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.

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