Why I’m Home in Community of Christ

29 09 2012

BY KEITH McMILLAN, president of seventy

I

Keith McMillan finds joy and love in the intergenerational makeup of congregations.

grew up in a small congregation in San Antonio, Texas, where my dad was pastor for many years. Immediately following him, my mom became pastor of the Dellcrest Congregation and “did it right!” (her words).

I am the youngest of six kids. We all pitched in to mow the extensive church yard, do upkeep and gardening, and install and update the large outdoor sign. We attended every service, youth group, potluck, and activity.

We all rode together in our family station wagon (I was always stuck in the back) and laughed and talked to and from these events.

I remember as a young boy going to the homes of “mentors” from this congregation between the morning Sunday service and the evening one, where they would hand me back to my parents (sometimes with a sigh of relief).

Sometimes I would go on rounds with Dr. Melanyzer from our congregation to visit his sick and dying patients. I learned so much about compassion and sympathy during these years. Other times I would visit the office shop of an electrician (Dick Duke) from my branch. It had the most amazing train set and fun gadgets he had invented. I learned the value of creativity and hard work in seeing a vision of what something could become and then making it in his workshop.

There is something wonderfully inspiring in talking about how to design—and then create—a monkey on a unicycle that rolls to the door on a wire above one’s head to greet customers with a smile.

The balancing act between congregational love and family love was always easy for me. Regularly I would eat with an elderly couple (the Halls). They taught me the love and value of a fellowship of believers with a common goal of sharing Jesus Christ and this fellowship with others.

Many, many times we would invite guests back to our home for Sunday pot roast to continue fellowship begun at church that day. I learned the value of “putting your feet under the table” with others and just sharing lives.

The congregational events and my family were intertwined in a wonderful fellowship that continues today with those of the older generation who are still alive.

We shared birthdays, weddings, and family events with other families of the congregation, and they shared the exciting events of their lives.

We lived in community. We were a community of Christ. I am Community of Christ, and I find that vibrant community wherever I go.





Attuning to the Master’s Pitch

27 09 2012

BY LAURIE GORDON, Livermore, California, USA

Keith McMillan finds joy and love in the intergenerational makeup of congregations.

I once asked a friend, a gifted musician, what he listened for when he tuned his guitar. I’d watched him perform this critical task several times, but I couldn’t for the life of me hear the nuances that turn a hollow, out-of-tune, wood box with strings into a finely tuned instrument capable of rich, glorious harmonies.

He plucked a string and asked me to listen closely—not to the surface of the sound, but for the waveform hidden within as the sound vibrates. Indeed, there was an ebb and flow inside the note, a subtle oscillation with height, depth, and length peculiar to that tone!

Then, still sounding the master pitch, he plucked the neighboring string. Listening all the while, he tightened or loosened guitar pegs until the waveforms produced by the two resonating strings aligned.

Attunement has become my master metaphor for prayer: Prayer is both a listening for the hidden resonance of holy mystery quietly sounding beneath the world’s chaos, and a tuning of one’s heart and soul to mirror the waveform of Spirit’s song.

Watch for “tuning” practices that come naturally to you. Tuning our lives to the holy can take many forms and be experienced in all arenas of life. What makes it prayer is attention and intention!

Body can pray with movement—yoga mindfully practiced, for instance, or a quiet walk in the woods. Healing can be sought by imaging wholeness or through the intentional practice of right relationship. Nature is constantly alive with divine mystery. Caring for someone who suffers can be an act of prayer.

And, yes, our minds can frame deeply felt longings with words, and words allow prayer to be shared in community.
For me, prayer begins and ends in deep stillness, “tuning in” to the hidden pulse of Spirit and allowing God to work God’s work beyond my conscious control.

Attunement prepares the instrument of my life for right action in the world. My hope is that, properly aligned, my life will sound a harmony played to God’s melody line.





Story of the Sacred Pole

24 09 2012

BY DEB CROWLEY,
Eaton Rapids, Michigan, USA

An Australian legend tells of the Archilpa tribe, whose life focused on a sacred pole. The pole was fashioned from the trunk of a gum tree by a divine being, Numbakulla. After creating the pole, Numbakulla anointed it with blood, climbed it, and disappeared into the sky.

As recounted by Mircea Eliade in The Sacred and the Profane, this pole became the physical connection between the tribe and its divine source. Daily life centered on the pole. It gave direction in tribal members’ wanderings and protected them.

But at some point the pole was shattered. Chaos ensued. People lost contact with their ancestral spirit and the meaning of life. They wandered aimlessly until they lay down and waited for death.

It is human nature to seek physical symbols that connect us with the Divine. For Moses, it was a mountain. For others, it was a rock, a temple, a piece of land. Perhaps today it is “my” campground or church building that becomes sacred because it is where we encounter God.

It is also possible for traditions to become sacred poles. Perhaps it is the Communion prayers, the form of worship, who inhabits the pulpit, or Community of Christ scriptures that become sacred to us.

Yet, when a sacred pole breaks or changes, it can throw us off-center! Hurt, anger, fear, frustration, finger pointing, and discouragement are just a few results that bubble up.

Change causes us to reflect deeply and question, “what made the object or tradition sacred in the first place?” Perhaps an honest question is, “How does the loss of ‘x’ change the relationship or connectedness with God to me and to the world?” Will this loss cause me to lie down and wait for “death?” Will it destroy my spirit, my faith, my hope, and trust in God? Will the world end with God’s Spirit no longer dwelling in it?

As the Israelites discovered when their temples were destroyed, God did not leave. God was available everywhere. God remained in everything—and still does! With broken economics, hurricanes, tsunamis, tornadoes, earthquakes, and more wreaking havoc, it would be easy to be like the Archilpa tribe and just give up. When threatened by loss, the tendency is to cling even tighter to sacred poles, as if they contain answers.

But, God does not desert us when poles are broken. Sacred poles are not God! Those things we identify as sacred—a physical space or tradition—are valuable in helping us experience the Divine. But they are not to be worshiped. God alone is worthy of our adoration, praise, and trust.

Rather than retreat, we are called to reach further into the world so all may experience God’s love, compassion, and life!
As Community of Christ, we are challenged to take a deep look at our lives as individuals and as congregations. Are we clinging to sacred poles? Jesus shattered many sacred poles during his ministry. He died so we could put sacred poles in perspective as tools. He rose to show us God is with us always, with or without props.

Are we willing to release sacred poles that restrict the vision of what matters most? Let Christ’s mission become our mission.





Pursuing Peace?

21 09 2012

Bombs, Missiles, and Drones! Oh My!

BY BOB WATKINS, Lakeland Florida, USA

(Reprinted excerpt from the Florida USA Mission Center)

This reference to the Wizard of Oz makes Dorothy’s calamitous “Lions, tigers, and bears! Oh my!” seem downright tame.

As we Pursue Peace on Earth, it is hard to envision peace while we are bombarded with threats of nuclear holocaust from Iran and North Korea.

Uprisings in the Middle East continue, resulting in deaths of countless young adults raging against harsh governments. Even in our own country, we have seen people “occupying” public places in protest. We seem to be a world at war.

However, an event in 2011 may provide a glimmer of hope. On October 25, the last B53 bomb was dismantled at the Pantex nuclear weapon plant in Texas. Built in 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis, whose threat is well-known to Floridians, this bomb was heralded for its accuracy. Weighing 10,000 pounds and at the size of a mini-van, it was 600 times more powerful than the bomb that devastated Hiroshima, Japan. It carried the capability of leveling everything within 18 miles of the landing site.

Even as we are assured that this is a first step in reducing instruments of war, we hear that engineers in Los Alamos, New Mexico, are working on weapons to provide a paralyzing force field.

How can we, with our incredible God-given gifts of intelligence and ingenuity, create such monstrous instruments? What do these terrifying tools say about our faith? What does this tell us about our humanity and our commitment to a nonviolent Jesus?

I have the greatest admiration and respect for our military. My father and father-in-law both served our country in World War II. We need a strong, well-trained, and well-equipped military. We are certainly more secure with it at its posts.

Yet, perhaps one day the world will see that weapons of mass destruction do not provide real security. In fact, they inspire others (like Iran) to build similar weapons to ensure an uneasy balance of power.

Doctrine and Covenants 164:9c calls us to

sacramental living that respects and reveals God’s presence and reconciling activity in creation. It requires whole-life stewardship dedicated to expanding the church’s restoring ministries, especially those devoted to asserting the worth of persons, protecting the sacredness of creation, and relieving physical and spiritual suffering.

Perhaps one day our world will realize that real security begins when we align ourselves with the Prince of Peace, end wars, eliminate extreme poverty, and promote democracy through nonviolent means.

True security arrives when we share our wealth with those less fortunate so no babies starve, no families live on the streets, and all people feel a sense of worth.

The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. —Isaiah 11:6 NRSV

May we, as a faith community, step confidently into a future as children of the Living Christ.





Develop Disciples to Serve

19 09 2012

President and Prophet Stephen M. Veazey recently discussed Luke 4:18–19 and the five Mission Initiatives with Apostle Linda Booth. The Herald will run excerpts from their conversation in a six-part series. To see videos of their interview, visit http://www.CofChrist.org/mission/Veazey-Booth-interview.asp.

 

Linda: Our fourth Mission Initiative is Develop Disciples to Serve. This Mission Initiative, as you’ve articulated to the church, equips disciples—and that’s disciples of all ages—to live out Christ’s mission. What is the role of congregations, mission centers, and the World Church in developing those disciples?

Steve: I would hope that all aspects of church presence in the world…are focused on developing disciples, as you said of all ages, to serve. When we say serve, we’ve already defined the fields of service, if you will: Invite People to Christ; Abolish Poverty, End Suffering; and Pursue Peace on Earth.

So we are motivating, we’re educating, we’re spiritually forming. We’re giving people experience in all of those Mission Initiatives so they can grow in their own involvement from the earliest age to the most experienced senior members of the church.

We want to equip current disciples and expand the number of equipped disciples engaged in the mission of Jesus Christ. After all, if there aren’t disciples willing to be the eyes, ears, hands, and feet of Jesus Christ, then no tangible mission is being done.

Linda: Sometimes, when I travel in congregations, I hear them lament that they don’t have any young adults or few young adults. Sometimes they don’t understand how to empower those young adults, not only in the service in the congregation, but in sending them into the community. Could you share some insights to help congregations in developing young adults to serve?

Steve: Well, first the good news is there are a lot of young adults who were shaped in their faith in Community of Christ. Some are involved in congregational life; some are not. Almost all are motivated around the notion of doing mission and not just talking about it.

So if a congregation wants to attract young adults, it will get involved in mission. It will create opportunities for disciples of all ages to engage in mission. It will invite young adults to be involved in ministries that make a difference in the lives of people.

Those young adults will respond when they see we are serious and we’re going to be consistent in pursuing the mission. They also perceive they have a lot to offer the church. I think they’re right. They are educated, equipped, and know how to use all the technology to communicate.

But they feel—now this is a generalization, so I want to be careful—some feel they have offered themselves in service and ministry and have not been given that opportunity. They were perceived to be too young or not experienced enough. Or there was a fear they might change some things. After running against that wall multiple times, they’ve gone other places to give expression to their motivation for ministry and mission.

So the best thing a congregation can do is invite them into ministry and mission-leadership roles and then provide support, provide mentoring. Young adults are very open to mentors who really care for them and are willing to walk with them in ministry and mission. So giving them the opportunity, being serious about mission, and providing mentoring will all produce more response from young adults.

Linda: Good. So we’re Developing Disciples to Serve. Could you describe what a disciple’s behavior, attitudes, and immersion in the service of Jesus Christ would look like, and what the result would be?

Steve: Discipleship would be a joy in their life. It wouldn’t be a burden. It wouldn’t be a job. It wouldn’t be something to show up for every now and then. They would be so immersed in discipleship their whole life would become whole in Christ.

They would be involved in ministries aligned with their gifts. So whatever their passion is, whatever their gift is, they would find a way to express that in ministry. That brings a great deal of joy and meaning.

I think they would be generous, and what we do with money is one of the best indicators of what is really important in our lives. So I think they would support the Mission Initiatives locally and globally through their generosity. And they would experience that as something deeply spiritual, not just putting money in an offering envelope, or not just carefully calculating what to send through online giving.

It would be a whole-life response. The promise of the scriptures would be true. You’ll have the joy, the hope, and the peace of Jesus Christ in your life and relationships.

Linda: Yes, absolutely. So you’ve touched on the generosity, in sharing the invitation, the sacraments, and obviously the sharing of our financial means. If someone gave to this Mission Initiative, how would that expand the way we develop disciples?

Steve: Well, a number of possibilities could be funded. An example that has already occurred through generosity is the Disciple Formation Guide on the church’s website (www.CofChrist.org/dfg/). It provides resources, lesson plans, activity ideas, and links for all age groups. That Disciple Formation Guide was developed out of the generosity of people who wanted to see more excellent Christian education or disciple formation in the church, especially congregational life.

So we would be able to expand those kinds of offerings, resources to help with spiritual formation, resources to help with priesthood training and faithfulness. All of those possibilities could be fulfilled and increased through generous giving to this Mission Initiative.

Training for pastors—a very critical need not just for pastors but for congregational leadership teams—we could do a lot more. We could provide much more support for pastors, priesthood, and members of all ages.





Learning from the Good Samaritan

17 09 2012

BY DONA KAE EMERSON, Addison, Maine, USA

A gardening program helps sustain the Spanish-speaking community in Main.e

In some ways my Tangible Love journey began with the story of the Good Samaritan. I was raised by good converts to the church, so I grew up with a firm foundation in the Restoration.

But real acts of tangible love, (and by this I mean in the pay-it-forward category) were not something I joined except for occasional offerings to worthy causes and the international church.

Some years ago a good friend invited my husband, Art, and me to an outreach program that helped distribute bags of toiletries and blankets to migrants arriving in Maine for the August blueberry harvest.

Art went a few times, but it was too far out of my comfort zone. Later, this same friend invited us to join her on a United Methodist mission trip to Nicaragua.

We went and were stunned. Not by the abject poverty, but by the joyous welcome we received! Excitement buzzed about the message God had for them, brought by these welcome strangers.

These events, along with a pressing desire, compelled Art and me along a path previously unknown to us. We immersed ourselves in the Latino community in our area and opened the doors of the Comunidad de Cristo Congregation in Harrington, Maine.

A Tangible Love grant, funded through the Mission Initiative of Abolish Poverty, End Suffering, helped us. We engaged the local Spanish-speaking community with classes and activities in our Family Center.

In the last year or so, we have begun a “grow your own vegetables” program and a revolving loan program. Art, I, and now our congregation, continue to partner with our first outreach program, Down East Maine Missions, to provide a used-clothing store, toiletry bags, and blankets for migrants and immigrants.

Our congregation stepped completely out of its norm and provided more than 100 emergency bed nights to workers who arrived early and had no money for food or lodging until work began.

Art and I have taken the message of Tangible Love to heart. We have provided a home for visiting ministers from El Salvador for up to eight months. And last year we sheltered a Latino man who we helped to receive major heart surgery. He had no money or place to go, so he lived in our home four months until he was healed and through cardiac rehab.

We never know what the day will bring. Members of our congregation often come to our home unannounced. They bring a wide variety of problems and people who need help.

Sometimes it’s as simple as documents that need translation for kids at school, or a medical bill. Other times it has been a worker’s compensation claim (the man was terrified he no longer would be allowed to work), or issues with papers to gain employment.

Each new day brings new challenges and ministry opportunities.

I finally understand the story of the Good Samaritan. Jesus said, “Go and do likewise.”





Invitation on Wheels

15 09 2012

BY SCOTT BLAIR, Independence, Missouri, USA

A few years ago, I was working in a congregation as a youth minister. I encouraged the youth to be invitational, and they were good at bringing friends. But one young man had no clue how his invitation would grow.

Naithan, who had a difficult life, lived about three miles from church. He had made contact with our congregation through his aunt. He hadn’t attended long when he asked if he could invite some friends. I told him absolutely and added that—with parents’ permission—we would pick them up.

I was driving a five-seater, so I had some room. Naithan started by inviting his brother and sister. They soon invited others.

Because of the many youth starting to come, my wife and I decided to get a minivan. It added another row of seating. That was important because those friends started inviting more friends. Soon, there wasn’t enough space. I had to start asking other drivers to help.

Some days, up to 17 youth came from the neighborhood! Over the next couple of years, we invited them to follow Christ.
Several took the path of the disciple and claimed membership in Community of Christ. They all had stories of why they decided to follow Christ, but each had the same origin.

Through Naithan’s passion to invite others, our youth group and congregation experienced God’s movement in new ways.