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Ordinary Faithfulness – Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #41

Dear friends,
With spring in full bloom, this past month has felt alive with possibility – and with work! Exhilaration and exhaustion alternate as I seek to be faithful in my ministry with Capitol Hill Friendsand to get equipped for my work within a grassroots movement for economic justice. While there are many challenges, the overall direction of the last month has been positive. I continue to find way opening for Spirit-led service within the Religious Society of Friends and in the wider community.
These last few months, I have developed many new relationships and have begun work with others to build organization and make practical gains for justice. My most energetic involvement continues to be with Occupy Our Homes DC, as we work to promote a society in which individuals and families are able to secure decent, affordable housing – a society in which the big banks are not permitted to throw honest, hard-working people out of their homes.
We won our first victory in late February, when we worked with Bertina Jones – an accountant and grandmother – to obtain a loan modification, despite the fact that Freddie Mac and Bank of America were dead set on kicking her out of her house. After raising public awareness of the issues – and the fact that Bank of America’s dealings with Bertina were probably illegal – the two giant banks backed down, and the foreclosure on Bertina’s home has been reversed.
Last week, we won another victory when we worked with DC tenant Dawn Butler to help her stay in her home, despite an imminent threat of eviction. Dawn’s landlord had been foreclosed on some time ago, but in DC tenants have the right of first refusal – if they want to buy the house they live in, they are first in line. Unfortunately, JP Morgan Chase calculated that they could make more money by throwing Dawn out on the street. Apparently breaking the law and manipulating the courts, JP Morgan Chase had successfully obtained an eviction order. The US Marshalls were on their way, literally to throw Dawn’s belongings out on the street.
Fortunately, we at Occupy Our Homes were able to mobilize very quickly, blockading Dawn’s house while she went down to the courthouse to seek a stay of eviction. The courts had ignored her request before, but now they knew that the community was ready to stand in the way of eviction. We would not go quietly. With the pressure on, the judge granted Dawn a stay of eviction until her next court date, later this month. We feel confident that Dawn has a strong legal case, and will eventually be able to purchase her home. But we intend to keep the spotlight on until we know for sure.
Behind these exciting actions lies an increasing depth of organization. Much of my time has been taken up this past month with committee meetings, telephone calls, and outreach to the wider community. One of the most exciting ways that I have been able to reach out more broadly has been to get involved in a weekly pastors’ breakfast, attended mostly (though not exclusively) by African-American ministers. It is a time for these pastors to come together, support one another in prayer, sermon and song, and to share their thoughts with one another about the latest happenings in the city. It is a real blessing for me to be able to take part in this gathering, and I am grateful for the opportunity to connect with so many seasoned leaders from the African-American Church here in DC.
My work in the wider community is complimented by an ever-deepening involvement in the ministry of Capitol Hill Friends. I have felt blessed this past month by regular mid-week meetings of the members. We gather to check in, do business, and support one another spiritually. It is a vital time for me to touch base and hear how the Lord is speaking to us in our individual lives, as well as in our shared ministry.
This past weekend, we held our Spring Retreat in Barnesville, Ohio, together with Friends from Detroit and Philadelphia. This is our third retreat since Capitol Hill Friends and New City Friends formed a network of mutual care and accountability. The gathering included not only members of our two groups, but also a like-minded friend from Philadelphia. We hope that as this network continues to evolve it will be a source of strength and encouragement for many local Meetings, as well as individuals who would benefit from the support and care that our network can provide.
It felt good to have our retreat in Barnesville. Roughly equidistant from DC and Detroit, Barnesville is also the hometown of Ohio Yearly Meeting, and functions as a sort of “Mecca” for Christ-centered, unprogrammed Quakers. Both New City Friends and Capitol Hill Friends have had significant involvement with Ohio Yearly Meeting, and our faith and practice is deeply influenced by their witness. It felt somehow right to me that we root our new Christian community in the same physical space as the ancient Ohio Yearly Meeting. It is my prayer that our emerging network will absorb many of the valuable traits of our Conservative kin, even as we seek to be faithful to the distinct call that God has for us as fellowship.
Life is vibrant for me right now, alive with an immediacy and urgency that feels both pregnant with possibility and grounded in responsibility. I find myself being called into new, risky action – both within the Quaker community, and in my work for economic justice. At the same time, I am pulled into a deep grounding in place and community. I feel increasingly accountable to Capitol Hill Friends, and to our wider network, and I am settling into a long-term commitment to a new neighborhood and community here in DC.
I never expected radical faithfulness to look so… Ordinary. I used to think that “freedom” meant not being constrained by anything but immediate, fiery revelation from God. I am beginning to see that what faithfulness looks like in my life right now is quite different from that romantic vision. Rather than becoming less entangled in the world, God is calling me to engage deeply in this human existence. I am to build a house and dwell in it; to plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
God calls me to show my commitment not by freeing myself from the conditions of everyday life, but instead by entering more deeply into them. Rather than taking me out of the world, Christ is guiding me into a life of deeper, inextricable involvement. Jesus challenges me to be part of not only a city on a hill, but also a city in the trenches. I feel God calling me to a witness that is anything but aloof – one that is revealed in its profound identification with the daily struggles of the human community.
The daily grind of ordinary faithfulness is harder to talk about than the exhilaration of big actions or gatherings. It is easy for me envision the Kingdom of God as existing in a daring, decisive moment – heroic, charged, picturesque bursts of clarity, beauty and power. Such moments do exist, and it is a blessing when they occur. Nevertheless, the foundation of all God’s work is steady, hidden faithfulness in ordinary time. I pray for the Holy Spirit to teach me humility and singleness of vision to dwell in the divine ordinary, to embrace the simple pains, pleasures, duties and delights of life – all to the glory of God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.
May his life and presence be with each of you, today and always.
Micah Bales

2011 in Review – Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #38

Dear friends,
This has been a year of major transition and growth for me. Some of the change has been personal – such as my involvement in the Occupy movement, and Faith’s and my decision to purchase a house in DC. Other change has been more corporate, such as the increasing maturation of Capitol Hill Friends, and developments within Rockingham Meeting, Stillwater Quarterly Meeting, and Ohio Yearly Meeting as a whole. For me, 2011 was a year of reality checks. At many points, I have been brought low. I pray that these experiences will produce a lasting groundedness in me.
The big adventure this year was my summer travels to England, Kenya and Rwanda. The voyage began with a week-long layover in London, which allowed me to visit a number of British Friends connected with Ohio Yearly Meeting, as well as some others whom I knew through the 2010 Quaker Youth Pilgrimage. I believe that these opportunities were a blessing both for me and for those who welcomed me, and I was grateful for the chance to become better acquainted with the context of Friends in the UK.
Following this, I joined my colleagues from ESR on a tour through East Africa. We saw Nairobi, went on safari, and visited Friends in Kenya’s Western Provence. Then, we flew to Rwanda, where we were able to meet Friends from Rwanda Yearly Meeting. I was very impressed with the faith of African Quakers, and saw how Friends there hold many pieces of the radical Quaker faith that we in the United States often miss.
At the same time, I witnessed some of the effects that poverty and a history of colonialism have had on our African brothers and sisters. Above all, I was convicted of my own society’s ingratitude for the wealth and privilege that we possess. How do we as citizens of post-colonialist nations take responsibility for our luxury, which to a great extent has been purchased with the blood of non-European peoples? This is a question first and foremost for the Church, which claims faith in Jesus Christ, who proclaimed good news to the poor and freedom to the oppressed.
I brought these concerns back home to DC, realizing that our spiritual barrenness in the developed world is perhaps an even greater burden than the material poverty of those in the global south. Together with Friends at Capitol Hill Friends, I feel called to be a light in the darkness, an embodiment of Christ’s love in a culture that has largely turned away from him.
A big part of this calling has found expression through the continued development of Capitol Hill Friends. In February, we had a major shake up when two of our five core people felt the need – for a variety of reasons – to withdraw from the community. This was a major blow, which knocked the wind out of us for a little while. It forced the three remaining core people to get even more serious about the direction our group was headed in. It was at about this time that we made the decision to switch our worship time from the 2nd and 4th Wednesday evenings to Sunday nights.
Along with a new meeting time, we also began to gather much more regularly as a core group. Starting in the fall, the core group has been meeting once or twice a month for prayer, discernment, decision-making and mutual support. As the year went on, we became clear that Capitol Hill Friends is actually a little church, not just a worship opportunity. We recorded three members, and incorporated Capitol Hill Friends as a legal entity. In the fall, Lily Rockwell of Stillwater Monthly Meeting (Ohio Yearly Meeting) came and joined us as a sojourning member of our fellowship. She has been invaluable in helping to nurture the church, and we are very grateful for God having sent her to us.
At this point, Capitol Hill Friends has three regular members, one sojourning member, and approximately a dozen attenders. Our normal attendance on Sunday nights is about eight. While these are not huge numbers, we have experienced a remarkable shift from 2010, when Capitol Hill Friends was primarily a worship opportunity but had no real core or sense of identity. Now, Capitol Hill Friends is an independent church in the Quaker tradition, albeit a small one.
As such a tiny group, relationships with a wider fellowship of believers is crucial. We have found most support in our relationship with New City Friends, another new Quaker church in Detroit, Michigan. Late last year, we adopted a shared set of Advices and Queries with them, and each of our communities has been answering them on a monthly basis. Also, we met twice this year for joint retreats; the first taking place in Washington, DC in April, and the second occuring in Detroit, in November.
At our November meeting, Friends from New City Friends and Capitol Hill Friends felt clear to continue to deepen our relationship as an extended fellowship. We agreed to make slight revisions to our Queries (to render them more straightforward to answer), and we were in unity to hold two joint retreats in 2012. The exact dates have not yet been set, but we plan to gather together in a central location in the spring and early fall. We hope that other Friends, worship groups and Meetings of like mind will join with us and explore what it means to live a faith of radical discipleship to Christ Jesus in the early 21st century.
There is, however, a sad subtext to these exciting developments. I feel very pleased with the growth in relationship between New City Friends, Capitol Hill Friends, and others Friends of like mind; and I believe that this new association has the potential to offer a vibrant alternative for Friends in North America. However, we had hoped that we would not be forced to go independent.
Both New City Friends and Capitol Hill Friends were turned away by pre-existing Friends bodies. Some Friends are uncomfortable with our uncompromising commitment to shared Christian faith. Others are put off by our clear affirmation of our gay, lesbian and transgender brothers and sisters. Despite our best attempts, there seems to be no existing body that has room for all of who we are. This has been a source of great sadness for us; however, we must be faithful to the witness of the Holy Spirit in our midst, even if our sister Yearly Meetings cannot embrace us.
Please pray for Capitol Hill Friends, New City Friends, and for the many Friends today that find nowhere to fit in within existing Yearly Meetings. Pray that God will strengthen us in our faith and in our fellowship, and that the Spirit will draw together other individuals and groups who are being called into this new thing that Christ is doing today.
Before I conclude, I cannot fail to mention the immense impact that the Occupy movement has had on me these last few months. I got involved early in this movement, because I felt the Lord’s hand on me, urging me forward. I was in New York during the second week of Occupy Wall Street, and I was one of the original organizers of Occupy DC. Now, I feel that the movement has reached a turning point. Phase one is over, and something new must emerge for us to continue to have an impact. I do not know what exactly this next phase will look like, but I am praying that it might have the effect of empowering ordinary working Americans to re-assert their rights and responsibilities as citizens, taking power back from the corporations and monied interests that have so undermined our democracy.
The experience of being and organizer for the Occupy movement has changed me. During college, I became totally disillusioned with activism, and since that time have not thought of myself in those terms. It was a great surprise when I sensed God calling me to participate in this movement. Much more so when I realized that God was leading me to be one of the main people to get things going in DC!
This movement has radicalized me. I can no longer sit on the sidelines while billionaires and their servants transform our democracy into a corporate state. I can no longer keep silent while the rich grow richer at the expense of the most vulnerable. I can no longer maintain neutrality while the middle class is obliterated. In recent months, I have been awakened to the radical implications of Jesus’ jubilee proclamation(1). I must stand with the poor and oppressed. I must witness to the damage being done to women and men – and to the whole of creation – to satisfy our greed and idolatry. I can no longer preach a spiritualized gospel, reduced to personal spiritual growth. God’s justice and salvation must be embodied among the poor, in our prisons, in the oil-soaked Gulf of Mexico, and in the halls of power.
Thank you for walking beside me in this journey. This year has been a wild ride, and I have no doubt that 2012 will be at least as full of surprises. Just before Faith and I left DC for the holidays, we bought our first house, located in Northeast DC. Please pray that we be blessed in our new home and that our affordable movers will not break any of our stuff; and for our life together as we deepen our commitment to our city, our church and our extended community of friends.
Your friend in Truth,
Micah Bales
1. See Luke 4:14-28

Deepening and Growing Roots – Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #37

Dear friends,

Last month, it felt like my life was about to explode with the intensity of my involvement in Occupy DC. This month, I have been intentional about taking a step back from the Occupation, no longer spending most of my time out at the encampment. Yet, the feverish pace of my life has not diminished one bit. If anything, it has sped up. There was plenty of work to fill the void.

To begin with, I took several long trips this month, including to participate in a gathering held in Detroit. This was an opportunity for Capitol Hill Friends to gather together with our sister church – New City Friends – and consider our way forward as a fellowship. Friends in Detroit were wonderful hosts, and it was a blessing to get to know the newest members of their group, as well as some Friends from the wider region who joined us for the retreat.

It feels like our little network – which includes Capitol Hill Friends and New City Friends – is growing in depth and unity in the Spirit. We sense something new happening in our midst as the Spirit of Jesus gathers us and shows us how to walk. As a sign of this deepened sense of commitment and shared purpose, we agreed to begin holding regular gatherings. We will meet two times in the coming year, once in April and again in September. Please pray for us as we seek God’s guidance as an emerging expression of God’s people.

Back in DC, our life as a church has also shown signs of development. In addition to worship, Capitol Hill Friends has been meeting regularly to conduct business and to pray together about how God wants to use us here in our city. We are growing closer together as we seek the Lord’s will, and we are being given some weighty discernment to do together.

This past Saturday, Capitol Hill Friends sponsored a contemplative Advent retreat. The goal of this event was to create a space for reflection and contemplation, for grounding ourselves in Christ’s love in the midst of a hectic holiday season. The retreat went all day, and concluded with a meeting of Capitol Hill Friends in the evening. We were pleased that some folks who have not been involved with our Meeting were able to attend the retreat. We benefited very much from their participation, and we hope they will continue to take part in our community.

We at Capitol Hill Friends continue to reach out to friends, co-workers and neighbors, inviting them into our lives. We hope to provide an ongoing invitation to a life of deeper listening, love, and faithfulness in community. This invitation is desperately needed in our city, where so many are over-burdened with work, anxiety, and a busyness that tends to stifle the inward life. As a Quaker church on Capitol Hill, we seek to hold a space where all who are weary can come and take up the easy yoke of Jesus.

This is something that I need, too! I have been frequently overwhelmed in recent months, and I feel the call to slow down and be truly present with the people who surround me. I sense God nudging me to settle, to become a steady, grounded presence with those who are rushed and uprooted, carried along by the streams of frenetic energy that flow so freely in Washington. I recognize that I, too, am often caught up in this frenzy. I pray for Jesus to liberate me more fully from the heaviness of self-centered living, so that I may be more present to the suffering of others.

One reason that I have been feeling so burdened lately is that Faith and I have been looking for a house. For a little more than two years, we have lived together in a room on the top floor of the William Penn House. In recent months, we have felt called to settle down in the city – and a part of that is looking for a more permanent residence. This month, we have spent a large amount of time and energy searching for a home that we could afford and which would meet our needs. In a housing market like the one we have in the DC metro area, this was no small task. This process of house hunting has been fascinating, educational, and thoroughly stressful.

Fortunately, it seems we may be nearing the end of the ordeal. As of yesterday, we have a ratified contract on a house here in DC. While nothing will be certain until we close on the property, it looks likely that we have found the house that we will be living in for the foreseeable future. It will be a great relief to complete this process, and a real joy to finally be rooted here in our adoptive city.

I am grateful for all of you who hold me, Faith, and Capitol Hill Friends in your prayers. We give praise to God for you and the support that you provide us. Please continue to hold us in prayer as we look forward to a new year of labor for Christ’s kingdom. May his peace be with your spirit.

In love and friendship,

Micah Bales

Tending the Soil–Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #30

Dear brothers and sisters in Truth,

The past month has involved a lot of travel. From Flint, Michigan to Atlanta, Georgia, I have been all over the eastern United States visiting Friends and seeking to nurture the life of Christ in the communities I have visited. As is so often the case, I have surely received more nurture and blessing from these trips than I could possibly have bestowed on those visited. Praise God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who blesses all of us beyond our deserving and understanding!

While travel has been a big theme these past weeks, the most profound thread that is running through my life lately is a call to rootedness and stability. Throughout my time visiting among Friends, there has been a steady, persistent call: Settle. Lay roots. Patiently tend the soil. This motion of the Holy Spirit calls me out of my own thrill-Stillwater Quarterly Meetingseeking and into the radiant life of broken humility that is found in the cross of Jesus Christ.

Yet, despite the call to rootedness and commitment to Christ’s work in my local context, there is still some business in the wider world that I do feel led to attend to. One such matter of business was the gathering of Stillwater Quarterly Meeting early this April. We held our sessions in Flint, Michigan, where we were hosted for the first time by Crossroads Friends Meeting. Crossroads became a full Monthly Meeting within our Quarter only recently, and so this was their first opportunity to host Quarterly Meeting. It was a blessing to be with them, and with all of the sisters and brothers who traveled from across the eastern United States to be present.

Later in the month, I was blessed to have the opportunity to visit Chattahoochee Friends, a worship group near Atlanta, Georgia, which is under the care of Rockingham Susan and Martha at Stillwater Quarterly MeetingMeeting. Faith and I observed during our visit that they were quite developed in their maturity as a group. While theoretically Faith and I were visitors from the “parent body,” we received from Chattahoochee Friends a great deal of spiritual care and counsel regarding our work on Capitol Hill. We were pleased to learn a couple of weeks later that Chattahoochee Friends has decided to pursue Monthly Meeting status within Stillwater Quarterly Meeting. We are blessed to have them as part of our extended fellowship!

Shortly after the trip to Georgia, we were pleased to welcome Friends from New City Friends in Detroit on the occasion of their New City Friends at William Penn Housevisit to Capitol Hill. Last year, New City Friends and Capitol Hill Friends jointly adopted a set of advices and queries, and since January we have been answering the queries each month. By answering the queries and reading each others responses, we have grown closer together in an organic relationship as we seek to deepen our discipleship to the Lord Jesus Christ. By holding a joint weekend retreat in Washington this month, we were blessed with the opportunity to grow closer still, strengthening the bonds of unity that we share in the Lord.

Finally, I also had occasion recently to travel among Friends in the Philadelphia area. It has been amazing to see the work that the Lord is doing in gathering Friends in recent months, and I hope that I can be of some service in supporting the faithful brothers and sisters who are being united in the love and presence of Jesus Christ. With such abundant evidence of Christ’s work in this region, I see with my own eyes that the power of the Lord is over all!
Christ’s presence and ministry is being made visible here on Capitol Hill, too. The Spirit is gathering together a faithful community of women and men, which meets on Sunday Suzanne and Faith at Eastern Marketevenings at the William Penn House. Though I struggle with impatience, in my better moments I trust that our pace of development is according to God’s will. We are still in the very early stages of life as a church community; we are laying the groundwork – spiritually, socially, intellectually, and even financially – for what is to come.

I think that when we began the work here on Capitol Hill, I conceived of the labor in terms of Paul’s evangelical ministry to the gentiles. Paul preached the gospel, established new congregations and moved on fairly rapidly. I get the sense that Paul’s timeline in a city was to establish a new Meeting within a few months – maybe a year or two, at most – and then move on. I still believe this model can work under the proper conditions, but I do not believe that we are experiencing those conditions here in Washington, DC.

The soil here is relatively hard. For one thing, many DC residents are transient, expecting to be in the city for a matter of months or years – probably not decades. There is also a prevalent culture of skepticism towards all things religious – and towards orthodox Christian faith in particular. Finally, unlike in Paul’s context, where he was likely to see the conversion of entire extended families or clans,Capitol Hill Friends conversion and transformation is made more complicated by the extreme individualism of US urban culture. Frequently, households are divided in their faith, and having one spouse accept the invitation to become a disciple of Jesus does not necessarily mean that the other spouse, or their children, will be involved at all. We encounter here a startling lack of bonded community. Ours is a wealthy, individualized culture that feels little need to depend on others.

Under these conditions, the effort to plant a church is more akin to establishing an apple orchard than planting a vegetable garden. The labor of planting, tending and watering will take years of intensive effort before we can expect to see mature fruit.

I now harbor fewer illusions about being able to reproduce the itinerant ministry of Paul (or George Fox, for that matter). Context is important, and our context here in post-Christian urban America is atomized, complex, and requires vast investments of time and attention. To return to gardening images, it is as if we had to re-New City and Capitol Hill Friendsdevelop the soil before we can even get around to planting. Compost happens.

While I would prefer the adventure and glamour of a Pauline itinerant ministry, it feels like the needs of our context here at Capitol Hill Friends call for endurance in the nitty-gritty work of building up the soil. This is the work of many seasons, and I recognize that we are only at the beginning. I could be here for a long time.

I ask for your continuing prayers as Faith and I seek to be faithful to the Lord’s call in our life together. As we learn to yield to the humbling guidance of the Holy Spirit, we find true peace and freedom, even if it looks very different from what we might have chosen for ourselves.

In the name of the Master Gardener,

Micah Bales

The Grass Grows Beneath the Snow

When I first became a part of the Religious Society of Friends, I remember wondering whether I was joining a dying tradition. One of the first Quaker elders I encountered after my convincement admitted to me that she did not know whether the Quaker tradition had a future as a living body of believers and practitioners. As a new convert, I believed (and still do believe) that the Friends tradition and community have something unique and precious to offer the world, and so I have spent the last six years steeping myself in both.

On the one hand, I have dedicated myself to disciplined study, both independently and in the form of completing the Master of Divinity program at Earlham School of Religion, a Quaker seminary. I have also invested very deeply in the living community of faith, traveling Trees in Winterthroughout the United States to visit Quakers from a wide variety of backgrounds and contexts. My travels among Friends across the continent have deepened my understanding of the state of Quakerism in North America.

I have seen much that gives me cause for alarm. I have encountered deep divisions among Friends – over belief, practice, politics and ideology, as well as over the many mundane matters that have a way of cropping up in our life together in community. I have seen groups of Friends where process and structure are more esteemed than faith and discipleship. I have seen Meetings – of all theological stripes – where the risen presence of Jesus is no longer welcomed and the continuing teaching of the Holy Spirit is resisted.

Meanwhile, the active membership of the Religious Society of Friends in the United States is extremely low. For example, I learned recently that the average Sunday-morning attendance for the oneFallen Sapling hundred and three local Meetings of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting was 2,847 adults and 624 children in April, 2010. This is arguably the largest body of Friends in the United States!

In our Meeting, my wife and I represent one third of the full membership, and our Yearly Meeting probably has an active membership of under two hundred. Most of the Meetings that I have visited in recent years have largely consisted of folks over the age of fifty. Despite recent Young Adult Friends gatherings, the Religious Society of Friends seems to be failing to speak to most Gen-Xers and Millennials.

Despite the decrepitude of the modern-day Religious Society of Friends, I do see signs of hope. There is a movement gatheringThe Grass Grows Beneath the Snow online, and increasingly in local communities, to bring the best of our rich Quaker heritage to bear on our present-day context. The international (though still mostly American) blogging community that orbits around QuakerQuaker is a major organ of this steadily percolating movement, as Friends are being drawn together from across the historical branches to discover how Christ Jesus is still at work in our midst, gathering a people together in his Spirit. The term “convergent” has emerged as a short-hand for this ongoing conversation about how we can live out our ancient Quaker Christian tradition in a post-modern world.

In recent years, there has been a remarkable emergence of new worship groups and Meetings that embody the creative edge of the Friends tradition: Freedom Friends Church in Salem, Oregon; New City Friends in Detroit; Capitol Hill Friends in DC; a new Hispanic Friends church in Indianapolis; Old Town Friends Fellowship in Baltimore; the West Philly Worship Group in Philadelphia; and the Underground Connection in Fountain City, Indiana – to name a few. Most of these groups are characterized by an openness to experimentation with the wealth of tradition and experience represented by the several branches of Emerging from the IceQuakerism – especially the Conservative tradition. There is also some openness to learning from and incorporating elements of Protestant and Liturgical traditions.

These are hopeful signs for the future, especially when we remember that the early Quaker movement was a confluence of a variety of Christians streams – especially the Seekers, Independents, and Puritans. Quakerism was born out of a froth of experimentation and the discovery of new life given to previously dead forms through the immediate life and power of the Holy Spirit. We find ourselves once again living in a time when the old forms no longer seem to fit, and we are seeking ways to connect more authentically with Emmanuel.

The big question in my mind is: Will the existing structures of institutional Quakerism cooperate with this fresh movement of theGrowth in Winter Holy Spirit? Will the old wineskins of our Religious Society humble themselves to be emptied into new vessels – new communities, structures, networks and worship styles? Will this generation pour its resources into the building up of this new movement, or will it resist – vainly struggling to extend the relevance of our arthritic and deadening committee structures, constipated worship styles, and irrelevant organizations?

The winter has been long for Friends in North America. The long night began, perhaps, in the early days of the Quietest period and became acute in the twentieth century. The Religious Society of Friends is now at a point of extremity: Something must change, or our community and tradition will not survive. Will we choose the abundantTender Shoot life we receive when we let go of our own expectations and paradigms? Will we lay down our nets, leaving behind the boats of our forebears to seek another shore, walking humbly beside Jesus?

The winter has been long, and snow still covers the ground. But I see signs of life – little shoots of green poking their way out from beneath the numbing blanket that threatens to smother us. Let us nurture the tender shoots of life that God has planted. As we set aside our own expectations and embrace the infinite love and wisdom of God, we will find our way forward in unity, love and justice.

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:

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)