Volume 16, No. 48 | December 9, 2020

Equipping a courageous Church alive with Christ’s transforming love
Joy: An Advent Devotional
“Joy to the world! The Lord is come; let earth receive her King. Let every heart prepare Him room, and heaven and nature sing…”

Isaac Watts, an English Congregationalist, composed those words in 1719 as a paraphrase to Psalm 98, which was written years before the birth of Jesus. And yet, Christians the world over relegate the hymn to their list of regular Christmas songs. We love these hymns for the nostalgia they bring of Christmases past. However, I wonder if it may be time for us to reimagine these hymns that speak to the ideas of anticipation and praise into other seasons of our spiritual life?

Verse four of the Psalm is a reminder for us to continue to make a “joyful noise” and for all the earth to sing praises of joy. Unfortunately, we often spend much of our energy in lament as we emphasize the world’s misfortunes rather than speaking joyfully of our accomplishments, no matter the size. To sing of joy, peace, and love as things we have right now seems contradictory to the social normalization of fear, despair, and loathing. 

I’ve heard it said many times over how Christians are Easter People, seeing our beloved teacher losing his earthly life to be reborn into a heavenly being. We live out that story as a way of reinventing our own spiritual life that moves into actions of justice, peace, and Godly love toward one another. But maybe in the midst of that we’re missing something important that lives in the Advent season. Perhaps by the blessings of hope, peace, joy and love, the birth story, which is also our personal birth story, we should consider the anticipation and exhilaration that comes from singing Advent and Christmas hymns not just during that particular season, but all year long. 

So many of these Christmas hymns, even with their archaic language, remind us of all the blessings we have, all glories that abound around us, all peace that is available and still to come, all angels singing "hallelujahs" — and how we are all beloved children of the Most High.

Joy, joy, joy to the world! For we are one. Let earth receive our gladness as heaven and nature sing. Let every heart push away despair and make room for everlasting Love, as heaven and nature sing. Let the earth receive our good tidings of hope, peace, love, and gratitude as our voices reach to the heavens and repeat in sounds of joy. 

Let our hearts and souls shout with Christmas spirit our whole life long, as Love rules the world with truth and grace. Amen.

Rev. Sheri Nelson
Program Director, Outdoor Ministry, Minnesota Conference UCC
What is Happening with Immigrants?
by Diane Haines, Chair, Minnesota Conference Immigration Team

Thank you to all who participated in the Immigration Team Webinar (see video above) on December 7. We were privileged to host this discussion with three activists for justice from Tucson. Dora Rodriguez spoke about the work of Salvavision (she is from El Salvador and one of the first to be taken into sanctuary in the 1980s). We learned about her work with asylum seekers along the border. Nellie Jo David is a leader of the Hia-Ced O’Odham tribe, which spans parts of Arizona and Mexico. She shared about the militarization of their tribal land by the Department of Homeland Security through towers, motion detectors, drones, stadium lighting, check points, and a 30-foot high border wall. Dan Millis, program manager at Sierra Club Borderlands, shared about the court cases they have won in opposition to the construction of the wall because of illegal use of funding from the Department of Defense budget. Those cases are in appeal. 

In asking how we can join this justice work, Dan shared the following: “The U.S. Congress is considering giving more money for border walls. It doesn't make sense, with Biden coming in and pledging not to build wall, but Republicans are trying to push more wall money through in the appropriations bill. Please ask your congregation to take action at sc.org/noborderwall and please share!"

The above link takes you to an easy-to-complete form, which then forwards your email to your U.S. Senators. Open the letter and read it to make certain you know what you are sending. If you want to add your personal thoughts, there is a space and that can be helpful. Please support this important work — and let justice reign!
Conference News & Info
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. Please come prepared with a candle and the means to light it. Please note: This event stands in for the regular monthly clergy call and has its own unique link here.
MN Conference Bids Farewell to Janet Anderson

It is with great sadness that we announce that Janet Anderson, Administrative Assistant, has resigned her position effective December 31, 2020. Janet has been a welcome addition to the Conference staff, assisting Associate Conference Ministers Anita Bradshaw and Sheresa Simpson-Rice.

We thank Janet for staffing the Committee on Ministry, serving as Conference registrar and communication point in the search and call process, and keeping records for all Authorized Ministers. She will be sorely missed. We are excited, however, that she is leaving to focus on achieving a personal dream of writing a book. We wish her every success and blessing, and we look forward to reading her book!
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.
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.
PEACE: Week Three of our Advent Family Toolkit
Joy is new life beating in a heart that has been broken. Joy is awakening to a fair morning from a nightmare of reality…Joy is God’s melody amid the discord of life, a song carrying the lilt of eternity and touching the chords of longing in our souls. —David E. Butler, from Seasons of Hope: Readings for the Liturgical Year

Cultivating Generous Congregations Seminar Offered
How is God calling your congregation to be the “future church?” And, how will your stewardship program keep up with God’s renewing spirit?

The warming months of spring are a perfect time for pastors and lay leaders to learn, strengthen, and improve their stewardship efforts when Rev. Andy DeBraber, Generosity Officer of the national setting, and Andrew Warner, Generosity Outreach Officer, team up to present the Cultivating Generous Congregations Seminar. The Conference highly recommends this results-oriented program for churches! Read more about the Cultivating Generous Congregations Seminar.
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
A service celebrating Steve Sorensen's life will be held on December 12 at 1 pm, via Zoom. Steve died peacefully, with his wife Karen and son Todd beside him, on November 13after being hospitalized for an extended time with a serious heart condition. Steve was a member of First Congregational Church of MN in Minneapolis and a longtime volunteer in the Conference. Join the celebration of Steve's life at this Zoom link. If you are asked for a passcode, please use 281128.
Rev. Susan Faunce-Zimmerman died on December 2, in Saint Paul. Susan and her husband, Rev. Jim Faunce-Zimmerman, served congregations in Biwabik and in Iowa. Susan is survived by Jim, to whom, along with the Faunce and Zimmerman children, the Minnesota Conference offers condolences and prayers for comfort in their grief. You may read about Susan’s life here.
Barbara Schmiechen, partner of retired clergy Rev. Daniel Schmiechen, suffered a stroke on November 3. She is at Courage Rehab Institute in Golden Valley. She is in good spirits and making new changes in her life. Greetings may be sent to her home: Barbara Schmiechen, 3663 Park Center Blvd. #1102, St. Louis Park, MN 55416.
Clergy Clusters
The BIPOC Clergy Cluster meets monthly on the second Thursday of the month from 5:00–6:30pm on Zoom. To receive a link to the meeting, email Rev. Nikki Frontz.

The Southeast Clergy Cluster will meet on Thursday, December 10, rom 9:00-11:00 am. via Zoom. Contact Rev. Paul Bauch at Peace Church in Rochester for a link.
The Northern Clergy Cluster will meet on Tuesday, December 15, at noon via ZoomContact Nathan Holst at Peace UCC, Duluth for the link.
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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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.