Volume 17, No. 14 | April 7, 2021

Equipping a courageous Church alive with Christ’s transforming love
New Life Rising
—COMMAnts from Conference Minister Rev. Shari Prestemon

"I’m not sure I have ever longed for spring quite so desperately. And never have I needed Easter’s Resurrection quite so much."

A couple days ago I took my first trek of the season to the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, longing to see signs of spring. Much of the earth was still brown and dingy, scattered with the brittle leaves of autumn. But here and there I found what I was looking for: new life beginning to rise. 

Small green shoots were climbing their way through the warming earth, stretching toward the sun’s welcome. The colors of bright yellow daffodils and delicate purple groundcover brightened the otherwise gloomy landscape. Hundreds of tulip stems greened large plots, tight buds of pink and red and orange still withholding their full and glorious bloom. I marveled at the artistry of God’s Creation, the intricacy and subtlety and boldness of it all.

I’m not sure I have ever longed for spring quite so desperately. And never have I needed Easter’s Resurrection quite so much.

A year ago at Easter we were still blissfully unaware that the pandemic was only just beginning its long and awful path. We grieved not being able to gather in our church buildings for Easter worship, or with our families and friends for Easter dinner. But, we thought, “We can do this! We just have to suffer this short-term sacrifice and things will soon get back to normal.”

Little did we know that one year later many of us would still be worshiping virtually, or that masks and physical distancing would remain necessary, or that gathering with friends and family would still be a measured risk, a matter for prayerful discernment and care. We didn’t know what unspeakable volumes of death and illness our nation and world would suffer. Or that our economy would be so devastated. We did not foresee the horrific killing of George Floyd at 38th and Chicago on May 25 or the national reckoning it would necessarily unleash. We didn’t imagine an insurrection at our nation’s Capitol. We didn’t comprehend just how deep the divides among us would become right when we most needed to come together.

We need the Resurrection. 

This Easter season, we proclaim yet again: Christ is Risen, Christ is Risen indeed! We trust that, like those first shoots of spring piercing the earth’s hard surface, new possibility is stubbornly emerging. We work with God to birth fresh hope right where we are, giving the despairing places among us the loving, purposeful attention they require. We notice the hopeful buds of justice, awaiting their full bloom, and we labor to bring them to flower.

The long, difficult journey of this last year is not yet finished. We still need healing. We still long to safely gather, without risk or fear. We still watch in horror as the senseless death of George Floyd is revisited and the first of the trials unfolds. We still know ours is a broken nation, divisions deep and wide. Yet of this we can be certain…

New life is rising. Praise be to God!

Easter blessings,
Reverend Shari Prestemon, Conference Minister

A Report from the Minnesota Conference Board of Directors
The MN Conference Board of Directors gathered via Zoom on March 13 for its periodic evaluation of the Conference's ministries, evaluating opportunities, assessing financial reports, and receiving staff updates.

Conference Minister Rev. Shari Prestemon shared an update on the Conference's responses to the pandemic, and noted with gratitude Rev. Dr. Anita Bradshaw's faithful ministry to the Conference, our churches, and the entire UCC. Anita retires in April, and her duties are being shifted to other staff in the near-term, including some designated work in the area of search and call with Rev. Cindy Mueller for a part-time position. Rev. Sheresa Simpson-Rice has agreed to extend her interim term through the calendar year, and a search committee is coming together to recruit Anita's successor.

The Board of Directors also received thanks from the wider United Church of Christ for our sponsorship of General Synod this summer, and from the Truth and Reparations Initiative of the Minnesota Council of Churches. The Conference's grant was instrumental in starting this new program at the MN Council of Churches, and represents part of our efforts to address and repair the harm caused by racism in Minnesota.
Another portion of our meeting included conversation about financial and mission priorities. Consultant Nancy Gaschott advised the Board on strategies for investing the Pilgrim Point Legacy Fund in ways that would support outdoor ministries, racial justice, and other strategic initiatives. The Board set near-term spending and priority guidance for the creation of the annual budget proposal being developed now for June's Annual Meeting, and created a task force to recommend in coming months a preferred strategy for PPLF funds. We also learned that the Conference's PPP loan has been forgiven in full, and closed with gratitude for all the ministry that our staff, donors, congregations and members make possible in Minnesota on behalf of the United Church of Christ.

Conference News & Events
Celebrating the Ministry of Rev. Dr. Anita Bradshaw

The Conference hosted a virtual celebration in celebration of the ministry of Associate Conference Minister Rev. Dr. Anita Bradshaw, who is retiring this month. We sent her forth on this next chapter with our deepest blessings! Thank you, Anita, for all you have done for so many!
Meaning Making & Belonging: A sabbatical journey with St. Benedict and Springtide Research Institute 

Thursday, April 22, Noon – 1:30pm 

Join us on Zoom as Rev. Kevin Brown, Associate Conference Minister of Faith Formation for Children & Youth, shares reflections and insights gained during his recent sabbatical. Our conversation will include reflections on some successes and failures of practicing a “rule of life,” as well as significant new research findings from Springtide Research Institute about the shifting role of congregations in relationship with youth and young adults. Each participant will receive a copy of Springtide’s recent publications, “Meaning Making: 8 Values That Drive America’s Newest Generations.” Please contact Kevin with any questions.
Vigil Service of Remembrance for George Floyd
Sunday, May 23, 7 pm

The Minnesota Conference will host an online vigil to mark the one-year anniversary of George Floyd's death at the hands of Minneapolis police officers.

We will take time to pray for racial justice, more just policing, and for hope for a more just future. Hosted by the Amos Task Force, the vigil will feature local and diverse speakers and artists. More details and a registration link will be provided in future COMMAntary issues.
“Kiss the Ground” Documentary Discussion with Rep. Todd Lippert & Land Stewardship Project

April 10 @ 10:00 am – 11:30 am

Outdoor Ministry, MN Conference United Church of Christ, and the Creation Justice Work Group of First Congregational UCC, Mankato are offering an exciting addition to our Creation Justice series: a free viewing of the documentary “Kiss the Ground” between April 1-10, with a panel discussion April 10 from 10-11:30 am, featuring Amanda Kohler from the Land Stewardship Project, Rep. Lippert, and a Minnesota farmer (who have presented the 100% Healthy-Soil Farm Bill to the MN Legislature). LEARN MORE AND REGISTER
Planetary Health: Co-creating a Better Future for All

April 22, 7pm
Led by Teddie M. Potter, PhD, RN, FAAN

What do COVID-19, structural racism, and the devastating wildfires in the western United States have in common? They are all symptoms of a planet in multi-system failure. Join our Creation Justice series to learn about the human health consequences of the human caused disruptions of Earth’s natural systems. You will also learn that it is not too late for all of us to work together to co-create a healthier future. LEARN MORE
Want to Talk Communications?

The Conference is gathering a group of church staff and lay leaders who are interested in and focused on communications. We want to share ideas, inspiration, challenges and tips. What's working for your church? Where are you struggling? What tools and platforms are you using? We will meet for the first time in April; subsequent meetings will be dictated by the needs of the group. Interested people should send an email to communications@uccmn.org.
Sign up for Power and Boundary Training Offered May 12 & 13
To accommodate demand, we have added another session for the Power and Boundary training this spring on May 12 and 13 (mornings only both days). REGISTER
Authorized Ministers: Anti-Racism Education Information
Authorized ministers can apply for approval of anti-racism education that isn't offered by the Conference or Damascus Project with the form available here.

  • The Enduring Fund, established by Chapel Hills UCC of Edina in 2003, provides supplemental financial support to organizations, individuals and projects that align with the church's mission as a community of faith. Applications are due April 30. SEE INSTRUCTIONS AND THE APPLICATION FORM

  • The Conference website offers a wealth of resources related to ministry.

  • The United Church of Christ National Setting is offering financial assistance to local churches whose ministries have been challenged by the pandemic. See the process.

  • 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.
Like us on Facebook to stay up-to-date on news, events, jobs and more.

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.