Greetings to you in the Life of Christ,
The past few weeks have been eventful. I have made two major trips to visit Friends in the Great Plains region. I traveled to Hominy, Oklahoma, to visit the Friends meeting there on the Osage Nation reservation; and this past weekend I journeyed to West Texas to be among Friends of Lubbock Monthly Meeting and Caprock Friends Christian Fellowship. Here in Wichita, I have continued to gather with local Friends and listen for how God is guiding us as meetings, as well as exploring other avenues of ministry in the city, beyond the Friends community. The coming month looks to be similarly eventful, with trips planned to central Nebraska and with Heartland Friends hosting the first of what is hoped to be a quarterly gathering of Friends from throughout the region.
Ministry continues and branches out in Wichita
Here in the city of Wichita, I have continued to meet with Friends and I have heard both how God has worked in our lives, as well as the hunger that we feel for God’s presence and unity in our lives. Friends have a desire to reclaim the sense of spiritual bondedness and intimacy that we have experienced in the past and which we believe is God’s intention for us.
As I work among Wichita’s Quaker community, I have continued to put some energy into reaching out to the wider Christian church in the city. Last week, I helped to arrange a meeting during which members of the Mennonite Church of the Servant came together with a group of young Methodists who have been called to live together in intentional community and serve their local neighborhood in downtown Wichita. The meeting was very good, and I was pleased to see these two groups connect with each other. The Mennonite Church of the Servant represents a group of people that have worked for decades to be the Body of Christ in Wichita, living out an incarnational ministry of love and social justice in their work among some of the most marginalized people in the city. On the other hand, this small group of young Methodists represents a new generation of Christians in Wichita who are concerned to live “in the abandoned places of Empire” and get their hands dirty in the everyday work of Christ’s Kingdom. Both groups have a lot to offer each other in terms of experience, energy, and mutual support; I feel blessed to have been part of their meeting.
As I have been in contact with the Church of the Servant, their pastor, Jerry Truex, invited me to take part in an addiction recovery program that they are beginning. The program we are using – Celebrate Recovery – is an explictly Christian adaptation of the Twelve Steps Program, developed under the auspices of Rick Warren’s “Purpose Driven” brand. The group is being facilitated by a member of Derby Friends Church (Mid-America Yearly Meeting), and Jerry Truex and I are there as support people. The first meeting was last Tuesday, and I was impressed by our first session. I was very moved by the presence of the Kingdom among our small group of six people. The spiritual humility of this group, its acknowledgement of need and openness to receiving God’s grace, was palpable, and God was very present with us as we met. I am looking forward to continuing to meet with this group in the coming weeks and months.
On the road
March 22nd through 25th, Faith and I visited Hominy Friends Meeting on the Osage Nation reservation, in Osage county, Oklahoma. I stayed with Jack Core, a member of the meeting, and had opportunities for worship and fellowship with many members of the meeting and of the wider community. On Saturday, Faith and I helped Hominy Meeting put on its annual Wild Onion dinner, which was an enormous success. We served around 140 people from Hominy and surrounding towns a delicious meal of scrambled eggs with wild onions, fry bread, beans and hominy, ham, grape dumplings and dessert. We were sold out at least two hours before we had intended to finish and had to turn many away without food – next year, we’ll have to make more!
On Sunday morning, I had been asked to bring the message during meeting for worship, and I spoke on 1 Corinthians 3:16. I reminded us that the New Covenant of Jesus Christ is one in which God refuses to be contained in boxes or tents or buildings crafted by human hands. The dwelling place of the Living God has become the Church – not a building, but the very lives of we who serve Christ. We are the Temple of God, and God will build us up and make us a worthy House for God’s Presence if we will submit ourselves to Christ’s purifying and redeeming Light.
That afternoon, some of us reconvened at the Hominy meetinghouse and I gave a presentation on Friends history and heritage. I walked us through the history of Friends from the 1650s through the twentieth century, and I explained the divisions of Friends in North America and where Great Plains Yearly Meeting comes from. Friends were impressed at the breadth of the Quaker spectrum that exists within our little yearly meeting, including the Liberal, Orthodox and Evangelical perspectives, as well as, on an individual level, the Conservative tradition.
The following weekend, I had planned to be among Friends in Manhattan, Kansas. However, the region experienced an intense ice and snow storm that prevented me from arriving. This was very disappointing for me; I had been looking forward to this visit for many months. I hope to be able to visit Friends there in the near future, and we are in conversation as to when that might happen.
This past weekend, however, I was able to visit Friends in Lubbock, Texas. I drove the roughly 500 miles one-way to Lubbock on Friday morning and afternoon and made it in time to catch up a bit with Friend Michael Hatfield at his home near Plainfield before heading in to Lubbock to meet with Lubbock Monthly Meeting. The meeting was coming together for a called gathering to discuss their answer to the question, “what is Quakerism?” in preparation for an upcoming visit from a local interfaith group, which they expected would ask many questions of them. I was very impressed with the ability of this group to articulate their understanding of Quakerism, putting their explanations in terms of what Quakerism is – not what it isn’t.
The Hatfields provided me with hospitality at their home near Plainfield, and on Saturday we stuck mostly around the house, enjoying a visit from a Mennonite family and later sharing worship with the Hatfields, another member of Caprock Christian Fellowship, and a Friend from Amarillo Meeting. It was good to get a sense of Michael and Lisa Hatfield’s existence, living with their three children in rural West Texas among plain-dressed Mennonites and Mormon polygamists. I liked it there. The landscape is even flatter than Kansas – a moonscape – and I often felt like I was on a sea or in space, moving between islands or space stations in the form of homes, towns, and cities. The expansiveness of the landscape was both terrifying and refreshing. Though the land is ranched and farmed, it felt more like a desert to me than farmland.
Sunday was busy. I attended Bible study, meeting for worship and meeting for business with Lubbock Meeting; then, I went to Friend Sara Scribner’s house (who attends both Lubbock MM and Caprock Christian Fellowship), where we enjoyed a meal and meeting for worship. We were blessed to have a Friend from Amarillo Monthly Meeting with us for all of this, giving me the chance to connect with three groups of Friends this weekend. I left the Hatfields early Monday morning, grateful for the warmth and hospitality I received from all of the Friends in the area, and especially from the Hatfield family.
In the coming weeks there is a great deal of travel ahead for me, and a number of exciting ways that I will be engaged in ministry. First of all, I will soon be making trips to the worship groups in Kearney and Grand Island, Nebraska (April 17-19 and 24-26, respectively). I am looking forward to touching base with Friends in central Nebraska and being present with them as they listen for how God is calling them to move forward as the monthly meeting in Central City is laid down.
A very exciting event that is coming up soon is a quarterly gathering of Friends from around the region to be hosted by Heartland Meeting in Wichita. From 10am until 4pm, on Saturday, May 2nd, Friends from Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas (and beyond, if way opens!) are invited to come together at Heartland meetinghouse for a time of worship, a meal and fellowship, and a presentation or activity. We will be coming together for mutual support and to focus on how we can be Christ in our local communities. Please mark your calendars and save the date if you are within any sort of driving distance to make this event; those traveling from a very great distance will certainly receive hospitality if there is notice.
At present I am still traveling without a companion, and if you are feeling a motion towards accompanying me on any of my trips, I would invite you to get in touch with me. Thank you all for your prayers and support, and thank you in particular to those who have written me and shared how God is working in your life. I am always encouraged to hear of God’s work among you, and I am grateful for the opportunity to receive your witness to God’s love and grace.
Your friend in Christ’s love,
Dear Friends of Jesus,
My ministry of intervisitation and prayerful listening is continuing here in Wichita, Kansas, as I prepare to reach out to Friends communities in Oklahoma, Northern Kansas, Texas and Nebraska. These past two weeks have been a time of great blessing and hope for me, as I have felt and seen the work of the Lord prospering in the Body here in Wichita.
Among Friends in Wichita
A couple of weeks ago, I had my first in-person meeting with my yearly meeting oversight committee. I met with representatives from Heartland and University Friends meetings in Wichita and Hominy Friends Meeting in Hominy, Oklahoma. We had a rich time of worship and prayerful sharing on the state our local meetings and our personal walks with Christ. Following the meeting, David Nagle of Hominy Friends Meeting and I lingered to share more time together and discuss how we might work together in Oklahoma. There is a lot of work to be done, and I am looking forward to meeting with Friends in Hominy soon and seeing how I can be of service.
These past couple of weeks I have begun attending University Friends’ youth group on Sunday evenings. The youth group is very lively, with about thirty or forty middle school and high school aged youth present, depending on the night. They gather together around six o’clock; many of them are picked up by the church van. Once they are assembled, they participate in worship and religious education, followed by basketball in the gym or board games, and finally there are snacks before the youth are taken back home. I am thankful for the work that close to a dozen volunteers are putting in to keep this youth program going, which is in large part an outreach effort to the wider community – many of the participants are not from families of church members. I pray that God will guide me as I seek to be of service in this context.
I am excited by my opportunities to serve with Friends at University Meeting, and I am equally upbeat about the work that we are doing together at Heartland Meeting. This past Sunday was monthly meeting for business, and I was pleased at the discussions we had about how to move forward together in this ministry. We continue to discern how God wants to use me in my ministry to Heartland Friends. My care and support committee has been very proactive in supporting me and helping ground me, and the meeting as a whole, in this process. I felt very positive about our most recent meeting this past week; I feel like I am receiving a fair amount of counsel and constructive eldering from the committee, and it feels good to know that these Friends care about my welfare and about our faithfulness in caring for this ministry.
While I hope that Friends at Heartland Meeting are coming to know me better as we deepen our relationship, I feel that I am growing in appreciation and understanding for Heartland as a body. Since I have only been a member since late 2004, I have had a very limited view of Heartland’s character. Meeting with all of the active membership has helped me gain a greater appreciation for the history of the meeting and the human relationships that go back decades. The personal connections that undergird this meeting have been largely unknown to me as a relative newcomer, but with Friends’ help I am gaining a greater sense of the history of the meeting.
Beyond the Religious Society of Friends
As rich and valuable as my experiences have been with Friends in the last weeks, I have been increasingly sensing that God is calling me to engage not only with Quakers, but also with all seekers of God’s truth. In particular, I feel that God has been drawing me into relationship with the wider Christian Church here in Wichita. It began last month when Faith and I met with a group of young Methodists who were led to live together in a house that they had renovated in their neighborhood in downtown Wichita. We saw how God was moving not just among Friends, but throughout the Church, and we knew that we wanted to be a part of that larger movement of the Spirit. We have been drawn deeper into relationship with the wider Church in the past few weeks through encounters with fellow laborers from the Protestant tradition. First of all, Shane Claiborne came to Wichita. Then, I was able to meet with Jerry Truex, pastor of Mennonite Church of the Servant here in Wichita.
Jerry really impressed me with the story of his church and their work for peace and justice in Wichita. The church meets in a very marginalized part of Wichita, and many of their members are homeless, drug and alcohol addicts, and/or living in dire poverty. As I understand it, the church began in the 1970s as a collection of house churches that came together for Sunday morning worship. This legacy continues today, with most of the church members living in the neighborhood and being involved in ministries that seek to embody Christ’s love and justice among the poor of Wichita. I am interested in seeing how I and others might partner with Church of the Servant in walking in the Way of Christ among the poor in Wichita. I met recently with the young Methodist community to see if they would be interested in connecting with Jerry and the Church of the Servant to see how they might collaborate. God willing, a number of us should be meeting together to talk about the possibilities later this month.
While things may soon be heating up here in Wichita, my schedule for visitation outside of the city is becoming more densely packed. I will be traveling to Hominy Friends Meeting in Osage Country, Oklahoma, March 20-22. I will be helping out with their annual Wild Onion Dinner, bringing a message that Sunday, and leading a workshop on Friends history and heritage. The following weekend, March 27-29, I will be traveling to Manhattan, Kansas, to visit the Friends meeting there. I have been so looking forward to this visit since the last time I visited there about a year ago. Friends in Manhattan are a precious meeting, and I am excited to be among them again. The weekend after that, April 3-5, I will be traveling to Lubbock, Texas, to visit Lubbock Friends Meeting (South Central Yearly Meeting) and Caprock Christian Fellowship.
Furthermore, I have received word from Eric Jones of Central City Monthly Meeting that the worship group in Kearney, Nebraska, will continue meeting on the first and third Sundays of the month, and that a new worship group will probably be formed in Grand Island, meeting every fourth Sunday. April 17-19, I will be in Kearney to meet with Friends there, followed by a trip to Grand Island April 24-26. It is my hope that my visits might be a sign to Friends in central Nebraska of Great Plains Yearly Meeting’s continuing love and concern for them. I also hope that God might in some way use me to lend energy and momentum to these two fledgling worship groups, that they may grow in God’s care into strong and deeply rooted meetings.
I am very encouraged by the work that God is doing in the Church in the Great Plains region. I feel deep personal gratitude for how God has upheld me in my personal life and public ministry. The Good Shepherd really does feed his sheep, though I doubt. Thank you for your prayers, support, counsel and hospitality. Please know that God is working through us as we seek to be obedient together. Christ is walking beside us, among us.
For the coming weeks, I would ask that you:
* Continue praying – for me, for the meetings I will be visiting, for Great Plains Yearly Meeting, and for the entire Church in the Heartland of the United States. Your prayers are making a difference!
* Consider whether you feel led to accompany me on any of the visits I have mentioned.
* Write me and let me know how God is working in your life and what ministry God is calling you to.
Blessings on you and your ministry as we walk together in the Way of Jesus,