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A Deeper Unity – Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #45

Dear friends,

Every year, I imagine that this time around my summer will be a little less crazy. And every year, Yearly Meeting season makes that an impossibility. This month, I spent most of my days out of town, attending Quaker gatherings in New York, Maryland and Ohio. These Yearly Meeting sessions have taken most of my time and attention, leaving me feeling a bit disconnected from my community in DC. The balance between local work and the wider fellowship is delicate, and I anticipate that the coming month will be a time for me to pivot and refocus on local concerns and more sedentary work. Though it has been enriching to dive deeply into the wider world of Friends, I am looking forward to being home for a while.

My first trip out of town was to New York Yearly Meeting, at the Silver Bay YMCA camp on Lake George in upstate New York. Gathering on Lake George meant that when we were not engaged in Yearly Meeting business, we were free to go kayaking or sailing, or to go hiking in the surrounding woods. Though I had attended Yearly Meeting sessions in a variety of beautiful locations, this resort atmosphere was something new!

I felt particularly blessed that Faith and I were able to be present with a number of other visiting Friends, including Jon Watts and Maggie Harrision, who are engaged in a sustained ministry of calling Friends to spiritual nakedness. Jon and Maggie really challenged New York Yearly Meeting during an evening plenary session, urging Friends to set aside the suffocating comfort of respectability and to dive boldly into God’s love. In one particularly intense moment, Maggie asked Friends why the reports from New York Yearly Meeting’s local congregations rarely mentioned God. Isn’t that what this is all about? You could have heard a pin drop as Friends took in what Maggie was saying. And then, someone yelled Amen!

After New York Yearly Meeting, Faith and I drove down to Virginia for a wedding. I had a day back in DC before I was on the road again, this time to Baltimore Yearly Meeting – a fellowship of Quakers in Virginia, Pennsylvania, DC and Maryland. BYM holds it annual gatherings at Frostburg State University, out in the western panhandle of Maryland. Getting there was easy, though, since I routinely travel out that way en route to Ohio and points further west.
Baltimore Yearly Meeting felt familiar. Because I live within the geographical territory of Baltimore Yearly Meeting, I run into BYM Friends a lot – whether visiting their local Meetings, attending their events, or welcoming them at Capitol Hill Friends. Though I am not a member of BYM, visiting their annual sessions did feel like something of a homecoming to me.
The theme of BYM’s gathering this year was “Spirit-led Social Action,” and I had the opportunity to speak with Friends about my experience of God’s leading me to participate in the Occupy movement when it first erupted in the fall of 2011. I spoke as part of a two-person panel during BYM’s Tuesday-night plenary session, sharing what it felt like to be led by the Holy Spirit into social witness that is outside my comfort zone. I would never have chosen to become an organizer for the Occupy movement on my own, but I am so grateful that I was obedient to the promptings of Christ within!

Because I yielded to the quiet but persistent nudges of God in my heart, I am now connected to a broader community of those who are working for economic justice. I have met so many amazing people who have changed my life for the better, and I am hopeful that my presence has a positive influence. During the plenary, I shared how God opens opportunities for me to bear witness to Christ’s love and power within the economic justice community. Most crucially, I spoke about the spiritual dynamics of activism and community organizing, and about the need to stay rooted in the Spirit of God. There are so many other forces that would shake us from our Foundation; if we do not take great care, it is easy to get caught up in a spirit of chaos rather than the Spirit of love, order and peace that Christ sends.

I hope that I was faithful in communicating to Friends that our social witness must be, first and foremost, a testimony to the love, life and power that we experience in the Spirit of Jesus. Specific outcomes are important – sometimes we are called to “win” – but the highest objective must always be to remain faithful to the witness that God desires to bear through our lives. This takes great discernment, a practice that we as Friends of Jesus can bring to these movements.

Following my visit to Baltimore Yearly Meeting, I was only home for a few days before Faith and I were back on the road. Once again, we drove out through western Maryland, but this time our destination was Barnesville, Ohio – the gathering place of Ohio Yearly Meeting. After visiting so many gatherings this summer, it was a blessing to finally come home to the Yearly Meeting where we are members. Visiting among other bodies of Friends is wonderful, but there is a particular joy that comes when we gather with our particular covenanted community. Our care and responsibility for one another guides and sustains me in a special way.

I was really struck this year by the way in which my Yearly Meeting handles disagreement. We had several opportunities to engage in prayerful discernment around hard issues this year, and I felt like we were generally able to keep our conversation grounded in prayer and loving concern for one another. There is a sense in Ohio Yearly Meeting that our unity runs deeper than opinions about particular issues. While outward agreement is ultimately important, I am grateful to experience an inward, spiritual unity that allows us to wrestle with disagreements in a manner that ultimately draws us closer to God in Jesus Christ.

I envision Ohio Yearly Meeting as a circle with Jesus Christ standing at the center. Individuals in our Yearly Meeting stand at various points around the circle; we emphasize different things, and there are places where we are not in full agreement. There were several explicit points of tension this year – including our relationship with Olney Friends School; our testimony against the consumption of alcoholic beverages; and our shared understanding of human sexuality. Each of these are places where we could fall into destructive division and mistrust. But God is teaching us a better way.

As we gather around Jesus and draw nearer to him, we come closer to one another. Submitting ourselves to Christ’s light, we find our individual perspectives relativized (though not invalidated), and we are able to see how God is speaking through those with whom we strongly disagree. There is a deep faith present in Ohio Yearly Meeting that, if we wait together in the light of the Holy Spirit, we will be shown the way forward together.

It is probably safe to assume that all of us will be surprised by what “way forward” looks like. I am learning that having a variety of perspectives in my community can be a sign of good health, despite the fact that, at first glance, it may seem like chaos and disunity. We read in Scripture that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. Yet, we know that we ourselves do change, and that our individual human viewpoints are often too limited to embrace the truth that Christ desires to reveal to us.
When we come together as a community in prayer, seeking after the Lord’s will, I experience the Spirit guiding us into greater understanding and unity as a body. We continue to have our own individual perspectives, but they are tempered and refined in the fire of Christ’s light. When we hold our disagreements in loving prayer, the Spirit intercedes within us and binds us together in a deeper unity that surpasses opinions.

At the conclusion of our time together in Barnesville, I felt hopeful for the future of Ohio Yearly Meeting. I had a strong sense that Christ is at work in our midst, and that we are being invited into the new (yet ancient) way of Jesus. God is giving us an opportunity to embrace Jesus’ example, laying down our lives for one another and surrendering our need to be correct. I am learning that the true meaning of strength is to bear the burdens of others – not only physically, but spiritually.

I pray that my life will serve to lighten the burden of those around me, that I may lay aside my own need to be vindicated, remembering that Jesus lay aside every honor and privilege that were rightfully his, bearing the cross for his friends. Therefore God also highly exalted him, and gave him the name that is above every name. I pray that we in Ohio Yearly Meeting will find this scripture fulfilled in our hearing, that through our shared submission to Jesus we be brought into the fullness of his truth, unity and love.

I anticipate that the next few weeks will allow me to stay closer to home. After so much time away, it will be good to re-connect with my community here in DC. I am also looking forward to making progress on the new Friends United Meeting website, which we plan to roll out around the end of the summer. I must say that although there are many benefits to travel in the service of the gospel, it is not particularly conducive to web development!

One last item before I close: You may recall that this June I was arrested by the US Capitol Police for accompanying my friend Deborah Harris to speak to Jamie Dimon, Chairman and CEO of JP Morgan Chase, during his visit to the Senate Banking Committee. I did not expect to be arrested, much less to be jailed for most of the day and accused of falsifying my identity! It also came as a surprise when I learned that my arrest could theoretically be punished by up to six months in prison. But I give praise to God that my co-defendents and I accepted a deal on Monday which will allow the charges against us to be dropped, assuming we do not get re-arrested in the next six months!

I have no idea how prayer works, but it is my experience that there is nothing more powerful than the prayerful petitions of God’s faithful people. I know for a fact that I have a small army of prayer warriors who are interceding on my behalf. Thank you so, so much. Your prayers are making a huge impact on my life. Please do not stop!

In the month ahead, please pray that I be grounded more deeply in the Holy Spirit as I seek to be a faithful worker in my roles with Friends United Meeting, Capitol Hill Friends and Occupy Our Homes DC. I would also ask for you to pray specifically that our community at Capitol Hill Friends be built up in Christ’s power this month. In recent weeks, several active members of our fellowship have moved away to pursue educational opportunities; we need God’s strength and guidance as we continue to serve as a spiritual sanctuary in the midst of our city.
May the grace and peace of Jesus Christ be with you all.
In his light and love,
Micah Bales

Can We Disagree?

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God… – 1 John 4:1
For me as a Quaker, summertime is Yearly Meeting time. For those who are unfamiliar with Friends organization, the Yearly Meeting is the closest thing that we have to a “denomination.” Gathering together annually for business and fellowship, Yearly Meetings are a collection of local congregations that are drawn together under the same faith and practice, committing themselves to mutual accountability and shared discernment.

The Yearly Meeting is for congregations what the local church is for the individual. The Yearly Meeting provides opportunity to be strengthened by the wisdom and perspective of a wider fellowship; the larger body is able to provide stability, support and, at times, loving correction to local Meetings that face difficulty. In the ideal, the Yearly Meeting is enriched and informed by the gifts, passion and discernment of the local Meeting, and the Yearly Meeting exercises loving care of the local Meeting.

Unfortunately, we frequently fail to live up to our ideals. In both the local church and the Yearly Meeting, Friends often lose the delicate balance between the understanding of the individual and the discernment of the wider body. Sometimes we err on the side of individual autonomy, refusing to involve ourselves in the struggles of our sister Meetings. On the other hand, we as Yearly Meetings can also slip into a paternalistic mindset, quenching the prophetic voice of our local communities with demands of conformity to the broader consensus.

Unlike many Christian groups, Friends do not make decisions by voting, but rather through a united sense of God’s will. Though this practice has many strengths, its weaknesses can be crippling. At worst, we may abuse our tradition, coming to believe that unity is something for us to impose, rather than a gift of the Holy Spirit. In our quest for outward unity, we sometimes risk silencing a genuine prophetic voice.

With division looming in Indiana Yearly Meeting and many other Yearly Meetings struggling with deep disagreements, how do we understand the role of dissent within our communities? Under what circumstances is it acceptable for an individual or a local church to be openly out of unity with majority understanding of the Yearly Meeting? To what extent are Friends with minority perspectives expected to keep their views quiet? When does conscience demand that dissenters resign their membership?
These questions are very alive for me as we in Ohio Yearly Meeting continue to wrestle with our understanding of human sexuality, including same-sex relationships. There are faithful Friends in our Yearly Meeting who sincerely believe that we who affirm our gay brothers and sisters should silence our witness – or leave the fellowship altogether. For these Friends, it is a question of corporate solidarity and integrity: If we are not in line with the majority view of the Yearly Meeting, why would we insist on raising our perspective within the body? Why not accept that we simply do not fit within Ohio Yearly Meeting and leave?
This makes me wonder: How much (and what kind of) conformity is necessary on the part of dissenting individuals and congregations? How do we gauge to what extent our disagreement represents a healthy, prophetic witness, and how can we tell when we have veered into un-loving, divisive activity? Though there are forms of dissent that tear down community, I have also observed that there is such a thing as healthy tension and faithful disagreement.

This is all so tricky, because there are certainly false teachings that can rip the church apart. There are many perspectives that, if accepted, would undermine our testimony as Friends. Yet, it is possible to become overly sensitive. If we allow fear to take over, we may stop trusting that God can work through our disagreements. It is important for us to have faith that the Holy Spirit is present with us now, ready to teach us “even greater things.”

As communities gathered in the Spirit of Jesus, how do we practice discernment together? How do we know which matters of faith and practice are essential, and which can be safely held in dynamic tension within our local and Yearly Meetings? How do we manage passionate disagreements within our community, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace?

Ordinary Faithfulness – Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #41

Dear friends,
With spring in full bloom, this past month has felt alive with possibility – and with work! Exhilaration and exhaustion alternate as I seek to be faithful in my ministry with Capitol Hill Friendsand to get equipped for my work within a grassroots movement for economic justice. While there are many challenges, the overall direction of the last month has been positive. I continue to find way opening for Spirit-led service within the Religious Society of Friends and in the wider community.
These last few months, I have developed many new relationships and have begun work with others to build organization and make practical gains for justice. My most energetic involvement continues to be with Occupy Our Homes DC, as we work to promote a society in which individuals and families are able to secure decent, affordable housing – a society in which the big banks are not permitted to throw honest, hard-working people out of their homes.
We won our first victory in late February, when we worked with Bertina Jones – an accountant and grandmother – to obtain a loan modification, despite the fact that Freddie Mac and Bank of America were dead set on kicking her out of her house. After raising public awareness of the issues – and the fact that Bank of America’s dealings with Bertina were probably illegal – the two giant banks backed down, and the foreclosure on Bertina’s home has been reversed.
Last week, we won another victory when we worked with DC tenant Dawn Butler to help her stay in her home, despite an imminent threat of eviction. Dawn’s landlord had been foreclosed on some time ago, but in DC tenants have the right of first refusal – if they want to buy the house they live in, they are first in line. Unfortunately, JP Morgan Chase calculated that they could make more money by throwing Dawn out on the street. Apparently breaking the law and manipulating the courts, JP Morgan Chase had successfully obtained an eviction order. The US Marshalls were on their way, literally to throw Dawn’s belongings out on the street.
Fortunately, we at Occupy Our Homes were able to mobilize very quickly, blockading Dawn’s house while she went down to the courthouse to seek a stay of eviction. The courts had ignored her request before, but now they knew that the community was ready to stand in the way of eviction. We would not go quietly. With the pressure on, the judge granted Dawn a stay of eviction until her next court date, later this month. We feel confident that Dawn has a strong legal case, and will eventually be able to purchase her home. But we intend to keep the spotlight on until we know for sure.
Behind these exciting actions lies an increasing depth of organization. Much of my time has been taken up this past month with committee meetings, telephone calls, and outreach to the wider community. One of the most exciting ways that I have been able to reach out more broadly has been to get involved in a weekly pastors’ breakfast, attended mostly (though not exclusively) by African-American ministers. It is a time for these pastors to come together, support one another in prayer, sermon and song, and to share their thoughts with one another about the latest happenings in the city. It is a real blessing for me to be able to take part in this gathering, and I am grateful for the opportunity to connect with so many seasoned leaders from the African-American Church here in DC.
My work in the wider community is complimented by an ever-deepening involvement in the ministry of Capitol Hill Friends. I have felt blessed this past month by regular mid-week meetings of the members. We gather to check in, do business, and support one another spiritually. It is a vital time for me to touch base and hear how the Lord is speaking to us in our individual lives, as well as in our shared ministry.
This past weekend, we held our Spring Retreat in Barnesville, Ohio, together with Friends from Detroit and Philadelphia. This is our third retreat since Capitol Hill Friends and New City Friends formed a network of mutual care and accountability. The gathering included not only members of our two groups, but also a like-minded friend from Philadelphia. We hope that as this network continues to evolve it will be a source of strength and encouragement for many local Meetings, as well as individuals who would benefit from the support and care that our network can provide.
It felt good to have our retreat in Barnesville. Roughly equidistant from DC and Detroit, Barnesville is also the hometown of Ohio Yearly Meeting, and functions as a sort of “Mecca” for Christ-centered, unprogrammed Quakers. Both New City Friends and Capitol Hill Friends have had significant involvement with Ohio Yearly Meeting, and our faith and practice is deeply influenced by their witness. It felt somehow right to me that we root our new Christian community in the same physical space as the ancient Ohio Yearly Meeting. It is my prayer that our emerging network will absorb many of the valuable traits of our Conservative kin, even as we seek to be faithful to the distinct call that God has for us as fellowship.
Life is vibrant for me right now, alive with an immediacy and urgency that feels both pregnant with possibility and grounded in responsibility. I find myself being called into new, risky action – both within the Quaker community, and in my work for economic justice. At the same time, I am pulled into a deep grounding in place and community. I feel increasingly accountable to Capitol Hill Friends, and to our wider network, and I am settling into a long-term commitment to a new neighborhood and community here in DC.
I never expected radical faithfulness to look so… Ordinary. I used to think that “freedom” meant not being constrained by anything but immediate, fiery revelation from God. I am beginning to see that what faithfulness looks like in my life right now is quite different from that romantic vision. Rather than becoming less entangled in the world, God is calling me to engage deeply in this human existence. I am to build a house and dwell in it; to plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
God calls me to show my commitment not by freeing myself from the conditions of everyday life, but instead by entering more deeply into them. Rather than taking me out of the world, Christ is guiding me into a life of deeper, inextricable involvement. Jesus challenges me to be part of not only a city on a hill, but also a city in the trenches. I feel God calling me to a witness that is anything but aloof – one that is revealed in its profound identification with the daily struggles of the human community.
The daily grind of ordinary faithfulness is harder to talk about than the exhilaration of big actions or gatherings. It is easy for me envision the Kingdom of God as existing in a daring, decisive moment – heroic, charged, picturesque bursts of clarity, beauty and power. Such moments do exist, and it is a blessing when they occur. Nevertheless, the foundation of all God’s work is steady, hidden faithfulness in ordinary time. I pray for the Holy Spirit to teach me humility and singleness of vision to dwell in the divine ordinary, to embrace the simple pains, pleasures, duties and delights of life – all to the glory of God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.
May his life and presence be with each of you, today and always.
Micah Bales

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.

Summer Travels – Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #33

Dear Children of the Day,

Things have been moving along at a steady pace since I returned from my travels in the UK and East Africa. Each of my weekends have been very full – hosting our Quarterly Meeting, visiting Friends in North Carolina and Philadelphia, and receiving visitors from Rockingham Meeting and Wichita, Kansas. While things promise to slow down a bit this fall, the summer has been unrelenting in its demands. While this has been physically and emotionally tiring work, it has also been spiritually refreshing. I have felt well-used and blessed by the Lord in the work that he has laid before me this summer. What more can I ask?
I had a few days to recover from the return voyage from East Africa before Faith and I drove down to Harrisonburg, Virginia to help Rockingham Meeting host the gathering of Stillwater Quarterly Meeting. Stillwater Quarter is one of two Quarterly Meetings in Ohio Yearly Meeting. Our sister QM, Salem Quarterly Meeting, is the smaller body by far, comprising three small Monthly Meetings in eastern Ohio. Stillwater Quarter represents the rest of the Yearly Meeting – seven Monthly Meetings, including Stillwater Meeting, the largest of OYM’s congregations.
Stillwater Quarter covers an immense amount of geographical territory. OYM has been growing recently, and all of this growth has taken place in Stillwater QM. Three new Monthly Meetings have been added in recent years in Michigan, eastern Pennyslvania, and western Virginia, as well as a maturing worship group near Atlanta, Georgia. Despite the distances involved, we had representation from every Monthly Meeting, as well Chattahoochee Worship Group in Georgia. It was a joy to see dear friends from across the Quarter, and it was especially good to be able to host them at Rockingham’s meeting place.
Just a few days after getting back to Washington from Quarterly Meeting, I was on the road again; this time, to Wilmington, North Carolina, where North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative) was holding its annual sessions. I traveled under a minute from Rockingham Meeting and Stillwater Quarterly Meeting. My concern to travel was one of gospel love. I felt drawn by the Holy Spirit to be with Friends in our sister Yearly meeting in North Carolina, and to be available for the Lord’s service among them, as led. I made this visit without any agenda beyond a desire to be faithful to the moment-by-moment leadings of the Holy Spirit.
North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative), along with Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) are the two remaining historical relatives of Ohio Yearly Meeting. Historically, Conservative Friends have conserved both the traditional outward practices of Friends (waiting on the Lord in silent expectation, giving corporate answers to the queries, etc.) as well as the Christian faith of Friends centered in the living presence of Jesus Christ as present Teacher, Lord and Savior.
In recent years, intervisitation between our Yearly Meetings has broken down to a great degree. While at one time there were many ministers regularly going back and forth between the Conservative Yearly Meetings, there is far less interconnectedness today. I was pleased to see one other member of my Yearly Meeting at NCYMc, as well as a member of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative). It felt good to to have the whole family together, even if in small measure.
I learned a lot on my visit among Friends in North Carolina. I saw that while our Yearly Meetings share a common history, as well as many beliefs and practices in common, we have also grown apart over the years. In particular, I noticed that while Friends in Ohio Yearly Meeting speak very frequently of Jesus Christ and his role in our community, North Carolina Yearly Meeting Friends spoke primarily in terms of “God” or “the Spirit.” This is a difference in language, certainly, but it seemed that our distinctive ways of speaking about our faith point to a different understanding of who Jesus is and what his role is in our life as a people.
I am grateful that I yielded to the Lord’s prompting to visit Friends in North Carolina this year. I learned a lot about our brothers and sisters, with whom we share so much history and a great deal of commonality today. It is my prayer that we might find ways to strengthen the bonds between us, that we might be mutually enriched by our fellowship in the Lord. I feel certain that the Christ has a purpose for us, not just as individual Yearly Meetings, but as a wider body of Conservative Friends. I seek to remain open to how the Lord might use me in building up that body.
The following weekend, I had another opportunity to participate in the work that Christ is doing to build up his Church, traveling to Philadelphia to nurture Christ-centered Friends there. The Lord is doing amazing things in Philadelphia, and I feel privileged to have some small part in nurturing the new life that is developing there. Please pray for the seed of Christ in Philadelphia. May it blossom into a beautiful, fruit-bearing tree that is for the healing of the nations.
Finally, this past weekend we had the opportunity to welcome visitors to Capitol Hill. Over the weekend, we had guests from Rockingham Meeting who met with the core members of Capitol Hill Friends. It was good to strengthen the bonds between our two groups, and to explore how the Lord might be leading us together. We were also blessed to welcome Laura Dungan and Aaron Fowler of Wichita, Kansas. Laura and Aaron are clerks of Great Plains Yearly Meeting and Heartland Meeting, respectively. They are also amazing musicians, and we were grateful for their willingness to lead us in song at Capitol Hill Friends‘ meeting for worship on Sunday night.
Capitol Hill Friends is a very young group, and we are still in development as a Quaker church. For this reason, it is especially helpful to have seasoned visitors come and spend time with us. We grow as a fellowship by receiving the support of grounded individuals, and we gain a better understanding of who we are as a Meeting through our interactions with other Meetings. All this is to say: If you feel that the Lord might be directing you or your Meeting to visit or reach out to Capitol Hill Friends in some way, we encourage you to get in touch with us.
This coming week, Ohio Yearly Meeting will be having our annual gathering in Barnesville, Ohio. Please pray for us as we come together to discern the will of God for us as a people. And, of course, please continue to pray for the growth and strengthening of Capitol Hill Friends and of the ministry that Christ is calling us to as a community.
May the Lord bless you as you seek to live in Christ’s reign, embodying his love and power in this world.
In the joy of Christ’s easy yoke,
Micah Bales

Called to be God’s Temple – Visit to North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative)

This past week, I visited Friends at North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative), held this year at the University of North Carolina in Wilmington. This gathering was a blessed time to share worship and fellowship with Friends from across the South and experience the active movement and teaching of the Holy Spirit in our midst.

I had originally planned to attend the Friends United Meeting Triennial (which, interestingly enough, will be held in Wilmington, Ohio next week!). However, as I began to solidify my summer travel plans, it became clear that God was not calling me to attend the Triennial. As much as I personally thought I should be there, there Friends at North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative)was a heaviness in the idea of making the trip. My sense that God was calling me to lay that trip aside was confirmed by the lightness and peace I felt when I gave up and cancelled my plans.

At first, I thought that the Lord had simply asked me to cancel the trip to the FUM Triennial. Soon, however, I felt clear that I was being asked to undertake another trip instead. I experienced the Lord drawing my heart to Friends in North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative). Though I had not previously considered a visit to North Carolina, the call felt clear and grounded in the love of Christ.

I approached my Monthly Meeting and requested release to travel on this concern. This was granted, as well as being endorsed by my Quarterly Meeting. With the blessing of these Friends in Ohio Yearly Meeting, I undertook the journey as a labor of gospel love.

I am so glad that I yielded to the Lord’s guidance in this matter. My time among Friends in North Carolina was blessed with a deep sense of Christ’s presence in ourFriends Singing at North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative) midst. Jesus was present, teaching his people, and I was blessed to take part in the labor.

I also learned a great deal about our spiritual cousins in NCYMc. I saw that we hold many things in common. While we do our business in slightly different ways and have developed slightly different structures, Friends in Ohio and North Carolina are strikingly similar in the way we operate. In both bodies, there is a strong emphasis on expectant waiting and reliance on the present-moment guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Historically speaking, it makes sense that Friends in North Carolina would share many similarities with Friends in my Yearly Meeting. Ohio Yearly Meeting has a long history of relationship with Iowa and North Carolina Yearly Meetings (Conservative). In 1912, the Conservative Yearly Meetings issued a joint statement of faith, and during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, there was a rich culture of intervisitation and exchange of ministers between the bodies of Conservative Clerk's Table - North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative)Friends in North America. However, in recent decades, there has been a marked decline in the traveling ministry between the Conservative Yearly Meetings.

In many ways, the living connections between our Yearly Meetings are in danger of being lost. Ever since the emergence of the Conservative Friends tradition, the primary way that we have recognized one another is through the formal exchange of epistles. In continuance of this tradition, the Yearly Meetings in Iowa, North Carolina and Ohio all exchange personalized epistles with one another. Yet, the organic and relational connections between our bodies have become so tenuous that it is no longer clear to many Friends why these epistles are exchanged. One well-meaning Friend in North Carolina last week posed the question of whether NCYMc should adopt the practice of composing only one epistle – “to all Friends everywhere.”

This Friend was not trying to make a negative statement about Friends in Iowa and Ohio. She simply did not understand the deep historical connection between our Yearly Meetings. There were plenty of Friends present, of course, who had more background knowledge, and it was soon explained why the personalized epistles are important. The three Conservative Yearly Meetings will, I suspect, continue to formally correspond for the foreseeable future. But the fact that this question could even be asked speaks to the lack of spiritual and relational unity among Friends in the Conservative tradition.

This trip convinced me that, if we continue down the course we are on as Conservative Friends, our exchange of epistles will soon be a formality – a fiction that masks a lack of real community. I do notChildren at North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative) believe it is too late to revitalize these relationships, but it will not happen without care and effort on the part of concerned Friends.

Christ calls us into unity with one another, and I pray that Friends in the Conservative tradition will consider how it is the Lord might be calling us to reach out. I believe that Jesus has a purpose for us as a wider body of Conservative Friends. If we are willing to submit ourselves to one another in his Holy Spirit, I do believe that God could use our witness in fresh and powerful ways.

We were reminded in our worship last week that we are the temple of the living God(1). Just as the Temple in Jerusalem was purified by fire from on high(2), we, too, must be purified and made ready for the work that God has for us. If we will open ourselves to this Fire, the Holy Spirit will heal the pain and indifference that divide us, drawing us together to be a light to the world.

1. 1 Corinthians 3:16
2. 2 Chronicles 7:1