Volume 19, No. 28 | August 9, 2023

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Equipping a courageous Church alive with Christ’s transforming love

Racial Justice in the Minnesota Conference

The Conference's Ad Hoc Anti-Racism Committee was introduced by chair Jane McBride at this year's Annual Meeting in June. Now, the committee wants to share this introduction more widely and to invite members of the Conference to be part of this vital work.

The group began its work in May with the support and guidance of consultants from Crossroads Antiracism Organizing and Training. Those who responded to the invitation to serve in this capacity are:

  • Conee Biggs, Falcon Heights UCC
  • Chris Bonhoff, Plymouth Congregational, Minneapolis
  • Rev. Sarah Brouwer, St. Paul’s UCC, St. Paul
  • Jean Chagnon and Hikaru Peterson, First Congregational, Minneapolis
  • Cathy Kolwey, Meetinghouse Church, Edina
  • Ruth Larson, Peace UCC, Rochester
  • Rev. Paula Nordhem, New Spirit UCC, Savage
  • Ole Olson, United Faith Community, Buffalo
  • Rev. Cynthia Riggin, Macalester Plymouth Church, St. Paul
  • Nancy Zaworski, The Congregational UCC, Rochester

If you have ideas or feedback to share with the committee, please reach out to Jane (jmcbride@firstchurchmn.org; 612-598-2432).


Conference News & Events

The Damascus Project Announces 2023-2024 Offerings

The Damascus Project is back for a sixth year with a robust calendar of learning opportunities for clergy and lay people in fall 2023 and spring 2024. The curriculum includes courses in three core areas: Faith Foundations, Ministry Studies and Leadership Skills.

The courses are a blend of asynchronous content designed for adult learners and Zoom discussion sessions, all created and led by expert instructors. All course content is housed on the Damascus Project Network, an online classroom and community space designed to provide a welcoming environment for learning and conversation.


The Damascus Project is the collaborative educational ministry of the Minnesota and Wisconsin Conferences of the United Church of Christ. The Damascus Project – named for the Apostle Paul’s reorienting vision on the Damascus Road – exists to equip the people of God for effective leadership in their congregations and communities.

The Damascus Project serves as both a source of continuing education and professional enrichment for UCC clergy and as a platform for theological study and leadership training for lay people who seek to grow in faith and develop their leadership skills. For Members in Discernment, the Damascus Project provides an alternative path of theological education for individuals seeking to become authorized ministers in the UCC.


Get Ready for Three Wonderful September Retreats!

The Outdoor Ministry of the Conference has three wonderful retreats planned for September.

Women's Retreat

September 8 - September 10

$200/person (shared room) | $250/person (private room) only available to the first 5 requests

LEARN MORE & REGISTER by September 1

For this weekend of rest and renewal on the banks of Lake Shakopee, Rev. Claire Klein shares music, dance, and storytelling as we weave our stories with the women in Scripture. Saturday we will spend some time with Paula Benfer, artist and director of Art Bright, a program using art and storytelling for memory care patients. There will be plenty of time to rest, relax, enjoy each other’s company, and take a forest meditation walk at Kathio State Park.

Women's Wilderness Walk: From the Inside Out

September 22 - September 24

Limited to 10 participants

$250/person; please select to sleep in the bus or tent when registering. The bus is open to the first 6 registrants

LEARN MORE & REGISTER by September 15

This retreat held on the Root River Trail in Southeastern Minnesota will engage walking practices of pilgrimage, forest therapy, and the labyrinth. Under the leadership of Andrew Boddicker and Ian Zahren of Walking Space and Martha Brunell of Oak Leaf Oasis, we will slow down, stretch out, and enter the spaciousness of deepened awareness of the world within us and the world around us.

The Walking Space: Queer Walk

September 29 - October 1

Limited to 10 participants

$250/person; please select to sleep in the bus or tent when registering. The bus is open to the first 6 registrants

LEARN MORE & REGISTER by September 22

The Walking Space Queer Walk is a safe, inclusive space designed to inspire and connect participants in a nature-drenched, adventure-driven weekend. Here, our shared queerness acts as a connecting point to deep relationships and transformative experiences. The trail we use in Southeastern Minnesota is called the Root River Trail. It is entirely paved and mostly flat, making it accessible to most people of varying ability, as we plan to walk 4-7 miles each day.

Calling all Authorized Ministers: Communities of Practice is Live!

Now is the time to sign up to join a Community of Practice this fall in the Minnesota Conference. REGISTER by September 15 to let us know you are interested, what you are hoping for in your Community of Practice, and the best times for you to meet.

What is a Community of Practice (CoP)? “Whenever a group forms to work together on similar concerns, explore new ways of approaching their work or helping each other cope—we are part of a community of practice. A clergy community of practice is one that is intentionally focused on learning how to do better what we do as we interact and gather wisdom from the perspectives and practices of others in the group.” (Communities of Practice – A Sustaining Support [COMPASS] Manual).

The groups are facilitated and ongoing, each participant committing to at least a year of practice together. Three necessary and interacting dimensions of a CoP are: 1) the focus is ministry; 2) the community is essential; 3) knowledge is practice-based. CoPs have been gathering for decades throughout the UCC and are proven to help us grow as ministers, to provide spiritual and emotional support, and to remind us that we are not alone in this work.

Questions? Please reach out to Kelly Gallagher, kellyg@uccmn.org.

Conference Youth & Adults Share Thoughts on an Amazing Trip to Washington D.C.

In late July, 71 youth and adults from throughout the MN Conference and the Northern Plains Conference journeyed to Washington, DC, for a week of service learning, legislative advocacy, and visits to important sites.

Mike Neuroth, the team leader for the National UCC DC office, said, "We were so blessed to get to know these terrific young leaders and watch as they claimed their prophetic voices here on Capitol Hill! I'm excited to see the ripple effect this will have on the congregations in MN, and on the trajectory of these youth … Another way we are speaking truth to power and living out our call to be the church!"

Youth and adults were asked to share their thoughts on this trip. Here are just a few of their responses:

  • I gained a new perspective on the operation of our democracy and a new hate for hot weather. —Gabriel Knutson, Robbinsdale Parkway UCC, Robbinsdale

  • God showed their self through so many things. —Zelalem Oestreich, Peace UCC, Duluth

  • This was a very fun trip. Not only were the destinations but also meeting new people! People are so friendly, and it gives you a chance to meet new friends! —Shaylee Weil- Bismarck UCC, Bismarck, ND

  • I learned so much and I am so grateful to have gotten this experience. Aside from learning more than I ever have before about policy making, legislators and lobbying, and what is actually happening with our government, I had so much fun meeting new people and strengthening relationships with people from my church. —Reese Brothers, Mayflower UCC, Minneapolis

  • This was honestly an experience I will never forget. I was able to explore career fields that truly interest me. I am so grateful for the friendships and connections I have made on this trip, and the new beginnings that go along with it. —Katherine Kehtel, Peace UCC, Duluth

  • I learned you can make great relationships in very little time. —Cole Pederson, First Congregational UCC, Grand Marias

  • I witnessed so many amazing events and people but the love and passion I saw is what will stick with me forever. —Sydney Gauthier, First Congregational UCC, Alexandria

  • Youth advocates are inspiring. I witnessed confidence, passion, empathy, and determination. These young vessels of God give us hope for future generations to thrive in a peaceful and sustainable world. —Giuliana Beckwith, Union Congregational UCC, Elk River

A running blog post provided a daily look at what our youth and adults did. Check it out here.

Save the Date for the Fall Clergy Retreat

November 14–16, Christ the King Retreat Center

We are excited to gather again this fall for our Clergy Retreat. This year we are blessed to have Dr. Jean Chagnon leading us through our time of “Reimagining Our Connection to Self and Spirit.” Together we will seek to reconnect spiritually in a time where many feel ungrounded, lost, and overwhelmed. Using ritual, experiential exercise, and meditation we will focus on developing skills and strategies to help us be more centered and aligned even amidst polarization and chaos.

Dr. Jean Chagnon is an integrative healer and ceremonialist working with individuals and groups for more than 30 years. She focuses on helping people expand their ability for compassionate presence; release personal, familial, and cultural entanglements that interrupt the flow of life and love; ground into full embodiment; and reconnect with their passion. She combines her training in psychology, spiritual direction, family systems constellations, shamanic practice, and Peruvian Indigenous Wisdom in the work that she does in service to others.

Stay tuned for registration information.

Family Camp Goes On, Rain or Shine!

Although it rained all day on Sunday, August 6, the Outdoor Ministry of the MN Conference was still able to offer a One-Day Family Camp, hosted by the First Congregational United Church of Christ in Mankato. Our facilitator, Rev. Dr. Martha Brunell, introduced us to meditation, active listening, and improv to start us on a journey of contemplation and connection. Using readings from theologians, such as Thich Nhat Hanh and Thomas Merton, and story books like Frog and Toad Together, we learned how we are all beloved individuals who are connected to each other and all creation.

We walked the labyrinth with quiet voices and small steps and ended our time together in worship, sharing what we are grateful for. One of those gratitude’s was the rain that showered the day, blessing us with much needed moisture for the soil, plants, and animals of all kinds!

Save October 17 for Power & Boundary Training with Kevin and Kelly

We had so much fun last fall we thought we would do it again! This Power and Boundary Training will meet the standing requirements for authorized ministers in the Minnesota Conference. It will be in-person, roughly from 9:30 am to 3:30 pm. Location is to be determined. Stay tuned for registration information.

2023 Neighbors in Need is October 1

In 2023, the Neighbors in Need “BEHOLD!” theme continues. This year’s focus is on environmental justice. Plastics, electronics, and other non-compostable wastes are being shipped across, and even tossed into, our waterways, launched into space, and buried in landfills. As people of faith, we believe these egregious acts are sinful and unholy. We must be better stewards of our planet!


Please join us in promoting this year’s NIN campaign at your church! Many churches will collect the offering on October 1, as part of World Communion Sunday. DOWNLOAD RESOURCES HERE.

Partner News & Events

'Six FREE Things' from The Ministry Lab

1) Our weekly post, Six New Things, shares the latest in books and curricula and regional learning, community service, and spiritual practice opportunities. Sign up for it here.

2) We've been honored to engage in Antiracism and Diversity & Equity work with our supporting judicatories. We've got resources for AdultsTeens/Tweens, and Children, and we're here to consult - and it's all FREE!

3) Fresh & Free Resources include recorded sermons, available when pulpit supply is in short supply. Email us (ministrylab@unitedseminary.edu) for the link.

4) GREAT IDEAS are happening all over! Get inspired! Inspire others!

5) Engage the intersections of environmental, economic, and racial justice with our WaterThreads Toolkit.

6) Midweek Retreat is exploring diverse poets and non-traditional biblical translations in a form of lectio divina. Learn more and sign up for it here.

And, yes, all of these are FREE for MN Conference UCC churches!

Joys & Concerns

A memorial service for Steve Pavich will be held Sunday, August 13, at 2:00 pm, at Mendota Heights United Church of Christ, 680 Highway 62, Mendota Heights, MN, 55118. Steve served this church as associate pastor for several years.


Two memorial services will be held to remember Rev. Joe Clay, who served Friedens County Line Church and Edina Morningside Church UCC for many years. The first service is at Friedens UCC in Norwood Young America, 11325 Zebra Ave, on Friday, August 25; visitation at 10 am, service at 11 am. The second service will be held at Edina Morningside Linden Hills UCC, 4201 Morningside Road, on Friday, September 8; visitation at 10 am, service at 11 am. Clergy are asked to wear red stoles (robes are not necessary) and process in at the start of each service together.

Upcoming Conference Events
More Resources & Opportunities

  • 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 faith formation, 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.