Archive for July 2008

Freedom Friends Church

This Sunday, I traveled with Tyler Hampton and my grandmother, Elenita Bales, to attend meeting for worship at Freedom Friends Church (FFC), in Salem, Oregon. I almost missed the meetinghouse, since it didn’t fit my usual stereotypes of Friends meetinghouses/church buildings. Freedom Friends’ worships in a converted real estate office, and has several signs posted in its large front windows: One is a metal sign which reads, “Friends Church (Quakers)”; another is a neon sign, appropriate for a restaurant or bar, which simply says, “OPEN.”

Arriving early, we were able to sit and chat with folks as they came in before the service began. The attenders of FFC that morning were an eclectic mix of people, about twenty or twenty five in all, spanning age, class, gender identity/sexuality and religious background. I was impressed to meet middle class folks, working class folks, queer folks, straight folks, those coming out of the wider Quaker tradition, and those who were raised in other traditions. There is a rich diversity at Freedom Friends, a diversity made possible by a radically inclusive faith rooted in an intimate encounter with the Spirit of Jesus Christ.

FFC describes itself on its website as, “passionately Christ-centered, passionately Quaker and passionately inclusive.” From what I saw on Sunday, I would affirm this statement. Freedom Friends is a Quaker church, emerging out of the pastoral tradition of Friends. The pastor, Peggy Parsons, comes out of Northwest Yearly Meeting, but laid down her recording in that body to help found this new church. Unable to establish a church welcoming to queer folks within Northwest, because of the clarity with which Northwest’s Faith and Practice denys membership, much less leadership, to “unrepentant” homosexuals (see page 64), yet too clearly Christian and pastoral to fit in with North Pacific Yearly Meeting, Freedom Friends exists as an independent monthly meeting and is currently preparing its own Faith and Practice. While Peggy Parsons indicated to me that she would gladly rejoin Northwest if that yearly meeting’s position on homosexuality changed, it does not appear that this will be happening any time in the near future. And so, Friends at FFC forge ahead, alone.

Nevertheless, despite its independence from other Friends bodies, Freedom Friends is solidly rooted in the Quaker tradition. I was pleased to see the way in which Peggy guided the worship service, giving clear explanations of what was happening at each stage. For example, explaining the meaning of open worship in the Quaker tradition before leading us into silent waiting before God. She did use Quaker lingo (for example, “are all hearts clear?” at the end of open worship), but she also translated herself so that all would come to know what the expression referred to (“does anyone have anything on their hearts that still needs to be spoken?”).

The service looked like this: We began singing a few hymns out of the FFC hymnal, which was composed of loose sheets bound together in plastic binders. The hymns chosen for the hymnal, Peggy explained, avoided “guilt and shame,” as well as other types of “theologically destructive” language. After a hymn or two, Peggy introduced visitors, and we sang another hymn or two. Following singing, there was a period of what might be referred to in other contexts as “worship sharing,” sharing about what we were grateful for. Once many had shared their gratitude, there was a similar time for prayer requests and sharing struggles with the community. Finally, there was about a half an hour of open worship, during which time folks were encouraged to feel free to sit at a table in the meetingroom where they could do art. Three Friends took advantage of that opportunity and drew with colored pencils during open worship.

I am very excited about FFC’s potential for reaching out to unchurched people, and, in particular, to people who are excluded by most churches and meetings. Peggy’s role as pastor during the service seemed to be that of guiding us through each step and explaining what was happening. This seemed to me to be extremely valuable for those who are coming into the Quaker stream of Christianity, orienting them as to why Friends practice and believe as we do, creating a safe and welcoming entry point into the world of Friends, solidly grounded in the tradition. We could use this kind of openness and clarity in other Friends meetings. I am encouraged by what I have seen at Freedom Friends Church, and look forward to hearing about their walk with the Lord and progress in serving the Kingdom in the future.

One word of caution: I was happy to hear Peggy say that she would like to rejoin Northwest Yearly Meeting if their stance on homosexuality in the Church were to change; and I appreciate that leaving NWYM was not a decision that Peggy and others took lightly. However, I hope that Friends at FFC and Friends elsewhere who find themselves similarly called by conscience to take a stand on these and other issues within the Religious Society of Friends will seek always for unity, keeping that hope and intention always in their minds and hearts as they move forward. I pray that this break can be a mendable one, like earlier splits between Indiana Yearly Meeting (Orthodox) and Indiana Yearly Meeting (Antislavery), and not like the Hicksite/Orthodox or Gurneyite/Wilburite splits, which have festered to global proportions.

Northwest Yearly Meeting

On the 15th, I flew from Greensboro, North Carolina to Portland, Oregon and spent a number of days with my cousin, Ben, who lives in the city. It was a blessing to be able to stay with him, relaxing for a few days without any responsibility beyond waking up at a certain point in the day, reading, and working on my backlog of email. Within a few days, Tyler Hampton, an attender at Detroit Monthly Meeting, arrived in the city and spent a couple of days with Ben and me, before Tyler and I made our way together to Northwest Yearly Meeting. It has been a pleasure to have Tyler as a traveling companion on this leg of the journey. We have been able to support one another as we experience a new Quaker culture and mingle with hundreds new people. I am grateful for his presence here this week.

On Sunday morning, we attended West Hills Friends Church with my aunt, Thea. It was an extremely friendly meeting, with a simple service, which began with a few people gathering early in the meeting room and holding silent worship for about fifteen minutes in anticipation of the arrival of the rest of the congregation. The programmed service consisted of several hymns, led by an electric-guitar-playing man at the front, rock and roll style, a brief message brought by a missionary couple who were back in the United States from the Middle East, a very humorous sermon by the pastor, and then a period of open worship, which was followed by a time of prayer requests and announcements. The sermon was full of humor, often seeming more like a stand-up routine than the usual message delivered in many churches, and the congregation was very responsive, clapping, cheering, and slapping the benches. Quite a different way to do church!

That afternoon, we rode down to Newberg, Oregon, where Northwest Yearly Meeting held its annual sessions on the campus of George Fox University, and that evening Tyler and I were able to attend a gathering of Northwest’s Young Adult Friends at the home of Bruce Bishop, former youth/YAF leader for the yearly meeting, and present director of communications for the yearly meeting. It was a good time to meet with younger Friends, tell them about why I am traveling this summer, and invite Friends into conversation with me.

That evening, Colin Saxton, Northwest’s superintendent, spoke to the body of the yearly meeting. He spoke on the subject of repentance, reminding us of Jesus’ message that we are to “repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” Colin reminded us of the very real presence of Christ with us and of our need to repent and accept Christ’s call to complete obedience and discipleship, learning of him and taking on his easy yoke. He reminded us again and again of the real presence and leadership of Christ among us today in the Church, emphasizing that Christ’s presence as Friend and Lord is, “no peripheral doctrine – this is at the core of a Friends understanding of the teachings of Christ.”

I was very impressed by Colin’s message, and I was blown away by the fact that he spoke on repentance, a concern that had been weighing so heavily on my heart for weeks, becoming rather a theme of my travels among Friends from the Conservative, FGC, FUM and EFCI traditions. The wind of the Spirit is blowing through the branches and it is shaking every leaf. The Lion of Judah has roared, who can but tremble? The Word of the Lord has issued from Zion, who can but prophesy? Repent, Friends! Repent and turn from your waywardness and return to the bosom of Christ, the safety of your God’s care. Fall on your knees, hear and obey that which God has in store for us as a people.

Colin spoke for the Sunday night evening session, but the primary speaker for the week was Tony Campolo. Campolo was quite an impressive speaker, speaking three evenings in a row, and getting better each night. The first evening, I felt that he was laying the groundwork for the subsequent nights, pulling some of his punches, making us laugh, and preparing us for the lashing that he intended to give us in the two sermons to follow. The first evening, he focused on God not merely as a notion or idea, but as a transforming power that enters into us and changes us. He said that joy and love are signs that Christ has entered into us and saturated our being. He challenged our ideas of success, reminding us, in the words of Francis of Assisi, that “the poor and oppressed are sacramental,” and he told us that “the way to build the Church today is the same way that they built it in the first century: by people loving people and accompanying them into the household of faith.”

The second evening, Campolo took us deeper and laid greater challenges before us. The primary message of that night’s sermon was the distinction between power and authority. Power, he said, is the ability to coerce. Authority, on the other hand, he defined as, “commanding obedience through loving sacrifice. Jesus, he reminded us, had great authority (see Matthew 7:28-29), but he rejected power (see Matthew 4:1-11). The “Constantinian Heresy,” Campolo explained, was when the Church began to exercise power, rather than the authority that comes from sacrificial love. He drew our attention to Philippians 2:5-11, as an exposition of Jesus’ sacrificial love. The love of Jesus on the cross is the heart of the Gospel, the message: it is through sacrificial love that we gain authority. The Church does not speak with authority, explained Campolo, because it has not paid the price. It is not living sacrificially. The phenomenon of politicized religion is a case in point: we resort to power when we have no authority. Campolo went on to call us to a commitment to social justice, saying that “Jesus never allowed the second commandment to be separated from the first.” Campolo ended the evening with a direct call for concrete action on the part of those in attendance. He issued a call for everyone there that evening to begin to support a child in the Third World through Compassion International, and he called on young people to give him their name and address, to commit to a year of service among the poor.

For the last evening session, Campolo began with an explanation of Jesus’ saving work on the cross, explaining that Jesus reaches out through all time and both forgives us of our sin, and cleanses us of our sin, liberating us from it. He then went on to talk about how the term “fundamentalism” was once a respectable term, but soon became tied up in a lot of things that it was never meant to be about. He went on to say that the term “Evangelical,” a word that was to replace the word “fundamentalist,” has now taken on many implications that are more political in nature than religious. He suggested another term, “Red Letter Christians,” to denote Christians who take the teachings of Jesus as their guide and baseline.

During the previous evening’s session, Campolo had briefly touched on homosexuality, condemning “the oppression of gays,” but on this final evening he engaged us extensively on this very sensitive issue. Campolo explained that he is a “conservative” on the issue of homosexuality, believing that it is contrary to the intention of God for the human creation. But, he pointed out that his wife held an opposing view on the subject, and that they occasionally debated the issue publically, “to show that it is possible to differ on this issue and not get a divorce.” He said, “it’s crazy to split over this issue,” insisting that it is important that Christians not break unity, but instead hold together and keep wrestling. Furthermore, Campolo decried “the horrible oppression of gays” as “unacceptable,” even though he “disagrees with the lifestyle.”

To conclude, Campolo reminded us of the story of the rich young man and challenged us to accept the full implications of the Gospel, not just the parts that we think we can fit into our lives without completely giving ourselves over to Christ. “We’re all willing to be Christians up to a point,” he said, “but tonight Christ is going to call you to go beyond that point… to the cross.” Campolo urged us to give over everything to service to God, saying that scripture condemns retirement (citing the parable of the rich fool). He called retired people to account for being, “an enormous waste of the Church’s resources,” and called upon those who no longer worked for money to give everything they had, treasure and time, to the work of the Church of Jesus Christ. Addressing the other end of the age spectrum, Campolo encouraged parents to instruct their children, not being afraid to “tell their kids what to do.” As he explained that “everyone else is telling your children what to do with their lives – school guidance counselors, teachers, MTV,” and called on parents to give firm guidance to their children, I heard several high school aged Friends behind me say, “amen!” Every youth, he concluded, should feel that he or she is on a mission from God. All of us must be obedient to the teachings of Jesus and live out the call of the Church in the world.

The remarkable thing about all of Campolo’s sermons was the sense that, by and large, he was preaching Quakerism to Quakers. It occurs to me that it is probably a very good thing for us to hear true, inward Christianity preached to us by outsiders from time to time. But Friends in Northwest Yearly Meeting are most certainly Quakers. Indeed, it has been refreshing to find such an intensely Quaker body: both Christ-centered and distinctively Quaker. Friends here seek to live and preach the “whole gospel,” which I heard described as, “not only the verbal witness of Jesus Christ, but also peacemaking and social justice.” Friends of all stripes, pastoral and unprogrammed, could learn a great deal from the way in which Friends in Northwest hold together the tensions of the Quaker understanding of the Gospel of Christ Jesus. They recognize “that of God in everyone,” but at the same time are strongly missional, seeking to liberate the oppressed Seed of God in their own hearts and in the hearts of seekers outside of their fellowship. They are firmly biblical in their worldview, but avoid to a great extent the pitfalls of placing the written word, interpreted legalistically, as a higher authority than the Spirit of Christ, which inspires us to rightly interpret the Scriptures and be changed by them. They are committed to social justice and peacemaking, but do not separate that from a clear witness to the saving power of Messiah Jesus, whose Spirit takes away all occasion for war.

I was pleased to see that the character of Northwest’s business sessions were mature, grounded, and centered in the Spirit of Christ. While I was in attendance, I saw the approval of a minute condemning torture, as well as the approval of a series of amendments to their Faith and Practice, which is under revision currently. There was approval of a section of the Faith and Practice which allows local churches, with permission from the yearly meeting, to forgo using the name “Friends” in their “common name,” that is, what the church is referred to as in everyday conversation and on the meetinghouse’s sign. There was also discussion of a minute calling on the governing authorities of the United States to correct the present situation in which illegal immigrants are being separated from their spouses and children, breaking up families through deportation. There was discussion on this minute, but as there was not enough time to come to unity on it, it was laid over for a later meeting. The sense that I felt rising in the body was that Friends should be addressing, first and foremost, the question of how we ourselves are feeling called to act to ameliorate the present situation. How are Friends called to reach out to our Latino brothers and sisters in Christ?

The worship style at Northwest’s annual sessions was interesting. Each evening session was begun with several songs, led by a group up on the platform, with lyrics projected onto a large screen hanging above. Following these songs, we would hold about five minutes of silence, before that night’s speaker rose and presented. There were other times, too, where there was music and brief open worship, including during the business sessions. I found it quite nice to have time for musical worship in the midst of business meeting.

Apparently there was a yearly meeting reorganization that was completed last year, the most remarkable result of which is that Northwest’s missions and peacemaking are now organized into one function. Evangelism and peacemaking/social justice are not separated. For example, both Christian Peacemaker Teams and a new meeting-planting mission in Russia are under the care of NWYM’s Board of Global Outreach (Friends in Northwest use the term “board” to refer to what many Friends would call a “committee”).

To sum up, I have had a wonderful time at Northwest Yearly Meeting’s annual sessions. I am very impressed with the vibrancy, rootedness, friendliness and strong character of this body of Friends, and I look forward to continued contact with them in the future. I am particularly excited to think about ways in which my own yearly meeting, Great Plains, might move into closer relationship with Friends in Northwest. With all that we have in common, I hope that way will open for us to deepen our ties and come into greater partnership in living out and sharing the Good News of Christ Jesus.

FUM Triennial 2008, Reflections, Part 2

On Saturday, the “business session,” while still mostly reports, also included some interaction by the body that gave the appearance of actual decision-making going on. Sylvia Graves (FUM’s General Secretary) and Brent McKinny (FUM’s outgoing presiding clerk) asked the body to affirm FUM’s ongoing mission in Belize, given the retirement of the Cains, who have served as field staff there for more than a decade. When a Friend rose, expressing that they were not clear on what we were being asked to approve, Sylvia responded, “I’m wondering if you care.” So, we were being asked to affirm that we “cared” about Belize?

Some other folks raised questions, not really understanding what this affirmation would mean. At this point, Brent McKinny stood up and said that this would be an approval of “the principle” of FUM’s ongoing work in Belize, not necessarily of any new project. Brent then proceeded to push for an approval from the body, despite a call from one Friend for us to spend time in prayer and hear what the Spirit was saying to the Church. This whole process took place in a matter of minutes and felt very rushed, even forced. I felt very uncomfortable with this maneuver, feeling that the executive leadership of FUM simply wanted a rubber stamp, rather than really desiring to listen together with the body to the voice of Christ.

As I mentioned in the first installment of my reflections on this event, I was astonished at how little corporate, inward listening was allowed us during our time together at sessions. It seemed clear that the primary purpose of our being at the Triennial was to be receive reports on the work of FUM as a missions organization and to be reminded (and reminded, and reminded) of our failure to adequately fund FUM and its projects abroad. At times it seemed that there were more appeals for funds than there was vocal prayer. And open worship was almost completely absent. We were there to hear FUM’s executive leadership’s opinions about what we should be doing, not to wait on Christ and hear the mission that our Lord has for us as Church.

FUM Triennial finished up Saturday evening with an “intergenerational/youth worship service.” The whole thing felt a little off to me, with “the Africans” being asked to rise and sing us a song. (In fact, this happened several times during the Triennial. At a certain point I wondered about whether someone should have asked the white folks to stand up and sing a few hymns for the Africans, to reciprocate.) The whole service seemed more like entertainment than worship, with applause after every performance, beginning with the Africans singing hymns. The body applauded after every time the youth sang, and even when the youth presented an episode from Jesus’ ministry. Frankly, the service felt demeaning, with the Africans and the youth being paraded out to be the evening’s entertainment.

What is it that we are hiding from, distracting ourselves with entertainment rather than opening ourselves to the purifying power of Christ’s Inward Light? I see a connection between our apparent failure to wait on Christ’s guidance and our own conceit as the North American Church. I myself have been particularly struggling with the single-minded focus of FUM and these triennial sessions on foreign missions. As one who feels called to serve Friends in North America at the present time, and seeing the need of North American Quakerism and the Christian Church more widely, I cannot grasp the failure of our yearly meetings and other bodies as evangelical Friends to commit funds, time, and human energy to Christ’s Kingdom in North America. Are the people of the Two Thirds World the only ones in need of redemption? Are we unaware of our own desperate need? A theme that has been persistent with me for at least a couple of weeks now is that of our need for repentence as the Church in North America.

We are like the church in Laodicea, which Christ addresses in Revelation 3. We believe that we are rich, prosperous, wanting for nothing, but cannot see that we are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked! I do not know what the future holds for Friends as a body, but I pray that God will humble us, break us, remold us and forge us into an instrument that can serve God’s purposes. God, have mercy on us. Expose our sin, our pride, our utter nakedness before you, and bring us back into your paths.

FUM Triennial 2008, Reflections, Part 1

Business began on Thursday with a roll call of yearly meetings, including US yearly meetings, Canada Yearly Meeting, many Kenyan yearly meetings, Jamaica Yearly Meeting, and visitors from FGC, FWCC, and Britain. Southeastern Yearly Meeting was present, with two observers. I was saddened to reflect on the possibility that this could be the last time that Southeastern is present at an FUM event in any official way, as they decide in this coming year whether to maintain their relationship with Friends United Meeting.

There is a clear sense of concern among Friends at these sessions, a feeling that we are at a turning point in FUM’s history. On the one hand, it seems that relations among Friends have grown more civil. On the other hand, despite our increased civility, it is not entirely clear who we are or what we are doing as a body. Perhaps the primary question that Friends gathered here are wrestling with is the question of FUM’s call and identity. What is FUM? A missions board? A denominational head? A non-profit foreign aid organization? An “umbrella group” for one branch of Friends to come together and share fellowship? At times it seems that FUM attempts to be all of these things, and more, but often fails to carry out any of these roles satisfactorily.

At these triennial sessions, there has been an enormous emphasis on overseas missions. Sylvia Graves, General Secretary of Friends United Meeting, made it clear in responding to questions on Thursday morning that at this point in history she sees FUM’s role as being in carrying out overseas mission work. The reasoning that she presented was that foreign missions is something that FUM can do far better than yearly meetings could do on their own. Encouraging and supporting Friends in North America is, in her view, the responsibility of each yearly meeting. This viewpoint, while having its merits, is very frustrating for me, as one who feels called to serve Friends in North America at the present time. The reality is, our yearly meetings are not adequately supporting home missions. What FUM’s role in all of this is, I am unsure, but I am uncomfortable with all attention being given to sending support to overseas projects when our Religious Society is in such dire condition here in North America.

The schedule at these sessions is packed full of business, though I haven’t seen any decisions made yet. The business sessions on Thursday and Friday have been largely filled by reports from field staff in East Africa, Belize, and the Ramallah Friends School. There has been very little time for worship beyond singing a few hymns and holding a moment of silence before field staff reports. There was a remarkable tension this morning, as open worship was cut off after only one minute by an FUM staff member introducing the next presenter. As she attempted to close the extremely brief worship, another woman rose from the body and read in a strong voice from an epistle of George Fox to Friends in New Jersey. The staff member stood aside, gave about fifteen seconds of space after the minister had sat down, and then proceeded to introduce the next speaker. I wonder at this lack of open worship at the feet of our Lord who we claim as our leader. Why is there not more expectant waiting on Christ? Do we imagine that there is not enough time to spare in our sessions to receive communion together? Are we afraid to wait on the Lord as a body?

When we are not hearing reports, we are listening to speakers. Wednesday evening was Sylvia Graves, who gave us an extensive report on FUM’s activities over the past three years. Landrum Bolling spoke on Thursday evening about the need to re-examine our Peace Testimony in light of current events. He insisted that, “there are consequences,” to our testimony of Christ’s call to peacemaking. Among these consequences, he stressed the imperative that we resist the current push for expanding the present war into Iran.

Thursday night, after Bolling’s presentation, the few Young Adult Friends present at this event gathered together, along with a few other YAFs who had come over from North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative), which is holding its annual sessions in nearby Greensboro. There were about a dozen of us, and we shared together about our experiences in the past few years, as well as about our frustrations as young adults in a religious community that alternately pampers us and patronizes us. There was a great sense that we are hungry for a more intergenerational life in community. We are, first and foremost, adult Friends. We just happen to be part of a religious community that tends towards the upper age range. Christ is teaching his people himself, and it’s not limited to any age group.

Brief Early Report From FUM Triennial 2008

Folks from all over the US, Canada, East Africa, Belize, Britain, and Jamaica came together yesterday, in Highpoint, North Carolina, for the 2008 Friends United Meeting Triennial sessions. So far, we’ve mostly introduced ourselves and talked about FUM’s programs and how they are not recieving the kind of support they need to reach their full potential.

I can’t imagine a much more different Friends conference in comparision with FGC Gathering. While FGC was like summer camp, FUM Triennial is more like a United Nations committee meeting.

More to come.

Friends General Conference, Reflections

Now that I have made my way to a place where I have enough free time and access to a computer, I’ll describe my experience at FGC Gathering this past week. As I indicated in my last email, the week was a difficult one for me, and took a lot of adjustment on my part. However, as the days went by, I was able to adapt myself more and more to the way of life and schedule at FGC Gathering, so that by the end I felt more or less comfortable. Of course, then it was time to leave.

I think that I was expecting FGC Gathering to be more like a yearly meeting session than anything else; but, in fact, it was far closer to being a festival, concert, or summer camp for adults and families. Coming to this gathering, I felt that my role was to be an observer, to rest in God and seek to understand a different culture. I found soon that simply being at FGC Gathering as an observer took a great deal of energy, and that, though I felt that I did very little, I was very drained by dinnertime each evening. At many times the gathering felt centerless, with many different individuals and groups involved in their own activities. At times it seemed that the overall energy of the gathering was one of “anything goes,” a release from all inhibitions that had to be borne during the rest of the year.

I had hoped to be quite involved in the Young Adult Friends community at FGC Gathering, but to my chagrin almost all YAF events were scheduled for 9:15pm or later, with their business meetings regularly going well past midnight. Since I go to bed closer to “Quaker midnight,” I felt unable to take much part in that community. Instead, I spent most of my time mingling with older folks, which was just fine – but I had wanted to make more of a connection with younger Friends there, as well. I was able to make a connection with a few wonderful individual YAFs, but being a part of the group as a whole seemed out of reach.

During FGC Gathering I spent a lot of time observing and ruminating on the work that the Holy Spirit is doing among Friends in preparing us to be the Body of Christ in the world. I noticed several hopeful movements of the Spirit at work in the liberal-unprogrammed branch that are emerging or becoming strengthened at this time. In terms of Friends General Conference as an organization, the two most inspiring initiatives now underway are the Traveling Ministries Program and the nascent Quaker Quest program. I see these two initiatives as representing the future of Quakerism – at least in its unprogrammed variety – two sides of what is happening as God seeks to enliven, renew, reignite this generation of the Religious Society of Friends.

FGC’s fundraising campaign that is underway is called “Stoking the Spiritual Fires of Quakerism,” and I am pleased to see the idea of “being on fire” become in-vogue. Imagine that: Taking our faith seriously! The Quaker Quest program seems incredibly promising as a tool for evangelism/outreach, but also for inreach. As meetings undertake this program, I believe that we will become clearer about who we are as Friends, what we believe, how we should be living in the world. At the same time that Quaker Quest begins to take root and quite possibly transform our meetings both in terms of spiritual depth and numerically, it seems clear to me that it is imperative that we prepare ourselves as a religious community for a potential influx of newly convinced Friends, on a scale that we have not seen since the mid nineteenth century.

I see the Traveling Ministries Program as a key part of this preparation, helping to energize, connect, encourage and organize our ministers and elders, both young and old in Christ. I believe that our traveling Friends will become an increasingly important force in the Religious Society as God seeks to bring us into greater levels of faithfulness as a body. As Quaker Quest serves as a tool for God to enrich and expand our local meetings, God willing, the Traveling Ministries Program may serve to connect these meetings to the wider Religious Society of Friends, both grounding the local meeting in the wider body and tradition, as well as encouraging the flow of vitality and groundedness to other, less healthy areas of our community, and to the wider Church.

In this vein, another program that seems very promising which is emerging out of the East Coast stream of unprogrammed Quakerism is the School of the Spirit. This ministry has been at work since 1990, “helping all who wish to be more faithful listeners and responders to the inward work of Christ.” Until recently, the sole program of the School of the Spirit had been, “On Being a Spiritual Nurturer,” which serves to guide and nurture the emerging gifts of eldership within our Religious Society. This coming year will be the first in a (hopefully) ongoing program entitled, “The Way of Ministry,” which will serve a similar purpose for those called to Gospel, prophetic, traveling, teaching, or other kinds of ministry grounded within the meeting community, but often reaching out to the wider world.

The School of the Spirit seems very promising to me for a number of reasons: First, it appears to offer the kind of oversight and nurture that many monthly, quarterly and yearly meetings seem unable or unwilling to provide at the present time. Second, it seeks to encourage a grounded, caring fellowship of ministers and elders who support one another in their labors, providing nurture and guidance. Finally, and what is potentially most exciting about this program, the School of the Spirit is committed to the active participation of local meetings in the ministry of its students.

The School of the Spirit sees ministry of all kinds in the context of a corporate body – the local, quarterly and yearly meeting – and strives to involve these bodies to as great an extent as possible. They hold that it is essential that our meetings recognize the spiritual gifts and callings of their membership as not only being a call for that individual, but also for the body as a whole. Spiritual gifts are a gift from God to the body, held in trust by an individual; and calls from God, if true leadings, are not merely for the individual, but are in fact to some degree a call for the entire body, to be supported materially, encouraged, and overseen by the church community.

I am excited to see how these programs, along with many other smaller-scale initiatives that are blooming at present all over the Quaker landscape, will serve to enliven, enrich, and make more useful for God’s service the Religious Society of Friends in this new century. At FGC Gathering, I was surprised and pleased to notice that many Friends are becoming enthusiastic about outreach. During one night’s plenary session, when Peterson Toscano remarked during his presentation that he thought outreach was crucial, many in the audience began to cheer and clap spontaneously. This is an exciting day, when Friends in the unprogrammed branches are getting fired up about sharing their faith, inviting others into our meetings.

This has been a very difficult week for me, but I am glad that I was able to be at FGC Gathering. I feel that I have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of FGC at this gathering, and I am encouraged that the Ocean of Light is overcoming the Ocean of Darkness. The grass is growing up from underneath the blanket of snow that has kept us “safe,” hidden, for so long. Praise God. I pray that I was well used this past week, that the Seed of God was encouraged.

Early report from FGC

I must keep this entry brief, as there are two public computers for the entirety of this gathering, which hosts around 1,500 people. Consider this a preliminary report, to be amplified later:

I have spent most of my time at FGC Gathering attending extended worship (around 2 hours) after breakfast, learning about the Quaker Quest program in the afternoon, usually catching a nap, and then attending a plenary session in the evening. I have not had the opportunity to spend much time with Young Adult Friends here, as their schedule mostly takes place after nine ‘o clock at night. As I go to bed around ten, this has been unworkable for me. I have been doing my best to rest, take time for myself, and save energy for the rest of my summer ahead. My success has been limited.

My time thus far at FGC Gathering has been intense and, honestly, rather difficult for me. I’ve been experiencing a level of culture shock that I hadn’t really anticipated, given that I had enjoyed my time in FGC-affiliated monthly and yearly meetings, previously. I have been reflecting a great deal on the cultural differences between my region of the Religious Society of Friends and the parts of the Religious Society represented here at FGC Gathering. I realize that some of this must have to do with my own personality, as well.

More to come.