Issues Confronting America

Four guest speakers will share their perspectives on issues confronting our nation in 2019, from challenges and changes in rural America to proposals for gun policy reform to unpacking headlines in the news to understanding the tenets of diverse faith traditions. Music precedes each forum a half hour in advance, and a public reception follows. Forums are free and open to all. 

Art Cullen
Tuesday, February 12, Noon
Change and Resilience in the Heartland

Art Cullen is editor and co-owner of The Storm Lake Times, a flourishing, family-owned, twice-weekly newspaper founded in 1990 in Northwest Iowa. In 2017, Cullen was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Writing for a series of columns indicting corporate agri-business for polluting the rivers and lakes in the most intensively farmed land in the world. His recently published book, Storm Lake, chronicles his life as a journalist and describes the changes in politics, agriculture, climate, and immigration that are confronting his community and rural America. A graduate of the University of St. Thomas, his commentaries have been published in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, and the StarTribune.

David Hogg
Tuesday, March 19, Noon
Putting the USA over the NRA

David Hogg is a survivor of the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. He is among 20 Parkland students who founded Never Again MSD, a gun control advocacy group, and he is a founding member of March for Our Lives, one of the largest youth-led movements in the world. An advocate for ending gun violence in America, he has traveled the country calling for voter participation, civic engagement, and social activism. He and his younger sister, Lauren, are co-authors of the bestselling book #NeverAgain: A New Generation Draws the Line and contributors to the book Glimmer of Hope: How Tragedy Sparked a Movement, a compilation of writings from the founders of March for Our Lives.

Jonathan Capehart
Tuesday, April 9, Noon
A Bold Look at Today’s Headlines

Jonathan Capehart is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and member of The Washington Post editorial board, focusing on politics, social issues, and cultural shifts globally and nationally. He is a regular contributor to the blog PostPartisan and hosts the podcast Cape Up. He is a periodic commentator on MSNBC and a moderator at the Aspen Ideas Festival, the Center for American Progress, the Atlantic Dialogues conference, and the Brussels Forum. Earlier in his career, he was an editorial page editor and editorial board member for the New York Daily News, and he served as a national affairs columnist for Bloomberg News. He grew up in Newark, New Jersey, attended St. Benedict’s Preparatory School, and is a graduate of Carleton College.

Barbara Brown Taylor
Tuesday, April 30, Noon
Finding God in the Faith of Others

Barbara Brown Taylor is an Episcopal priest, teacher, and bestselling author of 14 books on religion and spirituality, including Leaving Church, An Altar in the World and Learning to Walk in the Dark, which was featured on the cover of Time magazine and named one of the best religion books of 2014 by Publisher’s Weekly. She has served on the faculties of Piedmont College, Columbia Theological Seminary, Candler School of Theology at Emory University, McAfee School of Theology at Mercer University, and on the Certificate in Theological Studies program at Arrendale State Prison for Women in Alto, Georgia. Her latest book, Holy Envy: Finding God in the Faith of Others, will be published in April 2019.

Meisel Scholars Program Celebrates 30 Years

“My Meisel experience was a key steppingstone that gave me credibility to secure meaningful employment and internships.”

“When I think about it, I can trace every major professional opportunity I’ve had back to the Meisel Grant.”

“Being a Meisel Scholar has allowed me to work with and for people of diverse backgrounds and love my neighbors, no matter where they may come from.”

These are just some of the powerful statements we have heard in recent months as we have reached out to Scholars from the past 30 years of the Meisel Program. From the first gift of $5,000 to initiate this endowed program, more than $180,000 has been awarded to over 70 young people, allowing them opportunities to travel, learn, explore, discern, experience, and grow in their faith and vocational development.

On Sunday, January 6, we celebrated the first three decades of this program, which forms the foundation of Westminster’s vocational ministries. It honors the legacy of the Rev. Dr. Donald and Eleanor Meisel and invites young adults in our congregation to further Westminster’s mission as they follow their convictions, share their talents, and explore their vocations outside the traditional college classroom. Over lunch after church, we will hear from Meisel Scholar alumni, Meisel Committee members, and adult mentors. We heard from Scholars who traveled to Cuba, Israel, Romania, Thailand, Peru, Ghana, and Brazil, as well as the stories of those who partnered locally with non-profits, conducted research, and furthered the common good.

Westminster Wins Improvement Award

The Mpls Downtown Improvement District (DID) announced its 9th annual Greening & Public Realm Award winners, a group decided by an interactive public vote.

The Greening Awards aim to showcase greening efforts by organizations and companies that help beautify the downtown area through enhancing our urban landscape. This summer’s voting turnout was the largest in Greening Awards history, nearly doubling the 2017 voting numbers.

Westminster Presbyterian Church, which last won a greening award in 2012, won two awards this year, claiming top spot in the Small Green Space and Public Realm Improvement categories.

“The emphasis on quality public realm spaces we’re seeing from downtown businesses, organizations and individuals is extraordinary,” Mpls Downtown Improvement District President & CEO Steve Cramer said. “Congratulations to this year’s DID Greening & Public Realm Award winners, and thank you for being shining examples of how added greening helps enhance the vibrancy of everyone’s overall downtown experience.”

Winners will receive a commemorative Greening Award created by Wood from the Hood, a Minneapolis-based company that reclaims discarded trees from urban neighborhoods and creates high-quality wood products. Each award will display the year the award was issued. Winning locations also received a Greening Awards winning logo placed on site.

The Mpls DID accepted public nominations for green spaces throughout August, and finalists were announced on August 28. Voting for finalists remained open through September 14.

The finalists, nominated by the public, were selected by members of the Mpls DID staff based on criteria including overall year-over-year enhancements as well as continued excellence in adding vibrancy to the public realm.

Women Leading

WOMEN LEADING
A panel of local women entrepreneurs will discuss their fascinating array of work at TownTalks Thursday, November 29. These young, innovative women are setting the stage for future women entrepreneurs, small business owners, and CEOs. Hear what motivates them to write, form businesses, and express creativity in fresh, dynamic ways. Panelists include Melissa ColemanAshley MaryCarly Van Veldhuizen, and Alex West Steinmann. Minnesota Public Radio reporter Marianne Combs will moderate the discussion.

Happy hour begins in Westminster Hall at 5 pm with appetizers and a cash bar, followed by the panel discussion at 6 pm. The event is free, and no registration is required. Learn more here.

November 29 \ 5 pm Happy Hour \ 6 pm Panel Discussion
An initiative of the Westminster Town Hall Forum, TownTalks is a new program engaging young adults in reflection and dialogue on the key issues of our day.

Racial Justice Survey

Westminster’s Racial Justice Work Group (RJWG) began meeting in January 2017 in face of the sharp rise in overt racism nationally and here at home. After a year of thoughtful discussion and soul-searching, we believe that Westminster must pledge to take actions that respect each of our stories yet gives all a voice in policymaking. We must build strong relationships with our community neighbors and work vigorously to dismantle public policies that persist in oppressing and prohibiting our brothers and sisters of color from achieving equality of opportunity in life.

To build these strong relationships, we are motivated by our faith in the beloved community envisioned by Jesus.

“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28

To foster the kind of racial reconciliation that is consistent with the teachings of Jesus, we must be an active and listening presence in our community. We hope many of you will want to join in. To move forward, the RJWG has some questions we’d like you to answer. Your responses will help us gain a sense of what types of programs/activities might appeal to you. We want to hear from church members of all ages and in all life stages so we can offer programs and activities that will most engage and motivate our congregation in this important ministry.

Please answer the questions honestly and as candidly as possible. There are no right answers; we want genuine feelings and opinions.

Presbyterians Mobilizing to Help in Hurricane Michael Recovery

PC(USA) will help recovery effort in Florida panhandle, southern Georgia and southeast U.S.

By Scott O’Neill | Presbyterian News Service

Hurricane batters Florida coastLOUISVILLE – As news comes in of the devastating effects of Hurricane Michael, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) is organizing a response that will help sustain life and restore hope in the coming days. “Our hearts break and rise up in prayer for the people of northern Florida, Georgia and southeast Alabama,” says Laurie Kraus, PDA director. “Right now, we need the church’s prayers and financial assistance.”

And hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has given to us. — Romans 5:5

“PDA was in communication with the presbyteries that were projected to be in the path of Hurricane Michael,” said Jim Kirk, associate for U.S. disaster response. “Now that the storm has passed through Florida and Georgia, PDA has reached out to the impacted presbyteries and will be deploying national response teams early next week, as well as offering emergency grants. The teams will support the presbyteries with initial assessments and next steps for the response. As happened last year, there have been multiple major hurricanes striking the U.S.”

Hurricane Michael was a strong Category 4 storm blowing winds in excess of 150 mph when it made landfall near Mexico Beach, Florida, Wednesday afternoon. It’s the strongest storm to hit the U.S. since Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Michael left much of the Florida panhandle coast in ruins, including Panama City, which was forced to evacuate hundreds of patients from its two hospitals, including intensive care patients. A FEMA official was quoted as saying that Mexico Beach was “wiped out.” Two deaths have been reported so far, a man in Florida and a girl in Georgia, but rescue crews fear more will be added to the death toll as they begin cleaning up the debris.

The fast-moving storm had cut a swath through southeast Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas by Thursday morning. It’s expected to dump from four to nine inches of rain on the already soaked Carolinas, a region still reeling from flooding as a result of Hurricane Florence last month. More than 300,000 residents are currently without power in Florida, Georgia, and Alabama.

Kraus and her colleagues in the Presbyterian Mission Agency and throughout the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) are working with our partners to meet immediate needs and support long-term recovery.

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance is the emergency response and refugee program of the denomination, committed to the long-term journey of recovery of communities adversely affected by a crisis or catastrophic event. It is funded by the One Great Hour of Sharing and has designated funds for responding to specific disasters.

To support recovery efforts in the wake of Michael and Florence, click here. You’ll be taken to the PC(USA) website to donate securely and quickly.

If you prefer to mail a check, please note “DR000194 on the memo line. You may send it to:

Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
P.O. Box 643700
Pittsburgh, PA, 15264-3700

You may also call Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. (EST), at 1-800-872-3283 and donate by phone.

Visit pda.pcusa.org for continuing updates.

Hurricane Florence Relief

God is our refuge and strength. Therefore, we will not fear … though the waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble. —Psalm 46

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) urges your support for those affected by Hurricane Florence. PDA is delivering immediate aid to those impacted by the storm on the Eastern Seaboard of the United States. Initial assessment suggests catastrophic destruction, but the full scope of the damage will not be known for many months. Through your prayerful gifts, we draw hope out of the chaos.  Learn more here

Westminster Hall Named Best New Music Venue

When Westminster Presbyterian Church opened a luxurious expansion to its downtown Minneapolis campus in January, few could have guessed how quickly it would become a go-to venue for classical music.

The vocal group Cantus first performed there in March, with plans to return regularly during the 2018-19 season. “The acoustics are nicely suited for a chamber group like ours,” executive director Joseph Heitz said of the 400-seat Westminster Hall. “We also appreciate the size, which creates a sense of closeness between audience and singers.”

Another group switching to Westminster for the 2018-19 season is Accordo, a chamber ensemble comprised of soloists from the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and Minnesota Orchestra. The venue has “a wonderful focused sound that is rich and resonant but not boomy,” said Accordo violinist (and SPCO concertmaster) Steven Copes.

Westminster Presbyterian senior pastor Tim Hart-Andersen is delighted by the hall’s success. “We asked the architect, James Dayton, to design a worship, recital and performance space that would be acoustically superior and highly flexible,” Hart-Andersen recalled. “It has more than exceeded our expectations as a venue for music.”

Next up for Westminster Hall is the Source Song Festival (Aug. 5-11) for a week of concerts and masterclasses devoted to the classical art song. “The space is visually stunning and acoustically excellent, ideal for song recitals,” said Source artistic director Mark Bilyeu.

By Terry Blain

Star Tribune article in full.

Westminster Prayer Tags

Passersby Write Prayer Tags of Hope

WCCO Jeff Wagner \ Minneapolis, MN

Twin Cities church is going beyond its walls to help get prayers heard, and hopefully answered.

Westminster Presbyterian Church, along the Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis, started a prayer railing this spring. Passersby write messages on tags and then hang them for others to see. The simple gesture is touching people in a way they never expected.

“We pray that you will teach us to love one another well,” Sherrod Colbert said, reading one tag. “And I pray for justice for all.”

The sounds of the city flow with force, but if you stop and listen with your eyes, it’s amazing what you can hear. Prayers from other people, written on a whim, left hanging with hope.

“Praying for better days,” Sarabe Singleton said, of her prayer. “Hopefully it gets around. I know there are people out there that are going through the same thing as me.”

The railing outside Westminster Presbyterian Church has become shoulder to lean on, a spot where thoughts and prayers can be shared with others time after time.

“I’m feeling a peace come over me as I’m writing this,” Narissa Antoine said. “My husband is really sick. He has to have two major surgeries, actually. … It really just gives me hope that I’m not alone, that people will read this and think about me when they read it.”

Her feelings are exactly what Rev. Sarah Brower and Rev. Meghan Gage-Finn envisioned when they started the prayer tags in the spring.

“I think there’s such a need for connection, yearning for belonging, a need to be heard and to be known,” Gage-Finn said.

A thousand tags were ordered.

Some prayers are personal, others meant for those struggling. Recently homeless, Colbert wrote his on June 9.

“It says, ‘I pray for the rains of God’s salvation to visit us and bless us here in Minnesota,’” Colbert said. “Today I got an answer. I’m not gonna be homeless. Tomorrow I’m going to sign a lease to get back in an apartment.”

It’s an answer he feels came from a higher power.

“I know that it has good, man,” he said. “I can tell you that’s so true, because the people of this household of faith here, they’re genuine people.”

Those very people will even bring the tags inside the church to pray on them.

“I think we do hope that as people walk by or walk away after having written one that they trust that God hears their prayers and that we are hearing them,” Brouwer said. “We’re excited to see where this goes. We are certainly being led by this endeavor.”

One that has a following, growing stronger and stronger each day.

“I wouldn’t stop it for nothing in the world,” Colbert said.

Voices of Hope

Three years ago, the vocal program at the women’s state prison at Shakopee was basically four women and a karaoke machine. Jim Verhoye, the facility’s education director, wasn’t satisfied and went to the University of Minnesota on a hunt for help. That search led him to Amanda Weber, and she’s been at the helm of the Voices of Hope choir ever since.

Read more.