There are some truths in life that are indisputable and eternal. In early April while under COVID isolation Karen and I on our daily walk were a witness to one such truth, the truth of water and little boys. As we descended into Fish Creek park on the path there were rivulets of water running down the edge of the path from the slow melt of the snow on the hillsides either side of the path. We approached a family, a mother watching her two boys, a toddler of 2 to 3 years and her husband, in his thirties. Both of the boys were on their hands and knees scooping snow and creating little dams to divert and capture the water streaming down. I remarked to the mother “water and little boys, they are inseparable”. She laughed and replied “especially these two”. The husband turned from his work and remarked “my son is my excuse to play”. It was to Karen and myself a remarkable, beautiful scene of love and peace shared by this family. Simple pleasures in life can reveal the divine moving through and about us. The divine is not nearly as distant as we think.
Jesus Promises the Holy Spirit, John 14:15-21
15 “If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be[a] in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. 21 Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”
A recurring theme in the ministry of the man from Galilee was his efforts to convince his followers and the citizens of Israel that God is not a distant hazy impenetrable object but rather this was a god who desired a relationship with each of his creation. The scripture just read is confirmation of this. Most notably Jesus addressed God as ABBA, father, as he hung on his cross.
This scripture from John is among 3 ½ chapters comprising of 136 versus to recording the commentary of Jesus at the last supper. Most of the commentary in John is not found in the other gospels who devote 9 to 24 versus for the last supper. Why did Matthew, Mark and Luke not include all the additional teachings found in John? I think this discrepancy is due to when the Gospel of John was written.
The Johannine community was the last to write about Jesus’ ministry some 100+ years after his death and 30 years after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman Empire. They have had time to reflect on remembered words and phrases from Jesus’ witnesses recorded in the Gospels as Jesus sayings. They have seen the movement go from just another Jewish sect in Israel to one including Gentiles spread across the Roman Empire under the missionary work of Paul. The Jesus movement expected Jesus’ imminent second coming but after 100 years there are no living witnesses of Jesus, and one senses they are resigning themselves that the second coming will be an event for the future. The Jesus believers are facing an uncertain future, they have been shunned and isolated from their birth faith, Judaism, and they are beginning to feel persecution from the Roman and Greek communities. In some respects, we in the COVID dance can relate to the early believers with isolation, social distancing, economic challenges and a new reality. Many in our community are trying to grips what is in store for them in the coming months. And yes, the speculation about Christ’s second coming is starting to surface among some fundamental and bible literalist groups as has happened numerous times since a Jewish rabbi of the poor and dispossessed hung on a cross outside the walls of Jerusalem.
What does the Johannine Community offer to us today, some two thousand years later? The strength they drew on was the common focus on the teachings of Jesus and the application of those teachings in the day to day life. ” If you love me, keep my commands.”, which can be summed up in the slogan of “Love all, serve all”. Give yourselves time to daily centre your thoughts on the divine and reception of the divine into your heart, mind and soul. Actively look to see the divine in and around you, it can be the emergence of green from the winter grass, seeing the flocks of waxwings moving from tree to tree, seeing a newborn looking at their new world, hearing a voice not heard before, hearing a melody again like the first time you heard it, finding the new in the old, receiving an insight from unexpected sources. Be open and childlike to the world around you. Reach out via the phone, text or email to old acquaintances and new friends. Speak without assumption or presumption, hear. “I will not leave you as orphans…you will realize… I am in you.”
The divine, God, is as the young father on the side on the hill with his son playing with the water moving downhill, looking to be with you and in you as a source of peace. This happens when the heart is open to the divine. It is my hope that as members of our small community of believers in the sacred and the divine we can reflect to the larger community around us that peace and hope so desperately sought by many in this COVID world.
May the streams of the Spirit flow to you and through you.
The introduction of the new term “COVID-19” seemed to first enter into our vocabulary nearly four months ago and yet the full weight of the virus didn’t really sink in until late February for those of us in Canada. Until then it was simply a medical term that did little to disrupt our day-to-day lives here in North America. It wasn’t until mid-March that I even began to recognize the severity of the situation. I was in Canmore with a friend after a snowshoeing trek in the mountains (prior to the parks closing) at a restaurant enjoying a meal before heading back to Calgary. Our phones buzzed incessantly with news headlines trickling in about cases spreading quickly across Canada and the United States. You could hear coronavirus all throughout the restaurant. It was suddenly on all our minds. My friend nervously said, “Well, this might be our last meal out for awhile.” I admittedly laughed a little…thinking my lifestyle surely wouldn’t be impacted and that her anxiety must have gotten the best of her. I told her to eat her chicken and that we’d be alright.
That was a month ago today. My life has certainly been impacted – just like every other person on the planet in some form or fashion. Interestingly, it feels as if the world has been turned on its head. Where I once felt I was working too much and seeing my husband too little…I am now with him constantly as we attempt to stay on top of our respective work projects in close quarters from home. We’re trying new recipes, going for walks, doing at-home YouTube workouts, enjoying lunch breaks together, participating in church services online, and playing cards in the evenings. We’ve even connected with friends online to play some virtual games each week. We’ve rearranged our home to meet our new needs, we’ve adjusted our budget to reflect the realities of life during a global pandemic, we have frequent calls with our families, and we’ve put pen to paper to ensure we are prepared for the worst when it comes to our finances.
There are most certainly negatives here. I won’t shy away from mentioning that to you. We are not operating with a full deck at the moment. We take daily naps now as a way to protect our mental health – something we rarely used to do. (We are only in our early 30s, but the mental, emotional, and psychological toll this pandemic has taken is real. We’ve found a daily nap can help us stay grounded and less likely to spiral.) We talk about now a lot. There are no more vacations to dream up or plan. We are confined to the present that this new reality has demanded. It’s a new way of thinking I hope I don’t lose if/when things return to normal someday. In the beginning, my body ached for what I couldn’t have. Meals out, travel (we’ve now cancelled 3 trips to date), national and provincial parks, human connection, and less screen time. It felt unfair that I had to stay glued to a screen just to feel like I wasn’t alone. But then something happened and somewhere along the way I woke up and fell into a rhythm. I established new habits. No longer do I think, “Ramen sounds good! I know the perfect place.” Instead, I will have a craving and then figure out how to make it. I am capable of doing it on my own. It’s a new habit I hope I can hold onto. My husband and I check-in with one another frequently concerning our mental health. It’s something I hope never dies out in our relationship.
COVID-19 has been a lesson in patience, resilience, and perceived scarcity. We’ve all entertained our worst fears over the last month, and perhaps that is what we needed to help refocus our attention to what really matters, what we’re capable of, the importance of community, and just how resilient we are.
Like I said, it’s as if the world has been turned onto its head. We take life as it comes, and we learn as we go. I think about the desert fathers and Benedictine monks who chose isolation as a form of martyrdom in an attempt to remain focused on what matters most. With their minds freed from societal pressures, distractions, and excess, they were/are able to have clarity when studying scripture, pondering, and writing. I can assure you that the last thing I have now is clarity – my mind is clouded with concerns (both my own and those I care about). But I now have the gift of time – something I arguably didn’t have a lot of before COVID-19. With time comes opportunities for reflection – cloudy or not – and I’ll take what I can get.
As crazy as our beautiful world has become due to COVID-19, there are certainly changes that don’t all sound like bad things to me. I’ll do my best to hold on to each one of them.
Ambiguity is harmful. Clarity is reasonable.
That is the slogan for Church Clarity, a “crowd-sourced database of local congregations [scored] based on how clearly they communicate their actively enforced policies.”
You might be thinking, “Scoring churches?! That sounds odd!” But as a marketing professional, believe me – it's already been happening on platforms like Facebook, Yelp, Google, and more with little to no interaction between the congregation and those who score it publicly. Unlike these social platforms, Church Clarity has standardized the criteria by which any congregation can be scored. In other words, it’s considerably more balanced and ensures a fair assessment of the congregation.
Church Clarity primarily focuses on measuring a congregation’s* official gender and Queer/LGBTQIA2S+ inclusion positions.
*Notice I am using the term congregation as opposed to denomination. Church Clarity does not score denominationally. Instead, they focus on local expressions of the church at the congregational level in order to see how policies are carried out in the real world.
The mission of Church Clarity is “to increase the standard of clarity throughout the Church Industry.” One point of clarification: the organization explicitly states that it is not “advocating for policy changes; [they] are standardizing church policy disclosure, whatever the policy or type of church in question. People deserve to know the truth.” The purpose of such a database ensures questions such as these are answered:
Without clarity, “answers to these questions often remain elusive,” says a statement on Church Clarity’s website. “Ambiguity enables those with power to operate without accountability and cause real harm. Many people invest years of their lives into a church community, only to later discover the truth about the church’s policies, and end up feeling betrayed, deceived and ‘bait-and-switched.’”
When I stumbled upon Church Clarity’s website about a year ago, I was immediately a fan of the standardized method they utilize. It isn’t about changing policies; rather, it is about naming those policies here and now and being transparent. From least clear to most clear, here are Church Clarity’s definitions for LGBTQ Policies:
From least clear to most clear, here are Church Clarity’s definitions for Women in Leadership Policies:
To read more about these definitions, click here.
The Calgary Congregation was recently rated as "Verified Clear" for our LGBTQ & Women in Leadership Policies. This means we are not only fully affirming & egalitarian, but also completely transparent about our stances.
As our denomination has chosen to address the issue of same-sex marriage and Queer/LGBTQIA2S+ ordination on a country by country basis, it is important that congregations in those areas that have voted to become affirming (Australia, British Isles, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, USA) be clear and intentional with their messaging to ensure they are fairly representing themselves to the public. We will never know the trauma, pain, or frustration someone may have experienced at another church before entering our doors. The last thing we should do is be ambiguous about our official positions. It causes confusion and can be triggering for many (both within our community as well as potential visitors).
Let’s work together to improve our clarity and authenticity online. To learn more about the process, feel free to contact Parker Johnson. View the Calgary Congregation's profile on Church Clarity's website here.
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.
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.