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Living in the Power

If but one man or woman were raised by his power, to stand and live in the same spirit that the prophets and apostles were in who gave forth the scriptures, that man or woman should shake all the country in their profession for ten miles round. – George Fox, Journal

For the kingdom of God depends not on talk, but on power. – 1 Corinthians 4:20

This weekend I’m headed out to Barnesville, Ohio for the spring gathering of the Friends of Jesus Fellowship. We’ll come together from across the country, listening for how the Holy Spirit wants to gather us, fill us, and send us into a world that is aching for God’s presence.

We will laugh together, and we’ll share our dreams. We will speak words meant to build us up for the mission that Jesus is calling us to. And we’ll be praying for the living Word of God to come and speak in our midst.

We yearn to be a part of a movement that transforms creation, redeeming the face of the earth. We long to shine out in the darkness. Could our lives blaze like the first apostles, the early Christian martyrs, and the Valiant Sixty of the original Quaker movement? As we gather in Barnesville, we cry out to be filled with the power of God that makes all things new.

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We cry out because, despite our highest aspirations, we know that we often get in the way of the change that the Spirit wants to make in our lives. We cling to the comfort of the known, even when life as we know it has grown too drab, stale and false to sustain the kingdom life.

The joy we have been called to in Christ explodes business as usual. The eye of the needle that we’re called to pass through is one that sifts out all smugness and certainty, all self-sufficiency and worldly confidence. The kingdom is revealed in the beautiful handiwork of God in our broken, out-of-control lives.

It is only when we are broken that we are ready to receive healing. Only those who are hungry can be filled. It is only when we surrender control of the future that we can wake up to the present-moment kingdom of God that is hidden in plain sight.

My prayer for this weekend is that God will prepare each one of us to be tender, awakened to our own brokenness and need of God’s grace. I pray that Jesus will be present among us, filling us with his own life and power, shining the light in us to convict us of sin and show us how to love one another as he first loved us.  

Can Quakers Become A Mass Movement?

I was talking recently with a friend about the possibilities for growth and outreach at Capitol Hill Friends, and he made a comment that struck me. He said that he did not view Quakerism as having much potential for being a mass movement, since it can be such a demanding, austere path. It was his opinion that many of the core disciplines of the Quaker path – such as silence, waiting, and group discernment – are simply not accessible to most people in our culture.

Is this true?

Without a doubt, the simple commitment to follow Jesus runs counter to many of the assumptions of mainstream society. In many ways, it is a hard thing to be a follower of Jesus and a citizen in Empire. Yet, many churches are growing today; a community of 150 people is not generally considered to be extravagantly large. Being a Christian is deeply challenging, but I know that there are many people in our city who would prefer a purposeful life of challenge to the meaningless rat race of consumer society.

All that being said, there is a certain reality to the claim that the Quaker path is simply not appealing to most people. The truth is, Quakerism has not been a mass movement for centuries. Based in my own personal experience, I would say that most North American Quaker congregations today have fewer than 50 active participants, and many – probably a majority – have far fewer than that.

In the Yearly Meeting (regional association) where I first became a Quaker, there was one church with a regular attendance of about 120. Every other congregation had fewer than 15 people on a Sunday morning. In another Yearly Meeting that I have been a part of, the largest congregation numbered perhaps several dozen on a Sunday morning. This made it abnormally large, since every other group in the Yearly Meeting had fewer than 10 people present at their worship! These are, perhaps, extreme cases, but they are my experience of the Quaker community at this point in time.

When I reflect on the demographic status of many parts of the Quaker community, it is understandable why my friend would conclude that Capitol Hill Friends could not reasonably expect to draw great numbers. It is demonstrably true that most Quaker communities do not attract many people. But why?

Is it because our tradition asks so much that only a sturdy few can take up the challenge? I cannot believe that. Though the gospel message can seem daunting, it is also good news for those who are suffering. Most of us struggle in so many ways, and there must be millions of Americans whose hearts would leap for joy if they received the good news of Jesus in a way that made sense to them. 

Are there aspects of our religious tradition that actually bar the way for those who are seeking God? Are there unquestioned habits and assumptions in our life as a community that keep others out? Has preserving a set of cultural distinctives become more important than inviting our friends, neighbors and co-workers into the life of God’s kingdom?

What would happen if we defied the assumption that our communities are only for a special few? How might our ways of engaging with the world change if we came to believe that the gospel is good news for the whole world? What traditions are we being called on to discard, modify or re-mix so that we become once again a mass movement that blesses the world?

Are We A Book Club, Or A Church?

But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. – James 1:22

I was raised in a family that prized education. Growing up, I viewed learning as an end unto itself, and my parents encouraged me to explore a wide range of subjects. I immersed myself in history, philosophy, vocal music and foreign languages. Later, I sang opera, studied abroad in Mexico and learned what it meant to be a historian. I graduated from college with a solid liberal arts education, steeped in the intellectual heritage of Western civilization.

While I am grateful for the training I received in my youth, it had certain weaknesses. Though I received a balanced and well-rounded education, I soon discovered that my liberal arts degree had not prepared me for any career in particular. If I wanted to become a historian, I would need to go back for a doctorate. If I wanted to teach Spanish, I would need to get an education degree. Most anything I could imagine doing would require more study.
Though I received a stellar education from grade school through seminary, I learned mostly theory rather than application. My training consisted mostly of learning how to do school rather than how to do life. At the end of the day, most of my practical knowledge came from outside the classroom.
My experience of religious education is similar. As a child, I learned Bible stories and heard sermons. Later, I was encouraged to read devotional pamphlets and books about Quaker history and theology. There was a Pendle Hill Pamphlet for every occasion. In retrospect, I can see that my formative religious experience mirrored closely the assumptions of the schools and universities that I attended.
This makes sense. In the Quaker church, many of us have spent most of our lives immersed in the wider educational system. Most of us have spent far more time in the classroom than we have in Christian fellowship. It should not be surprising that our assumptions about what constitutes knowledge, expertise, and experience bear great similarity to those of the schools and universities we have attended.

At worst, we have come to treat religion as yet another subject to become proficient in. Far too often, our faith becomes abstracted into a series of maxims – “there is that of God in everyone” – or behavioral codes – “we do not speak in the first fifteen minutes of meeting for worship” – that fit better into standardized testing than into the off-script, rough-and-tumble of everyday life. No wonder our faith is so often confined to an hour on Sunday morning! No wonder we often act like one person “at Meeting” and a different person at home, school or work: We have become trapped in a religious system that is only relevant at “test time.”

How can we develop faith that has relevance beyond the Sunday-morning Quiz? How can our time together become occasions of mutual support and practical equipping for the work of the Kingdom in daily life? How might we as Friends adopt a more earthy, practical spirituality? When our fellowships often resemble book clubs more than a radical movement for peace and justice, how can we start applying the radical message of Jesus?

Are We Revived Yet?

This past week, I traveled in the ministry among Friends in the Mid-Atlantic. Along with my companions from Michigan, Baltimore and Philadelphia, we held a revival meeting for Friends in the Philadelphia area, as well as attending a gathering of Christian Friends on Long Island. This was one of the more epic road trips I have been on, with four of us packed into my little ’97 Corolla, navigating New York traffic while engaging in a passionate discussion of the challenges facing the Body of Christ at this historical moment of great crisis and opportunity.<

Our journey began Wednesday afternoon. I picked Tyler Hampton up from the airport, and Dan Randazzo from his home in Baltimore; dinner was in Philadelphia, at the home of Helene Pollock, along with a number of fellow workers in the Truth. We went really deep over the dinner table, discussing the dynamics of doing ministry in a Philadelphia Quaker context. This conversation helped to prepare us for the work to come.


Thursday night, we held a gathering of around fifty people in a home in West Philly. Calling the gathering a Quaker revival, we sought to offer a space for transformation – a renewed encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ through his Holy Spirit. We were heartened to see that a wide cross-section of the Philadelphia Quaker community was in attendance. Locals told us that there was representation from many different Quaker sub-cultures that rarely talked with one another. Especially encouraging to me was that there were also some folks who were new to Friends who attended to get a better idea of whether this might be the community for them.

The meeting itself was not what anyone expected, including me. After a potluck dinner and a time of singing led by talented musicians from the Philadelphia area, we entered into a time of open worship. As visiting ministers, Tyler, Dan and I were explicitly invited to give vocal ministry during that time. However, the meeting flowed freely, with other Friends giving messages as they felt moved. Tyler and Dan both gave very powerful spoken ministry, articulating the depths of anguish and sense of abandonment that we may feel as we seek to follow Jesus. Though I had prayed for many weeks in preparation, and believed that the Lord had given me a message to deliver at the revival, I found that Tyler’s visceral ministry was pitch perfect. Nothing that I had been given to speak seemed relevant any longer.

This was really hard for me. Before the meeting ended, I did end up speaking a few words, which I hope were faithful to the motion of the Spirit in our midst; yet, most of what I believed God had given me to say was stripped away. For almost a month, I felt that God was preparing me to deliver a particular message, but at the last possible moment, the sermon went through the shredder! It took me the whole next day to recover from my feelings of frustration and abandonment.

Though I personally struggled, I felt that the revival was held in the power of the Lord. I was very proud of Tyler and Dan for their faithfulness in preaching the word, and I felt thankful for the hard work that everyone put into planning logistics, preparing music, and opening their homes and hearts in order to allow this event to take place. I feel that we did the best we could with the gifts, faith, and spiritual condition of those who were present that night.

Are we revived yet? That is a hard thing to gauge. I can say that ministers were seasoned and empowered. I can report that around fifty Friends gathered together in Philadelphia to hear the word of the gospel. I know that, as a result of this effort, many individuals in the Philadelphia area have felt strengthened and supported in their walk of faith. And I have a sense that the Lord is gathering a people to himself. If revivalmeans instantaneous transformation, then ours was a pretty poor example. But if revival means the steady work of planting and watering, inviting Jesus himself into our midst, then I would say that we can report some success.

The next day, a number of us traveled to Long Island, where we participated in a weekend gathering of Christ-centered Friends from across the New York City region. It was a joy to be present with these sisters and brothers, and to encourage one another in our shared walk with the Lord. I was deeply impressed by the Christian faith and warm hospitality of our hosts at Manhasset Meeting. It was also a joy to connect with other Friends from the New York City area who were in attendance. After the heavy lifting of the revival in Philadelphia, we were blessed by the sweet spirit and deep refreshment that we experienced among Friends on Long Island.

As we made our way back home yesterday, Helene, Dan, Tyler and I had ample time to debrief on our experience of the last several days. We shared lessons learned, and brainstormed about possible next steps. Even before the revival happened, we were already getting invitations to hold similar meetings in other parts of the country. At the same time, we are encouraged that there are several related movements among Friends to bring renewal and revival to the Body of Christ. With the Friends of Jesus Fellowship retreat in Ohio this April, QuakerSpring holding its annual gathering in June, and the Northeast Christ-centered Friends gathering taking place in September, it is clear that a fresh Jesus movement is afoot among Friends.

Recognizing these signs of Christ’s work among Friends, how can we fan the flames of a movement that goes far beyond rekindling the flickering embers of Quakerism? What would it look like to be part of a movement of the Holy Spirit whose first motion was to bless the world, no matter the cost? What might take place if we were willing to be poured out in order to express Christ’s love for the world? What if we released our grip on Quakerism and allowed the Spirit to flow through us, to do a new thing?

Quaker Revival in West Philadelphia

…Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 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 12:1b-2

The Body of Christ stands today at a crossroads. Western society is in the midst of a worldview shift like nothing since the Renaissance. Like both the early Church and the first generation of Quakers, we live in a world that is being turned upside down.

For fifteen centuries, western society took Christian truth claims for granted, at least on a superficial level. Today, however, we can no longer lean on the wider culture to back up our fundamental assumptions. This represents a deep challenge. After more than a thousand years of privileged status, we have mostly forgotten how to live as a people on the margins. We have gotten by as loyal citizens of Empire for so long that our life together has taken on Roman hues.
Though Friends aspire to be an egalitarian community, our structures are geared toward centralized management. While we acknowledge that the gospel is about loving relationship, we still tend to retreat into tidy propositional statements. Whether our favorite line is that “there is that of God in everyone,” or that “Jesus died on the cross for the sins of the world,” these statements of belief, by themselves, cannot save us. We mistake the form for the substance.

Our world hungers to see a community that lives in the life and power of Jesus. Our great need today is not more information about God, but rather to witness the Word made flesh. All our proud traditions, fantastic ideas and noble acts of service are empty if we are not filled with the dynamic energy of the Holy Spirit. If we are to live into the great adventure that we sense God calling us into, our very lives must become the sacramental presence of Jesus.

This call to transformation is the centerpiece of any genuine movement of the Spirit. The call to turn toward God and away from darkness, lies at the heart of the message and ministry of the first Quakers, the early Church, and Jesus himself. If we are to live together in the life and power of Jesus Christ, our basic motion must be one of turning towards God, and away from the seduction of Empire.

In many branches of the Christian Church, there is a developed tradition of holding periodic revival meetings. A revival meeting is a special gathering for worship, which is focused on turning away from darkness and embracing the light. We are invited to cast aside the ways in which we separate ourselves from God, and to allow Jesus to embrace our hearts. Revival meetings operate on the principle that miraculous things can happen we hand ourselves over to the Lord and allow him to transform us in body, mind, heart and spirit.

Sensing the deep need that we in the North American Quaker community have for this kind of deep change, transformation and total surrender to Christ, several other Friends ministers and I have felt God leading us to hold a public revival meeting in West Philadelphia next month. We are inviting Friends – and anyone who is seeking a deeper relationship with God – to gather together to wait upon the living presence of Jesus, opening ourselves to what it would mean to truly surrender ourselves to his radical leadership.

Are we ready to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice, being transformed by the renewing of our minds? What would it feel like to see the world through eyes unstained by hatred, fear, greed or pride? Are we ready to hold our structures, institutions, traditions and ideologies in the refining light of Christ’s presence? What would it mean to take the first step in turning away from the systems of death that enslave us and accepting the gift of abundant life that Jesus offers us?
Thursday, December 6th, you are invited to join us at 4718 Windsor Ave Philadelphia, PA 19143 for an evening of prayerful waiting on the Spirit of God. Together, we will offer up our lives for transformation and re-orientation in the service of love and truth.

Details for the Revival in West Philly:
Thursday, December 6th
Potluck at 6:00pm & Worship at 7:00pm
With visiting ministers from DC, Baltimore and Detroit
Check out the event on Facebook!

A Deeper Unity – Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #45

Dear friends,

Every year, I imagine that this time around my summer will be a little less crazy. And every year, Yearly Meeting season makes that an impossibility. This month, I spent most of my days out of town, attending Quaker gatherings in New York, Maryland and Ohio. These Yearly Meeting sessions have taken most of my time and attention, leaving me feeling a bit disconnected from my community in DC. The balance between local work and the wider fellowship is delicate, and I anticipate that the coming month will be a time for me to pivot and refocus on local concerns and more sedentary work. Though it has been enriching to dive deeply into the wider world of Friends, I am looking forward to being home for a while.

My first trip out of town was to New York Yearly Meeting, at the Silver Bay YMCA camp on Lake George in upstate New York. Gathering on Lake George meant that when we were not engaged in Yearly Meeting business, we were free to go kayaking or sailing, or to go hiking in the surrounding woods. Though I had attended Yearly Meeting sessions in a variety of beautiful locations, this resort atmosphere was something new!

I felt particularly blessed that Faith and I were able to be present with a number of other visiting Friends, including Jon Watts and Maggie Harrision, who are engaged in a sustained ministry of calling Friends to spiritual nakedness. Jon and Maggie really challenged New York Yearly Meeting during an evening plenary session, urging Friends to set aside the suffocating comfort of respectability and to dive boldly into God’s love. In one particularly intense moment, Maggie asked Friends why the reports from New York Yearly Meeting’s local congregations rarely mentioned God. Isn’t that what this is all about? You could have heard a pin drop as Friends took in what Maggie was saying. And then, someone yelled Amen!

After New York Yearly Meeting, Faith and I drove down to Virginia for a wedding. I had a day back in DC before I was on the road again, this time to Baltimore Yearly Meeting – a fellowship of Quakers in Virginia, Pennsylvania, DC and Maryland. BYM holds it annual gatherings at Frostburg State University, out in the western panhandle of Maryland. Getting there was easy, though, since I routinely travel out that way en route to Ohio and points further west.
Baltimore Yearly Meeting felt familiar. Because I live within the geographical territory of Baltimore Yearly Meeting, I run into BYM Friends a lot – whether visiting their local Meetings, attending their events, or welcoming them at Capitol Hill Friends. Though I am not a member of BYM, visiting their annual sessions did feel like something of a homecoming to me.
The theme of BYM’s gathering this year was “Spirit-led Social Action,” and I had the opportunity to speak with Friends about my experience of God’s leading me to participate in the Occupy movement when it first erupted in the fall of 2011. I spoke as part of a two-person panel during BYM’s Tuesday-night plenary session, sharing what it felt like to be led by the Holy Spirit into social witness that is outside my comfort zone. I would never have chosen to become an organizer for the Occupy movement on my own, but I am so grateful that I was obedient to the promptings of Christ within!

Because I yielded to the quiet but persistent nudges of God in my heart, I am now connected to a broader community of those who are working for economic justice. I have met so many amazing people who have changed my life for the better, and I am hopeful that my presence has a positive influence. During the plenary, I shared how God opens opportunities for me to bear witness to Christ’s love and power within the economic justice community. Most crucially, I spoke about the spiritual dynamics of activism and community organizing, and about the need to stay rooted in the Spirit of God. There are so many other forces that would shake us from our Foundation; if we do not take great care, it is easy to get caught up in a spirit of chaos rather than the Spirit of love, order and peace that Christ sends.

I hope that I was faithful in communicating to Friends that our social witness must be, first and foremost, a testimony to the love, life and power that we experience in the Spirit of Jesus. Specific outcomes are important – sometimes we are called to “win” – but the highest objective must always be to remain faithful to the witness that God desires to bear through our lives. This takes great discernment, a practice that we as Friends of Jesus can bring to these movements.

Following my visit to Baltimore Yearly Meeting, I was only home for a few days before Faith and I were back on the road. Once again, we drove out through western Maryland, but this time our destination was Barnesville, Ohio – the gathering place of Ohio Yearly Meeting. After visiting so many gatherings this summer, it was a blessing to finally come home to the Yearly Meeting where we are members. Visiting among other bodies of Friends is wonderful, but there is a particular joy that comes when we gather with our particular covenanted community. Our care and responsibility for one another guides and sustains me in a special way.

I was really struck this year by the way in which my Yearly Meeting handles disagreement. We had several opportunities to engage in prayerful discernment around hard issues this year, and I felt like we were generally able to keep our conversation grounded in prayer and loving concern for one another. There is a sense in Ohio Yearly Meeting that our unity runs deeper than opinions about particular issues. While outward agreement is ultimately important, I am grateful to experience an inward, spiritual unity that allows us to wrestle with disagreements in a manner that ultimately draws us closer to God in Jesus Christ.

I envision Ohio Yearly Meeting as a circle with Jesus Christ standing at the center. Individuals in our Yearly Meeting stand at various points around the circle; we emphasize different things, and there are places where we are not in full agreement. There were several explicit points of tension this year – including our relationship with Olney Friends School; our testimony against the consumption of alcoholic beverages; and our shared understanding of human sexuality. Each of these are places where we could fall into destructive division and mistrust. But God is teaching us a better way.

As we gather around Jesus and draw nearer to him, we come closer to one another. Submitting ourselves to Christ’s light, we find our individual perspectives relativized (though not invalidated), and we are able to see how God is speaking through those with whom we strongly disagree. There is a deep faith present in Ohio Yearly Meeting that, if we wait together in the light of the Holy Spirit, we will be shown the way forward together.

It is probably safe to assume that all of us will be surprised by what “way forward” looks like. I am learning that having a variety of perspectives in my community can be a sign of good health, despite the fact that, at first glance, it may seem like chaos and disunity. We read in Scripture that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. Yet, we know that we ourselves do change, and that our individual human viewpoints are often too limited to embrace the truth that Christ desires to reveal to us.
When we come together as a community in prayer, seeking after the Lord’s will, I experience the Spirit guiding us into greater understanding and unity as a body. We continue to have our own individual perspectives, but they are tempered and refined in the fire of Christ’s light. When we hold our disagreements in loving prayer, the Spirit intercedes within us and binds us together in a deeper unity that surpasses opinions.

At the conclusion of our time together in Barnesville, I felt hopeful for the future of Ohio Yearly Meeting. I had a strong sense that Christ is at work in our midst, and that we are being invited into the new (yet ancient) way of Jesus. God is giving us an opportunity to embrace Jesus’ example, laying down our lives for one another and surrendering our need to be correct. I am learning that the true meaning of strength is to bear the burdens of others – not only physically, but spiritually.

I pray that my life will serve to lighten the burden of those around me, that I may lay aside my own need to be vindicated, remembering that Jesus lay aside every honor and privilege that were rightfully his, bearing the cross for his friends. Therefore God also highly exalted him, and gave him the name that is above every name. I pray that we in Ohio Yearly Meeting will find this scripture fulfilled in our hearing, that through our shared submission to Jesus we be brought into the fullness of his truth, unity and love.

I anticipate that the next few weeks will allow me to stay closer to home. After so much time away, it will be good to re-connect with my community here in DC. I am also looking forward to making progress on the new Friends United Meeting website, which we plan to roll out around the end of the summer. I must say that although there are many benefits to travel in the service of the gospel, it is not particularly conducive to web development!

One last item before I close: You may recall that this June I was arrested by the US Capitol Police for accompanying my friend Deborah Harris to speak to Jamie Dimon, Chairman and CEO of JP Morgan Chase, during his visit to the Senate Banking Committee. I did not expect to be arrested, much less to be jailed for most of the day and accused of falsifying my identity! It also came as a surprise when I learned that my arrest could theoretically be punished by up to six months in prison. But I give praise to God that my co-defendents and I accepted a deal on Monday which will allow the charges against us to be dropped, assuming we do not get re-arrested in the next six months!

I have no idea how prayer works, but it is my experience that there is nothing more powerful than the prayerful petitions of God’s faithful people. I know for a fact that I have a small army of prayer warriors who are interceding on my behalf. Thank you so, so much. Your prayers are making a huge impact on my life. Please do not stop!

In the month ahead, please pray that I be grounded more deeply in the Holy Spirit as I seek to be a faithful worker in my roles with Friends United Meeting, Capitol Hill Friends and Occupy Our Homes DC. I would also ask for you to pray specifically that our community at Capitol Hill Friends be built up in Christ’s power this month. In recent weeks, several active members of our fellowship have moved away to pursue educational opportunities; we need God’s strength and guidance as we continue to serve as a spiritual sanctuary in the midst of our city.
May the grace and peace of Jesus Christ be with you all.
In his light and love,
Micah Bales

What If Quakerism Were A Movement Again?

Though it is sometimes hard to believe, the Quaker community began as a radical, free-form network that gave great autonomy to individual ministers. It was intensely focused on the mission of spreading the gospel message throughout England, Europe, the Americas, and beyond. Friends emphasized the transforming power of Jesus Christ within us and among us, and the organizing principles of the early movement reflected this priority. Though Friends would eventually congeal into settled communities under the watchful eyes of duly appointed ministers, elders and overseers, the first decades of the Quaker movement were explosive and fluid.

In this very early period, the basic unit of Quaker organization was the traveling ministry team – itinerant gospel preachers who went from village to village, preaching the good news wherever they could find an audience. They were often beaten, jailed and stripped of their possessions – and with good reason! These early evangelists were often quite disruptive, performing shocking prophetic signs, including walking naked through the streets. Quaker preachers often appeared at government-run worship services and contradicted the sermons of the local priest.

The early Friends were more a grassroots movement than an established religious tradition, spreading through the power of the message these itinerant prophets proclaimed. Friends eschewed hierarchical styles of organization, and rejected the fixed ceremonies of the establishment church. Though Quakers sometimes had to clarify that someone was not a Friend, early on there was no fixed membership. People knew who the Friends were simply by the way they acted and spoke. Being a Quaker was enormously risky, because the price of belonging was to take a public stand against the idolatry of the false religious systems of the day.

Within a few decades, much of this initial fire and fluidity had dissipated. In the face of repeated waves of state persecution – fines, confiscations of property, beatings, imprisonments and worse – Friends banded together in tight-knit communities where they could provide for one another, especially for the families of those in prison. In the context of increasingly intense pressure by the restored British monarchy, George Fox spent years helping Friends develop a highly structured organization. These structures helped to shield Quakers from the worst of the persecution, deflecting public criticism and facilitating mutual aid. As Friends developed these structures, there was an inevitable centralization of authority – first in the area gathering of Friends (the Monthly Meeting), and finally in the national gathering based in London (the Yearly Meeting).

These structures probably saved the Quaker community from annihilation. Thanks to an increasingly centralized governance structure based in London, Friends were able to effectively lobby the government for toleration. The deepening authority of the area gatherings (Monthly Meetings) allowed Friends to keep a tight lead on those individuals who might get the whole community into trouble. When necessary, such individuals were publicly denounced as provocateurs. This process, called “disownment,” drew a clear line between those who were abiding by the norms of the Quaker community, and those who were dangerous renegades.

All of this made sense at the time. People were getting killed as the result of the silly actions of a few, and it was only prudent to batton down the hatches and distance the community from the dangerous activities of the more radical fringe. If Fox and his lieutenants had not succeeded in developing a more tightly structured organization for the movement, Friends very well might have been entirely suppressed. Nevertheless, these adaptations did not come without a price.

Just like the early Christian Church, the initial years of the Quaker movement were characterized by an expectation of the imminent culmination of history. Friends experienced the risen presence of Jesus, and they were sure that the end of history was just around the corner. The Kingdom was come! There was nothing left to do but proclaim it and invite others into it before the time of decision finally came to a close. This apocalyptic vision could not survive the transition from free-wheeling movement to established sect. Just like the first-century Church, the Quaker movement hardened and consolidated; it became an institution to be preserved, rather than a message to be proclaimed with abandon.

What would happen if we once again became a movement that placed all its focus on the transforming power of the gospel message? How would our present structures and assumptions change to reflect this passionate embrace of Christ’s mission? What would melt away, and what would remain essential? What would be open to compromise, and what would emerge as the rock-solid foundations of our faith? What would happen if Quakerism once again became a radical, apocalyptic movement? Not a sect – not a structure to be preserved, nor an organization to be sustained – but a real movement rallying around a living experience of the Risen Lord Jesus?

I am convinced that we are living in an historical moment that demands movement rather than monument; message rather than creed; and full-bodied engagement rather than circumscribed ritual. I do not know what the next steps will look like, but I pray for courage to lay all things – structures, communities, rituals, organizations and identity – at Jesus’ feet. Without a doubt, he is here to teach us and lead us himself, if we dare to be his disciples.