed up for. If you have questions please contact Sandy  via email.
Registration Open for Online Annual Meeting on June 13 – Delegates, Please Register Now!

A short, virtual meeting for voting delegates only will instead be held on June 13 from 10 am to noon via Zoom to attend to essential business of the Conference. Registration for this meeting is now open at THIS LINK. There is no fee for the meeting. If you are a clergy delegate or a lay delegate appointed by your congregation, please register for this Zoom meeting at your earliest convenience, but before Memorial Day as registration for this meeting will close on Monday, May 25, 2020. Once you register, you will receive email information about attending the meeting online.
Safety First: Email Tips
With people around the world working at home, often on unsecured networks, hackers are looking for ways to get at new audiences, including crafting emails that  look like  they are from a pastor or other church professional and sending them out to people in the church.
How to recognize fake emails:
  • Hover your cursor over the sender to see the email address.
  • Notice whether the email sounds like the person it is supposedly coming from.
  • Pay attention to misspellings or misuse of words that suggests a non-native speaker or digital translation.

  • Don’t reply to or forward suspect messages; doing so confirms your email address and potentially gives hackers access to more information.
  • Don’t click on links in suspect messages.

  • Send a new message to the person in question from your email contacts to inquire if he/she/they have sent you something.
  • Label the suspect message as junk, or just delete it.
  • If you’re worried that something has gone wrong, contact your IT person or a tech-savvy friend. We’ve all been there.
Joys & Concerns
Jan Murphy was approved for an ecclesiastical council at an ordination panel interview on April 24. Congratulations, Jan, on reaching this milestone! The Minnesota Conference celebrates and prays with you as you journey forward.

Rev. Nikki Frontz begins work on May 1 as the Community and Spiritual Leader at Solomon's Porch in Minneapolis. Nikki will start in her position remotely, from Denver, Colorado, with hope to move to in-person leadership on July 1. The Minnesota Conference extends Nikki a warm welcome and deep gratitude, and prays for patience, strength, creativity, and joy among the community at Solomon’s Porch in this time of change.
Notices & Invitations
Tell us what you're doing during these challenging times. Please share how your church is coping and reinventing worship and ministries during the COVID-19 pandemic. 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
POSTPONED: Adult Meditation Retreat, Spring Conference Youth Event, Courage to Lead, Magnify! Annual Meeting. Updates about upcoming camps, retreats, and other faith formation opportunities will be continually updated on the Conference's website.
Clergy Clusters
The Twin Cities Clergy Cluster has cancelled the May meeting to promote public health. Meetings are expected to resume after a summer hiatus. Meanwhile, clergy are encouraged to participate in Zoom calls sponsored by the Minnesota Conference.
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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.