Courage & Hope

By Prophet-President Stephen M. Veazey
April 5th, 2009

A brief revelation from the annual address “A Defining Moment”

As I was preparing this address, I prayerfully asked God many times, “What more does the church need to hear?” On several occasions, I sensed the impress of the Spirit. In response, I want to give voice to what I sensed through the following words to the church:

Fear not! Do not be afraid to become who God is calling you to become. God, the Eternal One, has been with you in your past, continues with you in the present, and already is waiting patiently for you in the future. Through your lives the sacred story of the Restoration still is being written.

Engage the current challenges and opportunities before you with commitment and hope worthy of the dedication and sacrifices of those who went before you. Creatively build on the faith foundations they laid. Open windows and doors to the future.

Beloved community, God has chosen you to assist in accomplishing divine purposes if you will choose to live out of your better natures and potential. Deepen your faith. Refine your sensitivity to the guidance of the Spirit so that you are not distracted by other influences. Explore your scriptures with openness to new insights that will come. Increase your compassion and generosity. Strengthen your relationships so the peace of Christ may be magnified through you.

Have courage and hope. Gather in the gifts of all ages and cultures so the ministries of the body can become whole and fully alive. Others are being prepared around the world to join their efforts with yours, if you will move ahead according to the direction offered to you by the Spirit. Amen.

Brothers and sisters, there is a way into the future that holds the promise that our best days are yet before us.

May we choose it is my fervent hope and prayer.

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A Defining Moment

By Prophet-President Stephen M. Veazey
April 5, 2009

Note: This was President Veazey’s first annual address to the church, and the first of its kind.  It contains a revelation.

This is a defining moment in the life of the church! Defining moments occur at the juncture of fear and hope, challenge and opportunity, hesitancy and faithfulveazeyofficial response.

The church has faced defining moments before. Times when deliberate choices had to be made to clarify priorities in the face of difficult circumstances. Such defining moments brought the best out of us and prepared us for the next phase of our journey with God.

What is this defining moment? In general, it can be framed by two questions: Will we allow certain circumstances and issues to divert us from our mission? Or will we clarify our mission priorities and focus on what matters most?

It will come as no surprise to anyone that the church, like other organizations, is facing financial challenges because of adverse economic conditions. I am aware this is a major concern of many members. So, let me address that concern first.

The church’s long-term financial viability is not in jeopardy. The sacrificial generosity of past generations, the foresight of previous leaders, and the disciplined application of financial policies in the present continue to secure the church’s long-range financial future. However, the continuing recession has caused a decline in World Ministries mission giving and projected income from church investments.

After carefully evaluating this situation, World Church officers have decided we must reduce our World Ministries budget. Our current plan calls for a decrease of about $4 million. Most of the reduction will occur in fiscal-year 2010, which will begin in July 2009. The projected decrease will require a reduction in World Church-funded ministries, support services, and staffing throughout the world and at International Headquarters. How will we respond?

Before addressing that question, I want to thank all who are consistent contributors through Local and World Ministries Mission Tithes, especially those on fixed or limited incomes. Your steady support, especially during difficult times, encourages us. You already are doing your part, and the church is grateful for your generosity.

I suppose the current financial difficulty could be described solely in economic terms. However, I believe the economic situation actually reveals a spiritual issue that will require a spiritual response.

One of the church’s Enduring Principles is “grace and generosity.” We respond to God’s grace, especially as revealed in Jesus Christ, by giving generously and by graciously receiving the generosity of others. This is a deeply spiritual principle that arises from the nature of God. We are called, according to God’s eternal purposes, to grow spiritually throughout our lives in grace and generosity.

What is our understanding of the spiritual relationship between God’s grace, the gift of the gospel, discipleship, generosity, and church mission? Is it limited to what mostly serves our personal needs or what we like the most? Is it defined by casual, sporadic giving while we apply most of our life’s means to other pursuits? Or do we understand the heart of the gospel revealed in Christ is about compassionate, generous living that mirrors the generous nature of God?

In Community of Christ, when we become disciples of Jesus, we do not just become members of a local congregation. We become members of a worldwide faith community. The church is an international body that God has called into being to fulfill divine purposes related to the coming reign of God on earth.

Discipleship includes responding to God’s gift in Christ by giving consistently and generously, according to our full and—we hope—growing capacity to support local and world ministries. Such support is one of the most evident ways we express our spiritual commitment to the vision of Christ. Local and World Ministries giving are equally important for the church to fulfill its divinely mandated mission.

I want to be clear with congregational leaders and priesthood on this matter. We cannot expect growing generous response now, or in the future, as the economy recovers, if we are not currently teaching the principles of A Disciple’s Generous Response to all ages. Those principles include saving wisely, spending responsibly, and sharing generously through Local and World Ministries Mission Tithes. And, we cannot teach with integrity if we are not fully embodying those principles within our lives.

I would like to focus now on the church’s vision for mission. After several years of discussion and prayerful reflection, church leaders have presented an understanding of church identity, mission, message, and beliefs in a document entitled “We Share.”

“We Share” was created by a diverse group of church leaders and members from throughout the world. We were richly blessed by the Holy Spirit as we wrestled with important questions about church identity, mission, and message from multiple cultural perspectives. Eventually, we jointly discovered what I believe describes the heart and essence of the church’s identity, mission, and message today.

As the document was completed, I was given clear affirmation by the Spirit that it presents ample direction for the next chapters of our journey as a people of God. And, if enough members and congregations embody its principles, the church will move dramatically forward in fulfilling its mission.

Engaging this document is not about fussing over details or looking for exceptions. It is about being captured by the vision and direction that God graciously has provided us through the combined insights of our worldwide church family. When the principles in the document become the descriptors of our behaviors rather than just ideals, we will become the Community of Christ that God is calling us to become. [Copies of the “We Share” document may be found at http://www.CofChrist.org/discernment/weshare/.%5D

To become the Community of Christ that God is calling us to become we must address some important issues. The first has to do with how we relate to our history.

Our early church history is the story of faithful, inspired people who heard the call to embrace and share the gospel of Christ more fully. They did so with great enthusiasm. They responded with unusual commitment and creative energy, giving tangible expression of the gospel in community life together.

Over the generations, though, we have tailored their story to put the church in the best possible light. We have raised early church leaders to the status of spiritual heroes of mythical proportions, while downplaying their humanity and struggles.

In recent decades many books and articles have been written about the earliest years of the Restoration movement. While some previous works approached this period of history mainly by describing events, the more recent works explore the interrelated religious, social, and political factors that influenced the early church and its leaders. Many historians, with access to additional historical information, are writing with increased frankness and openness.

The Presidency recently released a set of “Church History Principles.” [These were printed in the October 2008 Herald and can be found on the church’s Web site at http://www.CofChrist.org/OurFaith/history.asp.%5D The “History Principles” were created to bring perspective to the relationship between history and matters of faith. While affirming the essential role of historical study, the principles state that history does not have the final word on matters of faith and unfolding direction in the church today. The history principles provide the guidelines needed to treasure our history, but not be totally defined by it.

Let me give you an example. Despite how our story often is told, we no longer can claim that we were just the innocent victims of violence during the church’s early years. While our forbearers were certainly the targets of persecution on various occasions, more than once they provoked and initiated violence because of judgmental attitudes toward others. In the pressure-filled years of the early church, violence and militancy overtook Christ’s message of reconciliation, forgiveness, and peace.

To move ahead with integrity in our emphasis on sharing the peace of Jesus Christ, we must repent of and learn from the violent episodes in church history. Only through honest examination, including identifying any remaining signs of these tendencies, can we continue on the restoring path of peace, reconciliation, and healing of the spirit to which God calls us.
We can take these steps because we know that our history does not have to be without blemish to reveal the hand of God working in the movement. Ironically, one of the primary principles of scripture is that God’s grace is revealed most clearly by its working in and through humanity, especially human weakness and sin. Viewing our history through this lens allows us to be affirming, honest, and sympathetic.

We also need to recognize the longer part of our history by far is the story of the Reorganization. That history makes up over 150 years of our heritage. It is the story of Jason Briggs whose account of his experience with the Spirit in response to prayer about the future of the church became the rallying point for the “scattered Saints.” It is the story of the faith, courage, and tenacity of Emma Smith. Without her we would not be here. It also is the story of the pivotal response of Joseph Smith III to the leadings of the Spirit in his young life.

The 2010 World Conference will include a celebration of the 150th anniversary of the 1860 conference, where Joseph III accepted his prophetic calling. His fifty years of wise, pastoral, visionary leadership provided the tone and direction that continue to shape the church.

Joseph III set the church on the path to becoming a faith movement dedicated to the pursuit of reconciliation and peacefulness as the hope of Zion and the essence of the gospel. Speaking to a special conference in 1863 about the desired focus of church ministry, he said: “We should preach the peaceable things of the Kingdom.” (The True Latter Day Saints’ Herald, vol. 4, p. 30.)

In 1893 Joseph III went to the jail, where T.C. Sharp, the assumed leader of the mob that killed his father and uncle, was being held on other charges. Much to the chagrin of many members still nursing bitterness over the murders, he extended the healing hand of forgiveness. This is the kind of story from our history we need to tell more often!

I believe Emma Smith, Joseph Smith III, and all who followed the old, but ever-new path of the Reorganization would be pleased with the church today. I think they would see their hopes for the church being fulfilled in our emphasis on reconciliation and healing of the spirit; our openness to continuing revelation; our growing understanding of giftedness and ministerial calling; our concern for the poor; and our strong focus on promoting peaceful Christian community as the hope of Zion.

Besides putting our history in perspective, we need to deepen our understanding of the nature of scripture.

For this part of our journey we need a light and a compass. Our light is the witness of the Holy Spirit that illuminates divine truth. Our compass is the church’s “Statement on Scripture” that provides reliable direction. [The “Statement on Scripture” may be found at http://www.CofChrist.org/OurFaith/scripture.asp.%5D

Basic to the “Statement on Scripture” is the understanding that scripture is an amazing collection of inspired writings that is indispensable to encountering the Living God revealed in the Living Word, Jesus Christ. Scripture speaks with many voices, including testimonies, stories, poetry, metaphors, commentary, and parables. All of these ways of communicating point us to divine truths beyond the ability of any language to express fully. Scripture is authoritative, not because it is perfect or inerrant in every literal detail, but because it reliably keeps us grounded in God’s revelation.

Here is the heart of our challenge. Over the last several centuries a doctrine of scripture emerged in Christianity that insists that all scripture—every single word—was dictated directly by God and is inerrant in every detail. This belief emerged as a response to the questioning of religious authority from those who held that human reason alone was the most reliable pathway to truth. So, a doctrine of scripture emerged that enshrined the literal words of scripture as inerrant and as the sole authority on all matters.

This view still dominates much of global Christianity. It also strongly influences more than a few members of Community of Christ who have adopted it from the larger culture.

However, that doctrine is not how scripture was understood in Christianity for many centuries after its birth. It is not how Jesus used scripture. And, it is not how Community of Christ officially views scripture today.

The church affirms that scripture is inspired and essential to our knowledge of God and the gospel. In addition, we believe that scripture should be interpreted responsibly through informed study, guided by the Spirit working in the church. Scripture was formed by the community to shape the community. Therefore, interpreting scripture is the constant work of the community. In other words, understanding and applying scripture is not just a matter of reading a passage and deciding on our own what it means.

Community of Christ also stresses that all scripture must be interpreted through the lens of God’s most-decisive revelation in Jesus Christ. So if portions of scripture don’t agree with our fullest understanding of the meaning of the revelation of God in Christ, as illuminated by the Holy Spirit and discerned by the faith community, the teachings and vision of Christ take precedence. This principle applies to all of our books of scripture, especially any passage used by some to assign God’s disfavor, negative characteristics, or secondary roles to others.

This is why our belief in “continuing revelation” is so important. This belief keeps us open to “yet more light and truth” so we can grow in understanding of God’s supreme will as revealed in Christ.

Doctrine and Covenants 163:7d states that “Scripture, prophetic guidance, knowledge, and discernment in the faith community must walk hand in hand to reveal the true will of God. Follow this pathway, which is the way of the Living Christ, and you will discover more than sufficient light for the journey ahead.”

We will be sharing some additional reflections about how we relate to history and scripture in coming months in the Herald. Having addressed this issue in general, let us turn to some particular opportunities and needs now before us.

The 2007 World Conference passed a resolution asking the Presidency to bring guidance to the church about our practice of rebaptism as a condition for church membership. After a time of study and reflection, the Presidency is inviting the whole church to engage with us in prayerful discernment about this issue. We believe this approach is in harmony with Doctrine and Covenants 162:2c, which states: “As a prophetic people you are called, under the direction of the spiritual authorities and with the common consent of the people, to discern the divine will for your own time and in the places where you serve.”

The obvious opportunity before us is to sharpen our skills as a prophetic and discerning people. The importance of the process is much greater than how we will resolve the issue. Its ultimate importance lies in enriching our capacity to engage in fair, Spirit-led dialogue about important issues. The skills and experiences gained in this process will be essential to us in the future as we address other issues. Resources providing individual and group help will be mailed to pastors and soon will be available on the church’s Web site at http://www.CofChrist.org/CofM/.

While we appreciate the enthusiasm and conviction of those who already are sending in their final answers, we encourage all members to participate in the prayer, study, discussion, and discernment process before sharing your perspectives.

It is telling that much of what I have addressed so far is about internal church issues. This is the greatest challenge we face. Will we be able to put internal church issues in proper perspective so we can focus first on our mission to Proclaim Jesus Christ and Promote Communities of Joy, Hope, Love and Peace? Everything else which may be of concern is secondary to pursuing this mission.

For example, I began by addressing economic challenges facing the church and by assuring you that our long-term financial viability is not in question. Is that the most important question we should be asking? The most important question for a missional church is not about long-term survival. It is about how we passionately pursue Christ’s mission in a suffering world that groans for the liberating truths of the gospel (Doctrine and Covenants 155:7).

Are we mobilizing to provide pastoral care and tangible help to individuals and families that are barely surviving because of economic pressures? Are we responding to the increasing hatred and violence toward immigrants and ethnic minorities because others want to make them scapegoats for our common difficulties? What about the children in your community? How are they doing? What does it mean to be a prophetic people who speak and act in the name of God and Christ in times like these?

Many of our members live in countries with developing or nonfunctional economic and political systems. Their situation is much worse than anything many of us in more affluent areas are experiencing. What matters most to them is how to free themselves and their neighbors from the devastating effects of poverty, disease, and human conflict. The missional question for the church is, “How does the hope of God’s peaceful kingdom become more than a faint dream for them?” What will we do as a church whose mission is grounded in restoring people to wholeness in community?

I am pleased to announce the Presidency, in concert with the Community of Christ Peace Support Network, is convening a summit this September to address this question. We are inviting leaders of church-related ministries and all our affiliates—such as Outreach International, World Accord, Graceland University, and the Seminary, just to name a few—to meet with us.

Our goal is to create a vision and cooperative action plan for promoting communities of economic justice and peace throughout the world. Coordinating and integrating our compassionate relief, educational, advocacy, and community-development ministries will allow us to make an even greater impact.

In many parts of the western world a primary concern is sustaining, reviving, and growing congregations to carry out the church’s mission. The Co-Missioned Pastors Initiative is a pilot project designed to discover the most effective pastoral training, resources, and support for leading healthy congregations that engage all ages in focusing on Christ’s mission.

We have learned a lot from the pilot project. Despite the financial challenges we face, it is essential that we expand access to this support and training for more pastors, congregational leaders, and priesthood. Instead of one hundred pastors who now are completing the pilot, I see five hundred, eight hundred, or one thousand pastors and congregational leaders who will respond to the call to become effective, visionary congregational leaders. Leaders who know how to incorporate all generations in congregational life. Leaders who have the insights and skills to guide congregations in discovering the ministries God is calling them to pursue in the communities they serve.

I am aware of the frustrations of some youth and young adults with the seemingly slow pace of congregational life in response to mission. I also am aware of your disappointment with not having opportunities to serve and lead as you feel called. In response, let me say the church needs the insights and gifts of all ages to be healthy. Congregations that ignore this principle do so at their own peril.

I also know words are not enough. We need to do something now. I and other church leaders personally commit to meet with young adults in various locations to listen to concerns, perspectives, and hopes. We want to envision the future of the church with you. We want to explore models of ministry, mission, and leadership to open more doors for your participation. We are making plans for such gatherings right now. The first will be here in the Temple Lecture Hall immediately following this address. I invite all young adults present to meet with us tonight. Yes, there will be food. (And, if your children are young adults or older youth, you are no longer a young adult. I have had to accept this fact, and so can you.)

Young adults, the church needs you. We need you now. We need you to help us become who we are all yearning to become.

If you are ready to cause change right now, go to http://www.we-cause.org. At this site you will find a special video message from me and additional information about our plans for meeting with young adults. You also will find information and links for specific opportunities for involvement, and tangible ways to support the church’s mission right now.

So, after all that is said, what matters most? I hope it has become clear. The vision and mission of Jesus Christ matters most! What matters most is for us to become who God is calling us to become so the restoring ministry of Christ can be shared in every possible way in every possible place.

As I was preparing this address, I prayerfully asked God many times, “What more does the church need to hear?” On several occasions, I sensed the impress of the Spirit. In response, I want to give voice to what I sensed through the following words to the church:

Fear not! Do not be afraid to become who God is calling you to become. God, the Eternal One, has been with you in your past, continues with you in the present, and already is waiting patiently for you in the future. Through your lives the sacred story of the Restoration still is being written.

Engage the current challenges and opportunities before you with commitment and hope worthy of the dedication and sacrifices of those who went before you. Creatively build on the faith foundations they laid. Open windows and doors to the future.

Beloved community, God has chosen you to assist in accomplishing divine purposes if you will choose to live out of your better natures and potential. Deepen your faith. Refine your sensitivity to the guidance of the Spirit so that you are not distracted by other influences. Explore your scriptures with openness to new insights that will come. Increase your compassion and generosity. Strengthen your relationships so the peace of Christ may be magnified through you.

Have courage and hope. Gather in the gifts of all ages and cultures so the ministries of the body can become whole and fully alive. Others are being prepared around the world to join their efforts with yours, if you will move ahead according to the direction offered to you by the Spirit. Amen.

Brothers and sisters, there is a way into the future that holds the promise that our best days are yet before us.

May we choose it is my fervent hope and prayer.

The Word Near Emmaus

Communion Sermon by Apostle A. Alex Kahtava
April 7, 2002 ~ This item is available on the Internet Archive here.

It was the closing worship service of the reunion. Several hundred folk were gathered, sharing in prayer and testimony. It was nearing the time to draw the service to a close, when toward the back of the tabernacle a man who appeared to be about 20 years of age, arose and began his testimony with these words: It was shortly after I dedicated my life to Christ and became a member of this church, that my hell began ..

Look around you … see who is here … ponder with me for just a moment, the journey that has brought us all to this place.

We come from and represent so many places – towns, cities, villages, congregations … Anse Rouge – Chudleigh – Abidjan – Sydney – Chingola – Chennai – Berhampur – Seijo – Seoul – Taipei – Adelaide – Calgary – Chilliwack -Little Current – Mississauga – Corinth – Wabash – La Romana – Penllergaer -Stockport -Berlin – Budapest-Zwagwesteinde – Moscow – San Pedro Sula – Sonsnate – Lima – Bayou La Batre – Fairbanks – Bald Knob – San Luis Obispo – Ormond Beach – Ocala – Tifton – Decauter – Fort Wayne – Andover -Hiawatha – Mission Road – Baton Rouge – Gulliver – Bay City – Thunder Bay – Pascagoula – Stone Church – Joplin – Twin Rivers – Lamar – Buffalo – Portland –

We come to this place
• with very apparent and unique characteristics
• language – dress – appearance – tall – short -young – old
• differences in our world view – scriptural literacy and perception
• some feeling included – others feeling marginalized
• the wealthy – others far from wealthy
• some having traveled by foot – motorcycle – bus – train – plane to get here
• others only a few blocks

Yet we are here – to experience the WORD – we encircle this table – filled with bread and wine

The Word is here
• do you hear it ?
• do you feel it?
• do you see it?
• can you taste it?
• can you touch it?

The Word is not the words that I may speak
• or the words we sing
• or the words we pray
• or the words from the scripture

The WORD
• is the bread and wine on the tables that we encircle
• the bread, the wine
• speak to us eloquently, passionately

What do they say?

These symbols of the Word speak about grace – love – sacrifice – passion – forgiveness

Father – forgive them for they know not what they do

– are the words we hear

Whenever the community of faith intentionally separates itself from those who may not be quite like us

We hear the Word say “- proclaim freedom and recovery and release – of the blind, imprisoned and oppressed and

We remember how Jesus reached out to the outcasts of that day and time – the lepers – the poor – the dispossessed – the publicans – the sinner – the notorious woman whom Jesus permitted to touch his feet – the prodigal son. and even the cowardly disciples like Peter and all the others who deserted him at the moment of accusation and crucifixion

We come to this table

a table filled with the Word

Here we see and touch and taste God’s love and grace

Here we are reminded of the mission

– the call to reach all persons with the healing and redeeming message of grace and hope and refusing to allow that mission to be sacrificed on the altar of institutional or personal self-survival

We come to this table

a table filled with the Word

Here we see and touch and taste Gods love and grace

Here we are reminded of a living sacrifice that refused to be merely remembered for time and eternity as a tragic reminder of the inhumanity of man nailed to a cross. Rather he is remembered for time and eternity as one who triumphed over the forces that attempt to degrade and deny the dignity and worth of all persons

We come to this table

a table filled with the Word

Here we see and touch and taste Gods love and grace

Here our eyes are opened, even as were the eyes of the two who traveled with Jesus to Emmaus, even as were the eyes of that young man at the reunion.

That young man
• who went on in his testimony to speak of how he now looked at the world through
• different eyes
• now he saw, for the first time, the pain – the injustice – the suffering
• saw others as Jesus sees them

– persons of promise, giftedness

We come to this table

– a table filled with the Word

Here our eyes are opened and we see through tear-stained eyes

We come to this table

– a table filled with the Word

Here we see, touch and taste Gods’ love and grace

Here with our differences – our fears – our hopes

At this table we hear the Word “Peace Be Unto You”

In the power and affirmation of that Word we celebrate, our hearts burn within us and we have the desire to share the Word that fills this table

The desire to invite others to this table – where they will experience the Word and find purpose and life and eyes being opened and ultimately find peace

Even after all these tables are emptied as you have received the Word, may this bread and this wine that remains remind us of those who seek and thirst after righteousness

Peace Be Unto You – as your reach forth your hand to receive the Word

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Look, Touch — See

Challenge by High Priest Dave Schaal *
April 8, 2002

SchaalWhen I was a little boy, there was a small creek that flowed through the neighborhood where I lived. Most of the time, the creek meandered along on top of the earth, marking property lines and providing the children of the area a wonderful place to play. As it neared the edge of the neighborhood though, the stream entered a tunnel and went underground. It went under a street, under a row of houses, and then emerged again on the farmland that bordered the neighborhood–farmland that I had never yet set foot on.

As a child, I remember that tunnel as a place of great mystery for my friends and me. We would stand at its mouth and stare inside, wondering what it might be like deep within it. From time to time, the randomly thrown football would go into the creek and roll into the tunnel. We would run just inside of its mouth–just a few feet–just far enough to retrieve the ball. Then we would pause and peer deeper inside, wondering what mysteries must surely lie within, and then we would hurry back outside.

That all changed one day however, when a friend and I were sitting by the creek talking. For what reason I do not know, my friend decided that this day was a good day to find out once and for all what the center of the tunnel was like. It had not rained for several days, so the creek was only an inch or two deep. With a jump and a splash, into the tunnel my friend went. The last thing I heard him say as he disappeared from sight was “let’s go.” So I went.

I don’t remember a lot about that excursion, but I do remember getting to the center and pausing, looking around. There were pieces of broken toys from the backyards upstream. There was water and mud. In short, it was little boy heaven. But I also remember being amazed at how much light there was. I was struck by the stillness and sense of peace there in the quiet center of the tunnel.

Tonight, we have sung of the invitation to “come and find the quiet center.” Like the tunnel from my childhood, the center that we are called to is also a place that contains surprising light, bits of broken things, peace, and living water flowing through it. The invitation to “come and find the quiet center” is reminder that to live well, to live faithfully, means that we learn to honor the natural rhythm of life, which calls for rest as well as work, prayer as well as program, and Sabbath as an essential part of creation. Coming to the quiet center gives us practice in being available–available to God, available to others, available to ourselves. When we neglect the quiet place of prayer and reflection, it is so easy to fall prey to the agenda of the countless demands that ring in our ears; and we become not available–only busy. We come to the quiet center to find our compass, to renew our spirit, to remember who we are, to allow ourselves to be loved by God, and to love God in return.

But there is a risk in coming to that quiet center. As I stood in the center of the tunnel as child, I enjoyed the refreshing coolness, and peaceful stillness. After a few moments though, I turned to go back outside, but when I did, my intent was interrupted by the sound of someone calling my name. It was my friend who had gone into the tunnel ahead of me. “This way!” he said. I knew what “this way” meant. Instead of going back toward the entrance where we came in, my friend was already following the stream toward the other end of the tunnel–the end that led out of our neighborhood into places that we had never yet been.

That’s the risk in coming to the quiet center–someone calls your name.

Specifically, the risk of coming to the quiet center is that the Christ we seek meets us there, and calls us into deeper relationship with himself. The challenge is this:  we are called into a more intimate relationship with Christ; but the Christ who issues that invitation is One whose life is invested so intimately with the poor, with the victims of injustice, with the lonely, the broken, and those who have been pushed to the margins of society, that for us to join with Christ necessitates our willingness to join with them.

When Christ meets us in the quiet center, it is to introduce us to a wonderful paradox. That is, we come to quiet center to find peace, rest, healing, and communion with God; but in the midst of God’s care find ourselves being called back again into the very places where our peace has been disturbed. When God meets us in the quiet center it is to heal us; but it is also to save us…to save us from a shallow spirituality that would tempt us to seek escape from our world rather than have full engagement with the world. We should not go into the world naïve, for in the world dangers abound. At the same time, the spiritual journey calls us to recognize that it is in the world where God’s great work is unfolding, and where there is such great need for healing. In 1960, while writing about the spiritual disciplines associated with the quiet center, Thomas Merton said that the person:

who has meditated upon the Passion of Christ but has not meditated on the extermination camps of Dachau and Auschwitz has not yet fully entered into the experience of Christianity in our time

It may be that Merton was reminding us that following Jesus is not only about the embrace of a set of beliefs, or only about the avoiding of particular vices. Rather, to follow Jesus means to follow Jesus–to enter the human condition and touch persons who are untouchable, to care for the poor, to be present with the powerless, to care for those who are broken, to invite those who yet need to come to Christ.

The challenge of going to the quiet center is that Christ calls our name. Christ calls us to come out of whatever tunnels we may be hiding in…calls us into the world to join in the work of healing and transformation…calls us to enter the quiet center again and again in order to find refreshment, balance, and healing…and then ushers us out again into the world to which we’re called.

It is like the creek. Sometimes the waters run fast, pouring over rocks and changing the contours of the land around it. Sometimes the waters slow down, forming deep pools that are still and quiet. “I offer living water,” Jesus once said. Into the current of his life, may we go.

*Brother Schaal was ordained an apostle the following day.

Walking with Jesus

Testimony by Darrell L. Mink
April 9, 2002

minkWhat would that have been like? To walk with Jesus, to go places and do things that were not exactly what we thought should be done or said. Would we have recognized Jesus on the road to Emmaus? Would we have said to the servant girl – no, I don’t know that guy? Sometimes that is how I felt when walking with Ed Guy. I kind of went kicking and screaming. In my mind, what Ed was suggesting or wanted to do was not what I would do or had been taught to do. But we know Jesus did not do or say what was necessarily popular. He did what brought ministry to people. Every person was of great worth.

We had just finished a weekend with a National Conference. We had been together on Saturday and then on Sunday for the business and normal activities of a Conference. Almost everyone had gone home and we went back to Ed’s Place (Ed’s hotel). It was about 4:00 p.m. and Ed said to me, “Darrell I promised a young lady that I would come by and pray for her husband. He has been in a coma now for several weeks. Let’s go and pray for this young man.” It sounds very simple and straight up, but then things started to change. By the time we went to get transportation we had five people to go and pray for the young man: brother Joaquin Navas from Sonsonate, brother Rolando Alvarado from Guatemala, Ed, myself, and Tony. Those small taxis will take four but not five. We got there with five. That is another story.

At the door, as it was a military hospital, there was a guard. He had not thought it important to tell me that piece of information. They are very strict. I told Ed, “They won’t let all of us go in Ed. You go ahead and I will wait here with the other guys.” Ed got that little glimmer in his eye and said, “We all need to get in.” Everything told me we would not get in and even if we did there were too many of us for a quiet, sensitive, and meaningful prayer visit. The guard asked Ed who he wanted to see. After an exchange of words he told Ed, “Only one of you can go to the room.” Ed started to go and then returned to the guard and said, but this man has come all the way from Guatemala to pray for this person.” The guard looked at him and said, “Okay, he can go with you.” Ed started off and returned after two or three steps. He said to the guard, “See this guy? He came all the way from the United States to be here and pray for this man.” The guard after thinking it over for a few seconds said, “ Okay, he also can go.” There were still two others. Ed walked away two or three steps and turned around to the guard to started to ask the guard about the other two and the guard said, “Okay, all of you can go. Just go.”

We got to the room on the fourth floor. I kept telling Ed on the way up that there were to many of us and we should be quiet and respectful and have a short visit so as not to tire the person too much. You know, the kind of stuff we learn in how to make hospital visits. The kind of thing one learns in leadership class or a Temple School course. Ed would just acknowledge what I said and continued to direct us to the room. There we met the young man’s father and mother, the wife and her mother and father, and the patient in a comatose state. After a few words about why we were there Ed asks them if they would like to sing some coritos (songs based on scripture that are repeated two or three times). Without waiting very long he started the first one. I said to Ed, “They are going to throw all of us out. This is a military hospital. They are very strict here.” Besides this was not a part of the kind of experience I had in my mind. We continued to sing ,and then there was a knock at the door. I said, “Ed they are here to throw us out and we haven’t even prayed yet.” I was the nearest to the door as I was kind of standing back and saying,  “This is not what I would do–a little reluctant to really get involved.” It was a young lady from the room next door. She said that her mother was in the next room and how they wanted to have prayer, and would we please come over to her room after we finished and have prayer with them. After about 45 minutes of sharing songs, stories, and talking about the power of the Lord, we had the prayer.

We went to the second room. The same activity was more or less repeated. In the middle of this there was a knock at the door. I said to Ed, “Now we’ve done it and they are going to throw us out.” It was the man across the hall and he wanted us to go there and have prayer for his son. Due to the fact that both the son of the man and another patient were very seriously sick, we needed to have the prayer in the hallway with the family. This young man had been shot in the head and had not regained consciousness from that moment. I was standing so I could see the nurse’s station. I saw the nurse in charge start toward us. I thought, “I knew that this was going to happen. She is going to throw us out. When she got to us she asked if we could stop by the nurse’s station on our way out and have prayer with the workers on that wing of the hospital. We did.

On the way down to the third floor, Ed said to me, “There is a really good lady here and she is by herself–no family–and we should stop in and have prayer with her.” By now, I was more or less losing my fear of being thrown out. What I didn’t know was Ed did not know which room she was in. We finally found the room. You can imagine her response. She was so overjoyed that she wept. We didn’t do all of the singing and other activities, but we did share some experiences about the power of prayer. She was in a room with three other ladies. You can guess what happened. After the first laying on of hands with prayer, the other three women wanted the same thing. Those four older, lonesome women experienced the presence of the Lord Jesus.

It was now close to 10:00 p.m. Not only after hours, but in a military hospital. As we were walking down to the first floor, Ed said to me, “Darrell, there is a little boy on the children’s floor…” But before he could finish, I said, “Ed, not tonight, we and the people have been blessed, but let’s not push it anymore.”

Only one thing was motivating Ed and that was touching the lives of those people who needed the touch of Jesus in their lives at that moment. As I have looked back on that experience, as I relive it, I know now that that night in San Salvador, El Salvador, in that military hospital, I had walked with Jesus. Even now my heart burns within me.

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Ordination Challenge

World Conference 2002 Ordination Challenge* by Apostle Stephen M. Veazey
Tuesday, April 9th, 2002

VeazeysScripture: And it came to pass, as he sat at meat with them, he took bread, and blessed, and brake, and gave to them. And their eyes were opened, and they knew him; and he was taken up out of their sight. —Luke 24:29-30

This is a strange passage indeed!

Their eyes were opened…they knew him…and, then…he simply disappeared. There is a moment of clear seeing …of genuine revelation…and then Jesus was gone…somewhere.

But where in the world did Jesus go?
Some may have difficulty with the mysterious, mystical nature of this verse. But that is not the concern of this passage. There is a fundamental spiritual truth being presented here. And that truth is this: Once the moment of real insight into the nature of Jesus Christ has occurred, we cannot simply stay where we are. We are called to move on…to proceed…to go forward into the future.
Christ vanished from their sight because he was once again moving out ahead of them, going to where the action was. And they, hearts afire, perceived their new calling and responded. They rushed back to Jerusalem to bear vibrant witness of their experience with the resurrected Christ. They sought to go where Christ was headed!

So let it be for those who are ordained tonight. May you experience, in the sacramental moment, the focused presence of the living Christ. But know this, for certain. Even in that moment of perceiving, Christ is already going ahead of you, in anticipation of the ministry and witness that you can and will offer.

And where is Jesus going? Jesus is going into the dark shadows of human suffering and despair to bring healing and transformation. Are you willing to walk with Jesus there, to gently, but persistently, reach out to people who desperately need the hope that only the gospel can bring?

Jesus is going into the insidious snares of attitudes, traditions, and systems that hold people down, keeping them from the joy and meaning of life as God intends it, to break down walls and barriers to the full realization of human worth. Will you walk with Jesus there and be a determined advocate for justice?

Jesus is going where there is no peace and proclaiming peace. Jesus is going where people fear each other, and turn their backs on each other, to urge people to engage in creating sacred community that draws people together as family in God. Will you walk with Jesus there, as a patient and skilled builder of genuine community?

If we want Jesus to walk with us, we need to walk where Jesus is walking. We need to attach ourselves to him…absorbing his words and his actions until we see as he sees, and do as he does. And once we have truly caught sight of him, we need to keep our eyes fixed on him, not letting him out of our sight, even if we have to hurry up sometimes to catch up with him, even if we have to change our plans or our minds in the process…even if we have to trust him to guide us further than we can see and understand.

In the final analysis, the ministry to which you are called is to seek to discern each day where the resurrected Christ is present and engaged in ministry in creation, redeeming the times, redeeming lives, redeeming communities, bringing forth the kingdom of peace. And, then, in faith and humility, to simply go there to offer yourselves in committed service and witness.

And the promise is, if you are faithful to this calling, your footsteps will soon mark time with his, and your feet will not wander from the path that he is blazing toward a new creation.

Walk with Christ and he will walk with you!

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*Sometimes known as a “charge”, an ordination challenge is type of sermon primarily directed towards one or more “ordinands” (people who are about to be ordained to an office of priesthood).

Bylaws of Community of Christ

Approved April 10, 2002 ~ Revised April 16, 2010

Note: This entry is provided for informational reasons only.  For the purpose of conducting church business, please obtain an official copy of the church bylaws. You can download a PDF version here.

gavelWhereas, The administrative structure of the Community of Christ is currently administered through “Rules of Order” adopted April 6, 1952, and amended several times since that date; and

Whereas, World Conference Resolution 1248, “Field Organization,” adopted April 18, 1996, established a procedure for experimentally administering some jurisdictions of the church through a single mid-level jurisdiction known as a “Mission Center”; and

Whereas, The World Church Leadership Council has evaluated the concept of administering the church through such an administrative structure and have found, through various methods of evaluation, that this structure would be of benefit to the mission of the church; and

Whereas, The term “Rules of Order” generally refers to principles of parliamentary procedure used by an organization, while the term “Bylaws” generally refers to the basic rules by which an organization is governed; and

Whereas, It is now appropriate to make several additional changes to the basic governing procedures of the church; now therefore be it

Resolved, That the following Bylaws be adopted as the foundational governing document establishing the administrative and governance structure of the Community of Christ to replace the existing Rules of Order; and be it further

Resolved, That the following World Conference Resolutions shall be rescinded by the adoption of these bylaws: WCR 1156 (Robert’s Rules of Order), WCR 1237 (World Conference Delegate Selection), WCR 1244 (Common Consent for Regions without Conferences), and WCR 1248 (Field Organization); and be it further

Resolved, That the existing jurisdictions of the church shall remain in place until field consultations and administrative approvals establish Mission Centers to replace them, which should take place no later than July 1, 2004.

Bylaws of the Community of Christ

Article I – Name

The name of this church shall be “Community of Christ.”*

Article II – Purpose

The purpose and mission of the church is to proclaim Jesus Christ and promote communities of joy, hope, love, and peace. The church envisions a time when the promise of God’s kingdom shall be fulfilled. We have a vision of that kingdom where the name of Jesus Christ is truly honored, where God’s will is done on earth, where the hungry are fed, poverty is alleviated, sinners are repentant, and sin is forgiven.
We believe that love is the proper foundation of our relationship with others, that opportunity to grow in the likeness of Christ should be fostered, and that the resources of the world can be managed to respect and preserve their creation and purpose. We have a vision of a time when all evil is overcome and peace prevails.

We will be an international community of prophetic vision, faithful to the risen Christ, empowered by hope, spending ourselves courageously in the pursuit of peace and justice.

Article III – Theocratic Democracy

Section 1. Definition. The church, as defined by President Joseph Smith III, is a theocratic democracy. It was brought into being by divine initiative, is guided and administered by divine authority, is sustained by the light of the Holy Spirit, and exists for divine purposes. In response to divine initiative, members share responsibility for governing the church. “…all things must be done in order and by common consent in the church, by the prayer of faith” (Doctrine and Covenants 27:4).

Section 2. Priesthood. The government of the church is by divine authority through priesthood. It should be noted that the government of the church is through priesthood, not by priesthood. The distinction is important. Ministers must first of all be disciples. Disciples are those who seek to transform this world into the kingdom of God and Christ. In no other way can their claim to divine authority become rich and meaningful.

Section 3. Priesthood Calls. The basic principles pertaining to priesthood calls are that all calls shall be initiated by appropriate administrative officers, shall receive necessary administrative approvals, shall be presented to the candidate for acceptance, and shall be approved by an appropriate conference of members. Specific procedures are established by the First Presidency.

Section 4. Common Consent. A basic principle of decision making in the Community of Christ is common consent. Common consent respects the rights of the people to assent to the general conduct of business within the church and to sustain those called of God to provide leadership. Common consent is exercised when members assemble in conferences in congregations, mission centers, and at the World Conference. Leadership is exercised through the responsibility of presiding officers and members to make proposals to the various conferences to which they are responsible and through recognizing that these conferences have the responsibility to review such proposals, to share points of view, and to vote as they feel led by the Holy Spirit.

The rights of the body are safeguarded through the process of common consent as follows:

By the guidance of the Holy Spirit in calling members to the priesthood. All priesthood members are to be ordained according to the gifts and callings of God unto them, and they are to be ordained by the power of the Holy Spirit, which is in those who ordain them.

By the requirement that calls to the priesthood be presented for approval to an appropriate conference.

By the right of approval and disapproval which rests with the people who are asked to sustain World Church leaders at World Conference, and local leaders at local conferences.

By the requirement that all things be done with due regard for the duties and privileges of other ministers and members and in harmony with the legislative enactments of the body.

By the provisions for correcting disorder (Doctrine and Covenants 122:10, 126:10).
By the understanding that, for the good of all, properly selected leaders must be allowed to do their work without undue interference, subject always to the provisions made to cover special situations.

Section 5. Leadership and Administrative Functions. Leadership and administration is through members of the priesthood, acting according to their several callings and with the consent of the church. Supervisory leadership of the ministries of the church is vested in the following groups:

The First Presidency is composed of the president and two counselors, and they preside over the whole church. This includes responsibility for the World Conference, field ministries, priesthood quorums and orders, and headquarters functions.
The Council of Twelve Apostles is responsible for the evangelistic witness of the church. Individual apostles may be assigned to various responsibilities of church leadership, including field administration.

The Presiding Bishopric is composed of the presiding bishop and two counselors. They are the chief financial officers and trustees of the church, and are responsible for the administration of the temporal affairs of the whole church.

Together these groups function as the leadership body of the church known as the World Church Leadership Council. To this council, from time to time, additional persons are added because of the unique contribution they make to the administrative, programmatic, or missionary ministries of the church.

Other leadership functions are vested in the following councils, quorums, and orders:

Council of Presidents of Seventy
Quorums of Seventy
Quorum of High Priests
Order of Bishops
Order of Evangelists

Section 6. Legislative Functions. Legislation is considered and enacted in World Conference, field conferences, national conferences, cultural area conferences, mission center conferences, and in congregational conferences. These conferences meet at the call of the responsible administrative officers, at times and places determined by the bodies concerned, or without such provisions at times and places set by the responsible administrative officers.

Authority of Conferences. Each conference has authority to legislate for those it represents, insofar as it does not usurp rights lawfully centered elsewhere. Accordingly, no congregational conference can legislate for its mission center, such as requiring certain acts on the part of mission center leaders, and no congregational or mission center conference can enact binding legislation on matters of World Church importance.

Limits. No legislative body can rightfully take to itself administrative or judicial functions.

Right to Nominate. It is the right of all members to make nominations in filling elective offices in the jurisdictions of the church, but this action in no sense denies the right of presiding officers to present concurrent nominations for the filling of such elective offices nor does it suppose that every office should be filled by election. Often program assistants are appointed by presiding officers and sustained by the appropriate conference.

Section 7. Judicial Functions.  Every effort should be made to resolve conflicts through the ministry of reconciliation. In extreme cases, where such efforts are unsuccessful, members and administrators may have access to church courts for protection or redress. The First Presidency has the authority to determine whether any case is appropriate for assignment to a church court. Church court procedures are developed by the First Presidency and approved by the Standing High Council in accordance with scriptural provisions and principles of due process.

Article IV – Conferences

Section 1. Conferences. Conferences are the legislative bodies of the church. They may be regular or special. Generally, regular conferences shall be held annually or otherwise as agreed upon by those who constitute their membership. They may represent the church at large, a mission center, or a congregation. They are subject to the jurisdiction of the First Presidency, members of the Council of Twelve, and appropriate mission center presidents or congregational pastors.

Section 2. World Conference. The World Conference is the highest legislative body in the church and should be organized with primary reference to its legislative functions. The World Conference is constituted according to the provisions of the rules of representation and is empowered to act for the entire church. In the World Conference and in a general assembly, the First Presidency shall preside. In case of the absence or disqualification of the First Presidency, the Council of Twelve shall so function.

Leadership in the World Conference. Members of the First Presidency, the Council of Twelve Apostles, the presiding evangelist, the Presiding Bishopric, the church secretary, the presidency of the Quorum of High Priests, and the presidents of Seventy shall have voice and vote in the World Conference and shall not be eligible to serve as delegates from any jurisdiction. The functioning of the quorums, councils, and orders is considered important to the World Conference; they shall have access to the conference through their presiding officers. The presiding officer of the conference may grant voice to those whose contribution is considered to be beneficial to the conference.

Delegates to the World Conference. Mission centers are authorized to elect delegates to the World Conference. Delegates are members of the World Conference to which they are elected and are entitled to voice and vote at its meetings.

Basis of Representation. The number of delegates to the World Conference shall be apportioned to approximate a total of 2,800 persons. Each mission center shall be entitled to two delegates. Additional delegates, in a number adequate to bring the total to approximately 2,800, shall be apportioned among the mission centers according to their membership enrollment.

Notification. The Credentials Committee shall determine enrollment of each jurisdiction as of one year prior to the convening of the World Conference and shall use that enrollment as a basis for allocating delegates from each jurisdiction. At least ten months prior to the convening of the World Conference, the Credentials Committee shall inform the president of each mission center of the number of delegates to which that mission center is entitled.

Qualifications for delegates. The only qualification for eligibility as a delegate to the World Conference shall be membership in good standing in the church.

Certification. Delegates shall be seated as members of the conference and entitled to vote in the conference’s proceedings upon registering with the Credentials Committee. Each mission center should provide the Credentials Committee with a certified list of the delegates and alternates according to procedures approved by the First Presidency.

Delegate voting. In general, each person seated as a delegate at the World Conference shall be entitled, when present, to cast one vote each time a vote is taken. In extraordinary circumstances, or in situations where a jurisdiction cannot send to the World Conference the number of delegates to which it is entitled, the First Presidency is authorized to implement alternate voting procedures subject to the consent of the World Conference.

Section 3. Field Jurisdiction Conferences. Conferences of mission centers or congregations are regular gatherings authorized by a congregation, a mission center, or by the presiding officer of these jurisdictions. The member of the Council of Twelve who has administrative supervision may also call a conference if the need arises. These conferences have to do with the common interests of the church members within the specified areas. Mission centers have the option of providing for delegate conferences. In such cases the mission center conference is authorized to determine the basis for representation.

Section 4. Special Conferences. Special conferences may be called by the First Presidency for the World Conference; by the mission center president for mission center conferences; and by the pastor for congregational conferences. In emergencies special conferences may also be called by the supervising administrative officer having jurisdiction. The call for special conferences shall specify the purpose of the conference and only business mentioned in the call of the conference may be transacted.

Section 5. Field, National or Cultural Area Conferences. From time to time field, national or cultural area conferences may be convened on the authority of the field apostle(s) concerned, with the approval of the First Presidency. These conferences are by their nature special conferences and so the call for a field, national or cultural area conferences will specify the purpose of the conference and only business mentioned in the call of the conference may be transacted. Field, national or cultural area conferences can be called with at least twelve (12) weeks notice to the congregations concerned.”

Article V – Congregations

Section 1. Organization of congregations. Congregations are the foundational missional units of the church where participants live out their discipleship. While numbers, complexity, and style may vary significantly, the ability and commitment to meet regularly as a community of disciples with a sense of common identity is the hallmark of each congregation. Congregations are formed by the authority of the field apostle in consultation with local church leaders, and with a vote of those who will make up the proposed congregation. Congregations are disorganized by the authority of the field apostle following consultation with local church leaders. Congregations should be primarily responsible for their own operations and ministries. Support for congregations beyond their ability to provide (e.g., legal, information systems, risk management, real estate, and human resource services) is the responsibility of the mission center and/or the World Church. Congregations are responsible for maintaining current membership data according to World Church guidelines.

Section 2. Congregational officers. Congregations have the freedom to organize themselves in ways that functionally promote the congregation’s vision of Christian mission. Even so, annually each congregation shall elect a presiding officer, known as the pastor, and sustain the appointment of a financial officer. The appointment is made by the mission center financial officer. This should be done at a regular congregational conference or at one specifically called for that purpose of which due notice shall have been given. Congregational leaders should keep the mission center leaders fully informed of the condition of the congregation and should have frequent consultation with the mission center leaders.

Section 3. Congregational conferences. Congregational conferences shall be convened at least once annually and at such other times as are determined by action of the body. Congregations may consider legislation relating to congregational affairs. They may also consider legislation relating to the affairs of their mission center and recommend its enactment by that mission center’s conference. Congregational conference actions shall be in harmony with, and subject to, mission center conference actions, World Conference action, and subject to the advice of the mission center leaders and World Church officers concerned. Special conferences may be called by the congregational pastor. All congregational conferences shall be scheduled by the pastor in cooperation with the mission center president. The mission center president shall receive adequate notice and should be invited to offer any suggestions or nominations he or she may desire to present. In emergencies, and especially when a congregational pastor is incapacitated or the congregation shall have fallen into disorder, the mission center president may request or call a congregational conference; in this or any other necessary situation the mission center president may recommend procedure, present nominations for office, or do such other things as will best protect the interests of the church. When these interests shall require, the mission center president may take over direction of the congregation for a time, administering the work thereafter-either directly or indirectly-until a more permanent arrangement can be made. If the mission center president is thought to have proceeded unlawfully in any of these matters, appeal is to the supervising field apostle.

Section 4. Notice of Conferences. Normally notice of all congregational conferences should be given to the members of the congregation at least two weeks prior to the congregational conference and should also be sent to the mission center president and to such other officers as might be concerned with the business to be transacted.

Section 5. Quorum. For the transacting of all business at a congregational conference, unless otherwise provided by the conference, six or more members present at any properly called meeting shall constitute a quorum. However, it is the responsibility of every member of the congregation to attend congregational conferences, both regular and special.

Section 6. Presiding. The pastor presides over congregational conferences. At the request of the pastor, or in the pastor’s absence, the counselors may preside. Members of the First Presidency, Council of Twelve, or mission center staff may be asked to preside as a courtesy or in view of special circumstances.

Section 7. Responsibilities of the presiding officer. It is the responsibility of the presiding officer to bring to the attention of the body such matters as may require consideration or action; to enforce observance of the rules of order with decorum and propriety; to secure, as far as possible, a due respect and regard for the laws governing the church as contained in the scriptures, mission center and World Conference enactments, and administrative procedures approved by the First Presidency.

Section 8. Emerging Congregations. In the early stages of congregational development, groups such as house churches, expansion groups, cell groups, etc., may be established by the mission center president or the field apostle. By definition, such groups are not fully self-sufficient and require significant support from other congregations or the mission center. The groups may have conferences from time to time as necessary with the approval of the mission center president. Lines of administration shall be established by the mission center leadership with the approval of the field apostle. Lines of financial accountability shall be established by the mission center leadership based on guidelines established by the Presiding Bishopric and with the approval of the field apostle. Such groups may be granted full congregational status by the field apostle in consultation with the mission center leadership and with a vote of those who will make up the proposed congregation.

Article VI – Mission Centers

Section 1. Purpose. Mission centers exist to support congregations, facilitate church expansion, and provide linkage between World Church ministries and congregations. Mission centers may vary in size and composition and may be organized on the basis of contiguous congregations, congregations within the same political boundary, congregations that share similar cultural or social identities, or such other criteria as may be determined by the World Church Leadership Council. Key functions include, but are not limited to:

pastoral support of congregational leaders;
leadership skill development;
congregational consultant ministries;
missionary ministries;
church planting;
congregational crisis support;
financial resource development and support;
specialized ministries (e.g., children, youth, young adult, singles);
coordination of periodic celebration events (e.g., reunions, camps, conferences, etc.);
technical assistance to congregations (e.g., legal, risk management, real estate, etc.);
human resources; and
essential administrative functions (e.g., implementation of World Church policies, priesthood administration, pastoral supervision, etc.)

Mission centers shall provide for the networking and grouping of congregations to encourage mutual support, foster church identity, pursuit of common causes, and to provide fellowship, leadership development, and celebration opportunities (e.g., reunions, camps, retreats, and leadership development programs).

Mission centers are responsible for coordinating the management, creation, maintenance, and disposition of campgrounds, administrative offices, and other ancillary facilities and entities that exist within the scope of the mission center’s responsibility. Multi-jurisdictional associations may exist for these purposes as well.

Section 2. Formation of Mission Centers. Mission centers are formed by the approval of the World Church Leadership Council with appropriate consultation. Factors to be considered when determining the configuration of mission centers shall include, but not be limited to:

former jurisdictional ties (e.g., district, stake, and regional configurations); shared congregational interests, styles, and concerns; and geographic proximity.

Section 3. Mission Center Organization. Mission center organization should be kept as simple as possible. The primary purpose is to support the ministry of congregations and promote the expansion of the church. Therefore, the mission center’s focus should be on ministry and witness rather than on administration. In areas of relatively high membership density, leadership availability, and financial capacity, it may be necessary for mission centers to be more highly structured. Such a decision should be made with the concurrence of the field apostle. The principles of stake and district organization as described in various sections of the Doctrine and Covenants may serve, where helpful, in guiding mission center organization.

Mission Center President. Mission center presidents are appointed by the World Church through procedures established by the First Presidency. They are sustained by the Mission Center Conference and are supervised by the field apostle. The mission center president is the primary representative of the World Church to the congregations that compose the mission center. The mission center president is entrusted with the care and direction of the center’s congregations through the properly selected pastors of these congregations and of the nonresident members of the mission center directly or through a nonresident pastor. It is the responsibility of the mission center president to plan the extension and development of the work of the church within the mission center. Mission center staff members and congregational pastors report to and are supervised by the mission center president.

Mission Center Financial Officer. Mission center financial officers are appointed by the World Church through procedures established by the First Presidency. They are sustained by the Mission Center Conference and are supervised by the mission center president. Mission center financial officers have specific trustee responsibilities in which they are subject to the direction and counsel of the Presiding Bishopric. They are responsible for such trusteeship to the appropriate conference and to the president of the mission center according to the provisions of the related budget.

Section 4. Mission Center Councils. Each mission center shall establish a mission center council, a standing body whose primary purpose is to advise mission center officers and staff on matters affecting the core functions of the mission center. Mission center councils shall be established according to World Church guidelines.

Section 5. Mission Center Conferences. Ideally, mission centers should convene conferences at least annually. Mission center conferences are authorized to transact business relating to the enhancement of ministry and expansion of the work within the mission center. Enactments of a mission center conference are confined to matters of concern to the mission center, including the approval of mission center budgets, the election of World Conference delegates, and the approval of legislation to be proposed for World Conference consideration. Mission center conference actions shall be in harmony with, and subject to, World Conference action and subject to the advice of the World Church officers concerned. Mission centers may convene special conferences as needed. If in the determination of the mission center president in consultation with the field apostle, the mission center is unable to convene a mission center conference at least annually (e.g., geographic distance, prohibitive cost, etc.), then the mission center council shall be responsible for establishing procedures through which necessary conference decisions shall be made subject to the approval of the field apostle within World Church guidelines and policies.

Mission centers have the option of providing for delegate conferences. In such cases the mission center conference is authorized to determine the basis for representation.

The field apostle shall receive notice of the mission center conference and should be invited to offer any suggestions or nominations he or she may desire to present. In emergencies, and especially when a mission center president is incapacitated or the mission center shall have fallen into disorder, the field apostle may request or call a mission center conference; in this or any other necessary situation the field apostle may recommend procedure, present nominations for office, or do such other things as will best protect the interests of the church. When these interests shall require, the field apostle may take over direction of the mission center for a time, administering the work thereafter-either directly or indirectly-until a more permanent arrangement can be made. If the field apostle is thought to have proceeded inappropriately in any of these matters appeal through the administrative line.

Section 6. Notice of Conferences. Normally notice of all mission center conferences should be given to the various congregational pastors within the mission center at least four weeks prior to the mission center conference and should also be sent to the supervising field apostle and to such other officers as might be concerned with the business to be transacted.

Section 7. Quorum. For the transacting of all business at a mission center conference, unless otherwise provided by the conference, six or more members present at any meeting for which proper notice has been given shall constitute a quorum. However, it is the responsibility of every member of the mission center to attend mission center conferences, both regular and special.

Section 8. Presiding Officer. The mission center president presides over the mission center conference. At his/her request or absence, another member of the mission center staff may be chosen to preside. Members of the First Presidency, Council of Twelve, or their authorized representatives may be asked to preside as a courtesy or in view of special circumstances.

Section 9. Responsibility of the presiding officer. It is the responsibility of the presiding officer to bring to the attention of the conference such matters as require the consideration or action of the mission center; to require observance of the rules of order with decorum and propriety; and to secure, insofar as he or she is able, a due respect and regard for the laws governing the church as contained in the scriptures and World Conference enactments.

Article VII – World Church Fields

Section 1. Nature of Fields. World Church fields are established by the First Presidency and are groupings of mission centers. Fields are flexible in nature and their configuration will change periodically. The focus of ministry at the field level is to support mission centers in their efforts to support congregations and grow the church.

Section 2. Supervising Ministers. The First Presidency appoints members of the Council of Twelve to supervise fields.

Section 3. Field conferences or in some cases national or cultural area conferences may be called on the authority of the apostle(s) concerned and under rules approved by the Council of Twelve, with the approval of the First Presidency. Such conferences will be special conferences. Only such business described in the notice of the conference can be considered.

Article VIII – Parliamentary Authority

The rules contained in the current edition of Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised shall govern all conferences of the church in all cases where they are culturally appropriate and where they are not in conflict with these rules of order or any special rules of order adopted by the appropriate conference. In cultures where Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised is not known or generally used, locally appropriate rules shall be utilized to guarantee the rights of individuals and groups to participate fully in the deliberative process.

Article IX – Amendments

These rules of order may be amended at any World Conference by a two-thirds vote, provided that the full text of such proposed amendments are published in the Herald at least sixty days prior to the convening of the World Conference during which they will be considered.

* The name “Community of Christ” was established by the World Conference through WCR 1268 (April 7, 2000), and the new name became effective April 6, 2001.  WCR 1268 also provided that “the name ‘Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints’ remain legally binding and be retained for legal purposes.”

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Listen and Fear Not!

2010 World Conference Communion Service, by Apostle Bunda Chibwe
Sunday, April 11th, 2010 (morning worship service)

Isaiah 43:1-7; Psalm 39

bc2010My recent trips to Haiti have allowed me to see scenes that are in bitter and striking contrast to the love that God expressed in creating the earth as an ideal place for life (Gen. 2:9). In its current state, “the earth is groaning in pain.” I’m not only talking about earthquakes. I am talking about the state of agitation and vulnerability our planet is experiencing today. It is obvious that our earth is groaning—groaning from global warming and its consequences. The various projections presented during earth summits make us shudder with the many threats that are on the horizon: icecaps melting, rising sea levels, species extinction, deterioration of ecosystems, change in rain patterns, scarcity of potable water, and extension of malaria zones. Before this dark and depressing picture, God the Eternal Creator weeps, along with “the mothers and fathers in all nations who desperately seek a future of hope for their children” (Section 163:4a). A scholar once said that the earth is running a fever and humankind is the virus. Also, a physicist said, “the more technology there is; the more people there are; the less nature there is; the fewer species there are; [and] the less creation there is”.

I hear these statements. They scare me! I have fear—extreme fear of the unknown! I fear economic instability and a probable staff reduction. I fear that the church will have to reduce its vibrant missionary ministries, resulting in lost opportunities for forming disciples of Jesus Christ. I fear that the quality of priesthood ministry might deteriorate, that it might languish because it has not received the education and training it needs to deliver competent ministries in the spirit of faithfulness to covenant. I fear that the youth won’t participate in the life and the ministries of the Church. I fear that various legislative initiatives might divide our international community. I fear because I have very limited knowledge—knowledge of cultures, opportunities, priorities, and missionary challenges in other apostolic fields. My fears multiply! I fear incurable diseases that are devastating Africa. I fear natural catastrophes like those just experienced in Karonga, Malawi, Haiti, and Chile. I fear wars, the military coups in Madagascar and Niger, the unceasing wars in Ethiopia, Sudan, Iraq, and Afghanistan that paralyze our planet. I have many fears, because all the concerns I have listed can adversely affect the mission and message of Jesus Christ for the church, in which he calls us to bring forth Zion, God’s peaceful kingdom on earth.

Our scriptural passage from Isaiah 43:1-7, is part of what is known as Second Isaiah. In this section, the prophet, while proclaiming salvation, corrects an important oversight and detour taken by the Israelites. Just like me, the Israelites were discouraged and resented that the Lord had apparently forsaken them (Is 40:27). They were a fearful, scattered, captive people. Isaiah reminds them of two reasons to hope. First, the Lord created the world, and God’s power therefore shines throughout the universe. Second, and in like manner, the Lord chose Israel, and her faithfulness is to shine through history.

We today are prophetic people that are experiencing many of the same challenges that confronted Israel and caused her to fear. In spite of all the circumstances that generated fear, her ultimate testimony is that God is present with them, and they need not fear. Isaiah 43:1–7 is a wonderful testimony to the presence of God in all our lives. We too need to listen and hear the Lord’s message: “Fear not!”

The message of the prophet is to “listen to the voice of God with all of our heart, all of our soul and all of our strength!” God made a covenant with Israel that God will NOT break. We worship the presence of God with us not only in times of joy and peace, but also in times of storm and challenge—not out of fear but from God’s assurance. That is why the author of Psalm 29 affirms that the presence, the power, and the voice of God can be heard in the middle of the storm despite the fury of the elements, the winds, the rain, the lightening, and the thunderstorm that strike nature in her strength and majesty. Even ancient, solid trees succumb. It is in the storms of life today that the assurance of God’s presence brings hope. This hope lives today; I have seen it! I have heard and I have seen the powerful testimony of faith and hope my Haitians brothers and sisters expressed through their singing and dancing after their beautiful nation was in ruin! They did not curse God. They understand that God’s love is not distant or cruel, but rather present, loving, and caring. All of us who have experienced this blessing of peace, which is the peace of Jesus Christ, have the responsibility to share it with everyone, with brave confidence and without fear.

The following Buddhist proverb has much to teach us: “We have two ears and one mouth, to listen twice and speak once.”

The Israelites took a detour on their journey with God, prompting Isaiah the prophet to say: “O Israel: fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine! I am with you; I will bring your children from the east and gather you from the west. I am with you. I [speak] to everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” The truth celebrated here is found also in Romans 8. Paul delares emphatically that nothing can separate God’s children from God’s love. We need not live in fear—in fear of the present or the future. We can count on the presence of God with us, and we are assured by the clear Voice of God’s encouragement. The passage from the psalm is even more significant to us because it reinforces our hope as expressed in Doctrine and Covenants 163:2a: God invites us to listen and to “receive divine peace in the midst of difficult questions and struggles in life.” In Doctrine and Covenants 162, we are counseled nine times to LISTEN. “Listen to the voice” is the recurring theme of this revelation. Realizing God’s purpose in the midst of creation requires everything created to listen to the Creator. We often choose to listen to what interests or pleases us, rather than listening to God, don’t we? A hymn we use in many regions of our community asks the Spirit of the Living God to “form, mold, fill, and transform” us. That is precisely the relationship God wants to share with each one of us as faithful disciples in the Community of Christ.

I was in Abidjan, Ivory Coast last month at a time when the government was disorganized. A police inspector came to my hotel and asked me why I was in his country. For the first time, I, a good Zambian citizen, was questioned about why I was there. Using the document “We share,” I explained to him about our church identity, message and mission. When I was finished, the police inspector told me: “Pastor, I’m not Christian nor Muslim, and I have no desire whatsoever to become one or the other. However, I’m very moved by the message of your church, and I feel I should support what you are doing. Please, let me pay for your hotel room while you’re staying in my country. And that’s what he did! The police inspector, a total stranger at the beginning, became a friend. After listening to each other, we developed unconditional love, mutual respect, and unlimited trust. The wall of separation between us broke down. I remembered that God does not give us a spirit of fear, but of courage, love, and sound mind.

Maybe this short African story will clarify my point. In an African village, there lived two young men that grew tired of the principles, standards, traditions, and habits imposed by the elders. They decided to go away and hide in a town where life was less strict. People in the village did not like that at all. Unfortunately, both young men became sick, and they were sent back to their native village where they died. The village council had to decide whether they should be buried in the village graveyard that was surrounded by a fence. After a long discussion, the elders decided to bury them outside the fence of the graveyard. Something weird happened that night. Around midnight, the youth of the village moved the graveyard fence so that the two young men could be in the village graveyard. Their adventure put their lives at risk! Maybe this week we will be courageous enough as children of the Restoration to move fences in order to create new sacred communities! As Bishop Jim Kelsey stated “we are given change as an ingredient in life. We can be frightened and anxious and resistant to it or we can embrace it as a tool to transform us.”

The table of the Lord is ready. I invite you to reflect on the powerful words of counsel from President Veazey. They express the faithfulness of our noble mission and can dispel our fear: “your continuing faith adventure with God has been divinely led, eventful, challenging, and sometimes surprising to you. By the grace of God, you are poised to fulfill God’s ultimate vision for the church. When your willingness to live in sacred community as Christ’s new creation exceeds your natural fear of spiritual and relational transformation, you will become who you are called to be. If you truly would be Community of Christ, then embody and live the concerns and passion of Christ. The challenges and opportunities are momentous. Will you remain hesitant in the shadows of your fears, insecurities, and competing loyalties?”

The feast is ready! I invite you to the table. I also invite everyone to move forward into the light of our calling and vision. We are divinely called to become an inclusive Community of Christ that understands passionately that the mission of Jesus Christ is what matters most for the journey ahead. Praise be to God! Fear not!

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We Share A Vision of Hope

World Conference 2010 Sermon by Prophet-President Stephen M. Veazey
Sunday, April 11th, 2010 (evening worship service)

sv2010Let’s celebrate!

Celebration builds healthy community. So let’s celebrate some anniversaries!

Twenty-five years ago women were first ordained to the priesthood. Today women serve at every level of church ministry and leadership.

It took divine revelation to get us moving. However, we responded to the Spirit’s call! As a result, the worldwide church is blessed with ministerial gifts that otherwise would have been lost. We are growing in expression of an Enduring Principle of the Restoration: “All are called according to their gifts.” Yes, we need more understanding about giftedness, calling, and ministry. However, we are headed in the right direction!

Thirty years ago church leaders started Outreach International (OI). Beginning with efforts in the
Philippines, OI was created to reduce the cruel poverty seen by church leaders as they began to travel extensively throughout the world.

OI has emerged as a leading global humanitarian organization that specializes in “participatory human development.” This approach is one of the most-effective ways to create “sustainable good” in impoverished communities while avoiding long-term dependency.

Tonight we celebrate with OI—our partner in mission—its 30th birthday!

And, of course, at this World Conference we are celebrating the 150th anniversary of the conference of the Reorganization, where Joseph Smith III accepted his call to prophetic leadership of the church. As noted by Church Historian Mark Scherer, a prophetic movement found a prophet, and a prophet found a prophetic movement!

The history of the Reorganized Church is the major portion of our sacred story. We need to mine that history for inspiration and guiding principles as we continue our faith journey.

Some had the opportunity to “meet” Joseph Smith III last night during the Presidency’s reception. I offered to let Brother Joseph preside over this Conference, but he graciously declined, saying he already had done his part!

And that’s not all! During my April 5, 2009, address to the church, I said I had a dream of building on the success of the Co-Missioned Pastors Initiative by making the best of that program available to many more pastors and congregational leaders. Through the generosity of a church family, we have received a gift of $4 million to be used exclusively to train, support, and network congregational leaders throughout the church, including a focus on equipping young adults to be congregational leaders now and in the future.

We have a lot to celebrate! If the person next you has not shown any signs of thankfulness, joy, or celebration—not even a smile—at this point, check to see if they have a pulse!

Now let us turn to the future: What kind of church do we really want to be? Or stated better: What kind of church does God want us to be?

The counsel shared January 17, which I am formally submitting to the World Conference tonight, is about answering that question together. For me, paragraph five gets to the heart. The questions before us this week may be resolved successfully if we open ourselves to the meaning of these words:

It is imperative to understand that when you are truly baptized into Christ you become part of a new creation. By taking on the life and mind of Christ, you increasingly view yourselves and others from a changed perspective. Former ways of defining people by economic status, social class, sex, gender, or ethnicity no longer are primary. Through the gospel of Christ a new community of tolerance, reconciliation, unity in diversity, and love is being born as a sign of the coming reign of God.

We want to get right to resolving specific issues. But the Spirit says we need to revisit and master the basics of discipleship first!

Paragraph 5 describes the church we will become when we discern the full meaning of baptism into Christ. It emphasizes the gospel is not just about you or me; it is about us—all of us!—and how we can live in community if the spirit of Christ fully lives in us.

Do we really comprehend the meaning of these words? When baptized into Christ we embrace a new identity that transcends all other identities and allegiances that previously defined us. We are no longer male or female first. We are not primarily of a particular social or economic class.

We are no longer of a particular ethnicity or nationality first. We are first and foremost “one in Christ!”

Let me put it this way. If you are truly baptized into Christ, anything that happens to sisters or brothers in Christ—good or bad—happens to you and your family. It happens to me and my family!

If an earthquake rocks Haiti or Chile, it is not just a compelling news story; it is happening to all of us! If people are being denied safety, basic human rights, and opportunity because of gender, age, nationality, sexual orientation, or economic status, it is happening to me and you and our children. That is what it means to be one in Christ!

When the church fills with disciples—especially communities of disciples—who are living this vision to the best of their ability, the new creation Christ gave his life to birth will become increasingly visible.

Restoration is about recovering the heart of early Christian vision, faith, witness, and loving fellowship. That restoring vision and spiritual impulse lie at the heart of what it means to be Community of Christ.

Our actions this week will move us closer to or further from being that kind of church. If we move closer, the issues before us—such as conditions of membership and moral behavior—will be transformed. We will approach them with a new spirit and perspective.

Ludwig Wittgenstein describes this transformation:

Once the…new way of thinking has been established, the old problems vanish; indeed they become hard to recapture, for they go with our way of expressing ourselves, and if we clothe ourselves in a new form of expression, the old problems are discarded along with the old garments.
—Ludwig Wittgenstein, Culture and Value

What an interesting phrase: “…if we clothe ourselves in a new form of expression….” From Galatians we read that truth expressed more specifically about baptism into Christ: As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. —Galatians 3:27–29

Perhaps difficult questions are on our agenda to compel us to go much deeper in our understanding of what it means to be Community of Christ and “one in Christ.”

Perhaps the Spirit is prompting us to go beyond what we think the issues are to discern what we really need to explore.

Should our discussion about conditions of membership be about whether to protect the doctrinal “rightness” of our church? Or should it be about whether our sacraments done in the name and spirit of Christ create more reconciliation, blessing, and unity in the world?

Should our discussion be about whether our priesthood has the only divinely given authority to baptize people? Or should it be about how the Holy Spirit is leading baptized Christians to seek church membership and what that means?

I have experienced the beauty and power of baptismal authority expressed through Community of Christ priesthood in the sacrament of baptism. I also have seen the obvious fruits of baptism in people converted to Christianity and baptized long before they were introduced to Community of Christ. Can both be true?

Not long ago I visited with an older Asian gentleman who told me how he first heard of Christ and responded. He was baptized in a pool in a cave where Christians met to avoid detection. He told of the persecution he and others experienced for being Christian. He told of his pastor being jailed for many years, yet never recanting his testimony of Christ. He described walking barefooted at night to avoid detection to worship with other Christians.

Ending his testimony, he said, “I have found in Community of Christ the best expression of the Jesus I already know. I want to be part of your church and not just a friend.”

The Spirit assured me his baptism had occurred through the grace and authority of Jesus Christ. It also assured me that God’s grace had reached him in the unique circumstances of his life and that his baptism should be respected.

I held this experience in my heart as I continued to study and pray about conditions of membership. Over several months the Spirit orchestrated a union of scriptural insight, personal experience, and testimony from the church that shaped the counsel recently shared. The counsel provides direction. All the policy details are not yet clear because of complexities around the world.

However, if the counsel is approved the church will have a standard practice of baptism by immersion of people at least 8 years old while not denying or discounting the baptismal experiences of other Christians. I believe this is the right direction for the church today. Now let us move to another topic of the counsel: moral behavior. The church is wrestling with complex issues in many nations. We can view these issues as big problems. Or we can receive the greater blessings in having to struggle with them.

The way to receive the greater blessings is to ask, “What is the Spirit trying to do with us?” Perhaps the Spirit is pressing us to better understand how we use scripture. Sometimes it takes big questions that are not easily answered for us to see the inadequacy of our current viewpoints and approaches.

According to Alice Ogden Bellis and Terry L. Hufford: Whenever people grow too comfortable with their understanding of [scripture], new developments arise that call people of faith to wrestle. Like Jacob, we may emerge limping, but with a blessing. —Alice Ogden Bellis and Terry L. Hufford, Science, Scripture, and Homosexuality, page 122

So what do we need to learn about using scripture at this point in our journey? I am indebted to Fred Craddock, a professor emeritus in preaching and the New Testament, for the following illustration:

Joseph is engaged to Mary, discovers she is pregnant, and knows he is not the father. What should he do? He runs to some friends who say, “Just do what the Bible says.” Well, here is what Joseph’s Bible says. It is in Deuteronomy 22: She is to be taken out and stoned to death in front of the people.

Quoting from Craddock:

Joseph is a good man and he rises to a point that is remarkable for his day and time. He loves his Bible and he knows his Bible…But he reads his Bible through a certain kind of lens, the lens of the character and nature of God who is loving and kind. Therefore, he says, “I will not harm her, abuse her, expose her, shame her, ridicule her, or demean her value, her dignity, or her worth. I will protect her.” Where does it say that, Joseph? In your Bible? I’ll tell you where it says that. It says that in the very nature and character of God.

Craddock continues:

I am absolutely amazed that Joseph is the first person in the New Testament who learned how to read his Bible. Like Joseph, we are to read it through the spectacles of the grace and goodness and the love of God. If in reading the Bible you find justification for abusing, humiliating, disgracing, harming, or hurting, especially if it makes you feel better about yourself, you are absolutely wrong. The Bible is to be read in the light of the character of God. —Fred Craddock, “God is With Us,” The Cherry Log Sermons, page 5.

Is that what the Holy Spirit is trying to do with us? Is the Spirit trying to free us from the polarized religious and secular culture of our day? It is a culture that both applies scripture indiscriminately and literally without any informed understanding of its background or—at the other extreme—dismisses scripture as irrelevant to today’s issues.

Perhaps the Spirit is urging us to take scripture more seriously and to learn to use it more responsibly. Difficult questions can compel us to do that.

Perhaps, by putting perplexing questions in our path, the Spirit helps us see how our own judgmental attitudes and biases keep us from being Christ’s community.

Jesus spoke directly to this all-to-human-tendency to condemn the “sin” of others while quickly
excusing our own faults when he asserted:

Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? —Matthew 7:1–4 NRSV

Jesus stressed that we should be very slow to judge other people because our sins may be just as
great or greater.

Perhaps the Spirit challenges us with hard questions so we will become more reliant on God’s
guidance rather than our own thinking and emotions. Maybe we need humbling.  Before Joseph Smith III accepted his prophetic call he wrestled with hard faith questions and difficult life experiences that taught him—by his own admission—to rely more humbly on God’s direction.

It was only after emerging from a time of struggle that Joseph could stand humbly before the waiting Saints and say, “I have come in obedience to a power greater than my own.”

To resolve the questions before us we need to humbly rely more on a power greater than our own
intellects and feelings.

During my morning devotions the other day I read from Psalm 25:9: “He leads the humble in what is right….” While reflecting on that verse, I also read Doctrine and Covenants 10:6: “Put thy trust in that Spirit which leadeth to do good; yea, to do justly, to walk humbly, to judge righteously; and this is my Sprit.”

It occurred to me the sequence of phrases is important. We must learn to “do justly” and “walk humbly” before we can “judge righteously.” Being competent in justice—God’s kind of reconciling and restoring justice—and humility must precede making decisions about difficult moral issues. What is the Spirit doing with us? Perhaps, the Spirit is helping us find better ways of making decisions as an international church and at all levels of church life.

I believe the church is being fashioned to make an important contribution to the healing of communities that are ripping apart because of people’s disagreements over moral, theological, and political issues.

Jim Wallis, in an article titled the “Urgency of Civility” wrote:

I…get calls from people in churches who describe how the political warfare is creeping into their life together as the body of Christ. The church, which is supposed to help overcome the polarization of society, is instead being overcome by it.

Perhaps the faith community could lead by example…where civil discourse seems to have broken down—by showing a “better way” in how we treat each other in our faith communities, even across religious and political lines. —Jim Wallis, “The Urgency of Civility,” Sojourners, December 2009, page 7

Could it be the Spirit is urging us to become a “signal community” to show how to talk civilly about heated issues and to find resolutions that do not tear people apart? Is this the blessing found in our attempts to create unity in diversity? Listen to this divine counsel:

It is for divine purposes that you have been given the struggles as well as the joys of diversity. So must it always be in the peaceable kingdom. —Doctrine and Covenants 162:4b

Is it possible that our struggles related to human diversity were given to us for divine purposes? Fortunately, continuing revelation provides a compass for navigating the swirling currents before us. The answers we seek and the blessings we need will be found as we move forward.

Surprisingly, the direction given in recent counsel is first to remember the meaning of our baptism! Do we really believe that when we are baptized we die to our old life and rise to a new life in Christ?

Do we believe that through baptism we are incorporated into the Body of Christ, which is God’s
new creation; a new creation that buds and blossoms as sacred community in which human differences are embraced and people are affirmed primarily as children of God? Once we embrace that vision we need to come to consensus on the meaning of certain fundamental theological and spiritual principles before we create more specific policies about moral behavior in diverse cultures throughout the world.

The We Share document in your Conference notebook identifies the church’s vision, mission, Enduring Principles, and basic beliefs. These principles will not lead us astray. If we embody these principles we will grow in Christ’s vision for the church. The We Share document should be a primary focus of church
leadership and membership education everywhere.

The recent counsel gives more insight into foundational principles of moral behavior and relationships. It lists them as the worth and giftedness of all persons; protection of the most vulnerable; an emphasis of Christ-like love; mutual respect, responsibility, justice, covenant, and faithfulness.

These principles point to the true nature and character of God. That is the lens we need to discern direction and make policy. Understanding these principles and consistently applying them in particular settings is the challenge and opportunity before us.

This World Conference is asked to truly become a World Conference with worldwide understanding; not a Conference dominated by the issues and perspectives in some nations. By focusing on universal principles and allowing national or field conferences where appropriate to address more-specific applications, we can involve many more people in determining how the common principles will be lived in diverse settings that many of us simply do not understand. In this process, we will take additional steps toward becoming a prophetic people who are called “to discern the divine will for your own time and in the places you serve.” (Doctrine and Covenants 162:2c)

Even as this World Conference begins, I see beyond the current questions, perplexities, and anxieties. We will find our better natures, move through this time, and spiritually grow from it. We will emerge as a worldwide faith community better equipped to address serious questions that arise at the dynamic intersection of the gospel and human life.

I see a not-too-distant future when the issues we currently face will be mostly resolved. Sure,
there will be other issues—perhaps even more-difficult issues—but we will have more experience and the necessary tools to deal with them.

More important, we will be able to devote much more of our effort and resources to our core mission of proclaiming Jesus Christ and restoring people to communities of peace! The greatest danger we face is to allow differences over the issues at this Conference to divert us from our mission! As the counsel concludes, “The mission of Jesus Christ is what matters most!” Christ’s mission is to expand the reign of God’s salvation and peace into the lives of many more people and nations. While we are debating internal church issues, people are dying of physical, spiritual, and relational starvation! They are dying next door to our congregations and on the other side of the world. We are concerned about all of them because God is concerned about all of them!

Shall we go forward in this great vision and mission? Or shall we turn back to the safety and security of former days and understandings?

When Joseph Smith III left to go to the 1860 conference of the Reorganization, friends took him and his mother, Emma, in a small boat across the Mississippi River to catch a train. The wind and waves rocked their little boat, and it began to take on water. No doubt fear gripped their stomachs as the shore they left grew more distant. Go forward or turn back?

Evaluating the situation and revealing his inner conviction, Joseph courageously acted. He removed his shoes and used them to bail water! And we are here 150 years later as a result! Forward or back?

It is your choice now.

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You Have Gifts to Bring

World Conference 2010 Keynote Address by Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, General Secretary, National Council of Churches
Saturday, April 10th, 2010

wc2010logoGrace and peace to you in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ! In a minute, I want to greet you on behalf of the nearly 50 million sisters and brothers in Christ whose churches make up the National Council of Churches in the USA, but first, a more-personal word.

I was born in very southern Iowa. And since I had relatives in the Kansas City area, I remember stopping in Independence when I was a kid. So the Reorganized Church was not unfamiliar to me, even in my early years.

Then, when I was in eighth grade, my family moved to Salt Lake City, where several of my close friends were RLDS, in part because they were just as marginalized as I was! And over the years I have been privileged to have friends such as Dale Luffman, who has served with me on the National Council’s Faith and Order Commission, and Gail Mengel, an ecumenical colleague through Church Women United—friends whose witness I have deeply appreciated. I say all of this to let you know that I am very aware of who you are—and who you aren’t!

Greetings from the National Council of Churches, a community of 36 denominations that range from the Greek Orthodox to the National Baptist Convention, from the Evangelical Lutherans to the Quakers, from the Malankara Syrian Orthodox to really strange churches called Methodists and Presbyterians! The diversity of the Council, like the church as a whole, is part of the point.

Others should look at us and ask, “I wonder what holds them together? What do they have in common?” Which is when we point to Jesus Christ and say, “In him is the power to transcend the barriers of a fearful and fragmented culture.”

The NCC is well-known for things we do together, such as Bible translation, common church school curricula, theological studies and dialogues aimed at promoting deeper Christian unity and better interfaith relations, TV programs like our 2008 Christmas eve special, as well as public witness on behalf of such things as immigration reform or environmental protection or peace in the Middle East.
I will let you in on a secret: Churches as diverse as the ones I mentioned do not agree on all things! But, thanks be to God, we have arrived at an astonishing number of shared commitments—including a commitment to say “No!” to racism in all its forms as a denial of God’s image, a commitment to express God’s special concern for the poor, a commitment to declare the preciousness of God’s creation, and a commitment to bear witness (as the World Council of Churches once put it) that “war is contrary to the will of God.”

The essence of the NCC, however, is not what the churches do together; it is what we are together. Our constitution is very clear: The NCC is a “community of Christian communions” who, because of their shared faith in Jesus Christ, “covenant with one another” to manifest ever more fully the unity that is our gift (not our achievement, but our gift) in Christ, and, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to engage in mission together to the glory of God.

As I tell our church leaders, this is not really an organization you have joined; it is a covenant you have made with 35 other churches in order to visibly express something of the reconciliation that God has accomplished. There are lots of organizations around that do things for the churches, but a council of the churches is a different animal. Its essence is not an office in New York but the relationship of the churches to one another.
Let me approach all of this from another direction. I am, as I hope you can tell, delighted to be with you here in beautiful Independence. But surely there is no word that less belongs in the Christian vocabulary than “independence.”

Yes, we are set free in Christ; but, as Paul puts it in Galatians, it is the freedom to be servants to one another. Yes, we have each received spirited gifts; but, as he tells us in I Corinthians, they are all to be used for the common good. Yes, we are diverse; but it is the diversity of the parts of an interdependent body in which the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you.”

You know what an oxymoron is: words that don’t seem to go together—like jumbo shrimp or Quaker hit man, or Senate intelligence committee, or united Methodists. Well, add another one to the list: independent Christian or independent church. We belong to one another, are fundamentally dependent on one another, because we belong in common to the same Lord.

Friends, I have spent so much time talking about the National Council of Churches because, as you probably know, Community of Christ in this country has applied for membership, an application that is now under consideration. I would not have accepted the gracious invitation to be with you today if I, as general secretary, did not strongly support your application.

Remember, I know who you are! And I know, therefore, that you have gifts to bring to the rest of us—including a sense of being “on the margins,” which makes you particularly sensitive to others who have been marginalized and misunderstood.

The sharing of gifts is really what the ecumenical movement is all about. I sometimes am asked, “What do we have to give up to be part of the NCC?” But that, of course, misses the point. Ecumenism, the effort to make the church’s given unity visible before the world, is not about giving things up but of receiving gifts that others have held in trust for the whole body of Christ.

Another question I get is, “Will we have to change?” Well, the object is not to refashion you in the image of another church; your particular identity is part of the gift you bring. But, yes, I hope and pray that every church is changed as a result of its encounter with others. All churches need to deepen their life in Christ; and it may just be that the witness of others, as well as our witness together, helps each of us grow in our knowledge and love of God.

When I was a seminary professor, I used to tell students that the goal of the ecumenical movement is to improve our grammar. Baptist, to take that example, is a wonderful adjective but an idolatrous noun. Our sisters and brothers down the street aren’t “Baptists,” they are “Baptist Christians.”

In the same way, your identity is not to be the Community of Christ, but to be Community of Christ Christians, part of one body that, thanks be to God, stretches around the world and across time. Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican, Protestant. American, Haitian, Congolese, and Indian.

Through Christ we have been reconciled to God and one another. This is the gospel! And it is very good news!