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Working Together for Good

This weekend, I was out in Indiana for Friends United Meeting‘s Briding the Gaps conference for those who work with youth and young adults. It was an opportunity for Friends from a wide range of Yearly Meetings to gather and explore our shared work as friends and nurturers of the youth and young adults in our communities.

The conference went deeper than I had expected. During our workshops and sessions, we were able to really share out of our own experience of ministry to the younger generations of our communities. We learned that much of the work we do is the same, regardless of what Yearly Meeting we come from, and that we have a lot to learn from one another. By sharing stories, statistics, best practices and insights from years in the field, we strengthened each other as fellow workers in Christ’s ministry.

Probably the greatest lesson I received from this weekend was the reminder that we can find profound and unexpected unity in our shared mission. As Friends United Meeting, we are not a community merely because we like one another, nor are we simply a club for people who are fans of God. Instead, this weekend we rediscovered that our deepest unity is found in being doers the word. As we learn to follow Jesus together – by caring for our youth, energizing young adults, and encouraging the development of truly intergenerational community – we discover that the same Spirit working in us is at work across our whole worldwide community.

At our best, this is what Friends United Meeting is all about. We are a people gathered in Christ, in community and for mission. As we move forward together, I pray that we will continue to discover our common mission – not just in words, but in the very practical details of shared ministry. We are being invited into a life of power, peace and unity with God and with one another. How can we look for ways to embrace this calling?

Who is a Quaker?

This week, my friend Maggie Harrison published a bold post entitled “YOU ARE NOT A QUAKER (so please stop calling yourself one),” in which she challenges us to examine the basis of our faith. With breath-taking hyperbole, Maggie declares that we need to get serious about the process of spiritual transformation – or get out.She writes, “Stop diluting our movement and muddying the waters with your wishy-washy comfort-driven engagement with this group that you think is cool or enjoy ‘meditating’ with. … PLEASE LEAVE.”

As one would expect, this blog post by a twenty-something Quaker minister telling us all to get the hell out of her denomination went viral. In the comments section, Maggie has been getting alternating hot/cold showers of praise and indignation from Friends across the world. Some Quakers are excited that she is preaching a more serious faith, one that goes beyond rote tradition and feel-good religion, instead embracing the call to radical transformation by the Refining Fire, the Search Light – Christ in us, the hope of glory.

Many others had a viscerally negative reaction to Maggie’s post. Clearly, hyperbole does not translate well over the internet, and many individuals seemed to feel personally threatened, believing that Maggie was seriously calling for them to be thrown out of their Meetings. They accused Maggie of being “holier-than-thou,” and of totally violating the norms of Liberal Quakerism by judging the spiritual condition of her fellows. To be frank, this blog post really pissed some folks off.

In a way, this is too bad. I know that Maggie was just being silly. Maggie loaded up her rhetorical shotgun and hit us with both barrels. She was looking to get a reaction out of us, and by God (yes!) she did. God made Maggie silly for a purpose, and God is using her to wake us up. Because while her delivery is extreme, profane and off-putting, her message is holiness itself. I give glory to God for the witness that the Spirit has raised up in Maggie. I am thankful for her faithfulness in walking the path of spiritual purification and growth in the Lord.

Maggie’s essay cries out for a sanctification of Quakerism, calling the Religious Society of Friends back to its roots in spiritual transformation by Christ’s light. The Quaker church began as a radical movement of prophetic faithfulness to God’s living Word (the Risen Lord Jesus), and was far more concerned with embodying and proclaiming that message than it was with buildings and endowments; history and Nobel prizes. Maggie wants to see Quakerism live up to its full potential, to be holy.

I feel exactly the same way. We are called to so much more than secure lives in the lap of Empire. We are called to be more than nice, good people. We are called to be holy. The Seed of God is oppressed by the weight of our lives, the way that we have allowed a myriad of other concerns to take precedence over basic faithfulness. We shame the name “Quaker.” We have nothing to do with it.

While some are astonished at Maggie’s boldness, I think that she has not gone far enough. You are not a Quaker. Neither is Maggie. Nor am I. We are nothing like Quakers. We are pale shadows of those charismatic extremists of the early Quaker movement, who shook the earth for ten miles around when they preached. It is a mockery for us to claim to be one of them.

We have been coasting on the accomplishment of real Quakers for far too long. We love to brag about Quakers’ involvement in the Underground Railroad and the abolition of slavery. We adore letting people know about the good works of Friends in reforming the prison system, intervening in war-torn countries, and supporting the Civil Rights movement. We are so proud of “our” Nobel peace prize.

But we are frauds. Quakers do not exist anymore. Three hundred and fifty years was a good run, but it is over now; and the longer we pretend to be something we are not, the more we disgrace a once-proud people.

What if we were to confess that none of us are really Quakers anymore? What would happen if we had the courage to stop laying claim to the past glories of George Fox, Margaret Fell, William Penn and Bayard Rustin? What if, instead of basking in the fiction of our status as “Quakers,” we humbled ourselves and started putting our energy into actually nurturing the communities that depend on us?

Because, while Quakerism does not exist anymore, our Meetings do. Our local churches, fellowships and Yearly Meetings are more real than any imagined “Quakerism” could ever be. Are we being faithful in caring for our brothers and sisters, humbling ourselves in service to others? Are we courageous in standing up for truth and mercy, and inviting our local congregations to join us in serving the “least of these” in our society? Do we have the patience to wait on God, allowing Christ’s living presence to transform us and remake us from the inside out – not just as individuals, but as whole communities?

What if we stopped trying to be Quakers? What if, instead, we put our energy into being communities that truly reflect the love, joy and peace of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? What if, instead of trying to preserve an heirloom faith, we cast aside everything except our determination to be God’s holy, chosen and beloved people, here and now?

States and Conditions

I first became a Quaker because of my own personal experience of God. I knew many people who talked about God, but I was always a doubting Thomas – I needed to see and touch for myself before I could believe. And God, with great mercy, granted me this. God showed up in my life, demonstrating love and power in ways that I could no longer deny.

Early on in my journey as a Friend, I had several opportunities to witness God’s life and power in the midst of Quaker gatherings, especially gatherings of young adults. In several intense episodes over the course of a few years, I experienced the explosive power of God. Tent revival stuff: Ecstatic states, visions, and times when there was no doubt that the Spirit was speaking directly to us as a community. The Book of Acts came to seem familiar.

Young Adult Friends Gathering at Burlington, NJ – 2007
With such experiences, it would be easy to become a “God-addict.” In truth, one major dynamic of my early development as a Quaker was a search for “peak experiences.” I wanted to feel up. I wanted to experience God’s presence and power; the ecstasy of communion and the assurance of salvation. My faith in God rested primarily on the euphoria of the Spirit’s presence.

The truth is, my faith was weak. Rather than being based in a profound trust of my Creator, my faith was built on the shaky foundation of psychological and emotional states. When I felt connected, when the movement of the Holy Spirit was readily apparent to me, it was easy to believe. But things felt very different when the euphoria faded. In the face of the humdrum of everyday life – not to mention the times of darkness, when God seemed distant from me – it was easy to question all of my previous experience of God. Was that all God was? A fleeting rush of hormones?

A major area of growth for my life as a Christian is realizing that God is present in all my states. Just as the Word is alive and active in those moments of ecstatic communion with Christ, the Word abides within us in times of darkness and suffering. God’s shepherding presence is not limited to the times when we feel good. The Holy Spirit transcends human emotional states.
In the Quaker tradition, the role of gospel ministers is to speak to the “states and conditions” of our fellow women and men. God is not dependent upon our psychological or emotional states; rather, the Spirit speaks to us in our states and conditions. Whether through the Spirit-led ministry of our brothers and sisters, or through the inward voice of God in our hearts, Christ stands at the door and knocks in whatever condition we are found.
It is definitely easier for me to recognize the voice of God when I am in a positive state of being. Nevertheless, as I seek to grow in faith, I feel called to rely more on Christ and less on my own personal states. Rather than insisting that God provide me with euphoric experiences, I feel that God is inviting me into a deeper, healthier relationship.
I believe that a truly mature relationship with Christ is one in which we can sense God’s Word in all of our states and conditions. I am learning to simply be present with reality as it is, allowing Christ to reveal himself not only in the bread and wine, but also in the cross and crown of thorns. If God was present with Jesus in his greatest suffering, surely the Spirit will remain with me in my daily cycles of joy and sadness, depth and shallowness.

Planning Committee – Young Adult Friends Gathering – 2008

Clothe Yourself in Righteousness (A Review)

Jon Watts is a Quaker musician and spoken word poet, born and raised in Richmond, Virginia as part of Baltimore Yearly Meeting. In the coming days, he is releasing his fourth album, Clothe Yourself in Righteousness. I was blessed to have Jon ask me to review his album.

But first, a little bit of background…

As a youth, Jon says he was a cultural Quaker. He participated in Quaker camps and activities, but he was not convicted in his heart of the Truth that Friends proclaim. After high school, Jon studied at Guilford College as a part of the Quaker Leadership Scholars Program. It was there that he began to personally wrestle with the Friends tradition.

Jon’s time at Guilford was also the beginning of his musical career. He released two albums: Self in his sophmore year, and A Few Songs Occasioned in his senior year. Self, as the name might imply, was focused primarily on personal exploration. It was Jon’s first foray into recording, and it bore the marks of a young man in the process of finding himself in the world.
Jon’s second album was different. Composed as his senior project at Guilford, A Few Songs Occasioned rooted Jon’s exploration deeply in the world of the first generation of Friends. Jon would later say that the process of composing and producing this album was what began to convict him of the message and witness of the early Quakers. Jon became a convinced Friend.

Following college, Jon spent a year at Pendle Hill – a Quaker study center near Philadelphia – during which time he released a third album, The Art of Fully Being. This album was a more mature version of Self. It was a self-exploration for sure, but one rooted in Jon’s deepening walk with God. In The Art of Fully Being, Jon’s spiritually grounded concern for the human and natural world comes across clearly. We see the way that God has been tendering Jon’s heart, healing him of past wounds, and calling him into greater faithfulness.

Clothe Yourself in Righteousness
Jon’s fourth full album (he came out with an EP in 2009) returns again to an explicit focus on the witness of the early Quaker movement. Two of the ten songs are retellings of early Quaker ministry, and all of the tracks are infused with a raw Quaker spirituality that draws directly on the explosive witness of the earliest generation of Friends.

In Clothe Yourself in Righteousness, Jon finds a dynamic balance between past and present, self and community, spirit and flesh. This is the work of a mature artist who has received the courage to look deep inside himself and bear the Truth. Guided by the witness of Christ in his heart, Jon’s music reveals the intimacy and tenderness of God’s love.

It also reveals the radical challenge of faithfulness. While Clothe Yourself in Righteousness basks in the tender love of God, it is also unflinching in its call to risky relationship with both God and our fellow humans. This album is sometimes comforting, but it does not leave us feeling comfortable. On the contrary, Jon calls on us to sacrifice selfish comfort as we pursue the Truth. Clothe Yourself in Righteousness invites us to “get naked” – making ourselves vulnerable for the sake of love, letting the power and protection of God become our only defense.
Clothe Yourself in Righteousness is a testament of courage. God has done enormous work in Jon’s heart over the past several years, and it shows in this album. CYiR offers us an opportunity to join Jon on this journey, discovering the revealing, healing power of Christ’s light.
This is a content-rich piece of art. There are lots of words in this album, and CYiR bears listening to again and again, just to catch the nuances of his poetry. Yet, this album would not be whole without the instrumental accompaniment of guitar, violin and cello. The violin and cello in particular give CYiR an epic, soaring feel that emotionally moves and lifts the spirit.
This is not pop music; it is not meant to be background. When you buy this album, I encourage you to resist the urge to multitask. Instead, before you hit play, sit down without any distractions, and open yourself to the roughly forty minutes of ministry that this album has in store for you. I trust that the Spirit will be present.

A Mighty Fortress Is Our Meeting

I was speaking with a friend recently about the spiritual state of his Meeting. The Meeting in question probably has an average attendance of seventy five, and benefits from an excellent meetinghouse, moderately populated children’s program, and a fairly solid level of engagement – both practical and financial – from the congregation. As a community, the Meeting is doing pretty well. Yet, my friend was concerned: Community is good and worth developing, but how do we move beyond mere human community and into a shared relationship with God?

In many congregations, human community often becomes the focus rather than shared commitment to discipleship and mission. RatherFriends at Heartland Meeting House than challenging one another, we often focus primarily on giving one another warm fuzzies and a place to fit in. Rather than reaching out to the world, it is tempting to place our emphasis on fulfilling the desires of the already-established community. If we succumb to this temptation, the Meeting can become primarily a place of refuge from the world, and even from the challenging face of God.

In examining the spiritual state of his Meeting, my friend observed interesting parallels between the youth programs in his Yearly Meeting and the state of the adult community. He remembered the way in which his children began to distance themselves from their Quaker youth group – and from Quakerism – as they grew more secure and comfortable in their schools and social lives. The kids who remained part of the Meeting’s youth group tended to be ones who struggled to find their place in other areas of their lives. They felt like outsiders at school, and the Quaker youth programs and camps were the place where they felt most accepted and cared for. As the children of the Meeting grew older, the youth group became increasingly a collection of young people who did not fit in anywhere else.

What this meant was that the youth group became the primary community and social bond for these young people. They might notFriends at Illinois Yearly Meeting fit in at school or at home, but they could feel sure that at least their fellow Quaker youth would be on their side. This environment of affirmation and nurture is clearly very important, and those who participate in it surely benefit in a variety of ways. However, there may be unintended consequences that arise from youth programs that focus primarily on social circles and belonging. Through a set of shared rituals – jazz hands, cuddle puddles, and wink – and shared cultural assumptions and behaviors, the primary purpose of the Quaker youth community becomes about supporting “people like us.” In the extreme, Quakerism boils down to being “a place for good people like us.”

In my friend’s experience, this in-group dynamic is not limited to the youth. On the contrary, he saw the way that adult religious communities can be formed primarily around human needs for social and emotional security, rather than out of a corporate commitment to discipleship and mission in the world. My friend saw that there could be a pervasive “tribal” ethos in the adult Meeting. Just like the youth group, the adult Meeting saw itself as being made up of “good people” who provide a refuge for others who do not fit into the surrounding culture. Politically liberal folks with a transcendentalist spiritual bent; folks with a focus on eco-justice; pacifists; and individuals that, for whatever reason, do not fit in anywhere else. They can find a place in the Meeting Tribe.

None of this is bad, per se. People need a community where they feel accepted and loved for who they are, and the Church hasHanging out on the 2010 Quaker Youth Pilgrimage always been such a place for those who are the most marginalized in the cultures where we have found ourselves. And yet, having a community that is primarily predicated on acceptance of others based on tribal values – shared rituals, assumptions and life experience – can pose a great spiritual danger: The community can become more about providing comfort and security than about growing in holiness and service to Christ; it can become more focused on nurturing our peculiar habits and assumptions than it is on risking the safety of the status quo in order to lead lives of service to our neighbors who do not share our tribal affinities.

How can we strike an appropriate balance between our comforting affinity groups and the challenging fellowship that God calls us into with our dissimilar neighbors? How can we tell the difference between the universally relevant Tradition, which we have received from God, and those habits and customs that are based more in the peculiarity of our tribe than in Christ’s continuing revelation? What would it take for us to become a people who, rather than treating our communities as retreats from the world, insteadGreat Plains Yearly Meeting, 2008 treated them as centers for mutual support and renewal, training and equipping us to do the work of God together in our broken world? What would it be like if we threw wide the doors of our Meetings to anyone, regardless of their ideological and political views, socio-economic status, reading ability, fashion habits and food preferences?
What would it take for us to live our lives in the vibrant fellowship that God offers, rather than being content with our broken cisterns? Come, taste and see that the Lord is good! We are blessed when we take refuge in the shadow of God’s wings.(1)

1. see Psalm 34:8

Nurturing a Movement at Home and Abroad – Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #25

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, whoThanksgiving on Capitol Hill 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, FaithYoung Adult Friends at Quaker Hill 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 experiencedYAF 2010 Planning Committee in Richmond 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 amongTyler Hampton 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. WithIMG_1124 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 becomeWoman with Stroller in DC 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 aFrederick, MD 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 attentionE Capitol Street SE 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 theFaith 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:

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