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Tending the Soil–Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #30

Dear brothers and sisters in Truth,

The past month has involved a lot of travel. From Flint, Michigan to Atlanta, Georgia, I have been all over the eastern United States visiting Friends and seeking to nurture the life of Christ in the communities I have visited. As is so often the case, I have surely received more nurture and blessing from these trips than I could possibly have bestowed on those visited. Praise God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who blesses all of us beyond our deserving and understanding!

While travel has been a big theme these past weeks, the most profound thread that is running through my life lately is a call to rootedness and stability. Throughout my time visiting among Friends, there has been a steady, persistent call: Settle. Lay roots. Patiently tend the soil. This motion of the Holy Spirit calls me out of my own thrill-Stillwater Quarterly Meetingseeking and into the radiant life of broken humility that is found in the cross of Jesus Christ.

Yet, despite the call to rootedness and commitment to Christ’s work in my local context, there is still some business in the wider world that I do feel led to attend to. One such matter of business was the gathering of Stillwater Quarterly Meeting early this April. We held our sessions in Flint, Michigan, where we were hosted for the first time by Crossroads Friends Meeting. Crossroads became a full Monthly Meeting within our Quarter only recently, and so this was their first opportunity to host Quarterly Meeting. It was a blessing to be with them, and with all of the sisters and brothers who traveled from across the eastern United States to be present.

Later in the month, I was blessed to have the opportunity to visit Chattahoochee Friends, a worship group near Atlanta, Georgia, which is under the care of Rockingham Susan and Martha at Stillwater Quarterly MeetingMeeting. Faith and I observed during our visit that they were quite developed in their maturity as a group. While theoretically Faith and I were visitors from the “parent body,” we received from Chattahoochee Friends a great deal of spiritual care and counsel regarding our work on Capitol Hill. We were pleased to learn a couple of weeks later that Chattahoochee Friends has decided to pursue Monthly Meeting status within Stillwater Quarterly Meeting. We are blessed to have them as part of our extended fellowship!

Shortly after the trip to Georgia, we were pleased to welcome Friends from New City Friends in Detroit on the occasion of their New City Friends at William Penn Housevisit to Capitol Hill. Last year, New City Friends and Capitol Hill Friends jointly adopted a set of advices and queries, and since January we have been answering the queries each month. By answering the queries and reading each others responses, we have grown closer together in an organic relationship as we seek to deepen our discipleship to the Lord Jesus Christ. By holding a joint weekend retreat in Washington this month, we were blessed with the opportunity to grow closer still, strengthening the bonds of unity that we share in the Lord.

Finally, I also had occasion recently to travel among Friends in the Philadelphia area. It has been amazing to see the work that the Lord is doing in gathering Friends in recent months, and I hope that I can be of some service in supporting the faithful brothers and sisters who are being united in the love and presence of Jesus Christ. With such abundant evidence of Christ’s work in this region, I see with my own eyes that the power of the Lord is over all!
Christ’s presence and ministry is being made visible here on Capitol Hill, too. The Spirit is gathering together a faithful community of women and men, which meets on Sunday Suzanne and Faith at Eastern Marketevenings at the William Penn House. Though I struggle with impatience, in my better moments I trust that our pace of development is according to God’s will. We are still in the very early stages of life as a church community; we are laying the groundwork – spiritually, socially, intellectually, and even financially – for what is to come.

I think that when we began the work here on Capitol Hill, I conceived of the labor in terms of Paul’s evangelical ministry to the gentiles. Paul preached the gospel, established new congregations and moved on fairly rapidly. I get the sense that Paul’s timeline in a city was to establish a new Meeting within a few months – maybe a year or two, at most – and then move on. I still believe this model can work under the proper conditions, but I do not believe that we are experiencing those conditions here in Washington, DC.

The soil here is relatively hard. For one thing, many DC residents are transient, expecting to be in the city for a matter of months or years – probably not decades. There is also a prevalent culture of skepticism towards all things religious – and towards orthodox Christian faith in particular. Finally, unlike in Paul’s context, where he was likely to see the conversion of entire extended families or clans,Capitol Hill Friends conversion and transformation is made more complicated by the extreme individualism of US urban culture. Frequently, households are divided in their faith, and having one spouse accept the invitation to become a disciple of Jesus does not necessarily mean that the other spouse, or their children, will be involved at all. We encounter here a startling lack of bonded community. Ours is a wealthy, individualized culture that feels little need to depend on others.

Under these conditions, the effort to plant a church is more akin to establishing an apple orchard than planting a vegetable garden. The labor of planting, tending and watering will take years of intensive effort before we can expect to see mature fruit.

I now harbor fewer illusions about being able to reproduce the itinerant ministry of Paul (or George Fox, for that matter). Context is important, and our context here in post-Christian urban America is atomized, complex, and requires vast investments of time and attention. To return to gardening images, it is as if we had to re-New City and Capitol Hill Friendsdevelop the soil before we can even get around to planting. Compost happens.

While I would prefer the adventure and glamour of a Pauline itinerant ministry, it feels like the needs of our context here at Capitol Hill Friends call for endurance in the nitty-gritty work of building up the soil. This is the work of many seasons, and I recognize that we are only at the beginning. I could be here for a long time.

I ask for your continuing prayers as Faith and I seek to be faithful to the Lord’s call in our life together. As we learn to yield to the humbling guidance of the Holy Spirit, we find true peace and freedom, even if it looks very different from what we might have chosen for ourselves.

In the name of the Master Gardener,

Micah Bales

Under the Care

One phrase that has deep meaning in the Quaker community is, “under the care.” Friends often employ this term in sentences such as, “Sarah’s ministry is under the care of Ministry and Oversight,” or, “James and Rachel’s marriage is under the care of the Meeting.” Most commonly, when Friends speak of something being under the care of a group, it is a reference to a formal relationship that is bound up in procedure. For example, if a couple’s marriage is under the care of a Meeting, this generally means that the couple goes through a process of clearness – similar in many ways to premarital counseling – with other members of the Meeting. To be under a group’s care often means to take part in a process of accountability with the group.

Perhaps in some Meetings this is all that being under the care means. As with all traditions, some of our communities have fallen into reliance on the outward forms of care – committee work and procedure – while having lost sight of the spiritual substance of the matter. For a healthy, spiritually vibrant Meeting, however, beingFaith and Susan under the care is far more than undertaking a certain series of procedures or committee obligations.

In the ideal, relationships of care are diverse and interwoven throughout the Meeting – individual to individual; ministers to elders; individuals, couples and families to the Meeting; and the Meeting as a whole to the Quarterly and Yearly Meeting. These care relationships are not, first and foremost, a series of procedural obligations. In fact, it is my opinion that the fewer committees a Meeting can get by with, the better. Instead, care within the Meeting is primarily about love, transparency and mutual submission in the Lord.

In Ohio Yearly Meeting, it is our conviction that Christ Jesus is the head of the Church, of which our Yearly Meeting is one small part. Jesus being the head, we have found ourselves gathered together and bonded to one another in his life, way and truth. In him, we are able to submit ourselves to one another, testing our sense of Christ’s guidance with one another, trusting that the wider community has important insight into the experience of the individual. We experience that the Meeting, when submitted to the present teaching of the Holy Spirit, can speak with authority to the lives of individual members or groups under its care.

In Rockingham Meeting where I am a member, we place a very high value on yieldedness. This is a concept that I suspect Rockingham Meeting has imbibed from the ambient Mennonite culture of Shenandoah Valley, and it means that the individual should value the insight of the wider fellowship and be willing to change his or her life in order to meet the expectations of the community. In thisFaye life of yieldedness, each individual is profoundly under the care of the community as a whole.

In practical terms, this means that the individual should consider the convictions and witness of the community in all aspects of her or his life. For example, my Yearly Meeting has a longstanding testimony against gambling and financial speculation. As a member of the fellowship, I have a responsibility to respect that testimony, and prayerfully consider how God might be calling me to make changes in my life to live more fully into it myself. On the most basic level, it is important that I do nothing to publicly discredit the testimony of my community, even if I am personally struggling with how our testimony fits into my own life.

A good example of this of this sort of yielding might be declining to participate in charity raffles (instead simply donating money), even if I do not yet entirely understand on a personal level why Friends testimony against gambling and speculation is important. Being under the care of the community means accepting the discernment of the community, even when I do not understand. There is value in yielding to the community on matters in which I do not feel convicted to the contrary by the Holy Spirit.

The latter part of that last sentence is key: Yieldedness is not about giving preference to the human opinions of our community over the motions of the Holy Spirit. If the wisdom of the community is contrary to what Christ seems to be revealing to me, I have a responsibility to bring this concern to the community. In a sense, the Meeting is also under the care of the individual. Each of us must lay our own sense of Christ’s leading before the Meeting, even if itMike and Seth is unpopular. It may be that God is calling on us to adapt the testimony of the Meeting to meet a new situation.

Yieldedness is not about unduly venerating human authorities, nor is it about remaining silent in the face of injustice, spiritual blindness, or just plain old incompetence. But it does mean giving the Meeting the benefit of the doubt, laying our concerns before the community. If the Meeting is placing itself under the immediate guidance of Jesus Christ, seeking to be obedient to his Holy Spirit today, we do well to participate fully in the Meeting’s process of discernment rather than running off ahead of the Meeting.*

We discover our full potential to be the Body of Christ when we simultaneously place our lives fully under the care of the Meeting and take care for the Meeting as individuals. Taking seriously the guidance and discernment of the Christ-centered community, we are better equipped to recognize and obey the voice of God within our own hearts. When we hear and respond to the inward presence of Christ, we offer our own witness to the wider body and deepen the Meeting’s understanding of how Jesus is guiding us today.
When care and yieldedness are fully mature, we come to see that we have been under Christ’s care all along.

*If the Meeting is not seeking to put itself under Christ’s leadership, that is another matter altogether. While one should never lay down membership in a Meeting lightly, there are times when it is appropriate to dissolve ties with a Meeting that has ceased to follow the risen presence of Jesus. We may trust in Jesus himself to let us know when that moment has arrived; he may ask us to labor with a wayward Meeting for quite some time.

Lone Ranger Culture and Growing the Body of Christ

I recently received an email from an American Quaker who had read my recent post, Freelance Ministry or the Body of Christ? They wrote:


“I am totally in agreement with what you advocate — and my behaviors as minister among Friends are strictly Lone Ranger-mode.  It’s not only my culture, it’s how I survived childhood.  Those habits are deep in my cells and tissues.  From your experience getting re-enculturated among Ohio Conservative Friends, can you suggest how one can change the freelance ministry culture when one is within the culture?”


Here is my response, which I post with my correspondent’s permission:


Dear Friend,

I’m particularly pleased to hear how helpful my post on freelance ministry vs. the Body of Christ was for you. This reality of “body-ness” is really changing the way that I live and grow in Christ, and I am eager to share my experience in this regard with others. It is Friends at Stillwater Quarterly Meeting (Ohio YM)such a treasure, and I want to do everything I can to help others live into this reality.

Unfortunately, as we both know, such a way of life is not something we can achieve on our own. I mean this not only in the sense that this is work that God must do within us, rather than something we do ourselves; this is certainly true, but it is even harder than that. Living in the Body of Christ depends on other people and their response to the call of Christ’s Holy Spirit to live as members of the True Vine. We cannot live in the Body of Christ without other disciples of Jesus who are also willing to take his yoke upon them. We can take first steps in faith, but ultimately we rely on the faithful steps of others.

I have been thinking about your question a lot during this past week: What can you do where you are? How can you become an agent for change within a freelance ministry culture? This is a hard question, and one Friends at Stillwater Quarterly Meeting (Ohio YM)that I have dealt with in the past as a member of another Yearly Meeting before joining Ohio Yearly Meeting.

To provide a direct answer, I must begin by asking more questions. First of all, are there committed, Spirit-led Christians within your Meeting? Your Yearly Meeting? Your wider circle of Christian fellowship? Consider unilaterally submitting yourself to their care and oversight. Allow some disciples of Jesus whom you trust – women and men of spiritual maturity and depth of Christian commitment – to serve as your spiritual elders. Communicate with them regularly, and be open to changing your plans and even beliefs based on their guidance and the inward prompting of Jesus in your heart. These relationships will provide the fundamental support for your ongoing ministry, which will almost certainly be fiercely challenged as time goes on. Make sure that these relationships are strong before venturing out.

Now, more questions: Do you sense that you are being called to the work of nurturing the development of the Body of Christ within your local Meeting? Do you sense that there is an opening for you to begin enfleshing the Body of Christ in your local Meeting? If so, you might consider approaching your Meeting’s Ministry and Oversight (aka Ministry and Counsel or Ministry and Worship). You could lay your concern before them, asking them to consider how they might be called to begin (or deepen) a life of accountability and mutual submission within M&O and in the Meeting as a whole. Be ready to submit yourself to these Friends, too, if Doing Dishes at Food Not Bombs in Capitol Heights, DCthey respond in faith to the Holy Spirit. Be ready to be challenged and changed as the Meeting is challenged and changed. This is a time when you will need to rely heavily on your core of elders who can support you and serve as a check to the feedback you receive from your Meeting.

If you do indeed feel called of the Lord to this work, remember that prophetic engagement with the Meeting is a ministry that may take many years to bear any discernible fruit. And you might never see results. I encourage you to be sure of your leading and your motivations before engaging in this work. I also encourage you to regularly ask yourself what Christ is calling you to now.

Another thing to listen for is whether God is calling you to engage in this kind of ministry in your current Meeting. In my own case, I was called to this work for a season. However, God eventually called me out of my previous Monthly and Yearly Meeting and transplanted me into Ohio Yearly Meeting. While I would by no means insist that it is right for you to leave your Meeting, I encourage you to be open to that possibility. In my own experience,Friends at Ministers and Elders Retreat in Barnesville, Ohio - 2011 I was called out in order to be involved in the development of a new community.

Finally, I would encourage you to seek out opportunities to imbibe the community life of Friends groups that place more emphasis on corporate submission to Jesus Christ. Consider joining us for Ohio Yearly Meeting, which takes place in Barnesville, Ohio, August 8-13. Also, you could attend Stillwater Quarterly Meeting or some of OYM’s Monthly Meetings. And you would of course be a very welcome visitor at Rockingham Meeting and Capitol Hill Friends!

Also, while I do not have much personal experience of North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative), I have heard that their Yearly Meeting sessions are quite edifying. That might also be another gathering worth attending. I especially encourage you to attend the gatherings of covenanted communities (worship groups, Monthly, Quarterly and Yearly Meetings). These are places where you can really experience the mutual submission in Christ that is so essential for a community that seeks to live as Christ’s Body in the world.

And, of course, I would be happy to correspond with you in the months and years to come. I pray that we may support one another as we seek to be disciples of the Master, gathered together in him.

I am your friend in the Lord Jesus Christ,

Micah

Routine and Remembrance

One of the most obvious features of the early Quaker movement was its emphasis on the spiritual reality of the Holy Spirit, preferring it to outward forms and holidays that the Church had long observed to call attention to these spiritual realities. In seventeenth-century England, these forms were abused horrendously, with the state church demanding tithes at the point of the sword and insisting that anyone who did not perform their rituals was destined for eternal damnation. In that context, I understand why the early Great Plains Yearly Meeting 2008Friends rejected the official liturgical calendar. It had become a tool of oppression that, “[had] the form of godliness but denied the power.”(1)

In the decades and centuries following the emergence of the Religious Society of Friends, Quakers have developed our own liturgical calendar based around a series of gatherings for worship, confession and business. Much of this traditional routine is still maintained in Ohio Yearly Meeting. We meet weekly (or more often) for worship, gathering at set times and places. Monthly, we gather with area Friends to conduct business and answer the Queries (confession). Every three months, we meet for Quarterly Meeting, which gathers Friends from the wider region to consider the Queries and any other relevant business. And, once each year, our liturgical calendar culminates in an annual gathering of the entire fellowship.

“Now, wait a minute,” some might say, “that’s not a liturgical calendar, that’s just a pattern of church government!” Hard to argue with that. Clearly, our traditional system of Monthly, Quarterly and Yearly Meetings, answering the Queries and doing church business qualify as church government. And yet, it also functions as a calendar for remembrance, confession and prayer. When we gather together in our meetings for worship, we are practicing a pre-arranged remembrance of our Lord. We wait on himFriends at Rockingham Monthly Meeting in expectant silence, and we welcome him into our midst. We remember him, and he dwells among us, teaching us.

When we answer the Queries together, we remember the scriptural injunction to, “confess [our] sins to one another and pray for each other so that [we] may be healed.”(2) When we conduct our business as a church, we take literally Christ’s promise that, “wherever two or three gather together in my name, there I am in the midst of them.”(3) Just as in our meetings for worship, we wait upon Jesus Christ and his Holy Spirit, seeking to be taught and guided as a community. We remember the Lord, and he remembers us.

This routine of remembrance that we maintain as Friends has become deeply important to me over the years. Just as weekly meeting for worship is a spiritual landmark for my week, monthly, quarterly and yearly meeting also serve as spiritual markers for me. Icon of the CrucifixionIn many ways, Yearly Meeting is my “Holy Week.” These days and seasons of formal remembrance are deeply helpful in my walk of repentance and new birth in the Lord.

Just as I find spiritual depth and meaning in the routine remembrance that we practice in Ohio Yearly Meeting, I also find nourishment in the liturgical calendar of the wider Church. Today is Good Friday, a day that the Christian Church has long set aside for remembering the brutal torture and execution of the Lord Jesus. This day follows a forty-day season of formal repentance, called Lent, during which we pay special attention to spiritually preparing ourselves to remember Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and his resurrection from the dead.

Observing Lent this year has been a blessing for me, deepening my awareness of Jesus’ sacrifice and ultimate victory over the powers of darkness and death. Just as participation in the liturgical calendar of Ohio Yearly Meeting has helped to knit me more deeply into that community, participation in the calendar of the wider Church has helped me to feel more connected to the universal Body of Christ. There is something powerful about joining with millions of other Ohio Yearly Meeting 2009Christians in thousands of other denominations and communions as we seek to be more aware of God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

This Sunday, Easter, will be the culmination of the yearly calendar for the worldwide Church, as we remember the culmination of God’s revelation in Jesus Christ. I pray that this season of remembrance will be a meaningful one for you, and that your membership in the Body of Christ be enriched by shared remembrance of our dear Savior. Let us thank him for his self-sacrificial love and invite him into our midst. Come, Lord Jesus!

1. 2 Timothy 3:5
2. James 5:16
3. Matthew 18:20

Freelance Ministry or the Body of Christ?

Now you are the Body of Christ and individually members of it. – 1 Corinthians 12:27

Since becoming a Christian in the Quaker tradition, I have witnessed the wide range of character of many different congregations. There are the obvious differences, like attendance, geography and theology. There are differences in class background, age and the historical pedigree of the Meeting.(1) These factors, and many others, come together to make each Meeting unique, possessing its own character and special mission in its context.

There is one aspect of the character of our Meetings that I have sensed for years, but am only now beginning to be able to name. It is a subtle difference in worldview that makes a huge difference in how the Meeting understands itself and manages its affairs. The difference has to do with the way the group understands the relationship between the community and the individual. While different communities fall at different points in a spectrum of Friends at Northwest Yearly Meeting 2009attitudes, I have noticed two broad tendencies in the way that our Meetings view themselves and the relationship between the Meeting and the individual members.

The first worldview, I will dub freelance ministry.(2) In this understanding, the community exists primarily as a resource for the work that each individual member is doing in the world. The congregation is, in practical terms, a free association of individuals who support one another in their particular callings. The other members of the Meeting may provide advice, emotional and spiritual support, and even financial backing to projects that other members undertake. Often, support consists primarily of fellowship and encouragement for each member in the good work that they do out in the world.

Freelance ministry is, in my experience, the most prevalent perspective found among Friends today. It is predominant in most of the Liberal-Unprogrammed Meetings I have visited, as well as in many pastoral and Evangelical congregations. Most of our communities view the individual as the primary recipient of God’s guidance, with the community serving as a resource for that ongoing journey of personal discovery and service to the wider world.

The alternative to the freelance worldview is a perspective which I label the Body of Christ view.(3) This view inverts the relationship between individuals and community. Instead of seeing the community as a resource for its members, those who are living in a Body of Christ worldview see the gifts of the individual members as being given by God for the community. Individuals who are members of a community with this outlook understand themselves as existing to serve the wider body, and spiritual gifts – whether Picnic at Ohio Yearly Meeting 2009vocal ministry, eldership, oversight, or the myriad of other gifts that the Holy Spirit bestows – are given to individuals in trust for the Meeting.

In this perspective, it is not so much that an individual is given a gift of administration; instead, the community is given a gift of administration through the individual member. This is why Friends have traditionally recorded gifts of ministry, eldership and oversight: Not primarily to validate the individual, but instead to recognize and care for the gifts that God has bestowed on the Church.

This view is much less common than the freelance perspective, and for my first few years among Friends, I encountered it mostly in literature. Many books I read described the importance of having a Body of Christ worldview – and I came to agree, in theory – but I rarely saw this worldview embodied in a living community. For a long time, I wondered whether this understanding was lost to Friends, discarded at some point in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Recently, however, I have seen that there are still Friends communities that maintain a way of life that is primarily grounded in a community-centered understanding. 

The main opportunity that I have had to see this worldview in action has been through my increasing involvement with Conservative Friends. As I began to spend more time with Friends in Ohio Yearly Meeting, I saw that their self-understanding was substantially different from many of the communities I had experienced before. Taking part more deeply
Plain-dressed family at OYM sessions in the life of Ohio Yearly Meeting, eventually becoming a member of Rockingham Monthly Meeting, I realize that my own worldview is changing dramatically.

While my ideal for Christian community has long been more community-focused, I had always been in contexts where the freelance ministry perspective predominated. I was a member of communities that were primarily focused on the individual, and this could not help but shape me. Though my ideology was more community-focused, in practice I was operating mostly under the assumptions of freelance ministry. This was natural, of course. We adapt ourselves to our immediate context, and for years I was compelled to mostly play by the rules of freelance ministry, even as I sought to encourage a more community-minded ethos where I was.

Since becoming a member of a Meeting that leans much more towards the Body of Christ side of the spectrum, I have found my rhetoric and practice shifting. I think much more in terms of “us” than in terms of “me.” When I examine the spiritual gifts of others or those that have been entrusted to me, I look to how they fit into the life of the community, rather than simply admiring them for their own beauty. I am being taught that the gifts that the Holy Spirit entrusts to me should not be the basis for pride – or even identity.

Calling and gifts change over the course of a lifetime, depending on the needs of the Body, and I am seeing that it is unwise to build my sense of self on things that are not, ultimately, mine. Safest, certainly, is to build upon the sure foundation that we find in humility and obedience to the ongoing guidance of the Holy Spirit. When I find my identity in Christ, rather than in the gifts he gives, I am much more likely to be flexible and obedient to leadings that defy my own sense of gifting. In a community with a Body of Christ ESR Students in Mexicoperspective, it is easier to relax and see that the gifts belong to the Church, not to me as an individual. It is easier to submit myself to the group, which in turn seeks to submit itself to Christ.

While it is in Ohio Yearly Meeting that I have discovered a community that really prioritizes the Meeting over the individual, I feel certain that there are many congregations outside of the Conservative Quaker tradition that live in a Body of Christ worldview. But it is not surprising that most of our Meetings seem to fall more into a freelance ministry perspective. The wider Western culture is so steeped in individualism, that to put the group first is a radical shift.

What are ways that we can encourage movement towards a more community-centered way of life in our Meetings? What does it take to develop a community where individuals are willing to lay down their own opinions, priorities and independence in order to build up the life of the group in Christ? How might we encourage the conditions where individuals can gain the level of trust and intimacy necessary to surrender our own prerogatives in order to build up the Body of Christ?

1. Talking about pedigree is complicated and ridiculous enough for its own series of posts. Is the Meeting Gurneyite, Hicksite, Wilburite? Modernist, Fundamentalist? New Meetings Movement, Neo-Conservative? There is so much confusion and contentiousness surrounding who we are as communities, and a lot of it is based in our history of divisions.

2. Ministry is just an anglicization of the Latin word for word for service, and in this post I am using the words “ministry” and “service” interchangeably. Of course, as Christian communities our service/ministry is done in the name of Jesus, and for this reason has a particular, sacramental character.

3. I take the term “Body of Christ” from 1 Corinthians 12:12-31.

Ministers and Elders Retreat in Barnesville

This weekend, Faith and I traveled out to southeastern Ohio to attend a retreat for Friends with a call to gospel ministry or eldership. The retreat was held at the Friends Center of Ohio Yearly Meeting, near Stillwater Meeting House.

Our facilitators for the weekend were Brian Drayton and Jan Hoffman, both ministers from New England Yearly Meeting, and Eric and SusanSusan Smith, an elder from Ohio Yearly Meeting. I really appreciated their work in helping us reflect on the distinctions between ministry and eldership. I was especially glad for their willingness to examine how these mysterious gifts manifest uniquely in each person. For the most part, we stayed away from one-size-fits-all definitions and sought to understand how God’s gifts were at work in each of our lives.

Besides our leaders, there were twenty of us in attendance – the maximum capacity for Friends Center. Six attenders were from Ohio Yearly Meeting, four from New England Yearly Meeting and three from Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. The rest of us came from Baltimore, Illinois, Western, New York, Canadian and Pacific Yearly Meetings, as well as a Friend from Alaska Friends Noah and JimConference. There was a wide range of experience represented. Some of us were seasoned Friends with decades of ministry/eldership experience, while others of us were still still emerging in our gifts. Some attended as a part of the process of discernment of calling and gifting.

I felt blessed to gather with Friends from a wide range of Yearly Meeting backgrounds under the explicitly Christian auspices of Ohio Yearly Meeting. While there were certainly a variety of perspectives and understandings present, it felt like we were brought together in Christ Jesus. Over the course of the weekend, we received God’s word in our hearts and heard substantial, grounded vocal ministry. We were strengthened and deepened in our common walk of Christian discipleship. We received wisdom and teaching as we continue to seek God’s purpose for our lives.

In our meeting for worship on Saturday evening, I felt that the word of the Lord to the group was that we are called to theBrian and Elaine baptism of fire that John the Baptist proclaimed and that Jesus offers us. We were reminded that we are born of water and given spirit/breath by our Creator. After these baptisms of water and spirit comes the baptism of fire, which is a spiritual circumcision. The baptism of fire is a cutting, a stripping down and cleansing of all rebellion and ungodliness. It is a baptism into holiness.

While we were called to pass through the crucible of inward spiritual baptism and crucifixion of self-will, we were also reminded that dying to self is the beginning of new life in Christ. We were exhorted to rememberJoe and Cathy that the good news of Jesus Christ is not the fire, but the life, joy and peace that lies beyond it. As ministers and elders, we are called to act as midwives to the birthing of new, everlasting life in the Spirit.

I was grateful to have the opportunity to be present at this gathering of Friends. Over the course of the weekend, the Holy Spirit worked on my heart, bringing me to a clearer understanding of my own spiritual condition. In particular, I became even more aware of my own need to be humbled and yielded to Christ’s lordship. I was shown that I am called to greater singleness of purpose in my life.

For years, I have run myself ragged, seeking to accomplish more, do more, be more. But this weekend the Lord deepened my understanding of what Christ asks of me. I saw that God desires not achievement but submission. The Spirit calls me to not greatness but yieldedness. To walk in the way of Jesus is to embrace not human honor and glory but anonymous love and self-sacrifice. I am convicted that my anxiety is a sign of my sin, not of Jan Hoffmanmy diligence. I am called to simple, childlike trust. Worry is not a part of God’s plan for me, because the power of the Lord is indeed over all.

I am grateful for the work of the organizers this weekend, and for all of the ministers and elders who traveled to be with us. I give thanks for the powerful ways that God has moved among us, and for Jesus’ resurrected presence in our midst. He continues to teach us, and I pray for the grace to yield to his instruction. I can trust his word to me. I know he loves me. My only job is to love him back, and share that love with others.

There is Power in the Name

In June of 2008, I attended the General Gathering of Conservative Friends in Barnesville, Ohio. This gathering, sponsored by Friends in Ohio Yearly Meeting, was one of my first interactions with the Conservative Quaker stream. Though I learned much and saw many Ohio Yearly Meeting Sessions, 2009new things at this gathering, there is one moment that stands out for me most vividly:
During one of the meetings for worship, a minister knelt down and delivered a vocal prayer. She declared that, “there is power in the name of Jesus – not the word, but the Name.” This immediately struck me as a deep teaching, and it is one that has stayed with me ever since. The longer that I have allowed this teaching to season and work on my heart, the deeper its significance has become in my own walk with Christ.

Many today have come to believe that Jesus is merely a historical figure – a time-bound prophet, like Moses or John the Baptist. Many good people today believe that “Christ” is just a word, a label for God that can be comfortably interchanged with any other. But I have been convinced – and my conviction grows daily – Convergent Friends Gathering, 2008that the name of Jesus the Messiah is indeed the Name above every name.(1)

His name is not, of course, the word itself. The word for “Jesus” varies depending on the language; and in some cultures, many people today are named “Jesus.” The name of Jesus is not the word itself, but the one to whom it refers: Jesus of Nazareth, the living Word of God. There is power in his name as we abide in him – in the living reality of Jesus, who once walked among us as the Word made flesh, suffered and died for our sakes, and who now lives within the hearts of those who accept him and allow him to transform our lives.

This past week, as I traveled among Friends in Philadelphia, the reality of the power of Jesus’ name has been especially alive to me. I have seen vivid examples of the difference it makes whether our meetings together are explicitly gathered in his name. I have also seen that the spiritual forces of darkness are desperate to discourage us from naming our submission to Christ as a community. As wellCenter City Philadelphia they should be. When we gather together in Jesus’ name, we are knitted together in his love, mercy and power. He gives us strength, comfort and courage for the work of the Kingdom. He casts out all fear.

When we fail to invite Jesus to come into our midst and gather us as a community, we risk losing the opportunity to be united in his presence. Jesus said he would always be with us(2), but this promise is not unconditional. It is when two or three are gathered together in his name, that Jesus promises to be present in our midst.(3) If we earnestly seek together the God and Father of our Lord Jesus, he will gather and teach us. But we must invite him in.

I must emphasize again that the power I describe does not come from the word “Jesus.” We can say, “Lord, Lord,” all day long, and yet if we are not living in humble submission to Christ’s living teaching and presence in our hearts, we put on a form of godliness while denying the living power of the Spirit.(4) Nevertheless, we must remember the importance of explicitly acknowledging Jesus inQuaker Camp, 2007 our gatherings. This reminder is especially crucial for Friends, whose default is to remain silent.

Often our silence does us credit, enabling us to avoid the profusion of empty words that so often characterizes the worship life of the wider Church. However, sometimes we remain silent when we should speak. We should take care that we never avoid speaking the name of Jesus in our gatherings. If we are ashamed of him, he will be ashamed of us.(5)

When we are deeply in love, it takes great effort not to say the name of the beloved. We want to repeat it – to shout it from the rooftops. We want to share the joy of our love with everyone we meet. Do we love Jesus this way? Do we want to share the beauty of the love we have found in him? Do we want to rejoice in his name in our gatherings as Friends? If we truly love Jesus, if we desireGreat Plains Yearly Meeting, 2008 his presence with us in our life together as a community, let us be unafraid to invite him into our gatherings.

There is power in the name of Jesus – not in the word, but in the Name. The forces of darkness shriek and rage against his life and presence; they seek to convince us to refrain from mentioning his name, whispering that we should be “respectable” and “broad-minded.” Despite all of the obstacles that we face, let us never be ashamed of his name, his life, his beautiful presence that lives among us. He loves us as an older brother cherishes and guards his sisters and brothers from those who seek to harm them. Let us confess our love for him without shame and without guile.

Come, Lord Jesus! You are our Life, our Truth, our Beauty and our Safety. We invite you to enter into our hearts and our communities. Stay with us this night, dear Lord. You are radiant!

1. Philippians 2:9
2. Matthew 28:20
3. Matthew 18:20
4. 2 Timothy 3:5
5. Mark 8:38