I am in Barnesville this week for the annual sessions of Ohio Yearly Meeting. I have been looking forward to being at OYM sessions for about a year and a half. I was unable to attend last year, because I was serving as one of the leaders of the Quaker Youth Pilgrimage. This is my first time attending OYM as a member, and it feels very good to be here.
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 the 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 camp, 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, service 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 grow 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 remarkable 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 American 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 my 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 his 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. 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
able 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 – Camp 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 little 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. 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. 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,
El plazo de la registración para la reunión de Jovenes Amigos en Wichita se acerca rápidamente. Mientras el evento se acerca me gustaría compartir con ustedes un sentido de nuestro estado espiritual en cuanto a la reunion, y también lo que ésta conferencia significa para el resto de la sociedad religiosa de los Amigos.
Creemos que ésta reunión podría ser el más diverso evento cruz-rama para Jovenes Amigos desde por lo menos los años sesenta. Hasta el día de hoy tenemos, al menos dos registraciones de casi todas las juntas anuales en norteamérica. Estamos pronosticando que los Amigos de la Iglesia Evangélica Amigos; reuniones pastorales en la Junta Unida de los Amigos; y la Conferencia General de los Amigos van a participar aproxidamente en igual numero. Ésta es una oportunidad increible para todos Jovenes Amigos a reunirse y participar con lo que el Espíritu nos esta llamando a hacer ahora. Me siento bendecido de participar en este proceso.
Nuestra esperanza es que la reunión sea un espacio donde los Amigos de gran variedad de fondos, auto-conocimientos, creencias, e identidades puedan encontrar unidad en aquello que es eterno: El Espíritu de Dios. Es nuestra oración que todos puedan traer a su ser completo, y ser amados y respetados en nuestra comunidad así comos Dios nos ama – sin condiciones.
La conferencia del último fin de semana de mayo ha sido el enfoque de nuestras oraciones para muchos de nosotros por los ultimos seis meses, y nosotros como planificadores estamos agradecidos por el apoyo espiritual que se nos ha brindado así como hemos buscado proveer un espacio seguro y formentador para todos los Amigos. Gracias por sus oraciones, y por favor continúa sosteniendonos en la Luz del Amor de Dios.
Por increible que parezca para aquellos de nosotros en el comité de planificación, la conferencia casi ha llegado. La reunión se llevará acabo en menos de tres semanas – 28-31 de mayo; y éste Sabado – 15 de Mayo – es la fecha plazo para registrarse para el evento. Para aquellos de ustedes entre las edades de 18-35, esperamos que se unan a nosotros en ésta oportunidad histórica de reunirnos con jovenes cuáqueros de todo norteamérica para descubrir juntos qué puede hacer el amor entre nosotros. Para aquellos de ustedes que estan muy jovenes o muy mayores para asistir – por favor mantengannos en sus oraciones mientras buscamos abrir nuestro ser al gozo, paz, humildad, y a la ternura del Amor de Dios.
I had the opportunity this weekend to participate in a gathering of emergent church leaders – folks who are involved in or seek to be involved in planting missional, emergent faith communities rooted in the life and teachings of Jesus. I was able to hear speakers such as Brian McLaren, Peter Rollins, Kathy Escobar and Anthony Smith. I also attended workshops on Christian ecology; turning Jesus’ teachings into living practice as a community; developing new Christian communities alongside more traditional congregations; and a discussion on the way forward for Christians who are neither willing to exclude queer folk from the Church, nor downplay our respect for Scripture. Finally, and most importantly, I was privileged to connect with folks from all over the country, including quite a few from my neck of the woods.
The most spiritually-charged and powerful moment for me this weekend was Friday evening, when we gathered to hear Peter Collins preach. He spoke to us about the importance of doubt in our walk with God. Rollins observed that Christ himself cried out in doubt on the cross, and he emphasized the need to release our comforting beliefs and sense of identity, because they in fact separate us from God. God is Truth, not our limited and self-serving conceptions; the Truth – as terrifying and incomprehensible as it can be – must be a the center of our life in Christ. To place our own beliefs and desires at the center is to replace God with an idol, and to dodge the suffering of the cross, which we as Christians are called to bear with our Lord.
Peter Rollins believes that our worship together should reflect the “dark nights of the soul” – our times of spiritual despair, doubt, and sense of separation from God. Our corporate worship can tend to focus exclusively on our experiences of assurance and connection with God; but Rollins encouraged us to consider the role that acknowledgement of suffering, darkness and doubt might play in our shared life as church communities.
To give us a taste of what this might look like, Rollins asked Vince Anderson and Amy Moffitt to perform a song from the Ikon community in Ireland, where Rollins serves. It was a hymn of darkness, despair, loss and doubt. To be honest, it made me feel very uncomfortable. As the hymn came to a close, though, something remarkable happened. The Holy Spirit descended on us, and the entire gathered assembly was still and silent, hushed with awe. This was a clapping group, which normally gave applause after every event – but after this hymn, no one moved.
The awed silence was broken after a short while by the facilitator, wanting to move us along in our evening program. I felt grieved that the work of the Holy Spirit was being brushed aside. Others certainly felt this way, too. A man rose from the audience, interrupting our facilitator, “Thy kingdom came!” I heard voices say, “Amen!” The man continued to address the facilitator, “can we acknowledge the grace of God among us for a moment?” After perhaps a minute more of silent reverence before God, the facilitator again took up the schedule.
When we were dismissed a few minutes later, a young woman rose from the audience, interrupting folks as they greeted one another. She invited anyone who wanted to pray to join her at the front of the sanctuary where we were gathered. Faith and I immediately rose and followed her to the raised area at the front of the room. Five of us gathered in a circle while the rest of the group socialized and made their way out of the building. We took turns praying aloud as we were led. Praying for the gathering; that God to continue to pour out the Holy Spirit on us; asking forgiveness for the way in which we had turned away God’s presence from our midst. I feel so grateful for the way in which a few of us were drawn together in the Spirit in that moment to cry out to God and intercede for the Church.
I am in awe of how I see God at work in the wider Church, despite our failure to fully embrace the Spirit’s work in our midst. I feel grateful for the connections that I have made this weekend with other followers of Jesus, both here in the DC area and across North America. I had never been exposed to the emergent church movement before, having focused almost all of my attention on the Quaker community in the years since I became a Christian. As a result of this gathering, I feel energized to engage with emergent Protestants; both to learn from them and their experiences as disciples, and also to share with them the rich heritage of Quakerism, which informs my own walk with Christ. Together, I believe we can grow into more faithful friends of Jesus.
A few relevant links: