Monday, December 14, 2009
The past weeks have been quite eventful, and we have had a sense that God's work is being advanced. Both here in DC and further afield, God has been very generous in placing us in a position to share the message of the Lord's indescribable love and peace, available to each of us as we open ourselves to it. Faith and I were grateful to have the opportunity to visit Friends at Takoma Park Meeting (Preparative), a short metro ride away - right on the northeastern border between DC and Maryland. Takoma Park is a sweet little Meeting, with perhaps fifteen in attendence when we visited. We felt very honored to be asked to stay after Meeting and share with a group of Friends about our experiences traveling among Friends. It was a joy to share some of our observations with them, as well to hear their perspectives on a variety of issues. We pray that God continue to bless Takoma Park Meeting, calling it into ever-greater spiritual depth as the work of the Holy Spirit brings Friends there into maturity, bestowing all of the gifts of the Spirit upon them.
We have spent a lot of time away from home in the last weeks, and we have felt blessed by those whom we have encountered in our travels. Faith and I spent most of the week of Thanksgiving in Ohio, visiting her family. On our way back to DC, we were able to attend Sunday morning worship at Stillwater Friends Meeting, in Barnesville, Ohio. After worship, Fran Taber and Richard Simon invited us to have lunch with them; we greatly enjoyed their hospitality and warm company, before hitting the road again.
On December 4-6, we flew to Wichita, Kansas, to take part in a planning meeting for a Young Adult Friends gathering. This gathering, which will take place over Memorial Day weekend, 2010, seeks to bring Friends together from across the United States, Canada, and possibly Mexico. This was the full planning committee's first in-person meeting, and I was very pleased with how well we worked together. Almost a dozen of us spent the weekend worshiping, getting to know one another, and seeking God's guidance to make the initial decisions that would guide the rest of our planning process. We were led to adopt the theme: "Bearing Witness to the Word Among Us - Witness, Testimony and Transformation." The accompanying scriptural passage that we felt directed to was 1 John 1:1-3.
I was very excited to see the kind of broad participation that we are getting from YAFs in the Evangelical Friends world early on in the process. Of the twelve members of the planning committee, four are from Evangelical Friends Church; with two from Eastern Region, one from Mid-America Yearly Meeting, and one from Northwest Yearly Meeting. One of our number is from the Conservative Friends tradition (Ohio Yearly Meeting), another is from the Beanite/Independent branch of the Liberal-Unprogrammed tradition (Pacific Yearly Meeting), and another is a member of an FGC Yearly Meeting (Lake Erie Yearly Meeting). Three of us are from the FUM branch of the Orthodox tradition - Great Plains Yearly Meeting, North Carolina Yearly Meeting, and Wilmington Yearly Meeting; and two of us are members of University Friends Meeting, which is dually affiliated with Great Plains Yearly Meeting (FUM) and Mid-America Yearly Meeting (Evangelical Friends Church).
With this kind of diversity on our planning committee, I feel very hopeful that the gathering we are planning can be an inviting space for Friends of all backgrounds - particuarly for pastoral and Evangelical Friends. In the coming months, the planning committee will be doing extensive outreach to Friends across the continent, in a wide variety of Yearly Meetings, seeking maximum participation by Friends from all backgrounds. We would be very grateful for your prayers as we work on the event planning and outreach work that will be necessary to bring together Young Adult Friends from across our geographical, cultural and historical landscape. I am confident that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. I have already seen what a great group of people the Lord has brought together to work on this project, and I am convinced that if we are obedient we will serve God's purposes in the months to come.
Here at home, Faith and I have been doing a bit of local organizing. This past Wednesday, December 9th, we had the second meeting of the Christian worship group that we have been hosting on Capitol Hill. We had a good turnout, with nine individuals in attendence; and our time together was blessed with a sense of joy. Dinner was provided, following which we sang hymns together and read the first two chapters of Luke aloud. Following this time of preparation, we entered into open worship. After about an hour, and several vocal messages, an advice was read aloud. After another short period of silence, the meeting for worship ended with the shaking of hands. I felt very encouraged by the spirit that was present among us as we worshiped together and shared fellowship after worship. Of the nine of us, seven of us were in our mid- to late- twenties, while the other two participants were Baby Boomers. It is my hope that this worship group will serve as a place of spiritual refreshment and encouragement to seekers of all ages and life stages. I also hope that it can be a group in which all attenders are loved and accepted for who they are, even as Christ calls us to go deeper and be transformed in His purifying light.
After our positive experiences hosting this time of worship and fellowship, Faith and I feel clear to begin holding this worship group on a regular basis starting in the new year. Beginning on Wednesday, January 13th, the worship group will meet every second and fourth Wednesday of the month. It is our hope that a solid group might develop over a period of sustained and regular meetings for worship. Please pray for the worship group as it takes its first halting steps. Pray that the group grow, gain in strength and maturity, and be raised up as a body that can be of service to God and our neighbors in the District of Columbia. Please also pray that God spiritually ground and actively teach every person who attends our meetings for worship, that we may all be brought into maturity and empowered to instruct others in the Way of the Gospel.
God bless each of you who read this letter, and may the Lord bless the ministry that God has called you to.
Your co-worker in Christ's labor of love,
Thursday, November 19, 2009
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,
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
We are excited to announce that University Friends Meeting is inviting Young Adult Friends (aged 18-35) from across North America to come together Friday, May 28 - Monday, May 31, 2010, in Wichita, Kansas. It is our prayer that this will be a time for Young Adult Friends from a wide variety of Yearly Meetings to gather to worship God, share in fellowship, and grow together in our faith as Friends.
Following the gathering, there will be an opportunity for a shared service project, Tuesday, June 1 - Thursday, June 3. YAFs will work together to let our faith shine, demonstrating our love for the people of Wichita. Finally, Thursday, June 3 - Sunday, June 6, Great Plains Yearly Meeting invites Friends to join them for their annual sessions, also held in Wichita.
We hope that you will join us as we worship God, share in fellowship, and are challenged to serve others as Christ calls us to. Please save these dates, and let other young adults know about this opportunity to deepen our faith together as we are gathered and led by the Holy Spirit.
In God's love,
Karla Moran (Indiana Yearly Meeting)
karlamoran154 hotmail com
Tyler Hampton (Lake Erie Yearly Meeting)
hampton.tyler gmail com
Katie Terrell (Wilmington Yearly Meeting)
katiet fum org
Eileen Kinch (Ohio Yearly Meeting)
ekinch12 hotmail com
Faith Kelley (Evangelical Friends Church - Eastern Region)
ottergirlkelley gmail com
Kate Newlin (Pacific Yearly Meeting)
katenewlin gmail com
Micah Bales (Great Plains Yearly Meeting)
micahbales gmail com
Ruth Lowe (North Carolina Yearly Meeting [FUM])
lowerl guilford edu
Abbie McCracken (Northwest Yearly Meeting)
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Sunday, October 25, 2009
I write you from my new home, the William Penn House, just blocks from the United States Supreme Court, the US Capitol Building, the White House and many other monuments to civil authority. Since I moved in almost a month ago, I have been on the road a great deal. I've begun my work with Earlham School of Religion, and have made trips to Philadelphia and New England. October 12-17, I traveled to Richmond, Indiana, for the three-times-annually meetings of Friends United Meeting. This year, there were actually four meetings - the usual three in February, June and October, and and one more, a called meeting held at Stony Point, New York, late this September. I was not able to be present at this called meeting, as Faith and I had just returned from our honeymoon and I was moving my belongings out East from Kansas. The mood of our last regular meeting in June had been troubled, and a special meeting was called for board members to thresh out our shared difficulties and help us come to a clearer place in our ongoing discernment about God's will for Friends United Meeting as an organization and as a fellowship.
As Friends began to arrive at our meeting this October, I realized that some serious work had been done at Stony Point. In June, many board members had been uncertain about the value of continuing FUM in its present form, suggesting that a "redemptive separation" might be necessary. Now, however, the board was united in love and respect for one another. I saw evidence of a deep willingness to bear one another's burdens and seek the will of God together, even as many of us have sharp disagreements. I experienced the presence of genuine love among the board members, calling us into greater patience and humility.
There were some important affirmations made at Stony Point, that were re-stated at our meetings this October. The first, and most foundational, is that we are convinced that God still has a purpose for FUM. At the Stony Point meeting, Friends came together and openly examined whether it might be time for FUM change drastically in composition, or to be laid down entirely. Friends waited together to hear whether God did indeed have "a hope and a future" for Friends United Meeting as an organization and as a Christian fellowship. The answer that they heard was, yes. We sense a call to continued work together and to continued relationship with one another as Friends United Meeting.
Another important affirmation that came out of Stony Point and was re-stated this October is that FUM is a Christian association. For many years, the question had been held up: "What is FUM?" The alternatives that I usually heard given were: "Are we a denomination? An association? A non-governmental relief organization?" This fall, the FUM General Board has reached clarity that we are a Christian association, which, "does not have the 'right' to impose an authoritative will or doctrine upon constituent members." Whatever pretensions FYM/FUM ever had to be a decision-making body for its constituent Yearly Meetings, any such notions have now been definitively set aside. The FUM General Board does not pretend to impose itself in the decision-making process of Yearly Meetings.
My sense from this meeting is that there has been a breakthrough in FUM this fall. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the General Board has been freed from the spirits of division, suspicion and enmity that have for so long plagued this body. While we acknowledge that there are still deep differences in understandings both within and between the Yearly Meetings of FUM, the Lord has opened the hearts of those on the General Board and granted us the Spirit of love and unity. Praise God for the work of Christ in our midst!
I ask that you continue to pray for Friends United Meeting. Now that God has given the General Board the gift of mutual love and spiritual unity, it is more important than ever that we pray for FUM. May we be completely healed as a society of the Body of Christ, not for our own sake, but so that the Good News might be proclaimed to the poor and the testimony of Jesus witnessed to among the peoples of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, Congo, Belize, the United States, Canada, Jamaica, Cuba, Israel/Palestine, and the whole world. Pray that God will continue to make us one, united in Christ Jesus, so that the world may see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven.
Love one another, and let there be no divisions among you. I send my loving greetings to you in the Name that is above all names.
Your brother in Christ,
Monday, October 5, 2009
The last month has been a whirlwind for me. I've visited Friends in Michigan; gotten married in Barnesville, Ohio; honeymooned in Mexico; and traveled halfway across the country as I moved out to Washington, DC to live with Faith at the William Penn House. God has been doing a lot of important work this month. In this letter I'd like to highlight God's work among Friends and beyond, both in my life and in the lives of Friends in the United States and Mexico.
I felt that my time among Friends in Michigan was very fruitful. I was able to attend meeting for worship at Detroit Monthly Meeting (Lake Erie Yearly Meeting) and New City Friends Worship Group in Detroit, and Crossroads Monthly Meeting (Ohio Yearly Meeting) in Flint. I had precious times with each of these groups, and I am particularly grateful for the time that I was able to spend encouraging Friends from New City Worship Group as they deepen their walk together in Christ. I was also very grateful for the time that God allowed me to spend with some members of Detroit Monthly Meeting, and the opportunities that I was given to witness to my faith in Christ Jesus.
In addition to regular meetings with Friends in Detroit and Flint, New City Friends Worship Group hosted a regional gathering at which there were Friends in attendence from across Eastern Michigan and Northwestern Ohio. At this called meeting for worship, I felt the quickening power of Christ's Spirit among us and was grateful to how He ministered to us as individuals and as a gathered body. On a personal note, I was very grateful for how Tyler and Ray opened their home to me. I was very much in need of some quiet time alone with God, and I was able to rest and wait on the Spirit during the time I spent with them in their home.
Following this blessed time in Detroit, I returned to Marysville, Ohio, and spent a number of days with Faith's family. I accompanied Faith's father and brother as they drove out to DC to pick up Faith and her sister, and a few days after that my father, grandmother and aunts picked me and Faith up in Columbus and took us to Barnesville, where we would be married that coming Saturday. It was a joy to spend time with my extended family - who I see so rarely because of geographic distance - and to have them get to know Faith.
Our wedding was all we could have hoped for. We were grateful for the presence of family and f/Friends from across the country and across the spectrum of Quakerism. The worship service for marriage was deep and rich, with many Friends sharing grounded messages out of the silence. There were many Young Adult Friends in attendence, which allowed for a mini-YAF-gathering during our reception on the front porch and lawn of the Stillwater Meeting House. As I understood, YAFs continued to meet together into the evening following the reception. Faith and I were pleased that our wedding could be a venue that brought together young Friends leaders and encouraged them to deepen their connections to one another.
Following our wedding, Faith and I spent two weeks together in Mexico. We spent most of our time in Mexico City and Xalapa, in the state of Veracruz. These two cities are both very special to me: Mexico City, because of the time that I spent working at the Casa de los Amigos in 2005; Xalapa, because of the time I spent there during college (in 2003) and returning on an continuing basis since then. I have many friends in both cities, and I enjoyed introducing Faith around. Faith and I didn't get too involved in the Quaker community for most of the trip, but we were able to visit Mexico City Monthly Meeting, as well as meeting with Young Adult Friends in Mexico City and encouraging them in their walk. We pray for Mexico City Monthly Meeting, the Casa de los Amigos, the Friends who live and work there, and for the Church as a whole in Mexico - that they be strengthened and encouraged as they walk in the way of Jesus.
Faith and I flew back to Ohio, and the next day I flew to Wichita. I loaded up my belongings into our car and then spent a day driving out to Richmond, Indiana, for the Board of Advisors meetings at Earlham School of Religion. This coming year, I will be working part-time for ESR doing outreach to Young Adult Friends, helping to increase the school's visibility as a resource for young Friends leaders who are feeling the call to deepen their life in Christ as they are called into a variety of ministries. I am looking forward to connecting with Friends from across North America in this coming year to talk about the value of theological education for the Religious Society's emerging leadership and the important role that ESR is playing in this process of equipping servant-leaders for the work that the Spirit has set before us.
While in Richmond, Faith and I were able to attend the final meeting for worship of Fountain City Friends Meeting. In the past few months, they had made the decision to lay down at the end of September; when we found out about this at our wedding, we told them that we would be there for their last session. It was a touching final meeting, and few of us avoided crying. Though this meeting of the Church is being laid down, however, we are convinced that the Church of Jesus Christ is more alive than ever. We branches wither and die, but the True Vine is eternal and unbreakable. This assurance has been confirmed by the new ministry that we observed taking place in Fountain City.
A new group called "the Underground Connection," has begun to meet in Fountain City's meetinghouse on Sunday evenings for praise, teaching and worship in the name of Jesus. Describing themselves as, "a place where people can worship God freely," their ministry is one of creating a space for seekers and believers to experience the freedom that comes in worshiping God in spirit and in truth. What Faith and I witnessed when we visited this past Sunday was a truly Spirit-led worship service consisting of praise music led by an Evangelical-style praise band, a sermon (that evening, delivered by a young child), and a time of open worship. The open worship was a time of great depth, a powerful sense of Christ's presence, and grounded vocal ministry out of the expectant silence. We were greatly encouraged by what we saw, heard and felt while we were among the Friends of the Underground Connection. We are convinced that Christ is doing a new thing among this meeting of God's people, and they are in our prayers as they continue to seek God's will for them as children of light.
On Tuesday, Faith and I drove the rest of the way home, to Washington, DC. Faith has lived and worked at the William Penn House for the past two years, and I am joining her there. We have just gotten mostly unpacked, and this weekend I'm in Philadelphia to take part in a 50th anniversary celebration that ESR is holding at Arch Street Meeting House. This is the beginning of a lot of traveling that I will be doing for ESR as we work to raise the school's visibility as a resource for Friends who are being called into servant-leadership. Next weekend, I will be traveling to Boston for a friend's wedding, and I will also be meeting with area YAFs to share with them about my experiences as a recent graduate from Earlham School of Religion and to hear about the needs they have from an institution like ESR. Following that weekend, I will be flying out to Richmond, Indiana, to meet with folks at ESR and Earlham College to talk about how we can better engage with Young Adult Friends, both across North America as well as at Earlham College itself. I will also be attending the sessions of Friends United Meeting's General Board.
As I travel this month, I would be very grateful for your prayers - prayers for protection, and that God's will be served in all that I do. I am at a moment of great transition in my life - a new marriage, a new home, a new city and a new job! I need your prayers that I be kept grounded in the Spirit of Christ and that I not be overcome by fatigue or a wandering mind.
Your friend in Christ Jesus,
Saturday, August 15, 2009
Following Northwest Yearly Meeting, Faith and I flew back to Ohio. She soon returned to the William Penn House, in Washington, DC, while I made my way to the sessions of Ohio Yearly Meeting, in Barnesville. I was pleased to return to Barnesville after being away for the past year. I feel a special peace and tenderness to the Lord when I am among Friends in Barnesville, and I was grateful for the sense of homecoming I felt at Stillwater meetinghouse after what had been in some ways an emotionally and spiritually difficult summer. I arrived fairly early, so I had about a day to settle in before the business began. I had a good time shucking corn, cutting up fruits and vegetables, and catching up with friends.
I had experienced Conservative Friends' business the previous summer, when I visited Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) and also sat in on a small bit of North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative). Having had that experience, business at Ohio Yearly Meeting was familiar. I was again impressed by the Conservative tradition of having the clerk both preside and record. I found it particularly good practice the way in which Conservative Friends prepare their minutes during meeting for business, presenting the wording of each minute for approval at the time it is being discussed. This way, there is no need to go back and review minutes and approve them at a later time. Each minute is composed and approved then and there. Friends worked together to guide the body's discernment and come to Spirit-led decisions; and most of the time it seemed like there were many clerks, not just the one at the clerk's table.
Business at OYM is slow. Sometimes breathtakingly so. There are long stretches of silence between items of business, allowing the clerk time to compose a minute to be approved then and there by the body. One thing that particularly struck me about the business I observed at OYM was the way in which the clerk would wait and ask questions of the body to ensure that there was indeed clarity of God's will for Friends. Even when Friends were in easy agreement, the clerk would wait and encourage Friends to seek clarity from Christ. I believe this is valuable. It was recently pointed out at a clerking workshop at Northwest Yearly Meeting that the times when we are in most danger of making a mistake is when all are in agreement from the beginning. I respect the way in which OYM takes the time to sit with questions that they think they know the answers to, leaving room for God to work and overturn their assumptions.
A great amount of the business this year had to do with queries. OYM takes a great deal of time answering queries: First on a Monthly Meeting level; then synthesizing these answers at their Quarterly Meetings. Finally, at the Yearly Meeting, the Quarterly Meeting responses to the queries are read and synthesized into a single response for the Yearly Meeting as a whole. This year, in addition to answering the queries as a body, the Yearly Meeting also undertook to revise one query which speaks to oaths and gambling/speculation. The query had read in a way that admonished Friends not to sign statements "under penalty of perjury," nor to "affirm." Some Friends pointed out that signing a statement "under penalty of perjury" or "affirming" a legal statement is not equivalent to swearing an oath. Instead, signing or affirming such statements is a statement of agreement to be held legally liable for falsehood. Friends accepted this correction and amended the eighth query accordingly.
Seeing how much time and energy OYM Friends devote to them, I came to appreciate what the queries have to offer us as Friends. Friends at OYM discussed why the queries were important to them, and their reasons included the importance of the queries in: establishing and maintaining Christian identity and spiritual understanding as a corporate body; teaching us how to live as Christians and helping us be accountable; and encouraging Meetings to have a corporate relationship with Christ and to be established as a Christian body. They also spoke of how the queries were useful for individuals: challenging us to greater faithfulness; calling us to accountability to one another and to Christ; and providing a sense of connection between (affiliate) members who live at a distance and correspond with their Monthly Meeting, giving their individual reponses to the queries.
Overall, I was very impressed by Ohio Yearly Meeting. I am comforted to see a Friends body that is unreservedly Christian and clearly committed to the Friends tradition, including waiting (unprogrammed) worship. I think that Friends in Ohio often feel compelled to over-state their Christianity as they seek to distinguish themselves from other bodies of Friends that disregard the centrality of Christ Jesus. While there is sometimes a certain rigidity in their stance, there is also undeniable truth in it. This truth attracts me to Ohio Friends. I appreciate their unwillingness to water down their theology or their practice.
And I'm not the only one who is attracted. Ohio Yearly Meeting, after more than a century of decline, is growing once again. It is growing numerically, spiritually and in terms of morale. This year, Friends celebrated as they welcomed Crossroads Friends Meeting into full Monthly Meeting status. This was the second Monthly Meeting to be added to OYM in two years. The last time that two Meetings were added to OYM in such a short period of time was in 1866. This growth is due in large part to a new wave of evangelism undertaken by OYM Friends in the past years. Friends are laboring to encourage new Conservative worship groups across their region, throughout the United States, and even in other countries. If the Lord wills it, we can expect to see continued growth among Friends in the tradition of Ohio Yearly Meeting - Meetings that bear witness to the Quaker understanding of the gospel of our Risen Lord, Jesus Christ.
During this period of new growth and vitality, there seem to be two primary tendencies or streams in the body of Ohio Yearly Meeting: The first is those who are of an Evangelical bent, but who appreciate waiting (unprogrammed) worship. It is important to them to be clear on the fundamental doctrines of Christian faith, as well as practicing a listening spirituality. The other significant group is those who are attracted to the hyper-traditionalism that OYM allows room for. Of those in attendance at OYM this year, I would guess that roughly half were in some form of plain dress - that is, they wore clothes that visibly marked them as separate from "the world." This ranged from those whose dress was remarkably simple to those who wore Quaker attire that would probably be suited for historical reenactment of eighteenth century Friends. Many men wore suspenders, broad-brimmed hats, buttoned-up shirts, non-descript slacks, and black shoes. Many women wore bonnets or other head coverings, as well as a simple dress and simple black shoes. Many Friends, both plain-dressed and not, used plain speech ("Thy fly is unzipped, Friend"). I enjoyed the plain language, and used it myself often. It serves as a form of intimate address among spiritual brothers and sisters.
After Ohio Yearly Meeting, I caught a ride with Tyler Hampton and a couple of folks from New City Friends in Detroit. At this time, I am staying with Tyler and Ray at their home in the city of Detroit. I praise God for allowing me this time of rest and reflection as my wedding approaches. In the past weeks, I have been increasingly feeling that God is calling me to prayer and rest from labor. I pray that I may be faithful in resting, just as I have sought to be faithful in laboring. In many ways, resting is harder.
I appreciate the correspondence that I have received from Friends, and I hope that you will continue to write to me as the Lord leads. I hope to see many of you at Faith and my wedding on September 5th, at Stillwater Meetinghouse. All are invited. (Click here for details.)
God bless you. May each of us continue to be brought more deeply into the Way of Jesus.
Monday, August 3, 2009
Friday, July 24, 2009
Dear brothers and sisters in Truth,
My travels among Friends this summer are now underway as Faith and I visit Eastern Region Yearly Meeting at their annual sessions in Canton, Ohio. It might be fair to say that Eastern Region Yearly Meeting is the flagship of Evangelical Friends Church in North America. Eastern Region (formerly Ohio Yearly Meeting [Damascus]) was the only one of the Orthodox Yearly Meetings to decline membership in the Five Years Meeting (now Friends United Meeting) when it was formed in 1902. Eastern Region felt that FYM's statements of faith were not sufficently Evangelical. They were certainly uncomfortable with some aspects of FYM's corporate statement of faith - the Richmond Declaration - which denied the use of outward signs of sacrament, such as water baptism and bread and wine communion. Since the late 19th century, Eastern Region has held that there should be "freedom of conscience" with regard to outward signs of sacrament. Since the 19th century, some churches in Eastern Region have celebrated these rituals, but they are optional: No one is required to be baptized with water or partake in bread and wine communion in order to be a member of the Friends Church.
Over time, a number of other North American Yearly Meetings became disaffected with the insufficiently Evangelical stance of the Five Years Meeting. Oregon (now Northwest) Yearly Meeting broke away from FYM in the 1926 after FYM would not acknowledge the Richmond Declaration as a creed. Kansas (now Mid-America) Yearly Meeting withdrew in 1937, and most of Nebraska Yearly Meeting's monthly meetings withdrew and formed Rocky Mountain Yearly Meeting in 1957. Evangelical Friends Alliance (now Evangelical Friends Church) was formed in 1965, and Evangelical Friends Church in North America now includes Southwest Yearly Meeting (formerly California) and Alaska Yearly Meeting.
But Eastern Region is the original. Here, ever since the Revival experience of the mid-1800s, Friends have greatly emphasized the tradition of Evangelical Protestantism, often at the expense of Friends heritage. The attitude among Friends in Eastern Region might be described as: "hold onto what is essential, jettison everything else." And for most Friends in Eastern Region, what is essential is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, fidelity to the Bible as the Word of God, and an actively missional stance in the wider world (see Matthew 28:19-20). And, by and large, the Evangelical Protestant tradition has all of these things.
The Friends tradition, except as it directly supports these three emphases, is not seen by most Friends in Eastern Region as being necessary. It is worth noting that the Friends tradition is often referred to as "Friends distinctives" by members of Evangelical Friends Church: They are the things that make Friends "distinctive" from other Evangelical Protestants. But the Evangelical Protestant tradition - the story of Luther and Wesley - is normative. As a Yearly Meeting, Eastern Region is Protestant first, Quaker second - if at all. It is worth noting that most Friends here do not identify as "Quaker," as that word is associated with liberal, non-Bible-based Friends branches. Friends here are very careful to distinguish between the Friends Church and Quakers.
Attending Eastern Region Yearly Meeting has been a "cultural experience" for me on a variety of levels. The first worship service I attended was a three-and-a-half-hour-long Spanish-language service. There were around 200 Spanish-speaking Friends in attendence to hear many individuals and groups perform music, to sing congregationally, and to hear a number of speakers, including a guest preacher who spoke for around an hour. He was an impressive orator who alternated between stand-up comedy and fire-and-brimstone screaming. Just when I thought I couldn't take any more warning and judgment, he made us laugh. I enjoyed seeing the vibrancy of the Spanish-language Friends at Eastern Region, though I was a bit concerned at how segregated the Spanish-language and English-language sub-Yearly Meetings were. Most of the Spanish-speakers only stayed for the weekend, leaving the English-speakers to do Eastern Region's business on Monday and Tuesday. It was as if there were two Yearly Meetings, and the English-language Yearly Meeting was where the business was done.
The English-language portion of the Yearly Meeting was just as much a cultural experience. The worship services were made up of three primary elements: Congregational singing; performing artists (from Hungarian Gypsy musicians to a teeny-bop Christian rock band); and preaching. Friends applauded after most of the songs and sermons, and there were rarely even a few seconds of silence between events. I had difficulty with how prepared and managed everything felt; and the congregational singing and preaching was often triumphalist in nature.
Another challenge for me was the almost exclusively male leadership of the Yearly Meeting. Eastern Region has no female senior pastors. One younger Friend who I spoke to said that she had female Friends who had left the Friends Church to join the Mennonites in order to be able to engage in pastoral ministry. They did not feel that they could do so in Eastern Region. It was noteworthy that this year the Yearly Meeting recorded one of their long-time missionaries as a minister of the gospel - but not his wife, who has been co-missionary with him for decades. No one publicly questioned why this should be so. Throughout the time here at Yearly Meeting, I have heard statements that underscored the role of women in Eastern Region: For example, when one leader prayed that God would, "raise up new missionaries and missionaries' wives."
Another thing that I must mention is that Eastern Region Friends vote. I had known this before I arrived, but knowing that Friends in this Yearly Meeting vote could not entirely prevent me from having my breath taken away when I first witnessed it. Most of Eastern Region's business is done without discussion: A report is presented and approved (they say "favor" to indicate approval). However, a vote is taken on "motions" - that is, on any action item.
Voting seems to be especially important for cases when there is a question from the floor about the decisions that the leadership has presented to the body. The only vote where I heard any "noes" came after one individual questioned whether it was in right order to freeze for the coming year the Yearly Meeting's "minimum wage" for pastoral ministers. After this man had spoken, the clerk called for a vote on the matter without hearing further discussion. The vote was taken by voice, and I would guess that it passed by a margin of at least ten to one. It seems that voting in this particular case served the function of allowing some Friends to "stand aside" on the decision. But I was disturbed that no time was given to discernment of the matter; Friends were not encouraged to wait on God to provide further guidance. There was a schedule, and Friends intended to get on with it - so a quick vote took care of the voice of dissention.
Eastern Region had its good points, of course. I was impressed with the fact that the Yearly Meeting took half a day to do service projects in the community. I went with a team of Friends that weeded the grounds of a local Jewish community center, and a dozen other teams served the local community in many other ways. One team visited a man in very poor health and cleaned up his yard. Another team visited the local fire station that had just lost a fireman and cleaned their vehicles and prayed with them. Yet another team worked with children. I thought that many Friends could learn from Eastern Region's very practical service orientation.
I was also deeply impressed by Eastern Region's cross-cultural emphasis. While I am concerned by the de facto segregation of the Spanish-speaking and English-speaking sections of the Yearly Meeting, I am very excited about the development of that relationship. Eastern Region also has a Chinese-language congregation, and "ethnic ministry" is a stated emphasis of the Yearly Meeting. I am excited to see how greater partnership might develop between Friends of different cultural and linguistic backgrounds. Eastern Region bears witness to Friends' Testimony of Unity: to the power of Christ's Spirit to unite us across cultural, class, and linguistic barriers.
The emphasis at Eastern Region is on church-growth, foreign missions, and Evangelical Protestant theology based in the authority of Scripture as the Word of God. I did not detect much interest in engaging with other (non-Evangelical) Friends. Nevertheless, I believe that Friends would do well to reach out to Eastern Region Yearly Meeting, inviting them to share fellowship with the wider Religious Society of Friends. Despite our doctrinal differences, we are all children of one Heavenly Father, and we are all brothers and sisters in Christ. I pray that the Holy Spirit will permeate all of the churches of Eastern Region Yearly Meeting and that Friends will be responsive to the Inward Light of Christ as it seeks to lead them in His Way.
This coming week, Faith and I will be visiting Northwest Yearly Meeting, also a part of Evangelical Friends Church. I was blessed to visit Northwest Yearly Meeting last year, along with Tyler Hampton, and I am looking forward to being among Friends there again.
I pray that the Spirit of Christ is richly dwelling in each of you, leading you in the way of truth and mercy, justice and love.
Your friend in the Way of Jesus,