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Archive for Quaker Life Magazine – Page 4

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.

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 scottwagoner62@gmail.com. He is available for Congregational Coaching, retreats and special speaking engagements.