This blog was originally published to the Calgary Community of Christ blog SPARK on January 19, 2017 and is written by Caitlin d'Esterre.
As a Community of Christ member, I believe that we are all called, compelled even, to approach our lives in a critical way. We are urged to look at the world around us and see opportunities for growth, change, betterment and empowerment. We are then driven to think outside the four walls of our church, and be innovators to help our communities.
As a nurse in one of the busiest Newborn Intensive Care Units (NICU) in Canada, I see families from all walks of life facing their worst nightmare: a sick newborn baby. One day I was working with a particularly small baby who had never gotten any breastmilk, even though her mother said she was pumping regularly. I asked this mother about the pump she was using. It turned out she couldn’t afford a hospital grade pump rental, which is essential to the milk supply of a NICU mom.
I called every resource in the city looking for an affordable option for this mother. I was startled to learn that most mothers without employer benefits do not qualify for any sort of cost relief. The most vulnerable mothers in our province are denied the opportunity to give their babies breast milk because of finances.
This situation plagued me for months, until I realised that I was being called to invent a solution. My congregation could initiate the kind of service these women needed. After several weeks of work with my pastor and other supporters, The Mother’s Own Milk (MOM) Project was born. The Calgary congregation purchased six hospital grade breast pumps to be rented to mothers at a low monthly cost. We can abolish poverty and end suffering by simply allowing mothers to feed their children the way nature intended.
This was my calling.
Calgary, AB, Canada
This blog was originally published to the Calgary Community of Christ blog SPARK on October 13, 2016 and is written by Laryssa Vachon.
You wouldn’t guess this from me right away, but Tangled is my favourite movie. The friendship, the love, and the big dreaming all melt my frozen heart in ways that almost nothing else can. The first time I watched the scene while Rapunzel and Flynn sang “I See The Light” under a sky full of lanterns; I couldn’t stop crying at how beautiful it was. I also felt unbelievably jealous of these fictional characters for getting to experience something so full of hope in the make believe world of magic. I wanted so badly for that magic to be real. I wanted to stand under a sky full of lanterns and let go of all my fears, elevating the existence of hope in a destructive world full of ambiguity.
I found out about RiSE Festival by accident. It was as easy as scrolling through Instagram at the exact right time to see the perfect picture of the dream I had imagined for so many years: a sky full of lanterns, and a crowd inspired by hope. It was almost too perfect. The dates of the next RiSE Festival in the Mojave Desert landed on a long weekend, and I had just enough money in my Bucket List savings account to afford the trip from Calgary to Las Vegas where I would adventure out on my own to achieve this dream. After buying all my tickets for one, my mother decided only a few days later that she wanted to join me. And I am so grateful she did. Go alone if you need to, it’s an enchanting experience no matter what. But if someone wants to join you, please let them. That way someone will thoroughly understand the feeling when you describe how easily you forgot how to breathe as everyone let go of their lanterns in our first collective release.
We took a RiSE shuttle bus from the Paris Las Vegas hotel all the way to the Moapa Valley reserve in the Mojave Desert. A 15-minute walk from the parking lot to the festival location may have caused some impatient aches in a few, but I felt like I deserved to be there even more once I sweat my way across the Desert in the above 30 degree Celsius weather. Besides, it was snowing back home and I wanted to take advantage of that Desert as much as I possibly could. It’s easy to forget how beautiful something is when we see it everyday; which I try not to do with the Rocky Mountains that have lived outside my window for most of my life. I try not to forget that with the people in my life either. So I hoped that those nearby travellers could understand that – how wonderful it was to be on such sacred ground. How the sunset shone over the RiSE letters, how the sand dirtied our black shoes, how the wind gave us a chill once the sky went dark, and how the stilled sky waited patiently for us to send parts of our soul on fire into the universe.
As ten thousand lanterns lit the sky in our collective release to a slow instrumental melody, the circle of torches creating a chamber of sound, I started shaking because I had never felt so excited, happy, inspired and moved in my entire life. I jumped around in circles like a little kid seeing a unicorn for the first time in the land of limitless cupcakes. That night was the proof I needed to be reminded of magic from the imaginary world, and to recognize the existence of magic in my own.
I stood up on the sand and looked around at all the people: A young father holding his newborn baby, staring at his wife with pure love bursting out of him. A couple laying down on their mat, holding each other and kissing with no worries of who was watching because in that moment it was just them who were there. A group of friends helping each other as their lantern started blowing away in the wrong direction, supporting each other to make sure those dreams made it up with all the others. All those lanterns, with words of love, loss, hope, pain, dreams. I called my first one “Letting Go.” I filled it with song lyrics of how I held on to things for so long because I’ve been afraid of changing (extra points if you got the Fleetwood Mac reference). And I wrote the names of every single person who ever broken my heart, rejected me, or made me feel I was less than worthy. And then I released them. I let them go.
Although the hot wind caused holes in some of the lanterns making them unable to rise, and flames flew close to peoples’ heads as the premature lanterns fell to the ground; it was inspiring to watch as we all protected each other. Making sure we were all safe with the touch of danger that was required to light up the sky.
I’ve got a sneaky feeling that if you look for it, you’ll find that…
Writing testimonies is hard. Moving is hard. Having to be a support anchor for your family is hard. Praying and hoping all will go as desired, as it is meant to be is hard. A terrestrial adult-ing life is hard.
But, there are so many joys and blessings that make this hard life so much brighter. To see the beauty around us; the hear the giggles of those finding joy, the prayers of a child; to taste the varieties of foods available to us; to smell the flowers as we run through the fields, the rain as it falls to the dry earth; to give hugs to friends and family we don’t see too often. These are but a few of that which lifts my spirits, gives me a smile when I feeling a bit lonely.
See, our family of 5 had what we call, an “adventurous” summer. The day after school ended in May, my husband was offered a new job in a new location-Washington, D.C. So as our typically busy summer was beginning, we compounded it with packing and figuring out where best to move. Not only was I finalizing plans for Jr/Sr High Camp at the Ozark Campgrounds, but also taking my son to Jr Camp, sorting through toys, clothes, kitchen items, craft items, etc. Then I directed the Jr/Sr High Camp. We also had Reunion (a family church camp) and a visit to check out our new home location. With a few weeks left to pack and fix up our house to sell, we tried to find some peace and joy. We went to the park, to the zoo, visited friends, saw family, went to church, prayed.
As the big move from Oklahoma to the Northern Virginia suburbs of D.C. loomed, my anxiety rose. I am Midwest girl currently living in the big city trying to keep sanity in my family. We are over 18 hours driving distance from family and friends, with few opportunities to visit. Talk about feeling lonely, and out of place!
But, we’ve been here 6 weeks now, and have found a wonderful new community. We drive into D.C. on Sundays for fellowship and service at the Community of Christ congregation there. It is like walking in at home. There is that sense of peace, love, acceptance, and community I have found at every Community of Christ congregation I have visited. A place where we can find a seat at the table. We may have a new home, and be far from family, but at least we have found a new “surrogate” family. A place where our 3 kids can run and play and not feel awkward. A place to feel comfortable and appreciated.
We greatly miss our previous communities of church families, our previous “tables,” but God moves us to new experiences, to new community at a new table.
Now, I am off to show new wonders, new reasons to smile, to my kids and see where this path of terrestrial life goes that God is leading us on.
May God let the Spirit breathe with you, and lead you towards loving community; an accepting, joyous table; and on the path laid down just for you.
Washington, D.C. Congregation
This seminar was originally published to the Toronto Community of Christ website on December 1, 2015 and was given by John Hamer.
Pastor, Toronto Centre Place Congregation
World Conference was, for me, a very positive and uplifting experience. To be with the Saints from all over the world is truly an amazing experience. To hear the prayers and even sermons in other languages translated into English from French or Spanish or Tahitian (or any number of other languages) reminds us that we are a global community and a world-wide church. Our mission in Tahiti or Hawaii or Dominican Republic or Haiti or even suburban Chicago is all the same. The mission of Jesus Christ is what matters most in all the world. I hope those of us who were blessed to be able to attend can somehow share the excitement of the experience to all the Saints in Oklahoma Mission Center.
In the spirit of global community, enjoy the Flag Ceremony from World Conference 2016 below.
The Spirit of God Like a Fire is Burning
The time had come. The bags were packed. No turning back now. We hugged our pets, thanked our house sitters, threw our luggage in the trunk, and waved to our neighbors as we headed north out of Tulsa. Nervous excitement filled the car as we left our familiar scenery behind. The small towns dotting highway 169 blurred past as we headed toward Kansas City. We had recently resigned from the Pastoral team of a mainline Protestant congregation. He was the pianist and I was the Associate Pastor. But that was behind us now. We weren’t quite sure what to expect. We had no clue about what lay ahead, but we had the feeling we were being called, led somewhere, somehow. So we turned up the tunes and tuned out the uncertainties and sped onward and upward toward our first World Conference.
I met with the Pastoral Team of Tulsa Central Community of Christ just days before our departure. My confirmation was set for the first weekend in July. It was years in the making. I was ready. Yet I needed one more thing…a bigger picture, a wider view perhaps. I was curious. How does this peculiar faith tradition reverberate in the life and witness of diverse populations around the globe? Looking back I realize I needed one more affirmation, one final burning bush. I needed to know that God really was still speaking, still moving, still shaping the world in the Divine Image. I needed to find myself in the vast mosaic that is Community of Christ. We had found our church home at Tulsa Central for sure, but was there really a seat at the table for us in the global Church? There was only one way to find out.
What we experienced at World Conference was beyond what we expected or could have even imagined. We felt God’s Spirit at work in that holy place. We saw God in the outpouring of love and support evidenced by each rainbow button and lanyard. We heard God in each thundering hymn as a chorus of voices in myriad languages echoed the clarion call to praise the Living God, a God that still speaks through prophets, priests and scriptures, a God that empowers each one through the grace of community to work for the building up of Zion in this time and place, not just in some ethereal heaven light years away, here and now! We were caught up, changed in the twinkling of an eye. We went in search of a burning bush and were met there by a God who had set the whole church ablaze with divine mercy, love and truth.
As we headed home on Sunday evening we did so with a song in our hearts. "God's whose Spirit like a fire is burning." I was changed by our holy time in Independence. Something clicked for me in that sacred place. It might have been during the John Whitmer Historical Associate banquet or the Prayer for Peace in our beautiful Temple. Perhaps I received my personal revelation during the Roll Call of the Nations or when I received communion with thousands of my RLDS brothers and sisters from around the globe. I am unsure of the exact moment it all clicked for me, but that doesn’t matter much. What matters is that though I was already remarkably excited to continue my journey of faith with Community of Christ, #WC2016 (World Conference 2016) made me proud beyond measure to call myself a Latter Day Saint. For that, I am thankful.
Tulsa Central Congregation
World Conference is a time for us to come together as an international community to discuss important issues facing our faith tradition and our world today. Each geographic area of Community of Christ sends delegates to Independence who will represent their unique spiritual/cultural perspectives. The Assembly is made up of 3 - 5,000 delegates from 52+ nations from around the world, each conferring and striving to reach consensus with other delegates using Robert’s Rules of Order. (Imagine the United Nations with delegates able to speak at a microphone in order to ask questions/raise concerns/speak in favor or against.)
I had the privilege of being an Oklahoma Delegate this year, and I enjoyed my experience immensely! Some of the highlights for me?
I’ll share a few of my favorite lines…
6 a. Beloved Community of Christ, do not just speak and sing of Zion. Live, love, and share as Zion: those who strive to be visibly one in Christ, among whom there are no poor or oppressed.
b. As Christ’s body, lovingly and patiently bear the weight of criticism from those who hesitate to respond to the divine vision of human worth and equality in Christ. This burden and blessing is yours for divine purposes.
Thank you for allowing me to be an Oklahoma Delegate this year. I was blessed because of it!
Church Mission & Young Adult Ministry Specialist
Enjoy this audio recording of The Spirit of God Like a Fire Is Burning from the June 4, 2016, service in The Auditorium. (I recorded it myself!)
Throughout the 8 days at conference, my thoughts kept coming back to the same statement:
We are bound together.
My sister, Becky Brinlee, and I spent a good amount of time together this week. I think it’s the first time I’ve ever been on such a long road trip with JUST my sister. We chattered and laughed on the way up and fell quite silent by the time we got home. I loved getting to know her better as a sister and friend at this stage in our lives.
I was so blessed to watch my son, Parker Johnson, work the crowd there. Because he’s who he is, he knows a lot of people from all over the world. He treasures his relationships and friendships and kindles each one. He is bound by the relationships and perspectives he has gathered as he’s grown up in our church.
We are bound together as a community of believers...
...When we sang “The Spirit of God Like a Fire is Burning” with the huge gathering of saints at Sunday morning communion service with such vigor and enthusiasm and HOPE.
...When we gathered together each day to sit, side by side, in delegations from all over the world, working to achieve common consent on issues where all perspectives needed to be voiced in order to completely understand.
We attended a garage sale or two (or was it 25?). At a particular church sale, we noticed after pulling out of the parking lot that it was a restoration branch of our church. I began to notice more congregations like that one as we drove from here to there. Honestly, I was pretty disappointed to see so many who had left our church to take a stand in another direction. I was unclear of the beliefs of the restoration and remnant churches. I soon realized it’s not who we AREN'T, it’s who we ARE. And that’s what I believe ties Community of Christ together in the most important way. Community of Christ is bound by the belief that stands for the worth of all persons.
We are bound together with a common cause.
The new tithing policy is something I am quite appreciative of, thus challenged by.
A testimony was given one day about the first conference in Independence, more than 100 years ago. When the offering was taken there, money was gathered, but things like diamonds, pearls and rubies were also in the baskets. The members felt compelled to give the treasures they were wearing to support the cause of Zion.
Steve Veazey’s words at the final Saturday morning service spoke to me. “The only way that there will be no poor or oppressed is for the rest of us to change our ways.”
I heard those words. They rang true to me.
He also said these words, “Generosity is spiritually liberating for those who are caught in excessive consumerism and self-indulgence."
I would like to align my time, talents and budget with the church’s new tithing policy. I plan to make more purposeful, responsible purchases, budgeting more carefully, so there is more money to contribute to the work of the church and the needs of others.
This entry was originally published to the Daily Bread Blog on May 14, 2016, and was written by Lisa Gates of Oklahoma City, OK, USA.
Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge. I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.” I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me.
Praying has been a struggle lately. Scripture tells us to take our cares to God and share everything, yet whenever I start to do that, I feel as if I am a whiner. So many people have problems that are much worse—worse in ways I cannot imagine. They make my problems and concerns relatively silly and inconsequential—despite their significance to me.
This awareness has paralyzed my prayer life. Wouldn’t sharing my concerns with God suggest that I am unsympathetic or insensitive to all the horrible life circumstances around the world? A compassionate person would not “waste God’s time” with their petty problems. Intellectually, I know this is not true and that God is still my loving Creator who wants to be included in all the concerns of my life. However, in those private moments of prayer, I am continually apologizing for talking about my relatively unimportant stuff.
Last week while taking care of my two-month-old grandson, he taught me something that makes all the difference. He was crying, upset, and fussy. Compared to my financial concerns, impending surgeries, and family challenges, his two-month-old problems might have seemed inconsequential, but that never crossed my mind. His problems were real to him—as real as anyone’s problems.
As I cared for him, all I was thinking about was comforting him, consoling him, loving and protecting him. He had my sole attention. The relative insignificance of his problems never crossed my mind. To him, they were his whole world, which made them my whole world right then.
It occurred to me that, on an infinitely grander and loving scale, this is how God relates to us. When we pray, we have God’s sole attention, and God does not compare our problems to anyone else’s—does not judge us less worthy of holy compassion. My concern for my grandson is a tiny example and a mirror of God’s concern for us. God only wants to comfort, console, and love each one—individually and uniquely. I think awareness of this will affect the confidence with which I come to God in prayer.
Prayer for Peace
We come to you, God, dragging our mites and our monsters with us. We know that what concerns us concerns you as well. Help us mirror your love and hear the concerns of others.
Spiritual Practice: Tears of Compassion
Offer a silent prayer for the gift of God’s compassion. Cup your hands and ask God to make you aware of the suffering that causes the Earth and its inhabitants to groan and weep. Be open to faces or places, sounds or voices—connections with those who suffer. Imagine catching the tears of those you see and holding them in your hands. Listen for prayer images or words God may give you. Discern any active responses of ministry or healing you sense invited to complete for those who weep.
Today, God, I will not hesitate to “waste time” with you.
Leader – noun; one that leads or guides. Leadership – noun; the capacity or ability to lead. Our world today calls for leaders—good leaders with strength of character and integrity. For almost 50 years SPECTACULAR has guided youth, developing their leadership potential and encouraging them as they are called to serve with character and integrity.
The mission of SPECTACULAR is to create a safe, Christ-centered community that encourages young women and men to discover God, their inherent worth, and cultivate and express their giftedness. SPECTACULAR has grown from that first relatively small gathering in the late 1960s on The Campus in Independence, Missouri to over 1,200 campers and leaders at Graceland University in Lamoni, Iowa, every summer. It is the largest annual gathering of youth in the Community of Christ. SPECTACULAR affords opportunities for campers to develop skills of leadership and discipleship, and ways to express themselves artistically, musically, and athletically.
A star high school athlete and friend of the church expressed that before attending SPECTACULAR she had never played on a team or been involved in a tournament where you felt good about yourself and truly enjoyed the competition of the game regardless of whether you won or lost. She also said that even though she did not belong to this church, she felt at home and was comfortable with the ideals and principles shared.
Through gathering informal demographic information, it is estimated that nearly forty percent of campers are friends of the Community of Christ. Many delegation and program staff are also friends of the church. SPEC strives to follow its mission to create a safe, Christ-centered community where exploration of many ideas are encouraged to happen and in that, campers are comfortable inviting their friends to join them in this week of learning, fellowship and fun.
The theme for this year’s SPECTACULAR, July 23-30, is “Connect.” It offers a challenge to SPECTACULAR participants to explore ways within ourselves to better connect with each other and the world around us; keeping in mind that in doing so, we better connect with God. “…God is revealing divine nature through sacred communities of love, oneness and equality…” (2013 Words of Counsel).
Leadership (SPEC TODAY) classes at SPECTACULAR will provide an overview and exploration of our theme. Discipleship, music, and art classes will allow for in-depth exploration of specific sub-topics. For example, there might be a leadership session exploring the idea of authenticity. More in-depth exploration might occur through classes regarding meditation, scripture study, personal spirituality, individual arts, or music.
“Connect” will be a prominent part of every aspect of SPECTACULAR: the volleyball courts, the Extravaganza stage production, soccer fields, delegation devotions, afternoon activities on the Quad, individual and group discussions, as well as personal meditation and community worship. The athletic tournaments uphold the following statement, “Willful Christian interaction is the norm for all facets of SPECTACULAR. The sports program will function with that objective as the guiding principle for the actions of all participants, officials, coaches, and spectators. While we may not always agree with one another we will always appreciate and honor each other.”
We know lives are challenged and changed by this unique week, whether the change is apparent immediately or twenty years from now, we know SPEC is influencing thousands and thousands of lives. Through the diversity of individuals and cultures from across North America, SPECTACULAR finds the common denominator of connection through Jesus Christ. Youth finishing 9th through 12th grades are invited to enjoy SPECTACULAR as part of a delegation. SPECTACULAR 2016 is July 23-30.
More information and registration forms are available through your delegation or at www.CofChrist.org/spec or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. You can join us on Facebook too! www.facebook.com/SPEC.CofChrist/
We all have a story to share. Mosaic is a collection of our stories.