The beauty of the spring is all the more radiant for me because of how challenging the winter has been. From November through February, I felt almost overwhelmed by stress and anxiety. The process of looking for a home in the DC area left me gasping for breath. The Occupy movement began its transition to a post-encampment stage, and for a couple of months it felt like everything was falling apart. As new homeowners, many new expenses emerged and stress over finances grew.
Ultimately, I needed to get out of DC in order to get my head on straight. In mid-February, way opened for me to make a visit to Friends in Philadelphia. I had opportunities with a number of folks who were clearly putting God first, allowing the Spirit’s leading to shape every aspect of their lives. In some cases, this had profound financial implications. I was inspired by the example of Jon Watts and Maggie Harrison, who are focusing on the ministry that God has given them to do. They are demonstrating their faith in the Lord in very concrete ways.
In the last several weeks, I have begun to understand that what God is requiring of me at this moment is to focus my attention on the Occupy movement. In particular, I am feeling God’s call to throw myself into full-time organizing for the Occupy Church, an ecumenical Christian witness for economic justice in our local communities. One concrete way that I and other Christians are bearing witness is through our partnership with Occupy Our Homes DC.
Occupy Church has a particular role to play in all of this. I, and other Occupy Church organizers, are working to develop relationships with clergy and members of area churches with the ultimate goal of building a coalition based in the local community that can stand up to the abusive lenders that are forcing families out of their homes. In the months ahead, I will be focusing much of my energy on this effort, as we seek to stand with the families that are being ruined by the callous greed of the big banks.
Jon Watts is a Quaker musician and spoken word poet, born and raised in Richmond, Virginia as part of Baltimore Yearly Meeting. In the coming days, he is releasing his fourth album, Clothe Yourself in Righteousness. I was blessed to have Jon ask me to review his album.
As a youth, Jon says he was a cultural Quaker. He participated in Quaker camps and activities, but he was not convicted in his heart of the Truth that Friends proclaim. After high school, Jon studied at Guilford College as a part of the Quaker Leadership Scholars Program. It was there that he began to personally wrestle with the Friends tradition.
Following college, Jon spent a year at Pendle Hill – a Quaker study center near Philadelphia – during which time he released a third album, The Art of Fully Being. This album was a more mature version of Self. It was a self-exploration for sure, but one rooted in Jon’s deepening walk with God. In The Art of Fully Being, Jon’s spiritually grounded concern for the human and natural world comes across clearly. We see the way that God has been tendering Jon’s heart, healing him of past wounds, and calling him into greater faithfulness.
In Clothe Yourself in Righteousness, Jon finds a dynamic balance between past and present, self and community, spirit and flesh. This is the work of a mature artist who has received the courage to look deep inside himself and bear the Truth. Guided by the witness of Christ in his heart, Jon’s music reveals the intimacy and tenderness of God’s love.
Dear Friends of Truth,
Since the fall, I have felt led to focus most of my energy and attention on the work here in DC. This has involved getting more deeply involved in nurturing Capitol Hill Friends, as well as participating in other ministry here in the city, such as Food Not Bombs in Congress Heights. It has also required me to carefully examine any travel that I might think of undertaking, since every day spent on the road is one where I am not building relationships in my local community. For the last six months or so, this new preference for local work over regional or national work has caused me to travel far less than in years past.
However, this month, I have been back on the road, visiting Friends in Richmond, Indiana and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I was called out to Richmond to give a presentation on Earlham School of Religion‘s social media strategy at the Earlham College Board of Trustees meeting. I am part of a team that is collaborating to fashion ESR’s outreach online, including our presence on Facebook, Twitter, and a new blog, Learning and Leading, which we launched in late January. I’m particularly excited about the blog, which has been posting three times a week and which has drawn a significant amount of site traffic in its first month of activity.
The presentation felt like it went well, and after a few days of meetings with friends and colleagues in Richmond, I made my way out to Philadelphia. I think I had forgotten how far Philadelphia was from Richmond! I ended up making the trip in two legs, staying in western Pennsylvania one night, to avoid exhaustion. When I finally arrived in the Philadelphia area, Thomas Swain, clerk of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, was kind enough to open his home to me, and I stayed with him for a night. It was wonderful to catch up with Thomas, and I was very pleased that Seth Hinshaw, clerk of Ohio Yearly Meeting, was able to join us for the evening, too. Spending the evening with the clerks of two Yearly Meetings – not too bad, I thought!
The next night, I attended the West Philly Worship Group, a Quaker community that has been meeting in the western part of the city for the last two years. The attendership is overwhelmingly made up of twenty-somethings, but there is a significant minority of older folks. The WPWG has become something of an attraction for many young adult Friends, with some Friends moving to Philadelphia, at least in part, to participate in this community. It was good to reconnect with a lot of Friends I knew from various YAF gatherings, as well as meet new Friends and better acquaint myself with how the Spirit of God is at work among the younger echelons of Quakers in Philadelphia.
For the rest of my time in Philadelphia, I stayed with Helene Pollock and her spouse Arlene Kelly, who graciously hosted me in their home in Germantown. The next morning, I joined Helene for a six-AM prayer service at Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church. I was astonished at the depth and power of the prayer of this little group of perhaps half a dozen prayer warriors. I was also struck by how similar their prayer service was to a Quaker meeting. The power of the Lord was strong among them, and I was blessed to be with them. I needed to take a nap in the mid-morning after getting up so early, but by the late morning Helene and I were in center-city Philadelphia, visiting folks at the Friends Center.
The next day, I spent a lot of time hanging out with Jon Watts. Jon and I have become increasingly good friends over the course of the last few years, and it was wonderful to reconnect with him and get a glimpse into his life in Philadelphia. Jon is a very gifted musician, and he is presently in full-time production of a new album that will focus on the theme of faithfulness and nakedness (!). Jon and I took some time to walk together and share our common struggles as we seek to be faithful to God’s leading in our lives. It is a great challenge to be obedient to the Inward Voice of God rather than the seductive voice of self-will, but with God’s help and the support of Friends, all things are possible.
Later that evening, Helene and Arlene opened their home for a called meeting for worship that included Friends from around the city. We enjoyed good fellowship, and we particularly felt the presence of the Holy Spirit over the dinner table. After the meeting for worship, I was able to share with Friends gathered about my call, the work that Capitol Hill Friends is doing, and the wider movement that we sense is afoot. Then, I invited Friends there to share their own sense of how Jesus is alive and active in Philadelphia. I sensed a great hunger among many of those gathered to go deeper in their walk with Christ. I pray that the Holy Spirit will accompany and guide Friends in Philadelphia, and that God will provide an opening for gathering Friends together in Christ.
The next day, Helene and I made a trip out to New Jersey to visit Martin Kelley and his family. He and his wife Julie have just recently had their third son, Gregory, and it was good to be with them and meet the new addition to their family. Apart from the simple joy of being with Martin, Julie and their kids (and Martin’s mom!), it was a blessing to see Martin and Helene connect. I believe that the most important work of my trip was to make connections between like-minded (and like-hearted) individuals. I trust that God has work for us to do together, and I am excited to see how Christ is gathering his people.
My trip to Philadelphia ended with a Sunday-morning visit to Middletown Friends Meeting. Middletown has a reputation for being one of the more Conservative-leaning Meetings in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, and from what I could tell based on one visit, this seems to be the case. It was a blessing to be among them. Following meeting for worship, I made my way over to nearby Pendle Hill, where my wife Faith had spent the weekend at Pendle Hill’s Board meetings. It was nice to be able to spend the car ride home with her after a week and a half apart.
Back on the home-front, things are going well here in DC. Attendance has been lower than normal at Capitol Hill Friends since Christmas, but worship has been good and relationships continue to develop. We are looking at changes to our meeting schedule, as some of our attenders can no longer come on Wednesday evenings. We may soon begin meeting on Sunday evenings. Please keep praying for our worship group, which is still quite embryonic and fragile. Capitol Hill is a hard place to plant a new Meeting – especially one that runs so contrary to the culture of formality, power and status that permeates much of our city.
Above all, please pray that God send more workers into the harvest field. There are so few here who have the time and energy to put into developing Christian community; and, as we all know, community takes an incredible amount of work! Please pray the Holy Spirit to call and release women and men for the service of building up the body of Christ here in DC, and throughout the nation and the world.
Your brother in Jesus our Lord,
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 new 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 – that 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 well 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 in 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 desire 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
When I first became a part of the Religious Society of Friends, I remember wondering whether I was joining a dying tradition. One of the first Quaker elders I encountered after my convincement admitted to me that she did not know whether the Quaker tradition had a future as a living body of believers and practitioners. As a new convert, I believed (and still do believe) that the Friends tradition and community have something unique and precious to offer the world, and so I have spent the last six years steeping myself in both.
On the one hand, I have dedicated myself to disciplined study, both independently and in the form of completing the Master of Divinity program at Earlham School of Religion, a Quaker seminary. I have also invested very deeply in the living community of faith, traveling throughout the United States to visit Quakers from a wide variety of backgrounds and contexts. My travels among Friends across the continent have deepened my understanding of the state of Quakerism in North America.
I have seen much that gives me cause for alarm. I have encountered deep divisions among Friends – over belief, practice, politics and ideology, as well as over the many mundane matters that have a way of cropping up in our life together in community. I have seen groups of Friends where process and structure are more esteemed than faith and discipleship. I have seen Meetings – of all theological stripes – where the risen presence of Jesus is no longer welcomed and the continuing teaching of the Holy Spirit is resisted.
Meanwhile, the active membership of the Religious Society of Friends in the United States is extremely low. For example, I learned recently that the average Sunday-morning attendance for the one hundred and three local Meetings of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting was 2,847 adults and 624 children in April, 2010. This is arguably the largest body of Friends in the United States!
In our Meeting, my wife and I represent one third of the full membership, and our Yearly Meeting probably has an active membership of under two hundred. Most of the Meetings that I have visited in recent years have largely consisted of folks over the age of fifty. Despite recent Young Adult Friends gatherings, the Religious Society of Friends seems to be failing to speak to most Gen-Xers and Millennials.
Despite the decrepitude of the modern-day Religious Society of Friends, I do see signs of hope. There is a movement gathering online, and increasingly in local communities, to bring the best of our rich Quaker heritage to bear on our present-day context. The international (though still mostly American) blogging community that orbits around QuakerQuaker is a major organ of this steadily percolating movement, as Friends are being drawn together from across the historical branches to discover how Christ Jesus is still at work in our midst, gathering a people together in his Spirit. The term “convergent” has emerged as a short-hand for this ongoing conversation about how we can live out our ancient Quaker Christian tradition in a post-modern world.
In recent years, there has been a remarkable emergence of new worship groups and Meetings that embody the creative edge of the Friends tradition: Freedom Friends Church in Salem, Oregon; New City Friends in Detroit; Capitol Hill Friends in DC; a new Hispanic Friends church in Indianapolis; Old Town Friends Fellowship in Baltimore; the West Philly Worship Group in Philadelphia; and the Underground Connection in Fountain City, Indiana – to name a few. Most of these groups are characterized by an openness to experimentation with the wealth of tradition and experience represented by the several branches of Quakerism – especially the Conservative tradition. There is also some openness to learning from and incorporating elements of Protestant and Liturgical traditions.
These are hopeful signs for the future, especially when we remember that the early Quaker movement was a confluence of a variety of Christians streams – especially the Seekers, Independents, and Puritans. Quakerism was born out of a froth of experimentation and the discovery of new life given to previously dead forms through the immediate life and power of the Holy Spirit. We find ourselves once again living in a time when the old forms no longer seem to fit, and we are seeking ways to connect more authentically with Emmanuel.
The big question in my mind is: Will the existing structures of institutional Quakerism cooperate with this fresh movement of the Holy Spirit? Will the old wineskins of our Religious Society humble themselves to be emptied into new vessels – new communities, structures, networks and worship styles? Will this generation pour its resources into the building up of this new movement, or will it resist – vainly struggling to extend the relevance of our arthritic and deadening committee structures, constipated worship styles, and irrelevant organizations?
The winter has been long for Friends in North America. The long night began, perhaps, in the early days of the Quietest period and became acute in the twentieth century. The Religious Society of Friends is now at a point of extremity: Something must change, or our community and tradition will not survive. Will we choose the abundant life we receive when we let go of our own expectations and paradigms? Will we lay down our nets, leaving behind the boats of our forebears to seek another shore, walking humbly beside Jesus?
The winter has been long, and snow still covers the ground. But I see signs of life – little shoots of green poking their way out from beneath the numbing blanket that threatens to smother us. Let us nurture the tender shoots of life that God has planted. As we set aside our own expectations and embrace the infinite love and wisdom of God, we will find our way forward in unity, love and justice.
Dear Children of the Day,
Greetings in the love of Christ. The last month has been full of work and blessings, and there is much to report. After being able to spend some weeks at home in DC, travel has reemerged as a signature feature of my life and work. In the months ahead, my schedule looks to grow only more intense as I work to strengthen Friends throughout my region and in North America as a whole.
In the DC Area
I have been mostly settled in DC for the past month, and I’ve had the chance to focus more on ministry within the local region. Capitol Hill Friends continues to meet, and Faith and I attend the nearby Takoma Park Meeting on an increasingly regular basis. We have also made two visits this month to Old Town Friends in the neighboring city of Baltimore. I have enjoyed getting to know the Friends at these two Meetings, and I hope to work with them to nurture the life of the Spirit in our midst.
Most of this month has been a time of slow, quiet development. I am frustrated sometimes at how slowly my roots seem to be growing here in the District of Columbia. However, I know that building relationships takes a long time, and that it may well be years before I truly feel connected with my new hometown. The challenge is deepened by the fact that my professional life is largely unconnected to DC, and calls for frequent travel to other cities. Though I am impatient to go deeper in developing relationships where I live, I seek to trust in God’s timing, which is often very different from what I would prefer. I recognize that friendships do not develop overnight.
Travels to New Jersey and Philadelphia
In contrast to most of the month, this last week has been one of intense activity and travel. To begin with, Faith and I traveled to New Jersey and Philadelphia to meet with Friends there and encourage participation by young adult Friends in the Memorial Day YAF gathering in Wichita. We were honored to stay with Martin Kelley and his family at their home in New Jersey. It was good to re-connect with them over pizzelle, tea, pizza, and late-night card games. They were kind enough to let us use their house as a base of operations while we visited Friends in the city.
Our time with Friends in Philadelphia felt good. We met with Emily Stewart and Sadie Forsythe (young adult Friends coordinators at FGC and Philadelphia YM, respectively) and heard from them about how their communities were feeling about the upcoming YAF conference in Wichita. It was helpful to hear their sense of the communities where they serve as leaders. Following our time with them, we were able to have lunch with most of the YAF staff members of Philadelphia-based Quaker organizations (FGC, PYM and AFSC, in particular). It was a blessing to be able to share about the Wichita gathering and to address questions and concerns that Friends had about the event. The meeting left us feeling hopeful that we were developing good relationships with Friends in Philadelphia.
We felt grateful for the chance to spend time with Julian Brelsford, who works for Philadelphia Yearly Meeting and has spent a great deal of his personal time and energy doing work in Haiti, where he was present during the recent, devastating earthquake. Faith and I appreciated his spirit, and we are grateful for the work that we see God doing through him.
We were also able to visit Betsy Blake, a fabulous Quaker minister and entrepreneur (her laundry detergent is amazing!) who is living as Pendle Hill‘s artist in residence this year. It was a joy to be with her and to share with one another what we have been experiencing in the last weeks and months, as well as to connect with some other YAFs who were present for a concert.
FWCC Section of the Americas Annual Meeting
That evening, we drove to the FWCC Section of the Americas annual meeting site outside of Baltimore, and I attended the Quaker Youth Pilgrimage working group the following morning. I will be serving as a leader for the program this summer, which will take place in Oregon and Washington state. The pilgrimage will bring together Quaker youth (aged 16-18) from across the FWCC Section of the Americas and the European and Middle East Section, to spend a month together exploring our heritage as Friends and deepening our relationship with God. I have not had much experience with youth work before, but I feel that God is leading me to serve in this way. I trust that God will work through me, despite my sense of personal inadequacy for the task.
Ministers Retreat in Ohio
After an evening back in DC, I was off again on Friday morning to a ministers retreat at Friends Center, in Barnesville, Ohio, facilitated by Brian Drayton, author of the widely-read “On Living With a Concern for Gospel Ministry.” The gathering included almost thirty ministers from throughout the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic. There was a very strong showing from Ohio Yearly Meeting – I was informed that most of Ohio’s active, recorded ministry was present at the event – and there were a number of Friends from Baltimore, Illinois and Ohio Valley yearly meetings.
Our time together was well-spent. The weekend was a time of almost constant worship and deep, expectant waiting on the Lord. It was a blessing to be among so many Friends who shared a concern for Gospel ministry, and I felt that my relationships in the Lord were deepened with a number of individuals. Perhaps most importantly, I had the opportunity to connect with other ministers from the DC area, two of whom I had never met before. I am hopeful that we might seek ways to support one another in our Gospel labors in the region.
Faith and I will be traveling again to New York state this weekend, to attend a gathering of Young Adult Friends and encourage them in their engagement with the Spirit. Then, on April 3rd, we will be hosting a regional YAF gathering at the William Penn House, for young adults in the DC/Baltimore area. Please pray for these events: May God pour out the Holy Spirit on us and deepen our commitment to Christ’s work in the world. Also, please pray that God prepare us for the challenges and the blessings that will come to those who gather in Wichita this Memorial Day weekend.
Blessings to all of you in the name of our Lord, who longs to gather us under his wing like a mother hen does her chicks. May we be brought into peace and unity in Christ’s name.
Yours in the love and hope that is in Christ Jesus,