A Service of Prayer and Lament will be held at Falcon Heights Church, UCC, at 5 p.m. this Saturday, July 9, to bring the community together in prayer and witness in the police shooting of Philando Castile Wednesday. A service of music, readings, songs and ritual is planned, and community clergy will be in attendance. Everybody is welcome.
Good progress has been made on the house at 11 E. Maryland Ave. this year. You can check out the photos at: https://www.yogile.com/17812/all. However, due to the loss of three days because of rain and the complexity of the roof on this house, it is a bit behind schedule.
As a result, Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity has asked if the Holy Hammers could staff additional days the weeks of July 18 and July 25. If you might be willing to help on one or more of these days, please sign up at the special SignUp Genius site that has been created for those days. Here is the link: http://tinyurl.com/hh2016-2 .
By Rev. Jacob Kanake, Ph.D. — One of my goals today is to give a little education on American and church history. My brief studies show Americans have gone away from their roots. I pray all American churches can speak more on this subject and apply it to our lives today.
The word “church” can mean an assembly or a sacred building. The church/assembly lives in the secular world, but it should avoid being trapped by secularism and being molded by it. The church is not like a chameleon to take likeness from its surroundings. The Church of Christ is metamorphosed on the inside and transformed. You and I are all aware the church is in turmoil, but you and I can sense the new movement of the Holy Spirit among us.
The English word “church” is derived from Greek word kyriakon—ekklesia or ecclesia in Latin—which means an assembly “belonging to the Lord.” “Ecclesia” is a community or group of people called out of their homes, businesses or their daily chores to gather or to congregate to pray, listen to a sermon, break the bread and pledge to live as an assembly of Christ. In the New Testament, the word church is mentioned 114 times, and out of these Apostle Paul mentions church 62 times in the context of a community, not a building. The Church is a body of Christ, assembly or community of believers in Christ. In Romans, Chapter 12, the Apostle Paul describes how a community of faith/church should function.
The church that was born on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2) spread quickly (Acts 8:4; 11:19-21) and its growth threatened the Roman Empire. Roman leaders persecuted Christians for over 200 years, mostly trying to force them to worship Roman gods—idols. In 313 CE Emperor Constantine offered the church freedom of worship. The church came out of hiding and worshipped freely. Nevertheless, this edict opened an avenue for church and politics to enter into courtship together and made an awful marriage that continues to affect the church today.
The church leadership and organizational structure changed from being a simple congregation to being a complicated authoritative structure. The church structures were organized to match that of the state or kingdom. Church leaders were elected into political offices and Emperor Constantine called upon them to reconcile warring tribes with the state. Constantine often used church leaders to help maintain peace in his kingdom.
The word church today may refer to the local congregation, group of congregations, a denomination or a building. During the period of persecution, Christians assembled in houses, not in public buildings as we do today.
Most church buildings began to appear around 400 CE, along with detailed church organizational structures and doctrines. The congregations began to raise the front of the church into a three-stair platform and later the baptism font and the Lord’s Table were included.
Baptismal font: Early baptisms took place in fonts or water basins on the seaside or in the river. Tertullian mentions that St. Peter was baptizing at the river Tiber. At a baptismal font we receive the mark of identification, the sign of the cross with plenty or a drop of water representing cleansing. We become a new creation, children of God born of water and spirit in the Trinity. During baptism the Holy Spirit enters and indwells in the life of a believer. Every time a baptism is performed it reminds us that the Holy Spirit is in us, enabling us to do ministry.
Pulpit: The first use of the pulpit is mentioned in a letter of Cyprian, the Bishop of Carthage. The content of the letter refers to a raised platform where priests ordained by the laity sat. By the third century the platform (ambo, or little table) was slightly raised at the center of the church. The present pulpit was developed in the 9th century and moved to the corner to elevate scripture, not the preacher. Holy Communion was celebrated at the center and the spoken word and the priest tended to lose their centrality. The 15th century Reformation (1517) revived the authority of the scriptures and moved the pulpit to the center of the platform and discouraged the authority of the pastor. The preachers standing at the pulpit should teach us to love God and others and gently plead with those outside the fold to join in. A Christian cannot spiritually survive without the word preached either at the pulpit or elsewhere. In some old conservative denominations, preaching was/is done only in the church building. Though pulpit tradition was inherited long ago, it can change. Today pastors are not restricted to the pulpit; most join the congregation as Jesus did, and there is nothing wrong with that. We should now be prepared to enter a new sphere of Christian life that does not look like what we know or imagined.
Holy Communion table: The table remains at the center of worship in most Christian traditions. However, the method of serving and receiving the Holy Communion remains most divisive in church history. Nevertheless, the sacrament reminds us of the death and resurrection of Christ; it strengthens our relationships and reminds us of Christ’s return. Today this ritual appears to have lost its meaning, and has ceased to be practiced in some churches. The new faith community may have to respect the serving method and its theology in place or it may revise it.
The cross: The cross reminds us of Jesus’ suffering, death and return to life. The significance of the cross is best discerned through repentance.
My grandmother told me a story of the monkeys. The monkeys were uncomfortable hearing the lion was the king of the jungle; they decided to crown their own king. They found a dead lion and cut its mane and put it on the neck of their king. The mane’s skin was wet and as it dried, it began to suffocate the monkey-king. The king began to cough and other monkeys-subjects also coughed in response to their king. On the third day the monkey-king fell dead. Other monkeys thought the king was asleep and was asking everyone to sleep. They slept for two days. On the third day the monkey sleeping next to the king detected a bad smell and on investigation, she realized the king was dead. She summoned the courage to announce the death of the king.
The church-laity ordained their priests and offered them powers that now suffocate the church; can someone announce the church is in the intensive care unit? Can it be revived?
The American church is in decline.
This week we are celebrating 240 years of independence and freedom of worship. I asked some Americans this week why the Pilgrims came to America in the 1600s; only a handful mentioned that the main reason was to have freedom of worship. Perhaps this is why only 20 percent of us read the Bible and 29 percent of Americans are godless. And maybe the cause of the noises we hear about removing the word “God” in our currency and our constitution, which according to researchers is made up 94 percent of phrases from the Bible. Some preachers believe the following causes contribute to the American church decline:
1. Some writers suggest that the American church decline started in 1962 when a Supreme Court decision stopped prayers and Bible readings in public schools.
2. Most sermons are intellectually crafted and often dry; they offer little of Christ’s Good News of love and repentance. These sermons are mechanical; they are not spiritually vital.
3. Some denominations are opposed to scientific discoveries such as birth control methods.
4. Some denominations continue with endless debates on sexuality and being judgmental on who is in and who is out.
5. Some congregations feel like a social club than a faith community; it’s self-serving and the church is in leadership crisis.
These causes continue to hinder the flow of free evangelism and gaining of new members. A Christian life should have a sense of unconditional surrender, unconditional love and sustained devotion.
Is there a revival?
Although the American church is in decline, it can revive. In 1730 only 10 percent of Americans attended church. In 1734 God raised preachers including John Wesley, George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards, among others. These preachers preached in fields, on streets and in churches. Church attendance rose from 10 percent to 50 percent during the “Great Awakening” of the 18th century. The American founding fathers, including George Washington, and the American constitution are products of that period.
When the American church was facing decline again in the 20th century due to an emphasis on modernity and science, God raised the Holiness, Pentecostal and fundamentalist movements in the 1900s to revive the church.
And since the 1990s we have been experiencing a new resurgence of non-doctrinal preachers, biblical interpreters and theologians that has encouraged planting of the missional churches.
In the 21st century there is another resurgence of a non-Christian-allied movement called spirituality; those who belong to this movement call God a “Higher Power,” energy, or “the force” that is felt through non-biblical means such as nature, people, and or non-living things. It is certain that the human church model may experience decline and die, but while Christ’s church can be malnourished, it never dies.
There is evidence of a revival:
1. Eighty-five percent of the Millennials (ages 18-29) say they can share the gospel with nonbelievers, and 69 percent of them feel comfortable sharing their faith. But only 25 percent of them look for ways to share the gospel and only 27 percent of them intentionally build friendships with nonbelievers.” I hear and read online spiritual sermons that inform listeners of the consequences of bad choices. These sermons encourage listeners who make bad choices to take full responsibility and reform.
2. Today theology and science are in a better relationship, and some schools have dual degree programs. The social sciences in schools are revered, and young people are expressing themselves through music, poetry, art, drama/theater and Christian narratives. I sense the Holy Spirit is encouraging members to participate in church events rather than waiting to be told what to do.
3. I read of spiritual deeds online such as the GoFundMe website where the Spirit is prompting God’s people to support each other. A 16-year-old boy from Memphis, Tennessee, who went to a Kroger supermarket to beg for food received over $270,000 from 11,000 donors.
Pastor Anne recently posed a question: “What do you see in your mind’s eye? What is the truth about the church that the Spirit can teach us in this time? What will help us bear the bad news about the end of church as we have known it, and welcome the good news of what’s to come?”
The signs of revival ought to encourage congregations to self-examine, to meditate, and to pray along with their pastors. There is need for the church boards and other church leaders to begin crafting a new language of faith that welcomes the new community. The old spiritual language is perceived as being judgmental, promoting inequality and self-serving. I do not know about you, but I feel the Holy Spirit is actively reshaping the future of the church. Might we ask the church leaders to begin in earnest to formulate agendas, theological statements and correct interpretations for the new faith community?
The Apostle Paul pleads with modern Christians to live a sacrificial life that is acceptable to God. Paul also asks Christians to be courageous and facilitate the church’s transition into a new life. When the human mind is facing the unknown, it is not rational; it is fearful, anxious and often generates negative emotions. That is why Paul advises Christians to approach this situation with sober minds and thinking. When tough decisions have to be made, the church should be careful not to confine itself to the enticements of the secular world, but remain humble and love everyone, respecting their gifts and abilities.
In the Gospel of John, Chapter 15, Jesus defines his identity, ministry and Christian responsibility using an image of a tree. This speech may have taken place after the last supper or at the garden of Gethsemane moments before his capture by his enemies. Jesus said, “I am the true Vine”, the true Church, and God is the master and followers are the branches. Only Jesus can best care for the church, through the power of God. Christians are implored to “Abide in me and me in you,” like the Vine and its branches. The branches get sap and water from the Vine, so the branches cannot survive without the Vine. And the Vine also gets oxygen from the branches’ leaves; both branch and Vine are interdependent. Christians without Christ cannot bear fruit; they run dry and are pruned and cast away. At this season of the American presidential election, Christians ought to bear fruit, confess Christ boldly and live our calling boldly and insist that our faith cannot be exchanged with anything else.
We have to be bold for several reasons. One is to fulfill the Christ’s mandate, “Live truly in me and me in you;” the second is to “bear fruit,” that is, to do mission work inside and outside of ourselves; and finally to avoid judgment, because “a branch that does not bear fruit will be cast away.” Christ’s judgment sounds right because the Vine provides for the branch and the branch’s work is to bear fruit to bring forth new Vines. If a branch does not bear fruit in our farms, we cut them off or plant a new plant.
We ought to be relevant in our calling in order to revive the church and eventually revive society. Remaining in God’s love and keeping God’s commandments makes God happy and in turn God blesses us. Being relevant means knowing our Christian identity and why we are here as a congregation; how we move along with the community in our neighborhood.
The previous church revivals show that secular society responds to church revivals. For example, the Great Awakening revived the cultural, political and economic dynamics of England. And in America it transformed society, leading to an improved economy, higher learning, structured government, and the end of slavery. If the church fails to revive, a society can rebel like the French revolution in 1789 and political parties can decline. In Christ, we can be relevant and boldly transition the church and society into a new life.
As we gather again as a congregation in the fall, we will use the gift of water to symbolize the summer journeys that have refreshed us. Are there special water places that give you rest, adventure, rejuvenation? Save some water (best kept in the freezer until September!) and bring it with you to worship Sept. 18. We will symbolically “gather the waters” into a common bowl during worship and celebrate the names of rivers, lakes, oceans and backyard hoses from far and near!
By Rev. Anne Swallow Gillis — Each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift….The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the Body of Christ. (Ephesians 4:7, 11-12)
In a few minutes, your Pastoral Search Committee will welcome you into the Gathering Room for some guided conversations. They want to hear about your hopes and expectations of your new pastor.
Perhaps you have heard the story of the “perfect” pastor? This person has the energy and vitality of a 25-year-old, combined with about 35 years of ministry experience. A real people person, the perfect pastor is always available in the church office, but spends most of the time out visiting people and connecting the church to the wider community.
Depending on age or the generation you identify with, the perfect pastor may still be male. Heterosexual male. The perfect pastor is certainly not out on the dating scene, but is in a calm, low-maintenance marriage that seldom requires being home for dinner and in the evening. The pastor has a couple of well-behaved, self-sufficient kids and a stay-at-home wife who volunteers for all sorts of things at church. But somehow she also works full-time, and her health care benefits package covers the whole family! Sort of a 1950s-style pastor for a 2016 church.
Even if this leader is a woman, the perfect pastor is somehow “all things to all people,” leads appealing programming for the Millennials and young families, and spends most of her time with church elders, tender end-of-life issues, and skilled nursing and hospital visits. “The perfect pastor knows what I am thinking, without me saying it,” we might say to ourselves. “He preaches sermons that give me answers to tough questions but doesn’t push his own view. She speaks out for social justice but without ruffling any feathers…and never sounds political.” Okay, I’ll stop now!
Debates about perfect pastoral leadership have been going on for a long time, going back to the beginning of the early church. Certain men and women emerged with gifts for leading and guiding the people following Jesus’ Way. In this passage from the Letter to the Ephesians, we hear the early church leader Paul describe some of the gifts of ministry that he saw among these leaders. Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers. These last two gifts, of being pastors and teachers, are the two roles United Church of Christ clergy promise to bring into our ministry when we are ordained. Paul says an interesting thing about these gifts of ministry: They are not for entertainment purposes, obviously, nor are they for the personal comfort of those ministered to. God gives gifts of ministry in order to “equip the saints for the work of ministry.” Who are the saints? For Paul, that was everyone who sought to follow the Way of Jesus. That would be all of us. Not just the perfect people, but all of us imperfect people. Saints who are sinners. My gift and my job as your pastor, a saint and a sinner like you, is to equip you for the work of ministry.
What is the ministry? Notice that it is not my gift or my role to do the work of ministry. Or more bluntly: It’s not my job to be a Christian for you. The job of your clergy leader is to equip, train up, encourage, empower you to do the work of the Risen Christ’s ministry here, in your daily lives, in this time. To help you deepen your sense of connection with the God of the universe, to help you grow in trust of God, and to follow the teachings and Living Spirit of Jesus Christ. To enable you to better be about sharing God’s love and healing in the world.
Here’s the question for today’s discussion: What kind of equipping do you need? How do you want your new pastor to do this? Particularly in our worship life together, in liturgy and sermons, in our study groups and discussions, what do you need from a pastor and teacher among you? What works best for you, to equip you for the work of ministry in the world? May God bless and guide our conversations together.
On three Sundays — June 26, July 24 and August 21 — our Sunday worship service will include about 45 minutes of small-group guided conversations. The Pastoral Search Committee wants to hear from you about your expectations of your new pastor. Each session will cover a different area of a pastor’s role. Make sure your views are shared and join us! Worship and conversations will go from 9:30 to 11 a.m. on those mornings, with coffee hour following. Kids’ program and extended childcare will be provided.
Since January, we have joined with Como Park Lutheran Church in providing money for weekend food for three additional children at Falcon Heights Elementary School through the Sheridan Story project. Sheridan Story provides supplemental food for at-risk children throughout the Twin Cities area, partnering with local congregations and other community groups. Our church also has been helping with donations of cereal and healthy snacks to add to the weekend bags that go home with the Falcon Heights School children.
Como Park Lutheran currently provides meals for 17 children in what has been a pilot project this year. At a recent meeting, school Principal Beth Behnke told us the project has been a huge success and she is hoping to reach out to more students in need this fall. Our Outreach Ministry Team will be exploring how we might sponsor more students starting in September. Cost is $130 per child, per school year ($3.71 per weekend food bag). Speak with Nancy Duffrin of the Outreach Ministry Team, firstname.lastname@example.org, if you are interested in contributing to this project.
By Rev. Anne Swallow Gillis — As we have described in our recent church newsletter and also in our weekly TAB email, your Pastoral Search Committee is hard at work. The eight Committee members and I are reading a book that will help us lead guided conversations with you all about your expectations about the responsibilities and behaviors of your next pastor. Called “Healthy Churches, Faithful Pastors: Covenant Expectations for Thriving Together,” this book describes how, in the pastor-congregation relationship, there are not only certain responsibilities and rights of the pastor, but there are also certain responsibilities and rights of a congregation. What can you expect of one another in the years ahead?
Today’s scripture reading from Luke raises some perplexing questions about the responsibilities and rights of all of us, the expectations of us as followers of Jesus. To put it bluntly, are we supposed to be raising people from the dead, like Jesus did? This is one challenging story we just heard. When the Wednesday Bible study group and I finished reading it out loud earlier this week, we looked at each other and simply said, “Wow…what on earth do we make of this?” Two different crowds of people approach a city gate in first-century Palestine. A large group of disciples and followers of Jesus, headed into town. A large assembly of mourners, headed out of town to the place of burial. Before attempting to believe this story, let’s see if we can first imagine it.
Tall columns define the city gate and people are trying to push through the narrow opening. Voices clamoring, hot sun, swirling dust and sweat and animal smells fill the air. “Hey, what’s the slowdown?” someone yells. People jostling, straining to see what is going on. And in the silent vortex of all the commotion: a grieving widow who has lost her only son. That must be her child, the dead man, being carried on a funeral bier. Can we see the mother’s tear-stained face in our mind’s eye? Jesus notices her immediately. A word about widows in this culture: besides orphans and maybe lepers, there was no group more disenfranchised and marginalized than widows in ancient society and in some parts of the world today. In a patriarchal culture, if your husband dies, you and your belongings are placed under the “protection” of his brothers. If your brother-in-law dies, you can keep your land and home only if you have a son who will inherit them. It’s no wonder that prophets throughout Israel’s history would judge the nation and the king’s leadership based on how well they actually cared for widows and orphans.
The woman has not only has lost much; she is lost. Jesus apparently reads all of this in a flash and is overwhelmed with compassion. But his next move is so unexpected that the pallbearers skid to a halt, and stand frozen in disbelief. Breaking an important purity law of the day, Jesus touches the bier carrying the dead son, calling out: “Young man, I say to you, rise!”
This is the same Jesus who, weeks before, had enraged his home synagogue congregation with references to the breaking in of God’s reign and justice. Why were they angry? He referenced the prophet Elijah resurrecting a dead body some 800 years earlier: a child of a Gentile widow. Ancient Hebrew prophets spoke truth to power of their day and also healed people on the margins of the community. Jesus’ synagogue listeners felt insulted by his implication that they do not care for the widows and the marginalized. They tried to run him out of town and off a cliff.
But provocative Jesus is at it again, enacting in front of this huge crowd the prophetic signs of the in-breaking of God’s reign: the blind receiving sight, the lame walking, the lepers cleansed, the deaf hearing, the poor hearing good news and the dead being raised. Suddenly we have an alive formerly dead son, one startled mother and a stunned crowd of onlookers. Everyone is pretty freaked out by this turn of events. Jesus is proclaimed a prophet and word about him spreads throughout the region.
But really? Dead people coming alive again? Full disclosure: your pastor does not know how to raise people from the dead. My pastoral care training in seminary did not include a course on “Raising the Dead 101.” And believe me, there have been several occasions in the last few months where I sorely wished I possessed this spiritual gift. For many of us here today, we have personal stories of miracles that did not happen, of cures that were not found, of damage that was, in the end, not undone. Experiencing this disappointment and sorrow in our lives and those of others, how do we make sense of biblical stories like this?
Biblical scholar and United Church of Christ theologian Walter Bruggemann has written extensively about the Hebrew prophets. He describes how the prophets’ essential challenge to those in power was that things could be “otherwise.” I wonder if this is how new life and renewed hope takes seed in our hearts. We hear or see or are pushed towards a new possibility in our lives. Perhaps it is something that was unimaginable before that moment, and we see that things can be “otherwise,” that something in the mess is being resurrected. Something might shift in how we picture God. Perhaps we begin to imagine an alive, compassionate God who is more interested in healing than in deadening punishment. Or, stuck in our despair, and feeling cynical about things ever changing, we may catch a glimpse of a decisively different way that things might turn out. We engage it. Resurrection living.
I attended a meeting of some local churches and public school principals the other day, sponsored by a group called Sheridan Story. This nonprofit organization partners with community groups to provide supplemental weekend food for kids with limited family income. Our church now sponsors three such students each week at Falcon Heights Elementary School down the block, and we’ve been collecting cereal and snacks to also tuck in the weekend backpacks. At this meeting, the school principal, Beth Behnke, told us that they had a history at her school of canned food drives to support local food shelves. Last year, at the end of the food drive, a young student approached her and quietly asked, “May I take a few cans home to my family for the weekend?” All of a sudden, Principal Beth began to imagine “otherwise.” How could kids from her neediest families have more food through the weekends? I would call this resurrection thinking on her part. She imagined what might be “otherwise.”
Bruggemann notes (“Testimony to Otherwise: The Witness of Elijah and Elisha”) that in healing the widow’s child, the prophet Elijah “enacts otherwise, showing that the world could be and would be different, concretely, decisively different.” A world where marginalized widows and their sick sons are provided for with food and community. He notes that it is no surprise that Jesus reminded his followers of the stories of Elijah: “When the early church pondered Jesus,” writes Bruggemann, “cadences of Elijah rang in their ears, because they sensed that Jesus was an enactment of a dangerous, healing, liberating otherwise that could not be stopped.” Bruggemann challenges us “to reconstrue our own lives out beyond the closed definitions we have too long inhaled.” Don’t “accept the given,” he enjoins us; “seek otherwise.” (p. 27)
In our story from Luke, we see Jesus also taking a huge risk, this time of ritual impurity and rebuke, as he reaches out to touch the body of the dead man. The prophet Elijah healed through fervent prayer and full-body physical touch. In Luke’s telling, Jesus heals with mere words: the command to rise. The similarity of Elijah’s healing with Jesus’ dramatic act is not lost on these two different crowds colliding at the city gates. The young man is up and talking. Awe and fear seizes the onlookers; “They glorified God, saying, ‘A great prophet has risen among us!’ and ‘God has looked favorably on his people!’”
I suggest we watch for God’s “otherwise” this week. Be on the alert for that alternate vision of how things might be, close by and far away. This is resurrection living, where we accept both the right and the responsibility as followers of Jesus to help bring about transformed people and changed communities. Yes, life alternates between joy and sadness, gain and loss. But how might we each practice resurrection, new life, together? Ours is to give testimony to the otherwise: to God’s saving, healing possibilities. Amen.
June 2, 2016 — Former youth group members Mitch Rose, Emily Hill, Robyn Holmes and Laura Wilberts joined members of this year’s senior high group for an end-of-season barbecue and to help wrap up the youth Blessing Bags project. Along with Joe McCune-Zierath, Erin Hill and Kevin Holmes (and advisers Paul McCune-Zierath and Michelle Vance), they filled 50 plastic bags with items the youth have been collecting for homeless people, including bottles of water, energy bars, emergency blankets and bus passes.
The Blessing Bags will be dedicated and distributed to the congregation this Sunday, June 5. The bags are meant to be kept in the car and given to homeless people who ask for help on the street. (Photos by Michelle Vance and Pastor Anne Swallow Gillis)
June 2, 2016 — We are finding we are a very diverse group with different experiences in this congregation. The book is guiding us to identify our questions around the covenant with our future pastor. Similar to an individual entering a marriage covenant, a trust in the unknown future is required, as well as mutual support and the promise to be in communication together as needs change through time. This committee feels the weight of the work ahead as we discern the truth of our call for a new leader.
We have also discussed what ordination means in the pastoral-congregation relationship and how do we support an ordained person who is “set apart” to do God’s work. This has led us to develop questions for the congregation as to what expectations we have for our pastor and what expectations we have for ourselves as a congregation. Answers to these questions will help in the development of our church profile.
We will be looking for involvement in guided conversation groups, similar to those from the discovery process, during worship over the summer and fall. Summer dates for these groups are three Sundays: June 26, July 24, and Aug. 21. Please join in conversation with us! We also plan to collect ideas by other means from those who are unable to be present during these dates.
–By Jenica Domanico, co-chair
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Falcon Heights Church, United Church of Christ
1795 Holton St.
Falcon Heights, MN 55113