Rev. Shari Prestemon, Conference Minister
Everywhere I go these days I hear the ring of despair. Clergy speak of their loneliness and isolation amid the hard work of ministry. Local church leaders worry about their congregation’s future. Disagreements become major conflicts. People are physically and spiritually exhausted by the challenges we face as Church and by our nation’s bitter divisions and troublesome rhetoric.
In the United Church of Christ, we are people of action. We see injustice and we organize for change. We notice someone’s need and we reach out to meet it. We identify a problem and we rush to fix it. “Doing” is part of our denominational DNA. I love that about the UCC! But even the most passionate activist gets tired, the hardest-working pastor can hit a wall, and the most vital church occasionally falls exhausted.
In his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul offers some advice to that earliest Christian community that found itself overwhelmed and disheartened in its own time by challenging circumstances and daunting ministry: “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, as indeed you are doing.” (5:11)
Today, in this letter to the congregations and faithful servants of the Minnesota Conference UCC, I simply want to offer you my encouragement. I see how hard you’re working. I know how much you love your churches. I hear your worried questions and your whispered hopes and dreams. I give thanks for your faithfulness in all sorts of circumstances, for the legacy of ministry you inherited from others and are striving so hard to build upon. I am in awe of what you have done and what you are still doing every day as the Church of Jesus Christ. You are the living, breathing embodiment of all that Jesus taught us, the modern-day disciples of an enduring message and faith.
Know that you are in my prayers. Know that I fiercely believe in you and in our collective mission as Church. Trust that God is walking alongside you and will never let you go, no matter how messy or uncertain the daily path. Know that you matter – to the vision God has for all of us, to the Conference, and to me. Be encouraged.
We all need a little (or a lot!) of encouragement in these days. Will you join me in offering some of that encouragement to someone you know in your congregation or in the Conference? Tell your pastor how much a visit meant, or how powerfully a sermon touched you, or just that you know how hard they’re working and how grateful you are for them. Say thank you to another member for the special effort they put into a project, or for the little things they do that often go unnoticed. Reach out to another congregation or send someone a note of support. Pray for one another. And then pray again.
We need each other in these times. Let us encourage one another and build each other up. Let us be the Church with and for one another.