The Congregational Blessing
Evangelists are called to share God's blessing with the church that is called to be the body of Christ. The vision/mission statement of the Order of Evangelists focuses the ministry of blessing in nurturing persons, families, and congregations in their spiritual growth.
We join with the Creator of Blessing in the vision of life lived in community in the spirit and ministry of Jesus Christ.
The congregation is called of God to be a sign of divine love, a light set upon a hill to give light in the midst of God's wonderful world. As a community, it is the human story of the divine presence of God living among the peoples of the world. The congregation as a fellowship of brothers and sisters is an expression of God's intent for human kind, and becomes a living parable describing the nature of divine love. such a fellowship makes a significant contribution to our human understanding of the meaning of God's kingdom on earth.
The identity of this fellowship of faith is found in Jesus Christ and the Spirit calls each congregation to live as persons called by God to be his people and to manifest Christ's presence in the world.
Living with integrity to this purpose expresses to the world that persons living in true community can live their lives in the light of God's love. The gospel of love ushers in God's kingdom where peace and justice are done on earth as they are experienced in heaven.
God is blessing the earth and is bringing to pass his divine and holy purposes. As a community of believers we are called to trust in God's plan and risk all in accomplishing his purposes. Though difficult, it is the calling of God's people to leave their comfort zones, even as Abraham of old, in order to establish new self-images and to travel new and unknown paths of service and mission.
Two essential qualities in being such a people can be illustrated in one of Peter's encounters with Jesus. It was the first occasion that Peter was challenged by Jesus, "Simon, put out into deep water and put your nets out for a catch."—Luke 5:4
Setting out and sailing into deep water was risky business for Peter and his brothers and putting their nets down again, after having fished all night, took great trust. The result is history.
In the gospel this new life of risk and trust is not experienced alone but is lived out in the companionship of others. To be a transforming community calls us to become, like Peter, a people who trust the Lord and risk putting his word to the test again by setting out into the deep.
It is in deep water we experience the blessing of transformation. There we will be blessed as our currently held beliefs and understandings are expanded; where our planning and organizing are guided; when our testimony of the Spirit's presence in our midst is strengthened. Our service and witness will be a blessing as it expresses the trusting and risking spirit of a people seeking to fulfill God's calling.
The community of faith is based on friendship found in relationship with Jesus Christ. It makes possible the spiritual journey we make as the people of God. Loving relationships flourish within the supportive context and blessing of the church community. Through this understanding, the community of persons with whom we live and serve brings spiritual meaning and direction to our lives. This nurturing fellowship extends to the larger Christian community who also calls Jesus, friend.
Presiding Patriarch Elbert A. Smith in 1917 expressed an inclusiveness to God's work in the world that extended far beyond the confines of [Community of Christ] church. God is seeking to befriend and bless all peoples of the earth. He said,
I have many forces at work in the world, saith the Lord. I have many spiritual forces at work that you know not of. You see but the smaller part of my work, and the world perceives it not at all.
As a people we have something unique to contribute to the world while continuing to be in solidarity with others who serve in the name and spirit of Jesus Christ.
The congregational blessing is a time of remembrance. Followers of Christ share a common history, which gives us a strong sense of identity as a people and helps us make sense out of the present. There is nothing more powerful than a people who remember their roots, and the sacred places of their beginnings. It gives today's generations a sense of connection and ownership with the past. The blessing helps in establishing identity and meaning as a valued legacy in the continuity of growth and development.
In blessing we also remember persons in our past and present. We cherish them and honor their contributions to our lives and the current experiences of our common faith journey. They are the mentors and models who have performed their part in shaping our lives. Some are no longer there for us. Their grip on us has loosened but the memory of them remains forever strong. Others walk with us today as teaching companions.
The congregational blessing is a transforming experience where opportunity is given to explore the gifts, calling, uniqueness, strengths, and weakness of each person in the community of believers. It is seeing the body of the church in light of the divine will and the part each one plays in fulfilling God's call.
The blessing calls us to live and behave imaginatively together so as to create with God, a community, divinely instituted, sustained, and creatively living together in joy, hope, love, and peace.
Imaging the blessing in metaphor would be like experiencing the encompassing embrace of loving parents taking their beloved children into their arms as a family. It is a blessing to be in a companioning relationship and fellowship with brothers and sisters.
It is a joy to hear the invitation of the Master to "Come!" and there discover with others acceptance and love; experience together respect and personal value; encounter together forgiveness and wholeness; and live together reconciled, and healed in spirit. It is a blessing to live in the community of Christ named in his honor.
The Spirit felt at Pentecost is said to have been like a rushing wind and was seen as tongues of fire. In the same way the congregational blessing is the wind of the Spirit filling the sails of this fragile bark of our small divinely instituted community, pushing it out into the unknown depths of the open sea. The congregation will experience a new sense of direction and freedom as it moves forward in trust. The sails of this tiny vessel of the church will be filled with the breath of God's Spirit to give power and steerage for the high adventure of our common journey dedicated to the pursuit of peace.
The Congregational Blessing is to strengthen the faith of the congregation in its mission to be the community of Christ. It is to strengthen the bonds of love and commitment of each person to Christ and the community of the congregation.
The blessing can move the congregation forward in providing the kind of environment where people are safe in building relationships based on love, trust, compassion, and forgiveness.
Reconciliation can take place and the spirit of each person will be touched with hope in bring healing and wholeness. The sacrament of blessing helps the congregation focus more clearly on the vision created by God to hear more fully the clarion call to share in the ministry and mission God's Son in the world.
The blessing will help identify the uniqueness of God's call and intent for the congregation in relationship to the larger community. It can help in answering the questions: "How can we, as a loving Christ-centered fellowship, be more fully his compassionate body in the community in which we live?
How can we best express to the world the meaning of the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven?"
The blessing will touch the special and unique culture of the congregation. It will be manifest in the acceptance, appreciation, utilization, and magnification of the gifts and talents of each one, for the glory of God.
The blessing will challenge individuals, families and the congregation to be a living witness of Jesus Christ in word and deed. As the congregation is blessed, and reaches out to others, it will become a blessing.
As you bless others, you too will be blessed. You will become known as the church that blesses families, the community, neighbors, and friends.
As is the case in all of the sacraments of the church, there is need for preparation for the congregational blessing. Because this sacramental experience involves the whole congregation, you should count on from three to six months to prepare for the congregational blessing. This is how you should proceed:
- Contact an evangelist and begin your discussions about the blessing. You need to feel a deep desire to share as a congregation in this sacramental event. There will be a growing sense among you of God's call to the congregation to meet together in this sacramental rendezvous with God's Spirit.
- Meet with your leadership team and the several evangelists (two to four) who will share with the congregation in the blessing. The evangelists will help the leadership team understand the nature of the blessing and what might be anticipated as you enter into this sacramental experience.
- Begin your planning in prayer, then move to brainstorming about possible areas where you feel the need to be touched by such a blessing: children, youth, young adults, singles, parents, families, single parent families, older age members, non-participating members, friends, neighbors, mission outreach, leaders, priesthood, planning, training, organizing, congregational spirituality, transforming the community, reconciliation of members and families.
- This might take several meetings to discuss and think through how the congregation is in need of blessing, when and how the blessing will take place; evangelists who will share in the blessing experience; congregational preparation; responsibilities shared for the different aspects of the pre-blessing and post-blessing planning, and coordinating.
- Some suggested areas for consideration in your planning and coordinating of the congregational blessing:
- organize the priesthood to visit all members of the congregation;
- develop a small brochure to distribute to persons and families who will be visited by the priesthood describing how they can join in preparation for the blessing as individuals and family units;
- plan the themes and the worship and testimonial experiences during the preparation months prior to the actual blessing;
- plan regular priesthood meetings for worship and testimonial expressions about current ministries;
- practice as a congregation, families, and individuals the spiritual disciplines of prayer, fasting, and study;
- seek the spirit of unity as a congregation in vision how you will be a blessing to each other and the larger community of the city or neighborhood in which you are a part;
- seek the spirit of reconciliation through repentance and forgiveness among family members or between individuals or families in the congregation;
- help the children and youth to understand the blessing experience, making them full participants in the total blessing;
- reach out to friends and family relations who need to hear and experience more of the message of the church.
- serve in the community as a congregation;
- plan and carry out a congregational retreat focused on blessing and spiritual disciplines.
- utilize the evangelists in visiting, preaching, teaching, praying, and serving in the congregation.
- present and discuss the message of the video "Blessed to Be a Blessing" prior to the sacrament of blessing.
- trust God to bless.
This material is an open door for congregations and evangelists who are entering together into the sacramental experience of the congregational blessing. What you have read are only suggestions to help you in your preparation for the blessing. Remain open and responsive to the Spirit of God as you prayerfully enter into this sacramental event. It can be a wonderful step in nurturing the saints of the congregation in zionic living. Evangelists as spiritual companions who are involved in the blessing are there to assist you in this congregational journey. As you move in faith, anticipate God's blessing for you personally, even as you seek the blessing of God for the congregation. As a people, you will discover again the wind and fire of the Spirit of God. You will live in wonder and awe at the presence of God with you.
You will experience the joy of knowing that even as you are blessed so will you be given the opportunity to bless.
As you reach out in love and compassion in the name and spirit of Jesus Christ you will be blessed as the people of the peaceable kingdom of God. May this be your blessing.
The Order of Evangelists