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40 Days of Prayer for the Future of Friends – An Interview

In a conversation with Sylvia Graves, former General Secretary of Friends United Meeting, Colin Saxton, current General Secretary, and Kelly Kellum, clerk of the Restructuring Committee of FUM’s General Board, the three shared their insights of the program, 40 Days of Prayer for the Future of Friends, with the editor of Quaker Life.

QL: What is 40 Days of Prayer?

Colin: There is a stirring many people have observed throughout the Religious Society of Friends, a general yearning to have a deeper, more transformative spiritual community. This program, we hope, is an avenue to bring Friends together and discover the sense of the Spirit.

Sylvia: The 40 Days of Prayer and Day of Discernment is a way of inviting the whole body to open themselves for the movement of the Spirit to see what God will have Friends United Meeting be and do for Him.

QL: How did this program come about?

Sylvia: The FUM Board appointed a “Restructure Task Force” two years ago and instructed us to be bold in our thinking. After bringing several ideas to the board which were not embraced, it became obvious that changing board organization, office staff, and/or functions of FUM would only be effective if blessed by the Holy Spirit and owned by those involved with the FUM ministries.

Kelly: So we began to think boldly. I think the spark of this program ignited when I received an invitation from another spiritual institution inviting me to participate in their prayer program. When I shared this promotion with the committee, we felt compelled to pray and discern how we could create something that could fit with our needs in a similar manner.

Colin: We all realized, at that point, the importance of doing some deep listening — both to God and each other in this process. Change, for change’s sake, is not what is needed within the Society of Friends. We need to truly seek to discern the leading of the Spirit.

Kelly: Our committee came to a clear understanding that Friends United Meeting is part of a renewal movement expressing George Fox’s vision, “A Great People to be Gathered in Christ.” Therefore, any significant organizational recommendations must come out of a posture of prayer and discernment. Simple organizational changes will not result in deeper transformation within us. We sensed FUM needed a way to spiritually position ourselves as a global community of Friends who take time to listen to one another and discern God’s leading.

Colin: I think we also understand that a sense of vision is not only “cast”…it is evoked. Part of understanding who we are and what we are called to do needs to emerge out of all the members of our community. As the committee discussed this sense of collaborative understanding more and more, it felt increasingly right to call all of us who make up the FUM community to a season of prayer, to gather together to listen, and to invite responses that will help shape our decisions about the future.

QL: What do you hope will be the outcome of this program?

Colin: My primary hope is that God will use this time to do something remarkable and transformative within and through us. What could not be good about Friends from all around the world gathering together, in a spirit of openness to God and God’s leading? I hope and trust individuals will find a new sense of clarity about their own lives. I hope local meetings/churches will experience a sense of being gathered and empowered as they listen together. I hope yearly meetings will know more completely the empowering reality that emerges when we are knit together in fellowship and common mission. Finally, I hope FUM (both the organization and the community) will see in a new light the opportunities we have to make a difference in the world.

Kelly: What the committee hopes is that through this intentional season of prayer; when thousands of Friends around the globe are being gathered around the same reflections, scriptures and prayer experiences; we will be awakened to a greater awareness of Christ among us. I, personally, hope we will gain a renewed appreciation and respect for the community of Friends of which we are a part.

QL: How do you see this program assisting in a “global spiritual awakening?”

Kelly: Prayer changes and tenders us. While there are many polarizing differences that stretch Friends culturally and theologically, this program can be a means to gather us, first to Christ and then to each other. Through this time, we are intentionally positioning ourselves to listen and discern how God is leading Friends United Meeting, the organizational priorities on which to focus, and how best to commit our energies, time and resources.

Colin: One of the great strengths of FUM is the fact we are a global community of Friends. When I take the time to listen to what God is doing in the lives of others around the world, it helps me be a bit less self-obsessed and more open to concerns and perspectives I might otherwise never see. Layer on top of that the spiritual connection that is made more real and alive as we worship and pray together… this seems like an opportunity for an opening we might not otherwise have in our regularly scheduled and rather isolated lives.

Sylvia: As individuals and meeting groups engage with the devotional thoughts and queries, we see that a wide-spread awareness of the commonality of our work can bring people into unity, the unity among his followers that Christ prays for in John 17. For it is in unity of purpose and vision that the church finds strength.

QL: You say the responses gleaned from the Day of Discernment will be used by Friends United Meeting to dis­cern future organizational and ministry changes. Specifi­cally, how do see our responses determining FUM’s future?

Colin: The queries are meant to be both forward looking and concrete. The restructuring committee is interested in hearing how Friends, gathered in prayer and seeking to intentionally discern God’s leading, envision FUM as an organization and community that faithfully lives out our mission in the world. We want to know how Friends see FUM better serving as a resource to them, their meetings/churches and yearly meet­ings. All of these responses will be carefully considered and used to help us focus on the priorities and the emerging and necessary changes we need to make at an organizational level to best embody and carry out this work.

Sylvia: The Task Force is committed to read and consider all responses, look for signs that God is calling us together and consider ways we can structure the work of FUM to better respond to His call. We trust that the collective voice of FUM members will give the Task Force clarity on what organiza­tional changes are needed. Our desire is that, whether they are bold changes or minor tweaking, whatever movement is in our future, it will be directed by the Holy Spirit.

QL: Is there anything else you feel may need to be addressed?

Colin: There is nothing magic, of course, about 40 days of prayer. What it is, or at least can be, is an opportunity for all of us to set aside our routine to listen, to be open to God’s in-breaking presence, to have our lives and life together re-oriented in fresh and more faithful ways.

Sylvia: It is our fervent hope that Friends everywhere will benefit from studying it and taking seriously the thoughts and prayers it represents. We look for the whole range of Friends theology, faith and practice to accept this invitation. We also pray that there will be provision for the booklet’s distribution in countries where it might not be affordable. We are counting on the charitable hearts of those who can afford it to pay the $5.00 fee that will allow one copy for that person and another to be a gift to a Friend elsewhere.

Kelly: And as Colin suggests, there is nothing inherently “magical” about this program. We do hope it will be an active vehicle that sparks renewal, energy, and a willingness to be a great people gathered in Christ. How that will look, what changes need to be made, how all that will happen is determined on how well we listen and discern. I pray every individual, each meeting/church and yearly meeting in Friends United Meeting joins us as we journey together in 40 days of prayer.