Our church began in August of 2008 with a congregation of about fifty people drawn from readers of Roger Ray's column in the Springfield News Leader and former church members.
We met for nearly a year trying to hammer out what it would mean for us to start a new church in a city that is over-populated with churches already. It was our goal to become fully liberated from institutional control and to fully embrace an academic and meaningful approach to one being a prophetic church, taking direct action in matters of social justice.
Clearly, since most of us came from Christian backgrounds, we named ourselves the Community Christian Church and that is still our legal name but as we reflected together and studied religion more broadly, we have found ourselves to be more Unitarian in character than we are specifically Christian. We have not aligned with any denomination and we try to remain open to cooperative ministry with other faith communities. Some of us are Buddhists, some are Humanists, some are atheists, and many are progressive Christians but all of us are free.
Dr. Roger Ray holds masters and doctoral degrees in divinity from Vanderbilt University as well as a bachelors in philosophy from Murray State University. He was a 2004 Merriell Fellow at Harvard Divinity School. His most recent books, Progressive Faith and Practice and Progressive Conversations, have led to many invitations to speak both in the United States and in Great Britain. Dr. Ray wrote an ethics column for the Springfield News-Leader for more than 20 years and has had many sermons published in professional preaching journals over his long career. He had 28 years of experience in pastoral ministry before becoming the founding pastor of Community Christian Church in August of 2008.
Sean Spyresis the director of music at Community Christian Church in Springfield, Missouri where he has given lectures and workshops alongside Bishop John Shelby Spong and Dr. Roger Ray, regarding the use of religious and secular music in modern, progressive Christian churches. Spyres is currently pursuing a Masters Degree in Arts Administration at Drury University and serves as the Production Director for the 2015 SRO Education Outreach Tour, which is performing “Alice in Wonderland: A Lesson in Honesty” which is an original opera that he wrote with his mother, Terry Spyres. Most recently he has performed the role of Judas in the Community Christian Church concert production of “Jesus Christ Superstar.” In 2012, Sean performed as the tenor soloist in Haydn’s “The Creation” and also The Defendant in SRO Lyric Theatre’s production of “Trial by Jury.”Sean received his Masters of Music in Opera Performance in 2003 from Wichita State University and his BM from Drury University in 2001.
Barry Stacy hails from Denver and Crestone, CO. Barry currently enjoys the artistic and spiritual freedom of the Community Christian Church where he continues a fifty year career in church music. Barry also teaches applied piano for music therapy at Drury University and personalized piano lessons for all ages to the general public. Barry is a presenter in master classes, historical improvisation treatises, and music memory techniques. In advanced music study, Barry is the third generation of piano tutorial lineage coming from Franz Liszt and Bela Bartok. He has a Bachelor of Music degree in piano performance and has advanced studies in pipe organ, clavichord, accordion, and pre-baroque keyboard and wind instruments. Barry promotes music education as being an integral part of anyone’s life at any time. His current interests and associations include the American Recorder Society, Organ Historical Society, Reed Organ Society, recycling and green home building.
Symbols are important.† As we started to move towards launching our new church, our resident artist, Nancy Pate, and I started looking through the myriad offerings of religious art for a symbol we could use for our church.
Eventually, Nancy invited me to come meet with an acquaintance of hers, Carol Bormann, a local artist who works in fabrics and fiber whose specialty has been in religious vestments. We talked with her about the character of our church and how we wanted to create banners which would have a stained-glass feel to them to help us create our worship space. Ideally, we wanted to have a series of banners but the first one was to somehow symbolize who we are as a community, as Christians and as a church.
Ms. Bormann began playing around with images of interlocking hands or a chain of hands, finally bringing the hands into a circle which creates a cross in the center surrounded by blocks of color which suggest stained glass. Nancy Pate and I do not always agree but when we saw this image all either of us could say is, "It's perfect." We commissioned two banners which were to imitate in shape and color the classic art form of stained glass windows to help make our windowless meeting place feel more like a church.
The first banner expresses the concept of our church as an inclusive Christian community. The four diversely colored hands come together in a circle forming a cross at the center. I was struck nearly speechless when I first saw it because it seems to perfectly symbolize our self understanding. The four circled hands has become the symbol I have embraced for use on our stationary, on my professional cards and I hope it will be something which generations who follow us in this congregation will treasure as a theological statement of our unity and inclusiveness.
The second banner has a more challenging evolution. Each of the four gospels has been represented in various forms of art through the centuries. Matthew is symbolized as an angel, an eagle represents John and Luke's symbol is a bull. Mark's gospel has been identified with a winged lion, usually resting one paw on a book. The winged lion has appeared in other cultures and as someone who has collected lions in all of my international travels, I have found that there is a huge diversity of the use of lions in art even from cultures and countries where lions have never lived.
I suggested the lion to Ms. Bormann because it does symbolize one of the gospels but also because we are a church committed to a prophetic witness to social justice. The lion represents courage and the kind of power one should not readily dismiss. But we didn't want the book that our winged lion appeared with to be just one of the gospels or just one passage of scripture. We agreed on using a phrase with the Nobel Prize winning author, Elie Wiesel, has said captures the ethics of the whole Bible, "Thou shalt not stand idly by." Wiesel applied it specifically to the Jewish holocaust of the 20th century but it applies to every example of outrageous injustice and such tragedies can only happen if persons of conscience are willing to remain silent and inactive. We are as a church determined to never stand idly by. With the strength and courage of the lion we will get involved where we are needed. I hope that our witness affirms the symbols we have chosen!
The Community Christian Church operates on the donations of those who decide to support us. Anyone can make a tax deductible donation either in person or by sending a check to the church office at 4806 E. Cherry, Springfield, MO 65809. If you wish to designate your gift for something other than our operational expenses we generally have a "wish list" of items we would like to acquire. A current list is always available by writing to our pastor at RevDrRay@aol.com
Others sometimes designate their gifts to support our ministry with Bill's Place or Crosslines or to help retire the mortgage on our building.
The Community Christian Church of Springfield, Missouri was born out of the need for a progressive spiritual community in this area. Our founding pastor, Dr. Roger Ray, resigned from ministry in a Disciples of Christ church in the summer of 2007 and immediately began holding book studies and discussion groups to locate persons in Springfield who might be interested in forming a new and different kind of church.
Small groups met, first in the basement of St. Paul's United Methodist Church, then in the Unitarian Church and finally in the old Washington Ave. Church on the campus of Drury University. Finally, after forming a consensus around a mission and vision statement the congregation held its first worship service on August 3, 2008 in the chapel of the Gorman-Scharpf Funeral Home. The discussion group had rarely boasted more than a dozen people in attendance but there were more than 50 interested persons at the first service.
To define the church's character as a social justice advocate, donations of shoes for children in Nicaragua were collected on the first Sunday. The congregation immediately accepted the challenge of raising $25,000 to build a playground for the children of the homeless residents at the Missouri Hotel. It was important to us to make sacrifices for others before we so much as owned our own hymnals. The congregation quickly became involved in serving the homeless population on a weekly basis at Bill's Place and participating in monthly distributions of food at Crosslines.
Since interest in the church continued to stay strong through its first months, the decision was made to rent space in the Executive Conference Center where the congregation met for services from October of 2008 until purchasing the church property at 4806 E. Cherry St. in early 2010.
We considered ourselves to be very fortunate to find a Jehovah's Witnesses church property for sale in a nice east side location. The property, which was in need of substantial repair, was purchased in January and was under re-construction for two months. The first service in the new church was March 7, 2010 and 172 people filled the small sanctuary.
Finding and attracting progressive thinkers in the typically conservative Ozarks continues to be our challenge but we look forward to numerical growth and expanded ministries in the years ahead.