Saturday, December 29, 2012


"You'll be ordained before you start school in the fall, right?"  Inger asked me as we were standing in line at a coffee shop.  

I'm generally not a superstitious person, but I quickly looked around for some wood to knock―sort of a shorthand for "if it is God's will."  

I said, "If all goes according to plan, I will be recorded as a minister by my meeting over the summer."

I have now mentioned a few times on this blog that I am in the recording process at Freedom Friends Church, but I haven't felt ready to write about it directly.  Even though I have actually been in the process for years now, it still felt tenuous.  But the process is going forward, and I don't feel like I can avoid writing about it any longer.

First, some definitions and background.  Friends do not ordain ministers.  That is because Friends do not believe that people can make ministers, only God can give gifts of ministry.  Instead, Friends observe and record the gifts of ministry.  As section 4-5.1 of Freedom Friends' Faith and Practice states,
We recognize that God gifts and calls some individuals to sustained and public service. We recognize that God ordains these individuals. Friends can only recognize and record their gifts and calls. The purpose of this recording is to nurture and hold accountable these individuals and to give them the benefit of community discernment in the exercise of their gifts for the benefit of Friends and the world.
There are many yearly meetings around the world that still record ministers, but most liberal, unprogrammed Friends lay down the recording of ministers during the 20th century.  There were a variety of reasons for doing so, but my sense is that most of those Friends felt that recording ministers was inconsistent with the testimony of equality.

For those Friends who continue to record ministers, the recording processes vary greatly.  A few years ago, I interviewed a number of women from different yearly meetings who have been recorded as ministers.  That paper is available on my blog under the tag Gifts to Share.  

Last year, a task force at Freedom Friends looked at our Faith and Practice section on recording and created an annotated outline of the process.  They wrote, "This list presumes things going forward, it is possible at any point for the Friend, Clearness Committee, M and O or the Monthly Meeting to lay down or pause the process."  The task force also noted that the list is intended as a gentle framework with lots of room for flexibility and individuality.  The framework is:
  1. Ministry is observed and/or the Friend feels led towards ministry.
  2. Ministry and Oversight minutes step 1.
  3. The Friend Meets with Ministry and Oversight for prayer, guidance and first set of queries.
  4. Ministry proceeds.
  5. The Monthly Meeting is notified that a Friend is being advised.
  6. Ministry Proceeds
  7. Ministry and Oversight recommends that the Friend is entered into a season of discernment, possibly leading to recording. The Monthly meeting is asked for its blessing of this.
  8. A Clearness Committee is formed by M and O and the Friend with at least one member of M and O.
  9. The Clearness Committee meets with the Friend and considers the second set of Queries, the CC and Friend design a support and accountability framework, including a timeframe for meeting and reporting.
  10. Ministry proceeds.    
  11. CC occasionally reports to M and O and M and O reports to the meeting.
  12. When the CC feels that the Friends is ready to be recorded they let M and O know.
  13. M and O recommends recording to the monthly meeting
  14. The MM discerns the recording. 
  15. If approved, a certificate will be made and a celebration would be appropriate.
I have now met with a recording committee twice, so I think that means I am on step 10 of the process.  

My recording committee is made up of three Friends, two from Freedom Friends and one from Multnomah Monthly Meeting.  Our first meeting in November was mostly organizational: how often the committee would meet, what the structure of the meetings will look like, how long we expect this process to take, etc.  We agreed to meet once a month, with the hope that the committee will bring a recommendation to the monthly meeting by June.  In our December meeting, the committee listened patiently for about two hours as I recounted a time when my ministry went particularly badly.  The topic for our January meeting is "power."

I have had a number of clearness/support/care committees over the years and they have all been wonderful.  This committee is no exception.  I have been nervous each time before we have met, but I don't need to be.  These Friends listen deeply, ground our meetings in worship, and ask good and challenging questions.

As noted, it is possible at any point to lay down the process.  I almost did last summer.  I had received the meeting's blessing to go forward with the process and the next step was to ask Friends to be on my recording committee, but I was dragging my feet.  

It is always hard to ask people to be on a support committee, but the real reason I was stalling was that the Faith and Practice states that recorded ministers can "arrange for nurture and accountability through other means that they desire, such as requesting elders, clearness or care committees, or spiritual direction."  It seemed like, at the end of the recording process, I would be in the same position as at the start, and wondered why I should subject myself to a recording process.

But then I spoke with a friend from an FUM yearly meeting who casually mentioned in our conversation that she was in the recording process, but was not meeting the benchmarks. Friends tend to be pretty quiet about these things, so I hadn't even known that she was in the recording process.

For the next few days, my heart felt lighter when I thought about our conversation.  I realized that, although I know a couple young women who are in the recording processes through their yearly meetings, and I know a lot of young Friends who are gifted and active in ministry, I do not know a single recorded minister who looks like me.  That feels deeply wrong.  If Friends truly believe that God gives gifts of ministry to people of all ages, races, and genders, our recorded ministers should reflect that belief.

Of course, the deep question when it comes to recording (the question that runs through my mind and seems to be out in the world, even if people don't usually say it directly) is this:
Who do you think you are?
 Or, what makes you so special?  Why should you be recorded as a minister?

When I hear that voice, I take a deep breath and try to remember who I am.  My name is Ashley Marie Wilcox.  I am 31 years old. I am a member of Freedom Friends Church of the Religious Society of Friends.  I am a beloved child of God.  

I believe that God has entrusted me with gifts of ministry and that those gifts are not for me alone, but for my meeting and for the Religious Society of Friends as a whole.  I need my meeting to support me and hold me accountable in using those gifts, and I have found through (sometimes painful) experience that my ministry bears more fruit when I go through the processes my meeting has put in place to provide support and accountability.  

So, I am going forward with the recording process.  I am sure there will be highs and lows along the way, but I trust my meeting to hold me in this process and I have faith that all will be according to God's will.

[For more information about the recording process at Freedom Friends as well as readings about recording in general, see the Resources page on the Freedom Friends website.]

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Ashley Applying to Seminary FAQ

Hey Ashley, I hear you are applying to seminary?

It's true, I am!

Are you applying to a Quaker seminary?  Are there Quaker seminaries?

There are Quaker seminaries, but no, I am not applying to a Quaker seminary.

So where are you applying?

I am applying to Candler School of Theology, in Atlanta, GA, Drew Theological School, in Madison, NJ, and Claremont School of Theology, in Claremont, CA.

Why those schools?

Honestly, one of the biggest reasons I chose those three is financial considerations―they all offer excellent financial aid.  I still have a significant amount of debt from law school and I am going to need quite a bit of financial aid if I am going to go to seminary.  

Additionally, these three seminaries seem great.  They are different from each other, but each one has aspects to its program that convinced me it would be a good fit for me and an excellent place to continue my education.

But why go to seminary at all?  You know you don't need to go to seminary to be a minister in the Religious Society of Friends, right?

I know.  As I have mentioned before, I am currently in the process to be recorded as a minister by my meeting, Freedom Friends Church.  If way opens, I will be recorded before I begin seminary.

The primary reason that I am applying for seminary is that I feel like that is what God is calling me to do.  I have felt this call for the past few years and tested it with people I trust to listen and be honest with me.  Throughout this time of discernment, I have felt clearer to go ahead and now feels like the right time.

But if you don't need to go to seminary to be a minister, why go?

A few reasons.  For a while now, I have carried a concern for supporting ministers in the Religious Society of Friends.  I believe that seminary will give me some of the tools I need to support those ministers.  I also think that a Master of Divinity will help me develop skills for sustained public ministry.  I tend to give ministry everything I have, and I hope that seminary will help me acquire some better boundaries and self-care in doing ministry.  Finally, I am interested in learning systematic theology, to give me perspective on the biases I unconsciously bring to ministry.

What do you plan to do after you graduate?

I am not sure, and that is scary!  As of now, there is not a specific, paying job for what I am feeling called to do.  But my experience of leadings is that I only get one step at a time.  Right now, I feel that God is leading me to apply to seminary, so that is what I am doing.

When will you know whether you got in?

At this point, I am hoping to get all of my applications done by mid-January.  I should hear back within the next few months.

What about being a lawyer?

I am a member of the Washington Bar Association; if I go to seminary, I will go on inactive status.  After I graduate, I will have the option of going back to being an active member of the bar if I choose.

How do your friends and family feel about this decision?

Everyone has been really supportive!  My close friends and family have been watching me over the past several years as I have felt called to ministry, and me going to seminary has seemed like a natural next step for many of them.  I am grateful to have so many wonderful, supportive people in my life.

Is there anything I can do?

You can pray for me.  I can always use prayer and especially in this time of transition.  I would also appreciate any information about scholarships I might not know about.  And if you feel led to support me financially, that would be great.

Any other questions?

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Here and There

As usual, when my life gets busy, my blog gets quiet.  After a pretty low-key October, November has had a lot going on.  Fortunately, it's all good.

Early this month, I went to the FGC Traveling Ministries regional retreat for ministers and elders.  The retreat was hosted by Salem Friends Meeting, which is within walking distance of my house!  After spending so much time traveling long distances to get to Quaker events, I was thrilled to have a retreat so close.

About half of the Friends from the traveling ministries retreat.  Photo by Deborah F.
Deborah F and Kristi E did a wonderful job leading the retreat, and it was great to be able to catch up with Friends from the Pacific Northwest who I don't get to see often enough.  One of the highlights for me was leading Friends on a walk after lunch around the capital and the campus.  The leaves were beautiful and I got to show Friends some of my favorite places, including the statue of the Circuit Rider across the street from where I work.

Then last week, I used the long weekend for a trip to Seattle.  It was fun to go just to visit, and my adventures included a three-year-old's birthday party, vodka tasting, worship at University Friends Meeting, and lots of really good food.  The best part was being able to spend time with so many people that I love.  I hope to visit again soon!

Godson Simon granting my wish.  Photo by Emily W B.

Over the last several weeks, Friends United Meeting has engaged in 40 Days of Prayer for the future of Friends.  Even though Freedom Friends Church is not a member of FUM, I have been praying along.  I have really enjoyed joining in prayer with Friends around the world, and I look forward to seeing the fruit of this time of discernment.

And now I am grateful for a quiet weekend at home.  I will be meeting with my recording committee for the first time tomorrow afternoon.  I have been in the recording process for a while now, and meeting with a committee for discernment is the next step.  At times, I have really wanted to be recorded as a minister, other times I really have not.  Right now, I am feeling pretty ambivalent.  I have written before about how fraught recording is, especially for women, and it feels a little like putting a big target on my back.  But I do feel that God is leading me to go forward in the process, and I trust the Friends on my committee and in my meeting to hold me in prayer as I do.  If you feel so led, I would appreciate your prayers as well.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Just a Psalm

When I was little, my dad would read a chapter of the Bible to me and my sister every night before we went to bed.  Usually, we would read through one of the gospels or the stories from the Old Testament, but if we were late getting to bed, dad would tease us and say there wasn't enough time.  We would beg him to read to us, and he would relent, saying, "Maybe just a Psalm."  It became something that my sister and I would say jokingly, when we were up too late―just a Psalm.

Thinking about that makes me laugh now.  I still read the Bible before I go to bed, and I probably read the Psalms more than any other book.  There is so much to them!  The imagery is amazing, and I love how the writers reflect all of the emotions they are feeling: giving thanks, praising God, feeling abandoned, alone, or in despair―sometimes all in the same Psalm!

I also love how familiar the Psalms are, not just because I read them so often, but because I learned so many of them set to music in my childhood.  I will be reading along, then come to a phrase or even a whole chapter that brings back a melody and a time and place I had forgotten.

I memorized a lot of Bible verses as a child, but the first entire chapter I learned by heart was Psalm 100.  My travel Bible says that it is a psalm for giving thanks, which seems like a good place to start.  [Note: I generally try to use nongendered language for God, but because I learned this Psalm with male pronouns, I am leaving it that way here.]

Psalm 100

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
Serve the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful song.
Know that the Lord is God.  It is he who made us, and we are his; 
we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; 
give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Eldering III

After my last post, On Outrunning Your Guide, a Friend asked me if I had any advice on what to do if you hear someone else outrunning his or her guide.  This is really a question about eldering.  I have written in the past about serving as an elder for an individual minister and about working with an elder as a minister.  This post is about eldering within one's own meeting.

Dear Friend,

You asked if I had thoughts on what to do when you hear someone else outrunning his or her guide in giving vocal ministry.  I am a little ashamed to say that my initial reaction was, "Don't do anything!"  Taking a Friend to task for vocal ministry is the kind of behavior that has given "eldering" such a negative connotation, and I have spent a lot of time over the past few years trying to reclaim the positive definitions of the word!  Still, attending to the quality of worship and holding ministers accountable is an essential part of being an elder.

A few years ago, the Nominating Committee at University Friends Meeting spent some time reflecting on the question of eldering in response to vocal ministry and concluded that it was not possible to elder someone you do not love.  I think that is true for all kinds of eldering, but especially this kind.  It is something to approach with humility and grace.

As with vocal ministry, God may call anyone to serve as an elder at any time, but there are those in our meetings who have particular gifts of eldering.  An elder's primary task is to hold the meeting in prayer.  An elder may come to meeting early to ground the space, pray for the meeting throughout the week, or have a particular concern for the quality of worship.

If you are in meeting for worship and hear someone giving a message outrun his or her guide, my first recommendation is to go as deep as you can.  Pray for the minister and try to listen for the Spirit beneath the message.  Consider that the message may not be for you, and pray that it reaches the person who needs to hear it.

After the person giving ministry has finished, resist the temptation to respond!  I know that I sometimes feel an urge to smooth things over after a message that seems ungrounded, but I know that I would just be speaking out of my own discomfort and not at the prompting of the Spirit.

If you feel led to speak with the Friend who gave vocal ministry after the rise of meeting, test that leading.  Is the leading truly for you?  Is there someone else who may be feeling led to say something?  Does your meeting have a committee, such as Worship and Ministry, with a concern for the quality of worship?

If, after your discernment, you still feel clear that you have a message for the individual, ask to speak with him or her.  Be direct, speak with love, and say what God has put on your heart.  Then listen.  Giving vocal ministry is a vulnerable thing, and the Friend may have had the sense of outrunning the guide, or may be struggling with other issues.  Hold the encounter in prayer, before, during, and after.

People speaking without divine inspiration is one of the hazards of open worship.  If the meeting is grounded, it should be able to absorb the occasional misguided ministry.  But if this happens often or repeatedly, it is a symptom of larger problems that the meeting needs to address.

Some queries to consider:
  • Does the meeting have a shared expectation that worship is a time to center and listen for the voice of the Holy Spirit?  
  • Do members and attenders have a shared vocabulary to describe their experiences of feeling led to speak in worship?  
  • Is there space for conversations about vocal ministry?  
  • How does the meeting as a whole encourage vocal ministry and hold those who feel led to speak accountable?

Monday, October 8, 2012

On Outrunning Your Guide

[An edited version of an email I sent to a Friend recently, posted with permission.]

Dear Friend,

When we spoke, you said that you were worried that you may have outrun your guide in giving vocal ministry.  I have a number of responses to that.  As usual, take what is useful and leave the rest!

First, I have not had any sense of you outrunning your guide when I have heard you speak.  Your messages have felt grounded and encouraging and have spoken to my condition.

As for whether you have outrun your guide elsewhere, I don't know.  Here are some things that have been useful for me when I have been worried that I spoke in error.

One is that we never know who the message is for, even when we think we do.  Giving a message is like tossing out seeds, which fall on all sorts of soil.  The question, as always, is whether you were faithful with what you were given.

If there is a particular time that you feel you may have outrun your guide, it may be useful to find someone who was there, who you trust to be honest with you, and ask how that message felt to him or her.  Afterward, sit with the Friend's response and see how it feels to you.

The minister does not have sole responsibility for the message.  It is the responsibility of the meeting to hold the space, support the minister, and receive the message. That is one of the reasons I try to leave space before and after I give a message―to invite Friends to help me.  Sometimes I explicitly ask for that help.

Finally, even if you have outrun your guide, that's okay.  Ministry is messy!  The sense of outrunning your guide means that you are using your gifts at the edge of your ability, which is a way to grow.  God forgives us every time we make mistakes, and those mistakes give us an opportunity to forgive ourselves.  Then we pick ourselves up and try again at faithfulness.

That was probably much more of a response than you had in mind!  It was helpful for me to write it out, though, so thank you for giving me the opportunity.  I am grateful for our talk and I look forward to talking with you again soon.



Monday, September 24, 2012

Clearness Committee Report

After my last post about the cost of traveling ministry, a number of people commented about spiritual support.  I wanted to provide an example of the kind of spiritual support I have received from my meeting, so I asked the members of the clearness committee who met with me before and after my trip to North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative) if I could share the report they sent to FWCC Section of the Americas.  They said that I could.  I am grateful for the support and encouragement these Friends gave me and for the ways they have held me accountable.

September 7, 2012

To: FWCC c/o Friend  Ray T

Dear Friends,


It is a joy to be able to report back to you regarding Ashley W, her clearness process, her travel, and the rippling effect of her ministry and work.

Ashley is currently presiding clerk of
Freedom Friends Church in Salem, Oregon. She undertook a clearness process to discern a leading to participate in NCYM-Conservative. We sat with Ashley and in listening found the Spirit encouraging of this travel and that she was released to do it with joy.

Ashley reported back to Freedom Friends and to the clearness committee about her experience. Both reports brought new light to the Friends who heard about Ashley’s experiences at NCYM-C. Freedom Friends is considered convergent in many ways, and it encourages our hearts to find that a YEARLY MEETING could also be convergent and diverse in many ways. We learned about some of the tensions that NCYM-C holds in order to be faithful to their Lights.

Ashley’s clearness committee began a discussion about describing the “tools” that Ashley has in her “ministry toolbox”. We will continue this process, with Ashley, and with Freedom Friends. Here are some of the things that the committee said about Ashley’s tools:

“A quiet, yet powerful voice/leader. A conduit for connection between different branches of Quakerism. A mirror that reflects the connections/ similarities. A positive presence for FFC in the wider Quaker world.”  --Judy M.

“Ashley has an amazing ability to bring lightness and gravitas in turns both in and out of meeting for worship. Her knowledge of when to offer each of these gifts is definitely part of her toolbox. Ashley is a great communicator. Just like she is the elbow, I think it would be fair to say she is also a measuring tape and some spackle. She is skilled at assessment, taking the measure of a situation. And she seems to be able to fit herself in the cracks and help repair what should be a solid wall.  When I think of Ashley I think of laughter. Fully appropriate, in-place, holy laughter. When I think of Ashley I think of honesty. Even when it sucks to be honest. When I think of Ashley I think of grounding. The way she seeks to be fully grounded and present is a gift.”  --Susan B.

Here are my perceptions of Ashley’s toolbox for ministry. Ashley is a sensitive and brilliant person.  She is quiet, reserved, and very observant. She has been learning through the years to befriend her sensitivity. Sometimes she experiences powerful feelings that are her own, sometimes they are from the Spirit, and sometimes they are from individuals in her presence. She has been learning discernment and whether to act on the feelings/nudges, or to sit with them. As Ashley has learned, she has also modeled to our meeting. Ashley is serious about her faith and her process. I am inspired by her faith, and her process. Even so, her clearness committee invited her to “lighten up” and have fun at NCYM-C and to rest as she needed. We perceive that she did so, and did also have fun. This too is modeled to our meeting and the wider world of Quakers and people of faith.

At the end of August, I was asked to speak on a panel regarding convergent Quakers held by Western Friend at Corvallis Friends Meeting in Oregon. I asked Ashley to join me as my elder which worked well, as
she had wanted to attend also. When we arrived and the convener was speaking with me, I was led to encourage him to ask Ashley to be on the panel as well. He did so, and Ashley also sat on the panel and shared about diversity among NCYM-C Friends. Ashley was poised, well-spoken and seemed to enjoy the opportunity to share, even on such short notice. Ashley took the opportunity and was gracious and joyful in her sharing. She had no way of knowing she would be asked to share, and while it may have taxed her stamina for the weekend, she fully engaged in the opportunity and was well-received.

Ashley continues (as we all do) to learn about her stamina and how best to care for herself. She has learned to be flexible and roll with the unexpected. She is an encouragement and a model for our meeting, and for me. Thank you for your support for Ashley. I believe the things she has learned and is learning from the NCYM-C experience will continue to bear fruit for many months and years to come.


Alivia B, Pastor, Freedom Friends Church

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Cost of Traveling Ministry

About a week ago, Jon Watts wrote a series of posts asking Friends for help discerning way forward.  Although his Clothe Yourself in Righteousness project has been extremely successful financially, he is not making enough money to support himself.  He is questioning whether to lay his music ministry down.

I was not surprised to read Jon's posts, though they did make me sad.  Over the past few years, I have become one of the Friends who serves as a "last door out" for people leaving Quakerism.  I hear from young Friends who have been active in ministry but feel they have to leave.  In these conversations, two themes have emerged: lack of spiritual support and lack of financial support.  

This post is about the need for financial support.  (For more on spiritual support, see the paper I wrote on spiritual nurture for young Friends traveling in the ministry.)

Traveling ministry is expensive.  I believe that Friends have misunderstood our tradition of "free gospel ministry" as ministry with no cost.  There is always a cost and, right now, most of that cost is falling on the traveling ministers.  

I have been fortunate to receive many grants and scholarships from Friends in doing traveling ministry, as well as donations from individuals.  However, I have always lost money when I have done traveling ministry.

As I was preparing to visit North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative) this summer, I was thinking about how many Friends do not know the true cost of traveling ministry.  I wrote to a Friend on the yearly meeting planning committee and said that I was considering writing a post about the cost of traveling ministry, and asked if I could use NCYM-C as an example.  She graciously said I could, so I kept track of my expenses for the trip.

First, an explanation of the expenses and financial aid:

When I first felt led to visit NCYM-C, I wrote to a Friend in the yearly meeting about my leading.  She said that they would be happy to have me visit, but did not have money to pay for me to come.  So I applied for a grant from FWCC Section of the Americas for travel to and from the yearly meeting.  NCYM-C gave me a scholarship that covered my registration fee.

Apart from the travel costs, the most expensive thing about traveling ministry is the time it takes me away from my paid work.  I am fortunate to be employed and to have paid time off for vacation days and sick leave, and I mostly used that time for this trip.  Because these are paid days off, they did not actually cost me the amounts listed, but I could be using them for other things if I did not do traveling ministry.  In addition, I only had three vacation days saved up and I needed four days off work for the trip, so I took one day of leave without pay.  I also used one day of sick leave for a recovery day after I returned.  

I debated about including the expense for a massage, but I am trying to be as honest, accurate, and transparent as possible, and the truth is that traveling ministry is really hard on my body.  The combination of long hours traveling and spiritual work takes its toll, usually in my shoulders, back, and hips.  At various times, I have used acupuncture, physical therapy, and seen a chiropractor, but I have found that getting a massage right after traveling ministry is one of the best ways to readjust, so I include that in my budget when I travel.

Finally, even though I tried to include all of the expenses for the ministry here, there are some that I do not know.  While I was in North Carolina, Friends gave me rides to and from the airport and to annual sessions without accepting money for gas, gave me overnight hospitality, and fed me three meals outside of annual sessions.  I am grateful for their generosity.

Financial Aid
Round-trip flight from Portland to Greensboro
Travel grant from FWCC Section of the Americas
Taxi to shuttle

Shuttle from Salem to Portland airport

Gas for ride from Portland airport to Salem

NCYM-C annual session registration fee
Scholarship from NCYM-C
Food while traveling

Three paid vacation days

One day of leave without pay

One day of sick leave

Pet sitter


Total Expenses


Total Financial Aid


Difference between expenses and financial aid: $790

I am posting these numbers in the hope that they will start a conversation.  I am not asking for money (at least, not right now).  I had a wonderful time visiting NCYM-C; my leading was clear and I felt well-used while I was there.  At the same time, I have cut way back on the amount of time I spend doing traveling ministry, in part because of how costly it is.

I recently spoke about this with a Friend who is in her forties.  She said, "I just don't understand why those young Friends are burning themselves out."  For me, that comment reflected the lack of connection between many of the young Friends doing traveling ministry and the wider Quaker community.

So, like Jon, I have some questions for this largest clearness committee in the history of Quakerism:
  • Are young Friends mishearing the call from God to traveling ministry?
  • Does the Religious Society of Friends feel led to have a vibrant traveling ministry?
  • If so, how are Friends going to financially support that ministry?

*** UPDATE 9/18/12 ***

I realized to my chagrin today that I had completely forgotten to include in my budget the fact that, while I was traveling, a Friend quietly slipped me a check for $200 to help with traveling ministry.  So really, the total financial aid in my chart should be $1,035 and the difference between expenses and financial aid should be $590.  I am grateful to that Friend for the spontaneous gift and to all those who have done the same at various times.  That financial support from individuals is so encouraging and has made it possible for me to continue doing the work of traveling ministry.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Letting Go

About a month ago, I had a difficult conversation with a friend of mine.  The next day, when I checked my email, I had a message from him with the subject line, "Let it go."  I laughed out loud, then wrote him back and told him that it made me laugh.  I have been getting lots of lessons on letting go this summer, but that was the most explicit.

Writing is a process of letting go, and it is one that I don't feel particularly good at.  This summer, I had two articles come out at almost the same time because the magazines were on different publishing schedules.  The first was Rising Up: Ministry at the World Gathering of Friends in Friends Journal.  The second was the message I gave at the Pacific Northwest Quaker Women's Theology Conference, published in Western Friend as Inviting Grace: Letters and Lessons from the Apostle Paul.

After they came out, I thought I would feel great, but I mostly felt anxious.  Publishing in print is very different from writing on my blog.  It takes a lot longer, and by the time the article comes out, I feel removed from it.  The editors at both Friends Journal and Western Friend were fantastic, but I was also aware that the final product was not completely mine.  And the magazines reach a much wider audience than my little blog.  So I had a hard time letting go.

I used to feel similarly after giving vocal ministry.  I would pick apart the things I had said, and feel embarrassed about the way I said them.  But I eventually came to the conclusion that, if I believe the message comes from God (and I do), it is not my place to question the content.  I don't know who the message is for and I just have to trust that the person who is meant to hear it will receive it in the right way.

Today at lunch, I got another lesson in letting go.  I went to the farmers' market during my lunch break, and somewhere between there and work, $9 fell out of my pocket.  After getting upset and looking around a little, I hoped that whoever found the money needs it more than I do.  And I remembered a bad day when I found $20 on the ground and decided I was just repaying a loan.

I am trying to let go.  I hope I am getting better at it.  And I hope I don't need too many more lessons!

Monday, August 13, 2012


The next class for the School of the Spirit Ministry's program On Being a Spiritual Nurturer will be starting in just a few weeks.  Mary Linda, who I met at North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative), will be in that class.  Over the past few days, she and I have been having an emailed conversation about my experiences with the School of the Spirit.  With her permission, I am posting some of that conversation here.

MARY LINDA:  What was the most surprising thing you learned from SotS?

ASHLEY:   I think the most surprising thing for me was how much I had to say. I struggled with the grand silences because a lot of the program for me was about finding my voice. Once I did, I didn't want to be quiet!

MARY LINDA:   What do you mean? Like learning to trust the intimacy of the group and yourself so you were able to share yourself? Or something else?

ASHLEY:   More like the group was a safe space for me to learn about myself, and that one of the things I learned was that I had a lot to say. Does that make sense?

MARY LINDA:   Yes, and it must have been a wonderful thing to come to realize. Has it carried forward to other aspects of your life?

ASHLEY:   Absolutely. I feel much more grounded and confident as a result of the program. Particularly in ministry, but the line between ministry and everything else is pretty blurry!

MARY LINDA:   Did anything disappoint you about your experience with SotS?

ASHLEY:   It was a little hard for me that people weren't very good at keeping in touch between the residencies. I think I felt that especially because I lived so far away from everyone. We were all so close when we were together, and there would be a flurry of emails right before and after each residency, but not an ongoing conversation.

MARY LINDA:   I can see that. How's it been since your class ended? Have you been able to maintain contact with the people you felt closest with?

ASHLEY:   Our last residency was in May 2011, so over a year now. I have been able to keep in touch with some, but not all. It depends a lot on how much they use email and social media. I see Charley most often, because she lives closest, but run into others occasionally. It was so good to see so many people at NCYM-C!

MARY LINDA:   It seemed like Old Home Week to me, for sure! I was happy to meet you and some other people who mean so much to Mark. What do you wish you'd done differently in regards to SotS?

ASHLEY:   That one is hard to answer. It felt like most things happened the way they were supposed to.  It did take me a while to realize that I needed a recovery day after the residencies, both because of the travel and because the residencies were pretty intense. If I could talk to myself before I started the program, I would probably say, "Don't worry so much, it's going to be great!"

MARY LINDA:  Knowing you from a distance for years via the Quaker blog-o-sphere, I only see what you've been led to share but you strike me as someone who was already deeply spiritually directed and faithful. How did your relationship with God change through and after SotS? What did you learn about God and yourself?

ASHLEY:   In some ways, the spiritual practices in SotS felt like a natural extension of what I was already doing. And I had already been traveling in the ministry for over a year before starting the program, so the travel felt a little like more of the same.

I'd say one of the biggest things for me was a sense of how expansive God's love is, for me and for others. Before starting the program, I was honestly worried that I didn't have room in my heart for all of these new people. Of course, I did, and for so many more that I met through SotS, directly and indirectly.

I think being a part of the class/community softened me. There were several times over the course of those two years where I would see someone do something thoughtless, and then turn around and be a clear channel for God's love. I came to see how everyone is a mixed bag---myself included---and God loves us all anyway.

I also learned how much support I need for ministry. That was hard for me because I like to think of myself as independent and self-sufficient, but I really need a lot of support. My care committees, my k-group, my class, and the two meetings I was a part of were all anchors for my ministry over those two years.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Report on Visiting NCYM-C

Report on Visiting North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative)
Radical Hospitality: Cherishing the Old, Attending the New
July 12-15, 2012, Greensboro, NC

I visited North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative) annual sessions, which took place July 12-15, 2012.  I arrived in Greensboro the evening of July 10 and spent the night at Jan and Charlie A’s farm.  The next day, Jan and I went to Guilford College to check in for annual sessions and attend worship under the care of yearly meeting Ministry and Oversight and the open meeting of Ministry and Oversight.  The registrar reported that over the course of the annual sessions, 47 members of NCYM-C attended, along with 27 visitors.

Responses to the queries
NCYM-C is structured so that the majority of decisions are made at the monthly meeting level.  For example, each monthly meeting decides whether to record ministers and elders―some do and some do not.  A large part of the business sessions was spent hearing from the monthly meetings.  Representatives read the state of the meeting reports and responses to the queries.  The query responses showed the diversity within the yearly meeting.  I was impressed by the honest responses to the queries and how Friends in NCYM-C can hold a variety of positions but still be within the same yearly meeting.

One of the highlights for me was the Bible study, which took place each day for 45 minutes after breakfast.  The theme was “Radical Hospitality,” and Deborah S did a wonderful job of embodying that theme.  After welcoming everyone, she read the Bible passages for the day twice and asked us to settle into worship.  Then we divided into pairs to reflect on what arose for us in the passages.  Finally, we shared in the full group.  I appreciated Deborah’s instructions to listen for what was new in the passages that were familiar, and her focus on the heart instead of the head.  It was also a lovely way to get to know people in the yearly meeting better as I shared with different partners each day.
Me and Deborah S

I enjoyed reading the part of Anna in Charley B’s play “The Call” again.  It was a lot of fun to do the play with School of the Spirit classmates, and the Friends from NCYM-C who joined us were very enthusiastic.  I am grateful for Charley’s work; her play raises a lot of the issues that come up around young adult Friends traveling in the ministry, but it does so in a non-confrontational way.  The reading generated good conversation about traveling ministry and hospitality.

I had the sense as I went to the yearly meeting that I was just supposed to be available.  That was helpful for me because it allowed me to say no to anything that felt like it would get in the way of being available.  I felt very present in the moment, and glad that I could be free for opportunities for conversation and worship.  I also felt good about my level of self-care.  Although I attended many of the business meetings, I did not feel the need to be present for all of them, and I took naps and other breaks.

Usually when I travel, I am very specific about finding an elder ahead of time.  Even though there were many people at the annual sessions who have served in that role for me before and I think would have been happy to do so again, I didn't ask anyone.  As a Friend there noted, there were a lot of folks there who had my back.
Plain Friends and technology

I had the opportunity to connect with Friends from different branches, both in the annual sessions and otherwise.  It was good to see several friends from North Carolina Yearly Meeting (FUM).  I was amused by how people from both yearly meetings were interested in the “other” Friends―they live in the same state, it seems like it would be easy for them to talk directly to each other instead of talking to me!  (And to be fair, some of them do.)  I was glad to be able to be a bridge between different kinds of Friends.

One of the issues that came up in a variety of ways during annual sessions was how to support ministers and elders.  Ministry and Oversight scheduled a time for recorded ministers and elders to meet for mutual support.  Meetings that do not record ministers are considering other ways to name and support spiritual gifts.  And I had several conversations with people about ways to support ministry spiritually and financially.  I felt very supported while I was there and many people wished me well in my ministry.

I am grateful for the travel grant from FWCC that made this travel in the ministry possible, for NCYM-C’s hospitality and a scholarship to cover my registration, for Freedom Friends Church providing me with love, support, a traveling minute, and a clearness committee, and for all of the Friends who were praying for me and who welcomed me.  Our time together was blessed, and I hope to spend more time with Friends in North Carolina in the future.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Summer Reading

Summer is a great time for some light reading outside.  While some use that time to catch up on a mystery series or those classics they have been meaning to get to, I seem to be drawn to spiritual memoirs, particularly ones written by women.  Here are a few that I have enjoyed recently.

Jesus Loves Women: A Memoir of Body and Spirit CoverJesus Loves Women: A Memoir of Body and Spirit, by Tricia Gates Brown.  This book was recommended to me by Cherice B, who wrote a review on her blog.  If it hadn't been for Cherice's recommendation, I know I would not have read it, the title would have been too off-putting, but I'm glad she did.  In the introduction, Brown wrote that she is drawn to "the complex interplay of body and spirit, of the sensual and the spiritual, and the sexual and the spiritual."  As I read that, a voice inside me said, Yes!  This is what we need!  I am grateful for Brown's honesty in telling her own story, and the connections she makes between spirituality and the body.  I do not know Brown personally, but she is a Quaker who lives in the Pacific Northwest, and it was fun to read a memoir with such a familiar setting. 

Beginner's Grace: Bringing Prayer to Life CoverBeginner's Grace: Bringing Prayer to Life, by Kate Braestrup.  I first got to know some of Kate Braestrup's story in her book Here If You Need Me, about her work as a chaplain to game wardens in Maine (if you have not read that book yet, go get it from your library immediately).  I grew up in a family and school where prayer was a given, so it surprises me how often I hear people say that they do not know how to pray.  For anyone looking for ways to pray, I recommend this book.  It is approachable and funny, filled with stories from Braestrup's life as well as a lot of great prayers.  Braestrup does a good job of showing the vast variety of kinds of prayers―she does not even get to prayers where you ask for things until p. 131!  There is also an appendix in the back with all of the prayers that are included throughout the book, many of which are by Braestrup.

Flunking Sainthood: A Year of Breaking the Sabbath, Forgetting to Pray, and Still Loving My Neighbor Cover
Flunking Sainthood: A Year of Breaking the Sabbath, Forgetting to Pray, and Still Loving My Neighbor, by Jana Riess.  This is the lightest of the three books, and at times reads like blog posts instead of a book.  For one year, Riess set out to become more saintly by assigning herself a different spiritual practice each month, beginning with fasting.  Reading this book felt a little like School of the Spirit-lite.  There were a lot of familiar readings (The Desert Mothers and Fathers!  The Rule of Saint Benedict!), but she didn't go deep into any of them.  Riess states at various points that she feels like her spiritual practice is superficial, and I have to agree.  She also recognizes by the end that these practices are meant to be done in community and it is less meaningful to try to do them alone.  I think Riess is a little hard on herself when she says that she failed all of the spiritual practices―I think she had relative success with many of them, but she set herself up to fail with unreasonable expectations.  Still, it is a very funny book and an easy way to learn about a lot of different spiritual practices.

Have you read any good books lately?  What would you recommend?