It Started with a Seed


23 May 2022

By Shandra Newcom

There is promise in a seed.

Hi, my name is Shandra. I’m president of the Sierra Pacific USA Mission Center. Over a year ago we chose to explore what it means to become a covenant community of love that follows Christ. And we are living into a missional reawakening; we are becoming who we are called to be.

In the Western Field, there has been this broader journey to discover how authentic, loving, Christ-centered, spiritually formed communities of radical hospitality, peace, and compassionate action can transform the world. No small task. It takes tending.

When COVID-19 came, I asked the pastors to meet on a Monday night so we could navigate difficult decisions. Our planted seed could have stayed dormant. But what actually happened was that we began to water it. I could never have imagined that now we are creating a new form of community that can become a model for gathering and sending as we live into God’s future.

As a pastor team, we gather every week now. We worship, pray, share information, consider and make difficult decisions, laugh, cry, and learn together. We love each other. And this has brought sunlight to that which is sprouting.

In the Western Field, there has been this broader journey to discover how authentic, loving, Christ-centered, spiritually formed communities of radical hospitality, peace, and compassionate action can transform the world. No small task. It takes tending.

This covenant with one another has invited us into new ways of being: I no longer am expected to make big decisions alone. We make many final choices that affect congregations and ministries as a team. And from this work I have promised that the things that used to separate us—like distance—no longer are primary. We are responding to God’s call in a space of oneness.

Is it perfect? No. Does everyone agree? No. But we slow down. We listen. We act, we reflect, and we act.

Out of this sprouted a broader covenant-community concept. A slender trunk began to emerge, and we created a covenant that planted us firmly in the Enduring Principles and made claim to who we are and who we are called to be.

Those words, and our promise to one another to imagine and live into God’s call for a community of love, nourished our growing seed in unexpected ways! We began to ask essential questions, like: What does it mean to be a community with a covenant? How are we being led as God’s prophetic people? What does it mean to work for justice from a place of privilege, and how can we become, with all beings, a Christ-centered community?

As a leader, I had to become a minister of flexibility, which is difficult. Let me be honest—none of this has been easy! It has taken intention. I had to listen more than I talked. When I heard something I didn’t like, I had to get quiet and listen for the heart of what was being shared. I had to change. And I got to dream with that community. A lot.

What does it mean to be a community with a covenant? How are we being led as God’s prophetic people? What does it mean to work for justice from a place of privilege, and how can we become, with all beings, a Christ-centered community?

Slowly, the example being set by the pastor team began to change the mission center as a whole. A tree had taken root, and branches began to grow.

So let me tell you about some things that are happening. The pastors continue to meet every week as we explore what that community is. I asked all sixteen of our congregations, when COVID-19 came, to pause online gatherings so we could meet together every week on Zoom. We’re online almost three hours every week for fellowship and worship.

We had a number of people who had not ever been in church, a number who will never step into a church building, and people who had left, people who had walked away all coming to community and finding home.

We have a strong youth program. We’ve done baking nights, we’ve done painting nights, pajama parties. Prayer services honoring those we’ve lost and recognizing our own sense of brokenness in this time. We connect to field offerings. We connect to World Church ministries. We’re creating a welcoming and affirming statement for the mission center as a whole. We’ve decided that all mission center events will be blended—in person and some online. We can do no less as an inclusive people.

Everything we do emerges from our covenant. Sometimes a branch emerges on our tree: We try something, and the branch doesn’t flourish. When that happens, we work to not get discouraged. We learn, and we reflect, and we act, and we tend to the living parts. Our tree isn’t any tree any of us could have imagined. Yet, it is a tree of life, living Christ’s call in our unique way.

We are reimagining congregational life, staff roles, ministries—all in an effort to do the work of Jesus in the world. I trust in what [French theologian Pierre] Teilhard de Chardin called the slow work of God. Anyone who watches a tree grow knows what that means.

Our tree isn’t any tree any of us could have imagined. Yet, it is a tree of life, living Christ’s call in our unique way.

If you read our covenant—and I invite you to look on our website for our covenant—you will find this: “While this covenant is expressed in many ways, it always supports the mission, message, and love of Jesus Christ…our primary call.”

Seed. Trunk. Branches. And now leaves. What a gift we’ve been given, and what potential we hold! Amen.

This adapted transcript, featuring Shandra Newcom, is the first from an occasional series of Mission Moments videos, recently created to illustrate Community of Christ’s role in the changing world. We invite you to read this transcript or watch the video on YouTube.

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