Why I’m Home in Community of Christ

30 07 2012

by ROBIN LINKHART, president of seventy

Author Robin Linkhart (right), daughter Rebecca Linkhart Russell (left), and granddaughter Reagan Russell enjoyed a recent visit with Betty Anderson.

We were just starting out. My husband, Kevin, cared for our 3-month-old, Rebecca, while I worked the 5:00 a.m. opening shift at a nearby McDonald’s on weekdays. I had the car back by 8:30 so by 9:00 Kevin could make it to the office where he worked six days a week to build his fledgling insurance business.

That summer, shortly after “Becca” was born, Mom made me a dress. It was a red cotton print, gathered at the waist with buttons down the front and a matching sash that tied, perfect for a new mom. It was the only dress I had, and I wore it every Sunday to church. When fall arrived, I added a sweater.

Growing up, my family moved a lot, making Longmont the 14th Community of Christ congregation I attended. One Sunday morning we blew into the front door of our little white church on a brisk November breeze. While Kevin held the baby, I hung up my coat and buttoned my sweater a little tighter. Taking Becca, I snuggled her close and sat next to Betty, our pastor’s wife. The adult class wouldn’t start for a while, and we were the only ones there.

Betty smiled happy greetings and picked up a shopping bag at her feet. “You know, Robin, I work at Penny’s downtown. We have a sewing center on my floor, and I get a nice employee discount there. I’ve been thinking that I would like to make you a dress, if that’s OK with you.” She slid her hand inside the bag and pulled out several patterns and a folder of fabric samples.

“I am not the accomplished seamstress your mother is, but I think I could manage any of these patterns. You just pick out your favorite one and the fabric that suits you best. I will take care of the rest.”

I was thrilled at the prospect of having a Sunday dress for fall and winter. But more than that, I was deeply touched by Betty’s gentle sensitivity, recognizing the need of a young mother, living far from family, trying to make ends meet, and caring for a baby. My eyes misted as I sat with Betty and picked out a pattern featuring a skirt and top, so I could mix and match with a few other things I had at home.

I wore her timely gift for several fall and winter seasons. Over the years and the addition of three more children, Betty continued to take our young family under her wing in countless ways, making each of us feel special.

I stopped to visit Betty not long ago. Well over 80 now, she still exudes a beautiful spirit of gentleness, grace, and generous hospitality. I looked into her face as we chatted, silently praying thanks to God for the blessing of knowing her and remembering…remembering the many other faces of treasured Saints who helped me understand how it feels to know Jesus through someone who cares and what home in Community of Christ means.

I still have the skirt and top Betty made for me, tucked safely between the folds of heirloom baby clothes, precious reminders of life lived in beloved community.





Interrupt Yourself

27 07 2012

by LU MOUNTENAY, Spiritual Formation Team

The sun rises and the sun goes down, and hurries to the place where it rises. The wind blows to the south, and goes around to the north; round and round goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns. All streams run…Ladies and gentlemen—we interrupt this scripture from Ecclesiastes 1:5–7 (NRSV) to bring you the following story:

I have a niece named Carmen. She talks nonstop. She often stops mid-sentence and asks, “Oh, and can I say something?” She actually interrupts herself!

It reminds me of a Spiritual Formation Team meeting with about 12 others in Florida. After dinner we settled back into serious work. However, I realized it was time for the sun to set. I felt it was time for us to see the sun set, even though our big window did not face west.

I took a chance. I rudely interrupted our team leader, Carolyn Brock, and said, “Let’s go out on the deck and watch the sun set.” Looks of surprise and then hesitation flashed around the table. But everyone stood and said, “Let’s do it.” Then doubts went through my mind—I hope it’s a good one.

It was! (How could a sunset not be good?) It was colorful and stunning. After a while, one by one, we reluctantly returned to the table. The team thanked me for the interruption.

Yes, the sun sets every day. Ho-hum. But do we look at it every day with appreciation? Look and see anew the gift of the Creator? Do we interrupt our daily, hourly, and by-the-minute agenda to be aware of the creative Spirit in all elements? I am comforted by the cycle of life, which day after awesome day brings me back full circle to my God, and I offer gratitude.

Spiritual Practice: Time with God
Sit quietly and let your breathing become calm and deep. Ask God’s Spirit to rest on you. See or sense the Spirit anointing you in the form of light, a dove, wind, color, or other images that might come. Ask to be made aware of God’s love. Listen to the ways in which God wants to flow from your heart as living water. Give thanks that your name is “beloved,” that our name is Community of Christ.





Unexpected Teacher

25 07 2012

by BARBARA HOWARD, Independence, Missouri, USA

Barbara Howard

Our congregation has had many visitors in recent months. One member brought her daughter to the service. Emily, a youngster with Down’s syndrome, immediately ran to a member, hugged her, then proceeded to her daughter and every other person on the row.

The Spirit of love abounded.

During the service I kept going back to the scene. Several visitors were in the sanctuary, so I decided I would be an evangelist who was a learner. In that moment I vowed to welcome each new person, rather than going to old friends and having my Sunday chat.

While this may seem insignificant to some, the more I’ve pondered it the more I realize how easy it is when we are older or hold a priesthood office to think of ourselves as teachers. Learning may be a more significant calling.

Learning can be difficult. Comfort sometimes keeps us from risking new ways of thinking, of wrestling with new ideas. Learning is an act of change. In recent years we’ve been asked to learn to become more open, more accepting, more loving. Such actions require commitment.

Or do they? Does Emily commit herself to embracing strangers at church, or does she just follow her Spirit-led heart? She seems so open to the Spirit, so eager to embrace others. We have a unique opportunity as teaching learners to spend time with those who are younger. They will teach us to delight in new technology, to move our bodies to music in church, to laugh, to embrace. Opportunities to teach may follow.

One of the most difficult learning experiences for me has been to listen to people whose ideas seem completely different from mine. But, when I truly listen I realize their commitment and enthusiasm for their point of view is much like my own for my understanding. So, rather than argue, I am trying to listen with my heart. If I do this, even though we still see the world differently, I am able to love and accept others in new ways. Learning about them changes the way I look at them.

Learning can precede our teaching. Spending time with others different from ourselves outside church can open doors for ministry. Spending time with those in other age groups can give us new insights about community. Learning and practicing the spiritual disciplines can teach us to recognize the leading of God’s Spirit.

Every experience offers a chance to learn. In recent weeks we’ve had the blessing of many house guests. (My neighbor suggested we were “inundated with company,” but we assured her we were blessed with friends.) I now realize how much our guests have taught me about scripture, prayer, and the value of laughter and joy. They were teachers, and I the learner. I want to use these lessons in my ministry.

Look around. Who has been teaching you?





A Lesson from the Playground

23 07 2012

by Jeri Lauren Lambert, Children and Family Ministries

During a Wednesday-evening service we focused our prayers on the national conferences—Canada, Australia, and the USA. I described the topics for voting and how—no matter the outcomes—some people would be happy, and others would feel sad.

One of our youngest disciples shook her head with the expression of a tired woman. “I know all about this from the playground,” she said. “When my friends decide to play a new game, sometimes there are those who don’t want to play with us anymore, and they walk away.

“The thing is,” she continued, “they usually come back when they have had some time away because they know we still want to be friends. I hope this is the way the conferences go with their voting.”

Could we take a lesson from the playground? Could we allow each other the time, grace, and personal space to adjust to the conference outcomes and then offer hands of friendship in faith as we continue our journey on the path of discipleship?





What Is Your Life Saying Yes To?

20 07 2012

by MICHELE McGRATH, apostolic assistant

Michele McGrath

Many things are changing in my life. I recently began a new responsibility in the church as Apostle-designate Barbara Carter’s assistant. That means a move from Southern California, where my husband and I have lived our entire lives, to the East Coast.

That’s a big change! (Snow shovels, anyone?) What’s more, our youngest daughter, Katie, will be going off to college at Graceland about the same time. Empty nesters everywhere will understand.

We could view this as a time of loss. But while we are allowing time for emotional partings, we are looking at this as a time to figure out what we want our lives to say yes to, and then make that a resounding YES! I believe as a follower of One who generously poured out life with and for others, that I am called to be shaped by overwhelming gratitude for the abundance of life and God’s gifts. I also feel called to respond by joining in the overflowing generosity I have experienced.

Now that I know what I want my life to say yes to, other choices are much easier to put into perspective. I Invite People to Christ because I want others to experience life in community. I work to Abolish Poverty, End Suffering and Pursue Peace on Earth because life abundant is my goal, as well as God’s. I help Develop Disciples to Serve so this process can touch more lives. And though I often try to hide it, I sometimes cry tears of joy (OK, I’m a crier!) when I Experience Congregations in Mission. Yes! This is how it’s meant to be.

Donald DeMarco, professor emeritus at St. Jerome’s University, says:

To the calculating mind, being generous seems to be costly. To the generous heart, being greedy seems incomprehensive. It is greed that impoverishes us, not generosity.

When the mission is clear, anything other than generosity is incomprehensible.

This is making many of our moving decisions much clearer. It is not the size of the new kitchen that matters as much as saying yes to meals with neighbors and friends, old and new. It is not how much stuff we can take with us as much as saying yes to everyone in our circle of care having enough. It is not leaving the old problems behind, but saying yes to finding a healthy way to leave difficulties in peace.

And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.—2 Corinthians 9:8 NRSV

When I fall into the bad habit of assuming there is not enough to go around, I become scared, defensive, competitive, and protective—attitudes that destroy community. But I choose to say yes to God’s economy, one of shared abundance. In that kingdom there is always enough—enough to receive joyfully, enough to invite expectantly, enough to share generously.

Thanks be to God!





Angela

18 07 2012

by LISA M. ASH, Liberty, Missouri, USA

Angela(right) heeds the call to service with her family and many others.

She arrived halfway through the Sunday-morning worship of the Chiwempala Congregation in Chingola, Zambia. I didn’t notice as she took a seat on the sturdy wooden pew behind mine because I was busy hugging a one-shoed little girl whose preciously curly hair tickled my chin with each squirm.

My mind was preoccupied with deciphering the sermon’s translation—from Swahili to iciBemba to English—and my heart was preparing to participate in ministry through serving Communion. When it came time to worship together by taking the bread and the wine, I nearly tripped up the stairs to the rostrum in my tightly knotted ishtenge skirt.

As a visitor, I was nervous about fumbling with the dazzling white tablecloth or making a mistake while helping with the sacrament. Carefully, I made my way through the pews with the serving plate, head down, moving slowly to not spill the tiny plastic cups.

I was nearly to the end of my designated row when my eyes lifted and met Angela’s. I was surprised to see her. She had traveled over an hour by bus to worship with us. As she took the cup from my plate, my heart melted with admiration, gratitude, and humility.

Angela epitomizes Matthew 25:35, the call to service in the name of Jesus Christ’s compassion. She serves as pastor of the ZamTan Congregation in Zambia and is a founding member of the school board for the new ZamTan Community School of Peace. It serves orphans and vulnerable children.

Angela also leads a women’s group of home health workers (called Kafwa) and facilitates emotional support groups for orphans in her compound. Her gentle spirit inspires, leads, and cares for many, including her own five children, two grandchildren, and her AIDS-orphaned niece and nephew.

Angela’s smile is contagious; she is blessed with an overflowing heart. I recently received her generosity. She and her family welcomed me as a guest in their gorgeous but modest home for several nights. Angela rearranged beds, awoke early to heat the charcoal brazier for my morning tea, walked to the market to buy eggplant because she knew it was my favorite relish, and even bought a new mosquito net to hang in my temporary room.

While I ate my nshima and beans as a guest in the candlelit living room, Angela insisted on serving herself last, eating on the dark kitchen floor with the children. Knowing her family had little extra, I found it deeply touching—almost heartbreaking—to be the recipient of this gifted time and energy.

Her willingness to give generously demonstrated an inspired response to God’s call for creating sacred community.

I left Angela’s home with a heavy heart; it was difficult for me to accept her abundant generosity. I felt as though we should trade places. It clearly was I who should be serving her.

And then, there I stood on a sunny Sunday morning, with outstretched hands and hope in my heart. I was honored by the opportunity to give something back to Angela, this new hero of mine. As Angela and I shared in Communion, I bowed deeply, humbled by tears of awe and gratitude welling in my eyes.

The love that passed between us was stunning, palpable. I understood—from the deepest part of my soul—her joy in serving others. And I was able to offer the same gift to her. Together, we shared in Christ’s presence through one little cup of grape juice. Together we created shared community, sprung from a living sanctuary and the desire to serve others in the name and love of Jesus Christ.





Unexpected Ministry, Blessings

16 07 2012

By BLANCHE TRUDELL, Greenfield, Missouri, USA

One baptism led to another for the Stockton Congregation in Missouri.

The Lord is working in our little congregation.

In October, a neighbor, Charles Edwards Sr., or Chuck, asked if I’d do a favor for him. Then he asked me to baptize him. I told him yes, but because he hadn’t attended our church much, I wanted him to know more about it first.

All four of his children—Sarah, Lisa, Kimberly, and Charles Edwards Jr.—already had been baptized. I had taken them to church and church camps for years. I had invited their dad several times, but he hadn’t seemed interested and had attended only a couple of times,

I had taught all four children in pre-baptismal classes, but I hadn’t thought of classes for adults. I asked Chuck when a convenient time would be to start. He answered, “Tomorrow.”

I wasn’t ready, so I began to pray. When I got home, everything I needed just seemed to be on top of my study material.

Chuck had been sick for years with kidney problems, and he’d suffered a heart attack several years ago. He wanted the baptism before he started dialysis, so I knew it would be soon. Also, it gets cold in Missouri, and he was willing to go into Stockton Lake for the baptism.

Instead I told him we could use a heated font in nearby Lamar, Missouri.

The week before his baptism, I asked if he thought Laura, his wife, would like to be baptized with him. She had attended the pre-baptismal classes with the children. He said no, but he added it would be all right to ask her. So I visited their home and invited her.

First she said no. We talked a bit more, and I told her to let me know if she changed her mind. Then I talked to Chuck a few minutes.

Suddenly, Laura said, “Yes I will. I will be baptized with Chuck on Sunday!”

We held the service November 26 in Lamar, and I baptized them both. The next day they were confirmed in Stockton.





Theological Foundations: Non-creedal Church

13 07 2012

This series explores theological foundations based on Community of Christ vision, mission, Enduring Principles, and Basic Beliefs. The Community of Christ Statement of Sexual Ethics (www.CofChrist.org/ethics; June Herald) was built upon these foundations. The purpose of the draft ethics statement and these reflection articles is to encourage open and honest conversation in the church about sexual ethics.

Sign up for “Theological Foundations” at www.CofChrist.org/subscribe.asp to have the articles with spiritual practices and reflection questions delivered to your e-mail. In addition to study and discussion, the First Presidency invites your feedback. Please send your responses to ethics@CofChrist.org.

Some describe Community of Christ as a non-creedal church. What does that mean?

Basically, it means we do not have a prescribed list of beliefs or doctrines that must be entirely accepted for people to become church members or priesthood. We maintain that a list of beliefs, while very helpful for communicating our common faith, can never fully describe God’s nature and will. Our understanding of the ministry of the Holy Spirit and our belief in Continuing Revelation prompt us to remain open to “yet more light and truth” on our faith journey with God.

As Jesus was preparing his disciples for his physical departure, he said:

I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.—John 16:12 NRSV

Unfortunately, growing individualism coupled with postmodern thought results in some people taking “non-creedal” to mean “anything goes” in theology and ethics. Whatever individuals decide by their reasoning, preference, or personal experience becomes the only authority that matters for them. If something does not fit within a person’s worldview, then it easily is set aside. This tendency has contributed to an increasingly broad array of individual beliefs and ethical perspectives in some nations where the church is established.

John Polkinghorne, author of Exploring Reality: The Intertwining of Science and Religion, accurately observes that:

…the extreme wing of the movement loosely categorized as postmodernism has suggested that instead of truth about reality, we have to settle for a portfolio of opinions expressing personal or societal points of view. Though there may appear to be conflicts between different perspectives proposed, it is said that there is no real competition because, in fact, there is not actually anything to contend about. All points of view can claim equal authenticity, since none is constrained by an independently accessible external reality.

Community of Christ does not accept that “all points of view” can claim equal authority. We believe God’s Continuing Revelation through Jesus Christ, the Living Word, as confirmed by the Holy Spirit, is foundational and ultimately decisive. At any given time the church presents its best understanding of divine revelation through statements of faith and Basic Beliefs, even as we endeavor to increase our understanding of such beliefs and how to apply them through the Holy Spirit’s guidance.

The church recently developed official statements that describe its foundational beliefs and affirmations. These statements are presented in Sharing in Community of Christ: Exploring Identity, Mission, Message, and Beliefs, 3rd Ed. (www.CofChrist.org/discernment/weshare/weshare.pdf ). This collection of declarations about church identity, mission,Enduring Principles, sacraments, scripture, and Basic Beliefs was produced by leaders representing the worldwide church. It serves as a primary reference document for this paper along with other official statements.

Individuals may explore and decide their degree of alignment with the official beliefs and statements of the church without putting their membership in question. However, when addressing important theological and ethical questions the church’s public theology contained in its authorized documents has priority over personal theologies. Also, priesthood members are expected to uphold the church’s official beliefs when engaged in public ministry.

Spiritual Practice
Study Sharing in Community of Christ: Exploring Identity, Mission, Message, and Beliefs, 3rd Ed., particularly the Basic Beliefs and Enduring Principles.

Breath Prayer: In breath prayer we breathe God’s Spirit in and out with a prayer phrase. Use a breath prayer to create a receptive space for God through attentive breathing and the anchoring phrase: Spirit of truth (as you inhale); guide me into all truth (as you exhale).

Questions for Prayerful Reflection

  • What does individualism do to a disciple’s sense of accountability?
  • How does an “anything goes” theology damage the body of Christ?
  • How does our Enduring Principle of Continuing Revelation counter the idea that all points of view hold equal authority?
  • What are the implications of individuals placing their personal theologies above the church’s official beliefs when engaged in public ministry?




No Turning Back

11 07 2012

BY DAN GREGORY,
West Des Moines, Iowa, USA

Dan Gregory

There’s a campfire song I’ve sung for years and yet just now am starting to comprehend. It’s a simple tune, accompanied by nice, flowing words. But the profound message is penetrating when I stop to reflect on what it means for my life. Is this something I simply sing, or is it a prayer of affirmation and commitment?

I have decided to follow Jesus…no turning back, no turning back. Though none go with me, still I will follow…no turning back, no turning back.—”I Have Decided to Follow Jesus”

The gravity of this song has been weighing on me the last few years as I have sought to understand what it means to follow Jesus, no matter where he calls me. When I decided to follow Jesus, what did it entail? Was it a timid, “Sure, but only when it’s convenient,” or “I’ll follow, Jesus, but don’t expect me to change anything major”?

Was it a covenant to follow privately, “but don’t even think about asking me to take a stand on controversial or unpopular issues”? What if I come to a breaking point, a line in the sand over which I can’t step?

By choosing baptism and the path of the disciple, I also chose to go on this grand adventure with God. I don’t know where it might take me, but I’m assured the One who walks beside me is faithful. It is a journey that is changing my life, forcing me to examine things from a new perspective.

When I contemplate war, poverty, immigration, food choices, sexual (and sexuality) issues, resource consumption, and whether or not I choose to engage the lonely man sitting next to me on the train, I hear the words of this song resonating deep within.

I turn to God’s poetry in scripture and God’s prose in lived experience and find a new way to be human, one that by its very nature does not allow me to stay where I have been.

I have decided to follow Jesus—no turning back.

Is our faith like a piece of clothing we can change and take off casually, or is it an embodiment of Christ’s love in the world, something that enters so deeply into our being that we cannot detach ourselves from it? To say “I have decided to follow Jesus” is indeed a dangerous prayer. It will take me places I never dreamed of venturing. But I have. And I will.





Signal Communities…Pursue Peace

9 07 2012

by BARBARA CARTER, Council of Twelve Apostles

Peace is a common word. We see it on bumper stickers, billboards, graffiti-tagged walls, and murals. We wear it on clothing, fly it on flags, and print it on posters. We have some symbols for peace. The Community of Christ seal is also a common symbol for peace within our faith movement. These visual images need no explanation about their meaning…or do they?

Though peace is an everyday word, its meanings and concepts vary depending on the user’s intent and context. Peace is absence of conflict or war. Peace is a state of balance of power. Peace is harmony. Peace is tranquility. Peace is calm. Peace is completeness and wholeness.

Each of these portrayals of peace is accurate, but each can and often does exist in absence of the others. To engage in the Pursuit of Peace, we must open ourselves in exploration to understand the context of where we find our personal and collective peace.

While serving the church in California, I was invited to a meeting for Northern California religious leaders. The interfaith event was the first of its kind in many years. The goal was to share understandings as a way to build relationships. I was excited to attend and represent Community of Christ.

During a morning session we gathered at round tables. At my table were five other ministers, representing various faith communities. Every 15 minutes we received a question to consider and then answer in a way that represented our faith community. We were not supposed to question, discuss, or debate anyone’s answers, but simply accept what was said and move to the next response.

Our table was enjoying hearing one another’s faith perspectives. There did not seem to be major variances, only subtle differences in the focus of our responses. Finally, a question was asked to which my answer was: “In my faith, we believe we are accountable to and responsible for one another.” There was silence. Then the minister sitting next to me said, “What you just said means I am accountable to and responsible for the person standing down on the corner of Haight and Ashbury, carrying a picket sign for something I abhor.”

I replied, yes, that was exactly what I had just said. He pushed his chair back from the table and exclaimed rather loudly that I had just separated myself from him and everyone else at the table. No one else said anything, and I had a debate going on in my mind…do I explain what I mean? Do I talk about our connection to one another, or do

I follow the rules and let my comment stand without defense?

I opted to remain silent. The man shrugged and the rest of my participation was dismissed. I stayed at the table for the rest of the exercise, even though it was clear that my voice no longer was heard. Although I felt isolated, I stayed for the rest of the event and heard some wonderful testimonies of faith in the community.

On my way home, an irritation began to grow inside me: How dare he be so dismissive of my beliefs? Does he really disagree with the statement, and if so, why? Doesn’t he feel connected to everyone? Doesn’t he recognize the place of community as part of our discipleship?

After lamenting with God for a long while my mind began to shift, and I started to think about the minister as a person. Realization began to sink in that maybe he lived and worked in a world where the societal and cultural structures might not allow him to believe my statement. Perhaps he felt that if he agreed with my statement it might challenge the culture of the faith community he cared about. Perhaps it was much easier to be dismissive of someone whose idea seemed to challenge his ideas than to explore an idea or concept that could change his world.

I understand that. It is hard to set aside who and what we are and how we live in an effort to bring peace to each person.

In President Stephen M. Veazey’s April 10, 2011, address to the church he gave us insight concerning our responsibility to pursue peace:

“To bring good news to the poor” and “recovery of sight to the blind” also means caring and healing ministry for the hurt, grief-stricken, and brokenhearted. Isaiah 61 includes the phrase, “to bind up the brokenhearted.”

This means compassionate ministry with people who are physically, spiritually, or emotionally hurting, which at one time or another is all of us. It means pastoral care as extending Christ’s love to everybody: church members, friends, and neighbors. And, according to the gospel definition, “neighbor” is anyone in need, including those who society or religion have taught us to overlook, fear, or avoid.

“To release the captives…, let the oppressed go free,” and “proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” is clearly about ministries of justice and peacemaking. The phrase “the year of the Lord’s favor” is particularly informative. It refers to specified times in the Hebrew calendar when steps were taken to restore balance and harmony to community relationships. The goal was to remedy social and economic injustices to better reflect the will of God. Jesus was saying that time is now and always!

In other words it is not enough just to care for people in their suffering. The mission includes ministries that release people from unfair or crushing conditions that cause suffering. Jesus’ mission is about restoring people to wholeness in healthy community.

So, we must address the root causes of poverty, hunger, discrimination, and conflict. These conditions keep large numbers of people from realizing their potential while others flourish.

This aspect of Jesus’ mission is about promoting the peaceable reign of God on Earth as it is in heaven. It is about the cause of Zion—the gospel expressed in real Christ-like communities of inclusion, generosity, equality, and peacefulness.

In keeping with my belief that we are accountable to and responsible for all others, I was required to be accountable to and responsible for the minister at my table who disagreed with me. As much as I wanted to dismiss him, I could not. Instead, I remember him as a person I am connected to even though our opinions do not align. I also remember him as a reminder to courageously challenge ideas I feel are contrary to my best understanding of God’s purposes on Earth.

As congregations striving to become signal communities, it is important to consider what we are signaling. What do we reflect into the world? How do we begin to live in such a way that we radiate a new way of being with each other and in our communities? How can this make a difference in people’s lives? The teaching found in Romans 12:12–14 (NRSV) guides us.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

Within our congregations we don’t all think alike, and we sometimes have disagreements and conflicts. This is normal, but it should not define who we are. We are called to be disciples of the living Christ. This is not a journey we take alone; we journey in community. We need to establish ways of being together even in times of disagreement.

Paul’s message to the Romans in chapter 12 guides us to bless people, to have compassion, and feel with one another by being aware of each person’s pain and joy. We are not to exclude ourselves from others, not be know-it-alls, and finally, we are to be in peace.

This is grounded in the understanding that we are connected to one another. Too often we separate from others because of differing beliefs. We cannot yield to acts that dismiss others while claiming to pursue the peace that Christ intends.

Partnering with others in the pursuit of peace is an act of signal community. Many individuals and groups strive to bring wholeness and justice to our communities and our world. It is imperative that we create pathways of peace and invite others to join us, just as we join the efforts of others.