Blog Banner

Archive for Philadelphia

It’s All About Discipleship

This past weekend I was up in Philadelphia for an East Coast Gathering of the Friends of Jesus Fellowship. The gathering was an excellent opportunity for me to deepen relationships with local leaders in Philadelphia. It also turned out to be a chance to clarify our core mission and values as a fellowship.

Early in our time together, Hoot Williams had all of us fill out a values audit. There were about thirty values for us to select from – things like justice for the poor, community, equality, and strong families. Each of us was asked to rank our top twelve personal values, and then to share which values emerged as our personal top five.

As a last step in this process, we went around again and took note of which values showed up the most in our personal top fives. It was amazing how much overlap there was for most of us, and it was pretty easy to determine which values were the group’s top five. Here’s the list we came up with:

  • 1. Discipleship/Servant-Leadership
  • 2. Creativity & Innovation
  • 3. Community
  • 4. Outreach/Evangelism
  • 5. “All People Matter to God”/Equality

If we had made a top six list, worship would have certainly been there, too.

Simply taking a look at these values was very enlightening for those of us present. It said a lot about our community that we made the choices that we did, and we felt a strong sense of unity around the values that God is calling us to live into together.

Over the course of the day, that sense of unity only deepened. By our last session, we were realizing that while each of these values are important to us, the value of discipleship is probably most core to who we are and the way we are called to be Friends of Jesus. In our commitment to creativity & innovation, our times of community, our efforts at outreach, and in our witness that all people matter to God, our objective is always to bring people into a relationship of practical discipleship to Jesus.

In all of our activities, we seek to be and make disciples who have the nuts-and-bolts training and encouragement to make the kingdom of God visible – showing God’s love to others, working for justice, and equipping others to walk in this way of Jesus. We share a strong sense that everything we do as a community ultimately points back to the path of discipleship.

What are your personal core values, and those of the communities you belong to? Is the work of making and sending disciples central to the mission of your church? If not, what is? And if so, how are you acting as a community to nurture the path of discipleship, teaching one another how to be friends of Jesus in all aspects of life?

Way Is Opening – Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #62

Dear friends,

It’s getting to that point in the winter when it feels like spring will never come. Yet, there is real growth happening amid the cold and ice. The Friends of Jesus community is growing in depth and momentum as we find our way forward as a community rooted in the Spirit. It’s amazing to watch God draw us together as a team, as friends, as companions in the way of Jesus. And I’m growing on a personal level, finding my way towards being more faithful in the ministry that God has called me to. Little by little, I’m finding ways to release my own priorities and open myself to how God wants to use my life.

I experienced this sense of opening just this weekend, during a trip to Philadelphia. On Friday, I was invited to speak to students at Swarthmore College about discernment and Spirit-led decision-making in the Quaker tradition. I shared about the biblical basis for our practice, and how we might apply these principles in groups and organizations that don’t necessarily share the same faith basis.

It seemed that my talk was very well-received, and I felt hopeful that it may have helped to strengthen the Christian and interfaith witness at Swarthmore. I was surprised and inspired to find this door opened to me, and this visit made me more aware of the hunger that the rising generation has for decision-making that is based in truth, rather than egotistical power plays. This may be an area for greater exploration.

Following my visit to Swarthmore, I headed up to Chestnut Hill Friends Meeting House, where the planning group for Quaker Spring gathered for a weekend retreat. We had a deep time of shared listening together, and I felt blessed to be in partnership with these faithful Friends. I am looking forward to the Quaker Spring gathering this June 24-29 in Barnesville, Ohio.

My travels this weekend left me feeling inspired. Something has been broken open inside me, and I am feeling drawn to re-dedicate myself to the core ministry that the Holy Spirit is calling me into. This ministry is both local and universal, involving both a settled witness here in DC as well as traveling to share the good news of Jesus and support the emergence of new leaders and communities in other areas.

At times, it has been a challenge to stay focused on this mission. In the last year, in addition to the rather intensive demands of the ministry, I’ve been working several part-time jobs. Sometimes this has worked well, but on many occasions it has created conditions for a great deal of stress and anxiety in my life. Worst of all, I have the sense that at times my over-busyness has negatively impacted the exercise of the most essential ministry that God is inviting me into.

This weekend, something clicked into place, and I had a clear sense that 2014 is a year for me to be transitioning into more focused ministry, less weighed down by other concerns. There have been times in the past when I have felt a drawing to this kind of focus, but now God seems to be preparing the conditions for me to truly live into that vision. My local community here in DC has shown amazing support in recent months, encouraging me to pursue a more fully released ministry. I am both humbled and emboldened by the ways in which Friends are investing their time, energy, resources and love into creating a space where this ministry can advance unhindered.

In the months ahead, we will be exploring together what it looks like for me to be serving Friends of Jesus as a bi-vocational released minister. With the support of local community members and Friends from across the country, we are hopeful that we can help create space for this exciting ministry to flourish in the ways that God intends.

Thank you for your prayerful support of my ministry, and of the Friends of Jesus community as a whole. This month, please pray for us:

  • That the Spirit would open doors for me to share the good news of Jesus with boldness, in unexpected and exciting ways.
  • That the network of prayer and support for this ministry would continue to grow and create an environment in which ministry can be exercised freely.
  • That we be empowered to cooperate with the work of the Holy Spirit, gathering people into fellowships where Jesus Christ is known in an intimate, personal way; where each of us has the opportunity to become his disciple and demonstrate his love for the world.

In gratitude and friendship,

Micah Bales

Taking Our Faith Into The Streets – Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #59

Dear friends,

This month has felt like a chance to take a wider view of the work that God is calling me to. It’s easy to get bogged down in tasks and details, but recently I’ve had some great opportunities to break out of my regular routine and engage in ministry that is outside of my comfort zone. At the same time, I’m finding new opportunities to reflect on my service, exploring how my particular call and gifts fit into the life of our community as a whole.

The highlight of November was a visit among friends in Philadelphia. The purpose of my trip was to encourage the Friends of Jesus community that is emerging there, but I think that they encouraged me more! I got to see the Spirit’s power at work again and again, as friends lived into their calling as children of light, sharing their faith with boldness.

I arrived first in West Chester, Pennsylvania, where a group of friends were holding an evening meeting for worship in one family’s home. The hosts and organizers of the meeting were Conservative Quakers, and folks from the West Philly Quaker community at the Friends of Jesus Fellowship added to their numbers. It was a beautiful assembly of God’s people, all united in our desire to draw near to one another in the life we find in Jesus. Both before and after worship, I was able to connect with many different individuals, some of whom I knew well already, and others who I was pleased to get to know on a deeper level. This precious time really gave me the sense of being re-connected with the life of some of God’s faithful workers in the Philadelphia area.

This was good preparation for the following day, when I accompanied Hoot Williams as he led a street outreach event in downtown Philadelphia. If the evening meeting for worship in West Chester provided the spiritual depth and grounding, the outreach event made room for a living expression of that life and power in the world. We spent the day together, holding a public meeting for worship within sight of Independence Hall.

As we worshiped, several of us took an active role in reaching out to the many people who were passing by. We invited folks to take a red diamond as a symbol of the power of love in the face of adversity. For those who were willing to talk longer, we were able to share about our community and the sense of hope and joy that compelled us to stand outside all day on a Saturday and strike up conversations with strangers.

This was a really powerful experience for me. I had not done this kind of street outreach since the Occupy movement, and I had never done street outreach as a way to invite others into conversations about faith. In many ways, this was a scary thing to do, but it was helpful to have the red diamonds as an icebreaker. It also helped to let those we talked to set the terms of the conversation. If they wanted to talk about deep things, learn more about our community, or talk about their own faith, we were ready for that. If they just wanted to take a red diamond and move along, that was OK, too.

It was amazing to see a variety of brothers and sisters from the Philadelphia Quaker community turn out for this outreach event. It blessed me to see spiritual gifts being used, watch individuals wrestle with leadings and explore what God’s call might be for them in the days ahead. In some way that is hard to describe, taking our faith into the streets had the effect of making it more real, immediate and concrete. I experienced in a fresh way the meaning of Jesus’ words: “The Kingdom of God has come near.”

Out of this experience, I am hungry for more opportunities to do both the hidden, spiritual work of deep worship and the concrete, visible labor of incarnational ministry in our city streets. I need both the inward and the outward journey, and I want to be part of a community that is engaged with great passion and joy on both of these levels. I see that our brothers and sisters in Philadelphia are finding ways to do this, and I hope that this gospel fire will spread and ignite the hearts and minds of the rest of us across our many local communities. It is time for us to live and preach the good news of Jesus with boldness!

On a personal level, I am grateful to report that I am receiving some additional assistance in walking this path. This past month, Friends of Jesus – DC Metro Area appointed a support team to work with me as I seek to be faithful to the public ministry that God has called me into. This team will provide help in my discernment process, serving as spiritual advisers and encouragers for me.

I’m blessed that FOJ-DC Metro Area is embracing my ministry as being integral to its own. Together, we will continue to tease out how I can best serve as an integrated member of the body, rather than flying solo. I am grateful for friends’ willingness to accompany me in this ministry, seeking to build up the gifts and ministry of whole community.

In other news, our dog, Austin, continues to be sweet and adorable. He’s a wonderful addition to our family, and his presence encourages greater connections between us and our housemates and neighbors. I don’t think I really expected this beforehand, but I am discovering that dogs can be remarkable community-builders. I am grateful for the ways that each of us – including our non-human companions – bring our own special gifts to the life we share together.

I hope that you are beginning to sense the deep joy of the Christmas season. In spite of the dimmer days and longer nights, we are reminded that the living presence of Jesus is coming to birth in our midst. May you experience his awesome, loving presence this Advent.

Your friend,

Micah Bales

Love Matters

This weekend, I took part in a Quaker street outreach in downtown Philadelphia. We arrived early Saturday morning, setting up camp in the “free speech zone” near Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. We were there for most of the morning and afternoon, holding public worship and engaging with people walking by.

We really had two things going on at the same time. First of all, there was a circle of folks engaged in silent, waiting worship, beginning shortly after we set up the space. Worship continued for the rest of the day, with individuals cycling in and out of worship as they felt moved. At the same time, some of us were out on the sidewalk, engaging with folks who wandered by. There were lots of tourists, but also many local residents who we got the chance to interact with.

To catch people’s attention we put up a sign that said “Quakers?” and we approached people and offered them little red “diamonds.” We explained that our friend, Josh Jank, is dying from complications related to cycle cell anemia, and that his dying wish is to see 100,000 of these little red, plastic diamonds distributed. The purpose of the diamonds is to serve as a reminder: They are red because love matters, and they are diamonds because God does amazing things under heat and pressure.

This message of love and hope was deeply moving for many of the people we talked with, and it opened up a space for deeper conversations with many. I am grateful to Josh for his message, and the way that this very tangible reminder could bridge gaps between people and make connections on the streets of Philadelphia. Josh has given us a unique way to share the good news of God’s love, and open ourselves to strangers in a way that heals and forms community.

After this experience, I am wondering how we might continue to reach out to strangers with God’s love. I was touched by how many people I met this weekend who I never would have encountered if I hadn’t gotten out into the streets and handed out little red diamonds. There is something beautiful and liberating about reaching out to others, not to sell them anything or convince them to adopt my perspective, but just to let them know that God loves them, and that there are communities of people who love them, too. This is good news!

Unleashing Our Spiritual Gifts – Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #54

Dear friends,

This past month has been very full! I’ve visited friends in Philadelphia, and family and friends in Kansas, on top of my usual work routine. I have also felt called into an increasingly intense schedule of visitation with individuals and families here in the DC area. I have often been tired lately, but I feel great joy in the work, and I have a sense that I am generally on the right track.

Early in May, we got a visit from Hoot Williams, a fellow minister who is helping to organize a new community of disciples in Philadelphia, as a part of the Friends of Jesus Fellowship. I was very glad that Hoot was able to get a first hand look at what we are up to here in DC, and his visit encouraged me to think more about when I might get the chance to visit friends of Jesus in Philadelphia again.

I got my chance later in the month, when I was able to attend an evening worship event held by the emerging group in Philadelphia. I was deeply impressed by the faith and dedication of those who helped to organize the event, and I felt that we in DC had plenty to learn from their efforts. I was particularly pleased with the way that friends there seem to be gathering local leadership that is responsive to the movement of the Holy Spirit. The group in Philadelphia looks somewhat different from Capitol Hill Friends, which I see as an indicator of good health! Different soils are suited to different kinds of growth, and it is a mark of faithfulness when we respond to the possibilities of the soil where we are planted.

Here in DC, things are proceeding along steadily. We are nearing the end of our third six-week cycle, which has been focused on the Gospel of Luke. In particular, we’ve been looking at Jesus’ counter-cultural Jubilee message, which challenges our ordinary relationship with money, status and power. Instead of seeking to be the greatest, the richest, the strongest, we are invited into a life of humble service – even laying down our lives for others! Rather than looking up to those who are considered most successful in our society – presidents, CEOs and billionaires – we are instead directed to focus our attention on the ravens and the lilies, who depend on God for all their needs.

We at Capitol Hill Friends are very much like a wild flower, growing in the diverse field of the Washington metro area. All around us are the weeds of greed, lust for power, distractions and workaholism; nevertheless, as we sink our roots deeper into this good earth, and lift our faces higher towards the sun, Christ is giving us the light we need to grow. We are learning how to develop as his disciples as we keep our focus on him and the blessings he wants to pour out on our city.

This spring, I have been focusing my attention on nurturing relationships, with a particular eye for unlocking the spiritual gifts of each individual. There sure are some magnificent gifts in this group that has begun to gather on Capitol Hill. We have teachers and prayer warriors, evangelists and healers, administrators and prophets. God has poured out the Spirit abundantly on this little band!

Increasingly, I am coming to understand that my role is something like a hybrid between a pastor and a community organizer. Like a pastor, I feel a sense of responsibility for the spiritual health and well-being of this fellowship. I try to make sure that nobody falls through the cracks, and to nurture an environment where everyone can have access to genuine community centered in a living engagement with the risen Jesus.

There is definitely a pastoral aspect to my ministry, but I feel even more affinity with the role of community organizer. I sense that my primary mission is not to be the one leader who does everything; instead, I feel called to play midwife to an expanding team of leaders, all of us operating in our spiritual gifts. I want to see the teachers begin to teach; pastors to nurture; evangelists to spread the word; prophets to unveil the truth; and apostles to break new ground for the gospel! When I look at my brothers and sisters at Capitol Hill Friends, I see people whom God has given a startling array of gifts. I see a community of disciples whom Jesus is inviting into lives of deeper faithfulness, joy and peace.

How can I facilitate the unleashing of these gifts? How can I help to start a chain reaction of disciples who in turn make disciples? Despite spending years in seminary and attending Quaker gatherings of all kinds, I have to confess that the dynamics of leadership and discipleship are still a bit of a mystery to me. What does it take to empower others to step into their spiritual gifts, using them to build up the body of Christ and bless the world?
I know one thing for sure: I don’t have what it takes to do this on my own. The more I observe the gifts that God has poured out on others in our community, the more I realize how limited my own abilities are. There are some things that I’m really good at and passionate about; but most things, I’m not. In my experience, there has been nothing like planting a church to teach me that I am not self-sufficient. I can’t do much of anything alone. If I am unwilling to rely on my friends, I’ll fall flat on my face!

I am grateful to be able to lean on you, my spiritual family, as I seek to be faithful in the work that Christ has given me. Your prayers and support are indispensable! For the coming month, here are a few ways you could focus your prayers:

  • On June 15th, Capitol Hill Friends will be gathering for a day-long retreat to do discernment around our sense of mission and vision. We hope that this retreat will clarify our focus and set our general direction for some time to come. Please pray that God bless our time together, granting us a clear sense of direction and shared purpose together as we look for ways to be his hands and feet in the world.
  • Pray that God would raise up new leaders, according to each one’s particular gifts.
  • Pray that the Holy Spirit open the way for multiplication of new groups meeting in different parts of the city, so that we can grow in numbers and depth, and become more accessible to seekers across the metro area.

In love and friendship,

Micah Bales

Are We Revived Yet?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quaker Revival In Philadelphia Tonight

This evening, we will be holding the first revival meeting among Friends in Philadelphia in generations. Months of prayer, discernment and preparation have been directed towards this moment, and we feel clear in our sense of the Spirit’s leading. It is good for us to be here.

It is also terrifying. As one of three visiting ministers who have been invited to serve at this gathering, I am convicted of the importance of tonight’s meeting – and of my own personal inadequacy to be a vessel for the Living Water that Jesus offers us. I feel deeply the words that Simon Peter spoke when Jesus called him into this same ministry beside the Sea of Galilee: “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”
I think that all of us who are involved in organizing this revival meeting are aware of our own frailty and weakness. Who are we to invite our brothers and sisters into a deepened experience of the Holy Spirit and a renewed commitment to following Jesus? And yet our hearts are convinced that God has called each of us to be a part of this evening, and to minister to others as the Spirit directs.

It is our prayer that the living Spirit of God will be in full evidence in our assembly tonight. It is our hope that Jesus will be present in the midst, as he promised he would be whenever we gather in his name. It is our strength and comfort to trust that though we are weak and insufficient, we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. He has already won the victory, and he invites us to take up his ministry of reconciliation – to speak peace to the whole world.

If anything positive happens tonight – if there is any healing, any joy, any kindling of the heart and new commitment to following Jesus – it will be because of the living presence of God. This is my heart’s prayer today: Holy Spirit, come! Lord Jesus, stand in the midst of your people and teach us!
Please pray for us here in Philadelphia, that we may be transformed by the renewing of our minds, and brought into a deepened commitment to walking in the way of Jesus.