Pursue Peace on Earth

7 06 2012

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

Linda: Steve, this Mission Initiative, Pursue Peace on Earth, has as its very core an Enduring Principle to pursue peace. It also has at its foundation the call to share Christ’s peace. It seems as if God has been bringing all of these understandings together so we can understand how crucial Pursue Peace on Earth is. Tell me a little bit about what you think this means in the life of disciples and congregations.

Steve: I think it’s a part of the witness and message of Jesus Christ that somehow has been lost over the centuries, and it’s very critical that we lift it up. The whole phrase, Pursue Peace on Earth, is important.

People often conceptualize peace as something that’s in the distant future or something that will never really be experienced on this Earth. In heaven I’ll have peace, but not on this Earth, and a few passages of scripture are used to justify that kind of view. But if we look at the whole witness of scripture, it talks about a coming time of justice and peace, harmony, balance, and well-being on Earth; the whole creation enjoying the blessings of God’s peace.

The Hebrew scriptures refer to it as “shalom,” the fullness of peace. Not just the absence of conflict, but the well-being of all living creatures, of all living systems, the well-being of Earth itself. So this Mission Initiative catches up that whole vision. Not just some aspects of peace.… As we look at the ministry of Jesus we know that Jesus actually engaged—actively engaged—in creating communities that were just, more inclusive, and in which people experienced peace that was totally different than what they had experienced in their other activities.

So we’re talking about the whole vision of peace that Jesus spoke about, that he gave his life for, and to which God said yes through the resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit.

In Ephesians 2 there’s a proclamation, he (Christ) is our peace. It’s not just talking about inner peace, it’s talking about the dividing walls of hostility between groups of people coming down. It’s talking about reconciliation on Earth. So this initiative refers to all the dimensions of Christ’s peace as he taught it, as he demonstrated, and as we have come to understand it through the witness of the Holy Spirit.

Linda: We’ve talked about this Mission Initiative being Christ’s mission of justice and peace. There’s a positioning of justice and then peace. Can you clarify for us why justice is so important in the whole process of peacemaking?

Steve: I always try…to consciously say justice and peace because I believe we have to work at the injustices in the world to eventually have lasting peace. Maybe you’ve heard the phrase, “no justice, no peace.” If there’s no justice, there’s no real peace.

So what do we mean by that? The lack of justice or injustice in the world is referring to those situations where people don’t have a sense of their inherent worth or they’re entrapped by attitudes, mindsets, and systems that are perpetuated and reinforced by others who have privilege, power, and resources.

Those are injustices that exist in the world. Our understanding of peace tells us those situations need to be addressed for conditions of well-being for all people to be enjoyed. So we do the work of justice to create the conditions that become lasting or enduring peace.

Linda: Sometimes we hear about individuals in congregations being involved in issues of justice and peacemaking. Rarely do we hear about congregations, or many people in a congregation, moving into those arenas that bring justice and peace in their communities. So I guess the challenge would be, as we think about Mission Initiatives, not just for individuals but the imperative for congregations to live the holistic mission of Christ. What would that look like in a congregation?

Steve: Well, one advantage of the Mission Initiatives is that they point a direction, but they don’t attempt to define for congregations what they should specifically do. That varies from congregation to congregation.

It depends on where you are, what kind of neighborhood you’re seeking to address in terms of sharing the gospel. It depends on who’s in your congregation, what gifts, what assets. And I’m not talking about just physical assets; I’m talking about people’s experience, training, and other resources they may have. What’s in the congregation as represented in the lives of people that equips them for ministry?

So you match that to needs and opportunities in the community, and you have a particular expression of a Mission Initiative, such as Pursue Peace on Earth. But that said, I’ll say one of my favorites is in the congregations that have organized peace clubs for children and youth. They’ve intentionally created groups where there is social diversity, economic diversity, different ethnicities represented.

They are creating an environment in which kids feel safe. They can talk about problems and learn the greatest commandments of Jesus to love God, love your neighbor. They learn about a different way of living in the world that’s not dependent on just getting back at someone or perpetuating revenge to have respect in the community.

Those are tangible expressions, not only of the Mission Initiatives and particularly the Mission Initiative of Pursue Peace on Earth; those are expressions of the kingdom of God…It’s see-able, it’s touchable. You can experience it and get a glimpse of what the kingdom of God is all about.

So that’s one expression I’ve seen of Pursue Peace on Earth that’s especially inspiring and encouraging. This weekend as I was sharing in a mission center conference…, we were talking about mission. There was an individual who is a farmer and inherited land. He has good land. It’s fertile land. It’s rich land. As he thought about the things we were talking about, the Mission Initiatives, he got up and made a commitment to set aside some of his land. And he would cultivate it and plant it as a community garden because all around his land people are hungry, and children feel the pain of hunger at night. He was going to invite the community to pick what they need.

That’s a very tangible expression of the Mission Initiative, Pursue Peace on Earth. And when he shared that dream, others started responding, saying, “We’re going to come help you. We’re going to plow, and we’re going to help you plant.” It had that invitational aspect to it that we were talking about earlier.

Linda: Absolutely. So, Steve, as people look to this initiative, their congregations embrace this initiative, and people begin to recognize they can give directly to this initiative to Pursue Peace on Earth, what do you see happening?

Steve: Well, hopefully there are more and more peace clubs, and there are more and more community gardens, and there are more and more opportunities for people to come and experience peace so that they do understand there is an alternative to the way life is in most places. I see congregations going deeper and deeper into the heart and mind of Jesus Christ and getting to understand through their own experience why he was so passionate about this particular emphasis that he picked up from the prophetic scriptures in the Old Testament.

I see congregations being signal communities, bright lights that draw people to come and see what the kingdom of God looks like and feels like. That becomes a blessing to any community where a congregation is pursing the whole mission of Jesus Christ in that fashion.

Linda: That’s the good news of the gospel. Next we’ll talk about how to equip individuals and disciples to serve and go forth in Christ’s mission.

Abolish Poverty, End Suffering

14 05 2012

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

Linda: Steve, we’re talking now about Abolish Poverty, End Suffering. For some reason, with this Mission Initiative, people go, “Ah, this is too bold. There’s no way we can ever achieve this.” I’ve even heard people say, “Well, you know the poor will always be among us.” So when you hear those kinds of statements, what it is your response?

Steve: My response is, let’s look at that phrase, how it was used, put it in context, and understand it before we use it as an excuse to maintain the status quo of poverty in our communities and the world.

If we go to scripture, we know the phrase comes from Matthew 26:6–13, and it describes an experience when Jesus was in Bethany about a woman who came to him with an alabaster jar of very costly perfumed ointment. And she anointed him. She poured it over his head as he sat at the table.

Now we know in retrospect she had discerned Christ was going to sacrifice his life, and she understood the significance of that. So before he was actually dead, she was honoring him with a ritual of the anointing of the body. It’s a sign of respect and a sign of devotion.

The disciples there didn’t understand what was going on. They missed the significance. So trying to score points with Jesus, they chastised the woman for what she had done. Can you imagine how that felt to Jesus? She had perceived the sacred nature of what was occurring, and they called it a waste.

They said, well, this could have been sold, and we could have given it to the poor. Wouldn’t that have been the better way to go? And Jesus basically said, you’ve missed the whole point. Leave her alone. What she’s done will be talked about wherever the gospel story is told.

This saying, that the poor will always be among us, he’s actually making a point that some things happen only one time and are so significant that we have to be willing to pause, take note of it, and understand what it is.

And what this woman had done was so sacred—sacramental so to speak—that everyone needed to see it as something unusual, not something that was just part of the daily circumstances and conditions of life. So Jesus said, for you will have the poor among you always, but I won’t be here forever, and we’ve missed that point.

Now where does that phrase come from, you’ll have the poor among you always? He was actually quoting a passage from Deuteronomy 15, where there’s instruction being given to the tribes of Israel about how to live in the land where they are, the land that they will inherit as God’s blessing and promise to them.

We need to hear the first part of the passage so we understand this phrase in context. Here’s what it says: There will, however, be no one in need among you because the Lord will bless you in the land the Lord, your God, is giving you if you will obey all of the commandments. Those commandments included always taking care of the stranger, the neighbor in need, and the poor among you.

And so the promise is there will be no poor if you obey the commandments of God that have been given to you as part of the covenant…of possessing this land of promise. Then the passage goes on and basically says if you aren’t living up to those commandments then here’s what you’re to do: If there happens to be someone in need because they haven’t been helped by someone else, then you should give generously to help them out. You should open your hand. You should willingly give enough to meet the need whatever it may be.

And it says to be careful that you do not entertain a mean thought toward them. Give liberally and ungrudgingly. God will bless all the work you undertake. This is the way to respond to those in need among you if everybody else is not living up to the commands I have given you.

So the phrase is in this passage, since there will never cease to be some in need on Earth, I therefore command you open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land. Now, I think Jesus was reacting to his disciples. He was using our need. He was saying basically it’s because of your own failings to respond to the commandments of God that the poor are always around you, but don’t use them as an excuse.

Don’t chastise this woman because there are poor all around you. Recognize the preciousness of what she did and then always work to alleviate the needs of the poor until there are no more poor in the land, which gets back to the original vision shared in Deuteronomy.

That’s a long way around to my response. My response is I think Jesus would be frustrated and chagrinned that we as disciples today might use his turn of a phrase in reaction to his disciples to justify or to tolerate poverty in our land.
If we took scripture—the Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants—and took out everything that has to do with our obligation to tend to the needs of poor and to create justice for the poor and needy, there wouldn’t be a whole lot left.

So the weight of scripture is dramatically in the other direction from using this one phrase Jesus was using to challenge his disciples to justify the status quo of accepting that there will always be the poor around us.

On a practical basis, there are various organizations that have carefully calculated and strategized how poverty can be alleviated in the world. Our agricultural production is more than enough to feed the hungry in our world. What we spend on wars and other things, which we say are our priorities, is way beyond the funding needed to alleviate poverty and hunger.

It’s a bold initiative for the very reason that we need to be kind of shocked out of our complacency and to understand the passionate concern of God for the poor. It’s also bold and broad so that we will quickly understand we can’t do it by ourselves.

The only way to address these issues is to partner with other churches and other organizations and to be, as our Doctrine and Covenants says, at the forefront of organizations seeking to address those kinds of needs in the lives of people and affirming the Worth of All Persons.

We are going to have to work together. But if we can be part of a catalyst for some aspects of that, then we will make a significant contribution to abolishing poverty and ending suffering in the world. It’s an imperative from Jesus, and it’s an imperative of the mission of Christ as we understand it today.

Linda: Yes, it is. At the very core is Christ’s compassion, his compassion for all those people around him who he saw in need. So, if that compassion became alive in people and congregations, what might it look like, and what might the result be?

Steve: Compassion is one word that describes Jesus’ heart, his heart of hearts, the very core of who he was. The scriptures often say he was moved, not just with concern or being shocked at the condition of people; he was moved with compassion, and that’s a deep, penetrating movement of the Spirit. Compassion literally means to suffer with. “C-o-m” means with. Passion is not just enthusiastic feelings. It means deep suffering.

We talk of our Lord’s passion for us as being in the events that included his trial and death on the cross. That is our Lord’s passion for us. Compassion means to suffer with, and the only way we do that is to be present with.

You can’t have compassion from a distance. You have to be present as an instrument for sharing God’s love, God’s concern so people understand they are not alone in their suffering. It may be physical suffering. It may be emotional or mental despair or suffering. It may be spiritual suffering. It may be a person who has experienced brokenness in relationships and feels rejected. They feel cut off from their family or a community of loved ones that has been important to them.

All aspects of suffering are the focus of concern of compassionate disciples of Jesus. Jesus was God present with us in our suffering. God with us. Disciples of Jesus in Community of Christ are present in the name and Spirit of Christ with others who are suffering.

When we do that, the gospel is enfleshed. It becomes real. People are touched. They’re blessed. They have hope again. They believe in the future again. They understand their future does not have to be a continuation of their past.

That’s the good news of the gospel. To be suffering and alone is hell on Earth, and Community of Christ will not stand for that condition in people. We go, and we are present. We listen. We share as is appropriate in our testimony. We love, we help, we invite. We invite people into Community of Christ so they never have to be alone in their suffering again.

Linda: And when we love that much, then we get involved in the messiness of life. We don’t stand back when our neighbor is hurting. We are there to support them.

Steve: We’re present. We’re willing for our hearts to be broken. But we understand that in our brokenheartedness we have created a lot of space for the grace of God revealed in Jesus Christ that is the witness of the Holy Spirit to move. Others are blessed and transformed, but we’re also blessed and transformed.

We grow closer. We grow more intimate with our Lord Jesus Christ in the process. It’s not enough just to know about Jesus. We have to know Jesus. And to know Jesus means we’re living the life that Jesus lived. Sometimes that means we’re willing to figuratively go to the cross for others. Sometimes literally.

We know of brothers and sisters in the church who have given their lives for the sake of others. That’s all part of the integrity of our ministry and witness as a church.

Linda: In the past on the first Sunday of every month we’ve given to Oblation, and many people have given to World Hunger. How does giving to Abolish Poverty, End Suffering link to how people previously have given?

Steve: It goes directly to the Mission Initiative, Abolish Poverty, End Suffering. So we want to be very clear about that. What we previously designated as Oblation or for Oblation Ministries, which was always used to meet the needs of the needy and those in emergency situations, that all goes to support the Mission Initiative, Abolish Poverty, End Suffering.

World Hunger is an aspect of that. We particularly want to focus some of our funding on alleviating world hunger and advocating for food security for people throughout the world and in our communities. So if we’ve given to Oblation or World Hunger we can…give to Abolish Poverty, End Suffering, which will include those ministries we have defined as Oblation or World Hunger Ministries.

Linda: And so may each of us who are listening to this conversation feel that passion and compassion of Jesus burning within us that we might be the true and living expressions of Jesus Christ in the lives we touch.

Invite People to Christ

18 04 2012

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

Linda: We continue our conversation now with our friend and leader, Steve Veazey, about the mission initiatives. In particular now we’re going to be talking about Inviting People to Christ. So, Steve, I’ve heard some congregations are…having many baptisms and/or confirmations. They use this term, “the victory is in the invitation,” and that is said by the youngest to the oldest. What does that statement mean to you, and what would the value of that statement lived out in the life of people be?

Stephen M. Veazey

Steve: The “victory is in the invitation.” I think that’s great. If we could just get that into our minds and our hearts, our words and our actions, we would find transformation in our congregations.

I think one way to understand it is theologically, and that is the gospel is invitation. It’s God’s invitation through the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. God is inviting us to experience a new kind of life in a new kind of community and…the scriptures say the invitation of God comes through Christ and those who are followers of Christ.

So the gospel is all about invitation. Angels announcing to shepherds that Jesus has been born and inviting them to go, see, and be in his very presence. Jesus, when he is starting his public ministry, walking by the lakeside and inviting fishermen to come and follow him. And then those first disciples being so excited about what they’ve discovered in Jesus Christ that they rush to friends and relatives and invite them.

Jesus through his parables is inviting people to come into a new relationship with God. We think about the women who were at the tomb, the empty tomb, rushing back and telling the apostles what they had seen and inviting them to come and see the empty tomb, also. On the day of Pentecost, Peter boldly inviting thousands of people to come and be baptized in the name of Christ so they can experience the joys and blessings of the gospel, too.

The gospel is all about invitation, and so we carry the spirit of invitation in everything we do. Whether it’s worship, Christian-education classes, or community service, we’re always inviting. Inviting means to be welcoming, to be hospitable. The kind of preparation we would make for guests coming to our home is the kind of experience we should offer at every church activity.

People should know they’re expected, they’re welcomed, we’ve anticipated their needs, and they are always invited to enter into relationship with Christ and the church or to continue to grow in their relationship with Christ and the church.

So bottom line, it means we’re always looking for opportunities to simply say “Come with me and experience what God has in store for you in Jesus Christ.”

Linda: So we really worship a missionary God.

Steve: And we think about the parables that Jesus told in the New Testament. It often had to do with invitation. The parable of the great banquet—go into the city, go into the countryside, and invite people who don’t even expect to be invited to come to the banquet. The parable of the prodigal—the father who doesn’t just wait at the door for the returning child; he’s anxiously watching for him. And when he catches a glimpse of him he goes and meets him and invites him home. That’s the spirit of the invitation we’re talking about.

Linda: And it really is a matter of loving people so much that you want for them that intimate relationship with God.

Steve: And they know it. They experience it, and they know it. And that does more than anything to draw them into the fellowship of the congregation and for them to begin to experience the blessings of the gospel.

Linda: One of my favorite scriptures—and it’s just one line—that I really try to live by is in Luke 19:10, “the Son of man came to seek out and to save the lost.” I oftentimes think if each one of us would be having those sensitive spiritual eyes looking for those people who are lost spiritually, who are disconnected from the source of God’s grace, what a difference that would make!

Steve: What a difference it would make! And I think it’s important for us to understand that inviting is not just inviting and pressing people to come to church. Do we have an inviting personality as we’re interacting with people on a daily basis? Are we acknowledging them as a person of worth? Are we hospitable in our relationships?
Then we can invite people to all kinds of activities because they will be responding to the love of God that is inviting them through us, through our words, through our actions.

Linda: That’s one characteristic of a group of people that is invitational. They’re not just dependent on relationships within the body, but they actually have relationships in the community. Sometimes I hear people say, “Well all my friends are members of Community of Christ. I don’t know anybody that’s not in church.” What would your response be to someone who would make those statements?

Steve: They need to get out more. They need to get out and interact with people. Some days when I’m here in the office in the Temple, I intentionally leave. I may walk down to the local convenience store or go to other places to just interact with people, to be with them. I try to be kind. I try to say “good morning” or “good afternoon.” I try to make eye contact, even if they’re downcast and not looking at me.

All of that is what we mean by being invitational. It’s opening the door through our actions for someone to respond, even in conversation if they choose to do so.

Linda: And so with Invite People to Christ it seems like it’s seamless with the other four mission initiatives. It’s almost like the gateway; it’s critical for the other four mission initiatives.

Steve: When we understand it in its broadest terms, it’s about the spirit in which we engage in all the mission initiatives—the invitational, hospitable, warm, welcoming spirit.

It’s also about intentionally being engaged in evangelistic ministries, which some congregations have put aside to focus on other ministries they’re more comfortable with or more passionate about. When we focus on the mission initiative, Invite People to Christ, then we carry that spirit of evangelism into every aspect of what we’re doing. We also make sure the invitation is there and is being heard in all of our ministries.

So, yes, they’re all interrelated. They’re all connected. And we need to focus on all of them. In fact, they tend to lead into each other. For example, I know of people who have been attracted to the church because of our emphasis on justice and peacemaking. As a result of being enthused about that aspect of our ministry, they came to understand more about the church and decided to express their discipleship in the fellowship and ministry of Community of Christ by being baptized and confirmed or confirmed members of the church.

Linda: I met a woman several weeks ago—her name is Lynn—and she actually came to the church through invitation because of joining with the church in reaching out to the homeless. She was with people who had such care, love, and compassion for the homeless that she wanted to be a part of it, as well. Through that action, then she naturally was invited to the congregation, and she and her husband recently have been baptized.

Steve: When we are involved in the mission of Jesus, others will be attracted to becoming involved in that mission, too. They will be moved upon by the Spirit to become more committed as new or revived disciples of Jesus Christ.

Linda: So if someone looked at the envelope or went to www.GiveYour10.org, which is a website where the mission initiatives are articulated, and they wanted to give to Invite People to Christ, what would be the impact internationally?

Steve: The impact would be great. There’d be a huge difference. We’re hopeful people really respond. We have more opportunities for sharing the gospel and planting the church in new areas than we have resources to respond to those opportunities.

In some ways that’s always the case. The vision of the church is always greater than its current resources, and we live in that tension. But particularly now we know of areas in the United States, in other nations, that are ready. People are asking for the witness and the presence of Community of Christ, and we want to go there, and we will go there, hopefully. But when we go there, we need to be able to sustain and grow the work of the church.

So when people contribute to Invite People to Christ, the focus is on those mission initiatives that increase the number of church disciples throughout the world, plant the church in new areas, establish congregations to reach new groups, and open the work of the church in new nations. And all of that will increase and accelerate as the church responds to that mission initiative.

Linda: Thank you, Steve, for talking about Invite People to Christ. We encourage each one of you to become fully engaged in that mission initiative and be generous in your Mission Tithes so the mission of Jesus Christ can go to many places throughout the world, and many lives will be transformed.

Called to Commitment

15 03 2012

Recently Apostle Linda Booth chatted with Jim Poirier, the new member-designate of the Presiding Bishopric. Here are excerpts from their talk, which covered several topics. To see the interview, visit www.CofChrist.org/broadcast/2012archive.asp.

Linda: I’m talking with Jim Poirier, who recently was designated to serve as a member of the Presiding Bishopric and as a counselor to the presiding bishop. He comes as a designate because in 2013 the World Conference will have the opportunity to sustain him, and then he will be ordained.

Jim is a professional financial planner. He has been in banking systems and has served in multiple roles as a financial officer, in mission centers, Canada, and congregations. So, welcome, Jim. Could you tell us about your growing-up time?
Jim: I was born, raised, and still live in Canada under this new arrangement. I come from a town in northern Ontario on the border of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The town is called Sault Ste. Marie. My heritage is French-Canadian and Italian, so I have those rich heritages to guide me. I’m married to Janet. She’s a registered nurse, and we have two adult children. Kate is a communications specialist, and Joshua is a high school teacher.

I attended university in Windsor and received a bachelor of commerce degree. I worked for 25 years in the credit union system there. My last five years were as the vice president of marketing, communications, and product development for the credit unions in Canada.

Linda: Were you raised in the church?

Jim: No, I was raised by Catholic priests in my high school. Like Thomas, they taught me to question my faith and my relationship with God because it was the relationship that was so important. That freed me to examine my feelings about my relationship with God, and I think it ultimately led to my decision to join this church.

My wife’s family were members of this church, and…with them (I found) a church that valued people, welcomed people, had a concept of the kingdom I really appreciated and clung to.

Then someone noticed in me a gift and asked me to be a business manager at a junior high camp. I had never been to a youth camp. This experience changed my life. I saw these young people needed to simply feel good about themselves.

Ultimately, I was asked to direct the camp.

I said I had better be a member of this church if I’m going to direct a youth camp. That’s when I was baptized. It’s interesting that one of the first themes of our camp was stewardship, and we looked at the book, God’s Work and My Money. The regional bishop at the time got wind of it. His name was Larry Norris.

Linda: It’s amazing how we have these links to a variety of people as God brings them into our pathway to influence us. Who has had one of the greatest influences on your life?

Jim: Well, first of all, my parents. My parents are very strong in the Catholic faith. There wasn’t a moment in my life that I didn’t feel loved. They loved me enough to let me leave the church and to join this church, and we still have a very strong relationship.

I was raised quite a bit around the table of my Italian grandmother. From her I learned about hospitality and mostly about welcoming people. Then there was my wife. She taught me about commitment, love, and acceptance. Together, we’ve raised our family based on those principles.

Through the years there’s always been someone who has taken me under their wing. It’s just the way in this church.

Linda: In the counsel that presented your name to the church as the designate in the Presiding Bishopric, there’s mention about your deep sense of God’s grace and generosity. So there’s that spiritual side to you. Can you remember the first time you were aware of the Spirit’s presence?

Jim: I’d like to talk about two incidents. The first, when I was very young, was during the season of Lent. Lent was a time in northern Ontario when the snow was melting, and in the Catholic faith there were certain rituals. One was attending Mass every day. I would wake up early in the morning, run to church, attend Mass, and run all the way home.
I sensed closeness with God at that time. I didn’t know what it was, but as the snow was melting, spring was coming, and the Easter season was coming, I experienced a sense of hope.

After university, we attended my wife’s church. An evangelist there kind of took me under his wing. He was in the labor-relations position at the school board, and the credit union I worked for had a union. Together, we would talk about employee relations and dealing with our employees in a different way. I learned so much from him.

One time our staff was about to go on strike. I went to him and asked for administration. I was thinking God would kind of take everything away, and that cooler heads would prevail. But the answer to my prayer was so significant. As he was praying, he said, “You will take the lead, and you will be the bridge, and you will be a person who others will go to during this very difficult time.”

As the strike started and went on, I found myself being the bridge. I knew then that God answers prayers. I’ve really sensed God’s Spirit walking with me through those times, and that has continued.

Linda: You’ve served for many years as the bishop of Canada, and you’ll remain in that role even as you support the International Church in the Presiding Bishopric. How have your experiences prepared you to serve the church in this new way?

Jim: Well, the bishop of Canada is the trustee of the church in Canada. So we have responsibility, as the presiding bishop’s office here does, for all of the business aspects of the church. Anything dealing with land, real estate, legal, risk management—all of those activities are done at the Canada headquarters. The other really important issue is dealing with the charity regulators in Canada. That’s taught me to  deal with charities legislation and running the congregations in Canada.

I also have been a mission center financial officer. Part of my role at the presiding bishop’s office is to work with mission center financial officers and, of course, the congregational financial officers—kind of the unsung heroes. We have an obligation to them as they do the tasks every day that we all take for granted.

Linda: One thing I’ve heard about is your ability to inspire people to give to their true capacity. With the five mission initiatives, people have this wonderful opportunity to respond to Christ’s mission as their mission, and to support to their true capacity so the mission initiatives can go into the world. Talk to us about how the initiatives will help people understand that call to give generously according to their true capacity.

Jim: True capacity for me is all about commitment. When Christ talked to the rich young man and asked him to sell his possessions, give everything to the poor, and follow him, he was asking for his commitment. He was asking for him to commit his life to something far greater than he was currently capable of doing.

I don’t think we can give to our true capacity unless we’ve committed ourselves. And we can’t commit ourselves unless we’ve given to our true capacity. For example, when Christ was standing in the synagogue and expressing his mission, the Holy Spirit called him to give to his capacity. It was from that strong experience of the love of God that he was able to respond, give to his true capacity, and courageously announce it in front of the people who would be most critical.

For Community of Christ, we are called to that same mission, and we are called to give to our capacity. In other words, we are called to commit ourselves to that mission. When we do that, we will automatically begin to invite people to what we have.

Linda: And that’s all about being a disciple of Jesus Christ, isn’t it? And so you’ve already begun to paint a vision of what could be if people deepened their discipleship, if they really, truly took Christ’s mission as their mission, as their families’ mission, as their congregations’ mission to go into their neighborhoods and communities and transform them into the kingdom principles. What would happen if each of us were filled with God’s grace and then responded by giving according to our true capacity?

Jim: In Acts 2, there’s a story of people coming to the church. It all began when the apostles listened to them and understood them. When people were listened to and were understood, they began to understand the true love God had for them, and they reached out to others. Our church, as we live up to our true capacity and the mission initiatives, will look like that.

There will be no poor because we will have such a passion for everyone that no one will do without. There will be an invitation to hundreds and thousands of people to come and share what we have because we’ll be compassionate, and we will be seeking justice. So I’m kind of looking at the church the way it was perceived back in Acts 2.

Linda: Excellent. So my brothers and sisters, I join with Jim and all World Church leaders to invite you to go deeper in your discipleship, to allow God’s grace to fill you to overflowing so you might share the gospel and give according to your true capacity.

Holistic Mission

7 03 2012

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

Linda: In Doctrine and Covenants 164:9 it says that by the grace of God we are poised to fulfill God’s ultimate vision for the church. It later says it’s the mission of Jesus Christ that matters most. So we’re talking about Christ’s mission as our mission. In your April 10 address you clearly connected Christ’s mission as articulated in Luke 4:18–19 and how that links to the five mission initiatives. Would you tell us a little bit about that?

Steve: Sure. That passage of Luke is referred to as Jesus’ mission statement. He went to the synagogue in Nazareth, where he had grown up. And he said the Spirit of the Lord is upon me, and here’s what I’m going to do.

He uses a series of phrases that describe types of ministry like bringing good news to the poor, healing the brokenhearted, bringing release to the captives, proclaiming the acceptable year of the Lord. The mission initiatives are ways of expressing Christ’s mission in terms that we can understand and apply today. Each is a parallel to what Jesus said in Luke 4:18–19. And when we look at all the mission initiatives together, they represent the whole mission of Jesus Christ as he expressed it.

Linda: So Invite People to Christ; Abolish Poverty, End Suffering; Pursue Peace on Earth, those three mission initiatives are the articulation of Christ’s mission as our mission?

Steve: Exactly. They refer to those phrases that are in the book of Luke 4:18–19, which is really a reflection of what is in Isaiah 61. That’s the scroll Jesus was reading, and each of those phrases helps us understand a phrase that Jesus used and how to apply it in ministry today. All of them together represent the whole mission of Jesus Christ.

Linda: Then we have two other mission initiatives: Develop Disciples to Serve and Experience Congregations in Mission. How do those then relate to Christ’s mission?

Steve: Those two initiatives help us understand how to implement the mission of Invite People to Christ; Abolish Poverty, End Suffering; and Pursue Peace on Earth. Obviously there have to be disciples of Jesus who are willing and feel called and motivated to Invite People to Christ; to Abolish Poverty, End Suffering; to Pursue Peace on Earth. So one role of the church is to motivate and equip the disciples to do that, to pursue the mission of Jesus Christ.

Then, of course, in our Community of Christ understanding, discipleship is not what you do individually necessarily; it’s what we do together. So the congregation engaged in mission is engaging all of the member disciples in the congregation in pursuing the whole mission of Jesus Christ.

Linda: Steve, sometimes I hear folks in congregations say, “We have a food pantry, and that’s what our focus is, and that’s what we believe our mission is.” Now those are good things, to have food pantries. But how does that relate to the holistic way in which the five mission initiatives are helping us to understand Christ’s mission?

Steve: Having a food pantry is an element of Christ’s mission, and it’s a very worthy ministry. So I want to affirm that first. Feeding the hungry and making food available is important to Abolishing Poverty, Ending Suffering.

But Community of Christ, in terms of its understanding of Christ’s mission, needs to go a step further. We need to ask why people are hungry in our community. What circumstances are causing that in families, in the lives of individuals? Why are children hungry in our own communities?

Once we gain insight into the question of why, then we need to engage in Pursuing Peace on Earth, which includes justice, which in this case would call us to engage in transformation in the community to address those causes of hunger.

So the mission initiatives always challenge us to look beyond particular ministries and ask ourselves, “Are we pursuing the whole mission of Jesus Christ?”

As we’re relating to people, as we’re sharing food generously, as we’re involved in advocacy and action to alleviate hunger…, as we have opportunity, are we sharing with people the invitation to come to Christ and come and be a part of the community that is centered in Jesus Christ?

That is the motivation for our feeding of the hungry and our addressing of issues that cause hunger in the community. So they all work together, and we need to look at them as a whole.

Linda: So in that holistic approach…what would you envision if more congregations really understood the joy of all five mission initiatives?

Steve: I think spiritual revitalization. The Holy Spirit blesses groups and congregations that are engaged in the whole ministry of Jesus Christ. So people are going to come alive in the gospel as never before. And I’ve seen that happen in congregations that move beyond their routine activities and begin to ask themselves, “What is God calling us to do in terms of the mission of Jesus Christ in our community?”

There’s a spiritual stirring, a spiritual awakening that occurs. It not only occurs among the members who are in the congregation, but when congregations engage in the whole mission of Jesus Christ, new people are attracted to the congregation who bring gifts and resources needed for the mission.

The Holy Spirit does that work, so it becomes a blessing. Individuals are blessed, families are blessed, congregations are blessed, neighborhoods are blessed, towns are blessed, nations are blessed when we come alive in mission.

Linda: I read that these five mission initiatives are life changing, congregation changing, community changing, and world changing. So this links to our understanding of what it means to be about the peaceable kingdom, even Zion.

Steve: Absolutely. It goes right to the core of that. This is not about programs that we’re recommending congregations engage in. This is about hearing the call to mission. And the mission initiatives help us understand how to respond to that mission by focusing our efforts in certain areas and by equipping our members and our congregations to pursue that mission. When the church is doing that, it’s fulfilling its purpose of being an instrument in the hands of the Spirit for bringing the kingdom of God more and more into expression where we live and serve.

Linda: So that helps us understand the phrase in Section 164 “by the grace of God you are poised to fulfill God’s ultimate vision for the church.”

Steve: We have a rich history that shows us how to engage in this mission and the importance of it. We have the resources and the experience. We have the theology and the sense of calling. We understand the gospel as it is to be expressed in community. We’re poised, and now we need to move into action to fulfill all of this potential in the life of the church—to truly pursue the mission of Jesus Christ.

Linda: Absolutely. That spirit is working in this life of the church. I sense it when I’m out traveling. There’s been a change in the (offering) envelopes. On one side it now lists the mission initiatives, and there has been a spirit moving of generosity in the church because we’ve seen an increase in the number of contributors and in the amounts of money. Are they catching a glimpse through these mission initiatives of how powerful their giving and generosity is internationally for the church and the world?

Steve: Absolutely. We’ve been told through inspired counsel over the years that discipleship and stewardship cannot be separated. They are part of the same in terms of our relationship with God and Jesus Christ. We’ve been told to spread the gospel as far and as wide as we can, especially through the exercise of our temporal stewardship.

So in terms of the offering envelopes, we’re trying to communicate clearly the link between tithes and mission. So as we increase our generosity, mission increases. If the generosity is not there, we are not able to fulfill our mission.

The offering envelopes clearly communicate that what we give in tithing goes directly to mission. It doesn’t go to other expenses in the life of church. It goes directly to mission. And if someone feels passionate or especially enthused about some aspect of the mission, whether it’s Invite People to Christ/evangelism, whether it’s Pursue Peace on Earth, or compassionate ministries, they can give specifically to that initiative and experience the joy and meaning that comes from giving.

So that mission initiative can have more and more impact in the life of the church and throughout the world—locally and globally, which are both important parts of our discipleship in mission.

Linda: And that spirit is moving in the church in profound and tangible ways. And we give thanks for that.

“They Aren’t Somebody to Be Ignored!”

4 08 2011

Dale LuffmanApostle Dale Luffman, Community of Christ’s ecumenical and interfaith officer, recently talked with Dave Wheaton of Integrated Communications about the church’s ecumenical witness, its role in acting with other denominations, and about the ecumenical support our church received in a difficult time.

Q: What can you tell us about the church’s ecumenical witness?

A: We see ecumenical ministries as a witness and not as competition with what we are doing missionally. It’s a right-hand, left-hand piece. It actually complements and enhances what we are doing as a church. By networking with the National Council of Churches (NCC), Church World Service, and other agencies like Sojourners…we can help our congregations to be more-effective witnesses by working with others in mutual endeavors.

One thing I encounter, when I am with ecumenical partners, is a question that comes up again and again and again: “Where have you folks been?” This response occurs when they discover who we are and the witness we bear, and they’re just thrilled about that. We’ve often not been good advocates of our own witness. Our participation in the NCC is helping us to define ourselves in light of what our message is, rather than who others think we might be and what our message might be.

Frankly people are very much helped when we can frame our mission, message, and identity in a way that is our language, rather than someone else’s language.

I’m excited about the possibility of our people discovering they aren’t somebody to be ignored! We are a valued community in the larger community of Christians. Our witness is respected. I think it’s important for our people to experience this and have a sense of “You know, we don’t have to live on the back street! We have something to share.”

Q: President Steve Veazey’s April 10 address held up five mission initiatives. To Abolish Poverty, End Suffering and to Pursue Peace on Earth are not small tasks! We are a small bunch, how do our actions have an impact?

A: A plus about being involved in the NCC and other ecumenical interfaces is that it allows us to voice our concerns as a faith communion (denomination), alongside others. That voicing, if we are voicing it by ourselves, is a pebble in the water. When we are able in a collaborative and complementary way to give voice to issues of mutual concern, it is a much more significant ripple.

That is one of the blessings of our increased ecumenical involvement. It offers us venues and opportunities to do and to speak more easily and more faithfully and represent Community of Christ’s own interests alongside other communions, which also have something to say about peace and justice. Many denominations are as passionate about these issues as are we. And that is important and exciting.

Q: Via your signature, Community of Christ, with 27 other denominations and groups, supported an ad placed in various media by Sojourners, entitled “What Would Jesus Cut? A Budget Is a Moral Document.” It talks about the US federal budget and cuts Congress is talking about to balance the budget. Quoting the ad, “Our faith tells us that the moral test of a society is how it treats the poor.” How would you describe this advertisement?

A: I would say this (ad) is important to capture the attention of the public, to say we need to ask hard questions about public policy in light of the gospel. What is the gospel saying to us? Not what my self-interests or other agendas are dictating, but what does the gospel say to us about public policy? That’s not to push an agenda for a particular political party.

It is perhaps a role the church plays—constantly saying, “How does the gospel speak to this issue here and now? And how might I come to understand that as a disciple of the Lord Jesus I might need to entertain these questions, in faith?”

Sojourners took the initiative to try to help the conversation legislatively. …We didn’t take a vote through a Conference to [sign the ad]. But I think I am called to represent what I understand to be our common voice, alongside the common voices of other denominations, to ask, “What would Jesus cut?”

Q: Is there anything else you would like to share?

A: I am excited about where we are! Where I’ve served the church, ecumenism has been a blessing. I remember in Kirtland, Ohio, we had to deal with such tragic circumstances. My ecumenical activity became a very important witness at that time.

I remember very early on, media began to confront us, saying, “Well you’re a cult.” Fortunately, the Roman Catholic priest in Kirtland, an ecumenical partner and good friend, had just preached the Thanksgiving-evening service in the Kirtland Temple, at my invitation, just weeks before the crisis that rocked the church in Ohio.

I said (to the media), “You could speak with Father Norm Smith at Divine Word Catholic Church. He would be very helpful to understand who we are.”

He said to them, “The Rev. Dale Luffman is a personal friend of mine. He is a Christian minister. He and I and the UCC (United Church of Christ) minister carry the spiritual welfare of this community on our hearts and minds. He is my Christian brother.”

In a metropolitan area where you have a very strong Roman Catholic presence, there was no more talking about a cult. Our ecumenical connections served as a witness we could never have borne ourselves, but was borne on our behalf.

For me that is a very powerful and tangible witness of ecumenical support and cooperation.

Creating Bonds between People

5 03 2011

Kristi Hettrick of Integrated Communications visited with Derrick Williams about his roles in African American Ministries, co-leader of the World Church Diversity Team, and working with congregations in the Southern Field. His quiet demeanor and modesty cannot begin to illustrate the passion he feels for growing congregations and disciples of Jesus Christ.

Q: Tell me about your family and your daily life.

A: I live in the greater Chicago area, about 35 miles from where I grew up. My mom is 85 and still lives in Chicago. My favorite food is Chicago-style pizza, and I have been known to dabble in the kitchen. Now it is such a pleasure to have my granddaughters help me in the kitchen make everything from macaroni and cheese—not from a box!—to grits with cheese. Can you see that cheese is their favorite?

My daughter’s name is Autumn, and my granddaughters are Winter (9) and Summer (6). My son-in-law, Alaric, is a Chicago firefighter. My daily prayers for his safety make me more sensitive to the loss-of life-issues that each of us deals with. My son is Derrick Jr. I am blessed each day by each of them.

I grew up in the Catholic Church but began to learn about different faiths and religions as a young adult. I was “unattached” to a particular church for almost 15 years but never lost my need for church fellowship. I met Seventy Larry McGuire at a community faith-based mission project in my neighborhood and began to learn more about Community of Christ.

Q: What was your job before you began to work for the church?

A: I was the director of consulting, education, and training for a large, Chicago-based mental and behavioral healthcare center. I spent 20 years in social services before becoming a full-time minister.

I was really questioning how I would move into this new role. But I was very reassured that all the work I had done previously would transfer. I always listened to people and tried to get people to come together and strategize how to use everyone’s gifts and talents. I had a little faith—and it’s been an amazing transition.

Q: Describe the work you do for the church.

A: I am in African American Ministries for the church and also serve as the World Church Diversity Team co-leader. I travel in the Southern field two to three weeks a month—from Alabama to Mississippi to Florida and back again.

I work with pastors, other leaders, and members on training and leadership development, and I lead seminars, retreats, and workshops. The last workshop I did was on the Enduring Principles.

Q: What speaks to you about the Enduring Principles?

A: I really find the unity in diversity principle lets me help congregations learn to work together. When we can open up a church to a community at-large where the people live and work, it helps us all be more accepting of others.

Each individual principle serves as a good teaching point to help congregations overcome their struggle with the mission and message of the church. It is an amazing framework that helps small congregations feel connected to the global church.

Q: What else would help smaller congregations feel more connected?

A: More of me! That’s a joke, of course, but really what we need are more resources for congregational consultants. I have many more requests than I actually have time in a year.

All congregations—large or small—struggle with similar issues. Those issues range from loss of identity—“What is the mission of our congregation?”—to “How can our worship become more contemporary and still be meaningful?” to “How can we better include children and young adults?”

The joy in my job is helping congregations discover how unique it is that our church is a church of invitation.

Q: What gets you out of bed in the morning?

A: I get excited when I am preparing to hit the road. I love building new relationships and seeing progress and movement in congregations as they grow in discipleship.

I see increased numbers of people being baptized, attending church on Sunday mornings, and reaching out to their communities.

I see more children and young adults in congregations, and all of those things indicate things are working. I get energized to work toward greater unity and understanding of God’s mission for individuals and for neighborhoods where we all live.

Q: Talk about your work with the Diversity Team and African American Ministries.

I have been so excited to see the leadership of the First Presidency continue to lift up the principles of inclusion at all levels of church leadership. I am grateful that what is now the International Leaders Council (formerly the Expanded World Church Leadership Council) is more representative of our church membership.

Under President Veazey’s leadership, the ILC helped create, shape, and develop what we now know as the Enduring Principles. For me, that ties directly back to my work with President (Becky) Savage on priesthood faithfulness. I am extremely passionate about priesthood having ongoing, professional development.

Also, in October of 2010 about 75 people attended our annual African American Ministry Retreat in Independence, Missouri. More than half of those had never been to a retreat before and had never been to Independence.

President Veazey and Cathi Cackler-Veazey served as guest ministers. We had the highest attendance of the last four years. These represent new church members, which is so exciting. Also, there has been a steady increase in African American participation in the Ministerial Education and Discipleship Studies program over the last two years.

Q: What else would you like people to know about you?

A: I would rather talk about what congregations are clamoring for—they are hungry for resources to expand and grow their ministries. I am just one of many people trying each day to meet the needs of signal communities.

I want to help congregations as they move toward the goal of becoming the signal communities they long to be.

Among the ministries Derrick Williams (r.) supports is outreach in prisons. Here, he joins with members of the Evergreen Congregation in Alabama and prison trustees.

I Can See God’s Hand

5 02 2011

Robin LinkhartDave Wheaton of Integrated Communications recently talked with Robin Linkhart, president of seventy and missionary coordinator for the Western USA Field. She has been married 31 years and has four children and one grandchild. Here are excerpts from their conversation.

Q: You have a multiple degrees in what?

A: Biological sciences and Christian ministry from Community of Christ Seminary.

Q: How do your science and theological parts get along?

A: They get along beautifully. Science is the study of life and creation, and all through my studies with science I could see God’s hand. Everything is such a miracle I think.

Q: In addition to working for the church, what do you like to do?

A: I love to read. I love to quilt. I got into quilting in 2000, and I’ve sewed by machine since I was 8 years old. I taught beginning quilt, which turned out to be an amazing journey because I recognized that one thing our culture is missing now is those connections and relationships that women used to have. You’re shoulder to shoulder and talking. And people share about the depths of their souls and lives, and the joys and sorrows.

Q: How did you come to Community of Christ?

A: My mother was a lifelong member. My father did not join the church until I was a senior in high school. But he was always supportive. I and my three younger sisters were baptized at 8. My dad was a career officer in the Army Corps of Engineers, so we moved 19 times in the first 20 years of my life. But the many places we lived, (the church) was a constant in my life. You know how it is in our church. You walk in and you’re part of that family.

I’ve always been active in congregational life—children’s ministry, music, directing the choir. In the early ’90s I began to have a real sense of calling. I spent a lot of time in prayer, and a call didn’t come. I just decided, “You know, my sense of call is to serve God and follow the Christ. And I can do that no matter what.” And in the midst of that kind of sense of peace our pastor told me I had a call to the office of elder. When he said elder, my mouth just fell open.

Q: You’re one of the new 10 presidents of seventy. What’s your ministry focusing on?

A: To join God and God’s mission in the world. Mission can’t be separated from following the Christ. We’re called to serve this world in the stead of Christ and to be the hands and feet of Jesus. Both in and out of the congregation. Both as individuals and as part of the body of Christ.

Another challenge for us is our world has changed so rapidly, and we’re…just grappling to try to find ways to connect to young people and to tell the story in ways that make sense and come alive for them.

Q: What do you enjoy most about your ministry?

A: I think learning together. When I teach I always feel like I’m learning as much or more than the students.

Q: What are the struggles with ministry?

A: I think one of our biggest challenges is understanding how important it is to have balance in our life, to have a holy sense of rhythm. That’s counter to Western culture. It’s critically important to make space for God in our lives in ways that give us holy rest.

I think in many ways if we try to stretch that too thin we’re shooting ourselves in the foot, so to speak. It’s more important than ever that we give each other permission to feed and nurture our souls in ways that connect with us.

Q: The church is emphasizing generosity and giving. How do you see that?

A: I believe generosity is part of discipleship. We have natural conversations that meet people at their point of need and dovetail beautifully with God’s grace and the circle of giving.

We have folks who have wonderful ideas and opportunities to engage in mission. If the funding isn’t there to give life to that, then we’re left empty. It not only makes a difference on the receiving side of mission, it makes a difference in the life of the generous disciple.

My husband and I were poor for a really long time. In fact, looking back, my husband and I realized a few years back, “My gosh, we could have qualified for food stamps.” The kids, when they were little, they would come home and say, “Are we poor or are we rich?” And I said, “Well we’re not rich in money, but we’re rich in love.” With generosity I think it’s important to talk about that with children from the beginning.

Q: Tell me about congregations reaching out to young adults, to youth.

A: It’s a struggle. In some ways the advent of technology has separated us from youth and young adults. Just invite young adults over to your house to get involved in their lives, to listen. They will lead. They will have ideas and a sense of how they might want to participate. I think sometimes we’re afraid to let go. I really believe our young adults have the answers we’re looking for.

We just have to find ways to hear that voice and to advocate for them because they need older adults to help mentor and be advocates.

Q: How do the Enduring Principles speak to you?

A: The Enduring Principles didn’t drop out of thin air. I think they came out of the fabric and texture of whom we are as Community of Christ. They pull threads not only from the beginning of our church, but from the beginnings of the Christian tradition.

For me they help us in very concrete ways understand who we are and who we’ve always been, not only who God is calling us to become. I think worth of all persons is a core principle of how we’re called to be a bridge to healing and wholeness.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to say?

A: It’s a privilege to be able to serve in this way. It’s the most-difficult thing I have ever done, but in a sense I think that’s what discipleship is, it’s difficult. It can be painful at times. But the joy and the blessing, there’s an essence of life that flows out of it.

“I Think We’ll Get It”

8 01 2011

Carla LongNot long ago, Lynda Roberson of Integrated Communications visited with the effusive Carla Long, financial officer of the Sierra Pacific USA Mission Center. She’s well-traveled but has spent the last five years in California. Here are excerpts from their conversation.

Q: Could you tell us a little about yourself?

A: I grew up in a Kansas town that had about five people. I lived on a farm two miles outside of there. My graduating class had 37 kids.
I was Student Council president, captain of the basketball team, captain of the volleyball team, captain of the cheerleaders, math league…all the things you could be because nobody else wanted to.

Then I went to Graceland. I wanted to be a math professor and teach teachers how to teach math; teach kids how to like math. At times I still want to write a math textbook.

I loved teaching math in Independence [Missouri] for three years, then God called—and God called really, really loudly. It was like, “Carla, Carla, Carla, Carla, Carla.” And that started my journey working for the church.

I moved to the Philippines with World Service Corps, and I stayed five months. Then the church pulled me out because the war in Iraq was starting. People were very angry. Then they said I could go to Australia for a year and work with Aboriginals who had dropped out of high school. It was so good for me.

Then I came back and started seminary. I taught math teachers at the University of Missouri-Kansas City for a year, and then [the church] moved me to California.

Q: What is your current ministerial position?

A: I’m in charge of the [mission center] budget and making sure your money goes where you want it go. And I’m in charge of buildings and insurance—things that sound really boring but make a difference in lives.

I feel my ministry as a financial officer helps your ministry happen. That helps me keep moving.

Q: What type of ministry do you most enjoy?

A: I go to almost every youth event in our mission center. In fact, two days ago I canoed 10 miles down the Russian River—and my back is killing me. But it was fun. I love hanging out with the youth.

I also love preaching. And I like being in congregations with the people, not just the preaching. My best friend, Tara, says if I were an animal I would be a dog because I’m very loyal and always excited to see people. That’s what makes it work. They can see I want to be with them.

Q: How has your journey and ministry affected your faith?

A: I was a lukewarm Christian when I taught in Independence. I sang with the Center Place Singers, so every week I’d go to a different congregation. I didn’t have a congregation to call my own. It would be like, “I have a job. I have friends. Who needs church?” And when God started tapping me on the shoulder really, really loudly…I realized I needed to do something completely different. I reinvented myself into somebody I wanted to become. That was a huge leap of faith for me.

Q: How are congregations in your area focusing on grace and generosity?

A: We have incredibly generous congregations. One congregation in Fremont, California, has made its own children’s peace pavilion. Children from all over the Bay area have field trips and come.

We have a congregation in Novato that has an ESL (English as a Second Language) class every Thursday night, also a homework club. The congregation’s in a depressed area with a lot of people who don’t speak English, and our church helps them. They also started a food bank and feed 150 families per week. Another congregation has been very, very welcoming to homeless people. So, really cool things are happening.

Q: How are congregations in your area reaching out to youth and young adults?

A: I think we have one of the best youth programs in the church. Last summer, in our senior high camp, we had 32 kids. Twenty had never been to senior high camp before. A lot of them were like, “This is the best week of my life!” We have retreats for them all year round.

The young adults—we came from no program at all, and now we’re up to two young-adult retreats a year. I have “hired” three young-adult program coordinators, who we pay $250 a month to do activities in their areas. People are interested and excited. They’re like, “Oh, there is a place for me in this church.”

And now we have hired a full-time, young-adult minister.

Q: So what is your take on how we reach young adults?

A: The thing about every person in the church, young adult or older adult, is that you have to have a relationship. It is important to listen, and listen, and listen, and engage, engage, engage. It takes a lot of time, and it takes a lot of effort.

You can’t just say, “Come to our church because you’re gonna like it.” They’re gonna say, “Why? I can drink coffee on Sunday mornings and relax.” Relationship. Relationship. Relationship.

Q: How have the Enduring Principles influenced your ministry?

A: When I am talking to people who don’t know the church, I say something that grabs their attention like, “I am a full-time minister for a church that is trying to become a peace church.”

And they say, “What does that mean?” Then I can talk about our Enduring Principles: that we believe everyone has worth, and all are called; we believe in continuing revelation; and we believe in peace, and shalom, and justice.

Q: Is there anything else you want to share?

A: I am really excited about the direction the church is heading—by the things I am hearing from Headquarters and from the people. I’m excited that we are getting closer to understanding who God is and what God wants from us. It’s all about love and relationships, peace, and being with people—being in community.

I think we’ll get it.

Priesthood Faithfulness: a Whole-life Experience

5 10 2010

Linda Booth interviews Becky Savage

Becky Savage, a member of the First Presidency, recently talked with Apostle Linda Booth, director of communications, about priesthood faithfulness. Here are excerpts from that conversation:

Linda: As a denomination, Community of Christ upholds the Enduring Principle that all are called, from the oldest to the youngest. In that calling people are specifically called to serve in priesthood, to bring service to community, as well as to congregation, as well as to world. So we talk a lot about priesthood accountability or faithfulness. What does that mean to you?

Becky: Priesthood faithfulness entails a whole-life experience. When we accept God’s calling for priesthood that means we are making a commitment of our whole life. It’s not just what one does in the congregation or in a worship service. It’s how one lives and prepares to minister with people.

If we follow the model of Jesus Christ, we know there was time alone and preparation before the full initiation of his ministry. We know that even when he was among the people, he needed to take time away and prepare. We translate those things now in our life as our prayer time, our meditation time, and our studies to be the most-effective ministers we can be.

Priesthood have an additional responsibility, and that is to live the example of Jesus Christ every day. There are times when we need to be with people because of their special needs. There are times when we…need to step back and consider what it is God has for us to do now.

Priesthood faithfulness means attuning to God’s calling, God’s Spirit, God’s grace, and a generosity of God, and then being those same attributes for the people we interact with.

Linda: That does change the way we view priesthood from accountable—meaning you must do it—to a life experience of giving in response to God’s grace. I know a team of people, who live in the congregation and those here at International Headquarters, came together to talk about priesthood faithfulness. Could you tell us what they discovered and recommended?

Becky: This team was initiated a little over three years ago with three phases. The first was discovering information, what is already available, through our headquarters area, congregations, and mission fields.

The second group took that information and distilled it into key concepts. What are the primary principles we find in our more modern-day scripture? We found that scripture is foundational. And then there are elements of how one lives out priesthood. That involves a calling process and the discernment that a pastor or World Church leader goes through.

Then there’s a process for the individual, as well. The material prepared in 1985 for the preparation of priesthood, including women, already has foundations that we do not need to repeat or rework. It’s there.

Through the life of the church there have been experiences and reaffirmations that God is calling us to new faithfulness and reminding us when our lives have gone astray that we need to come back. So the group looked again at processes. Scripture principles. Design principles.

Now the group is working on how we implement this in the life of the church. There are elements of calling. We are recommending there be an extended time for an individual who may have a call being approached by a pastor, for example, who says, “I’m seeing giftedness in you. Your life is now showing and modeling how to be faithful and bring additional ministries. Would you spend time with me in prayer over the next several months? Let’s have a time where you can consider what you sense God’s calling is in your life, then we’ll have conversation.”

So that extended period of discovering whether or not there’s a call is an open-ended invitation to focus on ministry. We would see that not for a particular priesthood office, but specifically in enhancement of one’s ministry.

Then there is a period, if once a call is actually presented, that it’s approved through all of the channels of the church and is brought to the individual. Then there’s another extended period of preparation if the individual says yes.

And then there’s a commitment in one’s life as priesthood to great generosity in time, talents, finances, and development of one’s particular giftedness. And the opportunity to learn with a companion minister what it is to be with people in the most-appropriate and ministerial ways.

Linda: What does it mean for those who already are members of the priesthood when we cite priesthood faithfulness?

Becky: One thing we have realized is that our initial priesthood coursework, which is a great foundation, needs to have additions to focus on their particular ministry.

We have had those things through our Temple School offerings. Those offerings will continue, and we see an additional course an individual would work on every year.

We again would invite priesthood to do a ministry plan every year. To look at those areas where you want to grow and those areas where you already are being helpful. Refocusing one’s commitment in priesthood is very important.

The other issue we think would be very, very helpful is that as a congregation and priesthood there be an annual recovenanting, where there would be preparation, scriptures, prayer, readings, meditation times. And then a congregation and priesthood would come together and make a new covenant to serve with each other—priesthood to serve as servants for the members, and members to join in response to that special ministry.

Linda: Becky, you’ve outlined a vision of possibilities of priesthood, both new and those who have already been ordained, deepening their discipleship, commitment, and indeed even their faithfulness to that call. What will the difference be in their lives and the congregation?

Becky: We have found over the last year as we prepared for a World Conference that when there was a deliberate plan to be in prayer, study, and meditation on a particular concern, it made a difference in the lives of our members. It made a difference in our priesthood.

When we’re not having the competition of all the noises of our life—a time away in silence—then one’s own energies and ability to sense God’s prompting are more open.

Linda: Thank you, Becky. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Becky:  We see this as an opportunity to reaffirm how important priesthood is. First and foremost—and this may sound a little challenging—reminding our members what it is to be a disciple. When we learn that foundational piece first, then servant ministry of the priesthood needs to support and enhance that element of faithfulness to God’s call for all of us.

The church is committed to providing additional resources to help. We also are affirmed by God’s Spirit.

Linda: Thank you, Becky. We look forward to the future, knowing that as we are faithful, God will continue to help us to be disciples who will reach out to those who are yearning for a spiritual home, as well as a relationship with God.