Layout Image

Archive for Quaker Life Magazine – Page 3

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.

Spreading the Word – March/April 2014

By Micah Bales, Communications & Web Specialist

One of the key teachings of the Quaker movement is that every Christian is called to ministry. It’s not just pastors, yearly meeting officials or employees of non-profits. Each and every one of us is called to a form of ministry, according to the gifts that God has given us. Whether we are physicians, accountants, janitors or farmers, God has a unique ministry in which each can participate. The hidden purpose of our lives is far more than what our jobs happen to be at the moment.

This is a big deal. For most human societies only a tiny minority of folks have been expected to spend much time thinking about spiritual realities. From the ancient Egyptians and the Levitical priesthood all the way down to modern-day religious hierarchies, the vast majority of the world has believed that intimate relationship with God was something for only a special elite. For the rest, it is enough to follow the rules and abide by what the priests tell us God commands.

The ministry of Jesus blew this whole worldview apart. He empowered all sorts of common people to have a direct relationship with God. Rather than having us seek his presence within the innermost room of a holy building where only the most special people could go, Jesus revealed that God is not confined to man-made temples or holy books. In Jesus, God became one of us and established relationships with women, fisherman, zealots, lepers and tax collectors. God broke all the rules of holiness in order to show his great love for us!

Still, old habits die hard. Despite the good news that God’s presence is not confined to special buildings or a priestly minority, most of us still act as if it were. Even groups like Quakers, who pride themselves on a lack of priestly forms, have developed all sorts of rules and procedures for how ministry is to be done. The outward packaging of our faith may look very different, but we have a sense of form, procedure and propriety that is just as baroque as the high church tradition against which we originally rebelled. If we are not careful, it is easy to get lost in process and lose sight of the fact that ministry is about relationship.

Growth in ministry requires us to deepen our shared life with other people. Much of the authority to serve others that Jesus gives us comes from the quality of the relationships that we develop over time. Do people know that they can trust me? Have I established a track record of fairness, honesty, wisdom and compassion? When people interact with me, do they see Christ’s reflection? These are some of the challenging questions that we must continually ask ourselves as we seek to participate in Jesus’ work of reconciliation and peace.

No amount of process and procedure can create this kind of relationship. It is only through our openness to the presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit that we can live together in genuine community. In this Spirit-filled community, we find the strength to embrace the fullness and variety of ministry into which Christ invites us.

Where do you find support for your ministry — spiritually, emotionally, financially and practically? What does it mean to be part of a fellowship in which we find friendship, inspiration and a collegial community of fellow workers with a variety of gifts and callings? Do the patterns, focus and procedures of your local congregation facilitate this work of equipping each person for ministry? How can our communities become centered with a shared experience of Jesus, who calls us into his ministry of reconciliation?

Gentle Giants

By David O. Williams

Not long ago our family embarked on a two-week tour of the American west. We followed some of the most scenic highways in the country, including the “Loneliest Road in America” (U.S. 50), the Pacific Coast Highway and the Historic Route 66. As you might imagine, we saw a staggering variety of breath-taking vistas and awe-inspiring wonders of the natural world along the way. But there was one particular sight that stood out above all of the rest… literally.

During our visit to Yosemite National Park, we took a short hike down a peaceful trail that leads to Merced Grove, one of the few places left in the entire world (outside of fairy tale books, that is) where one can stand in the presence of genuine giants and live to tell about it. The Giant Sequoia trees that populate the western Sierra Nevada may be gentle giants, but by no means does this reduce the “shock and awe” factor when they are beheld for the first time.

Giant Sequoias are the largest trees in the world. Record trees have been measured to be over 300 feet tall and more than 50 feet in diameter, with bark as much as three feet thick at the base. With a total weight of several million pounds, these pine pillars are true freaks of nature. Like Frodo and his friends from the Shire, my family and I felt like Hobbits in the presence of the Ents.

Upon further review, however, we discovered that there is much more to Giant Sequoias than initially meets the eye. What was most fascinating, and most compelling in correlation to Christian discipleship and spiritual formation, is what is actually required for Great Sequoias to grow so strong and tall:

• Longevity: Giant Sequoias are no overnight sensations. In fact, it has been documented that some of these trees have been around for more than 3,500 years, dating back to the days of Moses and the founding of the nation of Israel. They don’t speak the language of instant gratification. On the contrary, they stand as towering testimonies to the truth that the best and most beautiful things in life take time. Needless to say, in order to reach their full potential, Giant Sequoias require lots of time. So do we (Ecclesiastes 3:11a).

• Adversity: Giant Sequoias cannot reproduce without the stress and pressure that accompany an occasional forest fire. Fire brings hot air high into the canopy which in turn dries and opens the Sequoia cones so they can release their seeds. Periodic
wildfires also clear competing vegetation. Without fire, other shade-loving trees will crowd out young Sequoia seedlings, preventing germination.

Clearly, Giant Sequoias must be willing to endure the heat in order to bear fruit. So must we (James 1:2-4).

• Community: Giant Sequoias cannot survive on their own. They only grow in groves. Their shallow roots can extend more than 200 feet from each tree, creating a massive, interdependent root system. The sustainability of each individual tree hinges upon the health and vitality of the wider community. There are no lone rangers among Giant Sequoias. Cooperation is non-negotiable.

Without question, Giant Sequoias must remain closely connected to one another in order to thrive. So must we (Ephesians 4:15-16).

Longevity, adversity and community are three essentials for the healthy growth and development of Giant Sequoias. Three essentials for the healthy growth and development of spiritual giants as well.

David O. Williams, D.Min., is a Professor of Discipleship & Spiritual Formation, the Director of the Center for Spiritual Renewal and the Director of the MATL-Spiritual Formation at Barclay College in Haviland, Kansas.

The Growing Edge of Ministry

By Scott Wagoner

A term that has significant meaning for me is that of spiritual life as a “growing edge.” I was introduced to the concept of “growing edge” through the writings of Howard Thurman. In his book, Growing Edge, he invites readers to, “Look well to the growing edge. All around us worlds are dying and new worlds are being born; all around us life is dying and life is being born…Look well to the growing edge.” These words give good advice. Often members of the Religious Society of Friends get trapped in a vortex of negativity and despair about its future. Friends often times resonate with the fact that, “All around us worlds are dying…” and even think this means, “All around us Quakerism is dying…” However, Friends should be encouraged for Thurman’s words do not end with death. “New worlds are being born” and all around us “life is being born.” Death creates the space for the new that must be born.

We have often heard the phrase, “All politics is local.” I would also claim that all Quakerism is local. In other words, the lifeblood of the Religious Society of Friends is that of the local meeting, and the lifeblood of the local meeting is that of the individual person who is on a faithful journey in relationship with the Living Christ, seeking to live in faithful community with others. It would seem, then, that a key to renewal among Friends is creating ways to put people on a spiritual growing edge. Spiritually alive people create spiritually alive local meetings. Spiritually alive local meetings become the source of spiritually alive yearly meetings.

Entering my 12th year as pastor of Deep River Friends, I find myself reflecting upon moments and experiences within the meeting that have helped put folks on a growing edge. I have concluded a life that is on a growing edge includes:

Study of the Scriptures

It may seem like an obvious statement, but regular study of the Scriptures and the biblical story within a local meeting will serve to put folks on a spiritual growing edge.

Deep River offers the Disciple Bible Study, a 34 week study of covering both the Old and New Testaments. It is geared towards formation of the person rather than just providing a lot of information. The most helpful component is participation in the daily readings, which helps develop positive habits of daily study.

I have seen those willing to participate in this class experience — or any other Bible study experience — tend to be the ones that begin to experience a “growing edge” in their spiritual journey.

Spiritual Formation Groups

Spiritual formation groups can often be a great source of Living Water for those that are thirsty for more. This experience, along with Scripture study, is both a productive and profound foundation for growing edge spirituality.
Last year, Deep River Friends offered a year-long experience called Pilgrims of the Heart, a spiritual formation group based on the Song of Solomon 5:2: “I slept, but my heart was awake. Listen! My beloved is knocking.” Its focus was to provide an avenue in which the participants could come to know what it was like to be spiritually awake as well as live in to their identity as the beloved of God.

In our first meeting, the scope of the group was introduced. From there the format and topics were discerned. The group met at least twice a month for nine months because that period of time is a strong reminder that conception to birth usually takes nine months. New spiritual birth was our hope.

Those that participated in both the Bible study and the spiritual formation group want to do it again, as they had experienced significant growth in their lives. They continue to hunger for a deeper experience of the Living Christ.

Service to the Community

A growing edge spiritual life includes serving others. When individuals are hearing and responding to God’s personal call in their lives to serve in various ways, a significant growing edge is experienced. Engaging folks in service and ministry with the marginalized and suffering always puts people on a growing edge. Self-absorption is challenged. Being exposed to the needs of others has a way of tapping the compassion of Jesus within souls; so often buried beneath busy schedules, misguided pursuits of the American Dream and apathetic religiosity.

On the first Saturday of every month members of Deep River Friends provide service to the community. Once a month, our meeting prepares and serves lunch at a local homeless shelter for 125 people. Not everyone in the meeting participates in this ministry but having it as part of our congregational culture serves to remind us of the importance of serving.

The meeting also provides a monthly dinner for 25 at a women’s homeless shelter in High Point. Individuals and families within the meeting have taken it upon themselves to provide the meal at other times. The call to ministry is felt among individuals who are willing to obey it.

To be sure, living on a spiritual growing edge is not about programs. Rather, they are a means toward facilitating spiritual growth of meeting members. Programs act as trellises in developing a growing edge. A trellis is a simple framework of light wooden bars often used as a support for fruit trees or other climbing plants. The trellis is not the ultimate goal: rather, the trellis serves the purpose of providing a framework and supportive structure for growth and eventual fruit.

In the same way, having a spiritual formation program is not the ultimate goal. The program is the framework and supportive structure, which provides an opportunity for folks to discover a place where they can position themselves to manifest spiritual fruit and to discover the growing edge. As John 15:5 reminds, “Jesus is the vine and we are the branches.” Apart from the connection, we can do nothing. What meetings/churches can do, though, is provide the right environment, framework and structure that will give folks the opportunity to nurture and cultivate the life of the Spirit within.

Howard Thurman reminds us that there exists in life an inherent call to grow and live on a growing edge. When meetings and congregations fail to recognize this inherent desire to grow, it misses opportunities of nurturing new life and energy within its own walls. Living on a growing edge takes discernment. Sometimes it takes hard work and planning. But just like the hard work of turning over the soil and sowing new seeds in a garden, the effort always brings the possibility of new growth and fruit. Look well to the growing edge!
Scott WagonerScott Wagoner is presently in his 12th year as Pastoral Minister of Deep River Friends Meeting in North Carolina Yearly Meeting (FUM). Scott is a graduate of Taylor University and the Earlham School of Religion. He is married to Lynda Wagoner. They have two grown children, Chad and Erin. You can reach Scott at He is available for Congregational Coaching, retreats and special speaking engagements.

Gathered in Community: Growing in Ministry

By Dorlan Bales

The 2014 January-February Quaker Life scripture study focused on Jesus’ own calling, his choice of an inner circle of disciples and his definition of discipleship. The study continued to highlight the response of the first Quakers to the living Christ’s call and the allegiance followers have to Jesus today.

The heart’s response to the Spirit’s call is the decision to follow Jesus. That choice and continuing recommitment to Christian discipleship takes place in the context of a spiritual community.

In this study you are invited to rediscover the Good News Jesus taught and embodied as you open yourself to the words of Luke’s gospel. You are encouraged to remember how the gathered disciples were transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit. As in our previous study, reflect upon early Quaker experiences of being gathered and then consider the process of growing in ministry in this, the 21st century.

Jesus’ Teaching According to Luke’s Gospel

How did Jesus help the men and women he gathered to grow in their ability to share the Good News? What did he teach them? A careful reading of Luke’s gospel reveals four powerful themes:

1) Love God and Your Neighbor as Yourself

Firmly rooted in prophetic Judaism, the most fundamental teaching of Jesus is best summarized in his response to an expert on the Mosaic Law. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” the lawyer queried. Jesus responded by asking this man to identify what the law said. To which the lawyer replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus affirmed his statement and urged him to obey the great commandment, rather than merely knowing it intellectually (See Luke 10:25-28.).

The lawyer then asked Jesus to define the word, neighbor. Consider Jesus’ response found in Luke 10:29-37.

Who is your neighbor?

Who have you ignored, walked past or avoided? What individuals or groups do you find easiest to judge and condemn rather than forgive?

Consider Luke 6:27-36, in which Jesus teaches about loving those who do not love us. Hold these words in your heart. What action is God asking you to do? Share your insights.

2) Blessed are the Poor, the Hungry, the Sorrowful and the Excluded

Jesus was frequently judged to be a lawbreaker by those who objected to his healing the sick on the Sabbath day. (See Luke 6:6-11; 13:10-17; 14:1-6). His disciples, themselves common people, were taught to discern the condition of people’s hearts rather than judge them by the usual social standards.

Jesus reached out to poor working people and the despised, including those who had become wealthy by collecting taxes for the Roman occupiers. The affluent “keepers of morality” were often angry with Jesus for befriending those they considered impure. Luke 15 provides a series of Jesus’ parables about being lost and then found. In a later chapter (20:47), another parable aims at the scribes and Pharisees who were getting rich by “devouring” widows’ houses. Then there is the story about a man who invited lots of guests to a banquet. Like the host, they were affluent, and having better things to do; they made excuses. The host, incensed, invited “the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame” and even sent servants to find others and force them to come. (14:15-24).

All these parables provide insight about the motivations from which Jesus’ actions sprang.

Study the above stories drawn from everyday life. Create a list of the truths Jesus taught in these parables. What insights does this list offer you?

Consider the people and groups around us upon whom society looks down. Using the list created, how would Jesus have us relate to them? What makes it hard for people to follow Jesus’ example? What are some of our unspoken rules that keep us from ministering to the people Jesus loves?

3) Take up Your Cross Daily and Humbly Put the Kingdom of God First

Jesus never said that being his disciple was easy. He was forthright about what was going to happen to him, and told his followers they must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow his lead. He said, “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves?” (Luke 9:23-25)

Although Jesus’ humility redefined greatness, his closest friends argued about which of them was greatest during their last meal with their master! Jesus explained to them that “the Kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves.” Then, stating the obvious, Jesus said, “But I am among you as one who serves (Luke 22:24-27 see also Luke 9:46-48; 13:30; 18:14).”

Jesus warned his disciples not to be like the Pharisees, saying “you cannot serve God and wealth” (Luke 16:13) and said that one’s heart and treasure are likely to be side by side (Luke 12:33-34).

How would you translate “taking up one’s cross daily” in order to follow Jesus in a way that speaks to you?

How does our society define greatness? What does humility look like today?

Is having wealth the same thing as serving wealth? Is it spiritually helpful, or harmful, to store up wealth for retirement and/or to pass it along to family members, a faith community, or good causes?

4) The Kingdom of God is Within and Among People Now

“The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among/within you (Luke 17:20-21).”

Jesus knew the world’s tendency to create hierarchies and bestow divine authority upon them as did the Roman Empire. Jesus told his hearers that the kingdom of God is already come, a present spiritual reality for those who follow him. Accessible to all, the reign of God is small as salt, yeast and mustard seeds yet exceedingly powerful. The Kingdom of God is a reality within and among those who love God, themselves, and their neighbors near and far (Luke 13:18-21; 14:34).

How do you respond to Jesus’ teaching that the kingdom of God is something powerful in and among his followers now?

How is the kingdom of God a reality within your life and in the midst of your faith community?

The Gathering of the Jerusalem Church

The last few verses of Luke’s Gospel and the first few verses of his Acts of the Apostles connect the risen Christ and the Holy Spirit, which was poured out upon the disciples on the Day of Pentecost soon after his crucifixion and resurrection. “I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). “While staying with them he [the risen Christ], ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. ‘This,’ he said, ‘is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now (Acts 1:4-5).’”

That day Jesus’ disciples were baptized with the Holy Spirit. Thousands of people in Jerusalem for the feast day were added to the new Jerusalem Church. Their gathered life was powerful! Read about it in Acts 2:38-47 and consider these questions:

What surprises or impresses you about the nature of the newly-gathered church? What do you think has drawn Quakers to this passage of scripture?

The Early Quaker Experience of Being Gathered as God’s People

In 17th century England, a group of people nicknamed Quakers began a movement based upon the Holy Spirit baptism spoken of by John the Baptist and described by Luke in his Acts of the Apostles. This vibrant group proclaimed a present, living Christ, “Christ come to teach people himself by his power and spirit and to bring them off all the world’s ways and teachers to his own free teaching . . . (Fox’s Journal Nickalls ed. 1952, page 104; see also 98, 107).”

In 1652, after five years of active ministry, George Fox preached to a large cluster of northern England Seeker groups, men and women who had already separated themselves from existing church structures. His sermon, from a hill in Firbank Fell in the Westmorland region, and his encounter with Margaret Fell of Swarthmore Hall that year were turning points in the growth of the Quaker movement. Virtually all of the hundreds present at Firbank Fell were persuaded by the Gospel as Fox experienced, understood and proclaimed it.

Francis Howgill (1618-1669), one of the Seeker leaders who joined this new movement, later wrote that Fox’s sermon:

reached unto all our consciences and entered into the inmost part of our hearts, which drove us to a narrow search, and to a diligent inquisition concerning our state, through the Light of Christ Jesus. The Lord of Heaven and earth we found to be near at hand, and, as we waited upon him in pure silence, our minds out of all things, his heavenly presence appeared in our assemblies, when there was no language, tongue nor speech from any creature. The Kingdom of Heaven did gather us and catch us all, as in a net, and his heavenly power at one time drew many hundreds to land.

[Note Howgill’s Luke 5:1-7 fishing imagery above and the similarities to the Jerusalem church’s experience in what follows.] We came to know a place to stand in and what to wait in; and the Lord appeared daily to us, to our astonishment, amazement and great admiration … And from that day forward, our hearts were knit unto the Lord and one unto another in true and fervent love, in the covenant of Life with God; and that was a strong obligation or bond upon all our spirits, which united us one unto another … And thus the Lord, in short, did form us to be a people for his praise in our generation. (Quaker Faith & Practice: Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain, 1995, 19.08)

Margaret Fell, like Francis Howgill, became a Quaker leader after responding to Fox’s Spirit-filled preaching not many days after the Westmorland Seekers added tremendous new energy to the fledgling Quaker movement. She and her husband, Judge Fell, often extended hospitality to traveling ministers. A friend introduced George Fox to the Fell household. The next day Fox went to the nearby steeple house with Margaret. He stood on his seat and asked permission to speak. He said that those who wrote the scriptures, “came to the Spirit that gave them forth. You will say, Christ saith this, and the apostles say this; but what canst thou say? Art thou a child of Light and hast walked in the Light, and what thou speakest is it inwardly from God?”

Margaret had not heard preaching like this and it resounded within her. As she later wrote, “This opened me so that it
cut me to the heart; and then I saw clearly that we were all wrong.” She sat down on her pew, tears flowing freely as she
cried out inwardly, “We are all thieves, we are all thieves. We have taken the Scriptures in words and know nothing of them in ourselves (Quaker Faith & Practice 19.07).” Note Margaret Fell’s use of the phrase “cut to the heart”. It may have been drawn from Acts 2:37 where it described those who heard Peter’s Pentecost message.

Compare the testimony of Francis Howgill and Margaret Fell and their 1652 experiences. What similarities are there? What differences? What part of their testimony strikes your heart? Explain.

Why do you think Margaret Fell cried out, “We are all thieves?”

Can you remember gatherings when “the Lord of Heaven and Earth felt near at hand”?

How have you experienced a faith community that came to know “a place to stand in and what to wait in?”

Gathered Today in Communities Led by Christ and Growing in Ministry

Though I have not been caught up in God’s kingdom net as dramatically as the apostles or the early Quakers were, I have known some occasions of unusual spiritual presence, including the years around the turn of the 21st century when I was privileged to be part of the Friends of Jesus Community here in Kansas. It was an important time of growth for me, as we learned together how to love God, ourselves, and our neighbors in a cultural setting that was new to us. Because of the FOJ Community’s willingness to follow Jesus beyond its members’ comfort zones, it contributed some grains of salt, a bit of yeast and a few rays of light to the world, despite its small membership.

It has been seven years since FOJ was laid down, but I continue to value my relationships with its members and am closely involved with two of the three social ministries that grew out of that time in the heart of low wealth neighborhoods of color. As I look forward to years ahead, which are perhaps less busy and more creative, I am asking how God might use me to be a channel of God’s love both to those who are my spiritual brothers and sisters now and to people I will meet.

I’m pondering questions like these:

What would it take for Quakers to be gathered more powerfully, both locally and worldwide, in ways that go beyond self-care and mutual aid in times of personal crisis?

In what ways are we Friends willing to spend ourselves for others, even suffer for obeying the living Christ rather than another master?

What will make it possible for me and other Quakers to keep growing as ministers of God’s love in our various locales and circumstances?

One thing does seem clear. Being a witness to Jesus Christ’s good news about the Kingdom of God is much easier for those who are supported by a spiritual community that is willing to go deeper than Sunday morning pleasantries. In order to discern if I am being led by Christ, not following “the world’s ways,” and having the courage to obey the Holy Spirit, I need a spiritual community that encourages all its members to listen inwardly to the living Christ and grow in ministry to others.

A vital spiritual community provides grounding opportunities to study the Bible and more recent writings, creates spaces where individuals share deeply about their hopes and spiritual leadings, and moves to action when directed by the Living Christ. This is not the description of an ordinary social circle or interest group! Our loving God is still able to pour out the Holy Spirit upon those who are gathered together and eager to respond in faith, hope, love, and joy!

Describe your own spiritual pathway in the last ten years. Can you remember times when the living Christ spoke to you inwardly about ministry to someone?

What are the obstacles that keep people from seeking first the kingdom of God?

If you currently have a spiritual community, how does it offer you both support and challenge? How could you lovingly reach out to others in your spiritual community so that you are both receiving and giving?

If you are not currently blessed with a spiritual community, how might you find or help create one?
Dorlan BalesDorlan Bales grew up in Northwest Yearly Meeting, the eldest child of pastor/teachers George and Elenita. Between ministry studies at George Fox University and Earlham School of Religion, he completed two years of alternative service at a children’s hospital in Vietnam. After studying theology in Chicago, he was led to Wichita, Kansas where he lives with his wife Kathryn Damiano, stays in touch with sons Micah and Andrew and writes grant proposals for Sunflower Community Action, which he helped found. He is a member of Heartland Friends Meeting, works for peace and justice, and enjoys playing and making violins.

Ask Tom: How did early Friends develop and grow as ministers?

By Thomas Hamm – Professor of History; Archivist/Curator, Friends Collection
Earlham College, Richmond, Indiana

The first generation of Friends, and indeed, all Friends until the mid-19th century, was intensely suspicious of what they called “creaturely activity,” the idea that human efforts could provide anyone with a gift in the ministry. The language that Friends traditionally used — that of “gift,” something freely bestowed by God, and “recording,” recognizing, or making a record of a gift in the ministry, rather than even implying that some legitimacy came from human action like ordination — shows that. Since Friends believed that all Christians were called to be ministers in some way, they distinguished those with a gift for public speaking and debate by referring to them as “Public Friends.” Friends were particularly suspicious of the normal way to develop
ministers in 17th-century England: university training. One of George Fox’s early “openings” from God in 1646 was “that being bred at Oxford or Cambridge was not enough to fit and qualify men to be ministers of Christ.”

Instead, early Friends looked to develop as ministers in two ways. The first way was through obedience. Believing that all legitimate ministry came through the direct inspiration of God, the dominant note in their writings is passivity, being open to direction from God and following it without question. Again and again one finds George Fox saying: “That which I was moved to declare was this,” or “I was made to cry out” or “I was required” or “the Lord showed me.”

While ascribing all authority in ministry to God, Friends also looked to the nurturing care of other Friends. By the mid-1650s, in addition to general meetings for business by Friends, Friends in the ministry were meeting separately. Since no minutes were kept, we have only fragmentary evidence of what they did and said. But what we do have suggests their conversations were devoted to encouraging each other to obedience growth in the Holy Spirit.

By the mid-19th century, many Friends had become comfortable with education as a supplement to, although not the basis of, Quaker ministry. The development of the pastoral system encouraged such discussion. But at the heart of true Quaker ministry still lies obedience to God and the encouragement of Friends.

Do you have a Quaker history question to “Ask Tom”?
Send questions to

Sarah Thompson appointed CPT Executive Director

Christian Peacemaker Teams is pleased to announce the appointment of Sarah Thompson to the position of CPT Executive Director. Thompson brings a wide range of experiences to the position. Through her work in the international peace movement as a public-speaker and community organizer, she is adept at bringing people together across lines of difference and building momentum for positive social change. Her Christian church involvements include six years of volunteer work as the North American representative to Mennonite World Conference’s Youth and Young Adult Executive Committee and Global Youth Summit planning group, as well as service with Mennonite Central Committee in Jerusalem, the Washington, D.C. Advocacy office, and in her hometown of Elkhart, Indiana, United States.

Thompson has traveled across various continents through activist and volunteer work with feminist anti-war movements, Spanish translation opportunities, the Fulbright Scholarship, and Spelman College (graduated summa cum laude in 2006 with a Comparative Women’s Studies & International Studies double major, and a minor in Spanish).

A 2011 Masters of Divinity graduate of Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, Thompson writes, “I am thrilled and humbled to participate with CPT in this capacity. I feel called to the spiritual practice of building partnerships that transform violence and oppression. I am grateful to all who have gone before me to make this organization a place where I can use my gifts, bring my questions, encounter challenges, and rely on support from allies and colleagues.” Thompson recalls, “I first learned about CPT’s edgy peacemaking programs and analysis of structural oppression when I was in Peace Club at Bethany Christian High School in Goshen, Indiana (1998-2002). After attending the CPT Peacemaker Congress my sophomore year, I knew that CPT would be a part of my future. I was thinking more along the lines of when I retired, but was delighted to have been invited to participate sooner.”

Outgoing Director Carol Rose says, “This is going to be great! We are beginning a really exciting period in CPT’s history. I am confident to hand over leadership to Sarah who is creative, capable, and caring. Her activism grounded in deep faith, coupled with her brilliant thinking, brings a dynamism that will help keep CPT moving with joy and partnering powerfully.”

Thompson served as a member of CPT’s Steering Committee (2010-2012) and has worked for the past year as CPT’s Outreach Coordinator. “I am very grateful for these opportunities,” she says. “Like my previous work with grassroots, political, and social-justice organization, working through CPT has been a deeply formative and positive experience for me.” The focus of the Executive Director role will be on strategic directions for organizational development, undoing oppressions, and fund- and friend-raising.