COMMAnts from the Conference Minister
Last Sunday I had the pleasure of worshiping with St. Paul’s UCC in Delano, and it was yet another occasion for me to give thanks for our precious presence as the UCC across the Minnesota Conference.
St. Paul’s is a small congregation; there were about 30 people in worship on that particular day. Delano itself is a small town, in an area that St. Paul members described as very conservative.
When Rev. Bridget Haefner, pastor and teacher at St. Paul’s, invited prayers from the congregation that morning, a member who was there worshiping with his wife and young daughter stood up to share the difficult news that their family would soon be moving away. He talked then about how important that church had been for their family, how much they were going to miss it, and how grateful their family had been for a church that offered a different voice in Delano than the more prevailing attitudes of exclusion and troubling conservatism. It was clear the church had been a refuge of sorts for them, a blessed community that more closely aligned with the values important to them and made the harshness of the surrounding world more bearable.
That member’s heartfelt words were powerful testimony to the importance of our witness as the United Church of Christ, perhaps particularly in communities where our values of inclusivity, extravagant love, and wide welcome are not broadly embraced. As I mingled with others after worship last Sunday, heard about their various activities in the community, and listened to others’ gratitude for their church, it was clear that St. Paul’s offers an alternative witness and presence in that little town that matters immensely, to its own members and to our collective faithful enterprise as the Church in the world.
As small, rural towns struggle to survive, it gets harder and harder for our churches in them to survive too as membership and resources slowly dwindle. Although church closures and hardship are not only in small, rural communities, it is where we now see a growing number of our congregations struggling. Yet it is in these same places that our churches’ witness seems especially important.
It can often feel these days as if hate, anger, white supremacy, misogyny and all the forces that damage and destroy are overwhelming the kind of Resurrecting, Radical Love we choose in the United Church of Christ, the kind of love that lies at the heart of the Gospel. Our voices can feel so small, our efforts so futile against a backdrop of all that other noise.
Be faithful anyway. Do justice anyway. Show loving kindness anyway. Follow Christ’s example anyway. Be a courageous church anyway.
Trust that whatever bits of faithfulness and love you dare to share with the world will make a difference to someone, somehow, that the tiny seeds you plant will bear fruit in ways you cannot imagine.
With you on the journey,
Reverend Shari Prestemon, Conference Minister