Church News You Can Use

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

Apr 19, 2023

Every Sunday I preach at our Michigan churches, I meet people who tell me this is their first time back in person in years. When I ask why, I’m struck how often they say that my visit caused the church to have a special coffee hour, which in turn caused someone to ask them to bring cookies. They didn’t come because they needed to see the Conference Minister. They came because the church needed the cookies.

I do not think people return to in-person worship in order to eat treats, but they may well return in order to deliver them. It’s easier to receive a call asking you to bring brownies than it is to get one asking why you haven’t been coming to church. The first call is an invitation while the second can sound like an act of desperation, or at worst, an accusation.

“Where have you been? We’ve missed you,” sounds too much like “Where have you been? Shame on you.”  Read More

Mar 16, 2023

“Before the pandemic, we had thirteen people in the choir,” the pastor tells me, while the moderator explains that it was a three octave bell choir made up of both adults, who all saw eye to eye, and youth, who never missed a rehearsal. But that’s nothing compared to the same choir as described by the church historian who adds that there was also a vocal choir whose large tenor section all had masters degrees in musical performance, perfect pitch and halos, because it wasn’t actually a human choir but an elite ensemble of harp playing angels.

Nostalgia is an unreliable narrator. The more time that passes between now and the glory days, the better that old church choir sounds. Same goes for the couples clubs who met for monthly dinners, the booming youth group, or the last live worship service before the shut down in 2020, that seemed so ordinary and lightly attended at the time but now gets bigger and better in the rear view mirror.

Over the last nine months, I’ve worshiped and preached at 45 church services in the Michigan Conference and in a spirit of humility, I do have a few observations. I recognize that year three of whatever we are going through feels harder than year one or two. For this reason, I am leading a clergy retreat with serious scholarships (use code MI 1/2) and we are holding a workshop on trauma for our leaders.  Read More

Feb 14, 2023

After the Shooting at Michigan State University

This Valentines Day, I do not send our 140 Michigan churches the sugary sentiments of a heart shaped box of chocolates but the prayers from my broken human heart after last night’s shooting at Michigan State University. We had church members who could see the scene from where they were locked down in homes and churches. Last night, as I checked in on our local pastors, I knew they were checking in on their churches, communities, families, workers, students, first responders and the weary world around them.

For, as every pastor knows, when tragedy hits, our churches grow much larger than the membership rolls. Churches become centers of care for the whole community, in buildings at busy intersections, in online gatherings, or on prayer chains. When violence locks us down or sends us into the streets, the church has the chance to blast past its walls, when preachers realize that their most important sermon may be the one that is offered to the stranger at the grocery store who recognizes them and says, “Pastor, just answer me this. How can God let this happen?”

I’ve heard that question a lot lately, from people horrified by whatever picture of the world they receive in the news of their own choosing, but it’s a question that we in the church have an ancient answer to. God does not let this happen. People do. It is people who let these things happen.

We saw it in the video of Tyre Nichols, killed by the brutality of human violence and the more devastating brutality of human indifference. We see it in the horror of the war in Ukraine, where, as in all wars, the poor pay the greatest price, while far away leaders philosophize to monetize their own safety. We see it in ourselves as a country, when the news of one school shooting after another becomes routine, in a culture drooling for violence as entertainment, but hardened to it in real life. We see it in ourselves as a nation of immature impulses and short attention spans, more interested in shooting balloons out of the sky than taking guns out of the hands of its own people. God does not allow that to happen. People do.

Yet somehow, despite the stakes, God, the great creator of all things, chose to create us with free will and mortal bodies. We could have been made to live forever as coddled infants, with our needs met, our decisions constrained and our capacity to harm the rest of creation minimized. Instead, we were created in the image of God, which means we have souls and bodies that were literally built for growth and change. Created with a limited time on earth, we were given the ability to choose between right and wrong, love or death, God or stuff, the care of all creation or the tedious worship of the self, all on a short journey through life whose purpose is to draw us closer to the one who gave us life to begin with.

As for the shooting in East Lansing, God does not let this happen. People do. It is God’s people who let the worst things happen to ourselves and to one another, from the violent act of taking lives, to the violent inaction of cynical indifference. But it is also God’s people who allow the most beautiful things to happen, from the courageous saving of lives, to the loving healing of broken spirits, to the humble repairing of the world from our own mistakes. This is what it means to follow Jesus, human and divine. Today, our Michigan pastors and churches are at the beating heart of it all.

Peace and Blessings,
The Rev. Dr. Lillian Daniel

Jan 18, 2023

This January, I taught the History, Theology and Polity of United Church of Christ Polity to seminarians at Chicago Theological Seminary. When I say “at,” I use the term loosely. The class, originally planned as an intensive week in person in Hyde Park, switched to online, so my students were zooming in from Texas to Rhode Island. Their religious backgrounds also spanned a distance and yet they had all been led by the Holy Spirit to take this class as part of their discernment if they are called to preach, teach and lead our people. We had people raised Southern Baptist, Wesleyan, Roman Catholic, Nondenominational, or without much religion at all, each of them bringing the gifts and the struggles of their past spiritual lives into their new home under the big tent we call the United Church of Christ. You get the picture. My students were as big a bunch of “mutts” as the average UCC congregation in the Michigan Conference.  Read More

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