Why Attend? Because…

29 11 2010

Southern California USA and Southwest International (Mexico/USA) mission centers

There is a story about a young man and an old man. The young man questions why he should attend church every Sunday. He has listened to many sermons over the years and can recall only one or two.

The old man leans back and considers this. Then he leans forward to speak: “My wife has made me thousands of meals in the years we’ve been married. Thousands! I can remember only a few of them clearly. But I know those meals fed me and sustained me. With those meals, my wife gave me life. So it is with the church.”

And so it is with our Communion meal. As I consider the call to go deeper in my understanding of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, I have been reflecting on the variety of Communion services I have been part of the last few months.

In a very traditional worship service, I saw people testifying of the steadfastness and awesomeness of God, evidenced by the way they revered every element of Communion—the bread and wine, the linens, the processional. Earlier in my life I would not have perceived God’s grace, which freely moves throughout creation, moving in this service. Now I celebrate this part of the strong fabric of the church community.

I recently celebrated the Santa Cena, the Lord’s Supper, in the Tecate Congregation in Mexico. I was blessed to share in and serve Communion with these disciples, disregarding all the world’s usual divisions of national border, education, socioeconomics, and possibly even theology.

Worship was passionate and vibrant. Response was positive and vocal. I was humbly aware of an overwhelming sense of gratitude to be part of this gifted group, with Christ so clearly present. How amazing it is when the Spirit weaves us together into sacred community!

My last remembrance comes from SPECTACULAR last summer at Graceland University. We gathered in a dormitory hallway, 23 young women and staff. We ranged up and down the hall, sitting on the floor against cool block walls and in doorways.

The graduating seniors led our worship. We sang, the voices lovely without accompaniment, rising above us and hanging in the sacred space we had created. We broke bread. We poured juice.

We were invited to an agape meal. Each presented a piece of blueberry cake and a Dixie cup of juice to another while expressing how we saw Jesus in them. As we shared the low murmur of words and hugs, I experienced the group transforming into a living expression of Christ.

In these and so many other ways, the Lord’s Supper feeds us, sustains us, forms us as community in Christ’s name and image.

Thanks be to God!

An Unexpected Source Brings Healing

27 11 2010

Cathy Loving as Emma Smithby CATHY LOVING, Heritage and Visitor Services

I’m not sure when it struck me or when I stopped trying to negotiate with God. It was sometime during the last few months of my husband’s battle with cancer in the fall of 2003.

I was often ordering and pleading with God to heal my husband. I felt God was ignoring me and my family’s needs. It was in the depth of hopelessness that my mustard seed of faith, which was dormant, began to sprout. It was then I began loosening my grip of control and stopped negotiating with God.

Slowly I began to trust God’s love for me. Letting go was difficult, but that was the first of my small, uncertain faith steps.

In the next few years after my husband’s death, my faith began to develop as I tried to grasp and accept God’s love. It was in those years of grieving that an unexpected mentor, Emma Smith, came into my life in a powerful, healing way.

Most mentors are living people, but I’m certain God felt this was the best method for me. I am a private person and stepping into someone else’s shoes was the best method for me. God does work in mysterious ways.
Early in 2005 I was asked to portray Emma Smith for a history reunion in Nauvoo, Illinois. My first reaction was to say no. People hold strong opinions about Emma, and I feared failing to present her the way she deserved. The Elect Lady intimidated me, then and now.

But I eventually agreed to the challenge, trusting God would guide me.
At that reunion, Emma taught me more than I could have imagined about myself and my faith. She continues to teach me about God’s lasting love each time I prepare and portray her at camps or special events.

I never will understand the deep sorrow and struggles Emma experienced, but she continues to show me how to accept God’s love graciously and understand my own faith journey.
Sharing this last summer at two reunions with young children was a highlight. Their imaginations are intoxicating, and they easily pull me into Emma’s stories. During those moments I catch myself strengthened by the acceptance she had for all, the satisfaction she found in daily life, and her constant trust in God to comfort her.
My mustard seed of faith slowly is taking root and maturing thanks to Emma. She guides me when I doubt myself and reminds me to pray continuously to God for guidance. Because of her, my fears drift away, and I’m overcome with peace. Emma’s lessons help me take faith steps to become the person God calls me to be.

There have been moments of great doubt since the death of my husband, but God guides me—just as God guided Emma—one step at a time.

“Can We Have That Tomorrow, Too?”

25 11 2010

June Stephensonby JUNE STEPHENSON, Australia Mission Centre

When I was a teenager in Adelaide, South Australia, I read a book about adventures in Africa, written years earlier by H. Rider Haggard. It sowed the seed of a dream. Many years later it bloomed when I served our church for four years as the Africa Field leadership-development officer.

The Holy Spirit and ministry by our church have touched so many lives. This is just part of one journey in the Kenya Mission Centre, so you, too, can know some voices of the people.

It was a fine Saturday morning when Robert Wanga, Kenya Mission Centre financial officer, and I arrived at the rural Ohando Congregation. The chapel had been built by cooperative effort.

Josephina, a widow who lived nearby, donated the land. The people made mud bricks from clay on the church property, then fired them, and built the church walls. Roofs over Africa, a 2005 designated-giving initiative, paid for the timbers and roofing iron.

We gathered in the church to hold leadership training, introducing the We Share document. The men sat on wooden benches on one side and the women on the other. They had not shared the Lord’s Supper since their pastor had passed away in the previous year, so they asked for Communion on Sunday.

Then we talked about the sacrament of administration to the sick, and Josephina called from the back of the church, “Can we have that tomorrow, too?” When we agreed, she responded, “Good, and can I have mine now?” At the end of the day’s teaching, we gathered around her in that sacred moment.

We talked about the difference between church laws that apply around the world, such as how we conduct the sacraments, and local church traditions applied differently in each congregation.
I used the example of their congregation, where men sat on one side of the chapel and women on the other, whereas in my congregation in Sydney we choose to sit anywhere. I explained that neither way is better than the other. They are just local traditions, and both are acceptable.

The next morning, we walked in and found the men and women no longer were segregated. They grinned broadly, showing us they understood they were free to choose. We shared in Communion and then gave the invitation for the sacrament of administration to the sick.

More than 30 people came forward. We emptied one oil vial and began a second as the Holy Spirit rested gently on us all.

Truly the Spirit bears “witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:16 NRSV). May we remember our sisters and brothers who live hard lives, reliant on subsistence agriculture. May we give as we are able to support the ministry of our church around the world.

Let Hope Overcome Anxiety, Fear

22 11 2010

Kat Goheenby KATHERINE COHEEN, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Keep your hopes up—have hope.” I have a pendant that carries this message. It gave me great comfort before the birth of my second child as I faced anxiety about the delivery and how our family would adjust.

My older daughter loves to wear this necklace, too, as part of her dress-up. Recently she said, “This is a symbol of God.” Even though this comment probably is from a favorite movie, she has a point. Tangible hope is a symbol of God, and wearing hope on your chest is very tangible!

World Conference this year brought me anxiety similar to what I felt before our recent childbirth. I was excited about the promise of what would become Section 164, but I worried about what it would do to the church.

From recent experience, I have seen some pain caused by similar debate in my friends’ denominations. People of good will have been unable to reach out to each other. From my own history, memories haunted me of deep divisions in my home congregation over the ordination of women—my ordination.

I took this concern to my spiritual director. In the course of our conversation I realized I deeply love our church. I suppose I have always known this, but it came home to me again.

Once I realized it was my attachment and love for our church that was fueling my fear about change, God challenged me to push harder on that emotion. Do I love this church more than God and God’s justice? Do I love this church more than I value the worth of all persons? Will my fear of conflict trump my faith?

These questions challenged me to stay open to the leadings of the Holy Spirit. I need to risk brokenness for our church and myself to provide faithful hospitality to the Holy Spirit so it may breathe. Anxiety and fears do not accomplish this.

Our future together has yet to unfold as national conferences debate who may serve as ordained ministers and whose marriages will be recognized.

There seem to be no simple answers, but we have yet to see the grace that may bless our differences. My prayer is that we will be brave in sharing and humble in listening.

Meanwhile, I will keep my hopes up. I will have hope.

Hope Amid the Struggle

20 11 2010

Haiti Rebuilds

Rebuilding schools, churches, and communities in Haiti after the January 2010 earthquake continues to be hard work, and resources for adequate shelter and food are still scarce.

After the church in Bas Lavoute was destroyed, Oblation funds were used to purchase a large tarp to protect people from the sun when they gathered for worship. “When the tarp first arrived so many people came, and there was great joy,” said minister Wilner Deluxe. “We continue worshiping God, and we have hope that a permanent church will eventually be built.”

“The Croix de Bouquets Congregation has several large cracks in the building, so we are extremely thankful for the tarp purchased by Oblation funds,” said minister Faustin Charlestin. “The rainy season has been difficult, but people continue to praise the Lord, and more than 450 people come each week to worship.” 

Amidst the challenges of rebuilding, thousands of people gather around the country each week to worship in makeshift churches and offer prayers of thanksgiving and hope to a gracious, loving God.

Living Our Mission

18 11 2010

We proclaim Jesus Christ and promote communities of joy, hope, love, and peace. Because of your generosity to World Ministries Mission Tithes, this transformative mission is being lived out all over the world. These stories are just a few examples of how your faithful giving continues to support and expand these life-changing ministries.

New Hope for the Future

Over the last year, the Dominican Republic Mission Center was encouraged by its leaders to consider how to be more holistic in its ministries. The Nuevo Esperanza (New Hope) Congregation was quick to respond to the challenge. Most people in the Nuevo Esperanza community live their lives on the margins, in deep poverty.

With World Ministries Mission Tithes providing start-up funds, they developed a small cooperative including church members and the local community. The cooperative works to produce hand-woven baskets that are marketed at nearby tourist areas. 

Members of the congregation are also excited by the opportunity to share Community of Christ’s message and mission with those joining the cooperative. Leaders of the congregation and the co-op are eager to see this project bring new life and hope to their families and community.

A More-inclusive Lord’s Supper

15 11 2010

by DORCAS WILKINSON, Cascade, Colorado, USA

The bread plate was passed to Michael, a newly-baptized young man, for his first Communion. I noticed his mother, Tina Harrison, took a piece of bread from her purse for him. I knew he was gluten-intolerant, but until that moment I did not realize our responsibility as a welcoming community.

I talked with the pastor and other leaders about providing gluten-free bread, so he could experience inclusion in the Lord’s Supper. We decided to put special bread in a small cup on the plate. Michael and the congregation would know it was for a special need. For several months he took the bread separated by the cup. All was well.

Then I noticed his experience at a youth retreat. A leader brought gluten-free food. At each meal, Michael obediently waited for it. At one meal, his food did not arrive until everyone else left. He gulped down his food so he could get to the next activity.

Witnessing this convinced me our congregation needed to become even more inclusive. The new goal was to change to gluten-free bread for the Lord’s Supper.

Tina introduced me to a gluten-free bakery. We bought several breads made from various flours. Some were dry, and others just were not tasty to my gluten- or wheat-familiar taste buds. However, I enjoyed a couple.

Virginia Robinson had made our Communion bread for 10 years. She enjoyed serving the congregation in this way, but wasn’t up to tackling gluten-free recipes. She also acknowledged that decreasing mobility was making it difficult to get the bread to the church basement. Perhaps now was the time to give this responsibility to someone else.

The next six months brought challenges. Some people didn’t like the change in the bread’s taste and texture. “Why can’t we go back to the way it was?” some asked. We shared samples of various breads with those who struggled, asking their opinions.

Eventually we started baking our own bread. Of course, the bread of a novice improves with each loaf.

Recently, five gluten-intolerant visitors shared in the Lord’s Supper. They said their congregations put gluten-free bread in a special cup, or they take the bread and put it in their pocket.

My heart leaps with joy because the presence a young man with dietary challenges led our congregation so it could include visitors fully in the Lord’s Supper. I am pleased our congregation became a welcoming community in one small way that makes a big difference in hospitality.

Renewed to Serve

13 11 2010

by ROBERT WANGA, Kenya Mission Centre

During my early childhood in Africa, we often ate together from a common plate. My late grandmother loved having all her children and grandchildren visit her at Christmas. She prepared a large meal and invited many to share it. She served the meals on big trays set in the middle of reed mats. Guests would sit around the trays. We’d pray, and then everybody would dig their fingers into the mixture of fried rice, beef, and potatoes.

At times I was afraid we would not have enough, but we always ate more than our fill.

The Lord’s Supper is another time of celebration, gathering to eat a meal, and coming with joy. The congregation gathers to remember the life, death, resurrection, and continuing presence of Christ. We announce our freedom from sin, made possible by our repentance and renewal of our promise to follow Jesus.
We also experience the freedom to associate with one another, regardless of inherent differences. We lay aside our prejudices and struggles to take identical cups and bread. We boldly announce our wish to walk together as companions on the path of discipleship. Our confidence comes from the fabric of community, where no one needs to walk alone. As we partake together, the meal humbles and energizes us for the journey ahead.

As we share in Communion, we grow the body of believers. We ensure the weak, sickly, and despondent no longer are alone and desolate. Those who have strayed from the path receive new life. No one stands beyond redemption. The broken body and blood of Christ take on fresh meaning and power to bring renewal and strength.
The broken bread represents the beaten and broken body of Christ. It unites the partaker with the one who endured the suffering. Sharing in the bread proclaims the readiness of each disciple to go where Christ calls and sends!

When we come to the Lord’s table, we renew our covenant with Jesus Christ, the living bread. We can leave the table nourished to give life to others suffering in the far-flung places Christ sends us.

At the table we sense our connectedness to one another and reject the individualistic materialism we encounter in the world. Emotionally, physically, and spiritually, we are drawn to appreciate one another as the body of Christ. We recall the Apostle Paul’s teaching about one body, one baptism, one Lord. At the table we mesh into that one body with Christ and one another.

Our individuality and selfishness melt away as we eat the bread and take the drink of life. Consequently, the words of Christ ring out loud: He who eats and drinks from me will never hunger or thirst.

The Lord’s Supper is also an opportunity for all disciples to recall our continual need for deliverance. Drinking the wine, the blood of Christ, symbolizes forgiveness. It resonates from Christ’s experience at the cross, where he announced forgiveness for all as blood flowed from his pierced side.

The value of a forgiven soul yields inner healing and emotional release, reflected by the smiling faces of those who go from the Lord’s Supper to serve in a hurting world.

Going Deeper: the Lord’s Supper

11 11 2010

At the time of my baptism, I thought Communion was boring and ritualistic. I much preferred prayer and testimony services, especially those at camps or reunions.

Then my wife, Jewell, and I with our toddler son, Matthew, went to serve at the church’s school in Tokyo, Japan, for two years. We taught English. We also learned some Japanese, but we understood little in the church services.

However, when Communion came once a month, I knew exactly what was going on. Communion Sunday by Communion Sunday, I was blessed as I went deeper into understanding the blessing Communion had for me as a foreigner joining in the loving Japanese Community of Christ congregation. For the first time, I understood the sacraments are the international language of the church.

We are called to go deeper in our understanding of the Lord’s Supper. This is how I read Doctrine and Covenants 164:4a–c. Let us begin with the introduction:

Some have continued to express concerns about how the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper should be conducted. In other places, the meaning and potential power of this sacrament have been lessened by a lack of understanding and preparation.

The Apostle Paul rebukes the believers in Corinth because at Communion they do not examine themselves before receiving the bread and cup. They also do not discern the body (1 Corinthians 11:28–29). They do not hear the Spirit whisper, “Take off your shoes for what you are doing is holy.” Too often today we are like the Corinthians. As a result our fellowship is tepid and our discipleship dull and weak.

Because of these circumstances, the following counsel is given as confirmed by the Spirit:

4 a. Serve the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper to all committed followers of Christ as a visible witness of loving Christian fellowship and shared remembrance of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection.

We now discern the body of Christ includes those beyond our circle who are committed Christians. We call them in love to join us. Together we share in remembrance of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection.

Individuals may choose whether to receive the emblems according to their faith and understanding in harmony with guidelines provided by the First Presidency.

It is helpful to study the present guidelines in the Church Administrator’s Handbook, 2005 edition pages 81–83. It is important for priesthood, and especially those who preside at Communion, to be familiar with these guidelines. The handbook is available from Herald House or at www.CofChrist.org/OnlineResources/administrators/.

b. This pastoral provision does not lessen additional meanings associated with this sacrament in the church’s life. When the church gathers for Communion, highlight the opportunity for members to reaffirm their baptismal covenant, to reconcile strained relationships, and to commit together to the church’s mission of promoting communities of generosity, justice, and peacefulness.

Implicit in our baptism are three commitments also found in the Communion prayer on the bread.

The first is to “eat in remembrance of the body of your Son.” We remember Jesus suffered. As an innocent victim, he was executed through crucifixion. In Jesus every victim also is present.

The second commitment is to witness to God that “they are willing to take upon them the name of your Son, and always remember him.” In baptism we commit to follow Jesus. In Communion we recommit to following Jesus and to remember him in every moment and in every act of each day. We remember his teachings, which guide us. It is all Jesus in all aspects of our life. We delude ourselves if we think we can be Christian in any other way.

The third commitment is to “keep the commandments which [Jesus] has given them.” Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Where do we find the commandments of Jesus? We find them in the teaching passages of Jesus recorded in the gospels.

We would do well to begin with the Sermon on the Mount chapters 5–7 in the Gospel of Matthew. We would be blessed also to focus on Jesus’ new commandment: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34–35).

We respond to the love of God present in Jesus to love others. Love releases the power to love. Each commandment of Jesus directs our will and actions to love others.

Recommitting to loving others will lead us to express this love naturally in concrete ways that further the “church’s mission of promoting communities of generosity, justice, and peacefulness.”

Preparation for Communion should include reconciling with others, making up, confessing our faults, apologizing. We cannot come to the altar to reconcile with God if we are not reconciled with a brother or sister in the congregation (Matthew 5:23–24).

Such a practice would transform our congregational and family lives. I know this is difficult. My pride gets in the way. However, to follow Jesus is to walk from pride to humility, from arrogance to love.

c. Explore all the ways the Lord’s Supper can spiritually form the church community into a true and living expression of the life, sacrifice, resurrection, and continuing presence of Christ. Inherent in this sacrament is the divine call for the church to be a sacramental offering for the blessing, healing, and peace of creation.

Read the rest of this article along with questions for further Reflection and Discussion

Reverence for Life

8 11 2010

The Practice of Listening

by MARVIN RICE, Spiritual Formation Ministries

Gerry died last week. She was a small-town person all of her life, and her funeral would begin at a small-town mortuary and conclude at her graveside in another small town.

Leaving the mortuary, the funeral procession slowly turned right from the parking lot onto the main road. As we drove through the town and passed the obligatory fast-food restaurants and farm-supply store, cars on both sides of the road pulled to the shoulder. In the next small town, an elderly man on the sidewalk, wearing bib overalls, removed his gray-striped cap and placed it over his heart.

Turning left toward the cemetery, we met a work crew that had the road down to one lane, with a flagman at each end of the construction. As we passed the first man, the one holding the “slow” sign, he removed his hard hat in respect for a person he never knew. As we drove past the road crew, one-by-one, all removed their hard hats in a similar show of respect.

The next day I was in the city. A funeral procession pulled onto the wide, four-lane street from a mortuary on the right. It stopped our two lanes of traffic and turned left, into the inside lane next to us.

Then I noticed a car coming from a business and going in the same direction as the funeral procession. Recognizing what was ahead, he took the outside lane and, with engine roaring, zoomed past the hearse and line of family and friends that followed. The driver seemed determined not to let the funeral delay his plans.

It was impossible not to compare the experiences of the two days. One was of recognition and respect; the other of annoyance that a slight delay might occur.

It brought to mind the great 20th-century humanitarian, Albert Schweitzer, and his writings and intense focus on what he called “Reverence for Life.” He said that all life—human, animal, and even insect—held a sacred, interrelated place as part of God’s creation.

To injure or intentionally kill anything was an attack on that sacred creation. Reverence for life is consistent with Community of Christ scriptures.

In Genesis, God creates life and blesses it. In Matthew, Jesus directs us to consider the lilies of the field and later tells us that not even a sparrow falls to earth without God’s knowledge. Section 85:4 of Doctrine and Covenants states, “…the spirit and the body is the soul of man.”

The question then becomes, do we take time to revere life? Can we look at flowers, trees, ants, and animals with awe? Can we look intentionally into the eyes of other people and appreciate their physical existence and the gift of their spirit? Do we pause a few minutes each day and exercise our reverence for life? Or are pressures so great that we must zoom by and not be disturbed?