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Nurturing a Movement at Home and Abroad – Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #25

Dear Friends of Jesus,

Greetings from Capitol Hill, where we are still enjoying relatively high temperatures despite being at the end of November. My father, whoThanksgiving on Capitol Hill was here with us for the Thanksgiving break, commented many times on how mild our weather was, and I feel grateful that we have not yet begun to get the wintry conditions that I hear are now developing in much of the country.

This past month has been one of many blessings in our work here on Capitol Hill, as well as in the wider world. Early this month, FaithYoung Adult Friends at Quaker Hill and I were able to attend the Young Adult Friends Intervisitation Consultation, held at Quaker Hill in Richmond, Indiana. The event was jointly sponsored by Friends General Conference and Friends United Meeting. I felt blessed to be able to connect with a number of fellow gospel laborers who were also in attendance. I continue to benefit from the wider community of Friends, which helps me to understand my place in our tradition. I hope that my service is of some benefit to the wider Religious Society of Friends.

Following the consultation, I was able to meet with the planning committee for the 2010 YAF Gathering, which took place this past May. This was our last meeting, six months after the end of the conference, and it was good to debrief as a committee and finish the last bits of business that we had before us. Overall, we felt that we had been faithful in our service as organizers for the 2010 YAF Gathering, and we were grateful for the leading and opportunity to serve in this way.

We were grateful for the ways that we as a planning committee were able to connect, and the ways in which we experiencedYAF 2010 Planning Committee in Richmond Christ’s presence in our midst, both in our planning and during the conference itself. We were saddened by the fact that some participants did not feel welcome at the gathering. As we invited Friends to attend, we found that Liberals often felt that they were being invited to an Evangelical gathering, and Evangelicals often felt they were being invited to a Liberal gathering. It is indeed a hard thing to stand in the middle in the diverse and heterodox tapestry of communities that make up North American Quakerism.

The following weekend, we on Capitol Hill were blessed by the arrival of Tyler Hampton of New City Friends in Detroit. Tyler visited amongTyler Hampton us under a minute from his worship group, and participated in a called meeting for worship of Capitol Hill Friends. We traveled with him to visit Rockingham Friends Meeting in Harrisonburg, Virginia, and later to Old Town Friends in Baltimore. Our sense was that Tyler was of great service in his ministry among us, and in our region, and we are thankful to New City Friends for sending him to us.

Tyler is among a growing number of Friends who are feeling a call to take part in a movement of engaged, missional Quaker faith. WithIMG_1124 his and others’ encouragement, I have recently written a series of essays on my blog that give a rough sketch of what such a movement might look like among Friends and beyond. The response to this series has been great, and I am pleased to see how much enthusiasm exists for a more vital, Christ-centered, justice-seeking Quaker witness. I hope to continue to encourage Friends to join me and others in listening for how Christ is leading us today, and to live into the mission that he is calling us to.

There is no doubt that we are being called. In recent months, I have been contacted by Friends across the United States and Europe who are hearing Christ’s call to lead transformed lives that embody the Gospel and serve the “least of these” in our society. I am astonished by the work of the Spirit, and am constantly reminded of how little this has to do with me; God is doing a new thing, and I pray that I may be faithful in playing my own small part in this fresh movement of the Holy Spirit. And I hope that you will join me, finding your part in Christ’s work in this generation.

Locally, I have been encouraged by my recent interactions with two Christian communities in the DC area. To begin with, I have becomeWoman with Stroller in DC increasingly involved with the community of one of the attenders of Capitol Hill Friends. This attender lives with three other twenty-somethings in the Congress Heights neighborhood, which is predominantly low income and African-American. The folks at her house have some Quaker background, but do not have a shared spiritual practice as a community; their main goal is to be good neighbors in their area and to be involved in the wider community. I have begun attending Bible study there, which includes the residents of the house, as well as some other folks from the neighborhood. In addition, I am getting involved with the organizing of a new Food Not Bombs group, which seeks to serve the Congress Heights neighborhood.

I have also been blessed to come into relationship with some Friends in Frederick, Maryland who are eager to go deeper in aFrederick, MD missional expression of their faith as Quaker Christians. These Friends also hold a Bible study, and I am hopeful that we might be able to eventually attend at least some of their meetings, though Frederick is about an hour and a half away from us with heavy traffic, which renders the journey a bit difficult. Especially the single mothers with no means to public transport, it’s not everyone that can afford top rated baby walkers to go on long journeys safely with their children.  In any case, I hope that we can continue to encourage each other as we seek to walk in Christ’s Way.

It feels good to be getting more deeply involved in the wider community here in DC. For much of my first year here, my attentionE Capitol Street SE was mostly focused outward, on my work organizing among Young Adult Friends nationally. Now, however, I feel that God is calling me to focus more of my attention on developing relationships locally. I hope that, as I become more integrated into the city’s communal life, I might become a more effective witness to the grace and peace of Christ that has so transformed my own life.

Paradoxically, while I am seeing such amazing growth and opportunity in my life and work, I also struggle at times spiritually. I am often challenged to see the willfulness that still exists in my heart; I want things to happen after my own fashion, and it often takes me a long time to come around to accepting God’s will when it runs counter to my own assumptions and desires. As Christ calls me deeper into his Kingdom-life, I face the prospect of ongoing spiritual baptism. Just like the crucifixion that leads to resurrection, these inward baptisms can be truly confusing and agonizing, especially when I insist on resisting to the work of the Holy Spirit in my heart.

I am deeply grateful for my wife, Faith. God uses her so beautifully to keep me on track and to strengthen me when I pass through theFaith inward darkness. I am also grateful for the support and counsel of my Meeting, and of my fellow workers and elders scattered across the distances, who help keep me balanced and give me an outside perspective. I am who I am, and am released to do the work that I do, because of the faithful example and care of many good friends in Christ.

I pray that God establish in your life the relationships of support and guidance that you need as Christ calls you deeper into his challenging way of engagement with the world and his mission to share the Gospel with all people. I look forward to laboring alongside you in his name.

Your friend in Truth,

Micah

Missional Quaker Faith Series:

Missional Quaker Faith: Introduction

Recently on Facebook, I mentioned that I was “trying to piece together a Quaker philosophy of church-planting.” Before I knew it, I had dozens of comments, ranging from skepticism at the very Quaker Church Planters in Detroitidea of church-planting to excited messages expressing that this was something that God was laying on their hearts, as well. It felt like there was quite a bit of energy around this topic, and so I set up a Facebook group called “Quaker Church-Planters” as a point of connection for folks who are interested in exploring how we can, “gather people into fellowships where Jesus Christ is known, loved and obeyed as Teacher and Lord.”(1) As of this writing, the group has over fifty members. Not bad for a branch of Christianity that is notoriously bad at sharing its faith!
 
Starting a Facebook group was easy; just a few clicks, and we were on our way. But it is another matter entirely to empower and equip Friends to live into the call that Jesus issued in Matthew 28. That is going to take some real time and dedication. We need to be praying, studying the Scriptures, looking into what our heritage as Quakers has to teach us, and reaching out to one another to support each one in living into the mission that God has for us. And we are called to act. When we have prayed, and studied, and considered what Christ is demanding of us, it will soon be time to take our first steps into the mission field.

Christians in the West have long talked about “missions” or “missionary” work exclusively in terms of sending missionaries to foreign countries – preferably countries with non-white peoples, Friends in Indianapolisnon-European languages, and cultural and economic systems different from Western European civilization. In this model of missions, Europe and its predominantly European colonies were understood to be the homeland of Christianity. Christendom – a cultural, religious, political and economic system based in Europe and North America – was the bulwark of the Christian faith. These were societies where the work of missions had long ago been accomplished, and the role of these mature Christian societies was to send missionaries to the rest of the world. Only by “bringing light to the darkness” of Africa, Asia and Latin America could the cause of Christ be won.

There were many problems with this model, not the least of which was the culturally and economically imperialist assumptions that were often interlaced with the good intentions and sincere faith of many Western missionaries. The fundamental problem with the colonial model of missions, however, was not cultural or economic imperialism – as sinful as those excesses were and are. The core flaw in the colonialist mindset was the assumption that the West possessed Jesus Christ, and that we had to deliver him to those outside of Western Christendom who had no access to him.

This mindset remains in force in many circles today, as we see with initiatives like the Joshua Project. Many well-intentioned Western Christians believe that their primary mission is to get the word out to non-European ethnic groups, convincing them to become Christians in the Evangelical tradition. Still, the assumption is that we in the West “have Jesus.” The United States and Europe are steeped in fifteen-hundred years of Christian tradition. Our cities are filled with Bibles, church buildings, denominational headquarters and missionary societies. From all outward signs, the Gospel has been preached to the West. “Mission accomplished.”

But this colonial mindset misses the point. Jesus is not a “thing” that we can possess as a culture. Jesus is not a mythical character consigned to Silas Wanjala and Cliff Loesch in Wichita, Kansasancient texts; nor is he a distant observer, peering down from his heavenly throne. Jesus is risen, and he lives among us by his Spirit. We do not possess Jesus as a society any more than the Pharisees did. We can abuse him, misrepresent him, even crucify him like our spiritual forbears – but we will never own him. Jesus is the sovereign Lord of all nations – England and France, America and Spain, Nepal and Arabia. He lives in the most remote, non-Christian village of Indonesia, just as he does in Rome – and he reigns in any heart that will accept him, regardless of whether they have heard the gospel story or accepted a particular group’s interpretation of Christianity.

The Gospel needs to be preached everywhere, in every culture, and this is just as true in Detroit, Oklahoma City and Philadelphia as it is in Mumbai and Riyadh. In contrast to the colonial perspective that views Jesus as a possession of Western culture, the missional worldview sees the dire need that many in the West have to hear the Good News and to be invited into communities where they can grow as disciples of Jesus. As a missional church, we recognize that the West has never truly been “Christian,” in the sense of being yoked to Jesus as a culture. We have always been rebellious and mired in sin, as is starkly apparent from the actions of the so-called “Christian” world in the past fifteen hundred years. Crusades, genocide, war, racism and greed – we have perpetrated all of these atrocities with the name of Jesus on our lips. Clearly, the West’s outward confession of Christ has not always reflected a changed heart. The missional church is about seeking that changed heart, demanding a life of wholeness and holiness from those who claim to be following Jesus.

With this realization of our own desperate need for God’s healing IMG_0461power and Christ’s daily guidance in our lives, we see that all nations – including our own Western society – are fallen, lost, and in need of restored relationship with God. We know from our own experience that this restoration is possible, and that through obedience to Jesus we can be made whole and be brought into genuine fellowship with others who are walking in the Way.

As we examine what a missional Quaker faith might look like, we should always have this simple truth in mind: God loves us and wants to have restored relationship with us, despite our repeated decision to live in outright rebellion against God, both individually and as a culture. God loves us, despite the way in which we have repeatedly turned away from God throughout our history. God loves our neighbors, our classmates and our co-workers. God loves the cities and towns we live in. God desires to gather us together in Christ, so that we can know what true love and unity is. And God is calling us to join with Christ in his ministry of gathering the millions of individuals who are searching for meaning in our post-modern, post-Christendom society. In a world where consumerism and partisan politics are often the height of common meaning, we are in great need of the love of Jesus Christ.

The purpose of the essays that follow will be to outline some of the broad features that might characterize our movement if Friends choose Friends at Rockingham Meetingto respond to Christ’s call to join him in the harvest field. I will begin with an exploration of what must be at the core of our faith: the Lord Jesus, both as we know him in Scripture and in our experience as individuals and churches. Next, I will detail the importance of cultivating a spirituality of receptivity, yieldedness and deep listening, and how this practice of waiting on God informs our leadership models and our decision-making process.

Having established the ground of our faith – Jesus Christ, and waiting on him to know his will – I will share about the importance of discipleship, encouraging and equipping one another to grow in faith and in Christ-like character. From this basis, I will go on to discuss how our transformed lives can serve as a basis for transformation in our society, and in establishing new Christian communities.

As we are inwardly and outwardly conformed to the image of Christ, we will experience growth both as individuals and as communities. My sixth essay will focus on what this kind growth might look like for us as missional Quakers. Finally, I will conclude by exploring what it could mean for us to be outwardly focused, taking risks in order to share the love and power of Jesus beyond our class and cultural comfort zones.

The overall goal of this series of essays is to provide a basis for the establishment of new Christian communities, though I believe that if this vision were generally implemented, it would also have a profound effect on our already-existing Meetings.

I must give credit to Alan Hirsch, whose book The Forgotten Ways helped me in organizing my approach to this topic, as well as influencing my thought in a number of ways. While Hirsch and I come from very different backgrounds and are not in agreement on all issues, I appreciate his ability to organize concepts in a way that flows and makes sense.


1. From Friends United Meeting’s mission statement (http://www.fum.org)

Emerging Leaders in FUM and New Life In DC – Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #23

Dear Children of Light,
This past month has been one of transition. As summer fades into fall, I have begun to shift my lifestyle to focus my energies on the ministry that God has called me to here in Washington, DC. This past year, I was primarily focused on the world beyond Washington, DC; I travelled almost constantly, visiting Friends across the United States. This has been a fertile time, and I feel that I have grown as a minister, as well as having some positive impact on the Religious Society of Friends. In recent months, however, I have been increasingly under the weight of a concern to reorient myself to place more emphasis on mission in the city of Washington.

Capitol Hill Friends is beginning to show signs of putting down roots and gelling as a group. We have been encouraged by the loving presence of Noah Baker-Merrill, who is sojourning with us from Putney Friends Meeting in New England Yearly Meeting.Front lawn at William Penn House We have also been blessed by many visitors from area Friends Meetings to our Wednesday night meetings. At a recent meeting for worship, we were pleased to have visitors from Rockingham Friends Meeting, and we had a much larger attendance than we had experienced up until then. Our worship life feels like it is getting deeper, and overall we sense a remarkable up-tick in energy and group cohesion. The Spirit is moving in our little fellowship on Capitol Hill.

This moment feels ripe for growth, and I feel an increasing concern to be out in the Lord’s harvest field. Consequently, I anticipate that much of my energy in the coming months will go into nurturing Capitol Hill Friends as it grows and develops into the  communityFriends in prayer that God intends it to be.  Faith and I will continue to host regular meetings for worship, and we will also be undertaking increasing pastoral care and outreach. Most critically, we will be empowering new leaders to share in the work of the church. Please pray for us as we seek to foster an environment of mutual love, service and accountability at Capitol Hill Friends.

As the gospel labor intensifies in DC, my professional work is shifting and finding new definition, as well. I will continue to be employed by Earlham School of  Religion this coming year, Worship at ESRand I have been in discernment with my colleagues as to how we can best collaborate to share ESR’s vision for the Religious Society of Friends. ESR’s ministry of teaching and discipleship of emerging Christian leaders is at the core of our mission as a Friends seminary, but ESR also has a passion to reach out beyond our current student body and to engage in shared conversationsGraduation at ESR in 2009 about the future of our tradition and community as Friends. We hope to make the wealth of wisdom, creativity and vision that is present at ESR more readily available and visible online, so that Friends around the world can engage in a conversation with us about what faithful leadership looks like in this young century.

In order to implement this new phase in my employment with Earlham School of Religion, I have been traveling regularly to Richmond, Indiana to be present with the residential ESR community. Being with my colleagues in the Richmond office is helpful in building working relationships; and being present in Richmond presents the opportunity to take part in a rich intersection of Quaker life and thought available in few other places. A good example of this is my latest trip to Richmond, when I was able to attend the Friends United Meeting Emerging Leaders Conference.

The Emerging Leaders Conference was outstanding. Colin Saxton of Northwest Yearly Meeting was our main speaker,  and his gentle, weighty presence provided a substantial core for our time together. He invited us to rest in Christ and to exercise leadership Colin Saxton at FUM Emerging Leaders Conferencein our communities by being a non-anxious presence. Colin spent much of his time speaking on responsibility and the difference between the personal responsibility we bear for our own lives before God and the responsibility that we bear to one another in community. He encouraged us to remember that only God has the power to effect deep change in the lives of others, and that as we accept this, our own personal responsibility and limits become clear. This ability to distinguish between our own responsibility before God and the responsibility that others must bear, he argued, is one of the marks of a gifted leader.

It is this clarity about personal responsibility to God that allows us to see how to exercise effective and responsible leadership in community. IMG_1193 When we acknowledge the limits of our own responsibility we are freed to empower new leadership in our communities; when we see that we are incapable of carrying the burden alone, we can invite others into the challenges and blessings of leadership.

Jay Marshall, dean of Earlham School of Religion, presented about the realities of leadership among Friends, and the potential for a workable model for Quaker leadership going forward. Jay pointed out that among Friends there are two sources of authority that remain in tension: A sense of divine leading felt Jay Marshall talking to Colin Saxtonby the individual, and the discernment of individual leadings by the community. This tension is healthy, helping us to hold both individuals and Meetings accountable to new motions of the Spirit. However, Jay explained that Friends sometimes risk suffocating the Spirit-led leadership of the individual, elevating community habits and inertia over fresh leadings of God. While leadings must be tested, it is crucial that genuine leadership be recognized and empowered by the community. We as Friends must learn to grant authority to individuals who have been called into leadership among us, taking care not to undercut the work of our leaders with passive-aggressive demands that they be “more servant-like.”

Our presenters brought great depth and substance to the conference, but at least equally important was the quality of those emerging leaders who attended. We had Friends in attendance from most of the North American Yearly Meetings of Friends United Meeting, including a very hefty contingent from North Friends at the FUM Emerging Leaders ConferenceCarolina.  There were many Friends whom I already knew, but there were also quite a few that I had never met before. I felt very blessed by the opportunity to gather with other “FUMers,” other Friends from both pastoral and unprogrammed Meetings whose lives and ministries are rooted in Jesus Christ.

This event felt like a realization – at least in some small degree – of my dream for Friends United Meeting: That we be a fellowship  that can proclaim the Christian faith of Friends to a world that is so desperately in need of the love of Jesus Christ. This conference was a time of unity, where Friends from a wide variety of backgrounds gathered in the name of Christ to explore how we can develop as leaders in FUM Emerging Leaders Conferenceour local fellowships and Yearly Meetings. For many of us, this was a precious time of finding that there is indeed a place for us to stand as Christians in the Quaker tradition. We found unity in Christ that overcame our outward differences: There was neither programmed nor unprogrammed, male nor female, Liberal nor Evangelical – we were all one in Christ Jesus. Praise God for that!

I hope that Friends United Meeting continues to organize these conferences in the years to come. It is so important that FUM be more than simply an abstract affiliation; we need to know one another, Jay and Darrinbecoming co-laborers with one another in the Way of Jesus. It is my hope that we will work with one another, pray for one another, and seek to strengthen each one in his or her ministry. As we come to know one another more deeply in Christ, the bonds between our local churches and Yearly Meetings will deepen, and we may truly become Friends United Meeting.

Thank you for your ongoing prayers for me, for Capitol Hill Friends, and for the Body of Christ as a whole. Faith and I rely on your love and prayer support to continue the work that we are doing among Friends, particularly our ministry in Washington, DC. Please continue to hold us in prayer! The spiritual battle is only just beginning, and we need your faithful intercession now more than ever. Please let me know how I can best be praying for you, as well. We each have a particular ministry to which we are called, and through our prayers we can help one another live into that call, protected from all powers of darkness by the mercy of Jesus Christ.

Your friend in Jesus, the living Word of God,

Micah Bales

Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #16 – North Carolina and FUM General Board

Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,

Despite signs earlier this month that spring might be upon us, the Mid-Atlantic has been slammed during the past couple of weeks by blizzards that crushed all past records of snowfall in the DC area. From our perch on top of the William Penn House, Faith and I looked on as foot after foot of snow fell on Capitol Hill. All told, our neighborhood received somewhere upwards of three feet in one week. Despite the inclement weather, I have been able to make two major trips this past month as I serve Friends in North America.

Long before the advent of arctic storms, I took the train down south to visit Friends in Virginia and North Carolina. My first stop was in the city of Richmond, Virginia, to see Jon Watts. Jon Watts is a Quaker musician who grew up in Baltimore Yearly Meeting, attended Guilford College as a part of the Quaker Leadership Scholars Program, and later spent time as a student at Pendle Hill. He is perhaps most famous for his song, “Friend Speaks My Mind,” which depicts his experience growing up in Baltimore Yearly Meeting‘s youth program, and which has drawn both intensely positive and intensely negative reviews from across the Quaker world.

It was a real privilege to meet with Jon and stay with him in his home. I felt like our relationship was deepened a great deal, and we both gained a deeper understanding of how each of us is seeking to be faithful to God’s guidance in our lives. Jon and I will be looking for ways we might collaborate in the future as we seek to share the good news that Christ is come to teach his people himself.

Moving on from Richmond, I took Amtrak to Greensboro, where I participated in Earlham School of Religion‘s 50th anniversary celebration, which took place at Centre Friends Meeting House. I enjoyed being with Friends in North Carolina and touching base with a number of folks from ESR. It was a joy to be a part of the ongoing celebration of ESR’s 50th year of service to the Religious Society of Friends, and I am looking forward to taking part in the celebration in Wichita, Kansas, this April.

Last week, I was on the road again, this time for the Meeting of the Friends United Meeting General Board at Powell House, in Old Chatham, New York. I felt lucky to get there at all. Several fellow board members were hearing predictions that another snowstorm was about to hit the Mid-Atlantic and make travel very dicey. So, at the last minute, we decided to drive up a day early. We arrived at Powell House around two in the morning, which left me feeling jet-lagged for the next couple of days. We arrived very early, so I had a couple of days to settle into life at Powell House, including to learn the ropes of being the resident “butler,” assisting with the dining room and kitchen work during the board meetings.

Our time together as a board felt good. On Friday night and Saturday morning we looked at who we are as FUM, what our mission is, and how we should operate as a Christian association of Yearly Meetings. While the conversation began as a look at restructuring the organization, it soon became clear that structure was not our fundamental problem: We need a change in our ways of relating with one another, as well as with our projects around the world. Recognizing that our difficulties come largely from the way we relate to one another and from our collective attitudes and habits as a body, we changed our focus. We began to look more deeply at who we are as FUM, and who God is calling us to be.

One of our biggest tasks as a group has been and continues to be learning to trust one another despite all of the cultural and theological differences between us. I felt that we continued to make progress on this important work at these meetings. Unfortunately, because of the weather, we were missing many of our board members. Those of us who were able to attend the meetings in New York feel a responsibility to help those who were not present understand the work that we were able to do together. Little by little, we are developing a healthier relationship between us as representatives of our Yearly Meetings; and I pray that we continue on in this slow, but vital, work.

This is hard, painstaking labor. If I came in with any illusions that FUM would be transformed overnight, I have been relieved of them. What is left for me is a recognition of the beautiful and maddening reality of Friends United Meeting: We are the largest, most diverse Friends body in the world. Some of us are Friends who are not sure how to relate to the Christian tradition in light of the evils done in Christ’s name. Others of us are Friends who are so deeply embedded in the mainstream Christian culture that we question whether Quakerism is even relevant. We are Friends who worship in expectant silence for an hour; and we are Friends whose worship services last for many hours and include singing and long sermons. We are Republicans and Democrats; we are Kenyans and Jamaicans, Arabs and Cubans. We are members of the Body of Christ, seeking our way to serve our Lord in a world that is dying in misery and sin. We are committed to energize and equip Friends, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to gather people into fellowships where Jesus Christ is known, loved and obeyed as Teacher and Lord.

I am Friends United Meeting. Many of you are, too. You may agree with the personnel policy or disagree with it. You may like the Richmond Declaration or feel uneasy about it. You may think that some of FUM is too liberal, or too Evangelical. But we are Friends United Meeting. We are the middle ground, caught between two polar visions that would divide us out of fear. We stand in the middle, at the heart and soul of the worldwide Quaker family.

As those of us gathered in New York considered together what it meant for us to be FUM, we acknowledged that there is a deep hunger in our Meetings to hear the Gospel message, to hear about how God is working in our lives and transforming us into a new creation. We also acknowledged that FUM plays a vital role for Orthodox Friends in the United Yearly Meetings (Canadian, New England, New York, Baltimore and Southeastern), encouraging them in a sense of Christian identity in bodies that do not always affirm a sense of corporate Christian faith. We felt clear that God is calling us to continue to be in relationship with one another, to encourage one another in Christ’s call for us: that we be salt and light in a flavorless and darkened world.

I encourage each of you to pray for Friends United Meeting. Pray for our office staff in Richmond, but not only for them. Pray for our diligent workers in East Africa, Israel/Palestine, Belize, Jamaica and Cuba – but don’t stop there. Pray for our released leaders – meeting secretaries, youth workers, pastors, traveling ministers, general secretaries and superintendents. And go further still: Pray for the local Meetings across the world and throughout North America. Pray that we hear the still small voice of God’s Word in our hearts, and that we respond – as individuals, as local churches, as Yearly Meetings, and as Friends United Meeting as a whole. Pray for strength and courage for this journey that we are on, which we know will be arduous, but which we know will be rewarded by our Heavenly Father with the wonders of God’s power and the peace of God’s presence.

Blessings to each of you. Peace in God our Father and in the holy love of Christ our Lord. Amen.

Micah Bales

Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #14 – Sowing Seeds at Home and Further Afield

Dear Children of Light,

The past weeks have been quite eventful, and we have had a sense that God’s work is being advanced. Both here in DC and further afield, God has been very generous in placing us in a position to share the message of the Lord’s indescribable love and peace, available to each of us as we open ourselves to it. Faith and I were grateful to have the opportunity to visit Friends at Takoma Park Meeting (Preparative), a short metro ride away – right on the northeastern border between DC and Maryland. Takoma Park is a sweet little Meeting, with perhaps fifteen in attendence when we visited. We felt very honored to be asked to stay after Meeting and share with a group of Friends about our experiences traveling among Friends. It was a joy to share some of our observations with them, as well to hear their perspectives on a variety of issues. We pray that God continue to bless Takoma Park Meeting, calling it into ever-greater spiritual depth as the work of the Holy Spirit brings Friends there into maturity, bestowing all of the gifts of the Spirit upon them.

We have spent a lot of time away from home in the last weeks, and we have felt blessed by those whom we have encountered in our travels. Faith and I spent most of the week of Thanksgiving in Ohio, visiting her family. On our way back to DC, we were able to attend Sunday morning worship at Stillwater Friends Meeting, in Barnesville, Ohio. After worship, Fran Taber and Richard Simon invited us to have lunch with them; we greatly enjoyed their hospitality and warm company, before hitting the road again.

On December 4-6, we flew to Wichita, Kansas, to take part in a planning meeting for a Young Adult Friends gathering. This gathering, which will take place over Memorial Day weekend, 2010, seeks to bring Friends together from across the United States, Canada, and possibly Mexico. This was the full planning committee’s first in-person meeting, and I was very pleased with how well we worked together. Almost a dozen of us spent the weekend worshiping, getting to know one another, and seeking God’s guidance to make the initial decisions that would guide the rest of our planning process. We were led to adopt the theme: “Bearing Witness to the Word Among Us – Witness, Testimony and Transformation.” The accompanying scriptural passage that we felt directed to was 1 John 1:1-3.

I was very excited to see the kind of broad participation that we are getting from YAFs in the Evangelical Friends world early on in the process. Of the twelve members of the planning committee, four are from Evangelical Friends Church; with two from Eastern Region, one from Mid-America Yearly Meeting, and one from Northwest Yearly Meeting. One of our number is from the Conservative Friends tradition (Ohio Yearly Meeting), another is from the Beanite/Independent branch of the Liberal-Unprogrammed tradition (Pacific Yearly Meeting), and another is a member of an FGC Yearly Meeting (Lake Erie Yearly Meeting). Three of us are from the FUM branch of the Orthodox tradition – Great Plains Yearly Meeting, North Carolina Yearly Meeting, and Wilmington Yearly Meeting; and two of us are members of University Friends Meeting, which is dually affiliated with Great Plains Yearly Meeting (FUM) and Mid-America Yearly Meeting (Evangelical Friends Church).

With this kind of diversity on our planning committee, I feel very hopeful that the gathering we are planning can be an inviting space for Friends of all backgrounds – particuarly for pastoral and Evangelical Friends. In the coming months, the planning committee will be doing extensive outreach to Friends across the continent, in a wide variety of Yearly Meetings, seeking maximum participation by Friends from all backgrounds. We would be very grateful for your prayers as we work on the event planning and outreach work that will be necessary to bring together Young Adult Friends from across our geographical, cultural and historical landscape. I am confident that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. I have already seen what a great group of people the Lord has brought together to work on this project, and I am convinced that if we are obedient we will serve God’s purposes in the months to come.

Here at home, Faith and I have been doing a bit of local organizing. This past Wednesday, December 9th, we had the second meeting of the Christian worship group that we have been hosting on Capitol Hill. We had a good turnout, with nine individuals in attendence; and our time together was blessed with a sense of joy. Dinner was provided, following which we sang hymns together and read the first two chapters of Luke aloud. Following this time of preparation, we entered into open worship. After about an hour, and several vocal messages, an advice was read aloud. After another short period of silence, the meeting for worship ended with the shaking of hands. I felt very encouraged by the spirit that was present among us as we worshiped together and shared fellowship after worship. Of the nine of us, seven of us were in our mid- to late- twenties, while the other two participants were Baby Boomers. It is my hope that this worship group will serve as a place of spiritual refreshment and encouragement to seekers of all ages and life stages. I also hope that it can be a group in which all attenders are loved and accepted for who they are, even as Christ calls us to go deeper and be transformed in His purifying light.

After our positive experiences hosting this time of worship and fellowship, Faith and I feel clear to begin holding this worship group on a regular basis starting in the new year. Beginning on Wednesday, January 13th, the worship group will meet every second and fourth Wednesday of the month. It is our hope that a solid group might develop over a period of sustained and regular meetings for worship. Please pray for the worship group as it takes its first halting steps. Pray that the group grow, gain in strength and maturity, and be raised up as a body that can be of service to God and our neighbors in the District of Columbia. Please also pray that God spiritually ground and actively teach every person who attends our meetings for worship, that we may all be brought into maturity and empowered to instruct others in the Way of the Gospel.

God bless each of you who read this letter, and may the Lord bless the ministry that God has called you to.

Your co-worker in Christ’s labor of love,

Micah Bales

Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #12 – New Hope at FUM

Dear children of light,

I write you from my new home, the William Penn House, just blocks from the United States Supreme Court, the US Capitol Building, the White House and many other monuments to civil authority. Since I moved in almost a month ago, I have been on the road a great deal. I’ve begun my work with Earlham School of Religion, and have made trips to Philadelphia and New England. October 12-17, I traveled to Richmond, Indiana, for the three-times-annually meetings of Friends United Meeting. This year, there were actually four meetings – the usual three in February, June and October, and and one more, a called meeting held at Stony Point, New York, late this September. I was not able to be present at this called meeting, as Faith and I had just returned from our honeymoon and I was moving my belongings out East from Kansas. The mood of our last regular meeting in June had been troubled, and a special meeting was called for board members to thresh out our shared difficulties and help us come to a clearer place in our ongoing discernment about God’s will for Friends United Meeting as an organization and as a fellowship.

As Friends began to arrive at our meeting this October, I realized that some serious work had been done at Stony Point. In June, many board members had been uncertain about the value of continuing FUM in its present form, suggesting that a “redemptive separation” might be necessary. Now, however, the board was united in love and respect for one another. I saw evidence of a deep willingness to bear one another’s burdens and seek the will of God together, even as many of us have sharp disagreements. I experienced the presence of genuine love among the board members, calling us into greater patience and humility.

There were some important affirmations made at Stony Point, that were re-stated at our meetings this October. The first, and most foundational, is that we are convinced that God still has a purpose for FUM. At the Stony Point meeting, Friends came together and openly examined whether it might be time for FUM change drastically in composition, or to be laid down entirely. Friends waited together to hear whether God did indeed have “a hope and a future” for Friends United Meeting as an organization and as a Christian fellowship. The answer that they heard was, yes. We sense a call to continued work together and to continued relationship with one another as Friends United Meeting.

Another important affirmation that came out of Stony Point and was re-stated this October is that FUM is a Christian association. For many years, the question had been held up: “What is FUM?” The alternatives that I usually heard given were: “Are we a denomination? An association? A non-governmental relief organization?” This fall, the FUM General Board has reached clarity that we are a Christian association, which, “does not have the ‘right’ to impose an authoritative will or doctrine upon constituent members.” Whatever pretensions FYM/FUM ever had to be a decision-making body for its constituent Yearly Meetings, any such notions have now been definitively set aside. The FUM General Board does not pretend to impose itself in the decision-making process of Yearly Meetings.

My sense from this meeting is that there has been a breakthrough in FUM this fall. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the General Board has been freed from the spirits of division, suspicion and enmity that have for so long plagued this body. While we acknowledge that there are still deep differences in understandings both within and between the Yearly Meetings of FUM, the Lord has opened the hearts of those on the General Board and granted us the Spirit of love and unity. Praise God for the work of Christ in our midst!

I ask that you continue to pray for Friends United Meeting. Now that God has given the General Board the gift of mutual love and spiritual unity, it is more important than ever that we pray for FUM. May we be completely healed as a society of the Body of Christ, not for our own sake, but so that the Good News might be proclaimed to the poor and the testimony of Jesus witnessed to among the peoples of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, Congo, Belize, the United States, Canada, Jamaica, Cuba, Israel/Palestine, and the whole world. Pray that God will continue to make us one, united in Christ Jesus, so that the world may see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven.

Love one another, and let there be no divisions among you. I send my loving greetings to you in the Name that is above all names.

Your brother in Christ,

Micah Bales

To Detroit, our Wedding, Mexico, and moving to DC – Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #11

Dear Friends in the love of Christ,

The last month has been a whirlwind for me. I’ve visited Friends in Michigan; gotten married in Barnesville, Ohio; honeymooned in Mexico; and traveled halfway across the country as I moved out to Washington, DC to live with Faith at the William Penn House. God has been doing a lot of important work this month. In this letter I’d like to highlight God’s work among Friends and beyond, both in my life and in the lives of Friends in the United States and Mexico.

I felt that my time among Friends in Michigan was very fruitful. I was able to attend meeting for worship at Detroit Monthly Meeting (Lake Erie Yearly Meeting) and New City Friends Worship Group in Detroit, and Crossroads Monthly Meeting (Ohio Yearly Meeting) in Flint. I had precious times with each of these groups, and I am particularly grateful for the time that I was able to spend encouraging Friends from New City Worship Group as they deepen their walk together in Christ. I was also very grateful for the time that God allowed me to spend with some members of Detroit Monthly Meeting, and the opportunities that I was given to witness to my faith in Christ Jesus.

In addition to regular meetings with Friends in Detroit and Flint, New City Friends Worship Group hosted a regional gathering at which there were Friends in attendence from across Eastern Michigan and Northwestern Ohio. At this called meeting for worship, I felt the quickening power of Christ’s Spirit among us and was grateful to how He ministered to us as individuals and as a gathered body. On a personal note, I was very grateful for how Tyler and Ray opened their home to me. I was very much in need of some quiet time alone with God, and I was able to rest and wait on the Spirit during the time I spent with them in their home.

Following this blessed time in Detroit, I returned to Marysville, Ohio, and spent a number of days with Faith’s family. I accompanied Faith’s father and brother as they drove out to DC to pick up Faith and her sister, and a few days after that my father, grandmother and aunts picked me and Faith up in Columbus and took us to Barnesville, where we would be married that coming Saturday. It was a joy to spend time with my extended family – who I see so rarely because of geographic distance – and to have them get to know Faith.

Our wedding was all we could have hoped for. We were grateful for the presence of family and f/Friends from across the country and across the spectrum of Quakerism. The worship service for marriage was deep and rich, with many Friends sharing grounded messages out of the silence. There were many Young Adult Friends in attendence, which allowed for a mini-YAF-gathering during our reception on the front porch and lawn of the Stillwater Meeting House. As I understood, YAFs continued to meet together into the evening following the reception. Faith and I were pleased that our wedding could be a venue that brought together young Friends leaders and encouraged them to deepen their connections to one another.

Following our wedding, Faith and I spent two weeks together in Mexico. We spent most of our time in Mexico City and Xalapa, in the state of Veracruz. These two cities are both very special to me: Mexico City, because of the time that I spent working at the Casa de los Amigos in 2005; Xalapa, because of the time I spent there during college (in 2003) and returning on an continuing basis since then. I have many friends in both cities, and I enjoyed introducing Faith around. Faith and I didn’t get too involved in the Quaker community for most of the trip, but we were able to visit Mexico City Monthly Meeting, as well as meeting with Young Adult Friends in Mexico City and encouraging them in their walk. We pray for Mexico City Monthly Meeting, the Casa de los Amigos, the Friends who live and work there, and for the Church as a whole in Mexico – that they be strengthened and encouraged as they walk in the way of Jesus.

Faith and I flew back to Ohio, and the next day I flew to Wichita. I loaded up my belongings into our car and then spent a day driving out to Richmond, Indiana, for the Board of Advisors meetings at Earlham School of Religion. This coming year, I will be working part-time for ESR doing outreach to Young Adult Friends, helping to increase the school’s visibility as a resource for young Friends leaders who are feeling the call to deepen their life in Christ as they are called into a variety of ministries. I am looking forward to connecting with Friends from across North America in this coming year to talk about the value of theological education for the Religious Society’s emerging leadership and the important role that ESR is playing in this process of equipping servant-leaders for the work that the Spirit has set before us.

While in Richmond, Faith and I were able to attend the final meeting for worship of Fountain City Friends Meeting. In the past few months, they had made the decision to lay down at the end of September; when we found out about this at our wedding, we told them that we would be there for their last session. It was a touching final meeting, and few of us avoided crying. Though this meeting of the Church is being laid down, however, we are convinced that the Church of Jesus Christ is more alive than ever. We branches wither and die, but the True Vine is eternal and unbreakable. This assurance has been confirmed by the new ministry that we observed taking place in Fountain City.

A new group called “the Underground Connection,” has begun to meet in Fountain City’s meetinghouse on Sunday evenings for praise, teaching and worship in the name of Jesus. Describing themselves as, “a place where people can worship God freely,” their ministry is one of creating a space for seekers and believers to experience the freedom that comes in worshiping God in spirit and in truth. What Faith and I witnessed when we visited this past Sunday was a truly Spirit-led worship service consisting of praise music led by an Evangelical-style praise band, a sermon (that evening, delivered by a young child), and a time of open worship. The open worship was a time of great depth, a powerful sense of Christ’s presence, and grounded vocal ministry out of the expectant silence. We were greatly encouraged by what we saw, heard and felt while we were among the Friends of the Underground Connection. We are convinced that Christ is doing a new thing among this meeting of God’s people, and they are in our prayers as they continue to seek God’s will for them as children of light.

On Tuesday, Faith and I drove the rest of the way home, to Washington, DC. Faith has lived and worked at the William Penn House for the past two years, and I am joining her there. We have just gotten mostly unpacked, and this weekend I’m in Philadelphia to take part in a 50th anniversary celebration that ESR is holding at Arch Street Meeting House. This is the beginning of a lot of traveling that I will be doing for ESR as we work to raise the school’s visibility as a resource for Friends who are being called into servant-leadership. Next weekend, I will be traveling to Boston for a friend’s wedding, and I will also be meeting with area YAFs to share with them about my experiences as a recent graduate from Earlham School of Religion and to hear about the needs they have from an institution like ESR. Following that weekend, I will be flying out to Richmond, Indiana, to meet with folks at ESR and Earlham College to talk about how we can better engage with Young Adult Friends, both across North America as well as at Earlham College itself. I will also be attending the sessions of Friends United Meeting‘s General Board.

As I travel this month, I would be very grateful for your prayers – prayers for protection, and that God’s will be served in all that I do. I am at a moment of great transition in my life – a new marriage, a new home, a new city and a new job! I need your prayers that I be kept grounded in the Spirit of Christ and that I not be overcome by fatigue or a wandering mind.

Your friend in Christ Jesus,

Micah Bales