This month has felt like a chance to take a wider view of the work that God is calling me to. It’s easy to get bogged down in tasks and details, but recently I’ve had some great opportunities to break out of my regular routine and engage in ministry that is outside of my comfort zone. At the same time, I’m finding new opportunities to reflect on my service, exploring how my particular call and gifts fit into the life of our community as a whole.
The highlight of November was a visit among friends in Philadelphia. The purpose of my trip was to encourage the Friends of Jesus community that is emerging there, but I think that they encouraged me more! I got to see the Spirit’s power at work again and again, as friends lived into their calling as children of light, sharing their faith with boldness.
I arrived first in West Chester, Pennsylvania, where a group of friends were holding an evening meeting for worship in one family’s home. The hosts and organizers of the meeting were Conservative Quakers, and folks from the West Philly Quaker community at the Friends of Jesus Fellowship added to their numbers. It was a beautiful assembly of God’s people, all united in our desire to draw near to one another in the life we find in Jesus. Both before and after worship, I was able to connect with many different individuals, some of whom I knew well already, and others who I was pleased to get to know on a deeper level. This precious time really gave me the sense of being re-connected with the life of some of God’s faithful workers in the Philadelphia area.
This was good preparation for the following day, when I accompanied Hoot Williams as he led a street outreach event in downtown Philadelphia. If the evening meeting for worship in West Chester provided the spiritual depth and grounding, the outreach event made room for a living expression of that life and power in the world. We spent the day together, holding a public meeting for worship within sight of Independence Hall.
As we worshiped, several of us took an active role in reaching out to the many people who were passing by. We invited folks to take a red diamond as a symbol of the power of love in the face of adversity. For those who were willing to talk longer, we were able to share about our community and the sense of hope and joy that compelled us to stand outside all day on a Saturday and strike up conversations with strangers.
This was a really powerful experience for me. I had not done this kind of street outreach since the Occupy movement, and I had never done street outreach as a way to invite others into conversations about faith. In many ways, this was a scary thing to do, but it was helpful to have the red diamonds as an icebreaker. It also helped to let those we talked to set the terms of the conversation. If they wanted to talk about deep things, learn more about our community, or talk about their own faith, we were ready for that. If they just wanted to take a red diamond and move along, that was OK, too.
It was amazing to see a variety of brothers and sisters from the Philadelphia Quaker community turn out for this outreach event. It blessed me to see spiritual gifts being used, watch individuals wrestle with leadings and explore what God’s call might be for them in the days ahead. In some way that is hard to describe, taking our faith into the streets had the effect of making it more real, immediate and concrete. I experienced in a fresh way the meaning of Jesus’ words: “The Kingdom of God has come near.”
Out of this experience, I am hungry for more opportunities to do both the hidden, spiritual work of deep worship and the concrete, visible labor of incarnational ministry in our city streets. I need both the inward and the outward journey, and I want to be part of a community that is engaged with great passion and joy on both of these levels. I see that our brothers and sisters in Philadelphia are finding ways to do this, and I hope that this gospel fire will spread and ignite the hearts and minds of the rest of us across our many local communities. It is time for us to live and preach the good news of Jesus with boldness!
On a personal level, I am grateful to report that I am receiving some additional assistance in walking this path. This past month, Friends of Jesus – DC Metro Area appointed a support team to work with me as I seek to be faithful to the public ministry that God has called me into. This team will provide help in my discernment process, serving as spiritual advisers and encouragers for me.
I’m blessed that FOJ-DC Metro Area is embracing my ministry as being integral to its own. Together, we will continue to tease out how I can best serve as an integrated member of the body, rather than flying solo. I am grateful for friends’ willingness to accompany me in this ministry, seeking to build up the gifts and ministry of whole community.
In other news, our dog, Austin, continues to be sweet and adorable. He’s a wonderful addition to our family, and his presence encourages greater connections between us and our housemates and neighbors. I don’t think I really expected this beforehand, but I am discovering that dogs can be remarkable community-builders. I am grateful for the ways that each of us – including our non-human companions – bring our own special gifts to the life we share together.
I hope that you are beginning to sense the deep joy of the Christmas season. In spite of the dimmer days and longer nights, we are reminded that the living presence of Jesus is coming to birth in our midst. May you experience his awesome, loving presence this Advent.