Friday, November 27, 2009

An Open Letter

I got home from the second School of the Spirit residency a few days ago and I have been feeling a little guilty that I haven't written about the first residency yet. There are so many things I want to say, but there is too much to say. So I will try to tell it slant.

During the first residency, I had an opportunity to meet with a Weighty Friend. We sat in worship for a few minutes, then he smiled and said to me, "How does thee feel about thy call into ministry?"

I grimaced and said, “Not very good!” We talked about how it is scary, but feels right.

Then he said, "In 15 years the Religious Society of Friends will be on thy shoulders."

I looked at him in horror and blurted out, "But my shoulders are so small!"

He laughed and amended his statement to say that my portion of the society would be on my shoulders.

I have been thinking about that conversation recently.  I do not believe that the future of Quakerism depends on me.  I am sure that even if I left tomorrow, Friends would go on just fine.  But I am a part of the conversation and I am a lot younger than many of the people I see in Quaker meetings, so I started to wonder what I would say to the Religious Society of Friends if I could address it as a whole.  What came to me was this:
I do not want to inherit your institutions.
Part of me cannot believe I actually typed those words, but I know they are true. And it is scary to feel that way because I have dear friends who are deeply involved in Quaker acronyms, but I know I don't want that.

Then I started to think about what I do want. This is the letter I would write to the RSOF about what I want:
Dear Religious Society of Friends, 
This is what has life for me (in no particular order):
  • renewal

  • friendships and conversations, especially across the branches of Quakerism

  • meeting for worship, and not just for an hour on Sunday morning

  • travel in the ministry

  • trying new things and combining practices

  • talking about God and how we see God at work in our lives

  • talking about what is meaningful in Quakerism and why we are here

  • trying to be a covenant community

  • taking risks

  • outreach

  • waiting individually and corporately for the Spirit to lead us

  • rediscovering and nurturing our prophetic voice 
It's not going to be easy, but following God never is.  And, as the teachers at the School of the Spirit reminded us during the second residency, there is no time to start but now.


  1. Ashley,

    Thanks for sharing even a glimpse into your experience at School of the Spirit.

    Your words ring true for me in a number of ways, but mostly I am grateful to hear that recognized elders and young(er) Friends with ministry are having Opportunities to come together from time to time.

    Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

  2. I want to say, "preach it sister!" but that feels somehow inappropriate. But given your post, "that friend speaks my mind," may not be appropriate either! You know what I mean...
    I can't wait to hear more about the school of the spirit and what's going through your mind/heart. Pretty incredible so far!

  3. Thanks for sharing. I went through the Spiritual Nurturer Program in 1993-94, and it's good to hear others' experiences in it now. Your priorities are fairly close to mine.

    We should be informed about what has gone on before in our spiritual heritage, but we should not copy and we need to avoid over-concern for the institutions - what Dallas Willard would say are the vessels that hold the treasures. We need to be treasure-focused, not vessel-focused.

    For me, that has found me outside the RSF now.

  4. Thank you, Ashley,
    for writing about the real treasures - the friendships, the opportunities to worship together, the conversations about God and how we see God at work in our lives.... thank you especially for the reminder to take risks.
    Your School-of-the-Spirit-F/friend,
    Rita W

  5. Oh no, the "future of Quakerism" speech? Can I barf now? Did he also pinch your cheek and pat your head? Too bad a 28 year old isn't an adult.

    Many of us who are about fifteen years older than you will attest that while older Friends love bright young 20-somethings, they are considerably less interested in slightly-older, slightly more world-wearied Friends. I'm still often among the youngest at Friends events. Most of my peers who got the "future of Quakerism" speech back in the day and tried to work within the system have long since left Friends--a major leadership gap that older Friends rarely acknowledge. The inevitable result is that a lot of these smaller institutions (esp East Coast ones) aren't going to survive to be inherited. That's fine, maybe.

    I love your list. I can sign off on every point. So how are we going to organize around these and share them amongst ourselves without the acronym soup of Quaker institutionalism?

  6. Thank you all for your supportive comments!

    Liz - I think one of the best things from the School of the Spirit so far is that I am becoming more comfortable talking about my ministry and asking for others to serve as elders for me. I feel so blessed to be a part of the program.

    Aimee - You can tell me to preach it anytime. :) I'm sure I will write more about the School of the Spirit over the next few months.

    Bill - It is nice to hear from a former class member. I am a little sad to hear that your path has taken you away from Friends, but glad that you are focused on following where the Spirit leads.

    Rita - Thank you for mirroring back what is important. I am so grateful for the friendships we are making in our class and I especially appreciated the time we had in our car ride to get to know each other better.

    Parise - Good to hear from you again. I am looking forward to visiting your meeting!

    Martin - I guess I take it for granted that I seem like a "mere babe" to many Friends. I do think the Weighty Friend was sincere in our conversation. And even if older Friends do not acknowledge the leadership gap, I certainly see it.

    I don't really have a good answer to your question about how to organize except that we should all try to discern what God is calling us to do and then try to do it. Easy, right?

  7. Ashley, what you have written feels very important over here - on the continent of Europe.
    Some European Yearly Meetings are trying to
    'spread the Quaker word' when their TOTAL
    National membership is often less than 200 (yes,
    two hundred!) and I personally feel that we are
    doing ourselves no favor atall by attempting to
    sustain the 'Yearly Meeting' structure which
    would more properly suit a Nation with multiple
    thousands of Quakers. Your list of 'wants'
    strikes home with my greatest longings for us
    to become the 'true inheritors of George Fox'
    God bless you for giving me renewed hope!
    Ali Reid, Congenies, France

  8. Ali Reid - Thank you for sending a comment from so far away! I am glad that this post spoke to you and I pray that you will be able to find a more Spirit-led structure for Friends in your area.

  9. This Friend speaks my mind!

    I could relate to all the points on your list, and also to the issue of not inheriting institutions, particularly the ones that may not be serving current needs. Thanks for your ministry.


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