REFLECTIONS ON WORLD CONFERENCE
Submitted by Kim Naten, GPNW Mission Center President
We’ve been home from World Conference and Independence, Missouri now for about 3 weeks, which seems like a long time. . . but also feels like yesterday. The experience of attending this triennial event (give or take a year when a pandemic occurs) leaves deep and memorable impressions, and for me, sometimes it takes a few minutes (or weeks) to adequately process and share that experience.
While I’d love to give you a day-by-day (or even hour-by-hour!) summary of World Conference, I’ll resist that urge and share some highlights, observations and outcomes. For those of you anxious to learn the outcomes of the many Resolutions we attempted to discuss, those are provided at the end of my reflections.
As I reflected on the week, I realized that it’s easy to fall into our routines in terms of our own congregational and even our mission center worships, events, and traditions. We read the bi-monthly issue of the Herald and see stories and pictures of “Community of Christ” all over the world but for the most part, I find myself wondering sometimes, how is it we are all part of the same faith community yet experience “church” so very differently?
We talk about being a worldwide, global faith community but we rarely have the opportunity to experience that diverse community, to gather, discuss, sing and worship with members of Community of Christ from around the world – to listen to the hopes, the joys, the concerns and the deep commitment of our members in other languages, to hear voices singing joyous praise songs in Swahili, French, Spanish, German, Tahitian . . . unless we have the good fortune to attend a World Conference.
My experience at Conference opened my eyes in a new way – perhaps because this is the first Conference I’ve attended as a world church employee, so I know a little more of the behind-the-scenes happenings and World Church leaders than I did in previous World Conference experiences, I don’t know. For whatever reasons, during this Conference experience, I saw who we ARE. Who we truly are in this world. I saw it in countless ways – worship, legislative meetings, listening to perspectives from life experiences far different than my own . . . and I witnessed a deep and abiding commitment to bringing the Good News of Jesus Christ to all the world. Not, as we tend to think here in western culture, of US bringing the gospel to “THEM” – but of each of us being recipients of that Good News from many sources, cultures, and peoples: new songs, different languages, different expressions of praise than what we might be accustomed to, etc. The blessing of listening to a prayer in French or Spanish or Tahitian, knowing that while I may not understand what is being said, God hears it – and that can be enough. I can pray right along with the Pray-er without understanding the words, but listening with my heart.
One observation made early in (and which was consistent throughout) the week was a change in leadership styles: Full disclosure – I have only been going to World Conference since 2013, so I don’t have a very broad frame of reference for leadership styles of the First Presidency prior to Steve Veazey’s appointment, nor that of the Council of Twelve prior to 2013. AND I missed the 2019 Conference, so really, I fully admit that my depth of experience here is fairly shallow. However, I’ve heard about World Conferences for decades from friends and relatives, so I’ve developed an understanding or image of what it has likely looked like for many years. What stood out to me THIS year was a noticeable shift in “decorum” from the rostrum. A lightheartedness, almost jovial feeling seemed to be the norm, at least at the beginning of each legislative session. Now I’ve sensed this in the past, but this year seemed a little different. I’ve always found President Veazey to be pretty easygoing, approachable and humorous from the rostrum. Perhaps with the announcement of his retirement in two years, a weight has lifted from him, as he seemed more relaxed this year. Scott Murphy and Stassi Cramm, the other 2 members of the First Presidency, also seemed more lighthearted than in previous years. I’m sure this could stem from a number of reasons in both their personal and professional lives, but I will say – it was refreshing. There was a JOYFULNESS emanating from the rostrum into the gathered body, and it was contagious. By the end of the week, I truly felt as if our interactions as a faith community and as fellow disciples were just as important, if not more so, than the legislative procedures and debates in which we participated.
A significant change in tradition occurred during the Communion Service. While the serving of the emblems was a totally new experience (emblems prepared in advanced and packaged in little paper bags, with notes of blessing from around the world included inside, served from baskets by servers) in many ways, what was a significant change from “tradition” occurred from the rostrum . . .or rather, without the rostrum. Members of the Leadership Council – the First Presidency, the Presiding Bishopric, the Council of Twelve and the Presidents of Seventy – were positioned throughout the Auditorium, and once the Communion servers had served the body, the members of the Leadership Council served the servers. They did not sit on the rostrum to be served as in the past, but instead modeled SERVANT LEADERSHIP by serving others. We have not frequently seen this principle acted out so visually. It was a profound moment for me as I watched, and was served by, people who have sacrificially accepted the call to serve and to lead Community of Christ into the future, modeling Jesus Christ in a significant, symbolic and humble act of service.
Along the same lines, I had a couple of opportunities to participate in the legislative process, either by moving and speaking to a resolution, or, more significantly, by questioning and even challenging the Chair to better understand the decisions made during that process. In each of these instances, I felt valued and heard, and even validated when the Chair acted on one of our concerns the following morning. I’m not sure how many people in other denominations and religions can say that they have questioned or challenged their church leaders and have had the same experience I did.
World Conference is a busy, busy week, to be sure: Legislative sessions, meetings of priesthood and disciple quorums, caucuses, and orders, shared meals, “lunch and learn” sessions, and of course, worship experiences fill each day. Our experiences and memories of these events come down to one thing, for me at least: RELATIONSHIPS! New relationships are discovered and forged; old friendships are renewed and strengthened; friends we’ve “met” on social media are suddenly standing before us in 3D! Each moment of my World Conference experience is remembered and cherished because of the relationships surrounding them. Whether I was serving Communion with one dear friend whom I’d not seen in several years and one new friend I’d only recently met on Facebook, or watching two beloved colleagues and friends move into new ministerial roles (one of which includes being my new supervisor), or sharing the joy and excitement of several of our delegates experiencing World Conference for the first time, I was profoundly moved, grateful and blessed by the opportunity to observe and participate in this experience. Relationships are at the core of who we are as Community of Christ. Our relationships with one another are rooted in, and a reflection of, our relationship with Jesus Christ, with God, and with the Holy Spirit. If we are to healthy, whole and loving relationships with the Divine, we must nurture our relationships with one another.
Our next World Conference will be in TWO SHORT YEARS! (After which, we’ll be back on our triennial schedule.) 2025 will be here before we know it, so I encourage you to begin your planning NOW! Start saving vacation time and money so that you can experience this amazing, often life-changing event. Be a voice in the direction Community of Christ will go in the future! Be there to witness the setting apart of our next President and Prophet of the Church! I look forward to seeing YOU in Independence in June of 2025!
Here is the link for the summary of official Community of Christ summary of legislative items.
Click on this link for more updates and summaries from World Conference.