This weekend, Faith and I traveled out to southeastern Ohio to attend a retreat for Friends with a call to gospel ministry or eldership. The retreat was held at the Friends Center of Ohio Yearly Meeting, near Stillwater Meeting House.
Our facilitators for the weekend were Brian Drayton and Jan Hoffman, both ministers from New England Yearly Meeting, and Susan Smith, an elder from Ohio Yearly Meeting. I really appreciated their work in helping us reflect on the distinctions between ministry and eldership. I was especially glad for their willingness to examine how these mysterious gifts manifest uniquely in each person. For the most part, we stayed away from one-size-fits-all definitions and sought to understand how God’s gifts were at work in each of our lives.
Besides our leaders, there were twenty of us in attendance – the maximum capacity for Friends Center. Six attenders were from Ohio Yearly Meeting, four from New England Yearly Meeting and three from Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. The rest of us came from Baltimore, Illinois, Western, New York, Canadian and Pacific Yearly Meetings, as well as a Friend from Alaska Friends Conference. There was a wide range of experience represented. Some of us were seasoned Friends with decades of ministry/eldership experience, while others of us were still still emerging in our gifts. Some attended as a part of the process of discernment of calling and gifting.
I felt blessed to gather with Friends from a wide range of Yearly Meeting backgrounds under the explicitly Christian auspices of Ohio Yearly Meeting. While there were certainly a variety of perspectives and understandings present, it felt like we were brought together in Christ Jesus. Over the course of the weekend, we received God’s word in our hearts and heard substantial, grounded vocal ministry. We were strengthened and deepened in our common walk of Christian discipleship. We received wisdom and teaching as we continue to seek God’s purpose for our lives.
In our meeting for worship on Saturday evening, I felt that the word of the Lord to the group was that we are called to the baptism of fire that John the Baptist proclaimed and that Jesus offers us. We were reminded that we are born of water and given spirit/breath by our Creator. After these baptisms of water and spirit comes the baptism of fire, which is a spiritual circumcision. The baptism of fire is a cutting, a stripping down and cleansing of all rebellion and ungodliness. It is a baptism into holiness.
While we were called to pass through the crucible of inward spiritual baptism and crucifixion of self-will, we were also reminded that dying to self is the beginning of new life in Christ. We were exhorted to remember that the good news of Jesus Christ is not the fire, but the life, joy and peace that lies beyond it. As ministers and elders, we are called to act as midwives to the birthing of new, everlasting life in the Spirit.
I was grateful to have the opportunity to be present at this gathering of Friends. Over the course of the weekend, the Holy Spirit worked on my heart, bringing me to a clearer understanding of my own spiritual condition. In particular, I became even more aware of my own need to be humbled and yielded to Christ’s lordship. I was shown that I am called to greater singleness of purpose in my life.
For years, I have run myself ragged, seeking to accomplish more, do more, be more. But this weekend the Lord deepened my understanding of what Christ asks of me. I saw that God desires not achievement but submission. The Spirit calls me to not greatness but yieldedness. To walk in the way of Jesus is to embrace not human honor and glory but anonymous love and self-sacrifice. I am convicted that my anxiety is a sign of my sin, not of my diligence. I am called to simple, childlike trust. Worry is not a part of God’s plan for me, because the power of the Lord is indeed over all.
I am grateful for the work of the organizers this weekend, and for all of the ministers and elders who traveled to be with us. I give thanks for the powerful ways that God has moved among us, and for Jesus’ resurrected presence in our midst. He continues to teach us, and I pray for the grace to yield to his instruction. I can trust his word to me. I know he loves me. My only job is to love him back, and share that love with others.