It’s time to flip our meetinghouses. Again.

I am by trade a teacher – former in employment – always on my heart.  There was a movement a number of years ago – I must admit Im not sure where it stands now, to create “flipped classrooms” The basic concept was to center the rote learning and and standardized content delivery as the “homework” – and more efficiently use the student-teacher shared time for creative explorations and individualized instruction.  The “flip” was controversial – the success of the  “sage on the stage” model of learning (rather than “guide from the side”) was ingrained as fact, and there was considerable reluctance in risking change to a new model.  For those creative educational communities that experimented fully, it was often successful.

I’ve been thinking about this monumental shift in terms of pour Quaker meetings, especially today.  It appears we have shifted from weeks and months of debate about use of technology in many meetings, to an immediate shift to Zoom and other platforms.  A virus has forced us to rethink connecting in this time.  Many Quakers have adjusted to the basic technology – but long term questions remain about the viability of this medium, and how it might support our faithfulness in new ways.

Here in the United States, as the country considers reopening permissions in certain places, there are many factors still to consider.  In a community filled with people with higher risk factors for illness – even with official permissions it will be hard to include children, elderly, etc in our gatherings.

In a recent video conversation around churches – Bruce Reyes-Chow offered an interesting take.  What if rather than saying “when we get back to in-person worship we will do these things again” – we just assumed this video gathering is the new way to “do church”, for at least a year or more?  What is the rush to get back to what was? Is this a time for innovation and experimentation?  Can we just relax and lean into a word that is being reshaped around us, and be responsive and accept this as the new tool for these times?

This comment was the “aha!” moment for me – and reminded me of the pushback to flipped classrooms in terms of significant change and risk. We Quakers, I believe, have been here before.

The first Quakers of long ago were very clear that the Spirit could arrive to any of us, at any time, without mediation by clergy or need for a “steeplehouse” (church).  Much of the preaching was disruptive in those spaces, and was encouraged firstly by Friends sitting in prayer in fields and homes.  The learning happened experientially out in “the world” and the meetings for worship were time to reflect, to grow, to hear messages from the Lord rooted in the human faithful experiences of those gathered.  The disruption at the churches was just a reminder to the culture and to others that access was “out there” in the world, carried in the hearts of each one of us, and not in the building, the preacher’s learning and training, and the rituals.

So here we are in 2020.  We love our history.  We love our beautiful meetinghouses.  We have our special seats on our favorite bench, our tried and true potluck recipies, our 40+ years of service on committees, week after week.  We know each other.  We have an understanding about rules of engagement (often unwritten, just understood).  I wonder if culturally we have fallen into exactly the habits and comforts that those early Friends rejected?

All that gathering, our own sense of created ritual, is now turned upside down.  There’s no more “going to meeting” in that way.  And yet, our direct access to the Spirit, discerned and supported in community of worshippers, is still happening.  Sometimes it’s on zoom. Sometimes it’s in small home groups.  Sometimes it’s in conference calls, or on the couch with our own extended families. 

I hope we don’t lose the gift of having our routines disrupted in this way.  A deep re-examination of where the Spirit meets us, and how we learn and grow and are invited into transformation is happening in unexpected places.  We’ve “flipped” the encounters back into the day to day, the streets, the Life all around us.  We used to say it was never about our buildings – now it’s another clear invitation to lean into that understanding.

Some of those spaces of support will be digital.  Some will be in social media.  Some will be with our next door, not-Quaker neighbors. Geography will matter less, as we gather to share experiences and worship with those from all over the world.  We will have a shared sense of Spirit – but very wide and varied human experiential perspectives.

(Photos of “The Meetinghouse” – 2017 , Mark Reigelman, Kennedy Greenway)

 

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God’s digital table and welcome in a time of much Zooming for the Church

I wrote this letter to my meeting, but it’s for anybody for whom it might be helpful.  Zoom is both a great gift – and yet another way to create exclusion.  It’s our choice to be attentive.

Dear Friends,

In the past week, I’ve had the gift (and hard work?) of assisting the congregation of the First Parish United Church with holding their first virtual Annual Meeting in the history of the church. For those who don’t know – an “Annual Meeting” is similar to our “Yearly Meeting” – it is a time where folks gather to do the business of the church, budget for the year, approve nominations, hear reports, etc.  They also vote – so this Quaker had to learn how that works!  Running lots of zoom tutorials, and working individually to answer questions taught me some things that seem relevant to mention in terms of our Zoom experiments of late. 

In addition, in the past few weeks I’ve had a number of conversations in which Fresh Pond attenders of our worship noted my participation – everything from “I wish I could see your face, and not just an avatar (picture) of you, or “you were there last week” when I was not present at all.  My answers to those questions might be helpful for everyone.

Digital Access to meetings (and other things of course) is not standard.  You do not have access just because you have internet, or a computer.

For the past months (the whole time we have been meeting online except for the past few days), I have been using a Chromebook.  Even with the latest updates – it tells me I have “high CPU usage affecting the quality of the meeting” – most importantly, it seizes up and I cannot see anyone or hear messages until I turn off my camera and let zoom catch up.  Sometimes it completely disconnects me from the call.  This is unique to chromebooks, but varies via brand.  It happens every 17 minutes or so on mine!  SO the only way for me to participate on that device is without showing my screen.

Easiest solution for me (and many people) is an app on my phone.  There also – I am unable to see more than 4 people on my screen at a time (I can swipe).  I cannot raise my hand for meeting for business to get the clerk’s attention.  I can use some of the chat and other functions – but they are in different places than the rest of folks, and sometimes respond differently.  MOST people (statistically) access the internet via phone.  Many do not even own a laptop or desktop. That is the default device in many churches (of demographics different than ours) for access.

I am generally spending about 5-6 hours a day minimum on zoom.  Zoom fatigue is a real concern.  So again, simply listening on my phone app, with my screen shut off and muted, is the best option for my mental health (and let’s face it that’s what I need worship for in part!).

In addition – I guess we allow folks to call into our meeting on a landline?  That’s a toll call in many places.  Westport Meeting has instituted a policy that their members who call in by landline phone can submit their phone bills for reimbursement.   In one case, a Friend had just given up because it was an expensive toll call, and she had no tech device to help her (or no people to visit and help during covid – that’s hard!).  She had been “missing” from meeting for two months.  This is a HUGE drawback of zoom – and they have no incentive to pay for landline connections for their online digital platform – they want to push folks to digital.

My greatest learning experience of joy has been finally getting my 80 year old mom online. I bought her a chromebook and shipped to her, and had to teach her in calls over her land line how to set it up.  I had to teach her the what moving her fingers on a touchpad felt like.  What i meant by “cursor”. At times I had to make comparisons to typewriters of her youth.  What’s a typewriter?  hmmm.

Perhaps the greatest obstacle I have encountered in helping folks learn more about these devices is our own ability to choose the narrative of “I can’t, it’s hard, this is uncomfortable”.  I have a great advantage in having had years of encouraging beginner musicians who sounded “terrible” when they started. Of course!  Sometimes parents would tell me they couldn;t believe how patient I was with all the squeaks and honks.  I told them “I only hear potential”. Maybe I need to practice that more with adults – and my mom when she honks and squeaks about her frustrations with her chromebook.  By the way – she’s now online, watching her church services on youtube, emailing with a gmail account, reading the papers and ordering library books online.  The first time she logged on to a zoom call and saw our family staring back she cried.  TOTALLY WORTH IT.  And it took probably 30 hours of calls.

So.. this week I finally purchased a new Macbook (expensive).  Last evening at M&W I could actually see everyone!  AND that might not happen in worship – I’m still pretty zoomed out, and sitting on my porch with my phone on my chest listening for you and God seems the best path of digital participation. But, it was a huge reminder for me in my struggle to gain access to worship how we all can continue to be vigilant about asking the questions about who is not at the table, and would they like to participate and how to we make it the right size for everyone – which is different for everyone.  Even a digital table.

Hope some of this is helpful.  Thank you to all in our Meeting who are reacting every week to this zoom experiment on behalf of our community.

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We must carry the loaves and fishes now

(IC: Laura James, artist)

Everyone knows the story of the miracle.  Jesus finds himself with a small number of loaves and fishes, and 5000 people to feed, and there is enough.  A number of years ago, I wrote about the peoples’ role in this miracle.  I still believe in the crucial task of others being faithful, and the miracle being held by all.

This pandemic time has opened my heart to even more considerations of community.  We are being asked, beyond any legal definitions and what we might do – to hear in our hearts the invitation to carry the community on behalf of all.

Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. Matthew 14:18

The disciples gave them to the people.  The disciples could not have physically given bread to each person.  They had to share.  You know, laughing talking, saying hello – passing it around with joy like at the best potluck. Gently guiding old folks forward so they could reach easily.  Encouraging the children to share with their elders.  Note that mark of joy – can you see it?  The easy, carefree way of knowing that there would be enough for all?

And here we are.  We are told in the Kin-dom of Love and Joy, there will be enough.  I suspect there are also enough hands to carry it.  But even Jesus, in his human limitations, couldn’t have himself distributed all this food.  He could show us, he could model the Way – but then we have to pick up the work.

This week I’ve had the blessing of making a few porch deliveries.  They have been joyful – and have involved safe social distancing.  The folks on the end of the deliveries could have certainly survived without my supplies.  It was not a “big deal”.  Was it enough?  I think the Joy I felt, indicated I was faithful.  Those folks are doing great support work in varied communities.  They are tired.  I can’t do their work for them.  I have to assume that the bit of Joy and laughter I can hold will be enough.  If other action is needed, I will hear it and respond.

Jesus fed five thousand.  However, He physically handed the nourishment to a mere few.  The crowd shared the work.  In this time, I’ve heard stories of folks leaving rolls of toilet paper on their neighbors’ steps.  Teachers sending out videos to their students every day saying “I love you.  Hang in there”.  People sitting in the quiet every day, praying for the world and holding the Hope when exhausted others can not see it.

What are you asked to hold today?  A phone call of encouragement?  Holding the hand of a person on a ventilator, as their loved ones cannot be present?  A phone call to a legislator, to let them know what’s needed, and thank them for their work?  Sharing some news via social media, a Word of Love and encouragement? Some rest, a cup of morning coffee, while you gather your strength for what might come next and how your unique gifts will be called upon?  Keep listening.  You may not be asked to carry 5000 pieces of bread – but we must faithfully carry the one piece we are meant to carry.

This post is dedicated to all those doing what they can, what they must.

 

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Disruptive innovation – part of the Quaker tradition in these times?

“Dost thou call this place a church? or dost thou call this mixed multitude a church?” But instead of answering him, the priest asked what a church was? to which George replied, “The church is the pillar and ground of truth, made up of living stones, living members, a spiritual household, of which Christ is the head; but he is not the head of a mixed multitude, or of an old house made up of lime, stones and wood.” – George Fox, 1648

Based on these visions, these realizations, this convincement – the early Quaker movement would eventually seek to drop the “steeplehouses” made of lime, stones and wood.  Friends were often imprisoned and fined and persecuted for these actions.  They were brave and wrote letters of encouragement to others, and were faithful in a dark time.  It is one of our treasured stories.  Not a myth, but perhaps a bit mythological?

Today I’d call these valiant sixty (the first Quaker ministers who birthed the Friends movement in England) innovative disruptors.  Historically there have been many disruptors in our society.  Many religions and traditions have had a breaking away into new forms.

Our disruptions, our ability to find the Divine within ourselves, to hear the Inner Teacher on a hill or in a jail cell, was the first and formal “rule” we had.  When people ask me what a Quaker believes – I start with that premise, and not a list of the SPICES and so forth.

And what happened next?

Here’s some Unwritten rules about Quaker worship that we “know” now.

  • Worship happens on Sunday mornings.
  • Worship happens in a circle of chairs, facing inward.
  • No one speaks twice.
  • Quoting NPR is “lesser” ministry
  • Old buildings are more “spiritual”
  • We don’t actually quake in worship
  • Pastored meetings and prepared messages are not for “real” Quakers.
  • Worship happens in person.
  • Children are not given messages.
  • Quaker worship is “caught not taught”

(of course these do not apply everywhere – but I have heard these comments regarding worship among Friends presented as fact)

right: Quaker Meeting for Worship via ZOOM (IC: MA Council of Churches)

Now we are in a very strange time.  Meetings that in the past took months to discern whether or not to rearrange their benches have jumped into online spaces and are creating whole new worship experiences, with new shapes and methods.  Meetings that were having conversations about whether ineptly using a microphone “got in the way of” messages in worship are now using a microphone (and a mute button!) for ALL of the messages.  Because of the different ways screens work, we often can no longer “see” each other in worship.  Do we close our eyes in worship, or unshare our screen?  Is attending to a family member, or having to get up and stretch or calm a pet more acceptable in this new environment?  Was it ever acceptable?  Why or why not?  What makes it “worship?”

left: Cambridge MA Friends in worship on a sidewalk at Raytheon (IC: Skip Schiel)

What has come to me most strongly in this time of change and unknowing is encouraging others to take the risk to see these challenges as opportunities to revisit our traditions and ask if they are cultural, or our call in this time to be faithful in new and old forms.

Before this switch to online worship:

  • If your meetinghouse wasn’t fully handicap accessable, some people were left out
  • If you had no childcare, some people were left out
  • If you were not on public transportation, some people were left out
  • If you used jargon and confusing “secret” language, and your policies were not clear to newcomers, some people were left out.
  • If you only used in person communication and not digital spaces, some people were left out.
  • If you only used digital communications, and not in person communications, some people were left out
  • If you only met at one time (Sunday morning, Tuesday evening) each week, some people were left out.

I am not saying this “leaving out” was not sometimes necessary or unavoidable.  I’d also ask what “leaving out” really means – in these cases I mean the tangible, in person worship experience in most cases.  Not left out of relationship with the Divine.  Not left out of the ability and call to carry a message for the good of the whole community.

The Kingdom of Heaven did gather us and catch us all, as in a net, and his heavenly power at one time drew many hundreds to land. We came to know a place to stand in and what to wait in. – Francis Howgill, 1663

Today that net of heaven is a digital network, with hundreds of people calling in on various devices, and we are standing (sitting?) and waiting for further group instruction.  Still.  Always.

So now everybody can get to be in the community, right?  Suddenly this digital divide is the great equalizer?  No.

There are still folks without internet or technology.  There are still folks (my own daughter) who cannot use zoom for various reasons.  In a time of limited income, I have been asked to work on Sunday mornings – so I am finding other Meetings to connect with for worship besides my own at other times (in other timezones). Whether you meeting is public or private, and shared in this time, will determine your new visitors.  How do you follow up with them?  How do you explain Quaker worship in this space?

I think expanding our “toolkit” for worship is terrific.  I am huge advocate of this new technology, and it is very encouraging to see how many meetings have jumped in and are trying new things.  In addition though, I’d like to encourage us to keep asking what is called for now, in this time, to support our communities and provide spiritual nurture.  Do we all have to “invent” our own meeting for worship?  Could we use the old systems of grouping (“quarterly meetings”) to connect us in larger meetings for worship to support smaller meetings?  Could our meetings create a new schedule, one that means there is a meeting every morning, afternoon, and evening somewhere in New England for those of us who cannot be there on a Sunday morning?  When we learn all these new lessons about inclusion, how will we incorporate that knowledge in our brick-and-mortar spaces?

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues, to one the working of a Zoom account, to another the ease of texting, to one the gift of humor through memes, to another the gift of translation of technology to those who need understanding, to one the ability to sense when rest and internet fasting is needed, to another encouragement in physical spaces (six feet apart though). Corinthians: 12/Wooten edits

I have a zoom account, and the knowledge to use it for basic meeting for worship. I can “host” my own meeting anytime I like.  What has become clear to me however in this time is that I am not led to do so.  It’s easier and less energy for me to find other members of my community that are meeting at times that fit in my work schedule, and join in worship there.  If those Friends are being faithful to their leading to host worship, and I am being faithful to my call and gifts in this time, there will be enough.  We do not need to rush off to church, or to the market, or to every ZOOM meeting in each moment. We are expected (I think, by God) to rush right into what we are called for – it might be medical support, or a walk outside with a scared child, or standing on the other side of a window waving to lonely elders, or bringing toilet paper to our neighbors.

I’ve had a heightened experience in these times of the Quaker practice of “holding in the Light”.  I am often aware of specific Quaker meetings taking place.  Sometimes I just sit on my deck in the sunshine, and hold them in prayer with no technology at all.  That has always been an option for Friends, worshiping at a distance, being in a community.  It has always “worked” for me.  When i used to physically travel in gospel ministry, I often was reminded of my home meeting in worship, while I was away.  This Sunday, I’ll be helping with some ZOOM worship for my “work church”.  They have a small time of silent meditation.  It will line up with the middle of Fresh Pond’s meeting for worship.  Somehow, that seems like the connection to note and be grateful for this week.  What will happen next week?  I am curious to see!

 

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Near where the ancestors sleep – new faithfulness emerges (Lake Champlain Worship Group)

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The Champlain Islands Quaker Meeting is a worship group under the care of Burlington VT meeting. This past First-day I had the blessing of worshiping with them.  I had heard that their meeting was originally a summer meeting, but now they have decided to meet year round. They told me after worship that they were considering laying themselves down at one point – they are only 5-6 Friends on a Sunday.  However, they were not clear to do so, and the Friends here continue to gather in worship and encouragement for their daily lives.  They meet in the South Hero VT Public library, a warm and inviting small space where they move chairs into a circle amount the books and tables.  For visitors, they have a full display of “What’s a Quaker” type handouts, and a clear sign planted outside on the library lawn, and another one on the door.  I arrived after worship had begun, but one of their members greeted me at the door, and invited me to sit.  They also gave me a wonderful brief guide to their meeting, with contact information, and ways to request childcare.

I felt a clear sense of involvement from them in the wider Quaker world.  They said they often are blessed with visitors who know something of Quaker worship and ways. They recognized my name, as I will be returning to co-lead a workshop in Burlington in October on eldering.  Their clerk has already been doing some reading about the Quaker tradition of eldering, and they are hoping to attend.  Their relationship with the larger Burlington Meeting seems to sustain their involvement among Friends in New England.

They were delighted to learn I was traveling among Friends, and read my travel minute aloud.  They asked for permission to sign it (seeing lots of other signatures).  I was happy to explain how this tradition of traveling in ministry had called to me, and how my meeting would hear news of my visit.

I enjoy visiting with these smaller groups of worshiping Friends.  Often, I find they are certainly involved in spiritual work and living faithful lives, and are not wrapped up in a need for their meeting to be a particular size.  This group provides all information to be welcoming to seekers who might want to join – but also is maintaining a spiritual practice of weekly worship that supports their own faith journeys. Perhaps this meeting will grow and meet for many years, perhaps it will someday fade, but I am encouraged by the immediate willingness to meet in Divine presence and be open to what comes next, and what is here now.  I’m hopeful that this example of smaller, attentive worship groups under the care of a larger meeting is a model that might help Quakers in more rural or remote places, or those who might need worship on other days besides Sundays and traditional “church” times.

This area in Vermont has a long history of Quaker presence.  I’ll write about that next!

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Bloom where you are planted. Know what Living Water you need.

This week has been a very full one, in terms of actions for justice across New England. I’ve been encouraged to see so much engagement, so much of God’s Truth being shared and supported by so many of all faiths here in New England.

At times though, it’s been a bit challenging for me.  As someone with autoimmune and serious joint and mobility concerns, I simply can’t often participate in these ways.  My feet swell on their own when I’m in one position too long.  My body temperature is not easily regulated, and being in hot sun can cause lasting struggles.  Certainly, I’m not walking further than taking out the trash some days, not across the states in immigration witness.  My unsure feet will not even walk me near that New Hampshire coal plant (see above), and my back muscles can’t support carrying even one empty bucket. I also am a stay at home parent, with responsibilities here as well.

If this is a movement, however, these actions are just some of the work that must include all of “us”.  I’ve been encouraging and connecting others by sharing stories and asking for support on social media, I’ve cooked food to bring, offered rides when possible.  Due to my health concerns I simply can’t risk arrest in the ways others can.  But I an bring money to bail them out, bring them to court dates, and sit and wait to make sure those folks are okay. When you get locked up – who feeds your cat?  Call me.  😉

IN this past week, at every interaction I have had with God’s faithful people doing this active work, I have felt welcomed and a part of the movement.

My understanding is that this was an intergral part of the early Quaker movement as well.  Membership in a Quaker meeting had a very specific purpose – when ministers were thrown in jail for their faith, the community had to know who was a member, and who needed their children card for, their crops harvested.  We Friends speak about the “valiant sixty” Friends who encouraged the movement – I wonder about the unamed “valiant six hundred (at least!) who were on call as crucial support in quiet, perhaps unrecognized ways. In later years, I’ve become aware that there was a vast network of people supporting Rosa Parks refusing to leave her seat on the bus, and Martin Luther King Jr had a robust support team.

As these important movements go forward – I feel it right to share a word of encouragement to those that are being faithful to their part of the call into God’s kingdom.  Use your own gifts and talents – unique and made for you – in helping our shared world to become kinder, more loving, and safe.   Praying, writing, sharing news, making bread, singing, making art – all parts of this important Work.

Photos:

Solidarity Walk for Immigrant Justice 2019

Coal Plant, Merrimack NH – Climate Disobedience Center action

 

 

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Traveling in Gospel Ministry – new openings, old threads

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.

– William Stafford

 

Today is an anniversary of sorts.  8 years ago, in 2011, I stumbled upon a tiny meeting of Conservative Friends in Winona, Ohio.  I say stumbled – I was clearly led, but had little idea of the whole plan as it unfolded.  I carried a letter of introduction that could not be called a “travel minute” since had not yet been endorsed by our Yearly Meeting (due to a scheduling issue).  I had intended to go to a completely different meeting, in a different town, on the way back from an FGC gathering which was the actual “point” of my trip.  I sat in worship with three weighty Friends, I went to the home of Myrtle Bailey for an Opportunity and lunch, and basically got a whole new introduction to ministry and travel, experientially.

This morning I am in Wilmington North Carolina.  I am intending (God willing) to check into the North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative) gathering for the week.  I have a new travel minute, a different meeting, my daughter is with me, and she has her own letter of introduction.  This trip also hit some snags, and yet here I am in perfect God’s timing.

The past eight years have been very full.  I have a very new iPhone, some new digital ministry skills for sharing, and a whole lot of knowledge I did not have before.  I still feel completely overwhelmed and unprepared for all of this.  I have an oversight of ministry committee and number of Friends who help – I’d barely met most of them in 2011.

I’m still carrying the same small bible from 2011.  I have a new-to-me “Book of Meetings” from 1858 in my pocket.  It was a gift from Friend Carl, and is a book that Traveling Ministers used to carry with them to note news of where they had been, and be aware of upcoming meetings of Friends all over the world.  Most importantly, I have the memories of all I have learned, and those I have met, and the messages written on my heart. Those don’t go away and are very light to carry.  I also have a lot of Quaker T-shirts – still no bonnet.

And thus, my intentional year of travel in Gospel Ministry among Friends, begins.  Or continues.  All about where you hold that thread….

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The webs we weave in Covenant Community

A number of years ago, while at our Yearly Meeting Annual Sessions, I said the following:

In traveling many places this year and worshiping with Friends, I have seen that it’s not about boundaries, it’s about centers. In all the meetings and here in this gathering, what keeps rising is the image of a web, which starts from the outside. It is anchored there and grows inward. All it needs to concern itself with is how firm the anchors are and how it can grow inward. So it is with our meetings — our anchors are on the outside, and we are called to grow inward strongly. It’s in our meetings that we’re called to move into the place of love, where, in covenant community, we can discover and use our gifts. Everywhere there are gifts arising, and they are evident everywhere. But we’re still tending just to see them as individual gifts and we really need to do better in recognizing as a body, corporately, where we are and these gifts within that context.

As I came across this recently, I was surprised at how relevant and alive this statement still is for me.

When I am in that most centered, most deep listening and grounded place, I can be well used in ways I could not fathom otherwise.  This place of dedicated focus on the Inner Life clears away distractions, gives me strength, and allows the gifts I carry on behalf of our community to be fully realized.  But I can only do that Work, or any Work at all, with the specific tools I am uniquely given.

I’ve heard it said in various places that Quakers, despite our small numbers, have often been in the “right place at the right time” in terms of creating God’s kin-dom on earth.  I would not limit that to only Quakers of course – but to anyone who lives into their gifts as a part of the community.  I wonder if that outside, worldly effectiveness is a result of not just being in the right place at the right time – but being the right person in the right gift, all of the time.

“…do not depend on the hope of results. …you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results, but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself.” – Thomas Merton

As I stumble along on this blessed path of Spiritual engagement and practice, I make more sense of Merton’s words.  This taking of the next step, feeling the rightness of the path even when it does not seem “effective” by the world’s standards, often results in exactly being uniquely well used.  I find, then, my piece of the work is connected in this web of faithfulness with others, and shared in community.

As I embark on a summer of travel among Friends, I am eager to learn more about how other Friends have felt their gifts emerge, and found their gifts supported in our communities of Faith and Practice.

 

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New adventures, well-worn paths

We will now consider our young Minister as having an enlargement of both understanding and love, engaging [her] mind to labour for the good of others; and this can’t be confined to thy own Meeting, Church, or County, where thou hast thy residence, but the constraining power of love, arising from the operation of the gift in thy own mind, may bring thee under a weighty concern to visit the Churches abroad, in which work there generally is a gradual beginning ; first in visiting thy neighbouring Meetings, and in this work, as thou keepest thy place, thou wilt gain experience, and thereby come to be more fit to undertake weightier service. – Samuel Bownas

In the past few years, I have been blessed with a growing sense of travel in ministry.  This visiting with others, experiencing the Life that knits us together in shared worship and service, has been an unexpected Joy.

A few years ago, I made a hard decision to leave my Quaker employment – it felt right to allow me to more freely experience time with my Quaker community without the constraints and responsibilities of a staff role.  It left me, quite frankly, a little bit lost and wandering.

I sense that I landed well.  In this time, I’ve been in a meeting that has embraced this as a ministry, become more grounded in my family life and routines, and continued to travel.  It has felt like deep preparation.  I have noted, much to my delight and in gratitude, a sense that if I am following faithfully, and listening to this growing leading, I will end up where I may be well-used.

In addition, I’ve spent the past few years sharing some skills and talents with Quakers both near and afar.  I’ve experimented with new digital tools, become a “digital minister”, and helped meetings with conversations about outreach and growth.

It is time for a new shape of service.  In the next year, I will be released, in part due to a NEYM Legacy Grant from the Witness and Ministry Fund, to travel more intentionally among Friends in Gospel Ministry.  This involves worshiping with Friends on First days, in other Opportunities and gatherings, and wherever I am led.

Will I still use the technology?  Yes.  But instead of teaching about it, I most often will be using those tools to share my own story, and share the stories of the Life among Friends that I find as I travel.

In addition – our family is moving to a new home.  So much change!  But the timing seems very right to me.

In the time of reflection for me, I’ve been reminded of the hundreds of Friends I have already met in my travels.  They are part of my covenant community, and I am so humbled to know I shall visit them again – and meet even more!  Here’s a collection of those moments:

 

 

 

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When wings are meant for swimming….

This weekend I had the gift of attending “They Gathered Around” – a retreat and explorations of those called to the work of pastoral ministry in our Meetings and wider Quaker communities.

In part of this time together, we were asked to select, from a large pile, an animal that represented our gifts that we bring to our communities.  A thoughtful and fun sharing of those reasons ensued.

Some folks spent much time considering each animal.  They looked at them, walked around the table, picked one up and placed it back down.  I, on the other hand, walked up to the table, saw a tiny penguin off to one corner, and knew it was mine.  My reasons for this continued to emerge throughout the weekend…

Penguins have wings.  Like birds do.  And yet – they do not fly.  What a grand confusing mixup of expectations this is! I know a few other facts about penguins.  On land, they waddle so they do not slip on the ice.  They break into joyful fervor when they see someone/something they like.  They embody playful exuberance.

I found myself wondering during this weekend with Friends – how do our meeting communities recognize, support and honor the “penguins” in our midst?  How do we create the space and flexibility for those gifts to fully emerge and be used in our communities?

If it is assumed that my wings are meant for flying – and I am told that is the only option – I will always keep trying to fly.  In order to please others, because it’s the way God made me, because it’s my community’s expectation.

Why would it even occur to me that wings and feathers could be made for swimming?

When penguins swim, they are one of the fastest animals and most effective hunters on the planet.  They dive deeply, speed around catching fish, and are generally obviously made for what they are doing in that moment.  With wings.  In water.  Hmmmmm.

Penguins have another interesting aspect to their lives.  Unlike other birds, which lose feathers throughout their lives and replace them as needed – penguins experience catastrophic molt.  For a brief period of a few weeks, the penguins lose ALL of their feathers – turning from sleek majestic effective hunters of the sea, to comical and vulnerable awkward helpless creatures.  They eat lots of fish beforehand so they don’t starve.  They hang out in communities so they don’t get eaten as often.

 

How does this relate to me (and maybe some others) in my Quaker community?

The times when I am able to come most fully alive, to live into the piece of God’s kin-dom I am meant to shepherd and serve, is when I am simply able to feel direct nudges of the Spirit, and experiment with what works best for the tools I possess.  I need to be able to take risks, to fall down safely, and to be encouraged to keep going.

It also helps to have mentors and supporters that can give me feedback, but also leave the space open.  Someone who might say “hey, those wings aren’t getting much lift – do they ever feel like they might be of use in a different way?” or “ice ahead!  Remember to waddle when you are not in the sea.”

My most tender time is during the catastrophic molt.  None of this gently growing back feathers after travel for me.  After joyful and exhausting ministry, I’m often still riding a high of sorts from the gratitude of faithful service.  I’m also totally vulnerable and featherless, and if I end up indulging in bad habits or excess of decisions, I will make bad choices and do some serious physical, mental, and spiritual damage to myself.  Others might have a more gradual reentry.  I need to shut down when I find myself featherless.  I need Friends who can remind me about that returning and renewal as well.

Those are my needs, and it’s taken me a good long while to be able to name them.  I’m sure there are others I haven’t discovered yet.  I can only find them in the reflections of the covenant community I walk with.

What might be some of the ways we assume Friends in our communities must always use their wings to fly, as we expect and have seen before?

  • Young Adults having lots of energy
  • Older folks always being wary of new technology
  • Young folk always being adept with technology
  • Visitors and “unchurched” folks longing for fancy new worship shapes, rather than deep traditions and liturgy
  • Sundays at 10 am being the best time for worship in community
  • Needing a building for worship
  • Not needing a building for worship
  • Silence rather than music
  • Singing and dancing in gatherings always being folk/protest music and contradance
  • God finds us best in quiet sitting and lack of movement
  • Children don’t share “real” ministry
  • Adults always do share “real” ministry

In order to be effective, penguins need to “flip” the bird narrative on its head.  Wings are meant for swimming.  Birds are in water like fish.  When you see it, it all makes sense somehow.

I’m holding these questions as I return from this time among Friends….

What expectations did Jesus flip? What does wholeness and resurrection and “winning”look like when defined by Love, and not by the empire?  How do we encourage each other to see that kin-dom and its gifts, and fully embrace those paradoxes as the Work itself of the covenant of beloved community?

 

 

 

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