Moving into Phase 2.5 in the Re-opening the Building Plan

On February 23, 2021, members of the Responsible Building Use Task Force met to discuss the threshold indicators in Westminster’s Re-opening the Building Plan to determine if we could move from Phase 2 to Phase 3. Although we have met the threshold indicators, we recognize that opening the building after nearly a year will take some planning and preparedness. Therefore, we have decided to enter a Phase 2.5.

For the month of March, we will begin to allow groups of 15 people to meet for worship on Sundays. Limiting the number to 15 will ensure that the total number of the people in Westminster Hall will not exceed 25 with clergy and musicians. We would like to use these groups of 15 people as “pilot” groups to help us learn and adjust, and eventually to prepare for more people returning to the Westminster building.

This means that beginning Sunday, March 7, we will have a small group of people attend the 10:30 am Worship and the Gathered at Five worship in person. They will need to register ahead of time, answer the Covid screening questions, wear a double or an N95 mask, and stay six-feet apart from others in the building who are not in their immediate household.

If you would like to sign up to be one of our Re-opening Volunteers, please first read more about the responsibilities. If you are still interested, contact Deb Wagner to attend worship in person.

Below is a list of questions and answers related to this update that we hope will provide more information. A final note: should circumstances warrant, we will scale back to Phase 2.


Has Westminster entered Phase 3 in the re-opening the building plan?

We are entering Phase 2.5, which will be a pilot project for the month of March. For the four Sundays in March, we will allow groups of 15 people attend worship in person. Groups of 15 plus clergy, musicians, and our tech team will mean that no one group will exceed 25. These groups will be known as re-opening volunteers, and their role is to help us learn how to re-open the church building responsibly and to adjust along, and then help prepare others to return to the Westminster building.

Can you tell me more about what Phase 2.5 will involve?

Beginning Sunday, March 7, we will have a small group of people attend the 10:30 am Worship and the Gathered at Five worship in person. They will need to register ahead of time, answer the Covid screening questions, wear a double or N95 mask, and stay six-feet apart from others in the building who are not in their immediate household.

Do you have to be vaccinated to attend worship?

No, we are not requiring the re-opening volunteers to be vaccinated. However, we do acknowledge that there is some level of risk involved for these volunteers. Therefore, we leave it up to individuals and families to decide if this level of risk is something they are comfortable with or not. Both decisions are fine and expected.

If someone is vaccinated, do they get preference to become a re-opening volunteer?

We will not be asking if someone is vaccinated or not as part of our procedure so vaccinations will not have a role in the selection of re-opening volunteers.

What will be the responsibilities of the re-opening volunteers?

First and foremost, learn and adhere to the safety protocols, which include registering in advance, answering the Covid screening questions, wearing a double or N95 mask, staying six-feet apart from others in the building who are not in their immediate household, and staying home if they are not feeling well. We will also ask re-opening volunteers to arrive 30 minutes early for worship and offer feedback about their experience through a survey afterwards. We hope some of these volunteers will also be willing to help teach others about protocols for future in-person services and events at Westminster.

How can I sign up to be a re-opening volunteer?

We ask anyone interested in being a re-opening volunteer to first read and understand the role. If you are still interested, you can email Deb Wagner to register, including the service date and time you would like to attend along with the names of everyone attending together (including children). Registration closes at noon the Friday before the Sunday service. Through March there will be 120 different volunteer slots for 10:30 Worship and Gathered at Five. If we have more than 120 volunteers, we will randomly select people to narrow the group down to 120.

When will the volunteer program start?

This will begin on Sunday, March 7, with the 10:30 am Worship and Gathered at Five services. Volunteers will be asked to arrive 30 minutes early to worship.

Will this be all events?

We are only allowing people for Sunday worship. As that expands we will announce it on our website..

Will you be open for more people to attend by Easter on April 4?

We will have more information later in the month about Easter.

When will you consider adding other events or to move into a complete Phase 3?

A small group of staff and lay leaders from the Responsible Building Use Task Force is meeting regularly to review what we are learning, make any necessary adjustments to protocols, and expand the list of in-person events. We will continue to update the Westminster community through the Friday all-church emails, on the website, and in worship, when appropriate.

Is there a chance you could stop Phase 2.5 and move back to online-only worship?

Although we hope we continue to move forward through this pandemic, we also recognize the possibility that the conditions in the larger community might decline again. Therefore, there is always a chance that, should circumstances warrant, we will scale back to Phase 2.

How will I know if an event will be online or in person?

We will make sure the online calendar listing is clear about which events are meeting in-person, online, or both.

What if a re-opening volunteer or someone else involved with worship is diagnosed with COVID-19?

Westminster’s already established Covid protocols state that if there is a confirmed case reported, Westminster will:

  • Disinfect and close any impacted spaces for an appropriate period.
  • Inform proper authorities, such as local and state health officials.
  • Assist authorities with contact tracing.

In addition, those involved with worship will get tested and quarantine, if necessary.

What if I have more questions or want more information about the re-opening phases for Westminster?

We have arranged Listening Sessions to be held at 9 am on March 6, 13, and 20, through Zoom. You can find these events on the calendar. Visit Westminster’s Covid webpage for updates and more information. You can read more about the re-opening plan online as well.

Beyond Sunday Connections: Rachel Sheild Gustafson

Beyond Sunday Connections held on Westminster’s livestream channel for all Westminster women on Monday, February 8, at 6:30 pm. Rani Murdoch Zappa emcees the program and Rachel Sheild Gustafson, Westminster’s Director of Congregational and Community Engagement, is the featured speaker.  At the end of the program, church women are invited to participate in small group discussion on Zoom.

Rachel joined Westminster’s staff this past summer and looks forward to the time when we can gather in person for greater involvement in church and community efforts. Her professional experience spans grassroots community organizing to federal policymaking, particularly around public health, child welfare, and the arts. She has an MFA in creative writing from Seattle Pacific University and an MPH in maternal and child health from the University of Minnesota. On a personal note, Rachel says she has three strong-willed daughters. In her free time, she enjoys writing essays, getting outdoors, and gathering people in her home for food and connection. Rachel titled her talk “Eager with My Meager: Learning to Step Out with Imperfect Offerings.” Tune in to her talk to find out just what she means and her ideas for strengthening Westminster’s connections to our community.

To sign up for Beyond Sunday Connections, contact Deb Wagner. She will provide a handout and link for the Zoom conversations.

Social Justice Forum Tackles Climate and Racial Justice

Westminster welcomes Sam Grant, PhD, the Executive Director of MN350, to the Social Justice Forum, on Sunday, January 24. He will discuss MN350’s work at the intersection of climate and racial justice.

MN350 is part of the global organization 350—the first worldwide grassroots climate movement. Last fall the Eco-Justice Ministry Team co-sponsored Bill McKibben, cofounder of the global organization 350 to speak at the Westminster Town Hall Forum. Grant’s presentation is the first of two January Social Justice Forums focused on environmental justice. On Sunday, January 31 the forum will welcome Julia Nerbonne from Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light.

Sandy Wolfe Wood, Eco-Justice Ministry Team chair, shared, “Personally I am looking forward to Sam’s talk because the environmental movement has not done a good job of addressing the impact of climate change, sea-level rise, species extinction and toxic waste dumps on communities of color and those without money or a dominant voice.”

Hear Grant speak during the Social Justice Forum at 9:15 am on Sunday, January 24, on Westminster’s livestream channel.

Climate Science, Policy, and Justice

Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson
A Conversation on Climate Science, Policy and Justice 
Thursday, January 28, Noon

Watch online

The Spring 2021 Season of the Westminster Town Hall Forum begins with two big questions: How do we save the planet? And how do we do it justly?

Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson has been called, “The most influential Marine Biologist of our time” by Outside magazine. Her work has been featured in The New York Times, Nature, Scientific American, and The Atlantic. She is the co-editor of All We Can Save, an anthology of writing by women climate leaders.

For the first Westminster Town Hall Forum of 2021, Dr. Johnson will speak with Minnesota Public Radio environmental reporter Dan Kraker. The program is in partnership with The Great Northern Festival, which “celebrates our cold, creative winters through 10 days of diverse programming that invigorate mind and body.” More information at

Supporting One Another through BeFriender Ministry

The BeFriender ministry through Congregational Care began more than a year ago at Westminster with the goal to serve as a living reminder of God’s love by providing care as a listening presence to anyone experiencing a life transition or challenge. Steph Svee answered a few questions about the BeFriender ministry, which she co-chairs along with Laurie Fetterman.

Tell me a little bit about BeFrienders.

BeFriender is a listening ministry, headquartered locally in Bloomington. Our goal is to be a listening presence as you go through your journey of a difficult time. We are a team of nine trained volunteers who meet with others as they are and without telling them how they should be. We are not there to judge or tell you what to do. We care, but we do not cure.

How is BeFriender different from other Congregational Care ministries at Westminster?

BeFriender is a one-on-one relationship and the duration is not defined—it is however long as long as that journey needs to be. After one month of meetings, we do a check to make sure it is still working for everyone involved. We help others during many different situations, but mostly ones that are more temporary journeys, such as loneliness, unemployment, divorce, a move, retirement, having a baby—life changes that you just want a person from church to be a presence with you.

Why do you think BeFriender is important at this particular time?

With COVID there is a lot loneliness and angst, and we can be a support for that by having someone from church reach out on a consistent basis and be a support for you. Also, normally stressful and difficult times may be heightened because of COVID.

Who should someone contact if they want to have a BeFriender?

You can first contact Rev. David Shinn or Rev. Judy Kim. Then they would contact Laurie and me to get you matched with one of our trained volunteers. We have volunteers ready right now so please reach out to David or Judy if this sounds like a ministry you might benefit from.

The BeFriender team at Westminster includes: Kathy Dobosvky, Laurie Fetterman, Anne Flanagan, Aurea Kendig, Pat McManus, Cindy Moss, Elsa Flores-Peet, Chad Quaintance, and Steph Svee. Learn more about Westminster’s BeFriender ministry and about the national BeFriender program as well.

New Director of Westminster Town Hall Forum Announced

Westminster Town Hall Forum Advisory Board Chair Megan Dayton is pleased to announce Tane Danger as the new Director of the Town Hall Forum. Best known as the co-founder and host of the nationally renowned civics-inspired improv comedy show, The Theater of Public Policy, Tane has built a career bringing people together to grapple with big ideas.

“Westminster Town Hall Forum is the largest and most prestigious speaker series in Minnesota and the upper Midwest. I am humbled and excited for the opportunity to build on the Forum’s 40-year history and begin a new chapter of bringing people together to engage with big questions and ideas,” Tane said. He begins the new position on December 1.

“Tane brings a unique combination of skill and experience to the Westminster Town Hall Forum,” said Tim Hart-Andersen, Moderator of the Forum. “With his public policy background and skill in promoting and producing, he will broaden the reach of the program. And I am especially eager to see how the new Town Talks series will expand under Tane’s leadership.”

The Westminster Town Hall Forum began in 1980 with a mission to engage the public in reflection and dialogue on the key issues of our day from an ethical perspective. Since then, more than 250 speakers have addressed Forum audiences, including, among others, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Elie Wiesel, Barbara Brown Taylor, Thomas Friedman, Cornel West, Marian Wright Edelman, David McCullough, Marcus Borg, Gwen Ifill, David Brooks, Salman Rushdie, and Bryan Stevenson.

“The Town Hall Forum offers an opportunity to bring important voices to our city and to open up a dialogue about issues and ideas,” Tane said. “But the Town Hall Forum is not just any speaker series, it is a series rooted in looking at things from an ethical perspective, and to be a part of it as the director is a dream come true for me.”

As The Theater of Public Policy’s host, Tane has interviewed more than 500 people, from journalists and academics to political leaders and authors since the show began in 2011. But what makes the show different is that after the interview, a cast of Minnesota’s sharpest improvisers take everything that’s been said and turns it into entirely unscripted improv comedy theater.

In addition to producing and hosting events, Tane regularly gives keynote talks and leads workshops on leadership and communication. He is also a regular contributor to Twin Cities Public Television’s weekly public affairs program, Almanac.

Tane grew up in Hollywood, Florida, and came to Minnesota to attend Gustavus Adolphus College. In 2014, Tane won a fellowship from the St. Paul-based Bush Foundation, which helped him earn a Master’s of Public Policy from the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs. He lives in South Minneapolis with his fiancé Eric.

‘Join Us on the Road to Abundance’

An open letter from the Downtown Minneapolis Interfaith Senior Clergy: 

Join Us on the Road to Abundance

During this difficult year of 2020, The Downtown Interfaith Senior Clergy have renewed and invigorated our commitment to the well-being of our beloved city and all who live here. We work to ease suffering and pursue justice. Our group meets regularly to share life’s journey and plan ways to aid our collective communities. All our houses of worship are in the City of Minneapolis. We are friends and neighbors.

We are a diverse group: we are interfaith and vary in our religious practice; we are diverse in race, gender, age, and sexual orientation; and, we disagree on issues facing the public. But we are bound by the ethical imperatives of our traditions to live out the prophetic voice of Jeremiah every day: “To seek the welfare of the city…..for in its prosperity you shall prosper”(29:4-7). In this moment, our neighbors of color are dying in greater numbers due to the pandemic and inequities in our health care system. In addition, we live in a time of reckoning concerning racial injustice, and we stand committed to truth and reconciliation.

Our common mission has allowed us to keep our commitment to one another, despite historical divides. Each of our traditions instructs us to engage in civic responsibility.  Judaism through Torah calls us to pursue justice, to care for the stranger, the widow, the orphan. The Gospel implores us to serve “the least among us.” The Prophet said, “One who spends the night with a full stomach while his neighbor is hungry, has not believed in me. One who spends the night clothed, while his neighbor has no clothes, has not believed in me.” (Mustadrak al-Wasa’il, v.2, pp.78-79)

We are political but not partisan. For us that means we answer the call to bring a moral voice to the steps of the capitol and influence legislation based on the issues that affect people’s lives.  We believe that our ethical report card is determined by how we care for the most vulnerable in our society.

On November 3rd, our country will go to the polls. We invite you to remember both compassion and justice in the voting booth. For we are taught: “If a person sits in their home and says to themselves, ’What have the affairs of society to do with me?  And why should I trouble myself with the people’s voices of protest? Instead, let my soul dwell in peace.’  If an individual does this, they overthrow the entire world.”(Midrash Tanhuma)

We have a stake in keeping the world balanced by striving for the values all our traditions teach. Join with us, neighbors!


Imam Makram Nu’Man El-Amin, Masjid An-Nur

Rabbi Marcia Zimmerman, Temple Israel

Rev. Dr. Tim Hart-Andersen, Westminster Presbyterian Church

Rev. Dr. David Breeden, First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis

Rev. Jia Starr Brown, First Covenant Church Minneapolis

Rev. Kevin Kenney, Pastor, Saint Olaf Catholic Church

Rev. Judy Zabel, Senior Minister, Hennepin Avenue United Methodist

Imam Dr. Hamdy El-Sawaf Islamic Community Center of Minnesota/Masjid Al-Imin

Rev. Dr. Laurie Pound Feille, Senior Minister, First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Rev. Peter Nycklemoe, Central Lutheran Church

Rev. Justin Schroeder, Sr. Co-Minister, First Universalist Church of Minneapolis

Rev. Jen Crow, Sr. Co-Minister, First Universalist Church of Minneapolis

The Very Rev. Paul J. Lebens-Englund, Dean, Saint Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral, Minneapolis

Rev. Dr. Paula Northwood, Acting Senior Minister, Plymouth Congregational Church of Minneapolis

Ojibwe Water Walker Sharon Day to speak at Westminster

On Sunday, October 11, during Westminster Presbyterian Church’s 9:15 am Social Justice Forum, Sharon Day, an Ojibwe Water Walker, discussed the importance of care for and stewardship of the water. Enrolled in the Bois Forte Band of Ojibwe, Day is one of the founders of the Indigenous People’s Task Force and serves as its Executive Director. She is also an artist, musician and writer.

Rev. Alanna Simone Tyler, Westminster’s Associate Pastor for Justice and Mission, answered a few questions about why Day was invited to speak on this topic and what she hopes the Westminster community will learn.

What is Westminster’s connection with Sharon Day?

Earlier this year during the Lenten Season Westminster focused on environmental justice and care for creation. Our plans called for exploring this focus through Tim’s sermons, covenant groups and congregation-wide luncheons in which Tim invited guests to speak about their faith tradition’s approach to caring for the environment. We invited Ms. Day to be our guest for one of the luncheons and to speak about the practice of Nibi (Water) Walks. She could not join us, but graciously arranged to have three who share her reverence for the water to be with us. We hoped for a future opportunity to welcome her and learn about her calling to protect and care for the water.

What are the Social Justice Ministry Team’s hopes in inviting Sharon Day to participate in the Social Justice Forum?

Ms. Day will speak to us about her enduring commitment to water walks. Since 2011 she has led 20 water walks in which walkers gather water at the headwaters of a river and carry the water the length of the river to its mouth. Ms. Day has described this extended prayer ceremony as “giving the river a taste of herself. We say to her this is how you began, pure and clean. This is how we wish for you to be again.” The Social Justice Ministry Team hopes all who hear Ms. Day will be inspired to discern their faithful actions. We hope all of the forums turn our hearts to discernment.

What is the significance of Westminster Presbyterian Church hosting Sharon Day on Sunday, October 11?

The second Monday in October is increasingly recognized as Indigenous People’s Day—a holiday to celebrate and honor Native American peoples, their history, and culture. Westminster’s invitation to Sharon Day to lead the Social Justice Forum, the day before Indigenous People’s Day (Monday, October 12) is one way we honor this nation’s first residents and further affirm our commitment to continue learning about our Indigenous siblings and building mutual relationships with them. Additionally, in this year of listening we are eager to hear an Ojibwe woman describe an Indigenous-led commitment to listen to all of creation.

How do you see this topic fitting with the Social Justice Forum’s overall theme for the program year, Wade in the Water: Becoming Anti-Racist?

The Social Justice Ministry Team anticipates the forums it hosts this year will “encourage all of us to listen intently to voices beyond those of white privilege, and to reflect on how we, as a community of faith, can help change a racialized system.”

Watch a recording of the presentation.

New Adult Education Class Offered at Westminster

Beginning on Monday, October 19, Westminster Presbyterian Church will offer a new class through the Adult Education ministry, called “The Bible Then and Now.” The first session will explore the topic “Inclusion—Exclusion: It’s Hard to Know How to Be the Church.” The Rev. Dr. Matt Skinner, Scholar for Adult Education, answered a few questions about the new class, which he will lead, explaining what it’s about and who might be interested in it.

How would you describe this new Adult Education Bible class?

It’s to help us consider how this weird, old, book called the Bible can continue to surprise us and open us up to knowing God, ourselves, and our communities in new ways. I’m trying to reduce some of the Bible’s strangeness by introducing how the biblical writings fit in their ancient contexts. At the same time, I’m convening conversations that will keep the Bible fresh, because we’re going to consider how it speaks to us and how thinking about it in community brings new things to our attention during these extraordinarily challenging times that we’re living in. Finally, it’s going to be fun; too many people have had bad experiences with the Bible and I’m committed to reversing that whenever I can.

Who is this new class for?

It’s designed with the Westminster community in mind, but it’s open to anyone, so people can invite friends to participate also. You don’t need have any special knowledge about the Bible to participate.

What do you hope people learn in the class?

I hope they will see that interesting things happen when people consider the Bible together. I want them to discover, or rediscover, the joy and challenge that can come from reading the Bible thoughtfully and expectantly, both as a set of writings from far-away times and places and also as literature that has a keen way of exposing and correcting our values.

What is the first topic you will explore?

We are going to explore passages from the Bible that describe lines getting erased and redrawn. Where and why are people encouraged to draw the circle wider? Where and why are they warned about keeping themselves distinct from others? These are questions that all religious groups deal with all the time–we are always thinking about who we are and how we engage those who are different.

Why do you think that topic is relevant right now?

So many reasons! The pandemic is changing our sense of who we are and how we connect. Cries for racial justice have us reexamining privilege and how we listen carefully to other voices. So many aspects of our society are polarizing. Studying inclusion and exclusion in the Bible won’t solve these problems, but it will help us see how our Christian traditions and values both put us in a good place to address them and also create obstacles that we need to deal with.

What are some future topics you might explore in this class?

I’d like to explore the various dimensions of Jesus’ ministry, so we can dig into Gospel stories about his healings, other miracles, teachings, and controversies. I want us to encounter Jesus as a person of his place and time. I also think it would be enjoyable (and challenging) to examine Jesus’ parables, especially by learning to read them from a variety of perspectives so we can better appreciate how different kinds of people experience them.

How often do you expect to offer this class?

I’m planning to do probably two more during the first half of 2021. We’ll keep evaluating as we go to figure out how much of this kind of programming is useful.

Read more about the first topic, “Inclusion—Exclusion: It’s Hard to Know How to Be the Church.” Contact Mahin Hamilton to sign up to participate.



New Artist-in-Residence: Joe Davis

Westminster Presbyterian Church has announced Joe Davis as the Artist-in-Residence for the 2020-2021 program year. Davis is a nationally-touring artist, educator, and speaker based locally in Minneapolis. His work includes poetry, music, theater, and dance to shape culture.

Westminster Minister of Music & the Arts, Dr. Amanda Weber, invited Davis to be Westminster’s Artist-in-Residence and said she is looking forward to connecting Davis’s many gifts with Westminster’s various program areas. “Joe’s partnership with the Westminster community could not be more timely. His art both affirms and challenges, fitting perfectly into this Year of Listening as we struggle to find our place in a world crying out for healing and justice.”

Davis has keynoted and facilitated conversation about racial justice, trauma and healing, and has served as teaching artist at hundreds of high schools and universities including New York, Boston, and most recently as the Artist-in-Residence at Luther Seminary where he earned a Master’s degree in Theology of the Arts.

About his residency at Westminster, Davis says, “My primary goal is to show up in community in a way that’s intentional and relational. I’d love to contribute art, conversation, tools, and practices that can deepen relationships and further healing. We all got the spark, I just came to fan the flame!”

Learn more.

© Westminster Presbyterian Church | 2023