Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Gathered in Love in Greensboro

This weekend approximately 90 Friends of all ages, the majority of whom were between the ages of 18 and 35, met together at Deep River Friends meetinghouse in Greensboro, North Carolina to explore how we are being led together as Friends who seek to follow in the way of Jesus. This gathering, hosted by Deep River Friends Meeting and organized by the Friends Center and the Quaker Leadership Scholars Program at Guilford, had as its theme, "A New Kind of Quakerism." It sought to bring Friends together in an intergenerational gathering to explore the relationship of Friends to the "emergent church" and to the Young Adult Friends movement. Though most Friends came from North Carolina - perhaps a majority from Guilford College - there were many who traveled long distances to be present, including Friends from Earlham College, Earlham School of Religion, Wilmington College, Washington, DC, and Philadelphia, among other places.

The gathering was very brief, taking place on Friday evening and Saturday morning and afternoon. We heard two speakers, Betsy Blake and Evelyn Jadin, who shared with us from their own experiences of growing up as Friends and finding that their ministry led them in exciting and scary directions that challenged their inherited assumptions and their community. We also had the chance to share in several workshops and worship-sharing groups where we were able to share our experiences - our hopes and dreams as well as our struggles and fears - across branch divisions.

I was struck by the diversity of this gathering. While I am uncertain about exact numbers, I feel confident in saying that a very sizable portion of those in attendence were from pastoral backgrounds, and that the group that was gathered at Deep River Friends meetinghouse was well-balanced in terms of background, perspective and life experience. For the first time at a cross-branch Young Adult Friends event, I did not feel out of place as one who names Jesus as Lord.

I was impressed by the spirit of Love that I experienced, particularly on Saturday evening, during our closing worship. While there were many who I believe felt impatient to see us change and grow as a Religious Society, to mature and be a sign of God's presence to the world, I did not feel impatient that evening. For those who know me, this is strange. I am an impatient person by nature and, in fact, see myself as being one of those who is calling for Friends as a body to move more quickly and deliberately in orienting our lives towards faithfulness to the Kingdom of Christ. But, Saturday night I felt inwardly at rest. I felt in my spirit that the power of the Lord is over all.

God reminded me of how Jesus called God "Abba" - "Papa." God is the Papa. An image that came to me was that of a mother who is so excited when her baby begins to use words and says "mama!" for the first time. I was shown that God is like that. God is like a mother to us, Her children. She is so delighted when we reach out to Her by putting names to Her. She is overjoyed when we seek to establish relationship in that way, by naming. She is not so concerned with what name She is called; She is pleased above all that Her children are expressing their desire for connection. She responds with unconditional love.

Of course, God wants us to grow up. We can't stay babies forever. God wants us to mature, and She will provide us with that spiritual milk, that inward sustanence that will lead us into all truth and full maturity in Christ. But God loves us. Though God asks us to change, God does love us as we are. Unconditionally.

Come, Lord. Come, Mama. Let your people know that they are held in love without condition. Let your people know that you long for relationship with them and that you delight in our human attempts to reach out. Let your people know that you love it when we put names to you in love. And let us know that you will stand with us in love and help us to grow, to mature in you. With your assistance, with your care, with your nuture, you will help us to grow into who we are meant to be.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

To All Friends Everywhere: A Prayer Request


Please pray for the Young Adult Friends gathering that will be taking place this weekend at Guilford College in North Carolina. Specifically, please pray that all who attend will be able to let go of everything that holds them back from radical self-emptying and love of God and neighbor.

Please pray that those who attend will drop all of the things that we allow to get in the way of our relationship with God and our brothers and sisters and that we may hear together the call that God has for us as a people. Please pray that this meeting be blessed by a covering of the Holy Spirit, and that we hear the word of God and let it transform our lives, no matter the cost.

In friendship,


Sunday, November 09, 2008

Individual Leadings and the Body of Christ - Witness and Accountability

For me, leaning on other children of light is essential for me being able to know God's will for my life. An indispensible part of the process that I go through in seeking the will of God is bringing my leadings and concerns to other saints of Christ, my fellow ministers and elders. This is not to say that I allow all people to speak with authority in my walk with Christ - not all speak with equal weight and discernment. However, I do well to keep myself open to the Word of God even in the words and actions of those whom I consider my enemies. But, suffice it to say that I have a core of minsters and elders, spiritual counselors who I know love me and love the Lord, without whom I would make important decisions only at my own great peril.

In addition to this core of spiritual brothers and sisters - "mothers and fathers in Israel," as Friends used to say - I am accountable to the wider Church and must wrestle seriously with the Word of God as revealed in the physically living fellowship of the saints. For me as a Friend, ideally the most intimate point of contact with the physically living Body of Christ comes in the form of my local meeting. After my most intimate circle of spiritual counselors, it is to the monthly meeting that I am most accountable. It is in the local fellowship that I am committed, as a member of that body, to bring my joys and my sorrows, my leadings and my concerns, and to set them before the meeting so that we might examine them together in the Light of Christ. The yearly meeting is, ideally, a place to deal with concerns that have been embraced by one or more local meetings and which demand the attention of the wider Religious Society.

In addition to the physically living Body of Christ, I am also accountable to and must wrestle with the testimony of the Church as revealed in the lives of spiritual ancestors (such as George Fox, Saint Francis and John Woolman), and in the most authoritative of all revelations given through the Church, the canonical scriptures. I must allow all of these witnesses speak to me and I must listen to how the Spirit of God is guiding me and the body as a whole.

All of these relationships, all of these organic webs of fellowship and authority, witness and accountability, should be characterized by shared seeking of the Lord's will and humility before the throne of Christ. None of these relationships are meant to be tyrannies of power. Neither the scriptures, my local meeting, nor my closest spiritual friends have authority over me because of their position or inherited tradition; they have authority only insofar as they are faithful in witnessing to the Spirit of Christ and in demonstrating loving care for me. However, loving care may sometimes involve saying things that I do not want to hear. This, of course, is why trust is critical. If I do not trust my spiritual companions, my meeting, or the scriptures to be faithful witnesses to Christ in our midst, then I will not be able to receive the ministry that they offer up - especially if it contradicts my own desires or preconceptions.

Now, I want to point out that this is a dialogue. The conversation between the individual and the wider body goes both ways. Ideally, one should be subordinated to the discernment of his or her local meeting; but the meeting should also be receptive in receiving and wrestling with the ministry of the individual. The Church should be open to being corrected by the Holy Spirit as we are spoken to through the scriptures; but at the same time, the Church has a responsibility to interpret the scriptures in the Spirit of Christ. Neither the scriptures nor the understanding of the meeting is to be laid upon the individual as a "rule or form to walk by." Instead, we are given the gift of fellowship, both of the physically living saints and of those no longer physically present who now form that "cloud of witnesses" that helps to guide us in our walk with our Lord. To fail to place ourselves under the authority of the Holy Spirit as the Word is revealed to us through others is, in my estimation, a failure to live up to our potential as members of the Body of Christ.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Report on Summer Travels to Pickett Endowment

I recently submitted the following report to the Pickett Endowment Grant, which helped make my travels this summer financially possible. I would encourage Friends who have ministry projects that would strengthen the Religious Society of Friends to apply for this grant, and for those with the resources to do so to donate to the grant.

Dear Friends,

Over the course of the past several years I have found myself increasingly coming under the weight of a concern to travel among Friends. This first came in the form of my yearly meeting graciously sending me to the World Gathering of Young Friends in Lancaster, England, in 2005. Later, I would travel to Baltimore Yearly Meeting under a minute from Great Plains Yearly Meeting. Eventually, I traveled among Friends in the Mid-Atlantic region, visiting meetings in New England, Baltimore and Philadelphia yearly meetings, as well as to two meetings in Mexico. I also traveled to Midwestern meetings in Indiana, Western, and Ohio Valley yearly meetings, and to other meetings in the Great Plains region.

As this travel proceeded, I found myself becoming increasingly involved in a growing and energetic network of younger Friends, mostly in our twenties, some in our thirties, some even younger, who longed for a deeper experience of Quakerism than many of us were experiencing in our everyday lives. I found that I was not the only young person who was excited about the witness of the Quaker expression of Christianity and the testimony of the early Friends. I found that I was not the only young Friend who was both excited by the depths of the primitive Christianity of Friends and not alone in my belief that we as a Religious Society are being called to radical faithfulness in Christ. In my travels, I kept coming into contact with other Friends who were chomping at the bit to put Quakerism into daily practice, to live into the radical faith that our spiritual ancestors testified to.

I saw that there was a movement growing among younger Friends, a hunger for connection and purpose in a culture hostile to genuine faith; a culture that seeks to commodify all things, including God; a culture that separates us through individualism, materialism and greed rather than uniting us in service to the marginalized and oppressed. I saw that God wanted to use the Religious Society of Friends as an instrument of the Holy Spirit, to draw Friends into fellowships of self-emptying and unconditional love. I sought to be open to how Christ wanted to use me to further this movement of His Holy Spirit in our midst.

This past year, I became clear that God was calling me to undertake more extensive travel among Friends. I felt a concern to personally bridge some of the divisions that have fractured the Religious Society of Friends, reaching out to Friends from across the theological, geographical and cultural spectrum. Thanks in large part to the Pickett Endowment Grant, I was released to undertake such travel this past summer. I visited a wide variety of Friends from across the United States and Mexico, spanning all of the principal branches of North American Quakerism: Liberal, Friends United Meeting, Conservative, and Evangelical Friends Church International.

Following the Young Adult Friends Conference in Richmond, Indiana, I visited Friends in Miami, Florida, where I got a small taste of what Quakerism looks like in Southeastern Yearly Meeting. After attending my yearly meeting, Great Plains, I continued on to visit Friends in Mexico City, rejoicing in the increasing strength of the Casa de los Amigos as Friends there sought who the Spirit of God is calling them to be in the heart of the largest metropolis in the Americas.

Returning to the United States, I attended the General Gathering of Conservative Friends, in Barnsville, Ohio. I was pleased to see the way in which Ohio Yearly Meeting is reaching out to seekers across the United States and the world, sharing their understanding of the Friends’ message of the present Risen Christ. Following that weekend, I attended Quaker Camp in the same location. This was a peaceful week of praying and contemplating with Friends from the US and Canada, seeking to sense each day what it was that Christ was calling us to do.

I had the privilege to attend Friends General Conference Gathering, in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, and to get a sense of what this event, so lauded and appreciated by many Liberal Friends, was all about. A week of dipping into the peculiar culture that is Friends General Conference’s Gathering was very educational for me, as well as at times being an experience of culture shock. After visiting Friends in New Jersey, Philadelphia and Washington, DC, I made my way to High Point, North Carolina, to attend the Friends United Meeting Triennial, where I was overwhelmed by the diversity of Friends from across the Americas and Africa who gathered together to worship God and celebrate the projects of Friends United Meeting in East Africa, Palestine, Jamaica and Belize. During and after the Triennial, I was able to briefly visit North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative), which was meeting concurrently with the Triennial in nearby Greensboro.

I then made my way into the realm of Evangelical Friends, visiting Northwest Yearly Meeting as they gathered in Newberg, Oregon. I was delighted by my experience at Northwest Yearly Meeting and felt a profound spiritual kinship with Friends there. I was also able to visit two local meetings in Oregon: Reedwood Friends in Portland, and Freedom Friends in Salem. Finally, I made my way to Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative), meeting on the campus of Scattergood Friends School. I was very impressed by these Friends’ practice of doing business in a worshipful spirit, and I felt great affinity for the heart of this yearly meeting. Gathered together in the presence of the Risen Christ, we were called to turn back from the selfish and destructive ways that we as humans have chosen to live in God’s creation.

I began my journey this summer unsure of what might be the result of my travels. I wondered whether God had a message for me to deliver as I traveled. I do not believe that I did, at least not a message beyond the simple message of giving and receiving hospitality, friendship and the peace of Christ. Nevertheless, by the time I had returned to Richmond, Indiana, to resume my studies at the Earlham School of Religion I felt certain that I had received a message. This message, slowly infused into me over the course of my travels, was a call to repentance.

Everywhere I traveled this summer, I felt God drawing my attention to the desperate need we Friends have to repent, to turn away from our selfishness, our false sense of security and self-sufficiency. So often, we Friends imagine that our belonging to our precious Religious Society is sufficient to save us, to make us righteous and justified before God. We so often imagine that we know the way, and that if only others would listen to us the world would be, if not perfect, a much better place. We want to believe that we can be faithful servants of the Living God while living lives of comfort, participating in empire. But again and again this summer, I felt God placing on my heart and on my lips the verdict of Christ when he spoke to the church in Laodicea: “…you say, ‘I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.’ You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” (Rev. 4:17)

I am not the only one hearing this divine verdict our attitudes and behavior. I heard this judgment on the lips of another Friend during worship at North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative) when he quoted this same passage of scripture. I was convicted of God’s judgment of our decisions when a minister stood during worship at Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) and described her shock when her child discovered a monstrously deformed frog with two extra legs, testimony of the creation to the effect our collective sin is having on the earth and its creatures. I heard us being called to repent, to turn back to our Lord in humble obedience, through the song of one Friend during the closing worship at Friends General Conference Gathering when she sang, calling us to “sink down to the Seed.” There were Friends that I met at each stage of my journey who were concerned that we as a church were not living up to our calling to be the Body of Christ, the children of God who walk in the light of day.

The call I have heard this summer is for all of us, young and old. We must make the decision, as individuals and as a body, to turn towards the Inward Witness of Christ and away from our own understanding, our own desiring, our own striving. Because God can and will raise up true spiritual children to George Fox if we do not live into the Truth, humbling ourselves in the presence of the Spirit, sinking down to the Seed. The call I have heard this summer is that we come together as one, turning away from our selfishness; that we make the choice to bear one another’s burdens and to make ourselves servants to our brothers and sisters. We are to be a blessing to the world, to bring good news to the poor and to proclaim release to the captives. But first we must be healed of our own blindness. Today is the day of the Lord’s favor, and the day of decision. Will we humble ourselves enough to hear the call?

I give thanks for the blessing of being financially released to travel this summer, to minister and be ministered to. I am grateful to the Pickett Endowment for helping to make these travels financially feasible for me, and I pray that the endowment will continue to support budding Friends ministers in this way. Please continue to use these funds to build up the Church and to encourage the ministry of Friends, both among Friends and to others.

Your friend in Truth,

Micah Bales
Heartland Friends MeetingGreat Plains Yearly Meeting

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

An Update

This is an email that I recently sent out to Friends on the list for attenders of the World Gathering of Young Friends, which took place in Lancaster, England, in August of 2005. I wrote this in response to another Friend who had sent out an email asking for updates. I hope it can serve as an update, and perhaps an explanation, for others. Hay una traducción al español abajo.

Dear Friends,

My life has changed immensely for the better since the World Gathering of Young Friends, in many ways as a direct result of my experience during our time together in Lancaster. For me, the WGYF was a time of being called into deeper commitment to the Spirit of Christ and shown the Way I am to walk. For me, the WGYF was a moment in time that God used to call me into loving obedience to that Life that Jesus was in and reveals to us. What happened to me at the World Gathering changed everything.

Looking back, I can see now that before our time together in Lancaster I had been flirting increasingly seriously with God. I had become involved in my meeting, become a member, begun to study religious texts. I believed that there was "Something"; I knew in my heart that there was Truth. But in Lancaster God called me out in unmistakable caresses of love and forgiveness, calling me into union with God. Early on in the Gathering, one evening sitting and worshipping with another young Friend on a bench outside of the dormitories, I was baptized into the Spirit of God beyond all names, brought into communion with the Living Word. I had been flirting with God, but God asked me to marry that night - and I said yes.

And God gave me a call that I did not understand. I did not understand it, but it was clear to me from that night on that I was called to "ministry." I place the word in quotations, because I had no clue what it meant, but I knew that it was to ministry that I had been called, whatever that might mean. I took this concern back to my home meeting in Wichita, Kansas; I told them that I had been called to ministry. But none of us knew what to do with that. And so, we waited. I waited and prayed.

And I had been given a gift by Friends at the WGYF: Friends there had opened me up to Jesus and the scriptures which testify of him. I was fortunate enough to be in a Spanish-language small group during the week where I was privileged to learn from Spanish-speaking Friends. I was able to hear from them that which I might have more easily resisted had it come from other English-speakers. I received their testimony to the Lord Jesus Christ and took it seriously, though I did not understand. I was able to take it seriously because those Friends took me seriously, even though I was very pluralistic and skeptical of Christianity at the time. I knew that Friends were really hearing me when I spoke, and I felt moved to open myself up to them in the same way. So, as I waited on what God would have me do for six months while I continued working at a bank in Wichita, I prayed and I read the New Testament in The Message translation. Jesus began to become very important to me. I felt like God was leading me to him.

And then, around the end of the year, late December, 2005, I somehow stumbled onto the website for Earlham School of Religion. When I began to read through the site, my heart leaped and I knew immediately that this was where God was calling me for my next step. To make a long story very short, I began my studies at ESR in the fall of 2006. During my time here, I have been ruthlessly "pruned," as Deborah Saunders described the process of being inwardly cleansed and sanctified by the Light of Christ. At times this process of inward rebirth has felt agonizing, like dying or being ripped apart. But, then, childbirth is like that, too. And I am being reborn in Christ, praise God. I pray for the courage to stay on this Way of imitating Christ, to be faithful to the continued guidance of the Spirit in my life, in the Church (you, Friends - you!) and in the scriptures.

While here at ESR, I have been involved in some amount of ministry in the Religious Society of Friends. This past year, I spent a great deal of time traveling in the ministry, both within my struggling yearly meeting (Great Plains) as well as to other monthly meetings, yearly meetings, and Friends gatherings. I have sought to be a bridge between diverse groups of Friends, a channel for connection, friendship, and, God willing, unity in obedience to the will of the Spirit. I also served on the planning committee for a gathering of Young Adult Friends that took place on Earlham College's campus, bringing together Friends from across the United States and Canada. We feel that this has been an important event in the development of the YAF communty in North America and there are signs that this movement towards revitalization is continuing forward.

This is my last semester at ESR, as I plan to graduate after January of 2009. I am currently occupied above all with research I am doing on the Young Friends of North America, which was the primary Young Adult Friends organziation in the US and Canada between the early 1950's and the early 1990's. I hope eventually to produce a comprehensive account of the organization's life.

After graduation, I plan to return to Great Plains Yearly Meeting, a tiny fellowship of five monthly meetings in Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska. I will be traveling in the minstry under a minute from my yearly meeting among the local meetings of Great Plains and in the wider region, seeking to be a blessing to Friends in the region. I will visit our greatly dispersed meetings by bicycle, spending a week or two with each one during each visit. I will pray with Friends, visit Friends in their homes and seek to hear the voice of God together with Friends. Together, I hope we can hear what God is calling us to next and be given the endurance to be faithful. I would appreciate your prayers for this ministry. Further, I am seeking a traveling companion for this work and would appreciate anyone who feels a leading to travel with me in this labor of Gospel love labor to contact me.

I pray that all of you experience the presence of our Beloved Lord in your hearts and in your meetings. Peace be upon you all.

Micah Bales

En español:

Queridos Amigos,

Mi vida se ha cambiado inmensamente (mejorándose) desde la WGYF, en muchos aspectos como resultado directo de mi experiencia durante nuestro tiempo juntos en Lancaster. Para mi, la WGYF fue un tiempo de recibir un llamado para profundizar mi compromiso al Espirito de Cristo y de ver el Camino que debo pisar. Para mi, la WGYF fue un momento en el tiempo que usó Dios para invitarme al obediencia en amor a la Vida en que fue Jesus y nos revela. Lo que me pasó en la Reunión Mundial cambió todo.

Viendo hacía atrás, ya puedo ver que antes de nuestro tiempo juntos en Lancaster había estado coqueteando más y más en serio con Dios. Me había involuncrado con mi junta, me volví miembro, empezé a estudiar los textos religiosos. Creía que había "Algo"; sabía en mi corazón que había Verdad. Pero en Lancaster Dios me llamó con caricias de amor y perdón inconfundible,
llamandome a la unión con el Verbo Vivo. Me había coqueteado con Dios, pero Dios me pidió la mano esa noche, y le dije que sí.

Y Dios me dió un llamado que no entendí. No lo entendí, pero me estuvo claro desde esa noche que había recibido un llamado al "ministerio." Le puso en comillas la palabra, porque no tenía idea de qué significaba, pero sabía que fue al ministerio que se me había llamado, lo que sea significara. Llevé conmigo esta preocupación a mi junta local en Wichita, Kansas; les dije que
Dios me había llamado al ministerio. Pero niguno de nosotros sabíamos qué hacer con eso. Pues, esperamos. Esperé y oré.

Y los Amigos presentes en la WGYF me dieron un don: aquellos amigos me ayudaron a abrirme a Jesus y a las escrituras que testifican a él. Fui afortunado en formar parte de un grupo pequeño de hispanoparlantes durante la semana donde tuve el privilegio de aprender de Amigos hispanos. Pude oír de ellos lo que tal vez hubiera resistido más fácilmente si hubiera venido de otras personas de habla inglesa. Recibí su testimonio al Señor Jesucristo y lo tomé en serio, aunque no entendí. Pude tomarlo en serio porque aquellos Amigos me tomaron en serio a mí, aunque fui muy pluralista y escéptico del Cristanismo aquel entonces. Sabía que estos Amigos realmente me escucharon cuando hablé, y me sentí conmovido a abrirme a ellos de la misma manera.
Pues, mientras esperaba durante seis meses por lo que Dios me tenía planeado y seguía trabajando en un banco en Wichita, oraba y leí el Nuevo Testamento, la traducción "The Message" (una traducción de habla corriente, más fácil de entender para alguien que no había tenido mucho contacto con las escrituras). Jesus empezó a volver a ser muy importante para mi. Sentí como si Dios me guiara hacia él.

Y entonces, cerca del fin del año, a fines de diciembre, 2005, de alguna manera me encontré viendo la página web de la Earlham School of Religion. Cuando empecé a leer el sitio, se saltó mi corazón y supe de inmediato que fue allí que Dios me estaba llamando para mi próximo paso. Para hacer muy corto una historia muy larga, comencé mis estudios en ESR en el otoño de 2006. Durante mi tiempo aquí, Dios me ha "podado" ferózamente, como describío Deborah Saunders el proceso de ser interiormente limpiado y sanctificado por la Luz de Cristo. En algunos momentos este proceso de renacimiento interior se ha sentido como una agonía, como morir o romperse en pedazos. Pero, en realidad, así es también para las mujeres que dan luz a sus hijos. Y yo me estoy re-naciendo en Cristo, gracias a Dios. Es mi oración que tenga el valor de seguir en este Camino de imitar a Cristo, de ser fiel a la guianza contínua del Espíritu en mi vida, en la Iglesia (ustedes, Amigos - ustedes!) y en las escrituras.

Mientras he estado aqúi en ESR, me he involuncrado en un cierto grado de ministerio en la Sociedad Religiosa de los Amigos. Este año pasado, pasé mucho tiempo viajando en el ministerio, igual en mi junta anual que se encuentra con muchas dificultades (Great Plains) como en otras juntas mensuales, juntas anuales, y reuniones de Amigos. He pretendido ser puente entre grupos diversos de Amigos, un canál para conexión, amistad, y, si Dios quiere, unidad en obediencia a la voluntad del Espíritu. También he servido en la comité de planificación para una reunión de Amigos Jóvenes Adultos que se llevó a cabo en el campus de Earlham College, reuniendo a Amigos de diversas partes de los Estados Unidos y Canadá. Sentimos que este ha sido un evento importante en el desarollo de la communidad de Amigos Jóvenes Adultos en Norteamérica y hay muestras que este movimiento hacia la revitalización sigue adelante.

Este es mi último semestre en ESR, pues planeo graduarme a fines de enero de 2009. Actualmente estoy ocupado sobre todo con una investigación de la Young Friends of North America, la cual fue la organización más importante de Amigos Jóvenes Adultos en América del Norte entre los años 1950 y los años 1990. Espero producir en fin una historia comprehensiva de la vida de aquella organizción.

Después de mi graduación, mi intención es de volver a la Junta Anual de las Grandes Llanuras (Great Plains Yearly Meeting), una pequeña comunión de cinco juntas mensuales en los estados de Oklahoma, Kansas y Nebraska. Viajaré en el ministerio bajo un minuto de mi junta mensual entre las juntas locales de las Grandes Llanuras y en la región más generalmente, pretendiendo ser una bendición a los Amigos de la región. Visitaré a nuestras reuniones muy dispersadas andando en bicicleta, pasando una o dos semanas con cada una durante cada visita. Oraré con los Amigos, visitaré a los Amigos en sus hogares y haré por oír la voz de Dios con ellos. Juntos, espero que podamos escuchar lo que Dios nos está dando a hacer próximamente y que nos dé la
fuerza de ser fieles. Les agradecería sus oraciones por este ministerio. Además, busco compañero para viajar juntos en este trabajo y me daría alegría que cualquier persona que se sentiera tocado a viajar conmigo en este labor de Amor Evangélico me contacte.

Es mi oración sincera que todos ustedes experimenten la presencia de nuestro Señor Querido en sus corazones y en sus juntas. Que la paz de Cristo esté con todos ustedes.

Micah Bales

Monday, October 20, 2008

Friends United Meeting General Board, October 2008

This past week (October 7-11) the General Board of Friends United Meeting met here in Richmond, Indiana. I had the privilege of attending the sessions as a Young Adult Friend representative. I must admit that, leading up to this first meeting of the General Board, I felt a great sense of anxiety. What would these sessions consist of? To be honest, I feared that the General Board would be a very dour place, a meeting characterized by great contention, great division, clear battlelines, and old grudges. Thank God, I was wrong. On the contrary, I was very impressed with the spirit that prevailed at this, our first gathering as a board for this triennium, as well as with the quality of the individuals who served as representatives for Friends from across the Orthodox** Quaker world.

For me, the week began with a long meeting of the North American Ministries Committee. This was a special meeting of the committee, as there were serious questions about whether it was serving a function at this point in FUM’s development. Given the serious limits in FUM’s financial and staff resources, most of our energy is currently going into sustaining our work in overseas missions sites, such as East Africa, Ramallah, Jamaica and Belize. The question was frankly put forward, “does this committee have any work left to do?” The answer that we heard was that the North American Ministries Committee does indeed still have work to do, and must be transformed from being merely an “idea committee,” where dreams are tossed around but little is done, to being an engine for action. Those of us there for this meeting identified four priorities that FUM would do well to concentrate upon in the next triennium: 1)Publications; 2) Curriculum; 3)Traveling Ministry and Intervisitation; 4)Nurturing Ministry and Leadership

Recognizing that FUM’s staff is already overworked, we did not propose any additional obligations for folks at the Richmond office. Instead, we suggested that the North American Ministries Committee could serve as an oversight body for four taskforces, one for each of the areas where we felt FUM was being called to labor in North America. Each of these taskforces would be open to individuals (both board members and others) who felt a concern to work in this area. If there were not energy to do the work, then the taskforce would remain inactive until there was. Speaking for myself, I feel a concern for traveling ministry and intervisitation, and I expect to volunteer for that taskforce. Each of these areas are important, and I pray that the Lord will raise up those who have gifts appropriate to the work that we are being called to as the Church in North America. (If you personally feel a leading to serve in one of these taskforces, please email me at micahbales AT gmail DOT com)

The North American Ministries Committee met a day before the rest of the General Board sessions, so once the bulk of the board had arrived, I was already done with my committee work. This was advantageous in that it gave me the opportunity to take part in some very passionate and tender discussions among the board members while others were in committee meetings. There were set topics for any given time period, including “The Richmond Declaration of Faith,” “The Christian Faith of Friends,” and “Friends views on the Bible.” I was very impressed with the vulnerability of those present in these discussions, and the tenderness, openness and love with which we were able to speak.

I felt that Friends were trying to hear and understand, not to judge or dismiss others. We did not always agree, but there was a genuine lovingness and openness to hearing truth from one another that pleased me very much. I, of course, was not the only one who caught on to this. There were Friends who expressed during our conversations, “there is a really wonderful spirit here,” and remarked at the way Friends were really listening to each other, having the courage to be non-defensive and stand together in the Truth.

This courageous openness towards each other and groundedness in who we are in Christ despite our differences extended beyond our discussion times; this same spirit of trust in each other, in ourselves and in Christ’s present guidance carried over into our meetings for business. There were some fairly tense moments, especially around the notorious personnel policy, but also around some other things that hadn’t occurred to me beforehand. Nevertheless, in that tension it was clear that we were all seeking way forward. As far as I could tell, no one was trying to make things difficult for the sake of making them difficult. The questions that we as a board are faced with are simply difficult and we are walking together in God’s Light as best we can, praying that we will be shown way forward as we wait on the Holy Spirit. It was clear to me that we were family, brothers and sisters in Christ, and that we were diligent to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Far from being the tension-laced snipe-fest that I thought it might be, I am very impressed with the caliber of those who have been selected by Friends to serve in the governance of Friends United Meeting. This has been my first experience of being able to sit down with Friends from across the Orthodox spectrum, breaking bread and sharing spiritual communion together with Friends from Baltimore, Indiana, New York, North Carolina, Canada, California, Iowa, and everywhere in between. What a blessing it has been to share fellowship with these Friends from such disparate geographical, cultural and theological backgrounds and to know that we are one body in Christ! At these meetings I have known it experientially and not just as a concept. We have felt it together. Some of us may not even like it, but we know that we are knitted together in the Spirit of Christ and that we are called to work for God’s Kingdom together.

**A note on language: I use the word “Orthodox” to refer to Friends bodies that are part of Friends United Meeting – for example, Indiana and Baltimore yearly meetings. I understand that some yearly meetings that have chosen not to be part of Friends United Meeting are characterized by highly Orthodox Friends; on the other hand, some yearly meetings that are part of Friends United Meeting contain a large number of individual Friends who would probably not think of themselves as Orthodox. Nevertheless, despite our sometimes vast differences, I consider all yearly meetings that form part of FUM to be a part of the venerable “middle way” of Quaker Orthodoxy. We have been brought together as a body, committing ourselves to energize and equip Friends through the power of the Holy Spirit to gather people into fellowships where Jesus Christ is known, loved and obeyed as Teacher and Lord.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Stay close to the Root

Yesterday morning, we got a ride from Deborah Haines and her daughter, Becka, to Alexandria Friends Meeting. It was a sweet little meeting, about twenty five people in attendence. Once I was able to settle, about 20-30 minutes into worship, I felt enveloped by the meeting, drawn down to the Seed of God. I had missed this inward communion with God with a gathered body of Friends so much in the past few weeks, as I’ve been attending a programmed meeting. The church is lovely, but I don’t usually feel able to go very deep there. It’s probably just a question of time. When there’s only ten minutes of open worship, it’s hard to settle, much less prophesy.

There were three messages yesterday morning. The first was from a young lady who spoke about how important the silence is in creating a space where we can be still, calm, and not be expected to speak or think anything. The second minister gave a message about the need to turn to the Inward Light of the Holy Spirit in our times of stress and how easy it is to get distracted from that when we are under pressure. Finally, I spoke, sharing first the image from Revelation 3:20, of Jesus standing at the door, knocking. I said that the Risen Christ was ready to enter in and have communion with those who would open the door. I then referred to how Jesus told the woman at the well that if she would ask it of him he would give her living water, which if she drank of it would leave her satisfied forever.

I was not entirely certain of whether I was supposed to speak, but as I rose to speak I prayed for God to forgive me if I erred. I did my best to listen for what words I was to speak and to sit down once I no longer received inspiration to continue. I felt no inward rebuke, but neither did I feel that any great weight had been lifted from me. Perhaps the message had been just for me. I do not know. I knew, though, that the hour had almost ended, and so I rose and spoke, praying that the Lord would forgive me if I was mistaken in speaking words that were perhaps meant for me alone.

Within my own heart that morning, I felt a very deep sense of the importance of always returning to the Root of all things, rather than attempting to be in control. I recognize in myself the tendency to seek to be in control over the details of my life, to force my choices, interactions and behaviors into categories and paradigms designed to give me assurance of who I am and what I am supposed to be doing. But I am being reminded of how futile all of my own attempts at control are. All my striving for righteousness of my own making falls apart, hitting the reality of my own sinfulness and short-sightedness. I am helpless to devise a system for living in Truth.

I am being shown, being reminded, that I must let go of my mistaken notions of control and my own ability to live a holy life. Instead, I must re-commit myself to inwardly turning towards my Rock and my Salvation, the Holy Spirit of Truth. Forsaking all of my vain, imagined righteousness, I must daily turn inward to the indwelling voice of Christ who is my ever-present companion and who leads me into all truth if I will only surrender myself and all of my ideas about how my life should be, to the purifying, enlivening, transforming Light of Christ.

I recognize my own religious and ethical systems as being stumbling blocks to my growth and development in Christ. When I begin to believe that I have some things figured out, that I have become in some measure righteous myself, the spirit of deception has a grip on me. When I begin to imagine that I have found a method to inward peace, to enlightenment, to salvation, and that I am one who is qualified to teach this Way, I must tremble in the fear of the Lord and repent of my own vanity. No human being, no human system, no ortho-doxy and no ortho-praxy is capable of raising up men and women into the Life of God’s Kingdom. There is yet one, Christ Jesus, present with each of us inwardly and directly, who can speak to our condition. When we cling to Christ and to Christ alone, we will be saved.

But it is key that we let go of our own ideas about who God must or must not be, as well as releasing all limitations that we place on ourselves and on who we are to be in Christ. Let that Inward Guide have complete control; for the outward letter of human reasoning quickly quenches the voice of the Spirit if we allow ourselves to become confused, imagining that our own desires and designs can reign in the place of God. Even our good, noble ideas must be let go. Let nothing stand but the desire to be fully, intimately a possession of our Lord and to be a vessel of the Divine Will, even if that Will puts our own desires and inclinations to the cross.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

How far am I willing to go?

I had a good conversation recently with a f/Friend. It started out extremely intensely, since I found myself defending the idea that Quakerism needed to be grounded in a sense of Scripture being a checking authority in discerning the will of God. I believe that this is true, but as I argued the point I felt convicted of my own failure to live up to the life that Christ Jesus calls me to with the example of his life and teachings. For all I could say about the need for scriptural authority in the Religious Society of Friends, I cannot escape the fact that my own life does not conform to the life of Christ.

I act out of ego - out of desire and fear - so very often, and it is relatively rare that I act out of agape-love. And there is so much of my life that I hold back from God. I shy away from the cross. I expect that I should be able to be a suffering servant without having to suffer for it! I expect that I should be able to say to my Lord: "Yes, Lord! I hand my life over to you - just as long as I have health insurance and food to eat." I don't want to face the fact that God offers the ministers of God the same health insurance that is offered to the birds of the air and the lilies of the field.

I feel released. I feel clear in abandoning expectation of anything, even necessities. Maybe it serves God's will in my life that I go without healthcare. Maybe God is glorified best in my life when I give up all semblance of control, all wealth, all security. My f/Friend spoke of his experience as the son of two missionaries and remarked on how they lived in great poverty, practically begging from the religious community they served. He related this to the tendency for men and women of God to live like beggars. Consider Francis and the true monastics, Rumi, the Buddha and his monastics. Perhaps the path that God has called me to is that of being a beggar, renouncing all semblance of self-sufficiency.

Am I truly willing to die for my faith? Am I willing to be homeless, without healthcare, literally begging for my daily bread, if that's what God is calling me to? I must cease fretting so much about how I am to do God's will and simply do it. Thy will be done, Lord God - even if it means humiliation and death. And this means not resenting others who are making different choices. If I am truly grounded in God's call for me and truly given over to follow that call, whatever be the consequences, the I have no reason to be upset with anyone. That's not to say that I should let sinful behavior off the hook - but speaking to it should never be about me. My only motivation should be Christ-like care and compassion for my fellow beings.

It is time for me to let go of everything but God, walking in the footsteps of Jesus, seeking no vindication but that of my Parent in Heaven. Come what may, no matter what others think, I pray that I might be faithful to God, walking in the Way of God's son, Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative)

I flew into Omaha and spent the night at Marshall Massey's home, before he and I took off the next morning to West Branch, Iowa, the site of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative)'s annual sessions. This trip came as the last of my stops before returning to Richmond, and I was quite exhausted. I took advantage of IYMc's relaxed atmosphere and slow pace to unwind a little bit and focus on being present with the people there, letting go of most of my concern to get anything done.

Iowa (Conservative) struck me as a very mellow, cozy group of Friends from across Iowa, and with meetings in Nebraska, Missouri and Wisconsin. As I commented to several Friends there, I imagine that IYMc is similar to what my yearly meeting, Great Plains, might be like in character if we were to become fully unprogrammed and incorporate a few large, liberal meetings. While there was definitely a strong element which I would identify, for lack of a better term, as "liberal-oriented," there was also a clear desire as a body to maintain some of the traditions of Conservative Friends, which I appreciated.

In particular, I noticed that the meetings for business were slower, beginning with between twenty and thirty minutes of open worship, and carrying significant periods of silence between items. The presiding clerk, Deborah Fisch, also served as recording clerk, taking the sense of the meeting, preparing each minute as Friends waited in prayer, and then proposing the minute to the body for its approval. Each item was approved and minuted at the time that unity was reached, not waiting until the end of the session to prepare and approve the minutes. I found this custom to be helpful for a number of reasons. Not the least of these was the way in which it bypassed the need to prepare the minutes all at once at the end of each business session, which has always seemed like it must be stressful for the recording clerk. It also provided a minute or two of silent worship between each item of business, which I felt helped keep the body more centered and attentive to the fact that this was in fact the Lord's work and not our own.

When reports were received, there was generally appreciation expressed from the body for the report, either vaguely ("I appreciate the report") or more specifically ("This report gives me a sense of what organization X does and I am pleased with the work that they are doing"). The clerk minuted the reaction of the body, along with an acceptance of each report. The yearly meeting's queries were read, along with selected responses from the meetings. These responses, in addition to the state of the meeting reports from each monthly meeting, gave a sense of how the body was faring in its walk with Christ, giving a sense of the state of the yearly meeting as a whole, as well as that of individual local meetings.

The one event that took place at IYMc that I want to highlight in particular is the closing worship on Sunday morning, which I found to be particularly impactful. We were called, early on in the time of worship, to come to the living waters of God and to be filled with that life, and, as we sank down into that Life, we found that God had ministry for us, not only to comfort us but also to convict us and call us to action. A minister arose and told us of how, just before meeting for worship, she had been with her children, exploring the outdoors near the meetinghouse. The children were catching frogs, many of which were in the stage between tadpole and frog. Her daughter picked up a frog and brought it to her. The frog appeared to have a tail, still, but as she looked more closely, she realized that what at first had looked like a tail was in fact an extra set of hind legs. "The frog had two sets of back legs!" We heard more ministry that morning, but at the core of it all I felt a call for us as Friends to repent of our complicity with the destruction of the creation and to change our lives dramatically to come into alignment with God's will for us: that we be in unity with the creation in Christ.

Are we listening? Do we hear God's call to repetance? Do we hear God's call to turn our lives around, to turn towards the Light and away from our own destructive ways of living on the earth? Are we ready for radical reorientation? My prayer for Friends of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative), and for all Friends, is that we might together hear the Word of God in our hearts and change our lives, laboring together to lead lives that reflect humility, love and firmness in Truth.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Freedom Friends Church

This Sunday, I traveled with Tyler Hampton and my grandmother, Elenita Bales, to attend meeting for worship at Freedom Friends Church (FFC), in Salem, Oregon. I almost missed the meetinghouse, since it didn't fit my usual stereotypes of Friends meetinghouses/church buildings. Freedom Friends' worships in a converted real estate office, and has several signs posted in its large front windows: One is a metal sign which reads, "Friends Church (Quakers)"; another is a neon sign, appropriate for a restaurant or bar, which simply says, "OPEN."

Arriving early, we were able to sit and chat with folks as they came in before the service began. The attenders of FFC that morning were an eclectic mix of people, about twenty or twenty five in all, spanning age, class, gender identity/sexuality and religious background. I was impressed to meet middle class folks, working class folks, queer folks, straight folks, those coming out of the wider Quaker tradition, and those who were raised in other traditions. There is a rich diversity at Freedom Friends, a diversity made possible by a radically inclusive faith rooted in an intimate encounter with the Spirit of Jesus Christ.

FFC describes itself on its website as, "passionately Christ-centered, passionately Quaker and passionately inclusive." From what I saw on Sunday, I would affirm this statement. Freedom Friends is a Quaker church, emerging out of the pastoral tradition of Friends. The pastor, Peggy Parsons, comes out of Northwest Yearly Meeting, but laid down her recording in that body to help found this new church. Unable to establish a church welcoming to queer folks within Northwest, because of the clarity with which Northwest's Faith and Practice denys membership, much less leadership, to "unrepentant" homosexuals (see page 64), yet too clearly Christian and pastoral to fit in with North Pacific Yearly Meeting, Freedom Friends exists as an independent monthly meeting and is currently preparing its own Faith and Practice. While Peggy Parsons indicated to me that she would gladly rejoin Northwest if that yearly meeting's position on homosexuality changed, it does not appear that this will be happening any time in the near future. And so, Friends at FFC forge ahead, alone.

Nevertheless, despite its independence from other Friends bodies, Freedom Friends is solidly rooted in the Quaker tradition. I was pleased to see the way in which Peggy guided the worship service, giving clear explanations of what was happening at each stage. For example, explaining the meaning of open worship in the Quaker tradition before leading us into silent waiting before God. She did use Quaker lingo (for example, "are all hearts clear?" at the end of open worship), but she also translated herself so that all would come to know what the expression referred to ("does anyone have anything on their hearts that still needs to be spoken?").

The service looked like this: We began singing a few hymns out of the FFC hymnal, which was composed of loose sheets bound together in plastic binders. The hymns chosen for the hymnal, Peggy explained, avoided "guilt and shame," as well as other types of "theologically destructive" language. After a hymn or two, Peggy introduced visitors, and we sang another hymn or two. Following singing, there was a period of what might be referred to in other contexts as "worship sharing," sharing about what we were grateful for. Once many had shared their gratitude, there was a similar time for prayer requests and sharing struggles with the community. Finally, there was about a half an hour of open worship, during which time folks were encouraged to feel free to sit at a table in the meetingroom where they could do art. Three Friends took advantage of that opportunity and drew with colored pencils during open worship.

I am very excited about FFC's potential for reaching out to unchurched people, and, in particular, to people who are excluded by most churches and meetings. Peggy's role as pastor during the service seemed to be that of guiding us through each step and explaining what was happening. This seemed to me to be extremely valuable for those who are coming into the Quaker stream of Christianity, orienting them as to why Friends practice and believe as we do, creating a safe and welcoming entry point into the world of Friends, solidly grounded in the tradition. We could use this kind of openness and clarity in other Friends meetings. I am encouraged by what I have seen at Freedom Friends Church, and look forward to hearing about their walk with the Lord and progress in serving the Kingdom in the future.

One word of caution: I was happy to hear Peggy say that she would like to rejoin Northwest Yearly Meeting if their stance on homosexuality in the Church were to change; and I appreciate that leaving NWYM was not a decision that Peggy and others took lightly. However, I hope that Friends at FFC and Friends elsewhere who find themselves similarly called by conscience to take a stand on these and other issues within the Religious Society of Friends will seek always for unity, keeping that hope and intention always in their minds and hearts as they move forward. I pray that this break can be a mendable one, like earlier splits between Indiana Yearly Meeting (Orthodox) and Indiana Yearly Meeting (Antislavery), and not like the Hicksite/Orthodox or Gurneyite/Wilburite splits, which have festered to global proportions.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Northwest Yearly Meeting

On the 15th, I flew from Greensboro, North Carolina to Portland, Oregon and spent a number of days with my cousin, Ben, who lives in the city. It was a blessing to be able to stay with him, relaxing for a few days without any responsibility beyond waking up at a certain point in the day, reading, and working on my backlog of email. Within a few days, Tyler Hampton, an attender at Detroit Monthly Meeting, arrived in the city and spent a couple of days with Ben and me, before Tyler and I made our way together to Northwest Yearly Meeting. It has been a pleasure to have Tyler as a traveling companion on this leg of the journey. We have been able to support one another as we experience a new Quaker culture and mingle with hundreds new people. I am grateful for his presence here this week.

On Sunday morning, we attended West Hills Friends Church with my aunt, Thea. It was an extremely friendly meeting, with a simple service, which began with a few people gathering early in the meeting room and holding silent worship for about fifteen minutes in anticipation of the arrival of the rest of the congregation. The programmed service consisted of several hymns, led by an electric-guitar-playing man at the front, rock and roll style, a brief message brought by a missionary couple who were back in the United States from the Middle East, a very humorous sermon by the pastor, and then a period of open worship, which was followed by a time of prayer requests and announcements. The sermon was full of humor, often seeming more like a stand-up routine than the usual message delivered in many churches, and the congregation was very responsive, clapping, cheering, and slapping the benches. Quite a different way to do church!

That afternoon, we rode down to Newberg, Oregon, where Northwest Yearly Meeting held its annual sessions on the campus of George Fox University, and that evening Tyler and I were able to attend a gathering of Northwest's Young Adult Friends at the home of Bruce Bishop, former youth/YAF leader for the yearly meeting, and present director of communications for the yearly meeting. It was a good time to meet with younger Friends, tell them about why I am traveling this summer, and invite Friends into conversation with me.

That evening, Colin Saxton, Northwest's superintendent, spoke to the body of the yearly meeting. He spoke on the subject of repentance, reminding us of Jesus' message that we are to "repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand." Colin reminded us of the very real presence of Christ with us and of our need to repent and accept Christ's call to complete obedience and discipleship, learning of him and taking on his easy yoke. He reminded us again and again of the real presence and leadership of Christ among us today in the Church, emphasizing that Christ's presence as Friend and Lord is, "no peripheral doctrine - this is at the core of a Friends understanding of the teachings of Christ."

I was very impressed by Colin's message, and I was blown away by the fact that he spoke on repentance, a concern that had been weighing so heavily on my heart for weeks, becoming rather a theme of my travels among Friends from the Conservative, FGC, FUM and EFCI traditions. The wind of the Spirit is blowing through the branches and it is shaking every leaf. The Lion of Judah has roared, who can but tremble? The Word of the Lord has issued from Zion, who can but prophesy? Repent, Friends! Repent and turn from your waywardness and return to the bosom of Christ, the safety of your God's care. Fall on your knees, hear and obey that which God has in store for us as a people.

Colin spoke for the Sunday night evening session, but the primary speaker for the week was Tony Campolo. Campolo was quite an impressive speaker, speaking three evenings in a row, and getting better each night. The first evening, I felt that he was laying the groundwork for the subsequent nights, pulling some of his punches, making us laugh, and preparing us for the lashing that he intended to give us in the two sermons to follow. The first evening, he focused on God not merely as a notion or idea, but as a transforming power that enters into us and changes us. He said that joy and love are signs that Christ has entered into us and saturated our being. He challenged our ideas of success, reminding us, in the words of Francis of Assisi, that "the poor and oppressed are sacramental," and he told us that "the way to build the Church today is the same way that they built it in the first century: by people loving people and accompanying them into the household of faith."

The second evening, Campolo took us deeper and laid greater challenges before us. The primary message of that night's sermon was the distinction between power and authority. Power, he said, is the ability to coerce. Authority, on the other hand, he defined as, "commanding obedience through loving sacrifice. Jesus, he reminded us, had great authority (see Matthew 7:28-29), but he rejected power (see Matthew 4:1-11). The "Constantinian Heresy," Campolo explained, was when the Church began to exercise power, rather than the authority that comes from sacrificial love. He drew our attention to Philippians 2:5-11, as an exposition of Jesus' sacrificial love. The love of Jesus on the cross is the heart of the Gospel, the message: it is through sacrificial love that we gain authority. The Church does not speak with authority, explained Campolo, because it has not paid the price. It is not living sacrificially. The phenomenon of politicized religion is a case in point: we resort to power when we have no authority. Campolo went on to call us to a commitment to social justice, saying that "Jesus never allowed the second commandment to be separated from the first." Campolo ended the evening with a direct call for concrete action on the part of those in attendance. He issued a call for everyone there that evening to begin to support a child in the Third World through Compassion International, and he called on young people to give him their name and address, to commit to a year of service among the poor.

For the last evening session, Campolo began with an explanation of Jesus' saving work on the cross, explaining that Jesus reaches out through all time and both forgives us of our sin, and cleanses us of our sin, liberating us from it. He then went on to talk about how the term "fundamentalism" was once a respectable term, but soon became tied up in a lot of things that it was never meant to be about. He went on to say that the term "Evangelical," a word that was to replace the word "fundamentalist," has now taken on many implications that are more political in nature than religious. He suggested another term, "Red Letter Christians," to denote Christians who take the teachings of Jesus as their guide and baseline.

During the previous evening's session, Campolo had briefly touched on homosexuality, condemning "the oppression of gays," but on this final evening he engaged us extensively on this very sensitive issue. Campolo explained that he is a "conservative" on the issue of homosexuality, believing that it is contrary to the intention of God for the human creation. But, he pointed out that his wife held an opposing view on the subject, and that they occasionally debated the issue publically, "to show that it is possible to differ on this issue and not get a divorce." He said, "it's crazy to split over this issue," insisting that it is important that Christians not break unity, but instead hold together and keep wrestling. Furthermore, Campolo decried "the horrible oppression of gays" as "unacceptable," even though he "disagrees with the lifestyle."

To conclude, Campolo reminded us of the story of the rich young man and challenged us to accept the full implications of the Gospel, not just the parts that we think we can fit into our lives without completely giving ourselves over to Christ. "We're all willing to be Christians up to a point," he said, "but tonight Christ is going to call you to go beyond that point... to the cross." Campolo urged us to give over everything to service to God, saying that scripture condemns retirement (citing the parable of the rich fool). He called retired people to account for being, "an enormous waste of the Church's resources," and called upon those who no longer worked for money to give everything they had, treasure and time, to the work of the Church of Jesus Christ. Addressing the other end of the age spectrum, Campolo encouraged parents to instruct their children, not being afraid to "tell their kids what to do." As he explained that "everyone else is telling your children what to do with their lives - school guidance counselors, teachers, MTV," and called on parents to give firm guidance to their children, I heard several high school aged Friends behind me say, "amen!" Every youth, he concluded, should feel that he or she is on a mission from God. All of us must be obedient to the teachings of Jesus and live out the call of the Church in the world.

The remarkable thing about all of Campolo's sermons was the sense that, by and large, he was preaching Quakerism to Quakers. It occurs to me that it is probably a very good thing for us to hear true, inward Christianity preached to us by outsiders from time to time. But Friends in Northwest Yearly Meeting are most certainly Quakers. Indeed, it has been refreshing to find such an intensely Quaker body: both Christ-centered and distinctively Quaker. Friends here seek to live and preach the "whole gospel," which I heard described as, "not only the verbal witness of Jesus Christ, but also peacemaking and social justice." Friends of all stripes, pastoral and unprogrammed, could learn a great deal from the way in which Friends in Northwest hold together the tensions of the Quaker understanding of the Gospel of Christ Jesus. They recognize "that of God in everyone," but at the same time are strongly missional, seeking to liberate the oppressed Seed of God in their own hearts and in the hearts of seekers outside of their fellowship. They are firmly biblical in their worldview, but avoid to a great extent the pitfalls of placing the written word, interpreted legalistically, as a higher authority than the Spirit of Christ, which inspires us to rightly interpret the Scriptures and be changed by them. They are committed to social justice and peacemaking, but do not separate that from a clear witness to the saving power of Messiah Jesus, whose Spirit takes away all occasion for war.

I was pleased to see that the character of Northwest's business sessions were mature, grounded, and centered in the Spirit of Christ. While I was in attendance, I saw the approval of a minute condemning torture, as well as the approval of a series of amendments to their Faith and Practice, which is under revision currently. There was approval of a section of the Faith and Practice which allows local churches, with permission from the yearly meeting, to forgo using the name "Friends" in their "common name," that is, what the church is referred to as in everyday conversation and on the meetinghouse's sign. There was also discussion of a minute calling on the governing authorities of the United States to correct the present situation in which illegal immigrants are being separated from their spouses and children, breaking up families through deportation. There was discussion on this minute, but as there was not enough time to come to unity on it, it was laid over for a later meeting. The sense that I felt rising in the body was that Friends should be addressing, first and foremost, the question of how we ourselves are feeling called to act to ameliorate the present situation. How are Friends called to reach out to our Latino brothers and sisters in Christ?

The worship style at Northwest's annual sessions was interesting. Each evening session was begun with several songs, led by a group up on the platform, with lyrics projected onto a large screen hanging above. Following these songs, we would hold about five minutes of silence, before that night's speaker rose and presented. There were other times, too, where there was music and brief open worship, including during the business sessions. I found it quite nice to have time for musical worship in the midst of business meeting.

Apparently there was a yearly meeting reorganization that was completed last year, the most remarkable result of which is that Northwest's missions and peacemaking are now organized into one function. Evangelism and peacemaking/social justice are not separated. For example, both Christian Peacemaker Teams and a new meeting-planting mission in Russia are under the care of NWYM's Board of Global Outreach (Friends in Northwest use the term "board" to refer to what many Friends would call a "committee").

To sum up, I have had a wonderful time at Northwest Yearly Meeting's annual sessions. I am very impressed with the vibrancy, rootedness, friendliness and strong character of this body of Friends, and I look forward to continued contact with them in the future. I am particularly excited to think about ways in which my own yearly meeting, Great Plains, might move into closer relationship with Friends in Northwest. With all that we have in common, I hope that way will open for us to deepen our ties and come into greater partnership in living out and sharing the Good News of Christ Jesus.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

FUM Triennial 2008, Reflections, Part 2

On Saturday, the "business session," while still mostly reports, also included some interaction by the body that gave the appearance of actual decision-making going on. Sylvia Graves (FUM's General Secretary) and Brent McKinny (FUM's outgoing presiding clerk) asked the body to affirm FUM's ongoing mission in Belize, given the retirement of the Cains, who have served as field staff there for more than a decade. When a Friend rose, expressing that they were not clear on what we were being asked to approve, Sylvia responded, "I'm wondering if you care." So, we were being asked to affirm that we "cared" about Belize?

Some other folks raised questions, not really understanding what this affirmation would mean. At this point, Brent McKinny stood up and said that this would be an approval of "the principle" of FUM's ongoing work in Belize, not necessarily of any new project. Brent then proceeded to push for an approval from the body, despite a call from one Friend for us to spend time in prayer and hear what the Spirit was saying to the Church. This whole process took place in a matter of minutes and felt very rushed, even forced. I felt very uncomfortable with this maneuver, feeling that the executive leadership of FUM simply wanted a rubber stamp, rather than really desiring to listen together with the body to the voice of Christ.

As I mentioned in the first installment of my reflections on this event, I was astonished at how little corporate, inward listening was allowed us during our time together at sessions. It seemed clear that the primary purpose of our being at the Triennial was to be receive reports on the work of FUM as a missions organization and to be reminded (and reminded, and reminded) of our failure to adequately fund FUM and its projects abroad. At times it seemed that there were more appeals for funds than there was vocal prayer. And open worship was almost completely absent. We were there to hear FUM's executive leadership's opinions about what we should be doing, not to wait on Christ and hear the mission that our Lord has for us as Church.

FUM Triennial finished up Saturday evening with an "intergenerational/youth worship service." The whole thing felt a little off to me, with "the Africans" being asked to rise and sing us a song. (In fact, this happened several times during the Triennial. At a certain point I wondered about whether someone should have asked the white folks to stand up and sing a few hymns for the Africans, to reciprocate.) The whole service seemed more like entertainment than worship, with applause after every performance, beginning with the Africans singing hymns. The body applauded after every time the youth sang, and even when the youth presented an episode from Jesus' ministry. Frankly, the service felt demeaning, with the Africans and the youth being paraded out to be the evening's entertainment.

What is it that we are hiding from, distracting ourselves with entertainment rather than opening ourselves to the purifying power of Christ's Inward Light? I see a connection between our apparent failure to wait on Christ's guidance and our own conceit as the North American Church. I myself have been particularly struggling with the single-minded focus of FUM and these triennial sessions on foreign missions. As one who feels called to serve Friends in North America at the present time, and seeing the need of North American Quakerism and the Christian Church more widely, I cannot grasp the failure of our yearly meetings and other bodies as evangelical Friends to commit funds, time, and human energy to Christ's Kingdom in North America. Are the people of the Two Thirds World the only ones in need of redemption? Are we unaware of our own desperate need? A theme that has been persistent with me for at least a couple of weeks now is that of our need for repentence as the Church in North America.

We are like the church in Laodicea, which Christ addresses in Revelation 3. We believe that we are rich, prosperous, wanting for nothing, but cannot see that we are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked! I do not know what the future holds for Friends as a body, but I pray that God will humble us, break us, remold us and forge us into an instrument that can serve God's purposes. God, have mercy on us. Expose our sin, our pride, our utter nakedness before you, and bring us back into your paths.

Friday, July 11, 2008

FUM Triennial 2008, Reflections, Part 1

Business began on Thursday with a roll call of yearly meetings, including US yearly meetings, Canada Yearly Meeting, many Kenyan yearly meetings, Jamaica Yearly Meeting, and visitors from FGC, FWCC, and Britain. Southeastern Yearly Meeting was present, with two observers. I was saddened to reflect on the possibility that this could be the last time that Southeastern is present at an FUM event in any official way, as they decide in this coming year whether to maintain their relationship with Friends United Meeting.

There is a clear sense of concern among Friends at these sessions, a feeling that we are at a turning point in FUM's history. On the one hand, it seems that relations among Friends have grown more civil. On the other hand, despite our increased civility, it is not entirely clear who we are or what we are doing as a body. Perhaps the primary question that Friends gathered here are wrestling with is the question of FUM's call and identity. What is FUM? A missions board? A denominational head? A non-profit foreign aid organization? An "umbrella group" for one branch of Friends to come together and share fellowship? At times it seems that FUM attempts to be all of these things, and more, but often fails to carry out any of these roles satisfactorily.

At these triennial sessions, there has been an enormous emphasis on overseas missions. Sylvia Graves, General Secretary of Friends United Meeting, made it clear in responding to questions on Thursday morning that at this point in history she sees FUM's role as being in carrying out overseas mission work. The reasoning that she presented was that foreign missions is something that FUM can do far better than yearly meetings could do on their own. Encouraging and supporting Friends in North America is, in her view, the responsibility of each yearly meeting. This viewpoint, while having its merits, is very frustrating for me, as one who feels called to serve Friends in North America at the present time. The reality is, our yearly meetings are not adequately supporting home missions. What FUM's role in all of this is, I am unsure, but I am uncomfortable with all attention being given to sending support to overseas projects when our Religious Society is in such dire condition here in North America.

The schedule at these sessions is packed full of business, though I haven't seen any decisions made yet. The business sessions on Thursday and Friday have been largely filled by reports from field staff in East Africa, Belize, and the Ramallah Friends School. There has been very little time for worship beyond singing a few hymns and holding a moment of silence before field staff reports. There was a remarkable tension this morning, as open worship was cut off after only one minute by an FUM staff member introducing the next presenter. As she attempted to close the extremely brief worship, another woman rose from the body and read in a strong voice from an epistle of George Fox to Friends in New Jersey. The staff member stood aside, gave about fifteen seconds of space after the minister had sat down, and then proceeded to introduce the next speaker. I wonder at this lack of open worship at the feet of our Lord who we claim as our leader. Why is there not more expectant waiting on Christ? Do we imagine that there is not enough time to spare in our sessions to receive communion together? Are we afraid to wait on the Lord as a body?

When we are not hearing reports, we are listening to speakers. Wednesday evening was Sylvia Graves, who gave us an extensive report on FUM's activities over the past three years. Landrum Bolling spoke on Thursday evening about the need to re-examine our Peace Testimony in light of current events. He insisted that, "there are consequences," to our testimony of Christ's call to peacemaking. Among these consequences, he stressed the imperative that we resist the current push for expanding the present war into Iran.

Thursday night, after Bolling's presentation, the few Young Adult Friends present at this event gathered together, along with a few other YAFs who had come over from North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative), which is holding its annual sessions in nearby Greensboro. There were about a dozen of us, and we shared together about our experiences in the past few years, as well as about our frustrations as young adults in a religious community that alternately pampers us and patronizes us. There was a great sense that we are hungry for a more intergenerational life in community. We are, first and foremost, adult Friends. We just happen to be part of a religious community that tends towards the upper age range. Christ is teaching his people himself, and it's not limited to any age group.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Brief Early Report From FUM Triennial 2008

Folks from all over the US, Canada, East Africa, Belize, Britain, and Jamaica came together yesterday, in Highpoint, North Carolina, for the 2008 Friends United Meeting Triennial sessions. So far, we've mostly introduced ourselves and talked about FUM's programs and how they are not recieving the kind of support they need to reach their full potential.

I can't imagine a much more different Friends conference in comparision with FGC Gathering. While FGC was like summer camp, FUM Triennial is more like a United Nations committee meeting.

More to come.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Friends General Conference, Reflections

Now that I have made my way to a place where I have enough free time and access to a computer, I'll describe my experience at FGC Gathering this past week. As I indicated in my last email, the week was a difficult one for me, and took a lot of adjustment on my part. However, as the days went by, I was able to adapt myself more and more to the way of life and schedule at FGC Gathering, so that by the end I felt more or less comfortable. Of course, then it was time to leave.

I think that I was expecting FGC Gathering to be more like a yearly meeting session than anything else; but, in fact, it was far closer to being a festival, concert, or summer camp for adults and families. Coming to this gathering, I felt that my role was to be an observer, to rest in God and seek to understand a different culture. I found soon that simply being at FGC Gathering as an observer took a great deal of energy, and that, though I felt that I did very little, I was very drained by dinnertime each evening. At many times the gathering felt centerless, with many different individuals and groups involved in their own activities. At times it seemed that the overall energy of the gathering was one of "anything goes," a release from all inhibitions that had to be borne during the rest of the year.

I had hoped to be quite involved in the Young Adult Friends community at FGC Gathering, but to my chagrin almost all YAF events were scheduled for 9:15pm or later, with their business meetings regularly going well past midnight. Since I go to bed closer to "Quaker midnight," I felt unable to take much part in that community. Instead, I spent most of my time mingling with older folks, which was just fine - but I had wanted to make more of a connection with younger Friends there, as well. I was able to make a connection with a few wonderful individual YAFs, but being a part of the group as a whole seemed out of reach.

During FGC Gathering I spent a lot of time observing and ruminating on the work that the Holy Spirit is doing among Friends in preparing us to be the Body of Christ in the world. I noticed several hopeful movements of the Spirit at work in the liberal-unprogrammed branch that are emerging or becoming strengthened at this time. In terms of Friends General Conference as an organization, the two most inspiring initiatives now underway are the Traveling Ministries Program and the nascent Quaker Quest program. I see these two initiatives as representing the future of Quakerism - at least in its unprogrammed variety - two sides of what is happening as God seeks to enliven, renew, reignite this generation of the Religious Society of Friends.

FGC's fundraising campaign that is underway is called "Stoking the Spiritual Fires of Quakerism," and I am pleased to see the idea of "being on fire" become in-vogue. Imagine that: Taking our faith seriously! The Quaker Quest program seems incredibly promising as a tool for evangelism/outreach, but also for inreach. As meetings undertake this program, I believe that we will become clearer about who we are as Friends, what we believe, how we should be living in the world. At the same time that Quaker Quest begins to take root and quite possibly transform our meetings both in terms of spiritual depth and numerically, it seems clear to me that it is imperative that we prepare ourselves as a religious community for a potential influx of newly convinced Friends, on a scale that we have not seen since the mid nineteenth century.

I see the Traveling Ministries Program as a key part of this preparation, helping to energize, connect, encourage and organize our ministers and elders, both young and old in Christ. I believe that our traveling Friends will become an increasingly important force in the Religious Society as God seeks to bring us into greater levels of faithfulness as a body. As Quaker Quest serves as a tool for God to enrich and expand our local meetings, God willing, the Traveling Ministries Program may serve to connect these meetings to the wider Religious Society of Friends, both grounding the local meeting in the wider body and tradition, as well as encouraging the flow of vitality and groundedness to other, less healthy areas of our community, and to the wider Church.

In this vein, another program that seems very promising which is emerging out of the East Coast stream of unprogrammed Quakerism is the School of the Spirit. This ministry has been at work since 1990, "helping all who wish to be more faithful listeners and responders to the inward work of Christ." Until recently, the sole program of the School of the Spirit had been, "On Being a Spiritual Nurturer," which serves to guide and nurture the emerging gifts of eldership within our Religious Society. This coming year will be the first in a (hopefully) ongoing program entitled, "The Way of Ministry," which will serve a similar purpose for those called to Gospel, prophetic, traveling, teaching, or other kinds of ministry grounded within the meeting community, but often reaching out to the wider world.

The School of the Spirit seems very promising to me for a number of reasons: First, it appears to offer the kind of oversight and nurture that many monthly, quarterly and yearly meetings seem unable or unwilling to provide at the present time. Second, it seeks to encourage a grounded, caring fellowship of ministers and elders who support one another in their labors, providing nurture and guidance. Finally, and what is potentially most exciting about this program, the School of the Spirit is committed to the active participation of local meetings in the ministry of its students.

The School of the Spirit sees ministry of all kinds in the context of a corporate body - the local, quarterly and yearly meeting - and strives to involve these bodies to as great an extent as possible. They hold that it is essential that our meetings recognize the spiritual gifts and callings of their membership as not only being a call for that individual, but also for the body as a whole. Spiritual gifts are a gift from God to the body, held in trust by an individual; and calls from God, if true leadings, are not merely for the individual, but are in fact to some degree a call for the entire body, to be supported materially, encouraged, and overseen by the church community.

I am excited to see how these programs, along with many other smaller-scale initiatives that are blooming at present all over the Quaker landscape, will serve to enliven, enrich, and make more useful for God's service the Religious Society of Friends in this new century. At FGC Gathering, I was surprised and pleased to notice that many Friends are becoming enthusiastic about outreach. During one night's plenary session, when Peterson Toscano remarked during his presentation that he thought outreach was crucial, many in the audience began to cheer and clap spontaneously. This is an exciting day, when Friends in the unprogrammed branches are getting fired up about sharing their faith, inviting others into our meetings.

This has been a very difficult week for me, but I am glad that I was able to be at FGC Gathering. I feel that I have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of FGC at this gathering, and I am encouraged that the Ocean of Light is overcoming the Ocean of Darkness. The grass is growing up from underneath the blanket of snow that has kept us "safe," hidden, for so long. Praise God. I pray that I was well used this past week, that the Seed of God was encouraged.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Early report from FGC

I must keep this entry brief, as there are two public computers for the entirety of this gathering, which hosts around 1,500 people. Consider this a preliminary report, to be amplified later:

I have spent most of my time at FGC Gathering attending extended worship (around 2 hours) after breakfast, learning about the Quaker Quest program in the afternoon, usually catching a nap, and then attending a plenary session in the evening. I have not had the opportunity to spend much time with Young Adult Friends here, as their schedule mostly takes place after nine 'o clock at night. As I go to bed around ten, this has been unworkable for me. I have been doing my best to rest, take time for myself, and save energy for the rest of my summer ahead. My success has been limited.

My time thus far at FGC Gathering has been intense and, honestly, rather difficult for me. I've been experiencing a level of culture shock that I hadn't really anticipated, given that I had enjoyed my time in FGC-affiliated monthly and yearly meetings, previously. I have been reflecting a great deal on the cultural differences between my region of the Religious Society of Friends and the parts of the Religious Society represented here at FGC Gathering. I realize that some of this must have to do with my own personality, as well.

More to come.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Now, to FGC Gathering

Until a couple of days ago, I did not think that I was going to Friends General Conference Gathering, being held this year at Johnstown, Pennsylvania. While having planned on attending when I originally considered my plans for the summer, a couple of months ago I came to the conclusion that FGC was an event that I would need to cut in order to have enough energy to undertake the rest of my intervisitation. However, in the latter part of this week, as I have considered what I felt led to be doing with my time in between Quaker Camp and FUM Triennial, I realized that I was feeling very drawn to travel among Friends in liberal-unprogrammed meetings in the Mid-Atlantic region. When I considered traveling among East Coast meetings this coming week, I realized that most folks whom I knew in those meetings would be at FGC Gathering. I also realized I had the money to attend the gathering, if I so chose, thanks to a grant from the Pickett Endowment. Critically, I felt inwardly at peace when I gave over to changing plans and attending the gathering.

So, having a probable leading to attend FGC Gathering, two questions remained: "Do I really have the energy to attend this event?" and "Is it still possible for me to register?" After some introspection and investigation, I have concluded that the answer to both is, "yes."

See you at FGC, God willing.

Quaker Camp at Barnsville, 2008

This week has been the second year of Quaker Camp, which first took place last year as a part of a reunion of Young Friends of North America participants. This year, the gathering has been much smaller, involving probably around thirty people at any given time, with a number of folks only participating for a part of the weekend. The flavor and energy of the gathering has been very different from the previous one, both in terms of overall numbers, and also in terms of Young Adult Friends participation, which has been significantly less this year. While smaller and less vital than last year, this week has been a space for interaction across generations and traditions and has served as a point of contact between the surging Young Adult Friends movement and older Friends from the Conservative and liberal-unprogrammed traditions.

Beginning Sunday evening, immediately following the Gathering of Conservative Friends, and running until Saturday morning, Quaker Camp has been a place for Friends of a variety of backgrounds to come together, share fellowship, wait on God, and create a space for intergenerational community. We have met together in a large swath of "unprogrammed time," where we have felt free to experiment with different forms of study, prayer, business, worship, and song. Folks have come for a variety of reasons: Some came to recapture the life and energy that they once experienced as part of the Young Friends of North America. Others came to explore the modern-day witness of Conservative Friends in Ohio Yearly Meeting. Still others came to participate in the ongoing movement of Young Adult Friends and to share fellowship with older Friends. What we have found together is a sense of mutual sharing, deep listening, and freedom for experimentation and risk-taking as an cross-branch, intergenerational community.

The week has certainly had its ups and downs, sometimes feeling overburdened with introspection and personal struggles being elevated to the level of collective agenda. Nevertheless, as the week has gone on, things seem to have gelled to a great extent. Instead of being a rattling of separate individuals, we have come to share a greater sense of unity and corporateness.

It has been a blessing to spend some quality time with Friends from Ohio Yearly Meeting (Conservative) and get a sense of who they are, and simply appreciating that. I feel that I have a great deal to learn from Friends in the Conservative tradition and hope that I might be able to offer something of myself and my tradition to them, as well. I was delighted and surprised, for example, at the response I received this morning when I suggested that we could have some programmed worship and praise for tonight's evening program: A Friend from Stillwater Meeting expressed that she thought that having programmed worship would be in good order, just what Friends needed at this moment! I am excited and humbled by the open-mindedness and adaptability of some Conservative Friends, even as they are firm in their own tradition. I believe that this is exactly what we need from all Friends.

This week has also been a good opportunity for me to talk with past YFNA participants, interviewing some of them as a part of an historical investigation I am planning to undertake this fall. I am continually educated by my conversations with older Friends who were involved in the Young Friends of North America in their youth. I find great inspiration and great lessons (both positive and negative) in their life experience and experiments with Truth. I have also appreciated the perspective which many Friends bring to their youthful adventures, often able to make distinctions between experiences that might be worth emulating today, and others which should be studied with an eye toward avoiding pitfalls that have the potential to do deep harm to individuals and communities. I hope that Young Adult Friends today can be in conversation with older Friends and be open to hearing and taking seriously their experience, so that we might benefit from the hard-won lessons of their generation.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Ohio Yearly Meeting's Conservative Friends Gathering

This weekend, Friday evening through Sunday morning (or Sixth Day through First Day, in the local parlance), I attended the Gathering of Conservative Friends, hosted by Ohio Yearly Meeting (Conservative), at Olney Friends School and Stillwater Monthly Meeting's meetinghouse. This was my first experience of any gathering of Conservative Friends, having previously only met Conservative Friends individually. It was a new experience to be around Friends at this gathering, who had travelled from all over North America (and one family from Finland!) to be together with other Conservative Friends. This largely seems to have been an opportunity for isolated Conservative Quakers to come together and share fellowship with other like-minded individuals.

Many of those in attendance this weekend were not full members of Ohio Yearly Meeting, but instead were what are referred to as "affiliate" members. As I understood it, this particular gathering was representative of only a certain stream of one Conservative yearly meeting, primarily seeming to be made up of affiliate members of OYM and those full members who support this growing way in which OYM is reaching out to the wider world, encouraging those who would like to take part in their unique brand of Christian Quakerism. Many of these Friends wore "plain dress" and employed "plain speech" (thee knows what that means, doesn't thee?). I felt myself to be in a very different cultural zone from any other Quaker event I had ever attended.

An overarching theme of the weekend gathering was a sense of isolation on the part of many of those attending the event. Many affiliate members came to this gathering as one of their few face-to-face opportunities for corporate worship and fellowship with other like-minded Friends for the whole year. Some of these Friends are geographically isolated from Friends altogether, while others have found themselves to be so out of unity with the local meetings in their area that they have withdrawn, in some cases forming new Christian Friends worship groups. There was a gnawing hunger for connection and community, and also sadness that Conservative Quakerism is such a small community, both geographically and numerically.

It seemed apparent that Friends at this gathering were not representative of Ohio Yearly Meeting as a whole. While attended by many affiliate members, there were relatively few full members present. I am interested in coming to know OYM Friends more deeply, and I hope that some day soon I might be able to visit OYM's regular annual sessions. I am looking forward to meeting with other kinds of Conservative Friends, in general. It will be enlightening, I am sure, to visit Friends at Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) next month, and I am hopeful that I might be able to visit at least a half-day of North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative)'s annual sessions while I am nearby for FUM Triennial.

This trip helped me see how Conservative Quakerism is one branch among the others, and that it has its own glories and failings, just like the other branches do. I think that, previously, I had held Conservative Quakerism with a special, somewhat unrealistic regard, imagining it to be the "purest" form of Quakerism that we had left. I believe, now, that all of our branches of Friends, even the Conservative one, preserve particular elements of the Friends tradition and fail to encompass others. Conservative Friends seem to preserve to a greater degree the tradition developed during the Quietist period. I am no longer convinced, though, that Conservative Quakerism should be considered more "pure" or traditional than evangelical or liberal Quakerism. Now, I see that all Quakers, even Conservative Friends, are just human beings, and that we all have blindspots. This initial brush with Conservative Friends has confirmed my own identity as a Gurneyite-rooted, convergent Friend.