(Written by Erica in October 2008)
I’ve been blessed to participate in a thriving and mission-driven Community of Christ congregation. It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I began to have some doubts.
Years ago, a small group of disciples recognized a need in their community. They recognized their own giftedness and skills that could help, and they bravely explored a call to minister to their community in a new way. Church for them began to take a whole different shape. They had to rethink what church would look like in order to serve their mission. As they sought to follow God’s unfolding call, they darkened doors of opportunity and met the challenges of ministry that those opportunities held.
It was not a simple or easy process to become a community shaped by God’s call. It was not a quick process. But gradually it became the congregation that I attend today. It’s a ministry that touches lives every day. And it creates disciples.
Not too long ago, the group convened a business meeting. After a weekly worship service, we gathered with our usual casual atmosphere. But when the meeting began we realized that the business we would be discussing was much more than “casual”. We would be dealing with issues that hit right at the core of the congregation.
You see, over the last few years, as the congregation has followed God’s lead, little by little we have grown! Our vision was expanding. We were succeeding! Now we were discovering that if we were to continue to grow, it could require substantial change.
So in that business meeting we began to envision the future for our ministry. We were faced with some questions. They cut to the heart of who we are, our identity.
What do we call ourselves? Why?
To whom do we choose to minister? What does this mean for our mission?
Where do we meet to accommodate that mission?
What would we be willing to change in order to grow? Is change really necessary?
One by one, members – long-time congregants and new participants – offered their hopes, ideas, and concerns to answer these questions. As you would imagine, these are issues with a lot of history. Some had built this ministry with years of dedicated love and effort. Some felt a strong responsibility for the future of the congregation. Everyone held deep love and concern for this community as it is and as it will be.
As each of us layered our perspectives on this issues…as the meeting stretched on…and a sense of urgency mounted…tension grew. Tempers shortened.
We struggled through the process as gently as we could, but we were not approaching answers. The tension continued to rise.
Finally at one point, in the intensity of the discussion, one person accidentally misspoke. A comment was made that was received as hurtful. The tension reached its limit. We burst into a small confusion of frustration, disappointment, and bruised feelings. One person stormed out. The agenda was lost in the need to care for those who felt injured and to clean up the mess the meeting had created. We decided we would have to come together again to approach these big questions. And again. And again.
But in that moment many in the room were left feeling unsettled, unfinished, embarrassed, offended, worried.
What is this?! This is supposed to be sacred community!
Then one long-time member who has served as a mentor for many, including me, stood. “Let’s close with a prayer.” He motioned for us to all to form a circle and link our hands. And he prayed.
He acknowledged that each of us are fragile and imperfect creatures, trying our to serve in the best way we know how. He thanked God for the blessed community we have had the joy of building. He thanked God for the deep concern and love each one has for the welfare of this ministry, and those it is called to serve – though our ideas and experiences may be different.
Above all, he thanked God for the unifying love we all share in our collective discipleship of Jesus Christ. Finally, he thanked God for the hope we have together in the God’s continued and faithful ministry through our community.
As that prayer concluded, a spirit of peace rested in the circle. The wounded emotions and frenzied concerns of the congregation were soothed. We could see again that our stumbles and disagreement were far less important than our unity and hope in Christ. God’s presence among us would heal the brokenness that would come when we stretched our community in search of our mission. And in fact, to be faithful to God’s call into the future it would be necessary for our community to meet the messy challenge of discussion, discovery, conflict, and confusion. Even in the moments of discord God was forming us into a community that could best reflect God’s will.
Our challenge was – and is – to recognize Christ’s unifying presence in the midst of the journey. And to let Christ be guide to us all on the path.
by Michele McGrath
Re-blogged from: Missionalleaders.org
Last weekend I worshiped with the congregation where I used to be pastor several years ago. I was so excited to see the church was packed! As worship began, I was happy to participate in a practice called “The Inviting Vase” that we started years before.
Let me explain.
Before Pastor Leadership Teams were called Pastor Leadership Teams, our Pastor Leadership Team was struggling. How are we becoming adaptable to the disruptive promptings of the Holy Spirit? How can we create a culture that is radically relational and invitational? What practice might help us to foster a culture of invitation in this congregation?
The practice we came up with, an idea suggested by a mentor of mine, was The Inviting Vase. It is so simple it is almost silly. We place a glass vase at the front of the church and a basket of stones next to it. In the gathering part of every worship service, everyone who invited anyone to church or a church event comes forward and places a stone in the vase—one for each person invited. The person invited doesn’t have to show up; just an invitation extended.
People of all ages joyfully spring out of their chairs, come forward, sometimes shyly and sometimes triumphantly and drop their stones into the vase. This practice started with the most outgoing one or two members and then the children. Eventually, everyone got into the swing of things. Our seniors inviting others from their senior swim group, parents inviting other parents and coworkers, teens inviting friends, girlfriends, and boyfriends. We invited the clerk at the convenience store and the teller at the bank. No one was outside our commitment to radical relationship and invitation! We got mixed up in each other’s lives. We experienced ups and downs. And with God in our lives, at work in our midst, it seemed like the ups were sweeter because we shared them. We got through the downs because we were together. We had the hope of Jesus Christ to lead us onward.
As we slowly filled the vase with our stones (many times over) we stepped out of our comfort zones. We made eye contact, risked something new, began and deepened relationships, and invited people to be a part of what God was up to in our community. In this practice we began to live into a new culture of relationship and hospitality. As we slowly filled the vase, the church slowly filled as well.
Missional practices don’t have to be elaborate. They don’t have to be done perfectly. In this long journey in the same direction, it is amazing to see how they can form a community over time. At least that’s what passed through my mind as I dropped my two stones in the vase and smiled at the two people I invited, sitting right there in the front row.
When money is tight, some of the expenses people cut first are the gym and the spa. It’s understandable. Most of us don’t want to go to the gym anyway, and what good is the pleasure of a massage or pedicure if it’s ridden with guilt?
Pampering and working out are definitely areas to trim some budget fat, but don’t cut them out of the picture altogether.
Check out CommunityAmerica Savin’ Maven Kat Hnatyshyn’s most recent post in The Kansas City Star’s Personal Finance section where she shares inexpensive and free options available to keep you looking and feeling good!
By Katie Harmon-McLaughlin, Spiritual Formation Ministries
Re-blogged from: Connect. Engage. Inspire
I was tired before we even knocked on the door or sat down to dinner. I felt myself pulling inward, wanting to be a casual observer or sprawled on my couch at home. It felt difficult to gather the energy to be attentive in relationship.
As we sat around the table, pouring iced tea into paper cups, I knew I needed to be more present. I gathered strength of heart to seek the holy here. Adjusting perspective in the same surroundings can make all the difference. I looked deeply at my companions around the table and realized how profound it was to feel ordinary in the home of people I had met just over a year ago.
We shared naturally about the details of our lives that we had discovered from many previous conversations. I reflected on the moment I first met Charlie on the street and saw in him the Living Christ. The question is this: Do I still see the Living Christ as the normalcy of human relationship has permeated what we know of each other?
My life has been transformed countless times through the practice of holy attention. All spiritual practices can cultivate within us a new way of seeing the world drenched in Spirit. We can practice holy attention in solitude or amid everyday activity. There is no formula. It is simply pausing and choosing to see God in the midst of what is, wherever and whenever.
My testimonies of God’s Spirit have almost all begun with noticing God in the details, seemingly insignificant encounters throughout the day that change everything about how I understand what it means to be a disciple.
Holy attention is often, if not always, local and specific. It is about the right-here-right-now details of life. This understanding of God’s pervasive presence, which can capture us in any moment we choose to awaken to its reality, continually disrupts my life and prompts my response.
Attention to the Spirit can alter our view. A Disciple’s Generous Response during worship takes new meaning when a recently homeless man dumps all his quarters in the “change for change” bucket. Overhearing a conversation between two congregants about an injustice in our community and how we can respond causes me to pause in the rush of Sunday-morning preparations.
It is in the details of relationship, the details of daily life, the details of the natural world that we are able to encounter God’s presence in abundance. Simone Weil put it this way, “Attention, taken to its highest degree, is the same thing as prayer.” I have found myself longing to share this experience. I have found myself wanting to say, “Just look—really look—and you won’t be able to glance anywhere without seeing the Living Christ.” Holy attention is where mission begins.
As I sat at the dinner table with Charlie, this question shifted my paradigm in just seconds: Do I still see in him the Living Christ as the normalcy of human relationship has permeated what we know of each other?
This, too, is God’s movement among us: our growing comfort in relationship and the extraordinary fact that this whole thing now feels so ordinary. Total strangers turned into friends.
At the table, I notice others who I know only from following God’s promptings in my heart to be here, vulnerable to relationship. Suddenly pizza and paper plates are nothing less than sacrament. I see everything from a changed perspective and give thanks for the ways we come together through this constant and abundant Spirit of God.
Why is Christ important?
I’ve been wrestling with this question in the midst of trying to be fair and open minded to the existence and claims of other world religions. This is not meant to be a statement against those world religions as much as it is for Christianity, or, perhaps more accurately, for Christ. I suppose the basic question that really started my “Christ kick” is: “why is it that Christ should hold significance among all the world religions?”
This blog post is an attempt to not only address the significance of Christ among the world’s religions, but also an attempt to put forth that Christ has the most significance among the world religions.
To begin, I’d like to offer a few words about Religious Relativism.
The world is smaller now than ever before. Our abilities to communicate and travel long distances in such a short amount of time have considerably reduced the size of our world. As such, we encounter new ways of thinking, new cultures, thought-provoking religions, and unique people. The importance of religious tolerance and especially religious dialogue has never been so great. People experience the world in many different ways and those ways are, almost without exception, completely valid ways to do so. Much of the same can be said about the Divine. Here in lies the dilemma. With so many different ways to frame our experiences with the world and with the Divine–most of which have great validity–are there some that are better than others? Is there a best way to encounter the world and the divine?
A former professor of mine described what he called “Selective Relativism.” How he described it in class is basically that there are lots of different foods that we have to choose from, but it is undeniable that some foods are better than others. If I want to maintain good health, I should probably choose to add more fruits and veggies to my diet as opposed to ice cream and double-stack cheese burgers. I feel that, essentially, the same can be applied to religions. Yes, most world religions are capable of providing truth and facilitating encounters with the Divine. But there is one figure in religion that provides not simply truths or encounters but the true character and nature of humanity, while simultaneously putting humanity in direct relationship with God. Christianity claims that this person is Jesus Christ.
The significance of this is astounding. In the person of Jesus Christ we see the character of God and the purpose of humanity. We see that God’s concern for the world is compassion, love, and justice for the poor and oppressed because that is the life that Christ lives. We see that our concern should be compassion, love, and justice for the poor and the oppressed because that is the life that Christ lives. Christ’s mission is our mission. There is a line from a David Crowder Band song that says, “Heaven meets earth like an unforeseen kiss.” I think this is a simple understanding of what God has done in Christ. The Divine has chosen to encounter creation in Christ; and Christ is fully God and truly human. Think about that for a second. Christ is simultaneously God with and for us while being us living with and for God. The implication of such an idea is unsurpassable. When you think you may have grasped its depth, you find it just goes deeper.
I used to take issue with “The Great Commission” found in Matthew. The notion of making everybody convert to Christianity just rubbed me the wrong way. I’m really trying to understand it now as not converting everyone to Christianity, but to demonstrate and show the way God has always intended for this whole humanity thing to work. To take care of one another, to empty ourselves for one another and make our greatest concern the well-being of our fellow humans precisely because that is what God has done in Jesus Christ.
As I stated at the beginning of this post, I am not trying to make other religions irrelevant. The only thing I can do as a Christian is approach my understanding of the Divine and the world through my Christian lens. I am not Buddhist. I am not Jewish. I am a practicing Christian. I can only do my very best to follow God through my experience and hope that I continue to go deeper with the Divine as I understand It through the living Christ.
By the IYF Committee
International Youth Forum (IYF) will run July 15–18 in Independence, Missouri. IYF events also will happen in the Dominican Republic and Honduras this summer. We invite you, as members of Community of Christ, to hold these events in your prayers and spiritual practices that allow this type of intentional focus.
Why are we asking you to place IYF in your prayers and spiritual practices? Because it is through the Blessings of Community that events like this are possible. Two statements from the Enduring Principles, Blessings of Community, may help frame this (www.CofChrist.org/ourfaith/enduring-principles.asp):
- We are called to create communities of Christ’s peace in our families and congregations and across villages, tribes, nations, and throughout creation.
- We value our connections and share a strong sense of trust in and belonging with one another—even if we never have met.
IYF is about creating those communities of Christ’s peace. We all are connected to those communities, and by entering into prayer and spiritual practice for those communities we strengthen that connection. Though we may not have met, or may never meet, we all are part of the fabric that creates Community of Christ.
Three areas that might be highlighted during your reflection:
- Those who are planning and preparing to serve at IYF
- Leaders of delegations who will be shepherding the youth
- Most importantly, the youth of our church
While it would be natural to focus more intentionally on those youth who will journey to IYF, we also ask you to hold up those who cannot attend. You also may feel led to focus on some other aspect of IYF in your reflection. That also is welcomed. May all know that God’s Spirit is with them as they prepare physically, mentally, and spiritually for this IYF experience.
Thank you for the time you put into this invitation. May it bless you as you share in the IYF community.