Why I Feel at Home in Community of Christ

30 10 2012

BY JOHN S. WIGHT, senior president of seventy

One reason John Wight feels at home in Community of Christ is the invitation to others to experience the joy, hope, love, and peace of Jesus Christ through the sacrament of baptism.

In response to the question of why I feel at home in Community of Christ, it would be easy simply to say it is because of my family heritage in the church. Or I could answer that it is because I am the son of an appointee minister and never have known anything else. Or I could mention all the people in various parts of the world who have embraced me, literally and figuratively, and made me feel “at home.” Those statements would be true to a point, but my reasons go much deeper.

From an early age, I have felt deeply connected to Jesus Christ. Various experiences have convinced me of his divinity. His life and teachings give life meaning and purpose. I am extremely grateful for the ways the Holy Spirit has touched me through the years to let me know a creating and living God loves me.

But I have encountered many Christians from numerous denominations who could say those same things. So, why DO I feel at home specifically in Community of Christ?

First, I feel called to be a part of this movement. I have been blessed to be exposed to various world religions and other Christian denominations. However, my testimony is that God has called me to be a part of this body of disciples. This sense of call causes me to feel “at home” here.

Second, I find that what Community of Christ stands for makes exciting sense to me. The message of God’s kingdom on Earth, the peaceable kingdom we call Zion, captured me in my childhood. To this day I react at a deep emotional level when I think of Jesus’ message of peace for people individually and at an all-inclusive, corporate level; that it is possible on Earth right now, not just in some realm after death. The fact that the pursuit of peace is at the heart of who we are allows me to feel very much “at home” within this body.

Third, the combination of our Enduring Principles and Mission Initiatives offers me a framework within which I feel completely “at home.” These concepts are something of a recipe in my thinking, mixing together all the best parts of Jesus’ message and mission.

I am especially “at home” with the Enduring Principles of Worth of All Persons and All Are Called. It is easy to feel “at home” in a movement that recognizes these principles and strives to live them out. I also am “at home” with the belief in Continuing Revelation—the recognition that God continues to reveal God’s self as we journey together.

Finally, striving to live out these principles especially causes me to feel “at home.” When I see the many ways my sisters and brothers in Christ have reached out “to the bruised and brokenhearted as well as those enmeshed in sin” and lovingly accepted them into fellowship, my heart leaps for joy, and I feel “at home.”

When I see what those transformed lives have brought into the fellowship, I feel “at home.” I am so very grateful to feel accepted, to feel at home, as part of a team of loving followers of Jesus Christ that strives every day to be the kingdom of God on Earth.





Allergy-free Friendly Communion

29 10 2012

BY MICHELLE McAULEY BOOTH, Grain Valley, Missouri, USA

In recent years we’ve been hearing more and more about celiac disease and gluten intolerance. They come up in our news programs, health journals, websites, and other media formats.

Sufferers can have a minor, moderate, or severe reaction to gluten. A tiny crumb can cause a severe reaction. I suffer from gluten intolerance and have friends with this condition or even worse, celiac disease. Living gluten free is a new world to someone like me, who suffered the onset as an adult. I’m reminded of it every time I cook.

I’m also reminded each month, coming to the Communion table to remember what Christ did for us and to recommit our lives to him. My home congregation, Colonial Hills in Blue Springs, Missouri, started offering gluten- and allergy-free bread several months ago. Members saw the need and made this commitment. This bread is free of gluten, eggs, dairy, and nut products.

The presider tells the congregation that gluten- and allergy-free bread is available in a cup on every tray, keeping it separate from the other bread.

From time to time my family attends other congregations, sometimes on a Communion Sunday. Some congregations aren’t aware of this need. In those times I hold a piece of bread in my hand while I reflect and recommit my life to Christ. Then I carefully hand it to my husband, who eats it for me.

One time we joined my father- and mother-in-law in their congregation on Communion Sunday. I did my usual practice and slipped my bread into my husband’s hand. After the service, the priest who served us came to me in tears. She said she was sorry they hadn’t had gluten-free bread, and she felt responsible.

I assured her it was fine. Because she had no idea I was coming, I didn’t feel she was responsible. She replied, “But we are responsible. We need to have Communion available for everyone.”

I’ve reflected on that many times. She had a sweet heart and wanted to serve Christ. I’m sorry she felt badly, and I appreciated her concern and apology. I learned the deep compassion of one of Christ’s servants that day.

We’re all called to serve, and we’re called to serve all. Communion is an important sacrament. I encourage congregations not offering gluten- and allergy-free bread to begin making it available.

We never know who could walk through our church doors on any Communion Sunday.





The Song of God

26 10 2012

BY BARBARA HOWARD, Independence, Missouri, USA

Years ago, my friend, Winifred, declared, “Everything in the universe is sound. It’s like each of us is a song, God’s song.” With her magnificent soprano, I could believe Winifred was a song. I, on the other hand, struggled to carry a croaky tune. With my few musical skills it took years and learning more about spiritual practices before I believed I could be God’s song. Now I bear witness that our lives are God’s music for our world.

Since learning about spiritual practices I see the wasted opportunity of failing to take advantage of a special time with God. Boredom is no longer in my vocabulary. Routine tasks are now an incredible opportunity for prayer. Mundane jobs such as folding clothes or cleaning a bathroom are great times to hold people I love to God’s healing light. Doing chores that require little thought offers an opportunity for precious time with God. It also is a chance to express gratitude for the strength to do these daily tasks and for the blessings of my life.

I have a friend who shares this view. She says she sings in harmony with her lawnmower. “You mean you sing with the noise of the mower?” I asked. Smiling, she replied, “No, I pray. Mowing is a great time to pray. There’s so much noise outside of me. Prayer becomes a way for me to find a quiet place in myself.”

She’s being God’s song.

It’s exciting to share the energy of prayer with others. We can build a symphony by finding creative ways to sense our blessings and commune with God. There are many ways to find “quiet places,” such as sitting in traffic, waiting for an appointment, walking, or working out. Brother Lawrence, Carmelite monk and mystic of the 17th century, called this “practicing the presence of God.” Activities that require our bodies but use little of our minds are wonderful opportunities to pray.

Some essentials in music are rhythm and melody. Practicing God’s presence gives a joy-filled rhythm. We become a melody.

Besides praying as we move and work, we need silence and meditation, when our bodies are as still as our minds. Stillness and meditation provide a unique time for discernment. Intentionally creating time for silent, prayerful listening increases our desire to pray throughout the day. Because we spend much of our time in simple tasks, practicing God’s presence enriches and deepens our spiritual life.

Sometimes, disagreements can create distance from others. Then our song lacks harmony. Hearing each other, responding without anger, is a learned practice. Once, Sir Thomas Beecham, great philharmonic founder and conductor, was frustrated with a poorly trained orchestra. He stopped the musicians after several struggles. One person asked, “What do you want us to play?” Beecham, sighed and said, “Together.”

To be God’s song, there must be harmony. God’s songs surround us. All of creation is alive and singing. Imagine the harmony of love in a community of people who consciously sing God’s song together. Though we think differently, act differently, even speak different languages, we realize the differences are just notes. And we work to get on key. Then the Spirit takes the songs and creates a symphony.

Let’s be God’s song—together.





“I Need You to Survive”

24 10 2012

BY RICHARD HAWKS, Okemos, Michigan, USA

Participants celebrated the African American Ministries retreat outside the Kirtland Temple.

 

“I need you, you need me.
We’re all a part of God’s body.
Stand with me, agree with me.
We’re all a part of God’s body.
It is His will that every need
be supplied.
You are important to me,
I need you to survive.”
—Lyrics to “I Need You to Survive”

This song is a call to discipleship and a community of support. It began and concluded the most recent African American Ministries retreat, held March 23–25 at Kirtland Temple in Ohio.

Since 1981 Community of Christ has sponsored African American retreats in various locations, including Chicago, Illinois; St. Louis, Missouri; Detroit, Michigan; Kalamazoo, Michigan; and Independence, Missouri. These retreats seek to promote outreach ministries, fellowship, education, support, and dialogue among blacks and those who support these ministries.

At Kirtland, more than 50 people gathered from Michigan, Pennsylvania, Missouri, and Illinois to feed mind, body, spirit, and relationships. It was the first gathering for several. Bruce Crockett, spiritual-formation director at Kirtland, facilitated sessions on discerning God’s presence in our lives and relationships.

Other guests included Apostle Stassi Cramm, Field Assistant Steve Hatch, and President of Seventy John Wight.

A detailed tour of the Kirtland Temple included the story of Black Pete, the first African American baptized into the church in the early 1830s. Black Pete, a freed slave, came with a white family to Kirtland in the 1820s. He lived in Newel K. Whitney’s store and became a follower of Sidney Rigdon in one of several religious communities. This led to joining the Restoration movement. Black Pete was ordained into the priesthood and greatly influenced the worship style and expression of spiritual gifts informed by his African and slave roots.

Elijah Abel, another African American later baptized in Kirtland, also was a former slave. He became the first black seventy in the church. He also was a carpenter. He worked on the Kirtland and Nauvoo temples and was a friend of church founder Joseph Smith Jr.

The retreat held its closing Communion worship in the Temple. It included praise dance, gospel rap, testimonies, and a message by Wight. The retreat blessed all, from youngest to oldest. Another retreat will be planned for early 2014.





Peaceful Bonds

22 10 2012

BY JIM POIRIER, Presiding Bishopric

Sikhs in India have provided striking architecture, such as this temple in Amritsar.

We strolled through the large furniture warehouse. We began to focus on one particular piece. As we looked around for a salesperson, my eyes caught the attention of a timid gentleman wearing a turban coming toward us.

I knew this man had committed his life to God through the Sikh faith. Wearing a turban is one outward symbol of the Sikh and signifies the highest level of faithful participation in his faith. His name tag said “Bobby,” but this was likely a nickname to help customers remember his name over his real name. Bobby knew he looked differently than I, and he expected I would be like other customers and turn away when noticing the “difference.”

I did not and waited for him to come closer. We exchanged pleasantries, and then he nervously explained the features of the sectional that we finally agreed to buy. We agreed to a price, and he went to complete the paperwork.

As we signed the documents, I asked him, “Which gurdwara do you worship in?” He looked surprised. He told me it was the same “temple” where I worshiped with the “Encounter World Religions Centre,” a program offered through the Canada East Mission Centre (www.worldreligions.ca).

I told him I knew a leader of the congregation—again to his surprise—and that I had shared in the prasad (grace) and langar (common meal). As we talked we discovered how similar we were. In the end we bowed to each other, a sign of brotherhood and reverence. I can only imagine the stories he shared with his family about our experience.

He closed the transaction with the words, “The next time you are at the gurdwara, we will share langar.” A bond of peace was formed.

Pursuing peace asks for our willingness to understand and encounter someone who looks different but shares a similar faith journey. St. Augustine wrote, “Audi partem alteram,”or “Hear the other side.”

As we look at others from the perspective of companions on the journey, bonds are created. Listening to their story and sharing ours is the basis for peaceful encounters. Bonds of peace and friendship are forged. As you Pursue Peace on Earth, take time to learn about others who share a common faith journey and seek peaceful understanding.

From our Enduring Principles, “We celebrate God’s peace wherever it appears or is being pursued by people of good will.”

After this article was written, the people in a gurdwara in Wisconsin suffered through a shooting. Community of Christ joins with the National Council of Churches in reaching out to the Sikh community and to the families of those lost in this tragedy.





The Gift of Nature

20 10 2012

BY MIKE BARNETT, Tavares, Florida, USA

The Tavares Nature Club is learning a lot about the Sacredness of Creation.

Oh, look what I found!” exclaimed Niko as he bent closer to the American sycamore tree trunk. “It’s a weird-looking bug.”
As I put on my reading glasses to see it better I was pleasantly surprised. It was, indeed, a weird-looking bug. “Wow,” I said. “You found a wheel bug, Niko. I’ve only seen one of these before and never around here! This is one of the assassin bugs. It eats other insects that eat our garden plants. See the bump on its back with the teeth sticking out that resembles a cog wheel?

That’s where its name comes from.”

Niko and others in our church Nature Club were fascinated. He was proud as I complimented him on his keen eyesight. We all were inspired to see what other creatures and plants we could discover at the church grounds that Sunday morning.

In Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv warns of a trend of the last 30 years that separates children from the outdoors with technological advances. He links the absence of nature in their lives with disturbing trends, such as the rise in obesity, attention disorders, and depression.

He coined the term “nature-deficit disorder” to describe this affliction. He shows that accumulating research demonstrates direct exposure to nature is essential for healthy childhood development, physically and emotionally.

Our church has always been active in the outdoors through summer youth camps. Yet, as Louv points out, even modern camp activities often are geared more to sports, music, art, computers, or other indoor activities. Increasingly rare are classes where kids learn to build campfires, hike in the woods, sleep in tents, or discover and learn about animals and plants.

The good news, as Louv points out, is that we as a church can help reverse this trend. Some congregations already have begun.

Beginning an outreach ministry in 1998, the Pittsburgh South Hills Congregation in Pennsylvania has served many children, becoming known locally as the nature church. Its successful efforts (including baptisms) caught my attention, so I contacted project director Vicki Ross. I then brought the concept to the Tavares Congregation in Florida.

We now have had a successful Nature Club of our own for several years. This allows us to introduce our church to the community in a special way. It fits well with our emphasis to Pursue Peace on Earth and uphold Sacredness of Creation. It’s also a way to Invite People to Christ. One of our newly baptized members has been introducing friends to our church by inviting them to attend the Nature Club.

Building on the success of this Nature Club idea, we and others launched a nature-focused class for our senior high camp in June 2010. We called it the “Deerhaven Nature Challenge.”

Our mission was to identify as many plants and animals in and around our campground as possible and learn something about each. It was a hit, so we will continue to build on it.

Anyone with interest and desire can replicate these projects. Anyone with an infectious love of the natural world can help others to develop the same.

The famous Harvard biology professor, E.O. Wilson, wrote on this topic in The Creation. A chapter titled “How to Raise a Naturalist” offers suggestions and identifies benefits:

At the end of this process, [the child] may choose a career in law, marketing, or the military, but…will be a naturalist all his [or her] life, and thank you for it.

My work with the youth of the church continues to be extremely gratifying. There’s something extraordinary about the privilege of seeing the natural world through the eyes of a child again. In my opinion, it is one of the best experiences an adult can share with a child.





Planting the Seeds, Answering the Call

18 10 2012

BY CALLIE STREICH, Independence, Missouri, USA

The task: You have two hours for a meaningful team-building experience with 800 campers of extremely varied backgrounds; keep it interesting and engaging; smooth out logistics for supplies; deal with hot temperatures; and debrief in “small” groups of 70–90 campers.

During team-building activity campers experienced what it is like to do laundry without the help of electricity and machines.

How do you do it?

The team-building experience for SPECTACULAR (the annual gathering at Graceland University in Lamoni, Iowa, where campers can participate in leadership, worship, arts, music, and sports) has become one of my responsibilities on the SPEC Steering Committee.

Each year, we attempt to evolve into something more focused and meaningful. This year my event partner, Mike Seagraves, and I were happy to hear HealthEd Connect was going to be part of SPEC. HealthEd Connect empowers women and children in Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia, Malawi, and Nepal. We agreed it made sense to base our activities on what many women in Lukwesa, Zambia, do daily or weekly.

As we decided what we wanted the campers to take away from the experience and how to get to that point, we realized we had been called to something bigger than a team-building experience.

In the process I couldn’t help but reflect on my time in Zambia with World Service Corps several years ago. The strong memories of sights, sounds, and smells. The community of love I felt. The frustration at the discrepancies between countries and not knowing how I could be part of the solution. The choice to give up and move on.

Flash forward 10 years. Two college degrees, a marriage, and two baby carriages later, that urging has begun to creep back in. I don’t believe it is a coincidence. The timing is just right that I would be reconnected to Zambia. I received the opportunity to help spread a message to the future of Community of Christ.

In the debriefing session, we asked campers many questions about their experience and its relation to reality. I encourage you to reflect on how you would answer just a couple of the questions from the debriefing:

 

  • As humans, what are our fundamental rights?
  • Have you ever thought about how your food choices affect the environment?
  • Comparatively, many of us have more things and options than those in the villages HealthEd Connect serves. Does that make us better than them? Should we feel sorry for them? Do we have an obligation to help them (or others in our own country who don’t have what we have)? Why or why not?

As I reflect on the experience, I realize a few campers didn’t understand what we were trying to do. Some got the message but set it aside for now. Many were fully immersed. And there were varying degrees in between.

But we planted a seed in each of them. As the campers grow and mature, I hope the planted seeds will, too. My seed was planted years ago, and I’m finally able to add the right mix of nutrients to watch it grow.

We are a community called to Abolish Poverty, End Suffering—overseas and at home. How are you spreading the message? How are you answering the call?