Author Archives: janemcbride

Holy Week Reading Guide

Throughout Holy Week, spend some time in selection and prayer with these readings and questions as a guide.

Monday – John 12:1-11 – Mary anoints Jesus’ feet

When was a time you gave more than you could afford to give?  How did it make you feel?

Tuesday – John 12:20-36 – Jesus speaks to his disciples

What does “following Jesus” mean to you?  What does it require of you?  How well do you keep this promise of following Christ?

Wednesday – John 13: 21-32 – Judas betrays Jesus

Have you ever been betrayed?  What did that feel like?  Have you ever betrayed someone else?  What did that make you feel?

Maundy Thursday – John 13:1-17, 31b-35

Has anyone ever tried to serve you, and you resisted?  Why?

Good Friday – John 18:1-19:37

Have you ever watched a loved one suffer?  Describe how it made you feel.

Holy Saturday – John 19:38-42 – Jesus is buried

When have you grieved the loss of someone you loved?  What got you through this time of pain and sadness?

Pilgrim Point Weekend 2013

2013 MN Conference UCC Annual Meeting

Comments and reflections from our delegates and others from First Church who attended this year’s Conference meeting!

Video highlights from the meeting can be found here

from Maggie George: 

I had so much fun doing the drumming workshop on Saturday and then being able to be part of the closing worship service by drumming for the dancers.  It was so empowering to know that I could do it — keep a beat that is — as well as be a part of a celebrative closing worship in a way that really reflected the energy in the place.

I appreciated Wade Zick’s workshop on becoming a FAITH FORMING FIVE congregation.  I see that Aaron and others are bringing much of this thinking to life within First Church and the workshop gave me a chance to appreciate the whys and hows of the effort.  I look forward to seeing First Church grow more bold in this area of deliberately working toward greater faith formation for all of us.

Saying good bye to Karen Smith-Sellers as our Conference Minister was bitter sweet.  She has made such a huge impact on the Minnesota Conference.  Her vision and her leadership have set us on a strong path to flourish and grow.  The leadership of the staff and the volunteers give me great hope for our future.  Having said that, I also got the clear message that we can’t just sit around and expect everything to go well, rather we must be ready and willing and equipped to do bold new things.  The Conference is there to help and provide ideas, materials and support but we must step up and make it happen within our own church.

from Bonnie Johnson:

I want to thank the members of First Church for electing me to be a delegate. It is enriching and inspiring to attend this annual gathering and it was great to have First Church so well represented!  Because I have attended before what stood out for me this time was the mixed feelings everyone had because of the retirement of Karen Smith Sellars as our Conference Minister.  The Conference has developed into a solid, well-organized, accountable, spiritual and forward looking entity.  There is much thankfulness and appreciation for that.  There’s confidence but some uneasiness in moving ahead now.  However, the other dynamic I was aware of is how many new clergy and laity are visible and active, and as much as I missed many old familiar faces this is a good thing and in keeping with the theme of the annual meeting “Behold I Am Doing a New Thing.”   I especially appreciated keynoter Felix Carrion’s address and Bible study and all the good singing during worship times.

From Sandy Johnson:

First, of course, it is always wonderful to see my friends from around Minnesota who I don’t get to see very often.  This year, my dear friend Linda Crowe (and her husband Randy) are living in Brainerd where Linda is the Interim Minister — it was great to connect with them!

 As chair of the Conference Professional Development Sub-committee I led a hearing on the 2014 Clergy Compensation Guidelines.  It’s not a flashy or exciting topic, so I was especially pleased by the number of folks who came and were committed to putting together appropriate and just compensation packages for their ministers.

 Third, I was very moved by the Sunday morning Bible Study by the Rev. Felix Carrion.  He brought a new depth to my understanding of Holy Communion as well as the specific passage he was speaking about.  I felt really ministered to by his words.

Finally, it was great to be part of the First Church delegation — we rocked the place!

from Mary Klonoski:

Most years my favorite things at the Annual Meeting of the Minnesota Conference UCC are the C’s (conversations and catching up with UCC friends from around the state and the congregational singing at the worship services.)

This year the B’s (Bible studies presented by Rev. Tony Robinson and Rev. Felix Carrion) were my meeting favorites.  How did this happen?  1) Bible study at First Church led by the dynamic Marguerite Unwin Voelkel has made me an aficionada and 2) the presentations by Rev. Robinson and Rev. Carrion were brilliant.

 In Rev. Robinson’s thoughtful study of Isaiah 43:1, 15-21, he challenged us to make God the subject of our verbs, not ourselves, and to let go of the old and receive God in a new reality.

 During Rev. Carrion inspiring study of II Corinthians 3:6, 4:7-18, he stressed that when the temporary fades away our deepest identity is our unity with God. We are the new thing God is doing.

 Both studies left a lasting impression and have given me new energy.

from Jake Schlagel:

This year’s annual meeting was full of energy, and some great discussions of how we as church can let God “do a new thing” through us (Isaiah 43:19). The highlight of the weekend for me was the Rev. Dr. Karen Smith Sellers’ sermon on Friday night, in which she spoke about how to move forward as a church – looking into a changing future without neglecting the gifts we have from the past. It was an amazing sermon, and I urge everyone to check out the video online here:

from Clyde Steckel:

I was taken by the excellence of the speakers, workshops, music and business sessions. They all represented Karen’s high standards as conference minister. That kind of meeting builds both confidence in the conference and hope for its future. But everyone seemed aware of the change that is bound to come with a new conference minister. Karen was praised at every turn, and rightly so.



Rummage Sale & Harvest Festival

Multifaith Week at the U

A weekend at camp!

We spent a weekend at Pilgrim Point Camp, our MN Conference UCC Camp near Alexandria, MN.  We had lots of fun and plenty of time to just “be” together. It was hot, so we did lots and lots of swimming!!  And outdoor worship, and conversation and play. The camp staff led us in reflecting on “Living Stewardship” — sharing the gifts we have, letting our generosity arise out of our gratitude.   25 people of all ages took part.


Dismantling Racism Retreat Reflections

Members of First Church and Cherokee Park UCC in St. Paul spent the weekend of June 29-July 1 in Duluth, with the aim of learning from the work of the Dismantling Racism Team at Peace UCC.   During the weekend, the group took part in the following activities:

  • We visited the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial, which commemorates the lynching of three young black men in the 1920s.  Our visit was guided by Henry Banks and Katherine Osthos, both members of the Duluth community who helped to create the memorial.
  • We experienced the first two sessions of “Cracking the Shell of Whiteness” a curriculum developed by the Dismantling Racism Team at Peace UCC.
  • Members of Peace UCC set up an excellent panel consisting of members of the Duluth community who are people of color.  We shared over three hours of honest, in depth dialogue with them about how they have perceived the efforts of Peace UCC to work on issues of racism, as well as the “Un-fair Campaign” undertaken by the City of Duluth.
  • We had a chance to visit the Science Museum’s Race Exhibit which is now being displayed in Duluth.
  • We enjoyed communal meals and potlucks with one another, with members of the panel, and with members of the Peace UCC team.  After Sunday worship together with the members of Peace UCC, we spent time with the Dismantling Racism Team learning more about their efforts at Peace over the years.
  • Finally, on our way out of town, we took part in a demonstration regarding an Un-Fair campaign bulletin board that had been defaced.

We have decided that one way we will continue our efforts during this coming year is by learning more about the US-Dakota War, given that this year, we observe the 150th anniversary of those events.  We hope to visit the Minnesota Historical Society exhibit and to read together (and encourage others to join us in reading) North Country: The Making of Minnesota.  

Here are reflections from a couple of the participants in the weekend:

Alison Killeen:

“Our trip to Duluth was unique, invigorating, mentally exhausting, but most of all: hopeful. Peace Church UCC demonstrated extraordinary hospitality to our little group by arranging for us to bear witness to their ongoing struggle for racial justice in the Duluth community–through arranging for us to visit exhibitions, memorials, by leading us in intimate conversations on our personal experiences of race, and most of all, by hosting a phenomenal panel discussion led by people of color on race, racism, racial tensions, and racial reconciliation in Duluth.

The panel conversation was the experience from which I learned the most. It is extremely rare (especially for a white person) to witness a conversation on race which is both frank and forgiving, disturbing and soul-stretching, challenging yet hopeful. The panelists were willing to share with us their experiences in an open and honest way, which was a testament to the sustained relationship each of them had with the Peace Church Dismantling Racism Team. They also gave strong critique to Peace Church and to the Un-Fair Campaign, which was listened to and will be reflected upon (I imagine) for some time.

I feel hopeful and inspired that First Church might similarly play an allied role dismantling racism in our wider (church and otherwise) community. But more than anything, I feel thankful to have born witness to the difficult and fruitful work of the good people of Duluth, who continue to struggle toward justice and the promise of beloved community here on earth. Their work inspires me to action.”

Bundy Trinz from Cherokee Park UCC

“I so appreciate having been included in the Duluth weekend. I have already shared with many others about the weekend and will be bringing back some of my experiences both to the anti-racism team at Cherokee Park and to the Emmaus Team. I’m still processing the experiences of the weekend as I speak about them with friends and colleagues. A big take-away for me already is reinforcing that we white allies must always act in concert with people of color (whose voices are not always in agreement) and that we must also take enormous risks and be truly vulnerable in order to be part of the beginnings of actual beloved community.”

Ann Gilbert (an excerpt from a note of thanks to members of the Dismantling Racism Team at Peace UCC):

“The three days we spent in Duluth were, for me, impactful; I was stretched and challenged and inspired.   My experience, especially the time with the community panel, will, I think, become an important touchstone as I move forward from here.   There were many learnings and insights that came out of our retreat; I’d like to share just a few of the things that most stand out as I reflect back on the weekend:

*  The community panel was extraordinary and was the high point of the weekend for me — so many powerful voices gathered in one room, people speaking with honesty and heart and from the depth of their own experience. I do not take for granted the willingness of people to do that in presence of strangers, particularly where there is every reason for people of color to distrust a group of unknown white people.    I felt incredibly  privileged to be a witness to the conversation that happened in those few hours.  I really appreciated the localness of the conversation — people were there, not theorizing and generalizing, but hammering things out in all their complexity in the particularity of a specific context and specific relationships.  Complexity — that’s one of the most important things I am taking away —  and how easily and naively white people can simplify matters and take actions that can have serious consequences for people of color.  I was quite struck by Janet’s metaphor of lemon squeezed into water to illustrate how the Unfair Campaign did not seem to have taken account of how stirring things up would cause backlash against Duluth communities of color — the need for white people to be prepared to stand in the fire with people of color when things do get stirred up and the imperative that we, as white people,  need to consistently ask people of color what they need from us as allies (be it lending muscle, clearing obstacles, utilizing the access we have to powerful people and institutions, etc) instead of assuming that we know what needs to be done and prescribing solutions.    Throughout the conversation, I was deeply moved by the stories people on the panel told of the relentless and daily presence/consequences of racism, how unspeakably taxing that is on every aspect of being.  And in conjunction with that, I was awed by the courage of the panelists who somehow find the spirit to continue to speak and to act in faith and hope in the possibility of a different world — a stance that can and does  incur more penalties.   I will remember that.  The willingness of people on the panel to speak so forthrightly about their experience and pain increased my sense of accountability.

*  I have also thought about Henry’s words throughout the weekend about the necessity for allies to bring heart as well as head to the work.   I loved how he carried us imaginatively back to the night of the Clayton-Jackson- McGhie lynchings — asked us to stand with our hearts in the events of that unspeakable night.  It was very powerful and a wonderful way to start our retreat.    We also had a perfect and fitting end to the weekend with the opportunity to join the gathering at the site of the defaced Unfair Campaign billboard.  I’m only sorry that we did not have more time with the Dismantling Racism Team over lunch on Sunday.

*  The intersection with Peace Church folks was great.  There is something very remarkable at work in your congregation that was apparent at every turn and I feel like I learned a great deal.  Maybe the most important thing I learned was simply through observing the non-defensive openness to hearing challenges and criticisms — there appeared to me to be a commitment to always learning and going deeper and moving through tough times and stumbles.   I heard and saw the commitment to building authentic relationship and how the commitment to those relationships is a huge part of what sustains the energy.   I appreciated the reflections of the Dismantling Racism team during our Sunday lunch about that and other factors that have created what I think is an unusual level of sustained commitment over quite a number of years.      It was striking to hear about how much there is a presence of people who have, in some way, been part of the Dismantling Racism work,  throughout the many activities that are part of life at Peace Church;  it’s moved way beyond being the focus of  “issue group” to being more widely imbedded in how Peace Church understands itself as a community.  I know you would quickly step in to say that you have a long way to go but I think you have crossed a critical threshold that most dominantly white churches have not; I am so interested in this journey you are on and will look forward to continuing to learn from you as this work unfolds at Peace Church.”

Reflections from MN Conference Annual Meeting

From Brigh Niccum:

Attending the UCC Annual Meeting was a very good experience for me. I learned a lot about how the UCC functions and what’s currently going on in the church. I definitely didn’t expect to have as much fun as I did. Everyone there, the other youth delegates especially, were very welcoming. I definitely didn’t guess that my experience at the meeting would include unlimited softserve ice cream at meals, several intense Ultimate Frisbee games, and a flashmob featuring an interpretation of the Resurrection choreographed to the Beatles’ Hello/Goodbye. It was a great experience and I hope I will be able to attend next year.

From Jake Schlagel:

This was my first year at the annual meeting, and I really didn’t know what to expect. I wondered just how diverse the UCC is, and whether the other churches there would be very similar to First Church. After spending a day and a half getting to know only some of the three hundred delegates and guests at the conference, I’ve come to feel that my denomination is richly diverse, but also able to come together in the most important ways. The wealth of workshops (over forty of them!), the engaging speakers, and most of all the interesting individuals that I spoke with impressed me with a wealth of knowledge from many places in the world and in life. But when addressing social issues like the marriage ban and voter ID amendment on this Fall’s ballot; hunger; homelessness; education; and peace, these divergent views and varied backgrounds all came together in the same spirit, voting for some strongly worded political support and continuing missions of service.
I’ve come away from the conference refreshed, hopeful, and proud to say that I worship with the UCC.

From Bonnie Johnson:

Thank you, First Church, for sending me as a delegate to the 50th Annual Meeting of the Minnesota Conference of the United Church of Christ.  It was my honor and my joy to be there representing you.  I take pride in saying this was my 48th Annual Meeting and I realize how much a part of who I am these experiences have been.

Being at an annual meeting really helps one know who the Minnesota Conference is and what it does.   The 135 UCC churches in Minnesota with over 30,000 members have these Strategic Mission Priorities:  1-  Healthy, vital congregations  2- Leadership development for clergy and laity 3- Faith formation of children, youth and adults  4- Increased capacity for Christian service and witness.   We learned how these are being carried out by presentations and through over 40 workshops.  All the while we enjoyed good music, food and fellowship.  Several things stood out for me:  The quality of the Conference Staff and the dedication of the volunteers in many areas;   Learning in detail what a vital Youth Ministry we have now, including an invigorated and improved Pilgrim Point;   Hearing  and meeting Geoffrey Black, President and General Minister of the UCC;  Receiving the anniversary book written and complied by Clyde Steckel plus Clyde’s grand sermon, “Falling in Love with the Annual Meeting”!

I came home inspired and energized and would urge others to attend another year.

From Maggie George: 

I thought the Annual Meeting was great.  The business parts of the meeting went smoothly and quickly.  There were great breakout sessions.  I went to a workshop where they reviewed the Ecumenical Advocacy Days which is a weekend in Washington D.C. with progressive Christians.  The first two days attendees are briefed and educated on the issues and policies on which congress should hear from people of faith.  Then on the last day the attendees visit with their respective senators and representatives to share their points of view.  They tackle immigration issues, economic issues, health, housing, education, budgets, taxes, etc.  It is a great way to get to know others and to be involved in working for the good.

I went to another workshop to get training on how to have conversations about the anti-marriage amendment.  One of the things I learned there was that it is twice as important to have conversations with folks you think want to defeat the amendment as to talk with folks who support the ban on same sex marriage.  Because we want to be sure they are on our side of the issue and stay there and that they actually vote.  Getting to supporters and keeping them in the vote NO frame of mind and getting them to the polls will do us more good than spending lots of energy trying to convince people who are totally against us.  Not to say that we ignore them but our big energy should be with those who are supporters.

Finally, I was very pleased that the Conference took a stand to defeat the Voter ID amendment as well.  This is also a matter of justice.  The voter ID — voter suppression — will disenfranchise many voters and it will make it harder to cast a vote.  Think of those without any other need or access to a government issued photo id or those whose id does not keep up with where they are living.  College students away from home during the school year would not have a government issued photo id with their current address.  Transgender persons who present differently than their photo id would show would also have trouble voting and would certainly face greater scrutiny.   It would impede low income people in their right to vote as well.

First Church was well represented at the Annual Meeting and received recognition for our leadership working to defeat the amendments including our fund raising.  We were also in the list of congregations which gave 5 for 5 giving — to each of the 5 annual appeals to support Our Churches Wider Mission, One Great Hour of Sharing, Strengthen the Church, Neighbors in Need and The Christmas Fund.  I’m proud to be associated with First Church when I attend such gatherings.

It is great to see what other congregations are doing as well and talk with them about their missions and settings.  I realize I’m a church geek because I love church gatherings like this.


God is With Us – Advent Devotionals Week 4

Week 4 Sunday December 18 – Saturday December 24

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16

In this passage, a conversation between God and David ensues. David is decided on building YHWH a temple, a place where God can dwell and the people can worship. YHWH is quick to turn this proposal on its head, though. YHWH says, it is I who will build for you a house, a long lineage of sons and daughters who will follow in my teachings. This passage is important for Advent in its display of God’s commitment to God’s people. There are a number of covenants made throughout the Hebrew Bible; covenants with Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David. In the Christian tradition, we understand Jesus as being another covenant of God with God’s people, a revealing of God’s grace and redemption in our lives and our world. In this season of Advent, how does this passage inform your understanding of God’s promise to our world? If we follow the lineage all the way back to the time of Noah, what does this say about the length of God’s commitment to our world?

Luke 1:47-55

This passage is one of the most famous in the New Testament. Often referred to as the Magnificat, this song of Mary is a lesson in the nature of God and God’s work in our world. An angel visits Mary and tells her that she will bear the Son of God and he will rule over the house of David. She rushes off to visit Elizabeth her cousin, who was pregnant with John the Baptist. Mary responds by giving praise to God for selecting her as the mother of Jesus. In the passage, Mary speaks of the nature of God, and God’s favor placed on those that fear God, those that humble themselves in front of God, those who are not proud, the hungry, and the people of Israel. Mary is not just thanking God, but reminding the reader of God’s call for justice in the world, that it is not the rich and the proud who will receive blessings, but those who follow in the line of God. When we think about the birth of Jesus, to a woman with so little power, how does this transform your view of God’s presence in the world? In what new ways do you see God’s work when God is often portrayed as a mighty ruler?

Psalm 89:1-4,19-26

We revisit the story of God’s covenant with David in the psalm for this week. The psalmist is focused on making it known to the world that God is faithful and recalls David’s story as evidence. Often times, this psalm is used in Christian teaching as a reference to the coming of Jesus. If we expand this to a wider historical view, we can see that this psalm is making speaking of the long-standing covenant of God with God’s people, stretching from David through Jesus to today. In what ways do we make it known to the world that God is faithful to us? How do we sing of God’s great love in this season of Advent?

Romans 16:25-27

In the conclusion of his letter to the church in Rome, Paul gives blessings to God for God’s faithfulness and steadfast love. The church in Rome during this time was in major conflict, mainly about the relationships between Jews and Gentiles and their respective experiences with the grace of God. Paul is reassuring the people in his letter, telling them that it is God who establishes the gospel in all our hearts, and that the faith of those who follow Christ is available to all. In this season of waiting, how are you prepared to allow God to work in grace and love in your life? Often times, we may assume that our relationship with God is a one-way street, with us always seeking God. How is this counter-productive? How can we instead wait for God to move in our lives and our world?





Advent Devotions Week 3 “Hope Restored”

Week 3 Sunday December 11 – Saturday December 17

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

This passage from Isaiah is a conversation of three speeches, from a priest, a government official, and God. Each of the speeches addresses the return of God to Israel and the role each plays in this return. The priest will preach good news to the poor, the Persian government will rebuild and work the fields, and God will reward the people and renew the covenant. This passage highlights the work that is involved in the coming of God’s reign. It is not something we simply wait for but a task before us. We must work with others, those of our own faith and nation and those of others, to realize God’s dream. In the last year, how have you worked with others for love and justice? In what ways to you witness people of different faiths and cultures working together in your city, country, and around the world?


Psalm 126

This psalm uses the power of memory to sends its message of hope and renewal to the people. It speaks of a time when Israel rich and full, with laughter, joy, and dreams. The psalmist asks for God to return Israel to this time; to bring back the fortune and joy. Use this time of Advent to remember a specific time of joy and love in your life. How was God present in all of this? Where did you see God working in your life at this time? Was God’s work obvious? Or subtle?

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

Paul ends his letter to the church in Thessalonica with some final instructions for living a life in the imitation of Christ. Rejoice, give thanks, and pray are easily understood as guidelines for new Christians. But Paul also teaches the people to keep a sharp mind. He tells them to test all the teachings and prophecies they hear and to always be open to the life of the Spirit. This is not an easy task today, in a world where messages are coming at us from all directions. How do we “hold fast to what is good” when so many people say their message is the truth? In this time of Advent, let us focus on keeping a discerning mind, one that can identify the teachings of truth, love, and justice in our world and the courage to speak out against those messages that do not.

John 1:6-8, 19-28

Like Mark’s Gospel, John begins with the story of John the Baptist and his role in preparing the way for Jesus. John the character is shrouded in mystery in this passage. He is not the Messiah. He is not Elijah, who Malachi foretold would come in preparation for the Day of the Lord, nor the Prophet foretold in Deuteronomy. Yet John is important enough to be questioned by the Jewish leaders about his baptizing. In answering their questions, John remains ambiguous, speaking not of himself, but of “the one who comes after me.” What message was the author of John trying to send with all these vague answers from John the Baptist? Many times the answers we seek about faith and God are just as ambiguous. In what ways do you work in discerning God’s message? What do you do when the answers aren’t so clear?