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Nurturing a Movement at Home and Abroad – Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #25

Dear Friends of Jesus,

Greetings from Capitol Hill, where we are still enjoying relatively high temperatures despite being at the end of November. My father, whoThanksgiving on Capitol Hill was here with us for the Thanksgiving break, commented many times on how mild our weather was, and I feel grateful that we have not yet begun to get the wintry conditions that I hear are now developing in much of the country.

This past month has been one of many blessings in our work here on Capitol Hill, as well as in the wider world. Early this month, FaithYoung Adult Friends at Quaker Hill and I were able to attend the Young Adult Friends Intervisitation Consultation, held at Quaker Hill in Richmond, Indiana. The event was jointly sponsored by Friends General Conference and Friends United Meeting. I felt blessed to be able to connect with a number of fellow gospel laborers who were also in attendance. I continue to benefit from the wider community of Friends, which helps me to understand my place in our tradition. I hope that my service is of some benefit to the wider Religious Society of Friends.

Following the consultation, I was able to meet with the planning committee for the 2010 YAF Gathering, which took place this past May. This was our last meeting, six months after the end of the conference, and it was good to debrief as a committee and finish the last bits of business that we had before us. Overall, we felt that we had been faithful in our service as organizers for the 2010 YAF Gathering, and we were grateful for the leading and opportunity to serve in this way.

We were grateful for the ways that we as a planning committee were able to connect, and the ways in which we experiencedYAF 2010 Planning Committee in Richmond Christ’s presence in our midst, both in our planning and during the conference itself. We were saddened by the fact that some participants did not feel welcome at the gathering. As we invited Friends to attend, we found that Liberals often felt that they were being invited to an Evangelical gathering, and Evangelicals often felt they were being invited to a Liberal gathering. It is indeed a hard thing to stand in the middle in the diverse and heterodox tapestry of communities that make up North American Quakerism.

The following weekend, we on Capitol Hill were blessed by the arrival of Tyler Hampton of New City Friends in Detroit. Tyler visited amongTyler Hampton us under a minute from his worship group, and participated in a called meeting for worship of Capitol Hill Friends. We traveled with him to visit Rockingham Friends Meeting in Harrisonburg, Virginia, and later to Old Town Friends in Baltimore. Our sense was that Tyler was of great service in his ministry among us, and in our region, and we are thankful to New City Friends for sending him to us.

Tyler is among a growing number of Friends who are feeling a call to take part in a movement of engaged, missional Quaker faith. WithIMG_1124 his and others’ encouragement, I have recently written a series of essays on my blog that give a rough sketch of what such a movement might look like among Friends and beyond. The response to this series has been great, and I am pleased to see how much enthusiasm exists for a more vital, Christ-centered, justice-seeking Quaker witness. I hope to continue to encourage Friends to join me and others in listening for how Christ is leading us today, and to live into the mission that he is calling us to.

There is no doubt that we are being called. In recent months, I have been contacted by Friends across the United States and Europe who are hearing Christ’s call to lead transformed lives that embody the Gospel and serve the “least of these” in our society. I am astonished by the work of the Spirit, and am constantly reminded of how little this has to do with me; God is doing a new thing, and I pray that I may be faithful in playing my own small part in this fresh movement of the Holy Spirit. And I hope that you will join me, finding your part in Christ’s work in this generation.

Locally, I have been encouraged by my recent interactions with two Christian communities in the DC area. To begin with, I have becomeWoman with Stroller in DC increasingly involved with the community of one of the attenders of Capitol Hill Friends. This attender lives with three other twenty-somethings in the Congress Heights neighborhood, which is predominantly low income and African-American. The folks at her house have some Quaker background, but do not have a shared spiritual practice as a community; their main goal is to be good neighbors in their area and to be involved in the wider community. I have begun attending Bible study there, which includes the residents of the house, as well as some other folks from the neighborhood. In addition, I am getting involved with the organizing of a new Food Not Bombs group, which seeks to serve the Congress Heights neighborhood.

I have also been blessed to come into relationship with some Friends in Frederick, Maryland who are eager to go deeper in aFrederick, MD missional expression of their faith as Quaker Christians. These Friends also hold a Bible study, and I am hopeful that we might be able to eventually attend at least some of their meetings, though Frederick is about an hour and a half away from us with heavy traffic, which renders the journey a bit difficult. Especially the single mothers with no means to public transport, it’s not everyone that can afford top rated baby walkers to go on long journeys safely with their children.  In any case, I hope that we can continue to encourage each other as we seek to walk in Christ’s Way.

It feels good to be getting more deeply involved in the wider community here in DC. For much of my first year here, my attentionE Capitol Street SE was mostly focused outward, on my work organizing among Young Adult Friends nationally. Now, however, I feel that God is calling me to focus more of my attention on developing relationships locally. I hope that, as I become more integrated into the city’s communal life, I might become a more effective witness to the grace and peace of Christ that has so transformed my own life.

Paradoxically, while I am seeing such amazing growth and opportunity in my life and work, I also struggle at times spiritually. I am often challenged to see the willfulness that still exists in my heart; I want things to happen after my own fashion, and it often takes me a long time to come around to accepting God’s will when it runs counter to my own assumptions and desires. As Christ calls me deeper into his Kingdom-life, I face the prospect of ongoing spiritual baptism. Just like the crucifixion that leads to resurrection, these inward baptisms can be truly confusing and agonizing, especially when I insist on resisting to the work of the Holy Spirit in my heart.

I am deeply grateful for my wife, Faith. God uses her so beautifully to keep me on track and to strengthen me when I pass through theFaith inward darkness. I am also grateful for the support and counsel of my Meeting, and of my fellow workers and elders scattered across the distances, who help keep me balanced and give me an outside perspective. I am who I am, and am released to do the work that I do, because of the faithful example and care of many good friends in Christ.

I pray that God establish in your life the relationships of support and guidance that you need as Christ calls you deeper into his challenging way of engagement with the world and his mission to share the Gospel with all people. I look forward to laboring alongside you in his name.

Your friend in Truth,

Micah

Missional Quaker Faith Series:

Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #17 – Growing Roots in the City and in the Soul

Dear Children of the Day,

Greetings in the love of Christ. The last month has been full of work and blessings, and there is much to report. After being able to spend some weeks at home in DC, travel has reemerged as a signature feature of my life and work. In the months ahead, my schedule looks to grow only more intense as I work to strengthen Friends throughout my region and in North America as a whole.

In the DC Area


William Penn House I have been mostly settled in DC for the past month, and I’ve had the chance to focus more on ministry within the local region. Capitol Hill Friends continues to meet, and Faith and I attend the nearby Takoma Park Meeting on an increasingly regular basis. We have also made two visits this month to Old Town Friends in the neighboring city of Baltimore. I have enjoyed getting to know the Friends at these two Meetings, and I hope to work with them to nurture the life of the Spirit in our midst.

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Most of this month has been a time of slow, quiet development. I am frustrated sometimes at how slowly my roots seem to be growing here in the District of Columbia. However, I know that building relationships takes a long time, and that it may well be years before I truly feel connected with my new hometown. The challenge is deepened by the fact that my professional life is largely unconnected to DC, and calls for frequent travel to other cities. Though I am impatient to go deeper in developing relationships where I live, I seek to trust in God’s timing, which is often very different from what I would prefer. I recognize that friendships do not develop overnight.


Travels to New Jersey and Philadelphia


In contrast to most of the month, this last week has been one of intense activity and travel. To begin with, Faith and I traveled to New Jersey and Philadelphia to meet with Friends there and encourage participation bymartinfamily young adult Friends in the Memorial Day YAF gathering in Wichita. We were honored to stay with Martin Kelley and his family at their home in New Jersey. It was good to re-connect with them over pizzelle, tea, pizza, and late-night card games. They were kind enough to let us use their house as a base of operations while we visited Friends in the city.

Our time with Friends in Philadelphia felt good. We met with Emily Stewart and Sadie Forsythe (young adult Friends coordinators at FGC and Philadelphia YM, respectively) and heard from them about how their communities were feeling about the upcoming YAF conference in Wichita. It was helpful to hear their sense of the communities where they serve as leaders. Following our time with them, we were able to have lunch with most of the YAF staff members of Philadelphia-based Quaker organizations (FGC, PYM and AFSC, in particular). It was a blessing to be able to share about the Wichita gathering and to address questions and concerns that Friends had about the event. The meeting left us feeling hopeful that we were developing good relationships with Friends in Philadelphia.
philadelphia
We felt grateful for the chance to spend time with Julian Brelsford, who works for Philadelphia Yearly Meeting and has spent a great deal of his personal time and energy doing work in Haiti, where he was present during the recent, devastating earthquake. Faith and I appreciated his spirit, and we are grateful for the work that we see God doing through him.
We were also able to visit Betsy Blake, a fabulous Quaker minister and entrepreneur (her laundry detergent is amazing!) who is living as Pendle Hill‘s artist in residence this year. It was a joy to be with her and to share with one another what we have been experiencing in the last weeks and months, as well as to connect with some other YAFs who were present for a concert.

FWCC Section of the Americas Annual Meeting


pearlstone retreat center That evening, we drove to the FWCC Section of the Americas annual meeting site outside of Baltimore, and I attended the Quaker Youth Pilgrimage working group the following morning. I will be serving as a leader for the program this summer, which will take place in Oregon and Washington state. The pilgrimage will bring together Quaker youth (aged 16-18) from across the FWCC Section of the Americas and the European and Middle East Section, to spend a month together exploring our heritage as Friends and deepening our relationship with God. I have not had much experience with youth work before, but I feel that God is leading me to serve in this way. I trust that God will work through me, despite my sense of personal inadequacy for the task.

Ministers Retreat in Ohio


friends center sign After an evening back in DC, I was off again on Friday morning to a ministers retreat at Friends Center, in Barnesville, Ohio, facilitated by Brian Drayton, author of the widely-read “On Living With a Concern for Gospel Ministry.” The gathering included almost thirty ministers from throughout the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic. There was a very strong showing from Ohio Yearly Meeting – I was informed that most of Ohio’s active, recorded ministry was present at the event – and there were a number of Friends from Baltimore, Illinois and Ohio Valley yearly meetings.

stillwater meeting house Our time together was well-spent. The weekend was a time of almost constant worship and deep, expectant waiting on the Lord. It was a blessing to be among so many Friends who shared a concern for Gospel ministry, and I felt that my relationships in the Lord were deepened with a number of individuals. Perhaps most importantly, I had the opportunity to connect with other ministers from the DC area, two of whom I had never met before. I am hopeful that we might seek ways to support one another in our Gospel labors in the region.

Looking Ahead


Faith and I will be traveling again to New York state this weekend, to attend a gathering of Young Adult Friends and encourage them in their engagement with the Spirit. Then, on April 3rd, we will be hosting a regional YAF gathering at the William Penn House, for young adults in the DC/Baltimore area. Please pray for these events: May God pour out the Holy Spirit on us and deepen our commitment to Christ’s work in the world. Also, please pray that God prepare us for the challenges and the blessings that will come to those who gather in Wichita this Memorial Day weekend.

Blessings to all of you in the name of our Lord, who longs to gather us under his wing like a mother hen does her chicks. May we be brought into peace and unity in Christ’s name.

Yours in the love and hope that is in Christ Jesus,

Micah Bales

Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #14 – Sowing Seeds at Home and Further Afield

Dear Children of Light,

The past weeks have been quite eventful, and we have had a sense that God’s work is being advanced. Both here in DC and further afield, God has been very generous in placing us in a position to share the message of the Lord’s indescribable love and peace, available to each of us as we open ourselves to it. Faith and I were grateful to have the opportunity to visit Friends at Takoma Park Meeting (Preparative), a short metro ride away – right on the northeastern border between DC and Maryland. Takoma Park is a sweet little Meeting, with perhaps fifteen in attendence when we visited. We felt very honored to be asked to stay after Meeting and share with a group of Friends about our experiences traveling among Friends. It was a joy to share some of our observations with them, as well to hear their perspectives on a variety of issues. We pray that God continue to bless Takoma Park Meeting, calling it into ever-greater spiritual depth as the work of the Holy Spirit brings Friends there into maturity, bestowing all of the gifts of the Spirit upon them.

We have spent a lot of time away from home in the last weeks, and we have felt blessed by those whom we have encountered in our travels. Faith and I spent most of the week of Thanksgiving in Ohio, visiting her family. On our way back to DC, we were able to attend Sunday morning worship at Stillwater Friends Meeting, in Barnesville, Ohio. After worship, Fran Taber and Richard Simon invited us to have lunch with them; we greatly enjoyed their hospitality and warm company, before hitting the road again.

On December 4-6, we flew to Wichita, Kansas, to take part in a planning meeting for a Young Adult Friends gathering. This gathering, which will take place over Memorial Day weekend, 2010, seeks to bring Friends together from across the United States, Canada, and possibly Mexico. This was the full planning committee’s first in-person meeting, and I was very pleased with how well we worked together. Almost a dozen of us spent the weekend worshiping, getting to know one another, and seeking God’s guidance to make the initial decisions that would guide the rest of our planning process. We were led to adopt the theme: “Bearing Witness to the Word Among Us – Witness, Testimony and Transformation.” The accompanying scriptural passage that we felt directed to was 1 John 1:1-3.

I was very excited to see the kind of broad participation that we are getting from YAFs in the Evangelical Friends world early on in the process. Of the twelve members of the planning committee, four are from Evangelical Friends Church; with two from Eastern Region, one from Mid-America Yearly Meeting, and one from Northwest Yearly Meeting. One of our number is from the Conservative Friends tradition (Ohio Yearly Meeting), another is from the Beanite/Independent branch of the Liberal-Unprogrammed tradition (Pacific Yearly Meeting), and another is a member of an FGC Yearly Meeting (Lake Erie Yearly Meeting). Three of us are from the FUM branch of the Orthodox tradition – Great Plains Yearly Meeting, North Carolina Yearly Meeting, and Wilmington Yearly Meeting; and two of us are members of University Friends Meeting, which is dually affiliated with Great Plains Yearly Meeting (FUM) and Mid-America Yearly Meeting (Evangelical Friends Church).

With this kind of diversity on our planning committee, I feel very hopeful that the gathering we are planning can be an inviting space for Friends of all backgrounds – particuarly for pastoral and Evangelical Friends. In the coming months, the planning committee will be doing extensive outreach to Friends across the continent, in a wide variety of Yearly Meetings, seeking maximum participation by Friends from all backgrounds. We would be very grateful for your prayers as we work on the event planning and outreach work that will be necessary to bring together Young Adult Friends from across our geographical, cultural and historical landscape. I am confident that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. I have already seen what a great group of people the Lord has brought together to work on this project, and I am convinced that if we are obedient we will serve God’s purposes in the months to come.

Here at home, Faith and I have been doing a bit of local organizing. This past Wednesday, December 9th, we had the second meeting of the Christian worship group that we have been hosting on Capitol Hill. We had a good turnout, with nine individuals in attendence; and our time together was blessed with a sense of joy. Dinner was provided, following which we sang hymns together and read the first two chapters of Luke aloud. Following this time of preparation, we entered into open worship. After about an hour, and several vocal messages, an advice was read aloud. After another short period of silence, the meeting for worship ended with the shaking of hands. I felt very encouraged by the spirit that was present among us as we worshiped together and shared fellowship after worship. Of the nine of us, seven of us were in our mid- to late- twenties, while the other two participants were Baby Boomers. It is my hope that this worship group will serve as a place of spiritual refreshment and encouragement to seekers of all ages and life stages. I also hope that it can be a group in which all attenders are loved and accepted for who they are, even as Christ calls us to go deeper and be transformed in His purifying light.

After our positive experiences hosting this time of worship and fellowship, Faith and I feel clear to begin holding this worship group on a regular basis starting in the new year. Beginning on Wednesday, January 13th, the worship group will meet every second and fourth Wednesday of the month. It is our hope that a solid group might develop over a period of sustained and regular meetings for worship. Please pray for the worship group as it takes its first halting steps. Pray that the group grow, gain in strength and maturity, and be raised up as a body that can be of service to God and our neighbors in the District of Columbia. Please also pray that God spiritually ground and actively teach every person who attends our meetings for worship, that we may all be brought into maturity and empowered to instruct others in the Way of the Gospel.

God bless each of you who read this letter, and may the Lord bless the ministry that God has called you to.

Your co-worker in Christ’s labor of love,

Micah Bales

Friends General Conference, Reflections

Now that I have made my way to a place where I have enough free time and access to a computer, I’ll describe my experience at FGC Gathering this past week. As I indicated in my last email, the week was a difficult one for me, and took a lot of adjustment on my part. However, as the days went by, I was able to adapt myself more and more to the way of life and schedule at FGC Gathering, so that by the end I felt more or less comfortable. Of course, then it was time to leave.

I think that I was expecting FGC Gathering to be more like a yearly meeting session than anything else; but, in fact, it was far closer to being a festival, concert, or summer camp for adults and families. Coming to this gathering, I felt that my role was to be an observer, to rest in God and seek to understand a different culture. I found soon that simply being at FGC Gathering as an observer took a great deal of energy, and that, though I felt that I did very little, I was very drained by dinnertime each evening. At many times the gathering felt centerless, with many different individuals and groups involved in their own activities. At times it seemed that the overall energy of the gathering was one of “anything goes,” a release from all inhibitions that had to be borne during the rest of the year.

I had hoped to be quite involved in the Young Adult Friends community at FGC Gathering, but to my chagrin almost all YAF events were scheduled for 9:15pm or later, with their business meetings regularly going well past midnight. Since I go to bed closer to “Quaker midnight,” I felt unable to take much part in that community. Instead, I spent most of my time mingling with older folks, which was just fine – but I had wanted to make more of a connection with younger Friends there, as well. I was able to make a connection with a few wonderful individual YAFs, but being a part of the group as a whole seemed out of reach.

During FGC Gathering I spent a lot of time observing and ruminating on the work that the Holy Spirit is doing among Friends in preparing us to be the Body of Christ in the world. I noticed several hopeful movements of the Spirit at work in the liberal-unprogrammed branch that are emerging or becoming strengthened at this time. In terms of Friends General Conference as an organization, the two most inspiring initiatives now underway are the Traveling Ministries Program and the nascent Quaker Quest program. I see these two initiatives as representing the future of Quakerism – at least in its unprogrammed variety – two sides of what is happening as God seeks to enliven, renew, reignite this generation of the Religious Society of Friends.

FGC’s fundraising campaign that is underway is called “Stoking the Spiritual Fires of Quakerism,” and I am pleased to see the idea of “being on fire” become in-vogue. Imagine that: Taking our faith seriously! The Quaker Quest program seems incredibly promising as a tool for evangelism/outreach, but also for inreach. As meetings undertake this program, I believe that we will become clearer about who we are as Friends, what we believe, how we should be living in the world. At the same time that Quaker Quest begins to take root and quite possibly transform our meetings both in terms of spiritual depth and numerically, it seems clear to me that it is imperative that we prepare ourselves as a religious community for a potential influx of newly convinced Friends, on a scale that we have not seen since the mid nineteenth century.

I see the Traveling Ministries Program as a key part of this preparation, helping to energize, connect, encourage and organize our ministers and elders, both young and old in Christ. I believe that our traveling Friends will become an increasingly important force in the Religious Society as God seeks to bring us into greater levels of faithfulness as a body. As Quaker Quest serves as a tool for God to enrich and expand our local meetings, God willing, the Traveling Ministries Program may serve to connect these meetings to the wider Religious Society of Friends, both grounding the local meeting in the wider body and tradition, as well as encouraging the flow of vitality and groundedness to other, less healthy areas of our community, and to the wider Church.

In this vein, another program that seems very promising which is emerging out of the East Coast stream of unprogrammed Quakerism is the School of the Spirit. This ministry has been at work since 1990, “helping all who wish to be more faithful listeners and responders to the inward work of Christ.” Until recently, the sole program of the School of the Spirit had been, “On Being a Spiritual Nurturer,” which serves to guide and nurture the emerging gifts of eldership within our Religious Society. This coming year will be the first in a (hopefully) ongoing program entitled, “The Way of Ministry,” which will serve a similar purpose for those called to Gospel, prophetic, traveling, teaching, or other kinds of ministry grounded within the meeting community, but often reaching out to the wider world.

The School of the Spirit seems very promising to me for a number of reasons: First, it appears to offer the kind of oversight and nurture that many monthly, quarterly and yearly meetings seem unable or unwilling to provide at the present time. Second, it seeks to encourage a grounded, caring fellowship of ministers and elders who support one another in their labors, providing nurture and guidance. Finally, and what is potentially most exciting about this program, the School of the Spirit is committed to the active participation of local meetings in the ministry of its students.

The School of the Spirit sees ministry of all kinds in the context of a corporate body – the local, quarterly and yearly meeting – and strives to involve these bodies to as great an extent as possible. They hold that it is essential that our meetings recognize the spiritual gifts and callings of their membership as not only being a call for that individual, but also for the body as a whole. Spiritual gifts are a gift from God to the body, held in trust by an individual; and calls from God, if true leadings, are not merely for the individual, but are in fact to some degree a call for the entire body, to be supported materially, encouraged, and overseen by the church community.

I am excited to see how these programs, along with many other smaller-scale initiatives that are blooming at present all over the Quaker landscape, will serve to enliven, enrich, and make more useful for God’s service the Religious Society of Friends in this new century. At FGC Gathering, I was surprised and pleased to notice that many Friends are becoming enthusiastic about outreach. During one night’s plenary session, when Peterson Toscano remarked during his presentation that he thought outreach was crucial, many in the audience began to cheer and clap spontaneously. This is an exciting day, when Friends in the unprogrammed branches are getting fired up about sharing their faith, inviting others into our meetings.

This has been a very difficult week for me, but I am glad that I was able to be at FGC Gathering. I feel that I have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of FGC at this gathering, and I am encouraged that the Ocean of Light is overcoming the Ocean of Darkness. The grass is growing up from underneath the blanket of snow that has kept us “safe,” hidden, for so long. Praise God. I pray that I was well used this past week, that the Seed of God was encouraged.

Early report from FGC

I must keep this entry brief, as there are two public computers for the entirety of this gathering, which hosts around 1,500 people. Consider this a preliminary report, to be amplified later:

I have spent most of my time at FGC Gathering attending extended worship (around 2 hours) after breakfast, learning about the Quaker Quest program in the afternoon, usually catching a nap, and then attending a plenary session in the evening. I have not had the opportunity to spend much time with Young Adult Friends here, as their schedule mostly takes place after nine ‘o clock at night. As I go to bed around ten, this has been unworkable for me. I have been doing my best to rest, take time for myself, and save energy for the rest of my summer ahead. My success has been limited.

My time thus far at FGC Gathering has been intense and, honestly, rather difficult for me. I’ve been experiencing a level of culture shock that I hadn’t really anticipated, given that I had enjoyed my time in FGC-affiliated monthly and yearly meetings, previously. I have been reflecting a great deal on the cultural differences between my region of the Religious Society of Friends and the parts of the Religious Society represented here at FGC Gathering. I realize that some of this must have to do with my own personality, as well.

More to come.

Now, to FGC Gathering

Until a couple of days ago, I did not think that I was going to Friends General Conference Gathering, being held this year at Johnstown, Pennsylvania. While having planned on attending when I originally considered my plans for the summer, a couple of months ago I came to the conclusion that FGC was an event that I would need to cut in order to have enough energy to undertake the rest of my intervisitation. However, in the latter part of this week, as I have considered what I felt led to be doing with my time in between Quaker Camp and FUM Triennial, I realized that I was feeling very drawn to travel among Friends in liberal-unprogrammed meetings in the Mid-Atlantic region. When I considered traveling among East Coast meetings this coming week, I realized that most folks whom I knew in those meetings would be at FGC Gathering. I also realized I had the money to attend the gathering, if I so chose, thanks to a grant from the Pickett Endowment. Critically, I felt inwardly at peace when I gave over to changing plans and attending the gathering.

So, having a probable leading to attend FGC Gathering, two questions remained: “Do I really have the energy to attend this event?” and “Is it still possible for me to register?” After some introspection and investigation, I have concluded that the answer to both is, “yes.”

See you at FGC, God willing.