Thursday, January 3, 2019

Spiritual Formation and Companioning Program by Carol Ann Reiff


Walking onto the Happy Valley Campground I sensed a spirit of love and welcoming from each of those who were called to serve us and who had been praying for us.  Terry and I remarked that we felt as one with the group from the beginning.  All nervousness about this program fell away.  I think all those who came were just hungry for connection with God from the start.

When the first class by Laurie Gordon ended, I felt like dancing before God!  Laurie, a retired Research Biologist, Spiritual Director and Evangelist in Community of Christ, showed us how God is always beyond our understanding of God.  I was filled with humility and joy.  Her classes were only part of the experience of worship I was blessed to enjoy.

When around 100 voices joined together to sing, I wondered if people were chosen because of their ability to sing.  The worship leader was Katie Harmon-Mclaughlin, a Spiritual Formation Specialist.  I came so needy and I was not let down.  The Spiritual Formation Team taught us many ways to connect with God:  Holy Attention, Lectio Divina, Centering Prayer, Contemplative Prayer, Dwelling in the Word, Prayer of Examen and more. 

We walked among the redwoods; hiked the mountain behind us; ate delicious, nutritious food; and visited with old and new friends.  In small covenant discipleship groups, we shared stories of our own journeys and learned how to listen to others.

I came to this experience feeling so flat and in need of uplift.  I’m now so excited to continue on this journey with others and with God.  I believe God has brought me to this place and I feel thankful that God has never let me down on my journey.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Today, I Experienced Jesus’ Kindness. By Gil Martell

I drive special needs school bus for First Student. The morning of November 13, 2018 God’s grace and generosity was expressed through the encounter of two of my students, who are in the Live Skills Program. Life Skills Program is a very basic, how to feed oneself, verbal and non-verbal communication, dressing of self, going to the bathroom, and other minimal skills.

Brian is a student who uses a wheel chair and needs others to help him move it. He has been taught to use his hands to turn the wheels of the chair for only limited distance. Painful, yes, but it is a feeling of independence for him. The morning of November 13th when his sister brought him to the bus, she informed the bus aide and me that Brian was fussy. Brian lacks good speech skills to communicate how he feels and his needs. My bus aide, as she was fastening his chair in, was trying to comfort him with kind words. Brian sobbed loudly and we could tell he was upset with his sister for some reason.

Gloria, whom we picked up earlier, sat close to where Brian’s chair was fastened. She sensed he was upset. Gloria is almost non-verbal, very cognitive delayed, and has weak motor skills. At times Gloria can get very hyper and yells loudly. When she got on my bus earlier before Brian, my bus aide learned Gloria was upset with her brother that morning too.

I let the Special Ed Resource students depart when we arrived at the school. Brian and Gloria waited for a school aide to get them. I ask Gloria if she would like to help me with the bus chair lift, since she and Brian were both still a bit agitated. I showed her which buttons to push on the remote chair lift and she did her best. When Brian was safely lowered and off the lift, Gloria reached over, put her arm around Brian, and leaned her head to his head. That simple gesture of kindness put smiles on their faces. Gloria’s reaching out brought both Brain and herself comfort and healing in that moment. Two of God’s children sharing kindness with each other. I was overwhelmed as I observed the physical act of kindness of Jesus through Gloria and Brian. Yes, all are of Worth and all are called to share Jesus’ kindness.

But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; for I notice power had gone out from me.” 
 -Luke 8:40-48 NRSV

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

“Love one another” By Nancy Sacry


“I want to find ways for us to work together. I know we’re not always going to agree, and I’m okay with that.  But if we have the same goals–of making this world a better world–isn’t it possible for us to find ways to accomplish that together?” Pam Robison

Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.  1John 4:11-12 NIV

What a mess! Our world seems to become more divisive every day. And yet the thing that give me hope is the community we have formed in our little congregation. To be sure, we don't all agree on everything, nor do we vote the same, nor do we always agree on some of life’s deep questions, but the spirit of God has allowed us to create a community, a family of love and trust.

I cannot do all things myself, I can't fix the bitter rancor and divides that we are daily bombarded with by the media, but I know that because of the love of God we have created a safe haven of love and sanctuary in our congregation. When one hurts, we all hurt. When on grieves, we all grieve. We celebrate the joys of life together. I may not see things your way, but I can take the time to see things through your perspective.

We can create havens of sanctuary in our congregations. We can support people, even when we don't agree with them on everything. I learned a lesson in listening a long time ago with my job. Most people don't care if you truly agree with them, they just want to be heard and affirmed by having someone listen to them. When the Christ in me sees the Christ in you, it changes our heart.

We recently spent hours helping someone who had been judged by the apartment community they lived in.  To be sure there were actions by all parties that were causing the situation to deteriorate, but if we didn't help, the situation would have gotten worse.

Our church community was being judged for helping this person. One of the people came to me and questioned "how could we be so blind? Didn't we know they were just using us?" My response was that God called us to love and value the worth of persons. My thought was even though others had decided this person was not worth helping, God did. That didn't mean we approved of everything this person did, but just that God valued them, and so too did we.

When we build walls of judgement, we keep others out, it’s safer that way, less messy, and certainly makes life easier, but it’s not what we are called to do. Love one another, in doing so we make God visible. Not easy, but part of the journey as disciples.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Sharing in Story at the GALA Retreat by Niobe Bender


Over Labor Day weekend I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the GALA retreat held at Camp Red Cliffe in Utah. My experience there was one like no other. It was a wonderful weekend filled with the love and spirit of Christ, laughter, new and old friends, and the grace of fellowship I wouldn’t trade for anything.
One thing that I enjoyed most this weekend was the ample opportunity for sharing in story. Where many indulged in sharing deep and heartfelt stories of struggles faced for simply being true to themselves. There is a certain vulnerability that comes with opening oneself up to a group. I am grateful to have been a part of that vulnerability and to hear and understand the challenges that are faced by many in this community. Even during times that were not specifically dedicated to sharing there seemed to be a raw unfiltered sense of sharing not only of our stories but of ourselves. Talking about being vulnerable, the whole weekend was a chance to be your most authentic self and be accepted for exactly who you are.
I have attended many church camps and events in my life, growing up in Community of Christ. Each one of those has been special in its own way, I’ve always known a deep sense of community and acceptance in those experiences. However GALA embodied something completely new. It seems to me that most people have what I would call a “church self” a side of them that they show in a church setting, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. We all have versions of yourself for every part of our lives. Our home life, school and work, family and friends etc. GALA for me was a blending of my church self and my outside self. It was simply permission to be vulnerable in showing my most authentic self and a true genuine acceptance of that self.
Attending this retreat was phenomenal. I was able to meet lots of new friends and share in love, laughter, and acceptance. This wonderful community working towards a goal of acceptance for all,I am proud to now be a part of. I wouldn’t change this experience for anything.


Friday, September 7, 2018

Sharing about International Youth Forum (IYF) and Spectacular (SPEC) by RJ Strozyk and Logan Strozyk


By RJ Strozyk

IYF/SPEC is great because I got to know people better not just in my delegation, but also others from around the world. This is my second year at SPEC, and it was a blast to see old friends that had returned from last year.

One of my favorite events at SPEC are the week-long sports events. I loved playing soccer because I don’t have the opportunity to play that at our high school. While at SPEC it is such a great time because people are so nice and take the time to teach you.

I also thought that it was great to see the world church. I really enjoyed being at the temple with other youth and having the opportunity to interact with them. During our time at the temple, I walked into the sanctuary and saw youth from all over the world playing numerous types of instruments. This was my favorite part of IYF and a God moment for me because of the opportunity to observe the unity.

Another neat experience at SPEC was the campfire we had one night where we sang songs from all over the world. Anyone could jump up and start a song in their own language and the rest of camp, whether they understood the language or not, began to follow along. Even though I didn’t understand most of the songs, it was still interesting to listen to everyone follow along.

I think SPEC is a perfect opportunity for senior high kids. I had a great time there and highly recommend other senior high kids to go. Not only is it just a regular church camp, but there are also a lot of sports that are extremely fun to play with a bunch of other kind-hearted people. I am excited to see what experiences my final SPEC will bring in 2019!                
**************************************************************************************************
By Logan Strozyk


SPEC was a blast! I liked the sports, meeting new people, and that everybody was open and wanted to get to know you.

I had a lot of fun doing group activities and adventure classes such as stone carving, ring making, and glass fusion. During those adventure classes I met a lot of friends that weren’t from my delegation and it was interesting to learn about their life stories and how unique they were from every other person. I also enjoyed trying new sports like soccer and volleyball, which I have never tried competitively before.

I was a little scared at first because going into the camp I only knew my brother, but after mixers it was fun to get to know the members in my delegation and soon people in other delegations from around the world.

One thing I loved about SPEC was how accepting everybody was to somebody they had just met. I felt accepted just for being myself and not having to worry about being judged. 

One God experience that I had was that one of my delegation members decided to baptized, again, into our church this time. One evening during IYF our delegation gathered around a pool in the Stone Church and watched the member get baptized. I was feeling joy that he decided to be a part of this family of God.

I would recommend IYF/SPEC to someone else because it is an excellent experience to meet amazing, diverse group of people. In just a short 10 days I was able to make great friends, enjoyed the sports and competing against other people, fun classes and unlimited times to feel God’s presence.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Why I am Always Searching for a Woman's Retreat by Lavera Wade


Almost all the women I know are, or have worked a full-time job, in or out of the home.  Their lives are filled with caring for spouse, partners, children, parents, and any number of critters. They are volunteers, active in their churches or other support groups. The list goes on and on about their busy lives.   
My life is just as busy, but due to a lucky turn of events I stumbled across my first Women's Retreat and I was hooked.   From that day forward, I have been on the search for the next Women's retreat, I have invited any number of women to attend a retreat. I have concluded it is very difficult for most women to take time for themselves away from friends and family.  There are a host of reasons but let’s just leave it at who's going to feed the goldfish.
So here is my pitch for why your life will be better if you skip all the events you could attend this Labor Day, and pack your pillow and attend the Women's retreat at Camp Cascade, .... you will find:
Quiet, A quiet walk with only the sound of God’s voice whispering through the pines.  Quiet that leaves you able to hear your own answers to questions you have struggled with.
Time, time to share with like-minded women.   Time to meet new friends, or catch up with friends you have not had time for in too long.  Time to do nothing accept share a few chores with the rest of the girls.
Most important the peace you will find when you get home.  The peace that comes from having taken the time to recharge your batteries, come closer to God, taken time just for you.
This year instead of saying maybe next year to our Women's Retreat, tell your friends and family you might join them next year, at what it is they are doing this Labor Day, and join us at Camp Cascade. I suspect your friends and family will support this plan.
I look forward to sharing time with you at Camp Cascade.  Retreat information and registration can be found at http://www.cofchrist-iwest.org/women-s-retreat.html or contact Sandy Decker at sdecker@cofchrist-iwest.org if you have questions.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

God’s Spirit Whooshed Through the Pines by Brad Martell


It was a couple of days before the Community of Christ Cromberg, California Family Camp.  Lori and I flew into Sacramento earlier to spend time with our friends Ruth and Mike Seagraves and their family, before we all packed into the cars and headed off to camp together.  Ruth was the director and had asked Lori and I to be guest ministry for the week.  Lori and I were excited to experience a new campground and family camp, spend time with cousins who would be there, and share in ministry. 
As we were sitting around talking and laughing, Mike told us that their middle daughter was going to be baptized during camp by her grandma (Mike’s mom).  This just added to the anticipation and joy of the coming week.  For the baptize Mike was going to play guitar and sing, but was not finding the right song.  Lori asked if he knew the song “O Sun” by Peter Mayer (www.petermayer.net).  Mike loved it and began writing out the music and learning to play it.  Now the house was filled with Mike strumming a few chords, the scratch of his pencil on the paper, more strumming, humming . . . by the end of the day he could play it by heart.
At Cromberg campground they have an outside baptism fount.  It is up the hill from the cabins and tucked underneath towering pine trees.  When the time came for the baptism service the camp made its way up the hill gathering around the fount.  Warm sunlight filtered down through the still pines.  Bird song and twitters gave welcome to the sacred moment.  Beginning with hymns we joined our voices with the avian choir in that church of pines. 
As granddaughter and grandma descended into the pool of water, Mike began to play “O Sun.”  The song is about being filled by the sun, wine, and wind.  The lyrics express sacramental language of asking to be filled by life, strength, and breathe.  And to help us shine, to be opened-wide, and to pour forth the same life and love we receive from God through blessings of community, unity in diverse, sacredness of creation, and worth of all persons.
During the second verse of the song that asks “O wind, come fill me” a gust of wind whoosh through the pines surprising us all.  At the end of the verse the wind was gone.  As Mike finished the song, I looked at him and his face was just radiating with the huge bewildered smile that seemed to ask the same question I was pondering: “Did that really happen?”
When the service was over some of us practically sprinted down the hill to download the video that was taken of the baptism onto a laptop.  We hit “play” in wonder and anticipation.  “Did that really happen?”  It did!  That gift of gusting wind filled the pines, filled Mike’s and Ruth’s daughter, filled all of us with God’s Spirit in that sacramental moment. 
This was a baptism experience I will not forget as God’s Spirit whooshed through the pines!