Saturday, October 30, 2010

Care Committee Report

Report to School of the Spirit from Ashley W’s Care Committee
August 14, 2010

The Care Committee met with Ashley on July 9 to do an annual review.  It is our understanding that we were to discern together with her where she and we have been during this first year of her program with the School of the Spirit.

As you know, Ashley has spent the first year of the program in Seattle, as a sojourning member of University Meeting.  She has now moved to Salem, OR and will be at Freedom Friends Church.  Since she knew this would be the case, she put together a Northern Care Committee and a Southern Care Committee.  For this year, the Northern Care Committee has met in person with Ashley.  She has written a report before each meeting, which was shared with both committees.  A member of the Care Committee took notes during the meeting and sent them to Ashley.  Ashley them made additions and/or corrections and then sent them to both committees.  This report is from the Northern Care Committee.

We all acknowledged what a privilege and amazing opportunity it has been to serve on the Care Committee.  The regularity of the meetings (we came pretty close to once a month) and the depth and challenge of our discussions have contributed to the spiritual growth of each of us.  One Friend said it had been the most spiritual place for her for most of the past year.

There is a relationship between ministry and a community – or multiple communities.  Ashley’s ministry is rooted in University Meeting in Seattle and Freedom Friends Church in Salem, OR.  But it clearly extends to the Pacific Northwest (Women’s Theology Conference) and beyond (e.g. being an elder for Wess D and Martin K at Pendle Hill; the whole School of the Spirit experience).  One of her communities is her “K” group, which is very important to Ashley.  We challenged her to think about how she might keep connections with those Friends after the SoS ends.  Ashley mentioned that she might try to visit North Carolina YM (C) Annual Session some year.  This is an example of her expanding sense of community, as well as her sense of continuing to travel in the ministry.

As Ashley reflected on the past year, she noted her relationship with University Meeting and her struggle with “shoulds”.  She felt it was good to look back and see both accomplishments and struggles.  She has a sense of satisfaction about the PNW Quaker Women’s Conference and is glad it is over!  Some of it was hard, but she overcame the difficulties and grew.  She spoke of learning to “find her voice.”  She has grown to respond with more confidence to the call to speak in worship.  She is learning to ask for what she needs, although this is still hard. She admitted she had been hesitant to ask for an elder or traveling companion.  She feels she is getting better at accepting when she or others do not measure up to her self-acknowledged very high standards.  Serving as an elder for Wess and Martin was “good work” (and hard).

She asked for a traveling minute directly from NPYM (to apply to the Susan Bax Fund).  She realized in retrospect, it would have been better to start with the Monthly Meeting and then go to Yearly Meeting.  The Yearly Meeting M&O Committee might also have recognized it was not following its own process.  However, she was in a unique position, since she was a sojourning member of UFM, and Freedom Friends is not part of any larger body.

The committee raised the question about whether there is a new pattern for recognizing and supporting ministry, not rooted in a local Meeting.  Some Young Adult Friends do not feel rooted in a particular Meeting, and/or do not want to be limited to a particular branch of Friends.  Is this an issue to which Ashley is called?  Ashley felt that both University Meeting and Freedom Friends have been spiritual homes for her this past year.

The committee further explored if there had been blocks to feeling part of the UFM community, either within herself or the Meeting. Ashley noted that the meeting with the Worship & Ministry Committee was a really good start, and it is too bad it took so long to do that. Ashley and 2 members of the Care Committee met with W&M April 28, 2010.  She reported on her ministry and her disappointment in University Meeting.  At the end of the meeting, she said she would like to have some open time for everyone to share about ways that the meeting can provide ongoing support for Friends feeling called to ministry.  Members of W&M as well as the Care Committee found the meeting exciting and opened new ways the committee might work.  Ashley still has a sense that a lot of people in UFM did not know what she was doing.  Meeting as a whole should nurture ministry.  It was helpful to her hear about the experience of other Young Adult Friends, who had also felt limited support. The Care Committee has reminded itself to follow up with the UFM Worship & Ministry Committee about responding to the challenge to further explore how they might recognize, nurture and support ministry.

In the July 9 Care Committee meeting, we explored some of the reasons UFM is not good at supporting ministry.  In our discussion we agreed that UFM is not afraid to be a community.  It cares very well for people, e.g. “Care Committees” (for people who are ill or need special assistance).  However, it is a stunted community, because it is afraid to be a faith community.  We do not talk about our faith.  It would be good to have some conversations about words we can and cannot hear. We need to hear people and be gentle when they use their own words when speaking about faith experiences.

Ashley sees her ministry, now, as “turning people to God, in whatever language they use to describe God.”  We identified that a part of that ministry is bridge building.  Ashley noted that her vocal ministry is both in worship and also in presentations.  When she and Sarah were at Bellingham and Sandpoint Meetings, they gave workshops and got people talking about God.  She felt that one reason people don’t talk about God is their fear that everyone “gets it”, and they don’t.

We asked Ashley where her ministry is going and what areas she wants to work on.  One area is a paper and panel for SoS on being the “other” – standing outside of groups and offering a perspective. (This relates to the Care Committee June 30, 2010 discussion about being a prophet.)  She will continue to travel in the ministry, but is less clear how that will work.  She needs to be careful with her time, since she will be moving to full-time paid work AND, probably starting in February, to clerking Freedom Friends Church.  The SoS residencies and work will be a lot, even though her boss is supportive.  She may have to limit other activities.  Living alone may be a good idea, as she will have a steep learning curve with her job, new people and new systems.

The committee asked her about support resources, both practical and for discernment. Ashley expects her Care Committee to be a resource. She also has talked with Wess D about starting a meeting of ministers and elders.  The  “Northern Care Committee” noted it is really important for Ashley to ask someone to clerk the “Southern Care Committee” and to set a date for a meeting.

Ashley again thanked the committee and committee members responded, thanking her for the opportunity.  This has been a place where we can be our real selves and feel known – what we all seek in community. And it has been a place where we have all grown spiritually.  We thank the School of the Spirit for providing this structure.  We look forward to hearing about Ashley’s next year through reports and notes from the Southern Care Committee, and each expects to maintain contact with Ashley.

Care Committee: Ann S, Clerk; Lucy F, Sarah H, Jana O

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Semi-Programmed II

I got the news a few weeks ago that I will be leading semi-programmed worship at the next School of the Spirit residency.  I am very excited to share the way Friends at Freedom Friends Church worship with the rest of my class. 

It's not that there is a lack of worship at the residencies.  Each morning after breakfast, we spend an hour in worship together.  This is one of my favorite things about the program.  After more than a year of meeting together, our worship is rich and deep.  There are several gifted vocal ministers in our class and many more who ground the space with their presence.

But until now, it has all been unprogrammed worship.

I don't want to give the wrong impression, I love unprogrammed worship.  After spending three years sojourning with University Friends Meeting, I feel nearly as at home in unprogrammed worship as in semi-programmed worship.  And I have cherished the times when I have been able to sit with Friends in extended unprogrammed worship. 

But I really miss singing in worship.  By all accounts, my School of the Spirit class is an unusually sing-y class.  We sing together fairly often, and we sing well.  Most of the singing, however, happens during the free time, or as an afterthought.  I miss singing as a way for all of us to come together and start focusing our attention on God.

So I asked if I could lead semi-programmed worship at the next residency and the teachers said yes!

They also suggested I ask someone to elder for me.  I hadn't thought about having an elder, but it seemed like a good idea, so I asked my classmate, Mark W, to be my elder and he agreed to.  He asked if there was anything he could do before the residency other than holding me in prayer, and I said that sounded perfect.

I also asked another classmate, Kristin O, to lead the music.  As much as I like to sing, leading singing is not my favorite thing.  Kristin is great at leading singing, though, and just asked which songs I would like.  She also asked when we would be having the semi-programmed worship, and whether there would be time to rehearse beforehand.

I am grateful for all this support and preparation, but it also strikes me as kind of funny.  My original idea was to give everyone a taste of how we worship at Freedom Friends, but I can already tell that this is going to be much more polished than worship at Freedom Friends ever is.

All of this reminds me of some conversations I have had recently about how different Freedom Friends looks from the outside than from the inside.  I am surprised by the impact this little church has had on the wider Quaker world, especially the Quaker blogosphere.  As a member of Freedom Friends, I feel honored when it is mentioned by someone from outside the church (as it was on Micah B's blog), but I know that the reality is a lot messier than our image sometimes is.

When I have led worship at Freedom Friends, it has usually been a last-minute thing.  Someone else was not available, and I am there and able to lead, so I do.  We do sing almost every week, but we don't really sing very well.  There are a few people with great voices, but for the most part, it is not something you would want to listen to.  It is all very homespun.

It is a church that struggles.  Many of our members and attenders are living with mental and physical disabilities.  Quite a few are unemployed and no one makes much money.  We consider it a good month when we can make rent.  Sometimes we can't afford to pay the pastor the tiny amount we give her to release her for ministry.

But we truly care for one another.  And that is part of what I hope to express in leading semi-programmed worship at the residency.  The way we worship, by singing together and sharing our gratitudes and petitions, shows how we are involved in each other's lives.  We may not always sound great, but we are happy to pray for each other.  It is a real community, which means that it is sometimes messy, and I am grateful to be a part of it.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Visitor Report II

Report from Northwest Yearly Meeting Annual Sessions 2010

Meeting for Worship for Business

As is the usual practice at Northwest Yearly Meeting (NWYM), Friends met for meeting for worship for business each morning.  The business sessions lasted about three and a half hours, with a half hour fellowship break at 10 a.m.  This year, Lorraine W, assistant clerk of NWYM, served as clerk of the business sessions because the clerk, Tom S, had a family concern that kept him from being able to clerk (though he did attend the annual session and continued to clerk the Administrative Council).  Lon F joined Lorraine as assistant clerk.  

At the start of the business session, Lorraine explained to everyone how business arises out of worship and is a way to worship God.  Throughout the business sessions, we took time to worship in silence, in song, and through vocal prayer.  I was struck this year by what a natural response vocal prayer is for Friends in NWYM, both when it is planned in advance and spontaneous.  I also appreciated the music in the business sessions; it was gentle and complemented the prayer and business.

Shortly before annual session, it came to light that a NWYM staff person had been involved with a minor several years ago while on the NWYM staff.  This was one of the first items addressed during the business session.  I appreciated Colin S’s efforts to make sure everyone had the same information, and I found the discussion about this topic very tender and sympathetic.  It also made me wonder where can we, as Friends, confess when we fail to live up to our measure of light?  How can we walk alongside each other when we make mistakes?

Most of the business sessions consisted of the boards describing their work.  Before annual session, each board writes a ministry plan, which is included in a document that is distributed to everyone attending the annual session.  Each ministry plan describes the work that the board feels God is calling them to do and a budget for the board, which is incorporated into the NWYM budget.  It was clear that the boards have been doing deep discernment to determine how to be faithful while living within the yearly meeting’s means.

A theme throughout the annual session was finding ways to support those who are experiencing a call to ministry.  A highlight for me was Darla S’s recording.  In NWYM, the recording process begins when the local church recognizes a person’s call to ministry and sends her name to the Board of Leadership Development.  Recording is a process that takes a few years, which is time for the yearly meeting to get to know that person’s heart and her call to ministry.  Darla, pastor of Rivers Way Community, shared her story of being faithful and struggling with accepting her call, even while she knew she was called.  After Darla gave her testimony, Lorraine prayed a blessing over her and NWYM recognized and recorded her call to ministry.

Many Friends expressed interest in intervisitation and appreciation for churches working together within the yearly meeting.  Friends noted that there are fewer released youth ministers than in the past, and suggested youth groups joining together are a way of supporting younger Friends.  The discussion about intervisitation included Friends of all ages and Friends shared their desire for connectedness across age, language, distance, and ideological differences.


On Monday afternoon, I co-led a workshop on Convergent Friends with Wess D, a friend of mine and pastor of Camas Friends Church.  Our intention was to have the workshop be a worship experience, so we began with about 15 minutes of unprogrammed worship.  Then we introduced ourselves and Convergent Friends.  I talked about the work I have done across the branches of Friends in the Pacific Northwest Quaker Women’s Theology Conference and in traveling to meetings and churches.  Wess described the Convergent Friends movement and how Friends from Camas Friends Church, Multnomah Monthly Meeting, and Bridge City Friends Meeting have been worshiping together.  

We opened up the discussion by asking Friends to share different words they use to describe God, and writing those words on the board.  After we had about 30 words on the board, we asked Friends to share why those words are meaningful to them.  The discussion was wonderful, and I think we could have used a second hour for everyone to tell their stories about the language they use and their experiences encountering different kinds of Friends.  For some in the room, this was the first time they had heard about the different branches of Friends, and the workshop started some ongoing conversations.

The other workshop I attended was Godly Play the Quaker Way, led by Caryl M.  This workshop lasted for two hours and was a wonderful experience.  Caryl began by describing some of the ideas behind Godly Play: recognizing that children have deep spiritual lives and helping them find language to talk about their spiritual lives.  In Godly Play, teachers tell stories that allow children to do work around loneliness, meaning, freedom and death―topics that adults are often afraid to talk about with children.  After hearing a story, children choose their own work, often using art supplies.  The teachers let each child know that they are seen and ask children honest questions about the stories they have heard.  Caryl told us three stories during the workshop: the sacred story of Abraham and Sarah’s journey, the parable of the good shepherd, and a Faith and Play story about how Friends experience God.  I loved hearing the stories and I hope to have a chance to learn more about Godly Play in the future.

Keynote Speaker: Colin Saxton

The theme of NWYM annual session this year was “Eyes Fixed, Running Free.”  In his keynote address, Colin began by describing the ostrich as an animal with amazing speed, but that runs in circles when afraid and can be easy to catch.  Colin talked about how a mother ostrich buries her egg in the ground when she goes to look for food, but has to keep an eye on the egg or she will lose her hope and treasure.  Colin asked, “Where are we fixing our eyes?”  He said that God has given us everything we need, but sometimes we choose to act in fear.  Colin encouraged Friends in NWYM to think of themselves as a team running together, sometimes having to carry others and helping each other find the path.  He said that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, cheering us on, and we are part of that cloud of witnesses.  He also reminded us that we are called to put aside extra baggage that is not helpful in the journey.  He asked if this could be an inventory week for NWYM, a time to allow the light of Christ to shine in and see if there are things to lay down.  Colin also asked, what does it mean to have our eyes fixed on Jesus?  He suggested it is about knowing him intimately and about the living God being active in our lives.

Videos of Colin’s keynote and the other evening programs are available online here:

Guest Speaker: Scott Daniels

The guest speaker this year was Scott Daniels, pastor of Pasadena First Church of the Nazarene.  The focus of his talk was on two questions: “What is God doing in the world?” and “What does a church look like that understands what God is doing in the world?”  Scott used the story of Jonah to talk about responding to God’s call.  He explained that a word that dominates in the story of Jonah is “godol,” which means big, great, or weighty.  He said that like God’s call to Jonah, the call on our lives is great.  Scott encouraged us to focus on what unites us rather than what divides us.  He said that as a church, we need an eschatology of hope―faith that God can redeem all things.  I enjoyed many of the things that Scott had to say, but his joking style was a little hard to listen to.  Also, because I know there are many gifted speakers within NWYM, I have been disappointed that at both of the annual sessions I have attended, the main plenary speakers have been from outside the yearly meeting.

Youth Yearly Meeting

On Wednesday evening, the high school Friends led worship before Scott Daniels spoke.  They read the story of Pentecost in several languages with a screen behind them that asked, “In what ways does God speak your language?”  The young Friends painted images of flames, wrote words on paper on the walls, did cartwheels, and juggled as the screen changed to “In what ways do you best hear from God?” and “In what ways do you most beautifully worship God?”  They then led singing, prayer, and a time of open worship.  The energy that they brought to worship was wonderful and I was glad that the yearly meeting gave them an opportunity to share their passion with everyone.

Silent Worship

One aspect of the annual session that could use some attention is unprogrammed worship.  It is held each evening at 6, which is a difficult time because dinner begins at 5:30.  The schedule has listed the wrong room number for unprogrammed worship both years I have attended NWYM, and the room it is held in is a front-facing lecture room, which is not the best set up for unprogrammed worship.  I attended unprogrammed worship on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings.  The first evening I attended, there were many high school-aged Friends there, but they were mostly reading Bibles and did not seem to have a shared understanding of unprogrammed worship.  The second night, a family visiting from Ohio Yearly Meeting Conservative and I were the only ones attending unprogrammed worship.  Afterward, when I described this worship to some weighty Friends from NWYM, they suggested that Friends at the unprogrammed worship need some education.  I agree.

Observations and Suggestions

I was very glad to have an opportunity to visit NWYM as the North Pacific Yearly Meeting visitor for two years in a row.  I felt a lot more comfortable during annual session this year because I knew more of what to expect.  It was good to see friends and I enjoyed getting to know people better that I met at annual session last year.

NWYM is doing an excellent job using technology and social media.  They have posted several videos on their website about annual session and they update frequently on Facebook and Twitter.  I recommend that visitors to NWYM explore their website ( before attending annual session.

I was blessed to have Julie P and Leann W as my elders during my time at NWYM.  I am grateful to them for holding me in prayer while I led the workshop, for checking in with me and listening when I needed an ear, and for taking me out for a much needed ice cream cone.

Thank you for the opportunity to visit NWYM on behalf of NPYM again.  I enjoyed my time at NWYM annual session and I felt well used while I was there.  I am glad that NPYM and NWYM have such a good relationship and I hope that the yearly meetings will continue to send visitors so that Friends in the Northwest can get to know each other better.

Related post: Visitor Report from 2009