Coming to the Big Screens (and the little screens) of the Iowa ConferenceBy Jonna Jensen - November 19, 2015, 4:18 pm
I’m the member of our Iowa Conference staff known to strongly prefer pen to keyboard. I have a deserved reputation for greeting each new technology upgrade with enthusiasm usually reserved for freezing rain or bad rashes. So, what a wonder and a delight it is to have the honor of introducing a splendid technology upgrade for all the congregations of the Iowa Conference!
Posted on the Iowa Conference website (www.ucciaconf.org) are the first of what will be a library of workshops and trainings for congregations in video format. You may view them in two different locations on the website – under the Resources button and under Opportunities/Search and Call Support.
Boards and committees in your congregation can meet, view these videos, and then connect with a member of the Conference staff for questions and conversation. Because the videos remain on our website, they can be viewed again and again to review and refresh learnings. We’ve begun with videos about the search and call process. Previews of coming attractions include video training for evaluating your congregation’s ministries, a video for Pastor Parish Relations Committees and a video for Discernment Committees supporting persons hearing a call to authorized ministry in and for the UCC. Everyone in our congregations with access to a computer will be able to watch these videos and learn more about their congregations’ ministries.
Of course our ministries as members of the Iowa Conference staff will continue to include travels to our congregations, including some travels to offer educational opportunities not yet in video format. We’re convinced (even this pen lover!) that having a library of often-used workshops available on our website will make these educational resources more easily available to all members of our congregations and also help us be better stewards of Conference automobiles and staff time behind their wheels.
The first videos posted include a workshop I present for congregations to give all members some basic information about the pastoral search and call process in the Iowa Conference. Also posted are three videos that together form the second training session that I provide for Search Committees in the Iowa Conference. You certainly don’t need to be a member of a Search Committee to watch these videos and learn more about the holy work of our Search Committees. Where are the videos of the first training session for Search Committees? They’ll be coming later in 2016, once the new format for local church profiles is released for use from the Ministerial Excellence, Support, and Authorization (MESA) Team in the national setting of the UCC.
We are profoundly grateful to Rev. Laura Arnold, pastor of Congregational UCC in Decorah and an adjunct member of the Iowa Conference staff, for creating these videos and taking the educational and resource ministries of the Iowa Conference to the next level. If you find these first videos clear, helpful, and user-friendly, you have Laura to thank. Her gifts for creating videos are amazing…especially to this pen-lover who created her first movie in first grade with a roll of butcher paper, a bucket of crayons, a big box with a hole in the front for the “screen”, and two big dowels to advance or rewind the show!
Praising the Holy Spirit, constantly upgrading us all!
By Jonna Jensen - November 19, 2015, 4:18 pm
Jonna Jensen, Associate Conference Minister
Stretch our hands and our heartsBy Brigit Stevens - November 12, 2015, 11:51 am
It’s that time of year again. It’s fundraising season for the charities and non-profit and service agencies of our communities. As we close in on the end of the year, the direct mail and email appeals have begun to fill our mailboxes with requests for our dollars to support their worthy causes. Their glossy oversized postcards and prepared return addressed envelopes make it easy for us to boost our annual charitable giving tax write-offs.
And we in the church also participate in this season of fundraising, but we often dress it up with the fancy church word of “stewardship.” I would argue that we miss out on the full meaning of stewardship when we only focus on fundraising for the church.
First of all, fundraising for the church is good and worthy! We should have glossy postcards, online buttons on our websites, weekly offering collections, and ______, and _____, and all the opportunities in the world to request and give funds to the life affirming, gospel promoting, eternally loving mission of our congregations! Our churches need money to do their important and holy work!
AND, God doesn’t need our money. Remember, God created the heavens and the earth, without a single dime. HOWEVER, in order to boldly follow Jesus, WE need to give our money away.
Jesus talked about money more than he talked about any other topic recorded in the gospels. And he wasn’t working a fundraising campaign. Jesus understood humanity in a profound way, and he understood our relationship with money as more than a convenient exchange for goods and services, but as an expression of our values.
Jesus also understood that in order for us to be able to grab ahold of the abundant and eternal life of intimacy with God we need to open our hands and allow our possessions, our money, to flow freely from us.
As a Christian, I have found profound spiritual experiences await me in my regular disciplines of prayer, study, worship, and generosity, specifically giving of money.
Joe and I have a regular habit of giving a percentage of our income to our local church and other organizations that match our faith and values. We give regardless of the financial needs of those organizations because we need to practice putting our money where we claim our hearts are. For this giving, we decide what to give based on what comes into our lives, not based on the appeals or requests we receive.
We also practice the discipline of saying “yes!” with abandon. We have landed on a number that is comfortable to us so that whenever we’re asked to support a worthy project or program we can easily say, “Yes! Here is our donation!” That number isn’t huge, it roughly matches a convenient pizza dinner we’d just as easily say “yes!” to at the end of a long day, but the size of the gift isn’t what matters. What matters is the practice of giving and freely saying, “Yes!” to opportunities for generosity. You see, when we stretch our hands out, we also stretch our hearts.
Have a blessed stewardship season this year, friends. May your heart be stretched!
Brigit Stevens, Associate Conference Minister
By Brigit Stevens - November 12, 2015, 11:51 am
God is placing options before usBy Rich Pleva - November 5, 2015, 1:28 pm
Wouldn’t it be nice if church could be the one place in a topsy-turvy world where nothing ever changed?
That is, of course, exactly what many of us would prefer. To be honest, it’s what I’d prefer. Our families and our places of work and our communities confront us with change and change and more change. We’re weary of it and long for a place of stability – a place of shelter and protection from the relentless demands of a culture seemingly gone berserk. We imagine that perhaps church will be an idyllic place of stability – that place where we know how things work and we know our respective roles and those of everyone else.
It would be nice, but it isn’t to be. Unless church is to drift into irrelevance, it must deal with…..it must confront and respond to the same pressures that all other human institutions face.
At the Conference Annual Meeting last month, I spoke of an ongoing conversation with our neighboring UCC Conferences to the west – the Nebraska and South Dakota Conferences. It’s a conversation about combining our staffs. It’s a conversation that – if we embrace its possibilities – will challenge us to face some hard realities about ourselves. Realities having to do with the depth of our practical commitment to concepts and ideas we all affirm in the abstract – things like covenant and “new things.”
I don’t know anyone in our kind of church who doesn’t extol the critical importance of maintaining “covenant” and I don’t know anyone who doesn’t affirm a longing for God’s “new things.”
But often our embrace of these is abstract and theoretical. Like most human beings, we are possessed of a powerful inclination to that which is familiar and close-to-home. When the chips are down we are more inclined to care for ourselves and those close to us than we are those farther away and we are inclined to favor familiar practices and structures over those which are new and different.
The advantages of creating one staff to serve three conferences are potentially significant (you can go online to http://www.ucciaconf.org/about-us/board-of-directors/tri-conference-cooperation to learn much more – particularly pay attention to the “Executive Summary” and the “DRAFT Covenant Agreement”).
But there are costs to this concept. These costs are not so much financial (it will actually save some money) as they are psychological and emotional. This plan is sensible mostly because conferences are shrinking and less able to perform their work with the levels of excellence we desire. This plan is important because it is a way to structure wider-church work as appropriately challenging (and therefore attractive to our brightest and best leaders) as opposed to merely corrosively challenging (and therefore not attractive to our brightest and best). But these arguments in favor of change imply something distasteful: that we are struggling to do with excellence that which was formerly easier. To put it bluntly – we must consider these changes because we are dying.
For some organizations, the prospect of death is panic inducing. But are we not followers of Jesus? Are we not followers of the one who defeated death? I believe we are. But the ways of life more often than not follow paths through the graveyard rather than around it. There is a sense in which churches of our ilk are invited to put our money where our mouths have long been – not just to talk about the power of God over death…but to live it. We are invited – in some real measure – to die….. so that we might live. And perhaps our tried and familiar forms of church are precisely that which must die.
The proposal for a common staff isn’t by itself that which will rebirth our churches. That notion is absurd. But I believe our church is at a crossroads….a place where God is placing options before us….options to cling to that which has been, or to start embracing new ways and new forms…through which the winds of the wild and uncontrollable Spirit might again blow as they did in our churches in the past.
This proposal is just one small step on such a road. It’s no panacea for all that ails us….but perhaps it’s a good start. Please learn more about what’s being proposed. Pray about your response to it. Open your heart and mind to new possibilities.
By Rich Pleva - November 5, 2015, 1:28 pm
UCC in Iowa
Weaving project into communityBy admin - October 29, 2015, 12:16 pm
In late July a group from Decorah UCC sat around a coffee table asking what could be done to raise awareness about bullying in the community and, in particular, what could be done to educate people on addressing and preventing the cultures that allow bullying to develop. Remembering the Scarf Project that was organized for the UCC’s General Synod in Long Beach in 2013, that group around the coffee table wondered if something similar could be done in the Decorah community. By late August, the plans were in place and the Decorah Scarf Project was launched.
The premise was simple. Community members were invited to knit a rainbow colored scarf, and on October 1st the community was invited to a training session on how to prevent bullying in the community. Following the training, people who were willing to take an anti-bullying pledge and commit to doing something in the community to prevent and end bullying were invited to take a scarf and to wear it this winter. The hope is that brightly colored scarves create a bold, visible presence in the community, stir up conversation and awareness, remind people of their covenant and commitment, and help those being bullied to identify allies.
The response was tremendous. Long time knitters met to teach first timers. Kids as well as adults worked to create over 110 scarves.
I had the privilege to read and invite people to pledge to be a part of the movement. The pledge was as follows: I believe everybody has the right to live in a community where they feel safe, included, valued, and accepted. I will treat others with respect and kindness. I will act with compassion and not be a bully. I will act with courage and not be a bystander. I will use my actions, my words, my presence to support those who have been bullied and to let them know that they are not alone. As a member of this community, I pledge to be a part of the solution and to do something that actively contributes to ending bullying.
Ginger Meyette, a professor at the local college and friend of the congregation, said it well, “This project is visible and people can do something,” she said. “In the knitting of the scarf itself, you’re weaving a certain amount of yourself into that scarf, and then wearing a scarf that someone else made, it ties the community together in a way that some projects don’t do. Sometimes you feel like just an individual, trying to voice your views about things.”
It was a powerful project and one that is only the beginning of the work. Bullying is a problem in many of our communities and even in our churches. As the project in Decorah asked, what will you do to prevent and end bullying?
If you’d like a copy of the press releases, posters, organizing plans, or pledge to adapt in your own community, feel free to email me (firstname.lastname@example.org). We would be honored to share. Pictured above are Laura and President of the college knitting group (the Norse Knitters) Jacqueline Congello who presented the scarves they produced.
Rev. Laura Arnold, Pastor of Decorah Congregational UCC
By admin - October 29, 2015, 12:16 pm
Stormy ToesBy Jonna Jensen - October 22, 2015, 9:58 am
When our son was a little boy, he called the joint pain he experienced with weather changes “stormy toes”. Maybe you, too, have some physical symptoms that signal a change in weather.
Beloved, it is our gift to be following Jesus during a time when the Church is changing. Not redecorating. Reforming. Many of us won’t live to see the Church fully in its new form. We will live out our earthly days following Jesus with stormy toes.
The toes of our congregation will feel stormy, too. Certainly the toes of denominational structures (like our Associations, Conferences, and national setting) are stormy. How does a disciple or a congregation or a denomination or a Church feel stormy toes? With restlessness. With frustration when familiar ways aren’t working like they used to. With worry over how the Church will live on. With blaming, as if this next Reformation is someone’s fault. Especially if you are employed in a church setting, with sorting through stacks of sample answers to the question, “What’s coming next?” With grief over what is lost. With longing for that which was familiar and dear but no longer is.
This Sunday, many of our congregations will celebrate Reformation, as Reformation Day comes on October 31st. I invite you to join me in a prayer practice as we get ready to worship this Sunday. Let’s rub a little lotion on our feet or hands, whether our joints are actually feeling stormy or not. As our skin softens, let’s breathe and pray the gifts of dancing Reformation feet and clapping Reformation hands: wonder…trust…hope…faith…assurance…resurrection.
Do you sing on the way to worship? Maybe you’ll raise a verse or two of “A Mighty Fortress” on your way to worship this Sunday. But let’s sing a bit of “In the Bulb There is a Flower”, too. We know it as an Easter hymn, but this is bulb planting time. And a week for singing resurrection as our Church finds new a new form…one that God alone can see.
Thanking God for what is yet to be…sometimes with stormy toes,
By Jonna Jensen - October 22, 2015, 9:58 am
Jonna Jensen, Associate Conference Minister