Monday, January 10, 2011

Margaret Fell Fund Report

During the three months I was released for gospel ministry by the Margaret Fell Fund grant from the FGC Traveling Ministries Program, I traveled to the following places:
Rather than provide a chronological description of each event, this report reflects some of the themes that arose over the summer.


It seemed fitting to start out my travels in the ministry this summer with eldering because I had been spending so much time thinking about elders in relation to the women’s conference theme, Walk with Me: Mentors, Elders, and Friends.  Serving as an elder for Wess and Martin was a challenging experience, and not one I would have chosen for my first experience being an elder.  Although there were some very good and supportive people in the workshop, it felt like the negative people there dominated the room, and there was a lot of discussion about what is wrong with monthly and yearly meetings, institutional problems, and meetings that want to die.  Even though it was hard, I was glad I could be there to support Wess and Martin, and I felt like the experience helped me clarify the kinds of support that are important for me when I ask someone to be my elder.  I was especially grateful for Elaine E’s help and support throughout the weekend, and I was glad to have a chance to talk with Sadie F before the workshop began.

At the women’s conference a few weeks later, it was incredible for me to hear how everyone’s language changed.  Immediately after the plenary on elders, I heard many women using that term.  It was gratifying because the topic of elders has been so important for me over the past few years and I felt like the women who attended the conference had a better shared understanding of what the role of elder is.  I was grateful to Ann S and Alivia B, who served as my elders during the conference.  I was also blessed to have Julie P and Leann W as my elders during my time at Northwest Yearly Meeting.  I am grateful to them for holding me in prayer while I led a 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.

Supporting one another in ministry

While I was at Pendle Hill, I had an opportunity to go for a walk with Betsy B and Ruth L.  Ruth was on the planning committee for the young adult Friends gathering in Wichita, KS, which took place a few weeks later, and was feeling discouraged by some of the negative reactions to the conference that had been posted publicly online.  The three of us had a good talk about our experiences planning different conferences: Betsy in planning the world gathering of young Friends, Ruth in planning the young Friends gathering, and me in planning the women’s conference.  I felt like we offered each other mutual support, and that the walk and conversation were one of the reasons I was supposed to be there.

One day during Northwest Yearly Meeting annual session, I happened to have lunch with a young woman from a church that was considering affiliating with NWYM.  She asked me what I was passionate about and I said that I am passionate about supporting women who feel called to ministry.  My answer surprised me, but it seemed like the right thing to say.  The woman responded that during a workshop the day before, she had felt a clear call to ministry, which was completely unexpected, and something she had not even thought possible because she is a woman.  I was glad that I could be there and listen to her story as she began to discern her call.

Using my voice

During the women’s conference, my co-clerk Sarah P and I introduced the plenaries and the speakers.  I usually do not enjoy public speaking, so I was surprised by how much I enjoyed facilitating the conference; it felt like good and important work.  Sarah and I got a lot of good feedback on our roles as conference facilitators, and people especially seemed to appreciate the definitions we provided of mentors, elders, and spiritual friendships.*

On the first day of North Pacific Yearly Meeting annual session, I met with the yearly meeting coordinating committee to report on my travels over the previous year.  I was glad to be able to tell Friends there what I had been doing since they gave me a traveling minute at the previous annual session.  It was also a relief to have my only official task (other than driving a golf cart) over the first day.  It was bittersweet for me to be at NPYM annual session, knowing it was my last time attending as a member of the yearly meeting.  On the last day in open worship, I gave vocal ministry, praying for the yearly meeting and the changes that it will face.  The ministry felt powerful, and I was glad to be able to pray for the meeting that had been a home for me for the past three years.

At Northwest Yearly Meeting annual session, I co-led a workshop on Convergent Friends with Wess D.  I was clear in planning the workshop that I was supposed to lead it, not serve as Wess’s elder.  Our intention was to have the workshop be a worship experience, so we began with about 15 minutes of unprogrammed worship.  After introducing ourselves, we presented a workshop that was similar to one Sarah P and I had led at Bellingham Friends Meeting: 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.

Being released

My summer had a very different rhythm than my usual working life.  I was quite busy a lot of the time, especially leading up to the women’s conference, but between times of intense fellowship, I had weeks to decompress and focus on self-care.  I spent a lot of time listening: to God, to others, and to myself.  I had to figure out what a life of ministry looked like on a day-to-day basis.  Frequently, it involved waking up, going for a run, having breakfast, spending time in prayer, and catching up on emails and phone calls.  I planned events and workshops, spent time reading and writing (though not as much as I expected!), and took a lot of naps.  Some days my life of ministry included a visit to the farmer's market or a long walk with a friend.

I am so grateful to the Traveling Ministries Program for the opportunity to focus on ministry for the summer.  While I was traveling and attending yearly meetings, I could focus on just being there, instead of worrying about "going back to work on Monday."  I feel like I have a better understanding of the importance of being released for ministry instead of being paid for ministry―being released had a sense of spaciousness that I do not think I would have felt if I were being paid to do particular ministry.  The fact that others took my ministry seriously enough to support it financially made me take it more seriously too. 

Please let me know if you have any questions.  Thank you for your financial and spiritual support.

* Mentor: Someone who has served in a role in the past and is helping someone who is new to that role.  For example, an experienced pastor, clerk, or minister might mentor someone who is inexperienced in those roles.

Elder: Someone who names and nurtures the spiritual gifts of people in a meeting and cares for the spiritual needs of the meeting as a whole.

Spiritual friendship: a reciprocal relationship where friends intentionally share and listen to each other's spiritual experiences and encourage each one's spiritual journey.

1 comment:

  1. I'm so glad I decided to review some of your earlier posts, Ashley. I have always cherished hearing how we are called to ministry, and where that ministry takes us. I wish more meetings shared these reports publicly--either at the monthly meeting or at the yearly meeting or both. I think it's one of the ways that we begin to understand how Spirit is moving among us.

    Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up


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