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,
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-seeking 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 Meeting. 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 visit 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 evenings 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, 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-develop 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,
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 throughout 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 one 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 gathering 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 Quakerism – 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 the 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 abundant 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.
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, who 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, Faith 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 experienced 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 among 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. With 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 become 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 a 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 attention 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 the 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,
Missional Quaker Faith Series:
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 revival 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 of 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 shapes 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)