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Spreading the Word – March/April 2013

United in Mission

By Micah Bales – Web & Communications Specialist

What does it feel like when the Spirit draws us together into unity? The early Quaker movement was gathered by the dynamic power of the Holy Spirit’s presence, and today we continue to seek this riveting experience of deep, inward unity. And, praise be to God, we continue to find it. Whether through visions of the invisible body of Christ in which all believers are joined, through our experiences of deeply gathered worship or through participation in a business meeting where Christ’s will is sensed and expressed, we can testify to our own experience of the profound unity that Christ offers.

Particularly for those of us who live in an increasingly secular North America, our ability to share our experience of Christ’s living power is more crucial than ever before. In a society that tells us that “money makes the world go ‘round,” we can testify to a life and reality that go beyond self-interest. In a world that insists that we can only find peace, security and unity through the power of organized violence, we bear witness to an inward power that motivates us to lay down our lives for others. Now, more than ever, we must share this good news.

Yet, our Quaker spirituality can have a shadow side. With the strong emphasis we place on inward spiritual states, we are sometimes at risk of promoting an other-worldly vision that fails to speak to the very tangible needs of our broken world. At worst, our experience of unity can become cheapened and reduced to a series of warm feelings that have little bearing on the direction of our life together. Even when we have powerful spiritual experiences together, if they do not result in practical changes in the way that we live, we must question whether they represent real unity at all.

Authentic unity binds us together as a community and requires substantial changes on the part of each individual. When we are bonded together in the powerful unity that Christ brings, we find our lives reoriented as we are drawn into God’s mission for us. In contrast to the false communion of transient emotional highs, the unity of the Holy Spirit brings about transformation that is enduring. True unity goes beyond feelings and is translated into lasting change in our character and actions.

In my own life, I have experienced the difference between these two types of unity. I have participated in gatherings of Friends where we experienced intense spiritual states, sensing God’s presence and power among us, and convinced that we had been knitted together in the Spirit. In a certain sense, we probably were, but in another very real, practical sense, little changed. We had been gathered into an “experience,” yes, but not into a shared journey of ongoing transformation.

There have been other times, however, when this kind of spiritual bond has had profound, long-lasting effects. There are times when we discovered a path of shared discipleship calling us to stretch and grow into greater maturity in the Spirit. We became a true community, brothers and sisters in Christ.

What makes these two experiences of unity so different? Why do some spiritual encounters draw us together for only a moment, while others bear the fruit of years, decades, even lifetimes of shared service, friendship and love?

I am convinced that the crucial variable is “mission.” The common denominator among those times I have been drawn into enduring, Spirit-led community is the clarity of calling and purpose that we received from God. When we know who we are and what our purpose is, we are given the unity to live into our revealed mission.

This has implications for Friends United Meeting. Do we know what our mission is? Our official purpose statement is printed on all our materials, but do we know it? More importantly, do we believe it? Is each one of us, as FUM members, are we committed to gathering people into fellowships where Jesus Christ is known, loved and obeyed as Teacher and Lord? Is this something we feel called by God to do together?

The FUM mission statement is inspirational, but for me it is helpful to put it into my own words: “Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we will be gathered and gather others into communities where together we can know Jesus as Lord, Teacher, Savior and Friend.” That is how I would put it. How would you say it?

All of us want unity in the abstract, but the specifics are tricky. There are so many places we get stuck, and it always seems like there is another controversy that must be resolved before we can finally work together. Is there a way that we can continue to wrestle in the hard places while still moving forward together in the positive mission that God has given us? Can we commit ourselves to the work we are called to as a worldwide community in Jesus? Are we ready to make this mission our own, demonstrating it in the way that we live? Are we ready to be Friends United Meeting?

  • Maurine Pyle

    The key to this discourse is the word discipleship. Are we following in the footsteps of Christ? Are we sincerely listening to his voice and allowing our lives to be guided by his leadership? Whatever type of Friend we may be, this is the heart of our spiritual life in community. The language we use may differ, but the Light is the same and never changing.