Dear Children of the Day,
One phrase that has deep meaning in the Quaker community is, “under the care.” Friends often employ this term in sentences such as, “Sarah’s ministry is under the care of Ministry and Oversight,” or, “James and Rachel’s marriage is under the care of the Meeting.” Most commonly, when Friends speak of something being under the care of a group, it is a reference to a formal relationship that is bound up in procedure. For example, if a couple’s marriage is under the care of a Meeting, this generally means that the couple goes through a process of clearness – similar in many ways to premarital counseling – with other members of the Meeting. To be under a group’s care often means to take part in a process of accountability with the group.
Perhaps in some Meetings this is all that being under the care means. As with all traditions, some of our communities have fallen into reliance on the outward forms of care – committee work and procedure – while having lost sight of the spiritual substance of the matter. For a healthy, spiritually vibrant Meeting, however, being under the care is far more than undertaking a certain series of procedures or committee obligations.
In the ideal, relationships of care are diverse and interwoven throughout the Meeting – individual to individual; ministers to elders; individuals, couples and families to the Meeting; and the Meeting as a whole to the Quarterly and Yearly Meeting. These care relationships are not, first and foremost, a series of procedural obligations. In fact, it is my opinion that the fewer committees a Meeting can get by with, the better. Instead, care within the Meeting is primarily about love, transparency and mutual submission in the Lord.
In Ohio Yearly Meeting, it is our conviction that Christ Jesus is the head of the Church, of which our Yearly Meeting is one small part. Jesus being the head, we have found ourselves gathered together and bonded to one another in his life, way and truth. In him, we are able to submit ourselves to one another, testing our sense of Christ’s guidance with one another, trusting that the wider community has important insight into the experience of the individual. We experience that the Meeting, when submitted to the present teaching of the Holy Spirit, can speak with authority to the lives of individual members or groups under its care.
In Rockingham Meeting where I am a member, we place a very high value on yieldedness. This is a concept that I suspect Rockingham Meeting has imbibed from the ambient Mennonite culture of Shenandoah Valley, and it means that the individual should value the insight of the wider fellowship and be willing to change his or her life in order to meet the expectations of the community. In this life of yieldedness, each individual is profoundly under the care of the community as a whole.
In practical terms, this means that the individual should consider the convictions and witness of the community in all aspects of her or his life. For example, my Yearly Meeting has a longstanding testimony against gambling and financial speculation. As a member of the fellowship, I have a responsibility to respect that testimony, and prayerfully consider how God might be calling me to make changes in my life to live more fully into it myself. On the most basic level, it is important that I do nothing to publicly discredit the testimony of my community, even if I am personally struggling with how our testimony fits into my own life.
A good example of this of this sort of yielding might be declining to participate in charity raffles (instead simply donating money), even if I do not yet entirely understand on a personal level why Friends testimony against gambling and speculation is important. Being under the care of the community means accepting the discernment of the community, even when I do not understand. There is value in yielding to the community on matters in which I do not feel convicted to the contrary by the Holy Spirit.
The latter part of that last sentence is key: Yieldedness is not about giving preference to the human opinions of our community over the motions of the Holy Spirit. If the wisdom of the community is contrary to what Christ seems to be revealing to me, I have a responsibility to bring this concern to the community. In a sense, the Meeting is also under the care of the individual. Each of us must lay our own sense of Christ’s leading before the Meeting, even if it is unpopular. It may be that God is calling on us to adapt the testimony of the Meeting to meet a new situation.
Yieldedness is not about unduly venerating human authorities, nor is it about remaining silent in the face of injustice, spiritual blindness, or just plain old incompetence. But it does mean giving the Meeting the benefit of the doubt, laying our concerns before the community. If the Meeting is placing itself under the immediate guidance of Jesus Christ, seeking to be obedient to his Holy Spirit today, we do well to participate fully in the Meeting’s process of discernment rather than running off ahead of the Meeting.*
We discover our full potential to be the Body of Christ when we simultaneously place our lives fully under the care of the Meeting and take care for the Meeting as individuals. Taking seriously the guidance and discernment of the Christ-centered community, we are better equipped to recognize and obey the voice of God within our own hearts. When we hear and respond to the inward presence of Christ, we offer our own witness to the wider body and deepen the Meeting’s understanding of how Jesus is guiding us today.
When care and yieldedness are fully mature, we come to see that we have been under Christ’s care all along.
*If the Meeting is not seeking to put itself under Christ’s leadership, that is another matter altogether. While one should never lay down membership in a Meeting lightly, there are times when it is appropriate to dissolve ties with a Meeting that has ceased to follow the risen presence of Jesus. We may trust in Jesus himself to let us know when that moment has arrived; he may ask us to labor with a wayward Meeting for quite some time.
Dear Friends of Jesus,
Greetings from Capitol Hill, where we are still enjoying relatively high temperatures despite being at the end of November. My father, who was here with us for the Thanksgiving break, commented many times on how mild our weather was, and I feel grateful that we have not yet begun to get the wintry conditions that I hear are now developing in much of the country.
This past month has been one of many blessings in our work here on Capitol Hill, as well as in the wider world. Early this month, Faith and I were able to attend the Young Adult Friends Intervisitation Consultation, held at Quaker Hill in Richmond, Indiana. The event was jointly sponsored by Friends General Conference and Friends United Meeting. I felt blessed to be able to connect with a number of fellow gospel laborers who were also in attendance. I continue to benefit from the wider community of Friends, which helps me to understand my place in our tradition. I hope that my service is of some benefit to the wider Religious Society of Friends.
Following the consultation, I was able to meet with the planning committee for the 2010 YAF Gathering, which took place this past May. This was our last meeting, six months after the end of the conference, and it was good to debrief as a committee and finish the last bits of business that we had before us. Overall, we felt that we had been faithful in our service as organizers for the 2010 YAF Gathering, and we were grateful for the leading and opportunity to serve in this way.
We were grateful for the ways that we as a planning committee were able to connect, and the ways in which we experienced Christ’s presence in our midst, both in our planning and during the conference itself. We were saddened by the fact that some participants did not feel welcome at the gathering. As we invited Friends to attend, we found that Liberals often felt that they were being invited to an Evangelical gathering, and Evangelicals often felt they were being invited to a Liberal gathering. It is indeed a hard thing to stand in the middle in the diverse and heterodox tapestry of communities that make up North American Quakerism.
The following weekend, we on Capitol Hill were blessed by the arrival of Tyler Hampton of New City Friends in Detroit. Tyler visited among us under a minute from his worship group, and participated in a called meeting for worship of Capitol Hill Friends. We traveled with him to visit Rockingham Friends Meeting in Harrisonburg, Virginia, and later to Old Town Friends in Baltimore. Our sense was that Tyler was of great service in his ministry among us, and in our region, and we are thankful to New City Friends for sending him to us.
Tyler is among a growing number of Friends who are feeling a call to take part in a movement of engaged, missional Quaker faith. With his and others’ encouragement, I have recently written a series of essays on my blog that give a rough sketch of what such a movement might look like among Friends and beyond. The response to this series has been great, and I am pleased to see how much enthusiasm exists for a more vital, Christ-centered, justice-seeking Quaker witness. I hope to continue to encourage Friends to join me and others in listening for how Christ is leading us today, and to live into the mission that he is calling us to.
There is no doubt that we are being called. In recent months, I have been contacted by Friends across the United States and Europe who are hearing Christ’s call to lead transformed lives that embody the Gospel and serve the “least of these” in our society. I am astonished by the work of the Spirit, and am constantly reminded of how little this has to do with me; God is doing a new thing, and I pray that I may be faithful in playing my own small part in this fresh movement of the Holy Spirit. And I hope that you will join me, finding your part in Christ’s work in this generation.
Locally, I have been encouraged by my recent interactions with two Christian communities in the DC area. To begin with, I have become increasingly involved with the community of one of the attenders of Capitol Hill Friends. This attender lives with three other twenty-somethings in the Congress Heights neighborhood, which is predominantly low income and African-American. The folks at her house have some Quaker background, but do not have a shared spiritual practice as a community; their main goal is to be good neighbors in their area and to be involved in the wider community. I have begun attending Bible study there, which includes the residents of the house, as well as some other folks from the neighborhood. In addition, I am getting involved with the organizing of a new Food Not Bombs group, which seeks to serve the Congress Heights neighborhood.
I have also been blessed to come into relationship with some Friends in Frederick, Maryland who are eager to go deeper in a missional expression of their faith as Quaker Christians. These Friends also hold a Bible study, and I am hopeful that we might be able to eventually attend at least some of their meetings, though Frederick is about an hour and a half away from us with heavy traffic, which renders the journey a bit difficult. Especially the single mothers with no means to public transport, it’s not everyone that can afford top rated baby walkers to go on long journeys safely with their children. In any case, I hope that we can continue to encourage each other as we seek to walk in Christ’s Way.
It feels good to be getting more deeply involved in the wider community here in DC. For much of my first year here, my attention was mostly focused outward, on my work organizing among Young Adult Friends nationally. Now, however, I feel that God is calling me to focus more of my attention on developing relationships locally. I hope that, as I become more integrated into the city’s communal life, I might become a more effective witness to the grace and peace of Christ that has so transformed my own life.
Paradoxically, while I am seeing such amazing growth and opportunity in my life and work, I also struggle at times spiritually. I am often challenged to see the willfulness that still exists in my heart; I want things to happen after my own fashion, and it often takes me a long time to come around to accepting God’s will when it runs counter to my own assumptions and desires. As Christ calls me deeper into his Kingdom-life, I face the prospect of ongoing spiritual baptism. Just like the crucifixion that leads to resurrection, these inward baptisms can be truly confusing and agonizing, especially when I insist on resisting to the work of the Holy Spirit in my heart.
I am deeply grateful for my wife, Faith. God uses her so beautifully to keep me on track and to strengthen me when I pass through the inward darkness. I am also grateful for the support and counsel of my Meeting, and of my fellow workers and elders scattered across the distances, who help keep me balanced and give me an outside perspective. I am who I am, and am released to do the work that I do, because of the faithful example and care of many good friends in Christ.
I pray that God establish in your life the relationships of support and guidance that you need as Christ calls you deeper into his challenging way of engagement with the world and his mission to share the Gospel with all people. I look forward to laboring alongside you in his name.
Your friend in Truth,
Missional Quaker Faith Series:
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. 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 community 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, and 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 conversations 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 in 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. 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 by 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 Carolina. 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 our 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, becoming 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,
Dear beloved sisters and brothers in Truth,
The past few weeks have been a time of getting settled into a new way of life. I have begun to adjust to life in the District of Columbia, at the William Penn House. I have taken time to be present with my wife, my housemates, and my neighborhood; and I have spent a good amount of time alone seeking God’s guidance for me in my next steps in this new chapter of my life. As I have sought to be intentional about giving myself time to develop roots here in DC, I have also spent some time exploring my relationship with the wider Mid-Atlantic region. This month has been a time of rest, renewal, spiritual growth and deepening relationships.
Life at the William Penn House is good. It has been a joy to be present on an ongoing basis in the community where my wife has lived and worked for more than two years. I have been impressed with the professionalism and good management that I have observed at the House, and it has been a particular joy to see Faith at work, exercising her considerable gifts of administration and hospitality. I feel that I am able to participate in the community life of the house to a great degree, but I appreciate that I am also given the space I need to focus on my own work and recreation.
I have attended a couple of Friends Meetings in the DC metro area. The first was Friends Meeting of Washington, part of Baltimore Yearly Meeting. I attended this Meeting alone, because Faith had work that day. Friends Meeting of Washington has three worship services on Sunday, two of them concurrent. Of these two simultaneous services, there is the larger one held in the main worship room, as well as a smaller one held in an adjacent building. I had already attended the larger service a number of times, so this time I tried out the smaller one. It was, as advertised, a quiet worship service. There was only one spoken message, and I gathered that most Sundays are either entirely silent or with very few spoken messages.
On another Sunday, Faith and I attended the Friends Meeting in Alexandria, Virginia, also a part of Baltimore Yearly Meeting. Faith and I had visited this Meeting once before, and we were pleased to be among them once again. Friends in Alexandria are a very sweet community of seekers, and we felt very welcomed among them. Faith and I felt blessed that each of us were called upon to deliver vocal ministry during the meeting for worship. We pray that our visit was profitable in building up the Body of Christ in Alexandria.
On the first Sunday of this month, Faith and I visited Friends near Harrisonburg, Virginia, at Rockingham Friends Meeting, part of Ohio Yearly Meeting. We had been excited to visit this Meeting for months, and it was a joy to be with them for worship, followed by a meal. We were honored to join them for their monthly meeting for business, and we were very impressed by the gospel labor of spiritual nurture and evangelism that this small Meeting is involved in throughout the world. This tiny group of Friends has care of a worship group outside Atlanta, Georgia, as well as serving a large number of affiliate members throughout the world.
Rockingham Meeting is two and a half hours South of DC. Despite the distance, Faith and I hope to return on a regular basis. We sense a deep spiritual affinity with these Friends. Of all of the Meetings that either of us have experienced in this region of the United States, Rockingham is the one that we feel most akin to. This feeling of affinity was further confirmed when I visited the Stillwater Quarterly Meeting of Ohio Yearly Meeting the following Saturday, in Bird-in-hand, Pennsylvania. I was very impressed by the ministers and elders of Stillwater Quarterly Meeting, to which Rockingham belongs. Their dedication to the gospel of Jesus Christ as understood in the Friends tradition is inspiring to me, and their emerging focus on evangelism is in line with my own concern to share the good news across borders, cultures, languages, national identities and ethnicities.
Almost one week after traveling to Pennsylvania for Stillwater Quarterly Meeting, my work with Earlham School of Religion took me North again, to the city of Philadelphia. I spent the better part of a week meeting with Friends in the Philadelphia area. I met with a number of young Quaker leaders, talking up the YAF gathering that will be happening in Wichita next May and hearing their questions, concerns, and feedback about the event. This was a very valuable experience for me; I felt like I learned a lot about the needs and perspectives of Young Adult Friends in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. I was made more sensitive to how to work more effectively with Philadelphia YAFs as we seek to share the love of Christ with all people.
While in the Philadelphia area, I was also able to travel to Pendle Hill, where Betsy Blake spoke about her experience of Jesus. (She was magnificent!) In addition to the blessing of being present for Betsy’s witness, it was also a delight to be present with the wide array of Friends who attended the lecture. It felt great to connect with many Friends that I had not seen in months or years, as well as to make connections with Friends I had not previously met. After all of this, I drove from Pendle Hill to New Jersey to have a brief but blessed late-night opportunity with Martin Kelley and his family.
I feel very blessed by all of the work that God has been doing in my life these past weeks. I have experienced times of spiritual darkness and desolation, but I have been repeatedly delivered and built up in Christ. I praise God for the spiritual baptism that the Holy Spirit is working in me as I pass from darkness into light, from death into new life in Christ. I thank God for every single person and event that has been placed in my life and for the way that God works through all things for our transformation and reconciliation to God in Christ.
May each of you know the tender love of our blessed Savior. Pray for me as I pray for you. Peace and grace be with you in the Lord.
In brother- and sisterhood,