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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.