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Listening, Gathering and Paying Attention

By Jonna Jensen - May 4, 2019, 2:41 pm

Grace and peace, dear saints of the Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota Conferences.

I pray that whether it is so powerful that you reach for sunglasses or so faint that you squint to seek it — the glorious light and hope of Easter abide with you.

Executive Conference Minister Brigit Stevens has named the specialized portion of my new ministry portfolio “curator of culture of call.” I’ll be listening and gathering stories and paying attention to how the followers of Jesus in the Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota Conferences of the United Church of Christ are experiencing themselves as called by God to particular ways of being and doing.

As you used your own voice to say yes to your baptismal vows at confirmation or as you joined your congregation, your “yes” was a yes to a call. We are each and all called to use the gifts God has given us for ministry in the service of others.

How do we experience our calls? How do we talk about them? How do we put them in motion? How do we feed and fuel them? How do we strengthen and stretch them? My ministry of listening/gathering/attending in the congregations of the Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota Conferences will be a ministry of presence in congregations, partnering with you in paying powerful attention to each person’s call. 

I’ll also be listening, gathering, and attending to particular calls. As the entire Body of Christ changes shape, as congregations change shape, more and more ministers serving congregations will be bi-vocational, earning some of their living in another way. Pastors will more often be discovered close at hand, a short distance away or even already within the congregation. Congregations with fewer members may seek bi-vocational ministry for the first time in a long while. Congregations just beginning are most often served by bi-vocational ministers, too. I’m looking forward to listening to and gathering stories from and paying attention to persons who might be wondering about this particular kind of “yes!”

I’ll also be bringing this listening/gathering/attention ministry to our congregations as members look both around and within for the persons who would be ready to step up and serve in the absence of an authorized minister. Who might preach? Who might offer spiritual care? Who might teach? 

I’ll also bring this listening/gathering/attending ministry to congregations as members look and listen around and within for calls to ordained ministry. Our geographic area in the UCC is not lavishly served by our national pastoral search process. We certainly recruit diligently. And we need to be not only on the look-out, but also on the look-in! I look forward to collaborating with our Committees on Ministry as I cheer on the holy work of looking in.

I’ll watch for your invitations and conversation-starters in my inbox. I look forward to serving you in the holy work of listening, gathering, and paying attention.

Rev. Jonna Jenen
Associate Conference Minister
“Curator of Culture of Call”

By Jonna Jensen - May 4, 2019, 2:41 pm

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    “Today You Are My Brother!”

    By Darrell Goodwin - April 1, 2019, 7:44 pm

    A few weeks ago, amidst the chaos of natural disasters and senseless shootings, I arrived in Omaha to serve the Iowa-Nebraska-South Dakota Conferences of the United Church of Christ as an associate conference minister. As I was getting settled, I made an appointment with a primary care doctor in the area. As is routine, the doctor performed a checkup and encouraged me to do some additional vitals to create a baseline in my new medical record.

    When I went to do my bloodwork, the gentleman who prepared to assist me began our engagement with normal pleasantries. Then he suddenly asked, “What is your faith?” The question caught me off guard. For a moment, I wondered if faith statements were a requirement for blood draws in the Midwest.

    I answered, “I am a Christian!”

    The gentleman continued to prepare my arm for the blood draw and followed with another question. “What kind of Christian are you?”

    I admittedly had no idea exactly what he was asking but attempted to answer. I explained that I am a progressive Christian who belongs to an overall liberal denomination. He followed up by asking me the name of this denomination and I shared a little about the United Church of Christ.

    He paused and then replied, “So is the progressive church the one that says certain people aren’t allowed, and not everyone can come?” 

    I realized that there had been a misunderstanding. I attempted to explain again the United Church of Christ, our commitment to extravagant welcome and a still speaking God.

    “This must be a very small church, I have never heard of a church like the one you are describing,” he said.

    I explained that we have over 5,000 churches throughout the country and about 300 in the Iowa-Nebraska-South Dakota Conferences. His eyes widened at the reality of this information.

    As we walked into the hallway he grabbed my hand and said, “I am a Muslim!” Holding his hand, I looked into his eyes, expressed condolences for the senseless violence in New Zealand and shared with him the outreach our conferences provided to the Muslim community the previous week. I also assured him that he would be welcome in our congregations just as he was.

    He looked back with great sincerity and told me, “Today you are my brother.”

    And I replied, “Today we are a part of the same human family.”

    Though this exchange was odd to have during a routing blood draw, I am convinced it was a sign of the Holy Spirit alive in our world. I was reminded that a missional point of the Tri-Conference Ministry is that no matter who you are in the Iowa, Nebraska, or South Dakota Conferences of the United Church of Christ you will be welcome there. I invite us all to share the witness of our extravagant welcome as often and as widely as we can — to remind a world sorely in need of extravagant welcome that God’s relationship with us does not have a period, but a comma.

    Rev. Darrell Goodwin

    Associate Conference Minister

    By Darrell Goodwin - April 1, 2019, 7:44 pm

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      A Year in the Life of TCM: Learnings, Surprises, Challenges, Joys and Hopes

      By Brigit Stevens - March 4, 2019, 4:53 pm

      Just over a year has passed since Rev. Brigit Stevens began as executive conference minister of the Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota Conferences UCC and the experiment of a shared staffing model for the Tri-Conference Ministries began. Here’s Rev. Stevens’ reflection on the past year of transition, learning and experimentation:

      What have you learned in this past year?

      I am continuing to learn the many great assets, skills, interests, experiences, and wisdom of the leaders of our church and how to network and resource those for our shared ministry. I feel responsible to work hard and do a great many things. And sometimes, I forget that one of my jobs is to give work that comes my way over to others. This isn’t a new lesson for me, and I suspect I’ll get to keep working on it for my lifetime.

      What has surprised you?

      The intricacies and volume of details for each conference has been surprising. The nuances of how each Board of Directors works, plans for each and all of us to participate in General Synod, and the assumptions about what a conference staff “normally” does are examples of the layers of details the whole staff are learning and tending to.

      What has been the greatest challenge?

      Time! We have great big hopes and plans and everything requires more time than any of us would like.

      What has been the greatest joy?

      The good people of our church! I am beginning to get to know a wide variety of amazing people throughout our conferences. I know I’m biased, but I’m convinced that we have some of the best church folks in the UCC among us. What a gift that I get to work with so many of them!

      What is your hope moving forward?

      My deepest hope is that we will discern together the vision God has for us and our role within God’s church in this particular time and place. More practically, that we’ll figure out our niche in this world, where our talents and resources meet the world’s needs most accurately, and boldly follow Jesus’ lead into those places.

      Rev. Brigit Stevens
      Executive Conference Minister

      By Brigit Stevens - March 4, 2019, 4:53 pm

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        With Gratitude

        By Brigit Stevens - November 19, 2018, 4:32 pm

        Thanksgiving means so many things to so many people. For some, it may be cause for joyous celebrations around favorite foods at family tables. For others, especially LGBTQ persons, it may be a reminder of difficult relationships and estrangements from family. For Native Americans, it may be a painful reminder of oppression and displacement inflicted at the hands of European colonizers. Thanksgiving, like everything else in life, is complicated.

        Brother David Stendl-Rast, a Benedictine Monk, tells us in his Ted Talk, viewed more than 6 million times, that gratitude does not mean being grateful for everything we experience. But, rather, finding gratitude for the opportunities that present themselves even in the difficult situations we face. Folk singer and writer Carrie Newcomer speaks about her practice of naming three things she is grateful for at the end of each day, “It’s a small practice and humble,/And yet, I find I sleep better/Holding what lightens and softens my life/Ever so briefly at the end of the day.”

        The past year has been a mixed bag of experiences for the Tri-Conference Ministries staff, who are adjusting to new ways of being as we live into better ways to serve the churches of the Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota conferences of the United Church of Christ. I’m sure your year of serving in your churches and ministries have also brought both soaring joys and overwhelming grief.

        Amidst all of this, we are grateful for you and your ministries throughout our conferences: your tireless efforts to creatively serve in your communities, this country and a world in which darkness sometimes feels like it might overcome us. Still, you point to God’s hope, peace and love shining through the ministry you do each and every day. For that we are deeply grateful.

        Throughout this holiday weekend on social media, we are going to be sharing practices and inspirations about gratitude. If you haven’t liked one or all of our pages, please do so now.

        Join in the conversation with your sister churches, telling us just what you are grateful for.

        Iowa Conference Facebook

        Nebraska Conference Facebook

        South Dakota Conference Facebook



        Rev. Brigit Stevens

        Executive Conference Minister

        By Brigit Stevens - November 19, 2018, 4:32 pm

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          Be A Beacon of Hope

          By Brigit Stevens - October 29, 2018, 12:59 pm

          Dear Friends and Colleagues, 

          I am holding you all in my prayers. As clergy and faith leaders in our communities, you are called to an incredible responsibility. There are days and weeks when that responsibility also carries with it great joy and hope! Then there are days and weeks, like those we are living through recently, that carry with them deep pain and despair.

          As we have listened to the stories and read the accounts of events in the past weeks, we have heard and seen an undercurrent of hate, judgment, and division on full display in our culture and our country. In the assertion that immigrants walking thousands of miles to move away from fear and despair in search of hope and security are a threat to our security, the very real threat of death and damage posed by pipe bombs mailed to those who oppose our current president and his administration, the shooting of two unarmed African Americans in a grocery store after the accused shooter initially attempted to enter a church, and this weekend’s massacre of 11 Jewish Americans during services at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, it is hard to find cause for hope in our country. This is where we are called into action. 

          The constant and deafening rhetoric of hate and divisiveness calls for a response from the faith community. Regardless of which boxes we check on any ballot we may cast (side note: please vote!), it is our responsibility to speak up on the side of justice, humanitarian treatment of our neighbors, and safety in our places of worship. We have the blessing of living and serving in a diverse nation. That diversity is a divine gift from God, as each of us are created in the image of our Creator. As leaders in faith, we are called to seek out opportunities to share our voice, amplifying the voice of Christ, in ways that bring peace, call out injustice, and offer inspiration and compassion to our communities. 

          Please join me and write a note of encouragement and love to our neighbors at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Invite your congregation members to do the same. Mail them from your local church to them at 5898 Wilkins Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15217. And seek out local synagogues and Jewish Community Centers near your congregation and send them notes as well. 

          Participate in a vigil or a peaceful worship process in your community. And if there isn’t one nearby, please plan one! 

          And, dear ones, tend to your own souls. Find moments to connect with ones who know you and love you anyway. Cuddle pets, or babies, or pets and babies. Walk. Drink water. Say, “I love you.” Watch a movie. Read a book. Nap. Take another nap. This is a beautiful and profound calling, to love the world with God’s heart. Remember that you too are a part of this Creation in need of loving. 

          Read these poignant words written by the Rev. Enno Limvere, Pastor at Brentford Congregational UCC in Brentford, SD: 

          “I want…” 

          I want to stand in front of the world and scream, “I don’t care anymore.” But the problem is I do care. 

          I want to stand in front of those I oppose and scream, “You aren’t worth anything.” But the problem is to God they are worth everything. 

          I want to retreat to my corner with people who agree with me and say, “We are strong, we are good, and we are justified.” But the problem is that God places me out in front of the world to say, “You are strong, you are good, and the only actions and words that have justification are those of love, mercy, and justice.” 

          I want to stop caring, for I see many hurting and angry and held down and held back, those of all ages, tongues, cultures, and orientations. But I can’t and my heart breaks and in those cracks God’s light pours forth to shine in the world. 

          In the Greatest of Hope, 

          Rev. Brigit F. Stevens
          Executive Conference Minister
          IA-NE-SD Conferences of the United Church of Christ 

          By Brigit Stevens - October 29, 2018, 12:59 pm

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