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Bridging the Generational Divide in Ministry

I recently had a conversation with an experienced pastor about his struggles in ministry. He lamented that he did not feel clear to retire, though he would soon be old enough. As much as he might like to relinquish his duties as pastor, he did not see many young men and women being called to the pastorate. If he were to retire now, he explained, it did not seem likely that there would be anyone to take over. What was going wrong in the Church, he wondered, that new leadership was not emerging?

My initial reaction to this pastor’s woes was to suggest that he get out of the way. I know for a fact that there are many young women and men today who are being called into ministry, and if they are not coming forth as leaders in his congregation, perhaps he should step down as pastor to make room for new leadership to emerge.

As I reflected more deeply on this pastor’s predicament, however, I realized that nurturing new leadership in his church would take a lot more than him simply standing aside and making way for the next generation. In fact, if he were to do that, it would probably devastate his congregation, which certainly relies on him for guidance, pastoral care, and spiritual support. The more I considered it, the more convinced I became that this pastor – and the thousands of church leaders across North America who face similar situations – did well to continue on in his service. The church needs him. That being said, there is still a lot of thinking to do about what it might look like for him and others to serve in such a way that nurtures and makes space for the next wave of leadership in the local church.

We as the Church are dealing with issues that can only be reckoned with when we recognize that we are living in a unique, transitional time; we must also realize the importance of honoring generational differences as we pass through this transition. Based on my own experience, I would venture to say that most of the men and women serving in leadership today in mainline Protestant and Quaker congregations are Boomers, as well as some from the World War II generation. When this pastor expressed his discouragement that the “next generation” was not emerging to take up service to the Church, I assumed he was referring to Generation X (born 1965-1979), and Millenials (born 1980-1995[?]).

While there are many in my generation who are being called to dedicate their lives to God’s service, many Millenials who are called to the ministry are called to forms of ministry that the older generations do not easily recognize. Our ministry often takes place in diverse networks, rather than in a strictly congregational context; we tend to see the Church as being a web of relationships in Christ, rather than fixed membership in a particular congregation. This makes things complicated when the generations seek to collaborate in ministry.
For their part, Boomers and World War II generation Christians have largely seen ministry as being by definition in the model of the traditional pastorate, and many of them are distressed that so few young people are emerging to carry on the model of full-time, released pastoral ministry in this new generation. And their distress is based in reality; while I know a number of excellent Generation-X and Millenial pastors in traditional settings, there simply aren’t enough to serve all of our churches.

Within my own tradition, the Religious Society of Friends, churches are laying themselves down left and right; with low numbers, elderly membership and little appetite for questioning the status quo, there is not much hope for these traditional congregations. Most younger Christians aren’t attending those dying churches, much less providing leadership. For many Xer and Millenial Christians, the older model does not compute with our way of life and experience of how God works in our culture.

Despite the desire on the part of many in the older generations to see a robust pastoral system along the lines of the traditional Protestant model, the nature of ministry is in flux in our context of early 21st century post-Christendom. The old-school pastoral model feels increasingly irrelevant for many in the post-modern generations. Many of us are not only not attracted to the pastorate – we are repelled by the labyrinthine committee structures and institutional jargon of our denominations. We feel a disconnect with the 20th-century structures of the modern Church because we intuitively sense that it fails to speak to the needs of many in the post-modern generations, no matter how much it still speaks to folks of the WWII-era and Boomer generations.

In my generation there seems to be a marked shift toward placing an emphasis on what Protestants would call “lay ministry” – that is, the model that the early Quakers advocated. While most of the history of Christianity has been dominated by the hierarchical structures of Christendom (the Church’s marriage to Empire from Constantine until present), both the early Friends and many Gen-X and Millenial Christians today are experimenting with ways of “being church” that don’t involve top-down institutionalism – whether in the form of priestly hierarchies or life-draining committee structures.

These emerging models are characterized by networks, local empowerment and free gospel ministry, without the need for a formal hierarchy among members of the Church. Everyone is called to share freely the gifts that God has given them to build up the Church. While different ones of us have different callings and gifts, we share together what we have, so that the Body of Christ might be strengthened and the Gospel proclaimed through our lives.

Many emerging (or converging) churches today are experimenting with a way of life together that does not require a paid pastor. For instance, I have visited a church in Indiana where the worship service consists of a shared meal followed by praise music and a period of waiting on the Risen Lord in silence, out of which spoken ministry is often given under the direct guidance of the Holy Spirit. Until recently, various members of the church – including children – had given prepared sermons, as well, but in the last few months they have not felt led to prepare messages ahead of time. They simply gather together, share a meal, sing songs of praise, and wait on the Lord himself to lead them. This is quite different from the traditional Protestant pastoral model, but well within the norms of what we know of from the early Church.

There are more and more churches springing up across North America that are being led to operate in these new, yet ancient, ways. They are emerging in rural areas and in dense population centers, among the privileged middle class and among the poor. These churches are drawing some who have long been involved with institutional church structures, as well as others who are coming to Christ for the first time in this new format. The Holy Spirit is at work, drawing an unlikely assortment of people together to follow after Jesus and become his disciples.

This is not to say that these new churches have completely broken with the older model – or with the older generations. In the cases that I am familiar with, the leaders of these churches tend to have strong relationships with the more traditional congregations where they came to be Christians, often still serving in leadership roles in WWII and Boomer generation churches while at the same time tending the flames of a new movement among Gen-Xers and Millennials. The overall pattern that I have observed is one of organic transition, not hasty revolution.

It has become clear to me in my experience of this emerging movement of post-modern churches that the younger generations of ministers are quite willing to work side-by-side with their older colleagues. The defiant rebellion for which the Boomers were so famous does not seem to be present among most Gen-Xers or Millenials. The fact that the rising generations have different worldviews and needs than their predecessors should not prevent us from collaborating and supporting one another; it should not even mean we need to split organizationally. However, in order to walk together faithfully as the Church, all living generations will need to learn how to encourage one another in our strengths and be intentional about bearing one another up where we are weak.

What might this look like, practically speaking? To begin with, Boomers in particular will have to humble themselves. I cannot imagine anything more humbling than to recognize that my own model of ministry – the way that God has worked in my life- is not eternal or universal. God provides each generation with the tools and forms that it needs to preach the Gospel to the people in that social and cultural context. Whatever God called us to in the 20th century, the 21st century is going to look a lot different.

That being said, if the Boomers are willing to humble themselves before the Lord, he will lift them up and use them to counsel and equip a new generation of leaders. Many of these new ministers will bear little outward resemblance to their predecessors. Many of them will never be pastors, in the traditional sense. But, if Boomer pastors and other Boomer church leaders are able to accept the shift in ministry style and church structure that is taking place in this new century, they will be in a position to support the transmission of the Gospel message to a new generation of Christians.

To accomplish this, there is no reason for most Boomer pastors to stop being pastors. It is merely a question of shifting the priorities of the pastorate. While before, perhaps, the emphasis had been on maintaining old institutions, the focus needs to shift to nurturing, discipling, and empowering emerging leaders. And here is the greatest challenge and the most exciting promise: These daring Boomer leaders will be creating space for a totally new thing to spring forth in their churches and denominations.

These new leaders won’t look like the old ones – won’t think like them, won’t operate like them. But they will serve the same Lord, and they will be united in bonds of mutual love and affection with the older leaders who have mentored them and released them for ministry. As these new ministers adapt to meet the needs of the younger generations, they will maintain the unity of the Church, because their organic, spiritual and relational unity with the previous generations in the Church will never be in question.

Similar humility and intergenerational cooperation will be required of older Christians who presently dominate most local church and denominational institutions. Time and again, I hear the lament come up from the extensive committee structures of the Quaker world: “We don’t have any young people!” And they don’t. Xers are practically invisible, and Millenials are generally token participants in institutional affairs.

It is time that the WWII and Boomer generations in church leadership seriously consider whether their committees and institutions are truly relevant to those who have come after them. In many cases, they are not. In some cases, this will probably mean that committees, structures and organizations need to be laid down entirely. But this will not be the case across the board. Certainly, many of our committees and institutions have not entirely outlived their usefulness; but their focus may need to shift.

Just as in the case of pastoral ministers, the committees and institutional leaders of our churches and denominations will need to change their priorities from maintaining the status quo to nurturing and creating space for the growth of the new thing that God is doing in the emerging generations. This will mean big changes, and it will mean releasing control of cherished programs and institutions, giving younger Christians a real, adult share in leadership. It will be hard, and even painful; times of transition always are. But it will result in the empowerment of muted voices in the Church and allow Christ to work through us to share his love with all generations.

So far, it sounds like folks in the WWII and Boomer generations are being asked to make all the sacrifices. And it’s true: Greater responsibility does fall on those who have decades more experience and grounding in the faith, and in the institutions of the Church. But we must also ask hard things of our rising Gen-X and Millenial leaders. As tempting as it might be for inexperienced young Christians to leave behind all of the drama of the Church, we as emerging leaders must accept our role as agents of transformation within the existing Church. We cannot claim to love our older brothers and sisters in Christ if we refuse to labor patiently alongside them, even when we are frustrated by the painfully slow pace of change in our churches and denominations.

This does not mean that we should not push for change. It certainly does not mean that we should avoid innovative and unexpected ministry that God calls us to. On the contrary, the road we are to walk will be filled with challenges. The fact is, God very often calls us into conflict with our brothers and sisters in the Church. This is how God breaks us open and humbles us so that we are ready to do Christ’s work. Because it is scary when God does a new thing, we should expect resistence, even from other Christians. But we as Gen-X and Millenial leaders in the Church have a responsibility to submit ourselves to the Church. This means waiting and demonstrating patience as we struggle through the hard places. This means not running away when issues arise that frighten or anger us. Submission to the Church means embracing conflict, seeing it as an opportunity for growth rather than a danger to be fled from.

While WWII-era and Boomer Christians will often feel stretched by how much we Xers and Millenials want to change the Church’s way of doing things, we younger folk are bound to feel stifled by the inertia and reluctance to shift gears on the part of our older brothers and sisters. To be frank: We need to suck it up. The Church of Jesus Christ has been in existence for two thousand years, and the Church is by necessity quite conservative. We as the Body of Christ have a responsibility to hold on to what we know is true and weigh innovation carefully. As younger Christians, we need to get used to the idea that change takes time; and we should repay the mentoring, support and nurture that we receive from older Church leaders with a certain amount of forbearance in the face of resistance to change.

While WWII and Boomer generation church leaders and pastors nurture emerging leaders and make space for new and innovative forms of ministry and church life, rising leaders of the Gen-X and Millenial generations must take care to honor the experience and tradition that is held by the older generations. This will mean holding tension and dealing with outright conflict. We do well to thank God when conflict comes to the surface, because it is through the healthy expression of conflict that we as the Church are given opportunity to confess our sins to one another and be brought together in Christ as we recognize our desperate need for him as a people. When we realize that we do not have all the answers ourselves, we are given the chance to humble ourselves at Jesus’ feet, receiving his guidance together.

To be able to move forward in unity, we need to find how Christ is leading us to walk together, caring for all generations of Christians in our fellowships, and to reach out to those who have not yet found the joy and peace that is in Christ Jesus. There is a great people to be gathered in this generation, and God wants to use us to bring in the harvest. But we must first be transformed as a Church. Neither rigid adherence to the church folkways of the past century, nor a complete break with tradition will prepare us for the work that God has in store for us. Only by listening together for how God wants to use the gifts of the whole Church, and by being faithful in upholding one another in those gifts, can we faithfully proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ across the generations.

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

Dear Friends,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Micah Bales

Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #19 – After Months of Prayer and Preparation, YAF Gathering 2010 is this Weekend

Dear Friends of Truth,

This past month has been one of intense, final preparations for the Young Adult Friends Gathering that will take place this weekend in Wichita, Kansas. We on the planning committee have juggled Arkansas River - Wichita, Kansasthe logistics of food preparation and where to purchase necessary supplies; the ins and outs of insurance regulations; putting  together information packets and nametags; and making plans for housing conference participants. On top of this, we have made a concerted effort to get the word out, so that all YAFs could learn about the conference and consider whether they were being led to attend.

As I write to you today, we still have many details ahead of us: rides to and from the airport, bus station and train station; housing assignments; food preparation; and more. However, despite the details that remain, I feel confident in saying that we are on course. This gathering is happening. The rest is up to God.
It has always been up to God, of course. It was God who brought us together as a planning committee; who gave each of us a heart for this ministry of reconciliation among Friends. It was God who guided us and showed us what our theme was to be – drawing on 1 University Friends Meeting HouseJohn 1:1-3 – Bearing Witness to the Word Among Us: Witness,  Testimony and Transformation. It is God who has raised up Dave Williams of Barclay College to be our main speaker; God spoke to his heart, and led him to share of himself and his experience of Christ with Young Adult Friends. It is God who is drawing approximately seventy-five Friends from across North America to come together this weekend in Wichita, to see what love can do – so that we may be witnesses to God’s mercy and power, to the ways in which God is working among Friends across the continent.

This is the faith that we on the planning committee had to have in order to stay sane during this planning process: That God is in Keeper of the Plains - Wichita, Kansascontrol, guiding and caring for us as we seek to be instruments for God’s purposes. We have sensed God’s providence in the way the Spirit has spoken to each of our hearts – not only those of us on the planning committee, but also our speaker, works hop leaders, Bible study leaders, pastoral care team members; indeed, to all of us who will be in attendance this weekend. We have been called together for a purpose, and I am waiting with baited breath to see what God will do with us as we are gathered in God’s name.
 
Please pray for all of us – planners, leaders, participants, young adults and older adults. Pray that we may know Christ’s presence in our midst as a community, and that we may be brought into true unity in the Spirit. May God’s Word be revealed to us  – let us hear it and see it and touch it, so that we may be witnesses to the whole world of what we have experienced of the Truth.

Your friend in the life and power of the Spirit,

Micah

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

Queridos Amigos,

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

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

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

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

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

Registration Deadline Nears for Young Adult Friends Gathering 2010

Dear Friends,

The final registration deadline for the 2010 Young Adult Friends Gathering in Wichita is fast approaching. As the event nears, I would like to share with you where we are at in terms of our sense of the spiritual state of the gathering, as well as what this conference means for the wider Religious Society of Friends.

This gathering may prove to be the most diverse cross-branch event for Young Adult Friends since at least the 1960s. To date, we have at least two registrations in from nearly every Yearly Meeting in North America. We are forecasting that Friends from Evangelical Friends Church; pastoral Meetings in Friends United Meeting; and Friends General Conference will participate in roughly equal numbers. This is an incredible opportunity for P1010915Friends from across the spectrum to come together and engage with what the Spirit is calling us to today. I feel very blessed to be a part of this process.

Our hope is that this gathering will be a space where Friends from a wide variety of backgrounds, self-understandings, beliefs and identities can find unity in that which is eternal: the Spirit of God. It is our prayer that everyone who attends the gathering feel able to bring their whole selves, and to be loved and respected by Friends, just as God loves each of us without condition.

The conference this Memorial Day weekend has been the focus of prayer for so many for the last six months, and we as planners are grateful for the spiritual support that we have been given as we have sought to provide a safe and nurturing space for all Friends. Thank you for your prayers, and please continue to hold us in the light of God’s love.

As incredible as it seems to those of us on the planning  committee, the conference is University Friends Meeting Housealmost upon us. The gathering takes place less than three weeks from today, May 28-31; and this Saturday – 15 May – is the last day to register for the event. For those of you between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five, we hope that you will join us for this historic opportunity to come together with other young adult Quakers from across North America to see what love can do in our midst. For those who are too young or too old to attend – please hold us in your prayers as we seek to open ourselves to the joy, peace, humility and tenderness of God’s love.

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

Dear Friends of Truth,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your friend in Love,

Micah Bales

Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #17 – Growing Roots in the City and in the Soul

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


William Penn House 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.

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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 bymartinfamily 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.
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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


pearlstone retreat center 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


friends center sign 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.

stillwater meeting house 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.

Looking Ahead


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,

Micah Bales