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Volume 18, No. 39 | November 2, 2022

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Equipping a courageous Church alive with Christ’s transforming love

COMMAnts from the Conference Minister

The Griefs We Carry

— Rev. Shari Prestemon

I’ve seen and heard signs of it so many times lately. Pastors share it with me when they lament that worship attendance and participation in other ministries still lags behind what it was pre-COVID. Friends and colleagues talk about their exhaustion and growing feelings of futility. And members of closing churches express it openly, with tearful regret, as they make the painful decision to conclude their ministries after decades and more of service.

It’s grief that I’m noticing, acute loss that many of us are feeling. 

Some of it’s related to the pandemic, the impacts of that long season of isolation and unexpected change that linger with us. Some of it is our nation’s turmoil, the troubling violence and deepening divisions showing up in our communities, in our politics, and in our news. And some of it’s about what we’re experiencing as the Church, the vastly changing landscape of church that leaves us worried and wondering what the future holds.

Over 40 years ago, a leading family therapist at the University of Minnesota named Dr. Pauline Boss coined the term “ambiguous loss.” It was originally applied to individual and family situations where the loss of a loved one can’t be verified, or where there’s no closure, no certainty that the loved one will come back or return to the way they used to be. Examples of such situations are kidnappings, natural disasters, war, or immigration.

More recently, "ambiguous loss" has been increasingly used to describe what we’ve all experienced during the pandemic and amid other social realities. An article published by the Cleveland Clinic a few months ago stated: 

“If you wish things could go back to the way they used to be before the pandemic, you’re not alone. ‘Humans crave consistency and predictability, so when things are unpredictable, such as the pandemic, we often feel anxious, depressed and isolated,’ [psychologist] Dr. Prewitt says. None of us got any closure on our old way of life before the pandemic forced us to transition into a stressful new one…It’s understandable to experience grief for everything we’ve lost.

It’s not just the pandemic, either. Researchers are also looking into how social and political conditions – like climate grief and the trauma of racial injustice – can lead to feelings of ambiguous loss, too.”

“Ambiguous loss” also has relevance for how many of us are experiencing the state of the Church these days. Many grieve the loss of the church the way it used to be, a time when we remember fewer worries about its sheer survival. We feel in the pit of our stomachs the deep uncertainty about the future of our congregations now. We know that what we’re doing often isn’t working for us anymore, but it’s not clear what the next best steps might be. We’re navigating this liminal, in-between space between what was and what will newly be, but it’s an uncomfortable space to be in. We feel overwhelmed, anxious, and lonely, and sometimes we lash out at each other as a result.

We are living in a time of profound and disruptive change in our world and in our churches, and it is often painful. I don’t have any magic solutions for how to address this ambiguous loss we’re experiencing in our beloved churches. I do know it’s important to name it for what it is, free of shame: we are grieving.

One more thing I know for certain: God is with us in our grieving. 

Our faith narrative reminds us in countless ways that it is true. God has never forsaken God’s people, even when they thought God was absent. In times of famine and exile, in periods of desperate uncertainty and deep loss, God has always accompanied God’s people. God has a way of making a way out of no way, of transforming our scarcity into abundance, of wrestling hope from despair. 

The Psalmist says that the Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18). May we trust in that promise while acknowledging the griefs we carry. And may God draw near to wipe every tear from our eyes and lend balm to every anxious heart.

With you on the journey,

Reverend Shari Prestemon, Conference Minister

Conference News & Events

Registration is Open for July 2023 Youth Trip to Washington, D.C.

Students from Conference congregations currently enrolled in grades 8-12 are eligible to participate in this service-learning experience focused on the work of legislative advocacy. Youth will:

  • Lobby members of congress and their staff about issues selected by the youth
  • Visit monuments, memorials, and museums
  • Direct service opportunities to learn about root causes of systemic oppression
  • Space for fun, conversations that matter, time for reflection and shared practices
  • Visits to Frederick Douglas National Historic Site, Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, U.S. Holocaust Museum and Memorial, and other significant sites


Clergy-Specific Trainings on "Discerning Whiteness: The Unacknowledged Barrier"

January 19 and February 2, 2023, 9:00 am–noon CT

Cost: $90


Join Antiracism Study Dialogue Circles (ASDIC) and The Leadership Center for Social Justice for two clergy-specific trainings on "Discerning Whiteness: The Unacknowledged Barrier." Each three hour session will take place over Zoom so participants can engage from anywhere. The sessions count towards six continuing education hours for clergy members.

Give to the Max 2022 Highlights Key Conference Ministries!


Give to the Max Day 2022 is Thursday, November 17. This fun and exciting event is a Minnesota tradition, bringing thousands of Minnesota nonprofits and schools together to raise millions of dollars for the organizations which make our communities stronger.


This year, proceeds from Give to the Max will support key programs of the Conference, including climate justice, church renewal, and leadership development ministries.


Stay tuned: there’s more news coming soon!

Parents & Caregivers as Sexuality Educators

Thursday, November 10, 9:30 am-4 pm

Carondelet Center, St. Paul, MN

$25 (includes continental breakfast & lunch)


Join colleagues in ministry to learn how to implement a new resource to help parents and caregivers explore their roles as primary sexuality educators of their children. Whether you are a local church pastor, youth ministry or faith formation staff, or volunteer in your congregation’s ministry with children, youth, or families, this training is for you. We are delighted to welcome Rev. Amy Johnson as our training facilitator. Amy serves as Minister for Sexuality Education and Justice in the national setting of the United Church of Christ.

Important Information on Nonprofit & Tax-Exempt Status

The General Counsel of the United Church of Christ is sharing an important blog post for local churches about nonprofit and tax-exempt status for local churches. Please read and share it with your church’s governing bodies.

Boundary Basics with Kevin and Kelly

November 29


Register now for the in-person Power and Boundary Training on November 29 with Associate Conference Ministers Kevin Brown and Kelly Gallagher. Review the basics while learning new understandings of boundaries in this post-pandemic, media-driven world.

This Power and Boundary Training will meet the standing requirements for authorized ministers in the Minnesota Conference and will run the required five (5) hours in addition to lunch and breaks. Stay tuned for details and registration information.

Live Damascus Project Network Orientation Series

Are you curious to know more about what is happening in the Damascus Project Network and how to get connected? Have you struggled to navigate the Damascus Project Network? Join us for a free orientation session Tuesday, November 15, or Wednesday, December 7, from 5:00 pm to 5:30 pm. REGISTER

The Damascus Project Director Transition

Rev. Dr. Tisha Brown (WI Conference UCC) will conclude her time as the co-director of The Damascus Project at the end of this year. We wish her well in all her future endeavors, after many years of faithful service directing Wisconsin’s “Lay Academy” program and then co-directing The Damascus Project with a Minnesota Conference colleague. The Minnesota and Wisconsin Conferences (UCC) have launched a search for a new shared director of the Damascus Project program and expect a smooth transition (see article below).

Applications Sought for Damascus Project Director

Do you have a passion for life-long learning for church leadership? Do you believe we need new models of equipping pastoral leaders? Are you self-motivated, collaborative, relational, and highly organized?


The Minnesota and Wisconsin Conferences of the UCC are seeking a new Director for the Damascus Project, a collaborative initiative started seven years ago to expand leadership development in both Conferences and create additional pathways for equipping pastoral leaders.


See the full job description and application process HEREApplication deadline is November 16!

November 12 is Covenant Day in the Alexandria Area!

Saturday, November 12, 9:30 am – 3 pm

First Congregational UCC in Alexandria, 221 7th Avenue W


Gather a team from your congregation and join us for practical resources and workshops, inspiring worship, covenantal connections with your UCC neighbors, and the awesomeness of being together again! We encourage all clergy, local church moderators, and lay members to attend. Registration is required; $10/person

Upcoming Conference Events
More Resources & Opportunities

  • Send story ideas, insights and more to 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.