Community of Christ Seminary
Greetings! As I write this, we are in the season of Lent. By the time you read this, it will be after Easter, our faith’s celebration of God’s Love, Resurrection and New Life.
In this newsletter, you will read Dr. Tony Chvala-Smith’s own story about his journey and call to seminary. It’s entitled “All Messed Up.” We also provide a window into our January Focus Session. You will see our students and unique elements of Restoration History from our MAR course, RELG5330 Community of Christ I.
We’ve also included a Lenten Reflection to remind us all of the spiritual journey we share from emptiness to New Life in Christ and a reprint of the March 5th Daily Bread entitled, “A Death to Idols.”
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FROM THE DEAN
OUR MISSION AND PURPOSE
Community of Christ Seminary is solidly grounded in the Christian faith and shaped by its religious heritage and tradition. This tradition understands that God’s will and purpose for the world and the church continue to emerge out of the process of faithful response to human need. We affirm that the people of God are called to live in community with all creation, and that peace and justice are the touchstones by which the gospel of Jesus Christ is enfleshed.
The mission of the seminary is to educate and prepare — through prayerful scholarship, teaching, service and mentoring — faithful, creative and discerning leaders for ministries in congregations, church and the world. “[S]eek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning even by study and also by faith.” (Community of Christ Doctrine and Covenants 85:36)
A LENTEN REFLECTION:
A DEATH TO IDOLS
The following was distributed with Daily Bread and appeared March 5, 2018. It was written by Seminary Dean, Dr. Matt Frizzell.
Lent is a time of emptying. Nearly six weeks long, the emptiness of Lent holds a mystery for us.
The emptiness of Lent is not to punish us for our sins. It’s not to expose our worthlessness or celebrate human depravity. On the contrary, God made all things good (Genesis 1:31). Instead, Lent is a reminder of our source of life and essential spirituality. As humans, something about us is both divine and dependent. God’s image is also woven into our humanness. The point of Lent is to lay these open secrets bare and draw into their mystery.
Lent draws us into this mystery with practices and meditations that aim at our emptiness. Some fast from food or television; others from complaining, social media or the news. All are invited to pray and reflect. The aim is to empty and open ourselves for renewal.
Like being dragged into a paradox, the emptiness of Lent can fill us and make us whole. By fasting, our bodies feel discomfort from emptiness. Removing distractions, we face the emptiness of our mental lives. This emptiness matures as it reaches our emotions. The felt experience of physical, mental and emotional emptiness differs from our life's ordinary aims and aspirations. This emptiness puts life’s regular agendas, longings and wants in a clearer spiritual perspective.
Experiencing the paradox of Lent’s emptiness in full, life unfolds its mystery. We are more than hunger. We are more than daily anxiety. We are more than our aspirations and longings. Neither food or television, news or complaining, social media or daily activity ultimately fill us and make us whole. Stripped down, laid bare, simplified and emptied out, we can finally receive God’s gift to us. We are dependent on God and woven with God’s image. Emptiness is the path that takes us there.
SEMINARY TEMPLE SERVICE - "JUST. JESUS."
The seminary held a special Temple Service at the beginning of Seminary Focus Session in January. It was Sunday evening, January 21 at 7:00 p.m. in the Temple Sanctuary. The theme was “Just. Jesus.”, an exploration of Jesus as our revelation of God’s justice in and for the world. Dr. Matthew Frizzell, Seminary Dean and Stassi Cramm, First Presidency of Community of Christ shared in the sermon. Sara Blessing, Graceland University’s Director of Choirs, led the Graceland choir in three performances. The service was broadcasted over the internet. Over 400 were in attendance, and over 500 connections online.
Texts of the sermons are provided on the Seminary’s webpage:
ALL MESSED UP
Dr. Tony Chvala-Smith shared the following charge to seminary students and guests at our Commissioning Service for upcoming graduates at the January 2018 Focus Session. We worshipped in the Temple Chapel.
As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and [Jesus] said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.
It can come to you as a whisper, quiet and persistent. Sometimes it’s a nagging feeling, or a thought that tugs at you. Other times, it’s like an alarm clock, jolting you awake when all you wanted to do was keep sleeping. But often, it dawns lazily like a long, slow summer sunrise.
However it happens, when the call of God comes, it strikes us – in the marvelous phrase of theologian Timothy Gorringe – as something we could never tell ourselves. Me? What do you want with me? Now’s not a good time. Why? Seriously?
Matthew the tax collector got up one morning and surely had the usual on his mind: money and fees and fleecing his neighbors. And probably getting along with the Roman overlords whose bidding he did. He was, after all, just trying to survive, and that usually means blending in. But Matthew could never have dreamed up the future that was about to unfold with the words, “Follow me.”
Jesus spoke this invitation to the tax collector, and Jesus’ word accomplished the very thing it summoned Matthew to do. One day he’s collecting imperial taxes. The next day he’s turned in his resignation and is traveling with Jesus’ strange entourage. Being a disciple was not really in Matthew’s business plan.
Discipleship. The essential, fundamental, elemental, primordial call of Jesus is to be a disciple. Like too many biblical terms, we’ve turned it into a ‘religious’ word, which makes us lose its simple sense. The Greek word for disciple is mathetes. It literally means a learner. The Gospel of Matthew uses it over 70 times – more than in any other New Testament book. A disciple is a pupil, a student. As a disciple, the student learns....Jesus. We can think of it like this: when Jesus said to Matthew “Follow me,” he was inviting the tax collector to take up residence in a lifelong seminary program!
Jesus called Matthew, calls us, to discipleship. We can easily imagine that for a long time, it left Matthew’s life all messed up.
It was a September morning. I was all of 22 years old as I sat at the breakfast table with two people I revered, my Grandma and Grandpa Walworth. They were solid, loving, quiet farmers, a bit on the stoic side, retired from the farm and living in the small town of Clare, Michigan. I had lived with them for the past year working and saving money to fund a new venture in my life: heading off to New Jersey to begin three years of seminary study. Outside, my car was packed and waiting for me. Finally it was time. In that understated upper Midwest way, I said something like, “Well, looks like I’d better get going.”
Grandma started to cry. I hadn’t ever seen that gracious, elegant woman do that.
I have great, great grandparents buried in Cherry Grove Cemetery in Clare, Michigan. Five generations of my family are buried there. On one side of the family, we’ve been in Michigan since the 1870s; on the other side, since even before that. But here was I, the oldest grandchild about to get in my car and drive 800 miles away. To New Jersey! It might as well have been to Katmandu. The farthest I had ever driven anywhere by myself was to Detroit two hours away. And I had never lived more than 15 miles away from home and from Cherry Grove Cemetery where all those generations of my family lie safe and secure. My people don’t get out much.
But I had to go. Grandma’s tears seared my heart as I pulled out of the driveway, and my own tears ran down my face for the first 50 miles until I turned south onto I-75. An hour and a half later I was south of Detroit. And then I entered Ohio. Hours later I came into the even more foreign and hilly terrain of Pennsylvania. I was now hours away from home, yet on I drove.
Something had got a hold of me that was stronger than family ties, stronger than the comfort of familiar landscapes and roles. Something had grasped me and told me things I could never tell myself. And from one angle of vision, it was messing up my life. But the short version is that it was a new riff on the same old call that came to Matthew: “Follow me!” And in my case, I was following Jesus off to seminary.
Most people close to me didn’t quite understand why I’d want to go to seminary. That includes some good folks at church, which was hard. I suspect that’s the experience of some of you, too, and of course, dealing with suspicions from those you hoped to receive support from is not easy. “What do you need to go to seminary for? What’re you going to do with that? That’ll just mess you up.”
But the simplest and truest answer to that question is this: “I just want to be a better disciple.” That’s what we celebrate when classmates reach this culminating moment in their studies. They came into seminary to become better disciples, and today we send them forward with our blessing.
“Follow me,” Jesus still says. It will totally mess up your life.
And it will also set you free.
Seems like a fair trade.
Twenty-five seminary students gathered at the Community of Christ Temple on January 21 - 26 for January Focus Session. Drs. Tony Chvala-Smith, Mark A. Scherer and Dale Luffman co-taught the course RELG5330 Community of Christ I: 1820 to 1914. This class is an interdisciplinary course that explores the history, scripture and development of Community of Christ theology from the period of 1820 to 1914, the end of Joseph Smith III’s Presidency.
Each seminary Focus Session has optional “Stretch Sessions,” which are enrichment opportunities for students to learn more about a topic in theology, ministry or denominational studies. This January, Jack Ergo, Professor of Music at Graceland University, led a tour of Community of Christ Hymnody in the Auditorium. Jack’s expertise and musical talent led students through the theology and music history of sacred music of the Restoration. Students sang, listened and discussed as they sang in the cavernous space of the Auditorium’s Conference Chamber.
As a part of class, students were shown historical canvases developed and used in RLDS teaching in the early 1900’s. These teaching and preaching charts depict early RLDS teaching and doctrine on salvation, morality and the afterlife.
Linda Stanbridge is a Graceland graduate and a Registered Environmental Health Specialist (REHS). Linda serves on the council for the Michigan Mission Center as well as the Environmental Stewardship Team. Her husband, Kurt, is the resident manager of Blue Water Campground in Lexington, Michigan, where they reside with their two young daughters. Linda enjoys reading, birding and social justice ministries.
I am honored to be participating in Community
of Christ Seminary through the generosity of
the Emerging Leaders Grant. I was drawn to seminary because, as a science-minded person, I am always questioning. Seminary has shown me that this questioning is a practice of faith and is strength instead of weakness. Seminary is not a community of people who all think alike. It is a community of professors and students who allow you to explore what you think you know while challenging you through their own exploration of theology. Seminary is an exploration of who and what God is, why God is, how the church responds to this and how we minister in that light. Focus sessions especially are an expression of this community of seekers. The opportunity to listen, to be heard, to share a meal, to share in worship is fulfilling beyond measure. The opportunity to be with such inspiring professors and such a diverse student body is a picture of hope for the future of Community of Christ.
COMMUNITY OF CHRIST STUDIES
Are you also interested in Community of Christ studies? Here are some excellent resources for the serious student:
Chvala-Smith, Anthony J. Understanding the Way, Revised edition, Independence, MO: Herald House, 2011.
Cole, Clifford. The Prophets Speak. Independence, MO: Herald House, 1954 (Out of Print but available in many congregations or as a used book).
Cornish, John J. Into the Latter Day Light: An Autobiography. Independence, MO: Herald House, 1929 (Out of Print but available in many congregations or as a used book).
Luffman, Dale E. The Book of Mormon’s Witness to its First Readers. Independence, MO: Community of Christ Seminary Press, 2013. ISBN 978-0-8309-1566-8.
Scherer, Mark A. The Journey of a People: Volume 1 – The Era of Restoration, 1820-1844. Independence, MO: Community of Christ Seminary Press, 2013. ISBN 9780830915729.
Scherer, Mark A. The Journey of a People: Volume 2 – The Era of Reorganization, 1844-1946. Independence, MO: Community of Christ Seminary Press, 2013. ISBN 978-0-8309-1559-0.
Scherer, Mark A. The Journey of a People: Volume 3 – The Era of Worldwide Community, 1946 to 2015. Independence, MO: Community of Christ Seminary Press, 2016. ISBN 978-0830916566.
Schneebeck, Harold. The Body of Christ. Independence, MO: Herald House, 1968. (Out of Print but available in many congregations or as a used book).
Sharing in Community of Christ, 3rd edition, Independence, MO: Herald, 2013, ISBN 978-0-8309-1573-6, or available at http://www.cofchrist.org/OurFaith/SharingCofChrist-3ed.pdf.