Volume 17, No. 47 | December 1, 2021

Equipping a courageous Church alive with Christ’s transforming love
On the Advent Path: COMMAnts from the Conference Minister
She handed it to me in a plain manila folder marked with my name. Inside it was a treasure trove of memory.

It was a file folder kept by the late Rev. Henry Heinbuch, my pastor for the first 20 years of my life at Zion UCC in Waukon, Iowa. He and his wife, Norma, were my earliest mentors in the faith, tirelessly encouraging me, constantly inviting me to new discoveries of faith and leadership. It was Norma who handed me the mysterious folder during a recent lunch together in her home.

 There were letters of reference written for me in pursuit of scholarships and seminary admission. The commissioning service before I’d left for 15 months as a mission intern in the Philippines. The “charge” the two of them had written for my ordination. Letters I’d sent them and early sermons I’d delivered. 

Ruffling through all those pages my pastor had carefully filed over the years was like re-tracing the first stumbling steps on my journey of faith, with all its unexpected detours and defining moments. It reminded me of the occasional disappointments, surprising bursts of courage, and unending blessings that had marked the winding path.

In Advent we trace the journeys of others. We watch as John the Baptist foretells another who would come after him. We witness the first glimpses of an unexpected story with unlikely characters, as a very young woman and a simple carpenter are asked to play extraordinary roles in events that would change history. We travel with Mary and Joseph on that uncomfortable journey to Bethlehem, to be “counted” by an oppressive regime. And then finally we see the miracle of a wailing child born in simple circumstances, sought out by magi and feared by mighty rulers.

We travel our own journey in Advent, too, moving from hope to peace, joy to love with each lighting of a candle. We wait in expectation for the intangible gifts of this sacred season to ignite something new in us, to stir our tired souls to fresh possibility. We dare to believe that if God could so bravely choose to be born among us then, revealing so magnificently such depths of wondrous love, that surely God is powerfully present with us still today.

This Advent our lives may be weighed down by bitter losses, anxious uncertainty, and nagging fears. We may be feeling too weary for the journey, as if exclamations of “joy to the world” are far too distant and doubtful. And yet here’s what we know as people of faith, what I was reminded of by that file folder stuffed full with memory: even when we can’t imagine how, God’s carving a path straight to our sides. There’s nothing about our lives or this world that can stop God from walking the journey with us.

May your Advent path be blessed by the hope, peace, joy, and love that are the steadfast promises of the season.

Reverend Shari Prestemon, Conference Minister
Conference News & Events
COVID Got You Down?

We invite your (virtual) presence in communities of learning and support with The unique, fulfilling courses are designed for laypeople who wish to grow in faith, leadership, and community. The registration deadline is this Friday, December 3.

Faith Foundations
  • Explore questions about God, Jesus, and Scripture in a non-judgmental space
  • Discover new tools for interpreting the Bible
  • Develop language for speaking with confidence about your faith and finding your voice
  • Explore gifts for serving God in ministries of all kinds

Leadership Skills
  • Learn about different leadership styles and identify your own
  • Be equipped with new skills for strengthening relationships, building community, and navigating conflict
  • Develop tools for organizing
  • Deepen your knowledge about the UCC
Check out the Weekly Advent Family Toolkit

The Conference's weekly toolkits feature a video of youth and leaders from one of our local congregations engaging in conversation and reflection on the themes and scripture text for the week. The toolkits also share a rich and diverse collection of at-home games, activities, book recommendations, candle lighting ritual, and service ideas for individuals and families of all ages. Contact Sandy Kellen to sign-up to receive the link to the weekly toolkit.

Did you Miss The Damascus Project's Advent Course?

This course has finished, but it’s not too late for clergy, faith formation leaders, and others! All live sessions were recorded so you can catch up on what you missed. REGISTER anytime for only $35.
Circle of Trust Peer Groups Rescheduled

The groups will kick off January 10, 6-8:30 pm, and January 11, 6-8 pm. They then will meet monthly (6-8 gatherings) for two hours for participants to share with each other and support each other through the use of deep listening and honest and open questions.

Pilgrim Hymnals Available
Olivet Congregational UCC in St Paul is looking for a home for 150 Pilgrim Hymnals. They are the 1986 version with more inclusive language and are in good condition and have the name of a Florida Church on them. Contact Olivet at (651) 646-1478 or contact@olivetucc.net.
Register for the Winter Spiritual Immersion Retreat

January 21-23, 2022 (Friday, 6:00 pm through Sunday, 11:00 am) 
Clearwater Forest Camp and Retreat Center, Deerwood, MN
Registration closes January 14
Conference Partner Events
"The Iconography of Advent: Images of Mary East and West"

December 9, 7:30 pm via Zoom; free but please REGISTER

Dr. Jennifer Awes Freeman delivers the next in the United Theological Seminary's "Favorite Lecture Series." Dr. Freeman will discuss images of the Virgin Mary, which are so ubiquitous in western culture that it’s often difficult to see them—and indeed Mary herself—afresh. This is perhaps most true during the Advent and Christmas season when she appears on greeting cards, magazine covers, and even postage stamps. This lecture will explore early Christian, medieval, and Byzantine depictions of Mary and will consider some similarities and divergences between Eastern and Western images of the Mother of God, and what we might glean from such a rich and complex theological tradition." LEARN MORE
Joys & Concerns
We send our prayers to Rev. Jill Sanders (First Congregational – Alexandria) and her family upon the passing of her father, Robert Charles “Bob” Sanders, on November 24, in Johnston, IA. A Celebration of Life will be held in Waukee, IA, on December 1. May God bring comfort & peace to Jill and her family in their grief.

We grieve the passing of Rev. Victor Vriesen of Blue Earth, MN, on November 28 at the age of 93. Rev. Vriesen served churches in Iowa and then served as chaplain at a nursing home in Blue Earth. He is survived by his wife, Betty. View his full obituary.

We invite prayers for Rev. Debi Hasdorff (Parkview UCC – White Bear Lake), whose partner Robert Wing passed away from pancreatic cancer on 11/29/21. May Debi and all who loved Robert be held in God’s comfort and steadfast love.
Resources & Clergy Clusters

  • 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 Conference website offers a wealth of resources related to Covid, racial justice, and more.
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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.