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God So Loved The Cosmos

This weekend, I am with Great Plains Yearly Meeting, who are gathering for their annual sessions in Wichita, Kansas. The theme of the gathering is ecological stewardship, and in our Bible study we are exploring Paul’s vision of cosmic restoration in Jesus Christ. Especially because many Christians still associate the environmental movement with New Age spiritualism, it is good for us to engage with the ample biblical witness that calls on us to care for God’s creation.

How could we ever have missed it? From start to finish, from Genesis to Revelation, God has consistently revealed that the wages of sin is death – not just for us, but for all life. We learn in the story of the Fall that humanity’s choice to turn away from God is directly connected with the twisting and destruction of the creation. Throughout the Old Testament God repeatedly reminds humanity that the earth belongs to him, and that we are merely tenants in the land. And in the Book of Revelation, we are warned that God will destroy those who destroy the earth!

God has so much more love than we usually imagine possible. Not only does God love each one of us, and all of humanity, with unceasing faithfulness; he loves the whole of his creation just as much! Sitting in Bible study today, the part of the Scripture that spoke most powerfully to me of this immense love was John 3:16. Yes, I know: This is the verse that men paint on their chests at football games. But seriously, look at it:

For God so loved the world [kosmos] that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.

In this verse, the word world is a translation of the Greek word kosmos. Kosmos means the whole of creation, including humanity, but not limited to it. It is this same creation that has been groaning in labor pains for the redemption that comes from God.

Jesus has come to bring healing and fullness to all things! He has come not just for our personal salvation, nor even for the redemption of human beings alone. As followers of Jesus – as children of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – we have the opportunity to share in Christ’s mission of cosmic restoration, speaking peace to the whole earth.

We can feel in our bones that something has gone terribly wrong, not just with our own human existence, but with the entire kosmos. Though it is painful to accept, deep down we know that we are responsible for this disorder, the social and ecological destruction that we have been witnessing for as long as there have been human beings and which in our generation is reaching even greater depths. We know that climate change, environmental degradation, war and disease are all results of our decision to turn away from God and insist on having our own way, on our own timetable.

We know this, both through the revelation given through Scripture and through Christ’s immediate guidance in our lives. We are without excuse. The question is, as it always has been: Will we turn back towards God and allow our lives to be transformed? Will we receive those things that make for peace, wholeness and reconciliation for all of creation? Will we look beyond ourselves and see the boundless love of our Creator, who longs to take us under his wings?

 

Clearing the Ground – Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #43

To my brothers and sisters in the Lord,

Faith and I arrived home in DC late last Thursday after spending a little more than a week in Nebraska and Kansas. During our trip, we attended Great Plains Yearly Meeting and visited family and friends in Wichita. GPYM was held this year in Central City, Nebraska – which was surprising, since just a few years ago it seemed as if the Meeting in Central City would cease to exist. Instead, Friends there seem to be gaining in strength, and they enthusiastically hosted yearly meeting sessions. I give thanks to God for the new life that the Spirit is breathing into Friends in the Great Plains region!

Besides the rather miraculous revitalization of Central City Friends Meeting, there were other signs of growth. To begin with, the Yearly Meeting is beginning a process of re-allocating funds towards local outreach. For decades, the GPYM Home Missions Fund has been used as a source of funding for distant Quaker organizations. Now, however, there is a movement within GPYM to begin spending the Home Missions fund on… home missions! After decades of mostly writing checks to Quaker organizations on the East Coast, money may soon flow to local projects that advance the gospel in Kansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma.
Another encouraging sign a proposal brought by Laura Dungan of University Friends Meeting (Wichita, Kansas). Laura would like to be financially released to work half-time for the Yearly Meeting. She would provide leadership development within the Yearly Meeting, especially encouraging Friends to see the big picture of God’s mission for Friends in the region. Laura’s work would seek to encourage local churches and leaders as the Yearly Meeting works to develop a vision and a plan for the future.

With all of these positive developments emerging in my former Yearly Meeting, I feel sad that I am unable to be of any direct assistance. With my commitment to ministry in the DC area, there is not much I can do for Friends in GPYM except pray and remain available for electronic correspondence. Yet, I dare to imagine that perhaps my earlier ministry had some positive impact on the Yearly Meeting. I planted, and Laura Dungan is watering – but it is God who gives the growth. To him be all glory, honor and praise!

Growth and change are not limited to Great Plains Yearly Meeting. This month has been a time of professional transition for me. After three years working for Earlham School of Religion coordinating communications and web strategy, I am transitioning to a new job with Friends United Meeting – a worldwide association of Friends congregations in North America, the Caribbean, Central America, the Middle East and Africa. Starting in July, I will serve as Interim Communications and Web Specialist,overseeing FUM’s web and social media strategy. I am especially looking forward to exploring ways to make FUM’s electronic content more accessible to our brothers and sisters in East Africa, who represent the majority of Quakers worldwide.
FUM’s central office is located in Richmond, Indiana, but most of my work will be done remotely from DC. This is critical, since Faith and I continue to feel God clearly calling us to long-term residence in the capital. The ministry that we are engaged in here continues to be blessed, though we are learning that God’s blessing is rarely the same as our own grandiose visions. The ground is hard, and there is a lot of tilling to do before we can hope for more obvious growth. Once again, I am reminded that it is God who gives the growth. I am not in control.
At Capitol Hill Friends, God has been teaching us what our collective mission is to be. During worship several weeks ago, we felt an especially powerful sense of the Holy Spirit’s presence, and in the midst of the Spirit’s ministry to us, I received something that felt like a mission statement for our community. My mind was drawn to Jesus’ parable of the sower, and I was shown that our city is full of “weeds” – the cares of the world and the lure of wealth – that choke out the Seed, which is God’s presence in our lives. The Lord made clear to me that our role as a radical community of disciples is to clear ground where the seed of God can grow. Our job is to prepare and hold a space of resistance and hope where individuals can sink their roots deep into this good earth and become part of a sustaining community in Jesus.

In recent weeks I have had an increasingly urgent sense that the Body of Christ is much bigger than our traditional ideas of what a “congregation” looks like. I am realizing that the old model of church does not necessarily work in our post-modern, urban context. Regular gatherings for worship are necessary, of course, but I am seeing that there are many other things that are equally crucial if we are to strengthen the Body. For example, teaching everyday spiritual practices that individuals can grow into, whether they “go to church” or not. Community is a complicated thing in this city, and the formal, weekly gatherings of the traditional congregation are not necessarily the best thing to lead with. I am becoming convinced at a heart level that I must meet others where they are at. I must let nothing – not even the beautiful traditions of the church – present a barrier to sharing the good news that we have found in Jesus.

Please continue to pray for us! I cannot repeat often enough how much your prayers matter, how much we feel them as we seek to be faithful to God’s call in our city. We have experienced so many blessings that can only be the result of the prayerful intercession of God’s people. We give thanks for the faithful presence of Lily Rockwell, of Stillwater Monthly Meeting (Ohio Yearly Meeting), who has been an elder to us since last fall. Her internship is ending in late July, at which time she will be moving to New Mexico to pursue graduate studies. We are sad that she must leave us, but we give thanks to God for all of the prayer and love that she has invested in our community.

We also give praise for Sammy and Ceress Sanders, missions students at Barclay College who are summer interns at the William Penn House. They are actively participants in Capitol Hill Friends, and they have added greatly to our fellowship – not only through their joyful presence and enthusiasm, but also through their helpfulness in set-up and clean-up, and their excellent cooking skills! With all the work that the Lord has given us to do and all the helpers that he has provided, we are truly blessed.

It is my hope that you, too, are living in awareness of Christ’s presence in your lives. Thank you for your faithfulness in prayer and encouragement.
Your friend in Jesus,
Micah Bales

The Seed That Dies – Great Plains Yearly Meeting 2012

Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. – John 12:24-25

Great Plains Yearly Meeting has been thinking about dying for a long time. Back in 2001, Great Plains – a fellowship of Quakers in Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma – had dwindled to only five local congregations, and Friends considered seriously whether GPYM’s time was up. Yet, for some reason – whether a nudge from the Spirit or the lure of nostalgia (perhaps a bit of both) – Friends re-committed themselves to existence as a Yearly Meeting.

Over the nine years that I have attended GPYM, I have watched Friends wrestle with what continued existence would mean. Is GPYM primarily a family reunion – an assembly of “good people” who like one another? Does the Yearly Meeting primarily exist as a connection with Quaker institutions on the East Coast? Does GPYM have something unique to say to its own context in the American heartland? Could the Yearly Meeting be a base community for a shared life of radical discipleship and loving action for liberation and justice in the Great Plains region?
During my time attending Great Plains, it has seemed like the default mode for GPYM is to operate as a place of comfort, security and self-affirmation. The Yearly Meeting provides a sense of identity and connection with the wider Quaker world, a touchstone in a region with few Friends of like mind. Often, the posture of folks in Great Plains Yearly Meeting has been fatalistic – resigned to the sleepy decline of our Christian fellowship.
But we were not left without a witness. Over time, I have seen God prodding Friends to choose a path of renewed life and vitality as Christ’s Church. God has raised up a number of prophetic ministers who have called the Yearly Meeting to a deeper engagement with our shared experience of Jesus Christ, and his call to be salt and light in the world. These prophets have not always been well-received, but their ministry has had a clear effect over the long haul.
This year, the clerk of the Yearly Meeting brought a proposal that she be financially released (Quakerese for “hired”) for part-time service to the Yearly Meeting. She explained that she felt called to dedicate a substantial portion of her time to nurturing Meetings throughout the region and helping to spur the development of new leadership that could help to sustain the work of the Yearly Meeting in the years ahead.
In 2009, after a season of traveling ministry among Friends in the Great Plains region, I had laid a similar concern before Great Plains Yearly Meeting. At that time, however, Friends were not ready to provide support for such an out-of-the-box proposal. GPYM’s Ministry and Counsel minuted, “Our Yearly Meeting simply is not yet at a place where we can corporately affirm an apostolic ministry” (M&C 09-17). Three years later, however, the ground seems to have been cleared enough that Friends are seriously considering supporting just such an apostolic call.
Jesus teaches us that the way to everlasting life is through apparent death, and that by clinging to what we already have, we deny ourselves the riches that are to come. Have we reached a place where we are ready to die to our comfort and nostalgia – to bury that which once was so that we can reap that which God is bringing into being? What does it look like for the Church to die to itself, and to be raised again, clothed in Jesus Christ? Are we willing to let go of the dirty rags that we cling to in order to put on the fine linen of Christ’s wedding banquet? Can we embrace the self-death that leads to overflowing life in the Spirit?

So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. … – 1 Corinthians 15:42-44

The Spirit is Moving!–Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #31

Dear Friends of Truth,

This month has been one of optimism for me and Friends on Capitol Hill, as we prepare for a busy summer. For some years now, summer has been a time of intense travel, visitation among different Friends bodies, changes in routine, and transitions in lifestyle. Above all, summer for me has been about cross-pollination, coming into contact with a wide variety of people, places and cultures. Summer is a special time to learn about how Christ is at work across the country and even the world.

This summer looks to be no different. Travels have already begun with a visit to the annual sessions of Great Plains Yearly Meeting. About a week and a half ago, Faith and I took Amtrak out to Wichita, Kansas. It was a blessing to spend a few days with my family in Wichita. I was also pleased to spend some time with area Friends. We visited Heartland Friends Meeting, where I was a member until I transferred to Rockingham last October. Faith and I were pleased to spend some time catching up with Charity Sandstrom, who gives pastoral leadership to Emporia Friends Church, as well as her husband Richard. We also got the chance to Great Plains Yearly Meeting 2011participate in a small gathering of Friends from both Heartland and University Friends Meeting. I was encouraged by the evidence of the Holy Spirit’s work among Friends in Kansas. I am left with a concern to be in prayer for their continued faithfulness and growth in the Lord.

After these days in Wichita, we caught a ride down to Osage County, Oklahoma, where Hominy Friends Meeting was hosting the 104th annual sessions of Great Plains Yearly Meeting. This gathering of Friends from across Kansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma was a rich time of learning, business, worship and prayer. I perceived two main threads that ran through the weekend. The first was based in our theme from John 4:14, “streams of living water.” Throughout the sessions, we were reminded that Jesus offers us spiritual sustenance, refreshment and healing for our souls. If we are willing to open ourselves to his life-giving power and love, he will fill us with his Spirit and show us how to be his people together.

The other theme that ran through out time together was that of the relationship between European-descended Friends and Native Americans. This felt especially relevant to us, as two of the five Yearly Meetings in Great Plains are predominantly Native American. For Great Plains to understand its own identity, Friends there must grapple with the relationship between Indian language, culture and identity, and what it means to be a Christian in the Friends tradition. We were repeatedly reminded that Christianity and Native American cultures are no more incompatible than Christianity and European cultures. Friends on the Great Plains continue to explore what it means to be empowered to Arbiter of the Osage Hand Gamelive fully into our historical, cultural and ethnic identities, while at the same time being united with others through our shared trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. (I explore this topic further on a recent blog post for Earlham School of Religion’s Learning and Leading.)

It was truly a blessing for me to see the way that the Holy Spirit is raising up fresh leadership in Great Plains Yearly Meeting. GPYM is clearly stronger than it was only a few years ago. Laura Dungan, who began her second year as presiding clerk of the Yearly Meeting, is one instrument that the Lord is using in the spiritual renewal of Friends in Great Plains. Through her prayerful, daring and disciplined guidance, GPYM is growing in its ability to listen deeply to the Spirit and ground its decision-making process in prayer. The business sessions this year were of a particularly worshipful character. We took time in worship before, during and after our business sessions. It should come as no surprise that business got done faster than anticipated. As Friends laid their concerns at Jesus’ feet in the silence, it was easier to determine what was truly important and what was human chatter.

Great Plains Yearly Meeting is growing. The spiritual stature of the Yearly Meeting has enlarged dramatically in just a few short cycles. GPYM is demonstrating vision, planning to host a clerking and leadership conference in Wichita, November 4-5, 2011. GPYM is demonstrating renewed leadership, with energetic engagement emerging in Dean and Laura, DiscerningHominy, Wichita and central Nebraska. Only time can tell how Friends will respond to this fresh blowing of the Holy Spirit, but this could be the beginning of an entirely new chapter in the history of Friends on the Great Plains.

I feel it important to bear witness to the fact that God is the one who is effecting this change in Great Plains Yearly Meeting. The Holy Spirit is raising up new leaders and granting new strength and vision to seasoned leadership. Jesus Christ is clearly present in the midst of his people, teaching and guiding them. I give thanks to our Lord and Father for the ways I see God moving in GPYM.

Faith and I got back to DC yesterday, but I am due to leave again shortly. On Thursday, I will be traveling to the United Kingdom to visit Friends there. I will be visiting some of the scattered Conservative Friends in the UK, as well as catching up with some of those who were with me on the 2010 Quaker Youth Pilgrimage. Even now, I still do not have all of the details of this trip ironed out. I am flying by the seat of my pants, but I pray that the Fellowship at Great Plains Yearly Meeting 2011Lord will guide my steps and place me where I am most needed.
After about a week in England, I will be continuing on to Kenya and Rwanda. The faculty of Earlham School of Religion is taking a trip to sites in Western Kenya and Kigali, and as a member of the administrative faculty of the school, I have been invited to participate.

Having never been to Africa, I am at once intrigued and intimidated. I do not know what to expect from this trip, but I am sure that I will be in good hands among Friends. I pray that the Lord will use this trip to tender my heart to the life of the Church in East Africa, and to deepen my understanding of the Religious Society of Friends in this part of the world.

It is hard to believe that I will be out of the country for almost a month. I have not even flown in an airplane in a year and a half. This has been intentional. I have felt and do feel a concern of the Lord to take veryHominy Friends Meeting Room at Great Plains Yearly Meeting 2011 seriously the ecological costs of my lifestyle. Air travel is particularly damaging to God’s creation, and I am painfully aware of my personal role in the environmental destruction caused by the irresponsible use of fossil fuels. I pray that God will bless these travels in such a way that they will be worth the damage inflicted on the Creation.

Please hold me in prayer, dear Friends, as I travel among Friends abroad. Let me be a blessing to those whom I encounter, and let me receive with a grateful heart the blessings that our brothers and sisters across the seas have in store for me. Above all, grant it dear Lord that I be made humble and teachable!

In the love of Jesus Christ,

Micah Bales

Brief Video From Great Plains Yearly Meeting:

New Membership, Growth on Capitol Hill, and Missional Faith–Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #24

Dear Friends of Jesus,

As the month of October draws to a close, and the daylight hours grow ever shorter, we here in Washington, DC are seeing autumn at its apex. The trees are in the final throes of their changes of color; soon they will be entirely bare. Winter is coming.

During this time of seasonal change, my wife Faith and I are experiencing our own transitions. This month, we became membersRockingham Meeting of Rockingham Monthly Meeting, in Harrisonburg, Virginia. We have been attending Rockingham regularly, about once a month, since last November, and it became clear to us and to Friends at Rockingham that we were effectively becoming a part of the fellowship. At Rockingham’s October meeting for business, we were formally accepted as full members of the Meeting.

Faith and I are pleased to become a part of Rockingham Meeting, and, by extension, of Ohio Yearly Meeting. This feels like a good fit for us, first and foremost because of the bond that we feel with Rockingham Friends in the Spirit of Jesus. We deeply respect their integrity, discernment and love for one another in the Lord. In the time that we have been among them, we have indeed come to feel ourselves a part of them, and them of us.

While it was sad for me to release my membership in Heartland Meeting and Great Plains Yearly Meeting, I believe that membershipGreat Plains Yearly Meeting sessions, 2009 in a Meeting should reflect real commitment and involvement. Because of the great distance between me and Friends in the Great Plains, coupled with my lack of plans to return to live in Wichita at any point in the future, I felt that my membership with Friends there was increasingly becoming a formality, rather than a lived relationship. I believe I am being faithful in changing my membership status to reflect the human and spiritual realities of my life as it is now.

I will miss being a part of Great Plains Yearly Meeting, and I do continue to pray for the Yearly Meeting as a whole, as well as for each local Meeting. The end of my membership does not signal the end of my caring for each Meeting and each person in GPYM. I pray that the Lord will present opportunities for me to be of service to Friends there in the future. More importantly, I pray that God raise up the local leadership that Great Plains Yearly Meeting needs to be revived. I trust that God will be faithful in leading us, if we will be faithful in waiting on the Holy Spirit and putting Christ’s commands into action.

As new members of Ohio Yearly Meeting, Faith and I are getting the chance to become more deeply involved in the ways in which God isFaith on the Mall moving in this fellowship of Friends. The weekend after we were accepted into membership at Rockingham Meeting, we attended Stillwater Quarterly Meeting. Stillwater Quarter rotates its sessions in a two-year cycle, which allows each Monthly Meeting to host. This time, the sessions were held in Chesterhill, Ohio, at Chesterfield Friends’ Meeting House.

Faith and I were honored to stay at the home of Richard Wetzel, who is mayor of Chesterhill. He was a wonderful host, and gave us a nice tour of the town and the surrounding countryside on the evening that we arrived at his house. Then by surprise, a special guest came via limousine car service atlanta, which was a little excessive, but what he had to say made up fro that, maybe philanthropy is coming back, we shall see what the future holds. The next day, we attended Quarterly Meeting at the meetinghouse. It was good to see many familiar faces, as well as some new ones, and I was pleased to be able to be a part of the answering of the queries as a Quarterly Meeting. At this particular gathering, the entirety of Rockingham’s full membership was able to be present, which was truly a blessing to me.

I appreciate very much Ohio Yearly Meeting Friends’ commitment to gathering together on a regular basis, despite the distancesFriends at Rockingham Meeting involved. The drive out to Chesterhill from Harrisonburg is about five hours in either direction (and six from Washington), but I do believe that Friends had a sense that the effort and cost of gathering together was well worth it. Stillwater Quarter is an immensely dispersed fellowship, ranging from Flint, MI in the north; Atlanta, GA in the south; and Lancaster, PA in the east. I believe there is a sense that Stillwater will eventually need to set off a new Quarterly Meeting, but Friends have not yet seen clearly how to divide the Meetings. The Quarter has been growing in recent years, and I suspect that continued growth may provide a clearer solution.

We continue to see signs of new life at Capitol Hill Friends in DC. Our meetings for worship in the downstairs conference room of the William Penn House have been well-attended, and morale is high. We have been greatly blessed by visits from Rockingham Meeting, as well as by a number of other Friends from around the country. We feel presence of Christ in our meetings for worship, and we have a sense that we are growing – both numerically and spiritually – as a small Meeting of the Body of Christ.

Seeing how this little fellowship of God’s people is being drawn together is one of my greatest joys, and I am deeply grateful forMicah and Faith at the Jon Stewart Rally for Sanity everyone who has been praying for us and encouraging us in our ministry here in DC. Soon, I will be preparing a more structured request for prayer support, which I will be sending out to some folks by email. If you would like to be involved in intentionally supporting Faith and me in our ministry with Capitol Hill Friends, please get in touch with one of us so that we can add you to our prayer partners list. And, as always, I invite you to let me know how we can be praying for you, as well. We hold many of you in prayer already, but it is helpful to know how to pray specifically for individuals and Meetings.

I would like to mention one more thing before I close: I have recently begun to publish a series of essays entitled Missional Quaker Faith on my blog, The Lamb’s War. In this series, I am attempting to sketch out a vision for what our lives and church communities might look like if we laid aside everything to be fully available for Christ’s mission for us in the 21st-century West. I hope that you will join me in exploring these issues, and share your comments as you feel led. You can easily subscribe to The Lamb’s War either by email or by RSS feed; just look at the upper right-hand side of the blog to see how.

I pray that you are experiencing the living power of Christ with you in your daily lives and in your Meetings. Trusting together in the Seed of God, who is the root and reward of our friendship, we will be remade in the image of Christ.

In the Love that is beyond the world,

Micah Bales

Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #20 – YAF Gathering 2010; Service Days; Great Plains Yearly Meeting; and Illinois Yearly Meeting

Dear Friends,

More than usual has happened this past month. The YAF gathering came off without any major hitches, followed by volunteer service in the city of Wichita; I attended Great Plains Yearly Meeting; and, not long after that, I was able to join Friends in Illinois Yearly Meeting for their annual sessions. In the meantime, I have also stayed engaged with Friends in the DC area and in Virginia. This has been a full and fruitful time for Christ’s work in my life, and I hope that you will forgive me if I run a little long in my report.

To begin with, the 2010 Young Adult Friends Gathering was held, with divine assistance, over Memorial Day weekend in Wichita, Kansas. Young adults from across the United States and Canada – Micah and Dave Williamsas well as a few Latin American Friends – came together,  representing twenty three Yearly Meetings. All branches of Quakerism were represented, and Liberal-Unprogrammed, orthodox and Evangelical Friends were present in roughly equal numbers, along with a few Conservative and independent Friends.

Our time together was richly blessed with the sustained and gentle presence of the Holy Spirit who kept us grounded in unity University Friends Sanctuaryand peace, despite the difficulties we faced as we came together from our different backgrounds, cultures and perspectives. We sought God’s face together in periods of extended unprogrammed worship; we also celebrated God’s presence among us with hymns and praise music; and we received teaching from from Dave Williams of Barclay College in two of our evening sessions.

Our different beliefs and practices stretched all of us to seek that which is truly central in our life together as Friends. Some of us were exposed to far more unprogrammed worship than we were Registration used to, while others of us were astonished to see some Friends raise their hands in adoration as we sang songs of praise to the Lord. It is safe to say that each one of us was uncomfortable some of the time, and I know for a fact that some Friends came away from the event feeling that it was a “mostly Liberal” gathering, while others came away feeling that it was an “Evangelical-oriented” conference. I think this speaks to the prophetic power of Christ’s work among us. None of us came away unchallenged.

This gathering was a wake-up call for many of us as to the reality  of the divisions within the Religious Society of Friends. The splits, Welcome Young Adult Friends Gatheringwhile they may have begun as disputes over seemingly minor points, have grown to a breadth and depth that we are forced to acknowledge that we are incapable of mending the wounds ourselves. It is in this surrender, this recognition of our own inability to save ourselves, that I pray that we will become receptive to the reconciling power of Christ in our hearts and in our midst as a people gathered in His Name.

The weekend gathering was followed by a few days of service. Between a half dozen and a dozen of us who had stayed on after the gathering worked with Mennonite Housing in Wichita. We did landscaping at two different sites, and we were surprised at how happy folks were to see us at Mennonite Housing and in the communities where we were working. We did not expect any gratitude for our brief time of community service, and we were humbled by the appreciation we received.

We were surprised at how simple it was to set up a work-camp for YAFs. Tyler Hampton, the main organizer for the service days, said that setting up the service project was, “the easiest thing [he] had done in [his] life.” We would like to encourage young adults to organize their own work camps through established organizations like Mennonite Housing. It can be done – and quite easily.
We concluded our service by helping Friends at Heartland Meeting to prepare their meetinghouse to host the annualHeartland Meeting House sessions of Great Plains Yearly Meeting. About half a dozen of the YAFs from the Memorial Day gathering stuck around for GPYM, and it was a blessing to have their prayerful presence with us as we conducted our business as a Yearly Meeting.

This year’s sessions of Great Plains were probably the best that I had ever experienced. We enjoyed new leadership from Laura Dungan, who has taken over as presiding clerk.  Her energy andGreat Plains Yearly Meeting vision has been indispensable in the past year in mobilizing Friends to  take on the ministry of intervisitation in the Great  Plains region, and it was a joy to see her presiding over her first Yearly Meeting business sessions. I appreciated the discipline I saw her bring to our proceedings, and I felt blessed by both her warmth and her seriousness in the role.

We were grateful to have many guests – YAFs from the recent gathering; visitors from other Yearly Meetings, FGC and FUM; and visitors from neighboring Meetings in the Great Plains region. It was gratifying to see Great Plains Yearly Meeting serving as a bridge across the branches, both nationally and regionally.

We also faced great sadness together as a Yearly Meeting. We were shocked and deeply grieved to learn that our friend John Damon, an active member of Great Plains Yearly Meeting, was dying of a post-op infection following an otherwise-successful liver transplant. We were not prepared for this news, and many tears were shed over our dear friend. John was a valued member of our fellowship, and his loss is a great blow to us.

This year’s sessions were a time of letting go for me, personally. As I am now living at a considerable distance from the GreatMicah and Faith at GPYM Plains and have no plans to return, it felt right to lay down my leadership roles in the Yearly Meeting. I had served as co-clerk of Ministry and Counsel, as well as serving on Continuing Committee; I stepped down from both of these positions. I feel  much gratitude to Friends in GPYM who have upheld my ministry and have allowed me to serve among them. While I am saddened that I am no longer in a position to take an active role in Yearly Meeting leadership, I am confident in the work that Christ is doing YAFs at GPYMin the Yearly Meeting. The spiritual gifts that Friends need to do the work they are called to are present in the body; I pray for Friends in Great Plains Yearly Meeting the wisdom to be used in God’s service.

After a brief trip back to DC, I was once again on the road, this time out to Illinois Yearly Meeting. ILYM has its sessions near McNabb, Illinois, at the beautiful Clear Creek Meeting House. Near the meetinghouse, there is space for camping, six cabinsThe Front Porch with room to sleep almost fifty, as well as another building (used by the teenagers) that can house many more. In addition to these facilities, Friends were excited last year to acquire neighboring land, including a farmhouse that they have been busily renovating since then. All in all, these Friends have a wonderful facility to host their Yearly Meeting, as well as other events as they see fit.

Having spent such a long time in cities, it was a relief to be in the ILYM Campgroundscountryside and out of doors for long periods of time. For me, the site was almost magical; I was mesmerized by the sound of frogs, insects and the wind rushing through the trees, accompanied by the blinking lights of the fireflies that hung in the air throughout the camp site and across the cornfields.

This was a good environment for the ministry that I was called to do. Friends in ILYM asked me to speak to them during their first evening sessions; they asked me to share about my spiritual Clear Creek Meeting House Interior journey. No further instructions. I spent a lot of time in prayer about what I was to say, and as I arrived early at the Yearly Meeting site, I was beginning to feel around the edges of it. On the morning of the day I was to speak, I felt clear that I had been given a word from the Lord to deliver to Friends.

And so it was. That evening, I shared with Friends about my trials and stumblings as a youth; my existential despair and confusion; my eventual convincement as a Friend; and my long journey, ILYM AYFswhich continues, to grow closer in my walk with Christ. My message ended up being centered around listening, and I asked Friends in ILYM to consider how they taught their young people  to listen for the voice of God in their hearts. Based on the worship that followed and the comments that I received afterwards, I believe that I was faithful.

Except for a workshop which I presented the following day about the North American Young Adult Friends movement, I was mostly free to spend the rest of the sessions in prayer and Micah with Caryn and Zoe conversation with Friends. I spent much of my time with the Young Adult Friends (in ILYM called “Adult Young Friends”), and I was grateful to be available to them as they did some discernment around what they are called to as a community within ILYM. I was pleased to hear a vision emerge among them: That their  community was to be a place of transition, aiding young Quakers in the transition to full adult membership and participation in the Yearly Meeting.

It was truly a gift to be with Friends at ILYM’s sessions. I felt very warmly welcomed among them, and I look forward to how I might be of service in the future. I have seen that the Lord has blessed them with competent and Spirit-led leadership, and I am confident that God is working out God’s purposes in their midst.

The next couple of months are going to be just as intense as the last month has been. I am leaving today for Barnesville, Ohio, to attend the Wider Gathering of Conservative Friends. Following that, I will continue on in Barnesville for QuakerSpring – a unique, completely “unprogrammed” time to gather together in Christ. Finally, after a few days back in DC, I will make my way out to the Pacific Northwest for the Quaker Youth Pilgrimage, where I will serve as one of four adult leaders, serving with almost thirty high-school-aged Young Friends as we discover together our rich heritage as Quakers. I will not be back home until mid-August.
I appreciate your prayers for me as I continue to travel and minister as God leads. I hope that you will continue to hold me in the Light, and that you will let me know if you have prayer concerns that you would like me to take into my prayer life.

Your brother in the family that is Christ’s Reign,

Micah Bales

Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #18 – Entering the Home Stretch towards YAF Gathering 2010

Dear Friends of Truth,

I’ve been on the move a lot this last month. After a time of relative settledness and rest on Capitol Hill, I emerged again this April as I began the final Capitol Hillpush in the planning of and outreach work for the Young Adult Friends Gathering 2010, to occur this Memorial Day weekend in Wichita. I am currently on the road, visiting Friends in Wichita, having first spent a week in Chicago.

This month’s letter was to have begun with a report on the gathering of New York Yearly Meeting’s Young Adult Friends. Faith and I had intended to attend their event near Ithaca, New York, in late March. Unfortunately, both Faith and I were struck by sudden illness just before we were to depart. Though we were Circle of Young Friends (NYYM)very sad to miss the gathering, we trust that God has a plan in everything and that the Spirit was present with our beloved brothers and sisters in New York Yearly Meeting during their time together.

The gathering in New York was only one of several regional Young Adult Friends gatherings that have taken place this spring. There were also gatherings held in Philadelphia, DC, and Wichita.  At these events, Friends had the opportunity to engage with the advance materials for the May gathering, prepare themselves for  the event over Memorial Day weekend, and to get to know better other Friends from their area. Turnout for these gatherings was generally small, but we know that many who were not able to attend will be able to engage with the conference materials individually.

Shortly following the DC regional YAF gathering,Chicago I boarded a train to attend the Religion Communication Congress (RCC), held in downtown Chicago, April 7-10. It was a really eye-opening  experience to gather with hundreds of other religious communicators, learn about the state of communications among religious organizations across the country, and dig deeper into the emerging technologies and communications strategies that are shaping our intellectual and social landscape. Particularly important for me was learning more about the importance of video as an outreach tool. (To see some fruits of my exploration thus far, click here.)

Following the RCC, I spent several days with Garnet and Eileen Chicago mass transitFay. I was very grateful for the warm hospitality they showed me. It was a blessing to accompany Garnet to worship at Chicago  Friends Meeting. My parents were co-pastors at this Meeting back in the late 1970s, and it was good to see the meeting house where they served together just after getting married. It is a very different Meeting now, having become non-pastoral in the mid-1990s. I was glad to get to know these Friends and to share worship with them.

Faith met up with me in Chicago and we took the train together to Planning committe in WichitaWichita, where we spent a weekend with the planning committee for the YAF Gathering 2010. There were seven of us, from across  the United States, who met together to conduct the last major items of business that we had before us as we geared up for the final weeks of conference registration. During the weekend, I spent a lot of my time shooting and editing videos to share our meetings with everyone who couldn’t be there in person. You can see the videos on YouTube by searching with the keyword “YAF2010” – or, just click here.

Faith headed home following the committee meetings, but I am staying on in Wichita for another week, specifically in order to be present this weekend at Earlham School of Religion’s 50th anniversary celebration at Heartland Meeting House. Yesterday,

I travelled with Charity Sandstrom out to Barclay College. We spoke with the students there about the upcoming YAF gathering, and invited them to participate. The Friends at Barclay were very welcoming and sweet. I felt honored to be among them. Our main speaker for the gathering, Dave Williams, is professor of pastoral ministries and chaplain at Barclay; so we hope to get a good turnout from Friends there.

In the midst of my travels, I managed to launch QuakerMaps.com, a joint project with Jon Watts. QuakerMaps is a site where Friends and seekers from around the QuakerMaps.comworld can  discover Quakerism and explore the location of local Meetings and Yearly Meetings through embedded Google maps. We still have a lot of work left to do, but it is coming along nicely. I would encourage Friends Meetings to check out our Active Outreach Program, which we hope will serve local Quaker Meetings in their internet outreach efforts. Also, if you or your Meeting have a website, please consider linking to QuakerMaps.com.

In the month ahead, I will be engaged in the final preparations for the 2010 YAF Gathering. Please pray for me, and for the planning committee, as we seek to be faithful to God’s guidance. We believe that God wants to open a welcoming space for Friends from across North America – and across the branches of Quakerism – to come together and know one another in the Spirit of Christ. I am convinced that God is active in guiding and preparing this conference. God is in control, in a very real sense, and I can only look on in awe as the Holy Spirit prepares us for what we are to see, experience and learn this Memorial Day weekend.

Your friend in Love,

Micah Bales