Why I’m Home in Community of Christ

30 05 2012

BY LARRY McGUIRE, president of seventy

I collect hats, and I display most of them in my garage.

I have hats from places I’ve visited, favorite sports teams or events, teams I coached while teaching in Florida, and a section from my father and grandfathers. I also have hats from my wife’s father and her grandfathers. I’ve received hats from family members promoting their businesses and hats from friends and the places they’ve traveled.

Each time I go into my garage, I see their hats and am reminded of their work and love for their family. I’m also reminded their hats are connected to a larger story, family stories, of a journey that continues to be relived in my life.

I was blessed to grow up knowing both sets of great-grandparents and grandparents. Migration from their homelands of Ireland, Germany, and England shaped their lives. They came to the USA seeking a better, more-secure life than in their native lands.

Arriving here, they experienced discrimination and ridicule for being poor and taking jobs no one else wanted. My great-grandpa, Albert, came from Germany. He found a job shoveling coal into the burners of a hotel in New York City for a few cents each day. He figured no one else would want the job, so he did the work.

I grew up hearing their stories of sacrifice and hard work. But they always included stories of how the gospel message of Jesus Christ meant everything to them, every day of their lives.

Many stories of the hats in my garage remind me of how they’re connected to my heritage of faith. I loved to hear family stories of how the gospel became real in their lives. They handed down their testimonies to me. I now have the privilege of sharing their stories as part of my story, which I joyfully share with you.

My heritage of faith humbles me, even though none of the stories is recorded in any history book. The testimony of people I read about in our record books and archives inspires me. I’m embraced by the simple stories of faith I hear as I travel and offer an affirmative witness that God is up to something in our movement today.

Some hats feel more comfortable to me than others. Some, I’ve never worn. Others show all the signs of wear. Every hat is important. I now realize they are not just hats hanging in my garage; they are symbols of stories of lives past that impact lives today.

I pray that is something my son will understand when I offer him a hat…a story…a life…hope. This is why I’m at home in Community of Christ.

Experiencing Mission with Seniors

28 05 2012

BY DENISE LEICHTER, Lake Balboa, California, USA

Numerous events illustrate the caring nature of SHAMROCK seniors.

In 2010, we were planning to close our El Segundo Congregation in California because of declining numbers and members’ problems with health and age. We decided to invite everyone to a celebration service and to ask about their plans to connect with another congregation.

We also wanted to hear any pastoral-care needs. It quickly became clear that many of our seniors would face challenges in traveling to a new congregation.

I entered prayer to discern what we needed for all of our seniors in the Southern California USA Mission Center. The need was for a Senior Health and Advocacy Ministry, but the acronym of SHAM did not get a favorable response. I went back to prayer.

One morning, while watering my shamrock plant in the kitchen window, it came to me. We would build SHAM on the ROCK of Jesus Christ. We could use the three-leaf clover for body, mind, and spirit ministry.

We received contributions from the El Segundo Congregation, members, and the community. We also landed Tangible Love and Western Field grants. The funding enabled us to develop a wonderful ministry for our seniors and their families.

Every congregation gets a personal visit to assess demographics with the pastor and leadership team. We determine the needs and challenges of seniors, research community resources, and develop a plan to communicate regularly with the seniors.

On our mission center website, we have a link (www.Seniors.CofChristLA.org) with many resources for seniors and their families. Also, we send a quarterly newsletter via e-mail and postal mail. We make sure everyone gets birthday cards and notes of encouragement and celebration.

Also, we host a senior event every other month in various congregations. We use a “senior lens” to evaluate all mission center events for any barriers to attendance.

And we make lots of visits.

In addition we have held yoga and tai chi instruction. Classes have covered safety for the Internet, driving, and types of abuse. Others have dealt with dementia, Alzheimer’s, and advance directives. We’ve helped people learn to select senior housing and homecare services with the help of community agencies.

We also provide support for doctor visits and hospital admissions. We have fun, too—a fall fiesta and a Halloween party. And, of course, we worship.

Most of all, we celebrate caring and honoring a generation of wisdom, endurance, and generosity. As we support the Worth of All Persons, we experience mission and feel God’s blessings.

In Reverie and Reality, We Give Thanks

25 05 2012

BY JANE WATKINS, Lakeland, Florida, USA

I recently spent a weekend at Deerhaven Campground (Paisley, Florida), attending a gathering geared to evangelists and high priests. During a worship session, we sat quietly and meditated.

As we let our thoughts float, piano notes on a CD began to play softly. I marveled at our ability to hear more than one music line as other instruments joined in harmony.

Suddenly I realized the piano tune was familiar, yet I couldn’t remember the song. I closed my eyes and immersed myself deeper in the melody. At once I was transported back into the large room where my Sunday school class met. I was a first-grader, sitting in a small chair, watching the dust motes that danced on the sunbeams streaming into the room.

My congregation met in a large, converted mansion house. To a 7-year-old, that didn’t seem one bit odd. It was my church home. Memories of this place, and especially people, flooded my reverie.

I could see Ruby Farrell playing the piano for our primary classes, and I remembered with clarity my teacher, Sister Lyman Smith. She was white-haired and elderly, and she kept order by tapping her pencil eraser on the table. And then there was junior church, with dear “Aunt Pearl.” She encouraged us to give to a fund for a needy child in South America who was sustained mainly through Aunt Pearl’s limited income.

As I continued to struggle with the melody still playing on the CD, bits of the song returned to my memory. I marveled at the influence these dear women had on my life. I wanted so much to play piano like Ruby, teach like Sister Smith, and be as much like Jesus as Aunt Pearl.

How could I have known they were Developing Disciples to Serve? Did they realize the impact they had on this busy, active group of children? Almost 60 years have passed, yet their faces and commitment swim clearly in my mind’s eye.

And what song started this daydream? “For the Beauty of the Earth”! I thank God for patient, caring, tenderhearted people who groom our children to be the church of tomorrow.

“Lord of all, to thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise.”

“This Is Our Mission, Too!”

23 05 2012


A Peacemakers Club is teaching new ways to children in Joliet, Illinois.

A recent day at the Lakeview Congregation’s Peacemakers Club included this statement from a child: “This kid kicked me, so I kicked him back. And he kicked me again, so…”

When children face a situation such as being kicked, a natural reaction is to kick back. After all, as the boy explained, he didn’t want to be considered a “wimp.” We suggested other responses, such as saying, “I’m not going to kick you!” and walking away.

On another occasion, a child said, “This girl dared me to choke her, so I did.” It stunned him when we discussed that doing something simply because someone dared him was giving control to the other person. By offering alternatives, we were arming children with new strategies that ended conflict and allowed them to “save face.”

Lakeview, part of the Chicago USA Mission Center, was invited to start a club at the Warren-Sharpe Community Center in an economically disadvantaged neighborhood of Joliet, Illinois. When Kay Bolden, the center’s director, heard that Community of Christ is dedicated to pursuing peace in neighborhoods, she said, “I love that!” She immediately offered space in the large, renovated building that houses an after-school program for children and other community services.

The community center was founded in 1991, as Kay explained, to provide a positive influence for youth. After trying several approaches—many of which utterly failed—we realized what the children needed most was a loving, safe environment.

Many of the children have pent-up anger and frustration that flare at a moment’s notice. When a child enters with anger and leaves with a smile, we know we have succeeded.

So we scratched a Sunday-school model of classroom instruction and settled on an activity-based method. This includes crafts, singing, and games, each involving a concept of peacemaking.

It has been a journey of learning, mostly for the adults. We have had to become clear about our goals: Why are we doing this? What do we hope to achieve? We eventually recognized that children learn principles of peace through example, not lecture. Simply being with and loving the children was the entire reason for having the club.

As Community of Christ, one of our Enduring Principles is to Pursue Peace on Earth. Jesus made clear that we must end suffering. He said we would see the kingdom of God on Earth when we learn to live in peaceful community with others, aware of the need to work for justice and equality.

This takes patience and time.

Spirituality is the foundation, but only the first step. We realize God not only loves us, but every other person (and, I daresay, animals). In Luke 4:18 Jesus read a scroll from Isaiah. He proclaimed:

The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor…to proclaim release to the captives…to let the oppressed go free.

As disciples, this is our mission, too!

Touching Lives, Modeling Christ

21 05 2012

BY BARRY MURPHEY, Glen Carbon, Illinois, USA

Kids from East St. Louis, Illinois, receive a lot of fun and ministry during camps.

A camping ministry that began in the 1970s still is touching lives and modeling the qualities of Christ today.

East St. Louis Community Camps have a long history. They began as a dream of Howard Fisher, who wanted to help the inner-city kids of St. Louis each summer. He ran several camps called Camp Personality. Some East St. Louis children attended. In 1971 a chapter of Camp Personality started in East St. Louis with camps at Brush Creek in Illinois.

Pastor Antoinette Culp started working with the camps about 1974. She remembers two camps, each with 50–60 children. The camping program was highly integrated into the church’s youth program—lots of activities, skates, parties, caravans, etc. A missionary grant from the World Church put some money into camps, and several ministers, plus Seventy Pete Gibbs, helped with outreach into the community.

Many baptisms and confirmations took place, but it would be hard to say they were due entirely to the camping program. But Willella Robinson said she saw the gospel at the camps and wanted to hear what the church had to say. She and her son were baptized shortly afterward.

Once the grant money was gone, the camps could not keep their intensity. Baptisms and interest gradually slipped.

We went one year without any camps. Then a bunch of us, in and out of the church, decided we would continue the program. It was too good a ministry to the kids and community.

In 1988 we became sponsored by Camp Woodland Hills through the efforts of Murray Smith, Gary Dodson, and others. The name changed to East Saint Louis Community Camp. Then in 2004, the camp became its own non-profit. Because almost all of our money came from outside the church, we had to be somewhat independent.

The spiritual ministry during the camps is still that of extending love to the kids and trying to exhibit the qualities of Christ.

We can be there, we can provide three regular meals a day, we can treat them with respect, we can encourage them to feel good about themselves, and we can help them understand what peace is about while stimulating compassion for one another.

And through it all, ministry still happens.

Signal Communities… Embrace Continuing Revelation

18 05 2012

BY DALE E. LUFFMAN, Council of Twelve Apostles

Dale Luffman

The 2007 World Conference of Community of Christ considered words of counsel presented to the church by President Stephen M. Veazey. The counsel was accepted into the Doctrine and Covenants as Section 163. This counsel included these words:

Scripture, prophetic guidance, knowledge, and discernment in the faith community must walk hand in hand to reveal the true will of God. Follow this pathway, which is the way of the Living Christ, and you will discover more than sufficient light for the journey ahead. —Doctrine and Covenants 163:7d

This prophetic counsel gave Community of Christ a concise statement to guide disciples in seeking God’s will. This statement helps the church sense the way it might discern and embrace God’s Continuing Revelation. F. Henry Edwards wrote:

The attempt to find a static finality in religion has never succeeded. The “faith which was once delivered unto the saints” has actually grown and developed, even while always remaining consistent with itself, as any faith must develop when it is directly related to growing experience in a changing world.”
—“Revelation and its Record” in The Edwards Commentary on the Doctrine and Covenants

Wisdom constantly calls the church to embrace Continuing Revelation embedded in the inspired and indispensable witness of scripture. In June 2011, President Veazey provided a model that further describes the way members of Community of Christ work together to discover God’s will.

President Veazey presents this model in an online video, “Ways of Discovering God’s Will,” available at www.CofChrist
.org/discernment/resources.asp. This model provides an image of how Continuing Revelation works with other facets of Community of Christ faith to help us discover God’s purposes in the world.

When our young family began full-time ministry with Community of Christ, I was assigned to the Northeastern part of the USA. Half of my time was to be expended in ministry to the field; the other half in seminary studies.

Although I had grown up in the church and some very capable people had guided my development in ministry, I was not well prepared for my new rigors of study. I had developed a limited view of how God was at work in God’s world and with all of God’s people. That limited view hampered my ability not only to understand, but to discern and embrace what God was doing in God’s world.

Among the first graduate courses I took in seminary was the New Testament. It introduced me to the writings of Paul the Apostle in a new way that required deeper exploration of the context. It was through my study of Paul’s letters, especially Romans, that I increasingly began to observe what it means to embrace Continuing Revelation. Romans 12:1–2 is central to such an understanding. It modeled important facets of Continuing Revelation, especially discernment.

A close reading of Romans 12:1–2 suggests a new, major section of Paul’s letter to the Romans has begun at this point. The admonitions in chapters 12–15 take as fact everything written before about the redemptive work of God in Christ and the new life that begins through baptism into Christ. Chapters 12–15 suggest what the new life looks like. Paul understands the Christian lives “in Christ” and not under the law.

Paul argues that a person belongs to Christ and Christ’s destiny, free from the law and the power of sin and death.

However, there are moral obligations! One who is under the lordship of Jesus Christ is led by the Spirit, and is called to discern what that means in the Christian life.

Paul first addressed his readers as “brothers and sisters.” With this address, Paul shows his affection and understanding of mutual responsibility and solidarity. And with the use of “therefore,” what follows presupposes all that has been written to this point in the letter. With the new age of righteousness and life inaugurated by Christ’s resurrection, readers are to understand they also share this status of solidarity with him. This is according to God’s mercy.

Paul’s appeal, therefore, is that Christians not be conformed to the old age of sin and death—the way they were!—but be “transformed by the renewal of the mind.”

To obtain a new mind is to obtain a new way of thinking, transformed by the power of the indwelling Spirit. Such discernment is characteristic of those who belong to Christ and share in his glory. To “discern the will of God,” Christians are to present their bodies—their very selves—as living sacrifices to God. This is the basis of the ethical imperative to live our daily lives by faith and true worship of God. All we do is for and with God.

The rest of Romans 12:3—15:13 provides a series of applications for the readers to consider about how their minds and bodies might lean into God’s future and into life in the world. These passages call church members to become what they already are in Christ. This gives tangible expression to “discerning the will of God.”

When the witness of the gospel through Community of Christ was introduced into Sri Lanka, the island nation was in a civil war and divisive ethnic conflict. The gospel’s introduction was significant for many people and families. Lives were transformed, and people were called into discipleship. Among those first called (through a remarkable work of the Holy Spirit!) was Henry DeSilva, who became the leader of our church in Sri Lanka.

Henry had been resistant to our preaching and teaching, thinking he had life figured out. But the persistence of the Holy Spirit appealed to his heart and mind, and he asked to be baptized following the baptism of others. When I returned several months later, I saw in Henry a remarkable change—a transformation, a renewing of his mind and will!

His wife, Nayoma, had asked for baptism. On the way to the baptismal site I turned to her and asked, “Nayoma, what is it that brings you to this baptismal decision just now?” Without hesitation she answered, “If you only knew the change that has happened in Henry’s life, you would be asking for baptism. He is a different man. I want to be a different woman.”

The story of new life experienced by Henry and Nayoma shows why the Mission Initiative, Invite People to Christ, is so important. As our community responds to God’s call and mission in our lives as revealed to us, it leads us to share the witness of the gospel with others. The attitudes and behaviors of those within our faith community signal to others that the redemptive work of God in Christ provides new life through baptism into Christ.

Just like Paul’s community, we are to present our bodies—our very selves—to be living sacrifices to God. We are then sent to bear witness of the gospel, inviting others to discover new life.

My Spirit is reaching out to numerous souls even now and there are many who will respond if you, my people, will bear affirmative testimony of my love and my desires for all to come unto me. —Doctrine and Covenants 153:9b

As part of the Restoration movement, our community signals to others that God continues to reveal God’s desires for people and the world today as in days of old. In humility, individually and in community, we rely on the Holy Spirit and prayerfully listen to understand God’s will for our lives, the church, and creation more completely.

Then we embrace Christ’s mission as our mission as we faithfully respond to God’s Continuing Revelation. We invite others to be baptized into new life in Christ. We plant new congregations to serve as signals in their community, and we send others to launch Community of Christ in new nations.

Just as F. Henry Edwards recognized, our religion is not static—never has been and never will be. That is the nature of Continuing Revelation. We remain consistent with the unfolding restoring story that earlier generations began. We go faithfully into the future, responding to the Holy Spirit’s guidance to bring God’s redemptive power into an ever-changing world as we invite others to Christ.

Heavenly Match

16 05 2012

BY CHRISTINE PIGEON, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

A person they hardly knew provided help, health, and hope for the family of Sean Pigeon.

Doctors diagnosed my husband, Sean, with kidney disease when he was in his early 20s. He fought the disease about 20 years, but the fight became increasingly harder.

He spent most of his time in bed. He lost weight. Soon he suffered from muscle deterioration and a poor immune system. Kidney disease leads to a gradual shutdown of many organs.

When I learned about the national kidney-swap program, I quickly volunteered. But after much testing, I learned I wasn’t a match. Others offered to donate, but none worked out.

During this ordeal, Sean, our two boys, and I tried to make the best of our situation. We were never alone. We received the continual support of family, friends, and our church. God’s love, through the kindness and generosity of others, lifted us.

Still, Sean’s health continued to worsen. My children were losing their father, and I was losing my companion and best friend. I couldn’t shake the fear that threatened to consume me. Only my faith kept me from giving up. I had to let go, and let God be God.

Then Mathew came into our lives.

We met him at a family camp reunion, where he was the guest minister. Sean and I chatted with Mathew and his wife, Irina, over dinner one evening. Our boys liked them from the start. We talked for only an hour because Sean had to leave for a medical appointment.

“You can’t leave now,” Mathew kidded. “I’m just starting to like you!”

It was clear by Sean’s smile that he felt the same way.

Several months later, Mathew contacted me and asked how Sean was doing. He took great interest in the donor program. Eventually, we learned that Mathew and Sean had the same blood type. Mathew wanted to donate his kidney!

In a matter of seconds, hope was restored! I asked Mathew why he wanted to do this for someone he barely knew. He simply said he had prayed about it and felt this was something God was calling him to do. I later learned this would be Mathew’s first surgery. Who was this guy? What an incredible person!

Within months Mathew passed all the tests. Several times he drove from Barrie to Ottawa. Mathew’s kidney was such a good match that they almost could have been brothers!

The transplant took place May 12, 2011. Sean’s new kidney began to work within moments. By the second day, he went from being pale and sickly to vibrant and healthy. To the staff’s astonishment, Sean soon was walking with little to no pain. The transformation was amazing!

I can’t begin to describe my relief and the awesome gratitude that comes from such a tremendous gift.

I pray this testimony will bring hope to others struggling in the darkness. May they feel assured, God is with you, always!