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.
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.