Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Women's Conference Epistle

Here is the epistle from the 8th Pacific Northwest Quaker Women's Theology Conference, written by our fabulous epistle committee: Iris G, Aimee M, and Erin M.
To our Quaker family,

Surrounded by the waters and wildlife of Hood Canal and the snowy peaks of the Olympic Mountains, sixty women gathered in Seabeck, Washington from June 16-20, 2010 for the eighth Pacific Northwest Quaker Women’s Theology Conference. Begun fifteen years ago to promote dialogue and build relationships among different Quaker traditions, this conference continues to be deeply Spirit led and enriches the lives of women who attend.

Though we represent different backgrounds and branches of Quakerism, the lines between these seemed very thin and blurred. No one avoided talking about her home meeting or church, but our membership didn’t have as much weight as our personal experiences shared in love. Even as we attempted to be open and accepting, at times we misstepped and unintentionally hurt each other. Many of us felt broken open and left this conference changed.

Through reflection papers we wrote, plenary sessions, home groups and discussion, we each connected personally with the theme, “Walk With Me: Mentors, Elders, and Friends.” Each plenary brought us back again and again to the awareness of the need for support and mentorship in our lives. We identified places in which we are being accompanied and are accompanying others and places where we feel the absence of that loving presence. Many of us made commitments to seek those relationships in our meetings, churches and beyond.

Despite colds, more serious illnesses and concerns for the health of loved ones, we drew strength, support, and encouragement from one another. Many think of the Women’s Conference as a reunion and newcomers found they were welcomed into the family with open arms.

In keeping with the testimony of community, we opened ourselves to another group, Interplay, also staying at the conference center. We described the kind of work that we each came to do, invited them to join us in worship, and likewise were invited to experience their ministry and we shared grace together before meals.

We celebrated the gifts of many through plenaries, workshops, singing and readings by several published authors. During one plenary session, several young adults shared personal experiences of their ministries in relation to the theme of the conference. We were thrilled to hear stories of women being supported and held sacredly in their ministry. However, we were deeply saddened to learn that some are not empowered or recognized in their ministries. We were thus reminded of the reality of sexism in the Society of Friends. Encircling the young adult women, we joined together in heartfelt prayer and were moved by its healing and supportive power. This experience deepened our worship and fellowship together. We challenged ourselves to be aware of internalized sexism, as well as the sexism in our churches and meetings, and to work toward true equality.

During business meeting on Saturday, we reaffirmed the work of this body of women and our leading to continue meeting together as an intra-faith group. We look forward to the next opportunity to join in fellowship.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

And Be Glad

For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.  (Matthew 18:20).
Tomorrow evening, 60 or so women will gather in Seabeck, Washington for the 2010 Pacific Northwest Quaker Women's Theology Conference.  I have been living and breathing this conference for so long now, it is hard to believe it is actually almost here.

In a couple hours, I will go to the airport to pick up Sarah P, my co-clerk on the planing committee.  She and I have been working on the women's conference for over two years now, longer than I have had this blog.  I am glad that she will be here soon, because I am having a hard time focusing on anything today.  I don't know that she will be in any better shape, but it seems good for us to be together.  We are planning to go to a yoga class in the morning and then, God willing, head downtown for the ferry and over to Seabeck.

I keep thinking that I will get a call or have a sudden realization that I forgot something big, something crucial.  So far, that has not happened.  I am trying to let go, to know that we have done as much as we can do, and need to leave the rest to God.  

Over the past several weeks, a song has come to me in a variety of contexts.  We used to sing it when I was a kid, repeating each line:
This is the day
That the Lord has made.
I will rejoice
And be glad in it.
Regardless of what happens, I am doing my best to remember that this is the day that the Lord has made, and to rejoice and be glad in it.

Please keep us in your prayers as we gather together to spend time listening to God and each other.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Valiant Sixteen

Traveling Ministers and Elders

Micah B, 26,*  Heartland Friends Meeting (Great Plains Yearly Meeting)

Betsy B, 32, First Friends Meeting (North Carolina Yearly Meeting)

Julian B, 27, Central Philadelphia Meeting (Philadelphia Yearly Meeting)

Sadie F, 26, Putney Friends Meeting (New England Yearly Meeting)

Sarah H, 29, University Friends Meeting (North Pacific Yearly Meeting)

Sarah H, 30, Freedom Friends Church (Independent)

Kathy H, 34, Multnomah Monthly Meeting (North Pacific Yearly Meeting)

Faith K, 24, grew up in Shiloh Chapel Evangelical Friends Church (Evangelical Friends Church – Eastern Region)

Erin M, 27, unprogrammed Quaker without a meeting membership

Treye M, 29, University Friends Meeting (North Pacific Yearly Meeting)

Noah M, 30, Putney Monthly Meeting (New England Yearly Meeting)

Sarah P, 32, Spokane Friends Church (Northwest Yearly Meeting)

Christina R, 29, Atlanta Friends Meeting (Southern Appalachian Yearly Meeting and Association)

Emily S, 28, Durham Monthly Meeting (Piedmont Friends Fellowship and North Carolina Yearly Meeting Conservative)

Jon W, 26, grew up in and attends Richmond Friends Meeting (Baltimore Yearly Meeting)

Ashley W, 28, Freedom Friends Church (Independent) and University Friends Meeting (North Pacific Yearly Meeting)

*All ages are at the time of the interview/correspondence.

[From the research paper I wrote for the School of the Spirit on the spiritual nurture of young Friends traveling in the ministry.]

Friday, June 11, 2010

A Valiant Sixteen - Part 12


For meetings and churches:
  • What gifts do you recognize in the young people in your faith community?  How do you name those gifts?  How can the community as a whole receive these gifts?
  • Are Friends in the meeting or church aware of Friends’ history in traveling in the ministry?  
  • How do you define terms such as minister, elder, and spiritual gifts?
  • How should a young Friend who is experiencing a call to ministry ask for support?
  • Are Friends prepared to form support and accountability committees for young Friends feeling a call to ministry?
  • What is the process for creating a traveling minute or a minute of service?
  • How can your meeting or church provide financial support for those called into ministry?
  • How do you make space available for Friends returning from traveling in the ministry to share their experiences?
For young Friends experiencing a call to travel in the ministry:
  • How have you experienced this call to ministry?
  • What are your daily spiritual practices?
  • Who would you like to have on a support and accountability committee?  Who could serve as a traveling companion?
  • What kind of support do you think you will you need for your travel?
Suggested Reading

Abbott, Margery Post & Peggy Senger Parsons. Walk Worthy of Your Calling: Quakers and the Traveling Ministry.  Friends United Press, Richmond, IN (2004).

Drayton, Brian. On Living with a Concern for Gospel Ministry.  Quaker Press of Friends General Conference, Philadelphia, PA (2006).

Grundy, Martha Paxson. Tall Poppies: Supporting Gifts of Ministry and Eldering in the Monthly Meeting.  Pendle Hill Pamphlet #347 (1999).

Wilson, Lloyd Lee.  Essays on the Quaker Vision of Gospel Order.  Celo Valley Books, Burnsville, NC (1993).

[From the research paper I wrote for the School of the Spirit on the spiritual nurture of young Friends traveling in the ministry.]

Thursday, June 10, 2010

A Valiant Sixteen - Part 11

“I think that everybody is a minister, and if you don’t think you’re called to be a minister, try thinking again!”  Julian B, Central Philadelphia Meeting (Philadelphia Yearly Meeting).
When I asked young Friends what advice they had for others feeling called to travel in the ministry, the overwhelming response was, “Go do it!”  These ministers wanted to encourage Friends young and old to go to other meetings and churches and see how truth prospers among Friends.  

The second thing that most of them said was that those feeling called into ministry should go to their meetings and churches for support.  Friends have a wide range of ways to support ministers, and those feeling called into ministry should be aware of the ways their meetings and churches can support and encourage them as they test their leadings.

Traveling in the ministry has been one of the most difficult things I have done, but it has also made me feel more alive and more aware of the presence of God in my life than at any other time.  Like the young Friends who so generously gave me their time and stories, I encourage anyone who feels called to travel in the ministry to do it, and then come back and share how God is at work in your life with the rest of us.

[From the research paper I wrote for the School of the Spirit on the spiritual nurture of young Friends traveling in the ministry.]

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A Valiant Sixteen - Part 10

Naming Gifts
“I really didn’t feel like I was capable of being a traveling companion until Deborah recognized a gift in me and asked me to be her elder. I was shocked at first.  It was amazing to have a gift named, to have a Friend see something in me, and then for me to recognize it in myself and want to step more fully into it.”  Emily S, Durham Monthly Meeting (Piedmont Friends Fellowship and North Carolina Yearly Meeting Conservative).
To really nurture and support ministry in our meetings, we need to know each other.  If we have deep relationships with each other, we will be able to see and name gifts in another that he may not see himself.  Christina R, from Atlanta Friends Meeting, and Faith K, who grew up in Shiloh Chapel Evangelical Friends Church, spoke of how it can be difficult for the meeting to see those who have grown up in the meeting as adults.*    

Julian B, from Central Philadelphia Meeting, suggested that meetings try to see people of all ages, including children, as ministers and “potential sources of God’s light and God’s wisdom.”  He also encouraged Friends to look at the things they are passionate about as leadings.

Emily S, from Durham Monthly Meeting, recommended that meetings provide young people with “a spiritual language that they can draw on to articulate their beliefs.”  Meetings can help people discern their callings by developing a shared vocabulary and defining terms such as leadings, callings, elder, minister, and spiritual gifts.  

Engaging in conversations about how God is calling each of us to be faithful in using our gifts will set the stage for encouraging young Friends to discern what those gifts are and how they are being called to use them.  And as Friends, we know that God gives these gifts for the benefit of the entire community, not just the individual.  With that in mind, encouraging each person to use his gifts also builds up the life of the meeting and the Religious Society of Friends as a whole.

*Faith also noted that the same thing happened to Jesus and asked, “Why should we be different?”

[From the research paper I wrote for the School of the Spirit on the spiritual nurture of young Friends traveling in the ministry.]

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A Valiant Sixteen - Part 9

Spiritual Friendships
“We can be such a gift to each other if we can sit with each other and pray for each other and accompany each other, even from really far away.”  Noah M, Putney Monthly Meeting (New England Yearly Meeting)
Even with the support of one’s faith community and a traveling companion, traveling in the ministry can be lonely work.  Many of the Friends I interviewed spoke of the importance of spiritual friendships and being in touch with others who are doing similar work.  In addition to talking about their own experiences, ministers said that they appreciated how spiritual friends could point them toward spiritual practices or passages in early Friends’ journals or in the Bible.  

I found that I felt incredibly nurtured by the conversations we had about traveling in the ministry.  It was so good to talk to others who have had experiences that are similar to mine and to share and compare stories.  Even though we were from different places and, sometimes, different branches of Friends, there were so many similarities
Several of these ministers longed for a spiritual accountability group, where ministers and elders would share their experiences of traveling in the ministry and be able to encourage each other and hold each other accountable.  These descriptions reminded me of early Friends’ Second Day Morning Meeting, where ministers would come together to worship and provide each other with support and guidance.*   

After meeting with all of these ministers, either in person, by email, or over the phone, I wish there was some way to get them all together, so that we could all worship and share our experiences directly with each other.

*“By 1763, ministers either resident or visiting in London met regularly on Second Day (Monday) mornings for worship, mutual support, encouragement, and, occasionally, chastisement.”  Margery Post Abbott and Peggy Senger Parsons, Walk Worthy of Your Calling, p. 258.

[From the research paper I wrote for the School of the Spirit on the spiritual nurture of young Friends traveling in the ministry.]

Friday, June 4, 2010

A Valiant Sixteen - Part 8

Returning Home
“I wish I could have felt more spiritually nurtured upon return from traveling, when I almost felt like some Friends had forgotten about me.  My community was happy to see me, but I would have like to have had more check-ins about how I was recuperating [and] processing.”  Treye M, University Friends Meeting (North Pacific Yearly Meeting)
Traveling in the ministry is exhausting.  While ordinary travel can be tiring, travel in the ministry has the added components of trying to be present to God and to others for extended periods of time and sometimes having to give vocal ministry or presentations.  It is essential for meetings and support committees to provide support for ministers as they return, because the minister will probably feel tender.  As one example, I have found it especially helpful when Friends have given me a ride home from the airport so that I do not have to take the bus home.

Once the minister has recovered from traveling, it is important for meetings and churches to create space for ministers to bring back what they have learned and experienced.  Jon W, from Richmond Friends Meeting, commented that the important question to ask after ministry is “was I faithful?”  It is helpful for the minister to meet with a support committee to process how the travel went, especially if things seemed to not go well or as expected. There must also be time for the minister to communicate with the community as a whole.  

In my interviews, many Friends expressed deep sadness in not being able to share their experiences with their home faith communities.  It can be difficult for the minister to initiate this communication alone.  Sarah P, from Spokane Friends Church, noted that “the fact that folks didn’t invite me to share was decisive in whether things got shared or not,” but she felt that her meeting was missing out on its half of the experience of traveling.  Sarah H, from University Friends Meeting, said that she felt that her ministry in Palestine was to witness and carry stories back and it has been excruciating to not have space to share the stories.  Some mentioned that it felt supportive for individuals to follow up and ask about the ministry.

[From the research paper I wrote for the School of the Spirit on the spiritual nurture of young Friends traveling in the ministry.]

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

A Valiant Sixteen - Part 7

“Travel in the ministry is eight-tenths drudgery and two-tenths spiritual stuff.”  Sarah P, Spokane Friends Church (Northwest Yearly Meeting)
Travel in the ministry requires a lot of advance preparation.  After the minister has discerned where she is called to travel, it is important to communicate with the meeting, church, or others who will be receiving the minister, to clarify what will be expected.  Some meetings extend specific invitations to speak or lead workshops.  Others expect traveling ministers to lead a discussion in a religious education class or over a potluck.  A meeting may just expect the Friend to worship with them.  Sarah H, from Freedom Friends Church, who recently traveled to Kenya, commented that if the minister is traveling to a different culture, it is important to learn about that culture in advance, if possible.

Many young Friends spoke about the importance of traveling with someone else, either another minister or an elder.  Kathy H, from Multnomah Monthly Meeting, said that it was essential for her to have someone to debrief with at the end of the day.  Betsy B, from First Friends Meeting, spoke of how important it was for her to worship with another person and to ask each other, “Am I on the mark?  Am I not on the mark?  Are you on the mark?”  Young Friends who have traveled as elders, such as Sadie F, from Putney Friends Meeting, said that the fact that they were elders opened up discussions among Friends about what an elder is, and that it does not necessarily mean someone who is older.

Much of travel in the ministry involves deeply listening to the nudges of the Spirit.  Emily S, from Durham Monthly Meeting, talked about how after preparing six pages of notes for a talk, “God showed up, as God always does,” and she threw down her notes and started speaking.  She felt that the preparation was important, but it was also important to be faithful to the working of God in the moment.

One practice that some ministers spoke of was having “opportunities,” or times of worship with a few other people, while traveling.  Although I sometimes feel awkward asking others to have worship with me, I have found opportunities to be wonderful experiences.  In an opportunity, a few Friends and I take about 20-30 minutes to worship together, then speak to anything that arises out of the worship.

Something for ministers to keep in mind, as Lloyd Lee Wilson reminds us, is that you never know why you are there.   At times, I have thought that I knew why I traveled to a particular meeting, but had a sense when I was there that it was for a completely different reason.  Sometimes I feel like I am sowing seeds and will never know the “real” reason for the visit.

In addition to checking in with one’s traveling companion, it can be helpful for the minister to check in with members of his or her support committee or others in the home meeting, particularly for extended travel, either by phone or email.  Sarah H, from University Friends Meeting, said that it was helpful for her to have times of worship over the phone when she spent an extended period of time in Jordan and Syria, where there are not very many Quakers.

Several of the Friends I spoke with said that travel in the ministry was different from other kinds of travel because it was more focused, but others found that the lines between the two began to blur.  Julian B, from Central Philadelphia Meeting, commented that just as every day is God’s day, every journey “is a possible opportunity to connect with God and to be part of God’s work in the world.”  Similarly, Noah M, from Putney Monthly Meeting, said, “I’m finding more and more that this traveling in the ministry thing sort of seeps into all the cracks.”

[From the research paper I wrote for the School of the Spirit on the spiritual nurture of young Friends traveling in the ministry.]

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

A Valiant Sixteen - Part 6

Providing Hospitality for Traveling Friends
“A general sense of welcome, that Friends are glad for the visit, that hospitality can be easily arranged, and that Friends will want to share the news that a special meeting will be held, goes a long way toward easing the burden of the traveler.”  Lloyd Lee Wilson, Essays on the Quaker Vision of Gospel Order
As I have traveled, I have really appreciated the meetings that have prepared to receive me and my ministry.  The first part of receiving a minister is to provide a place for the minister to stay, if she is staying overnight.  Asking in advance what the minister might need in terms of a place to stay and meals (such as, if the Friend is a vegetarian) is thoughtful.  I have been particularly grateful when my hosts have offered to arrange a potluck, opportunities for worship, or other ways for me to share fellowship with Friends.  Because traveling and speaking can be draining, it is helpful for hosts to allow the minister time alone as well.

It can be scary to walk into a meeting filled with strangers, or even one where many of the members are friends, but the meeting is unfamiliar.  In some meetings and churches I have visited, it was clear that Friends knew in advance that I was coming and were happy to see me.  Sarah P, my traveling companion from Spokane Friends Church, stated that she has felt nurtured by the meetings and churches that we visited together.

A minister traveling with a minute is expected to have each meeting he or she visits endorse the traveling minute.  Many meetings have not had the opportunity to endorse a minute, so this provides a chance for Friends to learn more about this practice.  Micah B, from Heartland Friends Meeting, said that he always reads his minute aloud, to educate Friends about traveling minutes.  The clerk of the meeting should endorse the minute with a brief description of the minister’s visit.

Many Friends who travel today do so in response to an invitation from a meeting or church.  If your meeting would like to have someone come to visit, it should extend an invitation to that minister.  Another way to make traveling ministers feel welcomed and supported is by providing elders to pray for the minister before and during the visit, and to pray that the community will hear any message that God is leading the minister to give.

[From the research paper I wrote for the School of the Spirit on the spiritual nurture of young Friends traveling in the ministry.]