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!