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Is Settled Ministry The New Traveling Ministry?

In the early days of the Quaker movement, Quaker evangelists swept through the British Isles, the Continent of Europe, across the Atlantic to the American colonies, and even as far as the Muslim lands of the Middle East. The Valiant Sixty went out from Swathmoor Hall, determined to spread the good news of the risen Jesus to the ends of the earth. They moved from village to village, preaching the gospel and connecting isolated communities into a new movement of the Holy Spirit. To be a public minister in this early movement meant, almost by definition, to be on the road.

This sort of itinerant ministry was revolutionary when originally practiced. In an age when local communities were often cut off from one another, a visit from a traveling Friend could break down barriers of communication and geography, connecting a movement across regions, or even continents. The traveling minister represented not just an inspired preacher of the gospel, but a living connection with a wider community.

Now, in the first quarter of the 21st century, our situation has changed dramatically. In stark contrast to the geographical settledness of 17th-century England, we live in a society where many of us travel vast distances on a regular basis. Even transatlantic travel, which would have been the journey of a lifetime even a hundred years ago, can now be undertaken almost casually.

Our living arrangements are just as fluid. Most of my friends, for example, do not live in the state where they grew up. We are encouraged to leave our hometowns for college, and then to travel wherever we find the most potential for career advancement. Where I live, in Washington, DC, many people are only here for a few years; they come to gain connections and work experience before moving on to another city when a better job offer arises.

This way of life wreaks havoc on community. As a young professional, it is hard to invest in relationships if you know that you will probably be leaving for another city within the next few years. Even for those of us who are more rooted, there is a great temptation to avoid investing in relationships with those who will probably be moving on. Why spend time and energy on someone who will likely be gone soon?

In the midst of such uncertainty of relationships and place, it may be time to reevaluate our models of ministry. It could be that the great need of the 21st century is non-traveling ministers: women and men who make themselves available to ground and nurture stable communities in a society deeply marked by transience. In a culture that practically worships keeping one’s options open, an intentionally settled ministry could be just as radical today as the traveling ministry was three and a half centuries ago.

Pope Benedict XVI Resigns: What Does It Mean?

I could not quite believe my eyes this morning when a New York Times alert flashed across my phone: “Pope Benedict Resigns.” This is probably the biggest single news item in the worldwide Christian Church in my lifetime. The spiritual leader of 1.2 billion of my brothers and sisters in the Roman Catholic community is doing something that has no real precedent. While it is true that there was a pope who resigned back in 1415, that resignation came amidst one of the greatest scandals in Church history, with three different popes vying for control!

This resignation is clearly different. Though Benedict has certainly been a controversial pope, presiding over an increasingly firm turn to the theological right, he has not been personally embroiled in scandal to the same degree. Certainly nothing that would indicate that he should resign from an office that until now has essentially been considered unresignable.
And yet, here we are. Benedict has announced his retirement from the papacy on the basis of his advanced age and his own personal judgment that he is no longer able to fulfill the role of spiritual fatherto the Roman Catholic community. Declaring his retirement date as 28 February, 2013, Benedict is giving a little more than two weeks notice. Assemble the cardinals: It is time to select a new pope!

I am sure that there will be a great variety of reactions to Benedict’s resignation. Some – especially among the Roman Catholic community’s progressive wing – will cheer. Some will be appalled, and many others will be confused. I understand all of these reactions, but I have a different one. I feel awed and grateful.

In this unexpected act, I feel like I am catching a glimpse – perhaps for the first time – into the real character of this pope. This is a spiritual leader who has the humility to set aside his official authority and admit that he no longer has the strength or the divine calling to serve as the apostolic guardian of more than a billion souls. That takes some guts!

I cannot see into Benedict’s heart, and I am in no position to judge him. Nevertheless, I must say that I am deeply impressed by this act. It inspires me to be more willing to reevaluate my own spiritual gifts and sense of divine calling. Benedict’s resignation reminds me that I must be open to laying aside even the most importantwork that I do in order to be faithful to the One who calls me. By laying down the splendor, power and authority of the papacy, Benedict challenges me to follow his example, releasing my own privileges and reputation in order to become a more faithful, loving servant to the whole body of Christ.

In this one decision, Benedict reveals himself to be truly apostolic. As he lays down all his worldly crowns and honors at the feet of Jesus, he can say with integrity, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.“-

For another Quaker’s reaction to Benedict’s announcement, check out Dan Randazzo’s blog, A Closeted Radical.

Should Quakers Be Laying On Hands?

Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit (for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. – Acts 8:14-17

Have you received the Holy Spirit?

The Book of Acts describes how the first disciples in Jerusalem experienced the coming of the Spirit, and this outpouring quickly spread to thousands of others. It was not long before the Church in Jerusalem was scattered by persecution, but this just spread the gospel message more widely.

One of these scattered disciples, Philip, shared the good news in Samaria. The Samaritans were the red-headed stepchildren of the Jewish family. They were outsiders par excellence, widely considered untouchable heretics by their Jewish neighbors. Yet, perhaps because of their shunned status, Samaritans were eager to embrace the news about Jesus. They heard the message and accepted it.

The new believers in Samaria took the first step, being baptized with water as a symbol of their whole-hearted embrace of the message that Philip had shared with them. But there was still something missing. The leaders of the Church in Jerusalem knew in their bones that the people of Samaria needed more than human belief in the message about Jesus: They needed to experience Jesus for themselves. They needed to taste his very Spirit.

What does that even mean? Why weren’t the apostles satisfied with the fact that the Samaritans had become “orthodox Christians”? What compelled some of the apostles in Jerusalem to venture out to Samaria and lay their hands on the new believers? And why did the Holy Spirit wait for the apostles’ touch before indwelling the new church? If the Spirit blows where it will, what need is there of human intervention?

There is a reason that our spiritual ancestors used such rich, diverse language to describe the Spirit: A dove descending from the sky, rushing wind, tongues of fire, living water, the sound of silence. All of these words offer a window into the mystery of the Holy Spirit, the source of a Life and Power so magnificent that our faith is incomplete until we receive it.

It is my experience that the Spirit is beautifully mysterious and unpredictable. Any attempt to pin her down and force her to obey human regulations will fail. And yet, this story of human involvement in the work of the Holy Spirit rings true to me. It fits with my own experience of receiving the Holy Spirit into my life.

When I first became a Quaker in 2004, I did so because I was convinced at a very deep level, far beyond simple intellectual assent, that the testimonies of Friends were true. I could sense that there was a ground of truth that was solid and immovable. I sensed that God was real, and that my life needed to conform to that Truth. Yet, there was something missing. While I had begun to accept Friends principles and could sense God’s hidden presence, I did not experience God as an actor in my life. In reality, I was still in the driver’s seat. I was “exploring God,” like the famous old blind men who could each feel a different part of the elephant.

But when the Holy Spirit came on me, it was as if that elephant reached out and grabbed me with her trunk! No longer was God an object of my personal study; I came face-to-face with a divine Presence and Personality that had plans for me, and who would guide me if I opened myself. I was shown, in a deeply personal way that can never be fully explained, that God is not an “it,” but rather a “thou.”

And how did I come to have this experience? What was the catalyst for this encounter with the divine Thou? While for me there was not a literal laying on of hands, the circumstances surrounding my reception of the Holy Spirit bore great similarities to the experience of the Samaritan church.

I was at the World Gathering of Young Friends, in Lancaster, England, together with hundreds of other young Quakers from around the world. During the gathering, we heard sermons from a variety of ministers. One of these, a fiery preacher from Philadelphia, challenged us to know who we were and to accept the mantle of prophecy that the Spirit was calling us into. Early on in her sermon she warned us, “you didn’t ask me, but I’m about to give you a double portion of what I have.” At one point – referencing the words of Jesus in John 15 – the minister exclaimed, “you’re cleansed!” She spontaneously grabbed a container of water that was sitting up at the podium and began sprinkling those of us sitting closer to the front.

The sermon was riveting. It was the most explosive, powerful vocal ministry I had ever encountered. She spoke directly to our condition that evening, and the Spirit was palpably present in the room – though I was not consciously aware of it at the time.

It was later in the evening that it happened. I was sitting on a bench with another young Quaker, and we spontaneously fell into silent worship together. Suddenly, the Holy Spirit was upon us, bathing us with wave upon wave of light, power, love and tender mercy. There simply are no words. But every true word I have spoken since that night has flowed from this Source.

I am convinced that the presence of apostolic authority and blessing that night were instrumental in the work of the Holy Spirit. The faithfulness of this minister from Philadelphia played the same role for me as Peter and John did for the new believers in Samaria. It is enough to make me wonder whether we Quakers should put more emphasis on the importance of human participation in the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Has this happened to you? Has someone laid hands on you – literally or figuratively? Have you received a blessing from another person that has allowed you to plunge far deeper into relationship with God than you ever had before? What do you think the role of human agency is in the ministry of the Holy Spirit? Could it be that we Quakers need to be more open to sharing the gift of the Spirit by the laying on of hands?

The Seed That Dies – Great Plains Yearly Meeting 2012

Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. – John 12:24-25

Great Plains Yearly Meeting has been thinking about dying for a long time. Back in 2001, Great Plains – a fellowship of Quakers in Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma – had dwindled to only five local congregations, and Friends considered seriously whether GPYM’s time was up. Yet, for some reason – whether a nudge from the Spirit or the lure of nostalgia (perhaps a bit of both) – Friends re-committed themselves to existence as a Yearly Meeting.

Over the nine years that I have attended GPYM, I have watched Friends wrestle with what continued existence would mean. Is GPYM primarily a family reunion – an assembly of “good people” who like one another? Does the Yearly Meeting primarily exist as a connection with Quaker institutions on the East Coast? Does GPYM have something unique to say to its own context in the American heartland? Could the Yearly Meeting be a base community for a shared life of radical discipleship and loving action for liberation and justice in the Great Plains region?
During my time attending Great Plains, it has seemed like the default mode for GPYM is to operate as a place of comfort, security and self-affirmation. The Yearly Meeting provides a sense of identity and connection with the wider Quaker world, a touchstone in a region with few Friends of like mind. Often, the posture of folks in Great Plains Yearly Meeting has been fatalistic – resigned to the sleepy decline of our Christian fellowship.
But we were not left without a witness. Over time, I have seen God prodding Friends to choose a path of renewed life and vitality as Christ’s Church. God has raised up a number of prophetic ministers who have called the Yearly Meeting to a deeper engagement with our shared experience of Jesus Christ, and his call to be salt and light in the world. These prophets have not always been well-received, but their ministry has had a clear effect over the long haul.
This year, the clerk of the Yearly Meeting brought a proposal that she be financially released (Quakerese for “hired”) for part-time service to the Yearly Meeting. She explained that she felt called to dedicate a substantial portion of her time to nurturing Meetings throughout the region and helping to spur the development of new leadership that could help to sustain the work of the Yearly Meeting in the years ahead.
In 2009, after a season of traveling ministry among Friends in the Great Plains region, I had laid a similar concern before Great Plains Yearly Meeting. At that time, however, Friends were not ready to provide support for such an out-of-the-box proposal. GPYM’s Ministry and Counsel minuted, “Our Yearly Meeting simply is not yet at a place where we can corporately affirm an apostolic ministry” (M&C 09-17). Three years later, however, the ground seems to have been cleared enough that Friends are seriously considering supporting just such an apostolic call.
Jesus teaches us that the way to everlasting life is through apparent death, and that by clinging to what we already have, we deny ourselves the riches that are to come. Have we reached a place where we are ready to die to our comfort and nostalgia – to bury that which once was so that we can reap that which God is bringing into being? What does it look like for the Church to die to itself, and to be raised again, clothed in Jesus Christ? Are we willing to let go of the dirty rags that we cling to in order to put on the fine linen of Christ’s wedding banquet? Can we embrace the self-death that leads to overflowing life in the Spirit?

So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. … – 1 Corinthians 15:42-44

All Things To All People

To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. – 1 Corinthians 9:21-22

The ancient society where Christianity emerged consisted of a wide variety of local cultures, all united under Roman rule. Greeks and Jews mingled, and the cities of the Empire allowed a cosmopolitanism that had rarely existed before in Western history. The early followers of Jesus were challenged to share the gospel message in a context where all truth was relativized under the coercive power of the Roman state. In that society, people could worship whatever gods they chose – so long as they also worshiped Caesar.

I also live in a society where people worship a variety of “gods” and participate in many subcultures and lifestyles. Yet, just as was the case in ancient Rome, the modern-day empire I live in is held together by a set of common assumptions. Although no one is required to literally worship the State or its rulers, this society is held together by the veneration of wealth and the exercise of political power. All of us, from smallest to greatest, are caught up in an economic and political system that demands our allegiance just as surely as Caesar ever did.

The God whom I worship, and the gospel that I proclaim, stands in stark contrast to the worship of wealth and human power that lies at the center of American society. The “upside down Kingdom” of Jesus reveals the weakest to be the strongest and that those who put themselves first may find themselves left out. The good news of Jesus represents a direct challenge to the core assumptions of this present age.
This is scary stuff. It is not accident that the rulers and authorities of ancient Rome brutally tortured and executed Jesus, and continued to persecute Jesus’ followers for centuries. When we directly confront the foundations of Empire, we should expect a response that is in keeping with Empire’s way of doing business.

Despite all of the persecution, torture and summary executions that the early Christians faced, the early Church did not condemn the whole of Greco-Roman society. On the contrary, the early Christian community made great efforts to communicate the good news in terms that would speak clearly to the wide variety of cultures and experiences that made up the ancient world. Rather than insisting that everyone become a Jew, the disciples proclaimed a new way that was open to all people, regardless of their ethnic or cultural affiliation.

As Paul explained in his letter to the Ephesians, the mission of the early Church was to proclaim a gospel that reconciled women and men from all sorts of backgrounds, whether Jew or Greek, uniting them into one new humanity. This new spiritual community did not have the effect of eliminating cultural differences; on the contrary, the cultural diversity of the ancient world remained, but it was placed on a new foundation. Rather than worshiping the wealth and power of Caesar, all the nations of the earth would now join in worshiping the one true God!

How can I share the good news in ways that affirm the diversity of culture, language, identity and experience that I encounter in my city? How can I lift up that which is good in my cosmopolitan society, while at the same time challenging the harmful foundation of greed and pride that has taken us captive? How can I model and preach a gospel that, rather than eliminating our differences, places all of us on a new foundation in Jesus?

A Burning Fire

In the first generation of the Quaker movement, news of the gospel spread across Britain from house to house, city to city. Quickly, the message was taken abroad to the continent of Europe and to the British colonies in the Americas. These early years of Quakerism were characterized by an untamed passion for sharing the good news, inviting others into spiritual communion with Christ and with each other.

This good news spread largely outside of official channels. While Margaret Fell provided practical aid and a communications hub at Swarthmoor Hall, there were not initially formal structures for organizing the wave of evangelism that proceeded from the north of England. The Religious Society of Friends began as an organic movement of the apostolic faith. The Lord called women and men to ministry, and they responded with obedience. Christ used these 17th-century apostles to preach the word and gather his people Friends Meetinghouse and Graveyardtogether. Everywhere the traveling evangelists went, the Holy Spirit raised up local leaders and established new communities.

Within decades, this burst of pentecostal fervor had established an organic network of Meetings across Britain and the American colonies. Yet, just as this movement reached the peak of its intensity in the early 1660s, severe persecution came. Friends organized themselves in increasingly centralized bodies – Yearly Meetings – as a way to coordinate their response to nationwide persecution, especially in England.

The persecution eventually passed, but Friends’ new emphasis on centralized structures remained. Over time, passionate, evangelical faith diminished and institutional centralization increased, accompanied by an increasing reliance on procedure as a source of authority. Eventually, many Friends would come to believe that it was procedure that defined them. Orthopraxy and institutional authority increasingly usurped the unpredictable guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Today, Friends are steeped in the institutional apparatus of former generations. We appoint members to committees and boards. We govern non-profit organizations. We manage historical sites. WeQuaker Graveyard are generally nice, respectable, civic-minded people. But where is the spiritual power?

What happened to the fire that drove early Friends to cross oceans? What became of the radical faith that led women and men to face death, torture and imprisonment? How often are we imprisoned for the gospel today? How many of our Meetings actively support the spread of the good news that Jesus Christ is here to teach us himself? We are often so busy maintaining the institutional legacy of our ancestors that we spend more time keeping up buildings than we do sharing the good news of Jesus with our neighbors.

But that does not have to be the end of the story. Just like the early Friends, we have an opportunity to challenge the status quo and live into the fantastic life and love that Jesus reveals in our hearts and in our life as a community. It is important to remember that those early Quakers we admire so much got into a lot of trouble. They upset people and caused division in their communities. They were not popular among respectable people.

Are we today ready to take the same kinds of risks for Truth that our spiritual ancestors did? How can we support one another in breaking out of business as usual and re-discover the mission that Jesus has for us? What does radical discipleship look like in 21st-century America?

Being Publishers of Truth

“Let all nations hear the sound by word or writing. Spare no place, spare no tongue, nor pen; but be obedient to the Lord God: go through the work; be valiant for the truth upon earth…” – George Fox

The early Quakers were serious about preaching the gospel. In the first decades of the Friends movement, the message that “Christ is
George Fox refuses to take an oath come to teach his people himself” was carried out from the Quaker strongholds in northern England to other parts of the British Isles, America, various kingdoms on the continent of Europe, and even into the Muslim world. Young men and women emerged from the fields and towns where they had grown up and, compelled by Christ’s call in their hearts, journeyed to distant lands whose languages they did not know.

Wherever they went, the early Quaker missionaries announced the arrival of the King of kings, who overthrew all earthly pretenders toFriends minister Mary Dyer being led to execution in Boston the Throne. They called attention to the Lord’s living presence through prophetic signs – such as burning their musical instruments, walking naked in the streets, and heaping burning coals on top of their heads. They preached the good news wherever they could find an audience – whether in the open air, in a crowded bar, or in a government-run church building where they faced beatings and imprisonment for interrupting the state-sanctioned preacher.

One of the most powerful ways in which the early evangelists bore witness to Christ’s resurrection presence was through the use of pamphlets. During the Early Quaker publicationturbulent years following Parliament’s execution of King Charles I, England was awash in written propaganda from a variety of religious and political perspectives. Print media was new then, and the early Friends took advantage of it to spread the word of God-with-us.

Today, we as Friends in the English-speaking world are, in many ways, experiencing a drastically different context from the Valiant Sixty. We are not, at the moment, living in the kind of intense societal upheaval that characterized the first decades of the Friends movement; and we are not, in general, facing any real persecution for our faith. Perhaps relatedly, we are not – as a general rule – particularly committed to personal evangelism, publicly sharing our faith with the wider culture, or taking risky, prophetic action to witness to the love of Jesus Christ that we have experienced.

How might we today be called to, as Fox put it, “let all nations hear the [gospel] by word or writing”? What might it mean to share theWoman preaches in Quaker meeting good news of Christ’s literal, teaching presence, both within our own culture, and in the wider world? The Quaker community today is overwhelmingly concentrated in areas of historical British influence – Kenya, the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand – with Central and South America being the only places where there are significant concentrations of Friends without an historic connection to the British Empire. Why have we as Friends failed to reach beyond the English cultural sphere?

Is the good news that Jesus can be personally known, loved and obeyed unique to British colonial cultures? God forbid! Our faith as Friends is rooted in the belief that Christ’s presence and power is universal, transcending all national, linguistic and cultural boundaries. How, then, can we demonstrate the practical truth of our faith? How can we share this good, universal news of immediate relationship with Christ, both as individuals and as communities?

As different as our circumstances may be from that of the early Friends, we do have at least one thing in common: We are living in an age of new communications technology.Barclay's Apology in French Just as the printing press was a revolutionary breakthrough in the seventeenth century, we are experiencing a similarly game-changing technological shift in the twenty-first. How is God calling us to use the internet, and other forms of electronic communication, to advance the gospel in our day?

There are signs that some Friends are experimenting with these new media. QuakerQuaker.org is an example of creative use of the online blogging community to draw together Friends and seekers to exchange ideas and develop relationships that can serve the Lord. Another recent, if still embryonic initiative is QuakerMaps.com – which, if further developed and cared for, could serve as a modest platform for outreach to non-Quaker seekers, as well as existing Friends. There are other sites that provide information about the Quaker faith, such as QuakerInfo.org, QuakerInfo.com, and Quaker.org. All of these sites are useful and have the potential to reach many Friends and seekers in the English-speaking world. But what about the other 95% of the world’s people?

There are some signs of hope. For example, Spanish Quaker Luís Pizarro recently began publishing a blog, Cuaquero.org, that is intended to share the gospel message with the people of Spain. Yet, there is still so much that remains to be done. What if we placed an emphasis on training ourselves to be ambassadors to other cultures, learning another language and familiarizing ourselves with another culture? What if we made it a priority to share the gospel message online in every major language, providing resources for learning about Friends’ beliefs, practice, and how to set up a new worship group? Surely Friends already have the capacity to do this sort of outreach in dozens of languages. Are we ready to take the time and effort to live into Christ’s call to preach the good news to all people? Do we still believe that we have received a message worth sharing?