The Community of Christ World Conference officially gets underway today at its International Headquarters in Independence, Missouri. The more than 1,400 delegates from around the world have been arriving this week for the week-long conference, delayed a year by the Covid pandemic.
So, just what’s going to happen? First thing to keep in mind, it’ll be nothing like the semiannual general conferences of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Whether you think that’s a good or bad thing is your choice, of course.
CofC World Conferences are a mix of legislative sessions, large and typically joyful worship experiences, and multiple small-group sessions. I, for example, will be meeting each morning with other members of the Quorum of High Priests in the sanctuary of the historic Stone Church, about a hundred yards north of the Auditorium, across the Temple Lot. There are other meetings at the same time for the Quorums of Seventy, Order of Bishops, Order of Evangelists, Council of 12 Apostles, and mass meetings of Elders and Aaronic Priesthood.
The large legislative sessions and most of the worship experiences will be held in the Auditorium conference chamber, which normally has a seating capacity of 5,800. But that will be almost cut in half due to Covid protocals put in place this year. The sanctuary of the Temple, across the street, has a normal seating capacity of about 1,600, so reduced seating this year means it will not be used as a major venue as much as usual. Whenever indoors, delegates and visitors will be “strongly encouraged” to wear masks.
Worship Experiences: Many of the large worship services will be available online for anyone to view, using the church’s YouTube channel, including the following:
- Saturday, April 22, International Peace Award Service in the Temple Sanctuary (7:00 to 8:30 p.m. Central Daylight Time)
- Sunday, April 23, Communion Service in the Auditorium (10:00 to 11:30 a.m.CDT); Time with the First Presidency in the Auditorium (1:00 to 3:00 p.m.CDT)
- Monday, April 24, Worship Service in the Auditorium (7:00 to 8:30 p.m. CDT)
- Tuesday, April 25, Ordination Service in the Auditorium (7:00 to 8:30 p.m. CDT [several new members of the Council of Twelve Apostles and members of the Presiding Bishopric]
- Thursday, April 27, Worship Service in the Auditorium (7:00 to 8:30 p.m. CDT)
- Friday, April 28, Sending Forth Worship Service in the Auditorium (3:45 to 4:30 p.m. CDT)
Legislation: Elected delegates, along with members of the leading quorums and orders of the church, will consider numerous policy changes and, in some cases, make recommendations to the First Presidency and/or prophet-president. Many proposals originated in mission centers (similar to LDS stakes) or national churches. Delegates will have opportunities to discuss legislation in smaller information gatherings. Legislative sessions will not be streamed online for the general public but available for people who register. A few delegates, unable to obtain visas, will participate online.
- Climate Crisis: directing all jurisdictional levels to take responsibility for reducing carbon emissions, using a gospel perspective rather than partisan political platforms.
- Doctrine & Covenants Section 116: Possibly moving this section (originally dated 1865) to a historical appendix because of what some now believe is its rascist approach to ordaining black men. (I wrote about this in a previous W&T blog post.)
- Racial Justice: Acknowledging that racism is a sin, calling for renewed commitment in church and in national cultures to eliminate institutional racism.
- Budget & Audit Process: To ensure even greater transparency in printed publications and online.
- New Organizational Units: To authorize and organize additional forms of units (national, other than physical boundaries, or nongeographical designations), and encouraging online ministries and communities.
- Baptism & membership: Request the prophet-president to seek guidance regarding possibly changing the minimal baptismal age from eight years.
- Universal Screipture Access: Request First Presidency to look into providing digital editions of scripture at no charge.
- Resolution on Marriage: Allows for some international contexual application (for example, Haitian immigrants to the Dominican Republic cannot get citizenship and get married, and therefore cannot be ordained).
- Opposing Christian Zionism: Calling for CofC to reject any historical complicity in the narrative of Christian Zionism (which has similar roots to Christian Nationalism), thereby asking the First Presidency to promote eductional materials and advocacy tools.
- Compassion for Refugees/UN World Refugee Day: Seeking solidarity and coordination with the UN World Refugee Day on June 20 (this would be similar to the church’s annual Racial Justice Day in January)
Discernment Process: Conference-goers will also engage in small- and large-group discernment activities related to President Stephan Veazey’s recent announcement that he will retire at the June 2025 World Conference. After a churchwide discernment process, he is expected to announce his successor in Spring 2024. More on that here.
- Which legislative item interests (or possibly intrigues) you the most? Why? Can you relate it to an LDS context?
- With upcoming ordinations, this marks the first time there will be an equal number of men and women in the Council of Twelve Apostles, as well as a majority of apostles born outside the USA. What might that mean for Community of. Christ going forward?
- One legislative item calls for new forms of congregational units/communities, both physically present and online. Imagine what those might look like. How does that change the concept of church?
Photo Credit: Brian Seever of Quimby Pipe Organs took this photo after tuning the antiphonal organ at the rear of the Auditorium conference chamber, looking out over the horizontal trumpet en chamade pipes. His company maintains and tunes the Auditorium’s Aeolian-Skinner organ and the Casavant organ in the Temple.
I have some holy envy for this process. Love the idea of involvement rather than decisions being made in secret by a very small number of men.
I wish, once again, that I did not live 500 miles from the nearest congregation. A healthy spirituality still within some sort of restoration tradition sounds like home. As you might guess, I’m interested in proposals for online units.
Digital editions of scripture would be great. Being LDS has definitely spoiled me in that regard.
Thank you for the rundown, Rich! I think I’m most interested in the proposal for a freely-available online edition of the scriptures. Provided it is well-maintained, user-friendly, and searchable, it could be a powerful tool for educating members. If its just a clunky, PDF-driven offering like the Worship Resources webpage has become, no thanks. When I first heard of the proposal through the online Toronto congregation, I thought it was a no-brainer. Now I wonder if there are worries about negative impact for Community of Christ’s publication revenue. I’ll be curious to hear how it goes over.
Also curious for more details about the Baptism & Membership and new Organizational Units legislation. Not sure what that would look like, at least in terms of anything other than the successful online worship efforts out of Toronto. I’m under the impression there are congregation-level retail-space/online efforts in the works elsewhere, but can’t remember the specifics.
Jake: I think the primary concern regarding online scriptures would be the initial cost of doing it the right way, as you pointed out. Of course, doing so would have a negative impact on revenue from printed resources. But eventually that would be more than outweighed by the advantages of online scriptures for future generations.
The Toronto Centre congregation has certainly offered a great jump start to the concept of online ministry and community. I think I read they are mentoring a group in Calgary, perhaps elsewhere, too.
I’m also very interested in Ron Harmon’s extraordinary move from president of Council of Twelve Apostles to become Presiding Bishop (a far more important position for CofC than LDS) with two major emphases: (1) develop new sources of income/revenue for the church, and (2) develop new forms of ministry, community expressions, and congregational units not limited by physical, geographical, or national boundaries. That latter point could well lead to some exciting possibilities ahead. Worth noting that the church has fairly substantial monetary net worth tied up in real estate (especially in urban and suburban areas) currently housing congregations that are shrinking in size.
All this time and energy into an organized religion is truly amazing to me now. Signed, former TBM
“Which legislative item interests you the most? Can you relate it to an LDS context.”
climate crisis: Believe it or not, I actually think the LDS church and CofC have some common ground on this issue – especially if you are approaching it from a “gospel perspective.” Theoretically, at least, the LDS church believes in environmental stewardship and sice we use the same basic foundational scriptures, one would hope (or dream) that the two churches could get on the same page for some joint initiatives on climate change. I know that constantly building massive buildings that keep the lights on 24/7, is not a good look, but the church has actually shown that it can reduce carbon emissions if it really wants to. If you look into the recent upgrades on the HVAC/electrical etc. system at byu-idaho, it’s actually pretty impressive how much they’ve done to decrease energy consumption and reduce their carbon footprint.
Racism: I was intrigued by the language of acknowledging racism as a sin. From an LDS perspective, I’m sure if you pressed any of the Q15, they would tell you that racism is a sin. However, you would not get an apology for the priesthood ban or any further action. If racism is a sin, shouldn’t it be in the lds temple recommend interview? “Do you harbor prejudice or racist attitudes towards others or associate or support those that do so, such as hate groups or Donald Trump?”… Just sayin’.
Resolution on marriage: I served my mission in the Dominican Republic, and not only was what you described a problem, but it was difficult for most couples to get fulfill the marriage requirement in order to get baptized. It was financially prohibitive and often couples did not have the proper paperwork required by the government. I would really like to see the church drop the civil marriage requirement for couples who were married “por la ventana” as they said, give them a nice wedding in the chapel and call it good.
These resolutions, by majority vote, can be passed or defeated. They can be ruled out of order by the General Authorities before it reaches the floor for discussion, or be tabled for future consideration. Hopefully, Rich will update us on their outcome at the conclusion of the conference.
Mark Gibson: That’s the plan, probably Saturday or Sunday.
Rich- do you think President Veazey will be under scrutiny to select a non-white or non-male as his successor? With those options, could there be a return to the Smith lineage?
Any return to the Smith lineage in the Presidency would, I think, be far more coincidental than intentional. What I’ve sensed more than anything else with this World Conference is the rapidly increasing international flavor (meaning, non-North American and non-English-speaking) of the worldwide church, which is reflected in how we “do Conference.”
In worship services, for example, people offer prayers and songs in French, Spanish, German, Creole, and other languages without translation into English. The new president of the Council of Twelve Apostles is Mareva Arnaud Tchong from French Polynesia. She is the first in that role for whom English is not her native tongue. Seven of the apostles now were born outside the USA. Baptismal rates in areas outside North America far, far exceed those here. For years we have called ourselves an international church, but now we “privileged” North Americans are directly confronted with that reality. And so as we discern the future of the church and who we believe God is directing us to choose to lead it, that reality comes to the forefront.
Wow, can only dream about an COJCOLDs conference like this with such broad members participation, international diversity in leadership , and a focus on issues that matter and affect humans and the Earth.
I was also wondering, with the reduction in seating, if the number of delegates allotted to each Stake and District was altered. Are the members in overseas areas that cannot attend still allowed to appoint proxies to cast their votes?
I attended two Conferences while a member and loved being part of the Sacrament Service for 5800 people. It took less time to serve the emblems than a normal congregation. The Sacrament prayers were offered in foreign languages; no one needed a translation.
Since you didn’t respond to my inquiry, I believe that there will be a push among certain circles for a diverse 1st presidency; including the prophet.
Given what I’ve said already, I would expect that one or more members of the First Presidency after 2025 would be at least multilingual and possibly from outside the USA, as well. Just this afternoon as I sat in the Auditorium conference chamber, I couldn’t help but notice the remarkable diversity among the apostles. At the same time the 2 members of the FP (2 white men and a white woman) are all from USA. The new PB is an American man, and his counselors will be an American woman and a Dutch man. Change will inevitably come, just a question of when. The current diversity in leadership has “bubbled up” from below rather than any kind of top-down quota system. Much stronger way to do that and makes a powerful statement.
Yes, many of the delegations from outside the USA cast proxy votes. That practice will probably continue as long as there are visa problems and until we master the technology for remote sites (Honduras does that this year).
At the Communion Service this year, every other row was left unoccupied, which certainly made it easier to serve people prepackaged emblems. Those rows are pretty tight.
Anybody spot the Taiwan flag?