Volume 20, No. 31 | September 13, 2023

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Equipping a courageous Church alive with Christ’s transforming love

"What's Your Why?"

—Conference Minister Rev. Shari Prestemon

“Congregations often have no idea what their purpose is.”

Someone made that comment this week in a meeting I was attending. That person was in a good position to know, as someone who has had frequent conversations with church leaders and congregations across the United Church of Christ. I was surprised by their observation, I admit, and also concerned.

Do you know what the purpose of your congregation is? What’s your reason for being? What’s your why?

Maybe you’re reading this and thinking, “Well, it’s kind of obvious, isn’t it? We’re a church, so our purpose is to study scripture, worship, pray, and be faithful!”

That’s all true. Is there something more to it, though? Our implicit purpose as the Church is indeed to testify to the amazing love and wide mercy of God in Jesus Christ, in word and in deed. We exist as communities of faith dedicated to deepening our faith, sharing the gifts of God with others, and building a world where the God-given preciousness of each person is celebrated and all have access to the fullness of life God promises.

What does that really look like… for your congregation, in your community, in this very moment?

Take some time in a Council meeting, an adult education series, or some other church gatherings this Fall to talk about what the purpose of your congregation really is. Consider these questions:

  • When others outside the congregation think about your church, how would they describe it? How does what they might say differ from what you’d hope they would observe about you? What might that suggest about what you may need to do differently and how you “show up” in the world?

  • When you consider all the ministries and activities your congregation is engaged in, what things are most important to you or say the most about your congregation’s unique sense of purpose and personality? What are your core values and commitments?

  • When you prayerfully discern how God might be calling your particular congregation to minister and serve at this time, what emerges for you? How is God calling you right now? What nudges of the Holy Spirit are you noticing? What might you need to re-imagine or risk in order to stay true to your calling?

When we’re clear about our purpose and our calling as congregations, it helps us be better stewards of our people, our property, our time, and our financial resources. We focus all our bountiful gifts on what matters most. People around us are energized by our clarity of purpose and feel moved to be part of the work. And we are doing the spiritual work we need to do: attending to the Holy Spirit’s leading, making space for God to move with and through us, and staying grounded in who we are and the God who creates and accompanies us.

What’s your why? I can’t wait to hear your answers!

Grace and peace,

Reverend Shari Prestemon, Conference Minister


Conference News & Events

Faith Formation Leader Retreat: What Is Saving Your Life Now?


October 22 (4 pm) – October 24 (11 am)

ARC Retreat Community, Stanchfield, MN

$175 (scholarships available)


In her 2009 book, An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith, Barbara Brown Taylor remembers being asked once to talk about what was saving her life now. As we gather in autumn of 2023, we consider what might save our human lives now within a wider lens that embraces what might save the wide interconnected web of life now. In another voice, Howard Thurman could inquire about what makes us (and the wide web of creation) come truly alive.


During this retreat, we will gently immerse ourselves in the common challenge we face—to be still; the common call we receive—to be co-creators; and the common crisis of our lives—to accept life’s ongoing and spiraling cycle of life, death, and life beyond death. Indoors and outdoors, as weather allows, our time together will be resourced with a handful of spiritual/contemplative practices and the wisdom of the earth. We will step away into a beautiful place, in the company of one another, with both traditional and emerging practices, to perceive the next right steps in our unfolding lives.


This retreat is underwritten with generous support from the Ashley Endowment of the Minnesota Conference UCC. Additional scholarships are available. Please contact Rev. Kevin Brown, Associate Conference Minister for Faith Formation, to inquire about scholarships or for more information about the retreat.


Retreat Leadership: Rev. Dr. Martha Brunell is an experienced UCC pastor. Her current ministry includes work as a spiritual director, a retreat and workshop leader, and a writer and writing group convener. She is an advanced certified labyrinth facilitator with Veriditas, a SoulCollage® facilitator, a forest therapy guide with the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy (ANFT), and a grief educator. Martha’s life is animated at the intersection of earth wisdom and spiritual/contemplative practice. Her ministry of presence, programs, and practices is called Oak Leaf Oasis and is home based in Chicago. She works in person, on-line, and by phone in varied scattered locations. You can reach her at 314-607-4852 or at mb.listening@gmail.com.

Global Ministries Responds to the Earthquake in Morocco

A 6.8-magnitude quake struck late on September 8, 2023. It was the strongest to hit the region in a century and centered near the ancient city of Marrakech. We offer prayers for our siblings in Morocco. Read more from the UCC's Global Ministries.

Last Week to Sign Up for Communities of Practice

Deadline extended to September 21!


Now is the time to sign up to join a Community of Practice this fall in the Minnesota Conference. Please register to let us know you are interested, what you are hoping for in your Community of Practice and when are your best times 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 Community of Practice are 1) the focus is ministry, 2) the community is essential and 3) knowledge is practice based. CoPs have been gathering for decades throughout the UCC and are proven effective for our growth as ministers, for spiritual and emotional support, and to remind us that we are not alone in this work.

If you have any questions, please reach out to Kelly Gallagher, kellyg@uccmn.org.

Conference Youth Event is October 6-8

Osprey Wilds Environmental Learning Center, Sandstone, MN

Grades 6-12

$125/Youth, $100/Adult Leader


“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" ~Mary Oliver

So often we have people in our lives who ask, “What do you plan to do?”, as if we must have a perfect answer. Our fall Conference Youth Event will provide time together where both youth and adults will practice shifting their language that is more about curiosity and wonder rather than having the “right” answers. Through playful discussions, activities, and music, all will reimagine their “wild and precious life” that speaks to who they are, what they value, and how their faith can guide them in the world. Musician and faith leader Hans Peterson will help shape the weekend and offer space to wonder together. LEARN MORE

Authorized Ministers: Complete Your Annual Info Review by Sept 30!

It’s that time again! Please fill out your Annual Information Review. This year you can fill it out online. The deadline is September 30. Read the letter here sent to all Authorized Ministers.

Questions? Contact See Chang, COMadmin@uccmn.org, or Associate Conference Minister Kelly Gallagher, kellyg@uccmn.org.

First Congregational UCC, Alexandria Becomes an Open & Affirming Church

"We want everyone to know God loves them just as they are." Those are the words the congregation of Alexandria UCC are speaking as they prepare for a celebration on Sunday, September 24, at 4 pm to offer a public witness to being an “Open and Affirming” church, especially for those of diverse sexualities, gender identities and gender expressions.

The celebration includes a communion table open to all, words of affirmation, special music, an offering to support local and national LQBTQ+ affirming organizations, and a light dinner after worship. The church invites all as it boldly proclaims to the world its open and affirming commitment in both word and deed.

Learn How You Can Maximize Your Church Property

Join the UCC Church Building & Loan Fund at our two-day virtual conference on September 21-22. Your church property might be a key ingredient to your congregation’s future impact.

Partners in Building is the only Church-led, faith oriented event that provides comprehensive education about real estate redevelopment, from concept to completion. The conference is open to church leaders of any Christian denomination based in the United States. It includes opportunities to connect with loan partners, capital fundraising executives, building professionals and other experts to discuss your goals. There will be presentations and workshops on land use, repurposing resources for mission, faith-based entrepreneurship, fundraising and the future of ministry as well. LEARN MORE

Stewardship Campaign Materials Now Available

With fall arriving soon, many United Church of Christ congregations are beginning to roll out stewardship campaigns and begin fundraising to sustain ministries in the coming months. This year’s materials, with the theme “Because of You, Our Church Changes Lives,” are available for purchase as a digital download.

The materials include eight complete worship services, hymn suggestions, sermon starters from eight different authors; plus additional faith formation sessions for children, youth and adults.

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

Mark Your Calendars for The Ministry Lab Learning Opportunities

The Ministry Lab is excited to offer four + fantastic learning opportunities in our 2023-2024 Transformative Innovations series. Our save-the-dates postcard will be in the mail to your congregation soon inviting you to save the dates for:

  • Where is God in transformational/transitional times?
  • Trauma-informed ministry workshops: 4-part series
  • Ecumenical anti-racism panel & workshops
  • Sustainable finances/social entrepreneurism

But you don’t have to wait for the postcard! Find details on our Blue Whirl Webinars. Registrations will open soon!

Joys & Concerns

Rev. David Plumb passed away August 30. The memorial service is Sat Sept 23 at Robbinsdale Parkway UCC 11 am, with a 10:30 am visitation and a luncheon following the service. He is survived by his wife Kathleen Corradino. Read his obituary.

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.