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.
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.
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.
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.
I experienced the feeling that many Community of Christ members describe upon arriving in a new congregation. Some describe it as a sense of belonging, or an instant family connection, or even as if they’d been there before. I like to describe it as the way the world should be. Roaming the world is hard enough alone, but knowing that you can walk through the doors of our church’s buildings in a foreign city/country and be immediately welcomed is invaluable. Before I knew it, I was enveloped by seemingly familiar people – laughing, talking, and sharing around food (my favourite). It was only the next day that I realized I never even knew their names…we just knew one another.
Has this ever happened to you in Community of Christ? In all my travels, I’ve never encountered another community like this one…and I, for one, am incredibly grateful to be a part of it.
This has happened to me in countries around the globe, in neighbouring cities, and in this case, a neighbouring province. I walked through the door and familiar iconography greeted me: the church sign out front sparked an immediate sense of calm, the smell was homey, and the faces oddly familiar.
Only my second Canada West Mission (CWM) Conference, I was blown away by the diversity of the congregational representatives (delegates) in attendance. We had members from Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia, as well as church leaders from Ontario and Independence, Missouri, USA. What stood out to me this year was the music…it was electrifying! The Vancouver congregation is known for its musical abilities, and now having visited personally, I can attest to this!
I spent a great deal of time with young adults from the area throughout the weekend – sharing meals together on-site, visiting the nearby Richmond Night Market, and singing and voting alongside them in the sanctuary during legislative sessions and services. As usual, I was impressed by their decorum, their interest in the process, and the energy and gifts they bring to this diverse community.
Jan Kraybill was our guest minister and she shared her wonderful musical skill with us throughout the weekend and during a one-day workshop on how to incorporate music into worship.
I hope to see you at our next Canada West Mission Centre Conference in Regina, Saskatchewan!
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.”
Amy Isaksen Cartwright
Dear Amy (or Amy Lynne as some family will continue to call you for quite some time),
You made a big decision on the day that you chose to be baptized. You were excited and a little nervous. Your grandfather came and spoke of how his father journeyed from Denmark with your great-grandmother to join the saints out west. Your father performed the ordinance and the patriarchs of your family joined together to confirm you as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, all the while sharing stories of faith and sacrifice. On that day you joined your story with theirs.
I remember how you wanted to be so sure that you were wearing all white that you were anxious the gold metal on your hair ties was not acceptable before God. This seemingly insignificant yet scrupulous concern would become a theme throughout your youth and young adult life. You would often feel that there was some inescapable reason that you were not worthy, never good enough. At some points, that little nagging feeling, though you never could place it, would become overwhelming.
You will have the best of friends from church as you grow up. Together you’ll go to dances, make music together and look up at the stars and talk about the wonders of creation. Your baptism day paved the way for you to have this near-idyllic childhood filled with mentors and friends. It won’t always be sunshine and rainbows but you’ll never lack for trustworthy people to lean on in times of need.
You will graduate university, marry in the temple and have children. (This isn’t the point of my letter but they’re beautiful. They will be your whole world and you theirs). You will make mistakes but your relationship with God will drive your life choices. When you feel scared or overwhelmed, you’ll lean on that faith to get through.
This is the harder part of the story—there will come a day when you question if you made the right choice on that baptism day. Your faith will change. A lot. The world will be bigger and brighter and full of more wonder and exciting mysteries, but it will also be less sure, less secure and the answers you once saw laid out before you will now come only one step at a time. It will be painful. It will also be beautiful. You will spend a lot of nights crying into the dark wondering if that God you were so sure was there can actually hear you. Your prayers will change. You will change.
Which is how we get to today. You see, today I took a bigger-than-normal step. I was confirmed into a different church. I know that probably hurts and at your young age, it seems inconceivable that you would ever leave this fold of westward pioneers and I Love to See the Temple. Your faith is so strong and your spirit unbreakable. These are your people and you simply wouldn’t leave them.
They are mine, too. But they are mine in a different way than they were before.
You see, I held on for a long time, wrestling with questions of faith and doubt. Some would say that I lost my faith but I don’t think that’s how faith works. You don’t just accidentally leave it someplace, unable to retrieve it. No, faith doesn’t get lost or die, it changes form. For some, that faith changes form into certainties about God’s (non)existence. For others, it leads them to new forms of spirituality, new religions, new churches or new understandings about their current faith. For me (us), that faith took me outside of walls of the LDS church. For a long time I wondered if it was even worth joining another church. Remember how I said that this new world is both glorious and kind of scary? But with time, I found a new spiritual home, one that I think you will like a lot.
When I joined this new church (it’s called Community of Christ though for your moment in life, it’s known as the RLDS church. Mom and Dad have mentioned it a few times), I was given the option to be rebaptized or confirmed as a new member. I used to think that perhaps you had chosen poorly, that an eight-year-old making eternal covenants to a God so much bigger than your understanding was perhaps a bit foolish. As such, I believed I would probably be rebaptized. But then I thought of you on your baptism day and I imagined this conversation we’re having now and wondered “What would eight-year-old Amy want me to do?”
And so, I chose to honour your choice of baptism as the day that I covenanted my heart to God and to our fellow humans. Today I simply changed which walls hold that heart and which community to align with as I mourn with those who mourn, stand with those who stand in need of comfort and stand as a witness of Christ.
Like great-grandpa Martin and our convert mother, I joined the ranks with those who made a choice to be a pioneer—to leave behind that which we once knew in search of something that beckons to the heart. Despite the love and pride our pioneer ancestors had in their new frontiers and homelands, there was and always will be a soft spot for the home we cannot return to.
Did I tell you that a woman performed this sacrament? It was an incredible feeling. Your children were there. Your husband and friends held your hands. You were fully embraced by this new community of yours. You are happy. You are at peace with God and your fellow humans.
As I bring this letter to a close I just want to tell you thank you for your courage, for your faith and for choosing to be baptized. You made a brave choice and it led us to wonderful people and experiences. The heartache that accompanied can only be expected for people who live with vulnerable hearts. There may be more twists and turns over time but as I’ve learned to trust you, and all the incarnations of you/me, I’ve learned to trust myself right now and perhaps more importantly, I’ve learned to trust the you/me of tomorrow. We will keep walking, one step into the dark at a time. What a lovely adventure awaits us.
Much love and compassion,
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.