Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Traveling Report to NPYM Coordinating Committee

Since receiving a traveling minute from the North Pacific Yearly Meeting Coordinating Committee at annual session last summer, I have visited the following meetings and churches to share about the 8th Pacific Northwest Quaker Women’s Theology Conference:
  • Northwest Yearly Meeting annual session, with Sarah P
  • Camas Friends Church (NWYM), with Sarah P
  • Anchorage Friends Meeting (Alaska Friends Conference), with Inger H
  • Spokane Friends Church (NWYM), with Sarah P
  • Eugene Friends Church (NWYM), with Sarah P
  • Eugene Friends Meeting (NPYM), with Sarah P
  • Bellingham Friends Meeting (NPYM), with Sarah P
  • Sandpoint Friends Meeting (NPYM), with Sarah P and Leann W
  • North Seattle Friends Church (NWYM), with Sarah H
All of the churches and meetings I visited were extremely hospitable.  Although the women’s conference was the official reason for these visits, it often did not feel like the reason I was there.  Sometimes something else seemed important, and sometimes I felt like I did not really know why I was there (though I trust there was a reason).  There were several people who came to the women’s conference for the first time this year and I think that was a result of the visits.  It also felt like Sarah and I were planting seeds for Friends to come to future conferences, consider traveling in the ministry, or interact with different kinds of Friends in other ways.

In this report, I will give a more detailed description of each of the visits (the format varied), followed by some general thoughts about the experience of traveling with the minute from NPYM.

My primary role in visiting Northwest Yearly Meeting annual session was as the NPYM visitor, but I did have several informal conversations about the women’s conference while I was there.  Sarah P, my co-clerk on the women’s conference planning committee, and I met with the NWYM Administrative Council (AC) to talk about the women’s conference and ask for a traveling minute for Sarah, like the one I had received from NPYM.  The AC approved giving Sarah a traveling minute and the women of the AC offered support and guidance for Sarah as we discerned where to travel.

During our visit to Camas Friends Church in early October, Sarah P and I stayed with Wess and Emily D.  It was wonderful to spend time with them and we had an opportunity to worship with them in their home.  On Sunday in programmed worship, Sarah gave a prepared message.  We met with several women from Camas after lunch to talk about the women’s conference.  Women shared their experiences in going to the conference in the past as well as times when they had encountered different kinds of Friends. 

One thing that was surprising to me on this visit was learning more about the central role of the pastor in NWYM churches.  Sarah stepped into this role as the person preaching on Sunday and I felt more like a support person.  Sarah and I encountered some difficulties in traveling as two ministers without an elder, as well as in balancing our friendship and the different kinds of work we were doing together.  We continued to work on these issues between this visit and our next official meeting visit together, which for a variety of reasons did not take place until the end of February.

My visits to Anchorage Friends Meeting and Spokane Friends Church were informal visits while I was traveling for other reasons.  I visited Anchorage Friends Meeting while I was staying with my family for Christmas.  My friend Inger H, who is not a Quaker, accompanied me and agreed to hold me in prayer if I felt led to speak.  After worship, the Friends there asked me to read my minutes aloud and speak briefly about the women’s conference.  I enjoyed worshiping with these Friends again after visiting them the previous year.  I visited Spokane Friends Church while spending the weekend with Sarah P.  Sarah and I attended programmed worship together and Sarah made an announcement introducing the women’s conference and me.

Sarah P and I visited Eugene Friends Meeting and Eugene Friends Church in late February.  We stayed with Tom and Vicki S, who were wonderful hosts.  On Saturday evening, Tom and Vicki hosted a potluck with about a dozen Friends from the meeting and the church.  I felt like the potluck was the reason we were there; Friends from the meeting and church really enjoyed spending time together and suggested getting together regularly and having official visits to each other.  The next morning, Sarah and I attended 8:30 a.m. programmed worship at Eugene Friends Church, and made announcements about the women’s conference at two Sunday school classes there.  We then went to Eugene Friends Meeting for singing and attended 11 a.m. unprogrammed worship, making announcements about the women’s conference at each.

Sarah and I rescheduled our visit to Bellingham Friends Meeting at least once before our trip in late March.  We also ended up driving up on Sunday morning instead of staying overnight because we were too tired to make the trip after clerking a committee meeting all day.  We sang and worshiped with Friends, then led the adult religious education hour after meeting.  In adult religious education, we began with worship and then asked Friends to name all of the words they could think of to describe the divine.  We wrote the words on the white board as they spoke and ended up with about 40 words.  It was a good visual and opened up the conversation.  We talked about the women’s conference and I gave an example of narrative theology by telling the story of how Sarah and I met.  Friends shared many stories about encountering different kinds of Friends.

Before Sarah and I visited Sandpoint Friends Meeting in April, Leann W offered to come with us as an elder.  We really appreciated her offer and enjoyed having her with us while we traveled.  Leann met with Sarah and me on Saturday afternoon for some worship and singing.  During worship, we noted that we were all in times of transition in our lives (jobs changing, coming to the end of traveling/working on the women’s conference).  On Sunday, the three of us went to Sandpoint Friends Meeting for unprogrammed worship.  After worship, Sandpoint had a potluck, then we led a discussion session.  We talked about the women’s conference, narrative theology, and different language for God.  Friends there asked us to talk about the different kinds of worship at our meetings and churches: Sarah described programmed worship at Spokane Friends, I described semi-programmed worship at Freedom Friends, and Leann talked about her Friday night worship group.

My visit to North Seattle Friends Church was fairly informal, though it was planned in advance.  Sarah H, who is on my care committee, agreed to come with me as an elder.  I made an announcement about the women’s conference during their “God stories” time, but my old fears about public speaking returned and I did not say everything I had hoped to say about the women’s conference.  Fortunately, Jan W added on to what I said and talked about the work of reconciliation the women’s conference is doing in this part of the country and the impact that it has beyond the Northwest. 

After this visit, I realized how tired I was from all of the travel and work on the women’s conference.  Travel in the ministry was physically, spiritually, and emotionally exhausting for me in general.  I needed at least a day to recover from each of these trips and ended up using quite a bit of sick leave from work.

Something that surprised me about these visits is that I did not feel led to speak in worship in any of the meetings I visited.  This felt like a learning experience for me on when not to speak.  I did speak in each meeting and church outside of meeting for worship, either by giving an announcement or leading a presentation.  Public speaking does not come easily for me and this gave me an opportunity to practice.  I also found that it became easier to talk about the women’s conference the more I did it.

Traveling with Sarah P was good and sometimes challenging.  We found that we had to work on our relationship in order for the ministry to work and at times it was very difficult.  Spending this much time doing ministry together was very good, though, and I think it helped us when we had to work together all the time during the women’s conference.  I felt that we were yoked together in ministry and made a deep spiritual connection through this work.

Over the past year, I have met with a care committee as part of the School of the Spirit program I am doing.  They were very supportive of my ministry and helped me through some of the more difficult times.  Other than my meetings with them, I felt pretty disconnected from University Friends Meeting.  At the time I requested the traveling minute from NPYM, I did not look at the section on traveling minutes in NPYM Faith and Practice.  I recently read it and learned that the process for granting a traveling minute is for it to first go to the member’s home meeting’s Oversight committee (p. 80).  Although this would have taken longer, I think going through this process and having the minuted support of University Friends Meeting would have made me feel more connected to the meeting while I was traveling.

Faith and Practice also says, “When a meeting grants a minute of travel, it should take care that, as far as possible, the service is not hindered for lack of funds or other resources.”  Fortunately, I received a grant from FWCC and spiritual support from my care committee, but it would have been nice to have more interaction with Friends from NPYM regarding whether I needed funds or other resources.

Thank you for giving me this traveling minute and the opportunity to represent NPYM while visiting meetings and churches in the Pacific Northwest.  Please let me know if you have any questions or would like any further information about my time traveling in the ministry.

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