Dear Friends of Truth,
Things have kept moving along in the past weeks as I have continued to visit Friends in the Great Plains region. I have covered a lot of ground since my last newsletter, traveling well over a thousand miles and visiting Friends in Manhattan, Topeka and Lawerence, Kansas; Kansas City, Missouri; and Kearney, Central City, and Grand Island, Nebraska. In addition, I have continued my work in Wichita. I have met with individuals, as well as being invited to speak to the youth of Crossroads Friends Church. I have also continued to assist the Mennonite Church of the Servant's addiction recovery program.
In the past weeks I have had a number of opportunities to meet with individuals here in Wichita. I have met with a variety of folks, both from the various Friends meetings and churches in the city, as well as with friends from other traditions. I have felt enriched by every encounter, and I pray that I have been a blessing to those I have met with. It has been especially encouraging to meet with ministers from Heartland, University and Crossroads Friends meetings. I am impressed with their sincerity, drive and vision, and I am eager to see how I might be of service to each of their congregations. I continue to meet with Mennonite and Methodist ministers, seeking to be receptive to how God may be calling us to work together for the incarnation of Christ's Presence and Reign with us.
I felt particularly blessed to be invited to visit Crossroad Friends Church's youth group. I spent an evening playing soccer with the youth, out in the country to the Northwest of Wichita. Later, we sat together eating cinnamon rolls and drinking pink limonade; and, after a time of prayer, I spent perhaps fifteen minutes sharing about my spiritual journey and how Christ has led me in my life. I then took questions from the youth, and asked them some, as well. I was grateful for the chance to get to know these young people, and to share with them about what God has done in my life.
I continue attending weekly at the Mennonite Church of the Servant's meetinghouse, assisting as best I can with their addiction recovery program, using materials from Celebrate Recovery, a Christ-centered adaptation of the twelve steps program. The group has thus far not grown very much in number, but those of us who do attend are a solid, increasingly tight-knit group; each of us hopes to work to draw in new attenders to increase the impact of our little group, which we feel has much to offer to our friends and neighbors.
Visiting Friends in Northeastern Kansas
The weekend before last, I experienced a rapid change of plans, which ultimately worked out very well. I had planned to visit the Kearney worship group on the weekend of April 19-21, and then to visit the new worship group in Grand Island the weekend following. However, as I spoke with John and Marianna Damon in Kearney, I realized that visiting central Nebraska twice in two weeks would probably be overkill; I would do better to visit Kearney and Grand Island in the same weekend. The Damons and I agreed that I should wait until the next weekend, when I would visit both worship groups. All of a sudden, I had no plans for the weekend.
Now, I had been feeling a distinct leading towards visiting Friends in Northeastern Kansas since my trip to West Texas, and with my weekend free, I realized immediately that this was the time to make those visits. But would Friends be able to meet with me on only a day's notice? I made a lot of phone calls very quickly. To my great joy, way opened for Friends in Northeastern Kansas to meet with me, even on such short notice. Each meeting that I felt led to visit was able to receive me! I felt deep gratitude for God's touch in opening the way for these unexpected visits.
The next day, Friday, I arrived in Manhattan, Kansas. I met with Friends from Manhattan Friends Meeting for dinner. There were about eight of us, and it was wonderful to see these Friends again after having been away for more than a year. The big news in Manhattan is that there are three new attenders; two are seeking marriage under the care of the meeting, and one is currently seeking membership in the meeting. Also big news, though less encouraging, is that Stephen and Debbie Long, vibrant and valued members of the meeting, are moving very soon to Virginia. This is a great loss for the meeting, being so small. Nevertheless, Friends remain upbeat: "We're up three and down two - that's still good," one Friend said. One of the things that I love about Friends in Manhattan is their determination and optimism about what God can do through them. I trust that God will continue to bless them and use them as an instrument of love and reconciliation in Manhattan. I look forward to seeing how I might be of service to these Friends as they serve their community.
I spent Friday night in Manhattan, graciously hosted by the Conrow family, and in the morning I was off to visit Friends in Topeka. I had lunch with Sue Wine and David Ozaki, and then we made our way over to the meetinghouse, where the Sergeants joined us and we had a time of fellowship and worship. Friends in Topeka are feeling small and discouraged right now, struggling in the wake of the loss of a key family last year, who moved to New Zealand. Friends in Topeka want God to breathe new life into their meeting, to build them up and make them what they were meant to be; but it's hard, and the way forward is not clear right now. I am sure that Friends in Topeka would appreciate your prayers for God's felt presence and power in their meeting. I will be praying for them as they wait on God's guidance and strength. Saturday evening I stayed with Sue and John Wine at their home in the country. The Wines have a small farm, which I found a refreshing place to be, and I am grateful for their hospitality.
On Sunday morning, I made my way over to Lawrence to worship with Oread Friends. I enjoyed being with them for Sunday morning worship, and I got the chance to visit with some of them after worship, during tea time. As I talked with a few Friends about my travels, I mentioned that my original plan for this ministry had involved staying with each meeting for a couple of weeks, but that I had determined that most meetings would be better served by shorter, weekend visits. I was surprised and pleased to have these Friends express their interest in having me visit Friends in Lawrence for a longer period. They suggested that I might stay for a couple of weeks, visiting with Friends in their homes, holding called meetings for worship, and deepening my relationship with the local community. I am excited by this suggestion, and Friends in Lawrence and I will be in conversation in the upcoming weeks and months as to when might be the best time for me to visit them for an extended period.
After tea time at Oread and a brief stop to a Lawrence coffeeshop, I headed to Kansas City. I made several looping tours of the downtown area, trying to figure out where I was. Finally, in the early evening, I found my way to the home of Shane Rowse, clerk of Penn Valley Friends Meeting. He and his family hosted me and several other local Friends very warmly that evening. They prepared a delicious Southern-style meal, and we talked together for hours into the evening. I appreciated the lively and curious spirit of these Friends, and I look forward to visiting them again soon.
In fact, I hope to visit all four of these meetings again this May. I look forward to continuing to deepen our friendship and to encourage the strengthening of their lives as individuals and meetings. Each of these local meetings is special and important, and I want to support them in any way that I am able.
On to Central Nebraska
Just as I was beginning to recover from this whirlwind tour of Northeastern Kansas, I made my way to central Nebraska this past weekend (24-26 April) to visit Friends there. On Friday and Saturday, I visited John and Marianna Damon, the core of the Kearney worship group. These Friends were very gracious to me, inviting me into their home and taking good care of me. I had wonderful conversations with both John and Marianna, and got a sense for their lives, including their struggles to establish a meeting in Kearney. I was glad to be able to visit them and encourage them in their walk as Friends, and hope that way will open for me to be of further service to them as they continue to seek God's will in their lives.
On Sunday, I worshipped with Friends at Central City. We sang hymns and shared a time of open worship, sitting around tables in the anteroom of their meetinghouse. After the service, I spoke with Friends about the ministry I am carrying out. They, in turn, explained the present situation with their local meeting, especially their plans for raising funds to provide a substantial endowment for their meetinghouse. The meeting no longer feels able to maintain the meetinghouse themselves, and they hope to raise $50,000 in order to ensure that the meetinghouse can be used by the local historical society for the next decade.
Don Reeves took me out to lunch at a local waffle restaurant after meeting, and then I headed over to the monthly gathering for worship in Grand Island. We met in the basement of the United Methodist meetinghouse, and a Methodist minister gave a message about how impressed he was with Shane Claiborne. Following his presentation, we had a period of open worship. I was sad that there was not much time for fellowship following the service. The meeting for worship occurs immediately before the meeting of Nebraskans for Peace in the same space, and attenders of that group began arriving as our meeting for worship ended. As most of the Friends in attendence also take part in Nebraskans for Peace, the worship gathering transformed into a peace meeting almost immediately. I wished that I had more time to visit with Friends. I hope that on a subsequent visit I might get to know them better.
Big news: In the discussion following worship at Central City, I was informed that Central City Monthly Meeting did not, in fact, have plans to lay down. Instead, it looks increasingly likely that Friends will continue to meet in Central City on a monthly basis for the forseeable future. The model that Friends in central Nebraska increasingly seem to be drawn to is that of a single monthly meeting composed of several preparative meetings (worship groups). Friends in Kearney will continue to meet twice a month, and Friends in Grand Island and Central City will meet once a month. This is exciting news for everyone: Central City Monthly Meeting is not laying down - it is re-organizing. Nevertheless, it is clear that Friends in central Nebraska are struggling at this time, and they could use the support of Friends in the region. Please be praying for Friends in central Nebraska; may they feel God's presence and be open to God's guidance for how they are to move forward.
This coming weekend, Heartland Friends Meeting is hosting a regional gathering of Friends. We hope to have guests from as far North as central Nebraska, as far West as Great Bend, as far South as Texas and as far East as Arkansas. The gathering will be from 10:00 am until 4:00 pm, Saturday, 2 May, at Heartland meetinghouse. We will be gathering for a time of fellowship, worship, hymn singing, and a time of worship sharing and discussion about how God is calling us to service in our local communities. Together, we will seek strength and guidance from the Present Teacher, praying for the wisdom and the courage to be a blessing to our local communities and to build up our local meetings.
On the weekend of 9-10 May, I have been invited to attend a retreat for Mennonite Church of the Servant. I look forward to learning from these brothers and sisters as they gather together to rededicate themselves to the work of the Church in Wichita. On 17 May, I have been asked to speak to youth group at University Friends. On 24 May, I hope to visit Friends in Saint Louis, and the following weekend I hope to visit Friends in Manhattan, Topeka, Lawrence and Kansas City. And the weekend after that, 4-7 June, Great Plains Yearly Meeting will be having its annual gathering, hosted this year by University Friends Meeting, in Wichita. I hope that many of you are able to make this gathering.
Please continue to pray for my ministry in the Great Plains region, and for all of the Friends meetings in this part of the country. May we seek God's will alone, setting aside our fear and pride as we take up the cross of Christ and embrace God's mission for us as Friends.
Yours in service,