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Who Are My People?

I recently spent almost a week in western Massachusetts at a gathering called Quaker Spring. Quaker Spring was conceived as an entirely unprogrammed gathering, where our whole agenda would be Spirit-led, each day’s program being composed in the morning by a small steering group, aptly named the listening committee. The concept of the gathering is to listen together to how Christ is leading us, and how we might best respond as a gathered community.

This year, I found the community part a bit complicated. Normally, Quaker Spring is held on the campus of the Olney Friends School in Barnesville, Ohio. Rooted in that location, it has tended to attract a pretty wide range of Friends, both geographically and theologically. This broadness of background and experience has been a real strength, giving us a lot of perspectives from which to approach our shared quest to be faithful listeners and followers of Christ Jesus.

In 2011, Quaker Spring migrated for the first time to New England. We hoped that trying out a new location would draw in a lot of new Friends who might not otherwise travel all the way to Ohio. I was unable to attend that year, but I heard from many that the gathering was truly blessed. This year was my very first time in New England, except for a few visits to the city of Boston, and I was looking forward to getting an introduction to that part of the country.

I got a bit more of an introduction than I bargained for. While I’m not sure about the exact statistics, anecdotally I’d say that this year upwards of 80% of us were from New England Yearly Meeting. This introduced a dynamic that I had not experienced at Quaker Spring before. Informal conversations would often turn to committee work going on in New England Yearly Meeting, and many times the themes that emerged in our larger assemblies spoke most directly to the concerns of liberal Friends in the Northeast. Given the composition of the gathering, this was completely normal and understandable. But I found this pattern challenging.

At other Quaker Spring gatherings, I had always felt like I was part of a motley crew of spiritual misfits, finding our way together. I might not have been normal, but nobody was! This year, however, I often felt out of place. I knew many of those in attendance, including quite a few whom I consider personal friends, and yet I felt isolated, marginal and unneeded. Superfluous was the word that came most easily to me at one point, when trying to express how I was feeling. While I was genuinely glad for the opportunity that this gathering provided for so many Friends from the Northeastern US to gather and listen to Christ together, something was holding me back from participating fully.

Having had this experience, I was touched to read a blog post from another Quaker Spring participant, Joanna Hoyt, describing her own struggle to fit in – not just at Quaker Spring, but in the Religious Society of Friends in general. She reflects on the questions that had been occupying her thoughts: Who are my people? Where do I belong? Where am I accepted? What practices can I accept? After her experience at Quaker Spring, she concludes that these may not be the right questions at all. Instead, she feels drawn into the living experience of God in community, showing love and listening deeply to others.

I feel grateful for Joanna’s reflections. They help me to clarify at least part of what I was struggling with during my time at Quaker Spring. The question I was asking myself at Quaker Spring this year – Is this my people? – was not the real question. Rather, the deeper question was: With whom is God calling me to dwell?

This feeling of being superfluous, of being out of place at Quaker Spring, was accompanied by an intense drawing to return home to Washington, DC. I could feel it, deep in my bones, that the work God has for me is found in the daily relationships and spiritual community that I am developing in my neighborhood, city and region. I have no doubt that God used this year’s Quaker Spring to advance his purposes in the lives of many, but I was being called elsewhere.

So, it seems I got the question wrong, too. Rather than wondering who my people are, there might be different, more edifying questions to consider: Who am I called to serve? Who is God sending me to dwell with? How is God placing me in relationship with others, and how can I open myself to being changed by those relationships? Rather than agonizing over who my people are, perhaps a better question is, Whose people am I?

Think Outside the (Quaker) Box

“Is Capitol Hill Friends a ‘programmed‘ Meeting?”
A visitor to the William Penn House asked this yesterday. We explained that Capitol Hill Friends has an hour of unprogrammed worship, but that we also eat dinner together, read the Bible and sing.
It makes sense that some Friends around here might imagine that we are a pastoral group. It is easy to divide the Quaker world into two camps – “programmed” and “unprogrammed.”(1) Often this is code for “Evangelical” and “Liberal.” Because Capitol Hill Friends is the only Quaker group in the DC area that is corporately Christian, some must think that we are a programmed, Evangelical Meeting. And from the perspective of Liberal Quakers in the DC area, I can imagine we might look pretty evangelical and “programmed”!
But at Capitol Hill Friends we see things differently. We find our primary identity neither in the Liberal nor Evangelical Quaker streams. We cannot shoe-horn our faith into either Evangelicalism or Liberalism. Instead, we seek to put our trust in the love and presence of Jesus. He is here, now, teaching us how to be his friends.
Something new is emerging at Capitol Hill Friends. It does not fit neatly into the old binaries of 20th century Quakerism. Rather than getting bogged down in fights between Liberals and Evangelicals, we are simply trying to follow Jesus. This feels risky, because he leads us to unfamiliar places. But there is freedom here, too.
Jesus releases us from the culture wars that are tearing at the fabric of the United States, including the Quaker community. Jesus sets us free from dogmatic worldviews that make us feel both secure and terribly afraid. As we lean on Jesus, we are liberated from the need to fit our lives into tidy little boxes – or to confine others to them. He uproots the seeds of war, whose roots have sunk so deep into our hearts that we hardly notice them anymore.
Rather than basing our identity on worship style, I would prefer to focus on faithfulness. Do we live in the life and power of Jesus Christ? Is our whole personality being remade in his image? Do we embody his love and justice in our communities? Does Jesus gather us together as a community, teaching us to be his friends?
1. See this brief (and oversimplified) explanation of the difference between “programmed” Friends and “unprogrammed” Friends.

Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #22 – Quaker Youth Pilgrimage 2010

Dear Friends,

I survived.

With God’s help, and grateful for all the prayers that have been sent my direction, I have emerged from a full month with twenty-eight high-school-aged young Friends and three other adult leaders with mind, body an d spirit mostly intact.

Overall, my experience with the Quaker Youth Pilgrimage was a very positive one. Despite my anxiety going i n, I was pleased by the tight-knit community that came together over the course of theLunch near Anacortes, WA month,  both among the pilgrims and within the leadership team. The other adult leaders  impressed me with their dedication and professionalism, and I was often struck with a sense that God had planned the composition of our team. We had a good mix of gifts and background between the four of us, and I think that the Pilgrimage would have been a far less rich experience for everyone involved had any of us been absent.

The Pilgrimage took us all over Oregon and Washington state. The first major phase of our journey was a week spent at Quaker Cove Micah and Hughcamp, near Anacortes, Washington. It was helpful for us to have this week together without the interruption of moving around. During this time, our community was able to gel to a great degree, the pilgrim committees and business process got off the ground, and  we got into a daily rhthym of worship, meals, play, Pilgrims do business in Seattleservice and learning. It was a really key time for us as leaders, too, since we really did not know what we were doing and needed to spend large amounts of time meeting together and figuring out how we were going to make the next day – much less the next week – come together.

We more or less had our act together by the time we made our way back down south to stay at North Seattle Friends Church’s meetinghouse. During our time in Seattle, we continued to growWaiting for the bus more bonded as a group, and as a sense of safety in community emerged, we were able to go deeper with one another spiritually. A key moment for the group was a worship-sharing session where we considered the question “What is holding you back?” This opened a time of raw sharing and mutual vulnerability, which I believe enhanced our ability to go deeper as a group.
 
Throughout the month, the pilgrims experimented with a wide variety of worship styles, ranging from fully unprogrammed, to semi-programmed and programmed. I was impressed with the way that pilgrims with no background with pastoral Friends  stepped forward to lead programmed worship services, deliver sermons and offer vocal prayer on a daily basis. This was especially Emily practicing her sermonremarkable given the composition of the pilgrims, all but one of whom came from an unprogrammed background.

Pilgrims and leaders together struggled with the fact that this pilgrimage was not representative of Friends from the Americas and Europe and Middle East sections. With a solid majority of the pilgrims self-identifying as “non-theist,” the relatively liberal Northwest Yearly Meeting churches that we visited stretched us with their explicitly Christian basis and self-understandings. I was impressed with how the pilgrims stepped up to this challenge and really engaged with the rest of the Quaker family tree, even while they themselves were fairly homogenous as a group.

Our next stop was Portland, where we stayed in Multnomah Friends’ meetinghouse. We had a great time visiting area Friends Meetings, both Liberal and Evangelical, as well as exploring Portland’s downtown. I had a lot of fun when the AmericanHip-hop dancing... and Quakers? Friends Service Committee visited us and brought a hip-hop team with them who gave us a lesson in breakdancing. During our time in Portland, we took a trip to Newberg, where we got a tour of George Fox University, visited Northwest Yearly Meeting’s offices, and had dinner with some area Friends.

One of the most amazing moments of the entire Pilgrimage for me happened during our visit to Newberg. We were having dinner at Newberg Friends’ meetinghouse, and I was talking with myClaiming our Bibles grandmother who is a member there. Since before the Pilgrimage began, I had been concerned that all of the pilgrims get a copy of the Scriptures, and this concern had only grown as our time together went on. So, I asked Nana whether she knew where we could get Bibles for everyone. She checked with Greg Lamm, pastor of 2nd Street Community Church – himself a former leader of the QYP – and he informed me that he had a friend whose ministry it was to collect used Bibles and distribute them to folks around the world who desired to have a copy of the Scriptures.

Within an hour, we were on the road in our big yellow school bus (thanks, Reedwood!) over to this friend’s house. The man literally had a used Bible warehouse in his backyard, and after explaining The Big Yellow School Bushis ministry to us, he let us into the storehouse to rifle through everything he had, picking out the Bibles that appealed to us. It was such a joy watching the pilgrims get excited about having their very own copy of the Scriptures! Many of them got more than one copy (usually because they wanted a copy of the King James version, but I encouraged them to get a more accessible translation, as well). I was so grateful to God for the way God answered my prayers and placed these servants of the Lord in our path.

With the help of these Bibles, some of the pilgrims and I were able to spend several sessions together looking at what Jesus actually taught and learning the basics of how to navigate the Scriptures.The Bible Warehouse For those who participated, it was a valuable time of connecting with our Christian heritage as Friends. Many of the pilgrims felt better able to make sense of the origin of Friends testimonies after having the chance to take a brief look at the texts that inspired the early Quakers, and I am hopeful that many of the pilgrims might continue their exploration upon returning home, not letting their new Bibles gather dust.

Our next stop was Camp Magruder, a Methodist summer camp on Twin Rocks beach. On our way out to the Oregon coast, we were
Freedom Friends Churchable to stop at Freedom Friends Church. It was a good chance to let the pilgrims see an Evangelical church that is, as they put it, “passionately Christ-centered and passionately inclusive.” With one of the main dividing lines between Liberal and Evangelical often being homosexuality, it was helpful to visit a church that was spanning that gap, embracing people regardless of their sexual orientation or identity, but also standing firm in their Christian faith. Most of the pilgrims thought this was pretty cool, too.
Our time at Camp Magruder was good. Apart from mealtimes – which were hideously noisy, crowded and rushed – CampWorship on the beach Magruder was really great location for us to spend the first part our last week together. We got to spend a lot of time soaking up the beauty of the Oregon coast; we even held a time for worship, reflection and journaling on the beach.  In many ways, it felt like the beginning of the end for us as a pilgrimage. We began to shift towards concluding our experience together.

After our time on the coast, we stayed briefly with Camas Friends Church, near Portland. I felt blessed to be able to spend a littleWess explains the grill time catching up with pastor Wess Daniels, and we were all glad to be able to attend Sunday morning worship with Friends in Camas. Our time with Friends in Camas was brief, and soon we moved on to Anderson Lodge, our last stop on the Pilgrimage.

Anderson Lodge was beautiful – a wonderful location to conclude the Pilgrimage. I think just about everyone met the end of the Pilgrimage with a bittersweet combination of sadness and relief.Beginning to say goodbye We were saddened to leave the tight-knit community that had developed over the course of the month – and for many of the pilgrims this was the first time that they had experienced any kind of community with other young Quakers. At the same time, we were weary from a full month of living with almost three dozen other people 24/7, and many of us were missing our families, loved ones and spouses.

By the time I finally arrived back in DC on August 17th, I had been away from my wife Faith for almost a month and a half. I felt very grateful to finally be home again.Do the Hugh - and jump! Even so, I must admit that there were moments on my trans-continental train ride that I teared up thinking about the pilgrims and what we had shared together. I carry these young Friends in my heart, and I pray that God will continue to care for them and help them to grow in their faith and walk with God.

I have nothing but gratitude for the time I have spent as a leader for the 2010 Quaker Youth Pilgrimage. My sense of leading to serve was confirmed time and time again along the way, and I thank God for placing me exactly where I needed to be. I love how God surprises me.

Yours in the peace and mercy of Jesus Christ,

Micah Bales

Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #20 – YAF Gathering 2010; Service Days; Great Plains Yearly Meeting; and Illinois Yearly Meeting

Dear Friends,

More than usual has happened this past month. The YAF gathering came off without any major hitches, followed by volunteer service in the city of Wichita; I attended Great Plains Yearly Meeting; and, not long after that, I was able to join Friends in Illinois Yearly Meeting for their annual sessions. In the meantime, I have also stayed engaged with Friends in the DC area and in Virginia. This has been a full and fruitful time for Christ’s work in my life, and I hope that you will forgive me if I run a little long in my report.

To begin with, the 2010 Young Adult Friends Gathering was held, with divine assistance, over Memorial Day weekend in Wichita, Kansas. Young adults from across the United States and Canada – Micah and Dave Williamsas well as a few Latin American Friends – came together,  representing twenty three Yearly Meetings. All branches of Quakerism were represented, and Liberal-Unprogrammed, orthodox and Evangelical Friends were present in roughly equal numbers, along with a few Conservative and independent Friends.

Our time together was richly blessed with the sustained and gentle presence of the Holy Spirit who kept us grounded in unity University Friends Sanctuaryand peace, despite the difficulties we faced as we came together from our different backgrounds, cultures and perspectives. We sought God’s face together in periods of extended unprogrammed worship; we also celebrated God’s presence among us with hymns and praise music; and we received teaching from from Dave Williams of Barclay College in two of our evening sessions.

Our different beliefs and practices stretched all of us to seek that which is truly central in our life together as Friends. Some of us were exposed to far more unprogrammed worship than we were Registration used to, while others of us were astonished to see some Friends raise their hands in adoration as we sang songs of praise to the Lord. It is safe to say that each one of us was uncomfortable some of the time, and I know for a fact that some Friends came away from the event feeling that it was a “mostly Liberal” gathering, while others came away feeling that it was an “Evangelical-oriented” conference. I think this speaks to the prophetic power of Christ’s work among us. None of us came away unchallenged.

This gathering was a wake-up call for many of us as to the reality  of the divisions within the Religious Society of Friends. The splits, Welcome Young Adult Friends Gatheringwhile they may have begun as disputes over seemingly minor points, have grown to a breadth and depth that we are forced to acknowledge that we are incapable of mending the wounds ourselves. It is in this surrender, this recognition of our own inability to save ourselves, that I pray that we will become receptive to the reconciling power of Christ in our hearts and in our midst as a people gathered in His Name.

The weekend gathering was followed by a few days of service. Between a half dozen and a dozen of us who had stayed on after the gathering worked with Mennonite Housing in Wichita. We did landscaping at two different sites, and we were surprised at how happy folks were to see us at Mennonite Housing and in the communities where we were working. We did not expect any gratitude for our brief time of community service, and we were humbled by the appreciation we received.

We were surprised at how simple it was to set up a work-camp for YAFs. Tyler Hampton, the main organizer for the service days, said that setting up the service project was, “the easiest thing [he] had done in [his] life.” We would like to encourage young adults to organize their own work camps through established organizations like Mennonite Housing. It can be done – and quite easily.
We concluded our service by helping Friends at Heartland Meeting to prepare their meetinghouse to host the annualHeartland Meeting House sessions of Great Plains Yearly Meeting. About half a dozen of the YAFs from the Memorial Day gathering stuck around for GPYM, and it was a blessing to have their prayerful presence with us as we conducted our business as a Yearly Meeting.

This year’s sessions of Great Plains were probably the best that I had ever experienced. We enjoyed new leadership from Laura Dungan, who has taken over as presiding clerk.  Her energy andGreat Plains Yearly Meeting vision has been indispensable in the past year in mobilizing Friends to  take on the ministry of intervisitation in the Great  Plains region, and it was a joy to see her presiding over her first Yearly Meeting business sessions. I appreciated the discipline I saw her bring to our proceedings, and I felt blessed by both her warmth and her seriousness in the role.

We were grateful to have many guests – YAFs from the recent gathering; visitors from other Yearly Meetings, FGC and FUM; and visitors from neighboring Meetings in the Great Plains region. It was gratifying to see Great Plains Yearly Meeting serving as a bridge across the branches, both nationally and regionally.

We also faced great sadness together as a Yearly Meeting. We were shocked and deeply grieved to learn that our friend John Damon, an active member of Great Plains Yearly Meeting, was dying of a post-op infection following an otherwise-successful liver transplant. We were not prepared for this news, and many tears were shed over our dear friend. John was a valued member of our fellowship, and his loss is a great blow to us.

This year’s sessions were a time of letting go for me, personally. As I am now living at a considerable distance from the GreatMicah and Faith at GPYM Plains and have no plans to return, it felt right to lay down my leadership roles in the Yearly Meeting. I had served as co-clerk of Ministry and Counsel, as well as serving on Continuing Committee; I stepped down from both of these positions. I feel  much gratitude to Friends in GPYM who have upheld my ministry and have allowed me to serve among them. While I am saddened that I am no longer in a position to take an active role in Yearly Meeting leadership, I am confident in the work that Christ is doing YAFs at GPYMin the Yearly Meeting. The spiritual gifts that Friends need to do the work they are called to are present in the body; I pray for Friends in Great Plains Yearly Meeting the wisdom to be used in God’s service.

After a brief trip back to DC, I was once again on the road, this time out to Illinois Yearly Meeting. ILYM has its sessions near McNabb, Illinois, at the beautiful Clear Creek Meeting House. Near the meetinghouse, there is space for camping, six cabinsThe Front Porch with room to sleep almost fifty, as well as another building (used by the teenagers) that can house many more. In addition to these facilities, Friends were excited last year to acquire neighboring land, including a farmhouse that they have been busily renovating since then. All in all, these Friends have a wonderful facility to host their Yearly Meeting, as well as other events as they see fit.

Having spent such a long time in cities, it was a relief to be in the ILYM Campgroundscountryside and out of doors for long periods of time. For me, the site was almost magical; I was mesmerized by the sound of frogs, insects and the wind rushing through the trees, accompanied by the blinking lights of the fireflies that hung in the air throughout the camp site and across the cornfields.

This was a good environment for the ministry that I was called to do. Friends in ILYM asked me to speak to them during their first evening sessions; they asked me to share about my spiritual Clear Creek Meeting House Interior journey. No further instructions. I spent a lot of time in prayer about what I was to say, and as I arrived early at the Yearly Meeting site, I was beginning to feel around the edges of it. On the morning of the day I was to speak, I felt clear that I had been given a word from the Lord to deliver to Friends.

And so it was. That evening, I shared with Friends about my trials and stumblings as a youth; my existential despair and confusion; my eventual convincement as a Friend; and my long journey, ILYM AYFswhich continues, to grow closer in my walk with Christ. My message ended up being centered around listening, and I asked Friends in ILYM to consider how they taught their young people  to listen for the voice of God in their hearts. Based on the worship that followed and the comments that I received afterwards, I believe that I was faithful.

Except for a workshop which I presented the following day about the North American Young Adult Friends movement, I was mostly free to spend the rest of the sessions in prayer and Micah with Caryn and Zoe conversation with Friends. I spent much of my time with the Young Adult Friends (in ILYM called “Adult Young Friends”), and I was grateful to be available to them as they did some discernment around what they are called to as a community within ILYM. I was pleased to hear a vision emerge among them: That their  community was to be a place of transition, aiding young Quakers in the transition to full adult membership and participation in the Yearly Meeting.

It was truly a gift to be with Friends at ILYM’s sessions. I felt very warmly welcomed among them, and I look forward to how I might be of service in the future. I have seen that the Lord has blessed them with competent and Spirit-led leadership, and I am confident that God is working out God’s purposes in their midst.

The next couple of months are going to be just as intense as the last month has been. I am leaving today for Barnesville, Ohio, to attend the Wider Gathering of Conservative Friends. Following that, I will continue on in Barnesville for QuakerSpring – a unique, completely “unprogrammed” time to gather together in Christ. Finally, after a few days back in DC, I will make my way out to the Pacific Northwest for the Quaker Youth Pilgrimage, where I will serve as one of four adult leaders, serving with almost thirty high-school-aged Young Friends as we discover together our rich heritage as Quakers. I will not be back home until mid-August.
I appreciate your prayers for me as I continue to travel and minister as God leads. I hope that you will continue to hold me in the Light, and that you will let me know if you have prayer concerns that you would like me to take into my prayer life.

Your brother in the family that is Christ’s Reign,

Micah Bales

Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #19 – After Months of Prayer and Preparation, YAF Gathering 2010 is this Weekend

Dear Friends of Truth,

This past month has been one of intense, final preparations for the Young Adult Friends Gathering that will take place this weekend in Wichita, Kansas. We on the planning committee have juggled Arkansas River - Wichita, Kansasthe logistics of food preparation and where to purchase necessary supplies; the ins and outs of insurance regulations; putting  together information packets and nametags; and making plans for housing conference participants. On top of this, we have made a concerted effort to get the word out, so that all YAFs could learn about the conference and consider whether they were being led to attend.

As I write to you today, we still have many details ahead of us: rides to and from the airport, bus station and train station; housing assignments; food preparation; and more. However, despite the details that remain, I feel confident in saying that we are on course. This gathering is happening. The rest is up to God.
It has always been up to God, of course. It was God who brought us together as a planning committee; who gave each of us a heart for this ministry of reconciliation among Friends. It was God who guided us and showed us what our theme was to be – drawing on 1 University Friends Meeting HouseJohn 1:1-3 – Bearing Witness to the Word Among Us: Witness,  Testimony and Transformation. It is God who has raised up Dave Williams of Barclay College to be our main speaker; God spoke to his heart, and led him to share of himself and his experience of Christ with Young Adult Friends. It is God who is drawing approximately seventy-five Friends from across North America to come together this weekend in Wichita, to see what love can do – so that we may be witnesses to God’s mercy and power, to the ways in which God is working among Friends across the continent.

This is the faith that we on the planning committee had to have in order to stay sane during this planning process: That God is in Keeper of the Plains - Wichita, Kansascontrol, guiding and caring for us as we seek to be instruments for God’s purposes. We have sensed God’s providence in the way the Spirit has spoken to each of our hearts – not only those of us on the planning committee, but also our speaker, works hop leaders, Bible study leaders, pastoral care team members; indeed, to all of us who will be in attendance this weekend. We have been called together for a purpose, and I am waiting with baited breath to see what God will do with us as we are gathered in God’s name.
 
Please pray for all of us – planners, leaders, participants, young adults and older adults. Pray that we may know Christ’s presence in our midst as a community, and that we may be brought into true unity in the Spirit. May God’s Word be revealed to us  – let us hear it and see it and touch it, so that we may be witnesses to the whole world of what we have experienced of the Truth.

Your friend in the life and power of the Spirit,

Micah

Report on Summer Travels to Pickett Endowment

I recently submitted the following report to the Pickett Endowment Grant, which helped make my travels this summer financially possible. I would encourage Friends who have ministry projects that would strengthen the Religious Society of Friends to apply for this grant, and for those with the resources to do so to donate to the grant.

Dear Friends,

Over the course of the past several years I have found myself increasingly coming under the weight of a concern to travel among Friends. This first came in the form of my yearly meeting graciously sending me to the World Gathering of Young Friends in Lancaster, England, in 2005. Later, I would travel to Baltimore Yearly Meeting under a minute from Great Plains Yearly Meeting. Eventually, I traveled among Friends in the Mid-Atlantic region, visiting meetings in New England, Baltimore and Philadelphia yearly meetings, as well as to two meetings in Mexico. I also traveled to Midwestern meetings in Indiana, Western, and Ohio Valley yearly meetings, and to other meetings in the Great Plains region.

As this travel proceeded, I found myself becoming increasingly involved in a growing and energetic network of younger Friends, mostly in our twenties, some in our thirties, some even younger, who longed for a deeper experience of Quakerism than many of us were experiencing in our everyday lives. I found that I was not the only young person who was excited about the witness of the Quaker expression of Christianity and the testimony of the early Friends. I found that I was not the only young Friend who was both excited by the depths of the primitive Christianity of Friends and not alone in my belief that we as a Religious Society are being called to radical faithfulness in Christ. In my travels, I kept coming into contact with other Friends who were chomping at the bit to put Quakerism into daily practice, to live into the radical faith that our spiritual ancestors testified to.

I saw that there was a movement growing among younger Friends, a hunger for connection and purpose in a culture hostile to genuine faith; a culture that seeks to commodify all things, including God; a culture that separates us through individualism, materialism and greed rather than uniting us in service to the marginalized and oppressed. I saw that God wanted to use the Religious Society of Friends as an instrument of the Holy Spirit, to draw Friends into fellowships of self-emptying and unconditional love. I sought to be open to how Christ wanted to use me to further this movement of His Holy Spirit in our midst.

This past year, I became clear that God was calling me to undertake more extensive travel among Friends. I felt a concern to personally bridge some of the divisions that have fractured the Religious Society of Friends, reaching out to Friends from across the theological, geographical and cultural spectrum. Thanks in large part to the Pickett Endowment Grant, I was released to undertake such travel this past summer. I visited a wide variety of Friends from across the United States and Mexico, spanning all of the principal branches of North American Quakerism: Liberal, Friends United Meeting, Conservative, and Evangelical Friends Church International.

Following the Young Adult Friends Conference in Richmond, Indiana, I visited Friends in Miami, Florida, where I got a small taste of what Quakerism looks like in Southeastern Yearly Meeting. After attending my yearly meeting, Great Plains, I continued on to visit Friends in Mexico City, rejoicing in the increasing strength of the Casa de los Amigos as Friends there sought who the Spirit of God is calling them to be in the heart of the largest metropolis in the Americas.

Returning to the United States, I attended the General Gathering of Conservative Friends, in Barnsville, Ohio. I was pleased to see the way in which Ohio Yearly Meeting is reaching out to seekers across the United States and the world, sharing their understanding of the Friends’ message of the present Risen Christ. Following that weekend, I attended Quaker Camp in the same location. This was a peaceful week of praying and contemplating with Friends from the US and Canada, seeking to sense each day what it was that Christ was calling us to do.

I had the privilege to attend Friends General Conference Gathering, in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, and to get a sense of what this event, so lauded and appreciated by many Liberal Friends, was all about. A week of dipping into the peculiar culture that is Friends General Conference’s Gathering was very educational for me, as well as at times being an experience of culture shock. After visiting Friends in New Jersey, Philadelphia and Washington, DC, I made my way to High Point, North Carolina, to attend the Friends United Meeting Triennial, where I was overwhelmed by the diversity of Friends from across the Americas and Africa who gathered together to worship God and celebrate the projects of Friends United Meeting in East Africa, Palestine, Jamaica and Belize. During and after the Triennial, I was able to briefly visit North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative), which was meeting concurrently with the Triennial in nearby Greensboro.

I then made my way into the realm of Evangelical Friends, visiting Northwest Yearly Meeting as they gathered in Newberg, Oregon. I was delighted by my experience at Northwest Yearly Meeting and felt a profound spiritual kinship with Friends there. I was also able to visit two local meetings in Oregon: Reedwood Friends in Portland, and Freedom Friends in Salem. Finally, I made my way to Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative), meeting on the campus of Scattergood Friends School. I was very impressed by these Friends’ practice of doing business in a worshipful spirit, and I felt great affinity for the heart of this yearly meeting. Gathered together in the presence of the Risen Christ, we were called to turn back from the selfish and destructive ways that we as humans have chosen to live in God’s creation.

I began my journey this summer unsure of what might be the result of my travels. I wondered whether God had a message for me to deliver as I traveled. I do not believe that I did, at least not a message beyond the simple message of giving and receiving hospitality, friendship and the peace of Christ. Nevertheless, by the time I had returned to Richmond, Indiana, to resume my studies at the Earlham School of Religion I felt certain that I had received a message. This message, slowly infused into me over the course of my travels, was a call to repentance.

Everywhere I traveled this summer, I felt God drawing my attention to the desperate need we Friends have to repent, to turn away from our selfishness, our false sense of security and self-sufficiency. So often, we Friends imagine that our belonging to our precious Religious Society is sufficient to save us, to make us righteous and justified before God. We so often imagine that we know the way, and that if only others would listen to us the world would be, if not perfect, a much better place. We want to believe that we can be faithful servants of the Living God while living lives of comfort, participating in empire. But again and again this summer, I felt God placing on my heart and on my lips the verdict of Christ when he spoke to the church in Laodicea: “…you say, ‘I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.’ You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” (Rev. 4:17)

I am not the only one hearing this divine verdict our attitudes and behavior. I heard this judgment on the lips of another Friend during worship at North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative) when he quoted this same passage of scripture. I was convicted of God’s judgment of our decisions when a minister stood during worship at Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) and described her shock when her child discovered a monstrously deformed frog with two extra legs, testimony of the creation to the effect our collective sin is having on the earth and its creatures. I heard us being called to repent, to turn back to our Lord in humble obedience, through the song of one Friend during the closing worship at Friends General Conference Gathering when she sang, calling us to “sink down to the Seed.” There were Friends that I met at each stage of my journey who were concerned that we as a church were not living up to our calling to be the Body of Christ, the children of God who walk in the light of day.

The call I have heard this summer is for all of us, young and old. We must make the decision, as individuals and as a body, to turn towards the Inward Witness of Christ and away from our own understanding, our own desiring, our own striving. Because God can and will raise up true spiritual children to George Fox if we do not live into the Truth, humbling ourselves in the presence of the Spirit, sinking down to the Seed. The call I have heard this summer is that we come together as one, turning away from our selfishness; that we make the choice to bear one another’s burdens and to make ourselves servants to our brothers and sisters. We are to be a blessing to the world, to bring good news to the poor and to proclaim release to the captives. But first we must be healed of our own blindness. Today is the day of the Lord’s favor, and the day of decision. Will we humble ourselves enough to hear the call?

I give thanks for the blessing of being financially released to travel this summer, to minister and be ministered to. I am grateful to the Pickett Endowment for helping to make these travels financially feasible for me, and I pray that the endowment will continue to support budding Friends ministers in this way. Please continue to use these funds to build up the Church and to encourage the ministry of Friends, both among Friends and to others.

Your friend in Truth,

Micah Bales
Heartland Friends MeetingGreat Plains Yearly Meeting

YAF Gathering in Richmond


As a result of my contacts with Friends in the wider Religious Society over the past few years, since attending the World Gathering of Young Friends in Lancaster, England, in 2005, I have found myself increasingly drawn into a movement of Young Adult Friends (YAFs). In February of 2007, we met together at Burlington, where the Spirit of God was powerfully felt among us, showing us that we were the People of God, the Children of the Light, and that God had a mission for us, together. Since that time, I have been working with a number of other YAF leaders to cooperate in the work of the Holy Spirit to draw together the disparate shards of our Religious Society, attempting to heed the voice of Christ within. It has become clear to me that God is raising up a new valiant generation of ministers qualified to preach the Gospel of Christ across North America, and the world. 

      Since late spring of 2007, I have been in regular meetings with other Young Adult Friends leaders from across the continent, attempting to discern with them the way in which God is leading us to move. At a meeting in Boston, in April, 2007, a small group of us met and came to unity that a North American organization for Young Adult Friends should be formed, to bring together Friends from across the theological and geographical spectrum of the North American continent. This sense was confirmed by a subsequent meeting of a larger number of young adults at Barnsville, Ohio, in June, 2007. Despite our sense of divine direction towards the ultimate goal of inaugurating a North American YAF organization, by late fall of 2007, it became clear that the energy of many young adult leaders was focused on organizing a YAF Conference. Bowing to where Friends’ energy seemed to be headed, I and other leaders have taken part in a process of planning a gathering for Young Adult Friends.

      The conference for Young Adult Friends, entitled Living as Friends, Listening Within, took place from May 23rd to 26th, 2008 on the campus of the Earlham School of Religion and Earlham College. Young Adult Friends from across the US and Canada, and with representation from all of the branches of North American Quakerism, gathered together for a time of intense fellowship, worship, workshops, and interest groups. During these days in Richmond, we were stretched, challenged to deepen our faith in the Spirit of Christ and our willingness to live out our faith in the world. We wrestled with the meaning of Paul’s words to the Romans: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good, and acceptable, and perfect” (Romans 12:2). We were encouraged by many young adult ministers to listen within to the Inward Guide and to be faithful to that Voice, submitting ourselves to our God-given leadings under the care of our monthly meetings and spiritual elders. We were convicted of our own unwillingness to live into the radical message of Jesus and exhorted to let our lives be conformed to that Life. We were ministered to as one, and shown that we are the Body of Christ. At the same time, we were reminded that we as Young Adult Friends are only one small part of the Religious Society of Friends, and an even tinier part of the whole of the Body of Christ. Further, we were reminded of the brokenness of Christ’s Body and how far we as Friends have to go in being healed, both as individuals and as a religious community.

      As one of the organizers of this conference, it was a very different experience for me than if I had been solely a participant. I felt a strong sense of needing to ground the gathering, particularly the worship sessions, and worked with the pastoral care team to help spiritually anchor the gathered body, which at times had an energy that seemed to spiral out of control. The reality that I ultimately had no control was humbling, as I was once again brought to acknowledge that only Christ has lordship, and that all I can do is submit to being an instrument in the divine plan. The conference was a victory in the Lamb’s war, but the battle was won by the spiritual sword that proceeds from the mouth of Christ, and not from any outward force that we as organizers could have wielded. 

      As we move forward from this conference, I would ask for the continuing prayers of all Friends. I pray for the continuing guidance of the Spirit of Christ to be with all of us in the Religious Society of Friends, and in particular with those who are feeling a call to nurture the Young Adult Friends movement in North America. I pray for God’s guidance in revealing to us what next steps we are to take in this movement, that our spiritual offering to God might be good, and acceptable, and perfect.