Rev. Janice Springer, University UCC Missoula Minister for Spiritual Formation, gets the award for the best church-sponsored workshop title of the year: "I'm Ready to Be Transformed As Long As I Don't Have to Change." I feel it. On Saturday, Cheryl and I started training with back-packs for our next el Camino de Santiago pilgrimage. When we got back after our 12 miles trek, my initial thought was that I don't want to change up from my 4 1/2 daily walk. Can't I get ready for the 165 mile pilgrimage from Porto to Santiago without the pain of long distance training?
It is sometimes similar in our church life, as we look to build back up after the pandemic. A few tweaks to this program or that program should be all it takes, so the thinking goes, to get things up to what we want them to be. I have heard the bind some church leaders face as they are expected to lead towards restoring church attendance and family participation without changing how it was done in the past.
I believe that change needs to happen if there is going to be transformation in our lives (stay tuned for your pastor's sermon on Transfiguration Sunday, February 19). We tend to defend ourselves and our churches against change as if the very foundation of our lives is at stake. How we express what is at the soul and heart of who we are might indeed need new ways of being heard, shown, and felt. But the very calling of who we are as people of faith is the same.
What needs to change so that you can live truer to who God calls you to be? What would you rather have happen in your life, or in your church, so that it would be a fuller expression of hope and love? How far are you willing to go so that your walk in faith can be all you aspire to in God?
Time for Orientation
Our new Transitional Conference Minister, Rev. Tony Clark, will overlap time with Rev. Marc Stewart for a few weeks in March prior to Marc's retirement on March 23. They will both attend the Council of Conference Ministers meeting in Cleveland, February 28 - March 1, and then be in the office during mid-March.
Save the Date! We are planning a Thank You event for Marc Stewart on March 17 at Mayflower UCC in Billings. We plan to begin at 6:00 p.m. with a meal. We hope to have a streaming option for those who cannot travel to Billings and would like to participate. More details to follow.
The MT-NWy Conference participates in the Montana VOAD (Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters). During the first months following the last summer's flooding, the MT VOAD met twice weekly to coordinate participating agencies' responses. VOAD otherwise meets monthly. Our Conference Disaster Response Team is co-chaired by Rev. Dr. Pam Peterson and Pastor Joshua Rau. We are currently sharing $8000 of gift card grants provided by Lowes.
Prayers and Advocacy
Our Green Team was involved in Climate Advocacy Day in Helena on January 20, 2023. Some of us attended in person; the rest of us prayed for the event. To the event, we took folded paper cranes with tags that said: “This paper crane contains a prayer for the healing our earth. Before making decisions or voting, please consider with us HTAP?: How will This Affect our Planet?” “Thank you, Legislator, for your service to our state! mnwcucc.org” Patty and Cheryl folded the cranes and beaded them; Joan created the labels. Charles and Cheryl delivered 150 cranes to legislators.
We really got a lot out of our study of pages 30-60 in Braiding Sweetgrass. The author talked about the natural world, and how the science of biology can be augmented by the Native sense of beauty and respect. We also talked about how language shapes our actions. The Potawatomi Native folk had a language of 70% verbs, because creatures were considered animate and persons, and were revered as movers in creation. (English has 30% verbs.)
Charles, from Helena UCC and his colleague from the Church of Christ church in Helena concerned the plummet in the number of song birds in recent years. The two pastors are partnering to make birdhouses for song birds; these will be put up around Helena.
Charles and Anne asked us to pray for California, which is currently in bad straits. California has gotten as much rain in the last few weeks as it usually gets in a whole year, in a whole wet year!
Next month, we will meet as a Green Team on February 21 at p.m. by zoom. We will read Braiding Sweetgrass from pages 60-97. Won’t you join us?
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Absarokee Community UCC
A Vibrant Church
The qualities of a vibrant church are celebrated in Rev. Meg Hatch's annual report: "The qualities that drew me to this congregation in the first place remain the same, even as some of the faces change as people we love leave this earth: enormous generosity, a willingness to respond when there are needs, a great sense of humor, and the desire to learn and grow in faith. For all of that and SO much more, I offer my deep gratitude and abiding love!"
After two years in the search process, First Congregational Church in Big Timber has called Rev., Brent Long to settled ministry in their church. Rev. Long has served as a supply minister for many congregations around the Billings area as well as being a hospice staff chaplain in Billings. He is authorized within the Yellowstone Presbytery PCUSA and will have dual standing in the MT-NWy Conference UCC.
Sixteen women participated in a wonderfully satisfying after-Christmas retreat at First Church Billings, facilitated by Spiritual Director Barbara Gulick. Starting on January 28, Barbara will be leading an Enneagram series to which everyone is invited.
Billings Mayflower UCC with Billings First Congregational UCC
Mayflower UCC has been grieving the passing of so many friends and members in recent weeks, including Dr. Ed Stickney (see a tribute further down in this eNews. A prayer offered in the Mayflower Weekly:
Holy One, through trials and turbulence, make us steady. With your hands, hold the strong, the fragile, and the weak. May we love as you love. Holy One, Hear the prayers of the people of Mayflower. Bring healing and peace to people who are facing cancer. Bring stamina and strength to those who are in the hospital. Bring peace for all living in the midst of war - especially for the people of Ukraine. Loving God, Take this day, our fears, worries, and distractions. Turn them into grace and mercy so we may love as you love. We offer these prayers in the name of Jesus. Amen.
The Pilgrim UCC blog hits the mark again with reflections from its friends and members:
"We are traversing a painful stretch in our country’s life. Rifts in our society, laid bare by events in recent years, have been parlayed by the media into a never-ending stream of humankind’s least attractive attributes: violence, greed, divisiveness, dishonesty, vulgarity.
So where do we find the “little light” of God’s still, small voice?
Could it be that a groundswell of kindness and respect may be our national reaction to “meanness burnout”? What if, in years to come, historians look at this current ugly climate as a small blip and write about the years of goodwill that were ushered in as a nationwide reaction to behavior that was not acceptable to the good people of America…." Wendy Morical
Jim Cramer, a long-time organist and custodian for the church, recently died. He had shown up, always willing to help and keep steadfastly faithful to the church. Blessings abounded among all who knew Jim.
A church can't go wrong singing with Lutherans as so much of worship music comes from the Lutheran tradition. Moderator Maurie Petterson reports that among the new ministries initiated by Rev. Kate Stulce is the reforming of the joint UCC-ELCA choir, much to everyone's enjoyment.
Great Falls First Congregational UCC
Sojourn is a monthly gathering for progressive Christians, former Christians, Christian-adjacents, spiritual-not-religious, and anyone else interested in connecting with people of shared values and having honest conversations about things that matter. Our discussions will draw on the wisdom of the broad Christian tradition as well as the insight of science, the humanities, and other faiths, committed to anti-racism and LGBTQ-affirmation and guided by the values of justice, mercy, and openness. This is a shared outreach created by Rev. Lynne Spencer Smith and Rev. Stephen Underwood from Central Christian Church.
Hardin Congregational UCC
At its Annual Meeting on January 8, Hardin UCC talked about the time coming for a serious conversation with the Hardin United Methodist Church, about selling one of its buildings and moving in together. Each church currently has a building, and Pastor Bill Briggs provides a joint worship season.
Have you ever thought about your own memorial or funeral service? If you could chose, where would you like that service to take place? What would you include in your obituary? Do you have favorite hymns or scriptures or prayers? As people gather to celebrate your life, what are some ways to remember you and to honor your life? Do you hope that green jello will be available at your memorial luncheon? (Me neither…)
“Hold the Green Jello” is a fun and participatory way to think ahead with friends in a small group setting. The class will meet four times in February and is limited in attendance. Summary notes will be held in digital church files for future reference at the conclusion of the class.
I’m Ready to Be Transformed As Long As I Don’t Have to Change is a workshop with Janice Springer via Zoom: How do we cope with changes we don’t want or weren’t expecting? How do we deal with the loss and fear that often come with change? Why do even happy changes sometimes leave us disoriented? How do we promote wise changes in ourselves, our families, our world?
Last week, upon arrival at the Church for fellowship and the worship service, potluck, and annual meeting, we were met with colder temperatures in the building than outside. After exhausting our expertise in trouble shooting the system, we decided to eat the delicious food we had brought for potluck with our coats on and then go home to warm up! Our furnace was installed in 1983 and is not as dependable as it should be.
Rev. Dr. Pam Peterson recently announced that she will be leaving Red Lodge Community UCC as pastor on February 19. She is deeply appreciated for 4 1/2 years of intensive ministry with the church and community, during which she persevered through the pandemic and local flood disaster, achieved a Doctor of Ministry, and served on the Conference Board of Directors.
On Christmas Day, not knowing how many would come to church or how many would stay on for a potluck, sixteen chairs were set downstairs with Christmas celebration decorations. Exactly 16 folks stayed for the potluck.
a National UCC Zoom in Event
Rural Church Invitation
Rural UCC church leaders from around the country have been meeting by zoom for a couple years for mutual support of being church in rural America. We have consistently had 2 - 3 leaders from our conference churches participating in the Rural Church Initiative. On February 9-11, 2 - 5 pm Mountain Time, there will be national virtual symposium for all rural churches. Churches are invited to participate through individuals joining in by zoom, or as whole groups within the church joining. Email Marc Stewart for funding assistance if needed towards the $25 per person registration cost.
There is a serious lack of trained clergy available for rural or part-time positions. Some churches may not receive any inquiries after a year of looking. Keep our vacant churches in your care and prayer. Look within your congregations, too, considering who may be open to leading people in worship and in pastoral care.
Broadus Powder River UCC, searching with ELCA to share a pastor; no profiles have been surfaced yet from either UCC or ELCA
Baker UCC has a new church profile especially developed for rural churches. but has received less than one profile a year since becoming vacant in 2013
Big Timber UCC has called Rev. Brent Long to become their 3/4 time settled minister.
Butte UCC is needing occasional supply preachers.
Red Lodge Community UCC is saying thank you to Rev. Dr. Pamela Peterson as she prepares to conclude her ministry with them on February 19, 2023.
Sheridan WY First Congregational UCC has completed a church profile, getting ready in its pastoral search after Rev. Sheila Naismith retires next June.
University UCC Missoula will be voting on a settled senior minister on February 5, 2023. The candidate's name will be shared soon.
On MLK Day, January 16, 2023, the Montana Association of Christians held a service of thanksgiving as it came together for the last time. MAC is dissolving and sharing its legacy of funds with the Montana Food Bank Network Child Advocacy Program and with the Northern Rockies Institute of Theology. A video of the service, written by Rev. Dr. Marc Stewart is available here, on the Plymouth UCC WEB site.
Our prayers are with the family of Dr. Ed Stickney who passed on December 23, 2022. Thank you to Rev. Amy Carter for her words of tribute:
Edwin Stickney died on December 23, 2023, at the age of 95. Ed grew up in the Montana Northern Wyoming Conference because his father, George, served as the Conference Minister beginning in 1948. Ed's mother was an organist, and Ed became an accomplished organist and pianist.
After finishing medical school, Ed began practicing medicine in Broadus while offering his musical talent as the organist of the Powder River Congregational Church. Some members of Mayflower remember him as their Sunday School teacher in Broadus and still have the Bible he and his wife Jessica gifted them when they were confirmed.
When he moved his practice to Miles City, he was active in Miles City UCC church and played the organ there too. Ed was an active member of Mayflower Church and made significant contributions to other churches in our Conference and to the Conference as a whole.
He worked on the Conference Planned Giving Committee and helped to spearhead the "Make A Difference" campaign. This campaign created an endowment for our Conference, which we are drawing upon this year.
His children plan a memorial service for him on May 8, 2023 at Mayflower Church.