Volume 19, No. 26 | July 12, 2023

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Equipping a courageous Church alive with Christ’s transforming love

It Matters: COMMAnts from the Conference Minister

I’ve attended nearly every General Synod of the United Church of Christ since 1985. For me, it feels like a sort of family reunion, as UCCers from across the nation–joined by international and ecumenical guests, Council for Health & Human Service Ministries partners, exhibitors, and more–gather for worship, witness, work, and play. There’s always been at least one moment in each Synod I’ve experienced when I am moved to unexpected tears, a sudden wash of the Spirit overtaking me.

At this General Synod, that moment came during our debate on a resolution entitled “Actively Affirming the Human Dignity of Transgender and Nonbinary Persons.” A transgender teenager stepped up to the microphone to advocate for our passage of the resolution and offered very personal and powerful testimony. Through a flood of tears, they said: “There is nowhere safe for me in the world these days. I need the UCC to be my one safe place.”

There it was. That Spirit-filled moment. A pleading, painfully honest voice reminding me that it all matters. It matters that we proclaim ourselves an open and affirming church of extravagant welcome, and it matters even more when we clearly live out that claim. It matters that we counter the hate and legislative violence against LGBTQ+ persons with steadfast, unwavering love. It might even matter that we pass countless resolutions on so many different social issues, if only to allow space for such clarity of witness and for such voices to be heard.

Several days later, I was standing in the pulpit at Associated Church in Owatonna, one of our congregations that fairly recently voted to become Open and Affirming. On that day, the church was hosting the community’s first ecumenical worship service as part of a full day of Pride events. I’d been asked to offer a bit of moral support for this church that had been experiencing some harassment in the community, and some words of welcome and prayer in worship. I lifted words that are for me simply a testimony of faith: “We gather today, here in this place of worship, to bear witness that LGBTQ+ persons are precious in God’s sight, beloved by God, and full of an inherent dignity and worth that no one can take away.” As I spoke, I noticed a young person sitting near the back of the sanctuary, dressed in rainbow hues, dissolving into tears. I wondered if that was the first time they had ever heard someone say what they most needed to hear, that God loves them, just as they are?

This witness we offer as the United Church of Christ–this Good News we proclaim of a God of bold love and inclusion, hope and mercy–matters so very much. There’s likely someone in your community right now who needs to see that witness lived out in you, to hear your congregation’s welcome and inclusion and be assured of God’s big embracing love.

So go and share it. Offer it in every way and every space you can. It matters.


Reverend Shari Prestemon

[email protected]

Impressions of General Synod #34

Rev. Sara Morse, Hazel Park UCC, St. Paul

Converting a convention center into a worship space is no easy task. The space is vast and cavernous. And yet, the planners of this General Synod took this space, using the theme from Isaiah 43:18-19, making all things news, and created a space that highlighted the beauty of nature and light. A background with a tree radiating light and vegetation with broad leaves and blossoms outlined the stage and scattered throughout peeking behind rocks or standing at attention were ceramic animals that included: a rabbit, a turtle, a hedgehog, a fox, and more. These animals were placed in different spots at each plenary, and it became an “I spy” moment that drew one into the liturgical landscape.


From the sights of General Synod, came the sounds of wonderful music, challenging preaching, engaging debate, and a vigorous resolution process. This synod will be remembered for electing Rev. Dr. Karen Georgia Thompson as the first woman and first Black woman to lead the denomination as General Minister and President. This synod will also be remembered for affirming the dignity of trans and nonbinary persons, the call for study and developing reparations for African Americans, and a powerful conversation with Ibram X. Kendi.


General Synod has been coined “a small town that stretches from coast to coast.” Reconnecting with old friends and colleagues and making new ones is a gift of these five days. I give thanks for being a part of a savvy Minnesota delegation of fifteen individuals filled with spirit and grace.


Rev. Charlotte Frantz, Peace UCC, Duluth

Life at General Synod is a little like a five-day immersion in a living kaleidoscope! Wonder-filled, energizing, thought-provoking, joyful, challenging, -- and exhausting. I witnessed our denomination’s launch into an even more inclusive, welcoming, justice-seeking future. At the same time, I reaped the joy of relationships that span almost a lifetime of ministry.


This Synod will be remembered for its vote to move Synod from a biennial to a triennial gathering. Our denomination has wrestled with this question for years—how to balance the value of coming together with the realities of cost—financial, staff labor, and climate impact. I wonder if this vote might lead the way to further change—will we use technology to increase communications and make some gatherings more accessible? Just like local congregations, we are re-examining how we gather and make decisions.


Another significant moment was the apology General Minister and President John Dorhauer offered regarding the “four streams” narrative of our denominational history. Last year the Historical Council recognized a fifth stream: the Afro-Christian Convention. Yvonne Delk, long recognized as a leader in the UCC, recently edited a book about the Convention and its contributions to the UCC. I was present at the United Black Christians gathering when John apologized and was seated with our delegation when he spoke to the Synod. I believe this moment was a pivotal moment in our denomination’s self-understanding about who we were as well as who we are.


I appreciated the learning opportunities related to the resolution process, the opportunity to get to know others in our delegation, the chance to connect with agencies and organizations in the exhibit hall, participation in a public witness related to immigration, and the beautiful, vibrant worship—all a part of General Synod 34. 


Rev. Eli’jah Carroll, St. Paul’s UCC, St. Paul

Our time together focused around these powerful words from Isaiah 43: 18-19. “Do not remember the former things or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth; do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” 


It was my first time at General Synod. And all things certainly did feel new. I felt like I was instantly immersed into the fullness of our denomination. It felt new, exciting, and intimidating in the best way. It was also a time to rekindle the flame of longtime friendships that faded due to time and distance.


Back to Isaiah. We love new things, don’t we? I certainly love the feel of a brand-new pair of fresh sneakers. I need new shoes to help correct chronic pain I experience in my back and feet. In the same way, we need newness to cope with the present and painful circumstances of the past. 


This year at General Synod, we dreamed of new things in at least 14 different ways in the resolutions that were brought forth to over 630 delegates from our various conferences. We visioned a world where black lives flourish, trans-bodies are cared for, disabled voices are celebrated, the histories and cultures of our indigenous neighbors are held as sacred, where women get to speak for themselves and their bodies’ needs, and more!


I feel ever inspired to co-create a way in the wilderness, to make a path where we learn from the different cultures around us to create more depth in our human experience. I yearn to help make rivers of decolonizing God and to see the expansive image and likeness of the divine in the everyday.


Unlike Isaiah though, let us not forget our past– our chronic pain that we hold– the pain of stolen land, of colonization, and slavery. Let us wrap that past in newness, cradling it with love and care for all of God’s creation, never forgetting so that we don’t do it again. 


General Synod re-sparked my passion for God’s Justice, which we often just call Social Justice. I have been reminded that we are a social justice church. God’s church. 


Rev. Elizabeth O'Sullivan, Congregational UCC, Medford

General Synod was a whirlwind of memorable events. It was an honor to hear author and scholar Ibram X. Kendi speak about how justice often is brought about by courageous young people who focus on what is right instead of on the danger involved in change. It was inspiring to hear author and pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber use humor and candor to help make room for people to bring their whole selves to worship. It was illuminating to labor with the committee that reviewed a resolution to actively affirm the human dignity of gender diverse people. (The resolution passed!) It was exciting, and sometimes difficult, to vote on all of the resolutions that came before this General Synod.


However, the most memorable event of the Synod for me was the dinner hosted by the Council for Racial and Ethnic Ministries (COREM), which focused on honoring leaders in the community who had passed on. Some beloved leaders were remembered with stunning Samoan prayer and singing, while others were memorialized with the pouring of libations. Marlene Whiterabbit Helgemo, who led All Nations Church in South Minneapolis, was recalled with tender, loving words and with sharing food sprinkled with herbs and tobacco. 


In the midst of a very active, stimulating Synod, this time of remembrance testified to how crucial it is to appreciate one another, and to honor the relationships that form the foundations of our community. I was so grateful to be there.

Conference News & Events

Disaster Response in Vermont 

Torrential rainfalls and massive flooding are causing devastation in Vermont. Conference Minister Shari Prestemon has been in touch with Vermont Conference Minister Lynn Bujnak who reports the flooding is disastrous and cleanup and recovery will be substantial.

Rev. Bujnak asks for our prayers as flooding continues and churches there act to support those most impacted while also experiencing some flooding in their own church facilities. They have reached out to Church World Service to request emergency cleanup buckets. Congregations in Minnesota are invited to assemble emergency cleanup buckets for shipment to CWS. DOWNLOAD FULL INSTRUCTIONS

Frontline Faith Offerings

Don’t miss your chance to catch up on the special Keynotes from General Synod 34, each available on Frontline Faith for only $34:

New on Frontline Faith: Engendering Spirit Series - a monthlyish offering from your UCC Minister of Women’s and Gender Justice, Dr. Sherry Warren. Now available - episodes on Inclusive and Expansive Language, and the book “Fat Church: Claiming a Gospel of Fat Liberation.” Register for free here!

Pause to Practice: One-day Family Camps August 5 & 6

Bayport: August 5, People's Park, LEARN MORE & REGISTER

Mankato: August 6, Mankato UCC, LEARN MORE & REGISTER

This retreat time is an opportunity for people—young and old—to pause and explore a group of different spiritual practices. Our exploration will take place inside and out, as weather allows. Spiritual practices open up our connection with ourselves, with others, with creation, and with God. Through them we grow in self-awareness and compassion. They can provide a calm grounding in moments of challenge. We engage in spiritual practices alone and with others. Practices invite us out of our heads into all of who we are, engaging our senses, our emotions, and often our playful sides. They strengthen our vitality from the inside out. A Pause to Practice is an invitation to learn and grow. Our facilitator is Rev. Dr. Martha Brunell, an experienced UCC pastor and teacher with significant experience as a spiritual director, retreat and workshop leader, and writer. 

Two Opportunities for Clergy Anti-Racism Standing Requirements

Faith & Prejudice is hosting two events in August that will county for the Anti-Racism Standing Requirement for Authorized Clergy.

BIPOC Clergy + Faith Leader Two-Night Retreat

August 14-16, Episcopal House of Prayer (Collegeville, MN)

Retreat is for 12-16 BIPOC clergy + faith leaders from the Twin Cities. The EPHoP will be paying for lodging and food; Imani Missouri, Faith and Prejudice Programs Director, will be the key facilitator.


White Identifying Clergy + Faith Leaders Two-Night Retreat

August 23-25, Episcopal House of Prayer

The goal is a mix of rest + engaging in personal and structural work around addressing racism.

Tune into Nurture the Soul

Philanthropy Webinar: Discover Your Why

Wednesday, July 26, 6:30 pm


Andrew Warner and Kent Siladi will talk about the importance of understanding the "why" of your congregation. You will learn methods to articulate this reason for being of your Church. Together, we will consider how to use the why to motivate and engage people.

Our Whole Lives Training Scheduled for August

Clergy and lay leaders who plan to offer an Our Whole Lives program in their congregations are invited to three days of facilitation training from August 25-27 at the Daycholah Center in Green Lake. The training is hosted by the Wisconsin and Minnesota Conferences of the United Church of Christ. Registration deadline is August 1.

Our Whole Lives, or OWL, is a comprehensive human sexuality curriculum for elementary-age children through older adults, developed by the United Church of Christ and the Unitarian Universalist Association.

Facilitator training will be offered at the elementary or youth levels. Each participant may participate in training for just one age level, so consider sending a team to be trained to start or expand the OWL program in your church.


2023 Justice and Local Church Ministry Common Application Open

Individuals and churches who may be interested in applying for operational support, Neighbors in Need, CASA New and Renewing Church, and Pension Board New Church Start Benefit Support grants should check out the application! Please note that all applications will require a reference from Conference Minister Rev. Shari Prestemon.


COMMAntary is on Summer Schedule

COMMAntary will go to an every-other-week publication schedule now through Labor Day. Publication dates are Wednesdays, June 28, July 12, July 26, August 9, August 23. The deadline remains the Monday before the Wednesday publication date at noon. Send story ideas, insights and more to [email protected].

Partner News & Events

Culture - Communities - Congregations: Everyone is in Flux

Join The Ministry Lab to take stock. UCC, UMC, and PCUSA congregations are full members with benefits including unlimited free consultations; resource loans; contemplative tool rentals; Innovation Culture Index facilitation; and more. Get to know us, and let us get to know you so we can better support the innovations of interest and/or necessity to you.

Our Mankato visit is Friday, July 14, 10:00 am–1 pm, with a free lunch included! LEARN MORE & REGISTER

Joys & Concerns

Blessings to Rev. Kelsey Renk, who was installed as Minister of Visitation at First Congregational UCC in Anoka on July 9.

Upcoming Conference Events
More Resources & Opportunities

  • Send story ideas, insights and more to [email protected]. 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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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.