Late December is a very special time for me. The churning of the holiday season crowds out my normal routines, and my attention shifts dramatically. In this season, personal transformation seems especially within reach. Between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day, my life is put on lock down and the relentless silence of dark winter nights strips me bare. This fallow time takes a hold of me, forcing me to cease my constant activity and to reflect on the choices I have made.
It is also a season to become more aware of God’s faithfulness. As I recall everything that has happened in the last year – not to mention the last decade! – it is so clear to me that I could never have made it to this moment without ongoing divine intervention. With the 20/20 hindsight of late December, I see more clearly how the Spirit has been present with me throughout the highs and lows. Even in the times when I felt abandoned, God never left me.
The last year has definitely had its share of lows, both for me and for Capitol Hill Friends. For the last three years, we have operated under a model which focused on the weekly worship event as the heart of our community. Beginning in late 2009, we extended an invitation for those in the DC area to join us for waiting worship, Bible reading, singing and a home-cooked meal. Our times together were powerful, and the worship was almost always deep.
Yet, after almost three years of ongoing effort, Capitol Hill Friends never grew into the kind of sustainable community that we hoped for. Our attendance fluctuated according to the seasons, but never grew very large. The formal membership of our group held fairly steady, too – three core members, plus one Friend who sojourned with us for a year, and two others who sojourned for a summer. Despite the power of Christ’s presence in our times of worship, the community failed to gel.
We finally reached a crisis point this fall. Our attendance fell greatly near the end of the summer – a normal seasonal fluctuation – but it did not recover in the fall. At the time of year when we had come to expect renewed energy and vitality in our meetings, we were averaging 4-6 people. It was increasingly clear that our way of operating had become unsustainable.
What needed to change? Were we being unfaithful? Were we even still being called to engage in this ministry? We put everything on the table. More than anything, we wanted to be faithful to how the Lord was guiding us.
After extensive prayer and consideration, we felt clear that we had not been released from the work of planting a new Quaker community in the Washington, DC region. But we also saw that we would have to let go of many of our assumptions about how a Quaker Meeting was supposed to be. We were still clinging to many patterns that kept us in our Quaker comfort zone, but which held us back from speaking to the needs of our city.
We have emerged from this period of discernment with a commitment to do whatever it takes to emerge from the Quaker hedge* and reach the DC area with the love and power of Jesus Christ. We are convinced that God is more concerned with growing a community gathered in discipleship than with the purity of our Quaker pedigree. We feel that God is calling us into partnership with the work of the Holy Spirit, to become a living body in Christ – an organism that learns, grows and adapts as God shapes us to speak to the condition of our city.
God is blessing us. This Saturday, twenty-five of us gathered for dinner at the William Penn House to hear about the plan for the next phase of Capitol Hill Friends. We shared about the cell church
model that we are experimenting with, and invited folks to participate in the first cycle of our base group (small group), which will be meeting from the last Sunday in January to the first Sunday in March.
Our base group meetings will last for about an hour and a half, and will focus on three main activities: personal check-ins and building community; reading the Bible and applying it to our lives in practical ways; and exploring how to experience the Holy Spirit through vocal prayer and silent waiting. The base group is meant to be a living organism – the basic unit of Christ’s body – that will multiply over time. Our vision is to establish a growing number of base groups in locations throughout the DC metro area, so that our community will be easily accessible to anyone who wants to participate.
Base groups will be the heart – the base! – of our community, with everything else we do flowing out of the life of these groups of 6-12. Yet, we also think it is important to gather together in larger numbers, and so we intend to hold larger worship events. As we begin this new experiment in community, we will aim to have one worship event every month or so. As we grow in numbers, energy and spiritual maturity, we may increase the frequency of our larger worship event, but once a month seems plenty for the time being.
It has taken some time, but I am hopeful that we are finding our way to be a healthy expression of Christ’s body in the Washington region. We know that it is the power of the Holy Spirit that gives life to the body, not human models of organization. Nevertheless, I see signs that this new model has the potential to remove barriers to the Holy Spirit’s work. I pray that we will remain open to removing all of the many barriers to God in our lives, so that Christ’s Spirit can flow freely.
Please keep praying for us. Please ask your church/meeting to pray for us. The next couple of months are going to be critical as we seek to raise up leadership and multiply this first round of base groups. Please pray for those who are providing leadership for this first base group cycle, and for everyone who participates. May the Lord draw us into authentic community in his name, finding the support and encouragement we need to lead lives of faithfulness and joy.
Your friend in Truth,
*The “hedge” is an old Quaker term, which refers to a whole complex of shared practices that help to distinguish and separate the Friends community from the wider world.