Volume 17, No. 44 | November 10, 2021

Equipping a courageous Church alive with Christ’s transforming love
Rest for Their Souls: Conference Announces "Clergy Care Grants"
COMMAnts from Conference Minister Rev. Shari Prestemon
 “Come to me, all you that are weary & are carrying heavy burdens, & I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, & learn from me; for I am gentle & humble in heart, & you will find rest for your souls.” -Matthew 11:28-29

When it comes to our collective experience of this pandemic, nearly all of us can agree: it has been utterly exhausting.

Parents of school-aged children are worn out from juggling their children’s remote learning and their paid work last year—and from the constant worry of COVID exposure at schools this year. Many of us have felt our energies depleted by the inability to freely and comfortably gather with our families, friends, and congregational communities. Leaders in all types of organizations are beyond tired from the non-stop adapting that’s been required. And the anxiety that accompanied so many aspects of this pandemic season – the chronic uncertainty, our sense of danger and risk, financial stresses, heightened societal tensions – has taken its toll on even the most resilient among us. 

Our pastors are exhausted, too.

Pastors in congregations have had to make hard decisions about how best to safeguard the health of their congregants and their own health, weighing all the implications of those decisions for congregational life. They’ve had to adapt in ways their theological education probably never prepared them for, learning new skills and re-thinking every aspect of routine ministry. Often, they had to do so amid diverse opinions and mounting pressure from within their own congregations and communities. And they did all of it without the life-giving, daily interactions that fed their spirits and enriched their ministries in non-pandemic times.

Other authorized ministers in our Conference have also experienced unimaginable stressors. Chaplains were serving on the front lines in our hospitals and nursing homes and hospice settings, some of the places most besieged in the worst months of the pandemic. Others were ministering in non-profit settings where the justice issues their organizations addressed became even more pronounced and difficult, or in academic settings that were also experiencing immense upheaval.

One of our roles as the Conference is to provide support and care to our clergy leaders, knowing that healthy clergy contribute to healthy ministry. In this unique moment, the Conference is inviting congregations to join with us to supply an extra dose of care and gratitude to our clergy across the Conference.

From now until May 2022, the Conference is offering Clergy Care Grants to congregations. These grants are designed to help congregations say “thank you” to their pastors and acknowledge in some meaningful way the toll this pandemic season has placed on clergy. Grants must be submitted by elected lay leaders in congregations. They can also be utilized to offer a token of thanks to authorized ministers who are members of your congregations and serving in specialized ministries like chaplaincy, social justice ministry, or higher education.

More details are being sent to each church by regular mail this week, to the attention of moderators or council presidents. We encourage every congregation’s elected lay leaders to consider submitting a grant request for this purpose and to consult with your pastor about what kind of support would be most helpful to them.

Jesus promised rest for all whose souls were weary, and to ease our burdens when the yoke of discipleship feels heavy. In this time when all of us understand the exhaustion of these unprecedented months, I celebrate our clergy who have so faithfully served among us. I urge your congregation to apply for a Clergy Care Grant and to join me in offering these servant leaders heartfelt gratitude and gracious space for renewal and rest.

Grace and peace,
Reverend Shari Prestemon, Conference Minister

Conference News & Events
Board of Directors Celebrates Milestone in Pandemic Grant Awards

Since May of 2020, the Conference has made three kinds of grants available to congregations and pastors for special relief during the pandemic. As of November 1, the Conference has dispersed more than $50,000 in grant awards, benefitting members across the state and every size of congregation.

Congregations have benefitted from pandemic relief grants. Many churches used those grants to purchase updated technology equipment to help them provide worship and other programs remotely. Other churches used the funds to help address a financial crisis they faced in the worst of the pandemic. Pastors received counseling assistance grants, accessing spiritual direction or other counseling at no cost to them. In addition, two congregations received grants to build new websites, allowing for electronic giving and other tools useful during the pandemic crisis.

Donors who generously gave to special fundraising in 2020 helped underwrite the costs of these grant programs. The Conference also utilized funds previously set aside for disaster response and clergy assistance.

The Board of Directors has authorized the continuation of the pandemic relief grants to churches and the counseling assistance grants for clergy through May of 2022. Congregations and pastors may apply once for these grants. Check out our website to learn more details and see the applications.

“Stewarding Our Resources” is a strategic priority of the Minnesota Conference UCC. “As an inheritor of historic resources and a donor to the church that succeeds us, we are a responsible steward of God’s gifts…We leverage our resources to accomplish our collective mission in the world…"
Rev. Jess Chancey Fills in for "Into the Mystic" Podcast

Rev. Jess Chancey, a staff chaplain at Regions Hospital and a member of Mayflower UCC in Minneapolis, is temporarily taking the reins of "Into the Mystic," a podcast authored and narrated by Rev. John Dorhauer, UCC general minister and president. Jess will be the author and voice of the weekly podcast while Dorhauer is on sabbatical through the end of 2021. The podcast offers personal reflections on life, faith, ministry, and society.

Listening to Jess's first two episodes, it's easy to hear their earlier training in opera in their beautiful precision and cadence. "I've always wanted to narrate a book or use my voice training in some way beyond preaching," they say. When Dorhauer announced his sabbatical plans, Jess recorded a trial podcast, and an interim plan was hatched!

"John and I are both word nerds," says Jess. "We have been sending each other challenge words or words that are at the top of our minds every week to work into sermons or podcasts." The words "rest" and "grief" were Jess's focus for the first two podcasts.

Originally from Atlanta, Jess earned an M.Div at Columbia Theological Seminary in Georgia and completed clinical pastoral education in Philadelphia. They were ordained in the UCC in 2018. Jess also co-chairs the UCC's Disabilities Ministries board. Read more about them in this national UCC article.

Nourish Your Soul, Enliven Your Spirit and Grow in Faith

Check out the brief video (above) for an intro to the upcoming Damascus Project "Faith Foundations" learning experience, then visit the website to LEARN MORE & REGISTER.

Be sure to use code MNWI at checkout to receive 15% discount!
Phil Armstrong of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission to Present Eleanore Troxel Memorial Lecture

November 14, 3– 5 pm (in person and via Zoom); no cost (free will offering); United Theological Seminary, 767 N Eustis St #140, St Paul, MN 55114 (in the CASE building at 280 and University) 

Phil Armstrong will speak about the Tulsa Race Massacre, 100 years later. The tragic events of May 3–June 1, 1921, destroyed the historic Black business district known as Black Wall Street and the surrounding community that once stretched outward from Greenwood Avenue, leaving thousands homeless, hundreds injured, and an unknown number killed. All in attendance are asked to wear masks and be vaccinated.

Sponsored by Amos Task Force of the Minnesota Conference, UCC, United Church of Christ in New Brighton, United Theological Seminary, Living Table United Church of Christ.
Give to the Max November 18!

All systems are go for Give to the Max 2021! The Early Giving period is open to this year's edition of Minnesota's giving holiday.

You know how meaningful all of the ministries of the Minnesota Conference are for our churches, congregations, and ministers, especially these last two years. Show your support by making a new or additional gift this year! All donations to the Minnesota Conference UCC from now until the first week of Advent will count towards the dollar-for-dollar match up to $3,000, and will be eligible for $500 Early Giving Golden Tickets awarded daily, and for the final $10,000 Super-Sized Golden Ticket awarded at the end of the big day!
Please give generously by sending a check to Minnesota Conference, 122 W. Franklin Avenue, Suite 323, Minneapolis, MN 55404, or by making your contribution online through our secure website platform.
Maintaining Fierce Hope: Refreshing Our Grip on What Sustains Us

Minnesota Conference UCC Clergy Retreat
January 18, 5 pm–January 20, 11:30 am
Christ the King Retreat Center, Buffalo, MN
Fee: $150 (private room) or $130 (shared double room)
Facilitator: Rev. Dr. Martha Brunell

After a long season of being apart, actively serving clergy from around the Minnesota Conference UCC are invited to come together on retreat. We will gather at the confluence of winter time, COVID time, and liturgical time. Then and there we will have gentle invitations to rest, to reconnect, to recognize losses, and to recommit to both familiar and unfolding shapes of ministry. Hope, whether in plain sight or hidden, will enliven these invitations, setting loose through them the potential for a circling flow of compassion and courage. In these quiet winter days, with their share of darkness and perhaps harsh weather, it will be so good to come together. LEARN MORE & REGISTER
Join an Open & Affirming Conversation on the Rise of Anti-Transgender Legislation

The Open and Affirming Team of UCC New Brighton invites other OnA congregations to join by Zoom a November 14 conversation from 11am–noon. Living Table UCC member Barbara Satin will speak on the rise of anti-transgender legislation before many state legislatures across the country in recent months and on what Open and Affirming churches can do about it. JOIN with this link and passcode 351803.
New Resources for Friends of Water

Good news! There's a free water/faith curriculum designed especially for the St. Paul area (and adaptable to any locale), made by community for community. You can download "Wade in the Water" for free here. Included are five Bible themes, links to water stories, local cultural connections, hands-on activities, and more.

Interested in learning more? Gather with creators, community partners, and other learners on November 18 from 10:00am-12:30 pm via Zoom to connect water and spiritual practices, enviroSTEM activities, water justice, and ecotheology. REGISTER
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
Outdoor Ministry of the Minnesota Conference invites you to experience both during our Winter Spiritual Immersion. Each day will have space for meditation, worship, conversation, good food, and plenty of free time, as we intentionally set aside the outside noises of our lives and “breathe in” the natural wonders with all our senses. 

Cost: $200 (actual price), $150 subsidized price, $100 subsidized with added scholarship, or contact Rev. Sheri Nelson for more scholarship funding 
Limit: 20 participants (adults only). Registration closes January 14
Joys & Concerns
We celebrate the installation of Rev. Carla Bailey at Pilgrim Congregational Church in Duluth on Sunday, November 14 at 3 pm. Carla previously served in the MA Metropolitan Boston Association of the Southern New England MA Conference. Masks will be required for the in-person service. Seating will be with some distance, except for people who live in the same household. The service will also be broadcast on the church’s YouTube channel (Pilgrim Congregational Church Duluth, Minnesota - YouTube). A reception will follow. We congratulate Carla and Pilgrim Congregational on this important day.
We celebrate the ordination of Kathy Hodges on Saturday, November 20 at 11am. Kathy has been called to serve as the pastor of FC United Church of Christ in New York Mills. Kathy previously served as the licensed minister at First Congregational UCC in Hancock. The ordination will take place at First Congregational UCC in Alexandria, where Kathy has been a member for many years. The service will be in person as well as broadcast on the church’s YouTube channel (First Congregational UCC Alexandria, MN - YouTube). Congratulations to Kathy on this momentous occasion in her ministry.
A farewell service will be held for Rev. Dana Mann at First Congregational UCC in Mankato on Sunday, November 21 at 9:30 am. The service will be both in person and live-streamed. Contact the church office at (507) 387-6592 or katoucc@mankatoucc.org for a link to the stream. Rev. Judith Youngman will be serving as a Bridge Minister until an interim is chosen by the church. The Minnesota Conference wishes Dana the best in her continued ministry and gives thanks for her service.
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.