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.