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Gardening the Church – Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #34

Dear Friends,
After a long and very eventful summer, things have finally begun to slow down a bit. This season, I have been away from home at least as often as I have been present. Now, with fall approaching, it is my hope that I might spend more of my time focusing on the local mission of the Church here in Washington. As worthwhile and – I do hope – Spirit-led as my summer travels have been, I feel God’s hand on me to continue to slow down the pace of my life, leaving more room for personal relationships and community-building here in the city where I live.
The longest trip I took this past month was to Barnesville, Ohio, for the annual gathering of Ohio Yearly Meeting. These were the first yearly meeting sessions that Faith and I had attended as members, though the gathering felt very familiar, in large part due to our regular involvement in Stillwater Quarterly Meeting, which inludes most of OYM’s Meetings and membership.
This year was an especially intense gathering, as we had a lot of discernment to do together around weighty questions such as the revision of the Yearly Meeting’s queries, as well our understanding of human sexuality. Over all, I was pleased with the spirit in which our sessions were conducted. Especially in our consideration of human sexuality – including homosexuality – I was thankful to see that Friends were careful to maintain a humble and teachable spirit. We did have a sense that the Holy Spirit was present in our midst, teaching us. Though we have not arrived at any conclusions as a body, there was a sense in the body that we were seeking for the Holy Spirit to gather us together and lead us into the fullness of the Truth.
In the context of the Religious Society of Friends and the broader Christian Church, where so many bodies are splitting over these questions, it seems nothing less than a gift of the Holy Spirit that we in Ohio Yearly Meeting are able to refrain from the need to purge those of different opinions. May God grant us the grace to continue to struggle together, and ultimately to be brought into a deeper understanding of God’s Word(1) with us and among us.
We also had the opportunity this month to gather with our Monthly Meeting – Rockingham Friends – at the home of Faye Chapman, one of our members, who lives in Blue Grass, Virginia. It was a blessing to gather with Friends for worship, fellowship and business. I particularly enjoyed helping Faye get ready for winter, splitting and stacking firewood. I was reminded during this trip how much we benefit from the support we receive from Friends at Rockingham Meeting. They are a great source of strength and wisdom as we live into the mission that God has for us in the city.
The work in Washington does feel like it is being blessed. Despite the challenges that most churches experience in maintaining participation during the summer, our numbers have held relatively steady. If anything, this summer has been a time of general strengthening in the relationships among those in our community. In addition, we have also welcomed a number of new folks who have begun to take part in our community.
I have been learning during my time here in DC that nurturing a new church is more like gardening than it is like building a house. With construction, the speed of development depends primarily upon the skill of the builder, the number and dedication of the workers, and the availability of raw materials. Church-planting is more like gardening, in the sense that while we are called to prepare the soil, plant seeds and water the field, we cannot ultimately control what growth, if any, will emerge. Those kind of results depend upon the God’s grace and the response of others. Ultimately, we gardeners cannot dictate the growth – spiritual or numerical – of the new church.
This is really humbling. I was raised in a society that stresses the importance of demonstrable, quantifiable results; results that can be expressed on a graph or a pie chart. Rather than placing its focus on faithfulness to God’s guidance, our culture demands that we justify our lives by how well we live up to human standards of success.
This is one reason that the church community is so important. The Church helps remind us not to judge our success or failure by consumeristic human standards. This community creates an environment that encourages us to set our sights on God. The Church reminds us of who we really are – children of the living God – and what our true priorities should be.
I am grateful that we have the support of the local church at Rockingham, as well as the prayer support and connections that we have with brothers and sisters around the country and even overseas. We could not do the work that God is calling us to without the counsel, prayers and nurture that we receive from you. I give thanks to the Lord for the way that he provides for our needs through his Body, the Church.
This Body is developing here in Washington. It continues to amaze me how long it takes for deep, rooted community to take shape. Indeed, in many ways the process of shared growth never ends. Yet I do feel like we have taken real steps forward in recent months. I pray that God will continue to be present with us here in DC, so that Capitol Hill Friends might become a church that can itself provide care and support, inviting others to become living members of the Body of Christ.
Thank you for your faithfulness in praying for us here on Capitol Hill. Your prayers are effective. We feel them here. Please continue to ask God to send the Holy Spirit and build up Christ’s Body in Washington, DC. Ask God to strengthen Capitol Hill Friends as we seek to share and embody the good news and love of Jesus Christ.
In Christ’s Light,
Micah Bales
1. That is, Jesus Christ