It’s an odd thing to move to a new congregation. I think that most Community of Christ members expect change, subtle to dramatic, should they move and change congregations. But with my previous background as a Latter-day Saint where everything—and I mean everything—was correlated at the general (or world church) level, I knew exactly what to expect when we moved. While the people are different from congregation to congregation, the programs, buildings, and worship are all consistent.
So when a Mormon moves into a new ward (congregation), they can expect that their Sunday School and other class instruction will be from the exact same book, and often the lesson plans will be the same from week to week no matter which church you attend anywhere in the world. Worship formats never change, and the physical spaces where the worship is held, the actual buildings, are often identical to other buildings of the same period for the last thirty years or so (with most of Mormon growth occurring in the last three decades). Older buildings exempted, I can walk into a Mormon chapel just about anywhere and know exactly where the bathroom is, the bishop’s office, the chapel, etc.
Community of Christ’s greatest strength, and potential weakness, is its unity in diversity (one of the church’s Enduring Principles), which I find refreshing. While I think there are things to be learned and even envied from the Mormon experience, I celebrate the unique creation that is a Community of Christ congregation. Often the people scrimp and save and build the building from the ground up with their own hands, creating an ownership which is unknown among contemporary Mormon wards, especially in the United States. In Gainesville, Florida—our congregation until last month—the members there worked for years at a concessions stand during University of Florida games. In fact, they burned themselves out on building their little church on the hill to the point that they are now hesitant to get around to a badly needed phase-two for their growing congregation. These are challenges I never faced previously as a Mormon—challenges which make building Zion and a congregation completely new, exciting, and personal.
Moving to Nashville, Tennessee, we have entered a completely different experience in congregational life. The church itself is a large steel-frame structure that also houses a community theater—not because the members rent out a theater, but because a theater grew out of the interests and passions of church members, eventually becoming a very apparent aspect to the building. On our first Sunday here, it was hard to tell if we were worshiping in a church or gathered before a stage for a play. I could go into the relevancy of sacred drama to Christian and Restoration history and worship, but won’t.
The worship experience in Nashville is similar to Gainesville, but has its own uniqueness—allowing for a certain malleability or fluidity which seems congenial to Moroni 6:9:
And their meetings were conducted by the church, after the manner of the workings of the Spirit, and by the power of the Holy Ghost; for as the power of the Holy Ghost led them whether to preach or exhort, or to pray, or to supplicate, or to sing, even so it was done.
Here in Nashville, Restoration Christianity is well balanced, in scripture, hymns, and worship. For example, last Sunday was a pentocostal endowment experience which drew from Hebrew, Christian, and Restoration understandings of Pentecost and being endowed with the Holy Spirit. I left feeling endowed and recharged, reconnected to my universe and my God.
Community of Christ is not just a journey, but often a wild ride. We’ve had highs and lows, but have never been bored. I felt a very distinct call to join, and understand now—at least in part—why God was calling me here, for it has brought peace back to my soul as a Saint of the Restoration and as a disciple of Jesus Christ. It has given me the opportunity to serve Christ and build Zion. The uniqueness of each congregation is but another example of our “new and everlasting” experience, one that is both unchanging and transcendent, yet new as it is encountered in new places and times and among new peoples.