Church News You Can Use

Jun 25, 2024

“Save the Environment!”

I saw the slogan everywhere growing up, on tee shirts and bumper stickers but it was the posters of exotic animals from far away that captured my childhood imagination. They were my first hint that the world was huge and I had only seen a small patch of it.

I lost myself in the posters of parrots in paradise, monkeys in the rainforest, polar bears staring at stars while lounging on glaciers, and of course the bamboo-nibbling panda couples on that special date night in the wilderness. All of them seemed to be beckoning me to jump on the hang glider of eco-justice and come rescue them. Later, I was somewhat disappointed to learn that none of these animals were looking for me to rescue them by bringing them home as pets. Apparently, these rare creatures wanted me to save them by saving their environment, and then by leaving them alone. As I matured, that mission of preserving some species’ habitat inspired me. But in the interests of honesty, I’d also like to briefly thank Jesus for inventing stuffed animals, which got me through a potentially rudderless time.

Today, I look back on all those early imprinting visuals featuring animals that I would never see in my own block or backyard, and I now believe that I subconsciously internalized the message that the environment was somewhere else, far away, in a special spot much prettier than my boring neighborhood or block, and therefore much more deserving of preserving.

But there comes a time to put aside childish things, including the idea that the environment we should be saving is somewhere else, out on an iceberg our grandchildren may never see unless we get our Alaskan cruise tickets early.

May 17, 2024

As you read this, I am returning from the second annual, four-day, Michigan Conference Clergy Preaching retreat at beautiful Tower Hill Camp on the dunes of Lake Michigan. For this event all clergy participants received generous scholarships to reduce the cost of the event, through a Brown grant but mostly by what your local churches give through the “Basic Support” designation of “Our Church’s Wider Mission.” (OCWM)

There are many ways to support the denomination within OCWM. Through special envelope offerings such as the Christmas Fund (which the Michigan Conference sends straight to the national Pension Board to help retired clergy in need) or One Great Hour of Sharing (that we send straight to the National Setting of the UCC for their ministry of disaster relief.) But it is your “Basic Support” gift within OCWM that stays most local and allows us to equip, encourage and connect the churches and clergy of the Michigan Conference, responding to real needs, right here and right now.

One way we do that is attending to the care of our clergy. This is the focus of Rev. Cheryl Burke, our Associate Conference Minister of Clergy Care and Formation. Under her leadership, in the last two months we have launched thirteen new caring clergy groups. Six of these groups are led by committed clergy volunteers, the rest are led by staff. No pastor should have to do this work alone, nor should our Committees on Ministry. This is why Cheryl is meeting with them all, to connect us in best practices and community.

The care of congregations is the focus for Rev. Lawrence Richardson, our Associate Conference Minister of Church Vitality and Transitions. He meets with governing boards about strategy, vision and revitalization. When churches are seeking a pastor, he helps recruit candidates and connect our search committees to the person that God has already called. This week, he co-led the preaching retreat with me. Where does that fall in his job description? Under the category of “We’re all part of a team and we help each other out.”

Apr 18, 2024

When our churches shut down in-person during the pandemic, we learned what we missed and what we did not miss. Speaking personally, I missed visiting the sick, comforting the grieving, praying in unison and singing. I missed eating food together and I even missed washing dishes. I missed funerals more than I missed committee meetings. It was clarifying. Today when I think of what the church should be about when we gather in person, I think of the things I missed the most when we couldn’t.

Another clarifying question from that time was who, in our surrounding communities, missed our churches when we shut down in person. This question is not for the pastor or the church member, but for the outsider who walks by the building. What loss did the community suffer in our absence?

If your church served a free meal once a week, that would be missed by people outside your church if it had to stop. If you host twelve step meetings, if you offer meeting space to teenagers, if you provide coats in the winter and fresh vegetables in the summer, all that would be missed by people outside church. But if community members missed nothing when your church closed down, that is also clarifying.

As I visit our Michigan churches, a different one most weekends, I look for commonalities among the congregations that feel vital to me. What is a vital church? It’s one where I feel the Spirit moving in the worship, where there is a sense of hope and hospitality, and a serious sense of service. A vital church is one you want to come back to. And when it comes to vitality, I am always reminded that size isn’t everything.

Mar 20, 2024

March Monthly Conference Minister Message from Lillian Daniel:

* Updates on Action related to the Michigan Conference Resolution of Witness in Support of Second Look Legislation March 19, 2024 at 8:00am

* Opportunity for pastors and members-in-discernment to sign up for Caring Clergy Communities

* Conference Communication submission deadlines, and more…

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

Sign-Up Here