The Spirit of God Like a Fire is Burning: A different kind of General Conference

I have spent the last few days at the Community of Christ World Conference in Independence, Missouri. I arrived in the middle of an evening service. I entered the Auditorium to hear my outgoing field apostle Ron Harmon talking about the parable of the good Samaritan. Afterwards, the congregation sang The Spirit of God with Grammy award-winning organist Jan Kraybill accompanying the congregation. While I had come to World Conference to participate in the legislative process, I was looking forward to Jan’s music the most. And I was particularly looking forward to singing The Spirit of God with a large group of people. My own tiny congregation in St. George, Utah lost our music director to a cross-country move early in the pandemic and we have not engaged in much congregational singing since then. We usually meet in public places where hymn-singing would not be so welcome.

I arrived at World Conference after dealing with some difficult church-related situations this year. I have felt hurt, sad, frustrated, angry, and disappointed. I have listened to others tell their stories of hurt and frustration as I have tried to figure out what to do with my own. I thought I understood my relationship with my new church, but these experiences lead me to reconsider what I thought I knew. So when I arrived at World Conference, I did not know what I wanted to get out of that experience, other than to listen to Jan Kraybill play the organ. And when I stood with the other delegates and sang The Spirit of God Like a Fire is Burning, I wondered if my own fire of faith was going out.

The next morning, I got up and drank my coffee with some brand new friends that I was staying with: a woman who was a bit younger than me, and her mother. We were discussing a controversial piece of legislation that was up for a vote that day. The daughter shared her perspective and I shared mine. We had different but related viewpoints on the legislation. I shared a story of how the issue has played out in my circles and she shared a different story. The mom filled me in on the details of the previous day’s debate. As we talked, we realized that the issue was more complex than our own lived experiences. It was our job at the conference to listen to others and understand how the issue impacted different groups of people, and then to vote on what we thought was best.

When we arrived at the legislative session, there were amendments and amendments to the amendments. People gave three minute speeches, translated into French, Spanish, and English, for and against different motions. With Community of Christ’s common consent process, we voted on all of it. Some amendments were accepted and others rejected. Some moments of the debate were difficult and messy, but we, a group of 2000 delegates hearing and speaking three different languages, participated in a democratic process. Some votes were by raised hands. Where things were too close to call, we recorded our choices through little credit-card sized voting devices. I got to vote on legislation that directly impacts my church’s policies. Sometimes the conversation seemed to drag on and some of the outcomes did not reflect my preferences, but we all tried to move the church forward. Everyone seemed to think this was business as usual, even as I struggled to process my own emotions about this new-to-me level of church participation.

My experiences with LDS General Conference were very different. Back when I watched it, I was looking for divine guidance from inspired church leaders. I was looking to absorb whatever good I could find. My World Conference experience demanded much more of me. I absorbed some great music, but I saw and heard a church trying to wrestle with its values and future as people articulated many good (and some terrible) ideas. I was part of that wrestle. What struck me most was that I was forced to sit with the fact that people in different places need different things from church policy. Our contexts matter and they are different across the globe in some significant ways. I knew this before, as different versions of this same idea were repeated in many classes for my program at Luther Seminary. But there I was, needing to put that theoretical learning to work in a practical way. It was more challenging than I had anticipated.

As I chatted with younger leaders (basically anyone under 50) from different places in the hallways, at meals, and between sessions, the feelings of frustration, hope, discouragement, and possibility bubbled over. At the next World Conference, we’re going to be prepared with new legislative proposals reflecting the changes we would like to see. The frustrations of today will not go to waste. I left the conference feeling that The Spirit of God like a fire is burning. It’s just a slower burn than I thought.

Nancy Ross
Nancy Ross
Nancy Ross is an associate professor Utah Tech University, where she has been teaching for 16 years. Her Ph D is in art history, but her current research focuses on the history and sociology of religion. She recently co-edited a book with Sara K.S. Hanks titled "Where We Must Stand: Ten Years of Feminist Mormon Housewives" (2018) and has just co-edited “Shades of Becoming: Poems of Transition” with Kristen R. Shill. She is an ordained elder in Community of Christ and pastor of the Southern Utah congregation and works for the Pacific Southwest International Mission Center as an Emerging Church Practitioner.


  1. Thoughtful and beautiful article, Nancy. I must admit, coming from an LDS tradition, the parts I witnessed of World Conference are so incredibly different in nature and detail. This reminds me that Community of Christ is definitely NOT a “liberal” LDS faith, but a completely different faith. I guess I should expect such from twins separated at birth a hundred and eighty years ago. Nonetheless, it is indeed jarring, yet beautiful and powerful at the same time.

    • You are correct. Community of Christ is a progressive Latter Day Saint faith tradition, but it is not “Liberal LDS.” Still, we trace our roots back to what Joseph Smith did, in part, and to the ways in which Emma Smith and Joseph Smith III shaped the faith tradition they inherited from Joseph Smith Jr. Some events from this past week were held in the Community of Christ temple, which sits on the temple lot that was dedicated by Joseph Smith Jr.

  2. Thanks for sharing this, Nancy. I love how participatory the Community of Christ conference sounds, especially in comparison to, as you note, the LDS version where everything is dictated from the top.

  3. Thank you for sharing your experience. It takes a lot of guts to try in another denomination after the hurt many of us experienced in the LDS Church.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


Enter your email address to receive notification of new posts.

Related Posts

Immigration, Privilege, Humility and the “Great Refusal to Work”

Over the past few months, I have seen via social media, or heard in discussion, references about the “Great Refusal to Work” thing going...

Book Review Series: The Throne of David, what Saturday’s Warrior & Da Vinci Code have in common, Mormon movies, my cute kids, etc.

The Throne of David begins when teenage boys find a thirty-year-old, undelivered bag of mail. The authorities deliver the long lost parcels, including a letter...

Guest Post: Absent Mother?

by Astell My 4-year-year old daughter asked at the dinner table why we don't talk much about Mother in Heaven. Good Question. I said we...

An Invitation to Celebrate Mormon Women in Sacrament Meeting

This year, the 171st anniversary of the establishment of the first Relief Society falls on Sunday, 17 March 2013. With this, an opportunity is...
Submit a Guest Blog Post
Subscribe to Our Magazine
Social Media Auto Publish Powered By :