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 Restoring Christ

Sermon shared by Steve Veazey June 10, 2007 during a worship service celebrating the dedication of the Kirtland Temple Visitor and Spiritual Formation Center.

In 1832, Joseph Smith Jr. and Sidney Rigdon were praying for insight regarding the meaning of John 5:29. While thus engaged, they were granted a vision of the Eternal Christ. In response to that revelatory encounter, the prophet wrote what is now Doctrine and Covenants 76, a portion of which I will read now:

And, now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him, that he lives; for we saw him, even on the right hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father; that by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created; and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God. —Doctrine and Covenants 76:3g–h

Today I come before you to bear testimony of Jesus Christ as proclaimed and experienced by the Restoration movement, our faith heritage. The Christ of whom I bear witness, lives eternally at the center of our faith. We know this Christ as the embodiment of God’s nature and purposes—God’s eternal and living Word active in creation. We know this Christ as the One in whom and through whom divine judgment, mercy, and grace interact to affect our reconciliation, redemption, and salvation. We know this Christ as the One in whom and through whom the passionate dream of God for shalom—the fullness of peace—throughout the whole creation is clearly revealed.

As a faith community, we have been given ample gifts, scriptural resources, sacraments, spiritual insights, and symbols that orient our lives toward Christ so that we may deepen our faith relationship. Among these gifts are the temples in Kirtland and Independence. Both temples, through their breathtaking architecture, call us to reverence and awe in the face of beauty that awakens our souls to the need to worship God as the creator and sustainer of all that is. We simply cannot be self-absorbed and self-important when we are in the temples.

Awe, wonder, and humility are the prelude to genuine spiritual awakening. Our souls are created to relate to God. Drawn into worship through a sense of the Holy communicated by our surroundings, we soon find ourselves in a place where what seems to separate the physical from the spiritual, the seen from the unseen, and the temporal from the eternal is very permeable—a place where we become more open and vulnerable to God’s Spirit and grace. It is wonderful to be here to worship with each of you in such a place. This temple has a certain drawing power for both the faithful and the casual passerby.

As a young adult, one of my best friends and I announced that we were going to see the Kirtland Temple. As poor college students we pooled our money for gas and ate peanut butter sandwiches as we navigated from Tennessee to Kirtland, Ohio. After taking a tour and introducing ourselves to the guides, we were graciously invited to come back later to sit in the temple in the quietness and kaleidoscopic light of the dying day. As we sat in holy silence, we soaked in the soul of the Restoration movement. We learned what it meant to be still and know that God is God.
Photo by Jim Doty

These sacred spaces also serve to keep us focused on the true meaning of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. I find it fascinating that the Kirtland Temple was most often referred to as the “House of the Lord” by those who built it. We use the phrase “House of the Lord” frequently to refer to many of our church facilities. We often greet people by saying, “Welcome to the House of the Lord!”

However, the early Latter Day Saints were quite literal in their belief that the Lord’s return was imminent—a belief not unique to them at that time—and that when he returned he would need a worthy “house” in which to dwell. In Matthew 8:20, Jesus is quoted as saying: “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” But if the early Latter Day Saints had anything to do with it, that would no longer be the case in Kirtland!

Without getting tied up in the theological questions that arise from such a view, I am fascinated by the sense of intimate relationship with the person and work of Christ that permeated the church in those days.

To perceive that one’s faith community was called, literally, to build a house for Jesus Christ to dwell in reveals an unusual passion for the mission of the person at the center of the gospel story.

And to construct such a house despite incredible obstacles, chief of which was their poverty, is truly challenging and inspiring for us today. Oh that we might recover such devotion and unfettered generosity to support the mission of Christ in our time!

Such a call is before us. The purposes of the Temple in Independence also summon us to become more intimate with Jesus Christ through its emphasis on peace, reconciliation, healing of the spirit, and wholeness of body, mind, and spirit—ministries at the heart of Jesus’ life and mission.

Doctrine and Covenants 156:5 asserts that the Temple “…shall be a place in which the essential meaning of the Restoration as healing and redeeming agent is given new life and understanding, inspired by the life and witness of the Redeemer of the world.”

In a time when many seek to fashion Christ in their own images, to serve their own agendas, these temples constantly draw us back to the true focus of the gospel: God’s revelation in Jesus Christ and the call for all to “follow him” to discover healing, reconciliation and peace.

Both temples—in Kirtland and Independence—remind us that, above all else, Jesus Christ seeks to restore us to life as we were created to experience it; life as God intends it to be; life characterized by love, generosity, relationships of mutuality, sharing, and peacefulness.

And so we begin to see that these sacred places serve as symbols of who we are called to be, individually and corporately, as God’s new community in Christ. This is expressed most clearly in Ephesians 2:17–22. Speaking of the ultimate aim of the ministry and sacrifice of Christ on the cross, the writer asserts:

He (Christ) came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

The temples, places of beauty, worship, education, and church guidance, are compasses and lighthouses for our faith journey. They serve as constant reminders that we are called to live counter to the cultures of isolation, individualism, greediness, and suspicion that surrounds us. They constantly point beyond themselves to steer us to our true calling to become God’s spiritual house, built on the witness and sacrifice of Jesus Christ—a household that unites, heals, restores, and frees people through community to express their best selves no matter who they are…a household in which Jesus would truly feel at home!

This understanding is critical to our future as a faith community if our true desire is to be faithful to the call of God to us. These are not just words meant to sound nice. God in Christ is calling us to become a worldwide community through which the vision, personality, and purposes of Christ continue to be fulfilled. This is a truth that was indelibly imprinted on me through the impress of the Spirit as I was engaged in a series of prayerful reflections and experiences that led up to what is now Doctrine and Covenants 163.

Speaking of the hope and need for spiritual awakening and renewal in the church that will re-ignite and fuel effective ministry and witness, the following counsel from Section 163:8c emphasizes our ultimate purpose and mission:

Vital to this awakening is the understanding that the Temple calls the entire church to become a sanctuary of Christ’s peace, where people from all nations, ethnicities, and life circumstances can be gathered into a spiritual home without dividing walls, as a fulfillment of the vision for which Jesus Christ sacrificed his life.

It is this calling and vision that we must translate into the attitudes and behaviors of life together in Christ. On several occasions recently I have seen that vision becoming reality in different parts of the world. Cathi and I traveled along with others to Honduras just after World Conference to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the church there. Over the course of several days, a growing number of people gathered to share in the festivities. There was a noticeable spirit present of joy in community.

At one point, as we were gazing over the diverse crowd, one of the local ministers noted that such a gathering was quite remarkable. There were people from Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua: “Only a few years back,” he said, “we were strangers to each other. Our governments were at odds. We projected attitudes of hate and suspicion across our borders. We did violence to one another. But now it is different. We are being transformed into a community of peacefulness and we must take this witness to other places and nations.”

The dividing walls of hostility were being broken down through witness of the Christ. They were becoming a household of God, a spiritual temple or sanctuary of peace in Christ. And, as he spoke, it occurred to me that the backdrop for all of the activities that week was an artist’s rendering of the Temple in Independence, dedicated to the pursuit of peace. The ministries of the Temple, which re-present or exhibit the ministries of Jesus Christ, had become the ministries of the expanding church in Central America.

I recently received an e-mail from Diane Barnett a good friend in Fremont, California. She has taken the concept of the Children’s Peace Pavilion, housed at the Temple Complex in Independence, and established it in her own congregational facility: a peace pavilion for children to visit—particularly schoolchildren—to learn about peace in their lives and relationships. Here is an excerpt from her e-mail:

The Peace Pavilion has been overwhelmingly well received. All of the teachers that have come through, 18 to date, have been extremely impressed. Not only with the activities, but with the concept. Some have said every elementary school child in the Tri-City area should come through. That, of course, is the goal. Some of the children have said they want to live there and never leave. In a couple of weeks we will have a 3′ x 12′ sign on the side of the building and I expect we will then begin to get lots of phone calls. Many of the parents who have come with their child’s class have asked why they didn’t know it was there. The members of the mission center have been willing to come many miles and some have come to spend the night in order to be able to volunteer at the Peace Pavilion when there is a field trip visit.

The congregation in Fremont is demonstrating what it means to be a people of the Temple, a sanctuary of Christ’s peace, a community that unites, heals, and restores—a place where children want to live because they have tasted of life as God’s intends it!

Recently, Dave, Becky, and I met with Apostle Susan Skoor, who oversees the Pacific Field, including the West Coast of the United States. She shared with us how some of our church members in California are living in fear because, as Spanish-speaking immigrants from Mexico and Central America, they are being targeted for oppressive treatment.

She told us the story of how one member of the church, who is here legally, was taken from his home and interrogated for hours because of his name, appearance, and where he lived. Despite his documentation, he was told that he was not believable.

This is just one story of a growing number about our own church members in the United States who are being mistreated because of their ethnicity. Our Hispanic ministers are pleading for help.

Local members of the church are organizing to provide pastoral support, including child care for children whose parents are being detained or sent away from their homes. They are also networking with other organizations to provide legal aid for immigrants who are being treated harshly because of the rising tide of fear and anger toward “foreigners” in this nation.

They are creating a network of ministries and partnerships that are providing a sanctuary of peace for people who are desperately trying to create a future of hope and opportunity for their children.

If our faith is genuine, it cannot be limited to idealistic rhetoric, but must be translated into attitudes and actions that are congruent with whom we say we are.

It is interesting that both of the temples of the church were constructed in places where our faith ancestors were seen as aliens, immigrants, and strangers and, who, as a result, were marginalized, threatened, and persecuted. The walls of this temple [Kirtland] are marked by the tears of those who feared for their lives as they were building it because they were seen as outsiders. And yet here we are, generations later, proclaiming peace in Christ and working for communities of peace, as our best understanding of the essence of the gospel.

In the years ahead we intend for the Kirtland Temple and the Temple in Independence to play vital roles in guiding the ongoing development of our identity, message, and mission as a prophetic faith movement throughout the world.

The Kirtland Temple, in addition to being a nationally registered historic landmark, will play an important role in shaping generations of disciples in the Community of Christ. This will occur through the telling of our sacred story which informs the shape and content of our faith and character. It will also occur through the provision of spiritual formation programs and retreats for individuals and groups that will enrich the sharing of the gospel throughout the world.

These ministries, as I indicated yesterday, will be directly linked to the unfolding ministries of the Independence Temple. Currently we have a Temple Ministries team that is exploring how the purposes of the Temple related to spiritual healing, reconciliation, and peace can be brought to fuller expression for the blessing of the whole church.

We look forward to the continued emergence of truly transformative ministries for people who live in the real world—a world too often filled with pain, struggle, and conflict. We intend to present to the world a Christ who restores and heals through the grace of God.

These are exciting and hope-filled times for the church. We are reconnecting to the initial spiritual impulses and vision of the Restoration movement even as we bring them to new expression for this time and for centuries to come.

Let us go forward into the future as a people who are confident in our calling and mission to generously share the peace of Jesus Christ with the world.

Share the Peace of Jesus Christ

2005 World Conference Sermon, by Prophet-President Stephen M. Veazey
Note: This was President Veazey’s first sermon as prophet and president of the church.

veazeyofficialShare. . . share peace. . .share the peace of Jesus Christ! That’s it! No new programs, no new goals, no new themes, no new logos…just being faithful. Being faithful to God, being faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ, and being faithful to the central mission of the Restoration.

After teaching all that he could, Jesus gave a culminating gift to his disciples—the fullness of his peace. Listen to his words:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. –John 14:27 KJV

The phrase “the peace of Jesus Christ” contains all of the promises, hopes, and blessings of the gospel as revealed by Christ and as affirmed by the Holy Spirit, his promised presence with us. In all of the places in our lives where we are afraid, anxious, discouraged, guilt-ridden, or alienated, Jesus Christ speaks “peace” and opens the way to peace, not just for individuals, but for the whole of creation.

The New Testament scriptures pick up and expand on this theme. From the book of Ephesians, chapter 2, we read,

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one, and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility. –Ephesians 2:13-14 NIV

Jesus Christ is our peace! Christ is the One through whom true peace is found—not through human philosophy, not through escape from the world, not through possessions, not through achievements, not through building walls (physical or emotional), not through anything of our own creation.

God’s will for human life and for creation comes through revelation, especially as revealed in the life, death, resurrection, and continuing presence of Jesus Christ, the Living Word. Through Christ, something not fully explainable, but utterly transforming, has occurred. It can best be described as the movement of God to bring reconciliation and wholeness into all dimensions of life.

We begin to experience the peace of Jesus Christ as we are being reconciled to God, to others, to ourselves, and to creation. This is the heart of the gospel as we are called to live it and to proclaim it.

And this is my testimony. As I am becoming increasingly rooted and grounded in Christ, I am finding, at the center of my being, peace—abiding peace—that passes understanding. This peace is not a passive peace. It is a peace that frees me to relate and act in ways that are counter to many of the destructive attitudes and trends so common today. It is an all-encompassing peace that assures me that in life or death I belong to Christ. Therefore, I do not need to be afraid.

And we are called, as disciples of Jesus Christ and as the Community of Christ, to share that peace—the peace of Jesus Christ—with others. Over the years, we have spoken of the Restoration movement as emerging from the call to share “the fullness of [the] gospel . . . unto the ends of the world” (Doctrine and Covenants 1:4e).

What, really, is the fullness of the gospel? Is it particular beliefs and practices to be taught and even guarded? These defining elements of our faith—such as continuing revelation, an open canon of scripture, and the various sacraments of the church, to name just a few—are very important to our identity and are to be respected and cherished. But they are not the central witness.

These aspects of our faith are the means and resources given to us to be used in our mission. And our mission is to share the kind of ministry through which people can experience the fullness of Jesus Christ as reconciliation, hope, and peace in all dimensions of their lives. This is the fullness of the gospel.
Our identity and mission must always arise from the revelation of God in Jesus Christ or we will find ourselves off on tangents that eventually lead to a rigid legalism that snuffs out life, rather than a dynamic faith that brings us to abundant life.

Now, having established first things first, let us focus on one of the more distinctive elements of our faith—the cause of Zion:

Now, as you have asked, behold, I say unto you . . . seek to bring forth and establish the cause of Zion. –D. and C. 6:3a

If there is one consistent theme at the heart of our journey as a people of faith, it is the cause of Zion. This phrase captures the sense of divine call to enflesh the gospel in community living, through which the physical and spiritual needs of people are to be met, and through which harmony, security, and peace can be realized.

Initially, though, we must confess that our limited understanding and zealous attempts to bring the dream to reality fell short and generated reactions that resulted in serious tensions and even violence—the very antithesis of the vision of God’s kingdom on earth. Isn’t it ironic that it was a self-defense military company, called Zion’s Camp, to whom the revelation now recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 102 was first addressed? They were headed for Jackson County, Missouri, from Kirtland, Ohio, prepared for armed conflict if necessary, when they were told to pursue a different approach:

And again, I say unto you, Sue for peace, not only the people that have smitten you, but also to all people; and lift up an ensign of peace, and make a proclamation for peace unto the ends of the earth. –D. and C. 102:11a-b

Like most revelation, this message emerges from the particular time and context to which it initially spoke. Basically, the first part of the revelation says that getting into a fight is not a good idea! Violence begets more violence. In response to grievances, it suggests, find a way to settle differences that doesn’t erupt into more people being hurt or killed.

But the counsel does not stop there. Immediately following, there is a prophetic leap of vision and hope for the future: “…and lift up an ensign of peace, and make a proclamation for peace unto the ends of the earth.

At this point in our journey, we now understand that the cause of Zion cannot be separated from the message of reconciliation and peace brought by Jesus Christ. Jesus wept over Jerusalem because the inhabitants had not recognized the things that make for peace (Luke 19:42). Jesus said,

Blessed are all the peacemakers; for they shall be called the children of God. –Matthew 5:11 IV

The cause of Zion is the ongoing call to enflesh the peace of Jesus Christ in all dimensions of life. I have heard people talk about experiences at reunions, camps, and retreats as a “glimpse” or “taste” of Zion. What was experienced? Love. Acceptance. Unity. Generosity. Peacefulness. A desire to serve others.

The cause of Zion is the pursuit of conditions and relationships that bring this foretaste of God’s ultimate will for creation increasingly into all aspects of life: families, congregations, neighborhoods, nations, and the world. It is grounded in the scriptural concept of shalom, or God’s peace, for all of creation. The scriptures proclaim that the ultimate will of God for creation is wholeness, balance, and peace. God’s shalom integrates a whole range of concepts that point the way to the ultimate redemption of creation, including reconciliation, justice, well-being, stewardship, generosity, righteousness, the worth of all people, and true community. This is the peaceable kingdom of God:

Blessed are they who shall seek to bring forth my Zion at that day, for they shall have the gift and the power of the Holy Ghost. . . . And whoso shall publish peace, even tidings of great joy, how beautiful upon the mountains shall they be. —I Nephi 3:187 and 189

Jesus Christ had a full depth of understanding regarding God’s vision for creation. That is why he opposed the dominant religious and political trends of his day that were counter to God’s purposes. That is why he ate with sinners, healed the unclean, reconciled the guilty. That is why he tended to the needs of the poor, and called people from all walks of life to a new kind of compassionate, peaceful community grounded in the love of God, self, and neighbor. Jesus Christ is the revelation of what it means to live out God’s peace in the world. The cause of Zion is how we understand our call to live in the way of Jesus Christ, the peacemaker.

How do we measure our depth of responsiveness to the cause of Zion, the peaceable kingdom? The scriptures tell us that we need to be especially aware of the condition of the most vulnerable in our midst: the aged, the young, the sick, the poor, the marginalized, and the oppressed. How are they doing? Are they experiencing well-being? Do they have full opportunity to become who God created them to be, which is the heart of justice? Are they unfairly hindered by the attitudes and actions of others who have a more secure or powerful place in society? Do they live in conditions of poverty and disease that cause them fear and suffering?

Take children, for instance. How are the children doing in our families, congregations, schools, and neighborhoods? How are the children doing in our nation and in our world? Jesus blessed the little children and said that they carried within them the seeds of the kingdom of God. How tender was his love for them, as told so beautifully in the Book of Mormon, Third Book of Nephi:

…[Jesus] wept, and the multitude bore record of it, and he took their little children, one by one, and blessed them, and prayed to the Father for them. And when he had done this he wept again, and he spoke to the multitude, and said to them, Behold your little ones. — III Nephi 8:23–24

If our vision of Zion does not promote the well-being of children throughout the world it is not the Zion to which God calls us. Furthermore, I believe it is essential that we pull our children back from the warring ways of our world and teach them the things that make for peace, before the seeds of the peaceable kingdom they carry within their souls become hopelessly dormant. That is why I am fully behind those ministries birthed by church members and friends that are devoted to equipping children and youth with the things that make for peace, such as the Young Peacemakers Clubs, PeaceMobiles, and the Children’s Peace Pavilion, with a growing network of satellite exhibits. These and similar efforts must be accelerated and expanded for the sake of the children, for our sakes, and for the kingdom cause.

Why is this call to the peaceable kingdom, Zion, so critical to our identity and mission? Look around you. Listen. There is a desperate crying out for peace, but there is no peace. Nations rage against nations, religions against religions, and people against people. People are living, acting, and reacting out of fear rather than hope. The cause of Zion, the peaceable kingdom, is a compelling, desperately needed vision of hope for creation that we are called to lift up and proclaim with all of the energy and resources we can muster.

There are many diluted and shallow expressions of the gospel in the world today that lead people to believe that the message of Jesus Christ is just about “me and my salvation,” apart from the plight of others. The cause of Zion is the ultimate call to repentance from self-worship. It is about growing in righteousness, love, and purity of heart. It is about learning to share generously to meet the needs of others. It is about opening our hearts and minds to new insights and understandings about others. It is about embracing hope for the earth as a sacred place where the will of God is to be done.

The Temple has a unique role to play in understanding our mission and in pursuing the cause of Zion. The Temple is much more than a building. It is revelation: God speaking to us regarding our identity, our message, and our future. The ministries of the Temple challenge the church to deepen its understanding and practice of those ministries that bring the fullness of the peace of Jesus Christ into individual lives and into the world:

The Temple shall be dedicated to the pursuit of peace. It shall be for reconciliation and for healing of the spirit. It shall also be for a strengthening of faith and preparation for witness. –D. and C. 156:5a

If we are striving for peace, reconciliation, and healing of the human spirit, we are expressing the essence of the ministry of Jesus Christ.

Now is the time to go deeper—deeper in our exploration, deeper in our understanding, deeper in our discernment of the meaning of peace, reconciliation, and healing of the spirit, and how they are to be expressed in today’s world. We are called to share the peace of Jesus Christ, through our vibrant witness and particularly through our pursuit of the cause of Zion, the peaceable kingdom.

So what will it take to be successful in this mission? We must start with ourselves. The call of discipleship is the call to attach our lives fully and completely to Jesus Christ. Are we experiencing the peace of Jesus Christ in our heart, mind, and soul? Discipleship must be grounded in intentional spiritual formation that centers us in the presence of God, where we find inner peace. It is out of the depth and overflow of this peace that we find the capacity to cope with life and to extend ourselves in the ministry of Jesus Christ in the world.

We also must recover our passion for sharing the gospel with others in those parts of the world where the spirit of evangelism has waned. How do we do that? Again, it comes through spiritual formation. If we deepen our experience with Christ through creative prayer, scripture study, worship, Sabbath keeping, and life in community, we will discover the love and joy of the gospel bubbling up in our souls and flowing naturally into the lives of neighbors and friends. The key to evangelism is joyful, loving disciples who are constantly inviting others to come with them to the source of true life.

Furthermore, I believe it is essential to the witness and mission of the church for us to stop defining each other in divisive ways. So easily we are tempted to categorize people by terms like “liberal” and “conservative,” “progressive” and “traditional,” “right” and “left,” “more spiritual” and “less spiritual.” Why? Because categorizing people means we don’t have to get to know them. We can simply hold on to assumptions and stereotypes that reinforce our views. Here’s a novel idea: How about referring to each other as “brother” and “sister” in Christ as the beginning, middle, and end point for all of our relationships in the Community of Christ? What a witness to the world that would be!

We could begin right now by confessing that we have all done something to hurt or offend others. Sometimes it is inadvertent; sometimes it emerges out of the heat of conflict that naturally occurs from time to time. We need to confess that we all have participated in behaviors that have marginalized, offended, and wounded people to the point that they wonder whether they have a place in the Community of Christ.

Last January, while at a winter reunion, I heard an American woman of African heritage share her testimony of how she came to be a member of this church. What struck me most about her testimony was the prejudice and lack of understanding that she and her family had experienced in the church, including an “official decision” from church headquarters that had been made decades before that they should form their own group and not meet with white members because of the disturbances being caused in the congregation and in the neighborhood.

As the impact of what she was sharing sank in, I felt deep regret and shame. Following her testimony I was to preach, but I could not proceed as planned. Prompted by the Spirit of Christ, I stood and told my dear sister that I was sorry, and that, on behalf of the church, I apologized for what she and her family had endured. I also shared with the congregation that too often the church withdraws from its prophetic role in the world, reflecting biases and prejudices of the larger society, rather than impacting society with a vision of the gospel and the values of the Restoration, such as the worth and giftedness of all people. Following the service my good sister came to me and said, “I sure wish my grandmother could have heard that.”

In order to be the prophetic community of peace, reconciliation, and healing of the spirit, we must first examine our attitudes and behaviors. One of the greatest challenges facing the church today is that we are allowing the same polarization so common in many societies to prevail in our own church relationships. We place a higher premium on being “right” than on being “in right relationship,” truly reconciled in Christ.

The walls of hostility and division that Christ has torn down are being rebuilt by us because of our suspicion of others who are different from us. Here is the truth: We are much more alike than we are different; our destinies are intertwined. Why, then, do we focus on the differences rather than on the fact that we are all children of the One God who created us, who, despite our rebellion and shortsightedness, has made us of one household in Christ Jesus?

In Doctrine and Covenants 162: 4b and 6b, we read:

It is for divine purpose that you have been given the struggles as well as the joys of diversity. So must it always be in the peaceable kingdom. . . .The One who created all humankind grieves at the shameful divisions within the human family. A prophetic people must work tirelessly to tear down walls of separation and to build bridges of understanding.

So in the Spirit of Jesus Christ, the reconciler and peacemaker, I want to begin to tear down some walls of separation.

To all those who have been offended or injured—by words or by silence, by actions or by inactions, by whatever has not reflected our highest aims emerging from our vision of the peaceable kingdom—I am truly sorry, and I apologize on behalf of the church and myself. This includes those who have experienced any type of attitude or behavior that diminished their sense of worth as a child of God. This includes those pushed to the margins and beyond because of divergent views in the church around various social and moral issues.

It also includes those brothers and sisters who have felt it necessary to separate from active participation in the church because of differences over theological and sacramental issues, or who have found it necessary to form independent branches and churches. We know that such differences are real and that they are not resolved by simply ignoring them. The Community of Christ is committed to being an active partner in ongoing attempts to seek the level of reconciliation and healing that is possible.

As that work continues, let us affirm that we are neighbors in this community and in the world. Unless we can live as good neighbors, who love and care for each other, and who help each other out in times of need, then the Zion for which we all yearn and work, will not find its full expression for the salvation and blessing of humanity. Let us acknowledge that we have all fallen short of the highest ideals of our common heritage and faith, and that we are sorry for the hurt that has resulted in the lives of people we love.

In this spirit, let us also recognize that the ministry of reconciliation is ultimately the responsibility of individuals. It is not by accident that we will conclude this Conference by partaking together in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Let each of us examine our lives as we prepare to participate in that sacrament, to discern where we have fallen short in our relationships with others so that we can come to the necessary attitude of humility and repentance that will release us to embrace the gifts of forgiveness, reconciliation, and hope that, in turn, free us to reach out to others in the peace of Jesus Christ.

Our ability to pursue our mission is also highly dependent on the preparation, attitude, and response of the priesthood of the church. I consider ministry in the priesthood a sacred privilege that is to be expressed through a deep sense of devotion and willingness to provide servant ministry, in the likeness of Christ. It is one of the highest forms of stewardship of life and involves not only initial response to calling, but ongoing growth, development, and accountability.

Priesthood should never be a source of pride or a way to manipulate or control others. It is not a platform from which to assert one’s viewpoints. We are well reminded of the counsel in Doctrine and Covenants Section 11 that no one can assist in this work except they be humble and full of love, having faith, hope, and charity (4b). The way into the future includes the call to shape a body of ministers who are known for their humility, integrity, and commitment to effective ministry in today’s world. It is imperative that there be renewed efforts focused on training, mentoring, and leadership development to equip the ordained ministry—lay and professional—for the mission of peace, reconciliation, and healing of the spirit throughout the world.

It is also essential that we apply additional energy and resources for support of congregational pastors. Nothing is more vital to the revitalization and forward movement of the church than congregational pastors who have not only the heart for ministry, but also have a firm grasp on the skills needed to lead congregations into vibrant, healthy expressions of the Community of Christ in the twenty-first century. The Co-Missioned Pastors Initiative (CPI) is off to a great start and shows signs of true success in this regard. I would urge congregations and pastors to take advantage of the remaining slots before they are all filled.

Beyond this, we are aware of the need to take the most effective elements of this pilot program and make them available to pastors and potential pastors throughout the world. Can you envision what would happen in countless congregations if there were pastors leading them who were motivated, trained, resourced, supported, and committed to long-term service in pursuit of our mission?

At this point, I must speak plainly and clearly regarding a vital matter. All of this talk about identity and mission is for naught if we do not have the financial means to support and expand the ministries of the church locally and globally. Stewardship, discipleship, and mission cannot be separated.

During the course of this Conference we have seen the figures that reflect our current level of stewardship response. It is not difficult to see that the World Ministries tithing projections we approved for the next several fiscal years are significantly less than this year’s projected tithing income. This, in turn, tells us that there will have to be a corresponding reduction in vital church ministries and services. Those figures reflect the future that is most probable if something does not change.

However, that future is not inevitable. If, by our individual and corporate choices, we begin to lean in faith toward God’s preferred course for the church, a new future will begin to dawn with increasing brightness. So in order to mark the beginning of our preferred future, let me say emphatically that the current direction of stewardship response is not acceptable! The real issue here is not just about numbers and budgets. It’s about attitude. How much does the mission of sharing the peace of Jesus Christ and the cause of Zion with a world in need really mean to us?

When I consider how God has blessed me with hope and purpose in life, my heart overflows with love and gratitude in response to God’s grace. As a result, my heart’s desire is to generously share my life, my witness, and my resources to support the ministries of the church and affiliated organizations that take the gospel to others, including those beyond my reach, but certainly not beyond my concern.

Generously sharing to help others is one of the primary ways we grow spiritually because it roots us out of self-centeredness and the incessant need to have more. Peace grows as we let go of that which is contrary to peace—individualism, consumerism, competition—and as we lay hold of the things that make for peace: sharing, generosity, and cooperation in a common cause.

As for me and my house, we will increase our tithes for local ministries and for world ministries in the days ahead, according to our capacity, not because we expect to be blessed with more in return, but because we feel it a blessing to give as we grow in Christ, and we consider it a joy to support the vital ministries of the church in our hometown and throughout the world. I urge each of you to do the same, and then to watch in amazement as the impact of the Community of Christ is unleashed for the benefit and blessing of humankind and creation.

So here we stand at a pivotal time. And there is really only one question for us to answer: Do we have the courage and conviction to be who we really are? We stand on the edge of greatness—not as the world measures greatness, but as God measures greatness—in terms of wholehearted participation in bringing to pass divine purposes in creation.

And, we are called! We are called to deepen our discipleship through spiritual formation that centers in the Spirit of the Living Christ, who continues to redeem and restore people to life in community. We are called to share the peace of Jesus Christ, the fullness of the gospel, with all who will hear and respond. We are called to bear witness, through word and deed, of the cause of Zion, the peaceable kingdom, the vision of hope for this desperate world. We are called to reveal Jesus Christ in the world through finely honed ministries of peace, reconciliation, and healing of the spirit, making the ministries of the Temple manifest through our lives.

We are called to shape a diverse family of peace in Jesus Christ from among the cultures and nations of the world, for the blessing and salvation of humanity. We are called to give of ourselves and our resources generously so that our witness of Christ and Zion can increase, not decrease, throughout the world. We are called!

I am ready to respond to the call to share the peace of Jesus Christ. Are you?

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!

Courage & Hope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May we choose it is my fervent hope and prayer.

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.

We Share A Vision of Hope

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

sv2010Let’s celebrate!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ludwig Wittgenstein describes this transformation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quoting from Craddock:

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

Craddock continues:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is your choice now.

wc2010logo

2013 Words of Counsel

Presented by Prophet-President Stephen M. Veazey, April 14th, 2013

Note: This document is still available on the church website as a downloadable PDF that can be fond here.  Also, the video of this address can be viewed here.

Not to be confused with the 2013 Letter of Counsel.

veazeyUntil recently I thought words of counsel would not be given before or during the 2013 World Conference. However, over the past months, as I have prayed for the church and the world we serve, I have been surprised by regular promptings of the Spirit to offer words of counsel again.

Some themes of this counsel have been presented previously. Evidently, it is important to highlight and further clarify certain principles to advance the response God desires. Other parts of the counsel, while clearly related to previous instruction, begin to open new horizons for living the meaning of true community in Christ.

I pray these words will serve as a pathway for those who sincerely seek to discover God’s will through their own experience as we continue our faith adventure together. I do not intend to submit this counsel for inclusion in the Doctrine and Covenants now. I believe broad exploration of the spiritual concepts in this counsel should precede any formal consideration in that regard. At the same time, this counsel is shared as an expression of my calling as prophet-president of the church in response to God’s gracious revealing of the way ahead for this faith movement.

To the church:

Community of Christ, a divine vision is set before you. Presented over the years through various inspired phrases and symbols, it is expressed now through initiatives in harmony with Jesus Christ’s mission.

As a spiritual venture, boldly follow the initiatives into the heart of God’s vision for the church and creation. Then, in response to growing insight about God’s nature and will, continue to shape communities that live Christ’s love and mission.

Lovingly invite others to experience the good news of new life in community with Christ. Opportunities abound in your daily lives if you choose to see them.

Undertake compassionate and just actions that seek to abolish poverty and end needless suffering. Pursue peace on and for the Earth.

Let nothing separate you from this mission.

Continue to align your priorities with local and worldwide church efforts to move the initiatives forward. Additional innovative approaches to coordinating congregational life and supporting groups of disciples and seekers are needed to address mission opportunities in a changing world.

Free the full capacity of Christ’s mission through generosity that imitates God’s generosity. Discover deep joy and life’s meaning by promoting divine purposes on Earth. Listen to the testimonies of those who are responding and follow your soul’s yearning to come home to God’s grace and generosity.

Remember, a basic discipleship principle is growing Christ’s mission through both local and world mission tithes according to true capacity. Giving to other worthwhile organizations, while an important part of A Disciple’s Generous Response, follows world and local mission tithing and should not diminish or replace it. If a law is needed to focus and balance response, then let these tithing principles serve that purpose.

Tithing is a spiritual practice that demonstrates willingness to regularly offer every dimension of one’s life to God. When defined by faith, love, and hopeful planning, including resolving indebtedness, capacity to respond becomes much greater than initially assumed.

Following the approval of Doctrine and Covenants 164, I continued to prayerfully explore certain principles in it. A particular focus was paragraph 5, where the following words appear, approved by the World Conference as authoritative for our life together:

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 yourself 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.

As indicated in the preface to Section 164, study of Galatians 3:27–29 was foundational to this counsel. Following the approval of Section 164, I persisted in asking God about the meaning and implications of paragraph 5 and Galatians 3:27–29. I sought additional understanding of the spiritual condition that would allow us to see ourselves and others from the changed perspective emphasized in Section 164:5. My journey continued as I was encouraged to study

John 17. John 17 conveys the prayer of Jesus for his disciples as he approaches death on the cross. As I reflected on this text, the Spirit urged me to invite the church to go much deeper in its understanding of the oneness with and among his disciples, who Jesus prayed for. Catching sight of the possible future, I marveled at the blessings that could be enjoyed by the church as we respond. I was left with two questions: “Are we willing to continue to become such a community for Christ and the cause of Zion?” And, “What will it take for us to truly be a community of oneness, mutuality, and revelation of divine love through Christ?”

The following words arose as the Spirit’s voice to the church in response to that experience and those questions: 10. More fully accept and embody your oneness and equality in Jesus Christ, who dwells in oneness with God.

Oneness and equality in Christ are realized through the waters of baptism, confirmed by the Holy Spirit, and sustained through the sacrament of Communion. Embrace the full meaning of these sacraments and be spiritually joined in Christ as never before.

However, be aware, it is not right to profess oneness and equality in Christ through sacramental covenants and then to deny that equality by attitude, word, or action. Such behavior wounds Christ’s body and denies what is eternally resolved in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. You do not fully understand many interrelated processes of human creation. Through its wonderful complexity, creation produces both diversity and order. Be not consumed with concern about variety in human types and characteristics as you see them. Be passionately concerned about how God is revealing divine nature through sacred communities of love, oneness, and equality that embody God’s revelation in Jesus Christ.

Oneness and equality in Christ do not mean uniformity. They mean unity in diversity and relating in Christ-like love to the circumstances of others as if they were one’s own. They also mean full opportunity for people to experience human worth and related rights, including  expressing God-given giftedness through the church community.

Regarding priesthood, God calls whoever God calls from among committed disciples, according to their gifts, to serve and reach all humankind. Priesthood policies and procedures provide a clear way for disciples to respond to calling. They also define the difference between a sense of call as potential and the need to align one’s life with principles of moral behavior and relationships that promote the wellbeing of the church community.

Involvement in Christ’s mission is enriched and focused through spiritual growth and guidance. Following direction already emerging, the presiding evangelist and the Order of Evangelists, in concert with their colleagues in ministry, should concentrate on spiritually forming communities of disciples and seekers that live deeply and generously in Christ’s Spirit.

For this purpose, offer the sacrament of evangelist blessing not only to individuals and congregations, but to families, households, and groups of people seeking spiritual guidance to more completely give themselves to Christ’s mission.

The presiding evangelist will provide instructions for implementation at the appropriate time. Nothing in the instruction should be construed to lessen the importance of the sacrament of evangelist blessing for individuals.

In conclusion, the following words also are shared in response to the radiant light and love of God’s Spirit:

Beloved Community of Christ, do not just speak and sing of Zion. Live, love, and share as Zion: those who strive to be visibly one in Christ, among whom there are no poor or oppressed.

As Christ’s body, lovingly and patiently bear the weight of criticism from those who hesitate to respond to the divine vision of human worth and equality in Christ. This burden and blessing is yours for divine purposes. And, always remember, the way of suffering love that leads to the cross also leads to resurrection and everlasting life in Christ’s eternal community of oneness and peace.
Trust in this promise.

Amen.
Stephen M. Veazey
President of the Church

Facing Our Challenges

Interview: Facing Our Challenges
Questions and Answers (Part One) ~ Web archive

In 2009, in response to President Stephen M. Veazey’s address to the church, “A Defining Moment”, he was interviewed by Apostle Linda L. Booth, World Church Director of Communications.

What was your primary purpose in addressing the church on April 5th?

My primary purpose was to put a number of issues facing the church in perspective so that we can focus on what matters most. Given the fact that we have gone to a three-year World Conference interval, I decided it would be important to communicate with the church about important issues and opportunities on a more regular basis. After discussion in the Presidency, we decided that an annual address would be appropriate. We also decided such an address would occur on or around April 6 because of the significance of that date as the anniversary of the church’s organization and the 1860 conference of the Reorganization where Joseph Smith III accepted his call to prophetic leadership.

What types of responses have you received?

The majority of the responses have been positive and supportive. I am especially appreciative of communications from individuals who are increasing their giving to World Ministries Tithes or have decided to re-engage as World Church contributors. I have received some responses that expressed concern and disappointment over different aspects of the address in terms of what I said or didn’t say that people hoped I would say. It is very difficult to speak to every issue in ways that please everybody. I am appreciative of all the feedback that has come.

In your address you provide assurance that the church’s long-term financial viability is not in jeopardy. Yet, the church is making significant budget reductions that impact staff and ministries throughout the world. How do you reconcile the two statements?

The two primary sources of church income are World Ministries Tithes and earnings from investments and assets. The global economic recession has negatively impacted both income sources. Our World Church financial principles, investment policies and spending rates, and five-year sustainable budget model require us to make budget adjustments during times of economic downturn. Such steps ensure that when the economy improves the church will be in a much better financial position sooner than it would be if we had not applied such discipline.

You referred to the current economic situation as “a spiritual issue that will require a spiritual response.” What does that mean?

I think this question needs to be answered on two levels. Generally speaking, the economic crisis has revealed the rampant nature of greed, consumerism, and individualism in various societies and nations. These values are the opposite of Christ’s call to “seek first the kingdom of God” as the highest aim of one’s life.

In terms of the church community, the current economic situation is an opportunity to evaluate our true priorities and to discover our ability to be generous even during difficult times. Such generosity is a spiritual attitude and response to God’s ever-flowing grace, especially as revealed in Christ. In this regard, we are reminded of inspired counsel in the Doctrine and Covenants:

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. —D. and C.147: 5a

Many are fearful and believe their security is to be found in the accumulation of possessions. The answers you seek are not inherent in the things of this world but in a faith that places its trust in the promises given to all who would follow Jesus Christ. You have been given the principles of generosity, rightly interpreted for a new time. These principles call for disciples to tithe faithfully in accordance with means and capacity. —D. and C. 162:7b-c

If the central focus of our life is on the mission and message of Jesus Christ, and if we truly have the heart of the disciple, then giving generously to local and worldwide ministries of the church will occur naturally from the overflow of our loving, compassionate, giving spirits.

Your address called the church to put our early history into informed perspective, including being open to new information and insights. You cited how we have typically talked about violence in the early church as one example. What is another example?

Another example is how we have viewed the origin of celestial or plural marriage in the early church. There is no doubt the early Reorganization endeavored to distance Joseph Smith Jr. from the doctrine and practice of plural marriage. Such separation was viewed as critical to church identity and survival.
However, during the past fifty years or so, RLDS/Community of Christ historians cautioned us not to be so certain in our conclusions. Unfortunately, many ignored their findings. Even worse, some attacked their integrity and harassed them and their families.

The vast majority of church historians have persuasively concluded that Joseph Smith Jr. was involved prominently in the doctrine and practice of celestial or plural marriage. There is also some evidence that shortly before his death, Joseph approached William Marks, Nauvoo Stake president, and said that he (Joseph) had “been deceived” in the matter of plural marriage and that every effort must be made to rid the church of the doctrine. Unfortunately, he was killed before anything could be done.

So, where does this leave us? The Reorganized Church has always said that plural marriage in the early church was wrong, regardless of its origins. We need to let it go at that. Reigniting old debates over this issue will be unproductive and only serve to distract us from more important endeavors.

There is another step we can take. As we continue to take the path of healing and reconciliation, it would be good to say how sorry we are for the hateful actions of some toward those who sought to bring uncomfortable historical information to the church’s attention.

Why might the idea that “our history does not have to be without blemish to reveal the hand of God working in the movement” be so difficult for some in the church? How does affirming both their shortcomings and triumphs reveal the true character of Christian discipleship?

As I indicated in my address, we have had a tendency to write church history in a way that placed the church and its leaders in the most favorable light possible. This kind of approach is not unique to the church, but can be seen in various biographical, cultural, and national histories that are meant to affirm certain origins or ideals. Unfortunately, one outcome of this approach is that we do not always hear “the rest of the story” that may include information that is not as favorable. If we have placed our faith in a person or institution based on a polished version of history that is eventually found to be incomplete, we can become anxious or fearful that our faith has been misplaced.

The church’s “History Principles” offer a different perspective that I think is helpful as we attempt to be more open about our history. [See October 2008 Herald, p. 10; http://www.CofChrist.org/OurFaith/history.asp.%5D Instead of placing our faith in a particular version of history, we are encouraged to see the ultimate source of our faith as God’s revelation in Jesus Christ. Having established “first things first” we are then able to put our history into proper relationship with our faith. This frees us to view personalities from our past as inspired without having to deny their humanity and struggles which is also part of the story. In fact, their humanity and struggles become an opportunity to see more clearly how God worked in their lives and in the movement. This hopefully encourages us that we too can become instruments in God’s hands despite what we perceive to be our human limitations or weaknesses.

During your address you talked about focusing on the significance of the Reorganization in terms of its impact on our sense of identity, mission, and message. Please expand on why this is important.

I have always found it interesting that we seem to focus most of our time on the first twenty-four years of church history (1820s to 1844). In a way, this is understandable because of all of the founding experiences that occurred during that short time frame. However, the story of the Community of Christ is the story of the Reorganized Church which is over one hundred and fifty years of history. Proportionally, we need to spend much more time exploring how God has shaped the church through the fascinating, sacred story of the Reorganization that continues into our time.

Also, I believe that the later part of the Restoration era of early church history reveals theological speculations that were not grounded in God’s true nature and will, especially as revealed in Christ. The Reorganization can be seen as a way in which God provided a spiritual “corrective” to theological tangents that had emerged. This can be seen especially in the wise leadership of Joseph Smith III and his successors as they guided the church over time to emphasize the best aspects of the Restoration movement while remaining open to continuing revelation.

A key component of the Reorganization’s history as been the tension between being “scattered” and “gathered.” How has the growing internationalization of the church impacted this understanding of “Zionic living?”

“The cause of Zion” in the early church was taught as the necessity of gathering to one particular place to establish the “new Jerusalem” as the exclusive place to which Jesus Christ would return. The prophetic leadership of Joseph Smith III and his successors moderated and enlarged this view to be more inclusive of other places and cultures where the Saints might gather to be community in Christ. This direction is illustrated in the inspired counsel given to the church by Joseph Smith III in 1909:

…living and acting honestly and honorably before God and in the sight of all men, using the things of this world in the manner designed of God, that the places where they occupy may shine as Zion, the redeemed of the Lord. —D. and C. 128:8c

During the early 1900s and into the mid-century, many church leaders and members continued to teach that the principle of gathering included moving to Independence, Missouri, as the actual location of “Zion.” This expectation placed a heavy burden on church members who lived in other parts of the world who felt that they were not being faithful unless they relocated to the USA.

In 1950, President Israel A. Smith, while visiting in French Polynesia, presented a revelation to the church there. In it he counseled that some should gather from more remote islands to islands of larger concentrations of membership and closer to centers of trade and business. The revelation included the promise that “I will at the last day stand upon these islands with you who are faithful and who endure to the end.” In other words, the principle of “gathering” could be expressed in various locations throughout the world.

Apostle Alan Tyree wrote an article for the Herald in 1974 addressing the basic beliefs of the church about “Zion and the world.” In it he stated: “The church is called to gather her covenant people into signal communities where they live out the will of God in the total life of society” (Alan Tyree, “Council Comments on Basic Beliefs,” Saints Herald, April 1974, p. 210). The concept of “signal communities” was recently lifted up again in Section 163:5a as the worldwide call to establish “signal communities that reflect the vision of Christ.” (See also Steven E. Graffeo, unpublished paper, “God’s Concern for All People,” 2007.)
The growing internationalization of the church has blessed the church with an enlarged understanding of how the principle of Zionic gathering can be expressed in multiple (scattered) locations throughout the world through a focus on establishing “signal communities” of disciples who express the gospel of Christ in their cultural contexts.

Interview: Facing Our Challenges

Questions and Answers (Part Two) ~ Web archive

What did you mean when you said that when the principles in the “We Share” document become the “descriptors of our behaviors rather than just ideals, we will become the Community of Christ God is calling us to become”?

I hope this statement will be seen as a call for each person to take seriously the vision, principles, and concepts outlined in the We Share: Identity, Mission, Message, and Beliefs document. Embracing the  principles stated in the document will stimulate personal spiritual growth that will transform and strengthen the church. When others see our behaviors and use terms like “grace and generosity;” “unity in diversity;” and “pursuit of peace” to describe us, we will be living authentically as the “Community of Christ” God calls us to be. In other words, we will move from “becoming” to “being.”

You spoke about Community of Christ’s official view of scripture. There is discussion in some parts of the church about the origin and status of the Book of Mormon. What comments would you like to make about the standing of the Book of Mormon in the life of the church today?

First, I want to reemphasize the statement on “Scripture in the Community of Christ”. The principles provided in the statement equip us to more responsibly study, interpret, and apply all of our books of scripture. A fundamental idea to keep in mind is that the most-decisive revelation of the nature of God’s Word for Christians did not come in words printed on paper, but through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The first readers of the Book of Mormon read the text in a literal or “plain sense” way, as was usual then. By reading it in that way they experienced a text that spoke to them with scriptural authority and clarity about pressing historical, social, and doctrinal issues of the early nineteenth century. As a result, many adopted it as a superior book of scripture, and it became a primary missionary tool of the early church.

Over time, more historical, scriptural, and scientific information became available. New methods and tools for exploring the historical background and literary makeup of scripture were developed. As a result, the Book of Mormon, like the Bible, became the subject of much-closer examination. Issues about the Book of Mormon were raised. The issues included questions about historical accuracy, anachronisms (a person, thing, idea, or custom that seems to belong to a different time), parallels to other books of the era, and doctrines that did not emerge in Christianity until much later than the presumed historical setting of the Book of Mormon.

Today, there is a spectrum of belief in the church about the Book of Mormon. Affirming room for differences of belief about the Book of Mormon is a hallmark of the Reorganization and the church today.

It seems the Book of Mormon defies any simple explanation or theory. The book invites the reader to explore the gospel of Christ with the spiritual eyes of faith in an increasingly skeptical age. The Book of Mormon’s witness of Christ is not finally dependent on external confirmation, such as archaeological evidence, but on the witness of the Spirit in the faith community. Beliefs about the Book of Mormon are matters of personal conscience and faith. However, it is important to remember that we are not called to believe in a book; we are called to believe in and worship the Living God revealed in Jesus Christ.

We use the Book of Mormon as scripture to support the Bible because it played an important role in our history, it was set as part of the scriptural canon by Conference resolutions, and it bears the fruit of scripture when interpreted responsibly. With that said, as the Presidency reiterated in 2007, how one views or uses the Book of Mormon is not to be used as a test of faithfulness, fellowship, or membership in the church.

You just said that we use the Book of Mormon as scripture in the life of the church “because…it bears the fruit of scripture when it is interpreted responsibly.” What is an example of the need for more responsible interpretation of the Book of Mormon?

Here is an obvious example: The Book of Mormon states in several passages that “dark skin” is God’s curse on some people because of their sinful ancestors. It associates dark skin with “loathsome” human characteristics. It also says that when dark-skinned people are converted to the gospel they “become white and delightsome” (Alma 1:104–107; II Nephi 4:35–38; II Nephi 12:84; and III Nephi 1:52). Over the years these passages have been used to condone racist attitudes toward various populations, including Native Americans, African Americans, Africans, and Hispanics.

To uphold a literal reading of these passages is morally, spiritually, and theologically wrong, no matter how you view the origins of the book. The church has a responsibility to interpret such passages in light of the larger scriptural witness, centered in Christ, that leaves no doubt about the inherent worth and dignity of all people, regardless of skin color or ethnic origin.

It is not pleasing to God when any passage of scripture is used to diminish or oppress races, genders, or classes of human beings. Much physical and emotional violence has been done to some of God’s beloved children through the misuse of scripture. The church is called to confess and repent of such attitudes and practices.—Doctrine and Covenants 163:7c.

You said the importance of the “Conditions of Membership” prayer, dialogue, and discernment process is much greater than how we will resolve the particular issue. Could you provide more perspective on what you meant and how the discernment process will unfold?

God is calling the church “as a prophetic people…to discern the divine will for your own time and the places where you serve” (Doctrine and Covenants 162:2c). Responding to this call is not just a matter of good intentions. To respond fully, we need to gain experience with the use of prayer, discussion, dialogue, and discernment principles that will help us grow in our ability to “listen together” to one another and the guidance of God. Gaining such experience takes time, discipline, and practice. Honing such skills will prepare us to navigate other sensitive issues effectively in the years ahead.

The current church-wide discernment process about “Conditions of Membership” will continue through November. Then, the Presidency will begin to frame guidance to the church that we hope will be released before the 2010 World Conference.

We were reminded in your address of the struggles faced by many of our members in countries where poverty and disease are rampant. You posed the question, “How does the hope of God’s peaceful kingdom become more than a faint dream for them?” How would you respond?

We must move beyond our idealistic words about love, community, and peace to create tangible demonstrations of communities of economic and social justice in multiple cultural contexts. Such efforts are unfolding and bearing fruit in some parts of the world. We must make sure that these efforts succeed and endure. The “Peacemakers Summit” scheduled for September will bring together church leaders and the heads of our affiliate organizations to see how we can enlarge our efforts to this end.

You used your address as an opportunity to reach out to young adults and to stress the church’s need to include them in ministry and leadership. What are your hopes for response?

One of my hopes already is being fulfilled. Building on the conversations occurring in some areas, we have raised the level of discussion about young-adult ministries. We also are planning more opportunities for the Presidency to interact with young adults face-to-face and through technology to mutually shape the church’s future.

Also, I hope that more congregations and mission centers will develop young-adult ministries that begin with building relationships among the generations. Often, we think a solution lies in some new, magical program, when the need is more about relationships.

I am concerned about the frustrations of young adults who feel the call to serve and lead, who are prepared to serve and lead, but who are not given the opportunity to do so in congregational life. Or who, if given such opportunity, are not supported when they try to introduce creative ministries to reach younger generations.

My hope is that many congregational leaders will partner with young adults in mutual mentoring relationships so the gifts of all can bless the church. I also hope, as President David Schaal recently put it, that we will “withhold our veto” and be encouraging when young adults are responding.

What is the status of the words you shared at the end of your address that you described as giving “voice” to what you sensed the Spirit was saying to the church?

The words I shared at the end of the address are “pastoral counsel” to the church in response to the impress of the Holy Spirit. As I prayerfully pondered the challenges and opportunities before the church, the Holy Spirit touched me in a way that encouraged me. I shared the resulting words with the church in the hope that they would be a blessing to others, as well.

As the old hymn goes, “Sometimes I feel discouraged, and think my work’s in vain, But then the Holy Spirit revives my soul again” (Hymns of the Saints, No. 147, “There Is a Balm in Gilead”). The words of pastoral counsel are an expression of the “reviving” ministry of the Holy Spirit, which is available to all who open their lives to it. I have no other destination or status in mind for the words beyond simply sharing them with the church.

Because of the challenges before the church, how can you say there is a way into the future that holds the promise that our best days are yet before us?

We must not allow immediate circumstances to dictate our future. The preferred future for Community of Christ holds great promise for the response of the church to the mission and vision of Jesus Christ. It is a future in which we embrace our fundamental call to be the promoters and implementers of Christ-like community grounded in the enduring principles of the church.

However, to realize that future we must make brave choices about who we are and what our priorities are. If we focus our energies on being the best possible expression of the “restoring Christ” who builds healing, generous, inclusive community, we will be freed from years of uncertainty about our identity and begin to realize our destiny.