The last month has felt very full: of work, possibility, discernment and, ultimately, waiting. Early in the month, Faith and I traveled to Barnesville, Ohio to attend Stillwater Quarterly Meeting, of which Rockingham is a constituent Monthly Meeting. Our time together was quite eventful. To begin with, Keystone Meeting announced their appointment of an elder and overseer. They also brought two names to be considered for recording as gospel ministers. These two names were approved with joy, and there was a general sense of gratitude for the spiritual gifts that are present and being recognized among Friends in central Pennsylvania.
In addition to the recording of ministers and the recognition of eldership and oversight, still more signs of life were in evidence from Keystone Friends as one of their recorded ministers brought a minute of travel to be endorsed by the Quarter. This Friend will, God willing, be making a number of trips in gospel ministry among Friends in the United States. It was encouraging to see how God is raising up ministers and guiding them to encourage and bind together the body of Quaker Christians.
I also had business to lay before the Quarterly Meeting. For some months, I had been praying about the possibility of travel to the United Kingdom and Spain. My sense was to visit the developing networks of Quaker Christians in the UK and on the continent of Europe, to encourage them in their walk with Christ and see how we might labor together in extending and strengthening Christ’s Reign in both Europe and North America. For a time, it seemed clear that the time had come for me undertake these travels, to continue the process of developing a transatlantic body of Quaker Christians.
For a variety of reasons, however, my sense of clarity about such travels had diminished over the course of the month of December, and by the time I arrived at Stillwater Quarterly Meeting, I was quite unsure in my sense of leading. With the encouragement of Friends from Rockingham, I presented the travel minute from my Monthly Meeting, along with a detailed explanation of the history and current state of my concern.
The response of Friends was remarkable. They were very generous in affirming me and my desire to be faithful in the work that God calls me to, and they took responsibility for the concern, embracing it as work of the Quarter. The sense of the meeting was to appoint a committee to pray with me and assist me in my ongoing discernment. The Quarterly Meeting clerk was instructed to hold my travel minute, and was authorized to endorse it at such a time as way opened for me to travel. I felt so blessed by the way that Friends showed love for me, and I was very grateful for their readiness to pray with me and participate in my ongoing discernment. I am painfully aware of how rare this sort of care and oversight is, and I was deeply moved to experience Friends’ loving concern.
Even as I continue to pray about God’s will for my role in the labor in Europe, I feel very clear that Christ is calling me into ever deeper work here in Washington, DC. This month has been one of great intensity in the process of developing covenanted community among Friends in the DC area. I have spent much of my time meeting with Friends, learning more about their lives and struggles, and listening together with them to how we are being called to strengthen our Christian commitment as a fellowship. This is a slow process, based as it is in the subtle and delicate work of developing trust and human relationships. It is exhausting work – who ever knew that Christian community would be so much effort! But it is nourishing, healthy, blessed work. It is my conviction that we will find our true purpose as a people as we cultivate our relationships in Christ, inviting him into our midst and loving one another in his Spirit.
My work in DC has not been limited to the small Christian Quaker fellowship that is budding on Capitol Hill. For some months now, I have also been intentional about getting more involved in the wider community. One of the most significant relationships that I have developed this winter has been with a group of seekers in the Congress Heights neighborhood of southeast DC. They are four twenty-somethings who live together in a neighborhood that conventional DC wisdom says is off-limits to middle class white people. As they share life together, they also share a vision of being good citizens and neighbors in Congress Heights, and they actively seek ways that they can reach out and get involved.
One of the ways that they connect with their community is by holding an ecumenical Bible study, which rotates between their house and the home of a neighbor two doors down. The composition of the study group is eclectic, with about half of the attenders being spiritual seekers who are wrestling with their relationship to Christianity and the Bible; the other half are members of an interracial, quasi-fundamentalist Churches of Christ congregation. It makes for interesting conversations. I have been attending this Bible study for a few months now, and it has given me the chance to connect more deeply with this community, and with the Congress Heights neighborhood in general.
As an attender of the Bible study, I was around when folks at the community house started talking about forming a new chapter of Food Not Bombs in Congress Heights, and I have had the opportunity to take part in the development of this new project. Food Not Bombs is a simple idea: Our group recovers food that would otherwise have gone to waste; we use this food to prepare healthy, vegetarian meals; and we serve this food without charge, on the street, to anyone who wants it. Very simple, yet also very radical.
Our first time serving food was two weeks ago, and so far our experience has been very good. We serve lunch at a park on the corner of Malcom X and Martin Luther King, Jr., with a liquor store on one side and a gas station on the other. The blessings of this work are many. Just in the first two weeks, I feel like we have been able to connect quite a bit with people out on the street, mostly poor and homeless folks – but also, to some extent, with non-poor people who are passing by. It has been great to break down the ordinary barriers that keep people separate in our city – fear, pride, self-sufficiency, concern about appearances; we seek to set these aside in doing Food Not Bombs. Truly, there is not much self-importance left when we are hawking fried apples, soup and salad to passing teenagers!
But perhaps the biggest blessing so far is the way in which this project has drawn together and bonded those of us who are participating in the preparation and serving of food. Folks from the house in Congress Heights, a number of us from the William Penn House, and several others have come together to do this work, and it is wonderful to see our communities being knitted together in shared service. In some ways, this form of bonding is more significant than shared worship: We are engaged in the Lord’s service together in a very tangible way, and it is amazing to watch the way eyes are opened and hearts expanded as we participate in this labor of reconciliation, showing love and making ourselves vulnerable to others in a very gritty, material, visceral way.
The outreach in Congress Heights is significant, and I feel the Lord’s hand in it. I am grateful that God has brought us together in this way and permitted me to participate in this worthy work. I ask that you continue to pray for the mission here in DC: that our faith and resolve be strengthened as we walk ever more deeply into Christ’s Kingdom, with his living presence within us and among us. For myself in particular, I ask that you pray that God keep me clear in what work is mine to do and what is to be set aside. Finally, please pray that the Lord raise up more workers. Truly, the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few!
Yours in the love and justice of Christ Jesus,