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.