Dear Children of Light,
This past month has been one of transition. As summer fades into fall, I have begun to shift my lifestyle to focus my energies on the ministry that God has called me to here in Washington, DC. This past year, I was primarily focused on the world beyond Washington, DC; I travelled almost constantly, visiting Friends across the United States. This has been a fertile time, and I feel that I have grown as a minister, as well as having some positive impact on the Religious Society of Friends. In recent months, however, I have been increasingly under the weight of a concern to reorient myself to place more emphasis on mission in the city of Washington.
Capitol Hill Friends is beginning to show signs of putting down roots and gelling as a group. We have been encouraged by the loving presence of Noah Baker-Merrill, who is sojourning with us from Putney Friends Meeting in New England Yearly Meeting. We have also been blessed by many visitors from area Friends Meetings to our Wednesday night meetings. At a recent meeting for worship, we were pleased to have visitors from Rockingham Friends Meeting, and we had a much larger attendance than we had experienced up until then. Our worship life feels like it is getting deeper, and overall we sense a remarkable up-tick in energy and group cohesion. The Spirit is moving in our little fellowship on Capitol Hill.
This moment feels ripe for growth, and I feel an increasing concern to be out in the Lord’s harvest field. Consequently, I anticipate that much of my energy in the coming months will go into nurturing Capitol Hill Friends as it grows and develops into the community that God intends it to be. Faith and I will continue to host regular meetings for worship, and we will also be undertaking increasing pastoral care and outreach. Most critically, we will be empowering new leaders to share in the work of the church. Please pray for us as we seek to foster an environment of mutual love, service and accountability at Capitol Hill Friends.
As the gospel labor intensifies in DC, my professional work is shifting and finding new definition, as well. I will continue to be employed by Earlham School of Religion this coming year, and I have been in discernment with my colleagues as to how we can best collaborate to share ESR’s vision for the Religious Society of Friends. ESR’s ministry of teaching and discipleship of emerging Christian leaders is at the core of our mission as a Friends seminary, but ESR also has a passion to reach out beyond our current student body and to engage in shared conversations about the future of our tradition and community as Friends. We hope to make the wealth of wisdom, creativity and vision that is present at ESR more readily available and visible online, so that Friends around the world can engage in a conversation with us about what faithful leadership looks like in this young century.
In order to implement this new phase in my employment with Earlham School of Religion, I have been traveling regularly to Richmond, Indiana to be present with the residential ESR community. Being with my colleagues in the Richmond office is helpful in building working relationships; and being present in Richmond presents the opportunity to take part in a rich intersection of Quaker life and thought available in few other places. A good example of this is my latest trip to Richmond, when I was able to attend the Friends United Meeting Emerging Leaders Conference.
The Emerging Leaders Conference was outstanding. Colin Saxton of Northwest Yearly Meeting was our main speaker, and his gentle, weighty presence provided a substantial core for our time together. He invited us to rest in Christ and to exercise leadership in our communities by being a non-anxious presence. Colin spent much of his time speaking on responsibility and the difference between the personal responsibility we bear for our own lives before God and the responsibility that we bear to one another in community. He encouraged us to remember that only God has the power to effect deep change in the lives of others, and that as we accept this, our own personal responsibility and limits become clear. This ability to distinguish between our own responsibility before God and the responsibility that others must bear, he argued, is one of the marks of a gifted leader.
It is this clarity about personal responsibility to God that allows us to see how to exercise effective and responsible leadership in community. When we acknowledge the limits of our own responsibility we are freed to empower new leadership in our communities; when we see that we are incapable of carrying the burden alone, we can invite others into the challenges and blessings of leadership.
Jay Marshall, dean of Earlham School of Religion, presented about the realities of leadership among Friends, and the potential for a workable model for Quaker leadership going forward. Jay pointed out that among Friends there are two sources of authority that remain in tension: A sense of divine leading felt by the individual, and the discernment of individual leadings by the community. This tension is healthy, helping us to hold both individuals and Meetings accountable to new motions of the Spirit. However, Jay explained that Friends sometimes risk suffocating the Spirit-led leadership of the individual, elevating community habits and inertia over fresh leadings of God. While leadings must be tested, it is crucial that genuine leadership be recognized and empowered by the community. We as Friends must learn to grant authority to individuals who have been called into leadership among us, taking care not to undercut the work of our leaders with passive-aggressive demands that they be “more servant-like.”
Our presenters brought great depth and substance to the conference, but at least equally important was the quality of those emerging leaders who attended. We had Friends in attendance from most of the North American Yearly Meetings of Friends United Meeting, including a very hefty contingent from North Carolina. There were many Friends whom I already knew, but there were also quite a few that I had never met before. I felt very blessed by the opportunity to gather with other “FUMers,” other Friends from both pastoral and unprogrammed Meetings whose lives and ministries are rooted in Jesus Christ.
This event felt like a realization – at least in some small degree – of my dream for Friends United Meeting: That we be a fellowship that can proclaim the Christian faith of Friends to a world that is so desperately in need of the love of Jesus Christ. This conference was a time of unity, where Friends from a wide variety of backgrounds gathered in the name of Christ to explore how we can develop as leaders in our local fellowships and Yearly Meetings. For many of us, this was a precious time of finding that there is indeed a place for us to stand as Christians in the Quaker tradition. We found unity in Christ that overcame our outward differences: There was neither programmed nor unprogrammed, male nor female, Liberal nor Evangelical – we were all one in Christ Jesus. Praise God for that!
I hope that Friends United Meeting continues to organize these conferences in the years to come. It is so important that FUM be more than simply an abstract affiliation; we need to know one another, becoming co-laborers with one another in the Way of Jesus. It is my hope that we will work with one another, pray for one another, and seek to strengthen each one in his or her ministry. As we come to know one another more deeply in Christ, the bonds between our local churches and Yearly Meetings will deepen, and we may truly become Friends United Meeting.
Thank you for your ongoing prayers for me, for Capitol Hill Friends, and for the Body of Christ as a whole. Faith and I rely on your love and prayer support to continue the work that we are doing among Friends, particularly our ministry in Washington, DC. Please continue to hold us in prayer! The spiritual battle is only just beginning, and we need your faithful intercession now more than ever. Please let me know how I can best be praying for you, as well. We each have a particular ministry to which we are called, and through our prayers we can help one another live into that call, protected from all powers of darkness by the mercy of Jesus Christ.
Your friend in Jesus, the living Word of God,