What the Cross Means to Me

31 10 2013


by Stassi D. Cramm, Council of Twelve Apostles

When I went to work full-time for Community of Christ as a minister, my husband and children gave me a beautiful cross necklace. I have worn it every day since, and I often find myself pondering what the cross means to me.

First, the particular cross I wear reminds me of the unconditional love and support of my family. Their love and support are physical expressions of God’s generous love and support for all people.

The empty cross reminds me that life conquers death, love wins over hate, and grace prevails over judgment. This is the promise of the cross. This promise is shared with all who claim the cross. Followers of the cross are sent to generously share life, love, and grace with all people.

Second, the cross is a reminder that we can twist good and use it to harm. I know many disciples have twisted the message of the cross into a message of oppression and conquering. The cross reminds me that we must always remain open to God’s guidance through the Holy Spirit to keep our human desires for power, expansion, and being in check.

This is the warning of the cross. Not everyone who claims the cross remains true to the meaning. Others may look at the symbol with skepticism or even fear. Those who claim the cross are challenged to do better than those who have abused others in the name of the cross by remaining true to God’s message.

Third, the cross is a reminder that discipleship comes at a cost. Jesus invited people to take up their cross and follow him. Jesus courageously challenged political, social, and even religious ways of life that were contrary to God’s unconditional love and openness for all people. The cross reminds me that pursuing the Worth of All Persons, ending needless suffering, and working for God’s vision of shalom (to name just a few) can create controversy. After all, Jesus was crucified for his actions.

This is the risk of the cross. We share this risk with others who have been transformed by the promise but also heed the warning of the cross so that our risk-taking actions are true to God’s desires and not misdirected by human ego.

Following the Holy Spirit’s Lead

29 10 2013

By Cara Clifford, Vienna, West Virginia, USA

Just opening our eyes and ears can lead to opportunities for ministry that change the lives of givers and recipients, alike. The Logan Congregation in Ohio has first-hand experience because members were willing to follow the lead of the Holy Spirit.

Dana Anderson, a congregation member, also serves as a guardian ad litem with the Athens County Magistrate’s Office. In November 2011 she was in Coolville, Ohio, at a public library to interview a boy for one of her cases.

While she was waiting for him to arrive she overheard a young family on the library’s phone. It became apparent that every day the family would walk to the library to use the public phone and computers.

Dana heard them calling agencies to seek help for Thanksgiving. They repeatedly were turned down or received dates for help far in the future. Dana heard the young mother say on one call, “We will try to make it last that long, but I’m not sure we have enough food to go that many days.”

After Dana finished her interview, she realized the family was still working at finding support. During Dana’s journey home, she kept thinking about the young couple and their baby. She felt she had heard the phone conversations for a reason, but she wasn’t sure how to help.

Dana decided to buy a gift card. The next day she called the librarian, who agreed to pass the card to the family. That weekend, Dana talked about the experience in her Sunday school class. Members gave her money for a second gift card.

Soon, congregation members decided to adopt the family for Christmas. They bought gifts and food. Dana and Sheila Klinebriel, the pastor, picked a day to take the gifts to the family the week before Christmas.

The night before, Dana called to set a time for the visit. The mother chose an inconvenient time for Dana and Sheila, but she was adamant it had to be then.

When Dana and Sheila arrived the next day, two sheriff’s vehicles were at the mobile home. The women parked nearby, watched an EMS vehicle arrive, and said silent prayers for the family. After the sheriff’s vehicles and the EMS left, the mother, crying and apparently in shock, met with Dana and Sheila.

They hugged her and followed her into the home. The father had been holding the mother and child hostage for more than 12 hours and had left the home in upheaval. He was hiding somewhere in the vicinity. Welts and bruises covered the mother’s face and arms.

Dana and Sheila were in the right place at the right time. They were able to help the mother and child in a time of great stress. They also had begun a relationship of ministry that has continued for the women and congregation through this past year.

Meanwhile the mother and child have found a secure place to live, and employment has brought some much-needed help with living expenses. They look to a future that contains hope, rather than despair. At every step the mother has said, “Thank you to the church. It means so much.”

Dana, Sheila, and the Logan Congregation may not have heard God’s voice speaking from the heavens, but they did follow the leading of the Holy Spirit and were ministers of hope and love in a time of great need.

Because of their willingness to act generously with this small family, the Logan Congregation has expanded its ability to feel open to the community and the needs of surrounding families.

Members have shared their resources generously through a back-to-school giveaway, community movie nights, a free neighborhood spaghetti dinner, and monthly support of a food bank.

From Dana’s ability to respond to the Holy Spirit and its direction in her life, congregation members have been led to look into the community and find where the Holy Spirit is leading them to become “ministers of generosity.”

Hello from Zambia!

27 10 2013

By Matthew Waite, World Service Corps

Matthew Waite, World Service Corps

Matthew Waite, World Service Corps

I’ve been learning a lot while I’ve been here, not only about the culture in Africa but about the depth of Community of Christ, our worldwide mission, and myself.

Below are the top 10 things I’ve learned so far:

10.    Doing laundry by hand is much harder and more time consuming than you would think. I’m not sure if any of my clothes are even clean at this point. I’m also a bit embarrassed to say that I never realized those wooden things at my grandparents’ house called “clothespins” are actually used to hold your clothes on a line. There are few things as frustrating as putting your wet clothes on the line and having them blow off and land in the dirt before you can pin them up.

9.    Taking handfuls of water from a bucket to shower is very difficult. I’ve found it best to splash some water on, soap up, and then attempt to rinse it off.

8.    Always know where your flashlight is and be able to find it when (not if) the electricity goes out.

7.    Get used to being stared at. You’re the only white person most people have ever seen.

6.    When asked to do something, just say yes. Thanks to this, I joined an awesome choir and learned how to carry things on my head. I started by practicing with five-gallon buckets of water. Once I proved myself fit, I was able to carry 150 baby chicks over two miles to my host parents’ farm!

5.    African hospitality is unlike any other. I took a 20-minute walk with my partner to escort his cousin home one night. When we got to her house, she turned around and walked halfway back with us to “see us home.” Why we didn’t both just walk halfway I don’t know.

4.    Always read the theme and scriptures and prepare a couple of thoughts before the Sunday service. Don’t be surprised if 3½ hours into the service your translator tells you, “It’s time for the sermon, and they want you to give it,” even though no one told you beforehand you would be speaking.

3.    Get over being afraid of bugs. There will be roaches, spiders, and more flies than you can count everywhere (including in your food). I’ve found it best to cowboy up, brush them off, and move on.

2.    Thank God for PowerBars. Boiled chicken legs (and I don’t mean drumsticks; the actual scaly legs) are much less filling than you would think.

1.    When things get tough, and they will, the power of prayer and meditation can be much more fulfilling than I ever thought possible.

I hope this is helpful to you.

Reunion: Generosity Abounds

25 10 2013

By Jim Poirier, Presiding Bishopric

Jim Poirier, Presiding Bishopric

Jim Poirier, Presiding Bishopric

I am into my third week as guest minister at family camps. What I have discovered is an outpouring of generosity by members and guests.

As the event begins the reunion director stands before those assembled to lay out the expenses of the reunion. Perhaps registration fees will not cover the costs. In some cases, reunions are financed solely by the generous donations of participants, thus providing a reunion experience at a lesser cost for those who otherwise could not afford to attend.

Then an official provides a vision for the future of the campground, asking members to support its life now and into the future. Throughout the week various members of the reunion committee and the campground board update attendees on the progress of contributions toward the targets. There is A Disciple’s Generous Response moment at most daily worship services. Both the reunion and the campground benefit from an outpouring of generosity.

What is it about this event in the life of the church that brings about such generosity? Perhaps it is that leaders express a clear vision. Or is it that members remember experiences at the grounds and return to relive those moments? Perhaps promotional materials given to members ahead of time create a spirit of expectation.
Campers come prepared to receive spiritual blessings. Or maybe it is that members come with concerns and dreams that the camping experience fulfills. Either way, a spirit of community ensues.

The community is brought to God, and God embraces the community. Small children are everywhere, brought by doting grandparents or young parents, wanting their children to grow in the experience they remember.

We see the mission of Christ in abundance. Inviting is going on. Families bring neighbors, and children bring friends. Ministries of compassion are abundant. Those who suffer are relieved. The sacrament of administration is performed in private and sometimes in public.

At the reunion I currently am attending, members were asked to bring supplies for a youth center in the nearby city of Windsor, Ontario, Canada. Tonight at a worship service, representatives of the center will tell their stories and receive a mountain of generous donations. And all of this is being run by a young adult who grew up camping at these grounds.

People find peace away from a world “out there” that may not be so happy for them. People can talk about their hopes and worries without being judged. They share their concerns about the direction of the church and are not judged. Rather, they remain in faithful disagreement (www.CofChrist.org/dfg/lessons/faithfulDisagreement/faithful-disagreement-principles.pdf). Each day the theme of community is reinforced.

On Wednesday a softball game and barbecue are planned for the neighborhood, events that have been going on for 50 years.

Daily instruction ensues for all ages as disciples are developed to serve. Resources prepared by Integrated Formation Ministries support spiritual renewal at all levels. And the reunion experiences congregations in mission through vibrant worship and prayer services. There is music. Members from various congregations join in one choir. Children perform. Talented musicians and singers share in special music.

The giftedness of children is on full display and is celebrated. People of all ages leave refreshed and excited about Christ’s mission. The Spirit abounds. And members are generous because they are blessed. Reunions and camps provide the church with a glimpse of what can happen when the mission of Jesus Christ is lived out each and every day.

In fiscal year 2013, the church fell short of the tithing goal approved by the World Conference. For the mission to continue, members and congregations need to look to experiences like reunions and live Christ’s mission as if each day were a reunion experience.

Reunion is where the Spirit is evident through the modeling of spiritual practices; where the spirit of unity is experienced in the diversity of those present; where the worth of each one is celebrated over and over; where a vision of God’s peaceful reign on Earth is lived out; and where generosity abounds.

Affirming the Ministry of Priesthood

23 10 2013

Steve Veazey and Becky Savage of the First Presidency recently visited with Apostle Linda Booth, director of Communications, about ministry and priesthood. You can see the video at www.CofChrist.org/broadcast/2013archive.asp#WCinterviews. Excerpts from that discussion:

Linda: We’re here to talk about a major emphasis in the church, and this is ministry and priesthood—something that’s always been critically important. Becky, I want to ask you this question: Ministry is essential for anyone who is a disciple of Jesus Christ. Can you explain or describe how ministry is important in Community of Christ, as well as who is called to serve?

Becky: We have an Enduring Principle, All Are Called, and when one makes a commitment at the time of baptism, one is making a commitment to serve in ministry together with others following the example of Jesus Christ to bring peace to the world by sharing with each other. It’s an essential part of discipleship. So when one has a commitment to be a disciple, one is bringing ministry to the congregation, to the community, and to the world with fellow disciples.

Linda: Steve, ministry arises out of the nature—God’s nature—and that nature is best revealed in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. How is ministry in relationships important?

Steve: I think it’s very important that we start with the nature of God, just as your question indicates. In our Basic Beliefs, one description we use to help us understand God’s nature is God lives as a community of three persons. What we’re referring to in more familiar terms is three in one: God, the Father; Jesus Christ, the Son; and the Holy Spirit live in relationship as part of the nature of God—one God, three expressions.

That helps us understand an important part of God’s nature is the quality of relationships that reflects God’s character and God’s purposes. That’s one aspect of it. The other is that when God chose or moved to decisively reveal God’s nature and purposes, God did not send a book. God sent a life, in Jesus Christ, the Word, the Truth, the nature of God enfleshed in that life. Christ moved into compassionate, redemptive, reconciling, justice-making relationships with all manner of people.

That is the clearest revelation of God’s nature and purposes, so it’s important to remember that.

Third, when we are engaged in loving relationships that are uplifting, redemptive, healing, reconciling, we experience God in the relationships. That’s true to God’s nature and God’s revelation in Jesus Christ. I heard it explained this way once: God is love, and God is in the loving. So, in the relationships we experience God’s nature and purposes.

Linda: That’s a marvelous way in which God has called each of us into that ministry. Becky, priesthood members are called by God specifically because of their gifts and talents for specific roles. Could you explain to us holistically how priesthood is called to express that call?

Becky: When one makes a commitment by saying yes to priesthood, one is making a whole-life commitment. Mind, body, and spirit are all involved. You can’t fragment your life. You can’t go to church and be one way and go to work and go home and be with people a different way.

When one makes a commitment as a priesthood member, one is saying “I commit my whole life.” So how one behaves, how one responds to people, how one serves in ministry in a congregation or in the community, how one interacts at work with colleagues or with one’s family—all of those parts as an individual impact how one is as a priesthood member.

If one serves effectively and faithfully as a priesthood member that also impacts other priesthood. So the individual becomes part of a whole beyond the one. If one acts outside faithfulness as a priesthood member, that also impacts the whole, because one as a priesthood member upholds the identity, mission, and message of the church. If one is not upholding all of what that means in one’s priesthood, you’re in essence diminishing the authority, and principles, and values of the church as a whole.

So as priesthood, when we’re called and say yes, we are in covenant with God, the One who calls. We are in covenant with the congregation, or the ones who approve us. We serve as servants. How we respond—all of us, our whole life—is such an important part of being holistically priesthood members.

Linda: And as faithful disciples and priesthood members, spiritual practices are critical to help form us into living expressions of Jesus Christ. Steve, how do you use spiritual practices to deepen your discipleship and enrich your ministry?

Steve: First, I’d like to use the focus of your question to affirm the principle behind it. That is, I firmly believe being must always precede the doing or the activity of ministry. It’s essential. Whether one is ministering as a disciple or within more focused responsibility as a priesthood member, we are constantly centering and grounding ourselves in God’s Spirit. Especially as God is revealed in Jesus Christ, and as God is represented or re-presented in our lives through the Holy Spirit. We are immersed in that.

Out of that experience we’re able to bring not just effective ministry, but consistently quality ministry. We can’t do it just out of our own good intentions, our own will, our own human strength. So I try daily to create time, space, and opportunity for spiritual practices within my life.

Foundational to that is taking time to be quiet. Both in terms of external noise, but also internal noise. In terms of thoughts, worries, anxieties…sense what I need to be doing to settle all of that down so I can be aware of the presence of God, which is often described as the still, small voice at the center of all things.

I do that through prayer, which includes just being quiet sometimes. I do that a lot through scripture study. I will read scripture and reread scripture and try to see what is trying to get my attention. Not just what I’m comfortable with, but ideas I may be uncomfortable with.

I try daily beyond that specific time to always be looking for expressions of the sacred in the everyday, because I believe God’s presence and light permeates creation. If we’re not alert and looking for it we may miss a lot of it that’s going on all around us and in our relationships. So I try to do that.

Now for me personally, being in creation or in nature, in the beauty of nature—especially near, on, or in water—is particularly renewing or healing. Something about water causes me to connect with the Divine. So I try to make opportunity for that. It’s intentional. I think that’s the key.

Linda: Yes, it is the key. Those spiritual disciplines remind us, Becky, that we are people of covenant, that we covenant with God and with one another. What expectations does the church have for people who covenant with God in priesthood roles?

Becky: We have helped our priesthood by defining covenant principles for faithful priesthood ministry. Those are provided in the brochure on ministry and priesthood. They’re offered as a way to define for our priesthood members how to be faithful in their spiritual formation and in their day-to-day lives.

There’s a list of ways one might live out faithfulness in ministry. Covenant principles include engaging in ongoing faith and spiritual practices as Steve has just mentioned to:

  • Deepen relationship with God and others through study and spiritual formation
  • Affirm and promote Christ’s mission of invitation, and compassionate ministries, and justice and peacemaking
  • Help prepare others to receive and go on Christ’s mission
  • Partner with other priesthood members and lead congregations in Christ’s mission
  • Provide ministry consistent with the church’s identity, message, and beliefs
  • Model an ethical, moral, and holistic lifestyle
  • Model generosity as a regular contributor to mission tithes (local, mission center, and worldwide ministries), according to my true capacity
  • Protect the safety and well-being of children and youth
  • Participate in congregational life, whatever that might look like where one lives
  • Participate annually in education and spiritual-formation experiences
  • Develop and implement a plan of ministry specific to the calling and office of priesthood

Linda: Those expectations are very, very important. They partner with the Holy Spirit to be holistic in the way they provide sacraments and compassionate ministries. Steve, how can the different priesthood offices serve together to fulfill Christ’s mission, because that’s the ultimate goal?

Steve: We’re back to relationship again, which is the interesting part. That’s where we began our reflections. It’s part of the inspired genius of Community of Christ priesthood structure and concepts related to priesthood that priesthood offices must work together for the whole witness of ministry in Jesus Christ to be experienced by individuals and families. It’s designed in a way that ministers in priesthood are drawn together, and their gifts and abilities are connected in ways that bring blessing to particular situations.

Deacons and bishops can work together to address the needs of the poor—both immediate needs and economic-justice issues. Both need to be present in those relationships in ministries.

Priests and teachers must be effective in their functioning for ministries of the Melchisedec priesthood to be fully experienced in the life of the church. Teachers and priests work in families to bring healthy relationships. Then those families are woven into congregations by elders, and they need to work together.

Apostles and seventies expand the church, increasing church membership and establishing new congregations. High priests and elders weave congregations together for a larger witness of the church in the world. Evangelists, elders, teachers, and priests bring the focus to spiritual blessing in the lives of people, families, congregations, and so forth.

When all the ministries are present, and people understand the rationality, the relationship between the priesthood offices…then individuals and families are blessed with the whole ministry of Jesus Christ!

Linda: It’s wonderful. It also prepares people then to go into the neighborhoods and communities to share the message of Jesus Christ.

Steve: Absolutely.

Linda: So, everyone can look forward to ministry and priesthood, a flyer is being presented in your mission centers. It’s been translated into French and Spanish with requests for Portuguese and other languages. This emphasis on ministry and priesthood will not only bless congregations but will provide enrichment for ministers who go into the world to share the message of Jesus Christ.

Sundays with Maurice

21 10 2013

By Ryan Sharp, Southwest International
(Mexico/USA) Mission Center

Maurice Draper

Maurice Draper

When I was 18, I moved to Boise, Idaho, to go to college. The Boise Congregation immediately welcomed me. As I began to get to know the people, one man stood out. It was Maurice Draper, a former member of the First Presidency.

We became friends, and I often found myself asking about his experiences. Those Sundays when I would get to go to lunch with Maurice and his wife, Ruth, were profoundly formative. Listening to Maurice was like reading an encyclopedia. He could tell you what meeting he attended in 1956, who was there, what they talked about, and the far-reaching consequences of their decisions. It was fascinating.

In January 2012, I started my employment with Community of Christ. In September, as I prepared for my first meetings at International Headquarters, I thought I might be able to visit with my old friend. Two days later I learned Maurice had passed away at the age of 94.

I’ve spent many days thinking of our encounters. Two aspects stick out:

  • His role in shaping the church through intellect, courage, integrity, and prophetic voice.
  • His extreme depth of love and compassion.

I remember Maurice telling me about a speech by F.M. Smith regarding women in the priesthood at the 1942 General Conference. As Maurice told it, F.M. Smith mentioned that he saw no scriptural reason that women should not be allowed in the priesthood.

Maurice said that not long afterward he began to address the topic this way:

I know of no theological reason why women should not be ordained—that is no reason arising out of the nature of God. If there are reasons why they should not be ordained, they are historical and cultural.

These are human reasons and subject to change. In my opinion, it is only a matter of time until they are ordained.

This groundwork was done with a prophetic voice of hope. To simply say he was “ahead of his time” is a disservice to the courage and integrity he held in shaping the church.

We in Community of Christ have created a wonderful voice of peace and justice. We have moved into new representations of the message of Christ that we would not have achieved without standing on the shoulders of such giants.

The other thing Maurice taught me happened one day after my wedding. That morning my wife, Sarah, and I went to church in Boise before heading on our honeymoon.

At this time, Ruth was progressing through dementia, which had been taking its toll physically and emotionally on Maurice. After the service, as he shook my hand, and smiled, I saw him look at my bride. I could see him recalling his bride, who was slowly slipping away. And I saw his heart breaking. Maurice quickly turned and walked off, wiping away tears. I remember thinking, “I hope I can be that husband…that I can exhibit that depth of love to those who I care about on a daily basis…to the world.”

If we all could speak with such integrity and love to such a large capacity, I can only imagine the transformation we could create.

Community of Christ Sings: A Distinguished Pedigree

18 10 2013

By Richard Clothier, Lamoni, Iowa, USA

I’m eagerly looking forward to this month’s debut of the church’s next hymnal, Community of Christ Sings—the latest in a long line of treasured resources for a singing people. Like its 10 predecessors, the hymnal will have its own personality, reflecting the unique essence of the church in 2013.

It is the culmination of thousands of hours of work by the current hymnal team, but it is also the inheritor of an amazing legacy from those who created the collections that preceded it.

That legacy includes the work of Emma Smith, who compiled the text-only hymnals of Kirtland (1835) and Nauvoo (1841), as well as the first hymnal for the Reorganization (1861). It extends to Mark Forscutt, who produced the two largest hymnals of the movement: the 1,120-hymn Saints’ Harp (1870) and the massive, Saints’ Harmony, which added music for each of the Harp texts (1889). The legacy continues through the turn of the 20th century in the 1895 Saints’ Hymnal (an abridgement of the Harmony) and the supplemental Zion’s Praises of 1903.

The more recent portion of our new hymnal’s pedigree includes the 1933 Saints’ Hymnal, combining hymns from the previous two collections, and Franklyn Weddle’s The Hymnal (1956), with its emphasis on intrinsic quality. The legacy is completed by the heightened diversity of the 1981 Hymns of the Saints and three supplements published since.

Each of these hymnals has sounded the heartbeat of the denomination in its time—from the early emphasis on one true church and the imminent Second Coming, through efforts to upgrade theological and musical integrity, to the present challenges of advancing peace and justice and celebrating growing diversity.

By design, Community of Christ Sings will have a distinctly international flavor. It will contain a significant number of indigenous songs from countries where the church has a presence. It will feature songs in several languages, including English, French, and Spanish. Favorite hymns, new expressions from church members, songs sent from mission fields around the world, and refreshing new hymns from other recent hymnals will fill its pages.

It seems clear that Community of Christ Sings will surpass all previous collections in the diversity and variety it will contain. It will be a new, exciting resource for a singing people.

Hymnal History

Learn more about Community of Christ through the story of our hymns and hymnals. Richard Clothier provides an important look into the history and musical heritage of a unique people in his 2010 book, 150 Years of Song: Hymnody in the Reorganization, 1860–2010 (Herald House).

Are You Ready?

16 10 2013

By Michele McGrath, apostolic assistant

Michele McGrath

Michele McGrath

The music we sing both claims and proclaims us!

The world is not always the way God intends, but God is always at work, reconciling the world—turning the world right side up. We are called to be partners with God in this kingdom-building work. God is on the move in the world, and that calls us to forward movement and change!

And there has been movement and change. A living, breathing, growing church that continues to experience God’s generous grace and love and to respond, so it cannot help but move and change.

I can’t wait to sing our faith—our living, breathing faith—together with the next hymnal, Community of Christ Sings. At World Church gatherings and other places we have heard some of the hymns. We’ve glimpsed words that bless us, inspire us, and challenge us; music that conveys these words deep into our hearts and souls in ways that nothing else can. Some of these songs have become new favorites, even before the hymnal is distributed!

Hymns do so many things. They unite us as an assembled body. They remind us of our shared values. They help us experience the presence and movement of the Holy Spirit. They invite us to respond to our shared calling. And they send us forth in mission.

Much like scripture, the church forms the hymnal, and the hymnal (spiritually) forms the church. That is why what we sing is so important. It becomes part of our spiritual DNA, part of who we are.

The person and disciple I am today is due in part to the hymns I sang growing up, Community of Christ classics like “There’s an Old, Old Path,” “Redeemer of Israel,” “The Spirit of God Like a Fire,” and so many others. It is exciting to think the thoughtful, intentional decisions we have made today to bring the next hymnal into being will impact the discipleship of generations to come.

I’m ready to be claimed and proclaim anew. I’m ready to sing. Are you?


Swords into Plowshares for Children

14 10 2013
Children’s Sabbath emphasizes the importance of developing peacemaking values in our youngest disciples.

Children’s Sabbath emphasizes the importance of developing
peacemaking values in our youngest disciples.


by Diane Sadler, Disciple Formation Minsitries

Beating Swords into Plowshares: Ending the Violence of Guns and Child Poverty” is this year’s theme for Children’s Sabbath. How timely to affirm the values of nonviolence, peacemaking, and well-being for our most precious resource: children.

The world’s great faith traditions teach that children—the most needy and vulnerable among us—should be lovingly cared for and treated with justice and compassion. The National Observance of Children’s Sabbaths® is a way for all faith communities to celebrate the blessing of children and to act in mission for their needs.

Plan a Children’s Sabbath worship October 20 (see Worship Resources Year C). Invite children to write or read a prayer, sing in a children’s choir, collect A Disciple’s Generous Response, offer their testimonies, or take part in a readers’ theater performance, listing facts about children and their needs. You also could join with another denomination to offer a combined service. Beyond October 20, advocate for children as a congregational mission.

For worship and advocacy ideas, download a free Multi-faith Resource for Year-round Child Advocacy from the Children’s Defense Fund at www.childrensdefenseorg/programscampaigns/faith-based-action/childrens-sabbaths.

“Magnificat”: Sounding Justice

11 10 2013

by the Reverend John Bell, Iona Community, adapted

The 2013 Peace Colloquy October 18-20 will launch the new Community of Christ Sings hymnal.Every Anglican evening prayer requires participants to engage at least one manifesto for social justice. It is enshrined in the “Magnificat,” the song of Mary, in which she envisages a divinely engineered reordering of society:

He hath put down the mighty from their seat,
and hath exalted the humble and meek.
He hath filled the hungry with good things
and the rich he hath sent empty away.

Worshipers also may, depending on the day of the month, sing, say, or hear words from the Psalms that cry out to the God of justice, “Why, O Lord, do you stand far off?” (Psalm 10:1 NRSV) or which query the integrity of earthly rulers asking “do you decree what is right?” (Psalm 58:1 NRSV).

The Bible—source of some of the best texts—is not remiss in representing how God’s justice is meant to alleviate human disorder. The law, the prophets, and the Psalms are voluminous in this respect. The issue is whether text writers, then composers, and finally clergy and church musicians are open to engaging with such material.

Isaiah is well plundered for announcements of the Messiah’s birth and suffering, but what about words such as those in chapter 58:6–7 (NRSV)?

Is not this the fast that I choose
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

Or how about an equally poignant text that has profound relevance to how, as the recent tragedy in Bangladesh revealed, we have grown used to food and clothing coming cheaply to us from impoverished workers in precarious situations of employment?

Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you. Your riches have rotted, and your clothes are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you, and it will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure for the last days. Listen! The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. —James 5:1–4 NRSV

Of course, some may argue that it has never been the job of church music to deal with these issues.

That argument cannot be sustained with reference to our Victorian forbears, who wrote texts and tunes articulating concern about a whole range of social evils. One was the presumed infidelity of people of color:

In vain with lavish kindness
the gifts of God are strown:
the heathen in his blindness
bows down to wood and stone.
—Reginald Heber, “From Geenland’s Icy Mountains”

Such disparaging later was protested in verse from the eastern seaboard of the USA.

Men, whose boast it is that ye
come of fathers brave and free,
if there breathe on earth a slave,
are ye truly free and brave?
If ye do not feel the chain,
when it works a brother’s pain,
are ye not base slaves indeed,
slaves unworthy to be freed?
—James R. Lowell, “Men, Whose Boast It Is that Ye”

While there may have been few popular hymns about the downside of industrialization and urban deprivation, many writers alarmed by the high rate of child mortality in the Victorian era wrote texts to console children who were made bereft of their siblings because of laissez-faire attitudes to civic welfare.

There with happy children,
robed in snowy white,
I shall see my Savior
in that world so bright.

If I come to Jesus
happy shall I be.
He is gently calling
little ones like me.
—Francis Jane van Alstyne, née Crosby, “If I Come to Jesus”

And in the sectarian west of Scotland, George Matheson, famed for “O Love that Wilt Not Let Me Go,” wrote hymns that challenged social and religious divisiveness:

Gather us in, thou Love that fillest all!
Gather our rival faiths within thy fold!
Rend each man’s temple veil and bid it fall,
that we may know that thou has been of old;
gather us in.
—George Matheson, “Gather Us in, Thou Love that Fillest All!”

But the 20th century, in its middle years, also saw authors such as Fred Kaan, Brian Wren, Fred Pratt Green, and Sydney Carter express in their distinct ways the connection or disconnect between professed faith and daily life.

All that kills abundant living,
let it from the earth be banned.
—Fred Kaan, “For the Healing of the Nations”

It is God whose purpose summons us to use the
present hour;
who recalls us to our senses when a nation’s life
turns sour.
—Fred Pratt Green, “It Is God who Holds the Nations in the Hollow of His Hand”

Spirit of Jesus, if I love my neighbor
out of my knowledge, leisure, power or wealth,
help me to understand the shame and anger,
of helplessness that hates my power to help.
—Brian Wren, “Spirit of Love, if I Love My Neighbor”

When I needed a neighbor,
were you there? Were you there?
And the creed and the color
and the name won’t matter;
were you there?
—Sydney Carter, “When I Needed a Neighbor, Were You There, Were You There?”

Nor is there a dearth of such texts in the new millennium. Carl Daw of the USA and Shirley Erena Murray of New Zealand are celebrated hymn writers who have provided adequate gifts:

Till all the jails are empty
and all the bellies filled;
till no one hurts or steals or lies,
and no more blood is spilled;
till age and race and gender
no longer separate;
till pulpit, press, and politics
are free of greed and hate,
God has work for us to do.
—Carl Daw, “Till All the Jails Are Empty”

We who endanger,
who create hunger,
agents of death for all creatures that live,
we who would foster
clouds of disaster,
God of our planet, forestall and forgive.
—Shirley E. Murray, “Touch the Earth Lightly”

Issues of justice are less commonly expressed in hymns than in holy scripture for several reasons.

One is the feel-good factor. It’s alive and well in churches where the congregational song is more a matter of family favorites than fitness for purpose; or where it is feared that anything “controversial” might jeopardize attendance. Such attitudes have to be tackled. It is not popular sentiment that decides what is appropriate in worship, but the revealed will of God. In the Bible the psalms bear eloquent witness to social justice being a primary concern.

When we sing, it is not simply to express that which pleases or even represents us. We also should sing texts that take us in solidarity into the lives of people who are oppressed, depressed, marginalized, and forgotten.
That is what Jesus encouraged in synagogue worship as he brought into focus by word and action those who, because of their plight, were unable to offer high-octane praise.

However, sedate neo-Victorian hymn tunes are not suitable musical vehicles for offering to heaven issues of Earth that should concern the people of God. We cannot easily imagine words and phrases such as racism, child abuse, economic chicanery, nuclear war, globalization, multicultural society, social exclusion, etc. in texts set to favorite tunes.

Nor would such words and their subject matter sit easily in three- or four-chord performer-led worship songs. It is not that “we are not that kind of congregation.” It is more that these are not appropriate musical vehicles. Such subjects need either folk melodies, which are invested with more earthiness than sanctimony, or tunes that in melody and harmony are hard-edged, and perhaps more rhythmically driven than veteran 3/4 and 4/4 hymn tunes.

It is interesting that in the southern hemisphere churches that no longer are bound to the missionary and liturgical strictures of the 19th century have managed to reflect issues of social justice, bridging the artificial gulf between the world of the Bible and the world of today by using indigenous musical language. Hence, during the apartheid era, black and white South Africans sang this lament to God and to their oppressors:

Senzeni na? What have we done?
Sono sethu? What is our sin?
—Origin unknown

These are words Jacob uses with regard to his father-in-law Laban (Genesis 31:36) and David uses with regard to Saul (1 Samuel 20:1).

And during the civil war in El Salvador, these words often were sung at Mass:

O great God and Lord of the earth,
rouse yourself and demonstrate justice;
give the arrogant what they deserve,
silence all malevolent boasting.
See how some you love are broken,
for they know the weight of oppression;
even widows and orphans are murdered,
and poor strangers are innocent victims.
—Psalm 94, paraphrased

The song of the church at worship should never be a partisan dispute, acting as a platform for social dissidents. Neither should it be an anemic ditty that avoids—at all costs—rootedness in the real world for which God incessantly requires justice and sacrificial love. Neither the advocates of political correctness nor the guardians of conventional respectability are our best advisers.

We need to take our lead from the untutored pregnant girl who first sang “Magnificat.”

John L. Bell, copyright © 2013 WGRG, c/o Iona Community, Glasgow G2 3DH, http://www.wgrg.co.uk.
This article originally was published in Church Music Quarterly, September 2013.