More clergy and congregational decision-makers throughout Minnesota used News for the Common Good as a resource for their ministry this year than ever before. Our subscribers list grew by about 10% and you engaged with our content more than readers of most nonprofit newsletters do. But what did you look for most?

Four of the top-10 links were to content not produced by the Minnesota Council of Churches. The two most popular of these were directly related to national news events (the shooting of Philando Castile and the death of Prince), one was about an atheist group’s outreach tactics and one was about the practice of preaching.

Of the MCC original content receiving the most clicks, you liked resources for ministry with people experiencing dementia, links to some of our culture-changing interfaith work and resources related to conducting Respectful Conversations.

Here are the 10 most-clicked links from all 26 editions of News for the Common Good that went out in 2016:

10. Every Sermon a Missed Opportunity. This commentary from a frequent church attender on his weekly anticipation of God’s message every Sunday provided hope and advice for some clergy but was read as a discouraging indictment by others. Whether readers took to heart the words of this frustrated armchair preacher or not, his article in Commonweal magazine provided food for thought.

9. How to conduct a Respectful Conversation. This video, put together by The Theater of Public Policy for MCC’s Respectful Conversations Project, demonstrates in an amusing fashion how to follow the guidelines of a structured, facilitated conversation. Its popularity in an item about talking to friends and family about the election during Thanksgiving meals showed that we are all interested in bridging divides in our personal lives.

8. Taking Heart registration form. Every year is a record-breaker for this program, which invites non-Muslims into Minnesota mosques to observe a prayer and join their Muslim neighbors for a community meal. That was no less true in 2016, when over 800 non-Muslims participated in 19 different iftars around the state.

7. Atheist Christmas billboards. Organized atheism is a growing force in our increasingly secular society, but atheists still feel that their beliefs are seen as shameful. This billboard campaign seeks to destigmatize atheism by encouraging private nonbelievers to skip church when their family attends this Christmas. Informing readers of this campaign is one way that News for the Common Good helps Minnesota’s clergy and congregational decision-makers to be aware of the broader cultural context in which we are doing ministry.

6. Blessed Ramadan. Looking for a way to demonstrate that welcome is the order of the day and Americans did not fear or suspect their Muslim neighbors, the Minnesota Council of Churches began a lawn sign campaign that took off nationally. People of good will posted the signs coast to coast and the projected was covered in publications from Voice of America – Indonesia to the  blog Church Marketing Sucks to the International business Times.

5. Various religion writers reflecting on musician Prince’s untimely death. Minnesotan identity had been so wound up in Prince and his music – even for those who never listened to it – that we all struggled to explore what it meant, and in some cases to understand why there was such global mourning. A prolific songwriter whose own spiritual life was very active, Prince’s interpreters had a lot to work with.

4. One Maplewood Pastor’s Blessed Ramadan story. While we in the nonprofit world often gauge our success on measurable data – how many people were served, how significantly did attitudes shift – sometimes one story tells it better than anything. This story of a delivery man’s change of heart after he talked with a man about his Blessed Ramadan lawn sign drove home for many people the reason we strive for a better world, and gave hope that we are making the world better.

3. Dementia resources. Our nation is aging and our congregations are aging, too. As median ages go up the needs of church members are becoming more related to the disease of old age, including dementia and Alzheimer’s. The popularity of this list of dementia resources for congregations demonstrates how churches are looking for more models and support for ministry with folks in the last third of life.

2. Church of God in Christ and National Baptist denominational responses to the Castile and Sterling shootings. In times of crisis when video evidence seems to point so clearly to the intensely dangerous situation black men face when engaged by law enforcement, the body of Christ mourns and, as evidenced by how many clicks each of these statements collected, it looks to the moral authority of the Historic Black Churches for guidance on further action.

1. 12 Tips if Your Presidential Candidate Loses. This link was placed in News for the Common Good before we knew the results of the election because we were certain that, in the wake of one of the most deliberately divisive Presidential races in recent history there would be significant damage done to our society, and significant healing needed. The guide offered good advice for all those disappointed by the election.

Monday we were blessed to host a delegation of Pakistani officials learning about conflict resolution and interfaith cooperation in the US. Visits like this serve as reminders of how globally significant even our local efforts can be.

These Muslim leaders from Pakistan’s tribal areas were blown away by all the ways Christians and Muslims cooperate in Minnesota. After hearing about Blessed Ramadan, Taking Heart Iftars, and Respectful Conversations, one individual explained that “this is very new to us.”

They were curious to learn more about Christian theology and relationships with Muslims, how Christians try to influence US policies, and how our interfaith and conflict management work changes with different Presidential administrations.

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Shaarik Zafar, the US Department of State’s Special Representative to the Muslim Community came to Minnesota at the invitation of the Humphrey Center University of Minnesota. He also wanted to meet with one or two of the refugee services programs and to hear about work with the Muslim community in general.

The Minnesota council of Churches was one of two programs with whom he chose to meet. He joined Rev. Canon Peg Chemberlin, MCC CEO; Ben Walen, Director of the Division of Minnesota Council of Churches Refugee Services; and Rev Cynthia Bronson Sweigert, Program Associate for MCC Interfaith Program.

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Rev. Canon Peg Chemberlin, CEO of Minnesota Council of Churches, and U.S. State Department Special Representative to the Muslim Community Shaarik Zafar.

MCC Refugee Services welcomes persecuted people from around the world into lives of freedom, hope and opportunity in Minnesota. MCC does it so well that at multiple points during the meeting Mr. Zafar highlighted Refugee Services programs and innovations as global “best practices.”

He had positive responses to other MCC projects like the Taking Heart Ramadan Open Houses. Imam Asad Zaman, a partner in that work and executive director of the Muslim American Society of Minnesota, joined the group to speak to the positive ongoing relationships.

Mr. Zafar then joined a class where refugees are prepared and trained to enter the Minnesota workforce. He engaged with them, mostly through a translator about their experiences and the overwhelming response was their gratitude for the depth of the welcome they received. Mr. Zafar also encouraged them on behalf of Secretary of State Kerry saying that refugees and indeed welcomed and a valuable part of our community.

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Special Rep. Shaarik Zafar meeting with refugees learning to join Minnesota’s workforce.

Bishop Fred Washington, president of the board of the Minnesota Council of Churches, has announced that the MCC CEO, the Rev. Canon Peg Chemberlin, has made known her desire to retire from her work with the Minnesota Council of Churches and the MCC Executive Committee has accepted – with regret – her letter of intent in that matter.

 

On Oct. 13, 2016, Chemberlin and Doug Swanson (the MCC COO) shared with the MCC Executive Committee, their belief that this is a good time to maximize the stability of the Council. The Executive Committee agreed.

 

The MCC Executive Committee has approved a plan for a transition which will bring a new CEO on board between June 1 and Aug 1, 2017.  The plan includes ongoing involvement of top leadership and results in full alignment of the Council’s internal operations, complete ordering of the council’s legacy, and thorough preparations for the next era of the Council’s life. During this time Chemberlin’s work will focus on the transition. MCC’s normal responsiveness to arising community needs will be somewhat curtailed. Existing programs will continue to run as planned.

 

Bp. Washington said, “After 21 years of Peg’s superb leadership and a lot of growth and success, it is appropriate to be thinking about a transition, I suppose. We will find time to rejoice for the years of shared ministry, as well as look at the opportunities that are provided to us in this season. We are grateful for the work of our CEO and COO in leading the preparation for the successful integration of the new CEO. We also give thanks for Peg’s leading in the letting go process.”

 

About Minnesota Council of Churches

The Minnesota Council of Churches’ mission is to manifest unity in the church and to build the common good in the world. The Minnesota Council of Churches programs align with three broad categories: welcoming refugees, mobilizing the faith community to engage in public policy, and strengthening communities through relationships and understanding.  For more information, visit www.mnchurches.org

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The Minnesota Council of Churches, whose members represent about 1,000,000 Christians in Minnesota, want you to know, St. Cloud, that you are  in our prayers and we stand with you in grief over the violence at Crossroads Mall this weekend.

 

Our organization often serves as a bridge between the Christian and Muslim communities and we know that, much like Christianity, Islam condemns violence against innocents. We are grateful for Muslim leaders who remind us all of that.

 

In the greater St. Cloud area there are so many good and faithful people already working together to reduce fear between Christians and Muslims. We applaud the work of the Catholics, Muslims, Protestants and others whose work has strengthened this community and fought against fear.

 

As Christians, we are not called to fear but to compassion. We pray for those who were stabbed in the mall: we are grateful that their lives were preserved. We also pray for the family and community of the attacker, who lost a young man whose violent actions were by all accounts never hinted at.

 

We are also grateful for Officer Falconer’s courage on the scene. His actions protected innocent people. We pray for all of our peace officers, that they may continue to keep all Minnesotans safe.

 

Finally, we acknowledge that when it comes to living in a peaceful society, each of us has a role to play. In days to come we must remember that ‘blessed are the peacemakers,’ and we must be willing to speak up if we see any person being targeted for their religious beliefs. After all, one of the most important commandments we are given is to love our neighbors as ourselves…  #stcloudtogether