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!


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.