Blog Banner

Archive for nwym

Emerging Leaders in FUM and New Life In DC – Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #23

Dear Children of Light,
This past month has been one of transition. As summer fades into fall, I have begun to shift my lifestyle to focus my energies on the ministry that God has called me to here in Washington, DC. This past year, I was primarily focused on the world beyond Washington, DC; I travelled almost constantly, visiting Friends across the United States. This has been a fertile time, and I feel that I have grown as a minister, as well as having some positive impact on the Religious Society of Friends. In recent months, however, I have been increasingly under the weight of a concern to reorient myself to place more emphasis on mission in the city of Washington.

Capitol Hill Friends is beginning to show signs of putting down roots and gelling as a group. We have been encouraged by the loving presence of Noah Baker-Merrill, who is sojourning with us from Putney Friends Meeting in New England Yearly Meeting.Front lawn at William Penn House We have also been blessed by many visitors from area Friends Meetings to our Wednesday night meetings. At a recent meeting for worship, we were pleased to have visitors from Rockingham Friends Meeting, and we had a much larger attendance than we had experienced up until then. Our worship life feels like it is getting deeper, and overall we sense a remarkable up-tick in energy and group cohesion. The Spirit is moving in our little fellowship on Capitol Hill.

This moment feels ripe for growth, and I feel an increasing concern to be out in the Lord’s harvest field. Consequently, I anticipate that much of my energy in the coming months will go into nurturing Capitol Hill Friends as it grows and develops into the  communityFriends in prayer that God intends it to be.  Faith and I will continue to host regular meetings for worship, and we will also be undertaking increasing pastoral care and outreach. Most critically, we will be empowering new leaders to share in the work of the church. Please pray for us as we seek to foster an environment of mutual love, service and accountability at Capitol Hill Friends.

As the gospel labor intensifies in DC, my professional work is shifting and finding new definition, as well. I will continue to be employed by Earlham School of  Religion this coming year, Worship at ESRand I have been in discernment with my colleagues as to how we can best collaborate to share ESR’s vision for the Religious Society of Friends. ESR’s ministry of teaching and discipleship of emerging Christian leaders is at the core of our mission as a Friends seminary, but ESR also has a passion to reach out beyond our current student body and to engage in shared conversationsGraduation at ESR in 2009 about the future of our tradition and community as Friends. We hope to make the wealth of wisdom, creativity and vision that is present at ESR more readily available and visible online, so that Friends around the world can engage in a conversation with us about what faithful leadership looks like in this young century.

In order to implement this new phase in my employment with Earlham School of Religion, I have been traveling regularly to Richmond, Indiana to be present with the residential ESR community. Being with my colleagues in the Richmond office is helpful in building working relationships; and being present in Richmond presents the opportunity to take part in a rich intersection of Quaker life and thought available in few other places. A good example of this is my latest trip to Richmond, when I was able to attend the Friends United Meeting Emerging Leaders Conference.

The Emerging Leaders Conference was outstanding. Colin Saxton of Northwest Yearly Meeting was our main speaker,  and his gentle, weighty presence provided a substantial core for our time together. He invited us to rest in Christ and to exercise leadership Colin Saxton at FUM Emerging Leaders Conferencein our communities by being a non-anxious presence. Colin spent much of his time speaking on responsibility and the difference between the personal responsibility we bear for our own lives before God and the responsibility that we bear to one another in community. He encouraged us to remember that only God has the power to effect deep change in the lives of others, and that as we accept this, our own personal responsibility and limits become clear. This ability to distinguish between our own responsibility before God and the responsibility that others must bear, he argued, is one of the marks of a gifted leader.

It is this clarity about personal responsibility to God that allows us to see how to exercise effective and responsible leadership in community. IMG_1193 When we acknowledge the limits of our own responsibility we are freed to empower new leadership in our communities; when we see that we are incapable of carrying the burden alone, we can invite others into the challenges and blessings of leadership.

Jay Marshall, dean of Earlham School of Religion, presented about the realities of leadership among Friends, and the potential for a workable model for Quaker leadership going forward. Jay pointed out that among Friends there are two sources of authority that remain in tension: A sense of divine leading felt Jay Marshall talking to Colin Saxtonby the individual, and the discernment of individual leadings by the community. This tension is healthy, helping us to hold both individuals and Meetings accountable to new motions of the Spirit. However, Jay explained that Friends sometimes risk suffocating the Spirit-led leadership of the individual, elevating community habits and inertia over fresh leadings of God. While leadings must be tested, it is crucial that genuine leadership be recognized and empowered by the community. We as Friends must learn to grant authority to individuals who have been called into leadership among us, taking care not to undercut the work of our leaders with passive-aggressive demands that they be “more servant-like.”

Our presenters brought great depth and substance to the conference, but at least equally important was the quality of those emerging leaders who attended. We had Friends in attendance from most of the North American Yearly Meetings of Friends United Meeting, including a very hefty contingent from North Friends at the FUM Emerging Leaders ConferenceCarolina.  There were many Friends whom I already knew, but there were also quite a few that I had never met before. I felt very blessed by the opportunity to gather with other “FUMers,” other Friends from both pastoral and unprogrammed Meetings whose lives and ministries are rooted in Jesus Christ.

This event felt like a realization – at least in some small degree – of my dream for Friends United Meeting: That we be a fellowship  that can proclaim the Christian faith of Friends to a world that is so desperately in need of the love of Jesus Christ. This conference was a time of unity, where Friends from a wide variety of backgrounds gathered in the name of Christ to explore how we can develop as leaders in FUM Emerging Leaders Conferenceour local fellowships and Yearly Meetings. For many of us, this was a precious time of finding that there is indeed a place for us to stand as Christians in the Quaker tradition. We found unity in Christ that overcame our outward differences: There was neither programmed nor unprogrammed, male nor female, Liberal nor Evangelical – we were all one in Christ Jesus. Praise God for that!

I hope that Friends United Meeting continues to organize these conferences in the years to come. It is so important that FUM be more than simply an abstract affiliation; we need to know one another, Jay and Darrinbecoming co-laborers with one another in the Way of Jesus. It is my hope that we will work with one another, pray for one another, and seek to strengthen each one in his or her ministry. As we come to know one another more deeply in Christ, the bonds between our local churches and Yearly Meetings will deepen, and we may truly become Friends United Meeting.

Thank you for your ongoing prayers for me, for Capitol Hill Friends, and for the Body of Christ as a whole. Faith and I rely on your love and prayer support to continue the work that we are doing among Friends, particularly our ministry in Washington, DC. Please continue to hold us in prayer! The spiritual battle is only just beginning, and we need your faithful intercession now more than ever. Please let me know how I can best be praying for you, as well. We each have a particular ministry to which we are called, and through our prayers we can help one another live into that call, protected from all powers of darkness by the mercy of Jesus Christ.

Your friend in Jesus, the living Word of God,

Micah Bales

Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #22 – Quaker Youth Pilgrimage 2010

Dear Friends,

I survived.

With God’s help, and grateful for all the prayers that have been sent my direction, I have emerged from a full month with twenty-eight high-school-aged young Friends and three other adult leaders with mind, body an d spirit mostly intact.

Overall, my experience with the Quaker Youth Pilgrimage was a very positive one. Despite my anxiety going i n, I was pleased by the tight-knit community that came together over the course of theLunch near Anacortes, WA month,  both among the pilgrims and within the leadership team. The other adult leaders  impressed me with their dedication and professionalism, and I was often struck with a sense that God had planned the composition of our team. We had a good mix of gifts and background between the four of us, and I think that the Pilgrimage would have been a far less rich experience for everyone involved had any of us been absent.

The Pilgrimage took us all over Oregon and Washington state. The first major phase of our journey was a week spent at Quaker Cove Micah and Hughcamp, near Anacortes, Washington. It was helpful for us to have this week together without the interruption of moving around. During this time, our community was able to gel to a great degree, the pilgrim committees and business process got off the ground, and  we got into a daily rhthym of worship, meals, play, Pilgrims do business in Seattleservice and learning. It was a really key time for us as leaders, too, since we really did not know what we were doing and needed to spend large amounts of time meeting together and figuring out how we were going to make the next day – much less the next week – come together.

We more or less had our act together by the time we made our way back down south to stay at North Seattle Friends Church’s meetinghouse. During our time in Seattle, we continued to growWaiting for the bus more bonded as a group, and as a sense of safety in community emerged, we were able to go deeper with one another spiritually. A key moment for the group was a worship-sharing session where we considered the question “What is holding you back?” This opened a time of raw sharing and mutual vulnerability, which I believe enhanced our ability to go deeper as a group.
 
Throughout the month, the pilgrims experimented with a wide variety of worship styles, ranging from fully unprogrammed, to semi-programmed and programmed. I was impressed with the way that pilgrims with no background with pastoral Friends  stepped forward to lead programmed worship services, deliver sermons and offer vocal prayer on a daily basis. This was especially Emily practicing her sermonremarkable given the composition of the pilgrims, all but one of whom came from an unprogrammed background.

Pilgrims and leaders together struggled with the fact that this pilgrimage was not representative of Friends from the Americas and Europe and Middle East sections. With a solid majority of the pilgrims self-identifying as “non-theist,” the relatively liberal Northwest Yearly Meeting churches that we visited stretched us with their explicitly Christian basis and self-understandings. I was impressed with how the pilgrims stepped up to this challenge and really engaged with the rest of the Quaker family tree, even while they themselves were fairly homogenous as a group.

Our next stop was Portland, where we stayed in Multnomah Friends’ meetinghouse. We had a great time visiting area Friends Meetings, both Liberal and Evangelical, as well as exploring Portland’s downtown. I had a lot of fun when the AmericanHip-hop dancing... and Quakers? Friends Service Committee visited us and brought a hip-hop team with them who gave us a lesson in breakdancing. During our time in Portland, we took a trip to Newberg, where we got a tour of George Fox University, visited Northwest Yearly Meeting’s offices, and had dinner with some area Friends.

One of the most amazing moments of the entire Pilgrimage for me happened during our visit to Newberg. We were having dinner at Newberg Friends’ meetinghouse, and I was talking with myClaiming our Bibles grandmother who is a member there. Since before the Pilgrimage began, I had been concerned that all of the pilgrims get a copy of the Scriptures, and this concern had only grown as our time together went on. So, I asked Nana whether she knew where we could get Bibles for everyone. She checked with Greg Lamm, pastor of 2nd Street Community Church – himself a former leader of the QYP – and he informed me that he had a friend whose ministry it was to collect used Bibles and distribute them to folks around the world who desired to have a copy of the Scriptures.

Within an hour, we were on the road in our big yellow school bus (thanks, Reedwood!) over to this friend’s house. The man literally had a used Bible warehouse in his backyard, and after explaining The Big Yellow School Bushis ministry to us, he let us into the storehouse to rifle through everything he had, picking out the Bibles that appealed to us. It was such a joy watching the pilgrims get excited about having their very own copy of the Scriptures! Many of them got more than one copy (usually because they wanted a copy of the King James version, but I encouraged them to get a more accessible translation, as well). I was so grateful to God for the way God answered my prayers and placed these servants of the Lord in our path.

With the help of these Bibles, some of the pilgrims and I were able to spend several sessions together looking at what Jesus actually taught and learning the basics of how to navigate the Scriptures.The Bible Warehouse For those who participated, it was a valuable time of connecting with our Christian heritage as Friends. Many of the pilgrims felt better able to make sense of the origin of Friends testimonies after having the chance to take a brief look at the texts that inspired the early Quakers, and I am hopeful that many of the pilgrims might continue their exploration upon returning home, not letting their new Bibles gather dust.

Our next stop was Camp Magruder, a Methodist summer camp on Twin Rocks beach. On our way out to the Oregon coast, we were
Freedom Friends Churchable to stop at Freedom Friends Church. It was a good chance to let the pilgrims see an Evangelical church that is, as they put it, “passionately Christ-centered and passionately inclusive.” With one of the main dividing lines between Liberal and Evangelical often being homosexuality, it was helpful to visit a church that was spanning that gap, embracing people regardless of their sexual orientation or identity, but also standing firm in their Christian faith. Most of the pilgrims thought this was pretty cool, too.
Our time at Camp Magruder was good. Apart from mealtimes – which were hideously noisy, crowded and rushed – CampWorship on the beach Magruder was really great location for us to spend the first part our last week together. We got to spend a lot of time soaking up the beauty of the Oregon coast; we even held a time for worship, reflection and journaling on the beach.  In many ways, it felt like the beginning of the end for us as a pilgrimage. We began to shift towards concluding our experience together.

After our time on the coast, we stayed briefly with Camas Friends Church, near Portland. I felt blessed to be able to spend a littleWess explains the grill time catching up with pastor Wess Daniels, and we were all glad to be able to attend Sunday morning worship with Friends in Camas. Our time with Friends in Camas was brief, and soon we moved on to Anderson Lodge, our last stop on the Pilgrimage.

Anderson Lodge was beautiful – a wonderful location to conclude the Pilgrimage. I think just about everyone met the end of the Pilgrimage with a bittersweet combination of sadness and relief.Beginning to say goodbye We were saddened to leave the tight-knit community that had developed over the course of the month – and for many of the pilgrims this was the first time that they had experienced any kind of community with other young Quakers. At the same time, we were weary from a full month of living with almost three dozen other people 24/7, and many of us were missing our families, loved ones and spouses.

By the time I finally arrived back in DC on August 17th, I had been away from my wife Faith for almost a month and a half. I felt very grateful to finally be home again.Do the Hugh - and jump! Even so, I must admit that there were moments on my trans-continental train ride that I teared up thinking about the pilgrims and what we had shared together. I carry these young Friends in my heart, and I pray that God will continue to care for them and help them to grow in their faith and walk with God.

I have nothing but gratitude for the time I have spent as a leader for the 2010 Quaker Youth Pilgrimage. My sense of leading to serve was confirmed time and time again along the way, and I thank God for placing me exactly where I needed to be. I love how God surprises me.

Yours in the peace and mercy of Jesus Christ,

Micah Bales

Quaker Youth Pilgrimage 2010 Epistle

2010 Quaker Youth Pilgrimage

To Friends Everywhere:

Thirty-two pilgrims
From Friends to friends we became
With these words we part

Fall 2009

An image of QYP begins to formulate, as fuzzy as it is, with twenty-eight youth and four adults sending in applications that will, over time, be reviewed and accepted. These thirty-two pilgrims are to gather together for a month in the summer of 2010, exploring Quakerism while journeying through parts of the Pacific Northwest. What brought us individuals together was our titles as Friends, and yet we were worlds apart in our definitions of Quakerism, as well as our expectations of what this pilgrimage would bring:

  “I think QYP will give me a better idea of what all Quakers have in common, because I wonder ‘what makes a Quaker?”- Emmie Touwen


“Through sharing and learning about other people and their way of life I feel I will gain something no other experience will allow me to gain.”- Simon Rolph

Of course, the time between applications and the beginning of our trip allowed our expectations and levels of preparation to develop, in some cases dramatically. Nevertheless, we universally entered this journey with less than concrete ideas of what was to come.

Perhaps the most significant factor to set QYP apart from any other experience, Quaker or otherwise, is the sense of immersion which comes from living in a close-knit and, in many respects, isolated community for as long as we have. Our use of music as well as our introduction to compassionate listening added strength to the foundation of our connection.

However, so strong a sense of community takes time and effort to build, mistakes are made, allowing for knowledge to be gained. Structuring and organizing our community was a particular challenge, as we were not all accustomed to Quaker business practice, and (naturally for an international group) there was variation in the practices with which we were familiar.

Exposure is unavoidable, both in terms of how well we have gotten to know each other and how honest we are forced to be with ourselves. With a lack of privacy, we could not hide our true traits and emotions from others; we were stripped bare and left vulnerable. We were forced to examine ourselves both socially and spiritually and, immersed in our secure environment, allowed to address our faults and develop as individuals. Our identity as Quakers was frequently called into question, both through intimate discussion as well as whole-group activities deliberately formulated for self-exploration. For some people even calling themselves Quakers became discomforting when faced with the spectrum of belief which exists within the Religious Society of Friends. Since the majority of our group were previously unexposed to Programmed and Evangelical Friends, such experiences caught us off guard and again challenged our ideas on what unites us as Quakers.

Through some of these foreign experiences, we were forced to realize how limited our own knowledge of Quakerism was, and thus educating ourselves became an integral part of our shared experience. Among these, we gained a new idea of hospitality. We were the cause of genuine excitement not only in Quaker Churches, but also in the homes of Seattle, Portland, and Camas Friends. Contrary to our fears, Friends across branches were willing to hear our voices and our beliefs, not with the intention to convert but with the intention to listen with love. This in particular is among the most significant lessons we hope to bring home. Many of us also leave having unearthed an unanticipated respect for the teachings of the Bible and their relationship to the core values of Quakerism. Our growth and exploration throughout the pilgrimage also highlighted many difficulties. These included exploring the differences in our faith with other pilgrims and the limited time for exploring our spirituality as a group. This has left many of us with a desire to maintain and extend this interest beyond QYP.

As a gathered youth, we are empowered to speak of one final, lasting concern. Throughout the pilgrimage we were reminded of the saddening truth that we are not a complete gathering of Friends. We will not be a complete gathering until there is a fair representation of all sections of the Religious Society of Friends. In this pilgrimage there was only one youth from a pastoral background. Overall, there were four Friends—out of the thirty-two total—that consider themselves evangelical or conservative Friends. For those members of the community, it was difficult at times to feel safe in expressing their beliefs. With this in mind, we as Quakers call for a greater commitment to improving the diversity of this pilgrimage. While we cannot deny the power of the Spirit’s presence in the group, it is important to realize that a greater learning experience could have been achieved from a more representative community.

August 2010

Our journey has finally reached its end; as a community we are readying to leave. We have written our words of reflection, hoping that those outside of the community will not only understand the essence of this pilgrimage but also that those within will be able to look back at this with the willingness to return to being vulnerable and honest, even in the presence of conflict.

“In the past, I couldn’t bring Quakerism home with me. It was a week every year and then a couple of weekends when I could be a Quaker. Now I’m going to be a Quaker all of the time” – Mason George

“This trip has taught me that it’s our actions that make us Quaker just as much as our beliefs. I definitely have more drive to ‘put faith into action’” – Naomi Garnault

Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #21 – Setting off on the Quaker Youth Pilgrimage

Dear Friends of Truth,

I write to you from Seattle, Washington, as I await the other leaders for the Quaker Youth Pilgrimage (QYP). The Pilgrimage will bring together around twenty-five Quaker youth, between the ages of sixteen and eighteen, from across North America and Europe. Together with me and three other adult leaders, we will venture around the Pacific Northwest exploring what modern-day Quakerism looks like in this part of the world. We will discover together what it means to be Friends, and seek to encourage one another in our walks with the Lord.

QYP occurs once every two years and is a joint program of FWCC Section of the Americas and FWCC Europe and Middle East Section. Hosting for the Pilgrimage rotates between the two sections; in 2008, it was held in England, but this year we in the Americas are hosting. There are two adult leaders selected by Friends in each section, and I was asked to be one of the leaders from the Section of the Americas this year. The other three leaders hail from Philadelphia Yearly Meeting and Britain Yearly Meeting.

The pilgrims come from across the unprogrammed Friends world. Representing Europe, we will have pilgrims from Ireland, Britain, Germany, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic and Sweden. From North America, there are pilgrims from the eastern and western United States, the Midwest, and Canada. While the group will certainly be diverse in national and regional background, there may be far less diversity in terms of Friends perspectives. The group is almost exclusively unprogrammed in background; as far as I am aware, there is only one pilgrim from a pastoral Meeting. I am pleased that we will be traveling together in the Northwest, where there is a fairly wide variety of Friends represented, and I hope that our encounters with Evangelical Friends will prove helpful in expanding our understanding of what it means to be Quakers.

We will be together for a solid month. QYP goes from July 13th until August 13th, and the leaders and pilgrims will be living and serving together this whole time. I am sure that it will be a very intense experience, and that we will have the opportunity to get to know one another deeply. Based on what I have heard from past leaders and pilgrims, I am confident that the Pilgrimage will be a very rich experience for all of us. I am also sure that it will carry with it a unique set of challenges that will stretch us in many ways.

In the past months, I have been doing a lot of praying about the Pilgrimage. At times, I have felt very uncertain as to what my role was to be in this program. I have very little experience with ministry among high schoolers, and volunteering to be a leader for QYP was way outside my comfort zone. However, I felt clearly led by God to undertake this work, and I trust that God will sustain me, show me how I am to walk with this group, and provide us with the spiritual gifts that the group needs to accomplish God’s purpose for us.

After much prayer and counsel from my elders, I have come to view my role with this group as being that of a chaplain and spiritual nurturer. I am seeking to let go of my expectations and my desire to control outcomes, and to simply be the person that God has created me to be. My example, my groundedness in Christ, and my love and care for the pilgrims and adult leaders will speak clearly. I believe I am called to be a model (a “pattern and example,” if that strikes my Quaker readers better) for the QYP participants.

The great challenge that I see before me, and for which I beg your prayers, is this: I am called to be like good potter’s clay. I am to be yielded, receptive to whatever shape the Potter chooses to give me; yet I am also to be firm enough that I hold my given form, even against great external pressure. I pray that I will be yielded and tender in the Spirit, and yet never lukewarm or insecure.

The adult leaders will be gathering this evening in Seattle, and the pilgrims will arrive on the 15th. Please pray for the QYP leaders as we meet together and seek to be united in God’s Spirit. And please continue your prayers for leaders and pilgrims both as we seek together God’s mission for us as Friends.

Your yoke-fellow in Christ Jesus,

Micah Bales

Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #9

Dear Friends of Truth,

Faith and I were pleased to be with Friends in Northwest Yearly Meeting during their annual sessions this year in Newberg, Oregon. Northwest Yearly Meeting is a group of Evangelical Friends churches in the states of Oregon, Washington and Idaho. I have personal connections with Northwest Friends, as my father grew up in this Yearly Meeting, and my grandmother and aunt are still active members. I had visited them last year, and I was very pleased at what I observed and experienced among them. I feel confident in saying that they are one of the healthiest Yearly Meetings in the United States, standing firmly in the Quaker tradition while also embracing their Evangelical heritage.

Colin Saxton, NWYM’s superintendent, gave the opening sermon on Monday night. It was an impactful message, calling us to greater faithfulness in our spiritual lives as we prepare for the inevitable spiritual storms that threaten to tear us apart as individuals and as the Body of Christ. Colin said that the word that God had kept giving him as he prepared for that night’s message was, “deeper.” Colin emphasized that, as important as “bigger and better” can be, all of our efforts are for nothing if they are not built on the Solid Rock. He encouraged us to get serious about our spiritual disciplines and to pay attention to the ways we are called to deepen our lives in Christ, to become a holy people fit for God’s work. Colin called us to be a people focused on being what God means us to be – not just on good works and achievement based on our own goals and expectations. It seemed that God was using Colin to call Northwest Yearly Meeting to prepare spiritually for the difficult times that are coming.

This year’s sessions were mostly easy. Last year, there had been a minute brought by a couple of the local churches regarding immigration and the US government’s response in curtailing illegal immigration. The minute was not ultimately approved, as Friends did not feel clear that they understood the issue sufficiently to approve a statement. This year, instead of trying to pass a minute, the Yearly Meeting approved forming an Immigration Taskforce. This working group will focus on three areas: 1) Providing accurate information to the churches about the realities of immigration to the United States and the injustices faced by many visitors in this country; 2) Carrying out advocacy to influence more just legislation and governmental policies towards visitors in our midst; and 3) Engaging in direct action to help immigrants in local communities, providing assistance and aid to those in greatest need. I was impressed with the way that NWYM moved forward, not trampling the concerns and perspectives of Friends on of this hot-button issue, but engaging with it in a way that will hopefully allow the Yearly Meeting to gain greater clarity and unity as they move forward in the ways that God is calling them.

I was pleased to meet with Ángel and Hernán Díaz, two leaders of the Spanish-language Friends Church movement in the Pacific Northwest. Ángel is pastor of a Spanish-language Friends church in Newberg, Oregon, and Hernán is a pastor in Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, Washington. Together, they are helping to develop an energetic Christian ministry among Spanish-speaking Friends in their areas. I was very impressed by them and the work that they are engaged in, and I pray that God will continue to guide them as they build up the Church in their communities. I also pray that God will continue to open ways for Spanish-speaking and English-speaking Friends to work together more closely as time goes on. This is an acknowledged concern of Friends in NWYM, and I hope that they will be encouraged as they seek to make their Yearly Meeting more integrated across cultural and linguistic barriers, so that the world may witness the Truth of Christ that breaks down all barriers of class, culture, race, nationality and gender.

The main speaker for Northwest Yearly Meeting this year was Bob Adhikary. Bob has previously spoken to Friends in Eastern Region, Mid-America Yearly Meeting, and at Barclay College. At these two last, there were widely publicized reports of spiritual outpourings that overwhelmed those present to hear him speak. Many came to Northwest Yearly Meeting wondering whether Bob would bring Revival with him, though we were cognizant that it is only God who can bring Revival, and that Bob could at best be an instrument of God’s work among us. Unfortunately, Bob’s style and message were uncomfortable for many of those gathered in Newberg, and deeply offensive for some. A hint of this is present in NWYM’s 2009 Epistle, which cites the Senior High Epistle, saying that, “The meeting was encouraged by [Bob Adhikary’s] passion for evangelism and the excitement in his message, but some of his statements caused a difference of opinion among the members of our group.” Adhikary’s statements included that the September 11th attacks and the Hurricane Katrina disaster were God’s Wrath on the United States for accepting sin – in particular, homosexuality.

The intensity of Bob Adhikary’s rhetoric led to some amount of response from the gathered body over the course of the week. During open worship in business, near the end of the sessions, several Friends stood up and reminded us of God’s universal love for all people. While Bob emphasized God’s anger at sin, some Friends felt led to encourage us to focus on God’s love and mercy. They reminded us that we are judged by God for how we treat the outcast and marginalized.

Colin Saxton’s message near the beginning of the sessions, calling us to go deeper and to make sure that we are truly grounded in Christ before the storm comes, was surely prophetic. Northwest Yearly Meeting is likely headed into a period of stretching and difficult discernment around the question of homosexuality in the Church. One of the local churches in the Portland area recently adopted a minute which states that they do, “not judge a person’s ministry and leadership on the basis of any incidental characteristic. It is our experience and testimony that God works through people without regard for race, age, gender or sexual orientation.” It seems inevitable that in the coming years Northwest Yearly Meeting will be challenged with divergent understandings of God’s work through people of differing sexual orientations and gender identities. I am confident in the human leadership of Northwest Yearly Meeting to guide the Yearly Meeting through these birth pangs. I pray that the one true Leader and Guide of Northwest Yearly Meeting, Jesus Christ, might be present with all Friends as they seek together the will of God and learn to walk together in Christ’s Way.

I have great love for Friends in Northwest Yearly Meeting. They feel like family to me. To be fair, that may be because much of the Yearly Meeting literally is family, to greater or lesser degrees. I hope to be able to continue to visit Northwest Yearly Meeting in the years to come. I pray that they will stay low and open to God’s present guidance in the way I have seen them be receptive these past two years, especially as they encounter greater challenges as a Yearly Meeting. I see God at work in Northwest Yearly Meeting, and I have greater hope for the future of Friends because of it.

Next, I’ll be visiting Ohio Yearly Meeting (Conservative), in Barnesville, Ohio. I am looking forward to spending some quality time with what is, in many ways, the most traditionalist of our Yearly Meetings. I am particuarly interested to see how business is conducted among them, and I pray that we will experience a palpable covering of Christ’s Spirit as we gather together this week.

Finally, please pray for Western Yearly Meeting. I am receiving reports that they are having very difficult sessions this year and could use our spiritual support. Please pray that they may be covered with the uniting and healing power of Christ.

Your brother in Christ Jesus,

Micah Bales

Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #8

Dear brothers and sisters in Truth,

My travels among Friends this summer are now underway as Faith and I visit Eastern Region Yearly Meeting at their annual sessions in Canton, Ohio. It might be fair to say that Eastern Region Yearly Meeting is the flagship of Evangelical Friends Church in North America. Eastern Region (formerly Ohio Yearly Meeting [Damascus]) was the only one of the Orthodox Yearly Meetings to decline membership in the Five Years Meeting (now Friends United Meeting) when it was formed in 1902. Eastern Region felt that FYM’s statements of faith were not sufficently Evangelical. They were certainly uncomfortable with some aspects of FYM’s corporate statement of faith – the Richmond Declaration – which denied the use of outward signs of sacrament, such as water baptism and bread and wine communion. Since the late 19th century, Eastern Region has held that there should be “freedom of conscience” with regard to outward signs of sacrament. Since the 19th century, some churches in Eastern Region have celebrated these rituals, but they are optional: No one is required to be baptized with water or partake in bread and wine communion in order to be a member of the Friends Church.

Over time, a number of other North American Yearly Meetings became disaffected with the insufficiently Evangelical stance of the Five Years Meeting. Oregon (now Northwest) Yearly Meeting broke away from FYM in the 1926 after FYM would not acknowledge the Richmond Declaration as a creed. Kansas (now Mid-America) Yearly Meeting withdrew in 1937, and most of Nebraska Yearly Meeting‘s monthly meetings withdrew and formed Rocky Mountain Yearly Meeting in 1957. Evangelical Friends Alliance (now Evangelical Friends Church) was formed in 1965, and Evangelical Friends Church in North America now includes Southwest Yearly Meeting (formerly California) and Alaska Yearly Meeting.

But Eastern Region is the original. Here, ever since the Revival experience of the mid-1800s, Friends have greatly emphasized the tradition of Evangelical Protestantism, often at the expense of Friends heritage. The attitude among Friends in Eastern Region might be described as: “hold onto what is essential, jettison everything else.” And for most Friends in Eastern Region, what is essential is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, fidelity to the Bible as the Word of God, and an actively missional stance in the wider world (see Matthew 28:19-20). And, by and large, the Evangelical Protestant tradition has all of these things.

The Friends tradition, except as it directly supports these three emphases, is not seen by most Friends in Eastern Region as being necessary. It is worth noting that the Friends tradition is often referred to as “Friends distinctives” by members of Evangelical Friends Church: They are the things that make Friends “distinctive” from other Evangelical Protestants. But the Evangelical Protestant tradition – the story of Luther and Wesley – is normative. As a Yearly Meeting, Eastern Region is Protestant first, Quaker second – if at all. It is worth noting that most Friends here do not identify as “Quaker,” as that word is associated with liberal, non-Bible-based Friends branches. Friends here are very careful to distinguish between the Friends Church and Quakers.

Attending Eastern Region Yearly Meeting has been a “cultural experience” for me on a variety of levels. The first worship service I attended was a three-and-a-half-hour-long Spanish-language service. There were around 200 Spanish-speaking Friends in attendence to hear many individuals and groups perform music, to sing congregationally, and to hear a number of speakers, including a guest preacher who spoke for around an hour. He was an impressive orator who alternated between stand-up comedy and fire-and-brimstone screaming. Just when I thought I couldn’t take any more warning and judgment, he made us laugh. I enjoyed seeing the vibrancy of the Spanish-language Friends at Eastern Region, though I was a bit concerned at how segregated the Spanish-language and English-language sub-Yearly Meetings were. Most of the Spanish-speakers only stayed for the weekend, leaving the English-speakers to do Eastern Region’s business on Monday and Tuesday. It was as if there were two Yearly Meetings, and the English-language Yearly Meeting was where the business was done.

The English-language portion of the Yearly Meeting was just as much a cultural experience. The worship services were made up of three primary elements: Congregational singing; performing artists (from Hungarian Gypsy musicians to a teeny-bop Christian rock band); and preaching. Friends applauded after most of the songs and sermons, and there were rarely even a few seconds of silence between events. I had difficulty with how prepared and managed everything felt; and the congregational singing and preaching was often triumphalist in nature.

Another challenge for me was the almost exclusively male leadership of the Yearly Meeting. Eastern Region has no female senior pastors. One younger Friend who I spoke to said that she had female Friends who had left the Friends Church to join the Mennonites in order to be able to engage in pastoral ministry. They did not feel that they could do so in Eastern Region. It was noteworthy that this year the Yearly Meeting recorded one of their long-time missionaries as a minister of the gospel – but not his wife, who has been co-missionary with him for decades. No one publicly questioned why this should be so. Throughout the time here at Yearly Meeting, I have heard statements that underscored the role of women in Eastern Region: For example, when one leader prayed that God would, “raise up new missionaries and missionaries’ wives.”

Another thing that I must mention is that Eastern Region Friends vote. I had known this before I arrived, but knowing that Friends in this Yearly Meeting vote could not entirely prevent me from having my breath taken away when I first witnessed it. Most of Eastern Region’s business is done without discussion: A report is presented and approved (they say “favor” to indicate approval). However, a vote is taken on “motions” – that is, on any action item.

Voting seems to be especially important for cases when there is a question from the floor about the decisions that the leadership has presented to the body. The only vote where I heard any “noes” came after one individual questioned whether it was in right order to freeze for the coming year the Yearly Meeting’s “minimum wage” for pastoral ministers. After this man had spoken, the clerk called for a vote on the matter without hearing further discussion. The vote was taken by voice, and I would guess that it passed by a margin of at least ten to one. It seems that voting in this particular case served the function of allowing some Friends to “stand aside” on the decision. But I was disturbed that no time was given to discernment of the matter; Friends were not encouraged to wait on God to provide further guidance. There was a schedule, and Friends intended to get on with it – so a quick vote took care of the voice of dissention.

Eastern Region had its good points, of course. I was impressed with the fact that the Yearly Meeting took half a day to do service projects in the community. I went with a team of Friends that weeded the grounds of a local Jewish community center, and a dozen other teams served the local community in many other ways. One team visited a man in very poor health and cleaned up his yard. Another team visited the local fire station that had just lost a fireman and cleaned their vehicles and prayed with them. Yet another team worked with children. I thought that many Friends could learn from Eastern Region’s very practical service orientation.

I was also deeply impressed by Eastern Region’s cross-cultural emphasis. While I am concerned by the de facto segregation of the Spanish-speaking and English-speaking sections of the Yearly Meeting, I am very excited about the development of that relationship. Eastern Region also has a Chinese-language congregation, and “ethnic ministry” is a stated emphasis of the Yearly Meeting. I am excited to see how greater partnership might develop between Friends of different cultural and linguistic backgrounds. Eastern Region bears witness to Friends’ Testimony of Unity: to the power of Christ’s Spirit to unite us across cultural, class, and linguistic barriers.

The emphasis at Eastern Region is on church-growth, foreign missions, and Evangelical Protestant theology based in the authority of Scripture as the Word of God. I did not detect much interest in engaging with other (non-Evangelical) Friends. Nevertheless, I believe that Friends would do well to reach out to Eastern Region Yearly Meeting, inviting them to share fellowship with the wider Religious Society of Friends. Despite our doctrinal differences, we are all children of one Heavenly Father, and we are all brothers and sisters in Christ. I pray that the Holy Spirit will permeate all of the churches of Eastern Region Yearly Meeting and that Friends will be responsive to the Inward Light of Christ as it seeks to lead them in His Way.

This coming week, Faith and I will be visiting Northwest Yearly Meeting, also a part of Evangelical Friends Church. I was blessed to visit Northwest Yearly Meeting last year, along with Tyler Hampton, and I am looking forward to being among Friends there again.

I pray that the Spirit of Christ is richly dwelling in each of you, leading you in the way of truth and mercy, justice and love.

Your friend in the Way of Jesus,

Micah Bales