Volume 16, No. 11 | March 18, 2020

COMMAntary
Equipping a courageous Church alive with Christ’s transforming love
Staying Connected During the Pandemic
The scriptures tell us that whenever two or three are gathered, Jesus Christ is in the midst of them. (Matthew 18:20) But what about when we can’t gather in person at all?

As we all navigate these difficult days of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has never been more important to rely on each other in new ways and celebrate the connections among us in the Minnesota Conference UCC. Churches small and large, whether in greater Minnesota or the metro area, are all feeling the pain of this unimaginable situation. Pastors, chaplains, and lay leaders are all faced with overwhelming questions and worries.

We miss seeing each other at worship, gathering together around tables to catch up on our families and the latest news, learning from each other, laughing and singing and praying together in the churches we love.

We need each other! And we can still be there for each other in important and life-giving ways. As we connect with one another in new and unfamiliar ways to provide mutual support and express our care and concern, we reflect the unstoppable love and abiding grace of God. God is most definitely still in the midst of us!

The Conference intends to provide support to our members in whatever ways we can during this crisis. Although all staff members are now working remotely from our homes, we will continue to be in touch with you. You may  email us  or call us at our normal office number, 612-871-0359, leaving a message on the voice mail extension of the person you are trying to reach. (Staff will be checking their voice mail at the office daily and returning calls as promptly as possible.) We are in the process of developing multiple ways to connect meaningfully across the Conference throughout this crisis.

Opportunities for Support
  • Group Support Calls with Pastors, facilitated by Conference staff, every Tuesday (11 am–noon) and Friday (1:30–2:30 pm). Watch your email for Zoom links.
  • Group Support Calls with Chaplains, facilitated by Conference staff, every Wednesday at 4:30 pm
  • Group Support Calls with congregational moderators and Council Presidents. Schedule TBD.
  • Like our “Minnesota Conference UCC” Facebook page. We post important communications from the Conference there as soon as we have them, as well as other news.
  • If you’re an authorized minister in the Minnesota Conference UCC, join the “MN Conference Authorized Ministers” group on Facebook. Resources and messages specifically for ministers will be posted there. (And if you’re already a member of that group, please invite others of your FB friends who are authorized ministers in the MNCUCC to join and help us grow the group).

Resources Available to Your Congregations
  • Check out a dynamic set of resources we are compiling for you on our website to specifically help you navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. These include resources to help you plan worship in new ways, talk with children about the coronavirus crisis, faith formation ideas, and pastoral care articles. Check the page often; we’ll continually update it with new and helpful information.
  • Need a way for groups/committees in your church to gather electronically but don’t have access to an online platform for that purpose? The Conference is making available use of a Zoom account just for you, free of charge! This online videoconferencing platform is easy to use and allows you to see all the people attending your virtual meeting (if they have a computer camera); members can also call in using any phone. Schedule use of this Zoom account for up to 2-hour sessions by contacting Sandy Kellen at sandyk@uccmn.org. We ask that you please not use this account for your virtual worship needs in order to maximize use for many throughout the Conference.

Does your congregation have a specific interest or need during this pandemic that the Conference staff can help address? Do you have other ideas for groups that we can convene for mutual support and idea-sharing? Please email  Conference Minister Shari Prestemon  with your ideas and requests.
Spirit of Peace, a UCC/ELCA congregation, is born!
On March 1, a remarkable thing happened in the lives of congregations of Mizpah United Church of Christ and St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church. After months of discernment, conversation and planning, the two celebrated and commissioned their new name—Spirit of Peace, a UCC/ELCA congregation—the latest step in a process to form one congregation.

“We had profoundly spiritual discussions and soul searching about what it means to be a member of a church that’s affiliated with different denominations,” says Vince Jacobson, who is the new chair of Spirit of Peace’s council. “Some of the epiphanies were breathtaking.” READ THE FULL STORY
Conference News & Information
Resources for Challenging Times
The Minnesota Conference is building out robust resources to support our Conference clergy and congregations as we face the COVID-19 pandemic. Please bookmark our Resources page and check back frequently. Here, you'll find support for online worship, resources for talking with children, faith formation ideas, and pastoral care articles. We are here for you! VIEW RESOURCES
2020 Spring CYE and Adult Retreats Postponed
In response to  updated recommendations  from the Minnesota Department of Health, Conference staff assessed all outdoor ministry and faith formation programs scheduled during the upcoming 8-week period. Although most of the scheduled retreats would have fewer than 50 participants, the realities of shared lodging, communal dining, and interactive programs would not allow us to maintain recommended social distancing between participants and other essential protocols to limit community spread and person-to-person transmission of COVID-19.

As a result, we have made the difficult decision to postpone all retreats and youth events schedule through mid-May 2020. Conference staff will immediately contact all registered participants for the Meditation Retreat, the Courage to Lead program, and the Spring 2020 CYE. Registration remains open for all other events scheduled from late-May through October 2020.  READ MORE
Support for Background Checks
The Minnesota Conference supports churches doing appropriate background checks on church staff and volunteers. Churches in the conference are encouraged to use Praesidium screening, which is subsidized for those congregations that use the Insurance Board. You can find Praesidium’s pricing structure  HERE . The Minnesota Conference does not pay for screenings initiated by churches and is closing screening accounts at the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and elsewhere. Individual accounts are easy to set up at the BCA, even for churches in need of just one screening. 
Join March FourTHursday via Zoom
March 26, 12:00–1:30 pm
During this time of social distancing, we will gather via Zoom to share support, questions, ideas, and resources about facilitating online faith formation opportunities and community connection for your local congregation. Co-hosted by Rev. Emily Meyer, Director of the Ministry Lab, and Rev. Kevin Brown, Associate Conference Minister of Faith Formation for Children & Youth. To join, add this link or go to Zoom.us and use meeting ID #190-948-039. If you do not have the capacity for video-conferencing or prefer to call in to the meeting, call 1-646-876-9923 or 1-669-900-6833; you will be prompted to enter the Meeting ID.

Joys & Concerns
Rev. Kathy Itzin of Robbinsdale Parkway UCC has been diagnosed with breast cancer. She will start chemotherapy next week, to be followed by a lumpectomy and radiation. In addition, Kathy’s wife Carol is experiencing a recurrence of bladder cancer and will need surgery next month. Kathy and Carol face a difficult year ahead and will be grateful for the prayers of loving hearts in the Minnesota Conference to travel with them.

We hold in prayer our Minnesota Conference UCC chaplains, pastors, congregations, and lay leaders during this time of crisis, and pray our faith may provide strength and comfort to all. We pray for all our government leaders at national, state, and local levels who are charged with making such critical decisions impacting us all. We pray for every organizational leader in every sector of our society faced with unimaginable choices while striving to care for their employees and those they serve. We pray for those on the front lines of this crisis in health departments, health care settings, nursing homes and hospice organizations, and for their families who worry about their safety and health. We pray for those who have been laid off or face other economic hardship due to this pandemic. We pray for parents and families experiencing additional stress due to school and day care closures. We pray for those who are alone, for those most at risk of contracting the Coronavirus, and for all who are suffering and fearful in these uncertain days. God in your mercy, hear our prayers.

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.

The Ministry Lab is temporarily suspending open hours and shifting to online. Please contact Executive Director Emily Meyer via  email for consultations, to access resources, and/or to register for zoom workshops. Visit The Ministry Lab's  website for information about creating and generation online worship (especially for Easter) and regular offerings of at-home faith formation, prayer and worship resources.

If your church needs assistance: Until the arrival of our Interim Associate Conference Minister on April 6, churches in the northern part of the Conference should contact Conference Minister Shari Prestemon or Associate Conference Ministers Anita Bradshaw and Kevin Brown . Congregations with search and call questions may contact either Anita Bradshaw or Shari Prestemon at 612-871-0359.
Upcoming Events

  • POSTPONED: Adult Meditation Retreat, Spring Conference Youth Event, Courage to Lead (see article above)



Full information about upcoming camps, retreats, and other faith formation opportunities for all ages is available on the Conference's website.

Clergy Clusters
The Southwest Clergy Cluster has been cancelled this month.
There are many opportunities within the Minnesota Conference. Check out the  employment opportunities  portion of our website for all open positions. And be sure to like us on Facebook to stay up-to-date on news, events, jobs and more.

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.