Monday, April 29, 2013


It feels strange to tell a story about skiing when it was in the 70s all last week, but I am going to anyway.  (It is stranger that it was in the 70s all last week in Salem, Oregon, in April.  And that the predicted high for Saturday is 84.  Climate change is real, you guys.)

When I was growing up in Alaska, I loved to go downhill skiing and I got pretty good at it.  One day, I was out skiing with my mom and conditions were perfect.  It was sunny and the mountain was covered in soft, fresh powder.  My mom was ahead of me, so I took a run pretty quickly.  

Then, close to the bottom, my ski caught and I wiped out spectacularly.  I wasn't hurt, but I went head over heels, and my skis and poles all went in different directions.  I got up and collected my skis and poles and skied the rest of the way down.

When I caught up to my mom, she was waiting with a friend, an older man who was an excellent skier.  I was hanging my head because I knew they had both seen me wipe out.  Then the friend said to me, "Don't be embarrassed.  When you fall like that, it means you are skiing right at the edge of your ability."

A few weeks ago, I met with my recording committee for the last time.  We didn't have a topic for the meeting, we just met to spend some time in worship and see what arose.  

During our conversation, one person said that, when you do ministry, you have to be prepared to fail often.  I told the committee my story about skiing and wiping out, and said that sometimes I have the sense that I am doing ministry right at the edge of my ability.  

Sometimes I make it through and breathe a sigh of relief; sometimes I wipe out spectacularly.  But I hope to have the strength to get back up and try again.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Asking for Money (Again)

There was a time a few years ago when it seemed like everyone was asking me, "Are you sure you don't want to go to seminary?"

My standard response was, "No.  I can't afford it."  

Like most people who go to law school these days, I took out some sizable student loans to pay for my education.  I have been faithfully sending in money each month for several years, but it will be a long time before I am finished paying those loans off.

Now I am going to seminary in the fall.  I still can't afford it.

I have been very fortunate: all three of the schools I applied to offered me full-tuition scholarships.  One offered me a generous living stipend as well.  Unfortunately, it was not the school I felt led to attend.  

Last month, I was on a plane between school visits, praying.  My prayer went something like this: "Hey God, this school is offering me a lot of money.  It is really hard to say no to that.  What should I do?"

The response I got was, "Since when do you make decisions based on money?"

Of course, that is right.  If I made decisions based on money, I would have made a lot of different decisions over the past few years, up to and including applying for seminary.  But I don't make decisions based on money; I try to make decisions based on how I discern God is leading me.

A few days later, I was sitting on the campus at Candler School of Theology, waiting for a friend to pick me up, when a student walked up to me and handed me small card with a piece of chocolate taped to it.  The card said,
"So do not fear, for I am with you, do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you."  Isaiah 41:10
I went home and sent a letter to the school that had offered me so much money, thanking them for their generous offer and letting them know that I would be attending Candler.

Even though I have a full-tuition scholarship, I will need money for living expenses.  I am planning to get a part-time job while I am in school and I am going to take out more student loans.  At this point, that feels somewhere between a leap of faith and flat-out crazy.  But I believe this is the path God is putting me on, and I will do my best not to fear or be dismayed.

So I am asking for money again, as I have so many times before.  Would you be willing to contribute to help cover the cost of my theological education?  Any amount helps.  If so, please see the letter at the end of this post for information about how to make a contribution.

Another way to support me is through gift cards.  Two of the expenses I will have in the fall are food and books.  I would especially appreciate gift cards for Kroger, Powell's Books, or Whole Foods.

Finally, if you know of any scholarships that could help defray some of the cost of my education, I would love to know about them.  You can leave a comment here or email me; my email address is: ashleymwilcox AT gmail DOT com.

Thank you to all of you who have supported me in prayer and financially.  My ministry would not be possible without you.

* * *

[A letter from the Candler School of Theology Office of Financial Aid.]

Dear Colleagues in Ministry,

It is my pleasure to inform you that Ashley Wilcox has been admitted to Candler School of Theology's Master of Divinity degree program, beginning in the fall 2013 semester.  Ashley has also been selected to receive our Honors Scholarship.

The Honors Scholarship provides a $19,800 award.  This award is renewable each year, based upon maintenance of a minimum GPA requirement.

Candler's mission is "to educate faithful and creative leaders for the church's ministries in the world."  It is our hope that you will partner with us to assist Ashley in funding her theological education.  While Ashley's scholarship addresses tuition expenses, the actual cost of attending Candler this year is $44,009.  I invite you to make a contribution to Ashley's theological education.  You may alert me of your intention to make a contribution by letter, fax (404-727-2915), or email (  This will allow me to include your contribution as "Anticipated Aid" on Ashley's student account.

To ensure your contribution assists with fall semester expenses, please send it to Candler's Office of Financial Aid by August 15.  (Spring semester contributions are encouraged by January 15.)  Checks should be made payable to Emory University and mailed to my attention at
Candler School of Theology
Office of Financial Aid
1531 Dickey Drive
Atlanta, GA  30322
Candler's scholarship programs, along with generous support from individuals, local churches, community groups, and denominational bodies help make theological education possible for promising candidates for ministry, teaching, and service.  We believe that an investment in Ashley and students like her is an investment in the future of the church and society.  Please accept our thanks in advance for the support, both financial and spiritual, that you will provide Ashley in the days ahead.

Warmest regards,

Lisa Parker
Financial Aid Advisor

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Personal Statement

[This is the personal statement I wrote as part of my application for Candler School of Theology.]
"See, I am doing a new thing!  Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland."  Isaiah 43:19.
My name is Ashley Wilcox, and I am a Quaker minister, a lawyer, a writer, and a beloved child of God.  I am a gospel minister in the prophetic, Friends tradition; my message is, “Turn toward God, in whatever language you use for God.”  For the past few years, I have carried a concern for supporting ministers in the Religious Society of Friends.  I am now feeling called to seminary, which I believe will give me some of the tools I need to support those ministers.

Friends believe that all are ministers and God can speak through anyone.  We also believe that some are called to sustained, public ministry.  I first felt that call to ministry in the spring of 2008, at the Pacific Northwest Quaker Women’s Theology Conference.  The purpose of the women’s conference is to bring evangelical and liberal Friends together to try to discover the best of our tradition through the use of narrative theology―telling the story of how God is at work in our lives.  Over the four days of the conference, I felt like God was holding up parts of my life that I had been unwilling to face, and asking me to deal with them.  I felt broken open and very tender.

By the end of the weekend, I had agreed to be co-clerk of the planning committee for the next conference.  I was exhausted and ready to go home when we entered into our final open worship.  Then, out of the silence, God spoke to me.  God said, “It’s not always going to be this easy.”

I said, “What?”  Of all the words I could think of to describe my experience at the conference, “easy” was not one of them.

God responded, “Yes, this is the easy part.  It is going to be a lot harder after this.  But I will be there too.”*

At the time, I felt shattered and overwhelmed.  But those words and the deep sense of calling I felt have gotten me through some very difficult times, and I am grateful for the sense I have of God’s presence with me.

Within a few months of the women’s conference I began to do traveling ministry.  I traveled to Friends meetings and churches to worship with them and share about the women’s conference.  I was not raised in the Religious Society of Friends―I became a “convinced Friend” while I was in law school―but I found that my childhood in the evangelical church was a great benefit in my ministry.  As a child, I had grieved that I could not speak in tongues like my classmates in our charismatic Sunday school, but I suddenly found that I could: even though I was a member of a liberal, unprogrammed Friends meeting, I knew the songs and language in the evangelical, programmed Friends churches.  I could act as a bridge between the two, and feel like I was part of both.

Since graduating from law school, I have worked as a judicial clerk for two state courts of appeals, in Washington and Oregon.  I spend most of my time as a clerk researching and writing judicial opinions.  I have enjoyed many things about clerking: it is good work and my colleagues are wonderful.  I have had opportunities to improve my writing, editing, and research skills.  One of the best things about working at the courts has been the 40-hour workweek, which is very rare in the legal profession!

While working for the courts, I have been able to do traveling ministry, participate in the School of the Spirit Ministry’s program On Being a Spiritual Nurturer, organize retreats and conferences, serve on committees, give talks, write articles, and serve as clerk of my meeting, Freedom Friends Church.  I am grateful for the flexibility and support I have received from my bosses and coworkers over the past several years.  Now, however, I feel that God is calling me to transition away from full-time legal work.

Applying to seminary right now feels a little like stepping off the boat.  As I said, I feel called to support ministers in the Religious Society of Friends, but that is not a job that currently exists.  There are a number of things happening right now though that give me the sense that there are big changes coming for Friends and Christianity as a whole, and I want to be in the best position I can be to nurture these changes.

First, a large number of women across denominations are being called into ministry.  This is a relatively new phenomenon in the church in general, but Friends have had women ministers for over 350 years, and I believe that Friends offer a unique perspective on women in ministry.  Second, an unprecedented number of Friends are being called to seminary.  It is not clear yet why God is calling so many to formal theological education―there currently are not enough positions for them―but I believe that there is a reason that Friends (and young Friends in particular) are being equipped for ministry in this way.  Third, there is a generational shift beginning in the Religious Society of Friends.  Until recently, the leadership was mostly comprised of people who came of age during the social activism of the Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam War.  Many of them were drawn to Friends because of the social causes Friends supported.  The rising generation of leaders may also be involved in social justice issues but, at its core, this generation is calling Friends to faithfulness.  Young Friends are seeking renewal, asking all of us to listen deeply to what the Spirit is calling us to do, individually and as a community.

A degree is not necessary to be a minister among Friends.  On the contrary, if all goes according to plan, I will most likely have finished the recording process (the Quaker version of ordination) and be a recorded (ordained) minister before starting seminary.  However, I believe that a Master of Divinity will give me useful tools for sustained public ministry.  I tend to give ministry everything I have, and I hope that seminary will help me develop better boundaries and self-care in doing ministry.  I am also interested in learning systematic theology, to give me perspective on the biases I unconsciously bring to texts and ministry.  I know that I have much to learn from the faculty and from my peers in the context of seminary, and I am eager to make connections with others who are called to ministry.

I am applying to Candler School of Theology because it seems like the best place for me to hone my skills in leadership and ministry.  I am impressed by how Candler explicitly supports denominational leadership, which is something that I would like to bring back to the Religious Society of Friends.  I look forward to the opportunity to spend two years doing contextual education, and I am particularly interested in the possibility of serving in a women’s prison during my first year of seminary.  I am also drawn to Candler because of its programs to support women in ministry; I am interested in exploring the certificate in Women, Theology, and Ministry.  It is clear that Candler is a place where people not only study theology, but worship together, practice their faith, and put that faith into action in the world.  I want to be a part of that kind of community.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

* I shared this story in the message I gave at the 2012 Pacific Northwest Quaker Women's Theology Conference, which was published in the July/August 2012 issue of Western Friend as Inviting Grace: Letters and Lessons from the Apostle Paul.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Easter Message

[This is the message I gave during fifth-Sunday programmed worship at Freedom Friends Church yesterday.  In our programmed worship services, we have talked about some of the different ways of reading the Bible.  This worship was in the style of lectio divina: we read the scripture aloud three times―twice before the message and once after, followed by a time of open worship.  The worship began and ended with beautiful music by Seth Martin.  I highly recommend his new CD and, in particular, the song Fireweed Mountain, which he played at the end of open worship.
On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb.  They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them.  In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?  He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’” Then they remembered his words.
When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others.  It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles.  But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. 
Luke 24:1-11 (NIV).
As many of you know, I have a godson named Simon who is five.  Last year, something sad happened to Simon.  Simon would like to have a dog, but he can't because his mom is allergic. He got really attached to his aunt and uncle's dog, who was very elderly.  Last year, that dog passed away.  Simon was sad and had a lot of questions about death.  

One day, Simon went to his dad.  He was really excited.  He said, "Dad, I have a great idea!  Why don't we pray to Jesus to raise Max from the dead?"  And Simon's dad had to explain to him that, although we believe that Jesus could raise Max from the dead, he probably wouldn't.

And that is what usually happens when people die: we don't see them again.  

In the scripture we read today, Jesus has died and no one knows what is going to happen.  The women follow their tradition; this is what they do when someone dies, they prepare the spices and go to take care of the body.

This is one of the stories that we tell over and over.  We tell it every year around this time, and other times of the year as well.  I think one of the reasons that we tell this story so often is because it has to do with death, something we all experience.  We are all going to die, and we will all have people that we love die.

So I am going to tell the story of the first time I experienced death.  This happened when I was 19.  It was not the first time that someone I knew died, but it was the first time death really touched me.

In my family's neighborhood, there were two families with three children.  One had three sons and the other had three daughters.  The kids were about the same ages as the kids in my family, and our families were close.

One Sunday, very early in the morning, my mom woke me up to tell me that there had been a car accident.  The middle son had been in a car that was hit by a bus, and it looked like he was not going to make it.  He didn't.  It was devastating for my family.

Then, less than a week later, we got a phone call, saying that there had been another car accident.  Two of the daughters in the other family had been in the car, and the oldest daughter was killed in the accident.

I think there is a special kind of grief when young people die unexpectedly.  No one knew what to do.  Our church's youth pastor came to my family's house to talk to us, but I don't remember what he said.  I didn't want to hear about God.  I was too angry.

What I do remember from that time is my mom.  Every day for two weeks, she made muffins for the families.  She would wrap the muffins up in a basket and leave them on the doorstep for the families.  During that time, I would wake up in the mornings and watch my mom make muffins, and that is where I saw God.

At North Seattle Friends Church, they have a practice on Sundays of sharing what they call "God stories"―stories of how they see God at work in their lives.  This is one of those stories.

In this Bible story, when the women come to the tomb, they find the stone rolled away and encounter two men who look like light.  These men say to them, "Why do you look for the living among the dead?"

I always used to read that as the men chastising the women, but now I read it as true.  We find the living among the dead.  God is especially present in times of death.

These men who look like light say to the women, "He is not here; he has risen!  Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 'The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.'"  

Jesus had said those things to the women, but when he said them, they didn't understand.  It seemed like nonsense to them.  But when the women heard them again, they understood.  

These women―Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others―went back to tell the Eleven and the others what they had seen and heard, but those men did not believe them because they had not experienced it yet.  To them, it seemed like nonsense.

My message this morning is this:  Tell the stories of how God is present in your life, however you see God in your life.  Even if, to others, it seems like nonsense.