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Are We Ready?

Most of us, at one time or another, have put a lot of energy into trying to preserve long-standing forms and institutions. In my own case, I have been drawn to seek revitalization in my local Meeting and in my Yearly Meeting, as well as in wider bodies, like Friends United Meeting. These are institutions that have been around much longer than I have, but, though it is easy for me to take them for granted, they cannot continue to exist and operate without our time, energy and financial resources.

And it is right that we give these time-honored institutions some of our attention. We should seek the Young Quakers Plotting Goodnessrevival of our established fellowships and institutions. These churches and organizations have nurtured so many of us, given us a place to learn to listen to the still, small voice of Jesus in our hearts and, in obedience to him, to translate our faith into action. Our established institutions have  benefited, and continue to benefit the spiritual growth of so many. There are still many hearts to be reached within the frameworks of our established fellowships, and lives can be changed by engaging in the struggle for growth and forward momentum in the religious communities and structures that we belong to.

At the same time, I believe that if we focus most or all  Hip-hop in Quaker meetinghouseof our energy on resuscitating stagnant or dying institutions, we risk failing to re-contextualize the Gospel to emerging generations. Just as in Jesus’ day, there are many of us who have the form of righteousness – who follow all the procedural rules to be “church people” – but who are not radically submitted to Christ.

The truth is, if we are under Jesus’ present leadership, we are in for some radical changes. He has new wine for us that will burst many of the old wineskins that sustained and strengthened prior generations. We are in a new cultural context in the post-modern West, and we are being called to engage with this new situation.

We can’t yet say what form these new, contextualized expressions of the Gospel will take; they will come in  many different Sign at New City Friends, Detroit, MIshapes and sizes, based on local circumstances and the purposes  of the Holy Spirit. For our part, we must make a decision to be obedient to Christ’s guidance, even if it shakes things up, threatening the established way of doing things.

Are we ready for radical faithfulness?

A Few of God’s New Creations:


Capitol Hill Friends (Washington, DC)
Freedom Friends Church (Salem, OR)
New City Friends (Detroit, MI)
Old Town Friends Fellowship (Baltimore, MD)
The Underground Connection (Fountain City, IN)

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 #3

Dear Friends of Jesus,

My ministry of intervisitation and prayerful listening is continuing here in Wichita, Kansas, as I prepare to reach out to Friends communities in Oklahoma, Northern Kansas, Texas and Nebraska. These past two weeks have been a time of great blessing and hope for me, as I have felt and seen the work of the Lord prospering in the Body here in Wichita.

Among Friends in Wichita

A couple of weeks ago, I had my first in-person meeting with my yearly meeting oversight committee. I met with representatives from Heartland and University Friends meetings in Wichita and Hominy Friends Meeting in Hominy, Oklahoma. We had a rich time of worship and prayerful sharing on the state our local meetings and our personal walks with Christ. Following the meeting, David Nagle of Hominy Friends Meeting and I lingered to share more time together and discuss how we might work together in Oklahoma. There is a lot of work to be done, and I am looking forward to meeting with Friends in Hominy soon and seeing how I can be of service.

These past couple of weeks I have begun attending University Friends’ youth group on Sunday evenings. The youth group is very lively, with about thirty or forty middle school and high school aged youth present, depending on the night. They gather together around six o’clock; many of them are picked up by the church van. Once they are assembled, they participate in worship and religious education, followed by basketball in the gym or board games, and finally there are snacks before the youth are taken back home. I am thankful for the work that close to a dozen volunteers are putting in to keep this youth program going, which is in large part an outreach effort to the wider community – many of the participants are not from families of church members. I pray that God will guide me as I seek to be of service in this context.

I am excited by my opportunities to serve with Friends at University Meeting, and I am equally upbeat about the work that we are doing together at Heartland Meeting. This past Sunday was monthly meeting for business, and I was pleased at the discussions we had about how to move forward together in this ministry. We continue to discern how God wants to use me in my ministry to Heartland Friends. My care and support committee has been very proactive in supporting me and helping ground me, and the meeting as a whole, in this process. I felt very positive about our most recent meeting this past week; I feel like I am receiving a fair amount of counsel and constructive eldering from the committee, and it feels good to know that these Friends care about my welfare and about our faithfulness in caring for this ministry.

While I hope that Friends at Heartland Meeting are coming to know me better as we deepen our relationship, I feel that I am growing in appreciation and understanding for Heartland as a body. Since I have only been a member since late 2004, I have had a very limited view of Heartland’s character. Meeting with all of the active membership has helped me gain a greater appreciation for the history of the meeting and the human relationships that go back decades. The personal connections that undergird this meeting have been largely unknown to me as a relative newcomer, but with Friends’ help I am gaining a greater sense of the history of the meeting.

Beyond the Religious Society of Friends

As rich and valuable as my experiences have been with Friends in the last weeks, I have been increasingly sensing that God is calling me to engage not only with Quakers, but also with all seekers of God’s truth. In particular, I feel that God has been drawing me into relationship with the wider Christian Church here in Wichita. It began last month when Faith and I met with a group of young Methodists who were led to live together in a house that they had renovated in their neighborhood in downtown Wichita. We saw how God was moving not just among Friends, but throughout the Church, and we knew that we wanted to be a part of that larger movement of the Spirit. We have been drawn deeper into relationship with the wider Church in the past few weeks through encounters with fellow laborers from the Protestant tradition. First of all, Shane Claiborne came to Wichita. Then, I was able to meet with Jerry Truex, pastor of Mennonite Church of the Servant here in Wichita.

Jerry really impressed me with the story of his church and their work for peace and justice in Wichita. The church meets in a very marginalized part of Wichita, and many of their members are homeless, drug and alcohol addicts, and/or living in dire poverty. As I understand it, the church began in the 1970s as a collection of house churches that came together for Sunday morning worship. This legacy continues today, with most of the church members living in the neighborhood and being involved in ministries that seek to embody Christ’s love and justice among the poor of Wichita. I am interested in seeing how I and others might partner with Church of the Servant in walking in the Way of Christ among the poor in Wichita. I met recently with the young Methodist community to see if they would be interested in connecting with Jerry and the Church of the Servant to see how they might collaborate. God willing, a number of us should be meeting together to talk about the possibilities later this month.

Beyond Wichita

While things may soon be heating up here in Wichita, my schedule for visitation outside of the city is becoming more densely packed. I will be traveling to Hominy Friends Meeting in Osage Country, Oklahoma, March 20-22. I will be helping out with their annual Wild Onion Dinner, bringing a message that Sunday, and leading a workshop on Friends history and heritage. The following weekend, March 27-29, I will be traveling to Manhattan, Kansas, to visit the Friends meeting there. I have been so looking forward to this visit since the last time I visited there about a year ago. Friends in Manhattan are a precious meeting, and I am excited to be among them again. The weekend after that, April 3-5, I will be traveling to Lubbock, Texas, to visit Lubbock Friends Meeting (South Central Yearly Meeting) and Caprock Christian Fellowship.

Furthermore, I have received word from Eric Jones of Central City Monthly Meeting that the worship group in Kearney, Nebraska, will continue meeting on the first and third Sundays of the month, and that a new worship group will probably be formed in Grand Island, meeting every fourth Sunday. April 17-19, I will be in Kearney to meet with Friends there, followed by a trip to Grand Island April 24-26. It is my hope that my visits might be a sign to Friends in central Nebraska of Great Plains Yearly Meeting’s continuing love and concern for them. I also hope that God might in some way use me to lend energy and momentum to these two fledgling worship groups, that they may grow in God’s care into strong and deeply rooted meetings.

Right Now

I am very encouraged by the work that God is doing in the Church in the Great Plains region. I feel deep personal gratitude for how God has upheld me in my personal life and public ministry. The Good Shepherd really does feed his sheep, though I doubt. Thank you for your prayers, support, counsel and hospitality. Please know that God is working through us as we seek to be obedient together. Christ is walking beside us, among us.

For the coming weeks, I would ask that you:

* Continue praying – for me, for the meetings I will be visiting, for Great Plains Yearly Meeting, and for the entire Church in the Heartland of the United States. Your prayers are making a difference!

* Consider whether you feel led to accompany me on any of the visits I have mentioned.

* Write me and let me know how God is working in your life and what ministry God is calling you to.

Blessings on you and your ministry as we walk together in the Way of Jesus,

Micah Bales

Freedom Friends Church

This Sunday, I traveled with Tyler Hampton and my grandmother, Elenita Bales, to attend meeting for worship at Freedom Friends Church (FFC), in Salem, Oregon. I almost missed the meetinghouse, since it didn’t fit my usual stereotypes of Friends meetinghouses/church buildings. Freedom Friends’ worships in a converted real estate office, and has several signs posted in its large front windows: One is a metal sign which reads, “Friends Church (Quakers)”; another is a neon sign, appropriate for a restaurant or bar, which simply says, “OPEN.”

Arriving early, we were able to sit and chat with folks as they came in before the service began. The attenders of FFC that morning were an eclectic mix of people, about twenty or twenty five in all, spanning age, class, gender identity/sexuality and religious background. I was impressed to meet middle class folks, working class folks, queer folks, straight folks, those coming out of the wider Quaker tradition, and those who were raised in other traditions. There is a rich diversity at Freedom Friends, a diversity made possible by a radically inclusive faith rooted in an intimate encounter with the Spirit of Jesus Christ.

FFC describes itself on its website as, “passionately Christ-centered, passionately Quaker and passionately inclusive.” From what I saw on Sunday, I would affirm this statement. Freedom Friends is a Quaker church, emerging out of the pastoral tradition of Friends. The pastor, Peggy Parsons, comes out of Northwest Yearly Meeting, but laid down her recording in that body to help found this new church. Unable to establish a church welcoming to queer folks within Northwest, because of the clarity with which Northwest’s Faith and Practice denys membership, much less leadership, to “unrepentant” homosexuals (see page 64), yet too clearly Christian and pastoral to fit in with North Pacific Yearly Meeting, Freedom Friends exists as an independent monthly meeting and is currently preparing its own Faith and Practice. While Peggy Parsons indicated to me that she would gladly rejoin Northwest if that yearly meeting’s position on homosexuality changed, it does not appear that this will be happening any time in the near future. And so, Friends at FFC forge ahead, alone.

Nevertheless, despite its independence from other Friends bodies, Freedom Friends is solidly rooted in the Quaker tradition. I was pleased to see the way in which Peggy guided the worship service, giving clear explanations of what was happening at each stage. For example, explaining the meaning of open worship in the Quaker tradition before leading us into silent waiting before God. She did use Quaker lingo (for example, “are all hearts clear?” at the end of open worship), but she also translated herself so that all would come to know what the expression referred to (“does anyone have anything on their hearts that still needs to be spoken?”).

The service looked like this: We began singing a few hymns out of the FFC hymnal, which was composed of loose sheets bound together in plastic binders. The hymns chosen for the hymnal, Peggy explained, avoided “guilt and shame,” as well as other types of “theologically destructive” language. After a hymn or two, Peggy introduced visitors, and we sang another hymn or two. Following singing, there was a period of what might be referred to in other contexts as “worship sharing,” sharing about what we were grateful for. Once many had shared their gratitude, there was a similar time for prayer requests and sharing struggles with the community. Finally, there was about a half an hour of open worship, during which time folks were encouraged to feel free to sit at a table in the meetingroom where they could do art. Three Friends took advantage of that opportunity and drew with colored pencils during open worship.

I am very excited about FFC’s potential for reaching out to unchurched people, and, in particular, to people who are excluded by most churches and meetings. Peggy’s role as pastor during the service seemed to be that of guiding us through each step and explaining what was happening. This seemed to me to be extremely valuable for those who are coming into the Quaker stream of Christianity, orienting them as to why Friends practice and believe as we do, creating a safe and welcoming entry point into the world of Friends, solidly grounded in the tradition. We could use this kind of openness and clarity in other Friends meetings. I am encouraged by what I have seen at Freedom Friends Church, and look forward to hearing about their walk with the Lord and progress in serving the Kingdom in the future.

One word of caution: I was happy to hear Peggy say that she would like to rejoin Northwest Yearly Meeting if their stance on homosexuality in the Church were to change; and I appreciate that leaving NWYM was not a decision that Peggy and others took lightly. However, I hope that Friends at FFC and Friends elsewhere who find themselves similarly called by conscience to take a stand on these and other issues within the Religious Society of Friends will seek always for unity, keeping that hope and intention always in their minds and hearts as they move forward. I pray that this break can be a mendable one, like earlier splits between Indiana Yearly Meeting (Orthodox) and Indiana Yearly Meeting (Antislavery), and not like the Hicksite/Orthodox or Gurneyite/Wilburite splits, which have festered to global proportions.