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Feb 24, 2024

One recent wintry weekend, I decided to visit a random church in my neighborhood, and just for a change of pace, since I spend so much time visiting our Michigan UCC churches, I thought I’d go to another denomination.

I tried to forget that I was a pastor and professional church visitor, so I looked for a church the way normal people do – online, at the last minute, haphazardly and on a day with bad weather. I plugged three nearby churches into google maps and drove toward the one that looked to be starting soon but hadn’t started yet.

I circled around looking for parking, and then I circled around again, and by the time I finally parked somewhere semi-legal, my frustration was high, as I slipped on icy sidewalks toward the entrance. I’ll admit it. I was now late and coming in hot.

I know enough about historic church buildings to know that the front door they built a hundred years ago is almost never going to be the front door today, so I went to a modern office door near a staff parking area, but it was locked, and on the door was a paper sign that said something unhelpful like, “Please enter through the north narthex courtyard office staff side main entrance” and included a map of the church’s architectural blueprint with a few illegible squiggles. So I slipped along the sidewalk to a side door, also locked, and finally up the unsalted stairs to the grand gothic door, amazed that the main entrance was actually going to be the main entrance but of course it wasn’t. Pasted to that door was the same mysterious sign I had seen on all the other doors, so I circled back to door number one, which was at least made of glass and knocked on the window, and finally reluctantly pressed what might be a doorbell, that I prayed didn’t ring straight to the pulpit.

Jan 22, 2024

“Over the last year and a half of visiting our churches as your Conference Minister, I am convinced that our 2024 priority must be the care of our clergy.”

Our Conference Ministerial Team is seeking your help.  Pastors, please complete the 2024 Pastor Support Survey to let us know what you need.

There is space to share your wisdom, experience, and add things that we have not even thought to ask.

Even if you don’t have any unmet needs or interest in support from the Conference,  having that data that is valuable information for us too.

This quick survey is a judgment free zone.

Dec 20, 2023

Nov 29, 2023

At our first in-person Michigan Conference Annual Meeting in years, we beat our pre-pandemic registrations and literally packed the place. In what will heretofore be referred to in church history as the “Michigan Miracle,” we ended the business session ten minutes early.

Getting to preach at worship, hearing everybody sing, and eating lunch in a noisy social hall are all blessings that I do not take for granted. I’m so grateful to the Planning Team, Conference Staff, Michigan Conference UCC Board of Directors, and our hosts at Plymouth United Church of Christ, but most of all I’m grateful to God that we didn’t have to do another Annual Meeting sitting at a screen.

Of course, screens have their place when it comes to connectivity and catching up. On our website, you’ll find my sermon from the Annual Meeting and the recording of our Keynote. On our YouTube channel, you can view last month’s lively Leadership Lunch with Bishop Will Willimon whose take on Advent preaching was both holy and hilarious. I hope these recorded resources inspire you to register for the live ones. Our December 6 Zoom at lunch time will feature Still Speaking Daily Devotional author Quinn Caldwell. His Advent devotional book All I Really Want: Readings for a Modern Christmas made him my first choice to boost the spirits of our clergy and church members during this Advent Season.

Before we get to December, let’s take a moment to acknowledge the November holiday that precedes it. Yes, I am well aware that most nations around the globe do not acknowledge the occasion. Even in our country, it is a day that is not celebrated by all people, a day with a complex history, a day that some increasingly choose to ignore and others denounce outright. But the fact is November 18 is still my birthday and I won’t condemn anyone who celebrates it with a gift to the Friends of the Michigan Conference.

In all seriousness, my heart is filled with prayers of thanksgiving for you all. In a culture of crass commercialism, consumerism, colonialism, and conflict, our brave Michigan UCC churches stand up and stand out as a lighthouse to the spiritually ship-wrecked.

Oct 18, 2023

War always hurts the poor. War is not the great democratizer. It is the great demolisher.

The Bible records and describes it all. There is no great violence in which economic forces do not wield their generational power to fortify their own palaces first.

Yes, there are countries that claim that all their people share and experience the same war-carrying burden. But in the USA, our wise elders remember that long ago, in the Vietnam War, our draft was dodge-able, by Republicans and Democrats alike. Who told me that? It was my father, Leon Daniel, who was a journalist, an international war correspondent, and a marine who received a Purple Heart.

Who else told me that war hurts the poor? I heard it from Israelis and Palestinians in 2017 when last I visited that land, to study and to learn. Today I hear it from faithful UCC veterans in the Midwest, who want a better and more imaginative scholarship program for their own grandchildren – one that will not leave the deep scars that their middle-aged elders carry on their heavy war-torn shoulders and psyches.

Individuals hurt and cry out in pain. Crowds hurt and cry out in pain. Some voices are heard louder than others. From Biblical times to now, the powerful party-planners use shinier wrapping paper, and better technology. Yet somehow, the subversive words of Jesus slipped through the centuries, from the agony of the cross to the mystery of a heavenly banquet where friends and enemies will have an equal seat at the table.

War always hurts the people who have the least to lose, but who among us has anything we can afford to lose when it comes to human life?

So, consider this: War always hurts someone else more than it hurts you.

If you are still alive, you know this to be true.

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy Peace.

Feel free to use or share this message to serve and uplift the church.

Sep 20, 2023

When it comes to church giving, I love financial transparency and I assume you do too. If you don’t, feel free to skip this monthly missive, but not before reading the next sentence. If I haven’t said it to you in person at your church yet, let me say it here in writing:

Thank you for your church’s financial support of “Our Church’s Wider Mission,” and in particular, for what we call your “Basic Support,” which funds our work in the Michigan Conference, as well as the National Setting.

Those Basic Support OCWM dollars function for us in the same way that pledges do in a congregation or any other organization. They fund our ministry to recruit the best pastors (in the midst of a historic clergy shortage), to nurture people with a call to ministry (through scholarships and vocational encouragement amidst the hardest religious landscape I can remember), to care for the pastors we already have (many of whom are preaching at more than one church, or working other demanding jobs), and to support our amazing volunteer lay leaders with practical programs that address the specific questions I hear you asking when I visit your churches.

It is your Basic Support that allows our staff to do all they do; whether it is a scheduled Sunday visit from me as your Conference Minister, or a late night call to an Associate Conference Minister who jumps in her car to provide care and a last minute sermon to a church whose pastor has passed away. This past year, I was honored to revive the Michigan Conference practice of making clergy Emergency Assistance grants for medical expenses and other crises, and also to tend to the creative spirits of our pastors with a three-day Preaching Retreat this past May.  READ MORE 

If our Conference ministry has touched you in any way, if there is anything we can do better, or if you have more questions about where your UCC gifts are going, just let me know. As I begin my second year as your Conference Minister, I feel blessed to equip, empower, encourage and connect our churches as together we serve God and neighbor. Thank you for your Basic Support in the past, and for prayerfully considering what you will share in the future.

Peace and Blessings,

Rev. Dr. Lillian Daniel

Michigan Conference Minister

Aug 30, 2023

I recall when I started in ministry, my mentors were fond of saying “There is no such thing as part time ministry.” They assumed most pastors would and should work full time in one church back in the ancient days when phones were still attached to walls and had not yet learned how to be cameras.

How things have changed. As a pastor, and now as a Conference Minister, I see the shift to part time ministry speeding up. As churches get smaller, so do resources. Part time ministry is nothing new, but I know it feels new to the churches and clergy that are moving into it.

In the worst cases, clergy hours are cut but church expectations remain the same. The “dispensable hours” never seem to fall on Sundays when pastors are still expected to show up to preach in an ever-shortening work week that assumes a serious sermon will still sprout straight from the head of Zeus or, God help us, from an A.I. chat bot. Obviously that is not the ideal and we can do better.

This is why I am so excited to bring the nation’s leading expert on part time ministry to the Michigan Conference for a special event on September 30.

Read More

  • Copy of the Book and lunch are included with in-person registration
  • FREE for Part Time clergy
  • online participation also available
  • recording available for 30 days for all registered participants to share with their local churches
  • $25 for 3 or more attendees from your local church – Bring a TEAM of your lay leaders!!

REGISTER NOW for September 30 from 10:00am – 2:00pm

Jul 19, 2023

The General Synod of our denomination is a fiery and feisty family reunion on steroids without the fried chicken. We skip the picnic in order to briefly study, hotly debate and hastily vote on the most controversial ethical issues of the day, all while reenacting deep seeded generational family drama during public worship on a giant stage, at enormous expense, which is why we are only allowed to do it every other year. In fact, this July, the Synod voted (early, often and on malfunctioning voting machines) to extend the time between national gatherings to three years. The main argument was cost, but I would lift up exhaustion. And yet, I can’t wait to attend the next one.

The schedule runs from 6:30 AM until 9:30 PM, in a huge convention center chosen for its ability to guarantee the worst possible weather (sweltering heat, unbreathable air and thunderstorm bursts are all encouraged to apply) over the July 4 holiday weekend when most people would not want to attend a church convention, which serves as the final purity test of the spiritual worthiness of the quirky and committed delegates who say “Here I am, Lord, send me!” These 700 delegates get to sit in a security-patrolled area in the middle of the arena, all roped inside, while thousands of synod visitors and staff get to run around free and unsupervised outside the pen, observing the behavior and appearance of the delegates like livestock at a 4 H convention. “Look, that bull over at microphone #1. He is snorting and getting testy!” says one visitor to another. “But those hogs have been sleeping straight through plenary, probably dehydrated and malnourished, judging by all the candy wrappers.” 

Just to be clear, these examples did not come from the Michigan Conference, where our table consisted of sparkly rainbow unicorns who took detailed notes, pranced to their potty breaks in a timely manner and never missed a vote. Anonymous sources report that the Michigan Conference’s daily table decorations, (featuring our lakes, local flowers, Vernor’s ginger ale and cat toys), our late night Synod Socials and our 6:30 AM caucuses attended by Santa Clause caused a breakout of the sin of envy throughout the entire denomination.  Read More

 

Jun 21, 2023

One year ago, the moving truck delivered my belongings to Grand Rapids, where we accidentally bought a historic home. Thus began the unpacking and preparation for my new role as Michigan Conference Minister. That first summer, everything in my new garden was a surprise, as I reaped the benefits of gardeners who came before me, both at home and in my ministry. I survived my first Michigan winter, which felt longer than it probably was, since snow followed me to every church I visited. Eventually, I was rewarded with my first Michigan Spring, which was a spectacular way to spend a weekend. 

What a difference a year makes. The horrors of moving feel like a distant memory, unless you look at my basement, where I have hidden a few boxes I have yet to unpack. Still, I consider myself to be properly moved in, because these same boxes remained unpacked at my old house. It feels good to be settled. 

Today, on the first day of my second summer in my Michigan garden, I have the thrill of seeing shoots of green growth from seeds that I may have planted. Although my neighbor informs me that some of these may be weeds, at least they are now my weeds, in the gloriously green landscape I now call my home. Next week, when the national church gathers for General Synod in Indianapolis, I will be proud to invite others, as you all invited me, to consider a call to serve in the Michigan Conference, where the grass really is greener.

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May 26, 2023

Last week, I led my first retreat for the clergy of the Michigan Conference. I was thrilled that eighteen busy pastors took three days away to think about preaching through the Festival of Homiletics at the lovely Tower Hill Conference Center in Sawyer, Michigan On the first night, when we shared why we were there, a number of people said they were excited to reflect on their sermon craft, but I’d say an equal number said they weren’t exactly sure why they signed up for a preaching retreat, because sermon preparation had become more of a chore than a joy! I didn’t judge. I get it and I’ve been there. Whatever your calling may be, you know you need a retreat when the spiritual gifts that once excited you now feel like a burden or, even worse, a bore.

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