Saturday, May 28, 2011

Statement of Faith

[As part of the final project for the School of the Spirit, the teachers asked us each to write a statement of faith.  The instructions were to articulate my understanding of my relationship to God and how God is present in the world (translating those words as needed), not to exceed two pages.]

My relationship with God is intense.  A few years ago, I committed to making God the center of my life.  I had no idea what that would be like, but I think it is what has happened.  To me, God is both personal and infinite.  I am fortunate to feel the presence of God around me all the time, and sometimes I think that is unfortunate.  I get more angry with God than I ever would with a person, because I know that God can handle my anger.  I fight with God constantly, even though I know that God will eventually win.  During a hard time recently, I commented to a friend that I felt like God was breaking my knees.  Looking back, I think that may have been a mercy because being on my knees was the best place for me at the time.  I sometimes feel like the prophet saying, “You have seduced me and I was used.  You are stronger than me and you have prevailed.”  (Jeremiah 20:7)  And yet, the first part of my message is always to turn toward God, because I know that God is our only hope.
A School of the Spirit classmate of mine commented once that conversations with me can be a little weird because I will be talking about how I said something to God and then follow that with, “and then God said . . . .”  I have two-way conversations with God and I sometimes wonder if that makes me qualify as a genuinely crazy person.  Most of the time, I don’t hear from God in actual words.  If I am paying attention, I feel nudges from God throughout the day.  Most of the time, these nudges do not make sense to me.  They will be things like, “go outside,” or “sit here,” or “take your bag with you.”  Sometimes I get confirmation of why I am hearing something―I will run into someone I needed to see, or I will find something I needed.  Other times, I never understand why I did something and I wonder if I was hearing correctly.  And when I ignore these instructions, I sometimes know why I should have done something, or I am aware that I am not listening well.
There are times when God speaks directly to me with words, and that is almost too much for me.  The messages are usually short, and I feel devastated afterward.  A few examples that come to mind are, “It’s not always going to be this easy, but I will be there too,” and “That is not the plan I have for you.”  I am grateful for these clear messages and feel encouraged by them, but I am glad that God generally chooses gentler ways to communicate with me.  I hear God in the things that other people say to me, and in the things they do without speaking.  I also hear God in messages in meeting, from others and from myself.  Often, when I give a message, it is something that I also need to hear.
My relationship with Jesus has been changing over the past few years.  I do not have a personal relationship with Jesus, though I have many friends who do, and I enjoy hearing about how they interact with him.  I find the Bible stories about Jesus comforting―he was so human.  He needed space away from other people, he lost his temper, and he learned things.  He was incredibly faithful, even when facing death.  I also find it meaningful that, in becoming a person, God was limited in the ways that we all are.  Jesus could only be Jesus, not anyone else.  He was a man who lived in a certain time, who died young and never grew old, and had the limited experiences that he had during that time.  Even though I do not feel Jesus physically present with me in the same way that some do, I know that he is an example of faithfulness to follow.
The second part of my message is to turn toward God in whatever language you use to describe God.  The language that is most comfortable for me is Biblical language, because I grew up with it.  So I use the word “God” most often, but I also use “Spirit” or “Holy Spirit,” and sometimes “Christ.”  Regardless of the language we use, I know we are all talking about the same thing, and I can see the fire glowing in those who have encountered the same indescribable presence that I have.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

School of the Spirit Epistle

From the Eighth Class of the On Being a Spiritual Nurturer Program
May 22, 2011

To Friends Everywhere,

Two years ago, 23 women and men arrived at Avila Retreat Center in Durham NC to form the eighth Class of the School of the Spirit Ministry’s On Being a Spiritual Nurturer program. We came from diverse backgrounds: most of us from unprogrammed liberal and conservative meetings and some from other branches of Quakerism or the Episcopal Church. All of us came with a deep commitment to strengthen our understanding of God, which we call by many names or no name. We also came with a diversity of belief and vocabulary, expecting to explore them together. We could not have anticipated that each of us would emerge from the program so transformed.

Extensive readings in Quaker literature, Bible passages, and writings from a variety of faith traditions provided the background knowledge for each residency. With the guidance of our core teachers and visiting teachers and ministers, we have explored how to translate unfamiliar or difficult language and concepts in the context of our individual beliefs and experiences. With our shared stories we have met and learned from each other. Like Jacob with the angel, we have wrestled with hard things and held each other in times of grief and loss. We have grappled with spiritual disciplines, Christian vocabulary and symbols, our Quaker past and present, and the wisdom of other faith traditions. We have been challenged and stretched.

This was both head and heart work. Worship permeated each residency: We began each day with an hour of worship and worship was woven into the fabric of our life together. Reflection papers and projects, periodic self and group examens, and times spent in our smaller Koinonia groups have helped us begin to heal all that has prevented our growing more fully into being the people God created us to be. Our care committees at home held us in prayer and bridged the space between residencies. We have laughed until our sides ached and wept in each other’s arms. We have sung, danced, walked the labyrinth, and delighted in the beauty of nature. We have learned to trust each other in our vulnerability, to accompany one another on our journeys, and to name and celebrate the small victories. We have each been changed.

Two years later, we leave the program, but not the School of the Spirit. Together we have explored what ministry is, what gifts we each have to share, and what our faith communities might need from us. We have a deeper and holier appreciation of our diversity, as well as the common ground we can stand on. We bring you the joy we have found in the Blessed Community we have formed and the compassion we have experienced as we learned to listen beneath the words and to be companions for one another. The good news we bring is that we are all held and grounded in God’s love. Out of that grows the fruit of the spirit as well as compassion, unity within diversity, and interconnectedness, even as we walk our own paths. We leave with our hearts tender and broken open: opened so that we can give and receive the Love we have felt and shared.

In that Spirit of Love,

On Being a Spiritual Nurturer
Eighth Class

Friday, May 13, 2011


I will be flying to Washington DC in the morning, so now I'm going back over my lists. I'm hoping that I have packed everything I need for my time on the east coast, and hoping that I haven't forgotten to do anything crucial before I go.

This is a longer trip than usual and I am pretty excited about it. I will be staying with my Southern Alter Ego and celebrating the fact that she just graduated with a shiny degree in forensic psychology. I will also get to see my sister Lael, who recently moved to Annapolis. And I am looking forward to spending time with my friend Catherine B, who recently had her first baby!

In addition, I am traveling with a minute from Freedom Friends Church to visit Capitol Hill Friends. I don't really have an agenda for my time with them, just to spend time in worship and see how Truth prospers among them. I have been hearing a lot about this worship group and I am thrilled to have the chance to visit.

On Wednesday, I will be driving down to North Carolina with my friend and classmate Catherine C to the final School of the Spirit residency. It is hard to believe that my time in the Spiritual Nurturer program is almost over. I have to admit, I am a little relieved that I will no longer be going to North Carolina four times a year. It is a long way to go! But the program has been amazing and transformative, and I will miss my classmates and teachers immensely.

Another reason that I am so excited about this trip is that I know it is my last one for a while. As I said in a previous post, I am laying down traveling ministry, so when I get back from these travels, I expect to be home for quite a while. I will probably end up going to Anchorage for Christmas, since I didn't go last year, but as far as Quaker events go, I am saying no for a while. It feels good.

I would appreciate your prayers while I travel, and I am sure I will have lots to write about when I return!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Traveling Minute

To Friends gathered in Washington, DC and everywhere,

This letter is a traveling minute on behalf of Ashley W.  Ashley is a beloved and highly respected member of Freedom Friends Church, and we support Ashley in her public ministry.  Ashley is traveling to Washington, DC to visit Capitol Hills Friends – a worship group started by f/Friends Micah B and Faith K.

We commend Ashley to your fellowship and care.  She is a beloved member of our community, in good standing.  Ashley is a bright, creative and well-spoken Friend, who carries a concern for peace, justice and the life of the Spirit.

We are well-pleased to send her to you as a representative of Freedom Friends Church, and you may trust the testimony she brings to you.

In Peace,

Stacey F
Recording Clerk
Freedom Friends Church

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Annotated Agenda

It's the first Sunday of the month and at Freedom Friends Church, that means it is time for business meeting.  For me, because I am presiding clerk of the meeting, it usually means clerking business meeting.  This morning, I have been spending time in prayer and going over the agenda, trying to prepare my heart to listen to God and to listen to the Friends who will gather to do the business of our meeting.

Last month, I was unable to clerk business meeting.  I found myself in need of a sabbath day of rest, so Ministry and Oversight asked Sarah H to fill in as clerk for the day.  I was very grateful that she was willing to do so, and I think it was a good experience for her too.  She wrote a little about it on her blog.

Before the business meeting that Sarah clerked, the members of Ministry and Oversight met to set the agenda.  I wrote out an annotated agenda for Sarah, explaining how I would approach clerking the meeting.  I found myself referring to my notes today and I thought I would post them here, for anyone who is interested. 

Annotated Business Meeting Agenda

Before business meeting
  • Pray for the meeting and ask God if there is anything that needs to be added to the agenda 
  • Print out a copy of the minutes and the treasurer’s report to bring to the meeting 
  • Go over the agenda
The morning of business meeting
  • Arrive early 
  • Write the agenda on the large pad in the children’s room and hang it up front 
  • Set up a table in the front of the room with two chairs (for the clerk and the recording clerk) Put a copy of the minutes on a clipboard with a pen so that people can make edits to them during business meeting 
  • Spend time in prayer for the meeting and for the business of the day

Business Meeting Agenda
April 3, 2011
  • Prayer
Out of worship―usually at about 11:30 (one hour into worship).  I pray as I feel led, for the meeting and the people present.  I usually ask that we will be able to listen to each other and to God, and that we will hear what we mean to say, not just what we say.
  • Introductions/Reading
I try to start by introducing myself and the recording clerk, and letting people know that everyone is welcome to stay for business meeting (or free to leave) and there is food to share.  Make sure the minutes are going around and everyone has a chance to see them.

The reading is usually something from the Faith and Practice.  I have been trying to find something that relates to what is on the agenda for business meeting.  After the reading, I ask Friends to settle back into worship for a few minutes before the first agenda item.

  • Faith and Practice publishing report from M&O – Peggy
Ask Peggy to give the report.  After she is done, ask if there are any questions or comments.  According to Dorsey, it takes people eight seconds to realize that they can respond after someone else speaks, so I often silently count to eight (“one one-thousand, two one-thousand . . .”) after I have asked for questions or comments.  Call on people who have questions or comments―they should be addressed to you as the clerk.  If an action needs to take place, suggest that, and ask Friends to approve.  Thank Peggy for her report.
  • Treasurer’s Report – Judy
Ask Judy to give the report.  Same as above: ask if there are any questions or comments and thank Judy for her report.
  • Pastor’s Report – Peggy
Ask Peggy to give the report.  Same as above: ask if there are any questions or comments and thank Peggy for her report.
  • Approving minutes
Ask if everyone has had a chance to read the minutes.  If they have, ask if Friends approve the minutes with any corrections made to the circulating copy.
  • Announcements 
 Sarah Hoggatt’s traveling minute

Ask someone to read your traveling minute out loud to the meeting.  This does not need to be approved because we already approved giving you one.
Good Friday and Easter – Peggy

Ask Peggy to talk about the plans for Good Friday and Easter.

Ask Friends if there are any other announcements for the good of the order.
  • Joys and concerns
Let Friends know that this is some space for open worship for sharing any joys or concerns that arise, related to the meeting or not.  They may speak out of the silence and do not need to be called on.  Spend 3-5 minutes in open worship, giving space for the business to settle.  At the end, ask whether all hearts are clear and invite Friends to bring the meeting out into the world.