What the Cross Means to Me

30 06 2014

By Kris Judd, staff pastor

My physician wears a simple silver cross on her lapel. I had not noticed it until a recent visit, and I was not aware of her religious preference. But I knew she was a woman of faith by the way she spoke and treated her patients. I told her I appreciated that she was not afraid to wear the symbol of her faith, and she responded, “I wear it close to my heart. It’s my work.”

Jim Wallis of Sojourners made a similar comment when he wrote about the popularity of Pope Francis. “Francis is just doing his job. The pope is meant to be a follower of Christ.” I love Pope Francis, not only for what he does for the poor, the oppressed, the excluded, and marginalized, but for what he is doing for all Christianity in its diverse shapes, forms, and denominations.

He’s not ashamed of Jesus. People not only are noticing, they’re celebrating this humble leader who lives and loves like Jesus because that is his job, and that is who he is.

Feeding the hungry, crying for justice for those without voice, empowering the powerless…these are more than good deeds performed to build community. These are the actions, intentions, and inclinations of one who knows and boldly lives the invitation to follow Christ.
Wallis also comments:

The remarkable acts of kindness and grace we see with Pope Francis are the natural response from a disciple who has known the kindness and grace of Christ in his own life. The pope’s moments of Christ-like compassion and love point not to “a great man,” but rather point to Jesus. He is not asking us to follow him, but inviting us to follow Christ.

Many of us struggle with the Mission Initiative of Invite People to Christ. It is perhaps the most important, yet most difficult, to do. It challenges us to leave our comfort zones and face our egos, which prefer to avoid rejection at all costs; to state our truth rather than remain silently respectful of all other truth-tellers in our pluralistic societies; to boldly live our faith in actions and words that tell the source and reason for our faith.

Actions are critical because it’s through the work of our hands and feet that poverty is abolished, peace is pursued, and communities are built. However, if we fail to speak of the life and ministry of Jesus, the source of our faith and community as Christians, then we and our community become the worshiped. And when either the community dies or we are no longer present, so, too, does the hope and faith of the ones we’ve invited in.

We are called to point to the One who gives hope and is worthy of our faith, not to be the recipients ourselves.

Jesus Christ is worth speaking of through bold and generous lives, through story, testimony, invitation, and the simple and ordinary work of disciples, like Francis, my doctor, and each of us.

A Dude and a Donkey

27 06 2014

By Zac Harmon–McLaughlin, Wickliffe, Ohio, USA

mclaughlin-donkeyI had an hour of spiritual-practice time dedicated to reflection and connection with the Divine. I was in the Rocky Mountains. A racing creek was right outside, snow-capped mountains waited for my eyes, and birds flew back and forth. Other blessings were waiting to reveal themselves.

I walked to a bridge over a raging creek and sat down. I communed with God. I reflected on what had been a terrific weekend—a retreat experience at Peaceful Valley Dude Ranch.

As I was letting my heart dwell in God, flowing with the breeze and the water, I felt prompted to cross the bridge. In a small pasture I found a donkey gently grazing, having some dinner. As soon as the donkey heard me, we made eye contact.

Now, I am a city boy. I don’t know how donkeys behave, what they like, or how to touch them. But I thought I would give it a go. I was in the middle of connecting with the Divine. I thought, “What a wonderful opportunity to experience God through this creature!” So I made my way closer, and he made his way closer to me.

We met, and I stuck out my hand in the same way you do when you meet a dog.

The donkey rubbed against my hand as if to tell me to start rubbing his nose and head. I began to pet him, and I swear he smiled at me. He opened his big, old mouth and bared his teeth in a grin. I felt a connection to this creature.

His coat was coarse and dirty. As I patted his neck and back, dust flew into the air. His owner had mowed his meadow clean. I picked from the plentiful grass outside the fence. As soon as I leaned forward with a handful of greens and dandelions he smiled again.

The donkey is the lowliest of creatures in the equestrian world. It is not a beautiful stallion or a giant Clydesdale. It isn’t exotic or fast. Yet, the donkey is what Jesus rode into Jerusalem—what Jesus used to flip this world’s understanding of power and status into love and peace.

The donkey for Jesus is an ambassador for peace. I was at peace with an animal that doesn’t hold honor and glory or even the tourism appeal of a zebra. I was with God, having a peaceful agape meal.

This is an excerpt from one of the entries appearing each day in the Daily Bread blog. Visit http://CofChristDailyBread.wordpress.com to subscribe for free.

I Want to Do that All over Again

25 06 2014

By Shauna Ferguson, Kansas City, Kansas, USA

Shauna familyI love going to reunion at Camp Chihowa, west of Kansas City. I didn’t get to go often when I was a kid, but I have been able to go with my children since they were small. I also have the special privilege of taking other children.

Doug and I are foster parents. Over the last 13 years more than 55 children have passed through our house. Some have stayed a few days. Others have stayed a few years. One we adopted, and we are adopting another. Most have returned home or to a different relative. We have been able to keep in contact with some.

One child calls me every January and asks, “When is reunion?” He and his sister lived with us about six years ago and spend a few weekends throughout the year with us. They go to Camp Chihowa every summer.

Their living situation is not what I want it to be. It frustrates me that I can’t change that, but I can let them come with me to experience the peaceful and safe surroundings at reunion. Now he’s almost 13, and his behavior has changed—not for the better. I talked to him about my expectations of him during reunion and said if he didn’t follow the rules, we would take him home. He said softly, “I won’t mess up. I really want to be there.”

A 16-year-old came with me last year. He had lived with us when he was 10. We had lost contact with him for a while but recently reconnected. He has been coming over for short periods as we rebuild a relationship. He had some difficult behaviors to manage, so we have been taking things slowly.

Last June, he said, “Remember that camp you took me to? Do you still go to that?” I spoke with his grandmother, and she agreed to let him go. I had the same conversation with him as with the other boy. He asked, “Are you still strict and make us follow the rules?” I responded that I was. He replied, “Good, I need that.”

Because of immaturity and poor choices, he isn’t often placed in roles with responsibility. At reunion, I told him he would be expected to help with cleaning, serving, and washing dishes. He loved it! He volunteered for all kinds of jobs.

He washed pots and pans. He offered to vacuum the chapel. He liked serving in the food line, and he got to cook hot dogs on the grill. People kept telling him they appreciated him and his good work. His smile was huge, and he was very proud of himself.

The theme one night was God’s Grace and Generosity. What a great theme for our family. We get to see God working every day in the lives of these kids. So many people work to make Chihowa a safe, clean environment. People show up at work days, serve on the board, plan reunions, shop creatively to keep food costs down, and quietly work behind the scenes. I can’t thank them enough.

My kids and my “extended family” need this place. Too many of them have experienced pain no child should have to face. At reunion, they find acceptance, fulfillment, and a sense of belonging they desperately need.

Friday, on our way home from reunion, my van was very quiet. An 8-year-old girl with us sighed deeply and said, “I wish it was Sunday. I want to do that all over again.”

So did I.

Ho, Ho Helpers

23 06 2014

By Bill Cleveland, Dripping Springs, Texas, USA

Moving to a new city always involves surprises. One my wife, Carolyn, and I got when we moved a few years ago was the community activism by the Austin Congregation in Texas. One popular outreach program is the Santa Shop.

It’s a once-a-year event that serves Food for Friendship breakfast guests and neighbors who have economic and social challenges. They come into our sanctuary and “shop” without charge for Christmas gifts.

A longtime worker, Cathy Bennett, said Austin had been feeding homeless and needy people for some time when one member, Sue Nevill, saw an opportunity. The folks who came to the breakfasts didn’t have much money, and Christmas gifts were scarce for them.

The Austin church is in a working-class neighborhood with low-income housing. These were hungry, poor, and forgotten people who needed to know someone cared. Sue wanted to provide more than a Sunday-morning breakfast.

So in 2000 she started the Santa Shop.

She and others began collecting change in coffee cans to buy simple gifts. Then our guests would “buy” these presents with tickets they received as they arrived. Early in the program, the congregation passed out flyers near the church, and word spread. One guest even rode a bus from across town. Children also received tickets.

Some guests shop for themselves; some get gifts for others. Volunteers even wrap the gifts.

Santa Shop volunteers work hard to maximize assets. This includes buying gift cards from Goodwill and getting cash and good used items donated from congregation members, friends, and businesses. Going online to solicit gifts also has helped.

The latest Santa Shop featured six tables overflowing with gifts. More than 100 guests left with big smiles and “Merry Christmas” or “God bless you” on their lips. While we attach no strings to participation, it is a bonus when someone comes back for church services. On one occasion, two families returned, and their children even joined in when the bell choir performed.

Pastor Eric Cox says Santa Shop tangibly demonstrates the Enduring Principle of Grace and Generosity. Gifts multiply just as God’s grace multiplies.

Cox recognizes that many in the congregation work hard to put the program together. Neighbors, friends, and community members support it. Perhaps best of all, we share the message of a loving God with people who most need to hear it.

An Invitation to the Church

20 06 2014

By the IYF Committee

International Youth Forum (IYF) will run July 15–18 in Independence, Missouri. IYF events also will happen in the Dominican Republic and Honduras this summer. We invite you, as members of Community of Christ, to hold these events in your prayers and spiritual practices that allow this type of intentional focus.

Why are we asking you to place IYF in your prayers and spiritual practices? Because it is through the Blessings of Community that events like this are possible. Two statements from the Enduring Principles, Blessings of Community, may help frame this (www.CofChrist.org/ourfaith/enduring-principles.asp):

  • We are called to create communities of Christ’s peace in our families and congregations and across villages, tribes, nations, and throughout creation.
  • We value our connections and share a strong sense of trust in and belonging with one another—even if we never have met.

IYF is about creating those communities of Christ’s peace. We all are connected to those communities, and by entering into prayer and spiritual practice for those communities we strengthen that connection. Though we may not have met, or may never meet, we all are part of the fabric that creates Community of Christ.

Three areas that might be highlighted during your reflection:

  • Those who are planning and preparing to serve at IYF
  • Leaders of delegations who will be shepherding the youth
  • Most importantly, the youth of our church

While it would be natural to focus more intentionally on those youth who will journey to IYF, we also ask you to hold up those who cannot attend. You also may feel led to focus on some other aspect of IYF in your reflection. That also is welcomed. May all know that God’s Spirit is with them as they prepare physically, mentally, and spiritually for this IYF experience.

Thank you for the time you put into this invitation. May it bless you as you share in the IYF community.


Dreams, Decorations, Disciples

18 06 2014

By Angela Ramírez de Hernández, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

RamirezFinding ways to bring people to Jesus Christ and share our vision and mission can be challenging. But sometimes we find great surprises and blessings.

Several months ago I heard about a congregation in the Dominican Republic Mission Center. It has a family that is bringing great joy to services. I wanted to know how it had come to the congregation.

Everything started when the pastor and congregational members visited a young man who had been coming to spiritual family retreats and had been dedicated to prayer. He was charismatic with youth.

Through him they began to meet and get to know the rest of his family. A few months later family members became involved in a conflict with a neighbor. The neighbor was a policeman who disliked their small dog.

One day as the neighbor was coming home, the dog started barking, and the man began to beat him. The dog then bit his shoe. An argument between the neighbors ensued, and the situation spun out of control.

The policeman, who often was verbally abusive, swore a complaint against this family. There was an order of arrest for four family members.

The family decided to pray. It prayed several times a day, asking God to do justice. A few days later several policemen came to the house with the arrest warrants. They took three family members: two women and the young man.

Though incarcerated, they continued to pray. The older of the two women described the situation to other women in jail, and they all began to pray.

On the third night in jail she closed her eyes. While sleeping she saw a decorated church. In the morning she remembered her dream and said this was the church God wanted her to attend.

The next day they went before the judge. The judge found discrepancies and falsehoods in the policeman’s statement.

The family went free.

When they arrived home, a young woman from the congregation was waiting. She suggested they all go to church to give God thanks. The woman who’d had the dream in jail had never been there.

When they arrived, she realized the church was decorated just as in her dream. She’s been a fixture ever since.

Recently she, her sister, and her son, were baptized. Other family members come to the congregation, too, and happily join in the services.

Invite People to Christ

16 06 2014

By Ini Edet, Nigeria Mission Centre president

congregationIn my office I decided to read one of my favorite parts of the Bible, Isaiah 6:1–8. Instead I was drawn to Luke 4:18 NRSV: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me…”

I wondered why this verse leapt to my attention instead of the one I had intended to read. Finally, I decided to read it again. This time the verse seemed to talk to me directly. Then I realized I have two purposes:

  • To help people realize their God-given potential and be in harmony with creation.
  • To tell the good news about Jesus.

Christ came to begin these major missions. He left them for us to continue.

I had taught Sunday school about 26 years before the church employed me in 2006. My major task was buying clothing and life necessities for the less privileged—the downtrodden within and outside our church. This generosity attracts people to the church.

We started a branch at Abak, a nearby town. With help from Apostle Bunda Chibwe we launched with two families. The first baptism was carried out with five people in 2007.

With house-to-house evangelism and visiting the sick, the number rose to 24, including children, in 2008. A women’s fund-raiser in 2009 enabled us to buy musical instruments, chairs, and more. Individuals donated other things. Our numbers increased steadily, so we sought land for a permanent structure.

After two years, we found it. The next step was to put up a small structure to enable us to move in faith. The congregation embraced fund-raising through thanksgiving, and three months later a temporary structure with a capacity of 100 was ready.

We dedicated it June 9, 2013, and two children were blessed. People were very happy. Even the area ruler was there.
Also, we had a three-day revival at the Ekim Congregation. It was a Spirit-filled meeting. We visited former attendees in their homes. Most responded, and new people showed up for baptismal classes.

During the house-to-house visits, a man said, “Pastor…we are members in the Spirit, and the church is a blessing to us.”

Then the Spirit reminded me of Doctrine and Covenants 163:1: “‘Community of Christ,’ your name, given as a divine blessing…” I knew God would make this a worldwide church.

Our uniforms make us a signal community. Who we are and our message are embedded in the clothing. The uniforms put us at the forefront in any ecumenical gathering.

I adopted a principle to help in this field of soul-seeking: “Catch them young.” This seeks to bring children and youth into the church. And in a bid to mobilize women more efficiently we began the Pastors’ Women Association. Members meet with women at a grassroots level. They rotate meetings from one congregation to another. Wives of pastors from other denominations are joining.

At the recent wedding of Lagos Pastor John Nyah, four people from the wife’s family decided to become members.

They are now receiving pre-baptismal lessons.

I feel God is calling us at the right time and in the right direction to spread the good news. Truly, we are a worldwide church.



Something’s Happening

13 06 2014

By Larry McGuire, president of seventy

Larry McGuire baptizing Amy.

Larry McGuire baptizing Amy.

Jesus proclaimed his mission in Luke 4:18–19, and in Acts 1:6–8 he handed it to a community of believers as its transforming mission.

Washington Congregation in Indiana is such a community. It’s famed for its Watermelon Festival, which serves the community and congregations in the Kentucky-Indiana USA Mission Center.

However, after years of service, active membership had begun to decline. Questions surfaced about how long the congregation could provide ministry. In 2006, Evangelist Robert Rugg and High Priest Donald Maymon began helping the congregation engage in discerning God’s will. The journey helped members celebrate their faithful past and provided opportunities to seek God’s desire for their future.

As part of that journey, the congregation prepared to receive an evangelist blessing. Members shared in faithful expectation for their future and received the blessing. The event was meaningful for the congregation and those leading the process. Participants committed themselves to doing whatever it took to accomplish the mission they would receive. And they waited….

* * *

THE CHURCH building sits several miles outside town on the family property of the pastor, who also serves as the sheriff of Daviess County. Jerry Harbstreit grew up attending the congregation and has seen many changes in the church and his community.

Ed Sellers, a professional counselor, former pastor, and active congregation member, also saw the changes. He hoped something would happen through the efforts to discern a focus of mission.

Several other key congregation members also were anxious because the small congregation feared it had a limited future. And they waited.…

* * *

AS SHERIFF, Jerry encounters people in distress. Often, their actions put others in distress. He continued to see an increase in the inmate population of people addicted to drugs, especially meth and alcohol. Multiple offenders and generations of addicts hurt the community. Jerry, Ed, and other community leaders knew something needed to be done.

In 2004, a new initiative began at the jail called Resisting Addiction and Recovery Eduation (RARE). It’s an avenue for inmates to address serious issues of addiction and decision-making with a goal of living lives of recovery every day by confronting and restructuring their thinking. It is not simply a classroom program; it’s a seven-days-a-week, 24-hours-a-day experience of education, treatment, and mutual accountability.

Billy Wagler was one of the first inmates in this program. He turned the corner of addiction and began to work in Bible study outreach in the jail. He worked on a road crew with other inmates. Jerry and Billy talked about a different way of life. He was released in 2012, and his testimony and transformation witnessed to many in the program and community. As a result, increasing numbers of inmates joined RARE.

And the community began to transform.

* * *

I HAD VISITED the Watermelon Festival in 1994 as my first “official” assignment as an appointee minister. When I returned in 2012, it wasn’t just members from the local congregations who joined in worship. Eighteen inmates from the Daviess County Jail were there, too. Nothing would be the same again.

In January 2013, RARE began reaching into the community, where family members of inmates come to join in the training and journey of recovery. I had the privilege of being there in September 2013, when 66 people were in attendance.

It’s now a support group, relapse-prevention, and Bible-study session—all in one. Brian Patterson was a meth addict for 20 years. Now, as a Community of Christ member, he’s leading the session. It all started with the witness of Billy Wagler and the tremendous support he received from Jerry, Ed, and other church members.

In the last year, the stories of transformation of people and the community have been overwhelming. Lives are being changed in such a radical way that one article could never capture what’s been happening.

Every week, inmates, their families, people from the community, and congregation members gather for study as part of RARE. The mighty acts of God continue to amaze and transform people.

During one study session, a man came up from his cell pod, carrying a letter he’d received that day. It welcomed him to Community of Christ. With tears of joy and thanksgiving he shared with the other inmates and friends, “I’m part of a family, and they want me!”

* * *

SO THIS SMALL congregation—with seemingly limited capacity—discerned and waited. Now it’s seizing an enormous opportunity.

In August, during the annual Watermelon Festival—held under a huge tent because more than 200 people attended—another amazing experience happened. Twenty-nine people were baptized. Nineteen were confirmed, with the others working to complete preparation for confirmation. We then confirmed two who had been baptized in another faith but chose to become Community of Christ members.

Before the baptisms we shared in the blessing of two children.

After this amazing worship service, the evangelist who worked with the congregation on its discernment process talked with new members about the opportunity of an evangelist blessing. God’s Spirit was in abundance.

The evangelist, a high priest, and a small group of people all had put their hearts into ministry that brings Christ’s love to people—many of whom were facing huge challenges. Now, they find the amazing power of the Holy Spirit at work in them as they share together.

God wants to guide, gift, and empower your work as much as theirs.

They had waited…but now, something’s happening!

Serve the Poor and Hungry

11 06 2014

By Barbara Graeff-Vinck,
Independence, Missouri, USA

IMG_7862Every Wednesday people come together in fellowship from a citywide group representing different faiths, different civic organizations, and youth. They come to serve those from under bridges, from tents in nearby woods, from families with hungry children, and from places of isolation.

They come to Stone Church Neighborhood Dinners in Independence, Missouri.

Volunteers come from 21 partner organizations, including nine churches, four service clubs, six youth organizations, two community agencies, and three schools. More than 250 volunteers invest more than 2,500 hours annually, serving 9,000 to 10,000 meals. Each group hosts the dinners on a rotating basis, serving 180 to 225 people each week, including 20 to 40 children.

All volunteers are there for a single purpose: to let those in need know they are valued, respected, and loved. The volunteers accomplish this in several ways, including serving guests restaurant-style.

“Serving our guests this way, protects their dignity,” explains Arthur Butler, who has been with the program four years. “They don’t have to line up to receive their food.”

Many volunteers visit with the guests, offering compassion and care by listening to each person who wants to share a story, a concern, or ask for prayer. They demonstrate love for each person. Pastor Terry Snapp says, “Creating a caring and loving relationship with the people we serve is the most important and the most rewarding part of this ministry.”

Several volunteers have decided to do more than serve. One asked if she could sponsor a meal, and then she wrote a check for the amount. Two others decided to get gift bags containing socks, toothbrushes, and other essentials for each person at the Christmas dinner.

Some have shared other gifts, in addition to serving the meals. Erin Barrier, a music teacher at Van Horn High School, brings music students to serve the meals, and they occasionally perform.

When asked what serving at the dinners means to her group, Hilda Beck, mission director for St. Mark’s Catholic Church, replied: “A lot of people come together. I think helping with the dinner means something different to each one of us. We are trying to live the gospels. Jesus said go and feed the poor, and that is what we are trying to do.”

The program works closely with other community groups that help support this effort. Community Services League, which provides a wide range of services to those in need, donates food when possible. The Society of St. Andrews, which gathers freshly grown but not harvested—and therefore unused—produce also makes food donations.
Starbucks donates dessert items, and the Stone Church Community Garden adds fresh produce. The main source of food help comes from Harvesters Community Food Network.

But Stone Church’s program cannot survive on food donations alone. The contributions of several financial resources make it possible. The dinners originally were financed by donations from corporate entities and three years of World Hunger grants, an outreach funded by financial gifts to the Mission Initiative of Abolish Poverty, End Suffering.

“We are being successful at obtaining local community support that replaces the World Hunger grant,” Pastor Snapp said. “We have every reason to believe that the community will support it. This program is an example of how World Hunger ministries has started a program that will now be locally sustained.

“In addition to getting significant support from individuals, companies, and foundations, we have established a relationship with the Truman Heartland Community Foundation. This organization has created the Uplift Independence Fund. It allows us to be eligible to receive gifts and grants from various funders.”

Added Betty Snapp, Terry’s wife: “The Neighborhood Dinners began in September 2009 as a way to serve our immediate neighbors. We cooked the dinners in our home and took them to the church to serve.”

By 2010 there were 60 guests, up from the original 10. The number has continually increased with the ever-expanding need. The dinners now are weekly. Originally, the idea was to feed children not eating regularly when school was out during the summer. Now dinners are served every week all year.

Linda Craig and Chris Copeland plan and cook the meals. Linda also is responsible for scheduling volunteer groups. Through their management, the program prepares dinners—offered free—for $1.25 to $1.50 each.

Meal-partner groups include several Community of Christ congregations: Stone Church, Open Arms, Summit Grove, Walnut Gardens, and Cornerstone.

The need is greater than ever. The most recent figures from the Independence School District say 848 families in the district are homeless. In the two elementary schools serving the Stone Church area, 81 percent receive free or reduced-rate breakfast and lunch because of poverty.

So what happens when people from different backgrounds, different cultures, and different circumstances share a meal? They begin to talk and then to listen to one another. They form relationships. A sense of community takes hold. Those once isolated find companionship and caring, from volunteers and each other.

Lessons from a Small Town

9 06 2014

by Kelly A. Phipps, Lee’s Summit, Missouri, USA

My work takes me into various settings, and occasionally I am struck by the common themes I find in unlikely places. This happened recently as I studied the way people approach cultural difference, particularly of a religious nature.

Many people consider difference a threat or something to be avoided. I was interested in what caused some people to embrace differences as a source of strength. As I interviewed people about encountering those they perceived as different, they talked about feeling eager, excited, and curious to learn. Research is pretty clear about what causes such openness: encounters with those whose experiences and perspectives are different.

At the same time, I was on a team helping a small town develop a vision for its future. We were interviewing townspeople about the strengths and challenges of their community. In those interviews I also heard stories of struggle, and a few complaints about neighbors. But the townspeople always carefully tempered their complaints.

Overall, their message was, “We stick together because we need each other.” Their community, defined by geography, was important to each person.

One day these two experiences forcefully intersected in my mind. I was recounting my experience of working with the small town to a colleague. Suddenly all the strengths of a small town and all the benefits of multiculturalism came together in one idea: What the world needs is a global small town! A community that commits to hold together despite its differences and is defined by something larger than geographic proximity. A belief that “we need each other” together with a definition of “we” that spans the globe.

My colleague and I immediately began to imagine what such a thing might look like, and question whether it would be possible. We brainstormed how a community like this might form, and daydreamed about how powerful such a movement could be in today’s polarized world.

Then it hit me—I am already part of such a community! My church is a close-knit community that spans the globe. A place where membership makes you part of a family, while simultaneously stretching all members to understand and appreciate perspectives different from their own. A place small enough to belong, but wide enough to bring its members into contact with different world views. A global community where we all truly need each other.

This notion of a global small town has important implications for the way the church thinks about diversity. In recent years the church has begun to describe the importance of Unity in Diversity.

The term “diversity” has become a buzzword in Western culture, almost to the point of becoming hollow. But committing to stay together despite our differences is far from hollow. In fact, it borders on being counter-cultural.

Surrounded by cultures that seek polar extremes on divisive issues, we seek to be a community that radically and miraculously holds together. And we do this while working to expand the reach of our community to include an ever-widening circle of difference.

Achieving unity in these circumstances doesn’t happen by overlooking our differences, or what we might call “unity despite diversity.” We do not hold together because of our stance on an issue, or because of some geographic boundary. This global small town is defined by believers who feel called to live out Christian discipleship together.

And just as a small town needs all of its varied members to survive, the same is true for us.

When we make space to truly encounter one another, we can begin to see that while we may not all agree, we belong with one another. Encountering one another’s differences can be difficult. But doing so strengthens individuals and our community as a whole. It brings us closer to our calling to be a living example of Christ’s love for all people. The unity we seek is not despite our diversity, but because of it.

Ironically, this blessing of Unity in Diversity is delivered in a package we often lament. Our denomination is small. So small that we sometimes feel we must be doing something wrong. But our small numbers mean no one is expendable.

The “others” we might be tempted to blame for what we dislike are too close to us to vilify.

Like neighbors in a small town, we know we need each other. At a time in history when the traditional systems that have offered belonging and have bound people together in community are under duress, this small band of believers dares to live in deep connection with one another. That act alone is more powerful than we typically recognize.

Our commitment to Unity in Diversity has not always been lived out to our potential. At times we have failed in the face of crisis and conflict, and there likely are errors for which we still must atone. But our atonement must be for hurting our brothers and sisters—not for failing to agree. For our commitment is to unity—not unanimity.

God’s will for this movement is woven into the many voices among us. As we seek Unity in Diversity, may we commit to stay together and listen in love so the Spirit may speak to us through the beautifully diverse voices found within this global small town.