Volume 20, No. 36 | October 18, 2023

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Equipping a courageous Church alive with Christ’s transforming love

The Things That Make for Peace: COMMAnts from the Conference Minister

As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, 'If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace!" (Luke 19:41-2a NRSVUE)

Since October 7, we have watched in horror as violence has been heaped upon violence in Israel and Gaza, killing and injuring thousands of Israelis and Palestinians. A brutal attack by Hamas on Israeli civilians in southern Israel led to Israel’s declaration of war, announcing it would “dismantle Gaza” and eradicate Hamas. Day by day, the death toll rises, unspeakable grief deepens on all sides, and an alarming humanitarian crisis worsens in Gaza. Peace seems a very distant and unlikely prospect in what we often refer to as “the holy land.”

There is much to be said about the broader, historic socio-political realities in Israel and Palestine that have long laid the groundwork for tension and unrest: the occupation of Palestine and its inherent injustice, uncritical and extraordinary financial support of Israel’s military by the U.S., and generations of trauma and loss that accompany and profoundly impact both the Jewish and Palestinian people. 

But today, in this space, I want to concentrate instead on how our Christian faith informs us in this moment and should shape our response.

  • Every human being is precious. The acts & language of war often demonize and de-humanize one side or the other. We hear the media and others refer to people in this conflict as “animals” or “barbarians.” But our sacred texts tell us that all are precious to God. Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Muslims and Christians, all bear the image of God. We can and should condemn sinful acts of senseless, unspeakable violence that extinguish human life. But we should resist the temptation to characterize either Israelis or Palestinians as something less than human or without any inherent dignity or worth. None deserve to endure such death and suffering. All are promised the fullness of life.
  • A just peace is our persistent calling. In 1985 the 15th General Synod adopted a pronouncement declaring the United Church of Christ a “Just Peace Church”. In doing so, it stood in opposition to the institution of war, and echoed what Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said: “True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.” The pronouncement read in part:“Just Peace is grounded in hope. Shalom is the vision that pulls all creation toward a time when weapons are swept off the earth and all creatures lie down together without fear; where all have their own fig tree and dwell secure from want. As Christians, we offer this conviction to the world: Peace is possible.” Even as we watch war’s devastation unfold in Israel-Palestine and despair of the consequences, as a faithful people we maintain that peace is possible, and we are called to do our part to build a sustainable peace where justice is also present.
  • Lament is holy. The Psalms and the Book of Job in particular remind us that lament – the outpouring of grief and anger and despair – is a spiritual act acceptable to God. The devastation and violence we’re witnessing in Israel and Gaza appropriately elicit profound and complex feelings. We should be unafraid to take the full range of our emotions to a God who will receive them and carry them on our behalf. Lament is a form of prayer. Our fervent prayers are a faithful response to the horrors multiplying in Israel-Palestine.
  • Love of neighbor is our mandate. When Jesus was asked which law was the greatest, he responded: “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” Mathew 22:37-40) Love – not hate – is our greatest purpose as people of faith. War is the ultimate tool and consequence of hate; love is the path toward peace. We’re called to express and make concrete the love of God to our neighbor. Our neighbor includes our siblings in places we may never travel, in situations we could never imagine. Our hearts must be filled with love and compassion for all who are suffering, grieving, held hostage, fleeing from their homes, weary from injustice and increasingly without hope in Israel and Gaza and the West Bank. Love must be our resounding response to hatred, war and violence.

May our faith instruct and guide us as we witness the ravages and unbearable losses of war in Israel and Palestine and pray without ceasing for the possibility of peace.

With you on the journey,

Rev. Shari Prestemon, Conference Minister

[email protected]

Click here to read Rev. Prestemon's prayer and see a list of helpful resources
Conference News & Events

An Update from Conference Moderator Rev. Sara Morse

This will be a full fall season as we live into this liminal time between Shari Prestemon's departure and naming a Transitional Conference Minister.

The Board of Directors voted to appoint the Executive Committee (which includes Moderator, Vice Moderator, Secretary and Treasurer) and a representative of the full board (the Liaison to the Personnel Committee of the Board of Directors) as the Transitional Conference Minister Search Committee. The Conference Minister Search Coordinator on the UCC national staff helped guide this decision, a best practice that balances representation with efficiency. The search committee includes Jean Chagnon, Bob Sicoli, Rebecca LeMenager, Victoria Wilgocki, and me (Sara Morse).  

The Transitional Conference Minister Search Committee met October 14 to begin its process. The committee will work closely with the Interim Conference Minister Search Coordinator on the UCC national staff, Rev. Diane Weible. As a part of this process, we are collecting profiles of candidates who can serve in this transitional role.

As we move into this liminal season, we also need to celebrate the ministry of Rev. Shari Prestemon! Mark your calendars for “A Time of Celebration and Service of Farewell” on Saturday, December 9. Time and location forthcoming.

Friends, I know transition and change puts anxiety in our system. Yet, our Conference is a strong one with a talented, knowledgeable staff and a competent board of directors. We ask for your prayers as we wade into this time together.


Rev. Sara E. Morse, Moderator

Re-Imagination Grant Applications Now Being Accepted

In her State of the Conference remarks at Annual Meeting in June, Conference Minister Shari Prestemon invited congregations in the Conference to a time of intentional discernment and faithful re-imagination. “Re-imagination is a core strategy for our future, a tool for noticing and seizing the new thing God is longing to do in this 'Age of the Spirit'," she said. "We need to re-imagine what it looks like to 'be Church' in this historical moment for the sake of a Gospel and a witness that this world and our communities sorely need.”


Applications are now being accepted from congregations for “Re-Imagination Grants” to support this faithful, creative work. A single congregation applying may request up to $1,000; two or more congregations applying together may apply for a maximum of $2,000. Applications are being accepted now through December 25 and will be reviewed as they are received. Grants will be awarded until all money allocated for these grants has been depleted. These grants are being funded by the Conference’s 21st Century Church Fund and the Ashley Fund.


Review grant guidelines and all details, and find the application form HERE.

New Multi-Conference Partnership for Antiracism Training Announced

The UCC is joining with the Network of Wider Church Youth Ministries (NOWCYM) to develop a pool of sixteen facilitators to help lead Crossroads Anti-Racism Ministry Training in the UCC. The Minnesota Conference is helping fund this initiative.

"This program creates space for reflection and dialogue, so we are seeking facilitators who have solid group leadership skills," said Jennifer Ringgold, member of NOWCYM executive team Michigan Conference staff. "Crossroads will provide orientation to the content and also follow-up coaching. This is a great opportunity to serve the church and its leaders, and facilitators will be compensated for their time."

The training is geared for youth leaders, faith formation leaders, and clergy. LEARN MORE

Register Now 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.

Provide a Physical Witness of Love with Anoka UCC at Halloween!


The First Congregational Church of Anoka (Anoka UCC) invites Minnesota Conference church neighbors to come to Anoka Saturday, October 28, to provide a witness of love and inclusion along the annual Anoka Halloween Grande Day Parade route. The church is located at 3rd Avenue and Main Street in downtown Anoka, at the main intersection of the parade route.

For the last two years, members of the Old Paths Baptist Church of Northfield have occupied the street corner for the two hours prior to the parade’s beginning and shouted fundamentalist theology and homophobic rhetoric at the crowd. This is one of the churches that protested First UCC in Northfield last year during its Drag Queen Gospel Hour. Anoka UCC would like to drown out the hate with a physical witness of God’s radical hospitality and love. This would involve filling the church’s parking lot, but it would also mean occupying the public sidewalks abutting the church so that there is no room to preach hate. Apparel that is obviously inclusive is encouraged, along with Halloween costumes! The church’s own members will be gathering and wearing new t-shirts that feature the line, “When hate is loud, Love cannot be silent.”

The parade begins at 1pm. Because thousands of people gather for it, attendees are encouraged to arrive between 10 and 11 am and park in the neighborhoods south of the church. The City of Anoka closes off the blocks adjacent to Main Street (including the church), so anyone parking close to the church may not be able to leave until the barricades come down after the parade. The church opens its doors before and during the parade so that the public can use warm restrooms, changing rooms, and nursing spaces. There is free hot cocoa and cookies and food trucks along the side streets!

Partner News & Events

The Ministry Lab Offers Four Learning Opportunities

These are liminal times, threshold times, times of significant upheaval and uncertainty, kairos times.

The Ministry Lab’s 2023-2024 Transformative Innovations Series invites clergy, faith formation leaders, and lay members to discover God already at work, lean into current realities, and re-invigorate for ministry that is transformational, sustainable, and life-giving. Discover tools for congregation-wide innovations; learn best practices for creating safe and hospitable spaces for diverse peoples — including yourself— living with traumas; engage deeply in the work of antiracism; and find hope for a financial future that can reinvigorate your entire community.

Joys & Concerns

You are invited to a service of ordination for Natalie Owens-Pike Sunday, October 29, at 3 pm at Mayflower UCC in South Minneapolis.

RSVP at this link (including to receive the livestream link).

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.