January 7-Day Challenge


In January, we offer a new 7-Day Challenge to help you explore new and different Practices. While you’re doing it, feel free to share your thoughts with Karen Jeske at and with each other whenever you have the chance.

We hope you’ve enjoyed these 7-Day Challenges. If you have, you’re going to love Lent at Plymouth. This year our theme will be “Practice Makes Plymouth.” We will explore the four pillars of the Strategic Plan and offer you a 40-Day Challenge to help make all of these new ideas more real for you.

1. Complete any six of these items on any six days you choose during the month of January.

  • Silence is one way we can pay attention to God. Find a Practice of silence that works for you. Start with five minutes a day, experimenting with different times of the day and building the length of time to whatever feels right for you. If you want, you can do this for each of your six days.
  • Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths to get centered, then recite the Lord’s Prayer (our most well-known prayer) as often as you need to remind you of your love for God and your call to love what God loves.
  • For inspiration about how we are called to love each other, practice saying the Peace Prayer of Saint Francis. Find this prayer below.
  • Read Chapter Ten of The Heart of Christianity by Marcus Borg.
  • Do an internet search for Dr. Martin Luther King’s Letter From a Birmingham Jail and take an hour to read it, thinking about the challenge it still poses for us today.
  • Donate money or food to the Food Bank or find another organization in our community that is giving direct aid and comfort to people suffering in our community this winter.
  • Do an internet search for “Nichole Nordeman Dear Me” and listen to this beautiful song as a reminder that we all grow and change and that the ways we love God will grow and change throughout our lives as well.
  • Participate in Plymouth’s Evening Prayer Service on Facebook. This service is at 5:30 p.m. each Monday to Thursday. Let yourself be renewed in prayer and feel connected to other Plymouth members.
  • Watch your mail for a special envelope from Plymouth this month. Inside you will receive a gift of your very own Star Gift. Read the letter that comes with your Word and place your Star Gift someplace where you will see it often. See more information to the below.

Star Gifts

It’s the season of Epiphany and at Plymouth we will be using this season to explore different facets of Jesus’ identity−teacher, servant, healer, prophet. As we do so, it’s also an opportunity to explore who we are in the light of Christ.

This month, you will receive a letter in the mail from Plymouth with a bookmark that will have a special word for you printed on it. We hope you receive this word as a sign and a gift that may guide you in some new way during the season of Epiphany and maybe for all of 2021.

Place it where you will see it often, write it down in the places where you want to encounter it, and let it work with you.

Throughout this season and beyond we will encourage you to engage with this word and maybe to share it within the Plymouth community.

Peace Prayer of Saint Francis

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.

2. For the seventh day take a rest or sabbath.

Make space for an intentional break from your work, worries, stresses, or perfectionism. Make the duration whatever length of time would feel like a true sabbath−five minutes, an hour, half a day or a whole day. Unlike God, we need to Practice rest in order to be our most loving selves.


Senior Minister Search Committee


Meet the Members of our Senior Minister Search Committee

Council voted to approve the composition of the initial nine members of the Senior Minister Search Committee. You’ll recall that our current bylaws prescribe a process of naming nine members nominated by the boards of the Council, which nine shall then recruit an additional three at-large members for a total committee of twelve. Those initial nine are: Mike Baldwin, Caroline Bettis Valentine, Emily Chafa, Bryan Fiala, Dr. Erin Netteland-Sandvig, Doug Rumple, Kait Scanlon, Tony Stoik, and Joy Wilhelm.

Read below for a short bio intro to each member. We are excited about the talents, passion, and perspectives found within the group. Under the initial organizing efforts of Sid Ramsey, the group will meet for the first time mid next week; thereafter they will finalize their committee membership and commence this exciting, critical work.

Carol Stratemeyer

Carol Stratemeyer has been a member of Plymouth Church for 30+ years and raised two sons and a daughter who were baptized here and participated in Sunday school, choirs and confirmation at Plymouth. Carol has been a member of the Plymouth bell choir for 30+ years and a children’s choir accompanist for 20+ years. She is currently a member of the Board of Christian Stewardship and is grateful to have participated in Plymouth’s offering of Financial Peace University. Carol has also been involved with Plymouth Women’s Adventure Groups and Faithful Readers, plus all the fun years as a Matins parent.

Carol has worked for the State of Iowa for 40+ years and is currently the Bureau Chief of Quality Control for the Department of Human Services. She is a graduate of Drake and Iowa State University. After running track in high school, she got back into competitive running ten years ago. Carol is the daughter of a UCC minister and grew up in Missouri, Iowa and Illinois with the church as an important part of life. Carol says, as an adult, Plymouth has always been my church home and was an important factor in raising my children.

Carol is honored to contribute to Plymouth as a member of the Senior Minister Search Committee as we strive to find the best fit in our next leader to grow and enhance this ministry.

Caroline Bettis Valentine

Caroline has been attending Plymouth since 2010 and joined as a member in 2015. During Caroline’s time at Plymouth, she has served on the Career Closet Steering Committee, the TiM Committee (current chair), Board of Membership, Board of Benevolences (current), the Fruitful Change campaign, and most recently the Strategic Planning Committee. While she has been heavily involved during her time at Plymouth, Caroline still sees herself primarily as being your average member who sits in the pew on Sunday mornings (pre-COVID!).

Caroline currently works for EMC as an attorney and wants Plymouth to be her forever church home where her future children are baptized. In order to do that, she believes that as a church we need to refocus our energy and priorities. She also believes finding the right Senior Minister for this time in Plymouth’s life is critical to our longevity and future success.

Emily Chafa

Emily first became involved with Plymouth Church through the Chancel Choir tour of Australia and Fiji in August of 1999. This life-changing musical experience persuaded Emily and her family to begin attending Plymouth Church in 2000. Emily and her husband Brad joined Plymouth in 2002 and she has been a faithful Chancel Choir member for the past 20 years.  Emily and her husband have two adult children.

Emily has served on the Fine Arts Series Committee, the Hymnal Committee, and is a frequent soloist for worship services, weddings, and funerals at Plymouth. She is co-chair of the Cuba Partnership Team, serves on the Career Closet Steering Committee, AMOS Core team, the P-JPAN Committee and the Board of Music and Fine Arts.

Emily retired as a lawyer and administrative law judge in 2019 after 30 years of service. Emily’s father was a United Methodist Church minister and she became accustomed to frequent moves to various small Iowa towns as her father was re-assigned within the church. Emily states that she is honored to serve with this committee. She hopes to bring a fresh thoughtful perspective to the search process. She states, “It’s an important decision for the future of Plymouth Church, living through its strategic plan with radical love and operational excellence.”

Bryan Fiala

Bryan and his wife Maggie have been coming to Plymouth since 2014 with an intent to find a church they could call their own – they joined Plymouth in 2016. Bryan joined the Board of Deacons in 2019 and currently serves as secretary to the Board. Bryan has a great appreciation for music, especially choral arts, and enjoy the many opportunities to enjoy the fantastic music at Plymouth.

Bryan is a Certified Financial Planner (CFP®) with Principal Securities and has been working in financial services since 2007. Bryan and his wife, Maggie, are expecting their first child in December and are excited and hopeful for the opportunities that Plymouth will offer their growing family.

Bryan states, “I am looking forward to working with my fellow Christians in finding the next leader of this Plymouth flock. Our commitment to this congregation is deeper than the financial commitments we make through our pledges; it includes our commitment of time and effort that are necessary to make this place possible.”

Dr. Erin Netteland-Sandvig

Erin came to Plymouth in 1989 to participate in the Matins program and youth activities and became a member when she was sixteen. Erin’s education eventually took her to Chicago for a residency in medicine and while there she was a member of a UCC Church in LaGrange, Illinois. Upon moving back to Iowa, Erin and her family re-connected with Plymouth.  She has been active in family ministries and has taught church school. Erin is active with PWAG and is a member of the Board of Trustees. Erin’s family includes her husband Jeff and two children. She is a family medicine physician with MercyOne.

Erin is honored to be a part of the search committee for our next senior minister. She states, “Plymouth has been a life changing place for me and I want to continue to see its mission grow in the future.”

Doug Rumple

Doug has been a Plymouth member for 14 years and has attended Plymouth since 2002. His earliest Plymouth involvement was serving with his wife as regular and substitute Sunday school teachers for 3-4 years. He also served on the Board of Deacons and currently serves as co-chair of the Board of Membership and is a member of the TiM Committee. Doug cares deeply about the future of Plymouth Church and is honored to serve on the Senior Minister Search Committee.

Doug has lived in West Des Moines since 1998 with wife Julie and daughter Madalyn. He works for American Republic Insurance Company and is also active with the Lions and the student mentoring program at Callanan Middle School.

Kait Scanlon

Kait is a mother of two young children, three year member of Plymouth, and recent addition to the Board of Christian Education. She graduated from Cornell College with a degree in Religion and Psychology. Kait is an avid reader with a particular interest in theology and social justice. She is passionate about lifelong learning, spiritual growth, and community connection. Her commitment to the long-term success and relevance of Plymouth for her children and the community prompted her to agree to serve as a member of the Senior Minister Search Committee.

Tony Stoik

Tony is a retired attorney who practiced law in the Sioux City area for 35 years. He was ordained as a minister in 2011 and served as a part-time pastor at a UCC church in Calumet, Iowa and as an associate conference minister in the UCC. He has also served on the board of directors for the Iowa Conference of the UCC.

Tony and his wife moved to Des Moines and joined Plymouth about a year and a half ago. He has been a member of the Board of Trustees and is currently a member of the Board of Spiritual Growth. He enjoys his work with Rev. LeAnn Stubbs as she works to make the Center for Spiritual Growth a more welcoming and functional space.

Joy Wilhelm

Joy has been a member of Plymouth since 2016. She and her husband came to Plymouth after over 20 years at their previous church home. They specifically sought out Plymouth as a church family because of its commitment to social justice and inclusiveness.

Joy currently serves on the Board of Christian Social Action and is the liaison to the Anti-Racism Committee. She has also been involved in small group book studies and bible study. She previously served on the stewardship and education committees at her previous church and was active in lay ministry. Joy retired in 2018 after spending most of her professional life in journalism and marketing. Her most recent professional experience was working for the Iowa Newspaper Association. She is a Master Gardener and in her spare time enjoys traveling, cooking, and reading.

Hayley Harvey

As section chief and director of dental education at Broadlawns Medical Center in Des Moines, Iowa, Hayley Harvey, DDS, MS, has been a champion for increasing access to dental care and improving the oral health of underserved populations.

A native of Detroit, Michigan, and daughter of an Army veteran, Harvey came to the University of Iowa and discovered a passion for improving oral health and access to care for at-risk and rural populations. After earning two degrees from Iowa, Harvey—who served for a decade in the Army National Guard—practiced dentistry and later became the dental director for Baldwin Family Health Care. Her clinic provided dental care to at-risk populations in Baldwin, Michigan, which resides in one of the poorest counties in the state.

She returned to the Hawkeye state as the public health dental director for the Iowa Department of Public Health, which then led her to a position at Broadlawns Medical Center. Harvey has helped Broadlawns establish a new $24 million facility with 22 operatories—six of which are for extramural rotations of University of Iowa dental students. Through her work at Broadlawns, she ensures that future generations of dentists will have a solid understanding of the dental and health disparities facing Iowa’s low-income populations.

Harvey is a wife and mother of two daughters, Hannah and Hadley. She is active in many community organizations and serves on the Mid-Iowa Health Foundation Board of Directors. In 2019, Harvey was awarded the University of Iowa Dental Alumni Service Recognition of the Year honor.

Dave Nelson

My wife Jean and I joined Plymouth in 1973, and I have sung in the Chancel Choir ever since. Boards: Christian Social Action, Deacons, Music and Fine Arts, Membership, Christian Enlistment Committee of the Trustees (before it became the Board of Stewardship) and Treasurer of the church; Bylaws rewrite Committee in the late 1970s and several subsequent bylaws revision committees; AMENS; 14 years as a Stephen Minister and a Stephen Leader; Search Committees: Jim Gilliom, Carl Gravander, David Ruhe, Bob Mann and Lindsey Braun. I am president of the Plymouth Place Board of Directors, and I have served on the Boards of Directors of the Iowa Conference of the UCC and Tri-Conference Ministries and, currently, the UCC denomination.

An Iowa native, I married Jean in 1965. We have three adult children, Anne, Bill, and Mary, and two grandchildren, Alonzo and Ada. Our oldest son, Joe, died of brain cancer in 2018. I operate my own business, Nelson Equity Development, LC, a mergers and acquisitions consultancy and business brokerage. I stay active by swimming regularly at the YMCA.

Mark Busch

Mark Busch (He, Him, His) is a lifelong Iowan and joined Plymouth in 2013 after moving to Des Moines. He currently serves as secretary to the Transition into Ministry Committee and is a proud attendee of the Saturday Night Service. In the past, Mark has served on the Board of Membership and the 2016-17 Music & Fine Arts Task Force. After spending time in public education and the nonprofit sector, Mark currently serves as an Education Specialist for the Iowa Judicial Branch, working to address bias and disparate outcomes in the court system.


December 7-Day Challenge


We continue our discussion about our new Strategic Plan this month by continuing to explore what this plan is inviting us to do. This month, we focus on “Everywhere and Always.” While “Radical” is a difficult word for some, Everywhere and Always are more easily understood and accepted as ingredients in our faith. We know as Christians we are called to love God and love each other Everywhere and Always. And we also know it’s really hard to do and that we all fall short.

No matter what though, God keeps loving us Everywhere and Always. In this way, Everywhere and Always serve to both assure us of God’s love and to challenge us to deliver it.

So, how can we honor this expansive and timeless giving and receiving of love? We can practice. We can look for reminders of God’s unfailing love for us and we can seek reminders of our call to love others. During the month of December, we offer a new 7-Day Challenge to get more comfortable with the Everywhere and Always parts of our new Strategic Plan.

While you’re doing it, feel free to share your thoughts with me at and with each other whenever you have the chance.

1. Complete any six of these items on any six days you choose during the month of December.

  • Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths to get centered, then repeat the St. Patrick’s Breastplate  Prayer (see below for that prayer) as often as you need to remind you that Christ is with you Everywhere. Feel free to add hand gestures.
  • If you didn’t pick up an Advent Bag at the church, download this year’s Advent Devotional from the Plymouth website, Maya Angelou and the Freedom Poetry of Advent, and try to follow the weekly program and practices outlined in the booklet.
  • Set up an Advent Wreath at home and light the candles during worship or when using the Maya Angelou and the Freedom Poetry of Advent devotional to remind you that hope, peace, joy and love are available to us Everywhere and Always.
  • Download the recipe for Angel Eyes cookies from the Plymouth website and bake them to share with a neighbor or someone who could use some cheer and a reminder of God’s love this season.
  • Do an internet search for “Nichole Nordeman Legacy” and listen to this beautiful song as an expression Always.
  • Attend the Nativity Seen event for all Plymouth members on Zoom on Sunday, December 13 at 6 p.m.
  • Attend the Longest Night drive-through service at Plymouth on Monday, December 21 at 6 p.m.
  • Attend one of the special Caroling or virtual concerts offered by Plymouth during December. You can download an Advent Calendar from the website or check the Events page for details.
  • Prepare for 2021 by subscribing to or purchasing a daily devotional to use everyday next year. (See below for suggestions).

St. Patrick’s Breastplate Prayer

Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

Daily Devotionals for Everyone

A great way to stretch toward Everywhere and Always is to find a daily dose of inspiration such as the United Church of Christ’s (UCC) Still Speaking Daily Devotional which is available as a free daily email by subscribing at:

If you prefer a book format you can try:

  • From the United Church of Christ: God is Still Speaking: 365 Daily Devotions by Christina Villa
  • From local author, Joyce Rupp: Anchors for the Soul or Fragments of Your Ancient Name
  • Or a year of poetry: A Poem for Every Day of the Year by Allie Esiri
  • Or a year of music (you need to have Apple Music): Year of Wonder by Clemency Burton-Hill

2. For the seventh day take a rest or sabbath.

Make space for an intentional break from your work, worries, stresses, or perfectionism. Make the duration whatever length of time would feel like a true sabbath: five minutes, an hour, half a day or a whole day. Unlike God, we need to rest and recharge to be more loving.