Now He Can Vote

7 01 2012

Integrated Communications

Wally Laws has attended Gudgell Park Congregation in Independence, Missouri, since “1996 or ’97.”

A couple of months ago, he finally voted in his first business meeting. Until then he’d never been eligible.

Now he is. It’s because of a policy change made last January. Wally is among the many who have reported entering Community of Christ through confirmation, with the church accepting baptism from another denomination.

Wally, a middle-school science teacher, had been baptized years earlier in a Lutheran church. He didn’t feel right about being rebaptized. But he did feel good about Community of Christ, and Gudgell Park was his church home.

That left him in the awkward position of belonging to the church…and yet not belonging. It’s not that anybody treated him like a nonmember, but he knew there was a difference.

For him, the policy shift to accept outside baptisms and then offer confirmation was the perfect solution. And June 26, 2011, was the perfect time. Everyone in his family was in town. Even the worship theme spoke to him.

“The theme was ‘Welcome All.’ With that theme how can you say no?”

So at 45, he was confirmed, surprising some congregants who had taken it for granted that he already was a member. Others chided, “It’s about time!”

It’s not that he hadn’t been asked. Leaders had offered baptism a couple of times. But it didn’t feel right. “I’ve been baptized once, and it’s the same God,” he said.

He holds great hope for the blessings the policy change will bring.

“I honestly think this could be the single greatest thing we could do with the church. I do believe this will bring more people in, and I think that’s what the church needs.”

He said the decision seemed natural to his three sons and wife, who already was a church member. “Amanda would have loved me either way, but I think she’s happy.”

And though he’d long considered Gudgell Park his church family, he admits things feel differently now.

“There is a closeness now. I have another commonality, another bond with the people in the congregation and the church itself.”
In short, he belongs. And now he can vote.

“Yes, I Am a Member”

5 01 2012

Independence, Missouri, USA

Jenn Killpack (left) and Susan Naylor (right) shared in Kendra Friend's confirmation experience.

Although my spouse, Jason, was raised RLDS and a member from age 8, he had long been inactive before we got together. But I was curious about this church, so I accepted a temporary job in Temple School at International Headquarters (IHQ) in 1999.

I felt welcomed and accepted as a nonmember. The more I learned about this faith movement, the more I connected with and wanted to be part of its mission. After a few months I was thrilled to be hired to work in Communications.

At age 11, I had attended church regularly with my best friend’s family. The intense response I had the day of an altar call in 1980 has never left me. I didn’t decide to be baptized; I was bodily called to it. That day wasn’t about joining a church. It was about wanting to follow Jesus—wanting to fully be part of the love he represented.

After coming to IHQ, I started attending Liberty Street Congregation, and World Conferences often brought up the issue of whether or not rebaptism should remain a requirement for church membership. I was keenly interested in these discussions and wondered what I would do if the opportunity was made real to move from being a “friend” to being a member. How would I decide?

Looking back, anticipation of that opportunity had been stirring in me since I first walked into the Temple. But it had been a long time since my baptismal commitment, and I no longer was sure what I believed about Jesus and what I was willing to commit to. Was I really a “Christian”?

The more I learned and grew through my experiences at Community of Christ, the more I realized that I really do fit here. I’m accepted and loved. I have gifts to offer. And I am a Christian. I started participating in Communion again. In 2005, we had our infant daughter blessed.

These sacraments were so powerful to me—recommitting myself through the Lord’s Supper and the incredible love surrounding Layla’s baby blessing. When the baptism, confirmation, and church membership policy came out in November 2010, I did not decide to get confirmed. I just could not contain my smile, and my heart was radiating, “Yes!”

My January 30, 2011, confirmation was yet another Spirit-filled experience that provided “a glimpse of who God is and what God calls us to be” ( I am so grateful to everyone who has welcomed me as a full participant in the mission all along. And I love that I now get to officially say, “Yes, I am a member of Community of Christ.”

The Spirit of the Lord Is upon You!

3 01 2012

consultant to Integrated Formation Ministries

In his April 2011 address to the church, President Steve Veazey held up Luke 4:18−19 for guidance and understanding of Christ’s mission. The NRSV text reads:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Here Jesus recites a vital passage from Isaiah, claims the mandate as his own, and says the time for its realization is now. If Christ’s mission is our mission then we must understand what Jesus was about. Understanding how Luke 4 applies to us today can empower us for the mission initiative Invite People to Christ.

The Spirit

By asserting “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” Jesus was laying claim to the Spirit’s presence to which Luke already had testified (see 1:35, 3:16, 3:21−22, 4:1−2, and 4:14−15). For Luke, the Spirit’s presence and work is foundational to who Jesus was and what he did.

The Spirit’s presence at Jesus’ baptism is particularly important. Luke says, “the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased’” (3:22). Here Jesus was told that God loved him and assured that God was pleased with him. From this assurance, Jesus was able to risk safety and popularity and even give his life on behalf of others.

As those who claim to be Jesus’ disciples, we must understand this divine affirmation of belovedness is God’s gift to all people. Recognition that each human being is a beloved child of God is the means whereby we come to know ourselves and all others as persons of infinite worth. This is affirmed in the enduring principle Worth of All Persons.

When we live out of this gift we are motivated and empowered to help others realize their own worth and belovedness. We become the bearers of God’s image in Christ to those we meet; more truthfully we help others discover that image already resident within them. This is at the core of the mission initiative Invite People to Christ.

The assurance of God’s love gave Jesus his identity. As we assume this same identity we can give up selfish pursuits and fear-based actions. We allow the Spirit to ground us in selfless giving and generous offering of ourselves for others. The Spirit told Jesus who he was so that he could do what God required. Likewise the Spirit tells us who we are so we can faithfully pursue Christ’s mission.

The same Spirit that formed Jesus as he was in prayer on the mountain stayed with Jesus as he reached out to those who society rejected. So it is with us. The same Spirit we enjoy when practicing the internal spiritual disciplines accompanies us in action on behalf of others.

The Poor

The next four phrases of the Isaiah text Jesus reads in the synagogue identify those to whom Jesus is called to reach out. The first is “to bring good news to the poor.” In Jesus’ time and in ours poverty is assumed to be mostly about a lack of material things. In most nations large gaps exist between the rich and the poor. A small percentage of the population controls or uses a large proportion of available goods.

The bringing of good news to the poor represents the hope of a better life and access to things of which they are deprived. This infers a greater equity in the distribution of resources. In most cases the rich will need to make sacrifices and lower their standard of living so the poor can benefit.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus declared, “Blessed are the poor in spirit…” (Matthew 5:3). This type of poverty extends beyond the lack of material things; it has more to do with the lack of hope, meaning, and love. Many people who have few material things experience much hope and joy. Conversely, many rich people find their wealth does not bring them lasting happiness.

Community of Christ holds the abolishing of poverty as one of its mission initiatives. As we consider this part of our discipleship we must look at our own poverty as well as that of others. By reaching out to the poor, we will find our own poverty exposed and receive the healing Christ offers to all.

The Captive

Jesus read from Isaiah that he was to “proclaim release to the captives.” The people of Jesus’ day knew what it was like to be captive. Their history was one of enslavement and bondage. But Jesus did not bring freedom from this kind of captivity. Rather he spoke to how some people of his day were held captive by others and by systems of society. Jesus’ ministry was one of compassion.

Today, in most countries, people are held captive. This may not be physical restraint. Rather some may be excluded from the opportunities others have or are deprived of life’s necessities. Some people are held captive by tradition; others by fear of the unknown or of being rejected, unloved, different, or wrong.

The notion that freedom can be assured by the accumulation of huge stockpiles of weapons is a form of captivity. Resources used for this purpose are diverted from providing all people with adequate food, shelter, clothing, and health care.

Community of Christ is called to help end suffering. We are disciples of the One who gave his life to end suffering inflicted on people by others. As we generously share our resources with others, we help people to move from suffering to joy.

The Blind
Jesus claimed the call in Isaiah to bring “recovery of sight to the blind.” He healed some who were physically blind, allowing them to take their place in society free of what previously had encumbered them. Jesus also spoke of blindness in a metaphorical sense. He chastised the Pharisees (see, for example, Matthew 23:1−36) for judging others according to their own limited understandings.

Blindness of some sort afflicts most people. We each focus on what is important to us and neglect the unfamiliar. We may spend much energy defending the correctness of our own views and thus remain blind to truth available from others. We easily form opinions about other people and make judgments about their worth and value. This creates wedges between us and prevents the formation of true community.

The hymn, “Open My Eyes, O Lord” (Hymns of the Saints, 454) is a prayer of confession of our blindness and of trust in God’s power to give us enlarged sight. In Matthew 7:1−5 we find Jesus admonishing his hearers to first consider what is obstructing their own sight before they try to help others to clearer vision. This is good advice for us today as we attune ourselves spiritually to be faithful disciples.

The Oppressed

Jesus heard God’s call in Isaiah to “let the oppressed go free.” Oppression in Jesus’ day was a significant barrier to peace; it remains so in ours. Much oppression emerges from the lack of self-worth and security on the part of the oppressor. Happiness and fulfillment are seen to depend on the ability to exert power over those who are different. Rather than being seen as opportunity for mutual enrichment, diversity is considered a threat.

Community of Christ’s mission initiative Pursue Peace on Earth requires that we challenge and dismantle all oppressive forces. This can happen as we proclaim and live the meaning of life as God intends and as shown in Christ. This is the life of community that stands against individualism and selfish pursuit at the expense of others’ well-being.

It is past time for people to recognize they have more commonalities than differences. All need to work together for survival, not only of humanity, but of the Earth, which is being gravely exploited. As a church we have been counseled to be in the forefront of those who work against all forms of destruction.

The need for freedom from oppression is evident also on a much smaller scale. Unintentionally we often treat others in less-than-respectful ways. Some are discriminated against for their age, gender, color, sexual orientation, class, race, physical appearance, and religion, to cite a few examples. Community of Christ enduring principle Worth of All Persons affirms everyone’s dignity and value.

The Year of the Lord’s Favor

The last phrase Jesus reads from Isaiah is an affirmation of God’s reign over all the Earth. Here the four previous ministries are summarized in a dramatic concluding proclamation. The “year of the Lord’s favor” refers to life as God wills. But this is not some far-off hope. By declaring (Luke 4:21), “today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing,” Jesus is asserting the urgency of this mission—his mission. God’s way cannot be delayed; its time is now.

Bringing good news to the poor, releasing the captive, restoring sight to the blind, and freeing the oppressed may seem like separate mandates. However, they are parts of one vision: God’s vision.

Some students of this text say Jesus was suggesting the principle of Jubilee, familiar to his listeners from Leviticus 25:4, 10. Jubilee was a once-every-50-years correction of inequities and injustices that had accumulated over the years. It was a time for the reestablishment of God’s order, affirming the equal worth of each person. Here, however, Jesus is declaring a once-for-all-time Jubilee. For when God’s reign is fully realized it will be permanent.

Integral to God’s vision for creation is that all elements are connected. We no longer see only others as poor, captive, blind, or oppressed. Rather we see everyone, including ourselves, as in need of the good news and of release, restoration of sight, and freedom. As we reach out to be God’s instruments of healing in others’ lives we find ourselves being healed.

This text from Luke 4 serves as a vital foundation for Community of Christ identity, message, mission, and beliefs. It informs our enduring principles and gives focus to our mission initiatives.

As we open ourselves to the same Spirit Jesus claimed was upon him, we learn a new, countercultural way of relating to each other. No longer is the other “other”; we are all part of God’s wonderful creation, made for community. As we understand Christ’s mission and how he lived it, we will better discern and faithfully pursue our own mission. For Christ’s mission is indeed our mission.

Looking Back, Gazing Ahead

1 01 2012

Becky Savageby BECKY SAVAGE
First Presidency

We begin another new year! At the start of the year we traditionally make resolutions or commitments for the year ahead. While this is helpful and motivating, I would suggest an adaptation. Let’s review some aspects of our past journey and look toward the journey ahead. When we combine both perspectives, a rich mosaic of God’s past and future blessings emerges.

What are some significant changes influencing our journey? Bear with me. There are an amazing number of milestones. While we can identify only a few, each represents significant steps or stages along the path.

  1. We built a temple dedicated to peace, reconciliation, and healing of the spirit.
  2. Our mission statement, “We proclaim Jesus Christ and promote communities of joy, hope, love, and peace,” describes how we contribute to God’s vision for the peaceable kingdom.
  3. Our name, Community of Christ, declares our commitment to genuine and faithful relationships in the name of the One we follow.
  4. Doctrine and Covenants 162–164 calls us to become a prophetic people and a prophetic community. This commissioning also raises our awareness of the holistic nature of Christ’s mission and our response as faithful disciples.
  5. The International Leaders Council helped create Sharing in Community of Christ (We Share) to provide clarity of identify, mission, message, and beliefs.
  6. Our enduring principles and basic beliefs describe “who we are.”
  7. Our mission initiatives declare “what we do.” All five mission initiatives represent the whole mission of Jesus Christ.
  8. President Steve Veazey created a visual model called “Discovering God’s Will” to help us understand how our various ways of discerning work together. “The center of the model is God, the eternal community of God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, who is one God” (Herald, November 2011). The model includes the lenses of scripture, knowledge and reason, tradition, personal and community experience, continuing revelation, and common consent. Each brings insight, and all are interdependent.

What about the journey forward? We know it makes a difference when the church joins in prayer and preparation. When we open ourselves to the movement of the Holy Spirit, we allow God’s grace and generosity to bless our gathering more abundantly.

The First Presidency is asking the church to join with us in preparation for the 2013 World Conference. The theme is “Christ’s Mission…Our Mission!” We ask each of you to study the eight elements mentioned above. If possible, form a study or prayer group. You can meet in person or virtually. In addition, we ask you to focus your preparations on the following scriptures.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.—Luke 4:18–19 NRSV

As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise. —Galatians 3:27–29 NRSV

We begin a new year. Come. Join us in learning how Christ’s Mission Is Our Mission!