Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Community of Christ - World Conference Reports and Photos

Conference reports and photos follow in reverse chronological order with the most recent at the top. Conference photo albums are here and will be online for the next few months.

Monday, April 05, 2004

Community of Christ - World Conference 2004
Sunday - "Rise, Let Us Be on Our Way"

Seventy Bob has made his way home to Colorado (we should all go there!), so this reporter is filling in.

Sunday began with simultaneous services in the Temple sanctuary and the Auditorium conference chamber. The service in the Temple was a celebration of the gospel in many cultures. Delegates from around the world came forward in groups to share in music and offer testimonies.

Along with everyone else in the Temple, it was good to hear testimonies from so many countries around the world - most of which I will never get to visit in person.

It has been my privilege to meet many of these delegates at past conferences. I have traveled with some of them in shared ministry, both in the United States and in their own countries. The good news they shared Sunday morning brought back special memories of my own.

From my seat in the balcony I could look around the room and see faces from many cultures. One of the special blessings of conference is to worship and fellowship with brothers and sisters from many places.

The closing service of conference took place in the conference chamber of the auditorium. President Grant McMurray brought his closing pastoral challenge to the conference.

Delegates from several countries also shared in the closing service of commissioning.

One of the inspiring moments of conference is the roll call of nations. At the beginning of conference, a representative of each country carries their flag to the rostrum as the name of the country is read and the date the Community of Christ was established there. It symbolizes our coming together as a people.

At the end of the week, the countries are again read as the flags leave the rostrum and the conference chamber. It symbolizes our going forth to serve.

In a surprising moment, rose petals came raining down by the tens of thousands. Many children and not a few adults began gathering some as souvenirs.

Moments later, the closing prayer was offered. Folks lingered to visit and then made their way out of the conference chamber, and ultimately to pack and make the long journeys to their homes around the world.

Two years later, we will gather again.

God be with you!

Seventy Jim

Conference photo albums are here.

Sunday, April 04, 2004

Community of Christ - World Conference 2004
Saturday "Rejoice!"

Good Morning once again readers,

It has been a wonderful week, and it has just flown by. I owe faithful readers an apology and a small addendum to yesterday's column. In the heat of deadlines I forgot to mention the "Talent Show" that happened at the end of the worship Friday night. This event is for the youth of the church to be able to showcase some of their talents. And we are blessed with much talent. Singing, dance, and piano, were offered Friday night in a variety of styles and ages. It was a fun evening.

Saturday was the last official day of business. The Conference still had a fair amount of business to conduct before we could adjourn Saturday afternoon. There was no early worship in the Temple Saturday morning, so the morning started with various groupings of Caucuses and Orders combining for a short Worship.

This reporter was blessed to be with the seven Quorums of Seventy, the Twelve Apostles, and the Order of Bishops. We focused on the "Sharing Goals" of the Church. We are called to "share our witness and resources."

At the beginning of the business session in the morning our Presiding Evangelist, Danny Bellrose, asked for permission to address the body. The office of Evangelist in our faith movement are "Ministers of Blessing". Modeled after the Old Testament Patriarch's, our Evangelist's are those ministers who offer wise counsel, and spiritual blessings. Danny offered some very powerful words of counsel. affirmation, direction and hope. These words will be printed in the Sunday bulletins at conference, and I'm sure are on the Conference Web Site even as this reporter is writing this column. Too many words to try to include in this column, I would just encourage every reader to go to the Conference page on the website and print these words and assimilate them into their lives. It was a wonderfully moving and emotional, and much needed blessing for the Church and this reporter especially. [This message is reproduced below.]

One of the lively and highly debated issues of business was the piece of legislation that called for the First Presidency of the Church to authorize and suggest an alternate Communion Prayer - the blessing we use for the emblems of Communion, bread and wine (juice). The prayers we use were written and shared for the Church very early in our organization in the book of Doctrine and Covenants (Sec. 17). Some people are very opposed to trying to use any alternate wording, and view these words as the only acceptable. Some feel we would be trying to change Scripture. Others would argue we are not changing the Scripture from Sec. 17, we are just asking the Spiritual Authorities of the church to authorize alternate acceptable wording. After much debate the Conference deferred this idea to the First Presidency to act, or not.

Two other resolutions dealt with the issue of us being a world wide church and the struggle to print resources in the languages of the people. These resolutions would ask the Church to seriously commit funds and personnel resources to the task of writing and translating books, study resources, the Herald (our monthly Church publication) and Conference legislation to name just a few. Over half of our Church membership is from countries outside the U.S. and Canada, and almost half don't speak English. We have a long way to go in our growth and struggle to truly be a world church.

After a couple reports, recognition of retiring church employee ministers, and some last minute announcements the Conference was asked to approve the last piece of legislation - a resolution to sustain the "leading quorums of the church." This resolution affirms our desire to continue to be led by our Presidency, Council of Twelve Apostles, Bishopric, and Presiding Evangelist. Normally a technicality, this year there were a few persons who actually stood to oppose passage of this resolution and spoke to their lack of faith and trust in the Leaders. Grant had asked the President of the High Priest's Quorum to "assume the chair" during this discussion. After hearing the two who spoke against the vote was called and passed, with a few hands raised in opposition.

Worship Saturday night was a moving time of Hymn singing, Scripture, and visual ministry. A two hundred voice concert choir absolutely filled the Auditorium with powerful words and music. Symbols and reminders of this Holy Week and Palm Sunday added to the power of the Worship.

We started the week asking "Why . . ." to several questions. I trust that through the sharing from this reporter's perspective (hopefully fair and faithful) and with the aid of my incredible Brother, Jim Doty's special and wonderful photography, we have helped to answer some, or all of the Why's. This reporter would suggest that the life of every Community of Christ church member would be richly blessed by at least one World Church Event (Conference, workshop, training event, etc.). To visually see, participate in and experience being part of a World Wide Community is a powerful and hopeful resource in my spiritual walk.

I have truly enjoyed writing and been blessed as I relived every special moment through reflection and sharing with you. I hope that as you continue to walk the "Path of the Disciple" you will find those persons and experiences in your life that will support you, affirm you, challenge you, and maybe occasionally convict you, as you and I, together with sisters and brothers around the world, try to "Live Christ's Way". May God Bless and be with you until we meet again.

A fellow servant of the Lord!

Seventy Bob

Photos from Sunday will follow in a day or two. Conference albums are here.

Guidance for Consideration

The following statement was given by Presiding Evangelist Danny A. Belrose during the Saturday morning legislative session.

From the day a pubescent farm boy knelt amid a leafy grove of trees to seek divine direction, we have been a people probing and pursuing God’s will and way. It has been, and will continue to be, a quest in which we seek not so much to possess Truth as to be possessed by it--to rejoice in it, to weep in it, to turn toward it, more often than not at the expense of our own will. For all too frequently our “will and way” is not God’s “will and way.” At various junctures on our journey of discipleship, liberal and conservative thinkers have stood hand-in-hand at the threshold of tomorrow equally assured that the beckoning horizon mirrors their vision of “what is right!”

We have teetered here before--ears straining to hear Truth’s confirming voice in prophetic utterance, eyes proof-texting Holy Writ, and prayers proffered to soften intractable hearts that do not feel what we feel, understand what we understand, or follow the God that we follow. And yet, despite passionate polarization, we have been willing to let God be God. In response to the pervasive influence of the Holy Spirit, we have seen shadows of disagreement merge and slip over thresholds poised before baptisms in polygamist cultures, priesthood exclusivity, close Communion, and the very name by which this movement bears its witness of God’s will and way.

The church always pauses at the brink of vital issues that cry for the gospel’s response. And so it should. Unresolved concerns call for the faithful to listen, to dialogue, to pray, and to unify our very best efforts to discern what is right. The church pauses now, pondering its response to homosexuality.

“Trust God’s Spirit” has been our constitution! It must continue to be so¾for this mandate is the very heartbeat of discipleship. We have been reminded that trust dampens the fires of urgency: “Trust my Spirit to sustain and uphold you. Do nothing in haste, but continue to trust in the enduring promises of the One in whose name you have been given life” (Doctrine and Covenants 159:7).

Dear friends, we have wisely and faithfully responded to this counsel in our action to defer legislative resolution of the matter of homosexuality. Notwithstanding, many continue to agonize over this question, and passionate voices crying “for” and “against” will continue to echo in our midst. May we speak with tenderness of heart. May we listen compassionately. May we be community. May we hear the voices of sisters and brothers both liberal and conservative without prejudice. May the fervor of competing pleas not drown out those silent saints who continue to seek understanding and guidance. And may we not be governed by fear. Perfect love casts out all fear, and we are a community created and purchased by Love.

May we remember that whenever the church kneels in the grove of indecision, it does so as an act of faith. A willing suspension “of unbelief.” A willingness to be surprised. A willingness to open our hearts and minds to new understandings, new revelation, and new life for liberals and for conservatives alike. We are in this together. We kneel in the grove together. We seek God’s will and way, together.

Dear friends, during the past few months this matter has weighed heavily upon me. I care deeply for the church, as do you. I empathize with those whose passions cry out at both extremes of this issue. I agonize with the silent saints in the middle for whom the voice of certitude is mute. I pray for guidance for the leadership of the church at all levels.

I have considered the obligations of the office to which I am called and have sensed a need to respond to this moment in the life of the church. I have experienced the promptings of the Spirit in what I have said and that which I am about to say. In deepest humility, I offer for your consideration words of guidance and blessing for the church:

The time has come for the church to lay aside personal agendas and differences that vitiate the cause to which we are called. We have allowed ourselves to be engulfed by an issue far less important than it is. The church’s mission is not to define human sexuality. Our mission is to serve the souls of men and women and boys and girls. Our mission is to express Christ’s community on earth--to reach out in joyful witness and to share generously of God’s blessings.

We have permitted a question swaying primarily on the European and English-speaking stage to choreograph the dance of a World Church in nations where this question is not being asked. We have not claimed it--rather it has claimed us. We worry that its final outcome will divide the church asunder, unaware that lack of patience is also a source of division. In response to divine counsel the time has come for us to “listen” and learn from each other as led by the Spirit--committing ourselves to pursue Truth in ways that no longer separate brothers and sisters nor sap the energies of the church.

We have been blessed with sacred text, yet some have sought confirmation in lieu of guidance in its words. Conservatives and liberals alike rest their cases on “facts”: the former assured by “facts” quoted; the latter by “facts” contextualized. Neither side convinces the other. The time has come for the church to free itself from literalism and factualism and to hear the sacred story in ways that honor the past, enlighten the present, and create God’s future.

We have allowed the sweep-second hand of culture to pressure our process of discernment. The time has come when the church must forsake deadlines that anticipate resolution of this question at each emerging World Conference and allow God to bless the church in God’s own way, in God’s own time.

We have permitted legalism to overshadow legitimacy. Priesthood’s authority has never been measured by whom God calls but by ministry actualized. Its value is neither greater nor less than its blessings offered and received. Many serve humbly, sacrificially, and with great devotion in the priesthood, while others passively continue to carry but its name. The time has come for the church to delve more deeply into the meaning, purpose, and accountability of priesthood focused less on the letter of the law and more on the spirit of blessing it brings.

Many contribute willingly and joyfully to the cause of the kingdom. However, some conflicted by the issue of homosexuality have chosen to withhold their gifts or to mete out their stewardship in perceived measurement of the church’s faithfulness. The church is reminded that God’s generosity is neither transactional nor held in abeyance and we who are greatly blessed are called to a corresponding responsibility. Generosity serves only grace; it gives for “the sake of giving”--it moves us from minimums to maximums, from obligation to opportunity. The Great Commission must ring loudly in our ears and spill out freely in acts that heal the bruised and brokenhearted, bring justice to the oppressed, mend severed relationships, and renew purpose to life.

The gospel upholds the inestimable worth of all persons. The ground is level at the foot of the cross and none stands outside the grace of its shadow. We are called to find the face of Christ in those of different colors and different persuasions--to hear Christ’s voice in those who think differently and live differently. We are called to embrace those whose understanding of life is both less than and greater than our own, and whose image of the Divine cries to be seen and set free. Brothers and sisters, the time has come for the church to trust the Holy Spirit to bring harmony to all within the circle of God’s love. As we do so, we need not fear the future. Though some may choose to go their own way, the church’s response to homosexuality shall neither divide nor destroy the church if we let God be God. “Trust my Spirit to sustain and uphold you . . . continue to trust in the enduring promises of the One in whose name you have been given life.”


Saturday, April 03, 2004

Community of Christ - 2004 World Conference
Friday - "My Peace I Give You"

Good Morning Again Readers,

Friday morning. The week flies by so quickly. The days are filled with such rich and wonderful fellowship and worship. Greeting friends one has not seen maybe since last conference - or even before. Catching up, "How's the Kids?" "Already?"

"Why it seems like just yesterday . . . ." "Yes. I was sorry to hear that, How are you doing?" These are just a few of the conversation openers that one hears in every aisle, corner, room, parking lot, restaurant, etc. We truly are one large family.

Friday morning started with worship in the Temple. It was the ordination of several called to new service, new opportunity, new ministry, new Priesthood. Part of the genius of this Church is the idea of shared ministry, Priesthood, called to continually grow in, and magnify one's calling. An Oboe filled the spire of the Temple with a rich sweet sound. And together we looked, listened, and tried to sense God's Peace for each of us.

Business was pretty normal and without much distraction. We looked at some concepts not very familiar to this reporter. "Restorative Justice", and "Defining the Just War Tradition" were a couple the conference discussed. One piece of legislation wanted to hold up the concept and awareness of the need for giving life through the donation of blood, organs and tissue. Many testimonies were shared by persons affected by the donations of others, or their own donation to others.

Just at noon President, Grant, was kidnapped by the children from the Peace Pavilion (and three clowns). The Peace Pavilion is a special place in the church headquarters, dedicated to teaching Peace to youth from all over the country, and world.

A live video feed let those of us in the chamber watch as Grant "cut the ribbon" officially opening a new exhibit in the pavilion. It was a fun diversion and neat to be a part of that experience, even from a different location.

World Service Corps Recognition

Today's business may be pretty spirited as we look at a piece of legislation asking for some new wording of our prayers over the Communion Emblems. This prayer is one, of only a couple in our faith tradition, where the words are spelled out in our Doctrine and Covenants. It is pretty much an English speaking issue since members in other nations use translated words anyway. Even so, many of our members is the U.S. feel pretty strongly about changing "words of Scripture". It should be interesting.

Alicia and Elkanah Odupa receive Human rights Award

Worship Friday night was awesome. It was a service of going, of sending, of accepting God's call.

Our "Council of Twelve" Apostles were all up front last night. In our Faith tradition we have a council, of twelve ministers, called Apostles.

These twelve have world wide areas of overseeing, mentoring and administration. Some are completely in areas outside the U.S., and some have assignments with both U.S. and oversees assignments. Apostle, Steve Veazey, brought the message, and talked about how we are called to bring ministry and hope to the "least, the last, the lost, and the labeled." It was powerful. Several shared testimony from their area, some translated into English by "side-by-side" translation, where the person shares a thought or few sentences in their native language, and the translator then speaks that same thought in English.

Near the conclusion of the Worship, each Apostle, stood, and asked all those in their area of ministry, all those in the chamber, and at home over satellite and webcast, to stand with them. Each area of the church was then commissioned, or sent, by their own Apostle, out into the world of "least, last, lost, and labeled" to share the ministry of hope, healing, and reconciliation. It was a powerful blessing and challenge.

That commission extends to all who are reading this column, to find ways in all the communities in which we reside, to seek out and minister to those who have yet to truly experience the power of God's love.

Talent Show

Saturday will be the last day of business. Conference will officially end Sunday after worship. May God bless us, the Church, and the World, as we strive to build the Kingdom in our own places of work, learning, and playing and living.

Tomorrow - "Rejoice!"

Seventy Bob

Conference photo albums are here.

Friday, April 02, 2004

Community of Christ - World Conference 2004
Thursday - "The Spirit Teaches"

Go-o-o-o-d-d-d Morning Readers!!,

Another glorious morning here in Independence. The trees are in full bloom, flowers are exploding with color, and the grass is as green as, well as grass should be. I almost dread the trip home, in a few days, to the land of dead and brown. It will be a let down.

No morning worship again this morning - bummer. I miss it. I did, however, visit the local coffee shop this morning (Gary Logan needed a "fix"), where the young adults hang out every evening. There is usually a live music group of some kind and the owner, a church member, goes around every so often with a huge can of whipped cream and offers "whipped cream shooters". The young adults tilt back their head and he fills their mouth with whipped cream. It adds so much to the evenings festive spirit. The tables are filled with card games and various types of Domino games, and spirited conversation. Young adults from all over the world. And they love it!

The business meeting opened this morning where we left off yesterday afternoon, discussing the report from the committee on Human Sexuality and the Church. Even though it is only a report, many people wanted to speak about it. After what seemed like a very long detour we accepted the report and moved on. The First Presidency, Grant and his two counselors, then presented a resolution to refer all five pieces of legislation about homosexuality to the First Presidency to allow time for a new tool the church is counting on - Listening Circles - to work. Even the motion to refer was discussed at length by many, many people from all facets of understanding and feeling about this hot topic.

All in all the discussion was pretty respectful of people, even though the speeches were very passionate. Some who are opposed to the idea of ordaining persons who are in same sex relationships, and some who are accepting of it, wanted to defeat the motion to refer. They want to vote on specific legislation, each with a different idea of the outcome, of course.

This issue will percolate and boil in our church dialogue and conversations for many years to come. Many persons on both sides of the issue would like to move toward a specific ruling. The motion did finally pass and so that ends the formal discussion of the issue at this World Conference. Hopefully people will attend and participate in "Listening Circles" in their area. And hopefully those on each place on this issue can be patient with one another until we can come to a place of consensus.

Near the end of one of the business sessions there was a very powerful reading by seven or eight persons, all from different parts of the world. The reading was written by Apostle David Brock.

Each person shared part of the reading in their own language and finished in English. The reading talked about our differences, and yet our oneness. I would hope you might find the text soon, on the Church or Conference web site.

The evening worship was awesome as usual. The large, black Grand Piano held a prominent place on the rostrum. And the music from it filled the chamber. This reporter also loves it when the Auditorium Organist "kicks in" the wonderful trumpets from the rear of the sanctuary.

Again the international spirit of the Church was evident by the participants on the rostrum. Africans, Chinese, and Americans side by side, sharing in ministry.

There was a soloist accompanied by a cello. Glorious sound echoing of the walls and ceiling of the chamber. Singing with several thousand fellow church members is quite a thrill for this reporter.

Also last evening there was an interesting dance drama. The girl would perform what I would call ballet type movements, and then two young men would butt in and do a much more modern interpretation of the music.

The girl would push them away and dance again. Each would take turns, sort of mocking the other's dance and then showing off their own.

It went back and forth several times and then the two styles began to be danced together, blended into one unique offering of ministry. It was a powerful symbol of diversity working together and becoming unity. Can we follow the dancers lead? Will we allow the Spirit to teach us? Is there hope?

Only two days of business sessions left, and then the final worship on Palm Sunday. I'm anxious for Friday.

For more glorious photos don't forget www.imageevents.com/jimdoty.

Seventy Bob

Tomorrow - "My Peace I Give You"

Photo albums are here.

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