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.
Matthew 13: 1-9 (NRSV)
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!”
After watching a video (below) about the similarities in gardening and one’s life, the scripture above resonated with us all. In order to have a holistic life you need to tend to the many needs in one’s life. The same as when you plant a garden. Our soil needs to be open to awakening the life within the seed. We are the soil that needs to be open and receptive to new life in our midst.
Like with a harvest, you have to till the soil. You have to cultivate the soil. You have to turn it over, you have to grab the dirt clobs and break them apart. You have to remove root systems and old weeds that threaten to choke out life. You have to be willing to disrupt the soil so that new life might emerge. This is the same in congregational life. We have to be willing to disrupt the soil. Encounters with God and the Holy Spirit can cause disruption. It can be uncomfortable. It can be chaotic, but it can also be transforming.
Learning about the different seeds that you have to plant and what complexities each one has is such a vital part of growth. Where can we plant it so that it might thrive most fully? In this act we abandon the mentality that one size fits all. Are we paying attention to both soil and seed? We must relinquish control and trust. That in the darkness life is forming. Are we willing to wait and trust in what is unseen?
When we tend to our soil it can be a hard and daily task to ensure that life is becoming. This is a practice that never ends, day in and day out to constantly ensure life is thriving. Are we paying attention to what is still needed for growth and are we willing to put in the effort to sustain what is coming alive in front of us?
When it comes time to harvest, we then get to enjoy that life. That life we have planted and tended to. It is a time to celebrate, a time to rejoice. In the end, our final step is rest. Rest is when we renew the soil. We let the nutrients back so that life may be sustained again. We need Sabbath in our spiritual lives. That time with God allows us to feel refreshed.
In each of our lives we have found that we become robotic to our daily tasks, we fall into the wash, rinse, and repeat cycle. But coming to Hills of Peace is the rest we look for, that feeling of being whole as an individual and as a community. We renew those past relationships so that we can thrive in our communities at home.
We have laughed, cried, and found strength in each other. We know that we have learnt more about each other and ourselves, and in the end we carry this part of the mission statement with us: “God, Grant us the courage to risk somethings new.”
Not long ago, my daughter and I were discussing the power of words. We are both avid readers and had just finished novels, so we were excited to share with each other our thoughts on the books that had kept us up over the past few weeks. We both agreed that we appreciate adjectives/adverbs that are more robust as they strengthen our understanding of character, scene and plot action. The differences in word choices added to our enjoyment and our positive experiences were shaped through powerful words.
Something that helps me enjoy my life as a Community of Christ member, is the powerful wording of our Enduring Principles and the statements that help to explain what each principle means. The Enduring Principles are such a treasure for Community of Christ members as they “define the essence, heart and soul of our faith community”. They are filled with robust language that is sure to help strengthen your understanding of who you can be in world and how you can walk with God. Check out the Enduring Principles in their entirety at www.cofchrist.org/enduring-principles.
I was excited to share one of the nine enduring principles: The Worth of All Persons at the Winter Youth Retreat “Love Your #Selfie”. We looked specifically at 2 statements associated with this: God views all people as having inestimable worth and God wants all people to experience wholeness of mind, body, spirit and relationships. We completed some mindfulness activities courtesy of The Honest Guys on YouTube, discussed “What Wolf Will You Feed” and looked at how to connect with those who have our “backs” and those who have our “hearts” with 20 second hugs and with 4 minutes of eye contact. We also enjoyed Hawk Nelson’s song “Live Like You’re Loved”. The weekend was a super fun experience grounded in the very powerful messages of worth and wholeness that are so important to Community of Christ.
As the snow finally melts, and we move into the final part of the school year, I urge our Youth to be present, to whisper those positive and empowering messages to yourself and to strengthen the connections with those who have your heart. And don’t forget to register for summer fun - Youth Camp at Hills of Peace and SPEC will be here before you know it!
Full list of videos discussed in this blog:
Introduction to Mindfulness:
What Wolf Will You Feed Cartoon:
The Honest Guys Guided Meditation
4 Minutes of Eye Contact:
20 Second Hug:
Growing up and trying to find out who you are is a serious living nightmare. As a moody teenager, my only refuge from society’s pressures, minimum wage part-time jobs, and boring homework was Camp Spectacular. Every single year it was all I talked about. My countdown began about ten months in advance and my non-camp friends would get tired of me describing how amazing it was over and over (and over and over) again. If only there were an escape I didn’t have to wait as long for, I wouldn’t have been so annoyingly sad about the far away Spec dates. Low and behold Winter Retreat!
I never participated as a camper because I didn't think it would give me the same feeling as other camps did, but as a counselor this year I can say that I was very, very wrong to think that. Three nights doesn't seem like very long, but spending it with camp family makes every moment feel like forever and that it's going by too fast all at the same time. It's funny how when we get back together, it feels that no time has passed at all. It's almost like the "real" world we experience back home isn't real at all; that it's just a place to pass moments until we are reunited with camp again – the actual real world where our hearts and spirits are fully alive.
This year brought all 24 kids and 7 staff together with the theme Love Your #Selfie – a modern take on the importance of loving yourself, breaking societal molds, and every wonderful thing your unique self brings to the universe. Through exploring ideas from multiple religions and cultures, dance parties, deep small group conversations, and even calling the staff out on our own vain selfies, campers got to lift themselves up with positivity and love.
Inspired by Edmonton YouTube star Stephen Robinson of 52Skillz, we even got to combine all our awesome and unique abilities into building a Rube Goldberg Machine –described on Google as: "… a contraption, invention, device, or apparatus that is deliberately over-engineered to perform a simple task in a complicated fashion, generally including a chain reaction." After many hours of hard work, multiple tries to connect all the parts, and tons of cardboard and tape later; we finally got our Rube Goldberg machine to make toast. TOAST! How cool is that!? The success of our machine proved the 52Skillz motivation that anyone really can learn anything, and we are all capable of greatness. As our camp theme song (Live Like You're Loved by Hawk Nelson) put it:
His love has made you more than enough
So go ahead and be who He made you to be
And live like you're loved!
Jamie Varvaro, SPEC Director
Leader – noun; one that leads or guides. Leadership – noun; the capacity or ability to lead. Our world today calls for leaders—good leaders with strength of character and integrity. For almost 50 years SPECTACULAR has guided youth, developing their leadership potential and encouraging them as they are called to serve with character and integrity.
The mission of SPECTACULAR is to create a safe, Christ-centered community that encourages young women and men to discover God, their inherent worth, and cultivate and express their giftedness. SPECTACULAR has grown from that first relatively small gathering in the late 1960s on The Campus in Independence, Missouri to over 1,200 campers and leaders at Graceland University in Lamoni, Iowa, every summer. It is the largest annual gathering of youth in the Community of Christ. SPECTACULAR affords opportunities for campers to develop skills of leadership and discipleship, and ways to express themselves artistically, musically, and athletically.
A star high school athlete and friend of the church expressed that before attending SPECTACULAR she had never played on a team or been involved in a tournament where you felt good about yourself and truly enjoyed the competition of the game regardless of whether you won or lost. She also said that even though she did not belong to this church, she felt at home and was comfortable with the ideals and principles shared.
Through gathering informal demographic information, it is estimated that nearly forty percent of campers are friends of the Community of Christ. Many delegation and program staff are also friends of the church. SPEC strives to follow its mission to create a safe, Christ-centered community where exploration of many ideas are encouraged to happen and in that, campers are comfortable inviting their friends to join them in this week of learning, fellowship and fun.
The theme for this year’s SPECTACULAR, July 23-30, is “Connect.” It offers a challenge to SPECTACULAR participants to explore ways within ourselves to better connect with each other and the world around us; keeping in mind that in doing so, we better connect with God. “…God is revealing divine nature through sacred communities of love, oneness and equality…” (2013 Words of Counsel).
Leadership (SPEC TODAY) classes at SPECTACULAR will provide an overview and exploration of our theme. Discipleship, music, and art classes will allow for in-depth exploration of specific sub-topics. For example, there might be a leadership session exploring the idea of authenticity. More in-depth exploration might occur through classes regarding meditation, scripture study, personal spirituality, individual arts, or music.
“Connect” will be a prominent part of every aspect of SPECTACULAR: the volleyball courts, the Extravaganza stage production, soccer fields, delegation devotions, afternoon activities on the Quad, individual and group discussions, as well as personal meditation and community worship. The athletic tournaments uphold the following statement, “Willful Christian interaction is the norm for all facets of SPECTACULAR. The sports program will function with that objective as the guiding principle for the actions of all participants, officials, coaches, and spectators. While we may not always agree with one another we will always appreciate and honor each other.”
We know lives are challenged and changed by this unique week, whether the change is apparent immediately or twenty years from now, we know SPEC is influencing thousands and thousands of lives. Through the diversity of individuals and cultures from across North America, SPECTACULAR finds the common denominator of connection through Jesus Christ. Youth finishing 9th through 12th grades are invited to enjoy SPECTACULAR as part of a delegation. SPECTACULAR 2016 is July 23-30.
More information and registration forms are available through your delegation or at www.CofChrist.org/spec or e-mail email@example.com. You can join us on Facebook too! www.facebook.com/SPEC.CofChrist/
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.