“If you must look back, do so forgivingly. If you must look forward, do so prayerfully. However, the wisest thing you can do is be present in the present…gratefully.” — Maya Angelou
As I enter my last month of service as your Conference Minister, the days are marked increasingly by “last things”: my last Board of Directors meeting, my last opportunity to spend time in this church or that church, my last lingering conversation with a pastor over coffee, my last report written or task completed. A bit of melancholy gradually settles in, unexpected tears slipping from my eyes at random moments…during the congregational singing of a hymn, or while preaching the final words of a sermon, or saying one of many good-byes that now seem to accumulate daily.
These are days when even the most routine moments and interactions are filled with extra meaning and poignancy. These are days for remembering, and for reflecting on all that has been over these ten amazing years. In the midst of it all, I am attempting, as Maya Angelou has advised, to “be present in the present … gratefully.”
Indeed, there is so much for which I am thankful when I consider our ministry together.
- For the faithful striving of our congregations. In small country churches and large metro churches, from our border with Canada to our border with Iowa, I’ve watched you labor to be the churches God is calling you to be in this moment. I’ve seen the ways you care for one another and extend that care outward to others, your immersion in prayer and worship, your diligent discernment about your future and your ministry. For this I am grateful.
- For our ministers and their daily “yes” to service in Christ’s Church. I watched with awe-filled respect as pastors persevered during the pandemic and did what was necessary to continue holding their faith communities together amid unimaginable circumstances. I’ve deeply admired the loving mercies of our chaplains, their particular sacrifices during the pandemic. I’ve watched others follow their call as community organizers and teachers and non-profit leaders and have been inspired by their big hearts for those they serve. For all these ministers in all these settings, I am grateful.
- For amazing lay leaders across the Conference, the ones who chair Council meetings and cook for fundraisers and show up for worship and give their offerings and breathe life into our congregations year after year. I love their dedication, the community they build with laughter and grace and persevering prayer, the ways they carry their faith into the world, the Church with skin on. For these I am grateful.
- For our youth and young adults. I’ll never forget their “march for our lives” in 2018 after the gun violence that took 17 lives in Parkland, Florida, or their courage in speaking truth to power in the halls of Congress just a few months ago. Nor will I forget their challenge to the rest of us at Annual Meetings to step up as the Church and do our part to change the world. For these, too, I am grateful.
- For this Conference’s bold commitment to justice and its willingness to march, protest, advocate, rally, and organize with prophetic passion and inspiring devotion. Whether you’ve done all this yourselves, or enthusiastically supported me in my witnessing for justice and peace on your behalf, I have been grateful.
- For our Conference volunteers. You’ve served on committees and work groups and teams and our Board. You’ve chaperoned groups at camp and on trips. You’ve shared your abundant gifts and your precious time to assist the work of the wider church because you care about our life together and what we’re trying to accomplish among our churches and in the world. You are indispensable to our ministry. For you I am grateful.
- For your incredible generosity. You have wowed me time and time again. When the pandemic was causing unbearable strain on our congregations, you still gave to Our Church’s Wider Mission, to per capita dues, and to special offerings of the UCC. You’ve given to our Annual Fund and to Give to the Max and to special appeals. Because you’ve been so generous, we are a financially healthy Conference in a time when so many Conferences are struggling mightily. And because you’ve been generous with us, we’ve been able to be one of the most generous Conferences in the country to our national setting of the UCC. What a joy to serve in a Conference where generosity is a core value and consistent practice! For this I am grateful.
- And finally, for our Conference staff. Our staff work so hard every day to fulfill our core mission of “equipping a courageous church alive with Christ’s transforming love.” They walk with you in times of great celebration, unsettling conflict, and deep uncertainty. They organize, plan, respond and host out of a sense of their own call and in service to a shared ministry they value immensely. And they do so much of it unseen, quietly but diligently working to help your ministries thrive. For the Conference staff – past, present, and future – I am indeed grateful.
In 1 Thessalonians 5, we are urged to “rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (vs.16-18) Know that I rejoice in the time we have shared together and that my gratitude for you is full. You will remain in my prayers as your future unfolds, and as another comes to lead. I am confident that the Minnesota Conference UCC will continue to give constant cause for abundant thanksgiving.
Reverend Shari Prestemon, Conference Minister