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Archive for Quaker Life Magazine

Think Outside the Bus

By Diane Raflo-Andrews

Rosa whispered from the depths of silence,
I am standing with you, all of you,
Who wait to rest your weary bones,
Who long to sit and close your eyes.

On a day that changed the course of history,
Her seat was not surrendered.
With quiet determination, she refused
To obey the established rules,
Defining new ones to make things right.

A gentle woman, tired from a long day of work,
Pushed the limits,
Embraced the possibility,
Defied the status quo,
Rosa Parks said, “No!”

No more shutting the door in my face,
No more making me pay and driving away,
No more leaving me standing there in the dust,
No more moving to the back of the bus.

If she had taken that back seat,
If she had missed the bus that day,
If she had stayed inside herself on that fifth row,
The pathway to freedom would have been longer still.

Today her dream awakens the hope
That one day when the noise of this world subsides,
Any of us, not just one of us, but all of us
Could be courageous, empowered, and free.
Complete in that heartfelt knowing —
We stand outside the bus.

Speaking About Christ Among Friends

By Rita Willett

Richmond (Virginia) Friends Meeting is part of Baltimore Yearly Meeting, dually affiliated with Friends United Meeting and Friends General Conference. Once an orthodox meeting, Richmond’s practice shifted toward liberal Quakerism in the 1960’s following the death of its last recorded minister. Changes in Richmond occurred during the same period in which the separate “Orthodox” and “Hicksite” yearly meetings were consolidated into a single Baltimore Yearly Meeting. In a number of communities, historically separated monthly meetings were reunited. Thus, by the mid-20th century, theological diversity was common in Baltimore’s monthly meetings. A 1964 yearly meeting statement on Spiritual Unity says that “in every local Meeting we struggle, usually patiently, with the problems that arise from our divergent convictions; and we usually find ourselves richer for our differences.”

By the early 21st century, members and attenders in Richmond Friends Meeting held a striking diversity of beliefs. Some were Christian, some Universalist theists, some non-theists. We began to struggle with the diversity, not always patiently. Messages that used “God language” and Christ language in meeting for worship became divisive. Non-theists wondered if they were welcome. Christians wondered why a non-theist would join the “Religious Society” of Friends. People felt offended or misunderstood — often both.

Our community remained largely intact, despite tension over our theological differences. Only a few people — Christian and non-theist — left the meeting because of the differences in belief. But some of the ways in which we managed our diversity left us poorer. The language of messages in meeting for worship narrowed. People spoke of Spirit and the Light, but felt reluctant to speak of God or Christ. We became a faith community in which personal faith was often quite private or shared primarily in small likeminded groups. The meeting spoke openly about shared concerns for peace and social justice, responding to the numerous death penalty executions in Virginia, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and local homelessness. But we avoided open conversations about our personal spiritual lives.

In his ministry, George Fox spoke of Christ, of the Spirit, the Seed and the Light of Christ. Early Friends shared that rich Christian language in talking about their spiritual lives. But contemporary Friends in the liberal tradition have diverse beliefs about God; we don’t all use a similar vocabulary of faith. This diversity of belief and language is challenging for meetings. How can the spiritual life of a theologically diverse, unprogrammed meeting be nurtured and deepened? This article is about the struggle and the growth that my meeting has experienced with such a challenge.

One First Day, after meeting for worship, I was approached by Don, a member and former clerk of the meeting, well respected for his integrity and his contributions to the meeting community. “Rita,” he inquired, “from what I’ve heard you say, it seems you’re a theist. You seem to believe in God. Is that right?” I knew that Don considered himself non-theist, but I had never discussed spirituality with him. I was surprised by his curiosity about my faith. After I confirmed his impressions about my belief in God,
he asked, “Could we have dinner sometime? I would like to talk more about that.”

So Don and I met to talk about faith over dinner. He listened with genuine interest and respect as I described my own relationship with the sacred. “When I try to express what I have experienced of the divine, the language of God and Christ feels true for me,” I explained. “I have sensed God’s presence in a personal way.” It had taken a dinner invitation from a non-theist Friend for me to be less private about my faith.

Don shared the spiritual dimension of his life, his experience of reality beyond the concrete everyday material world. Don explained his non-theist spirituality with descriptions of experiences both in the natural world and during meeting for worship. As the conversation progressed, Don and I noted our shared hope that our meeting community could talk about our spiritual lives more deeply, freely and authentically, with respect for one another’s language and beliefs.

Prior to our dinner discussion, the meeting had asked both Don and me to serve on a newly established Adult Spiritual Education committee. Don had initially wondered what role a non-theist could play in the committee’s work — but he respected the discernment of the nominating committee and the approval of meeting for his service. After our dinner together, Don and I brought to the committee our shared hope for meeting-wide conversations about spirituality. We thought that addressing discomfort and misunderstandings about language was the best place to begin. Together, he and I planned and led an adult religious education session called “Language, Meaning, and Spirituality.”

Don and I opened the program with the story of our dinner conversation and what we had learned about each other’s theist and non-theist perspectives. We shared our understanding that spirituality can never be fully captured in words — but also expressed our hope that the meeting community could enjoy deeper and more authentic conversations about our spiritual lives. We acknowledged the difficulty that Friends sometimes had with one another’s language. Next, participants were given index cards and invited to submit any faith-related words that had been, for them, a source of hurt, misunderstanding, or confusion. Then, Friends split into small discussion groups of three or four people. We asked everyone to consider the word “God”. Each person was invited to share a response, using one of three suggested prompts:

• “When I use the word “God,” what I really mean is . . .”
• “When I hear the word “God,” what I think someone else means is . . .”
• “When I hear the word “God,” how I feel is . . .”

After pausing briefly for reflection, groups engaged in animated conversations, people leaning in to hear one another’s ideas, feelings and stories. The session went by quickly and groups were reluctant to stop talking. What emerged was not interpersonal conflict, but awareness that people had been wounded in the past by assumptions and judgments about language.

This session on Language and Meaning was one of a series of Adult Spiritual Education programs. As the series unfolded, Friends from the meeting shared their own spiritual stories and practices, and they facilitated conversation among the participants. I found myself anxious about leading a session on the Psalms, unsure how people would receive traditional Biblical language. Interspersing my own faith story with psalms, I talked about the struggles and joys of my own relationship with God. I was humbled and grateful for the deep listening with which this was received.

Over time, our meeting has become more open to spiritual conversation, more receptive to the language that each person uses to describe their experience of the sacred. We are learning to listen with more love, to search for what we have in common, and to appreciate the richness of our diversity. I have come to believe that a Christian Friend like myself and a non-theist Friend like Don can both live faithfully in one Quaker meeting. I have realized the importance of our Adult Spiritual Education ministry for the life of our community. Especially for a theologically diverse meeting, it is important to have an environment conducive to spiritual conversation, an environment in which Friends can speak authentically and listen generously with one another. There, Friends can come to “know one another in that which is eternal” (George Fox, 1698).

When Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the well, they spoke authentically with one another, and he offered her living water. God knows our thirst for deeper spiritual connections and invites us to open spaces in which we can share deeply about what is sacred.
 
Rita WillettRita Willett is a member of Richmond (Virginia) Friends Meeting. She is a graduate of the Spiritual Nurturer Program in the School of the Spirit (2009–2011) and serves on the School of the Spirit Board. Rita is currently a student at Earlham School of Religion, pursuing the MDiv through the Access Program.

A Hidden Gift

By Sarah Katreen Hoggatt

For many months I’ve been wanting to try meditation or contemplative prayer as a way to spend time with God. However, as this has never been a regular practice of mine I didn’t know how to go about it. Instead of going out and researching how to pray in this way, I decided to simply curl up in my favorite chair and sit with God. In my imagination I pictured us on a porch swing of a cabin looking out toward a beautiful mountain lake. I started including a short reading to focus on and then let our time together go wherever it will. As our relationship has always included a physical aspect, it didn’t take God long to circle arms around me and hold me close.

Out of this assuredness of God loving me, of having created me and of always being there, I have found the freedom to explore who I am and to start learning to use the gifts within me to help and support others. Exploring these gifts, however, hasn’t been an easy path. Until I found out what some of these gifts were, there were parts of me I hid away from the world in fear of being vulnerable and getting hurt. But there came a day when I was reading on Facebook a friend’s post titled, ”30 Traits of an Empath.” Of the 30 seemingly random traits, 27 described alarmingly well those parts of me I had hidden away. I was intrigued, began research into these traits and what they mean for me. I knew I was walking in a territory outside of traditional orthodoxy. Could God give someone a gift that is outside the bounds of acceptability?

The best way I can describe being an empath is this: when an empath sees someone eat a food, let’s say pumpkin pie, rather than remembering what pumpkin pie tastes like, they will actually have the sensation of a pumpkin pie in his or her own mouth, though someone else is eating it. Empaths pick up on the emotions of others, whether the people are visibly or verbally expressing them or not, and feel that emotion as their own. Often without realizing what’s going on, I can be upset and for no apparent reason. Understanding this gift of being empathic has helped me identify from where those emotions are coming. Since learning of this gift, I’ve been paying more attention to which emotions are mine and which I’m picking up from my environment so I can let them go.

For some empaths, it also works the other way around. In addition to picking up on other people’s emotions, they also send them out. The truth of this I personally experienced one night in a meeting when I was angry and my friend next to me became quite argumentative over a small matter that she normally would have let pass. Fortunately, we were able to talk about the experience later, made easier by her own previous knowledge of where the emotion was coming from, and I learned what damage can be done if I don’t learn to treasure and train this gift.

Half a year after my discovery, I am learning how to tell which emotions are those of others and which are my own so I know for what I’m responsible. It does make things interesting at times to be near someone and sense a much deeper current of emotion than what they’re showing and yet not ask about it. I have also come to a peace about being empathic. If God gave this gift to me, then God also meant for me to use it, to find a way to train me in this work. This journey of my soul has taught me that there is far more to the world than we see with our eyes and understanding and that we are free to journey there.

The more I learn and explore this gift through the Divine light, the more mystery I find in who I am and who God is. The rules with which I grew up fall away one after another to the place where all that is left is this most mysterious Being teaching me in equally mysterious ways. Through this, I have learned to trust and to love God more deeply. Now in the mornings I follow my instincts and longings to curl up beside God on that swing near the lake. Though empath is the label I put to this gift, it is also a part of a larger tapestry God is weaving. Right now, I do not understand the pattern or even my part in it, but I trust the weaver and that is enough.

It’s because of those times spent with God, centering down into God’s presence, feeling Love embrace me, that I’m able to sit with others in their time of need. Being able to discern the emotions of the people around me enables me to speak to their deeper condition. It lets me see beyond face value and into their need — not to take away their pain, but to be present with them in it and simply love them and to send out peace and grace. Perhaps this way of love, though still new to me, is my own reflection of God’s love into the lives of those around me. It is my way of hearing the heart of God wherever I go and sing to its rhythm. This gift, first given me, is the one I give to the world.
 
Sarah Katreen Hoggatt has authored several books, including the recently released, In the Wild Places. A freelance writer, international speaker, editor and spiritual director with a passion for ministering to fellow souls, she holds a Master’s degree from George Fox Evangelical Seminary. Sarah lives in Salem, Oregon and is a member of Riversway Friends Church of Northwest Yearly Meeting.

The Joy of Everyday Ministry

By Diane Andrews

“For it is not you who speak but it is the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.” – Matthew 10:20

We are all ordained by God for everyday ministry. The urging of the Divine within each of us creates the potential for a spark to burst into flames of passion for Christ and the word of God.

As we hunger for the love of our Creator and thirst for the spiritual nourishment of his Spirit, we become propelled into service with a great outpouring of joy.

The spiritual journey often begins with solitude, reflection, contemplation and prayer replacing the many distractions and busyness of life. During this time, God somehow stops clocks, slows rapid heartbeat and allows a deep breath so our attention can focus on communion with the Spirit. Peace blankets our landscape with softer, newer perspectives.

Discoveries made within this dialogue lay the groundwork for an emerging spiritual confidence. The path is illuminated when we ask God to show us the way. Our obedience to what is heard after prayer opens our hearts and minds to new possibilities for service. Every day ministry begins with communion that empowers and changes our life.

During this sacred time, our heart cries out, “Oh that you would bless me and enlarge my territory . . . (1 Chronicles 4:10)” In answer, it is revealed that our territory includes encounters with the homeless on a street corner, the destitute woman in the grocery line who cannot pay, an elderly neighbor who becomes ill, a child needing help with homework, or someone in Africa starving. God places us in circumstances each day to encourage ministry. Our hearts are stirred with compassion, and we are drawn to offer a kind response to the disparities of our world.

Loving God wholeheartedly creates opportunity to live a purposeful life as the everyday ministry is fully embraced. Christ taught us what to say and what to do by the way he spoke and lived. We are blessed with the greatest teacher, the most skillful coach and the most successful CEO. We are gifted with a personal relationship with Christ who is with us in each moment.

Opportunities for service abound. Our energy rises to meet them, fueled by the desire to be an emissary of God. In 2 Samuel 23 it is written: “The Spirit of the LORD spoke through me; his word was on my tongue.”

We will know what to say to those in need because just as God instructed Christ, we too are educated. Sometimes these instructions can seem perplexing and difficult to follow.

We might be asked to give more than we think we have, to stay at the scene of an accident to comfort a victim, to rescue an animal in distress, to face our own fear of death to help another, to take in a stranger, to foster a child, or to join a missionary team. We never know what God will ask of us. Our spiritual integrity will lead us as we adapt and strive to do our best in the giving of ourselves.

Mother Teresa’s surrender to her destiny serves as a reminder that just one of us can change the world. St. Francis obeyed God in every encounter, simplifying his own life to minister to others. Martin Luther King dreamed a dream that changed the reality of the world forever. Throughout history, selfless men and women have contributed to the evolution of our collective consciousness.

Our world is rapidly changing. Will we answer God’s calling for an everyday ministry in the hope that love and compassion will become the guiding light in this world? Will we take the time to listen? Perhaps the answer lies in the heart of the values of the Quaker faith. The embodiment of simplicity, peace, integrity, community, and equality create a natural state of Grace and infuse life with the sacred intention for service.

 
Diane AndrewsDiane Andrews attends First Friends Meeting in Indianapolis where she is a freelance writer, poet, artist, and spiritual life coach. You can contact Diane at dianeandrewswriter@gmail.com.

I Want To Learn Peace

By Peter Serete

On November 12, 2013, very early in the morning, the temperature in Kakuma refugee camp in the desert of northern Kenya was already at 92°F, and the wind was blowing from the east at 18 miles per hour. It was very dusty and hot! I was riding on the back of a motorbike from the Friends Church in Kakuma Camp II to the Ethiopian Evangelical Church in Camp I, in the company of a Congolese Quaker pastor and our Sudanese colleague. As we passed the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) firewood distribution center, a woman shouted out to me in Arabic. I asked my Sudanese friend to translate what she had said. He told me that she had yelled, “I want to learn peace!”

Later I found that her name is Wijdan Yaya, and we invited her to join our Alternatives to Violence (AVP) workshop. When I asked her why she wanted to learn peace, she replied in broken English: “It is only peace that unites us. War, hatred and violence divide us more and peace disappears during war. I want to teach peace to many women in this refugee camp.”

AVP was first introduced in Kakuma Refugee Camp one year ago. At that time, we focused on the Sudanese community; other communities were too suspicious of what we were doing. This time, we returned at the invitation of the Ethiopian community, and our workshops included Sudanese fleeing the renewed civil war; Somalis displaced by conflict among clan warlords; Ethiopians and Eritreans driven from their homes by struggles over independence, ideology and borders; Ugandans trying to protect their sons from abduction as child soldiers and their daughters as sex slaves by the Lord’s Resistance Army; and Congolese and Burundians driven to Kakuma by genocide, ethnic conflict and ongoing civil and interstate war linked with exploitation of natural resources. All of the communities within this vast refugee camp have now embraced AVP, and the impact of this ministry continues to grow and transform lives.

Listen within your heart to the words expressed by those who went through this workshop and hear the transforming message of peace and hope.

“The moment I crossed the borders of my homeland, I was given a new name that was known as ‘refugee,’ a branding that not only
degrades my status, but also subjects me to remember my deeper wounds and pain. Today I have a new name, a name that describes me positively — my AVP ‘adjective name’ is Relieved Ragaw. If we dwell on these positive states as much as we generally dwell on our negative thoughts and painful emotions, our lives would be transformed.” — Zinabu (Eyob) Ragaw

“I have been taught in school for many years. I have gained knowledge but that did not change me. In AVP, learning comes with
transformation; I have learnt to respect myself and others and to be an ambassador of peace.” —Fadhili Zagabe

“I have within me what can bring peace.” — Bezabih Damte Woldebreal

“I am an Ethiopian by nationality and, when I was sharing my story with my brother from the Sudanese community, I realized a lot of things are inherent in life — change, birth, death, conflict, illness, accidents, violence, calamities, and losses of all kinds — but I have learnt through sharing and listening to people in the same situation that these events don’t have to be the cause of ongoing suffering, trauma, denial and regrets that cause grief and sadness. Like everything else we can replace these bad experiences with others which can change enemies to friends and violence to peace.” — Kebede Shuba

 
Pete SeretePeter Serete is a Lead AVP Facilitator who works for the Friends Church Peace Team in Kenya. He coordinated the Friends election monitoring and violence prevention activities during the 2013 Kenyan national election. He is active as an AVP facilitator and non-violence trainer.

Gospel Re-Ordering

By Chuck Orwiler

Asking ourselves how we might do ministry that speaks of Christ is an appealing inquiry. However, unless we are quite careful we can easily respond to “ministry that speaks of Christ” as a project to which we give our attention until we move on to something else. In contrast, when we study the life of Christ we do not see a series of projects that Jesus undertook. Instead we see a true life. His is a Kingdom life, and he invites us into it. His life illumines the imperfections of lesser living. We shrink from its brilliance, yet yearn for its wholeness. Perhaps, then, one aspect of ministry that speaks of Christ is being a people who live prophetically as a light in the darkness while being winsomely whole. How do we pursue that? Is it even possible?

Rooted in the Friends tradition is the concept of gospel order. Gospel order is founded on the notion that the presence of Christ demands and enables a different way of living a gospel-ordered life.

Early Friends expected and experienced the inbreaking of God’s new order in their lives. … They discovered that all persons who turned to the Light found their lives transformed. The Light revealed the ways they had previously turned from God. It led them to Christ, their Inward Teacher and Guide. God’s new order meant a reconciled and faithful personal relationship with God. It also
meant being gathered into a community of God’s people who lived the way of faithfulness together eschewing those conventions of the larger social order which were considered contrary to God’s will. Friends believed that God would manifest this new order in the fabric of the social, political, and economic life of the whole society. (Sandra L. Cronk, Gospel Order: A Quaker Understanding of Faithful Church Community)

Are Friends still expecting to manifest God’s new order in the society in which we live? A place to begin is Jesus’ invitation to come to him, take his yoke, and learn from him (Matthew 11:28-29). Accepting this invitation requires humility, intention and imitation, which lead us towards God’s new order.

Humility

Samuel Bownas (1750) describes those whose ministry speaks of Christ:

These are very humble and low of heart, and the more their minds are enlightened by divine inspiration, the more they see a necessity to watch over themselves, so that the innocence, meekness, and humility suiting a true and right minister will appear in all their conduct. Such are slow to speak, and ready to hear and receive instruction, and are known by them that are spiritual to be such. (Samuel Bownas, A Description of the Qualifications Necessary to a Gospel Minister)

Bownas’ quiet appeal is hard to hear these days in which self-promotion has been normalized. Qualities of “innocence, meekness, listening and receiving instruction” are missing in action, and sorely missed.

In contrast, Jesus says, “Come to me.” Our great hope is fruitful ministry. It is a hope fulfilled by making our home in the living Christ. Our well-intended zeal simply cannot be a substitute for coming to Christ, ever and again. The former may yield accolades. The latter yields fruit. The difference speaks of Christ.

Intention

Jesus acted intentionally. He made it clear that he was sent for a specific purpose. That purpose was to be an itinerant preacher going from town to town proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God (Luke 4:43). He demonstrated his intent to stay on task even when that meant ignoring pressing needs that pleaded for his attention.

A few years ago, 16 members of Harmony Friends of Taiwan felt called of God to move from their nice homes in Taipei to live in a poor section of town in order to serve those people in Jesus’ name. They named their new congregation the Jesus Loves You Service Center. They literally named their intention and have lived into it. Dan Cammack, executive director of Evangelical Friends Mission, reports they are now integrated into that community. Their rented space is bustling with activity every day of the week.

In his message entitled The Pearl of Great Price, Dan cites the biblical example of Zacchaeus whose encounter with Christ turned his understanding of life upside down. Zacchaeus experienced a gospel re-ordering: “He wanted to live: in a kingdom where love rules.” And so he did. In a stunning life reversal, this wealthy man gave half his possessions to the poor and paid back anyone he had cheated four times their shortfall. Zacchaeus had the humility to come to Jesus and then intentionally yoked himself to Jesus.

Ministry that speaks of Christ is not ambivalent. It is an intentional act of putting on the yoke of Christ and his call in our lives.

May we experience that moment in His presence when we know that our lives will never be the same, when it becomes abundantly clear exactly what He would have us do with our lives and possessions. (Dan Cammack, “The Pearl of Great Price”)

Imitation

Jesus was eminently practical. He taught the Kingdom way. He lived what he taught. He told his followers to go do the same. “Learn from me,” said Jesus, and, “Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man.”

This needs to hold our attention: Jesus’ most severe criticisms were leveled at scrupulously religious people who were missing the point. For example, he called out those who prided themselves in following the Bible, yet altogether missed justice, mercy, and faithfulness (Matthew.23:23). Being called to either justice or mercy is humbling. Being called to both seems beyond us. Yet, is it not apparent that either justice or mercy without the other is insufficient? What do we learn from Jesus?

• Jesus was quite explicit in his religious teaching, and loved as his neighbor those of a different persuasion.
• He declared sobering judgment for those who did not repent, and was filled with mercy for the non-committals who crowded in merely for a free lunch.
• He warned against wandering from the narrow way, and sought the lost sheep.
• He counseled his followers to treat an unrepentant peer as a “tax collector or pagan” and he gave his life for tax collectors and pagans.
• He confounded his disciples by telling them he will be especially close to some of those who resist him the longest!
Jesus defines the wholeness that is medicine for the soul of our society. People may have to see it to believe it. That’s our opportunity.

Ministry that speaks of Christ will yield something of both the rejection and reward that Jesus experienced. Consequently, ministry that speaks of Christ requires a redefining of competence and achievement. Like Christ, we are drawn by the joy before us. We are drawn to be a people who together seek a gospel re-ordered life that we know to be a true life. We can sow our seeds of humility, intention, and imitation. By God’s grace our ministry may be of Christ, and bear the fruit of his Kingdom.
 
Chuck OrwilerChuck Orwiler is the Pastor of Soul Care for Denver Friends Church for whom he has served since 1978. He and his wife, Vicky, enjoy times with their family and opportunities to walk together in pretty places.

Meanderings and Musings – March/April 2014

By Annie Glen – Communications Editor

Often the U.S. mail presents me with gifts of review copies sent by other publishers, and last month, through the courtesy of Intervarsity Press, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry by Ruth Haley Barton landed on my desk. I found myself drawn to Barton’s depiction of Moses as having had to overcome his imperfect connections with the worlds in which he lived in order to become the leader of his people. She presents Moses as an outsider living between his Hebrew heritage and his Egyptian upbringing, fully at home in neither place and struggling with the question of his true identity. “Spiritual leadership emerges from our willingness to stay involved with our own soul — that place where God’s Spirit is at work stirring up our deepest questions and longings to draw us into deeper relationships,” the author states.

Barton makes it clear that Moses’ struggle, then, was to discover the nature of his soul, to discover how God’s spirit could reconcile this dual identity. It is a struggle with which I readily empathize: I, too, was raised in a family other than that of my birth and, though part of both biological and foster families, was an outsider to both. I never felt I fit in with either, and, like Moses, had issues of identity. Like Moses, I developed ways of adjusting and staying safe from real or perceived dangers, skills upon which I still rely.

Moses learned that if one does not search beneath the physical surface of outward existence, one can gain the world, but lose one’s soul. Our true identity is in our soul.

Losing our spiritual center is comparable to losing a credit card, suggests Barton. One hardly thinks about the card most of the time, confident that it is safely tucked away in a wallet. But when it is needed and not found in the wallet, there begins a frantic search, a retracing of steps and efforts to remember the last time it was used. Suddenly nothing other than recovering the lost valuable, matters.

I have become used to the idea that God is always close by, tucked away in my soul. The duties of ministry take control of my day and I find myself occasionally forgetting to connect with that which is truly essential. It isn’t until I am unsettled or not feeling whole that I begin to look for my soul. Yet, unlike the hypothetical search for the lost credit card, there is no panic; I do not search in the same manner. I simply believe I will find my full soul again. At times, it doesn’t seem as urgent to find my soul as it might to recover a lost credit card.

This realization struck me. It occurred to me that the busyness of ministry has taken over my time in such a manner that I had forgotten where my strength lies and by whom this ministry is given. My true identity is realized from the spiritual practice of developing my relationship with God rather than personal skills. Top on my “to do” list should be the various practices that keep me in tune with my true self. Barton reminded me to “keep searching for the bread of life that feeds our own souls so that we can guide them [those whom we lead] to places of sustenance for their own souls. Then, rather than offering the cold stone of past devotionals, regurgitated apologetics or someone else’s musings about the spiritual life, we will have bread to offer that is warm from the oven of our own intimacy with God.” This to me is what is needed in any ministry that hopes to grow.

Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry is not a book that can be read quickly. Rather, this a book that needs to be savored. The words need to “get down deep” into one’s soul. Indeed this book has been a timely gift that has reoriented my soul to yearn for God first before any ministry is done.

Grow in ministry, my Friends. Strengthen your soul and gain your identity in God.

Amazing Grace – March/April 2014

By Eden Grace – Global Ministries Director

My friend Bill Kreidler used to say that being a member of a local meeting is “lab practice” for the Kingdom of God. We practice our eternal salvation in our meetings. We are given a blessed opportunity to sit in worship with the very people whom we find most irritating. We are given the holy chance to serve on a committee with the most difficult folks imaginable. As we do, we notice ourselves thinking that if only those people would change, our meeting would be so much healthier!

And — we are given the grace to see those people as God sees them: pilgrims on the way of faith, beloved in their brokenness, caught in tender arms each time they stumble, necessary to the community, graced with spiritual gifts in the process of maturing. It is just as we hope God sees us.

So we practice the kingdom when we come together in our local meeting for worship and work.

The work of the local meeting is the work of the kingdom. It’s the place where kingdom values, kingdom love, kingdom compassion and kingdom forgiveness are made tangible — and the place where the prophetic transformation of the world begins. This is why Friends don’t worship alone. This is why Friends don’t have “freelance” ministers or independent ministries not tied to the worshipping community. Ours is not a do-it-yourself religion; it is a do-it-together experiment in a blessed community. By doing it together, we witness to the world that reconciliation is possible and that the process is transformational.

I’m in Tanzania as I write this, and I’ve just witnessed a remarkable example of messy holy lab work. Tanzania Yearly Meeting suffered for many years under the tyrannical leadership of one person. That one man inflicted huge damage on his own family, on the reputation of the church and on scores of individuals. Although he died in 2008, the pain continues, and the damage to the
community persists. The yearly meeting chose “A New Beginning” as its theme for this year. Through the grace of God, Friends are learning to speak the truth of what happened, to forgive each other, to take cautious steps of trust and to call on the Holy Spirit to help bind them in restored unity. They are practicing the kingdom. It is hard, messy work, but they know that it is only through this process that they can make a compelling witness to the love of Jesus Christ in their community.

Few meetings will experience trauma as damaging as Tanzania Yearly Meeting’s was, but all meetings are given the opportunity for lab practice. All Friends are given the chance to work out the blessed community “in fear and trembling.”

Queries for Missional Communities

The Local Meeting/Church as a Missional Community:

Some Queries to Consider and Act Upon

By Colin Saxton

Who are we called to be?

• What is the mission (purpose or reason for existing) as a faith community?
• What values (common commitments by which we will live, work, play together) will shape and guide our life together?
• What is God’s vision (an artist’s rendition of us faithfully living out our mission) for us as a community… discerned in light of our understanding of Scripture, the leading of the Spirit and our understanding of Friends testimonies?

Where are we?

• What is the specific geographic, social, cultural context in which we are located? What are the needs of the people around us? What issues are unique to our community?

When are we?

• What is going on during this season of our history? What changes/issues/opportunities can we see appearing on the horizon?

What has God called us to do in our culture context/community?

• With our shared vision in mind … to what ministry is God calling us in this particular time and place? What is the “point” of this faith community? How do our unique gifts, call and God-given concerns intersect with the needs that are around us? How do our strengths, our passion and our call match the opportunities at this time?

What barriers/resistance confront us?

• Do forms, relationships and programs have integrity with our stated focus?
• What internal and external obstacles stand in the way of pursuing our missional call?

What changes in our structure, organization, leadership or self-understanding need to occur in order to free us to act upon our common mission and vision as a church?

In an effort to either overcome barriers or to move in new directions, what changes must we make in our community? To whom do we give the responsibility and authority to make these decisions? To initiate changes? Some specific areas to consider:

• Functional structures — Matching our organizational infrastructure to our size and identity. Are we a family, pastoral, program or corporate sized church? Does our size, complexity or vision require new or different organizational support or change?
• Facility — Are there specific needs? Required maintenance, expansion/changes required?
• Staff/Volunteer needs — Are released staff focused in areas of need? Are roles clearly defined & commonly understood? Is additional staff needed? Do we train and release volunteers to serve in meaningful and manageable ways that match their gifts and passion?
• Growth — Do we assess how or if newcomers are welcomed into and integrated into the community? Do we desire to grow? If so, what keeps us from growth?
• Budget — Do we evaluate how or if our budget reflects our intended priorities? Is it adequate and appropriately divided for us to carry out our intended ministry?
• Ministry Planning — Do we have an intentional plan to discern God’s priorities/plans for our community?

What outcomes/indicators can we use to evaluate our faithfulness?

• As we prayerfully implement our strategic initiatives, do we have a plan to evaluate how faithful and fruitful we are being?

Do we give thanks and celebrate what God is doing in and through us?

• Do we give thanks for the gifts and resources we are given?
• Do we express gratitude for the ministry we are called to carry out?
• Do we celebrate the way Christ is using us?

Out of My Mind – March/April 2014

By Colin Saxton – General Secretary

“Organized religion” continues to take a beating in the polls — at least in the kind of popular surveys taken in the United States. Americans like to constantly monitor their temperature on nearly every matter. Once again, the polls reveal that people are spiritual… just not religious.

I am not debating the veracity of these polls: I think they accurately reflect the mood of the day. People want, in their best moments, a deeply transformative and personal connection with the Divine. True to the independent nature of the times, we also want this experience on our terms — without the extraneous trappings or perceived limitations of religious tradition or confining community.

But personal expectations and reality often collide when two or three gather around a shared spirituality. As soon as someone dares say, “Hey, we should get together again,” something resembling “organized religion” emerges. Soon, coffee must be brewed, questions arise about how to care for the children, where to gather and so forth.

Many, many of us long to be part of a sustaining and strengthening community of faith as we are being personally “spiritual.” We want others who will prod us toward truth, holiness, goodness and compassion. We want to be among people who by their lives, collective work and witness are seeking and seeing God’s Kingdom come on earth just as it is it is already realized in heaven.

And it is hard… it doesn’t ever happen by accident. Over the years of being in, or ministering among, Friends meetings/churches, I’ve often heard Friends struggle over how to intentionally create missionally focused fellowships. That is, how can the community organize itself around who God is calling it to be and what God is calling members to do together?

Somewhere between using a standard business plan and flying by the seat of our pants, there ought to be a way of discernment — prayerful and serious reflection — that guides us and keeps our attempts at organization vital and life-giving. In work with local communities, a set of queries was developed for discussion and to guide action. I share them with you in the hope your meeting/church thrives in the coming year and gets organized in a way that your experience of Christ deepens, community is strengthened and ministry bears more fruit than anyone imagined possible.