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.
On Tuesday, March 20, 2018, the congregation hosted a special farewell dinner for Bev & Jack Cargill, longtime members of the Calgary congregation. More than 25 people came to celebrate the contributions, memories, and legacy that these two special people have left behind. The Calgary congregation has been imprinted by the warmth, love, and ministry provided by Bev & Jack.
We wish them well on their next journey, and look forward to future visits.
We will be sure to update the congregational directory with their new contact information as soon as possible.
Enjoy the following photos from the celebration.
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.
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.