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Community of Christ selects new president

Published: Tuesday, March 8 2005 12:00 a.m. MST

Stephen M. Veazey, center.

Paul Beaver, Associated Press

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INDEPENDENCE, Mo. (AP) — The Community of Christ on Monday named Stephen M. Veazey to lead its 250,000 members.

A group called the Council of the Twelve chose the 47-year-old Veazey to serve as the church's president, who also carries the position of prophet. Veazey, president of the Council of the Twelve, replaces W. Grant McMurray, who resigned in December for health, family and undisclosed personal reasons.

McMurray did not name a successor, marking the first time the succession decision had been left to the leadership of the denomination, which has a shared history with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Veazey's appointment still must be approved by church delegates at a June meeting.

"I am deeply humbled by that which is unfolding in my life and ministry at this time," Veazey said during a service in the church's temple in Independence, where the announcement of the new president was made in three languages: English, Spanish and French. "Those who know me best know that I would never aspire to a position such as this one."

James Slauter, secretary of the Council of Twelve, said, "As Brother Veazey's friends and colleagues, we affirm his gifts of visionary leadership, prophetic insight, humility, integrity, compassion, missionary passion and commitment to Jesus Christ. These spiritual gifts are accompanied by the wisdom he has gained through many years of experience serving and witnessing in many nations."

Veazey had been serving as the church's director of field ministries, a position that required him to travel around the world and work with established and developing congregations. He was appointed president at a time when the church's overseas membership is growing. It's membership in the United States and Canada, however, remains stagnant.

"I do think it's important for a leader of the church to have a heart for the church throughout the whole world and have had experience in those places so you can understand better how the ministries of the church are expressed in various cultures," Veazey said.

Generally, church leaders have been successors of Joseph Smith Jr. and have served until their deaths. Veazey would be only the second person who is not a descendant of Smith to hold the position.

Community of Christ followers, like The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, trace their history to Smith, who believed he was chosen to restore the true church of Jesus Christ. The movement fragmented after Smith's death in 1844. The group that followed his son, Joseph Smith III, became known in 1860 as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. In 2001, the church changed its named to the Community of Christ.

McMurray, who had served since 1996, was the first church leader not descended from Joseph Smith Jr.

W. Wallace Smith, the father of McMurray's predecessor, was the first church leader not to serve until his death, choosing instead to retire and name his son, Wallace B. Smith, as his successor. Wallace B. Smith is still living, but he has told church leaders he does not want to return as first president.

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