Why I Follow Jesus

30 03 2012

by A. BOLTON, Council of Twelve Apostles

Why do I follow Jesus?

The people who have loved me the most are Christians. That’s it. One sentence.

Here is my story.

I did not live a sheltered life growing up. Dad was traumatized psychologically from his experiences of being a soldier in World War II for seven long years. He saw unspeakable things. He drank. He spent time in a mental hospital. We lost our small farm and had debts.

Things were hard on my mother, and I was the eldest of four sons. Dad, with the help of a doctor and God, did stop drinking when I was about 14. Things got much better, and I started to do well in school.

When I went to agricultural college I was out of place. Eighty percent of the men in my year had gone to private schools. I had not. I was not a son of wealthy farmers. I did not go hunting with the hounds. I did not drink. So I did not really belong.

But there was a welcoming and safe place for me in the Christian fellowship group at the college. There were Christians from all kinds of social backgrounds. They were kind and let me in. This was my first experience of Protestant Christianity.

I first met members of Community of Christ in Germany through John, who I met by chance on a boat crossing the North Sea. I was working in Germany on a tree-and-shrub nursery for a year after graduating with a degree in horticulture. I had just been home for Christmas.

John’s friends in the church were the most loving group of people I ever had met. Although I was British, they still warmly welcomed me. It was in the home of Marlis and Erich Kirsch that I first stayed. With four daughters and one son all excited about the church, they were all so loving.

When I moved to Wales to begin studying for a PhD in genetics, I found the same kind of fellowship among church members in South Wales.

I was loved into the church. I have never seen Jesus, but I have seen the presence of Jesus in the faces and companionship of those who follow him. There came the point when I, too, chose to follow who they followed. Baptism was the best decision I have ever made.

I also follow Jesus because the mission of Jesus is Zion, the end of poverty and class, the abolition of war, the forgiveness of sins, and an ever-fresh new beginning. The answer to my family’s problems while growing up is Zion.

There also came a moment near the beginning of my journey when I experienced the reality of the Holy Spirit for the first time through the baptism of someone else, Kim Griffiths. I was so surprised and moved about the reality of that experience that I could not stop crying. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus.

Why do I follow Jesus? The ones who have loved me the most have been followers of Jesus. Zion is the mission of Jesus. I encountered the reality of the Holy Spirit, which is the Spirit of Jesus.





Awash in Gratitude

28 03 2012

BY BARBARA HOWARD, Independence, Missouri, USA

Gratitude is the open door to abundance” was the message on my Yogi tea bag. That small piece of paper holds an honored place at the bottom of my computer, reminding me of the power of living every moment with a grateful heart.

Whatever the circumstances of one’s life, something—sometimes seemingly insignificant—can awaken a grateful response.

When our granddaughter, Grace, was a toddler, she insisted on saying the blessing at meals. Each time, she’d fold her hands, look out at those who were seated and ask, “So, what are we ‘sankful’ for today?”

We discovered this was the way her church school class began each Sunday. A quiet time first, followed by a thankful prayer time. The children learned that everything in their lives was, in some way, a gift. The litany of thanks at our table made each of us keenly aware that what we ate came to us from the hands of those we’ll probably never know. In this we were reminded there are those to whom God calls us whose needs are far greater than our own.

Gratitude is a spiritual practice that can begin each day. Waking up to life, to the newness of beginning again, one can lie still, wordless, and simply feel grateful. Breathing a prayer of gratitude for life itself and a new beginning is a way of acknowledging the divine presence. Silence and stillness refresh the spirit.

A busy schedule with family needs can be distracting or offer a rhythm of thanksgiving. Moving into the bustling activity with a sense that each person is a gift, each task an opportunity, brings a new perspective to what otherwise can be a stress-filled time. One’s own sense of calm assurance of a loving Creator brings a dimension of order to what otherwise might be chaos.

While this might seem impossible to busy parents with economic burdens and busy schedules, one “career woman-mother-wife-daughter-of-aging parents” described her daily routine of gratitude as “the key to peace in the midst of chaotic uncertainty.”

New opportunities arise every day to see how “walking in gratitude” awakens us to the richness of being alive. In the sound of birdsong, the fragrance of cooking food, the laughter of children, we are made grateful for the endless flow of simple gifts in our lives. We give thanks to the generous God who calls us to live with open, gracious, compassionate hearts.





Formed into Christ: One Day at a Time

26 03 2012

It’s the women of Ikot Oku Mfong, Nigeria, in the dark of early morning, silently making their way along well-worn paths to the church for daily prayers.

It’s the mother and father inviting their young sons into an evening ritual of remembering the day and praying over the good and “not so good” moments.

It’s the young adult listening to her MP3 download of the daily lectio divina broadcast from www.pray-as-you-go.org.

It’s my friend, Barbara, waking every morning with faces of loved ones in her mind, praying over each one with murmured words of gratitude and blessing.

It is Jesus, a great while before daybreak, rising and making his way through deserted streets to a wilderness place. He is alone, seeking solitude and a place to pray. This was the sustaining pattern necessary to his wholeness and ministry.

As water carves the streambed into the depths of a canyon…as wind bends the tree and permanently alters its growth…as the glass blower employs fire and breath to fashion an object of beauty…as the potter shapes the lump of clay into a useful container…as the baker kneads and bakes dough into fragrant, edible loaf…so the soul is shaped as it yields itself to the transforming forces of the Eternally Forming One.

Without a daily habit of putting ourselves at God’s disposal, we shape our own lives, form our own agendas, often unaware of how our human projections and self-interests affect our perceptions.

We must learn to be able to think and behave like Jesus, who is the archetypal human. This becomes the journey of great love and great suffering…If we remain autonomous, independent, self-sufficient we cannot know God, nor can we love God.

—Fr. Richard Rohr, January 3, 2012,
Daily Meditation: Resolve to Livea Life of Great Love
http://www.cacradicalgrace.org

Put on the mind of Christ. Take up the patterns of Christ. Center your life on the passions of Christ. Submit your culturally formed ego identity to the true self God yearns to release in you. The dream of shalom was the central passion of Jesus, and it must become so for us. The mission is not simply to proclaim. The mission is to be transformed; to be melted, remade, and redirected.

The purpose of daily spiritual practice is to open spaces in our inner territories where our sense of self is refashioned and reoriented around the compassionate consciousness of Christ. Like Jesus we are drawn into the silent womb of divine Presence to receive Spirit’s impulses for justice, healing, and grace. Then, in the spirit and likeness of Christ, we go out as God’s shalom.

What will happen to the church if more and more of us take up a daily spiritual practice; if we are bound by common disciplines that take us deeper into the Spirit’s yearnings for us and the creation? What a wonderful possibility for us to pursue as Community of Christ!





Building Memories with the Spirit

23 03 2012

BY INI N. EDET, Nigeria Mission Centre president

Memories from Easter 2011 are nearly a year old, but blessings from the annual retreat in Nigeria continue to impact lives.

Now as we prepare for the 2012 Easter retreat at the Ikot Obioko Congregation, those memories remain strong.

Last year’s event carried the theme, “That Rejected but Unavoidable Jesus.” The event offered spiritual revival. It proved a turning point to many because of captivating messages and prayers that healed and brought souls to Christ.

The event began with an evening of testimonies about God’s glory in the lives of many. The next morning people offered prayers to every level of the church. Many also prayed for healing.

The retreat also enabled people and groups to discuss their effectiveness. This created pathways for developmental sustainability of the mission center.

That night, fund-raising for the re-opening of a branch at Umuahia brought the equivalent of US$1,000.

The retreat’s highlight came with worship the next morning. It featured baptism, confirmation, ordination, and Communion. In the message, people were told to go and tell the rejected and marginalized that Jesus is the Savior and Redeemer of the world.

Retreat participants sought to lead not only spiritually, but in very real circumstances. At the end of the event, they sent an SOS to the government, condemning kidnappings in the region as barbaric and inhumane.

Now we’re ready for Easter 2012. What blessings will it bring?





Hunger Challenge

21 03 2012

BY VICKIE REYNOLDS, Comstock, Michigan, USA

Though healthy and growing, 16 members of the Friday Knights youth group of west Michigan know about hunger.

They spent 30 hours without food in mid-May to raise funds for Outreach International and grow in personal awareness through experiencing hunger with the many in our world who face hunger as a daily reality.

We encouraged the youth to use their hunger pangs as signals to pray for impoverished people everywhere and as reminders to seek God’s face and voice.

Perhaps the biggest challenge of this event was not in the actual 30 hours of hunger, but in the weeks leading up to it. The youth collected pledges from friends and family.

We know that sending funds to help someone they don’t know, somewhere in the world, is a bit abstract. There’s no personal feedback. But nobody in this group was lazy. They raised $1,500.25! They also worked—on empty stomachs—by going door-to-door and collecting more than 100 pounds of food for a pantry.

The youth ate the final meal before their hunger challenge at lunch on a Friday at school. They then met at the Union Avenue Congregation in Grand Rapids at 6:00 p.m. to turn in pledge money. They enjoyed games, did activities that fostered awareness of world hunger and poverty, and prayed.

They went home at 9:00 p.m. At 8:30 a.m. Saturday, they went to two project locations. Half worked with a pantry and helped set up a carnival. The other half did a party and visitation at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans.

“At the end of our visit, we made sure to shake hands with all the veterans and thank them for serving our country,” said Alissah, one of the youth. “The last man…held onto my hand. His eyes were filled with watery gratitude. He gave my hand a firm squeeze, and I was happy I could make his day better.”

At 11:30 a.m., the two groups gathered at a recreation center for swimming, rock climbing, and other events. The energy pumped up when they arrived, but it ebbed after a few hours. At 3:30 p.m. the youth then boarded four vehicles that took them to different parts of the church neighborhood for the door-to-door food drive.

Teams returned to the congregation a bit after 5:00 p.m. Families of the congregation then served a “break fast” meal at 6:00 p.m.

Our weekend closed with praise, worship, and testimonies at 6:30 p.m. Everybody then left with a new understanding of the issues and how they can help others. As Nichole, one of the youth, said:

“Knowing the money we earn and the food we collect is all helping someone that needs it makes a weekend of hunger worthwhile!”





The Little Missionary

19 03 2012

BY CAROL GIBSON, Cary, North Carolina, USA

A 50th anniversary celebration of the founding of the church in eastern North Carolina was held October 1–2, 2011, at the Cary Congregation. People came from as far away as Alabama, Georgia, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, but Harmony walked over from next door!

The event featured a pig-pickin’ that served 175 people. But the surprise guest was 9-year-old Harmony, who hadn’t even been invited, though she earlier had attended Vacation Bible School.

She came in, announced her dad finally had let her come by herself, and said she could stay as long as she wanted. Mixing right in, she befriended Matteo, a foster child. She played games with the other children and enjoyed the day.

In the evening, folks talked about their experiences from the church’s 50 years in North Carolina. She seemed surprised to see pictures from so long ago. We enjoyed many wonderful testimonies, stories of ministry, and fellowship.

The next morning, Harmony asked if she could speak at the preaching service. I suggested she could give what she had written about God to Seventy Karin Peter, who was speaking that day. Karin immediately told Harmony she could share it just before the sermon. Karin then used Harmony to illustrate the “cloud of witnesses” of those who will help us “run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith…” (Hebrews 12:1–2 NRSV).

During Saturday’s events, Harmony had asked if she could join the church. I said we would need to talk to her dad. On Sunday morning after church she said I had to talk to him right then. He and his family had come a few times since Vacation Bible School, and she made sure he came that morning, too. Since then, Harmony has completed four Sundays of classes to prepare for her baptism.

Children are amazing in their zeal to follow Christ and participate in church. Harmony also attends our music program on Wednesday evenings.

Looking back to the summer, I had invited some children to Vacation Bible School.

They suggested I knock on Harmony’s door. I did, and her dad said she and her sister could come. Harmony then went to two other houses and invited two girls who came; then, another boy from the same cul-de-sac knocked on the back door of the church on Monday night during Bible School, and asked if he and his brother could come. Now they also participate on Wednesday nights.

I call Harmony my missionary! Sometimes children are our best ambassadors for Christ.





It Begins with an Invitation

17 03 2012

BY BETTY NIPPER,
Fort Myers, Florida, USA

On Wednesday night, the priesthood of the Fort Myers Congregation in Florida gathered for study and prayer.

Sitting in the circle were Chris, Stan, Lisa, Jennifer, Bob, and Jim. These are people in their early 30s who have been baptized within the last four years.

Let me share some of their stories.

Several years ago we met Hilda in a work setting, and she became a friend. Hilda is a Catholic who attends her church regularly. One weekend she was visiting in our home, and we invited her to church with us.

On the way home, she said, “I learned something I never knew today. I learned that God lives inside of me. I always knew there was more to this God thing, and today I experienced it.”

Hilda is still a Catholic, but she tells others about Community of Christ. Enter Chris and Stan. Hilda met these two men in their late 20s in her consulting work. She told them they needed to visit this church she had found.

They came, and they stayed. On Wednesday night both were sitting in our priesthood circle. Meanwhile, Hilda continues to share the love and acceptance she felt in our congregation.

Through the witness of God at work in Stan and Chris, our congregation now has Hobbie, Bette, Pete, and Fernanda.
We also have longtime members Roy and Gloria, who are part of our outreach team. On a trip to a store, they started visiting with a couple and offered to buy them a cup of coffee. Before the afternoon ended, they had taken Don and Colleen to the church and walked them through our building. This year Don and Colleen were confirmed as Community of Christ members.

It takes a vibrant witness and an invitation to bring souls to Christ.

Jim and Krystal and their daughters, Hope and Faith, came to us through a carnival in our church parking lot. They are a young family, struggling to make ends meet but with a great desire to succeed. Jim is gifted with his hands and can fix anything. Krystal just got her first teaching job after attending college at night.

Jim was in our circle of priesthood Wednesday night as a recently ordained deacon.

Inviting people to Christ is an intentional action. How many people do we each meet daily, and how often do we find an excuse to withhold our testimony of what God is in our lives?

In our congregation we are experiencing the fruits of a few vibrant witnesses who have dared by offering the invitation.
We started by preparing our congregation, introducing the Seekers Tool Kit (www.HeraldHouse.org/custom/web/list.asp?c=19819). From this we changed several things to make our facility welcoming. Then we focused on our members. We asked ourselves, “What do we have to change to make people feel welcomed when they come through our doors?”

We focused on being a welcoming congregation. Visitors do not sit alone. We talk about Jesus Christ from the pulpit. We use the scriptures. We encourage our speakers to not speak in code. For example, we refer to the Doctrine and Covenants, not the D&C.

We know the mission initiatives, and we Invite People to Christ. We have heard the call and are sharing our witness of Jesus Christ.





Called to Commitment

15 03 2012

Recently Apostle Linda Booth chatted with Jim Poirier, the new member-designate of the Presiding Bishopric. Here are excerpts from their talk, which covered several topics. To see the interview, visit www.CofChrist.org/broadcast/2012archive.asp.

Linda: I’m talking with Jim Poirier, who recently was designated to serve as a member of the Presiding Bishopric and as a counselor to the presiding bishop. He comes as a designate because in 2013 the World Conference will have the opportunity to sustain him, and then he will be ordained.

Jim is a professional financial planner. He has been in banking systems and has served in multiple roles as a financial officer, in mission centers, Canada, and congregations. So, welcome, Jim. Could you tell us about your growing-up time?
Jim: I was born, raised, and still live in Canada under this new arrangement. I come from a town in northern Ontario on the border of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The town is called Sault Ste. Marie. My heritage is French-Canadian and Italian, so I have those rich heritages to guide me. I’m married to Janet. She’s a registered nurse, and we have two adult children. Kate is a communications specialist, and Joshua is a high school teacher.

I attended university in Windsor and received a bachelor of commerce degree. I worked for 25 years in the credit union system there. My last five years were as the vice president of marketing, communications, and product development for the credit unions in Canada.

Linda: Were you raised in the church?

Jim: No, I was raised by Catholic priests in my high school. Like Thomas, they taught me to question my faith and my relationship with God because it was the relationship that was so important. That freed me to examine my feelings about my relationship with God, and I think it ultimately led to my decision to join this church.

My wife’s family were members of this church, and…with them (I found) a church that valued people, welcomed people, had a concept of the kingdom I really appreciated and clung to.

Then someone noticed in me a gift and asked me to be a business manager at a junior high camp. I had never been to a youth camp. This experience changed my life. I saw these young people needed to simply feel good about themselves.

Ultimately, I was asked to direct the camp.

I said I had better be a member of this church if I’m going to direct a youth camp. That’s when I was baptized. It’s interesting that one of the first themes of our camp was stewardship, and we looked at the book, God’s Work and My Money. The regional bishop at the time got wind of it. His name was Larry Norris.

Linda: It’s amazing how we have these links to a variety of people as God brings them into our pathway to influence us. Who has had one of the greatest influences on your life?

Jim: Well, first of all, my parents. My parents are very strong in the Catholic faith. There wasn’t a moment in my life that I didn’t feel loved. They loved me enough to let me leave the church and to join this church, and we still have a very strong relationship.

I was raised quite a bit around the table of my Italian grandmother. From her I learned about hospitality and mostly about welcoming people. Then there was my wife. She taught me about commitment, love, and acceptance. Together, we’ve raised our family based on those principles.

Through the years there’s always been someone who has taken me under their wing. It’s just the way in this church.

Linda: In the counsel that presented your name to the church as the designate in the Presiding Bishopric, there’s mention about your deep sense of God’s grace and generosity. So there’s that spiritual side to you. Can you remember the first time you were aware of the Spirit’s presence?

Jim: I’d like to talk about two incidents. The first, when I was very young, was during the season of Lent. Lent was a time in northern Ontario when the snow was melting, and in the Catholic faith there were certain rituals. One was attending Mass every day. I would wake up early in the morning, run to church, attend Mass, and run all the way home.
I sensed closeness with God at that time. I didn’t know what it was, but as the snow was melting, spring was coming, and the Easter season was coming, I experienced a sense of hope.

After university, we attended my wife’s church. An evangelist there kind of took me under his wing. He was in the labor-relations position at the school board, and the credit union I worked for had a union. Together, we would talk about employee relations and dealing with our employees in a different way. I learned so much from him.

One time our staff was about to go on strike. I went to him and asked for administration. I was thinking God would kind of take everything away, and that cooler heads would prevail. But the answer to my prayer was so significant. As he was praying, he said, “You will take the lead, and you will be the bridge, and you will be a person who others will go to during this very difficult time.”

As the strike started and went on, I found myself being the bridge. I knew then that God answers prayers. I’ve really sensed God’s Spirit walking with me through those times, and that has continued.

Linda: You’ve served for many years as the bishop of Canada, and you’ll remain in that role even as you support the International Church in the Presiding Bishopric. How have your experiences prepared you to serve the church in this new way?

Jim: Well, the bishop of Canada is the trustee of the church in Canada. So we have responsibility, as the presiding bishop’s office here does, for all of the business aspects of the church. Anything dealing with land, real estate, legal, risk management—all of those activities are done at the Canada headquarters. The other really important issue is dealing with the charity regulators in Canada. That’s taught me to  deal with charities legislation and running the congregations in Canada.

I also have been a mission center financial officer. Part of my role at the presiding bishop’s office is to work with mission center financial officers and, of course, the congregational financial officers—kind of the unsung heroes. We have an obligation to them as they do the tasks every day that we all take for granted.

Linda: One thing I’ve heard about is your ability to inspire people to give to their true capacity. With the five mission initiatives, people have this wonderful opportunity to respond to Christ’s mission as their mission, and to support to their true capacity so the mission initiatives can go into the world. Talk to us about how the initiatives will help people understand that call to give generously according to their true capacity.

Jim: True capacity for me is all about commitment. When Christ talked to the rich young man and asked him to sell his possessions, give everything to the poor, and follow him, he was asking for his commitment. He was asking for him to commit his life to something far greater than he was currently capable of doing.

I don’t think we can give to our true capacity unless we’ve committed ourselves. And we can’t commit ourselves unless we’ve given to our true capacity. For example, when Christ was standing in the synagogue and expressing his mission, the Holy Spirit called him to give to his capacity. It was from that strong experience of the love of God that he was able to respond, give to his true capacity, and courageously announce it in front of the people who would be most critical.

For Community of Christ, we are called to that same mission, and we are called to give to our capacity. In other words, we are called to commit ourselves to that mission. When we do that, we will automatically begin to invite people to what we have.

Linda: And that’s all about being a disciple of Jesus Christ, isn’t it? And so you’ve already begun to paint a vision of what could be if people deepened their discipleship, if they really, truly took Christ’s mission as their mission, as their families’ mission, as their congregations’ mission to go into their neighborhoods and communities and transform them into the kingdom principles. What would happen if each of us were filled with God’s grace and then responded by giving according to our true capacity?

Jim: In Acts 2, there’s a story of people coming to the church. It all began when the apostles listened to them and understood them. When people were listened to and were understood, they began to understand the true love God had for them, and they reached out to others. Our church, as we live up to our true capacity and the mission initiatives, will look like that.

There will be no poor because we will have such a passion for everyone that no one will do without. There will be an invitation to hundreds and thousands of people to come and share what we have because we’ll be compassionate, and we will be seeking justice. So I’m kind of looking at the church the way it was perceived back in Acts 2.

Linda: Excellent. So my brothers and sisters, I join with Jim and all World Church leaders to invite you to go deeper in your discipleship, to allow God’s grace to fill you to overflowing so you might share the gospel and give according to your true capacity.





“Oh Yes, We Sing!”

13 03 2012

BY LAUREN HALL, Hymnal Project manager

I didn’t know a soul when I stepped onto the Berkeley campus of the University of California to attend an annual conference for worship and congregational song. A winding, shaded path took me to the heart of a teeming campus. I was there to meet for the first time some colleagues of the 2013 Hymnal Steering Team, entrusted with compiling the next Community of Christ hymnal.

They greeted me warmly at dinner and shared their excitement. Soon, we dashed off to a rousing hymn fest.
This was a pivotal moment of intersection on an “old, old path.” The church of my upbringing had just hired me to help collaborate and manage the next hymnal project. From this moment, in ways I could not predict, the path became “strangely sweet.”

Though in the USA and Canada most of us may not have heard of The Hymn Society (an ecumenical Who’s Who of musicians, writers, and worship planners), it knows Community of Christ!

Over the next few days, people from several denominations asked what church I represented and why I was there. Invariably, my answer sparked similar responses: “Oh, you’re the denomination that has a strong singing tradition, and still sings in parts!” This became music to my ears.

Yes, singing has always been a part of Community of Christ worship. In Sunday services, at youth and family camps, in prayer services, and special events, we learn to sing. Singing in church helps shape us. This tradition has roots in the earliest days of the Restoration, when Emma Hale Smith, on April 6, 1830, was directed to compile the first hymnal.

I have heard it asked, “Why another hymnal for Community of Christ?” That question probably has a lineage as long as the lineage of hymnals. The answer reflects a vibrancy of interpretation, theological understandings, and a consistency by the church to respond to needs in contemporary times.

As with leaders of earlier years, we now find ourselves at another threshold. Thirty-two years after publication of Hymns of the Saints, the next hymnal will be released in October 2013: Community of Christ Sings.

It is not easy to name a collection of musical material that probably will be in our sanctuaries, campgrounds, homes, and major events for over 25 years. As testament to this, members suggested more than 280 titles!

We greatly appreciated your help. A repetitive theme kept occurring: The word “hymnal” or “hymns” no longer encompassed the renaissance of hymns and songs in the last two decades.

In addition, for denominations in general and specifically Community of Christ, there is growing need to incorporate indigenous and other cultural expressions of God and our global Christian experience. Thus, the next hymnal is an exciting collection of hymns, songs, chants, and styles, while retaining over half of our current hymnody.

Because of this, the name, Community of Christ Sings, reflects the personality of the collection and who we are. Look and live with it a bit. Look at the relationship and interplay of the title.

You’ll note the horizontal line that distinguishes the name of the church from the word “sings.” It is broken, yet connected by a small and important element bubbling up and breaking through. It suggests movement and underlying joy. The essence of individuals and action undergirds our identity as a community.

And, it is what we do. Community of Christ Sings.

In a long line of distinguished hymnals, welcome the name of the next primary songbook of the church. May it be “made strangely sweet.”





Building Peace, One Brushstroke at a Time

10 03 2012

BY KATIE and ZAC HARMON-McLAUGHLIN, Orange, California, USA

We’re among the first to cringe when congregational life begins to focus more on facilities than mission. However, our buildings can be tools for mission if we choose to view them that way.

Five community groups regularly use the facilities of the Orange Congregation in California: Rossier Park Elementary School (85–90 kids plus teachers and administrators), the Orange Art Association, and three Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) groups.

As a pastorate, we walked around our facility and asked, “If you didn’t know anything about who we are, what would you discover from our building?” We met one white wall after another. The fellowship hall (the space used most by outside groups) brought blaring emptiness. A white wall, 47 by 15 feet, was blank with possibility. We decided on a mural to cover the entire wall.

We hired Josh Shipley for the daunting, exciting project. We asked him to design and paint a mural that would express who we are and hope to become. A mural that would appeal to a wide audience from elementary kids to recovering alcoholics. A mural that wouldn’t be overtly “religious” to respect the school, but would minister to everyone who used the room.

We gave him one theme: peace. If people leave our building knowing nothing else about us, let them know we yearn to pursue peace in our lives and world.

The painting began with a few splashes of color in the upper-right corner. As the painting began, we also began a study of the five mission initiatives and what they mean as we follow Christ into our community. The painting became a metaphor as each week we learned more about who we are called to become.

The image became clearer. We internalized the painting process as our journey to Pursue Peace on Earth—the bold strokes of color, the tedious detail, the time, energy, and creativity it takes to put it all together, and the courage required to try something new.

The mural begins with a tree covered in the glow of a setting or rising sun. Wind catches the tree and carries its leaves into abstract waves of color, embracing dreams of inner and outer peace. Or perhaps, the mural begins in the abstract, and we follow the leaves, the dreams of peace, back to the clearer image. Either way, you can’t help being caught in the movement of peace the mural inspires.

A woman from AA shared: “I can’t think of a better backdrop for these meetings.” Others mentioned the blessing of children being immersed in dreams of peace every day in their school.

When Josh finished, we worshiped in the fellowship hall, allowing the mural to be our focus. We breathed in deeply, recognizing our shared breaths with the people who daily use this space and now will find a blessing in this message of peace. We are more aware of their presence than ever before, more aware of what we share and who we are called to become together.