Hearing Good News, Being Good News

being good news
HEARING GOOD NEWS…BEING GOOD NEWS!

BY PRESIDENT STEPHEN M. VEAZEY, president of the church and PRESIDENT BECKY L. SAVAGE, counselor to the president

This is the text of the address delivered April 15 by Stephen M. Veazey, president of the church, and Becky L. Savage, counselor to the president as published in the May 2012 Herald. The event was at the Temple in Independence, Missouri, and webcast live in English, French, and Spanish.

STEPHEN M. VEAZEY:

Have you heard the good news?

One year ago we launched five Mission Initiatives to focus the church on the whole mission of Jesus Christ. This was done in response to the counsel in Doctrine and Covenants 164:9 that “the Mission of Jesus Christ is what matters most for the journey ahead.”

Since then we have made good progress toward implementing the Mission Initiatives throughout the church. We have heard exciting news from a growing number of congregations that are aligning their priorities with the Mission Initiatives.
Also, tithing contributions to fund the Mission Initiatives are increasing! We especially thank the priesthood who are leading the response. As a result, more and more people are being blessed with vibrant witness of Jesus Christ. Through the church’s enthusiastic response the peaceful reign of God—the Zion of our hopes—is gaining ground on Earth!

And that is good news!

Today, I offer some observations as we go into the future:

First, the five Mission Initiatives work best when they work together! They are not options to choose from. Each Mission Initiative enriches the others. They are like different parts of the Body of Christ. One part cannot say to another, “I don’t need you!”

All the initiatives must work together or our witness of Christ is distorted and incomplete.

We are called to pursue the whole mission of Jesus Christ!

Second, in some nations the initiative, “Invite People to Christ,” (evangelism) seems to be getting less effort. Perhaps a different way of looking at it would be helpful. This initiative is about the daily opportunities we have to invite people into loving community that generously shares the peace of Jesus Christ. It is not about talking them into anything.

If we extend invitation and hospitality to others, Jesus Christ will reveal himself in the relationships, worship, sacraments, scriptures, and mission at the center of congregational life. Evangelism is relational. It is about sincere invitation and warm hospitality that helps people feel “at home” in congregations.

Two years ago Debbie Hogan felt called to start a compassionate ministry in New Port Richey, Florida, that would love, invite, and accept all people who yearned for the hope of the gospel. With the support of Southern Field leaders, Debbie began to invite folks she befriended at work, the grocery store, and in her neighborhood to her home for fellowship and scripture study.

So many responded to her invitation to “come as you are—all are welcome” that this diverse group outgrew Debbie’s home and began to meet in a park. When several were baptized and started inviting others, the group outgrew the park pavilion.

Today, thanks to a World Church missionary grant, funded by your tithing contributions and the Florida USA Mission Center, the New Port Richey emerging congregation meets in a rented building. Because there is not a baptismal font there, on Palm Sunday, April 1, they met on the beach.

Twenty-five people were baptized, and five more joined the church through confirmation. Debbie described how the Holy Spirit is working with this signal community that lives out Christ’s mission as its own.

“We are like a puzzle. God is adding more pieces together, filling in the gaps of who we are called to become as Community of Christ.”

The good news is that God is relentless in loving this world and in inviting the church to love it.

God is at work throughout the planet. Frequently, God’s work involves the Spirit’s whisper to the church, saying, “Come and help.” In this regard, the Council of Twelve Apostles is testifying the Spirit’s invitation is again calling us into new places. The Twelve recently shared that we are ready to plant congregations in at least eight more nations when we have the funding to begin and sustain the church’s mission in those areas. This is good news!

The fact is, in many places people are responding to the call to be disciples of Jesus Christ in Community of Christ. Some of these people are previously baptized Christians. They have become members of Community of Christ through the sacrament of confirmation. This is made possible by Doctrine and Covenants 164, given in 2010 to the church.

Some people have asked, “How is that going? What has been the experience of receiving previously baptized Christians into the church through the sacrament of confirmation?”

Jesus once said we could know a tree by its fruits. In other words, if we see a tree that’s bearing apples, then we’re looking at an apple tree. Well, as we look at the lives of previously baptized Christians who have joined the church through confirmation, we are seeing the fruits of discipleship. They are sharing their witness. They are generously supporting the church’s mission. They are embracing the identity, message, mission, and beliefs of Community of Christ.

The Holy Spirit is blessing us through the gifts, faith, and service of these new members. To you who are new members, let me say this. Whether you are a previously baptized Christian who has joined the church through confirmation, or whether you are a new member who has been baptized and confirmed by Community of Christ ministers—welcome! We are so thankful you are a part of our worldwide faith family.
 
We want to affirm that the call to mission necessitates we do the best job possible of preparing congregational leaders for ministry and leadership. We are pleased that a program of special training courses called MEADS Multi-Nation (Ministerial Education and Discipleship Studies) is being held in many places around the world, mostly in non-English-speaking nations. Through these courses, many leaders are receiving training in scripture, leadership, administration, and mission.

We also are pleased to share with you that a generous contribution is making possible new educational and training opportunities in Western, English-speaking nations, as well. In fact, we are only days away from launching an effort called Leading Congregations in Mission. This project assumes there are ways of “being the church” that can decrease a congregation’s fatigue and increase its spiritual vitality while helping it discover how to be in mission according to its unique congregational gifts.

We’re going to experiment with this approach in about 70 congregations for the next three years. We’ll then collect what we learn and offer this training to many more congregations.

The same generous gift that is making this project possible has funded a new resource called the Pastors and Leaders Field Guide. This field guide, available on the church website (www.CofChrist.org/leaders), is a highly practical resource that provides pastors and congregational leaders with specific, “hands on” help for leading congregational life and mission. Again, it’s called the Pastors and Leaders Field Guide. Check it out!

Becky, I hear there is good news in your areas of responsibility. Please share some with us!

BECKY L. SAVAGE:

The good news is so abundant I can share only a few areas. Let me start with young adults.

YOUNG ADULT VISION PROJECT

The church is blessed with a wonderful group of young adults who are visionary, vibrant, gifted, educated, equipped, and dedicated to living Christ’s mission. They yearn for meaningful relationships and spiritual enrichment within a loving and inclusive community and fellowship.

For many young adults, mission means ACTION—ACTIVE ministries occurring where people and needs meet. Talk does NOT equal mission, nor does it reflect Christ’s model of compassionate ministry to the most vulnerable and the voiceless.

Young adults desire experienced leaders and ministers as mentors to share experiences, to walk beside them as spiritual companions. They need Christ-focused servant supporters who accept them and open the way for creative perspectives and change in congregational life.

To young adults: In those places where you are contributing your leadership and passions for mission, we are grateful for all you are doing to share Christ’s peace within the church.

To congregations that have not yet experienced the giftedness of young adults: The good news is there are young adults who may be waiting for an invitation to work collaboratively with you to serve Christ’s mission. Invite them to partner with you in action-focused mission and let them lead and grow.

Several important recommendations from the Vision Project will assist church leaders into the future. We are taking three essential next steps. We will:
• Establish a Young Adult Advisory and Ministry Team.
• Initiate a Young Adult Leader-development Program and encourage young adult participation in field-based leadership and Seminary education.
• Create a communication message that shares the outcomes of the Vision Project.

CHRIST`S MISSION IS OUR MISSION – WORLD CONFERENCE STUDY AND REFLECTION

Spiritual preparation is essential for the entire church. Later in his address, President Veazey will ask essential questions related to how the Holy Spirit is moving and speaking in the life of the church.

The good news: In our striving to become a prophetic people we have experienced the powerful impact of God’s Holy Spirit. The First Presidency invites the church to unite again in preparation for the 2013 World Conference, where we will focus on the theme, Christ’s Mission…Our Mission!

We have just released a new book, Christ’s Mission Is Our Mission, by Peter A. Judd. The First Presidency asks the church to prayerfully study the text individually and in groups. It is essential that we all approach World Conference spiritually prepared and focused on the mission of Jesus Christ.

COMMUNITY OF CHRIST STATEMENT OF SEXUAL ETHICS, NATIONAL CONFERENCE STUDY AND REFLECTION

The good news is that many of you already are engaged in extensive dialogue and education in preparation for national conferences. Australia and Canada will hold conferences in June 2012.
 
The USA will have a national conference in April 2013 and the British Isles is planning a conference for October 2013.

We will release additional materials for study, discussion, and spiritual reflection by the end of April. They will include two draft statements: Community of Christ Statement of Sexual Ethics and Theological Foundations for Sexual Ethics with Reflection Questions. Watch for these resources on the web at http://www.CofChrist.org/ethics. The purpose of the material is to encourage open and honest conversation in the church about sexual ethics. In addition to study and discussion, we invite feedback about the statements through the same web address.

Prayer and spiritual openness are essential for discerning God’s will, and we thank you for your courage and willingness to remain vulnerable to divine grace and guidance.

COMMUNITY OF CHRIST SINGS

One additional item of good news: We are thrilled to share the name of the new hymnal. Community of Christ Sings reflects the international personality of the church. We sing our mission and identity with poetry and harmony, in many languages and rhythms. New songs call us to pursue our mission of justice and peace for all of creation. And, not to worry, many favorites remain.

Congregations may start ordering books in November. We encourage you to attend the October 2013 Peace Colloquy, where the next hymnal will be officially released. To experience the excitement of one of the new hymns, we will now share in singing “To Be Your Presence.”

STEPHEN M. VEAZEY:

We just sang the main message today: “To be your presence is our mission here.”

Christ lives in community that is devoted to continuing his mission on Earth!

And, according to scripture, the soul of such community is “oneness” in Christ that transcends human differences.

Are we such community?

The vision that inspired Jesus’ was broadly inclusive community that mirrored God’s nature. In pursuit of that vision he gathered his first band of diverse followers and adamantly taught them to “love one another.” Jesus said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35 NRSV).

The same vision enthused the first communities of Christ described in the Book of Acts. As a result, a tangible spirit of love, hospitality, and oneness stood out, contrasting with the larger society.

But, even those first disciples struggled to embrace all the possibilities of oneness in Christ. As Jewish Christians, their culture and religion deeply embedded in them distrust and even disgust toward some people. Not surprisingly, it took the Holy Spirit to uproot and move them toward God’s broader vision of community in Christ.

Apostle Peter was napping and praying on a rooftop when he had a vision of a sheet coming down from heaven filled with all kinds of creatures. A heavenly voice said, “Kill and eat!”

Thinking this could be a test of his faithfulness to Hebrew dietary laws, Peter said, somewhat self-righteously, “By no means. I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.” He was startled to hear the voice retort, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”

God was transforming Peter’s view of how the world is ordered. But, it is hard—extremely hard—to break out of one’s inherited beliefs and biases to accept a broader vision of what God is doing to reconcile all of creation!

The vision prepared Peter for an invitation to come to Cornelius’ house to share the gospel of Jesus Christ. Why did he need preparation?

Cornelius was a soldier of the occupying Roman forces. He was a Gentile! Gentiles disgusted Peter! He had been taught all his life that Gentiles were dirty and to be avoided at all costs.

Yet, the Holy Spirit was calling Peter to go have fellowship with Gentiles. And, he had the faith to respond to the Spirit’s guidance.

It is difficult from our point in time to understand the loathing Peter felt when he crossed the threshold of Cornelius’ house. His religious upbringing and scriptural understanding screamed, “No!” But the Holy Spirit, for the sake of the gospel, kept saying, “Yes!”

Thankfully, even though Peter could not fully understand, he had the faith to follow the Spirit’s leadings. As the experience drew to a close, Peter confessed:

I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. —Acts 10:34–36 NRSV

Not everyone was happy with his new insight. Some were scandalized. Peter had not followed the rules! He had baptized people who were uncircumcised; people who were unclean!

So what did they do? They convened a “national conference” in Jerusalem to sort it all out. There were vigorous scriptural debates. Points and counterpoints were asserted. Testimonies were shared. And somehow in the midst of it all the Holy Spirit kept shaping the community on which Christianity’s future rested.

Remarkably, when it was all over the church in Jerusalem consented to extending the hand of full fellowship to the Gentiles. They could come to Christ as they were.

If the Holy Spirit had not broken into the status quo, Christianity probably would have remained a small Jewish sect assigned to be a footnote in history.

My witness is that the Holy Spirit is working in Community of Christ today to broaden and deepen our vision of what oneness in Christ means. The Spirit’s most recent counsel to the church today states:

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 visible sign of the coming reign of God. —Doctrine and Covenants 164:5

This counsel calls the church to fully embrace the broader vision of love, inclusion, and oneness that was a shining quality of the first communities of Christ.

When early Christians were baptized they committed themselves—sometimes at a great cost—to join a new kind of community. It was a community in which “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 3:28 NRSV).

The future of the church rides on understanding what the phrase, “for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” means.

To me, it means that true baptism in Jesus Christ makes us all equal despite what the world says about our human differences. Through new life in Christ we see each other from Christ’s perspective. And, Christ sees capacity for discipleship and ministry as the same across the whole spectrum of human life.

Oneness in Christ means we simply refuse to label people and assign worth and opportunities for ministry accordingly. To do so is to return to the old world we publically stated we had left behind when we were baptized and confirmed.

Before Jesus was crucified he intently prayed that his disciples in all generations would live in the world as a deeply loving community of oneness:

I ask not only on behalf of these, but on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. —John 17:20–21 NRSV

What is the divine purpose in this call to oneness?

The purpose is that we might live with each other as God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit live. God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit live in love, mutuality, and unified purpose. It is only through sacred community, which manifests the eternal community of God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, that we are spiritually sanctified, completed, and equipped for life in God’s kingdom of peace.

The purpose is also so the “world may believe” in the mission and message of Christ. Think about it! What more effective witness could there be in a world filled with fear and hate between people than communities of “unity in diversity” and oneness forged through the power of the Spirit of Christ?

Is such oneness possible, or just wishful thinking?

Peter’s story reminds us how hard it is to let go of what we have been taught about other people except through the power of the Spirit. Our cultures, politics, and family and religious backgrounds deeply embed biases and fears in us.

A song from the musical, South Pacific, puts it well:

You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear…You’ve got to be carefully taught.

Beginning this June, and over the next several years, the church is entering into national conferences in some fields as provided in Doctrine and Covenants 164.

The questions these conferences will consider have to do with the relationships and possibilities for ordained ministry for our non-heterosexual brothers and sisters in Christ.

These questions cannot be avoided. They are being raised with increasing frequency and intensity by church members and leaders. We are called to a time of serious discussion and discernment about the fundamental nature of our faith community.

Since last World Conference I have been prayerfully engaged, along with many others, in a journey of discernment about the questions before us. I would like to share some perspectives gained so far.

Informed discussion of the issues, including scripture study, will continue to contribute to our understanding and knowledge. However, I am increasingly convinced that the questions before the conferences ultimately will be resolved only through humble listening to the Holy Spirit’s witness today.

The basic question is, “What is the Spirit saying and doing today?”

It is interesting to note the unease being expressed about issues coming before national conferences is no different in intensity than the concern expressed by early church leaders over the status of Gentiles in the Christian community.

An important scripture lesson is that the early church, in response to the Holy Spirit, was willing to struggle with questions about the nature of the church community when some strenuously objected to even raising the topics. However, by paying attention to the questions being raised by the Spirit, the church grew in its understanding of the gospel’s power to bring very different groups of people into relationships of oneness in Christ.

My sense of the Spirit’s guidance for nations preparing for national conferences is that before specific policy issues are decided we need to give serious attention to some more fundamental questions.

First, no matter what the outcomes of the national conferences, some beloved brothers and sisters in Christ will be disappointed, afraid, and angry. Conference recommendations do not instantly change strong views about the nature of God, humankind, human sexuality, and human relationships.

This prospect weighs very heavily on me. No matter what happens, the initial response of some probably will be to want to separate themselves from the faith community.

So, here is a more fundamental question to prayerfully consider: Regardless of the outcomes of the conferences, how will we continue to live as loving communities of “oneness” in Christ, called to focus on the whole mission of Christ, while some have such strong differences around certain matters?

We all need to feel the weight of this question now.

Second, we need to give serious attention to a reality in the church today. In some nations experienced pastors and church leaders are receiving priesthood calls through what they testify is the Holy Spirit’s witness for people in monogamous, committed, same-sex/gender relationships (legal marriages, civil unions, legal de facto relationships).

The people being brought to the pastors’ awareness are responsible, trusted, gifted, and compassionate disciples of Jesus Christ. Their lives evidence the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Let me be clear, these calls are not being approved. This is in compliance with the 2002 World Church Leadership Council statement that there would be no more exceptions in matters related to ordination unless policies were changed through the common consent of the people.

So, here are some more-fundamental questions we need to prayerfully consider:

What does it mean that pastors and church leaders in some nations continue to receive what they testify is the Holy Spirit’s witness of these calls?

Is it conceivable that we may be hindering what the Spirit is trying to do to provide for needed ministry in some congregations?

These are very serious questions to pray about and discuss.

Third, in true community that upholds the Worth of All Persons, the majority should not decide the status of a minority (non-heterosexuals) without fully hearing those in the minority who are feeling discrimination. I am talking about the need for ethical discussion and deliberation that do not further wound, alienate, or mute people who already are feeling judged and condemned.

Are we willing, in essence, to go to “Cornelius’ house” and talk, even when some of us are very uncomfortable with the topic?

Are we truly willing to listen to others—especially to those in the minority—before we decide?

In this respect, we should hear again the counsel given in Section 161:3b:

Do not be fearful of one another. Respect each life journey, even in its brokenness and uncertainty, for each person has walked alone at times. Be ready to listen and slow to criticize, lest judgments be unrighteous and unredemptive.

The most fundamental question for me as we approach national conferences is: What is the Holy Spirit doing today to continue to shape us as true community in Christ? I am referring to the sacred community in which “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 3:28 NRSV).

We need to participate in national conferences with an unusual degree of spiritual preparation and sensitivity. Daily spiritual practices that further open us to the Holy Spirit’s guidance and God’s universal, eternal love are vital as we prepare ourselves in the months ahead.

It is so easy to confuse our individual feelings, thoughts, and egos with genuine guidance from the Holy Spirit. That’s why it is essential that we do our spiritual discernment together. We must all consider our views in relation to the views of others.

Our church’s diversity is a gift that helps us better understand God’s nature and will. Learning to graciously talk together from different perspectives and to listen together to the Spirit are essential skills needed for our continued journey as a prophetic people.

In the meantime, our primary focus throughout the worldwide church will be on pursuing and funding the five Mission Initiatives! We must not become distracted from the clear call to passionately live the mission of Jesus Christ…the whole mission of Jesus Christ!

If we resolutely keep our feet on the pathway of living Christ’s mission together, the church will make major strides forward in fulfilling God’s vision for the future. I can see that future!

I can see the future of Community of Christ with enough clarity to know it is beautiful and full of joy, blessing, and peace for everyone.

It is a future in which we become the visible answer to Jesus’ prayer that “they may be one” so the world will have a shining witness of God’s coming kingdom, the Zion of our hopes!

The future I can see is one in which we will turn to each other as we immerse ourselves in the reconciling and healing waters of oneness in Christ and say, “Why did it take us so long to get here?”

Until that day the spiritual journey toward true oneness in Christ is our home.

And, in conclusion, let me say that I am sure glad to be “at home” on the journey with ALL of you!

 

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The Mission Matters Most!

missionmattersmost
By Prophet-President Steven M. Veazey, April 10th, 2011

I previously have shared that when I was committing to paper the words that were to become Doctrine and Covenants 164, I thought I had reached the conclusion with paragraph 8. Having wrestled with complicated theological, sacramental, and ethical issues, I was grateful for the Spirit’s guidance. I wanted to rest with God.

Much to my surprise, as I began a prayer of thanks, the Spirit surged up like a fountain! I reached for my writing tablet and began to capture the experience in concepts seeking expression.

What resulted is now paragraph 9 of Section 164. It is a message of God’s affirmation and hope for the church. The concluding sentence came with undeniable clarity: “The mission of Jesus Christ is what matters most for the journey ahead!”

The MISSION of Jesus Christ is what MATTERS MOST for the journey ahead!

But, what is the mission of Jesus Christ?

The challenge in answering this question is the all-too-human tendency to mold Jesus and his mission into our national, cultural, political, and theological agendas, rather than allowing him to deepen and transform our vision!

So, I think the best way to answer the question is to turn to scripture; particularly the passage previously read: Luke 4:18–19.

After a time of wilderness spiritual strengthening, and after his baptism and confirming experience with the Holy Spirit, Jesus went to worship in his hometown synagogue. The congregation was mostly family and old friends; not the easiest place to announce that you are the Messiah.

But when Jesus was invited to read scripture, he did not hesitate. He was poised for this occasion. He was handed a scroll of the writings of Isaiah. He selected words that correspond with Isaiah 61:1–2 and 58:6 in the Bible.

Isaiah 61 poetically describes a servant who would restore God’s justice and peace to Israel and the world. Isaiah 61 is rooted in other Isaiah passages, especially in Isaiah 42.

Isaiah 42 speaks of both a servant and a covenant people of God—a faith community—who will open blind eyes, free captives from bondage, bring forth God’s compassionate justice, and be called a light to the nations.

Jesus strategically selected a scripture passage to proclaim his mission. By doing so he set the direction for the disciple community that would form around him.

He read: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me…”

Jesus was able to make this claim because he knew the ways of the Spirit. He was grounded in scripture, particularly the prophetic texts. He had spent ample time being shaped by the Spirit through prayer, as well as worshiping and learning with others.

Being spiritually formed is foundational to obtaining a clear and compelling vision of mission. A compelling sense of mission springs from the overflow of deep communion with the Spirit. And such communion occurs when we engage in personal spiritual practices as well as spiritual growth through healthy congregational life.

When the time came, such spiritual communion allowed Jesus to assert that what he was going to do was not his agenda; it was the work of God’s Spirit already in motion. And the Spirit was commissioning him to pursue the mission that “matters most” to God.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. —Luke 4:18–19 NRSV

In the Greek text, some scriptural phrases in this passage are even more forceful. For example, the phrase rendered in English “to let the oppressed go free,” translates more directly from Greek as “to send away in freedom those who have been crushed.”

A translation from the Aramaic text adds: “to strengthen with forgiveness those who have been bruised.”

Also, compare the full text of Isaiah 61 and Luke 4:18–19. According to Luke, Jesus left out the phrase “and the day of vengeance of our God.” Jesus was showing how to responsibly interpret scripture through his intimate knowledge of God’s loving heart and intent.

Now, back to the text! The Spirit of God inspired—Dare we say compelled?—Jesus to boldly proclaim the mission that would define his ministry. If Community of Christ is serious about the mission of Jesus then we need to be serious about what he clearly said his mission was!

Throughout my time in ministry, I have found this to be true. No matter what the setting—local or global; urban, suburban, or rural; among the poorest of the poor or the richest of the rich, and in vastly different cultures—Jesus’ mission is most faithfully pursued as follows:

“To bring good news to the poor” means evangelism in the fullest sense of the term. It means gospel proclamation in word and action, including invitation and welcoming hospitality!

In today’s varied social and economic settings, it means inviting people to Christ to experience the good news of the gospel whether they are poor in substance or poor in spirit. This invitation ALWAYS includes the understanding that people best experience the gospel through the fellowship, ministries, and sacraments of the faith community.

The idea of introducing people to Christ without engaging them in the faith community distorts the gospel as Jesus lived it! The good news is that the resurrected Christ lives in community that restores persons to right relationships with God, others, themselves, and the Earth.

“To bring good news to the poor” and “recovery of sight to the blind” also means caring and healing ministry for the hurt, grief-stricken, and brokenhearted. Isaiah 61 includes the phrase, “to bind up the brokenhearted.”

This means compassionate ministry with people who are physically, spiritually, or emotionally hurting, which at one time or another is all of us. It means pastoral care as extending Christ’s love to everybody: church members, friends, and neighbors. And, according to the gospel definition, “neighbor” is anyone in need, including those who society or religion have taught us to overlook, fear, or avoid.

“To release the captives…, let the oppressed go free,” and “proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” is clearly about ministries of justice and peacemaking. The phrase “the year of the Lord’s favor” is particularly informative. It refers to specified times in the Hebrew calendar when steps were taken to restore balance and harmony to community relationships. The goal was to remedy social and economic injustices to better reflect the will of God. Jesus was saying that time is now and always!

In other words it is not enough just to care for people in their suffering. The mission includes ministries that release people from unfair or crushing conditions that cause suffering. Jesus’ mission is about restoring people to wholeness in healthy community.

So, we must address the root causes of poverty, hunger, discrimination, and conflict. These conditions keep large numbers of people from realizing their potential while others flourish.

This aspect of Jesus’ mission is about promoting the peaceable reign of God on Earth as it is in heaven. It is about the cause of Zion—the gospel expressed in real Christ-like communities of inclusion, generosity, equality, and peacefulness.

Community of Christ is called to share the peace of Jesus Christ in all of its aspects. Sharing Christ’s peace can begin with any dimension of Christ’s mission: invitation, compassionate ministry, or promoting communities of justice and peace. But, to be authentic to the real Jesus our ministries must expand to integrate all of them.

Our mission statement says proclaim Jesus Christ AND promote communities of joy, hope, love, and peace. We are called to pursue the whole mission of Jesus Christ, not just the aspects that most interest us.

The first communities of Christ described in the Book of Acts understood this! The church community in that time stood out as an alternative to the life-crushing conditions of its day.

The first followers of Christ boldly invited others to faith in Christ and baptized them after a time of serious discipleship preparation. They intentionally included new disciples in Christ-like communities of love, generosity, and equality. They committed themselves to living Jesus’ core teachings daily as presented in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5–7).

They did not retreat or seek refuge from the world. They brought the vision and demands of Christ’s peace to bear on the segregation, violence, and injustices of the false peace of the Roman Empire. They believed that being rich or poor, male or female, Jew or Gentile, slave or free didn’t matter because baptism made all one in Christ.

The spiritual impulse to restore the mission of the first Christian communities energized the early Restoration movement. For a time the church in Kirtland, Ohio, would host a great banquet for everyone in the community. The church wanted to demonstrate the inclusive love of the Savior as revealed in the Parable of the Great Dinner recorded in Luke 14:15–24.

Elizabeth Ann Whitney, who lived in Kirtland, wrote in her diary:

According to our Savior’s pattern…we determined to make a feast for the poor, such as we knew could not return the same to us; the lame, the halt, the deaf, the blind, the aged, the infirm.

The feast lasted three days, during which time all in the vicinity of Kirtland who would come were invited, and entertained as courteously and generously as if they had been able to extend hospitality instead of receiving it…
—Quoted in Hearken, O Ye People: The Historical Setting of Joseph Smith’s Ohio Revelations, Mark Lyman Staker, page 245

Founding Prophet Joseph Smith Jr. remembered:

The feast was after the order of the Son of God—the lame, the halt, and the blind were invited, according to the instruction of the Savior. We then received bountiful refreshment furnished by the liberality of the Bishop. —Ibid.

I like that phrase, “the liberality of the Bishop.” Of course, the “liberality of the Bishop” was made possible by the generosity of the Saints who gave out of their own poverty!

Do you hear the three fundamental mission themes in these accounts? Following the teaching of Jesus, they invited all and received them with warm hospitality, they demonstrated great compassion, and they practiced justice for everyone, which always precedes real peace.

Our call is to reclaim the same vision and passion for the full mission of Jesus Christ today! That is what Doctrine and Covenants 164:9 means when it says, “The mission of Jesus Christ is what matters most for the journey ahead”!

My comments do not mean that we have not been involved in mission. We obviously have congregations, ministers, members, and affiliated organizations actively engaged in mission. Thank you for your faithful efforts!

What I want to emphasize today is that we now are going to do the mission of Jesus Christ with greater determination, alignment, wholeness, and effectiveness. And, here is how we are going to do it!

From this point forward, we will focus all ministries, personnel, and resources of the worldwide church on the whole mission of Jesus Christ. We will do this through five mission initiatives.

These five mission initiatives are not new programs that begin and end at certain times. They build upon our mission statement and the foundation of We Share and the Enduring Principles. They are unceasing emphases that ensure Community of Christ is being faithful now and in the future to the full mission of Jesus Christ.

The first three mission initiatives are:

Invite People to Christ—Christ’s Mission of Evangelism
Abolish Poverty and End Suffering—Christ’s Mission of Compassion
Pursue Peace on Earth—Christ’s Mission of Justice and Peace

We can begin to share the peace of Jesus Christ with any of these initiatives, depending on opportunities, needs, and the Spirit’s guidance. However, because they are so interrelated, it is important to pursue all of them to be true to Jesus’ mission.

Just like Jesus, we need to be rooted and shaped by the Spirit as individuals and in congregational community. The next two mission initiatives create the environment and opportunities through which disciples can grow as they encounter the Spirit of the Living Christ that motivates and empowers them for mission.

Develop Disciples to Serve—Equip Individuals for Christ’s Mission
Experience Congregations in Mission—Equip Congregations for Christ’s Mission

Through these two mission initiatives, disciples and congregations can find their identity, giftedness, and calling and confidently respond with the affirmation, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon us!” as they launch into mission with Christ.

Let’s briefly explore each of these.

Invite People to Christ. We will increase the number of Community of Christ members/disciples and congregations pursuing the whole mission of Jesus Christ. We will do this by baptizing and confirming new members, by opening new congregations designed to reach new groups of people, and by launching the church in new nations.

The continuing mandate for the church is to share the gospel through the world.

Abolish Poverty and End Suffering. We will strengthen and expand ministries to serve the poor and hungry. We also will address the conditions that cause poverty.

We will help those who hurt by bringing compassionate presence in times of need. We will extend Oblation funds to provide immediate aid.

We will feed the hungry through World Hunger grants and help congregations find effective ways of addressing hunger in their communities.

We also will continue to support affiliate organizations dedicated to alleviating poverty and promoting healthy communities.

Pursue Peace on Earth. We will be the feet, hands, and voice of the Prince of Peace by pursuing peace on Earth. We will further develop the Temple, dedicated to the pursuit of peace, as an educational, spiritual-formation, and networking center to support peacemaking throughout the world.

We will expand our emerging PeacePathways network to maximize the impact of church and affiliate-sponsored peacemaking initiatives.

We also will continue involving children in peacemaking through Young Peacemakers Clubs, Peace Mobiles, and the Children’s Peace Pavilion and its satellites.

We want to provide more young-adult peacemaker internships.

And, we will continue to engage in ecumenical and interfaith partnerships to be at the forefront of organizations pursuing peace on Earth.

Our fourth mission initiative is Develop Disciples to Serve. We will help all ages—from the youngest to the oldest—continuously grow as disciples of Jesus Christ through spiritual practices, community experiences, and educational curriculum for disciple formation.

I am pleased to share that a church member family has committed $300,000 to accelerate our efforts in this initiative. This generous gift resulted in the sooner-than-expected launch of the Community of Christ “Disciple Formation Guide,” available on the church’s website (www.CofChrist.org/dfg/).

The “Disciple Formation Guide” is an interactive website for accessing ideas, tools, lesson plans, and information, including an introductory video, for planning Christian education for all ages. It contains resources that focus on Community of Christ identity, message, mission, beliefs, and history.

Upon being introduced to the mission initiatives vision, the same family has generously committed an additional $100,000 per year for five years, for a total of $500,000 to support the mission of the church.

Develop Disciples to Serve also includes priesthood-faithfulness training and support, plus increased help for pastors and congregational leadership teams.

Our fifth mission initiative is Experience Congregations in Mission. Individual preparation and effort is not enough. We especially need congregations that are living expressions of the personality, love, spirit, and mission of Jesus Christ.

What we do as congregations must be much more than routine social activities. Where is the love, spirit, and mission of Christ calling us to focus or redirect congregational activity?

Each congregational activity must be evaluated in terms of its mission alignment and be developed to strengthen mission.

But that is not all! To ensure focus and accountability, we’ll align the entire World Church budget—all income sources and related expenses—with our five mission initiatives starting with the next fiscal year. What does this mean?

The five mission initiatives now will define everything we do!

All World Ministries Mission Tithes and every other World Church income source will be applied to the five mission initiatives. Each mission initiative will have a tithing income goal. We will grow mission by growing generosity.

Contributors will be able to indicate through the offering envelopes, pre-authorized transfers (PAT), or electronic giving which mission initiatives they prefer to support. You can express your preference to support all of the mission initiatives. Or you can indicate which ones you especially feel called to support.

The church, in turn, will communicate regularly about what is being achieved in each mission initiative, progress toward the tithing goals, and what is yet needed.

Is your passion evangelism, pursuing peace on Earth, or helping congregations engage in mission? Is it abolishing poverty and ending suffering, or is it helping disciples of all ages deepen their discipleship?

All of the mission initiatives are essential!

Many are aware we have begun experiencing an increase in World Mission Tithes since World Conference. Because of the continuing effects of the 2007–2009 economic recession additional financial recovery is needed before we begin to increase our budget for mission, but we are headed in the right direction!

You may not know that the current generous response is being led by World Church leaders, the World Church Finance Board, the Standing High Council, other World Church teams, and our World Ministries staff. These church leaders were invited to lead the way by increasing their contributions to support the church’s mission. Many of our international field staff members in less-affluent settings were among the first to respond!

We also have invited priesthood members to discover their true capacity and to lead the church by contributing or increasing their contributions to World Ministries Mission Tithes, if possible. We are encouraged by the initial response.

Today we also are launching the “Power of Ten” emphasis for the church. This emphasis was designed by young adults who have been meeting with us to envision the church’s future.

The idea is that if people will begin to contribute the equivalent of $10 a week or $10 a week more to World Ministries Mission Tithes—roughly the cost of a movie ticket or a fast-food lunch in some nations—the impact on the church’s ability to pursue Christ’s mission would be beyond our greatest imagination!

Young adults, the Presidency has met with close to a thousand of you in 32 Vision Project retreats throughout the world. You asked the church to be more serious in pursuing and funding mission that makes a real difference in the world. Here it is!

Today, the central question is, how much does the mission of Jesus Christ really matter to us? Words and good intentions are not enough. Are we willing to align our time, energy, and means to show the mission of Christ matters most?

In 1978 the church was admonished through revelation that echoed Luke 4:18–19:

Let my word be preached to the bruised and the brokenhearted as well as those who are enmeshed in sin, longing to repent and follow me. Let the truths of my gospel be proclaimed as widely and as far as the dedication of the Saints, especially through the exercise of their temporal stewardship, will allow. —Doctrine and Covenants 153:9a

Through this counsel, the crucified and resurrected Christ is asking the church to make his mission our highest priority!

As I travel I continue to run into questions about the concepts of generosity and tithing. So, let me be clear. Here is how we respond in my family.

First, we constantly seek to be more aware of how God’s generous grace blesses us daily. Then, in thankfulness, we tithe according to our true capacity and desire to support the church’s mission so others also can be blessed. This includes Local (congregational) and World Ministries Mission Tithes.

Then we give to other organizations. We understand our giving to church-affiliated organizations, community charities, and other good causes is part of our discipleship, but it is not Local and World Mission Tithes.

Let me also say a brief word about generosity and true capacity.

I was participating in a worship service in an inner-city congregation. We were dedicating a new building made possible by local and church-wide generosity.

During the offering my attention was drawn in deep appreciation to several contributors who were present from other areas. They had given hundreds of thousands of dollars to the project.

Then my attention was turned to a little girl sitting next to me. She was from the impoverished neighborhood where the church was located. She placed an unused postage stamp in the offering plate. As she gave her offering she looked up and smiled at me because of her joy in being able to give what she could to support the mission.

In that moment the Spirit witnessed to me that all offerings should be celebrated. Those with more and those with little had given according to their true capacity. All contributions were valued equally by God because of the thankful spirit in which they were given as response to God’s grace, which is God’s constant giving.

Generous response from all, according to true capacity now and in the years ahead—through tithing, major gifts, and estate planning—will make mission happen beyond what we now can see. Your support of one, some, or all of the five mission initiatives will bless many lives. And, your life will be filled with greater joy, hope, and peace than you ever have experienced.

What an opportunity for us! In response to God’s Spirit we are moving from being a church defined to a great extent by organizational needs to being a church driven by Spirit-led mission.

Today, the voices of those preaching doom for the world and manipulating people through fear are increasing. They are calling people to retreat from the struggles of humanity and the Earth.

In the midst of such times, Community of Christ is called to be fully present in the world to make visible the whole mission of Jesus Christ. Community of Christ is called to move against the tides of fear as a shining beacon of hope in response to the divine call to establish the peaceful reign of God on Earth.

I am inviting each of you at this pivotal moment in the church’s life to put your hearts and souls into mission—the divine mission for which Jesus Christ lived and gave his life!

Christ’s mission…Our mission!

Called to Discipleship: Coming Home in Search of the Path

By Prophet-President W. Grant McMurray
2002 World Conference Sermon / Address, April 7, 2002     

grant-sermonA few weeks ago I went to the Ozarks for several days to begin the process of writing these words. I took two briefcases jammed with papers, a large box filled with books, a couple of sacks of groceries, and a mind brimming with a multitude of ideas, strategies, and programmatic initiatives emerging from months of planning and goal setting. I went to a place by a lake, mostly because water is where I usually turn to calm my soul.

My soul needed calming because I had so much to say that I barely knew where to begin. I was feeling the burden of expectation because church leaders had spent a long time in a process of visioning and now it fell to me to encapsulate those months and months of work into one address that was to be both a declaration of institutional direction and a spiritually uplifting and motivating call to discipleship. At the same time I had my own inner turmoil-my unworthiness to be calling anyone to discipleship when I am such an inadequate one myself, my own issues burning deeply within that I knew I needed to proclaim, my own hopes and dreams for the church I love so much.

We have been on a journey these past few years. We have sought ways of being both faithful to a marvelous heritage and open to a challenging future. We have embraced a call to transformation, acknowledging that to build a Temple dedicated to peace and reconciliation and healing urges forth from us something we had never fully imagined. We have called ourselves by a new name and taken very seriously what that means to our lives and our church. To truly be the Community of Christ is serious business. It is not a label or a sign or an inscription on letterhead. It is a call to a new understanding of discipleship. Two years ago we talked about how we must go deeper into ourselves, truly learning what it means to walk the “Path of the Disciple.”

And now it is the year 2002. We have entered the third millennium of the Christian era. It has been 172 years since Joseph Smith declared that a “great and marvelous work is about to come forth.” Eighteen years since we were called to build a Temple dedicated to the pursuit of peace. Five years since we began a journey of transformation. Two years since we declared ourselves to be the “Community of Christ” committed to walking the Path of the Disciple.

And so I came to the lake, my mind ablaze with thoughts, my heart filled with desire, my soul yearning for the words that are equal to this moment in our church’s history. Along the way I stopped for a few provisions and there I found a DVD of the marvelous, Academy Award-winning 1982 film, Gandhi. I bought it and I took it with me to the lake, knowing that I could watch it with my laptop computer and headphones.

I knew myself too well. I knew I would twist in the wind much of the time I was there. I knew I would put off facing the questions I had to face. I knew I would seek alternate pleasures (the NCAA basketball tournament, works of suspense fiction, walks by the lake) rather than confront the issues I knew I would eventually confront. I decided that if I was going to escape the difficult assignment I faced, perhaps I could do it in part by watching the chronicle of a disciple, albeit a Hindu one.

And so I watched the story of Gandhi, a fragile and imperfect man who somehow came to understand what it took to live with integrity and purpose. Strangely, there was no point at which my mind connected to the idea that this very week we would be honoring his granddaughter, Ela Gandhi, with our International Peace Award. It was entirely serendipitous, at least to the extent I can consciously recall, that my renewed encounter with the film converged with that award.

I watched the film with fresh eyes from my initial viewing of it twenty years ago, and even from a time or two since when I caught it on video or cable. This time I watched Gandhi as a model of what it meant to be a disciple, recognizing that his own religious vocation was markedly different from ours. But still, it provided me much by way of instruction.

About two-thirds of the way through the film, a remarkable scene occurs. Gandhi has returned to his home, a city by the sea, to contemplate his next steps in the struggle for independence for the Indian people. There he is met by a reporter whom he has known since he was a young man in South Africa.

After reminiscing about their time together in South Africa, Gandhi ponders, “I have traveled so far and thought so much. As you can see, my city is a sea city, always full of Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Jews, Persians…. In our temple the priest used to read from the Muslim Koran and the Hindu Gita, moving from one to the other as if it mattered not which book was being read as long as God was being worshiped.”

Then Gandhi’s eyes looked out to the sea. “When I was a boy I used to sing a song in the temple: ‘A true disciple knows another’s woes as his own. He bows to all and despises none.’ Like all other boys I sang the words, not thinking what they meant or how they might be influencing me. I’ve traveled so far and all I’ve done is come back… home.” And then, in a moment of insight, Gandhi’s face brightens, his troubled and pensive eyes become clear and focused, and he strides hurriedly off into the conflict that will become his legacy.

We have traveled so far. Have we, too, come back home where we began? That thought has been working on me these past weeks as I have reflected on the call to discipleship of the Community of Christ in the Year of our Lord 2002.

A few years ago my family and I made a journey to my homeland of Canada. We went to visit various places of importance to me and, as is often done at such times, I went to houses where I had once lived, so as to show them to my children (who were, of course, intensely interested).

And so on one day I was driving down Woolwich Street in Guelph, Ontario, seeking a house I had lived in when I was five. I knew it would be easy to find because it sat way back off the street, with a huge front yard where I had romped with our two dogs, first Skippy and then Kim, prior to the latter’s permanent exile to a dog pound for crimes against humanity.

I had not been back to Guelph for many years and had not lived there as an adult, so I had to find my way by intuition and childhood memory. As I drove on Woolwich Street I knew I was close to my destination. I could feel it in my bones. I could sense it, but I could not see it. It just has to be near here, I thought to myself. I know it is right here. I’m sure of it. But I could not see the house with the big yard.

Finally, in frustration, I pulled into the parking lot of a beauty parlor to get my bearings. Everything felt so familiar, even though it had been almost fifty years since I had lived there. Why couldn’t I see it? Had it been torn down or destroyed?

And then, in a moment of recognition I can vividly recall even now, I suddenly realized that I was standing in my own front yard. Transformed into a parking lot, the yard fronted the house where I had once lived, now painted white and changed incongruously into a hairdressing salon. I had traveled so far and seen so much, and now I had come home. But I barely saw it until suddenly it came into bold relief. It was home, made altogether new by the transforming experiences of five decades since I had last played with my puppy on the grass outside that house. Now I stood and viewed it with new eyes.

This evening, in a time of unceasing change, I call the Community of Christ to come home to the fundamental principles of discipleship, to recapture the spirit of the Restoration movement, to walk with me for a few moments on the “old, old path, made strangely new.”

Make no mistake; this is not a call to return to the past. This we could not do even if we willed it. Although we sometimes are nostalgic about them, I would remind you of a much-admired book title I once encountered, Them Good Old Days, They Was Awful. We do not have the luxury of languishing in the past, whether real or imagined. The church is called to live prophetically, joyfully, and creatively in the unfolding present, which evolves invariably into God’s future, and ours.

But that future is rooted in the journey we have been on together as disciples of Jesus, as a Restoration church, as the Community of Christ. Jesus said it first, when he commissioned his followers with the words that have been at the heart of the church’s calling from its very beginning: “Go therefore to all nations and make them my disciples, baptize them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all that I have commanded you. I will be with you always, to the end of time” (Matthew 28:19-29, REB). That declaration both sends the disciple into the future and promises that the Spirit of God will accompany us as we go.

For the Restoration movement, the same call is reiterated in the first section of the Doctrine and Covenants:

Hearken, O ye people of my church, saith the voice of him who dwells on high, and whose eyes are upon all men; yea, verily I say, Hearken ye people from afar, and ye that are upon the islands of the sea, listen together; for verily the voice of the Lord is unto all men, and there is none to escape, and there is no eye that shall not see, neither ear that shall not hear, neither heart that shall not be penetrated…. –Doctrine and Covenants 1:1a-b

The call to discipleship is the call to Christian vocation in every generation. It is not old-fashioned or passé, nor is it quaint or trendy. It is spoken to young and old, male and female. It is spoken in the language of every land and in the vernacular of every age. It is not complex or convoluted. It is the spiritual home of the Christian. It is simply these words of Jesus: “Come, follow me.”

The task of the contemporary church is not to figure out what our mission should be. That has been provided with stark and compelling clarity. Instead, the task of the church is to define precisely how we propose to fulfill that mission in our own time. And more importantly than even that, the task of the church is to nurture and empower individual disciples who walk the path pointed to by the one we have chosen to follow.

Tonight, on behalf of the leadership of the church, I will outline some challenging four-year goals to move us forward on the path of the disciple. These are built around the six essentials of the path we first discussed two years ago. We have recast them in personal rather than institutional terms. We are asking each member of our church to embrace them as qualities of our discipleship:

First, to share your witness and resources
Second, to teach and learn the sacred story
Third, to create diverse communities
Fourth, to extend the hand of reconciliation
Fifth, to allow the Spirit to fill you
And sixth, to embody justice and proclaim peace

The specific supporting goals we will present tonight will be but whispers in the wind if these six foundational principles are not personalized by each and every one of us.

I remember as a young adult I used to faithfully watch the Jerry Lewis Telethon on Labor Day weekend, which raises millions of dollars each year to combat muscular dystrophy. I was intrigued by the variety of entertainment on the program, but particularly by the tote board that added the contributions as they moved inexorably toward achievement of the ambitious financial goal. I cheered them on, fervently hoping that the goal would be reached. But to the best of my remembrance, I never once called and made a pledge. I apparently saw no relationship between achievement of the goal I supported and my own participation.

There is a story told about a little boy who wasn’t getting good marks in school. One day, he tapped his teacher on the shoulder and said, “Now I don’t want to scare you, but my daddy says if I don’t get better grades, somebody is going to get a spanking.”

It is easy for us to pass over the relationship between what you and I do and the achievement of goals to which we may be emotionally or intellectually committed. But let us make no mistake about that tonight. The call to discipleship is intensely personal; it is about you and me. If we don’t do it, it won’t get done.

In the remaining minutes of my time tonight I must do three things. First, I will introduce the specific goals that have been developed over more than a year of prayerful planning and reflection, including widespread consultation with people in many settings around the church. I will be able to do that in only a very cursory fashion, but as you leave the chamber tonight you will receive a packet of resources to expand on the goals I share. In other ways throughout this week there will be detailed presentations and other materials that will provide a basis for communication and dialogue. We have processed our budget with these goals in mind, reallocating resources and personnel so as to address the priorities we have identified. We are serious about these goals. With your help, we intend to make them happen.

Second, I will linger for a while on one goal with twin components that will become the very highest of priorities for us during this next biennium. Even among the things we have decided we want to do, there must be choices made as to where we put our primary emphasis. I will share that essential priority with you.

And third, as we move through the goals there are some things we need to talk about in terms of complex and difficult issues before the church. I am going to ask for your indulgence to permit me to reflect aloud about those for a few moments here and there.

As we present these goals, we affirm that the Community of Christ continues its journey of transformation into a new century, proclaiming Jesus Christ and promoting communities of joy, hope, love, and peace. In Section 161 we are directed to an awareness that “…the road to transformation travels both inward and outward. The road to transformation is the path of the disciple.” We commit ourselves to walk that path in each of the following ways, through specific initiatives and ministries, centered on scriptural principles, to be accomplished over the next four years.

First, we will be disciples who share our witness and resources, those who “heed the urgent call to become a global family united in the name of Christ, committed in love to one another.” To accomplish that goal we will commit ourselves to become a witnessing church, calling every member to “each one, reach one,” so that every single one of us feels a personal call to bring at least one other person to Jesus Christ. The other piece of the sharing goal is equally important: we will honor God’s call to tithe.

Here I must pause and make it very clear that the sharing goal is the heart of the matter and will be our priority for the next biennium. With all the exciting things we want to accomplish, our achievement will be measured on how effectively we embrace these two principles of the sharing goal-the effectiveness of our witness and the generosity of our response.

The call to be a welcoming, witnessing church is easy to say and very difficult to do. It is not sufficient for us to just be “nice people.” We will be required to develop Christ-centered and person-oriented congregations that are inclusive, outreaching, and missional. This is not just about missionary work; it is about being the community of Christ.

The Council of Twelve has been charged with and has accepted the responsibility of leading this churchwide effort. Tonight, as a part of this goal, we are prepared to launch the Mission to North America in which we challenge the church on this continent to be as effective in our growth as our brothers and sisters in the so-called developing nations of the world have been. A strategy has been prepared and specific training will be offered, including “Mission 2003: A Conference of North American Leaders,” which we are calling for next summer to equip leaders of the church in North America to undertake this effort.

We will be announcing assignments of the Council of Twelve so as to support this initiative, and we are restructuring our workload and field minister assignments so as to limit administrative tasks by the Twelve and free the apostolic witness for dynamic expression throughout the church. With your approval of the new Bylaws we will be prepared to organize the field around missional principles, providing structural support to congregational witnessing communities.

If each one reaches one, as the goal suggests, it will have the effect of doubling the active membership of the church. We did not express it in those terms largely because we knew this was not about numbers, but about discipling. It is the joyful response of the disciple to witness, in word and deed, to what he or she has discovered in Jesus Christ.

Some might ask how this relates to our focus on social justice these past few years, and my response is that it is connected to it in every respect. Our declaration of the gospel calls us to follow the teachings of Jesus, which articulate the undeniable worth of all persons. We must be mission driven, not market driven, never forsaking the poor, disadvantaged, and marginalized in pursuit of a goal to grow the church.

We are called to be an evangelizing, compassionate, peace-and-justice church. We must recognize that sometimes the struggle to be prophetic works against the desire to grow. We saw that in 1984, when the inspired provision for the ordination of women–absolutely the right thing to do–set back substantially the “Faith to Grow” initiative of the church at that time. We paid the price of being in tune with God’s prophetic call. Now with a longer view we have experienced the fruits and recognized the blessings that have come to the church. The growth comes not when we set numerical goals, but when we choose to witness to the truth and exemplify that in our daily lives.

And so, “each one, reach one” comes as a personal challenge to every one of us. Can we make that commitment?

The sharing goal has twin pillars: becoming a witnessing community and honoring God’s call to tithe. The sharing of our lives and the sharing of our resources are the two primary ways in which the Christian disciple responds to God’s call; they are inextricably connected to each other. Section 147:5a movingly reminds us that “stewardship is the response of my people to the ministry of my Son and is required alike of all those who seek to build the kingdom.”

For over a dozen years now several Presiding Bishoprics have worked diligently on the “redefinition of terms” and “greater understanding of the stewardship of temporalities” called for in Section 154 of the Doctrine and Covenants. They have done so with an awareness that the key principle is in yoking stewardship and discipleship, seeing each as a reflection of the other.

This week, the Presiding Bishopric, with the full support of the First Presidency and the Council of Twelve, will be presenting new understandings of the principle of tithing as A Disciple’s Generous Response. I am very aware that they have been consistently prayerful, respectful of tradition, open to new insights, and responsive to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

I want to add my personal testimony to what my colleagues of the Presiding Bishopric will present later this week. I believe their work has been blessed by the brush of spiritual insight and creativity. It respects our long heritage and yet provides a disciple-centered understanding of stewardship that forms solid foundational principles by which each individual can respond in accordance with their own desires and commitments.

I invite your prayerful consideration of what they will share with you, your attentive reading of the material to be provided, and your generous response to honor God’s call to tithe.

Each one, reach one. Honor God’s call to tithe. These two components, uniquely interconnected, compose the sharing goal. It will be our priority these next two years and is the underpinning of all else that we do.

Second, we will be learners and teachers, those who “listen attentively to the telling of the sacred story.” To support that goal we proudly announce that the Community of Christ Seminary, operated by Graceland University in partnership with the church, will open in September of this year. The seminary and other learning programs will be utilized to assist us in training 3,000 congregational leaders and all full-time ministers so as to significantly enhance their ministerial effectiveness.

In addition, recognizing our commitment to being a global family, we will expand the church’s field resources operations to provide discipleship resources appropriate to the language and cultural groups within the church. To demonstrate our commitment to this task, we have asked Apostle Lawrence W. Tyree to relinquish his responsibilities as a member of the Council of Twelve and accept a new calling in the development of international resources for the church.

We remain committed to the church school and will explore ways of revitalizing its ministry, while developing new models for discipleship education and scriptural literacy for all ages.

The treasured, sacred story of our faith must be transmitted anew to each and every generation. We will be learners and teachers. We will be disciples equipped for the journey.

Third, we will embrace our historic call to be God’s people, those who “create diverse communities of disciples and seekers.” To accomplish this goal, within four years we will establish 1,000 congregational partnerships to enrich discipleship through cross-cultural sharing. We will expand the WorldService Corps to 100 persons annually. We will take steps to strengthen the relational ties that support and empower families in all their diversity.

Goals such as these only begin to touch on the call to community that is so central to our heritage and to our contemporary mission. We have much yet to learn, but we have learned some things along the way and can begin to share from out of that experience. It is in our name; it is who we are.

Josiah Royce said these words:

I believe in the beloved community and in the spirit that makes it beloved, and in the communion of all who are, in will and deed, its members. I see no such community as yet, but none the less my rule in life is: act so as to hasten its coming.

May that spirit accompany our efforts to establish diverse community in God’s name.

Fourth, we will be agents of reconciliation, “those who feel conflict yet extend the hand of reconciliation.” To accomplish this goal we will expand cooperative efforts with other faiths, recognizing that we have much to offer as well as to receive from such endeavors. Aware of the conflicts that abound in church and world, we will also increase the number of trained mediation/conflict resolution specialists available to support the church’s ministries and community service.

In the past two years a number of our people have been involved in reconciliation efforts with members of Restoration churches. That has been a satisfying process, resulting in much open sharing, several hymn festivals commemorating our common heritage, and the building of bridges of understanding that have blessed all involved. This process is ongoing.

But we recognize that there continue to be significant issues that divide people within our fellowship, in the larger Christian body, and between persons of faith around the world. We are committed to being voices of reason and hope, to be listeners and reconcilers, not those who divide and exclude.

So now let me speak to one such issue that threatens to divide us. In the past few weeks I have been the recipient of scores of letters, e-mails, and phone calls generated by the resolutions before our Conference dealing with homosexuality. Some have been thoughtful and reasoned, but many have been desperate and angry, sometimes accompanied by symbolically crumpled paper or copies of offending text besmirched with bold, black lines. And this weekend we have been faced with pickets proclaiming a hateful God I do not recognize and describing good people in vile and contemptible terms.

To all of this, I say to you, “No, no, no.” We must not succumb to our fears nor fail to respect those who disagree with us. We must instead be voices of reconciliation and ministers of healing. In the midst of our differences, there just has to be a better way. There is no issue that divides churches around the world in our time like the issue of homosexuality. It is for us to decide whether we will be rendered asunder by it, or whether we have the spiritual courage to face it together.

Tonight I am going to take a risk. What I am about to say is my personal statement to you on this issue, joined in by Ken and Peter, my colleagues in the First Presidency, after many hours of conversing together. I have not consulted with other church officers or asked for their consent. What I say does not change church policy. It does not require action or agreement. It simply describes the present situation openly and honestly, expresses our own thoughts after prayerful and extensive reflection, and points to what we believe is possible for us to do as a diverse community of God’s people.

Gay and lesbian brothers and sisters are walking with us on the path of the disciple. They have chosen to be there because they feel God’s call to them. Some have struggled throughout their lives with questions and uncertainties about their identity, their acceptability, their status as children of God. Some have dared to tell their story, resulting at times in warm acceptance and other times in cold rejection. Some have come to understand that God loves them unconditionally and embraces them as valued members of the human family; others are not so sure.

Our church, like all churches, has struggled with how to be inclusive, agreeing that God’s love comes to all persons, but differing on what behaviors and lifestyles are deemed acceptable. Because there is no social consensus, no moral agreement, no definitive psychological explanation, we have all cast about in search of answers. For some, that answer is provided in one of the seven biblical passages that seem to condemn homosexuality as a sin. For others, the answer is in compassion upon seeing the face of a man or woman who simply says “this is my story.” For our brothers and sisters in some cultures of the world, it is not something to be discussed nor is it thought by them to exist in that culture to any appreciable degree. For families and friends the answer comes only in the call to love a loved one, which has precedence over virtually every other call.

Because of these many differences, our church stands in the midst of much ambiguity and inconsistency. We have a twenty-year-old statement from the Standing High Council that serves as official guidance, but has not been universally adhered to throughout the church. I will be totally honest and acknowledge that I have myself participated in situations where its provisions were not honored. I have been present in conferences where persons I knew to be in long-term, committed homosexual relationships were approved for priesthood in jurisdictions where their lifestyle was known and their ministry was accepted. The conflict within me was between lawgiver and pastor. To enforce the policy would have required me to intervene and prevent the ordination of someone whose call to ministry I could not deny. This I could not do. This I will not do.

In fairness, you should know the hearts of those of us you uphold in leadership. I read scripture contextually. I believe that scripture carries a powerful witness of the love of God but that it has to be read in its totality and not in phrases and fragments here and there. When it comes to people and our many differences, I will always choose to love rather than to judge. My instincts are toward inclusion and not exclusion.

At the same time, I am fully supportive of our historic polity of theocratic democracy, which balances the priestly witness with the consent of the people. Ministry is not just about calling. It is also about acceptance of that calling by those who will receive the ministry. Therefore, it is not just my views but all of our views that must be weighed as we make decisions together.

The word “catechesis” is defined as “a dialogue between believers” (Westminster Dictionary of Theology). Hear the distinction. This is not a dialogue between faithful and unfaithful people. It is not a dialogue between saints and sinners. It is a dialogue between believers, between disciples, over differences that are real and honorable. I ask us, as members of the Community of Christ, to be willing to share with each other in that exploration.

I am not in the habit of telling our delegates how they should vote, but I am about to make an exception. I request the delegates to this World Conference to table or refer all pending legislation on homosexuality so that we can avoid actions that will be divisive and shape a process by which a broader understanding and consensus can be built. I will ask the Standing High Council to participate with others in looking anew at this matter, seeking issues on which we can surely agree (God’s love of all people, fidelity, the value of family, the sacredness of sexuality as part of creation) and shaping dialogue in areas where we do not agree (the blessing of same-sex relationships, standards for ordination, the interpretation and authority of scripture).

In the meantime, I ask the Community of Christ to be willing to live with us on the boundary for a while. To do this means that we may not have a policy that guides every decision, but we will have to trust the Holy Spirit to accompany us in our choices. It means that some parts of the church may function differently from other parts of the church and there will be distinctions that are occasionally unsettling but representative of the diversity of our body, both in terms of viewpoints and cultures. We recognize that certain national governments have requirements that our local church leaders in those nations will need to respect and interpret in accordance with their own cultural understandings.

And finally, I ask that we be prayerful and respectful and sober in our consideration of this issue so important to the well-being of our community of faith. I believe that these words from Henri Nouwen speak meaningfully to us in this time:

We are not the healers, we are not the reconcilers, we are not the givers of life. We are sinful, broken, vulnerable people who need as much care as anyone we care for. The mystery of ministry is that we have been chosen to make our own limited and very conditional love the gateway for the unlimited and unconditional love of God. –Henri J.M. Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership, (New York: Crossroad Publishing, 1989), 43-44

Fifth, we will be a church composed of persons open to new understandings of spirituality, “embodying the hope and freedom of the gospel” and seeking “pathways for healing.” To achieve this goal, we will encourage each congregation to establish at least one covenant discipleship group that integrates spiritual practices, worship, scriptural literacy, and mission. The term “covenant discipleship group” will be new to many of you, and we will provide information this week and in the months to come on this innovative approach to discipling. It links the commitment to learning with the spiritual quest and supports us on our individual and collective journeys toward discipleship.

In addition, we establish a goal whereby each congregation, through careful planning and openness to the Holy Spirit, will experience vibrant and effective worship in support of the church’s mission. Tepid and poorly planned worship is not acceptable in a community striving toward discipleship. We must sing and proclaim, tap our feet, feel the Spirit move, and sense the call to the mission that we have embraced.

And now I want to share with you a personal dream, connected to this goal. You have all heard me talk about the importance of understanding our heritage, and of using our marvelous story to empower our contemporary calling.

The Kirtland Temple is perhaps the towering symbol of that historic faith journey, a place beloved by our people because of its majesty and beauty and because we continue to experience the presence of the Spirit there just as our ancestors did when it was erected. This beautiful site, on the National Register of Historic Places, has been lovingly cared for by the Kirtland Saints and by the staff of the temple, many of them volunteers. But they work in a woefully inadequate visitors center that fails to meet the needs of the increasingly large number of people who come to see the temple. And worse, it does not represent the Community of Christ in a way that would make us proud.

About a month ago I traveled with several others to Kirtland in pursuit of an idea. We stood on the church’s property in the shadow of the temple and imagined what would happen if we could construct a facility on this marvelous site that would serve as both a visitors center for the historic property and a spiritual retreat center in support of the mission of the church. It will be both a place to interpret our story and a place where our people can come, individually and in groups, to experience spiritual growth, guidance, and insight.

We are still in the earliest stages of planning, but we want to make this dream a reality. The Restoration Trail Foundation has made it the highest priority and has committed to lead the effort to raise the funds. President Emeritus Wallace B. Smith and former Presiding Bishop Francis E. Hansen have agreed to chair this funding effort. We do not have resources in the World Church budget to devote to this task, but we believe it can be accomplished with the generous support of those who care about our story, who love Kirtland, and who sense the call to allow the Spirit to fill us and renew us as we walk the path of the disciple.

Sixth, and finally, we will be a community of people who embody justice, “those who see violence but proclaim peace” and who “feel the yearnings of [our] brothers and sisters.” To accomplish this goal we call every congregation to become engaged in some neighborhood project or projects of transformation and justice. A few weeks ago I visited the congregation at Seminole, Oklahoma. After dedicating a lovely new facility, enjoying a bounteous potluck, and horsing around with some terrific kids, I participated in their Sunday evening addictions ministry. Here several members of the congregation sat with twenty or twenty-five alcoholics and drug addicts in the process of recovery. For them, the congregation was a home, a place of safety. Several had been baptized and were now bringing leadership to the self-perpetuating program of Twelve Step ministry. It took little training, only a willingness to be present for one hour a week with those who had a need. These are justicemakers.

Additionally, we will recruit and train community development specialists equipped to lead ministries among the poor and dispossessed. We are in conversations with Outreach International to have them assist us in utilizing the skills of their unique Participatory Human Development program for our own congregational efforts at embodying justice. Our desires to work for justice must be matched with the skills to be effective in our endeavors.

And finally, in the shadow of the events of September 11, 2001, we pledge to stand as a global community committed to seeking peaceful solutions to the conditions that lead to war, international conflict, and injustice within the human family. We cannot dream small dreams. The path of the disciple leads to the kingdom of God. Such a kingdom can only be built by those with a vision of a better world and a willingness to tackle the huge issues that world offers up. And so, we choose to dream big dreams and we will seek ways of being peacemakers in a world embroiled in conflict and war.

It is a long litany of goals we propose. We will have to make some choices among them in the short term, but we cannot miss any of them in the long term. I worry that we might stagger a bit under the load of it all. Are we strong enough, wise enough, committed enough to walk on this path?

My mind returns to Gandhi. In another scene in the film, he is deep into a fast in protest of an injustice. He is frail and sickly. Even his followers are discouraged, concerned that while his cause is just his methods may be damaging to him.

He beckons a worried follower and invites her to place her ear near his mouth so she can hear these words: “When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall. Think of it. Always. Whenever you are in doubt that that is God’s way, the way the world is meant to be, think of that. And then try to do it [God’s] way.”

We have been on a long journey, this sometimes frail and occasionally despairing church of ours. We have traveled so far and seen so much. But now the journey brings us home to see what we need to do, who we need to be. Here, in the comfort and security of our spiritual home, we can look to the horizon and imagine where it is God would have us go.

Then we see it. The path of the disciple begins at the doorstep of our home and winds off into the far distance. Its ending place is beyond our view and it is hard to know just where it will take us.

But then there is a voice. A steady, unchanging, compelling voice. “Come,” it says. “Come, follow me.”

And we go.

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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.

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!

Transformation 2000: We Have Become

2000 World Conference Address by Propeht-President W. Grant McMurray
Sunday, April 2nd, 2000

conference 2000You came with us on the journey! By God’s grace, we were all packed and ready to go.

Tonight we gather in the closing months of our Transformation 2000 experience to celebrate the incredible movement of the Holy Spirit amongst us during these past three years, to proclaim the success of our goal and objectives, to showcase the achievements in human terms, and to build a foundation for the future.

We begin by declaring that we had but one fundamental goal in June of 1997, and that was to embody the call to this people to become a worldwide church dedicated to the pursuit of peace, reconciliation, and healing of the spirit. Tonight I say without fear of contradiction that despite our imperfections and uncertainties, we have become that kind of people. We feel it, we smell it, we taste it. It is worming its way inside us. We have been transformed.

I had an experience at a reunion in Alaska last summer that seemed to capture the whole thing for me in a humorous and yet compelling way. I have told the story a few times, including at Spectacular, but perhaps you will not mind a brief re-telling.

The Alaska Reunion is held at the campgrounds on an island on Lake Louise, a beautiful but remote location. All provisions, people, and belongings have to be boated across to the island to set up camp. People stay in rough-hewn cabins and in tents. It fits well with Alaska’s self-image as the last wilderness. I guess I can say that during that reunion I wandered in the wilderness a bit.

When I arrived I was told that I would be staying in a new cabin, but that it was still under construction. Oh, was it EVER under construction. I looked inside and there were sawhorses, power tools, nails and lumber everywhere. I was assured that some workers would be along soon to get it habitable before evening. Meanwhile, I stood on the hill, in the sun, my bags still packed, and with nowhere to settle. Others were spiffing up their cabins and preparing for a joyous week. I confess that I muttered a few things to myself now and then, all of them prayerful meditations on the circumstances at hand.

Evening arrived, to the extent one can identify evening in the summers of Alaska. Eventually, a hardy crew of workers began to finish off the essentials of the cabin – they hung a door, made sure plywood was on the roof, and cleaned out the sawdust. There was no time to cut windows in the walls, so it was pitch dark inside. To prop erly signify the occasion, some enterprising campers located a piece of lumber, spray-painted the words, “The Cave,” and hung it above my door.

They rounded up a bed for me. They found a queen size bed frame. They found a full size box spring. They found a twin size mattress. They found a pillow. I needed only to add a pin cushion and I could have had the pyramid of Quetzalcoatl in my cabin. Had I fallen out of bed I would have bounced for five minutes.

But then something began to happen. Over the ensuing days, people came to talk to me at the cabin. Some sat on the stoop outside and spoke of life’s struggles and questions. Some came inside to speak more quietly about the broken times of life, of marriages in disarray, of struggles with personal and family identity, of untimely death and prevailing pain. Some spoke in the cabin of hopes and dreams for the church, of struggles over faith and belief, of disappointment and sadness and joy. In other words, life began to happen there and that cabin, with construction continuing through most of the week, became no longer a harsh and even annoying structure, but suddenly took on the spirit of the people who visited it and left fragments of themselves inside its walls.

A few weeks after returning to my office, a package arrived from Alaska. It was big and long and thin. It was thoroughly wrapped and taped. We tore off the paper, wondering what it could be. I would like to ask Donald Welch, a Transformation 2000 youth minister in Alaska, and _________________ to show you what was in the package.

I noticed that the sign over my door was taken down late in the week, once the windows were finally cut into the walls. But what I did not know was that it had been surreptitiously passed around the reunion and signed by every camper. What arrived in my office was the original sign marking the bleakness and unfinished character of my cabin, “The Cave.” But now the words were brought to life by the names of the people who walked there, who sang there, who prayed there, who shared their story there. It was the people who took the rough old cabin and transformed it into a place of memory, into a symbol of community.

In the end, that is what this thing called Transformation 2000 is all about. There is an articulated goal and five measurable objectives. It involves resources and numbers. It is about new ministers and congregational models. It is about new congregations and youth ministries of many varieties, enough to stagger the imagination. It is about books and articles and satellite uplinks and funding dinners and countless initiatives of many kinds.

But at the end of the day, when all is said, it is only about one thing. It is about people who have been changed by the love of God and the blessings of a community dedicated to peace. In that spirit, let us look at how we stand right now, with nine months yet to go in the time period we established for the fulfillment of our objectives.

We declared that we would articulate a clear and compelling Christ-centered theology of peace and justice grounded in the scriptures, faith, and traditions of the Restoration movement. Such an effort is, of course, always ongoing, but we have a long list of resources, articles, presentations, curricular pieces, colloquies, and workshops that have helped us begin to reshape our thinking and extend the boundaries of our faith.

But perhaps that objective is seen most clearly in the faces of such as those who came to the Asian Leaders of Transformation Conference in Manila, The Philippines, and began to deepen and enrich the concept with understandings from the villages and barrios and teeming cities of Asia. You could see eyes sparkle and minds engage as concepts became personal and objectives on paper became real.

We declared that we would engage 20,000 children, youth, and young adults in ministries which teach Christian values and Restoration principles, sustain high self-esteem, and involve them in pursuit of peace and justice through acts of community responsibility. Our objective was too modest. We estimate that 15,000 children are involved annually by visiting the Children’s Peace Pavilion or participating in Young Peacemakers Clubs. In the past two years, it is conservatively estimated that 10,280 youth have been involved in the Solid Rock Café ministry. One thousand youth participate each year in Spec, 5000 in youth camps throughout the church, 400 at the Pan-Pacific Celebration ’99 in Papeete. Approximately 5000 youth have been engaged with the Africa Region curriculum project. And in 1998-2000, a total of 3000 adults received youth ministry training at 52 Forefront conferences held throughout North America.

But let’s go beneath the numbers to the personal. The Central Coast Congregation in Australia was composed of 20 people, virtually all of them grandparents. There were no children or young people whatsoever. One of the members, Shirley Heslop, had a dream that eventually the Central Coast congregation would run children’s activities.

Five women from the congregation went across the road to the local school and volunteered to help with the reading program. Over a period of time they decided to run a children’s activity during the four-day July school holiday. The July Kids Klub was born and soon, under pressure from the kids, it grew into a weekly Kids Klub. There are regularly between 20 and 30 children present each Friday night with about 40 children on the books. The Australia Region presently funds a Youth Leader for 20 hrs a week to assist with the program, but the age of those who run Kids Klub is over 50 up to 76 years old.

Shirley Heslop did not live to see her dream fulfilled, but it is exemplified in the faces of the grandparents who run the program. They say it “wears us out.” And then they smile with joy.

We declared that we would challenge every congregation to participate in outreach to children and youth and in specific ministries of peace and justice, and enlist 200 congregations willing to model these emphases through high-energy, high-impact congregational witness and service. As of tonight, 124 model ministries have been identified and Transformation 2000 funding has provided $138,000 in grants to support start-up and expansion costs. Beneath the numbers are wonderful stories of a youth congregation in Michigan and of seniors engaging in community service in many locales, of young adult musical ministries in the Philippines, of online outreach ministries on the Internet, of the preparation of meals to share with street children in Texas, and of young people sweeping away spider webs and bringing water and firewood to the elderly in Nigeria. All of these models are seeds, planted to bring forth fruit and to be spread around the world by a transformed people

We declared that we would establish 200 new congregations through creative ministries of outreach and witness, bringing to the church new life, freshness of spirit, and ethnic and cultural diversity. Tonight we can announce that since that day 220 new congregations have been established, 92 of them in North America and 128 in other nations of the world. Of the new congregations in North America, approximately eighteen percent have a strong ethnic focus in conformity with our need to form a more diverse church body. Sites have been identified for 24 additional church plants to be undertaken in the year 2000. In excess of one million dollars has been granted from Transformation 2000 funds in support of these new starts, with continuing funding of approximately $600,000 projected for subsequent years.

Beneath the numbers are people experimenting in various ways of mission, by building conventional congregations, by creating cell churches, or by meeting informally in storefronts as a precursor to the formation of a congregation. From Pigtown in Baltimore to Novosibirsk in Siberia, from contemporary Christian ministries to inner city outreach, from a pizza church in England to traditional congregations around the world, the fresh breeze of transformation is touching hearts and changing lives.

And finally, we declared that we would add 200 full-time field ministers, at least one-third of whom will focus on youth and children, and all others on congregationally-based ministries of peace, justice, reconciliation, evangelism, and spiritual revitalization. This challenging objective has resulted in an amazing response by those want to offer their ministry and service. Tonight, with nine months yet to go, there are 170 new full-time, Transformation 2000 ministers serving in over 25 countries of the world. As of this evening, 73 of them (43%) are bringing full-time ministry to children, youth, and young adults. These positions have been provided through creative funding partnerships between the world church and local congregations, through the willing service of full-time volunteers and those who serve with only limited compensation, and through local initiatives of various kinds.

Beneath the numbers is an amazing assembly of dedicated disciples, some young and anxious to serve the church that nurtured them, some at midlife and setting aside lucrative careers to become ministers, and others presenting themselves in the later years of life to give back to the God who blessed them all their days. We have 30 positions yet to fill in the next nine months. We need willing and skilled ministers, prepared to offer themselves for service in this time of transformation.

As church leaders, we lifted up these challenges in June of 1997. We did not have a handbook or a program for implementation. We did not even have a budget. Instead, we felt compelled to call the church to what it must do if we are to faithfully live out our witness. In the sobering days that followed, we plotted strategies, totaled columns of figures, planned resources, and got to the hard work of making it happen. We figured it would cost us $21 million to achieve our objectives in three years and to sustain them into the future.

We did not organize an extensive funding plan, determining that this was not about fund-raising. It was about ministry. We felt confident that the spirit that moved among us that day in 1997 would continue to work its magic on the people of the church. And sure enough, it has. As of this day, $18.1 million has been committed, our objectives are being achieved, they are on schedule and well under the budget we projected for them. If those who have not yet committed will do so, and if those who have continue to share generously by contributing what was pledged, we can close the remaining gap and sustain the ministries, personnel, congregations, and challenges of Transformation 2000 indefinitely into the future. A long-range plan has been carefully prepared and with your support it will be done!

But beneath the numbers are the faces of faithful stewards who had generously contributed to building the Temple and now shared again from their resources to assure that its ministries would be fulfilled. There are the faces of a new generation of stewards, sensing for the first time the need to step forward and to assume responsibility for the future of the church which will serve their families. And there are the faces of the two delightful children, ages 5 and 7, who came to one of our dinners because they “loved going to church.” Despite the fact that these dinners were for adults, they showed up anyway with their parents and they filled out a commitment card. They pledged fifty cents in 1998, doubled it to a dollar in 1999, and doubled it again to two dollars in the year 2000. And then on the card they checked the box which said, “Please send me information on electronic fund transfers.” We have indeed been transformed.

Tonight we are a community of God’s people who have caught the peaceful vision of the Temple we built. We are energized by the involvement of tens of thousands of children and youth around the world, stimulated by the creativity of 124 model ministries, enriched by the freshness and excitement of 220 new congregations, and served by 170 new full-time ministers. Tonight we declare that by the grace of God and the commitment of this beloved community, we have been made new, that we are different, and that we have been blessed. We said it with assurance: “We will become.” Tonight we know that we have become.

It is fair to ask just what this means for us, this thing we labeled Transformation 2000. Is it something that was birthed in the meetings of church leaders in the spring of 1997 and proclaimed to the Elders and Congregational Leader’s meeting on June 19 of that year? Or is it something that was rooted in what we believe was divine instruction to the church in 1984 at the time we were called to build a Temple dedicated to the pursuit of peace. Or is it something that was founded on the frontiers of America, when a motley band of seekers embarked on the great adventure known as the Restoration movement? Or is it something that found its heart many centuries ago when the man named Jesus walked the hills of Palestine and spoke of peace and justice and reconciliation and healing?

It is, of course, each of these and all of these. It is about what has happened inside us. And now it falls to us this week to think further about who we are and what are called to be in a new era of human history. The God who transforms us has not left us. That God speaks to our hearts in the way that only God can speak. I believe that God says something like this: “You have traveled well. Celebrate at this stop along the way. But do not rest long. For surely you know that the road is long and the journey goes further than the eye can see. But it is the only journey really worth taking. Celebrate, as you will, if for only awhile. But then, dear friends, let us rise and go. We are not finished. We have just begun.”

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