In the mid 1990s the church had just completed the decades-long fundraising needed to complete the Temple. W. Grant McMurray was ordained in April of 1996 and immediately had some lofty aspirations for the church. He envisioned the church would continue donating at the same rate that it had been in order to build the Temple, and he came up with a plan for what to do with those funds.
This initiative had 5 goals:
- Articulate a clear and compelling Christ-centered theology of peace and justice grounded in the scriptures, faith, and tradition of the Restoration movement.
- Engage 20,000 children, youth, and young adults in ministries which teach Christian values and Restoration principles, sustain high self-esteem, and involve them in the pursuit of peace and justice through acts of community responsibility.
- Challenge every congregation to participate in outreach to children and youth and in specific ministries of peace and justice, and enlist 200 congregations willing to model these emphases through high-energy, high-impact congregational witness and service.
- Establish 200 new congregations through creative ministries of outreach and witness, bringing to the church new life, freshness of spirit, and ethnic and cultural diversity.
- Add 200 full-time field ministers, at least one-third of whom will focus on youth and children and all others on congregationally based ministries of peace, justice, reconciliation, evangelism, and spiritual revitalization – these additional ministers to be provided by extending a call for sacrificial volunteer service and enhanced financial resources at both World Church and Congregational levels.
The church’s required budget went from $18 million to $30 million in just the course of 5 years. Unfortunately, the “build it and they will come” mentality that the Transformation 2000 initiative was founded upon buckled under its own weight. In 2003 McMurray announced that there would be significant layoffs as a result of the contributor base not growing, and the church would need a 10-15% boost in donations to prevent even further layoffs, which did end up happening anyway. Today the budget is even less than when we started this initative.
While this initiative is firmly in the past, the ripple effects from it are still affecting us. I have tried to look at our past and figure out how it influenced us to get to the point that we are at now.
Transformation 2000, in effect, represented a shift from the church’s historically unpaid ministry to paid ministry. “Priesthood” became a job description for many congregations. However, just as soon as this paid ministry came, it also left and the church was in an even more precarious financial situation.
However, instead of refocusing on volunteer ministry, the church continued to associate priesthood with paid ministry and expected the paid ministers who remained employed by the church to do more with fewer resources. This ended up having some unintended consequences.
The natural, generational rhythm of training volunteer ministry was interrupted, and those who should have been trained for ministry were not. Since the people from the Millennial generation did not become as invested in the church as their predecessors did, the church wasn’t as high as a priority. The maturity, perspectives, and solutions that this generation would have infused into the church’s ministry just wasn’t. As a result, the church has largely stayed in a state of arrested development and struggles to maintain relevance in the 21st century. The older volunteer ministry cannot compete with the marketplace of communities while only offering outdated senses of spirituality and morality.
Additionally, since a large portion of the priesthood is employed by the church, they may be put in a position where if they don’t follow the orders of their bosses, which often are the Apostles or the First Presidency, they could risk their current job, career, and income. They could, and have been, put into positions where they are conflicted between doing the right thing and what World Church wants.
The over worked, under paid, and ever shrinking paid ministry is not able to keep the church afloat with the mentality that we inherited from McMurray. Many people have began to say that we are watching the death of the church. Many people walk into our congregations and find nothing but discussions of the church dying and even our Presiding Bishop has a rather bleak outlook of our future. Many people believe that we’re already too late to stop the church’s death.
However, I believe that we in the Restoration have the Divine gifts necessary to resurrect the church. There are two scripture verses that I believe we need to keep in mind as we seek this resurrection:
Doctrine and Covenants 161: 4B
“Be mindful of the changing of life’s seasons, of the passage from the springtime of childhood and youth to the winter years of life. …”
Doctrine and Covenants 162: 2C
“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 priesthood must especially respond to that challenge, and the church is admonished to prayerfully consider how calling and giftedness in the Community of Christ can best be expressed in a new time.”
The first step to the church’s resurrection is ordaining younger, passionate, volunteer ministers to priesthood. The second step is putting these people in leadership positions such as pastorate teams, Mission Center presidencies, or even the Council of Twelve.
The younger generations know how to speak to people of their own generations. Given the chance to institutionally address what is important to them, I believe the younger generations would thrive. I believe that we would be able to meet and overcome the complex challenges that we are facing today. I believe that we would be a light that shines on a hill, and the ministry that we would provide would get more people of our generation interested in what we have to offer as a community.
Transformation 2000 represented a shift from unpaid ministry to paid ministry. The failure of this initiative led to layoffs, and those who remained employed being over worked.
The priesthood is often financially dependent upon its continued compliance with the wishes of IHQ. This moral imperialism cannot be allowed to continue.
This shift to paid ministry meant the de-emphasizing of volunteer ministry, which has historically been the model that our church has thrived under. This relegation of responsibilities led to many of the Millennial generation not being trained for priesthood.
The lack of younger generations in priesthood and in leadership positions has left the church unequipped to address topics that are important to the younger generations.
The church’s inability to boldly tackle pressing contemporary topics has left many feeling uninspired and uninterested, which in turn leads to more younger people leaving the church when they should be taking on leadership positions.
The church needs to ordain younger people, train them for priesthood, and give them the authority to overcome the problems that only they are able to.
“A Prophetic People, World Conference Sermon, April 21st, 1996” by W. Grant McMurray, Saints Herald 143, no. 6, p. 226 (June 1996)
I remember very well being a young boy, sitting at my mother’s knee, and having her ask me, “Grant, what do you want to be when you grow up?” I can assure you that this was not mentioned.
To the best of my recollection, my highest aspiration at the time was to become a garbage collector. It was not an altruistic selection based on a desire to rid my community of unsightly objects and unpleasant odors. Instead, it stuck me as an unusually fine vocation because it provided one with an opportunity to ride around town while hanging on the back of a truck. Since that time I have adjusted my career objectives somewhat, although there were a few times during some of our move convoluted legislative proceedings this past week when garbage collecting began to glow with renewed appeal.
Over the past months, an especially during the week we have had here together, my mind has wandered often over the topography of my life. I cannot escape its reality because so many of you have pressed your faces within inches of mine to remind me of who I am and where I came from. Graceland College friends have chosen to recall some of the more embarrassing incidents, describing in painful detail certain pranks and escapades in which I participated (serving as chaplain, of course).
I have had tattered photographs from my childhood slipped into my hands by former Sunday school teachers till ready to lecture me on th principles of the gospel. And, of course, my own children have been hovering nearby, anxious to deflate with razor-sharp precision any gaseous, puffed-up sentiments they see in their dad.
I mention all that because it is the framework within which I must understand the bursting fullness of my heart. No words can describe the overwhelming, humbling power of Monday’s ordination service. And from the days that followed, it is impossible to express the sense of support and goodwill transmitted from so many of you to me and to my family. The joy I feel in this beloved community knows no bounds, and the love I have experienced is unspeakable, without measure, and far more than any man has a right to receive.
But such feelings are matched with the other reality in which even through meandering conversations with long-time friends I am reminded of the stark simplicity of my years, the ordinariness of my travels through this adventure we call life, and the clear sense that my own journey is little different from the journey of anyone here in our midst.
You will understand, therefore, why I rest so uneasily with the descriptions we use to describe the responsibility you have entrusted in me. To be called to leadership of any kind, as so many of you would know, causes much reflection and concern. To be called to leadership of a worldwide body of God’s people such as this is truly awe-inspiring and unnerving. But to sit and listen while one is described as “prophet, seer, and revelator” creates within me unimagined turmoil.
You and I need to talk. We need to explore with each other just what it means to us to use such terms in this modern, scientific age, hovering on the brink of the twenty-first century. We need to talk about the past and about the future, about our hopes and dreams, and out highest aspirations. We need to talk about letting go and about holding on. We need to explore together our call to be a family of God’s people, proclaiming Jesus Christ, and building a global community that is joyful, hopeful, loving, and blessed with peace. We need to talk, my friends, about the way we have begun to move from our identity as a people with a prophet to our calling as a prophetic people.
A few months ago, I was snorkeling in a natural aquarium on the island of Rangiroa in French Polynesia. During this brief break (in what was, of course, an otherwise jam-packed schedule of church work on the Islands), I was swimming around observing the many beautiful fish populating the sea in that location. A young boy, about ten years old, swam up alongside me, both of us paddling in place, water up to our necks.
Pointing to me, he asked in a combination of broken English, French, and Tahitian, “Prophete?”, acknowledging his awareness that a church leader was visiting on this small island.
I nodded, ad then he asked, “Sanito?” referring to the name by which the church is known in that area of the world – Eglise Sanito or “Saints Church”.
I pointed to him and asked in perfect French, “You Sanito?”
He smiled broadly and nodded affirmatively, saying “Me good Sanito!” I let him know how pleased I was.
A brief pause followed, and then he suddenly looked downward, pointed into the depths of the water, and said loudly, “SHARK!”
I immediately looked in that direction, a momentary flash of fear passing through my mind, and then the boy planted his hand on the back of my head and shoved my face into the water.
From this experience, I drew four conclusions.
- We leaders of the church are still recognized throughout the world, even if we are wearing a mask, snorkel, and sunblock
- Despite the recignition, many choose not to be unduly awestruck.
- The churhc may be known by many different names, but the deficition of what constitutes a “good Saint” remains subject to interpretation.
- No matter where we are, our reflexive instincts lead us in the direction of believing that we swim in a sea of sharks.
We live in an extraordinarily complex world, assailed on all sides by forces of secularism, ignorance, selfishness, and fear. Many children are raised in families and communities where they quickly learn to distrust, to be afraid, to never know comfort or security or love. In the Western world children are subject to an onslaught of images that graphically depict violence to the point of numbing the mind and heart; that demonstrates a lack of values in relationships, lifestyles, and personal behavior; that demonstrates by word and deed a lack of care for the earth, for each other, or even for oneself, at least in spiritual terms. And each day that passes, many fall victim to the awful hole at the center of the culture’s soul.
In other nations, represented even in this assembly, there are bands of thugs roaming the countryside and urban centers, terrorizing those who are merely trying to complete their day’s activities. Corruption, crime, and urban decay all contribute to a sense that there is no refuge, no safe place, no haven, let alone heaven. Many of our own church members go to bed at night afraid.
There is little value just now in reciting once again the problems of our world. We know that lives are widely devalued in our societies because of certain characteristics of those lives – race, education level, gender, lifestyle, age, and many other things. It will not do us any good this morning to wring our hands in despair over all the problems we could rehearse in graphic detail. This happens to be our age and we see its woes. But we must be mindful that ever age has its distortions of the divine intention for humankind.
The purpose of the church is not to whine about the problems of the world and then to retreat into cloistered halls where we think we shall escape those things. The purpose of the church is to live the gospel of Jesus Christ in the very center of that world, proclaiming a message of love, and hope, living a commitment to shared community and celebrating the good things we have found in Christ Jesus.
The religious world has responded in diverse ways to the harsh realities of our world. Many have sensed the need for a spiritual awakening, one that responds to the deepest yearnings of the human soul to find a connection with the source of all life, to be restored to right relationships with God to be emboldened and enlivened with the Spirit. Within many parts of our culture people are engaged in that spiritual search well outside of the walls of traditional churches, pushing aside the stifling bureaucracies in order to fulfill those individual spiritual needs in new ways.
Definition of Our Church
We are in an era now when many churches are paying the price for being inattentive to those spiritual needs, opting instead for a social organization doing good things, providing support and fellowship and activities, and disguising all of that in a cloak of ritualistic worship and meaningless liturgy. We have ourselves bee guilty of just that same shortcoming at times. When such things occur people slowly begin to realize that the church no longer has the power to speak authoritatively to their lives, and the process of participating in the life of the community of faith becomes more and more obligatory and less and less meaningful.
To respond to that woeful lack of spiritual depth, many have emphasized the importance of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as the sole or primary element of significance. And clearly, the bottom like for every Christian is to discover within one’s own life the testimony that the gospel of Jesus takes form within the void, gives purpose to all we do, and speaks to the soulful searching within us. For many, that is the beginning and the and, and there is no more.
It is like the story about two men who died at ripe old ages and went to heaven, discovering it to be a place of rare and unimagined beauty. His eyes filled with tears, one said to the other, “Isn’t it marvelous?” And the other responded “Yes, and to think we’d have gotten here so much sooner if we hadn’t eaten all that oat bran.”
So many people in the religious world today are satisfied with that sense of personal salvation, feeling confident that the only job of the Christian is to get himself or herself right with Jesus – establish that relationship and then celebrate it until you move to the next world. I will respect and honor all who make that choice for their life, acknowledging that there are many, many other choices far less redemptive, far less beneficial. But I also want to declare that it is not enough, for I am aa part of a Christian heritage that began with the soulful, spiritual quest of a young boy who gathered together a people who declared with the testimony of their sacrificial and sometimes martyred lives that the earth is the place of God’s work.
We are the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, inheritors of the Restoration tradition, seeking to create in every age the spirit and forms of community that our Lord sought to establish with his followers, that the founders of our movement sought to establish in the burned-over district of New York, amidst the swirl of communitarian experimentation in nineteenth-century America, and that we now seek to create in traditional congregations, in cell groups, in church plantings, in towns, cities, villages, and tribal centers around the world.
We are the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and we believe that my search and your search for the sacred is just the beginning, not the conclusion of life’s endeavors. We are called not just to seek, but to build communities of seekers, recognizing that our search is deeply enriched by the contributions of all. We have a vision of Zion, a community that has room for every person, a place where the gifts of all are not just valued but essential, where people assemble to sing praises to God and to rejoice in the journey of their lives, and to be empowered to transform the structures of this world, to defy prejudices, to resist violence, to overcome the inhuman efforts to demean and diminish those of God’s children who are different, poor, weak, inarticulate, or unable to defend themselves.
We are the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and we are called to be a prophetic people, filled with the Spirit, rejoicing in the love we have discovered within our community of faith, but pointing to those injustices around our world that prevent even one single human being fulfilling their God-given personhood. We are called to be courageous in our witness, discerning and sensitive in our ministry, creative and vigorous in carrying out our mission to the world.
Last year I had the privilege of visiting the village of Ikot Oku Mfang in Nigeria. In one of the meeting rooms where we gathered there had been posted a vision statement written by the theology class in that village. I took a moment and wrote it down. Here is what it said:
“We believe in God’s promise to wipe away tears from all our eyes, empowering the church to overcome decay and corruption, bringing about spiritual and social wholeness. We believe that with the endowment all the wounded who receive the good news would be liberated to live in a community of joy where we will become our sisters’ and brothers’ keepers, serving humbly, patiently, reconciling with sense of with for peace. We believe that the Restoration church will be universally established with the good news, racism will be eliminated, keeping us one in Christ forever.”
The power of that statement, for me, is in the way it captures the hopeful prayers of those who have suffered for so long and want so desperately to hear the “liberating truths.” But this vision statement is not about relief from suffering. It is about a commitment to end suffering.
We are very different people, as should have been evident in our good-spirited disagreements throughout our legislative sessions this week. We have different priorities, different understandings of the gospel, different experiences upon which we draw, different ways of celebrating and praising and worshipping. We really have just two choices of coping with those differences.
We could try to resolve them by persuading others to be like us. I could try to persuade you to embrace my tastes in music, my theological reflections, my understandings of the world. And you could do the same with me. We could vigorously plug away at each other in an effort to wipe away our differences and achieve consensus over how we think, pray, and worship. To do so would keep us busily engaged for this next millennium.
Our alternative is to embrace our differences and focus not on making us all alike but on creating a sense of shared mission in which the perspectives of all have a rightful place. This requires that we be tolerant and understanding; not that we give up our particular form of expression, but that we allow others to be different from us, recognizing that they might very well reach people we could never touch.
In a sense this is fully consistent with out long-held principles of stewardship, in which we share our gifts for the benefit of the whole body, sending our resources where we ourselves cannot go. In that way we affirm that our lives are actualized when we are giving to others, supporting others, even those we do not fully understand, know about, or agree with. If we do that with our treasure, we also do it with our lives, blessed in community by the many different expressions of God’s grace.
But it is also important that we not allow our commitment to pluralism to lead to sloppy and mindless theology. Now more than ever before it is urgent that we be learners, studying especially the scriptures in order to broaden our understanding of the sacred writings that shape our thought. We must guard against being faddish, grabbing hold of the latest popular religious icon or book title and claiming for it the authority of all time.
Instead, we should seek knowledge from the richness of Christian thought, from respectful dialogue with each other, and in interfaith forums whereby we can explore together the nature of our spiritual journeys. We should not be afraid to sit at the table with those who come from different religious communities. We have much to give. We have much to learn.
Responding to the Call
But make no mistake about it. I want nothing to do with a plain vanilla, one-size-fits-all, generic expression of the Christian faith that has no story, that has no heroes and villains, that has no sacred places, that has no soul.
I am a restorationist. By that I mean that I have embraced as mine the story of this people who struggled to understand God’s call to them. I do not claim it as the only story descriptive of God’s work in the world. I do not claim it as a story that defines from out of history the way God would have us create the future. I do not claim it because of some intellectual argument that it is authoritative. I claim it for just one reason – because it is my story, because it is the place where I have discovered the love of God and where I have sought to live out the meaning of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
We must be better than we have ever been. We are called to be a prophetic people, witnessing to the world that this small band of believers is ready to stand up and make a difference. We are called to demonstrate with the powerful witness of our lives that we have unalterable confidence that God is in this work, that the powerful presence of the Spirit, which we have witnessed in such abundance this week, is also present when we return to our homes and families.
It is easy to feel the Spirit when 5,000 voices belt out the words, “Great and marvelous are thy works.” It is not quite so easy when twenty voices haltingly stumble through the hymns that call us to worship each week. But that is the place where we must commit ourselves – to enrich the comings and going of the church, to empower it with worship that touches the soul, to create places of learning and dialogue, to be caregivers and vessels of God’s love. That is the place, those congregations and branches and groups throughout the world, where we finally decide whether we will have a future as God’s people.
It must always be to the future that we point, for God is in the past only through the grace of our memory. God is much too busy with the future to be occupying the past.
In January I visited several of the French Polynesian islands. I was greeted with indescribable warmth and hospitality by the Saints. I was moved on many occasions as I had opportunity to share in several of the churches on Tahiti, Rangiroa, and Tikehau.
During one of those services a young person stood in the congregation and made a statement on behalf of her generation. i asked to take her paper home with me, so that I could recall many times the words she spoke. Let me share a few of them with you, precisely as they were spoken to me in her English tenderings:
“We welcome you our President and happy to meet you in the home of our God which we call it “beautiful Zion” … It is a trip that we never hope it will realize your present between us (she means, we didn’t think you would ever come here to this place.)
We welcome you in our island which we called it “Tiehau.” Tiehau is like a flower that flows in the middle of the ocean. It’s our island which we love because of the beauty of her nature that God gave to us.
We are the young children of the church of Tikehau, which we called it the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and the young of the future. We happy and glad to meet you here on our island which you choose to visit before you’ll become our new prophet.
We heard you are chosen for the years to come. We are asking you to remember us at the time you are ready to be ordained. Don’t forget us in your heart. We are the young of a small atoll away from all. Our belief is in you and happy that God chose you to guide us.
We believe in Jesus Christ, our Savior. Amen. Thank you.”
The message from this beautiful young child filled my heart, and my eyes fought back the tears. “Remember us when you are ready to be ordained,” she said. “Don’t forget us in your heart.” I want her to know that I did remember her and her friends as the hands rested on my head. I remembered her and all the children of the church as I looked into the bright and shining faces of the children’s choir last Monday night. Those faces were filled with so much joy and so much hope.
I want so very much to be a part of a church that cherishes them, that provides them a heritage to claim as their own, a story to tell, a mission to live. I want so very much to be a part of a church that prophetically witnesses to the world in which they live and that resists, with every ounce of energy we have, those forces that would crush the joy and snuff out the hope. I want so much to be a part of a prophetic church that provides eyes in the night, guiding each of us through the darkness into the safety of God’s love.
“Envision Our Future: A Call to Transformation” by W. Grant McMurray, an Address from the Elders & Congregational Leaders Event Saints Herald 144, no. 8, p. 313 (June 19th, 1997)
Introducing the church’s goal for the year 2000
A little over a year ago, as I assumed the responsibilities of my office, I said to the church that we needed to talk. I said we needed to talk about “the past and about the future, about our hopes and dreams and highest aspirations,” about “letting go and about holding on,” and about what it means to be a family of God’s people commissioned to build “a global community that is joyful, hopeful, loving, and blessed with peace.”
I called for us to be a prophetic people (see June 1996 Herald, p. 6). Tonight, I want us to extend our conversation beyond the things we need to talk about to the things we must to if we are to be faithful to our heritage and adequate to the future we would envision and create.
Setting the Stage
To set the stage for our discussion, I’d like to take you back more than thirteen years and tell you a rather personal story involving President Emeritus Wallace B. Smith and myself. I asked him for permission to tell the story because I did not want to violate the confidence of our personal relationship. He graciously and readily agreed that I could share it.
In the spring of 1984, I was fearfully anticipating the approaching World Conference. I had been serving as World Church secretary for about a year and a half and was about to deal with my first Conference in that role. I suspected then what I have come to know with assurance in subsequent years: the church secretary has the toughest job at World Conference.
The reason for that s because he has to work late into the night to make it appear that the members of the First Presidency are completely and totally on top of every logistical detail, and then to personally take the blame if they are not. I couldn’t say that then, but I can now.
A few weeks before the convening of the Conference, President Smith stopped me in our office suite in the Central Professional Building and handed me some sheets of lined paper which were filled with writing. He asked me if I would type the contents of those papers and indicated that, in order to participate with the Presidency in Conference planning, it was going to be necessary for me to know the direction we would be going. I took the papers in my hand and gladly assented to prepare them in typed form.
I walked back to my office, sat at my typewriter, and for the first time read through the handwritten text of what we now know to be Section 156 of the Doctrine and Covenants. It was an emotionally charged moment that I will never forget.
As I read of the call for the ordination of women, my eyes tried unsuccessfully to fight back the tears. I had a whole constellation of thoughts and feelings: admiration for President Smith’s courage to open priesthood to women at a time when there was little evidence the church was ready to accept it; fear for what would happen to his leadership at the Conference, and even a selfish feeling that my own job might be at risk; intellectual and heartfelt support for the changes called for in that document, mixed with an awareness of how painful it was going to be.
I sat there, awash in my own emotion, reading it through several times, trying to grasp all the nuances of its meanings. I was struck powerfully, of course, by the impact of extending priesthood to women, but something else in that document kept nudging itself into my thoughts.
I completed the typing and then walked slowly down the hall to President Smith’s office. I entered and approached his desk. He looked up at me and I handed the papers to him. I looked into his eyes and, choking back tears, I said, “It is a privilege to be associated with you, sir.” He looked at me somberly and said in a way that I could only begin to comprehend them, but understand much more fully now, “Well, it isn’t easy.”
We talked. We talked about the struggle to come to terms with what he was convinced God was calling the church to do. We talked about the possible outcomes of the COnference and the incredibly difficult time we knew would ensue, both at the Conference and in the days that were to follow. We talked about the other elements of the document, especially the need to think in fresh ways about the meaning and commitment of priesthood and about the call to build the Temple.
At that point the thought that had burrowed away in the corner of my mind came more sharply into focus and I can recall as if it were yesterday saying to President Smith, “You know, for the next several years we will be preoccupied with verse nine of this document, which deals with the ordination of women. But Wally, I truly belive that in the long term the most important phrase in this inspired counsel is the one that says, ‘The temple shall be dedicated to the pursuit of peace.’ That sentence will transform the church.”
Years of Struggle
In the years that have followed, years mixed with turmoil and hope, struggle and success, change and continuity, I have continued to be haunted by this call to the church. I believe the phrase has far less to do with the construction of a building than it does with the consecration of a people. I believe it calls us to look beyond ourselves, our internal strife, our struggle for meaning, our efforts to clarify beliefs, our search for the passion and the fire of days gone by. I believe that this inspired guidance to the church is telling us not so much what to think but rather what to be.
For some time now I have had an uneasy feeling that, while we did a pretty terrific job responding to the call to build the Temple, we haven’t yet come to terms with the reasons for its construction. My mind keeps wandering back to that conversation with President Smith. Have we been changed by the challenge to dedicate ourselves to the pursuit of peace? Do we do things differently, see the world differently, because of this call? Do our children and young understand it and their lives shaped by it? I have had to admit that, while we have some fine things in response to the ministries of peace emanating from the Temple, we have not yet risen to the level of commitment that such a call seems to demand from us.
It is time for us to take stock and to pose some serious questions to ourselves, questions that go to the heart of our movement and to the mission we embrace. It is time for us to place before ourselves, in stark terms, the things we need to do to respond faithfully to our witness of Jesus Christ in an emerging global society, and then determine if we have what it takes to do it.
Today I come to you, compelled by the responsibilities of my office and by what I believe are persistent promptings of the Spirit, to give voice to a transforming goal for our church and to challenge us to embrace an ambitious agenda for its achievement over a three-year period. I do so with enthusiasm and absolute conviction, and with the unqualified support of the presiding quorums of the church.
We are prepared to lead the church into a new future – a future worthy of our movement’s incredible adventure from its moorings in the religious enthusiasms and communitarian experiments of the nineteenth-century America to the dizzy pace of change in the twentieth-century global society. More importantly, we are determined to lead in a way that gives vibrant expression to our absolute faith in the power of Jesus Christ to transform the things of this world into the things of the kingdom of God.
The goal we present to you today is not a new church program with a manual to follow. It does not dump into the scrap heap our Communities of Joy emphasis or the various programs that your congregations now follow. it does not change one whit our mission as we have defined it; in fact, we reaffirm explicitly our mission statement:
We proclaim Jesus Christ and promote communities of joy, hope, love, and peace.
Memorize it, preach it, teach it, put it on your refrigerator or the dash of your car or on the screen saver of your computer or the wall of your grass hut. Post it on your church bulletin board, and include it in your orders of worship, just as you will see it each month on the inside front page of the Saints Herald. That statement says that proclamation of Jesus Christ is at the heart of our mission and that creating Christlike communities is the historic faith commitment of the Restoration movement.
Our transforming goal builds on that mission but asks us to consider more explicitly what kind of people we will be as we pproach a new century, a new millennium. It is an effort to answer the question, “Who are we?” both individually and corporately. It is a matter of identity and definition and focus.
Here we are, a movement that we believe began through the touch of the Spirit in the life of a teenage boy on the frontiers of America and that now embodies a quarter of a million people in thirty-eight nations of the world.
Here we are, a movement that was driven from place to place, tarred and feathered, exterminated and assassinated, despised and rejected, now finding its place around the tables of religious and governmental organizations, now proudly sending members to Congress and to ambassadorships and to human rights gatherings and interreligious assemblies.
Here we are, a movement that used to be known for who we weren’t and for what we didn’t believe, now courageously erecting a spiraling temple in the Midwest of the United States of America and brashly declaring that we will dedicate that building and its ministries to the pursuit of peace throughout the world.
Here we are, beginning with a handful of white Americans in the “burned-over district” of New York, now embracing a global family, some prosperous and some mired in poverty, multicolored, multilingual, richly cultured with diverse music and clothing and behaviors that stretch us and enrich us and force us to grow in our understandings.
Here we are, my friends – the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, replete with all our historic struggles over identity and mission and beliefs, democratic and theocratic, small rural churches and experimental urban centers, conservative and liberal, campground builders and potluck attenders, Sunday school teachers and youth leaders, elders and priests and teachers and deacons, men and women and boys and girls, dauntingly independent and yet amazingly adaptable to change. Here we are, 167 years after declaring that we are a called-out people, still trying to determine what kind of people we will be.
In searching for the answer to that question, we have turned to the haunting call that came to the church at the time we were summoned to build the Temple long dreamed of by the generations of my parents and grandparents, but almost forgotten by many of my own generation, including myself. “But why?” we asked. “For what?” we wondered.
Amazingly, amidst the doubts of some and the enthusiasm of others, the task was completed and and a church which wasn’t even making its annual operating budget, raised a monumental amount of money and created a stunning edifice on the skyline of Independence. It surely was a tribute to the dreams of those who in 1831 pushed aside the trees branches and carved a pathway across the frontier to declare that this is the place where the Temple shall be built.
This evening we embark on a three-year journey to give life and meaning to the dreams of those ancestors in a world that none of them could ever have imagined, and then to engage in a major initiative to link those dreams to the lives of our children, youth, and young adults throughout the world. Tonight, within a stone’s throw of the Temple, we commit our actions, creativity, and resources to achieve the following transforming goal by the convening of World Conference in the year 2000:
We will become a world wide church dedicated to the pursuit of peace, reconciliation, and healing of the spirit.
Hear me now! We will become. … Not we will believe. Not we will affirm. Not we will espouse or proclaim or embrace or declare or try to be. We will become! This is about getting it down into our bone marrow. It is “writing it on our inward parts,” as the Hebrew authors declared about making the covenant. This is about responding to life circumstances as people of peace, reconciliation, and healing of the spirit. This is about declaring first to ourselves and then to the world that this is who we are, in the name of Jesus Christ, who is the source of our peace.
The phrasing of the goal comes directly from the counsel to the church in Doctrine and Covenants 156:5, at which time the purposes of the Temple are revealed. In struggling with the definition of this goal, we knew from the beginning that the key was to connect children and youth with the call to be peacemakers. But there were so many things to be included. Then we turned to the inspired direction to the church and found the very elements encapsulated in one simple verse.
Healing of the spirit, reconciliation, and pursuit of peace touch all the bases: our longing for a personal connection with God that redeems and restores, our need to be reconciled in our individual relationships and in our conflicted attitudes towards others, and our cry for a world free from war and violence and despair and hopelessness. This is the ministry of the Lord Jesus and that is the call to the church.
To achieve such a goal is, of course, the journey of a lifetime, not that of only three years. But our focus on this goal over a three-year period will require us to reorder our priorities and assess our commitments. We have called this goal Transformation 2000. The message behind the title is clear. It means, we will change within three years. We will see the world differently. We will think of ourselves in a new way. We will be energized in our sense of discipleship because we know better who we are and what our lives are about.
And now we get to do the hard part. How shall we do it? What concrete things must we do differently in order to make this goal a reality? We have identified five objectives that are measurable, challenging, and will have powerful impact on the church if we achieve them. They involve our faith, our youth, our congregations, our growth, and our ministry. On the surface, several of them appear beyond our grasp; they require too much from us. Tonight we are here to tell you that we can do them and ask each of you to join with us in envisioning the future to which God calls us.
First faith objective:
We will articulate a clear and compelling Christ-centered theology of peace and justice grounded in the scriptures, faith, and tradition of the Restoration movement.
Let’s make no mistake about it. We are not called to this goas as social do-gooders, admirable as that may be. We are not called to this goal for any other reason than the fact that it is rooted in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ and in the lived-out experience of the Restoration movement.
We want to be peacemakers because Jesus said, “Blessed are all the peacemakers; for they shall be called the children of God” (Matthew 5:11 IV/5:9 others.)
We want to be reconcilers because Isaiah said, “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them” (Isaiah 11:6)
We want to be healers of the spirit because Paul said, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. … The Spirit itself bearth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God” (Romans 8: 1, 16).
We do these things as faithful witnesses of the Lord Jesus Christ, and as inheritors of the Restoration tradition that calls us to restore in every age the plain and simple truths of the gospel for the benefit of all humankind. We will therefore articulate the principles by which we measure our commitment to these things, grounding them deeply within the scriptures and the traditions of our faith.
Our second objective is a solemn pledge to the youth of the church:
We will engage 20,000 children, youth, and young adults in ministries which teach Christian values and Restoration principles, sustain high self-esteem, and involve them in the pursuit of peace and justice through acts of community responsibility.
Tonight we make a full-scale commitment of our church to the generation of young people who now await an affirmation of our faith in them and our hoeps for their ministry and their leadership. It is the programmatic centerpiece of all else that we do. If we fail to tackle this one effectively, we cannot possibly succeed in our overall goal.
A few months ago I met one Sunday afternoon in my office in the Temple with a prebaptismal class from the Mission Road Congregation in Kansas City Stake. I had agreed to spend some time with the children and their parents as part of a visit they were making that day to the Temple.
We gathered in a conference room for a question-and-answer session. There was one young man who was technically not supposed to be there because he was clearly under baptismal age – probably six or seven years old.
If we had one of these amusement park measuring sticks that said, “You must be at least this tall to ride this roller coaster,” this kid would have been left at the gate. But somehow he made it past our crack security force and now here he was, asking me questions.
At one point I was showing the group around and, after going through a door, I said, “This is the Council Room.” I felt someone tugging on my coat and I looked down. it was the little guy, and he said, “Did you say you were going to cancel church?” Seeing the alarm on his face, I quickly assured him that I had said “Council” not “cancel.” He was very relieved, and I thereafter tried to pronounce my words more clearly.
In the dialogue session the children were asking me questions like what kind of trouble I got into as a kid (I couldn’t think of a thing) and what did I have to do to get this job (I bit my tongue on that one!). Then I saw my little friend waving his arm. I humored him by asking what his question was. He furrowed his brow a bit and then stammered out, “What’s more important, the Temple or the church?” My first reaction was to wonder where my counselors were – after all, I needed counsel.
I then tried to respond to the question, recognizing that at its core was a profoundly important issue. My answer had something to do with the idea that the most important place in the whole church was the congregation where he attended, and the congregations where all of our people live out their faith. The purpose of the Temple is to be a shining symbol of our desire to be a people dedicated to the pursuit of peace in the name of Jesus Christ.
But two things came into my mind. The first was to be reminded again of the incredible wisdom and understanding that comes from young people. In some ways he cut to the heart of a significant question more succinctly than any of us had ever really done. Sometimes our job is not so much to minister to them as to receive their ministry.
The second thought was to become aware of the enormous need we have to connect the ministries of the Temple with the everyday life of the church, even and perhaps especially in the minds of the very young. The kids yearn for connections, they have ideas, they want to be together, and their lives desperately need meaning. We must not, we cannot, fail them.
Mahatma Gandhi once said, “If we are to teach real peace in this world … we shall have to begin with children.” The time for this commitment is now. We are pulling out all the stops.
Third is a congregational objective:
We challenge every congregation to participate in outreach to children and youth and in specific ministries of peace and justice, and enlist 200 congregations willing to model these emphases through high-energy, high-impact congregational witness and service.
Throughout the Communities of Joy emphasis, we have been focusing on the congregation as the most important place for the work of the church. This objective calls everyone of our congregations to engage in the ministries necessary to achieve our goal, but also asks for 200 congregations to step forward and be model communities of faith, demonstrating the incredible impact that energetic and effective congregational life can have.
A few weeks ago I attended the 125th anniversary of the Fanning, Kansas, Congregation in Far West Stake. In a technical sense, Fanning Kansas, does not exist. AAA’s maps refuse to recognize it. It is an unincorporated community with about forty-four official residents. As I was driving out to the Sunday morning activities, I glanced down briefly t change the cassette tape in my car and sailed right through the whole darn town. You can imagine my surprise, therefore, when I eventually turned around and made my way back to the church building, only to discover that a huge crowd was assembling.
I found myself in the midst of a vibrant congregation, alive with memories and family connections, astir with youth and children, averaging an attendance of 125 or more on a typical Sunday, and clearly on the move. They had previously announced a plan to build a new multipurpose building attached to the church. The reputation of the congregation was so good in the surrounding towns that the Catholic church had a fund-raiser to help them pay for their building. The priest showed up at the anniversary celebration and spoke about the long history of goodwill and cooperation between the two churches.
When the service began I found teenagers popping up throughout the sanctuary to participate in the call to worship reading. They had a children’s story and invited the children to come forward. I suddenly thought I was in the middle of the Normandy Invasion and all the soldiers were under ten. The music was lively and in a variety of styles from traditional hymnody to contemporary Christian music. The guest speaker that day was a little weak, but other than that the entire service was a celebration of vibrant congregational life.
We have many such congregations around the church, and we need to model the successes that are nourishing the spirits of our people and encouraging them in their discipleship. On one is perfect. We all have our problems. But if we are to become a world-wide church dedicated to the pursuit of peace, reconciliation, and healing of the spirit, it will have to happen in the congregations where we live out our commitments and discover the pathway to the Christ.
Fourth is a growth objective:
We will establish 200 new congregations through creative ministries of outreach and witness, bringing to the church new life, freshness of spirit, and ethnic and cultural diversity.
We have always strived to be a witnessing community. it is at the heart of the Christian faith to share the good news of the gospel. But one of the things we have also understood is that bringing new people into the church is just as important for us as it is for them.
Stagnation is death. We urgently need the freshness and vitality that come from persons newly alive in the love of Christ and newly embraced by the power of community. Such persons help us understand what is truly important and help us center our ministries around the things that make a difference.
Equally significant is the need to broaden the base of culture and experience which constitutes our church family. We cannot speak effectively about peace and reconciliation if we are a culturally homogenous group of people who never really understand what it means to encounter diversity or deal with radically different ways of being the Church of Jesus Christ. We have learned so much from our expansion into other nations of the world, but we ahve been insufficiently focused on African Americans, Hispanics, and other racially diverse communities within the United States. We must do better.
The May Herald describes an amazing network of relationships that began with a single contact or two and now connects Hispanic ministries in Texas communities such as Weslaco, Houston, and San Antonio; Mexican locales like Reynosa and Tecate and Mexico City; and California congregations in Los Angeles and San Diego. Stretch it a little farther and those initial efforts now reach all the way to El Salvador and Peru and other parts of the world.
The Bannister Ridge Congregation in Kansas City, Missouri, provides support and a meeting place for a Native American ministry which brings together forty to sixty people in that church building every Sunday. Around half of those participants choose also to meet with the congregation during their traditional Sunday morning service. One of the results of this visionary effort is the development of the first Central Field Native American youth camp, which expects to draw about fifty youths to Camp Doniphan this summer.
The point is that the planting of a single seed of the gospel can have unanticipated and unplanned consequences. When a farmer plants a seed in the ground he does not understand in scientific terms why that seed will become a stalk of corn or a winding vine of cucumbers or a stately field of wheat. He has faith that the seed, properly planted and nurtured, will become something grand.
So it is with the growth of the church. To make a beginning is to have faith in the future and in the faithfulness of God. Today we declare that we will move forward in trust and establish at least 200 new congregations within a three-year period, looking to those new beginnings to bring vitality and diversity to the church.
And finally, in recognition of the fact that we can no longer tolerate a dwindling dumber of ministerial personnel and expect to grow, we declare our objective to:
Add 200 full-time field ministers, at least one-third of whom will focus on youth and children and all others on congregationally based ministries of peace, justice, reconciliation, evangelism, and spiritual revitalization – these additional ministers to be provided by extending a call for sacrificial volunteer service and enhanced financial resources at both World Church and Congregational levels.
Everywhere I go I hear the crying need for competent full-time ministers who can give support to the self-sustaining priesthood, which constitutes the core leadership of the church. The pace of life is so consuming that the work of the local pastor simply has to be assisted by trained resource people who motivate, encourage, mentor, and educate. We have begun a dialogue with Graceland and Park Colleges to explore the development of a seminary program for RLDS ministers who want to equip themselves for that kind of career in ministry.
But we cannot wait for the evolution of such a program. The need is now and the need is urgent. We must identify 200 individuals willing to make themselves available for full-time service to the church. Every one of these new persons will be engaged in direct ministry to people and congregations. They will not be administrators or financial officers, as significant as those ministries are in the life of the church. They will be there to witness to Christ, to share the good news of the gospel, to heal fractured souls, and to encourage and motivate our young people in their life journey. They will be there as supporters of congregational life and as reconcilers, makers of peace, and advocates for justice.
This is a new era in terms of the vocational commitments of people, many of whom change careers several times during their lives. We are in an age of volunteerism, of alternative career paths, of creative ways of structuring a life of service. The traditional methods of staffing the needs of the church are no longer adequate, and we must engage in a visionary process of calling and commissioning that provides opportunity for many to minister.
And so, brothers and sisters, I issue you a challenge: Are some of you ready to serve?
- Are you a young person, perhaps just completing college but not yet committed to the responsibilities of family and vocation, who would be prepared to serve the church on a volunteer or subsistence basis for a defined period of time?
- Are you at mid-career or in vocational transition, reasonably self-sufficient, and at a point where you can offer your gifts and training and experience to advance the cause of the kingdom?
- Are you retired and available to serve on a full-time basis, offering the wisdom of your years to the ministries of the church?
Tonight we send out a ringing call to those willing to respond to this growing, vibrant, adventurous time in the life of the church. But we also know that some who have a significant ministry offer have family needs that make it impossible for them to volunteer their time. It will be necessary for us to increase our funding of ministerial personnel so as to have a chance to make an impact on the world. And so I ask if others of you are prepared to share ever more generously from your resources so that the ministries of the church can be advanced.
- Are you willing to sacrificially give in order to extend the ministries of the Temple beyond its walls and into the world?
Transforming 2000: To become a world-wide church dedicated to the pursuit of peace, reconciliation, and healing of the spirit.
- A Christ-centered theology of peace and justice from our of the deepest reservoirs of our faith.
- 20,000 youth, children, and young adults learning, growing, supported, and engaged in peacemaking
- 200 model congregations committed to youth outreach and peace ministries.
- 200 brand-new congregations representing the beauty of God’s diverse human family.
- 200 new full-time ministers released to touch with love the lives of people around the world.
My friends, tonight we are calling the church to get serious about our mission in the world. We are calling ourselves to be transformed in the image of the One whose life we emulate, whose ministry we embody, whose love we seek to carry into a world which yearns for it, which cries out for it, and which is empty and barren without it.
We call ourselves to foolish faith in an age of stifling rationality. We call ourselves to be poets in a tabloid world, to embrace mystery that defies reason, to discover spirit that evades language, to place our faith in the hands of God who promises, “And ye shall be my people, and I will be your God” (Jeremiah 30: 22).
We commit ourselves tonight to an irrational goal, not because of its logic but because we believe it is what God wants us to do, because we believe that the foolish dream of peace on earth is worth the investment of our very lives.
Tonight, we call the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints to rise up and fulfill its destiny. We call ourselves to be faithful to the painful struggles and even the martyrdom of those who believed fervently in building the kingdom of God on earth, even Zion. We call ourselves to respond without fear, without hesitation, without qualification to Jesus Christ, who defied social convention in order to converse with the prostitute, to sup with the tax collector, to confront the conditional faith of the rich and the powerful, to summon the children as inheritors of the kingdom, and to ride into the very heart of his own fears on a road strewn with palms.
Tonight we are called to a journey of transformation, to be made new, to claim our sacred identity as a world-wide family of God dedicated to the pursuit of peace and reconciliation and healing of the spirit.
We are called to witness with our very lives the things we have come to know and even to those things we have not yet seen. We are summoned into the future, not as tourists or visitors but as builders and creators. We are packed and ready for the journey. Will you come?
- How has the phrase from Doctrine and Covenants 156: 5A, “The temple shall be dedicated to the pursuit of peace,” already begun to transform the church?
- In what ways does the new Transformation 2000 goal build on and relate to the World Church mission statement?
- Examine each of the five objectives. How can they relate to the life of your own congregation and community? What will have to change for these objectives to be met?
- What is the difference between being “social do-gooders” and peacemakers? Which more closely describes your congregation?
- How would you answer the question” What’s more important, the Temple or the church?
- What are the dangers to the church of being a “culturally homogenous group of people who never really understand what it means to encounter diversity or deal with radically different ways of being the Church of Jesus Christ”?
- What would the addition of a full-time minister, either paid staff or volunteer, mean to the youth ministries in your local area?
Presiding Evangelist Everett Graffeo and Trudi Gunderson, RG33-IFI6I (June 4th, 1997)
Transcript coming soon
“Transformation 2000, 1997-1998” by Howard S Sheehy Jr. to Dear Larry and Matt Beem, RG33-IFI6I (October 15th, 1997)
Transcript coming soon
“Transformation 2000: We Have Become” by W. Grant McMurray, 2000 World Conference Address (April 2nd, 2000)
You came with us on the journey! By God’s grace, we were all packed and ready to go.
Tonight we gather in the closing months of our Transformation 2000 experience to celebrate the incredible movement of the Holy Spirit amongst us during these past three years, to proclaim the success of our goal and objectives, to showcase the achievements in human terms, and to build a foundation for the future.
We begin by declaring that we had but one fundamental goal in June of 1997, and that was to embody the call to this people to become a worldwide church dedicated to the pursuit of peace, reconciliation, and healing of the spirit. Tonight I say without fear of contradiction that despite our imperfections and uncertainties, we have become that kind of people. We feel it, we smell it, we taste it. It is worming its way inside us. We have been transformed.
I had an experience at a reunion in Alaska last summer that seemed to capture the whole thing for me in a humorous and yet compelling way. I have told the story a few times, including at Spectacular, but perhaps you will not mind a brief re-telling.
The Alaska Reunion is held at the campgrounds on an island on Lake Louise, a beautiful but remote location. All provisions, people, and belongings have to be boated across to the island to set up camp. People stay in rough-hewn cabins and in tents. It fits well with Alaska’s self-image as the last wilderness. I guess I can say that during that reunion I wandered in the wilderness a bit.
When I arrived I was told that I would be staying in a new cabin, but that it was still under construction. Oh, was it EVER under construction. I looked inside and there were sawhorses, power tools, nails and lumber everywhere. I was assured that some workers would be along soon to get it habitable before evening. Meanwhile, I stood on the hill, in the sun, my bags still packed, and with nowhere to settle. Others were spiffing up their cabins and preparing for a joyous week. I confess that I muttered a few things to myself now and then, all of them prayerful meditations on the circumstances at hand.
Evening arrived, to the extent one can identify evening in the summers of Alaska. Eventually, a hardy crew of workers began to finish off the essentials of the cabin – they hung a door, made sure plywood was on the roof, and cleaned out the sawdust. There was no time to cut windows in the walls, so it was pitch dark inside. To prop erly signify the occasion, some enterprising campers located a piece of lumber, spray-painted the words, “The Cave,” and hung it above my door.
They rounded up a bed for me. They found a queen size bed frame. They found a full size box spring. They found a twin size mattress. They found a pillow. I needed only to add a pin cushion and I could have had the pyramid of Quetzalcoatl in my cabin. Had I fallen out of bed I would have bounced for five minutes.
But then something began to happen. Over the ensuing days, people came to talk to me at the cabin. Some sat on the stoop outside and spoke of life’s struggles and questions. Some came inside to speak more quietly about the broken times of life, of marriages in disarray, of struggles with personal and family identity, of untimely death and prevailing pain. Some spoke in the cabin of hopes and dreams for the church, of struggles over faith and belief, of disappointment and sadness and joy. In other words, life began to happen there and that cabin, with construction continuing through most of the week, became no longer a harsh and even annoying structure, but suddenly took on the spirit of the people who visited it and left fragments of themselves inside its walls.
A few weeks after returning to my office, a package arrived from Alaska. It was big and long and thin. It was thoroughly wrapped and taped. We tore off the paper, wondering what it could be. I would like to ask Donald Welch, a Transformation 2000 youth minister in Alaska, and _________________ to show you what was in the package.
I noticed that the sign over my door was taken down late in the week, once the windows were finally cut into the walls. But what I did not know was that it had been surreptitiously passed around the reunion and signed by every camper. What arrived in my office was the original sign marking the bleakness and unfinished character of my cabin, “The Cave.” But now the words were brought to life by the names of the people who walked there, who sang there, who prayed there, who shared their story there. It was the people who took the rough old cabin and transformed it into a place of memory, into a symbol of community.
In the end, that is what this thing called Transformation 2000 is all about. There is an articulated goal and five measurable objectives. It involves resources and numbers. It is about new ministers and congregational models. It is about new congregations and youth ministries of many varieties, enough to stagger the imagination. It is about books and articles and satellite uplinks and funding dinners and countless initiatives of many kinds.
But at the end of the day, when all is said, it is only about one thing. It is about people who have been changed by the love of God and the blessings of a community dedicated to peace. In that spirit, let us look at how we stand right now, with nine months yet to go in the time period we established for the fulfillment of our objectives.
We declared that we would articulate a clear and compelling Christ-centered theology of peace and justice grounded in the scriptures, faith, and traditions of the Restoration movement. Such an effort is, of course, always ongoing, but we have a long list of resources, articles, presentations, curricular pieces, colloquies, and workshops that have helped us begin to reshape our thinking and extend the boundaries of our faith.
But perhaps that objective is seen most clearly in the faces of such as those who came to the Asian Leaders of Transformation Conference in Manila, The Philippines, and began to deepen and enrich the concept with understandings from the villages and barrios and teeming cities of Asia. You could see eyes sparkle and minds engage as concepts became personal and objectives on paper became real.
We declared that we would engage 20,000 children, youth, and young adults in ministries which teach Christian values and Restoration principles, sustain high self-esteem, and involve them in pursuit of peace and justice through acts of community responsibility. Our objective was too modest. We estimate that 15,000 children are involved annually by visiting the Children’s Peace Pavilion or participating in Young Peacemakers Clubs. In the past two years, it is conservatively estimated that 10,280 youth have been involved in the Solid Rock Café ministry. One thousand youth participate each year in Spec, 5000 in youth camps throughout the church, 400 at the Pan-Pacific Celebration ’99 in Papeete. Approximately 5000 youth have been engaged with the Africa Region curriculum project. And in 1998-2000, a total of 3000 adults received youth ministry training at 52 Forefront conferences held throughout North America.
But let’s go beneath the numbers to the personal. The Central Coast Congregation in Australia was composed of 20 people, virtually all of them grandparents. There were no children or young people whatsoever. One of the members, Shirley Heslop, had a dream that eventually the Central Coast congregation would run children’s activities.
Five women from the congregation went across the road to the local school and volunteered to help with the reading program. Over a period of time they decided to run a children’s activity during the four-day July school holiday. The July Kids Klub was born and soon, under pressure from the kids, it grew into a weekly Kids Klub. There are regularly between 20 and 30 children present each Friday night with about 40 children on the books. The Australia Region presently funds a Youth Leader for 20 hrs a week to assist with the program, but the age of those who run Kids Klub is over 50 up to 76 years old.
Shirley Heslop did not live to see her dream fulfilled, but it is exemplified in the faces of the grandparents who run the program. They say it “wears us out.” And then they smile with joy.
We declared that we would challenge every congregation to participate in outreach to children and youth and in specific ministries of peace and justice, and enlist 200 congregations willing to model these emphases through high-energy, high-impact congregational witness and service. As of tonight, 124 model ministries have been identified and Transformation 2000 funding has provided $138,000 in grants to support start-up and expansion costs. Beneath the numbers are wonderful stories of a youth congregation in Michigan and of seniors engaging in community service in many locales, of young adult musical ministries in the Philippines, of online outreach ministries on the Internet, of the preparation of meals to share with street children in Texas, and of young people sweeping away spider webs and bringing water and firewood to the elderly in Nigeria. All of these models are seeds, planted to bring forth fruit and to be spread around the world by a transformed people
We declared that we would establish 200 new congregations through creative ministries of outreach and witness, bringing to the church new life, freshness of spirit, and ethnic and cultural diversity. Tonight we can announce that since that day 220 new congregations have been established, 92 of them in North America and 128 in other nations of the world. Of the new congregations in North America, approximately eighteen percent have a strong ethnic focus in conformity with our need to form a more diverse church body. Sites have been identified for 24 additional church plants to be undertaken in the year 2000. In excess of one million dollars has been granted from Transformation 2000 funds in support of these new starts, with continuing funding of approximately $600,000 projected for subsequent years.
Beneath the numbers are people experimenting in various ways of mission, by building conventional congregations, by creating cell churches, or by meeting informally in storefronts as a precursor to the formation of a congregation. From Pigtown in Baltimore to Novosibirsk in Siberia, from contemporary Christian ministries to inner city outreach, from a pizza church in England to traditional congregations around the world, the fresh breeze of transformation is touching hearts and changing lives.
And finally, we declared that we would add 200 full-time field ministers, at least one-third of whom will focus on youth and children, and all others on congregationally-based ministries of peace, justice, reconciliation, evangelism, and spiritual revitalization. This challenging objective has resulted in an amazing response by those want to offer their ministry and service. Tonight, with nine months yet to go, there are 170 new full-time, Transformation 2000 ministers serving in over 25 countries of the world. As of this evening, 73 of them (43%) are bringing full-time ministry to children, youth, and young adults. These positions have been provided through creative funding partnerships between the world church and local congregations, through the willing service of full-time volunteers and those who serve with only limited compensation, and through local initiatives of various kinds.
Beneath the numbers is an amazing assembly of dedicated disciples, some young and anxious to serve the church that nurtured them, some at midlife and setting aside lucrative careers to become ministers, and others presenting themselves in the later years of life to give back to the God who blessed them all their days. We have 30 positions yet to fill in the next nine months. We need willing and skilled ministers, prepared to offer themselves for service in this time of transformation.
As church leaders, we lifted up these challenges in June of 1997. We did not have a handbook or a program for implementation. We did not even have a budget. Instead, we felt compelled to call the church to what it must do if we are to faithfully live out our witness. In the sobering days that followed, we plotted strategies, totaled columns of figures, planned resources, and got to the hard work of making it happen. We figured it would cost us $21 million to achieve our objectives in three years and to sustain them into the future.
We did not organize an extensive funding plan, determining that this was not about fund-raising. It was about ministry. We felt confident that the spirit that moved among us that day in 1997 would continue to work its magic on the people of the church. And sure enough, it has. As of this day, $18.1 million has been committed, our objectives are being achieved, they are on schedule and well under the budget we projected for them. If those who have not yet committed will do so, and if those who have continue to share generously by contributing what was pledged, we can close the remaining gap and sustain the ministries, personnel, congregations, and challenges of Transformation 2000 indefinitely into the future. A long-range plan has been carefully prepared and with your support it will be done!
But beneath the numbers are the faces of faithful stewards who had generously contributed to building the Temple and now shared again from their resources to assure that its ministries would be fulfilled. There are the faces of a new generation of stewards, sensing for the first time the need to step forward and to assume responsibility for the future of the church which will serve their families. And there are the faces of the two delightful children, ages 5 and 7, who came to one of our dinners because they “loved going to church.” Despite the fact that these dinners were for adults, they showed up anyway with their parents and they filled out a commitment card. They pledged fifty cents in 1998, doubled it to a dollar in 1999, and doubled it again to two dollars in the year 2000. And then on the card they checked the box which said, “Please send me information on electronic fund transfers.” We have indeed been transformed.
Tonight we are a community of God’s people who have caught the peaceful vision of the Temple we built. We are energized by the involvement of tens of thousands of children and youth around the world, stimulated by the creativity of 124 model ministries, enriched by the freshness and excitement of 220 new congregations, and served by 170 new full-time ministers. Tonight we declare that by the grace of God and the commitment of this beloved community, we have been made new, that we are different, and that we have been blessed. We said it with assurance: “We will become.” Tonight we know that we have become.
It is fair to ask just what this means for us, this thing we labeled Transformation 2000. Is it something that was birthed in the meetings of church leaders in the spring of 1997 and proclaimed to the Elders and Congregational Leader’s meeting on June 19 of that year? Or is it something that was rooted in what we believe was divine instruction to the church in 1984 at the time we were called to build a Temple dedicated to the pursuit of peace. Or is it something that was founded on the frontiers of America, when a motley band of seekers embarked on the great adventure known as the Restoration movement? Or is it something that found its heart many centuries ago when the man named Jesus walked the hills of Palestine and spoke of peace and justice and reconciliation and healing?
It is, of course, each of these and all of these. It is about what has happened inside us. And now it falls to us this week to think further about who we are and what are called to be in a new era of human history. The God who transforms us has not left us. That God speaks to our hearts in the way that only God can speak. I believe that God says something like this: “You have traveled well. Celebrate at this stop along the way. But do not rest long. For surely you know that the road is long and the journey goes further than the eye can see. But it is the only journey really worth taking. Celebrate, as you will, if for only awhile. But then, dear friends, let us rise and go. We are not finished. We have just begun.”
“Report of the Presiding Bishopric”, World Conference Bulletin, 223 (April 2nd, 2000)
Transcript coming Soon
“Upfront: A Statement from President McMurray” Herald, February 2003
A few weeks ago I was reviewing a draft of a letter we were sending to the World Church headquarters and field staff informing them of the gravity of our current budgetary problems. The letter outlined some of the steps we will need to take, including the likelihood of staff layoffs and reduction in services.
As I edited the letter I wondered myself if our members really understood the situation we are in. As I have talked to people in the field many have told me they were not aware of the deep cuts we are facing with current income trends and unprecedented increases in health care costs and insurance premiums. Some thought the World Church did not need additional income because we have endowment funds. They say that our people need to be given a chance to respond.
I am a minister and a preacher, not a financier or economist. over the past few months I have stared at enough spreadsheets, pie charts, trend lines, and long range financial plans to suit me for a lifetime. I have listened to analyses and projections and explanations of the economy and its impact on the church’s mission.
But let me explain it in simple terms so that all can understand. In 1997 the church warmly embraced the Transformation 2000 initiative. This led to the addition of almost 200 new field ministers, the planting of more than 200 new congregations, and a focus of ministry on children, youth, and young adults. The World Church budget grew from approximately $18 million to a figure that approached $30 million. That was paid for by a modest fund raising effort that covered the additional cost of the first few years, to be replaced on a sliding scale in subsequent years by increased tithes and general offerings.
Today, just over five years later, we face two simple realities. Our tithes have not increased as projected and the North American economy has sharply declined, affecting both the growth of church investments and the ability of members to increase their level of giving.
We are not alone in this plight. Most churches and charitable agencies in North America are experiencing similar shortfalls and are reducing staff and programs. We cannot reliably predict when an economic turnaround is likely to occur.
At the 2002 World Conference the Presiding Bishopric presented the details of “A Disciple’s Generous Response,” including a new interpretation and simplification of the tithing principle. This has been well received by the church, but it is too early to determine its impact on our funding of world mission.
Our current budget situation cannot wait for several years. We have no choice but to begin sharply reducing some programs and services, in accordance with the priorities we announced at World Conference. There will undoubtedly be disappointments in the field over eliminated services. We will lose the full-time ministry of some loyal staff members. To stave off further reductions we need a 10 to 15 percent increase in income, amounting to an average of about $10 per week for each family.
I don’t know how to say it more clearly than that. Members who contribute do so generously, but our contributor base is not growing. That is a serious concern for the future.
Economic declines always impact churches quickly because we rely heavily on volunteer contributions from members’ discretionary income. We cushion the blow by building up operating reserves and by spending from endowment funds at moderate rates, even when earnings are high. The financial foundation of the church is strong due to years of prudent planning. But the operating budget depends on tithes and offerings and that is the area where we have immediate need.
Some cuts have already been made. We have asked staff to eliminate many non-essential items from their budgets. As members of the World Church Leadership Council, we have voluntarily made reductions in our own expenditures and committed ourselves to increase our own generosity in our personal giving.
People of faith do not simply yield and allow God’s work to be frustrated by economic trends. Instead we respond sacrificially to those conditions, just as our church has done at various times in our history.
We are joined together in a great cause. We have committed ourselves to walk the path of the disciple and to give priority to the sharing goal. One aspect of that goal is witness: “Each one, reach one.” The other aspect is to “honor God’s call to tithe.”
We pray for each disciple’s generous response.
W. Grant McMurray