Highlighting Our Community Partner Grant Recipients – July

Each month we highlight Westminster’s community partner grant recipients. This July learn more about FreeWriters and Urban Homeworks.

FreeWriters

by Emily McChesney

Founded by a former prosecuting attorney in 2019, FreeWriters’ mission is to give creative writing opportunities that improve mental health, reduce recidivism, and inspire hope to our neighbors who are detained and awaiting trial in the Hennepin County jail. The program utilizes the technique of “free-writing”—prompt-based, spontaneous writing followed by reading aloud. The class reaches those detained at a crucial time in their lives, as they may sit in jail for days, weeks, months, and sometimes years with no access to emotional wellness programming, windows, or time outdoors while awaiting oft-delayed court dates.  FreeWriters’ approach helps participants recognize that they already possess the talent and will to choose a more rewarding, less perilous path. FreeWriters is a first-time grant recipient this year.

Urban Homeworks

by Suzanne Kelley

The mission of Urban Homeworks is to perpetuate the hope of Jesus Christ through innovative community development. Their vision involves neighbors raising their collective voices to address injustice and overcome barriers to equity. Urban Homeworks’ People Oriented Development model engages residents in deciding what their neighborhoods will look like so that they become powerful advocates for community. Beginning with the platform of building and restoring equitable, dignified, sustainable and affordable homes, Urban Homeworks builds community and creates social change for a new and just future. This spring Urban Homeworks is joining with community beautification groups to develop plants and gardens and thereby promote nourishment, connection, guidance and power.

 

Finding Ways to Fight Injustices

A Note from the Rev. Alexandra Jacob: I’m excited to introduce this personal reflection from Sage Ramberg, who grew up in the Families, Youth, and Children program at Westminster and served as a youth elder. Read below about her work to eliminate immigration detention in Washigton; Westminster is supporting similar efforts here in Minneapolis. In October, the Social Justice Forum hosted a discussion with Advocates for Human Rights about immigration detention and the Court Observation Project. You can watch a recording online.

By Sage Ramberg, Westminster member

Growing up in Westminster, I quickly learned that our community valued social justice and would be the perfect place for me. I found myself looking forward to Sunday mornings at youth group when we would dive into topics such as environmental racism or ending homelessness. Additionally, each summer we took mission trips to see first-hand and help communities impacted by disparities. I am especially grateful for the trip to Palisade, Minnesota, where we learned from indigenous people living alongside the construction of Pipeline 3.

I am continuing my passion for social justice as I study at the University of Washington (UM). This past quarter, I was part of a practicum in my Immigrant Rights class that assisted a local group called La Resistencia. They work to end detention centers and the deportation of immigrants, specifically focusing on the Northwest Detention Center (NWDC) in Tacoma, Washington. My class had four main objectives: to raise awareness, ask UW libraries to end their database contract with an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) provider, educate the public using infographics, and learn more about the use of ankle bracelets on immigrants. My class was inspired by Maru, a leading member of La Resistencia as well as an immigrant herself. She guided us through our work and taught us how we can help in an appropriate and respectful manner.

La Resistencia helps the detainees of the NWDC, by providing them with lawyers, money, and a public platform to share the inhumanities inflicted upon them. With the work of my peers, we organized a solidarity day in which we drove to the NWDC, set up posters and supplies, and voiced our support. We wanted to let them know we care, we see them, and we are still fighting. Please consider joining me in supporting the work of La Resistencia. The following infographic provides more information about my work and ways to get involved.

29:11 Weeklong Residency

By Amanda Weber, Director of Worship and the Arts 

Westminster is delighted to welcome back the South African Gospel Ensemble “29:11” in a weeklong residency from June 20-26. 29:11 International Exchange is a music ministry whose mission is to facilitate hope and reconciliation through musical performance and collaboration, artist development, and cross-cultural relationships. Co-founders Brendon and Gaylene Adams are based in Minneapolis, but have roots in South Africa. Each year, they gather a new group of young musicians from South Africa to tour to the United States, including performances at such venues as Orchestra Hall, Paisley Park, and the Dakota Jazz Club.

Their residency at Westminster will includes:

  • Tue, Jun 21, 5:30pm | Westminster African Community Potluck Dinner
  • Wed, Jun 22, 7-9pm | Choral Workshop (for all ages and abilities!)
  • Fri, Jun 24, 7:30pm | 29:11 in Concert (Westminster Hall)
  • Sun, Jun 26, 10:30am | 29:11 in Worship (Sanctuary)
For more information, or to participate in the week’s events, contact me (aweber@wpc-mpls.org).

Highlighting Our Community Partner Grant Recipients – June

Each month we highlight Westminster’s community partner grant recipients. This June learn more about Accord, Restorative Justice Community Action, and YWCA Minneapolis.

Accord

By Tom Fidler

Westminster has been in partnership with Accord for its entire 51-year history. Accord, formerly known as Community Involvement Programs, was founded by members of Westminster. Accord provides mental health services to individuals living in the Twin Cities and makes it possible for people living with disabilities to reach their personal and career goals. Westminster’s support to Accord this year will help them implement a new program aimed at providing individuals who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless with greater access to the resources necessary for them to get housing, such as securing Social Security payments.

Restorative Justice Community Action

By Tom Fidler

Restorative Justice Community Action (RJCA), has partnered with Westminster Church since 2019, seeks to repair the harm caused by crime or conflict by giving a voice to those individuals who have been harmed. RJCA brings together community members in Hennepin and Ramsey Counties along with adults and youth who have done harm to seek and reach an agreement that addresses the root cause of the harmful behavior and prevents further harm.  Westminster’s support for RJCA this year will allow them to partner with the Minneapolis Office of Violence Prevention to create a neighborhood public safety model. The project will provide trauma training, restorative justice training, program development, and mentoring.

 YWCA Minneapolis

By Sue Perkins

Since 1993, the YWCA Minneapolis (YWCA) has been a true neighborhood partner in terms of proximity and of our aligned mission. YWCA’s mission is to “eliminate racism, empower women and girls, and promote peace, justice, freedom, and dignity for all.” They work to ”promote racial and gender equity, health and wellness of people from low-income households, respect for diverse cultures, and the economic independence of women.”

Since 2000, Westminster has provided funding for scholarships to support children in need to ensure they have high quality, affordable early childhood education. More than two-thirds of children enrolled were children of color and 87 percent of preschoolers entering kindergarten in 2021 were proficient in school readiness standards. In 2019 Westminster welcomed the YWCA to host their IT’S TIME TO ACT forums onsite.  Through this series the YWCA engaged hundreds of diverse attendees to deepen their understanding of the systems of racism.

Palestinian Pastor, Theologian, and Educational Leader Mitri Raheb to Return to Westminster on June 5

By Matt Skinner, Scholar for Adult Education

We are eager to welcome the Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb back to Westminster on Sunday, June 5. A longtime friend of our congregation and leader of some of our global partner institutions, Raheb is founder and president of Dar al-Kalima University in Bethlehem. This university of arts and culture lives out its vision to spread “the values of democracy, freedom of expression, and freedom of thought in order to build a conscious and free Palestinian civil society.” Previously Raheb served for two decades as the senior pastor of Bethlehem’s Christmas Lutheran Church. He has founded a number of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to benefit Arab communities. Raheb is a widely influential leader and one of the most audible voices among Palestinian Christians. In his tireless efforts and numerous books, he urges others to read the Bible and understand Christian faith in light of Palestinian geography, culture, and experience. Through his roles in higher education, he helps younger generations find opportunities to promote human flourishing, social justice, the arts, and creative resistance.

There are multiple opportunities to benefit from Raheb’s spiritual insights and leadership wisdom during his visit to Westminster. Beginning at 9:15 am, he will offer an educational forum titled “The Church in Palestine: The History, Conditions, and Future of Palestinian Christians.” Join us in Westminster Hall or online via the church’s livestream and learn about what it means to be Christian today in the lands we read about in our scriptures. Raheb will preach in the worship service at 10:30 am. Later, at 2:30 pm, return to Westminster for his presentation and a panel discussion on the topic The Next Generation of Creative Leaders in Palestine: The Power of Arts and Education. The Rev. Dr. Tim Hart-Andersen, Westminster’s senior pastor, will moderate the discussion with Raheb and panelists Imam Makram El-Amin (Masjid An-Nur Mosque), Gabrielle Grier (Juxtaposition Arts), and Dr. Jacqueline DeVries (Augsburg University). Join us, invite others, and spread the word!

Bluegrass Evening Prayer in June and July

By Amanda Weber, Director of Worship and the Arts

Westminster’s Wednesday Evening Worship continues through June and July, in a bluegrass style! Through an exciting collaboration with Green Minneapolis, Bluegrass Evening Prayer in June will take place in Peavey Plaza and will feature a liturgy written by local composer (and Westminster friend) J. David Moore, which Westminster commissioned last year. In July, we return to Westminster’s Lower Plaza to sing “Mountain Vespers,” a liturgy written by Kent Gustavson at Holden Village, a retreat center in Washington state.

Both June and July have the same timeline: we will gather at 5:45 pm for an “Oldie-but-Goodie” hymn sing-along; evening prayer is from 6-6:30 pm; and all are welcome to head to the Upper Plaza at Westminster for an outdoor cookout following worship. This service is fun, informal, and family-friendly! It is a great opportunity to bring a friend or meet a neighbor! For more information, or to help with greeting/ushering, contact the Rev. Dr. David Tsai Shinn.

Reflections on the Past Year

By Katherine Parent, Artist-in-Residence

It has been a unique blessing to be an Artist-in-Residence at Westminster in 2021-22. Moving with the congregation as it began to meet again in person, I was excited by how enthusiastically members participated in our first visual art project together.  In our collaborative, mosaic-like triptych, each participant used oil pastel and ink to fill a square with one vision of beauty and belonging. Many told me about their own thriving art practices, while others shared that they almost never make art and found the process surprisingly enjoyable. When I facilitate art with church communities, I often think of 1 Corinthians 15:41, which celebrates how many different kinds of beauty there are in the sky alone, among the sun, moon, and stars. Each person’s story and process of creation express a unique and vital part of what gives a community life.

Facilitating art with children during their return to church school in Arts Month 2022 was a delightful whirlwind of reconnection and creativity. We played with textile paint and resists, and created a collaborative quilt that echoes the chapel stained glass windows. Their pieces centered on the theme of “what makes me feel like I belong at church?” and created images of friendship, nature, teddy bears, music, and more!

Working with pastoral staff and Westminster’s gallery director to do art exegesis at services during Lent was also a delight. As I researched pieces from the congregation’s fabulous collection that tied in to weekly Scripture readings, I got to explore many different styles of religious art and artists’ journeys from around the world. Opening up ways for people to contemplate an art piece via observation of its composition, context, and connection to sacred texts was a rewarding creative way to participate in worship as a visual artist.

In my final mini-show of Pandemic Sketchbook paintings, I explored the sacredness, humor, and beauty of some of the hard times of the past year. Each piece is grounded in a particular shade of blue that for me represents both the sacred and a longing for liberation. I believe that God is with us in our experiences of pain, illness, horror, and struggle. Processing these experiences through art is a healing spiritual discipline, and viewing someone else’s art about pain can be an empathetic and connecting experience.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to make art and learn with you this year, and I know Westminster members will continue to connect and find solace and belonging through art.

Q&A with the Rev. Margaret Fox

We asked the Rev. Margaret Fox, nominee for the Associate Pastor for Adult Ministries at Westminster, a few questions to get to know her better.

The APNC has described your faith story as unique. Would you be willing to share some of it?

I didn’t grow up in the church.  My first exposure to religion came the summer before my senior year of college, when I fell in love with stained glass windows while on a research trip to France. 13th-century Gothic cathedrals tell the stories of scripture in comic-book form–each panel a scene from a biblical story.  I learned to identify the characters through their iconography—Peter’s keys, Moses with horns, the virgin Mary dressed in blue. I was hooked. Back in the states, I started reading scripture, visiting churches, and taking as many religion classes as I could.

It took me some time to realize that this fascination with religion was not just academic interest but a stirring of faith and a call to ministry—and, like Jonah, I responded by running in the opposite direction.  While a first-semester law student (yes, I made it pretty far into the belly of the whale), a classmate who had grown up as a Lutheran pastor’s kid invited me to look around for churches.  We landed at First Presbyterian Church of New Haven, where I found a progressive congregation with strong biblical preaching and a commitment to the community. On the second Sunday of Advent, I was baptized, and became not just a curious onlooker but a member of God’s family. The story I was so interested in became my story, too.  In the context of community, what had been fascination transformed into faith.

At that time, the PCUSA was not yet open to ordaining LGBT ministers, but my pastors encouraged me to hang on. Sure enough, that very summer, the ordination standards changed. Thanks to the hard work and advocacy of churches across the country, including Westminster, the way was now clear for me to enter the process. I finished a joint JD/MDiv, then a hospital chaplain residency in Louisville, Kentucky. A year later, I was ordained, and my career in congregational ministry began.

Westminster’s mission says we are a telling presence in Minneapolis. What excites you about joining in that mission?

I’m not going to lie—your stained glass windows are a big draw! But so are the clear glass walls of the new building—opening the life of the congregation out onto the city, and vice versa. There’s a strong connection, at Westminster, between the story of God and the life of the community, the call to faith and the call to justice, the work of the church and the welfare of the city. It’s thrilling to imagine being at that point of intersection.

The other major draw is the chance to serve as part of a robust and vibrant staff team. I tend to be at my best when I’m part of a group—the Sea Scouts in high school, women’s rugby in college, my diverse, beloved cohort of fellow chaplain residents. My two solo pastorates have given me invaluable experience in very different contexts, but I’m really excited at the prospect of serving as part of such a capable, committed team.  I’m looking forward to collaborating with colleagues and learning from Tim and Meghan’s leadership, and I’ve been a Matt Skinner fan ever since I started listening to the “Working Preacher” podcast.

What ideas do you have for Adult Ministries at Westminster?

Westminster strikes me as incredibly strong on education at points of intersection: faith and social justice; faith and public life; faith and anti-racism; Christian faith and other faiths; faith, music, and the arts. Working alongside my colleagues and the adult education committee, I would look to expand and deepen these interfaith, intercultural, and multi-disciplinary learning opportunities that make Westminster such a rich and vibrant place.

At the same time, all of this intersectionality creates a real opportunity.  Because of its many programs and partnerships, people come to Westminster who might otherwise have no reason to set foot in a church. This is a place where my own experience as an adult convert may be of some use. When you come to church without prior exposure, there’s a lot that can feel confusing or even intimidating. What’s happening during the worship service? What does communion mean? Do I believe the “right things” to belong here? How do I pray out loud? How do I pray at all?

In addition to learning about “faith and…”, there’s also a real need for opportunities simply to learn about faith itself. And from conversations I’ve had with people who did grow up in the church, this may be true of cradle Christians as well as newcomers. We’re all lifelong students in the school of faith. My hope for my work at Westminster would be to develop opportunities for people to learn and grow in faith in contexts that are open and nonjudgmental.

Candidate for Associate Pastor for Adult Ministries

By Barbara Brown and Andy Peterson, Co-chairs, Associate Pastor Nominating Committee

In 2005 a college student joined Habitat for Humanity’s bicycle challenge to bike from New Haven, Connecticut, to Seattle, Washington, staying in churches and working on build sites along the way. The group stayed at the YWCA across the street from Westminster.

About 14 years later in 2019, that same college student returned to Westminster, but this time as an ordained teaching elder and a member of the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s Board of Pensions. The board met in Minneapolis and toured Westminster’s sanctuary and brand-new addition.

A few weeks ago, that same individual returned as a candidate for Westminster’s open associate pastor position and received a unanimous recommendation from the Associate Pastor Nominating Committee. The committee is pleased to announce the selection of the Rev. Margaret Fox as the nominee for the Associate Pastor for Adult Ministries at Westminster.

With a bachelor’s degree from Yale University, a Master of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School, and a Juris Doctorate and Master of Divinity from Yale, the committee easily recognized the Rev. Fox’s academic qualifications, and quickly realized in conversations with her that she was much more than stellar academics.

Committee members described her as warm, approachable, curious, empathetic, and collaborative. In reviewing sermons she has preached and classes she has taught, the committee saw the depth of her faith and the unique way she is able to make the Bible relevant today.

The Rev. Fox currently serves as the pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Tallahassee, Florida, and was previously a pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Perrysburg, Ohio. She continues her role on the Board of Pensions and has been elected to become chair following the 2022 General Assembly.

Westminster will hold a Congregational Meeting following the 10:30 am Worship on Sunday, May 29, when we will formally introduce the Rev. Margaret Fox and act upon the recommendation of the APNC to call her to Westminster.

Read a Q&A with the Rev. Margaret Fox.

May Adult Education Series on Gender Diversity and Trans Allyship

During Advent in December, Adult Education hosted Austen Hartke for a two-part series on “Getting Curious About Gender Diversity.” Hartke is the author of Transforming: The Bible and the Lives of Transgender Christians, a book on theology and personal narratives published by Westminster John Knox Press in 2018. He is also the founder and director of Transmission Ministry Collective, an online community dedicated to the spiritual care, faith formation, and leadership potential of transgender and gender-expansive Christians.

December’s two-part series was dynamic and deeply engaged the audience. Knowing how much we can learn from each other across different generational experiences of gender, participants requested Hartke return for an intergenerational series.

In collaboration with WestConnect and Families, Youth, and Children’s Ministries, Adult Education is happy to present a longer series in May comprised of three sessions on: Unpacking the Gender Clobber Verses, Celebrating Gender Diversity in Scripture, and Trans Allyship for Churches.

Each of the three ministries represented is excited for this opportunity to learn and talk together about this important topic. “In the Westminster youth groups, we work hard to honor and respect one another, recognizing that we all are beloved children of God – no qualifications, no exceptions. As we installed Westminster’s expansive Pride flag outside the church building this past summer, we reflected on questions of identity and allyship. We pledged with our words and our actions to honor one another’s belovedness and support one another in word and deed, especially those among us and in our broader community who self-identify as trans. We continue to learn and grow together, committed to showing up for one another,” says Alexandra Jacob, Associate Pastor for Families, Youth, and Children.

Meghan Gage Finn, Executive Associate Pastor who supports young adult ministries says, “We know that the words we use have value and meaning, especially the words we use as people of faith in Christian community. Being an ally isn’t about having all the right words or the right answers but about creating space across the church through our language and our actions for individuals to feel safe, welcome, and supported. Trans allyship reflects a love that is as inclusive and expansive as God’s love is for everyone.”

We invite anyone and everyone to join us in May.

May 1: Unpacking the Gender Clobber Verses

May 15: Celebrating Gender Diversity in Scripture

May 22: Trans Allyship for Churches

The three sessions will be held at 9:15 am in the Recreation Room.

© Westminster Presbyterian Church | 2022