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Remember the Names

By Jonna Jensen - May 27, 2016, 8:04 am


jonna recharge prayer flipped-resized

The Holy One whom we worship and adore is a Rememberer. The Creator who shaped billions of galaxies each holding billions of stars remembers names. The very palms of God are scribbled with names, so that none are forgotten (Isaiah 49:16).


Maya Lin’s idea for a Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall stirred strong, conflicting opinions. A long black wall of names?  Is that the right way to remember more than 58,000 Americans in military service who were killed during the Vietnam War? The millions of people who have visited this memorial since its completion say yes with their fingertips.  Remember the names.


During the years I served Olds United Church of Christ in southeast Iowa, the community observance of Memorial Day included a somber reading of names. Beginning with the Civil War and ending (then) with the Vietnam War, the names of community members killed in each war were somberly read.  Listening and praying, we heard familiar family names.  We heard names of Swedish immigrants who were killed as soldiers for a country so newly theirs.  Names.  We were reminded to remember the names.


Once more this Monday, we keep a national remembering day. We may have the opportunity to hear names solemnly read and prayerfully remembered.  We may visit a family cemetery and see graves of persons who were killed in long ago wars.  Or in wars not yet ended.  We might leave a flower.  We might trail our fingertip over engraved letters.   We practice a Godway.  We honor the Rememberer.   We remember the names.


—Jonna Jensen, Associate Conference Minister


By Jonna Jensen - May 27, 2016, 8:04 am

  • Tony Stoik says:

    Jonna, how can so few words have such power? I was deeply moved by your remembrance.

    Give my love to everyone!


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By Brigit Stevens - May 19, 2016, 2:03 pm

I need YOU for motivation!

I am riding with our first annual

Iowa Conference UCC RAGBRAI Team, July 24-30th,

and I need your support to keep me moving!

I, Brigit Stevens, plan to bike the 420 miles of this year’s RAGBRAI route! (For non-Iowans, RAGBRAI = the Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa.) But, in order to do that, I need to continue with my weekly training rides, and frankly, I need extra motivation these days. Will you help me?? Will you sponsor my RAGBRAI ride for each mile I actually ride during the event? I will keep a log and have others verify it for accuracy, but knowing that you have sponsored each mile I ride will help me keep pushing even when I want to stop!

BrigitI am riding to help STRENGTHEN THE CHURCH! You see, the Church is not its buildings, the Church is its people. And I am one of those people. AND, riding this many miles on a bike will make me STRONGER!

ALL of your donations will go to the UCC STRENGTHEN THE CHURCH offering. This is an awesome special offering of the United Church of Christ that supports vitality and growth in our churches! To read more about it follow this link: www.ucc.org/stc.

You can sponsor me for an amount per mile and can name a maximum amount that you are willing to contribute, or you can sponsor me for one flat rate just for participating. After the event, I will return to tell you how many miles I biked and collect your contribution. Make checks out to Iowa Conference UCC and write “Strengthen the Church” in the memo line. You may also use the red “Donate” button at www.ucciaconf.org to make your contribution. All contributions are tax-deductible.

To know more about this fun community event called RAGBRAI, follow this link: www.ragbrai.com.

To sponsor me, or our Iowa Conference team, email me or call me at the Conference office: brigit@ucciaconf.org or 515-277-6369.

I’ll keep you posted on our team’s progress and look for updates during and after the last week of July. In the meantime, please START PRAYING for our STRENGTH!

Thank you!
Brigit Stevens, Associate Conference Minister



By Brigit Stevens - May 19, 2016, 2:03 pm

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    Loving and showing honor to each other

    By admin - May 12, 2016, 3:31 pm

    houserRomans 12:10 from the Common English Bible reads:

    “Love each other as the members of your family. Be the best at showing honor to each other.”


    31 years ago the UCC’s General Synod declared itself to be “open and affirming” and called upon all settings of the church to become similarly poised to welcome LGBT persons as full members of the church…we wanted, as a denomination, to honor each other for exactly who we were created to be.


    Today the issue of supporting and uplifting and even simply welcoming LGBT folk is still at the forefront of many discussions within the Church, notice the capital ‘C’ meaning the wider body of Christ, as well as around our nation.


    Even after 31 years there are UCC churches just now starting the conversation of becoming open and affirming (thanks autonomy), our Methodist sisters and brothers are having the debate around human sexuality at their General Conference (similar to our General Synod) right now, there are states creating and trying to create laws around the ‘issues’ of LGBT, there are big chain stores being boycotted for their stance for or against the LGBT community, but most importantly there are people that are feeling excluded from the basic human right of not being discriminated against (check out the Universal Declaration of Human Rights created by the UN in 1948) because of who they are.


    Now normally I would make the assumption that nearly everyone can recall a time when they were excluded for some reason or another and try to convince everyone that their own personal experience can be a spring board into understanding the need to advocate for our LGBT friends that are facing exclusive discrimination. BUT…it was recently pointed out to me that it doesn’t matter if we’ve felt excluded before because, news flash, it’s not about the proverbial ‘us’.  Each person is divinely made in the image of God and is deserving of dignity and respect despite how well ‘we’ may or may not relate to them.


    As Paul wrote to the Romans we are called to honor each other. And not just to honor each other, but to be the best at honoring each other.


    So to take a position radically in favor of LGBT rights, like the Justice Department did this past week, is to say not only are we trying our best to honor you; but whether we can see it or not, even if what we see tells us otherwise, we will respect what you tell us about your identity and experience.


    And not only are we doing our best to honor the identity and experience of our LGBT sisters and brothers when we take such a position; but it makes us also then claim that every person has the right to live in dignity and respect.


    As a shout out to our Methodist colleagues as they pursue this topic of inclusion and love I share wise words from John Wesley who wrote: Love is the fulfilling of the law, the end of the commandment. It is not only the first and great command but all the commandments in one.


    May we find ways to radically love each other…to be the best at honoring one another as children created in the divine image of God.


    —Rev. Samantha Houser, Conference Program Support/Adjunct Youth Ministry and pastor of Waukon Zion UCC

    By admin - May 12, 2016, 3:31 pm

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    Community of real people

    By Rich Pleva - May 6, 2016, 10:21 am

    richreading flipped 20130502

    I once worked on a staff where nobody wanted to be evaluated. The angst over this possibility was so thick it was palpable.  I was intrigued by this.  It wasn’t obvious to me that any of these people weren’t doing their jobs and or would be placed in any great jeopardy by a fair and thorough going review.  So, what was going on?


    What was going on, I suppose, was a deficit of trust. Unless I’m confident you have my best interest at heart, it will be very hard for me to open myself to your critique.


    I’ve been thinking a lot about covenant lately. I’ve known for a very long time that we talk a lot about covenant in the United Church of Christ and that a lot of our talk is empty.  In our hearts we are autonomy people who are bright enough to know that autonomy is a theologically bankrupt construct.  Being people who love words, we cover our anxiety with a surfeit of words – words about community and interconnection and – yes – covenant.  But when the chips are down, we – many of us – reflexively hunker down alone.  And we’ve come to be so practiced at this that it doesn’t even feel abnormal most of the time.


    But it is. At least it’s abnormal if one fancies oneself a Gospel-type person.  For the New Testament is nothing if not a communitarian and covenant-type story.


    I’ve been told that more flies are caught with honey than with vinegar. I’m not sure my goal here is to catch flies, but I’m guessing that the aphorism is recommending alluring enticement over stony reprimand.  Are there any alluring reasons to open oneself to genuine review?  Or what I’m really asking, I suppose, is whether it makes any sense to take the risk of being accountable?


    I think there are several, but I’m going to name just one. The risky choice to be transparently accountable diminishes fear.  Fear has many origins and manifests itself in many ways.  I’m convinced that some fear starts with the suspicion that if you REALLY knew me, you would certainly dislike me.  There being few folk who really like being disliked (!!), we begin to learn at an early age to cloak what’s really going on.  We hide what we really think.  We camouflage what really makes us tick.  And the longer I stay opaque the harder it becomes to do anything else.  I lose the skill for transparency.  And fear starts becoming a settled state of affairs….”what if they really knew?”  Eventually we lose awareness of what we’re doing – it becomes instinctive to be hidden.


    I know next to nothing about the pop singer Jewell, but some months ago she was interviewed by Time Magazine. The interviewer observed that her songs are unusually transparent and wondered whether that didn’t make her vulnerable.  Her response was simple and stunning: “It’s counterintuitive that the more transparent you are, the safer you are. “


    That’s exactly what I’ve learned. Counterintuitive?  I suppose.  But powerfully true.


    I long to be part of a community of real people (meaning imperfect people) who trust each other enough to be honestly vulnerable with each other. My bet is that I’m not the only one.  Might your congregation become that community?  I wonder who might show up if it did?  We might all be surprised!


    In risky hope!


    Rich Pleva
    Conference Minister
    UCC in Iowa

    By Rich Pleva - May 6, 2016, 10:21 am

    • Robert Koepcke says:

      Thanks, Rich…I couldn’t agree more! Our “Emotional Intelligence” requires information, and how have I heard it? “True spirituality begins with real honesty.” Toward this one real and healthy church practice has been witnessed in “Standing Naked Before God” by (Rev.) Molly Baskette.

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    Imagine the multiplications!

    By Jonna Jensen - April 28, 2016, 2:11 pm

    jonna recharge prayer flipped-resizedAlmost 400 miles separated us this afternoon as Conference Minister Rich Pleva, Associate Conference Minister Brigit Stevens, and I joined one another for our weekly web-based check-in time. We spent nearly an hour together, listening and talking our way through topics that were sadder and more challenging than usual.


    At the end of the hour, I closed my laptop with a sigh of thanksgiving. No, no, not because another staff meeting was over!  But for the God-gifts I found in that shared hour; for Rich and for Brigit and for the Holy Spirit.  When the three of us are prayerfully puzzling, there are more than three portions of wisdom on the table.  When the three of us are prayerfully groaning, there are more than three portions of strength and support at the table. When the Spirit stirs among us with the balm of playfulness, the laughter multiplies by a number greater than three.


    I am excited about the opportunity to puzzle, groan, laugh, and collaborate with an even wider circle of partners if our vision of tri-Conference staff sharing is voted into reality. Together with one shared Executive Conference Minister, four Associate Conference Ministers (two in Iowa, one in Nebraska, and one in South Dakota) will be connecting to offer wisdom, strength, support, and – no doubt – doses of healing humor for one another’s ministries in our three Conferences.  Imagine the multiplications!  Imagine the insight, experience, faith and courage multiplied by a number greater than five.


    One of the great talents Rich Pleva has brought to the Iowa Conference is the gift of gathering staffs whose members contribute fairly few overlapping gifts to the whole. We each bring widely different experiences, skill sets, and expressions of bold Jesus following.  For these differences, our ministries are richer.  Imagine the collaborations when five persons with few overlapping gifts can support one another’s ministries across three Conferences!


    I look forward to ongoing opportunities for wondering and learning and listening with you as conversations continue around the Iowa Conference about the vision of tri-Conference staff sharing. I hope toward the opportunity to bring my little dish of gifts to a potluck with a longer table, joining a larger staff team in cheering on the congregations and pastors of our three Conferences.


    Thanking God for gifts that multiply,
    Jonna Jensen, Associate Conference Minister


    By Jonna Jensen - April 28, 2016, 2:11 pm

    • Craig Henderson says:

      A very clever and convincing insight you share today! I was able to meet with Rev. Charles Owens of Osage for lunch in Waverly yesterday, just to get to know him better as a colleague, and, of course, share our thoughts about new ways of collaboration and many other things! I, too, hope for more of these conversations in the weeks ahead. These fine young pastors in Iowa are all about bridge-building in a most natural and fearless way! Peace, Craig

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