Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Child Is Born

Earlier this week, I went to a yoga class where the teacher mentioned that there were eight more days where the light would get shorter, and then we will start having longer days again.  

As I have mentioned before, Quakers traditionally do not celebrate Christmas.  In fact, there was a very funny post by Rob P recently about ways Quakers did not celebrate "the day called Christmas."  

But I feel like, in this part of the world, it is nearly impossible not to participate in Advent.  As the days get shorter, we wait and hope for light and warmth, and believe that those things will come.

This year, my family has had its own small-scale advent, waiting for my sister to give birth to her first son.  He was not due until early January, but he had plans of his own and arrived early this morning. 

Joshua H, born at 5:08 a.m., 7 pounds, 7 ounces

So now the waiting is over, and we can celebrate.  In the past few hours, this new baby has brought joy to family and friends.  I am looking forward to going to Anchorage on Wednesday to meet my new nephew, and I think we are all excited to get to know him.

Regardless of whether you celebrate a holiday this time of year or not, I wish you joy and love and light.


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Forgotten Story

I've started working my way through the Old Testament again.  The other day, I read this strange little story about something that happened to Moses between seeing the burning bush and going to tell Pharaoh to let his people go.
At a lodging place on the way, the LORD met Moses and was about to kill him. But Zipporah took a flint knife, cut off her son’s foreskin and touched Moses’ feet with it. “Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me,” she said. So the LORD let him alone. (At that time she said “bridegroom of blood,” referring to circumcision.) Exodus 4:24-26.
I don't have a nice little homily about this story.  We didn't learn it in Sunday school.  I don't remember ever hearing a sermon about it (and I have heard a lot of sermons).

I really only have two things to say about it:
  1. It's not all burning bushes and parting seas.  
  2. The Bible has a lot of stories about people interacting with God and some of them are just plain weird.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Imago Dei

God said to Moses, "I will make my Goodness pass right in front of you; I'll call out the name, God, right before you. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion."

God continued, "But you may not see my face. No one can see me and live."  Exodus 33:19-20.
 A few weeks ago, Sarah H brought the message for programmed worship at Freedom Friends Church.  She talked about the images we have of God, and shared some of the images that have been meaningful for her.  One of the things she said was that the images we have of God reflect ourselves more than they reflect God.

For me, that is literally true—two of the clearest images I have had of God are actually images of myself.

The first occurred at Northwest Yearly Meeting annual session in 2009.  As I wrote at the time, I was finding it difficult to be present in the meeting as a woman for a variety of reasons.  One was that the language Friends were using for God was almost exclusively and quite explicitly male.  Hearing God referred to as "he" over and over made me feel alienated, and did not reflect my experience of God.

I brought this sense of alienation to unprogrammed worship one evening.  As I settled into worship, a clear image came to me; it was the image of myself playing the role of the Holy Spirit in a skit I performed with Friends at North Pacific Yearly Meeting.

Although the skit itself was silly, in that moment, the image was so comforting.  It reminded me that despite others' use of male language, God could also look like me.

The second image of God also came to me in worship.  I was at the first School of the Spirit residency, at morning worship.  In that worship, there was a moment when I was utterly alone before God.  I could not actually see God—what I could see was a silhouette of myself, standing before an incredibly bright light.

I said, “God, I’m scared.  It’s too much.  I am afraid you will destroy me.”  Then God said, “I love you and I made you.  I would never destroy you!”
"When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the Testimony in his hands, his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord."  Exodus 34:29.
Sometimes when I give vocal ministry, I glow.  Friends have told me that I burn brightly and even that I am radiant.  That is hard for me to hear and makes me uncomfortable, but I know it is true because I have seen it in others.

As Friends, we believe that vocal ministry is speaking on behalf of God.  Sometimes when I speak, I can feel the power of God within me; other times, I feel broken and inadequate, but I speak anyway, because that is what I believe God is asking me to do.

Today at midweek prayer, we read the passage in Matthew 25 about God appearing in those who are hungry, thirsty, sick, or in prison.  We talked, as we often do, about the challenges of seeing God in others.  

As difficult it can be to see God in others, I believe it is also a gift.  God is overwhelming, but other people are not.  Seeing God in another person is a much gentler way of encountering God than seeing God face to face.

That also means that others can see God through me.  I think that may be more challenging—to acknowledge that, even in my brokenness, others can see the Holy Spirit in me.   Having my own images of God that are also images of myself helps me to believe that I can be an image of God for others.

How do we allow others to see God in us?  

How can we live into being images of God for each other?

Saturday, October 29, 2011


Last fall, I was reading a novel about nuns.  At one point, one of the nuns took a walk at lunchtime to reconnect with God.  My first thought when I read that was, "I wish I was a nun, so that I could take lunchtime walks to reconnect with God!"  Then I realized how silly that was—I don't have to be a nun to do that!

Since then, walks during my lunch break have become one of my spiritual practices.  I walk and I pray and I try to pay attention.  Sometimes I put my ipod on shuffle and listen to whatever comes on.  In each season, I am grateful to live in such a beautiful place.  

Yesterday, I brought my camera along; here are some of the things I saw.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Odds and Ends

I haven't felt led to write much here lately, but that doesn't mean that nothing is happening!  Life has been pretty full lately, and there is more to come.  Here are a few of the things going on around here.

Friends Journal.  The Friends Journal special issue on Quaker women in ministry came out a few weeks ago and included an article I wrote called "Walking the Labyrinth."  In the article, I talked about some of my experiences in traveling ministry and how I felt called to clerk Freedom Friends Church.  I had forgotten how different it is to have something published rather than posting online—this encapsulates how I felt when I wrote it in May, but of course I am in a different place now.  I recommend the whole issue.  It has many wonderful articles by School of the Spirit graduates as well as women from the Pacific Northwest, including Cherice B and an article that was also posted online by Becky A.

Preparing for the World Conference.  The FWCC World Conference of Friends is just six months away!  I have been preparing by fundraising, getting vaccinations and prescriptions, and holding the gathering in prayer.  It has been exciting to see news about the conference on the website, including the study booklet, which is offered to a resource to all Friends, whether or not they are attending the conference.  The conference organizers also recently posted a list of everyone who has registered so far.

Visiting Friends.  After five months of staying pretty close to home, I was back on the road last weekend.  I got a rental car and took a quick trip to Seattle.  I was glad to have the car; it allowed me to do a lot more than I could have if I had relied on public transportation.  It was wonderful to see friends, celebrate babies and birthdays, and worship at University Friends Meeting, where I sojourned for three years.  Next weekend, I am going to visit friends in Portland and plan to worship at Multnomah Monthly Meeting.

Programmed Worship.  This year on fifth Sundays, Freedom Friends has been experimenting with different kinds of worship.  Instead of our usual semi-programmed worship, we have alternated between unprogrammed worship and programmed worship when a month happens to have a fifth Sunday.  This month, we will have programmed worship on fifth Sunday, with Sarah H bringing the message.  I think everyone has enjoyed this experiment and it will be interesting to see whether we will continue it next year.

Back to normal?  The following Sunday will be our regularly scheduled business meeting.  It is hard to believe that it is almost November again—time is going so fast!  

In the article I wrote for Friends Journal, I said that traveling ministry is an exercise in listening to God and to others, trying to be faithful in responding to whatever happens.  Of course, that's really what life is.  So I'll keep trying, and hopefully post here about some of my experiences!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


As you may have heard, Jon W has a new CD out.

The album is called "Clothe Yourself in Righteousness" and is available for sale on Jon's website, along with a pamphlet about the spiritual symbolism of nakedness by Maggie H.

I have not read the pamphlet yet, but I have listened to the CD, and it is beautiful.  Jon does more than take off his clothes in this musiche bares his soul.  Jon is a poet and a prophet: he speaks the truth and is willing to be vulnerable and let the light of Christ shine through him.

Recently, a dear friend and elder wrote,
There is a cadre of Young Friends at present who are showing us older Friends how to reach across the boundaries Friends have allowed to separate us, recognizing and claiming the spiritual gifts of all kinds of Friends and knitting them together.  They are passionate in their faith, ready to sacrifice much to be witnesses for it. 
Jon is one of these Friends.  I am grateful for his faithfulness, and I encourage you to listen to his music and support him in his ministry.

Sunday, September 18, 2011


I have started meeting with a spiritual director once a month and it has been a lovely experience so far.  The woman I see is a Benedictine oblate with a gentle, loving presence.  She reminds me that God loves me, a message that I often need to hear.

Yesterday, she brought a blessing by John O'Donohue, which we read aloud to bless each other.  It seems like the perfect thing for the beginning of a work week, so I thought I'd share it here.

A Blessing for What We Do
by John O'Donohue

May the light of your soul guide you.

May the light of your soul bless the work you do with the secret love and warmth of your heart.

May you see in what you do the beauty of your own soul.

May the sacredness of your work bring healing, light, and renewal to those who work with you and to those who see and receive your work.

May your work never weary you.

May it release within you wellsprings of refreshment, inspiration, and excitement.

May you be present in what you do.

May you never become lost in the bland absences.

May the day never burden.

May dawn find you awake and alert, approaching your new day with dreams, possibilities, and promises.

May evening find you gracious and fulfilled.

May you go into the night blessed, sheltered, and protected.

May your soul calm, console, and renew you.


Thursday, September 15, 2011


Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times." (Matthew 18:21-22)
During the school year, I attend a mid-week Methodist prayer meeting on the campus across the street from work.  We get together to read a passage from the lectionary three times, share briefly about what speaks to us from that passage, sing a song, and pray for ourselves and the world.  The chaplains who lead this meeting are well aware that I am a Quaker and, though it is not my tradition, I enjoy the liturgy.

Yesterday, we read the passage from Matthew on how many times we should forgive someone who sins against us.  It is a familiar passage, and I had always understood those verses to mean that we should forgive our brother each time he sins against us.

That's hard.  

But as I listened to the verses and then read them aloud myself, I heard them a different way.  I realized that I also need to keep forgiving another person who has wronged me for the same thing.

It is so much easier to forgive someone than to keep forgiving them.  I will forgive someone for something and think I am over it, but then later (sometimes months later!), I will feel angry and hurt again about whatever it was that happened.

Letting go is hard.  Forgiving over and over is hard.  But maybe if I do it seventy-seven times, it will actually stick.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Care Committee Report II

Final Report to the School of the Spirit from Ashley W's Care Committee
June 2011


We have met for the first time as the complete support committee for Ashley in order to prepare this report.  Half of us live in Seattle and met with Ashley during the first year of the School of the Spirit and the other half live in Oregon where Ashley moved a year ago. All of us have been kept informed by the sharing of notes from each meeting and have other periodic contacts with Ashley.  What follows arose out of the day five of us spent together in Portland with Ashley present.[1]

Because we are a scattered group geographically, our connections are probably different than that of some of the other Care Committees.  Only one of us is a member of Ashley’s current meeting, Freedom Friends Church (FFC), thus many of our interactions with her are in the broader context of the Quaker world.  Those of us in Seattle did have the gift of working closely with her as she named her ministry to University Friends Meeting (UFM) and worked with us during UFM’s year of discernment, taking a leadership role in developing retreats and the overall process.  This year she has stepped forward and serves as clerk at FFC.  She has visited with Friends at Multnomah Meeting in Portland while serving as elder for Marge at a workshop and for Noah M for part of the time while he was Friend-in-Residence there.

Self-knowledge and the ability to articulate it

In some ways, the SoS experience has helped Ashley to better articulate some aspects of herself, both to others and herself. At the first residency, she grudgingly admitted she was a minister, and that she wasn’t happy about it. It was a word that was hard for her. More recently, she casually told a friend of a friend she already was a minister. She also felt like she had more clarity about her own faith and gifts when writing her final paper- it was a lot easier to state those than it would have been two years ago. Writing about them is much easier for her than talking about them.

Ashley received a response from a SoS instructor to her faith and gifts statement, which among other things called out that it’s important for her to know when she’s bringing too much intensity to the table. In conversation with a co-worker, she realized she’s not intense at work- so it happens in some places and not in others. Ashley knows she is sensitive, and knows that she can be intense. She thinks it may be good for her to have a job where she’s not intense (as it presently the case), as a means to balance out her life. Excitement and focus on just one thing tend to trigger the intensity. Sometimes it’s the Spirit, sometimes it’s her personal response to an experience.

In an earlier conversation, a Friend made the distinction between being a conduit and an instrument of God, which is useful to Ashley. She played violin as a child, and remembers how awful she sounded as a 5-year-old with little experience and a tiny violin! A lot of the time when she has been given vocal ministry, she’s felt like a conduit. When she thinks about speaking in other venues, it feels more like she’s an instrument- same spirit, but different. It’s comforting to her to think about how much practice on the violin it took before she started to sound good.

Another Friend observed that as a conduit, your job is to clear the channel, whereas as an instrument, there may be many other things you need to do or practice in order to bring that sound to life. Being an instrument of God involves discipline and stuff that isn’t necessarily fun.

Gifts of Spiritual Nurture

Ashley took an online quiz on spiritual gifts, and it came up with a list of five that resonated with her:

Prophecy- this came up at almost every residency. Ashley thinks of this as truth-telling all the time. Prophecy isn’t always obvious, at least not to her, and she doesn’t know whether something she says is prophetic, necessarily, when she says it.

Writing- comes easiest, has the most experience and training here.

Prayer- is, for Ashley, an obvious response to things that happen. Having grown up with a lot of vocal prayer, she’s pretty comfortable with it.

Knowledge- understanding and working with systems- of power, structures, how organizations work- comes naturally to Ashley.

Faith- hopefully it comes through! She talks a lot about being a Quaker- her co-workers associate it with her, which isn’t the same thing as talking about God, but it’s in the neighborhood.

We wondered if “faith” is a gift per se, or rather something you just have. Is there a difference between a gift and a talent? Faith isn’t a talent, to be sure; is writing? And can/how do you work on gifts?

We also asked if the gift of prophecy had developed further in the past year, if her understanding of that gift has changed, and about her role as a prophet.

Talking about prophecy has become easier for her, if only through repetition. Her September talk at the residency on “the other as a prophetic role” was really good for this, too. Frank M hammered on this point then, and said he thought she was ready, but not ready to be ready- which was obscure, but felt right. “A prophet isn’t respected in his hometown.” This feels right, but it’s also difficult to be a prophet in your hometown, because you’re integrated into the community, not looking in from the outside. The message of a prophet is “turn toward God” and that’s the message she keeps giving over and over. But it’s not a comfortable role or word, and it’s not something she wants to do all the time. She wants to be able to feel comfortable and at home sometimes. She doesn’t think prophecy is about a new message so much as it is about timing- saying the right thing at the right time.

More used to the idea, yes, but not comfortable. Prophecy isn’t a full-time job; sometime you have to go home. The role is between God and the community. The job is to turn people/community toward God- which echoes Ashley’s description of her ministry a year ago.

One Friend noted she talked about prayer as more of a response than a proactive endeavor. Ashley said she does think of it as a response to things and people: being sensitive to people’s condition. The gift is to be able to pray for them, out loud or not, depending on the situation. The gift is the sensitivity to the need. We spoke of the many different kinds of prayer, and how talking to God can be a gift of proactive or reactive character. We wondered if this was a part of her leadership gifts, or if it’s a more personal thing. Ashley thinks of it as both. Prayer is part of vocal ministry and leading meeting in prayer happens often at Freedom Friends. Prayer overlaps with faith, too, in that she has a deep conviction that prayer works. Eldering also involves a lot of prayer.

How are these gifts in relation to spiritual nurture? And is spiritual nurture really what it’s about for you? Is a prophetic ministry different from spiritual nurture? Ashley thinks of prophetic ministry as being more challenging, and spiritual nurture is more comforting. Leadership relates to both- comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. The program has helped Ashley to name her gifts, find her voice, and learning, rather than focusing on spiritual nurture as a comforting thing. The program focused on nurturing and deepening the RSoF, with the hope that participants would bring that experience back to their meetings. One Friend also called out an intent to develop leadership, which can take a multiplicity of forms in spiritual nurture.

Ashley’s Place in the Meeting Community

There’s some question of how to define Ashley’s meeting. Corinthians I shows up everywhere in Ashley’s life. The bit of the ear wanting to be the foot, and for her, the bit about owning which gifts are hers, and not being envious of other’s gifts. This question provoked reflection amongst the committee members. Ashley does feel like she’s a member of many different manifestations of the body of Christ, and a part of Friends in the Northwest. When asked if her role is different in the different communities she’s a part of, Ashley responded that it is. At Freedom Friends, it’s to be clerk; other places she goes, she’s a Young Friend. She feels in-between about that, in that she doesn’t quite fit in that community, but around older Friends, she is perceived as a Young Friend, so ends up being an intercessory between the two.

The ‘shadow’ yearly meeting in the PNW, where Friends in the Northwest find affinities across the yearly meeting and theological lines was mentioned. This “yearly meeting” is not named, and these Friends don’t all think alike, but there are ties there. Does anything carry over from her role as co-clerk of this “yearly meeting”? She mentioned a few things. A friend asked if she would be a prayer partner when traveling; the planning committee asked if she would be a speaker at the next one. She’s well-known there and continues to have relationships in that circle.

How about in the blogosphere? What’s the role there? She’s connected, knows most of the people who end up on QuakerQuaker, at least a little bit. The overlap between the blogosphere and the Convergent Friends scene is there. The world gathering, another venue of this sort, still feels distant to her.

Has the experience of SoS helped clarify her place in these various worlds, and has there been growth in that? Yes- part of it has been exposure to Conservative Friends, as well as more liberal East Coast Friends. The program has felt like a container for a lot of what she’s been doing, with her care committee and K group providing her with a place to talk. Two years ago at this time, she’d never been to any yearly meeting! Now she’s one of the usual suspects.

It was reflected that Ashley’s public roles serve as a connecting force, bringing the rest of the world into Freedom Friends. Ashley shared her frequent sense of meeting as a group of people held together with a big rubber band, with varying levels of attachment to various folk.

Discernment of Leadings: Her Roles as Minister and Elder

Regarding her role as minister and/or elder, Ashley focused on that which tells me when I’m supposed to be doing/not doing.  She used to feel that when money came through, it was a clear indicator that she was supposed to act.  Lately she has come to see that this is not a sufficient discernment.  More is needed.  She has to keep listening. Things are less black and white than they used to be in general. She used to feel really clear about leading, now, not so much.

She’s read Art Larabee’s article on good discernment to clarify this process: what are the things she associates with good or negative discernment (in relation to testing leadings). Just because Ashley has felt bad about something doesn’t mean she was wrong in her discernment. She was asked rhetorically: when is a leading something worth testing with a couple people, and when is something just crystal-clear? She also talked about how it takes courage to recognize when a leading has turned out to be untrue, and to reflect on it and learn from the mistake. Corporate testing of leadings big and small is one of the gifts of the RSoF.

Often leadings are only recognized in the rear-view mirror. A piece of discernment is seeing where the path was divinely ordered. Leadings aren’t just I’m here, what next, they are also, okay, I got here through divine guidance. Leadings usually don’t show the way clear to their very ends. Ashley talked about her clerking of Freedom Friends as an instance of being rightly-led, but not necessarily for the length of time she’d anticipated. She represents the idea of someone other than Alivia or Peggy being clerk.

Minister and elder – discernment of roles.  Where is Ashley now?   75% minster/25 % elder still holds.  She is not giving up eldering totally, but feels more called to be a minister now.  This past year she has served as an elder a lot and esp. when eldering for Noah she felt a strong pull to minister.  This became an example that if you don’t listen to voices early, they get louder and more chaotic.  A very painful experience. There was also a lot of good and there is a deep need for people to take up that role for others who are ministers.  Eldering was the theme of the Women’s Conference and of part of the SoS program. Both made a lot more people comfortable with that concept and role.

It was noted that you can’t do both at once and we spoke of the criteria which distinguish them (in past Ashley saw a sharp line between vocal ministry and eldering – something which is not true today). This is an important and painful point of growth for Ashley.

Areas of Growth

Can’t believe that 2 years ago Ashley had never been to a yearly meeting.  Since then has attended 5 yearly mtgs.  Ashley gets systems insights quickly.  It was affirmed that this is a huge gift and something she has used well.

Increased capacity to find her own voice has been a visible sign of growth – partly because she had to although this is probably hard for her.  Two years ago she would have skipped business meeting in order not to have to give a report.

Growth has occurred in the ownership of her ministry, although she may still be resistant to prophetic ministry.  Ministry has changed shape for her.

One growing edge is in asking for help.  When Noah was here, she felt pushed to do that–an awful thing and a good thing. Along with this is learning how to accept help.

More confidence in what she is doing and where she is going with it – when in past she had direction yet was unsure & scattered?

It was noted that Ashley didn’t answer question about self-care as part of being a Spiritual nurturer and a minister and leader.  That this spring this was an important dynamic.  Ashley has been developing more practices, but not enough – or perhaps “trying” too much.

Coming to see when it is appropriate to say no, perhaps a lifelong task.  This year she has been getting a lot of lessons in letting go and seeing things go forward without her.  At Freedom Friends, the Recording Ministers task force, her leading/idea, but not hers to do.  Other times has taken things forward when it was not hers to do.

To be synthetic is to be convergent and very much needed.  Vision without shape and structure is fleeting.  Ashley feels more like Fell than Fox and finds Paul very sympathetic, pulling stuff together.

One favorite ministry is from World Gathering of Young Friends where someone spoke that it was quite possible that when leadings appear, it doesn’t mean that if you don’t take them they die.  Someone else will take up that work if you don’t have the capacity.

Care Committee: Kathy H, Marge A, Judy M, Ann S, Lucy F, Jana O, Sarah H


[1] Jana O and Sarah H were unable to attend this meeting.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Small Church/Many Hats

Freedom Friends Church is like any small church in that there are a few people who wear many hats.  As clerk of the meeting, I am aware of that, and I have made it one of my stated goals to try to make room for more leadership in the church.  But sometimes I end up wearing a lot of those hats myself.

Our pastor, Peggy, and her spouse, Alivia, who regularly leads music, are taking a well-deserved vacation.  A few months ago, I offered to lead our semi-programmed worship while they were away.  I enjoy leading worship from time to time, both at Freedom Friends and other places, so I was happy to volunteer. 

I didn't realize at the time that one of the Sundays would coincide with the wedding of our treasurer's daughter.  Understandably, she had other obligations that day, and asked me to pick up any offerings people gave.  So this past Sunday, I went to church as clerk/musician/pastor/treasurer.

I am happy to say that all went well.  We had nine Friends in attendance—a pretty good size, considering the number of regulars who were otherwise occupied.  We sang a few songs, shared our gratitudes and petitions, and had a gathered time of open worship with some lovely vocal ministry.  Afterward, we talked for a while, and I remembered to pick up the offerings before locking up the building.

Next week, I will be clerking Ministry and Oversight after meeting, so I have asked Sarah H to lead worship.  I am glad that she is willing to do so, and that our worship is structured so that just about anyone in our community can lead it.  And I will be very grateful when everyone gets back!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Contemplation and Action

"Now you are the body of Christ and each one of you is a part of it."  I Corinthians 12:27.
The theme for North Pacific Yearly Meeting's annual session this year was "Being Practically Spiritual: The Integration of Inward Life and Outward Action."  I did not attend, but I have many friends who did.  I also got to hear how the annual session went through the posts on Western Friend.

One friend wrote me a lovely, detailed letter about his experiences at yearly meeting.  Something he wrote really stood out to me:  He said that the queries for worship sharing were designed to move outward from inward contemplation to action in the community and, in reading the queries in advance, only the first day's queries spoke to him.

That comment made me think about the ways Friends talk about action and contemplation, and how I think we set them up as a false dichotomy.

What I sometimes hear Friends say is that one needs contemplation to ground action, giving the example of a political activist going out and burning up, then needing to return to time with God before being able to do more of that work.  

The problem is, I think Friends may be confusing contemplation with rest and self-care.  In my experience, contemplation is not a restful experience.  Although the effort may not be as visible to the outside world, prayer is hard work, and it is not easy to be open and vulnerable to God.

I also think that Friends at times say "action" as shorthand for "political activism," which is a much too narrow definition.  I have friends who feel called to political activism, and I am grateful for their work in, with, and against political organizations, but I also know that not everyone is called to that work, and that it is not the only work.

Thomas Kelly talks about the work of prayer in his chapter on "The Blessed Community" in A Testament of Devotion.  He says in part,
"Within the wider Fellowship emerges the special circle of a few on whom, for each of us, a particular emphasis of nearness has fallen.  These are our special gift and task.  These we 'carry' by inner, wordless prayer.  By an interior act and attitude we lift them repeatedly before the throne and hold them there in power.  This is work, real labor of the soul.  It takes energy but is done in joy."  Pp. 58-59.
A few weeks ago, I gave vocal ministry at Freedom Friends Church.  The message was short.  I said that the metaphor of the body of Christ had been important for me in a lot of ways and had come up frequently.  That day, its meaning for me was that we don't all have to do everything.

So, I do believe that contemplation grounds outward action—in a community.  We need those who go out and do public works and we need those who hold the center and ground the community in prayer.  I think that the idea that we all need to balance contemplation and action in our own lives is one of the ways that the individualism of our culture has crept into the Religious Society of Friends.

My hope for Friends is that we will truly see ourselves as the body of Christ and be able to recognize how each person's calling is a part of that whole.  "For," as Thomas Kelly goes on to say, "these bonds of divine love and 'carrying' are the stuff of the Kingdom of God."

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Report on the School of the Spirit

[This is a report that I sent to the Lyman Fund and the NPYM Youth Opportunity Fund, two Quaker groups that gave me grants to attend the School of the Spirit's program On Being a Spiritual Nurturer.]

Two years ago, I began the School of the Spirit’s program On Being a Spiritual Nurturer.  I had no idea what to expect.  As I often do, I jumped in with both feet, and I am so glad that I did.  Doing this program is one of the best decisions I have made in my life.

My Spiritual Nurturer class met for eight residencies at the Avila Retreat Center in Durham, North Carolina.  I had never been to North Carolina before the first residency, and I found it lovely and foreign.  The climate, plants, and wildlife are very different from those in the Pacific Northwest.  I enjoyed the warm weather in the fall and spring, was surprised by the snow at one residency, and saw fireflies for the first time. 

When I told others that I was going to school, their first thought was often of reading and writing.  There was a lot of that, but the heart of the program for me was my class.  We shared deeply, and truly became a blessed community over the course of our two years together.  I am especially grateful for my small “koinonia” group―nine women who laughed and cried together as we shared our stories, our spiritual journeys, and a lot of really good chocolate.  Traveling to the residencies provided opportunities for me to get to know my classmates better, by staying with them in their homes and spending hours in conversation on the road.

The days at the residencies followed a contemplative rhythm:  the mornings began with individual spiritual practices before breakfast, then an hour of corporate worship, followed by class, Bible readings at lunch, free time, and time for our small groups.  Our worship as a community was deep and rich, with themes developing over the course of the residencies.  The core teachers accompanied us through challenging themes, and visiting teachers and ministers encouraged us to stretch and learn.  At each residency, a person of presence held us all in prayer.

The past two years have been a time of growth and transition for me.  In addition to doing the program, I felt called to travel in the ministry as a minister and an elder, I served as co-clerk for the Pacific Northwest Quaker Women’s Theology Conference, and I followed a leading to move from Seattle, Washington to Salem, Oregon to become clerk of my meeting, Freedom Friends Church

One of the program requirements was to meet with a care committee once a month.  I actually had two care committees, one in Washington and one in Oregon.  The women who served on these committees did so much more than support me as I went through the School of the Spirit program―they provided care and accountability for my ministry in all its forms.  I am so thankful for them.

A theme throughout the program for me was finding my voice.  I have struggled with my call to ministry, and this program gave me opportunities to practice in a safe and supportive environment.  During the fifth residency, I had the chance to speak on a panel about “the other as a prophetic role,” and in the sixth residency, I was able to share how my church does semi-programmed worship.  Both of those experiences were wonderful.

The research projects allowed me to explore ministry in a broader sense, and how I relate to the Religious Society of Friends as a young person and a woman.  In my first paper, I interviewed 15 Young Adult Friends about their experiences traveling in the ministry, and wrote about ways in which meetings can provide spiritual support for those who are experiencing that call.  In my second paper, I shared stories of seven women from different branches of Friends who have been recorded as ministers.  I felt encouraged by my conversations with Friends in working on both of these projects, and I was glad to be able to share their stories with others.

The School of the Spirit program has been incredible and life changing for me.  I feel so blessed by the people I met through this program, and I know that I will continue to learn from this experience.  I am so grateful to the Youth Opportunity Fund and the Lyman Fund for giving me grants making it possible for me to be a part of the class.  Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Request for Support

Dear Friends,

As many of you know, I have been offered one of the open places for the FWCC World Conference of Friends, which will take place in Kenya in April 2012. I have felt a clear leading to attend this conference, and I expect that it will be an amazing, life-changing experience.

Even though I will be attending the conference as an open place delegate, I will be representing my meeting, Freedom Friends Church. Freedom Friends does not have an official delegate for the conference, but when I applied for an open place, I told both my meeting and the conference organizers that I intended to represent my meeting. Freedom Friends was enthusiastic in its support of my leading. I am grateful for its care and I feel honored to represent the meeting to the wider world of Friends.

Although Freedom Friends is able to provide me with spiritual support, the meeting is unable to provide financial support for this ministry. I have been blessed with financial support from Friends Journal, which is covering the cost of my registration, and from my parents, who gave me British Airways miles to cover some of the cost of transportation. However, I still need to raise approximately $1,500 to cover the remainder of my travel costs (including airfare and vaccinations).

So I am writing to ask for support. If you feel so led, I would appreciate your support in the following ways:
  • Prayer. Please pray for me as I continue to prepare for this conference.
  • Financial support. If you can support me financially in this ministry, please email me.  My email address is ashleymwilcox AT gmail DOT com.
  • Suggestions for grants/scholarships. I plan to apply for travel grants from the PYM International Outreach Granting Group and the NPYM Youth Opportunity Fund. I would appreciate any other suggestions you may have for scholarships or grants.
Thank you for your prayers and support.

In faith,

Sunday, July 17, 2011


"Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil."  Luke 4:1-2.
Last summer, a committee I was on met to discern whether it was time to lay the committee down.  It was a hard decision.  We all cared a lot about the work we were doing, we had worked hard, and we had not achieved the results we hope for.

During our meeting, Chris H suggested three questions for our discernment:
  1. Is it good work?
  2. Is it mine?
  3. Is it now?
These questions were very helpful.  We all knew that it was good work, but for some of us, it was not our work, at least, not at that time.

These three questions have come up for me several times over the past few months, in conversations with others and in my own attempts at discernment.  

When deciding whether to do something, I can get stuck on the first question and say "yes" to some work because I know that it is good, without considering whether it is mine.  It is easy to get distracted by all the need I see and lose focus on what God is calling me to do.  And I know I can hold on to things for too long.  It is important for me to realize when it is time for others to take up work that was once mine or might be mine at some point, but isn't right now.

Discernment is hard.  Each time I enter a period of discernment, I feel like I am back in the wilderness.  But it is helpful for me to remember that I have been here before and to remember the lessons I have learned so far along the way.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Being Home

I am not going to any yearly meetings this summer.  When I said that to some Friends recently, their response was, "Don't say that too loud!" as if a yearly meeting will suck me in because I am advertising my empty schedule.

This summer is so different from last summer, when I was released for ministry by a Margaret Fell Fund grant from Friends General Conference's Traveling Ministries Program.  I traveled to gatherings in five different states to worship with Friends.  I served as an elder, a minister, a conference organizer, and a representative of my yearly meeting.  It was an amazing time and I am so grateful to have had those opportunities.

At the time, I wrote about the challenge of finding balance and a rhythm in my day-to-day life.  Although my days look very different this summer, I am still trying to find that balance.  Now it is more about making time to pray in the mornings before I go to work and going for walks on my lunch break to remind myself to reconnect with God and nature.

This week is the FGC Gathering and I am not there.  I planned to go, I even registered, but then I became clear that I needed to stay home instead.  It has been hard for me in some ways, because I have a lot of friends who are there and who I miss, but I know that I am where I am supposed to be.

I have never been to the FGC Gathering, and it feels strange to miss an event that I have never attended, but I do.  I think it will be harder when others go to annual sessions for North Pacific Yearly Meeting and Northwest Yearly Meeting, which I have attended for the past two years.

Today, I read Peterson T's post about his experiences at the FGC Gathering and it made me laugh when he talked about the gluten-free drama.  It also reminded me of the time at NPYM annual session when I accidentally took a child's gluten-free toast instead of my own and smeared peanut butter all over it before realizing my mistake.  I felt horrible, like I had ruined everyone's breakfast.

And that's the thing about gatherings.  At times they are so wonderful―incredible things happen when Friends gather to spend time listening to God and to each other.  I have been fortunate to be a part of deeply grounded worship and to feel the presence of God among Friends.  But going to Quaker events also means unfamiliar beds and strange food and having to deal with a lot of people.  We all get cranky and sometimes we can be downright petty.

So this summer I am missing the spiritual highs and the lows.  I go to work each day and worship on first days at my home meeting, which is small but rich.  At times I feel insecure and worry that Friends will forget about me.  But I have been blessed by words from friends lately, reminding me that I don't know what impact my ministry will have, and that it's not about me anyway.

Another thing that is really different from last summer is that I am not moving.  Last year at this time, my house was filled with boxes.  Now I have been in my home for nearly a year, and it is so nice to know that I will be staying here for a while.

I have been on the go for so long that I had forgotten what it was like to have open space in my life, and I am learning to breathe into it.  As the space continues to open, I also have the opportunity to decide what I want to keep and what to let go.  And I am grateful.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Gifts to Share - Part 8

“Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through prophecy when the body of elders laid their hands on you.”  I Timothy 4:14.
I felt honored and blessed in my conversations with these women.  I am grateful to them for sharing their stories with me with openness and candor.  They were honest about some of the difficulties they have faced, but expressed an amazing amount of joy in their ministries.  Many of them said that our conversation was a blessing for them too, in giving them space to reflect on their ministries.

I hope that these stories will be encouraging for other women discerning a call to ministry, and that they will inspire meetings to consider the gifts waiting to be called out in their communities.

The Ministers

Linda C, member of Housatonic Friends Meeting, New York Yearly Meeting (FUM-FGC)
§    First recorded in Croton Valley Friends Meeting (1996)
§    Transferred her membership and her recording to Housatonic Friends Meeting
    Patty L, member of Davidson Friends Meeting, North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative)
    §    Recorded in Charlotte Friends Meeting, North Carolina Yearly Meeting (FUM) (late 1980s)
    §    Lay down her recording when she transferred her membership to Davidson Friends Meeting

    Ann M, member of South Bend Monthly Meeting, Illinois Yearly Meeting (FGC)
    §    First recorded in Chester River Meeting, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting (1985)
    §    Transferred her membership and recording to Clear Creek Monthly Meeting, then jointly affiliated with Indiana Yearly Meeting (FUM) and Ohio Valley Yearly Meeting (FGC) (1987)
    §    Transferred her membership and recording to West Richmond Monthly Meeting, Indiana Yearly Meeting (1998)
    §    Lay down her recording when she transferred her membership to South Bend Monthly Meeting (2007)

    Peggy P, pastor of Freedom Friends Church (Independent)
    §    First recorded in Northwest Yearly Meeting (1994)
    §    Later recorded in Freedom Friends Church (2004)

    Darla S, pastor of Rivers Way Community, Northwest Yearly Meeting (EFCI)
    §    Recorded in Northwest Yearly Meeting (2010)

    Deborah S, member of Friendship Friends Meeting, North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative)
    §    Recorded in Friendship Friends Meeting (1998)
    Deborah S, pastor of First Friends Meeting, North Carolina Yearly Meeting (FUM)
    §    Recorded in Iowa Yearly Meeting (1996)
    §    Transferred her membership and recording to North Carolina Yearly Meeting (FUM)


    Drayton, Brian. On Living with a Concern for Gospel Ministry.  Quaker Press of Friends General Conference, Philadelphia, PA (2006), especially pp. 164-78, “On Being a Recorded Minister,” and pp. 179-88, “Sample Annual Reports to Monthly Meeting.”

    Grundy, Martha Paxson. Tall Poppies: Supporting Gifts of Ministry and Eldering in the Monthly Meeting.  Pendle Hill Pamphlet #347 (1999), especially pp. 17-22, “A Process for Recognizing and Recording Gifts.”

    New York Yearly Meeting pamphlet Recording Gifts in Ministry

    Northwest Yearly Meeting’s reading list for recording ministers

    [From the research paper I wrote for the School of the Spirit on the stories of women from different branches of Friends who have been recorded as ministers.]

    Monday, June 27, 2011

    Gifts to Share - Part 7

    “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”  I Thessalonians 5:11.
    Despite some of the challenges of ministry, all of the women I spoke with said that they would encourage woman feeling a call to ministry to follow that call.  Peggy P said, “Do it, do it, do it.  Try lots of different things.”  Darla S said to consider the costs: it is not an easy road and it is never fair, “but if you say 'this is who I am and I can’t be anything else,' then let’s journey together.” 

    Ann M and Deborah S urged women ministers to seek out a strong system of support, in a support and accountability committee or a far-flung constellation of friends, ministers, and elders.  Ann M suggested including at least one older woman minister as a guide.  She said, “Meet regularly with this committee and share faithfully with them what is happening for you.  Seek and discern the Holy Spirit's guidance together.  You will be giving them a gift by so doing as well as receiving yourself.”  Deborah S added that it is essential to spend time in prayer and alone with God and to be careful not to let go of the time in reflection and processing. 

    Patty L said that she would love to encourage women feeling called to ministry, to be supportive of their strengths and challenge their timidity, and listen, and understand when things weren’t the same for them as the were for men.  Deborah S said to go for it, be joyful, follow your heart, and make sure you have training in dual careers!  Linda C emphasized the importance of dwelling in the Spirit; she said to sink low and remain close to the seed, go deep, and to pray in all things:  “It’s hard work, but there’s joy in it, and fun!”

    [From the research paper I wrote for the School of the Spirit on the stories of women from different branches of Friends who have been recorded as ministers.]

    Thursday, June 23, 2011

    Gifts to Share - Part 6

    Why Record Women Ministers?
    “Many have heard the familiar phrase, 'many are called but few are chosen' (Matthew 20:16).  If we look at it as descriptive and give it a Quakerly cast, we might translate it as 'all are invited but few respond.'  We remember Jesus’ parable of the banquet whose invited guests were too busy to bother attending.  These are different ways of describing the phenomenon with which we are all familiar: relatively few people dedicate their entire selves and all areas of their lives to listening to and following God’s will.”  Martha Paxson Grundy, Tall Poppies: Supporting Gifts of Ministry and Eldering in the Monthly Meeting.
    Women hear so many voices telling them that they can’t be in ministry, particularly the women who come from faith traditions that do not allow women in ministry.  It is especially important to record women as ministers when we see them showing these gifts because the norm―at least outside the Religious Society of Friends, if not within it―is a male approach to ministry.  If the only models of ministers are men, we may miss the ways that women are expressing their gifts of ministry. This impoverishes our meetings and deprives women who are young in the ministry of role models and mentors as they explore their call to ministry. 

    Particularly if ministers are coming from a different tradition, a recording process provides a way for Friends to ground ministers in Friends’ traditions.  As Patty L said,
    The need for public recognition of who you are is just huge, and particularly important for a woman because of our tendency to choose hiddenness and to be afraid of our strength.  So we need people who affirm us for who we are and encourage us, and being recorded does that and at least gives you a way to connect with others who have the same vocational interests or the same reading interests as other ministers, so that you can be connected ecumenically, be treated with awareness of who you are, and given certain kinds of authority.
    In my interview with her, Patty L reminded me that the value of recording, if it is done right, is to hold the minister accountable and to keep the gifts within the monthly meeting.  The gifts of ministry do not belong to the minister, they are gifts for the community.  The recording process is a gift to the meeting in that it helps Friends to recognize and name gifts, and to think about the ways that we can provide support for people doing public ministry and how we should hold them accountable.  Linda C echoed this in saying that the gifts of ministry are for the community and if they are not received by the community, there is something missing.

    An ongoing system of support keeps ministers grounded in the monthly meeting.  The women I spoke with suggested many ways that meetings can support ministers, including support and accountability committees, spiritual direction, mentors, and asking for reports to the monthly meeting.  It can be hard for a minister to have to ask for these kinds of support, but greatly appreciated when the meeting offers them. 

    Ann M said that when she asked for a support and accountability committee opened the way for several others in the meeting who were engaged in public ministry to ask for support committees to be appointed by the meeting.  Depending on the kind of ministry the person envisions going into, a recording process can also provide partnerships and mentoring.

    Recording also provides a way for ministers who are doing the same work to identify and find each other and thereby be able to provide each other with mutual support.  The women I spoke with emphasized how important this mutual support has been for them in spiritual friendships and peer groups that meet on a regular basis.  

    Darla S meets every other week with a group of women who are also in Northwest Yearly Meeting to talk about theology.  Darla said that this group is a really nice place to talk about ministry as women and talk about theology in the ways that women talk about theology.  In particular, the group is sensitive to viewing God as outside of gender, and the power involved in gender roles and masculinizing theology.  Finding a group of women that are all part of Northwest Yearly Meeting and committed to the yearly meeting has helped Darla find her own place within the yearly meeting. 

    Deborah S feels connected to what Patricia L described as “a core of fellow masons” who do this work in different parts of the country.  Deborah S described a covenant group of three women ministers (the other two were Mennonite and Episcopalian) who met one to two times a month for eight years.  Deborah also participated in an Upper Room program called Companions in Ministry.  One of the requirements was to start a clergy peer support group; she did, and has been meeting with six to eight pastors for five years now.

    The women I spoke with also said that recording was important for them in doing ecumenical work.  When Linda C was clerk of New York Yearly Meeting, the yearly meeting sent her out to do work on their behalf and minuted that she, as the yearly meeting clerk, could speak on behalf of the yearly meeting as long as it was in keeping with Friends’ historical testimonies, minutes the yearly meeting had approved, and in consultation with a support committee. 

    Patty L said that when she worked as a chaplain, being recorded meant that she had the denominational support and was able to be accepted in clinical pastoral education.  Deborah S spent six months doing service work at an Anglican retreat center in Australia; she said that if she hadn’t been recorded (what they considered ordination), that door would not have opened up for her.

    [From the research paper I wrote for the School of the Spirit on the stories of women from different branches of Friends who have been recorded as ministers.]

    Monday, June 20, 2011

    Gifts to Share - Part 5

    Being a woman in ministry
    “Sisters, hear the Truth.  Listen to the echo in your own soul that rises up to this news with joy.  Courageously take a stand against the lies, in your own life and the world around you.  You are beautiful, you are good, goodness awaits you.  Delight will one day again be yours, start walking towards it!”  Peggy Senger Parsons, Messages to a Refugee Planet.
    As one would expect in such a diverse group, the women I spoke with had very different responses about how their gender affected their experience.  Most of them felt that their gender had affected their experience in one way or another, that it worked in their benefit or presented special challenges.

    Deborah S said that part of her ministry is through touch, a healing touch―she hugs people a lot, and she thinks that would be less acceptable if she were a man.  Deborah knows that people have felt calmed because she was touching them.  She shared a story about how she was in the cafeteria at Guilford College one day and saw two girls that she knew.  The girls were so stressed out, the way college students are.  Deborah said, “I just put my hands on their heads, and I didn’t mean it like I was blessing them, but I was.”  She didn’t think about it in the moment, but later realized that was pretty amazing, to have the position she has in campus ministry, where people are like, “Oh yeah, she does that.”

    A common experience was feeling left out because of being a woman.  Patty L said that when she was in seminary, some of the guys had a basketball team, and she decided that she would play.  She found that the way she played basketball was very different from the way the men played basketball; they were much more independent and competitive.  Where Patty was into passing and sharing and giving everybody a turn, the men were into shining!  Patty said that it didn’t work, and she couldn’t change things because some of the men playing were her professors.  In the end, she didn’t play for very long, and mostly the differences resulted in her being kept her out of the game.

    Patty’s experiences were similar as a recorded minister in North Carolina Yearly Meeting (FUM): she felt odd and not “one of,” because almost everyone else there was male.  The men all knew the same people and didn’t let her in.  Patty said that when she had other women where were in ministry, it was much easier, because they understood each other and the necessity of support, working together, and lifting each other up.  Patty said that her husband thought she would make a great pastor of a church, and would pick churches with lots of members and suggest she work there.  Patty would tell him that they wouldn’t accept her as a pastor, but he didn’t believe that, or it didn’t register in his gut like it did with her.

    Various women I spoke with talked about how there still are not many women who are pastors of large Friends churches; most of the women pastors are at small churches and there are still some Friends churches that will not consider hiring a female pastor.  Darla S said that she is at Rivers Way Community, a small house church, because of gender.  Darla also commented that she doesn’t want to be at a regular church and have to battle and invest time in narrow-mindedness. 

    Deborah S said that when she was in Iowa, she felt like she was always the person pointing out that others were using gendered language, such as “We’re having a meeting for ministers and their wives.” (There were about two female ministers in the yearly meeting at the time.)  She said it got old to always be the one having to say, “Can we broaden that?  Can we think about that?  What about a woman speaker?” 

    In North Carolina, Deborah said she still has to do that occasionally, but there are more female pastors, as well as more male pastors who really care about affirming women in ministry.  However, Deborah said that overall, her experience has been very positive.  She thinks gender has worked in her favor: it’s something new, something different, people haven’t wrapped their minds around it, and spiritual doors have opened simply because she is female.

    Some of the women talked about how it took them a long time to find their voices, which they think is related to being a woman.  Patty L feels that her own lack of self-confidence is part of being a woman in addition to being who she is, that many women have a preference for hiddenness and, to some extent, a preference to blame other people, rather than claim their own strength and power. 

    Deborah S said it has taken her a long time to grow in confidence in the ministry, and she thinks that has a lot to do with being a woman. Deborah said that as a woman, she has to be careful not to abdicate her voice or always be below the radar.  She hopes that when there is a moment where there is something to say that will be hard for people to hear, that she will be ready to say it and not shrink back.

    [From the research paper I wrote for the School of the Spirit on the stories of women from different branches of Friends who have been recorded as ministers.]