Why I’m Home in Community of Christ

29 06 2012

BY KRIS JUDD, president of seventy

Youth at the 2010 World Conference check an image of Zion.

I don’t remember a time when I didn’t dream of a better world. Don’t get me wrong. I was raised in a loving home, given a strong faith foundation, had my basic needs met, did well in school, enjoyed friends and family, and have experienced a good life by most—if not all—standards.

Yet from an early age I was aware something better called to me, something I hoped for, waited for, even longed for.
My grandmother, Ella Phillips, was a lifelong church member, and she gave language to the longing I felt. She called it “Zion,” and she shared with me hymns and stories that built her faith, gave her strength, and painted a picture of what God’s hope for creation could and should be. She often said she hoped to live long enough to “see Zion built.” I hope she caught glimpses of it during her 93 years.

For many years in the church, it seemed the dream of “Zion,” or the peaceable kingdom on Earth, had faded from our collective memory, or at least our collective conversation. As we struggled with our identity and message, we seemed to lose sight of that initial calling and purpose. We didn’t get caught up in issues of the afterlife or what awaited us in heaven. It seemed to me that we simply stopped dreaming.

I don’t remember the first time I heard the word “Zion” again, but I remember my reaction. I suddenly felt I had come home, even though I had not left. We were returning to the dream we had received long ago, but with new language, updated understandings, and a greater awareness of the urgent need for the global reign of God.

As an organization, it was as if we had emerged from our institutional teenage years, with our embarrassment of being seen with our parents in public. We were growing up and growing into the people we were born to be, becoming the movement we were created to become.

We were coming home, but with clearer vision and greater depth.

I was born an idealist and a dreamer and never have felt really at home in the world. Though a dreamer, I’m not naive to the realities of life for people around the world. I’m not blind to the violence, oppression, poverty, and devaluing of life in all forms that too often pervades our news, our views, and our communities.

But in Community of Christ, we sing a different, more hopeful verse to the Christian song. We sing of community, of peace, of hope, and of the kingdom here and now. We sing of “bringing forth the kingdom of heaven,” “Zion the beautiful.” I love this church for many reasons. I’m at home in this worldwide body of people who believe in an alternate reality, an idealistic dream of what God longs for and what we yearn for.

I can’t imagine singing, dreaming, or sharing in any other community of believers. I thank God I’ve found home!

Roots to Grow, Wings to Soar

27 06 2012

BY STEVE HATCH, apostolic assistant

Stephen Hatch

When our oldest son, Jonathan, was born, a dear friend gave us a framed needlepoint with some sage wisdom. It read,

“There are two special gifts we should give our children: one is roots the other is wings.”

We took this advice to heart and strove to live it out with Jonathan and Andrew, who was born two years later. As they grew, we did everything we could to let them know our home was a place of safety and refuge, and that nothing they could ever do would change that fact.

With that assurance, we encouraged them to courageously explore the possibilities life had for them. Try new things, take some chances, and dare to dream beyond wildest expectations. In short we wanted them to stretch their wings and soar to heights they might not even imagine. All with the assurance that if they came “crashing down” their roots were there to give them the strong foundation to regroup and find the strength to take off anew.

As a church we have been called to live the Mission Initiative, Develop Disciples to Serve. As we live this initiative I am reminded of these two greatest gifts. We have been assured that God’s grace is available as our foundation. We know that nothing we ever do will prevent God from being fully present to love and support us. Our safety and refuge are assured.

At the same time, I believe God’s deepest desire is for us to spread our wings and grow into the disciples we were created to become. We are called, individually and as Community of Christ, to dream about a world where all people know God’s love and grace.

That may seem like an impossible dream, the heights of which we may not even be able to imagine. Yet it is these lofty places that Christ spoke about in the Gospel of Mark:

The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.—Mark 1:15 NRSV

We are called in our day and in our time to develop disciples to share this message of love and grace. Let us never forget that we have the deepest of roots to support us. And let us soar with the message of God’s grace to share the good news that God’s realm is for all.

I Have Been Changed

25 06 2012

BY CARLA LONG, Eurasia Mission Field

Carla Long

Lately, I’ve been going to the fifth floor of the Auditorium for a walk. I love it for many reasons, but first, it speaks to the math nerd who lives inside me.

I love that it takes eight laps for a mile. Using my pedometer, I’ve found I take almost 2,000 steps in that mile. (So, now, you can figure out my stride, knowing there are 5,280 feet or 63,360 inches in one mile! I’ll wait for you to get your calculator.) If I’m feeling extra nerdy, I will watch the pedometer turn to that 2,000th step as I end my walk. Ahhh…math bliss!

But, I was surprised to learn these walks speak to a deeper part of me, too. For a reason I can’t explain, at some point during the walk, the controlled part of my brain gets out of the way, and I find my mind in places I never asked it to go. Problems are solved. Answers come to questions I had never considered. People I hardly know come into my mind, and I know I need to reach out to them.

It’s a marvel and a wonder. Some days, I can hardly wait to get up there and see what I will see. The weird thing is, maybe I’m not the only one who has found this to be true.

The Greek philosopher Zeno had many famous paradoxes, but perhaps his most famous was when he said that all motion was merely an illusion. He mentioned this to his friend, Diogenes the Cynic. Diogenes got up, walked across the room, looked back at Zeno, and said, “Solvitur ambulando.” (“It is solved by walking.”) So, perhaps I am in good company.

As I walk lap after lap after lap, little impressions come to mind, like the famous thought that we can have no world peace until we each have inner peace. Or Catherine of Genoa’s famous quote, “The me in me is God.”

I can’t help but wonder if that is what is happening on these jaunts around level five. Is the “me” inside of me bursting to get out? Is it the “me in me” who answers those questions that easily could take over my life? Is it that “me” who desperately yearns to feel inner peace? I think yes.

My walk usually ends in one of two ways. I race back to my desk through the tunnel to the Temple and write down all of my new insights and knowledge gained. Or I meander back and enjoy the last minutes of a calm mind and body before my attention is called to another balance sheet, the checkbook, or an e-mail that desperately needs my attention.
Either way, I have been changed. For that, I am ever grateful.


23 06 2012

BY BRUCE CROCKETT, Kirtland spiritual-formation specialist

In the morning, while it was still very dark, he [Jesus] got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” —Mark 1:35–38 NRSV

This scripture speaks to me about Jesus’ desire to be alone with God (solitude) and to be in conversation with God, speaking and listening. This scripture shows a high priority for this alone time. From his prayerful exchange with Abba, Jesus experiences renewal, affirmation, and confirmation of his purpose.

Solitude prepares us for ministry, to be with the people in meaningful ways. Richard Foster states:

Therefore we must seek out the recreating stillness of solitude if we want to be with others meaningfully. We must seek the fellowship and accountability of others if we want to be alone safely. We must cultivate both if we are to live in obedience. Without silence there is no solitude. Though silence sometimes involves the absence of speech it always involves the act of listening. Simply to refrain from talking, without a heart listening to God, is not silence.

Solitude can open our hearts to God through prayer, meditation, reflection, scripture study, or journaling. Solitude can be going for a walk, practicing yoga or tai chi. Solitude can be working in the garden, doing woodwork, sitting in a deer blind, knitting, or sitting alone at the kitchen table early in the morning with that first cup of coffee, tea, or juice.

All people need to explore what form of solitude works for them. But more important than place or activity is focus. What is your focus in solitude? How does being in solitude draw you closer to God, enhance your ministry, prepare you to be in community in meaningful ways, in sacred ways?

Creating a worship center in your home is helpful for your devotional practices, your times of solitude. Finding a devotional partner to practice gentle accountability with helps develop consistent patterns in your spiritual life. A partner also gives you someone to share deeply with about your devotional experiences.

Always be ready for surprises, gifts, and uninvited moments of grace. In the words of Meister Eckhart:

Be prepared at all times for the gifts of God and be ready always for new ones. For God is a thousand times more ready to give than we are to receive.

Reflection Questions
•    What are you seeking in your solitude?
•    How has your relationship with Christ transformed you?
•    As you leave your solitude each day, what is your sacred purpose?

Old House Now a New Home for Seekers

21 06 2012

BY ROB HEVERLING, Little Rock, Arkansas, USA

Seekers have found a gathering place in a century-old house.

In the past few months a 100-year-old house, occupied by three generations in racially and economically diverse downtown Little Rock, Arkansas, has become home for a house church.

As news director at KARK TV, I had become aware of several young professionals who did not believe in Jesus or were dissatisfied with worship in their churches.

I believed the Enduring Principles and Mission Initiatives would appeal to this group. We sensed a non-traditional, informal setting would best help these seekers grasp Christ’s message.

After an intense year of prayer, discussion, and planning with members and leaders of the North Little Rock Congregation, a new approach to mission began to take shape. In September 2011, by text, Facebook, and phone, we invited several young adults, families, and young professionals.

The first gathering found 23 people in my home, sharing brunch. On a typical Sunday one finds people dressed in jeans, sneakers, and sandals. They sit on dining chairs, floor pillows, and couches.

Using various Community of Christ materials, they worship and explore their spiritual journey. Another important piece is community service. The group is an expression of several initiatives, including Develop Disciples to Serve and Experience Congregations in Mission.

Where this journey will lead is unknown. But they believe as they continue to discern together God will call them into new adventures. For now they are focusing on what matters most: finding ways to engage and encourage others to share in God’s mission.

Members are growing in spiritual and human relationships. They already are anticipating the development of new leaders, creative ideas, and missional experiences. They eagerly anticipate the many doors of opportunity that will open as they Invite People to Christ.

Pursuing Peace through Prayer

18 06 2012

BY JANNÉ GROVER, Daily Prayer for Peace coordinator

Each day in this Temple, dedicated to the pursuit of peace, reconciliation and healing of the spirit, we pray for peace and uphold one of the nations of the world.

The harmonies of a visiting choir enhanced the Daily Prayer for Peace.

These words are familiar as part of the Daily Prayer for Peace ministry. Yet they remain an important reminder of our commitment to the relentless pursuit of peace in our lives, relationships, and world. They also remind us of the power and importance of prayer as a daily discipline.

How and when we use the Daily Prayer for Peace can be as unique as each individual or congregation. Some, who are able, come regularly to the Temple for the worship services at 1:00 p.m. each day. Others join at www.CofChrist

It is not important that each person pray the same prayer for the same country at the same time each day. The importance is that all people make praying for peace a part of their daily spiritual practices. As we are more aware of our membership in a global community, we become increasingly mindful of ways our thoughts and prayers for peace lead to actions that promote justice for people in all nations. They also support practices that promote all dimensions of peace.

Services seek to provide consistent worship elements. They use prayers and resources that support the liturgical calendar plus observances by the National and World Council of Churches and the United Nations. The goal is periodically to infuse creativity that enhances worship while maintaining a meaningful and consistent daily discipline.
The scope and depth of issues that challenge each nation are impossible to include in the brief services. It therefore is important for individuals to become more aware of issues that affect any person, regardless of race, religion, or nationality.

Doctrine and Covenants 163:3a–b says:

You are called to create pathways in the world for peace in Christ to be relationally and culturally incarnate. The hope of Zion is realized when the vision of Christ is embodied in communities of generosity, justice, and peacefulness. Above all else, strive to be faithful to Christ’s vision of the peaceable Kingdom of God on earth. Courageously challenge cultural, political, and religious trends that are contrary to the reconciling and restoring purposes of God. Pursue peace.

Prayer is foundational for change in our lives and world. Let us be faithful to daily prayer and the relentless pursuit of peace.

Luandanda, Land of Hope

15 06 2012

Urbain Mbenga

Matete, Kinshasa, Congo

The village of Luandanda sits 45 kilometers from the city of Kananga in the center of Congo. As with most Congolese villages, Luandanda doesn’t have running water or electricity. Its population essentially lives from agricultural activities.

In this area, Community of Christ has an emerging congregation that this month will celebrate its first anniversary. A missionary trip in January was an opportunity for the mission center president and his first counselor to see this congregation.

Worship was scheduled Sunday afternoon, January 22, and all day Monday was dedicated to teaching the Mission Initiatives. Neither delays, nor cold, rainy weather dampened the high spirits.

The fellowship of that Sunday worship and the classes made us forget the jolts of the motorcycle on muddy and twisting roads. When I scanned the faces, feelings of hope for the congregation’s future warmed my soul. I founded my hope on five reasons:

  1. The children
    They were numerous. There was much they didn’t understand, and some dozed. But I knew one thing: They had come to their church and were the future leaders of this community. The children are the pledge of the future, tomorrow’s church (Matthew 18:4).
  2. The faithful
    Contrary to those invited in the parable of the great banquet who gave excuses for not attending (Luke 14:18–19), those of Luandanda had chosen what is better, (Luke 10:42) while sacrificing the day to follow the teachings. After the worship, I shook the hands of at least 85 people from age 12 to adult.
  3. Mission support
    Like the church of Macedonia (2 Corinthians 8:1–5), the one of Luandanda surprised us by its generosity of food, and even an offering for the teacher! We need to leave behind the days of the handout.
  4. The leaders’ vision
    The congregation’s leaders spoke with a spirit of self-sufficiency. They asked for aid to start an agricultural brigade whose returns would build their chapel without counting much on outside help. This shows a mindset of autonomy.
  5. Spiritual thirst
    The end of the worship brought requests for individual and collective prayers. Indeed, whole families—children and adults—came to ask for prayer. I felt the need for an evangelist in the region to act as sanctuary and shelter to these souls. The field is white, but there are no workers!

All these reasons encourage and push us not to fear to go where our name calls us (Doctrine and Covenants 163:1). Mission Initiatives are beginning to produce fruit. Indeed, our provincial supervisor has registered three more villages that have asked Community of Christ to organize. May the Holy Spirit help us so ministries of the church will accelerate (Doctrine and Covenants 164:8c).

Feeding a Need Answers Ongoing Call to Mission

13 06 2012

BY LARRY McGUIRE, president of seventy

(From left) Niomia Lindburg, Jacquelyn Johnson, Paul Lindburg, and Ruth Kraklow, all volunteers from the Moline Congregation in Illinois, help prepare food for clients.

In 1968 Charles D. Neff developed a course entitled Mission, Mission, Mission. In it he wrote,

“If the church is to be the kingdom instrument that it is called to be in every land, it must have a creative relationship with that society; it cannot be isolated from the people in their peculiar struggles.”

Dennis and Pam LaRoque are ministers with City Center Ministry in Davenport, Iowa, and are part of the Cedar Valley-Nauvoo USA Mission Center in the North East USA Field. They are intimately connected to their community. When a need appeared, they responded to the invitation to Abolish Poverty, End Suffering.

“We opened our food pantry October 2006 with five volunteers and serving about 24 families per month,” they wrote.

“We currently serve about 80 families per month or about 230 individuals, and we have seven volunteers. Our food pantry is open every Tuesday from 2:00–4:00 p.m.

“Families can come once a month for a food basket but can come every week for bread or other free items. Many of our families come each week for these items.

“When we first opened, people had a difficult time finding us. Because they were directed to Community of Christ—City Center Ministry, they were looking for a church building but couldn’t find one. When they did find us, they were intrigued that we were in a house.

“This house has become a welcoming, friendly place to share their life journey and not only receive food but smiles, hugs, and prayers. We always extend the invitation to worship with us, and a few have. But more important, this house is a safe place to receive the unconditional love of Jesus Christ. It is a safe place to share their life story and not be judged.

“Even though they do not come to worship on Sunday, this is their church, and they take care of it. We found out how important this was a few months ago when a neighbor found the front door open and called the police and us. Everything was OK.

“The volunteers were surprised when we first started to see week after week how appreciative people were. Thanks flowed. We continue to have new families come each week to receive nourishment, physical and spiritual.”

Dennis, Pam, and the volunteers are living witnesses to what Neff wrote. They are in a neighborhood, providing a safe place and responding to needs.

We Must Be Willing to Ask

11 06 2012

BY JOHN WIGHT, senior president of seventy

Rebecca could not contain her joy as Seventy Carole Price baptized her.

I greeted a woman I had known for years as she approached me in the Temple Sanctuary.

“I took your advice,” she said. “I asked.”

This was a rather strange greeting, I thought. It apparently was obvious I was not connecting the dots, so she helped.

“I asked if they wanted to be baptized,” she said. “And they said yes!”

Ah, now I knew exactly what she was talking about. Years earlier I had shared some ideas about missionary outreach in her congregation. One thing I often suggest is that we should not be afraid to ask if someone wants to be baptized rather than waiting for them to ask for this wonderful sacrament.

A Community of Christ Mission Initiative is Invite People to Christ. A specific sub-initiative says, “Baptize/confirm many new members.” This, of course, is not a new idea. In what has come to be known as The Great Commission, Jesus himself is quoted in Matthew 28:19 (NRSV) as saying:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus modeled the value of baptism by asking John to baptize him. But many people aren’t as assertive as Jesus was.

Many times when I have asked people why they haven’t been baptized, they have responded, “Well, nobody ever asked me.” It seems logical, then, that if we are to “baptize many new members,” we must be willing to ask people if they would like to be baptized.

Seventies Carole Price, Tom Cochran, and I once again experienced the joy of invitation at the Hawthorne Place ministry in northeast Independence, Missouri. We found ourselves asking various participants if they wanted to be baptized. Three children and two adults said “yes,” they would like to unite their lives with Jesus Christ in the waters of baptism.

That was exciting enough, but the joy expressed on their faces as they were baptized was the capstone on the experience. Their exuberant smiles were an emotional reminder that baptism is not about numbers. It is about individuals experiencing the joy, hope, love, and peace of Jesus Christ.

Who is waiting for you to invite them to Christ and to ask them if they would like to be baptized?

Growing Generosity in a Jar

9 06 2012

Each child in the USA who currently receives children’s offering envelopes will get a Generosity Jar kit in the mail this summer. Children 8–12 in Canada will get a Generosity Jar kit.

BY JENN KILLPACK, Integrated Communications

Jenn: Jack, Jack, Jack come quick! Look what I got in the mail today. It’s my Generosity Jar!

Jack: Hey Jenn, what’s all the yelling about? And what is a Generosity Jar? Are there snacks in there?

Jenn: No silly. A Generosity Jar is like a bank but WAY cooler than a regular bank.

Jack:  How come it’s that funny shape?

Jenn: Check it out—the Generosity Jar has three parts that fit together. One box is for sharing, one is for saving, and one is for spending.

Jack: You mean all my money can be right here together? Right now my spending money is in a sock in my dresser; my saving money is in my old lunchbox under my bed; and my sharing money is in a secret spot to keep it safe—but sometimes I forget where I put it.

Jenn: Yep—no more socks, or lunch boxes, or secret safe spots! I think this Generosity Jar will help us both be more dependable.

Jack: Oh yeah…I remember. We learned about that when we were at the park. When we share our time, talent, and treasure we are being generous and dependable—not bendable—disciples. Hey…Big Voice Dude would be so proud I remembered!

Jenn: Wow Jack! That’s awesome! You know what else is awesome? This ginormous rubber band that holds all the boxes together.

Jack: It’s my favorite color! I bet we could use that rubber band to…

Jenn: JACK! Safety first…remember?

Jack: OK. But I still can think of a lot of fun AND safe things to do with that rubber band. Hey…my mom is checking the mail. Let’s go see if my Generosity Jar came today, too. Race you to the mailbox!

Generosity Jars

Generosity Jars showcase the Jack and Jenn stories that teach kids about Mission Initiatives and the principles of A Disciple’s Generous Response. They are excellent tools to help start important conversations about money with the children in your life.

Using Generosity Jars and the accompanying guidebook can help kids make the connection between being disciples of Jesus and being good stewards of our resources. Beginning the habits of sharing, saving, and spending at an early age creates healthy patterns of money management that will serve children well as they grow.

When Generosity Jars are used with children’s envelopes, they create another opportunity to talk about Mission Initiatives and how our generosity is linked with our call to live out the mission of Jesus Christ.

We are excited to hear about how Generosity Jars are being used in your families and congregations.