I just found out that Alivia has a bad sore throat and probably will not be able to clerk business/yearly meeting today, so I will most likely be clerking in her place. This is the business meeting where we are considering the new slate of officers, including me as presiding clerk. I would really appreciate it if you would pray for me and for Freedom Friends, whenever you get this (since God is out of time, I figure after-the-fact prayers work just as well). Thank you!
Monday, January 17, 2011
Last week, I became presiding clerk of Freedom Friends Church. That wasn't a surprise. Although you never know what the meeting will do, I had been assistant presiding clerk for the previous year with the expectation that I would go on to be clerk, and no one had raised concerns about my nomination. But I wasn't expecting to clerk the business meeting in which I became clerk.
On Sunday morning before meeting, I got a call from Alivia, who was then presiding clerk. She sounded awful. She told me that after Ministry and Oversight met the day before, she had come down with a terrible cold, and had spent the night awake with a sore throat. I said that I was sorry, and that I could clerk business meeting if she wasn't up for it. She said she would think about it, and called me back a few minutes later to say that she thought it would be better for me to clerk.
I was terrified. Although I have clerked committee meetings and conference calls, I had never clerked monthly meeting. And, in addition to the regular business meeting, this was the Sunday we were going to have yearly meeting (because Freedom Friends is an independent monthly meeting, we have our own yearly meeting). I had never even attended yearly meeting at Freedom Friends.
I knew I needed some backup, so I sent out an email to 22 Friends from all over the country, asking them to pray for me. I said,
A few minutes later, Peggy and Alivia picked me up and we went to church.
When we got to the church, Alivia and I went over the powerpoint slides that she had prepared for the meetings. We talked again about whether she was up for clerking, and agreed again that she was not. I know it was disappointing for her, after being clerk for over six years, to not be able to clerk her final business meeting, but it seemed right to both of us.
While we were talking, I realized that my hands were shaking so much that I couldn't hold my cup of tea. I prayed to be able to get through the meeting. Alivia prayed for me, and said that she would be praying during business meeting. Then meeting for worship began.
It has been our practice at Freedom Friends for a while to have business meeting rise out of our usual meeting for worship. So we began our usual semi-programmed worship with a song and gratitudes and petitions. During the time for petitions, I said that I had not woken up that morning expecting to clerk business meeting, and asked the meeting to hold me in prayer.
After open worship, I felt led to pray and begin the business meeting. As soon as business meeting began, I felt a calm descend on me. I knew that Alivia and others were praying for me, and I felt easy to go through the agenda that Ministry and Oversight had prepared. As I was clerking, I felt as if there were hands on my shoulders. Even though I knew there was no one there, I almost turned around to check. I could feel the presence of many of the Friends I had asked to hold me in prayer there in the room with me.
I was supposed to present on two topics during business meeting, my Margaret Fell Fund report and a recommendation from Ministry and Oversight to have alternating unprogrammed and programmed worship on fifth Sundays. I knew it was not good process for me to present while I was clerking, so I asked Alivia to step in and clerk during those presentations, and she agreed to do so. I think it must have looked funny for us to be switching chairs, but when we did, I could feel the weight of clerking come off my shoulders and see it go onto hers. And when we switched back, I felt the weight on me again.
Business meeting took about an hour, then we took a 10 minute break, and met again for yearly meeting. In our yearly meeting, we approved the new slate of officers, including me as presiding clerk, and minuted our gratitude for those who had served for the previous year. We also extended our pastor's call for another year, and heard and approved the State of the Church Report. And then it was over.
I know that being clerk of Freedom Friends will be one of the most challenging things I have ever done. I know I won't do it perfectly, and making mistakes along the way will be part of the learning experience. But thinking about it now, I feel so filled with gratitude. I am grateful to all those who were praying for me, both there and far away. I am grateful to Alivia for being faithful and allowing me to step into this role. I am grateful to Freedom Friends for trusting me to listen to them and to God. And I am grateful to God for being there with me through it all.
Monday, January 10, 2011
During the three months I was released for gospel ministry by the Margaret Fell Fund grant from the FGC Traveling Ministries Program, I traveled to the following places:
- Pendle Hill, PA, to serve as an elder for Wess D and Martin K in their workshop on The New Monastics and Convergent Friends
- Durham, NC, to attend the fourth School of the Spirit residency
- Seabeck, WA, to facilitate the Eighth Pacific Northwest Quaker Women’s Theology Conference (as co-clerk of the planning committee)
- Missoula, MT, to attend North Pacific Yearly Meeting
- Newberg, OR, to attend Northwest Yearly Meeting as the NPYM visitor
Rather than provide a chronological description of each event, this report reflects some of the themes that arose over the summer.
It seemed fitting to start out my travels in the ministry this summer with eldering because I had been spending so much time thinking about elders in relation to the women’s conference theme, Walk with Me: Mentors, Elders, and Friends. Serving as an elder for Wess and Martin was a challenging experience, and not one I would have chosen for my first experience being an elder. Although there were some very good and supportive people in the workshop, it felt like the negative people there dominated the room, and there was a lot of discussion about what is wrong with monthly and yearly meetings, institutional problems, and meetings that want to die. Even though it was hard, I was glad I could be there to support Wess and Martin, and I felt like the experience helped me clarify the kinds of support that are important for me when I ask someone to be my elder. I was especially grateful for Elaine E’s help and support throughout the weekend, and I was glad to have a chance to talk with Sadie F before the workshop began.
At the women’s conference a few weeks later, it was incredible for me to hear how everyone’s language changed. Immediately after the plenary on elders, I heard many women using that term. It was gratifying because the topic of elders has been so important for me over the past few years and I felt like the women who attended the conference had a better shared understanding of what the role of elder is. I was grateful to Ann S and Alivia B, who served as my elders during the conference. I was also blessed to have Julie P and Leann W as my elders during my time at Northwest Yearly Meeting. I am grateful to them for holding me in prayer while I led a workshop, for checking in with me and listening when I needed an ear, and for taking me out for a much needed ice cream cone.
Supporting one another in ministry
While I was at Pendle Hill, I had an opportunity to go for a walk with Betsy B and Ruth L. Ruth was on the planning committee for the young adult Friends gathering in Wichita, KS, which took place a few weeks later, and was feeling discouraged by some of the negative reactions to the conference that had been posted publicly online. The three of us had a good talk about our experiences planning different conferences: Betsy in planning the world gathering of young Friends, Ruth in planning the young Friends gathering, and me in planning the women’s conference. I felt like we offered each other mutual support, and that the walk and conversation were one of the reasons I was supposed to be there.
One day during Northwest Yearly Meeting annual session, I happened to have lunch with a young woman from a church that was considering affiliating with NWYM. She asked me what I was passionate about and I said that I am passionate about supporting women who feel called to ministry. My answer surprised me, but it seemed like the right thing to say. The woman responded that during a workshop the day before, she had felt a clear call to ministry, which was completely unexpected, and something she had not even thought possible because she is a woman. I was glad that I could be there and listen to her story as she began to discern her call.
Using my voice
During the women’s conference, my co-clerk Sarah P and I introduced the plenaries and the speakers. I usually do not enjoy public speaking, so I was surprised by how much I enjoyed facilitating the conference; it felt like good and important work. Sarah and I got a lot of good feedback on our roles as conference facilitators, and people especially seemed to appreciate the definitions we provided of mentors, elders, and spiritual friendships.*
On the first day of North Pacific Yearly Meeting annual session, I met with the yearly meeting coordinating committee to report on my travels over the previous year. I was glad to be able to tell Friends there what I had been doing since they gave me a traveling minute at the previous annual session. It was also a relief to have my only official task (other than driving a golf cart) over the first day. It was bittersweet for me to be at NPYM annual session, knowing it was my last time attending as a member of the yearly meeting. On the last day in open worship, I gave vocal ministry, praying for the yearly meeting and the changes that it will face. The ministry felt powerful, and I was glad to be able to pray for the meeting that had been a home for me for the past three years.
At Northwest Yearly Meeting annual session, I co-led a workshop on Convergent Friends with Wess D. I was clear in planning the workshop that I was supposed to lead it, not serve as Wess’s elder. Our intention was to have the workshop be a worship experience, so we began with about 15 minutes of unprogrammed worship. After introducing ourselves, we presented a workshop that was similar to one Sarah P and I had led at Bellingham Friends Meeting: we opened up the discussion by asking Friends to share different words they use to describe God, and writing those words on the board. After we had about 30 words on the board, we asked Friends to share why those words are meaningful to them. The discussion was wonderful, and I think we could have used a second hour for everyone to tell their stories about the language they use and their experiences encountering different kinds of Friends. For some in the room, this was the first time they had heard about the different branches of Friends, and the workshop started some ongoing conversations.
My summer had a very different rhythm than my usual working life. I was quite busy a lot of the time, especially leading up to the women’s conference, but between times of intense fellowship, I had weeks to decompress and focus on self-care. I spent a lot of time listening: to God, to others, and to myself. I had to figure out what a life of ministry looked like on a day-to-day basis. Frequently, it involved waking up, going for a run, having breakfast, spending time in prayer, and catching up on emails and phone calls. I planned events and workshops, spent time reading and writing (though not as much as I expected!), and took a lot of naps. Some days my life of ministry included a visit to the farmer's market or a long walk with a friend.
I am so grateful to the Traveling Ministries Program for the opportunity to focus on ministry for the summer. While I was traveling and attending yearly meetings, I could focus on just being there, instead of worrying about "going back to work on Monday." I feel like I have a better understanding of the importance of being released for ministry instead of being paid for ministry―being released had a sense of spaciousness that I do not think I would have felt if I were being paid to do particular ministry. The fact that others took my ministry seriously enough to support it financially made me take it more seriously too.
Please let me know if you have any questions. Thank you for your financial and spiritual support.
* Mentor: Someone who has served in a role in the past and is helping someone who is new to that role. For example, an experienced pastor, clerk, or minister might mentor someone who is inexperienced in those roles.
Elder: Someone who names and nurtures the spiritual gifts of people in a meeting and cares for the spiritual needs of the meeting as a whole.
Spiritual friendship: a reciprocal relationship where friends intentionally share and listen to each other's spiritual experiences and encourage each one's spiritual journey.
Saturday, January 1, 2011
When John heard in prison what Christ was doing, he sent his disciples to ask him, "Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?"
Jesus replied, "Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me."
As John's disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: "What did you go out into the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings' palaces. Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written: 'I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.'" (Matthew 11:2-10)
I preached my first sermon this past September. It wasn't supposed to be a sermon, but it was. I was asked to be on a panel at the School of the Spirit residency on "Being Other in Community." My topic was "Standing in the Gaps: the other as a prophetic role."
I spent a lot of time before the residency trying to prepare what I was going to say, but I could not. I wrote at least three outlines and one entire paper, but I knew they weren't right. In the hours before I was to speak, it became clear that I was supposed to preach. I had my passage, God's call on Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:4-10), and in the end, I just had that in front of me and spoke from the text. It was terrifying. But I found, as I spoke, that it was not really that different from giving vocal ministry in worship.
The topic itself was scary for me. Over the past several months, various people have suggested that one of my gifts may be the gift of prophecy. That is not a gift I would have ever chosen. Prophets are weird, and they say hard things. They are on the edges of their communities. But as I was struggling with this and praying about it, I came across I Corinthians 14:1, which says:
Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy.
One of the examples that I talked about in my sermon was John the Baptist, who lived out in the desert, wearing strange clothes and eating locusts and honey. I think that people went out to see him because he was a freak, and they wanted to see a show. As many have said before me, prophets stand in the gaps between the community and God. And I said that I think spending that much time in the presence of God makes you a little weird!
A few weeks before Christmas, I read the passage in Matthew describing how John asked whether Jesus was the one they had been waiting for (I think it is a common passage to read during Advent). I found it comforting because it shows that even John doubted. I was comforted by his humanity, and how although sometimes he knew exactly what God wanted him to say, at other times he did not.