Category: Spiritual Practices

Circles of Support

Circles of Support

Spiritual Practice Presented at GPNW MC Conference 2022 Pastors and Staff Breakfast

By Ashley Whitham

This morning, I’ll invite you to sit comfortably with your feet on the floor, and preferably with support against your back. Close your eyes. In your mind, imagine yourself in a large circle. If there were a target on the floor, you’d be standing in the middle, with rings extending away from you.

People in your life begin to walk onto the rings around you. As the rings fill with familiar faces, your body feels lighter. You close your eyes and slowly drift backwards, where the first ring of people catch you.

The first ring is made up of your closest loved ones. Your spouse, best friends, parents, siblings, cousins – who are these special people you can lean on? As your weightless body leans back on this first ring of beloveds, how does it feel to trust them? How does it feel to step backwards into this first ring of support?

(Pause for reflection)

You continue to step back and reach the next ring of people. As you lean back, supported by their hands, you look to see the faces of friends, extended family, and close co-workers – people who you feel comfortable with, who you can relax with. How does it feel to relax while others support you?

(Pause for reflection)

Step backwards again until you reach the third ring of support. Here you find your church family. You feel their hands supporting your back as you rely on their help to hold you up. How does it feel to rely on your church family?

(Pause for reflection)

As you feel your body begin to feel real again, you’re able to stand without help. You open your eyes to look at how far from the center you traveled with the support of others. Look into the eyes of those who held you up. Can you feel gratitude for their support, or are there other thoughts or feelings distracting you?

(Pause for reflection)

If you turn around, you can see that there are still more rings of people. Perhaps in the further rings you can see your cluster support staff.

Take a deep breath. As you feel ready, you can come back to this room and open your eyes. I hope that you saw faces of people that you can trust and rely on in moments when you need to step back.

Movement of a Disciple’s Life

Movement of a Disciple’s Life

Spiritual Practice presented at GPNW Mission Center Conference 2022 during the Business Meeting

By Ashley Whitham

How had you moved through your life as a disciple? This weekend’s theme is courage, but they all have different actions paired with courage, because the courage of a disciple inspires us to move. So as we pause this afternoon, I’ll invite you to reflect on your life as a disciple of Christ, and the rhythm this has created within you.

At some point, you had the courage to Step Forward. Your heart was open, your thoughts connected with ideas and a holy inspiration that moved your body into action. You stepped forward. Can you think of a time you stepped forward in your life as a disciple? You stepped forward into the waters of baptism. You stepped forward into the loving embrace of your community. You stepped forward to offer your hand when someone needed support. You stepped forward to share God’s love with another. Take a moment to think of those times when you courageously stepped forward.

(Pause for reflection)

When have you had the courage to Stand? We stand with our community; with those we care about. We stand in prayer. We stand and sing. We stand in line at potluck. Standing is its own precious action when a disciple stands courageously. You stand to offer support. You stand to volunteer. You stand to make the space around you safe for others. When have you courageously stood as a disciple?

(Pause for reflection)

In the joy of being truly yourself, loved and accepted in your community, how do you express yourself freely, without fear or constraint? Are you comfortable being vulnerably yourself? Can you grab onto your authentic feelings in the moment, and express them without inhibition? In your discipleship, what does it mean to have the courage to Dance? It means you dance! You raise your hands in joy. You open your arms in love. You stomp your feet to the rhythm of life around you. You claim your space. You shout to the world, “This is me! This is what matters to me! You are what matters to me!” When have you courageously danced in joy?

(Pause for reflection)

There is a time to step forward and time to Step Back. You step back to rest. You step back to learn. You step back to make room for others. Stepping back is not failure. Stepping back does not deserve judgment. God calls you to step back sometimes. Step back to catch your breath; to discern; to check the map to make sure you’re still headed where you were planning to go. When have you as a disciple been called to step back?

(Pause for reflection)

And now we week the courage to Kneel. We have gathered as representatives of the greater body of Christ as it lives and moves in the Pacific Northwest. To serve that body, we kneel. On the first Sunday of the month, as we enter that sacred space of sacrament, we kneel. In prayer, we kneel. In love, we kneel. To listen to children, we kneel. Reflect on your life as a disciple and consider times when you have responded to God by kneeling.

(Pause for reflection)

Creator of wind and gravity and force and friction and bodies,
Move us!
Call our bodies into action.
Fill our hearts with the courage to move to the rhythm of discipleship.
Fill our ears with the sounds of your creation around us.
Bless us with the awareness of your Spirit’s dance in our community, that we can join. Amen.

Prayer of Awareness

Prayer of Awareness

MC Conference 2022 Opening Worship

Written by Carol West, Cowlitz Valley Pastor Team Member

We quiet our minds in this moment to let go of concerns, worries, stresses, pains and agendas.

We seek Your wisdom and courage to see what you have laid before us as congregations, as Community of Christ, but also as disciples.

As we begin to see this path more clearly, we continue to seek Your wisdom and courage to change what needs to be changed.

Lord, we gather in Your name as disciples, grateful for Your abundant love and tender nudges. Yet in our humanness, sometimes You feel so distant, and the path is often tumultuous.

Forgive us when our eyes are closed to You; for in the messy details of life, Your outstretched hand is sometimes missed.

Remind us of Your unconditional love that awaits and that nothing can separate us from Your love.

Help us accept that Your love and power can flow through us when we increase our awareness of Your presence in our lives.

As we begin to open our souls to Your presence, help us be conduits of Your love and peace as we use our God-given gifts and talents to the fullness of Your intent.

When we feel Your gentle nudges on our daily journey, may we lovingly represent Your welcoming community where there is a place at Your table for everyone.

Work in us, Lord, that we can truly love You and others. May the footsteps ahead be pleasing to You. Amen.

Autumn Spiritual Practice

Autumn Spiritual Practice

By Ashley Whitham

Recently we experienced the Autumn Equinox. Because the earth is tilted on its axis compared to its rotation of the sun, the Autumn Equinox is one of only two days of the year when the earth is not tilted, but facing straight to the sun. On that day, the sun shines directly on the equator, and the northern and southern hemisphere equally experience the sun.

But after that day of facing the sun equally, we continue our seasonal shift. In the northern hemisphere, we are currently tilting further away from the sun, our source of light. Our days get shorter, nights longer. The temperatures will start cooling. But we know that again we will shift, and again we will return to face the sun in Springtime.

Do you notice patterns in your spiritual journey where you turn to face God in the Spring, and then pull away from God in Autumn?

Are there times when you feel balanced, when you are having an Equinox day, and your relationship with God is ‘just right’?

Entering an Autumn experience isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It could be that the Springtime spent with God uses a lot of energy, and the Autumn is a time of rest. Or the Springtime is about outward mission, and the Autumn is a time of inward contemplation.

How could you use this Autumn time to prepare for later, when we once again tilt toward God in Spring?

God, we thank you for times of abundance and times of rest, of the movement and cycles of life. Amen.

Minister’s Blessing

Minister’s Blessing

By Sean Langdon

Responsibility overload. Naomi Judd’s suicide. War in Ukraine. Binge-watching “Heartstopper” (if you know, you know). Event canceled due to threat of violence. Mass shootings. Holding in confidential stories. Fractured relationships.

When I log-in to Facebook, I am asked, “What’s on your mind, Sean?” Well, all of this and more! All of us in ministry carry not only our own burdens but also the burdens of others. Lately, it just seems too much. That so many people are carrying so much. People like to say that God never gives us more than we can handle. I don’t theologically agree with that statement but if it were true, I’m tired of God overestimating my abilities. Can you relate? I have a feeling many of you probably can.

Nadia Bolz-Weber, one of my favorite public theologians, recently posted “A Blessing for a Pastor’s Heart” on her blog. It resonated deeply to me. For this context, I’d read it as “A Blessing for a Minister’s Heart”. And by minister, I mean all involved in providing ministry.

So, to all those who provide ministry… Know this! You are loved. Even when it is tough and exhausting… Even when there are times that you just want to throw your hands up in the air and walk away from ministry but the calling of your heart tugs you back into place…. Yes, even when it feels like the weight of your community is on your shoulders… You are loved! You are loved by your Creator. You are loved by your peers in ministry. You are loved by me and those I serve with on the GPNW USA Mission Center Leadership Team.

I hope that Nadia’s blessing speaks to your heart like it did my own.

A Blessing for a Pastor’s Heart

By Nadia Bolz-Weber

I imagine it was because of your heart that you went into this work in the first place.

So I imagine you have a heart that wanted to extend beyond itself, to stretch to love God’s people.

So may God bless the parts of your heart that receive their stories so openly, and comfort their sufferings so compassionately, and share their joys so thoroughly.

And may God also heal the parts of your heart that have been wounded by the very people whose stories you receive and whose sufferings you comfort and whose joys you share.

And may God revive the parts of your heart that have grown protectively cold.

And may God protect the parts of your heart that are well-loved by those who know you best.

And may God gently place God’s own heart right behind yours so that the sorrow of those in your care can move your heart but find a landing place in God’s.

And may God gently place God’s own heart right behind yours so that the love you give in this work can come through you but doesn’t have to come from you.

And as the love of God moves from God’s heart through your own to those in your care, may your heart soak up all it needs in the process.

Because your heart is a human one too, and it deserves to be well tended to.


To read the original post from Nadia, click here:

<strong>Discernment Journey Videos Released</strong>

Discernment Journey Videos Released

By Sean Langdon

In the fall of 2020, the Bridge of Hope Strategic Planning Team for the Greater Pacific Northwest USA Mission Center followed a nudge to not just focus on how we were going to raise funds to meet our funding goal but also discern a “Bridge of Hope” to the future of who we are called to be as communities that live into our name, Community of Christ. What came out of the planning and conversations that followed was an invitation to our congregations and campgrounds to begin a journey of discernment. The discernment journey invitation provided a way for congregations and campgrounds to ground themselves in the holy work that was unfolding within God’s invitation for them as a community. To help with this, a discernment companion was assigned to journey with them. Many of our congregations, along with Lewis River Campground, have begun the journey!

At our recent Nuts & Bolts workshops, Kim Naten and I lead a session focused on discernment. As part of our planning, we recognized that we wanted folks to hear from disciples in our Mission Center who have been engaged in discernment. Therefore, three videos were created for this session.

The videos were:

  • “Discernment Within Community of Christ”: In this video, Pastors from Renton Community of Christ, along with their Discernment Companion, share with Kim Naten about their congregation’s response to the discernment journey invitation. Watch here:
  • “Discernment that Connects Us To the Community”: In this video, Pastor of Portland Community of Christ shares the journey that his congregation on when discerning whether to participate in a new missional opportunity in their community. Watch here:
  • “Discernment As A Way of Life”: In this video, leaders from Southridge Community of Christ share about a discernment journey that lead to the creation of their labyrinth. We hear their story through the lens as individual disciples, collectively as a congregation, and then how it connects them to the community. Watch here:

We now share these videos with all of you as we learn from the wisdom shared by these faithful disciples.

My Story: Exploring our Inner Monologues

My Story: Exploring our Inner Monologues

“Our Stories” – A reflection by Ashley Whitham

When we’re tots and toddlers
we live in our parents’ stories.
Their lives are our worlds.

When we’re full of wonder and questions,
stories from books, tv, movies
expand our imaginations to an even bigger world.

When we start to live our stories,
we trip and fall,
stumbling over ideals and expectations.

When we realize we have a story,
we look back both in pain and appreciation
for all the stories that brought us here.

When we share our stories,
we find community,
because my story is uniquely mine… and universally ours.

Prayer for Peace | Nov 28, 2021

Prayer for Peace | Nov 28, 2021

This Prayer for Peace was written and offered by Evangelist David Brock in
the November 28, 2021, Community Connections online worship
on our first Sunday of Advent (HOPE). It was offered as a
Prayer for Peace and Hope for those who struggle during the holidays.

These are holy days, God. This is a sacred time and season.  But that does not always mean it is a happy time, or a joy-filled time or a peaceful time, as you well know.

Death of loved ones happens even on Thanksgiving; a mother dies in childbirth on Christmas Eve.  Divorces are finalized during this season when we long for joy, hope, love and peace.  A baby is born in a manger, yes, and wise men and shepherds and angels herald the birth, but somewhere a child hurts during advent—of malaria, of mistreatment, or struggles with mental or physical debilities.  Someone has lost their job and there is no feast. Someone is so alienated from family that there is no invitation to share the feast. Not one.

Life continues with all its risks and unpredictability, God, even in this sacred season.  The Christian calendar year is finished. A new year Christian year begins with the desire for the birth, the return of the one who we call Messiah and Savior and Teacher and Emmanuel.  Hope springs in this winter season. Come thou long expected Jesus, come and set us free–  All of us.  The rich and the poor. The happy and sad.  All of us.

God, we understandably want our days to end in reconciliation, in an embrace, in a solution to the conflicts of living—like in a Hallmark movie.  Of course we want that and I think you understand.  Of course we want snowflakes falling freshly and presents under the tree, and a table groaning under the weight of a feast. Who wouldn’t want that and why not? Happy Holidays and a Merry Season to us; the merriest of all.

But, we pray tonight for those who mourn and weep at Christmas.  These may not be holidays for them in the traditional sense. But these are holy days, sacred days; these are especially their days.  These are days to declare: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

May all those people, God, especially those people (maybe right here and right now in this service) know that this is their season. This is the season when mourning may or may not lead to dancing, but this is the season of your strength for their weakness. It is the season when our pains are carried—our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us.. This is the season when you say to those conflicted or bereaved: “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God.”

This is your holy season. These are holy days because they are your days. These are the days when the lonely and those that mourn are comforted. In Jesus name, Amen.

Pentecost Guided Meditation

Pentecost Guided Meditation

by Ashley Whitham

Please sit comfortably, with your eyes closed.

You’re sitting on the floor. You’ve been sitting here for… days? Has it been a week yet? Time doesn’t really matter here. You’re with friends, but it’s hardly a party. Everyone is just sitting, staring at the floor. You’re all just exhausted from the emotional roller coaster. Your teacher was killed, and then his body went missing. And then about a week ago, he showed up here, giving instructions before disappearing again. And now, you just feel lonely, empty, lost.

Your teacher. Friend, comforter, confidante, mentor, father, brother, guide. The reason you got up in the morning. You followed him all over the country. Life with him was unexpected. Sometimes, you still wake up so excited for what your teacher will be doing that day… before you remember that he’s not here anymore. And then you just sit here, on the floor.

Suddenly a strong wind blows through the window. You feel it across the back of your neck. You instantly sit up straight; your eyes open wider. “What is this?” you wonder. Your head raises and your eyes meet with others across the room. Your heartbeat quickens. Your leg starts to bounce. There’s a buzz, an energy in the room that wasn’t there before. One loud, collective thought echoes silently through everyone. “What is this?”

You’re not sure who moves first, but everyone starts scrambling towards the windows. You try looking out, but too many people made it there before you. You and some others start running up to the roof. When you reach the roof, your heart is pounding out of your chest. You inhale deeply, and it feels like the first breath of fresh air you’ve had in your life! You look over the edge of the roof at the crowds of people in the street… and you feel the wind again.

As the wind blows against the back of your neck, your mind starts to race through memories: the first time you met your teacher, the first time he taught you, the first time you saw him heal someone. These memories that you hadn’t wanted to look at for so many months because of the pain and emptiness you felt, now played like the sweetest of movies. Now there was wholeness and joy in the remembering, and you smile – a real, whole-hearted, authentic smile that you haven’t felt in so long. You see the crowds below looking up at you with curiosity, but you are not embarrassed or bothered. You are just happy.

And then you feel the wind blow again across the back of your neck, and the memories begin falling from your lips. “Hey, did you know my teacher? I have seen the most amazing things in the world because of him!” And you aren’t really sure who’s listening, but you also don’t care.

As you’re speaking, someone from below yells something. You didn’t really understand what he says, but you see your friend downstairs step outside and talk to the crowd. So you turn to the others who came up to the roof, and you notice that you’re all smiling and excited. You wrap your arms around one another with the aching of long lost friends, and head back downstairs to rejoin the others.

As you feel comfortable, you can open your eyes.

Writing a Lament

Writing a Lament

Submitted by Larry McGuire

Reflective Practice Writing or Creating a Lament

“Our only hope is to march ourselves to the throne of God and in loud lament cry out the pain that lives in our souls.” Ann Weems

Take some time and reflect on how the last week (or a time frame of your choice) has been for you. Make note of the emotions you have been feeling during this time. Reflect on a particular situation in your community or in our world that has been causing you concern, pain or anxiety. As you identify the situation, take time to move through the elements of creating a lament that addresses the situation on your heart.

An alternative to inspire you is to take the passage from Isaiah 58 (The Message) and write or create your response to how the Spirit is inviting you to make your community livable again?

With a piece of paper, a pen, markers (you choose), invite God’s presence and follow the steps outlined below. You can create your lament as an individual or as a community:

  1. Address God: What are words or images that capture how you call out to God?
    Sometimes it’s in familiar words like loving presence or eternal One. Sometimes it’s
    simply God.
  2. A Complaint or Protest: Tell God what is wrong. Does God seem distant or
    detached? What is your observation of God in the situation?
  3. A Petition: Tell God what you want God to do about it. How do you want God to
    respond? How are you feeling led to respond?
  4. A Resolution and Expression of Trust: Recall truths about God’s character and
    God’s actions in the past.

Note: If you feel like you would rather draw your lament or inspiration from scripture, then
use your creativity to give expression through images. This is a practice to allow you to
express your rage, your desire, and your trust in God’s presence within you, around you,
and ahead of you.

As you practice writing or creating a lament to God, you might reflect on:

  1. What was it like writing or creating a prayer of Lament? Was it difficult to lament or
    cry out to God? Why do you think this was?
  2. What were you feeling as you were engaging in this practice?

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