Carolyn Sutton was a recent high school graduate when I first met her at a church youth camp. She came as a camper, and I served on the camp staff. We found that we would both attend the University of Central Missouri the following year, and that her home was about half way between my home and the school. I arranged to provide rides for Carolyn and her friend Kay Powell when we were going to and from the University. I got to know her family well during our stops. After our first date in December and sharing in our many activities (including her singing a solo at the worship service where I delivered my first sermon) we were married the following July. That started our fifty-seven years of ministering together. From there, our experiences were shaped by our mutual love and desire to be faithful followers of the Community of Christ religion.
In 1984 the Community of Christ World Conference approved building a Temple in Independence MO dedicated to “Peace, Reconciliation and Healing of the Spirit.” Carolyn and I were thrilled to see this expanded focus on issues about Peace. We recognized this focus in our lives from the beginning of our marriage and continued to try to live this way until her passing in 2014. She also was ordained to serve in our church.
For nineteen years before we began full-time ministry with our church, I taught Government and Economics in high school. I learned early that each student in my class was a unique person. No two were alike. How they learned differed widely. Several examples jump out to me when I reflect on those years. I will not use names, of course, but the ones remembered will recognize themselves
One student was struggling with substance abuse, and had difficulty paying close attention to what was occurring in class. During his senior year, he dropped out of school. I saw him again when he was about 21 years old. He told me that he was clean, had finished high school, and had a really good job. Then he said, “I knew you’d like to know!” He hadn’t missed as much in class as I had thought.
Another student was always friendly in class, paid attention and participated on a limited basis in class discussions. Tests were difficult for him, and he usually did not pass the tests. He did pass his required memory work by reciting the U. S. Presidents and the dates they served. It took about 30 minutes for him to do it. His Mother came to see me about his grade when he received a B- for the semester. Only then did I learn that he was a Special Education student not expected to succeed in high school. He succeeded in my class.
Side benefits of trying to recognize individual uniqueness is what happens outside of class. Some of the senior classes along the way requested that I give the Baccalaureate Message (yes, that was still a common expectation in the 1970’s.) I also was privileged to perform the marriage for some of my students after they graduated. They wanted a spiritual foundation in their budding families and, in some manner, they experienced a bit of that in class, even though it was never discussed there.
“Worth of all persons” is one of the Enduring Principles of Community of Christ. This principle has led us to be actively engaged in Interfaith organizations for more that forty years. Carolyn and I began our association with the Arizona Interfaith Movement in 2001, and I continue to serve as its President since 2006. I love being associated with more than 20 different faith groups, and experience “worth” in all their varying perspectives on living.
For further info, see https://www.cofchrist.org/
By Eldred F Spain, President AZIFM, Interfaith Council and Board of Directors
And Evangelist in Community of Christ
PART OF THE USA TODAY NETWORK Copyright © 2019 The Arizona Republic 01/30/2019