One of our mission initiatives is to Abolish Poverty and End Suffering. Community of Christ members and friends in Calgary embraced this initiative with a project that was fun and practical.
Few of us can imagine what it would be like to not have a home to go to, especially in our cold Alberta winters. Unfortunately, for many people, that is their reality. Home is where ever they can find a place to lay their heads. And, since they do not have a real home, these folks must carry all of their belongings with them. December’s Generation Now! activity was designed to respond to some of these needs and to help make the Christmas season a little happier for our less-fortunate neighbours. We also wanted to raise awareness among the children. We did this by making Christmas stockings for clients of Calgary’s Drop-In Centre for the homeless. At the Drop-In Centre, they have a goal of having a stuffed Christmas stocking for every person who spends the night of December 24 with them.
For several weeks, members and friends of our congregation were invited to contribute socks, underwear, hats, mitts, scarves, toiletries, coffee cards, candy and toiletries. The response was overwhelming! We filled our limited storage space at Lions Village and I resorted to storing several bags of donations in the back of my car! Such a happy problem to have.
On December 10 we did an inventory of our treasures and made a short list of things we still needed. First thing on the list…real “Christmas Stockings” (the fancy felt kind with candy canes, etc. on them).
Then on December 17, while the adults of the congregation met for our usual 10:00 a.m. Coffee & Conversation time, the kids, accompanied by their parents, went shopping at a nearby Dollarama. They came back with Christmas Stockings, tooth brushes, deodorant, mitts, candy canes and a bunch of other great stuff. During the 11:00 service, the children created lovely Christmas cards to put in each of the socks. At noon, following our regular worship service, we got to work stuffing the stockings. What fun! Oh, and we didn’t forget the food. Thanks to Christal Reed, a pizza delivery guy “magically” appeared just as church was over.
By the time we were finished and the mess cleared up, we had 36 stuffed Christmas stockings as well as bags of extra socks, underwear, a couple of winter jackets, and lots and lots of toiletries for the Drop-In Centre staff to distribute as needed.
Thank you to everyone who helped by donating items as well as sorting and packing. Thanks to you and your generosity, I know that several people had a reason to smile on Christmas morning.
When I set out to attend a church service on a Sunday in August of 2013, I was seeking a supportive community that feels more like an extended family than an institution with a set of common beliefs about how to interpret scripture. I was seeking a church community, who like me, believed that the best interpretations of the Bible were those that brought people together, rather than divided them. I felt strongly that my God was less concerned about the beliefs people held in their heads, and more concerned about the love we held in our hearts. I’ve been to quite a number of churches of several denominations and in various regions of Canada over the years. However, the genuine warmth and openness that my daughter and I experienced from people in the Community of Christ over the following months was truly unique.
The September of 2014, I began organizing and facilitating our Sunday School classes with a small group of fairly regular kids who were all around the same age. Sunday School was not just one hour a week to learn some useful life lessons; it was a time of kindling friendships and special memories. We adults stood back and watched with smiles on our faces at how quickly and easily they found a friend in one another. I remember thinking that these were the kind of authentic, supportive friendships that I had envisioned for my daughter when I set out to find a church that August morning in 2013.
Our community really does have the energy of an extended family. My daughter will occasionally comment on the drive home from church that this person feels like a grampa, or that person feels like her sister. However, young families seem to find it more difficult to attend regularly than older folks. Young families tend to be very scheduled these days, including Sundays. Furthermore, Sundays can become a necessary “day of rest” to rejuvenate for another very scheduled week. Therefore, church attendance of our young families is inconsistent, making it challenging to develop and facilitate a coherent Sunday School program.
Enter stage left - Generation Now! This innovative extension of summer camp is an opportunity for not just our youth to foster and maintain healthy, supportive relationships, but also their friends – anyone who wishes to participate may join these events because the Community of Christ is about bringing people together. On October 28, our youth, children, and some adults came together for swimming, conversation, and communing over pizza, veggies and hot chocolate at the Village Square Leisure Centre. The kids had a blast in the wave pool and on the slides – in fact they were having so much fun that they lingered in the pool for an extra half hour before coming for dinner. As they entered the room we had rented for our light pizza dinner, I noticed the kids’ healthy glow from their rigorous exercise, as well as their calm smiles that come from spending time with peers who know the love of a community who supports and accepts one another unconditionally. Healthy appetites by all ensured that every last morsel of food was gone that afternoon! Although Generation Now was formed to bring the youth of our church and their friends together, on this event like most others, the adults also enjoyed coming together for conversation and communion.
In the coming months, there are many other exciting events planned for our youth to foster friendships and memories. Alex, Chelsea, and I are looking forward to spending time with our friends…no…our extended family.
Sharing in the blessings of community is always important, but it is especially important during the Christmas season. Surrounding ourselves with tasty foods and good company as a way in which to experience Christ’s loving embrace is a beautiful opportunity to gain perspective.
This year, the congregation continued its 2016 Christmas tradition by hosting its second annual community dinner in partnership with the local Lions Village residence. As many of you know, following the sale of our beloved Ranchlands facility in 2016, the Lions took us in in the form of a warm, welcoming lease space until we are able to secure our future permanent home. Thus began our 2016 Community Dinner as a show of our appreciation. We wanted to meet our new neighbours, and what better time to do it than during the Christmas season?
This year, we hosted a whopping 80 people (nearly maxing out the capacity of the space we were gathered in!), with roughly 35 attending from our congregation and the remaining 45 were residents of Lions Village. We enjoyed wonderful food prepared by the Lions, a Christmas tone chime choir performance made up of members and residents, and a Christmas carol sing-a-long after dinner...all while sharing in the blessings of community. Stories were shared, discussions on our church were frequent, and invitations were extended to residents who might enjoy our weekly worship services. On average, we typically have anywhere from 3-5 residents in attendance at our Sunday morning services…a wonderful testament to the power of invitation.
We also had a special visit from Santa and his elves who handed out candy (and even bags of coal!) to folks in the audience. People of all ages loved this experience.
We look forward to continuing this tradition in the future.
Wishing you all peace and joy in the coming year.
This blog originally appeared on Exponent II. Click here to view the original post.
“Those in favour, please show by a raise of hands.”
Counting, recounting, recording.
“Those opposed, please show by a raise of hands.”
Counting, recounting, recording.
“The yeses take it.”
I breathed a sigh of relief–not because my preference was passed but because despite the strong words shared on both sides of the issue being voted on, everyone seemed to be okay. No one stormed out. No one was called unfaithful. The vote was noted, we closed the meeting, put the chairs away and gave one another hugs over doughnuts and over-cooled coffee.
After years of raising my hand to sustain new callings, church officers and to show a vote of thanks, I’ll admit that my first experience voting in a church business meeting was exciting and unnerving. To this point in my religious life, voting in church had largely been a point of formality. The bishop, stake president or general authority read a name and we sustained them. I never saw a contrary vote in my 30 years of attending LDS meetings. I know they exist but they’re certainly rare.
But right here, right now, voting carried some weight. I was putting my own opinions and judgement out in the open. As a member of less than a year, my vote mattered as much as everyone else’s—old, young, convert and lifetime member. And I’ll admit that the thought of conflict seemed suddenly scary. I didn’t want anyone to be hurt and I didn’t want to be wrong.
It was watching this process one year ago that fueled my excitement about being part of a church again. I realized that I didn’t just want to attend, I wanted to have a bit of skin in the game. As I watched my fellow congregants raise their hands for or against motions regarding everything from the election of a pastor to the adoption of a budget, it was exciting and a bit overwhelming to realize that no one person had all the answers. No pastor, no bishop, not even a prophet, could do this alone. Revelation and the inspiration that prompted it was a communal act. Every member was entitled and empowered to a part in it. And I wanted to part of that.
I try to be careful to not draw too many comparisons between my experiences growing up in the LDS faith and my experiences now in Community of Christ. Both continue to teach me to draw deep from the well of faith, to aim for goodness and to practice mercy. But as I raised my hand and voice on a touchy and controversial matter, I wish I could have told my budding Mormon feminist self that there would come a day in my life when conflict and difference of opinion at church would be a sign of involvement rather than disobedience or hardheartedness. God has granted all of us a measure of the Spirit with hands and heart for building Zion. We are best served when we recognize the unique contributions, experiences and opinions of one another and not only dare to do right, but also dare to be vulnerable, mistaken, passionate and even gloriously wrong. We’ll be okay. And then we’ll end with hugs, doughnuts and over-cooled coffee.
It's been roughly one year since our congregation put forth its first communications strategy, and what a year of firsts it's been!
In collaboration with the newly formed Communications Team (made up of 60% millennials), we charged ahead by first examining our pre-existing web presence. We evaluated what other churches of comparable size were doing and surveyed our own congregation to find out what meant the most to them. The survey results were incredibly helpful and were immediately implemented on our website and social media channels.
In one year, we launched and maintained the following:
One of the most rewarding things about web-based marketing is that we are able to see accurate, reliable insights in real-time. Every click of a mouse, every visit to our website, every 'like' or 'retweet' on social media...all of it is logged and recorded for us. This information is invaluable to our community. But more important than simply reading this data or sharing it is that we act upon it. Continuous check-ins with these metrics begs the questions: What is working? What isn't working? How can we improve? Who is our target audience? How does our target audience prefer to be communicated with?
We are forming new expressions of ministry based on data-driven decisions...and it's working. Community of Christ International Headquarters, located in Independence, Missouri, USA, recently recognized us as being a 'best practices' congregation in the area of communications.
See for yourself in our Calgary Communications Report below. Enjoy!
Special thanks to the Calgary Communications Team for all your hard work and dedication!
I was planning to run a small daytime group in the congregation like I did last year, but I really thought that we needed a change and to start taking a risk and invite others to join us.
The question I had to ask myself was “who/what is within the sphere of influence for ministry and community building fellowship?”
We rent a room every Sunday for our worship in the Lions Village complex in Calgary. The seniors are independent and living in their own apartments. In the past we have sponsored a Christmas meal and Stampede Breakfast for them, but nothing on a regular basis.
Instead of starting a group for our own Community of Christ seniors once a week like we did last year, I decided to discuss with some of the residents from the apartment complex who regularly attend our services if they wanted to join in with us. I asked if they wanted to form a joint committee to start up a weekly gathering in their complex with Community of Christ as the host/sponsor.
The two non-member residents and the apartment complex leaders/administration, at my invitation, met with me last week to discuss their interest. The two ladies (friends of the church who have been attending our services) told their apartment management in this meeting about their positive experience with "the Community of Christ people."
I really did not feel I needed to explain much about us as they did it so well for me. I did tell of our mission statement and habit of reaching out as servants in community everywhere we are located.
During the meeting I could feel the excitement and Holy Spirit as we talked. The building manager wrote up a flyer for us and slipped one under each apartment door last week to advertise our first meeting tomorrow. The Village leaders are making the coffee. I am even being given a key to open the outside door (a big trust they have in me).
This Sunday, one of the residents came to our church services after a meeting with the residence social club last week. The folder she handed me with great excitement contained a page of suggestions that someone had slipped under her door as to what topics/activities they wanted to discuss...one suggestion was “spirituality”.
Some of them suggested they could help lead sessions. One lady said she could lead a meeting on “How to tell your story” as a memoir for their family.
I am not doing this alone, I have a joint committee formed with both groups represented. The individuals will decide in the group the degree of leadership they want and the level of participation they wish to have.
Sometimes sharing helps each of us to see how ideas and efforts made can make such a difference as we reach out in community.
Today we’ve gathered around a table in a humanistic tradition that spans millennia and crosses cultural lines: eating together. This simple, yet underrated act is an endangered custom in 2017, and yet, The Atlantic refers to communal dining as “the quintessential human experience.” I wanted to dive into that a little this morning.
As a child, I remember my mom or dad yelling, “dinner’s ready!” from the kitchen, and, recognizing that dinnertime was important, I would immediately spring into action. Arguably, dinnertime was one of the most important moments of the day. It was a time when we, as a family, debriefed our varied life experiences that day. Someone would bless the food by giving thanks for all that we had, including the meal, and then my parents would typically initiate conversation with my brother and me by asking questions like: How was your day? What was something positive that happened to you today? What’s the rest of your week look like? How are your exams going? Gradually, we modeled their questions, allowing us to engage with adults in meaningful ways. The table seemed to give permission to connect in some ways.
Yes, I lived with these people every day, but did I have many opportunities to pause with my family members and ask them questions about their lives? No. Sitting side-by-side, my brother and I were forced to work together to pass dishes and simultaneously felt drawn to look our parents in the eye...sitting just across from us on the other side of the table. There were traditions, too:
Dinnertime in the Johnson home set the stage for an appreciation for sharing with others on a deeper level. Today’s meal was an opportunity to connect with others on a deeper level.
Before any of us even arrived today, we were busy preparing a dish that would represent ourselves to the larger group. This morning, each of us has hand-picked items to bring with us with the intent to tell a story...you might have used family recipes reaching back generations in an attempt to share memories with the group or maybe you brought a new favourite dish to make new memories. Regardless, we are sharing of ourselves. We’ve carefully prepared food to fit the purpose - Thanksgiving -, and we’ve all brought these dishes to this specific table to feed these specific people. You might have even coordinated with others to ensure your dish helped to create a more balanced meal or checked in with others to see if they had any food allergies. If the holiday, venue, or list of attendees changed, our dishes would have changed in-kind. Cooking for others is a personalized ministry.
Each of you have provided a sermon this morning to this community, only instead of sharing individually through spoken word, we’ve created something special with everyone’s edible contributions.
You’ve followed all of the same steps as sermon writing:
While bringing a dish to a potluck might seem simple, I’d argue it’s far more complex than any sermon. You’ve carefully made countless decisions relating to the preparation, execution, and even presentation of a dish that will be eaten by friends and loved ones. When we eat a meal prepared specifically for us by someone else, we are taking into our bodies a sermon of nutrition, sacrifice, tradition, and care. I can taste, smell, and savour your sermon when it is in food form, and for many people (myself included) I associate smells and food with memories.
When we sit together at a table like this one, it truly is sacred. Sacred because though each of us express ourselves through food differently - selfless sharing is abundant. For some of us, we have a sweet tooth, others enjoy simple, no-fuss recipes, and still others enjoy the spiritual practice of highly-detailed concoctions. Whatever we choose to bring, we are still sharing.
The table makes us human by reminding us of our primal connectedness. We each ache for community, we crave good food, and we seek spiritual encounters. As we leave this table today, how can we continue to promote communities of joy, hope, love, and peace? I challenge each of us (myself included) to think about the amount of preparation that went into today’s meal and apply it to other forms of ministry and outreach as well. Like we experienced today, are we allowing time to reflect on what individual needs a person might have? Are we being intentional with our actions and words when encountering others? Do we collaborate with others in our community to ensure a more balanced approach? Are we being astute to the needs of others? As we heard in the video...What the world needs now...is love. How will we respond?
May we each fill tables with friends, family, and strangers alike in all aspects of our lives as we learn to become better stewards of community through love.
It seems that there is an epidemic of “busyness” in our society and our family is no exception. My husband Ron and I both work outside of the home and are gone from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday. Our girls are busy with dance, music lessons, taekwondo, and other extracurricular activities which keep our weekday evenings booked up. Add weekend hockey practices and games as well as my ongoing work on my graduate degree into the mix and our weekends are also pretty tightly scheduled. As you can imagine, when we have the opportunity to just sleep in and have a lazy morning at home together we try not to miss the opportunity! This is our crazy, busy, happy life and we wouldn’t trade it for anything. However, this frequently creates challenges in our ability to attend Sunday morning services, and we all miss the opportunity to be with others in our community in a way that nourishes spirituality within ourselves, our own little family, as well as with others.
We do always make time for camp during the summer and my girls both love everything about being out at Hills of Peace Campground and the friendships they have made there. However, camp is only one week a year and the months in between can be a long time to go without seeing their “camp community”. When our Pastor, Doug, shared his idea of Generation Now I was really excited about the prospect! This presented an opportunity for us to help our kids connect with the youth in our church community (as well as other friends) in a way that would still work with the rest of the priorities that our family juggles . . . AND it sounded super FUN!
I agreed to help organize the first event and immediately turned to my 9-year-old, Sophie, for ideas. She had recently been to a “horse party” for a friend’s birthday party and wondered if we could have a horse party for our Generation Now activity. I did a little research and found a local ranch that was more than happy to host a trail ride for a group of kids ages 8 and up, as well as pony rides for younger children.
On the day of the event we had a total of 20 youth and young adults who came out to participate as well as six parents who came along to chaperone/chauffeur. We had seen our first bit of snow for the season earlier in the week, but we were blessed on the day of our ride with a perfect autumn day. The sun was shining as the 11 older kids and four young adults headed off into the foothills for an hour long ride. The rest of the adults stayed back to visit and lead the five younger children on their ponies.
The giggles, teasing, and smiles were awesome to see as I watched the kids interact with each other not only at the ranch but also on the drive to and from. When I asked my twelve-year-old daughter, Abby, if she had a good time she gave me the typical elaborate tween response of “yep”. However, when I nagged her for more details, she finally confirmed what I suspected “the horse ride was fun but what I really liked was just getting to see everybody and hang out with my friends”.
Both of my kids are looking forward to the next event. Ron and I are also looking forward to joining them again as they get out and get active with this amazing group of kids that are part of our spiritual community!
One of my favourite things about Community of Christ is our connection as a worldwide community. This past Sunday, I had the opportunity to participate in Generation Now's* first monthly get together. Being from Ontario, I was nervous to come all the way out west only knowing a few people. My friends Caitlin and Parker invited me to the trail ride. I had never been on a horse before but I jumped on the opportunity to meet other members of the church and those within the Calgary community. Generation now focuses on developing friendships throughout the community and gives those friendships the opportunity to bloom into the church community. I am very grateful for the time that I was able to share with so many new friends through this program. I am excited to see how it evolves.
*For more information on Generation Now, click here.
Jordan Faith Cameron
Canada West Mission Conference was remarkably eye opening for me. As someone from another faith, coming into this gathering was a challenge, and even more so as the partner of the newly ordained priest, Dylan. However, it was a joy and a privilege to partake and be accepted. From the classes, the singalongs, and the youth activities, to simply sharing meals together, it was a touching weekend.
Particularly striking to me was the atmosphere. It wasn't truly a conference, but a retreat, filled with spirituality, music and laughter. I loved every song with Jan, in and out of her classes, and continue to find myself singing prouder since her teaching techniques and encouragement. Her concert with Edith Wallace (www.edithwallacemusic.com) was magical as well, as was the outdoor show with Vancouver's own Seabillys (www.theseabillys.com)! The musical talent in that building was breathtaking.
My only regret for the weekend is that we couldn't have stayed longer. I'd like to genuinely thank everyone involved in the conference from the bottom of my heart, because I feel like we truly all drew that circle wider. Hope to be able to see you all next year.
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.