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Gardening the Church – Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #34

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

Seeking God’s Word Together – Ohio Yearly Meeting 2011

The past few days here in Barnesville have been eye-opening and challenging. We have begun the process of wrestling together with our understandings of human sexuality including homosexuality. There are clearly a variety of perspectives within Ohio Yearly Meeting regarding the rightness of same-sex relationships and human sexuality in general.  

All of our perspectives are rooted in our desire to be faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ, and our understanding of how he is speaking to us through the Scriptures. We are united in the faith that it is Jesus who can bring us into unity, and that only his Holy Spirit can guide us to a proper understanding of the Scriptures. While we have differences of opinion, we recognize who our Authority is. This is a reason for hope. Though we struggle to find unity on this matter, we acknowledge that there is one, even Christ Jesus, who can lead us into the Truth.
Our shared commitment to Jesus and his Light keeps us in spiritual unity, even when we strongly disagree. Probably the most remarkable thing about this process of corporate discernment has been the spirit in which it has proceeded. It would be easy for Friends to retreat into camps and begin to question one another’s motives, faith and relationship with the Lord. So far, that has not happened. Despite our differences, we have been gentle with one another, trusting that everyone here is seeking to be obedient to our risen Lord and takes seriously the witness of Scripture.
On Thursday, the gathered body of Ohio Yearly Meeting was able to come to unity on a minute regarding our present condition in regards to questions of human sexuality, including homosexuality. It was not an easy process to express our present condition as a body. We labored with this during three of our business sessions before we came to unity on the following minute:
Stillwater Quarterly Meeting reported on its deliberations regarding the “Salem Statement” on the topic of human sexuality(1), considered during our 2010 sessions. Their seven Monthly Meetings went through the important exercise of considering what God desires of His children, rather than simply airing personal opinions. Each Monthly Meeting forwarded responses to Stillwater Quarterly Meeting, which summarized them as reported below.
Friends of various perspectives are equally committed to the Lord, and we recognize that we need additional enlightenment, understanding of the underlying issues, and an openness to learning more in whatever way presents itself. The question was raised how further dialogue might take place so we can be drawn into unity. We ask the Friends Center Committee to consider planning one or more events during the coming year; additional considerations should take place locally or Friend-to-Friend. If we are faithful, it is worth the exercise.
We have struggled with questions about human sexuality for years, and we hope that waiting and listening to God, laying down our own agendas, will open a way for us to be rightly guided. We want to approach the Lord in worship with these deep concerns and hear His word for the way forward. Real Truth spoken lovingly comes with strength to bear it.
Despite the challenge of facing head-on our varied understandings of human sexuality, we were able to not only confess our disagreements in the matter, but also to agree to continue the work of corporate wrestling with what Christ is asking of us as his Church. This is not the end of the conversation, but the beginning. May we have ears to hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church.
Thank you so much for your prayers. It is only through the power of prayer and obedience to the Word of God(2) in our hearts that we can be brought out of confusion and into the light of God’s Truth. As we are gathered together in him, Jesus gives us peace – not the human peace that comes through domination of one party over another, but the peace of his heavenly Kingdom where all contention and rancor are set aside as we humble ourselves before our Lord and our God.
Please continue to pray for us in Ohio Yearly Meeting. May we be led into all truth, trusting Jesus to show us the way that we are to walk. Our life, our faith, our unity is in him.
1. A minute from Salem Quarterly Meeting, forwarded to Ohio Yearly Meeting in 2010, which suggested the revision of the OYM discipline to – among other things – define marriage as being between “one man and one woman.”

2. That is, Christ Jesus.

Slowing Down and Listening – Ohio Yearly Meeting 2011

I am in Barnesville this week for the annual sessions of Ohio Yearly Meeting. I have been looking forward to being at OYM sessions for about a year and a half. I was unable to attend last year, because I was serving as one of the leaders of the Quaker Youth Pilgrimage. This is my first time attending OYM as a member, and it feels very good to be here.

Since first coming to Barnesville, Ohio for the first QuakerSpring in the summer of 2007, I have returned frequently to the reassuring grounds of Stillwater Meeting House and Olney Friends School. Barnesville has become a place of comfort for me, a spiritual haven in a world where I often feel the need to keep my guard up. Somehow, among Friends in Barnesville I have always felt able to be myself, while at the same time being called into a deeper commitment to Jesus and the work of his Kingdom.
I need the peace I find in Barnesville now more than ever. Life in DC is accelerated, and I have been noticing lately that when I leave the city that I take this harried pace with me. I have allowed the busyness and stress of urban life seep into my bones. Returning to Barnesville is a good reminder to slow down. More than a reminder, being here provides me with a tangible opportunity to be re-baptized into the more deliberate pace of the discerning Body of Christ. Here, busyness is a vice, not a virtue. Listening, yieldedness and obedience – these things are valued more highly that any particular set of results that we might seek. The community of Friends gathered here in Barnesville embodies in our life-patterns and tradition a distinct sense of time and priorities.
While I do feel great joy to be here with my brothers and sisters at Ohio Yearly Meeting, I am also burdened by an unexpected spiritual heaviness. In the last year, long-standing differences within my Yearly Meeting have begun to come to the surface. I know that these wrestlings have been present for a long time, but for the first time over a decade, we are beginning to talk about it as a community.
As with many Christian bodies – Quaker or otherwise – Friends in Ohio are struggling over the question of how to understand God’s work in the lives of gay folks. Is homosexual orientation to be understood as a temptation to be overcome? Does it represent a call to celibacy? Or is it, in fact, a gift from God that the Church is called to affirm? These are some of the questions that we in Ohio Yearly Meeting are wrestling with right now.
At last year’s annual gathering, one of our Quarterly Meetings brought forward a proposal to amend our Book of Discipline (Faith and Practice). The suggested amendment would define marriage as being “between one man and one woman.” There was clear disunity on the floor of the Yearly Meeting regarding this potential change, and so the question was forwarded to my Quarterly Meeting. Each Monthly Meeting in Stillwater Quarter was asked to consider the suggested change to the discipline and respond at our Quarterly Meeting in July.
The response at Quarterly Meeting was striking. Almost none of our Monthly Meetings had unity one way or another on this question. As a Quarterly Meeting, we drafted a minute to the Yearly Meeting encouraging Friends to wait in patience, holding this question in prayer and seeking guidance from the Holy Spirit. We expressed our trust that, if we open ourselves to his guidance, the Lord Jesus will show us how we are to walk together. He will bring us into unity in the truth.
Tomorrow, during our morning business session, we will be considering the response from my Quarterly Meeting. I do not know what the results of that discussion will be, but I would invite your prayers for us. Please pray for the intercession of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, that we may be opened up to the Truth and be brought into unity. We all acknowledge that we cannot be brought into true unity unless we are prepared to change our hearts and minds. It is a great barrier to Christ’s work in our midst if we dig in our heels, resolutely asserting the rightness of our own opinions.
Yet, many of us do feel very strongly about this matter. Some of us feel very clear that homosexuality is a sinful pattern of relationship which should not be affirmed. Others of us are equally clear that God has created gay folks as they are, that this creation is good, and that our queer brothers and sisters should be treated just the same as those of us who are heterosexual. How are we to be united in the mind of Christ when our own minds are already so made up?
As many Christian bodies can attest, this is a very hard conversation to have. Many groups have already split over it, and there are others that will probably split over it in the future. I have been grateful that so far we in Ohio Yearly Meeting have been able to begin this conversation in a less contentious spirit. But we are still at the beginning, and there are more challenging days ahead. Please pray for us, that we in Ohio Yearly Meeting might meet this challenge with humility, compassion and submission to the will of God as revealed to us through the Holy Spirit.

Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #22 – Quaker Youth Pilgrimage 2010

Dear Friends,

I survived.

With God’s help, and grateful for all the prayers that have been sent my direction, I have emerged from a full month with twenty-eight high-school-aged young Friends and three other adult leaders with mind, body an d spirit mostly intact.

Overall, my experience with the Quaker Youth Pilgrimage was a very positive one. Despite my anxiety going i n, I was pleased by the tight-knit community that came together over the course of theLunch near Anacortes, WA month,  both among the pilgrims and within the leadership team. The other adult leaders  impressed me with their dedication and professionalism, and I was often struck with a sense that God had planned the composition of our team. We had a good mix of gifts and background between the four of us, and I think that the Pilgrimage would have been a far less rich experience for everyone involved had any of us been absent.

The Pilgrimage took us all over Oregon and Washington state. The first major phase of our journey was a week spent at Quaker Cove Micah and Hughcamp, near Anacortes, Washington. It was helpful for us to have this week together without the interruption of moving around. During this time, our community was able to gel to a great degree, the pilgrim committees and business process got off the ground, and  we got into a daily rhthym of worship, meals, play, Pilgrims do business in Seattleservice and learning. It was a really key time for us as leaders, too, since we really did not know what we were doing and needed to spend large amounts of time meeting together and figuring out how we were going to make the next day – much less the next week – come together.

We more or less had our act together by the time we made our way back down south to stay at North Seattle Friends Church’s meetinghouse. During our time in Seattle, we continued to growWaiting for the bus more bonded as a group, and as a sense of safety in community emerged, we were able to go deeper with one another spiritually. A key moment for the group was a worship-sharing session where we considered the question “What is holding you back?” This opened a time of raw sharing and mutual vulnerability, which I believe enhanced our ability to go deeper as a group.
 
Throughout the month, the pilgrims experimented with a wide variety of worship styles, ranging from fully unprogrammed, to semi-programmed and programmed. I was impressed with the way that pilgrims with no background with pastoral Friends  stepped forward to lead programmed worship services, deliver sermons and offer vocal prayer on a daily basis. This was especially Emily practicing her sermonremarkable given the composition of the pilgrims, all but one of whom came from an unprogrammed background.

Pilgrims and leaders together struggled with the fact that this pilgrimage was not representative of Friends from the Americas and Europe and Middle East sections. With a solid majority of the pilgrims self-identifying as “non-theist,” the relatively liberal Northwest Yearly Meeting churches that we visited stretched us with their explicitly Christian basis and self-understandings. I was impressed with how the pilgrims stepped up to this challenge and really engaged with the rest of the Quaker family tree, even while they themselves were fairly homogenous as a group.

Our next stop was Portland, where we stayed in Multnomah Friends’ meetinghouse. We had a great time visiting area Friends Meetings, both Liberal and Evangelical, as well as exploring Portland’s downtown. I had a lot of fun when the AmericanHip-hop dancing... and Quakers? Friends Service Committee visited us and brought a hip-hop team with them who gave us a lesson in breakdancing. During our time in Portland, we took a trip to Newberg, where we got a tour of George Fox University, visited Northwest Yearly Meeting’s offices, and had dinner with some area Friends.

One of the most amazing moments of the entire Pilgrimage for me happened during our visit to Newberg. We were having dinner at Newberg Friends’ meetinghouse, and I was talking with myClaiming our Bibles grandmother who is a member there. Since before the Pilgrimage began, I had been concerned that all of the pilgrims get a copy of the Scriptures, and this concern had only grown as our time together went on. So, I asked Nana whether she knew where we could get Bibles for everyone. She checked with Greg Lamm, pastor of 2nd Street Community Church – himself a former leader of the QYP – and he informed me that he had a friend whose ministry it was to collect used Bibles and distribute them to folks around the world who desired to have a copy of the Scriptures.

Within an hour, we were on the road in our big yellow school bus (thanks, Reedwood!) over to this friend’s house. The man literally had a used Bible warehouse in his backyard, and after explaining The Big Yellow School Bushis ministry to us, he let us into the storehouse to rifle through everything he had, picking out the Bibles that appealed to us. It was such a joy watching the pilgrims get excited about having their very own copy of the Scriptures! Many of them got more than one copy (usually because they wanted a copy of the King James version, but I encouraged them to get a more accessible translation, as well). I was so grateful to God for the way God answered my prayers and placed these servants of the Lord in our path.

With the help of these Bibles, some of the pilgrims and I were able to spend several sessions together looking at what Jesus actually taught and learning the basics of how to navigate the Scriptures.The Bible Warehouse For those who participated, it was a valuable time of connecting with our Christian heritage as Friends. Many of the pilgrims felt better able to make sense of the origin of Friends testimonies after having the chance to take a brief look at the texts that inspired the early Quakers, and I am hopeful that many of the pilgrims might continue their exploration upon returning home, not letting their new Bibles gather dust.

Our next stop was Camp Magruder, a Methodist summer camp on Twin Rocks beach. On our way out to the Oregon coast, we were
Freedom Friends Churchable to stop at Freedom Friends Church. It was a good chance to let the pilgrims see an Evangelical church that is, as they put it, “passionately Christ-centered and passionately inclusive.” With one of the main dividing lines between Liberal and Evangelical often being homosexuality, it was helpful to visit a church that was spanning that gap, embracing people regardless of their sexual orientation or identity, but also standing firm in their Christian faith. Most of the pilgrims thought this was pretty cool, too.
Our time at Camp Magruder was good. Apart from mealtimes – which were hideously noisy, crowded and rushed – CampWorship on the beach Magruder was really great location for us to spend the first part our last week together. We got to spend a lot of time soaking up the beauty of the Oregon coast; we even held a time for worship, reflection and journaling on the beach.  In many ways, it felt like the beginning of the end for us as a pilgrimage. We began to shift towards concluding our experience together.

After our time on the coast, we stayed briefly with Camas Friends Church, near Portland. I felt blessed to be able to spend a littleWess explains the grill time catching up with pastor Wess Daniels, and we were all glad to be able to attend Sunday morning worship with Friends in Camas. Our time with Friends in Camas was brief, and soon we moved on to Anderson Lodge, our last stop on the Pilgrimage.

Anderson Lodge was beautiful – a wonderful location to conclude the Pilgrimage. I think just about everyone met the end of the Pilgrimage with a bittersweet combination of sadness and relief.Beginning to say goodbye We were saddened to leave the tight-knit community that had developed over the course of the month – and for many of the pilgrims this was the first time that they had experienced any kind of community with other young Quakers. At the same time, we were weary from a full month of living with almost three dozen other people 24/7, and many of us were missing our families, loved ones and spouses.

By the time I finally arrived back in DC on August 17th, I had been away from my wife Faith for almost a month and a half. I felt very grateful to finally be home again.Do the Hugh - and jump! Even so, I must admit that there were moments on my trans-continental train ride that I teared up thinking about the pilgrims and what we had shared together. I carry these young Friends in my heart, and I pray that God will continue to care for them and help them to grow in their faith and walk with God.

I have nothing but gratitude for the time I have spent as a leader for the 2010 Quaker Youth Pilgrimage. My sense of leading to serve was confirmed time and time again along the way, and I thank God for placing me exactly where I needed to be. I love how God surprises me.

Yours in the peace and mercy of Jesus Christ,

Micah Bales

El plazo de la registracion se acerca para la reunion de Jovenes Amigos 2010

Queridos Amigos,

El plazo de la registración para la reunión de Jovenes Amigos en Wichita se acerca rápidamente. Mientras el evento se acerca me gustaría compartir con ustedes un sentido de nuestro estado espiritual en cuanto a la reunion, y también lo que ésta conferencia significa para el resto de la sociedad religiosa de los Amigos.

Creemos que ésta reunión podría ser el más diverso evento cruz-rama para Jovenes Amigos desde por lo menos los años sesenta. Hasta el día de hoy tenemos, al menos dos registraciones de casi  todas las juntas anuales en norteamérica. Estamos pronosticando que los Amigos de la Iglesia Evangélica Amigos; reuniones pastorales en la Junta Unida de los Amigos; y la Conferencia General de los Amigos van a participar aproxidamente en igual Wichitanumero. Ésta es una oportunidad increible para todos Jovenes Amigos a reunirse y participar con lo que el Espíritu nos esta llamando a hacer ahora. Me siento bendecido de participar en este proceso.

Nuestra esperanza es que la reunión sea un espacio donde los Amigos de gran variedad de fondos, auto-conocimientos, creencias, e identidades puedan encontrar unidad en aquello que es eterno: El Espíritu de Dios. Es nuestra oración que todos puedan traer a su ser completo, y ser amados y respetados en nuestra comunidad así comos Dios nos ama – sin condiciones.

La conferencia del último fin de semana de mayo ha sido el enfoque de nuestras oraciones para muchos de nosotros por los ultimos seis meses, y nosotros como planificadores estamos agradecidos por el apoyo espiritual que se nos ha brindado así como hemos buscado proveer un espacio seguro y formentador para todos los Amigos. Gracias por sus oraciones, y por favor continúa sosteniendonos en la Luz del Amor de Dios.

Por increible que parezca para aquellos de nosotros en el comité El Templo de la Iglesia Amigos Universityde planificación, la conferencia casi ha llegado. La reunión se llevará acabo en menos de tres semanas – 28-31 de mayo; y éste Sabado – 15 de Mayo – es la fecha plazo para registrarse para el evento. Para aquellos de ustedes entre las edades de 18-35,  esperamos que se unan a nosotros en ésta oportunidad histórica de reunirnos con jovenes cuáqueros de todo norteamérica para descubrir juntos qué puede hacer el amor entre nosotros. Para aquellos de ustedes que estan muy jovenes o muy mayores para asistir – por favor mantengannos en sus oraciones mientras buscamos abrir nuestro ser al gozo, paz, humildad, y a la ternura del Amor de Dios.

TransFORM East Coast Gathering in DC

I had the opportunity this weekend to participate in a gathering of emergent church leaders TransFORM East Coast Gathering in DC– folks who are involved in or seek to be involved in planting missional, emergent faith communities rooted in the life and teachings of Jesus.  I was able to hear speakers such as Brian McLaren, Peter Rollins, Kathy Escobar and Anthony Smith. I also attended workshops on Christian ecology; turning Jesus’ teachings into living practice as a community; developing new Christian communities alongside more traditional congregations; and a discussion on the way forward for Christians who are neither willing to exclude queer folk from the Church, nor downplay our respect for Scripture. Finally, and most importantly, I was privileged to connect with folks from all over the country, including quite a few from my neck of the woods.

The most spiritually-charged and powerful moment for me this weekend was Friday evening, when we gathered to hear Peter Peter RollinsCollins preach.  He spoke to us about the importance of doubt in our walk with God. Rollins observed that Christ himself cried out in doubt on the cross, and he emphasized the need to release our comforting beliefs and sense of identity, because they in fact separate us from God. God is Truth, not our limited and self-serving conceptions; the Truth – as terrifying and incomprehensible as it can be – must be a the center of our life in Christ. To place our own beliefs and desires at the center is to replace God with an idol, and to dodge the suffering of the cross, which we as Christians are called to bear with our Lord.

Peter Rollins believes that our worship together should reflect the “dark nights of the soul” – our times of spiritual despair, doubt, and sense of separation from God. Our corporate worship can tend to focus exclusively on our experiences of assurance and connection with God; but Rollins encouraged us to consider the role that acknowledgement of suffering, darkness and doubt might play in our shared life as church communities.

To give us a taste of what this might look like, Rollins asked Vince Anderson and Amy Moffitt to perform a song from the Ikon communityMusic in Ireland, where Rollins serves. It was a hymn of darkness, despair, loss and doubt. To be honest, it made me feel very uncomfortable. As the hymn came to a close, though, something remarkable happened. The Holy Spirit descended on us, and the entire gathered assembly was still and silent, hushed with awe. This was a clapping group, which normally gave applause after every event – but after this hymn, no one moved.

The awed silence was broken after a short while by the facilitator, wanting to move us along in our evening program. I felt grieved that the work of the Holy Spirit was being brushed aside. Others certainly felt this way, too. A man rose from the audience, interrupting our facilitator, “Thy kingdom came!” I heard voices say, “Amen!” The man continued to address the facilitator, “can we acknowledge the grace of God among us for a moment?” After perhaps a minute more of silent reverence before God, the facilitator again took up the schedule.

When we were dismissed a few minutes later, a young woman rose from the audience, interrupting folks as they greeted oneTransform another. She invited anyone who wanted to pray to join her at the front of the sanctuary where we were gathered. Faith and I immediately rose and followed her to the raised area at the front of the room. Five of us gathered in a circle while the rest of the group socialized and made their way out of the building. We took turns praying aloud as we were led. Praying for the gathering; that God to continue to pour out the Holy Spirit on us; asking forgiveness for the way in which we had turned away God’s presence from our midst. I feel so grateful for the way in which a few of us were drawn together in the Spirit in that moment to cry out to God and intercede for the Church.

I am in awe of how I see God at work in the wider Church, despite our failure to fully embrace the Spirit’s work in our midst.  I feel grateful for the connections that I have made this weekend with other followers of Jesus, both here in the DC area and acrossBrian McLaren addresses us North America. I had never been exposed to the emergent church movement before, having focused almost all of my attention on the Quaker community in the years since I became a Christian. As a result of this gathering, I feel energized to engage with emergent Protestants; both to learn from them and their experiences as disciples, and also to share with them the rich heritage of Quakerism, which informs my own walk with Christ. Together, I believe we can grow into more faithful friends of Jesus.

A few relevant links:

Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #9

Dear Friends of Truth,

Faith and I were pleased to be with Friends in Northwest Yearly Meeting during their annual sessions this year in Newberg, Oregon. Northwest Yearly Meeting is a group of Evangelical Friends churches in the states of Oregon, Washington and Idaho. I have personal connections with Northwest Friends, as my father grew up in this Yearly Meeting, and my grandmother and aunt are still active members. I had visited them last year, and I was very pleased at what I observed and experienced among them. I feel confident in saying that they are one of the healthiest Yearly Meetings in the United States, standing firmly in the Quaker tradition while also embracing their Evangelical heritage.

Colin Saxton, NWYM’s superintendent, gave the opening sermon on Monday night. It was an impactful message, calling us to greater faithfulness in our spiritual lives as we prepare for the inevitable spiritual storms that threaten to tear us apart as individuals and as the Body of Christ. Colin said that the word that God had kept giving him as he prepared for that night’s message was, “deeper.” Colin emphasized that, as important as “bigger and better” can be, all of our efforts are for nothing if they are not built on the Solid Rock. He encouraged us to get serious about our spiritual disciplines and to pay attention to the ways we are called to deepen our lives in Christ, to become a holy people fit for God’s work. Colin called us to be a people focused on being what God means us to be – not just on good works and achievement based on our own goals and expectations. It seemed that God was using Colin to call Northwest Yearly Meeting to prepare spiritually for the difficult times that are coming.

This year’s sessions were mostly easy. Last year, there had been a minute brought by a couple of the local churches regarding immigration and the US government’s response in curtailing illegal immigration. The minute was not ultimately approved, as Friends did not feel clear that they understood the issue sufficiently to approve a statement. This year, instead of trying to pass a minute, the Yearly Meeting approved forming an Immigration Taskforce. This working group will focus on three areas: 1) Providing accurate information to the churches about the realities of immigration to the United States and the injustices faced by many visitors in this country; 2) Carrying out advocacy to influence more just legislation and governmental policies towards visitors in our midst; and 3) Engaging in direct action to help immigrants in local communities, providing assistance and aid to those in greatest need. I was impressed with the way that NWYM moved forward, not trampling the concerns and perspectives of Friends on of this hot-button issue, but engaging with it in a way that will hopefully allow the Yearly Meeting to gain greater clarity and unity as they move forward in the ways that God is calling them.

I was pleased to meet with Ángel and Hernán Díaz, two leaders of the Spanish-language Friends Church movement in the Pacific Northwest. Ángel is pastor of a Spanish-language Friends church in Newberg, Oregon, and Hernán is a pastor in Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, Washington. Together, they are helping to develop an energetic Christian ministry among Spanish-speaking Friends in their areas. I was very impressed by them and the work that they are engaged in, and I pray that God will continue to guide them as they build up the Church in their communities. I also pray that God will continue to open ways for Spanish-speaking and English-speaking Friends to work together more closely as time goes on. This is an acknowledged concern of Friends in NWYM, and I hope that they will be encouraged as they seek to make their Yearly Meeting more integrated across cultural and linguistic barriers, so that the world may witness the Truth of Christ that breaks down all barriers of class, culture, race, nationality and gender.

The main speaker for Northwest Yearly Meeting this year was Bob Adhikary. Bob has previously spoken to Friends in Eastern Region, Mid-America Yearly Meeting, and at Barclay College. At these two last, there were widely publicized reports of spiritual outpourings that overwhelmed those present to hear him speak. Many came to Northwest Yearly Meeting wondering whether Bob would bring Revival with him, though we were cognizant that it is only God who can bring Revival, and that Bob could at best be an instrument of God’s work among us. Unfortunately, Bob’s style and message were uncomfortable for many of those gathered in Newberg, and deeply offensive for some. A hint of this is present in NWYM’s 2009 Epistle, which cites the Senior High Epistle, saying that, “The meeting was encouraged by [Bob Adhikary’s] passion for evangelism and the excitement in his message, but some of his statements caused a difference of opinion among the members of our group.” Adhikary’s statements included that the September 11th attacks and the Hurricane Katrina disaster were God’s Wrath on the United States for accepting sin – in particular, homosexuality.

The intensity of Bob Adhikary’s rhetoric led to some amount of response from the gathered body over the course of the week. During open worship in business, near the end of the sessions, several Friends stood up and reminded us of God’s universal love for all people. While Bob emphasized God’s anger at sin, some Friends felt led to encourage us to focus on God’s love and mercy. They reminded us that we are judged by God for how we treat the outcast and marginalized.

Colin Saxton’s message near the beginning of the sessions, calling us to go deeper and to make sure that we are truly grounded in Christ before the storm comes, was surely prophetic. Northwest Yearly Meeting is likely headed into a period of stretching and difficult discernment around the question of homosexuality in the Church. One of the local churches in the Portland area recently adopted a minute which states that they do, “not judge a person’s ministry and leadership on the basis of any incidental characteristic. It is our experience and testimony that God works through people without regard for race, age, gender or sexual orientation.” It seems inevitable that in the coming years Northwest Yearly Meeting will be challenged with divergent understandings of God’s work through people of differing sexual orientations and gender identities. I am confident in the human leadership of Northwest Yearly Meeting to guide the Yearly Meeting through these birth pangs. I pray that the one true Leader and Guide of Northwest Yearly Meeting, Jesus Christ, might be present with all Friends as they seek together the will of God and learn to walk together in Christ’s Way.

I have great love for Friends in Northwest Yearly Meeting. They feel like family to me. To be fair, that may be because much of the Yearly Meeting literally is family, to greater or lesser degrees. I hope to be able to continue to visit Northwest Yearly Meeting in the years to come. I pray that they will stay low and open to God’s present guidance in the way I have seen them be receptive these past two years, especially as they encounter greater challenges as a Yearly Meeting. I see God at work in Northwest Yearly Meeting, and I have greater hope for the future of Friends because of it.

Next, I’ll be visiting Ohio Yearly Meeting (Conservative), in Barnesville, Ohio. I am looking forward to spending some quality time with what is, in many ways, the most traditionalist of our Yearly Meetings. I am particuarly interested to see how business is conducted among them, and I pray that we will experience a palpable covering of Christ’s Spirit as we gather together this week.

Finally, please pray for Western Yearly Meeting. I am receiving reports that they are having very difficult sessions this year and could use our spiritual support. Please pray that they may be covered with the uniting and healing power of Christ.

Your brother in Christ Jesus,

Micah Bales