This summer I had the very good fortune to be able to attend the 2014 Northern Ontario Reunion, and I was deeply impressed throughout the week by the leadership and ministry provided by Community Place.
What is Community Place? It is an initiative in Ontario that is striving to be a new expression of the Community of Christ church experience. As I understand it, it emerged out of our Senior High Camp program, from a desire to keep the camp experience ongoing, beyond the confines of camp itself.
What I really admire about Community Place is that it is a young adult initiative. Most of it’s key people are young adults, and the events that they plan & host are structured with young adults in mind. However, the events are not “young adult events” but are open to everyone. All are welcome, and being an inclusive group is part of Community Place’s mandate.
Community Place describes itself as follows: “Building a Universal Community of Action, Founded in Love, Acceptance, and Equality – Community Place offers unique and exciting programs by drawing from the successful camping model that has affected our lives for generations. We invite you to experience community building in action as we provide opportunities for all ages to participate in purposeful programming all year long.”
Watching Community Place personnel during Northern Ontario Reunion only confirmed what I have known for quite some time. They are leaders. And they are ministers. And that leadership and ministry, during Reunion, manifested in a variety of ways, including overseeing the A/V system, facilitating classes, and organizing special events for junior high and senior high participants.
More importantly, they provided leadership and ministry by being ideal role models that other young adults, as well as younger people, look up to. This is, in my opinion, one of the most important things that Community Place is accomplishing.
Community Place has done something that is extremely difficult to do. They have found a way to retain and engage young adults. In one of my other blogs, I talked about how important it is for Community of Christ to become a 21st century church, and I’ve stated that to become so, we need to be a church that is relevant, which resonates with people, and which is redemptive.
Community of Place has done that. It is doing that now. It is providing spiritual experiences for young adults (and others) which are redemptive, and which are relevant, and which, very clearly, do resonate with people.
I’ve also blogged (here & here) about the importance of expanding our ministries of invitation, relationships, and community building. Again, Community Place is doing all of this. A lot. And the results are impressive. More than that, the results are just downright exciting!
Community Place excels at being deliberate with invitation. It excels at nurturing holistic relationships, and it excels at building sacred community. How could one not be excited by this?
But is success with young adults important? Some people might not be so sure. So let me be clear. It is extremely important. It is imperative. We need to get this right. And we need to do so right now.
In fact, the importance of involving our young adults has been recognized by President Veazey, prophet of the church, who said in his 2009 “A Defining Moment” address:
“I am aware of the frustrations of some youth and young adults with the seemingly slow pace of congregational life in response to mission. I also am aware of your disappointment with not having opportunities to serve and lead as you feel called. In response, let me say the church needs the insights and gifts of all ages to be healthy. Congregations that ignore this principle do so at their own peril.”
Read that last sentence again: “Congregations that ignore this principle do so at their own peril.”
President Veazey continued by saying:
“I also know words are not enough. We need to do something now. I and other church leaders personally commit to meet with young adults in various locations to listen to concerns, perspectives, and hopes. We want to envision the future of the church with you. We want to explore models of ministry, mission, and leadership to open more doors for your participation…
…Young adults, the church needs you. We need you now. We need you to help us become who we are all yearning to become.”
The above words are a testimony of how vital active participation of young adults is to the church. We need young adults to drive our present and our future. Its not one or the other, its both. We need them to drive our mission forward, and we need them to position us to meet the challenges of tomorrow.
As part of the church, which is called to be a “prophetic people”, our young adult members who have established Community Place have prophetically envisioned an alternate and dynamic expression of “church”.
However, its new, its different, and while it is now a reality (as it has truly become an actual community), it is also still simultaneously (and in a sense always will be) a concept. A concept that hopefully will be replicated elsewhere, in various mission centers throughout the world.
Yet, as a concept, it is sometimes hard to fully grasp just what Community Place is all about. As excited as I am about what Community Place (the community) is doing (and has already accomplished), I sometimes have a hard time wrapping my head around Community Place (the concept). There are some things that I don’t fully get.
Still, I know it would be foolish and rather short sighted to just dismiss it, resist it, or oppose it because of my own failings to fully wrap my head around the concept. But as a church people, we are somewhat notorious for doing just that with new ideas, especially when those new ides involve new expressions of church. We can be very stubborn at times and inflexible with our attitudes & policies regarding things that are new, and/or which perhaps threaten our own comfort zones.
And that is when we should all be reminded of the fact that it was a church that Christ established. It was a church that Christ restored. It was *not* a worship service outline.
There are three dimensions of church: doctrine, mission, and fellowship. Everything else is infrastructure.
Knowing this, I recognize that I don’t need to fully understand every nuance of Community Place in order to support it. I don’t need to fully grasp it to be excited about it. I don’t need to have been a part of it its genesis to be a passionate advocate for what it is doing, and accomplishing.
And I don’t have to give up other expressions or experiences of church to enjoy and appreciate what Community Place is doing.
And what it is doing seems almost miraculous. Its not just that Community of Place has found a way of engaging young adults. It goes beyond that. They are transforming lives. Not just of their own personnel, but of a much larger demographic, drawn from all ages.
But what I see as one of the most awesome benefits of Community Place is that they are empowering other young adults to also move into positions of leadership in our greater church community, and therefore, moving into positions of meaningful ministry.
In early June I asked one of the key leaders of Community Place how many young adults could be considered part of their larger community. His answer: 200! Two hundred! This is not to say by any means that 200 young adults attend any given event. Because of busy schedules, and so forth, I don’t know if they have had more than thirty young adults attend any particular function, but the base is extremely impressive.
And that is good news indeed, because the church is facing many challenges. 21st century life in first world nations is not exactly church friendly. All denominations are coping with serious issues, including plain old competition – I don’t mean with each other, but with various time mongers.
Those who know me know that I am unapologetically extremely passionate and vocal about the heritage and divine calling of the Restored church and the (ever increasing) gospel fullness that we bring to the world. This is not something I’m prepared to see vanish from the world.
We are called (among other things) to pursue the cause of Zion (to build Zionic communities throughout the world); to proclaim Jesus Christ, and promote communities of joy, hope, love and peace; to abolish poverty and end suffering; to be advocates of peace and justice; to empower people to encounter God and reflect Christ; to declare the worth of all persons and celebrate unity in diversity; and (my personal favorite), to teach and preach the sacred story (which of course, if done properly, drives everything else).
Here is the crucial question. Who is going to do all of that? We can’t expect children and youth, while they are children and youth, to drive the church forward (and we can’t expect them to stick around without mentors), and as older adults gradually lose steam (or just burn out), we lose that manpower. What is the plausible answer? What do logic, reason and common sense tell us? Clearly, young adults have a vital role to play in the future of Community of Christ.
If we would see Zion, than we need to do ensure that we are supporting young adult initiatives like Community Place. Such support can take many forms. Participation, sponsorship, partnership, guidance, mentoring, and just being open minded, and not throwing up road blocks in a misguided attempt to undermine them at every opportunity. I’m calling this out because I consider myself a traditionalist, but sometimes, for the greater good, things need to change.
Community Place is a golden opportunity for Community of Christ. It is still very much in it’s infancy, and like every new concept, it has growing pains to struggle through. But it is my hope that the greater church membership will uphold Community Place in their prayers. It is extremely challenging to drive forward something that is new and different; and burn out & exasperation are very serious potential issues that the rest of us need to do what we can to minimize.
In Kirtland, young adults built a sacred community. Community Place seeks to do the same. During Reunion, I saw a glimmer of Zion, and I saw the potential that Community Place has to transform people’s lives for the better, and I was deeply moved by what I saw, and deeply blessed by what I experienced.
“As a prophetic people you are called to discern the divine will for your own time and in the places where you serve. You live in a world with new challenges, and that world will require new forms of ministry. The church is admonished to prayerfully consider how calling and giftedness in the Community of Christ can best be expressed in a new time.”
–Doctrine & Covenants Section 162:2c (adapted)
I recognize that this blog does not actually get into what Community Place does. If you are sincerely interested in learning more, please let me know, and I’ll do my best to have a member of their leadership team contact you.