Clearing the Ground – Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #43

To my brothers and sisters in the Lord,

Faith and I arrived home in DC late last Thursday after spending a little more than a week in Nebraska and Kansas. During our trip, we attended Great Plains Yearly Meeting and visited family and friends in Wichita. GPYM was held this year in Central City, Nebraska – which was surprising, since just a few years ago it seemed as if the Meeting in Central City would cease to exist. Instead, Friends there seem to be gaining in strength, and they enthusiastically hosted yearly meeting sessions. I give thanks to God for the new life that the Spirit is breathing into Friends in the Great Plains region!

Besides the rather miraculous revitalization of Central City Friends Meeting, there were other signs of growth. To begin with, the Yearly Meeting is beginning a process of re-allocating funds towards local outreach. For decades, the GPYM Home Missions Fund has been used as a source of funding for distant Quaker organizations. Now, however, there is a movement within GPYM to begin spending the Home Missions fund on… home missions! After decades of mostly writing checks to Quaker organizations on the East Coast, money may soon flow to local projects that advance the gospel in Kansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma.
Another encouraging sign a proposal brought by Laura Dungan of University Friends Meeting (Wichita, Kansas). Laura would like to be financially released to work half-time for the Yearly Meeting. She would provide leadership development within the Yearly Meeting, especially encouraging Friends to see the big picture of God’s mission for Friends in the region. Laura’s work would seek to encourage local churches and leaders as the Yearly Meeting works to develop a vision and a plan for the future.

With all of these positive developments emerging in my former Yearly Meeting, I feel sad that I am unable to be of any direct assistance. With my commitment to ministry in the DC area, there is not much I can do for Friends in GPYM except pray and remain available for electronic correspondence. Yet, I dare to imagine that perhaps my earlier ministry had some positive impact on the Yearly Meeting. I planted, and Laura Dungan is watering – but it is God who gives the growth. To him be all glory, honor and praise!

Growth and change are not limited to Great Plains Yearly Meeting. This month has been a time of professional transition for me. After three years working for Earlham School of Religion coordinating communications and web strategy, I am transitioning to a new job with Friends United Meeting – a worldwide association of Friends congregations in North America, the Caribbean, Central America, the Middle East and Africa. Starting in July, I will serve as Interim Communications and Web Specialist,overseeing FUM’s web and social media strategy. I am especially looking forward to exploring ways to make FUM’s electronic content more accessible to our brothers and sisters in East Africa, who represent the majority of Quakers worldwide.
FUM’s central office is located in Richmond, Indiana, but most of my work will be done remotely from DC. This is critical, since Faith and I continue to feel God clearly calling us to long-term residence in the capital. The ministry that we are engaged in here continues to be blessed, though we are learning that God’s blessing is rarely the same as our own grandiose visions. The ground is hard, and there is a lot of tilling to do before we can hope for more obvious growth. Once again, I am reminded that it is God who gives the growth. I am not in control.
At Capitol Hill Friends, God has been teaching us what our collective mission is to be. During worship several weeks ago, we felt an especially powerful sense of the Holy Spirit’s presence, and in the midst of the Spirit’s ministry to us, I received something that felt like a mission statement for our community. My mind was drawn to Jesus’ parable of the sower, and I was shown that our city is full of “weeds” – the cares of the world and the lure of wealth – that choke out the Seed, which is God’s presence in our lives. The Lord made clear to me that our role as a radical community of disciples is to clear ground where the seed of God can grow. Our job is to prepare and hold a space of resistance and hope where individuals can sink their roots deep into this good earth and become part of a sustaining community in Jesus.

In recent weeks I have had an increasingly urgent sense that the Body of Christ is much bigger than our traditional ideas of what a “congregation” looks like. I am realizing that the old model of church does not necessarily work in our post-modern, urban context. Regular gatherings for worship are necessary, of course, but I am seeing that there are many other things that are equally crucial if we are to strengthen the Body. For example, teaching everyday spiritual practices that individuals can grow into, whether they “go to church” or not. Community is a complicated thing in this city, and the formal, weekly gatherings of the traditional congregation are not necessarily the best thing to lead with. I am becoming convinced at a heart level that I must meet others where they are at. I must let nothing – not even the beautiful traditions of the church – present a barrier to sharing the good news that we have found in Jesus.

Please continue to pray for us! I cannot repeat often enough how much your prayers matter, how much we feel them as we seek to be faithful to God’s call in our city. We have experienced so many blessings that can only be the result of the prayerful intercession of God’s people. We give thanks for the faithful presence of Lily Rockwell, of Stillwater Monthly Meeting (Ohio Yearly Meeting), who has been an elder to us since last fall. Her internship is ending in late July, at which time she will be moving to New Mexico to pursue graduate studies. We are sad that she must leave us, but we give thanks to God for all of the prayer and love that she has invested in our community.

We also give praise for Sammy and Ceress Sanders, missions students at Barclay College who are summer interns at the William Penn House. They are actively participants in Capitol Hill Friends, and they have added greatly to our fellowship – not only through their joyful presence and enthusiasm, but also through their helpfulness in set-up and clean-up, and their excellent cooking skills! With all the work that the Lord has given us to do and all the helpers that he has provided, we are truly blessed.

It is my hope that you, too, are living in awareness of Christ’s presence in your lives. Thank you for your faithfulness in prayer and encouragement.
Your friend in Jesus,
Micah Bales