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The newsletter of the
Montana-Northern Wyoming Conference
United Church of Christ

editor: Marc Stewart

November 2016

Telling the Story

         Rev. Dr. Marc Stewart

These are our best stories, precisely because they are about how God has come-by-here in our lives.
Last spring, we might have had a discussion at our Conference Annual Meeting about immigration and refugee issues. Plymouth UCC in Helena had hosted a forum on immigration issues and discovered that violent threats could come from merely holding a discussion. Some other issues might also have been discussed at Conference Annual Meeting, such as climate change. It has been many years since CAM has received and discussed resolutions of witness. Resolutions did not come before us this year for a couple reasons. First, there was hardly enough time for the interested groups among us to put together a resolution once they got the idea for it. Second, there was a recognition that we might not be able to have a respectful and civil discussion around issues that are subject to extreme or violent and vulgar controversy in contemporary culture.

I suggested, with a serious note, that perhaps we needed a resolution of witness resolving to practice civil discourse. A group of members and friends of Plymouth UCC in Helena decided to put together a seminar on civil discourse. With the assistance of a State Humanities Council grant, and from our Conference Strengthen the Church funds, they brought together a team to practice civil discourse around the immigration and refugee issue. A session was held at University UCC and also at Plymouth UCC.

The session included two state politicians who sit on opposite sides of the aisle, and yet model a way of civil discourse. At the center of their discussion was each of their own stories. Each shared their background, and listened to what was unique in each other's story. One skeptic who had heard that the process would be taking place ridiculed it as "kum-ba-ya" stuff. Those who participated learned that sharing and listening is not always easy. In fact, some stories are too deep or too painful to safely share. So, too, grace and healing is needed. Most often, though, a story shared and listen to is the beginning of civil discourse.

In our post-election months ahead, this nation will sponge up all the healing and grace available. It will be a good time to get back to our own story of what makes us who we are. It is for "such a time as this" that we will be called upon to listen for the stories of others, perhaps even encourage the stories. These are not just any made-up stories, but the "what happen in your life" type of stories and the "tell me how it was for you" type of stories.

Indeed, even within the Conference, we are finding ourselves in storytelling mode. Read here, this month, of some stories of Camp Mimanagish. And though it is not ready, yet, even our budget figure will be put in the form of a story, as our financial task force writes a "narrative budget" for 2017.

One aspiration pulls us together more than any other: we care about the stories among us. Though they do not always come easy, there is a "kum-by-ya" narrative to our best stories, precisely because they are about how God has come-by-here in our lives. 
                               Kim Harris
Applaud them for their dedication to camp and their willingness to pitch in when-and-where needed!
A couple weeks ago, 14 youth from around the Conference gathered for the last camp of the season: Fall Youth Camp. This retreat goes from Thursday-Saturday over a school break. We started this retreat a few years ago to give youth a chance to go back to camp and see its beauty in a whole new light of the fall season. This also gives the youth an opportunity to help with the closing of camp and be a part of giving back to the amazing place that gives so much to them throughout the summer. During the retreat the youth fill the time with programming and spend an hour or two on Friday morning helping to clean and prepare the camp for winter.
This year when the youth heard that nobody was able to come help on Saturday after their retreat to close camp, and that the staff person was going to have to stay and do it themselves, they rallied and decided that they wanted to be a part of the whole closing and forgo their programming time.

The youth still had time for vespers and little bit of programming in the evenings where they started the conversation on White Privilege.
Most of all, the youth worked hard
     cleaning and winterizing all 7 camper cabins,
     cleaning out and scouring the kitchen in Big Timber cabin,
     cleaning and organizing the manager's cabin,
     cleaning and winterizing the staff cabin,
     cleaning the lodge,
     moving hoses, furniture, basketball hoops and volleyball nets inside,              
     and completing one of the biggest jobs:
     cleaning, packing away and winterizing the dining hall.
These youth worked straight from breakfast to dinner on Friday. They never complained. When each completed a task, every single one would ask with a smile on their face what task was next. On Saturday morning before we left, the youth got up and started working again! They quickly helped load the truck with the garbage from the past couple weeks of camps, locked all the buildings and shut off water, electricity and made sure everything was nice and secure and ready to sleep for the winter before they headed down the mountain.
I know the youth were not expecting to work that hard or have so many tasks to do. I applaud them for their dedication to camp and their willingness to pitch in when-and-where needed. As a Conference and local churches who love camp, we owe a huge debt of gratitude to these 14 youth from Missoula, Helena, Bozeman, Worden, Mayflower and Billings First! Brag about these youth to your congregations! We have amazing youth and campers in are Conference that we are very blessed with! 
Cyber-Monday, Giving Tuesday and Amazon Smile Camp Donations

Remember Camp Mimanagish on Giving Tuesday and throughout the holiday season! This year, it is easier than ever to give to Camp 
Mimanagish. After the craziness of Black Friday and Cyber Monday you are encouraged to give to your favorite non-profit on giving Tuesday. You can do this by going to our website When you get there all you do is hit the donate button and fill in your information. As you do your online shopping for the holiday remember us when you do your Amazon check outs, you can find us through Amazon Smiles and donate to camp right there with your purchases! We Thank You in advance for your generous support this holiday season! 
CAMP needs

A short reintroduction: my name is Leslie Roche, and I currently serve as the chairperson of the Committee for Outdoor Ministries. COM is charged with the oversight of Camp Mimanagish, our Conference’s sacred space for outdoor ministries.
As Mimanagish ages, like the rest of us, needs requiring more attention arise with each passing season. While many updates and upgrades have been made in recent years, there are more to be done. We came up with a list of projects and specific items that we consider to be necessary in some cases, in the best interest of Camp and its people, and simply would make life more comfortable while enjoying the unique setting. Following are those needs and wants:

First of all, there are some significant safety concerns to address, the first of which has been requested many times over the years by the Forest Service – that of burying the electrical wires in upper camp. As you can imagine, this will be a MAJOR undertaking requiring the use of heavy equipment and a professional electrician. We were blessed to have the Roe family of Big Timber take care of this in lower camp over the past couple of years – it was somewhat easier due to the microburst a few seasons back which opened up a great deal of space, making it easier to maneuver. The Roes have volunteered their equipment and time for the work in upper camp, but an electrician’s expertise is needed first. In addition, there are electrical issues in a few of the cabins which need to be corrected and signed off by a professional electrician. Optimally, we would love for someone in the conference to step forward and be willing to donate some time to address these concerns. MANY thanks in advance for your consideration.

Second, the foundation of the Chapel is quickly in need of being re-shored. It was originally supported by stacks of rock which have shifted and disintegrated over time. We have had an individual with a plethora of construction experience offer to oversee the work, but again, we need volunteers.

Next, the decking on most structures is in need of some TLC, and some need a great deal of it! The deck behind the lodge, facing Full Moon (the dining hall) is full of dry rot and needs to be demolished and replaced. We need to determine which material would best serve the needs of the camp and the climate there, obtain the materials, and then have volunteer labor to accomplish the tasks. The front deck of Full Moon needs to have its underside supporting structure re-worked, as settling and some weather-related conditions have occurred. Also, due to the amount of traffic and the exposure to the elements, a different type of protection may be advantageous, and more economical in the long run, for its surface. Many other decks simply need to be stained, as do some cabin exteriors.

Lastly, some of the cabins have been adopted by local churches or individuals who have worked hard to improve the quality of the stay in said cabins. However, Riverview, Roaring Waters, and Trail’s End are all still in need of some assistance and TLC.  New weather-and critter-proof doors, windows, and insulation are great starting points.

The Forest Service – which owns the land on which Mimanagish sits - has suggested a couple other improvements: An upgraded trail to Vesper Hill, near the entrance. A wider switchback-type of trail with ADA handrails would improve accessibility for all, as the current trail is narrow, rocky, and steep. Having all be able to access this beautiful area could enhance the total experience of Mimanagish. This setting, at night, for Vespers and contemplation is so special. Have you ever star-gazed from there???!!! Unbelievable! The original entrance into Mimanagish, according to an old map that was discovered, was located near the site of the current volleyball pit. It has been suggested that re-opening this area to access the main road could improve traffic flow, especially during youth camps to avoid meeting another vehicle on the entry road and having to back up to allow passage (enter at current entrance, exit at lower area), and could also increase the safety of campers and staff in the event of an emergency.  

The healthcare area has been updated very recently, but the doors still need to be hung. Roofs on some buildings are still in need of metal roofing, and its installation. In the longer term, we envision a new structure on the site of the Froid Lake cabin which was taken from its foundation in the microburst and had to be dismantled. A retreat center, possibly two stories, akin to the remodel of Big Timber cabin, would be a great addition to our site, and would likely be able to increase our rental income. No immediate plans are in the making, but we look forward with hope, vision, and anticipation in making this a reality.

As you can see, many projects await us at our dearly beloved Camp. We would love to accomplish a great deal of this work next spring at the Kick-Off Camp, to take place over Memorial Day weekend. There are several ways to be of service. I ask you to consider how you may be of help – can you supply expertise or knowledge for these or other projects? Volunteer labor? Supplies? Food for volunteers? Monetary donation? Again, please contemplate our needs and how you can be part of the fulfillment of these needs. Feel free to contact the Conference Office at the 406-656-8688, or me, at 406-794-2771, or email We appreciate your time and consideration, and look forward to hearing from you.

John Firehammer is a new member to the Committee for Outdoor Ministries. John has a long history with Camp Mimanagish. He grew up attending and counseling camps throughout the 1980s and early 1990s and returned as a counselor during the early 2000s when his family moved back to Montana after several years in Washington State.
John is a former journalist now working as a consultant to M+R, a public affairs and campaign firm based in Missoula. As member of COM, he hopes to use his writing and campaign skills as a way to help promote camp throughout the Conference and beyond.
John's children Max, 18, and Josie, 13, also have attended Mimanagish. And John and his wife, Lisa, were married in the chapel there in 1992. John's minister, Glover Wagner, from Pilgrim Church in Bozeman, officiated the service.
The Month in Pictures: other stories among us
t.l.: Butte UCC members make over 1000 pasties for their annual fundraiser.
t.r.: Interim Sr. Minister, Amy Carter, led church members in sharing memories of University UCC on it 125th Anniversary.
b.l.: Two Civil Discourse sessions brought together over 20 people to University UCC and to Plymouth UCC Helena, where they practiced the importance of story sharing as beginning to civil discourse.
b.r.: Tricia Rogers and James Clarke, pastors of a 12 point church  charge in Cumbria UK visit some of our rural churches, here with Trudi Downer at Molt UCC, as well as Ballentine, Big Timber, Sheridan, and Glasgow.
t.l.: Jeff Wright and Diane Dulin led four workshops around Montana about the Palestine Kairos Document.
t.r.: The Montana Association of Christian (MAC) brought together over 35 people from diverse denominations, including our UCC contingent, to explore the 2017 Montana legislative agenda.
b.: Clergy, Native Americans, and friends join together to celebrate that "Water is Life" and march to downtown Billings in solidarity with the Water Protectors at Standing Rock Reservation.
Pastoral notes

The Chautauqua United Church of Christ Society at the Chautauqua Institute in upstate New York seeks week-long chaplains for the 2017 program season. Housing and 2 adult gate passes are provided for leading Sunday worship and vespers.  Apply at

MT-NWy Conference leadership is needed for the following ministries:
  Committee members, Faith Formation Committee
  Committee members, Committee for Outdoor Ministries
  Vice-Moderator for the Board of Directors
  West Area at-large-member for Board of Directors
Please call or email moderator Gus Byrom with your suggested names.

Our prayers of thanksgiving for the life of Dorcas Halverson, who died this past week.  Dorcas was a member of First UCC Billings and Hardin UCC who was gernerous in her support of Conference and Camp ministries.

Nov. 18  Marc Stewart with Kalispell UCC to talk about church future
Nov. 20-22 Marc with United Church of Canada and UCC meeting in Osoyoos BC
Nov. 29 - Dec. 3 Marc at AM21 meeting, Search and Call issues for the UCC
Dec. 10 Marc with Glasgow UCC to talk about church future
Jan. 10 - 24 Eden Seminary Winter term students hosted by MT-NWy UCC congregations for rural immersion
Copyright © 2016 Montana Northern Wyoming Conference UCC, All rights reserved.

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