I went to my first World Conference with an open heart and mind. I was grateful to know many friends from near and far who had attended before and would help guide me and ensure I had a well-rounded experience. I knew I was in for laughs, tears, hard conversations, and many hours of deliberation on important legislation that will impact the church locally and internationally.
I was privileged to offer the closing prayer after Thursday’s legislative meetings, and I freely admit that I was nervous. I wrote my prayer in pieces throughout the week, a novel practice for me, and was changing things up until we started singing the hymn right before my prayer. I wanted to get it right.
I chose to focus on what World Conference showed me most clearly: the expression of God in each of us. I am called to love, try to understand, and be accepting of those who are different from me. I always knew this meant I should never deny someone Christ-like love based on the shade of their skin, who they love, their worst choices in weak moments, or how much money they have. I have always found it hard to truly accept and appreciate those I don’t agree with, or who I think are just plain wrong about what matters most. This is a less obvious, but I think more insidious way we can be held back from achieving the best in our world.
My understanding of the endless and indiscriminate love God gives each of us continues to evolve. My time at World Conference opened my eyes fully to seeing every person as an expression of our Creator. Each of us shows a facet, a sliver of God’s infinite spectrum of presence. I am made better, more whole and closer to the Spirit when I choose to see the individuals who I contrast with as an important voice in the world, just as entitled to God’s unconditional love as I am. This is our modern-day call: to love the neighbour that you don’t agree with because they are an expression of the Divine, just as you are. God is in them too, just different pieces of the divine shimmer through them. This allows us to experience God’s truly indescribable and mercurial nature that humankind will never fully comprehend. My God is always bigger and more loving than I think they could possibly be, and I look forward to being reminded of this many, many more times in my life.
One of the primary purposes of the World Conference is to do the business of the church. Through a process of common consent, delegates to the World Conference discuss important issues and make decisions that are essential to the ongoing ministry of the church. Delegates are selected at the local level in congregational business meetings and are sent to Independence, Missouri to Community of Christ’s International Headquarters on behalf of their fellow congregants to represent their interests. Click here to learn more about World Conference.
This year’s World Conference experience was, for me, a first. Not that it was my first time attending a World Conference event – I have actually attended at least three to my knowledge – but rather that it was my first time really attending with responsibilities outside of being a delegate. I enjoyed the usual – yet unique – opportunities to experience raw, real, and vulnerable community with people from all around the world. I worked closely with other attending young adults from the USA and Europe to help plan meaningful activities for young adults throughout the week, resulting in incredible opportunities for learning and growth.
I also led co-led two Lunch & Learn sessions and was grateful to have the opportunity to share with eager crowds about issues I am passionate about, including virtual (online) ministries and building an online presence. Both sessions were well attended and not only provided relevant information about the topic at hand but also connected interested attendees with experts and veterans in their fields that can help to mentor them through projects, challenges, and more. Rich discussion flowed from these events and continued throughout the week.
I was extremely happy to attend with several other young adults from across Canada, each of whom took their role as delegate seriously, studying the materials, engaging in discussions outside of legislative sessions to influence amendments and holding responsibilities outside of delegate as well.
Outside of my role as delegate and church employee, I also volunteer as a supporter and board member of Harmony (formerly GALA, Gay and Lesbian Acceptance). Over the last six months, I project managed the re-branding effort following a legal merger with another organization (WCN, Welcoming Community Network), and we went public with the new name and brand on the first day of World Conference. Our mission is to provide advocacy, education, and resources for Queer voices* in Community of Christ with a shared vision of full participation.**
*The term Queer is being reclaimed by some who identify as LGBTQ+ and is used as an umbrella term for the LGBTQ+ community. We use the phrase “Queer voices” to describe all person, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity (SOGI), who have the courage to use their voice to speak for justice for the marginalized in the Queer community.
**Full participation in the life of the church pertains to all members, without exception, ensuring each person is fully eligible to participate in the sacraments, priesthood, all levels of church leadership, as well as any other benefits and responsibilities guaranteed to church membership according to the Membership Manual.
Harmony had a booth in the Village Expo area, and meaningful, deep, and even uncomfortable conversations ensued concerning the unique needs of the Queer/LGBTQ+ Community within – and outside – Community of Christ. Visit the Harmony website to learn more about the organization.
Community of Christ is not a denomination of standalone congregations; rather, we collaborate to further Christ’s mission throughout the world in meaningful and relevant ways locally, regionally, and internationally. World Conference is always such an uplifting and energizing experience that stands as a reminder of our global identity as members of this faith community. I can’t wait until 2022 for our next World Conference!
How can anyone explain the wonder, value and experience of conference? Each person was present because they wanted to be. My heart was lifted by the presence of believers from various countries wanting to let us know how grateful they were to be there. I am grateful I was present and thankful to the many who looked after me. I felt the body was in tune with the Presidency, Bishopric, and Apostles. One of the just-retired apostles and his wife sat right in front of us, and I was so touched that they still filled their role – they just changed seats.
The meeting of special friends continued throughout the week. The Bishopric brought ministry to the people and let us know how valuable we are as people. The offering was generous, and I believe people felt the grace that attended the service.
I am an Evangelist and was blessed in conversations with my brothers and sisters. I feel overwhelmed when I think about the service in the Temple with our brother Bunda Chibwe leading the choir and the people. President Murphy led the service and all were moved by the dynamics of his words.
Our own Dar Shepherdson spoke eloquently and with great passion and sincerity. Several times I was moved to pray for different people and did so. I received so much, and I am so grateful for our leadership in our area and at headquarters. We truly are blessed to have those in the Bishopric to show us the way.
I had a further blessing in being able to stay with Everett and Judy Graffeo. Thank you, each one who helped to plan this life changing experience.
In the faith.
When I got to the Community of Christ Temple and Auditorium in Independence, Missouri, I began to wonder if I would get there for another conference due to my age. I have been to many in the past, so for me it felt like home in the buildings and with the people. The dedication of the busy organizers and volunteers was evident throughout the week. I attended all the business sessions and witnessed the ordinations of two new apostles and a bishop. You can find information about the resolutions on the Community of Christ World Church website.
All resolutions were handled with wisdom and thoughtfulness. The last sermon by President Veazey sent us forward with the counsel to dig deeper into our faith and be diligent for the journey ahead.
There was loving respect and a kind collegial atmosphere in the conference as a whole and in the international meetings of the Seventy. Our Seventy quorum #8 met a few times with all the international Seventies outside the USA for a few meetings. A few days later our quorum #8 broke off and went into a smaller room for several early mornings. We had interpreters in English, French, German, and Spanish.
We shared our perspectives and trials. We saw old friends again and together shared the challenges of our calling to be witnesses and forerunners of Christ’s peace. At our last session, I was one of those honored to pray in my language for a blessing for the journey and burdens of those in my quorum from Canada, Mexico/USA border area. Delegates from Dominican Republic, Haiti, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, and other parts of South America then prayed for all of us in their own language. This was a highlight for me, for I felt a strong love among us and a deep awareness of our “unity in diversity.” I knew during the prayers we were truly like brothers and sisters.
I looked up into the Auditorium ceiling of beautiful star lights during the familiar hymn “The Spirit of God Like a Fire Is Burning.” The sound of the robust singing with the fantastic sounds of the pipe organ was beautiful. I stood beside a childhood friend from my home congregation in Ontario as he sang with his full tenor part to my soprano. We knew the words by heart and confessed later that this church and all it stands for is in our DNA. This faith movement claims our identity and heritage with a strong sense of total loyalty and commitment.
Community of Christ has evolved from its past in a good way, and the message and growth of understanding as to our mission is clearer to me than ever before.
I had tears as I left the parking lot to leave for maybe the last time. The love, dedication, and friendship of the people will sit in my heart forever.
CALGARY COMMUNITY OF CHRIST BUILDS COMMUNITY
The Calgary Congregation has been renting a room for their Sunday worship services in the 99-unit apartment block called the “Lions Village.” The Lions Club owns the facility for those 55 years and over who require a lower rental apartment. The relationship between the Lions Club, Apartment Manager, and the church has been very positive.
BUILDING COMMUNITY WITH THE RESIDENTS, BUILDING MANAGEMENT AND LIONS CLUB
Trust and Community was built when the church got permission from the residents, Lions Club, and building manager to sponsor, with the residents’ help, a weekly activity called the “Young at Heart.” After the first year the group evolved, and it is now being facilitated by the residents themselves. Many positive relationships developed with the group. The building manager and group members saw this as a community-building endeavor.
BREAKING BREAD WITH THE RESIDENTS TO BUILD COMMUNITY
We have sponsored two Stampede breakfasts and two Christmas dinners to date, for both the residents and members of our congregation using the Lions Club to prepare and serve the food.
Recently, at the request of the resident’s social club, Community of Christ took part in their Christmas bake sale for the residents of the complex and as a result raised money from the sale to support our mission camping programs.
COMMUNITY OF CHRIST SPONSORED A JOINT FREE 2018 DECEMBER CHRISTMAS DINNER
The huge room at the apartment complex was full of laughter and conversation. Festive music by pianist Bill Tompkins filled the room. Both the apartment complex residents and the Community of Christ congregation enjoyed a Lions Club turkey meal in their dining room. Our pastor, Doug Hayden, greeted the group and passed on the congregations condolences for the families of two recently deceased Lions Club members that had been active participants in the complex.
Grace was offered by Shirley Smith and a very tasty meal was served by the Lions Club. We mingled with our friends in the complex. One woman with oxygen tanks had to be near a power supply for breathing reasons. She was unable to eat at a table with everyone. Community of Christ members noticed her situation and she was assisted in obtaining her meal and a member sat with her during the meal, so she would not be alone. When the Lions Club needed some temporary support at times on the serving line and in some clean up some church members assisted.
Church member Santa (Don McLeod) arrived with his elf Connor Miles with candy, chocolate, and gifts for the children. Unfortunately, Santa experienced a costume problem with his suit at the waistline. The pants gave out at the waist and so wife Judy held them up for him and followed behind him as he visited everyone at the table. Church Mission and Young Adult Ministry Specialist Parker Johnson provided support throughout the evening. At the end of the meal, pianist Carolyn Long-Smith played a selection of carols and Christmas music for a group singalong. The church has cemented itself in this residential complex as a positive, community-building catalyst that has enriched the lives of many of the people that live there.
This piece was originally read aloud at the December 9, 2018 worship service by Ethel Hayden at the Calgary Community of Christ Congregation.
It has been transcribed for the purpose of publishing to this blog.
My life in the last two years living in Trinity Lodge is a new experience with over 200 residents and nearly 100 staff. Many different cultures and faiths, all being accepted and appreciated. In the middle of November, the Christmas decorations began to appear, spread throughout the foyer. Near the front entrance a beautiful manger scene complete with all the animals and people surrounding the Christ child. Three large Christmas trees all decorated differently, two tall nutcrackers, father Christmas, ten or more larger poinsettia plants, many garlands and lights.
On December 1st, a multi-cultural choir of 50 or more, a flutist and pianist, sang and played beautiful songs. On Thursday, December 6th, a women’s choir of 80, a 12 piece choir. Near the end of the performance they mingled with the residents, and we sang some of the usual Christmas carols together.
This month during our early morning chapel time of 20 minutes, we have different speakers giving thanks for the birth of the Christ child and his gifts of love, hope, peace, and joy. I recall being told there were three things we could do each day:
The Christmas story never grows old no matter how many times we hear it. It is exciting and brings purpose to our lives and many blessings. I have also attended four of the Chanukah candle lighting services this week and am happy to hear their stories.
I give thanks each day for my many blessings and trust his spirit to go with me and help me to make good decisions each day as we journey into a new year.
We take this moment, within our busy and fast-moving lives to bow our heads in order to allow the outside distractions to fade and to attempt a spiritual dialogue for today.
Our hearts and minds go outward to commune as best as we can with the Ground of all Being. We acknowledge our deficiency in creating a dialogue with the true Spirit of Love and Acceptance but at the same time we reach out in an overarching posture to express our appreciation and thankfulness for all that we have; truly an abundant life.
We think of those who are less fortunate, suffering with bodily afflictions, frustrating situations, unhealthy relationships and wish, somehow these things can be erased to allow peace and joy to enter their lives.
And while we contemplate on the soul healing processes that come from the teachings of that remarkable Rabbi of so long ago, we feel a desire that the message of Joy, Hope, Love and Peace can be transmitted throughout this unique planet. We wish to envision the calmness resulting from the acceptance of the message of Christ, along with other faith-based traditions to allow all people of this world to participate in a goodly measure of tranquility.
And so, this morning, as we listen to our speaker, help us to transform our arising thoughts into calm, measured action that will truly proclaim our faithfulness to the Christ message.
I have been a member of Community of Christ my entire life. On my dad’s side, our Community of Christ heritage is at least three generations long, and my mom’s roots go back eight generations. In fact, we apparently got chased out of Utah by the Danites. Evidently, we have been causing a ruckus for quite some time in the restoration movement. My paternal grandfather, Bill Ball, worked for the church for many years and is well known in the northwestern USA. My mother, Cindy Larsen, was one of the first four women ordained in Alberta back in 1987. To say that I come from a long line of trailblazers and believers in this church and its message could be an understatement.
Because of my family’s position within the church, both of my parents holding priesthood offices, and seeing other adults in my church serve as leaders in my congregation; holding a priesthood office was not only an aspiration, but also an expectation in my mind. I got this idea in my head that eventually, priesthood just happened to you. One day you would have put in your time and you would be rewarded with the recognition of your holiness in the eyes of God and your church, and BAM you are gifted with the status of priesthood. Adoration from your peers, mentors and others around you would pour in and you would be guaranteed the thanks and credit you were so deserving of.
I was wrong.
And I am glad that I was wrong, but that certainly wasn’t the case initially. In fact, I was devastated when I first realised this. I have always taken on leadership and ownership over church activities, camps, and missional work. Sometimes in ways that I did not enjoy, understand or feel like I contributed very much. But I did it because that’s what I thought would get me to the place I felt I needed to be: in the priesthood. I had several close friends be called to the priesthood when I was first in University, but I was not. I was in utter disbelief. How could I be looked over in this way? Was nobody seeing the work I was putting in? Were my offerings not good enough? Was I not doing enough? What could I possibly be doing wrong? I tried to be happy for my friends, but I broke down soon after they told me about their calls and voiced my feelings to my mom.
In the way that only a mother can, she slapped some sense into me. Gently, and not literally, but it still hit me like a brick wall. “Priesthood is not about recognition, a reward, or a way to put yourself apart from others. Priesthood is about servanthood, putting yourself last when needed, and it’s about your relationship with God and bringing that to others. It’s about doing service because you know it is the right thing to do, not because you think somebody is watching or will notice.”
I realised in that moment how misguided some of my expectations of myself, God, and the church were. I could see that while my efforts to better the church, its programs and myself were noble, my motivation was not. I had to let go of what I felt about the servanthood or morality of others and focus on myself. What is God saying to me, what is God doing in my life?
After I worked through this initial stage of shock, disappointment and feeling a bit like a fool, I was given many opportunities to develop my ministry in unexpected places. In my last year of nursing school, I was asked by Alfredo Zelayez-Martinez (who was thinking of my sister, for the record) and Rachelle Smalldon to be the camp nurse at Sr. High Camp in Ontario. I was honestly feeling disconnected from the church at this time in my life. I had changed university programs, nursing school was intense and busy, and there were several political issues in the church that I was having trouble reconciling. It was a childhood dream of mine to be the camp nurse, so I jumped at the opportunity because it fit perfectly with my semester break and I just needed something different.
This camp, their community, and the energy they have put into creating a truly sacred gathering impacted me in a profound way that I was not expecting. They welcomed me as an “outsider” and drank up my gifts and talents as I offered them. I began to learn about the importance of inclusivity, intentional language, Community Place, and the value that Community of Christ places on relationships. I began to understand my church better. I understood myself and my place within this faith movement more.
It was then that the question started coming up again. “So have you been called to the priesthood yet?” I got antsy about my calling all over again. But there was a complicating factor: I was living with my boyfriend, who is now my husband. I watched as my peers had their priesthood cards and calls revoked, or had calls denied altogether because they were cohabitating before marriage. People who I knew were in committed, stable, consensual, respectful, loving partnerships were having their morality questioned. It broke my heart, and I still ache for them and the effect it has had on their lives.
I worried about my own candidacy and the implications of it for my life, my relationship and my faith. I did not (and do not) believe that God would ask me to choose between priesthood and my choice to live with my partner and get to know him fully so I could make an informed choice in a lifetime commitment. I had watched my parent’s marriage collapse, had many friends experience the same, and I wanted to give myself and my potential marriage the best chance possible. I chose to leave it in God’s hands and wait.
After I was married, I continued to wait. I kept trying to lead, participate and advocate within the church where I felt called to do so, and I tried my best to be mindful about my intentions and motivations. I directed camps, started The MOM Project, and was an active participant in the Calgary Congregation’s building transition from the Ranchlands facility to a more appropriate space for our future. These opportunities stretched me in ways I didn’t anticipate, and helped me to grow as a member and leader in my congregation. I repeatedly listened to others state that they felt there was a calling for me, or that they knew there was a calling for me. I willed that to be enough of a confirmation of my worthiness for the time being.
As I matured through my early twenties I finally (mostly) let go of the idea that I was in control of the timing in my life. There is only a fraction of my world that actually responds to the rules and expectations I thrust upon it. It turns out that priesthood is not one of those things.
At the beginning of 2017 I got a very suspicious text message from my stepdad, Doug Hayden, who also happens to be the pastor of our congregation. It asked me to meet him for coffee at my earliest convenience. So after a 12-hour work day I met him at our local Starbucks, where he presented a priesthood call to me. It turned out, in a weird twist of fate, that this call had been passed down from two previous pastors who could not offer it during their tenure.
This whole time I had a call waiting for me. The whole dang time I’d been angry, disappointed, questioning myself and my faith, this call had been sitting there! But I wasn’t mad when I heard this. I felt a sense of peace and assurance that this was my calling because it was the right time. I had a stable marriage, career, and supportive husband. I was in a good place with God, the church, and I truly felt like I had something to offer my congregation and Community of Christ as a whole. Doug explained it with a Harry Potter reference to how wands choose their wizards, not vice-versa: “the call chooses the person, the person does not choose the call.” Wise words.
Because of my very busy and over-committed life it took me a year to finally sit down and work through my temple school classes. These courses helped me affirm and more deeply understand what I thought and hoped the church was. My view of the church being a tool for modeling Christ-like living and relationships is in fact one of the biggest tenants of Community of Christ. Responsible interpretation of scripture and not using it as a weapon is a core belief. The unshakeable faith in God’s love and desire for the wellbeing of us all is our foundation. I feel like I know my church so much better now, and I love it so much more for that.
I view the church as a partner in a relationship: imperfect, wonderful, and with improvements to make every day. As a member of that partnership, it is my responsibility to tell of those incredible traits, try to reconcile relationships that have been injured, and push to make things better for us all. As part of my Intro to Scripture Class I used Doctrine and Covenants Section 164 verses 5 and 6 a, b, c:
5. 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.
This is the church I want to be a part of. This is the church I want to bring to people outside my congregation. This is the church I want to live out loud and practice radical hospitality with! As a Priest I am given a unique responsibility to advocate for families and individuals within my congregation, but I am not going to stop there. I am going to push at every opportunity to see that Community of Christ lives out its mission as described in Doctrine & Covenants 164.
This is my calling: to help build a better church than the one of yesterday, to include those who have been outcast by politics and policies, to radically show the love of Christ to everyone regardless of their background, and to challenge the church at all levels to question what is “us” and what is God. I will never stop fighting for those who have been subject to injurious actions, policies, and statements by the church and society because that is what the true calling of the church and of God is asking me to do.
The church can be the gateway to a relationship with the Almighty, but it is not the only way. What compels myself and others to participate in Community of Christ is the community. For my generation, personal spiritual practices are second nature because we are afraid of how an institution may influence our thinking, feeling or beliefs. But that means that we experience God and Christ in isolation, which I don’t believe is the truest expression of the love, healing, and gifts that the Divine has to offer. We as a faith community must always act in ways that not only promote but exemplify the love of our Holy Parent to all so that they may experience this spiritual connection most fully.
I am honoured to be a part of the priesthood now, when I am ready to do the work that God is asking of me. To love my church, but also to challenge it. To be ultimately concerned with relationships in all of my work, and be careful in both my words and actions. To see the good and bad in everything, and recognise the value in both.
This is my time. This is my calling. Here I am, Lord.
I've been a member of Community of Christ (formerly Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) all my life, but yesterday was a first for me. Before yesterday, I'd never attended an ordination service for a young adult, and it wasn't until I was in the midst of live-streaming it and leading the congregational support portion of the service that I realized it was happening.
There's something deeply moving about anyone accepting a call...whatever that call may be. It could be deciding to move closer to home to help an ill parent or loved one. It could be the fulfillment of a dream that you've worked so hard to achieve. It could be a lot of things, and in this single case...it is a lot of things. Accepting a call to the priesthood is like asking for daily - perhaps even hourly - disturbances to your everyday life rhythm as a true servant to others. It isn't a status that suddenly denotes respect, and it certainly isn't going to get you a raise.
Watching someone in their twenties accept a call was moving, because it is probably one of the most selfless things a person can do..and let's face it, when we're in our twenties...we aren't always terribly selfless, am I right? The community came together to celebrate this call as well with lots of cake, singing, laughter, tears, and testimonies of support for this call. Family members drove in, secular friends made a point to attend, and the congregation smiled. This call has been a long time coming - we heard that several times from several different people. I'm very grateful that Caitlin said 'yes' when she was ready. She is going to be an incredible priest.
Caitlin saying 'yes' will be one of those moments in my "Community of Christ life" that I'll likely never forget.
If you missed the service, I've uploaded the live broadcast to YouTube and included it below.
To commemorate Father’s Day, the Calgary congregation held its services last Sunday among the trees at Bow Habitat Station. If the change in venue wasn’t enough to clue you in, this obviously wasn’t going to be your traditional worship service! We met on a beautiful morning at the park adjacent to the Bow Habitat Station and immediately staked out some perfect picnic tables and began setting up our potluck lunch that we’d be enjoying later. We had so much wonderful food (which makes sense with all the great cooks we have!), and the location was a beautiful wetland covered with trees, marshes, and a pond. The smell of sunscreen and bug spray mingled with the smell of damp bark, plush grass, and the delicious smell of bar-b-que.
As if the location weren’t enough fun, Caitlin d’Esterre took it a bit further, having planned out the day with our Generation Now families in mind. With 21 in attendance, we enjoyed fishing lessons and fishing, nature walks, plenty of running around, great discussion, and a tasty potluck. Lots of fun memories were made, and the weather could not have been better. (After several days of constant rain, I think we were all excited to have warm sun!)
As a denomination, we believe that community is truly a blessing…so it is important that we foster meaningful relationships with all of our members and friends – young and old. We recognize that sometimes, a fun weekend event/activity can be easier for our younger families to make it out to, but I can assure you that the meaningful relationships formed at these off-site events are just as critical as the ones formed at our Sunday morning legacy activities.
Generation Now continues to be a wonderful form of mission and ministry for the Calgary congregation. To learn more about this program, click here.
Calgary Spark is a collection of stories told by members and friends of the church alike. Each person's story is helping to shape our community in new ways.