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Is Christ wearing a Fitbit?

By Jonna Jensen - July 28, 2016, 2:24 pm

Stirring in my prayers this week are the bold followers of Jesus – including 126 from the Iowa Conference – gathered in Orlando for our UCC National Youth Event. And, stirring in my prayers are my son and his wife, who will move into their first home this weekend.  And, stirring in my prayers are dozens and dozens of women whose beautiful pieces of handwork found their way to collectors and antique dealers and eventually to a storage unit.

jonna recharge prayer flipped-resizedFirst, the handwork. Some weeks ago, I went through box upon box of handwork pieces that my mother had collected.  Dealers had assured us that there was no market for such things today.  Once, they had both practical and sentimental value.  Today, the sentimental ties are broken, they are no longer practical, and they have little monetary value.  I picked up doily after doily, tea towel after tea towel, pillow case after pillow case, fancy apron after fancy apron (the kind we don’t wear any longer when serving guests).  I wondered about the stories of the women who had made each piece.  I caught my breath, thinking of the hours and hours and hours these pieces had taken to complete.  I brought one small box home.  I don’t need these embroidered pillow cases and doilies, but I need a little time to let the prettiest ones go.


Second, the new house. There is almost nothing in my home that is new.  It’s full of hand-me-downs, rescues, thrift shop finds, and a few family treasures.  The décor is something born of a mix of necessity and sentimentality.  Neither my amazing son nor his amazing wife are drawn to surround themselves with old things.  They are gracious and firm in kindly declining to inherit old dishes and funky attic artifacts. Their new home isn’t a place for my stuff.  It’s a place for their stuff.


Finally, the bold followers of Jesus gathered at our UCC National Youth Event. These saints are soon ready for their own houses – including their own houses of worship, where they lead.  They will not be moving in with our doilies and dusty boxes.  But these precious bold followers of Jesus will amaze us with their energy for service and mission.  These precious bold followers of Jesus will amaze us with their passion for worship that is light with Spirit flame and fuels the right-now work of Jesus.  As our congregations and Associations welcome our NYE travelers home, let’s listen hard for what they can teach us about the body of Christ in motion.


Praying for these bold followers of Jesus this morning, I imagined the body of Christ wearing a Fitbit…excited about counting its steps.

 —Jonna Jensen, Associate Conference Minister

By Jonna Jensen - July 28, 2016, 2:24 pm

  • Craig Blaufuss says:

    Jonna, thank you for your channeling of Spirit’s wisdom to us! At our house we also have “prettys” that were passed down to us–loving work done by the loving hands of our mothers and grandmothers. Now those prettys are in boxes in closets, and are rarely seen or appreciated. Sad! Yet your words remind me of this passage from the Tao Te Ching:

    The ten thousand things rise and fall without cease,
    Creating, yet not possessing.
    Working, yet not taking credit.
    Work is done, then forgotten.
    Therefore it lasts forever.

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Emotional and Spiritual Experiences

By admin - July 22, 2016, 9:28 am

At the end of this month thousands of UCC youth will gather in Florida to learn, to worship, to meet new people, to experience the UCC in a different way than what they are able to in their own churches. While this is an exciting endeavor, not just for the youth but for the adults that have the joy and privilege of accompanying the youth on such a trip, there is also a heavy weight as we housercount down the days to NYE2016.


Many of the youth across the country will be making their way to Florida via bus or plane. Some riding or flying for the first time. But with the excitement of a new journey on the horizon there is also the understanding that around the world, buses and planes have been and are being used as weapons against crowds.


Many of our youth will be heading to Disney World (where the National Youth Event is being hosted this year) for the first time in their lives. But with the excitement of a new adventure coming up there is also the knowledge that this place of wonder, in fact the whole state of Florida has been in the news for some horrific and deadly events.


Many of our youth will be experiencing the extravagant welcome that our denomination prides itself on. Some will be accepted for just exactly who they are for the first time in a church setting. But with the excitement of a new way of being in church in front of them there is also the awareness that the country is an increasingly inhospitable place.


So I ask that you would hold the 126 people from Iowa going to NYE in your prayers this week. Also, I ask that you hold the thousands of youth, chaperones, families, workers, speakers, and local pastors in Florida in your prayers this week so that we might have not just a physically safe trip; but an emotionally and spiritually safe experience at this national youth gathering.



Samantha Houser, Program Support/Adjunct Youth Ministry


By admin - July 22, 2016, 9:28 am

  • Brigit says:

    I am so excited for all of you and holding you all in prayer! Have a blessed, safe, and wonderful time BEING the church together!

  • Linda Cron says:

    Packing as we speak. Our youth are filled with anticipation. The experienced crew is advising the new travelers! Looking forward to meeting up with the other Iowa groups and with the others from across the nation. It is extremely exciting to see the youth discover the big picture about the UCC and what it means in their lives. Florida here we come. Another faith chapter has begun!

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What CAN we do?

By Brigit Stevens - July 15, 2016, 1:19 pm

Nice, France.


St. Anthony, MN.


Baton Rouge, LA.












There isn’t enough room on the page to list the places I know about today where death and terror have recently flexed their power. My heart and soul are weary. What is our role, Church? What would Jesus have us do today?UPDATED Brigit


My spiritual director was reminding me this week to pay attention to my limits in order to not be overwhelmed and paralyzed. It seemed contradictory at the time. My limits are what frustrate me the most. I want to DO something to MAKE IT ALL BETTER. I feel like all I can see at times are my limits.


But she wasn’t telling me to stay fixated on those things that lay BEYOND my limits. She helped me to see and accept where my actual limits are, which then allows me to see the vast landscape between here and there and to begin to see how many things I CAN do.


I cannot end racism in the world, or even just in my own neighborhood. But I can speak out in love and respect at the neighborhood grill-out about experiences I have had, the stories from my friends’ experiences, and the articles I’ve read regarding racial privilege and injustice in our world instead of just chatting about the weather.


I cannot end gun violence in the world, or even just in my own neighborhood. But I can ask the parents’ of my children’s friends if there are guns in their home, and if so, how they are stored, and I can choose to not send my son or daughter to that house to play but instead entertain that friend in our home if they say that guns are present and not stored with trigger locks, in locked cabinets, and away from the ammunition.


I cannot stop the actions of ISIS or the KKK or other hate-filled groups of terror. But I can name their actions as hate whenever I have the chance, among family, friends, or letters to the editor. I can understand, and share with others, how ISIS no more represents Islam or the Muslim faith than the KKK represents the Church or the Christian faith.


I cannot make people stop hating and hurting one another. But I can love others. I can go to where they are and tell them they are beloved. I can stop whining about millennials not showing up to worship on Sunday morning and instead bring a case of cold Mt. Dew to the front steps of my church around 7-10pm each night and meet and greet them with love and kindness as they roll up playing Pokemon Go. I can bring fresh cookies to the police department and say thank you for their work and sacrifices. I can march in the local Pride parade and declare God’s love and creation reflected in my LGBTQ neighbors and friends. I can write a card with a note of love and thanksgiving for the leadership to the one African American woman on the staff at my children’s summer childcare site, acknowledging that her experience may be different than mine, committing to caring for her children in our world by advocating for policies and laws that protect her loved ones fairly and justly, and thanking her for the nurturing care she showers on my children.


I trust that next month I will again need my spiritual director’s wisdom to remind me that my limits can be frustrating but they can also be instructive. It all depends on my perspective regarding them.


So, I ask all of you, what CAN we do today, Church? What would Jesus have us do?


—Brigit Stevens, Associate Conference Minister

By Brigit Stevens - July 15, 2016, 1:19 pm

  • Pastor Don Morgan says:

    Thank you Brigit

  • Karen Heidman says:

    Thank you, Brigit, for reminding us that we have more agency in the midst of this turmoil than we first thought.

  • Char White says:

    Thank you Bridget,
    I appreciated your comments. We can’t do it all but sometimes we feel the responsibility as pastors to try and it weighs so heavily. Thanks for the reminder, Blessings, Char

  • Brice Hughes says:

    Thank you, Brigit. This deluge of terrorism, death, and hostility can be discouraging. it can leave us feeling helpless to do anything to re-direct the world toward the Realm of God we seek.
    Your suggestions are appropriate and timely.
    We can also do what we can do, with what we have, where we are. 7 from our church just returned from mission work in Detroit. We refuse to be cowed by lurid news reports of violence and crime; instead we do what Jesus would have us do: we feed the hungry, care for the poor and vulnerable in simple ways.
    Our love of Christ is expressed in our love of neighbor; it is worship in the shape of paint and caulk, fence and gutter repair, brush removal as a powerful statement that evil will not overcome us, but that God’s love will overcome evil.

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Time for naming the obvious

By Rich Pleva - July 7, 2016, 2:04 pm

Again this week, black lives were taken at the hands of white police officers.  We don’t yet know all the UPDATED rich podiumparticulars of these incidents, but people who claim to follow Jesus – the one who announced his ministry by insisting it was for “the poor, the captives, the blind, the oppressed,” that is, the “unprivileged” of every sort – MUST speak out at these times.


This is not a time for parsing particularities of fault and blame – this is a time for naming the obvious – it is DANGEROUS to be black in America.  And if white people don’t start owning up to this reality and start naming it out loud, how will it ever change?


My friend and colleague Kent Siladi, Conference Minister for the UCC in Connecticut gave expression to his anger and exhaustion at our current state of affairs in the article below.  I hope you will read it and then find ways to add your voice to those who can no longer abide the current state of affairs. 

Link to article:  I¹m tired


Rich Pleva

Conference Minister

UCC in Iowa

By Rich Pleva - July 7, 2016, 2:04 pm

  • Barbara Chambers says:

    Thank you for sharing this and for sharing the link. I will be less reticent about speaking out, especially to those who don’t seem to want to hear it.

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Balancing honesty, courage & respect when disagree

By Rich Pleva - June 30, 2016, 8:36 am

“Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds.”

                                                                            Romans 14:5


It is widely recognized that the first century church – the folk who were the recipients of the letters we now recognize as scripture – were a contentious lot. They fought and fought and fought some more. Not mostly with outsiders, mind you, but among themselves.


It’s easy to tsk-tsk about this and imagine our peaceful congregations to be so superior.


But I’m not so sure we have this right.


richreading flipped 20130502My reading of the accounts of early church controversy don’t lead me to conclude that the leaders of that church were scandalized by the reality of controversy. No, it seems they were put off by the SPIRIT of the controversy. Paul’s observation above – from the end of his deeply theological treatise to the church in Rome – doesn’t condemn varieties of theological and practical conviction. Far from it, Paul seems to endorse varieties of conviction and enjoins all to be convinced whatever their conclusion. What he condemns is controversy that demeans and belittles rather than respects and honors.


For as long as I’ve been in a pastoral role, I’ve been party to a universal pastoral lament, “Oh….if only I could really say what I wanted to say – about theology, or social issues, or politics, or money, or whatever.”


In the wake of the massacre at The Pulse Nightclub in Orlando a couple weeks ago, I heard this lament again; clergy lamenting their own self-censoring in the apparent conviction that it is either inappropriate or else dangerously self-destructive to say what’s really in their hearts and on their minds.


I’m appalled at this. If there is any place in human society where it should be assumed that hard and difficult and contentious questions will be muddled through, I believe that place is church.


Now I wasn’t born yesterday (yes, I know that’s observationally obvious), and I know that many congregations are, in fact, NOT safe places for difficult conversations. But why is that? I believe partly leaders – clergy – must shoulder historical responsibility for this fact. Collectively we’ve evaded the difficult and controversial for so long that many of our people have come to believe that difficult questions have no place in church. They’ve come to believe that the pastor is bad if she/he raises hard and controversial questions. But in fact there are disciplines and practices that can teach and empower a community to address the uncomfortable. These practices and skills are not easy to learn and it takes courage and intention and perseverance to teach them. These disciplines are only learned after intentional work and over very long periods of practice and practice and practice. In other words, it’s VERY HARD WORK for a congregation to learn to be a place where respect and honesty run so deep that we can honestly disagree with each other and still gather in genuine love at the Table.


But should ministry be easy? I don’t think so. Unless we as leaders are ready to engage our people at the points of greatest challenge, I’m not sure we are fit to be leaders in the essential work of modelling what it means to follow Jesus in an increasingly secularized and polarized society.


It is, I believe a fascinating and seemingly ironic reality that those churches which engender the most constructive passion for ministry and service are those where the members have learned to honestly and caringly disagree with each other. Then, out of that disagreement they find ways to forge sufficient common ground to act together in the name of Christ.


There are some essential traits for leaders in this kind of system. Leaders in these kinds of systems need to be sufficiently self-aware and self-confident to say what they really think and not be surprised or wounded or insecure when people disagree with them. These leaders are strong and articulate, but they don’t expect to always get their own way. And when their members DO disagree with them (which they will!), they do not retreat to a corner and lick their wounds, but they THANK their members for their honesty and genuinely seek to better understand what motivates the disagreement.


Yes, that’s a tall order. But whoever said that following Jesus should be easy? Let’s get at it. If you need help to do so, find a colleague or friend or mentor who can help you learn these skills. And God will be with you. I’m sure of it!


With Great Hope!

Rich Pleva
Conference Minister
UCC in iowa

By Rich Pleva - June 30, 2016, 8:36 am

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