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Who Are My People?

I recently spent almost a week in western Massachusetts at a gathering called Quaker Spring. Quaker Spring was conceived as an entirely unprogrammed gathering, where our whole agenda would be Spirit-led, each day’s program being composed in the morning by a small steering group, aptly named the listening committee. The concept of the gathering is to listen together to how Christ is leading us, and how we might best respond as a gathered community.

This year, I found the community part a bit complicated. Normally, Quaker Spring is held on the campus of the Olney Friends School in Barnesville, Ohio. Rooted in that location, it has tended to attract a pretty wide range of Friends, both geographically and theologically. This broadness of background and experience has been a real strength, giving us a lot of perspectives from which to approach our shared quest to be faithful listeners and followers of Christ Jesus.

In 2011, Quaker Spring migrated for the first time to New England. We hoped that trying out a new location would draw in a lot of new Friends who might not otherwise travel all the way to Ohio. I was unable to attend that year, but I heard from many that the gathering was truly blessed. This year was my very first time in New England, except for a few visits to the city of Boston, and I was looking forward to getting an introduction to that part of the country.

I got a bit more of an introduction than I bargained for. While I’m not sure about the exact statistics, anecdotally I’d say that this year upwards of 80% of us were from New England Yearly Meeting. This introduced a dynamic that I had not experienced at Quaker Spring before. Informal conversations would often turn to committee work going on in New England Yearly Meeting, and many times the themes that emerged in our larger assemblies spoke most directly to the concerns of liberal Friends in the Northeast. Given the composition of the gathering, this was completely normal and understandable. But I found this pattern challenging.

At other Quaker Spring gatherings, I had always felt like I was part of a motley crew of spiritual misfits, finding our way together. I might not have been normal, but nobody was! This year, however, I often felt out of place. I knew many of those in attendance, including quite a few whom I consider personal friends, and yet I felt isolated, marginal and unneeded. Superfluous was the word that came most easily to me at one point, when trying to express how I was feeling. While I was genuinely glad for the opportunity that this gathering provided for so many Friends from the Northeastern US to gather and listen to Christ together, something was holding me back from participating fully.

Having had this experience, I was touched to read a blog post from another Quaker Spring participant, Joanna Hoyt, describing her own struggle to fit in – not just at Quaker Spring, but in the Religious Society of Friends in general. She reflects on the questions that had been occupying her thoughts: Who are my people? Where do I belong? Where am I accepted? What practices can I accept? After her experience at Quaker Spring, she concludes that these may not be the right questions at all. Instead, she feels drawn into the living experience of God in community, showing love and listening deeply to others.

I feel grateful for Joanna’s reflections. They help me to clarify at least part of what I was struggling with during my time at Quaker Spring. The question I was asking myself at Quaker Spring this year – Is this my people? – was not the real question. Rather, the deeper question was: With whom is God calling me to dwell?

This feeling of being superfluous, of being out of place at Quaker Spring, was accompanied by an intense drawing to return home to Washington, DC. I could feel it, deep in my bones, that the work God has for me is found in the daily relationships and spiritual community that I am developing in my neighborhood, city and region. I have no doubt that God used this year’s Quaker Spring to advance his purposes in the lives of many, but I was being called elsewhere.

So, it seems I got the question wrong, too. Rather than wondering who my people are, there might be different, more edifying questions to consider: Who am I called to serve? Who is God sending me to dwell with? How is God placing me in relationship with others, and how can I open myself to being changed by those relationships? Rather than agonizing over who my people are, perhaps a better question is, Whose people am I?

Drawn Into the Light – Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #44

Dear friends in Truth,


This is turning out to be a summer to remember. The day after sending out my last ministry newsletter, I was arrested by US Capitol Police while attending a Senate Banking Committee hearing featuring Jamie Dimon – CEO and Chairman of JP Morgan Chase. Dimon was there to explain why his bank was engaged in risky gambling with billions of dollars, but some of us had other questions we wanted answered. I accompanied my friend, Deborah Harris, whose home has been foreclosed on by JP Morgan chase, and I held her in prayer as she got a chance to ask Jamie Dimon in person: Why don’t you face the people that you foreclosed on?

As it turns out, the folks in charge do not like it when you publicly question them. For our thirty seconds of conversation with Mr. Dimon, we spent seven hours in jail. Last Tuesday, we were arraigned at the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, where we were subjected to drug tests and ordered to return for a status hearingon August 13th. It is not yet clear what will happen with our case. Please pray for a speedy and just resolution to this matter.


About a week after this new experience on Capitol Hill, I was off to Barnesville, Ohio for the Wider Gathering of Conservative Friends and QuakerSpring. The Conservative Friends gathering was really deep, and there was a profound sense of Christ’s living presence within us, calling us to respond in faith. I was left with the challenge: Do I really live in Christ’s life and power? How does my life demonstrate it?

QuakerSpring was also a powerful experience, though it was harder in many ways. Over the course of the week-long gathering, I became increasingly aware of the burdens that were weighing on my heart. I saw more clearly that I was struggling with anxiety and confusion around issues of financial security and support. I had gotten so caught up in worry about the future that I lost sight of my present Ground and Source, Jesus Christ. I was grateful for this opportunity to retreat for a week with Friends in Ohio. It was an opportunity for me to re-dedicate myself to allowing Christ to work within me, revealing my hidden darkness and drawing me into the light.


God has good timing, because my life was about to get even crazier. A few days after returning home from Barnesville, I began my new job as Interim Communications and Web Specialist for Friends United Meeting. For the next several months, my primary focus will be the FUM website. The current website was originally set up in 1997, and though the site has had an amazing 15-year run, it is clearly time for an upgrade! Once the new site is up and running, I will be able to enlarge my focus to encompass other areas of our communications strategy.

It is an honor to be on staff with Friends United Meeting, which at its best represents my personal faith: passionately Christ-centered, deeply Quaker and committed to mission. I feel hopeful that we at FUM – our staff, our Yearly Meetings and our local congregations – can help to demonstrate what it means to be Spirit-led followers of Jesus in today’s world.

Together with my new job at FUM, working as a technical writer for a national hospice newsletter, volunteering with Occupy Our Homes, writing for my blog and caring for the community at Capitol Hill Friends, I have got a lot on my plate! It has taken a little while, but at this point I have developed a weekly schedule that helps to bring together all the threads that make up my life’s work. I feel deeply blessed to have a life that is so full of meaningful labor, and I pray that Christ will continue to guide me in finding the right balance between work and rest, study and play, solitude and community.

Summer is a fluid time for most people, and perhaps especially for Quakers. Summertime is Yearly Meeting time, and I still have several to attend in the next month and a half. Faith and I will be at New York Yearly Meeting from July 23 to 27. The next week, I will visit Baltimore Yearly Meeting for a few days to speak on a panel and deliver a workshop about how our faith as Friends intersects with movements for social justice such as Occupy Wall Street. From August 7 to 11, Faith and I will be back out in Barnesville, for the annual sessions of Ohio Yearly Meeting. With so much travel and so many opportunities for new connections, it can feel hard to keep my feet on the ground. I pray for inward stability and rootedness in the Spirit. May God will bless each of the gatherings that we attend.

Even as everything is up in the air with summer travels, courtroom proceedings and changes in employment, Capitol Hill Friends is going through a transition of its own. In the next few weeks, we are saying goodbye to three William Penn House interns who have been a real blessing for our community. Lily Rockwell of Stillwater Friends Meeting (Ohio YM) is leaving town this Saturday as she prepares to head off to the University of New Mexico for graduate studies in speech language pathology this fall. Lily has been a vital part of Capitol Hill Friends for the past year, and we will miss her quiet, steady presence.

Sammy and Ceress Sanders are two William Penn House interns who are just here for the summer, but they have quickly become an integral part of our community. They will be leaving in a few weeks, returning to Barclay College, where they have one year left in their undergraduate work. Sammy and Ceress’ commitment to Spirit-led service and a Christ-centered engagement with those around them has been wonderful to experience, and I am praying that they might be able to come back to DC once they finish their college studies. I hope they have gained as much from their time here as we have gained from having them with us.

With Lily, Sammy and Ceress all headed back West, our fellowship at Capitol Hill Friends is bound to feel different. In our experience, spring and fall are pivotal times, moments when our community can really change in exciting ways. This will no doubt be all the more true this fall, as we adjust to the loss of a substantial part of our core group. I pray that God will gather together those people who have need of a community like ours, and teach us how to love one another as Christ first loved us.

Thank you for all of your prayers and words of support this past month – for me, for our work at Occupy Our Homes, for the ministry of Friends United Meeting and for Capitol Hill Friends. Though there have been great challenges, the Lord has stood with us through everything. With each passing day, I am more convinced that neither death nor life, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. May each of you be blessed, just as I have been blessed by God through you.

In Christ’s peace,

Micah Bales



QuakerSpring: A New Creation

Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will appear over you.
– Isaiah 60:1-2

We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.
– Romans 8:22-23

God continues to surprise me. All the Holy Spirit has to do is blow through, and I am back to square one; the sand castles that I have built are swept away by the tide, and I am left without fortifications before God. I suppose it could be frustrating to realize that most of the things I had been worrying about for months do not really matter. But all I feel is joy.

I see with stunning clarity that God is not like me at all. Though I am characterized by grasping and self-centeredness, God’s character is one of self-giving, healing and mercy. God’s presence is power to receive forgiveness, and to be remade in the image of Christ.

This presence and power was very much in evidence this past week at the sixth annual gathering of QuakerSpringin Barnesville, Ohio. QuakerSpring is a unique, Spirit-led retreat that was conceived as an alternative to the frantic programming of some other Quaker gatherings. Rather than planning the schedule ahead of time, each day’s agenda is set out according to the group’s sense of the Spirit’s leading.Rooted in deep worship and shared discernment, QuakerSpring unfolds according to the community’s sense of God’s call.

I was surprised by the spiritual intensity we experienced this year. There was a palpable sense of connection to God, but also an awareness of spiritual darkness. At the heart of our time together was a deep sense of our human brokeness, and of Christ’s presence within, calling us to deeper faithfulness. Our spiritual burdens felt like a heavy weight, but as we sat together in Christ’s presence, much of this darkness was revealed, brought into the light, and purified in the Refiner’s Fire. Both individually and as a group, we experienced real transformation.

During QuakerSpring, I personally became more aware of the burdens I had been carrying. I saw more clearly that I was struggling with a spirit of anxiety and confusion around issues of financial security and support. I was so caught up in worry about the future that I had lost sight of my present Ground and Source, Jesus Christ.

Fortunately, an elder was able to name what was happening. She expressed her sense that the Adversary was loose in our midst. When she said this, I knew immediately that it was true. I perceived the spirit of confusion and anxiety for what it was – a spirit that was not from God – and I felt an immediate release. In what felt like a miraculous moment of spiritual house-cleaning, the darkness, confusion and anxiety cleared out of me. I give praise to God for using this elder to name what was happening, and to reveal the dynamics at play that were keeping me in bondage.

One thing that struck me this week was the prominence of what I would describe as almost “charismatic” expressions of faith. The reality of darkness and evil emerged as major themes of our worship and conversation. At the same time, there was a deep sense of Christ’s inward power that is breaking out of forms and structures and transforming us in ways that we could never have predicted. God is doing a new thing, though it is still unclear what this new creation will look like.

As someone who has been involved in QuakerSpring since the first gathering in 2007, this year felt like a turning point. I have always valued QuakerSpring as a chance to rest in the Spirit and grow in community. I saw QuakerSpring as a vacation from the hard work of ministry in the wider world. This year, however, I had a growing sense that God has a broader purpose for this gathering. What if QuakerSpring is more than a spiritual refuge? What if God is using QuakerSpring as an engine of renewal and rebirth for the Religious Society of Friends?

Everything in the Religious Society of Friends seems to be falling apart right now. Yearly Meetings are splitting, and old venerable institutions are in decline. Many of our Meetings are in states of crisis, and there is a general sense that we don’t really know what to do. We are at a loss for how to respond to our present circumstances. At QuakerSpring, I experience a community that is grounded in the Spirit, listening and seeking to be obedient to the voice of Jesus Christ within. This is the kind of community that I want to be a part of. It is a kind of Quakerism that could truly be relevant for 21st-century post-modern America.

QuakerSpring represents the unique meeting of Christian (or Christian-curious) Liberal Friends and Conservative Friends who seek a more vibrant and flexible Christian faith. I learned in high school biology that hybrids are often much stronger than “pure breeds.” Could this new community – this mutt of branch lineages united in the Spirit of Christ – find a voice and a witness that speaks to the needs of modern-day North America? How is God teaching us to contextualize the truth that early Friends re-discovered in our own – dramatically different – context? How might we move forward with our Guide?

There are no easy answers. While many of us wish there were some sort of “technical” solution for the challenges facing the Religious Society of Friends today, I am convinced that there is no quick fix that will produce faithfulness and awareness of God’s presence and power. Rather than developing a technique or a process, God is gathering a people.

QuakerSpring is not an abstract model or process that can simply be exported. This is not something that we can manage or control. Rather, QuakerSpring is apeople who are being knitted together in God’s love and power. Based on my experience of QuakerSpring, I am more convinced than ever that rebirth within the Church will not be the result of our human plans and strategies. There is a new creation that we can sense, and Christ himself is creating it.

Have you experienced the Spirit drawing a new community together? What does it feel like on the growing edge of a faith tradition? Where is the intersection between what God is doing in each of us individually, and the ways that God is at work in the Body as a whole? How do we give this new creation space to breathe and develop, avoiding the temptation to suffocate it with our own ideas and agendas?

Sing and rejoice ye children of the day and the light; for the Lord is at work in this thick night of darkness that may be felt: and the Truth doth flourish as the rose, and lilies do grow among the thorns and the plants atop the hills, and upon them the lambs doth skip and play. 
– George Fox

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

Now, to FGC Gathering

Until a couple of days ago, I did not think that I was going to Friends General Conference Gathering, being held this year at Johnstown, Pennsylvania. While having planned on attending when I originally considered my plans for the summer, a couple of months ago I came to the conclusion that FGC was an event that I would need to cut in order to have enough energy to undertake the rest of my intervisitation. However, in the latter part of this week, as I have considered what I felt led to be doing with my time in between Quaker Camp and FUM Triennial, I realized that I was feeling very drawn to travel among Friends in liberal-unprogrammed meetings in the Mid-Atlantic region. When I considered traveling among East Coast meetings this coming week, I realized that most folks whom I knew in those meetings would be at FGC Gathering. I also realized I had the money to attend the gathering, if I so chose, thanks to a grant from the Pickett Endowment. Critically, I felt inwardly at peace when I gave over to changing plans and attending the gathering.

So, having a probable leading to attend FGC Gathering, two questions remained: “Do I really have the energy to attend this event?” and “Is it still possible for me to register?” After some introspection and investigation, I have concluded that the answer to both is, “yes.”

See you at FGC, God willing.

Quaker Camp at Barnsville, 2008

This week has been the second year of Quaker Camp, which first took place last year as a part of a reunion of Young Friends of North America participants. This year, the gathering has been much smaller, involving probably around thirty people at any given time, with a number of folks only participating for a part of the weekend. The flavor and energy of the gathering has been very different from the previous one, both in terms of overall numbers, and also in terms of Young Adult Friends participation, which has been significantly less this year. While smaller and less vital than last year, this week has been a space for interaction across generations and traditions and has served as a point of contact between the surging Young Adult Friends movement and older Friends from the Conservative and liberal-unprogrammed traditions.

Beginning Sunday evening, immediately following the Gathering of Conservative Friends, and running until Saturday morning, Quaker Camp has been a place for Friends of a variety of backgrounds to come together, share fellowship, wait on God, and create a space for intergenerational community. We have met together in a large swath of “unprogrammed time,” where we have felt free to experiment with different forms of study, prayer, business, worship, and song. Folks have come for a variety of reasons: Some came to recapture the life and energy that they once experienced as part of the Young Friends of North America. Others came to explore the modern-day witness of Conservative Friends in Ohio Yearly Meeting. Still others came to participate in the ongoing movement of Young Adult Friends and to share fellowship with older Friends. What we have found together is a sense of mutual sharing, deep listening, and freedom for experimentation and risk-taking as an cross-branch, intergenerational community.

The week has certainly had its ups and downs, sometimes feeling overburdened with introspection and personal struggles being elevated to the level of collective agenda. Nevertheless, as the week has gone on, things seem to have gelled to a great extent. Instead of being a rattling of separate individuals, we have come to share a greater sense of unity and corporateness.

It has been a blessing to spend some quality time with Friends from Ohio Yearly Meeting (Conservative) and get a sense of who they are, and simply appreciating that. I feel that I have a great deal to learn from Friends in the Conservative tradition and hope that I might be able to offer something of myself and my tradition to them, as well. I was delighted and surprised, for example, at the response I received this morning when I suggested that we could have some programmed worship and praise for tonight’s evening program: A Friend from Stillwater Meeting expressed that she thought that having programmed worship would be in good order, just what Friends needed at this moment! I am excited and humbled by the open-mindedness and adaptability of some Conservative Friends, even as they are firm in their own tradition. I believe that this is exactly what we need from all Friends.

This week has also been a good opportunity for me to talk with past YFNA participants, interviewing some of them as a part of an historical investigation I am planning to undertake this fall. I am continually educated by my conversations with older Friends who were involved in the Young Friends of North America in their youth. I find great inspiration and great lessons (both positive and negative) in their life experience and experiments with Truth. I have also appreciated the perspective which many Friends bring to their youthful adventures, often able to make distinctions between experiences that might be worth emulating today, and others which should be studied with an eye toward avoiding pitfalls that have the potential to do deep harm to individuals and communities. I hope that Young Adult Friends today can be in conversation with older Friends and be open to hearing and taking seriously their experience, so that we might benefit from the hard-won lessons of their generation.

On to Barnesville!

On Wednesday evening, the 18th, Andrew and I made our way to Cancun, the (in)famous resort city best known for Spring Break debauchery. In addition to being a hotspot for big-dollar beach tourism, it is also the site of the principal airport in the region, where Andrew and I were flying out from. We made the best of it, linking up with some other backpackers who were looking to do their business (either arriving or exiting via the airport) and get out of Dodge. We went out on Wednesday night to the Zona Hotelera (Hotel Zone) and sat on the beach together for a few hours, which was enough for me. There was no denying that the beach was beautiful, though the sand was course and rough on the feet and ended as it reached the water. It seemed somewhat dangerous to spend much time in the water, given that, in the water, just beyond the sand, was irregular, slightly jagged stone. We had a good time, though. Good company is good company, even in the strangest of circumstances.

The whole scene in Cancun was bizarre: Huge highrise hotels, massive chain restaurants from the US and elsewhere, enormous shopping centers, and nightclubs on every side. Teenagers, barely out of high school, if that old, roamed the streets, and the public bus system, with beer in their hands, wearing what looked like prom dresses (for the girls) and polo gear (for the boys). It seems that many parents give their children a trip to Cancun as a high school graduation gift. There were adults there, too – many of them bringing their children. Cancun is certainly a place where reality takes a vacation.

We went to the aiport as soon as we got up the next morning, not really wanting to hang around any more than necessary in the city, but we found that the airport was even stranger – and more expensive! We were greeted by six-dollar bottles of water in a facility where there were no drinking fountains, not to mention what we paid for breakfast. Andrew and I had the distinct sense of being fish in a barrel. I think we’ll need a pretty good reason if we decide to fly via Cancun again; and we certainly won’t plan on hanging out at the airport before our flight.

We flew back to the United States – me to Pittsburg and Andrew to Wichita – parting ways in Dallas. The whole Dallas airport was backed up, so both of our flights were delayed, and I got in to Pittsburg at about 12.30am. I was supposed to meet up with folks at the airport, but I didn’t know what they looked like, and we were not able to link up (I did find out this morning that they were there, and I feel awful that they drove up to give me a ride only for us to fail to connect). I eventually gave up and took a cab to a hotel near the airport. I’ll be hitching a ride with a carload of folks coming from Eastern Pennsylvania this afternoon, with whom I will make the hour and a half ride from Pittsburg to Barnsville, Ohio, where I will be attending the Ohio Yearly Meeting Gathering of Conservative Friends this weekend, followed by Quaker Camp the following week. I am excited to meet with Conservative Friends at Barnsville, and am looking foward to the second year of Quaker Camp.