25 07 2014

By Carman Thompson, apostolic assistant

About a year ago, a blog by a Presbyterian minister I casually follow, www.achurchforstarvingartists.wordpress.com, published “Mistakes Were Made (But It Was OK).” The post was about churches that are afraid to make a decision or take a chance on trying something new. One comment has stayed with me.

IMG_3330“Realize that mistakes are our friends. If your church hasn’t made a mistake in the past year, you haven’t tried anything creative.”

In the past year? Many congregations haven’t tried anything really adventurous in the past decade, probably two! That seems somewhat ironic given that during that same period, the inspired guidance given to Community of Christ has grown increasingly strident in its call for action.

The words that eventually became Doctrine and Covenants 161 were presented to the church by then-President Grant McMurray as words of counsel in 1996 and canonized in 2000. That document contained a fresh and compelling voice. It used the phrase, “Heed the urgent call…” (Doctrine and Covenants 161:6b).

Four years later, in 2004, another revelation was presented to the church, again conveying urgency. “The call to respond is urgent. Look to the needs of your own congregations, but look beyond your walls…” (Doctrine and Covenants 162:7d).

In 2007, Section 163 was given, and the call for immediate action became even more heightened. This document contains phrases such as “Open your ears…Do not turn away…Humankind must awaken…,” and “…equip people of all ages…” (Doctrine and Covenants 163:4a–c).

Then three years later, further counsel was presented to the church, primarily with timely guidance to help us through complex and difficult issues. This counsel, now Doctrine and Covenants 164, continued to call the church to immediate action. It contains urgency in a statement followed by two powerful questions:

The challenges and opportunities are momentous. Will you remain hesitant in the shadows of your fears, insecurities, and competing loyalties? Or will you move forward in the light of your divinely instilled call and vision?—Doctrine and Covenants 164:9e

Then in 2013 came further words of counsel, including:

Lovingly invite others to experience the good news of new life in community with Christ. Opportunities abound in your daily lives if you choose to see them.
Undertake compassionate and just actions that seek to abolish poverty and end needless suffering. Pursue peace on and for the Earth.

Let nothing separate you from this mission.

…Additional innovative approaches to coordinating con­gregational life and supporting groups of disciples and seekers are needed to address mission opportunities in a changing world.

Recognizing the need for innovative approaches in congregational life, is it time we perhaps took a few more chances and risked making a few of those mistakes mentioned earlier? Let’s have a conversation about risking making some mistakes, shall we?

It may just be urgent!

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.

If You Feed Them…

29 01 2014

By Jan Quick, Rich Hill, Missouri, USA

Our Rich Hill Congregation had prayed earnestly for ways to share Jesus Christ in our small Missouri community and for people who would join our worship experience.

Each Wednesday, we enjoy a potluck meal, share how God has blessed us, and pray for each other’s needs and concerns.

About seven years ago, the two youth members in our small group each brought a friend to our Wednesday-night activity. The following week the two friends returned, and each of them brought a friend. Our youth attendance began to grow.

With only four or five ladies in our congregation able to bring food to share, it sometimes has been a challenge to meet this ongoing need. But it’s a challenge we joyfully pick up because things have begun to happen in the lives of the young people.

We share Bible stories, sing hymns, and have activities that demonstrate who Jesus is and how he wants to be a friend to each of us.

Some youth, who had never been to church before, began to share concerns. They found we would pray for the parent who had lost a job, a grandmother who was coping with cancer, and other burdens.

Success stories began to come in. “My dad got a job.” “Grandmother is doing better.” They share their lives, and we see Christ shining in their faces.

Now each Wednesday we eagerly wonder what opportunities will come through our doors.


Made with Love

27 01 2014

by Sue Dillon, Land O’ Lakes, Florida USA

Made with Love

Made with Love

Our church building sits a block from Angels Unaware, which serves mentally and physically challenged adults.

Even before we moved into our building about 10 years ago, our congregation’s women had helped Angels Unaware in various ways. We adopt them each Christmas, giving each client four to five gifts and supplying larger items for the kitchen and living room. Sometimes we take refreshments and sing for them. Though most don’t speak, they show their joy and love of music by smiling and rocking to the rhythm.

The first time we were there, I noticed the clothing protectors (adult bibs) were dingy and worn out, so I made a dozen from hand towels.

Those in charge were very happy to receive them. Recently I mentioned to our pastor that I was getting ready to make some more. She suggested I get our ladies to help. I said, “OK,” but most don’t sew.

Finally, I decided to have them cut the necklines and pin on the bias tape.

We worked on them for several hours one Saturday morning. During this time we also enjoyed visiting with one another. The rest were finished at home. When they were done, we had 38—each made with love.

For More Information
If any other congregations would be interested in a similar project, contact me Sue Dillon at suesews2@verizon.net. She will send a pattern and instructions.

Do You Know Your Neighborhood?

27 07 2013

By Johannes Egbert Gjaltema, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Providing meals is just one way a congregation in Rotterdam, Netherlands,  is helping the underprivileged of its community.

Providing meals is just one way a congregation in Rotterdam, Netherlands, is helping the underprivileged of its community.

Five years ago, I moved from a small village named Zwaagwesteinde, where everybody knows everybody, to the big city, Rotterdam. My job as a youth minister in the Western Europe Mission Center made me travel a lot, and for a long time I did not get to know the people near my apartment.

When I looked at problems in the world, it was as if I were using binoculars. But the problem with using binoculars is that you can miss things happening close by.

At that time the congregation in Rotterdam was meeting every week. People received ministry through music, preaching, and fellowship in church and elsewhere. Some members also helped with neighborhood activities. Two members who still play that key role are Aad and Truus Heijdenrijk. They have built relationships that benefit children now meeting in our church.

The local government has youth workers who organize activities on the playground next to the church. They set up sports, movies, dancing, karaoke, and they provide drinks and snacks. These hard-working youth workers know the children and their needs well.

They saw that some children wore the same clothes—even with torn fabric—every day. The youth workers would visit the families and help them to get clothes.

They also noticed that some children would take a sandwich to school. Because nobody was home after school, they would go to the playground and stay until 9:00 p.m.—without going home for a meal.

Now the youth workers are working with the church to provide meals. This is done in an educational way, teaching kids about hygiene, cooking, and measuring. We hope to expand the ministry from the current two times a week.

On average 10–15 children now have a healthy dinner in the church. We invite their parents, too, so families can have a meal together.

Our building is not up to date, but we offer a safe and caring place for people. We pursue Christ, through the Mission Initiatives. The cooking class is a direct result of Experience Congregations in Mission. Our efforts seek to Abolish Poverty, End Suffering. We Invite People to Christ when we reach out to others to join us.

Now I can see the world without binoculars.

Learning Forgiveness

14 06 2013

BY BARBARA WALDEN, Community of Christ Historic Sites Foundation
and LACHLAN MACKAY, Historic sites coordinator

The life experience of Joseph Smith III offers lessons related to how we and our congregations can become true and living expressions of Jesus Christ. For young Joseph, the path toward peace, reconciliation, and healing of the spirit was slow and painful when it came to forgiving a man who had threatened his mother’s life.

While growing up in Nauvoo, Illinois, Joseph’s home also served as a hotel managed by his mother, Emma. Emma took exception to the relationship between a male and female boarder and asked them to move out. The man responded by pulling a gun on Emma. Both Joseph and his stepfather were away from the home and unable to come to Emma’s aid.

When Joseph learned of the incident, he became furious and developed a deep hatred for the man. As the years passed, his loathing grew deeper and deeper.

Years later, Joseph Smith III’s bitter feelings and disgust were an uncomfortable sentiment as he became an ordained minister. In his memoirs he shared that when he began to preach and share the Lord’s Prayer, the words “and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” would haunt him because of his deep hatred.

Over time and through humility, Joseph eventually was able to forgive the man. He took this experience as a life lesson and reminder of Christ’s teachings, which our congregations emphasize today.

Joseph believed his personal struggle with reconciliation and healing of the spirit eventually led him to become a better minister:

I had a clearer understanding of what men were prone to feel of any unworthy nature…than I could have obtained had I not had this experience and learned to know what it was to hate a fellow-being. The knowledge helped to make me humble, and to exercise sympathy and charity for others struggling under like feelings…Hatred is a cruel, destructive, and unlovely thing, and wholly unbecoming a Christian.

From gathering to experience Christ’s love and peace at reunions to struggling as individuals and congregations to achieve reconciliation and healing of the spirit like Joseph Smith III, we have always sought to create Spirit-filled congregations that passionately pursue Christ’s mission.

  • Invite People to Christ.
  • Abolish Poverty, End Suffering.
  • Pursue Peace on Earth.
  • Develop Disciples to Serve.
  • Experience Congregations in Mission.

Mission Initiative language is new. Our mission…Christ’s mission…is not.

The Reunion Experience

12 06 2013

Experience Congregations in Mission

BY BARBARA WALDEN, Community of Christ Historic Sites Foundation
and LACHLAN MACKAY, Historic sites coordinator

Community of Christ.

Our name exemplifies our calling to be a community engaged in pursuing the mission of Jesus Christ. From our earliest days of sacrifice while building the “House of the Lord” in Kirtland, Ohio, to the youth of the 20th century saving coins to contribute toward building the Temple in Independence, Missouri, Community of Christ has been a faith community that seeks to Experience Congregations in Mission.

Whether constructing places of worship or helping the hurting rebuild pride and dignity, Community of Christ has a long history of reflecting Christ’s mission through congregational life.

The Reunion Experience

Each year as we gather at reunions, we are reminded of the love and peace of Christ as experienced through the gifts of community. In the early 1880s, members met in the countryside near Council Bluffs, Iowa, for a weeklong summer gathering. This first “reunion” initiated a beloved and enduring tradition.

Families slept in tents and cooked for themselves. A reunion committee provided firewood for people and hay for horses. Reunions in the 19th century and beyond helped fulfill desires to live in zionic community. It is no coincidence reunion grounds are named Tiona Park (Tahitian for Zion) in Australia, Ziontario in Ontario, Canada, and Sionito in Texas.

Across generations, members have testified that “a week at reunion feels like a week in Zion.” For many in Community of Christ, reunion grounds have become sacred spaces, embedded in our personal spiritual geography. They’re destinations where we have witnessed Christ’s love and peace.

Each year, members from around the world gather to their reunion grounds for a week. They testify of feeling God’s presence through worship; experiencing peace, reconciliation, and healing of the spirit; and gaining a greater understanding of our faith community’s calling to nurture congregations of Christ’s love and peace.

Getting “Messy” in the British Isles

29 05 2013
“Messy Church” invites creativity.

“Messy Church” invites creativity.

When I was a boy, if there was any mud around, I’d find some of it later on my shoes, face, and clothes. Food would find itself on my face or clothes. Pauline, my wife, would say nothing has changed.

That may be why I love it when my congregation in Nuneaton, England, holds “Messy Church.”

What is Messy Church? It began in the Church of England in 2004. Now several denominations and some Community of Christ congregations use it. The Clay Cross Congregation led the way, and now the Nuneaton, Leicester, and Penllergaer congregations use it, too.

Messy Church is a scripture-based sharing time for all ages. It involves crafts, worship, and the sharing of food. It’s adapted to meet the needs of different groups. Some use it once a month as the main focus of worship. Others have a midweek Messy Church. In the last year, one of our worship times at reunion was Messy Church.

Angie Vickers, one of three organizers in Nuneaton, says they begin with Messy Church materials and then adapt to fit the congregation’s needs and strengths. There’s time for making, doing, and chatting. A 20- to 30-minute worship is followed by a meal that often is “bring and share.” Angie says, “It’s a once-a-month time of creativity, worship, and eating together.”

We’ve found that people who usually don’t attend church, will come to Messy Church. New children come, and often they bring their parents.

Don’t forget that Messy Church is messy. It’s not formal. It’s rarely quiet. Things seldom go the way we expect. That’s the way the Spirit is.

Music Fills the Koonjewarre Hills

4 04 2013

By Robert Thompson, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

The Holy Spirit blessed the Brisbane Congregation during music and sacrament.

The Holy Spirit blessed the Brisbane Congregation
during music and sacrament.

Music washed over the hills as more than 40 members and friends of various ages from the Brisbane Congregation gathered on the mountain at Koonjewarre for a weekend camp focused on “Joy in Community.”

Highlights included the baptism of Bob Black. Bob began attending church through relationships developed in Project Hope, a ministry provided by Seventy Lorraine Kerswell and other volunteers at a trailer park.

Kari Sutton held a workshop on happiness and well-being, and Jan Thompson led outdoor campfires. Australia Mission Centre President Ken Barrows shared in the Communion service and early morning devotions. Others shared their gifts in sport, work on the grounds, didgeridoo-making, and cooking.

Music was the central theme. New friends from Project Hope provided a wide spectrum of music from inspired rap to the “Lord’s Prayer” sung in Maori.

A mix of experienced and budding guitarists and an impromptu, post-campfire sing-a-long held many of us long into the cold night.

“Koonjewarre’s Got Talent,” led by Andrew Ireland, shocked many of us as we discovered we not only had talent, but had it in bucket loads. There was music, dance, poetry, stand-up comedy, and magic—the magic that can happen only when a group of fun-loving, caring, and beautiful friends gather. We came as individuals but left woven in a Community of joy.

Are You Helping?

8 03 2013
Learning the concept of generosity begins at a young age.

Learning the concept of generosity begins at a young age.

BY GARLAND LAND, Blue Springs, Missouri, USA

Recently someone told me about a family that was homeless, without work, food, or transportation. A Community of Christ member spent several days taking the family to government agencies, not-for-profit associations, churches, and employers for help.

A church member who owned a vacant house solved the housing need by offering to let the family stay there.

Community Services League made allowance for not having the proper residence documentation and immediately provided food. Some might even have come from our congregation, Colonial Hills in Blue Springs, Missouri. The league also provided a voucher to the “necessity pantry” at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Independence.

A Community of Christ member mentioned several employers who were hiring, and the family contacted them. The family also applied in response to newspaper ads and a reference from a friend.

After several contacts, the family landed a job. Church members then helped the family get a reasonably priced car so the worker could get to the new job.

I’m not sure what I would do if my family were homeless, without a job, and without a car. But I suppose I, too, would draw on congregational resources.

For a couple of weeks, Colonial Hills talked about the congregation’s physical, individual, economic, and other assets.
We listed more than 140. Assets we never—or rarely—think about can benefit those in need.

Doctrine and Covenants 163:1 tells us that our name, Community of Christ, was “given as divine blessing” and that it is our “identity and calling.” I have wondered if the church’s Mission Initiative to Abolish Poverty, End Suffering is unrealistic.

But when we Experience Congregations in Mission, there is power in the resources of those who wish to make it happen.