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Conference Call

John VertiganI went to a concert at the Dr. Phillips Center in Orlando on March 11, 2020. We shared a wonderful evening on the town and reveled in the privilege of listening to live music in a fine venue. Two days later, the Phillips Center cancelled their calendar of bookings as Florida went into lockdown over concerns with the Corona virus.

That blissful evening seems so long ago given all we've experienced together these last five months, and it's both fair and predictable that we might lament with cries of "How long?" We humans are not built for the isolation we've been living in, and our desire to gather is stronger than ever as summer turns to fall and a season we all likely thought would be post-COVID-19. But here we are; we continue to endure, to count new cases, to socially distance, and to worship and be church in new and creative ways.

That particular question of "how long?" has no immediate answer and demands instead that we live to the fullest now in being the people of God in a strange land. The better question for these days might be "How shall I live faithfully in the meantime?" I'll be working with that in the weeks to come.

But there's another "How long?" being asked in the land, and it surrounds questions of racism, justice for communities of color, and rampant white supremacy that is holding our nation back from being who once we declared ourselves to be: a bastion of hope for all people. We've never achieved that aspiration; just ask any group of immigrant people from the last centuries or the African–American community who didn't immigrate but were stolen from their homeland for the sake of economic largesse.

The same question applies here, church; "how shall I live faithfully in the meantime?" I pray that our churches will be a place where we can openly and honestly enter into self-examination around issues of race, justice, and white supremacy. To that end, I invite you to locate and use resources offered at https://www.ucc.org/justice_racism and continue a journey toward answering that lingering question of "How long?" As our isolation continues, may we nevertheless be about the business of building a more just world for all, beginning with the places where we live, play and worship, in Jesus' name.

Be at peace, and be in touch, won't you.

Rev. John Vertigan
Conference Minister

Conference-wide worship Sunday featuring sermon by Rev. John Vertigan

It is our hope that in this time of uncertainty and constant watchfulness that you will receive our Conference-wide worship as an opportunity to rejoice in a wider community and perhaps (to those of you involved in the creation and leadership of worship) even take a break!

The worship service — which includes liturgies, music, prayers, scripture, a sermon, a children's moment and more — is ready for your use. Thanks for participating!

The full service is available on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uYCv79drFtw.

The files of the full service and itemized components of the service are available here: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/l78tn4blyz2gigt/AACvR-yonLFgI3bxFlcblsUza?dl=0

(If you'll excuse the legalese…) Please know that three of the included videos are videos whose sharing rights have been purchased from theworkofthepeople.com. (And I quote:) They are for worship intents and purposes only. You are welcome to include these videos as a part of your worship service in whatever way is most convenient for you. The videos from TWOTP must not be shared individually outside of worship. Feel free to contact me (nwatkins@uccfla.org) for clarity.

Again, we give thanks for the creativity, persistence, and faithfulness of your ministries!

Neal Watkins
Minister for Faith Formation

Dalton & Tomich files injunction on behalf of Pass-A-Grille Beach youth

St. Pete Beach, Fla. — August 21, 2020 — Daniel Dalton, a religious property and land use attorney at Michigan-based law firm Dalton & Tomich, filed a preliminary injunction today against the City of St. Pete Beach, Fla., on behalf of Pass-A-Grille Beach Community Church, a member of the United Church of Christ denomination located at 107 16th Ave. The preliminary injunction was filed in response to the City's efforts to stop the church's youth group from evangelizing, praying and seeking donations from members of the public who park on their lot.

Here is a link to this story: https://www.daltontomich.com/st-pete-beach-to-church-youth-group-thou-shall-not-use-your-parking-lot-to-pray-evangelize-and-solicit-donations-from-the-public/

Fair Food in the times of COVID-19

This fall, farmworker leaders of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) will be traveling virtually from Immokalee to cities across the country to speak with students, community leaders and people of faith about the struggle for essential farmworkers' rights – and about the CIW's award-winning Fair Food Program, recently called the new "gold standard" for protecting human rights in global supply chains! Don't miss this opportunity to schedule a virtual presentation in your community today.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the longstanding inequities at the heart of our food system, from meatpacking factories to the fields. The need for enforceable protection and safety measures for essential farmworkers has never been more urgent. Farmworker leaders of the CIW will be educating consumers across the country on the groundbreaking protections of the award-winning Fair Food Program, and the urgent need for corporations like Wendy's to demand compliance with verifiable worker health and safety standards from their suppliers during the ongoing pandemic, and beyond.

The Florida Conference and the UCC have been long-time justice partners of the CIW and their Campaign for Fair Food, having endorsed the CIW's latest Wendy's boycott. Most recently, the CIW was awarded the Movement Maker Award at last year's General Synod.

Help us continue this movement and the struggle for farmworker justice by scheduling a presentation, workshop or public event this fall with the CIW to learn how you can support human rights for essential farmworkers today!

Presentations can be tailored based on times allotted and specific themes. Get in touch with us at uriel@allianceforfairfood.org to get on our presentation calendar this fall.

United Church Funds awards more than $100K for clergy support

United Church Funds (UCF) today announced that Brown Endowment grants of over $100,000 have been awarded so far this year to 13 United Church of Christ (UCC) conferences. These grants will allow these conferences to implement support programs and leadership development for authorized ministers who are addressing and responding to the crisis and trauma caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and protests for racial justice.

"From the grant proposals we have received, it's clear that churches and pastors are not excluded from the disruption and stress caused by the pandemic and recent racial upheaval," UCF President & CEO Charles Buck said. "They need long-term support to continue leading their congregations in a healthy and sustainable way. United Church Funds is pleased that the Brown Endowment Fund that we administer is helping churches and faith leaders recover from the impact of COVID-19, and elevating churches' role in addressing systemic racism."

The UCC conferences receiving grants are Central Atlantic, Florida, Illinois South, Indiana-Kentucky, Kansas-Oklahoma, Missouri Mid-South, Northern California Nevada, New York, Penn Northeast, Penn West, South Central, Southern and Southwest.

Nearly all of the proposals cited the significant toll on parish clergy and institutional chaplains as they have had to set up an operational remote worship and pastoral care in a short time, deal with the increased workload and minister to grieving families and church members. In addition, several conferences have witnessed increased racial tension in their communities, and they see a heightened need to support pastors as they navigate the stresses of lifting up a prophetic voice while receiving threats for speaking out against racism. -> Read more! ->

UCF also announced that 28 Members in Discernment have been awarded Helen and Richard Brown Endowment Scholarships totaling $125,000. They created an infographic to present the diversity of this year's scholars and future ministers, which you can find -> here ->.

UCC relaunches Thursdays in Black campaign

Every Thursday at noon, members of the wider United Church of Christ have long been encouraged to join other people of faith in a moment of prayer to remember those who have been victims of sexual or gender-based violence. Wearing black, they make their witness visible, by posting pictures on social media to #ThursdaysinBlack.

Thursdays in Black"The weekly witness is a reminder that the challenges of gender violence and violence in general are a global problem," said the Rev. Karen Georgia Thompson, UCC associate general minister, Wider Church Ministries. "Being able to stand in solidarity with the many men and women around the world who continue to be victimized by rape and violence is important. So is the opportunity to raise awareness by sharing what we are doing."

Thursdays in Black is an international campaign of advocacy and solidarity against all forms of sexual and gender-based violence. Every Thursday for the past three years, UCC participants have joined people around the world wearing black as a symbol of strength and courage, expressing support for victims and survivors of violence, and calling for a world without rape and violence.

Thursdays in Black has been around for decades, first publicized by the World Council of Churches in the 1980s as a form of peaceful protest against rape and violence that seems to increase during wars and conflicts. The UCC is now intentionally re-launching the campaign across the wider church for several reasons.

"As we move through this time of pandemic and sheltering in place, people are spending more time together in a stressful situation. This has alerted advocacy groups to the need to increase awareness and be prepared for possible increases in incidents of sexual and gender based violence," Thompson said. "We are also aware that there has been increased violence against indigenous women and transgendered persons." -> Read more! ->.

Words of a 12-year-old, emphasis on voting impress UCC ministers

Amid the dozens of distinguished speakers who addressed a march and rally in the nation's capital Friday, Aug. 28, it was a 12-year-old who caught the ear of two United Church of Christ ministers who were participating — one in person, the other online.

That speaker was Yolanda Renee King, granddaughter of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. She spoke from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during "Commitment March: Get Your Knee Off Our Necks," organized by the Rev. Al Sharpton and his National Action Network. Sharpton had issued a call to the event during the funeral for George Floyd, killed by Minneapolis police officers May 25.

She recalled words her grandfather had delivered from the same spot to some 100,000 people exactly 57 years earlier in what has become known as the "I Have a Dream" speech. His call for justice, and the movement for civil rights that he led, must not be forgotten, she said.

She exhorted her generation to embrace "a new phase of the struggle" for "genuine equality".

"Great challenges produce great leaders," King said. "We have mastered the selfie and TikTok. Now we must master ourselves."

Taking hope in King's speech, from her viewpoint near the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, was the Rev. Dr. Sheila Guillaume, who flew from Florida especially for the march. "The diversity of the crowd was great to see, so many ages and races of people from all over," Guillaume said. "I think Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s granddaughter was really touching, setting the stage for the future and calling us to be the beloved community." -> Read more! ->.

Children and youth speak: Your Vote Matters – A UCC webinar

With the climate crisis and the struggle against inequality, the younger generations have served as today's prophets in provoking a global reckoning of the dire situation faced. As the November 3rd elections approach, children and youth are raising their voices again with a moral urgency as they awaken us to how much is at stake. This webinar will present children and youth from ages 10 to 18 who have a message and perspective that needs to be heard before those older than them vote. -> Register now! ->

New community of practice for ministers preparing for retirement

A clergy community of practice (“COP”) is a small group of ministers intentionally focused on meeting together to focus on self-care, to provide support and wisdom to one another, and in this group, on how to navigate this next chapter beyond full-time ministry.

COPs are convened by trained facilitators who empower the groups to run smoothly. Each COP develops a covenant to guide the group members in creating a community of trust. Confidential information is held within the group so that members feel safe to share freely, because mutual trust is at the heart of healthy communities of practice.

If you are preparing for retirement in the coming three years, or have recently retired, we invite you to consider joining this community of practice. For more information, please contact Rev. Leslie Etheredge at letheredge@uccfla.org.

Prayers for churches and ministers

We invite you to join us in praying for the churches of your Conference. Each issue of e-Celebrate will contain the names of the churches we hope you will pray for personally and as a congregation. Meditate on them, pray for them, and sense your oneness together as the Body of Christ that is the United Church of Christ in Florida. This issue's churches:

  • Union Congregational Church, West Palm Beach
    Rev. Dr. Sheila Guillaume, pastor
  • Windermere Union Church
    Rev. Barton Buchanan, pastor
    Rev. Sarah LaTrell Harrison, associate pastor
  • First Congregational Church, Winter Park
    Rev. Shawn Garvey, pastor
    Rev. Dr. Sherie Lindamood, associate pastor

We also remember those in specialized ministry settings outside the local church whose presence provides spiritual care and support to many who are in need:

  • Rev. Ngan Ling Lung, CPE supervisor, Advent Health, Orlando

Save the date

Oct. 8-10: Due to COVID-19, the 2020 Annual Gathering of the Florida Conference will be a virtual event rather than an in-person meeting. Stay tuned for more information.

Oct. 15-17, 2021: 2021 UCC Southern Region Women's Retreat, hosted by the Florida UCC Women at Cerveny Conference Center, 11057 Camp Weed Place, Live Oak, FL 32060. Stay tuned for more information.

Postponed until 2022: National Youth Event, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN. For more information, -> click here ->

e-Celebrate archive

UCC in Florida website

UCC national site

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