I have been laid very low in the last month, both spiritually and physically. It feels like the challenges really began with my trip to Philadelphia in mid-February. While my visit there was blessed and productive in many ways, I also faced a lot of spiritual barriers and struggles during my time in the city. By the time I got back home to Washington, I was quite exhausted. In this state of general fatigue, I came down with a severe cold that essentially incapacitated me for more than a week. Worst of all, this particular bug had the nasty side effect of leaving me without the ability to speak for several days.
Losing my voice was terrible. I had never been unable to speak like that, and, consequently, I never realized how completely I rely on my voice. Most of what I do on a daily basis is interpersonal in nature, and being unable to communicate verbally knocked me totally out of commission. While I was able to communicate again within a few days, the cold and associated congestion continued at a low level, tapering off gradually over the course of many weeks. Even now, more than a month later, I'm still not quite at 100%. To add insult to injury, I was unable to sing for almost a month. This was very disheartening for me, since song is one of the most important ways that I express myself and feel a connection to God.
Shortly after I had emerged from the most intense part of this lingering illness, Faith and I had the opportunity to attend a retreat for people experiencing a call to gospel ministry and eldership. This retreat was held in Barnesville, Ohio and was led by Brian Drayton, Jan Hoffman and Susan Smith. The gathering was a blessed occasion to share fellowship with other Friends who share similar concerns, and we enjoyed deep worship during our time together. For me personally, it was a reprieve from an otherwise very spiritually dark time. God came very near during our weekend together, and this was a great comfort to me.
During the gathering at Barnesville, I felt the Lord revealing to me my own lack of trust in him. I saw more clearly the ways in which I try to control life and produce the outcomes I desire. Being shown this, I felt the hidden power of Christ rise up within me and liberate me from this bondage. For no discernable outward reason, my spiritual chains were loosened and I was released to follow Jesus in a more profound way. I experienced the freedom of deeper submission of my own will to the mind of Christ, and I was invited to live in this freedom always.
I have no doubt that I am only at the very beginning of my journey of inward transformation by the Holy Spirit, but I give thanks for the marvelous light of liberation that Christ shines in my heart. I know from repeated personal experience that the deepest spiritual darkness comes as a prelude to the rising of the Day Star - Christ Jesus - in my heart. It is by being baptized into death - staring despair and evil in the face - that I am prepared to receive Christ and be transformed inwardly by him. I thank God for these opportunities to be baptized spiritually into Christ's death so that I might share in his resurrection.
The spiritual unrest that I have experienced this month seems to have been, in retrospect, the darkness that comes before the dawn - not only for me, but also for Capitol Hill Friends. Something new is happening among Friends here in Washington, and March has been a pivotal month for our community. One sign of this transition has been our shift in meeting time. For the last year an a half, Capitol Hill Friends has met twice a month, on Wednesday evenings. This month, however, we made the decision to begin holding our gatherings every Sunday evening, except the first Sunday of the month. This new schedule means we will meet more often, three or four times a month instead of twice. It also means that some folks who were not able to participate on Wednesdays can now join us.
The shift in our gatherings, however, does not fully capture the deep change that I sense happening in our group. Within our leadership team - those of us who have committed ourselves to the CHF community and have taken on the responsibility for care and decision-making - we have experienced a big shake-up this calendar year, and especially in the last month. Perhaps the simplest way to express this change within the core group is to say that it is becoming clearer that we are being called to a more radical form of discipleship as a covenant community. Those of us who have committed ourselves to Capitol Hill Friends are feeling a call to go deeper.
This "going deeper" takes two forms. First, we sense that we need to do more in reaching out to our city, especially in the Capitol Hill neighborhood where we gather. We feel a call to rachet up the intensity of our evangelistic efforts. There is a sense that word-of-mouth outreach within the DC Quaker community has gone as far as it can. At this stage in our life as a community, we feel an urgency about sharing the good news beyond "the hedge," beyond the DC Quaker bubble. We are looking at a variety of ways to do this, including internet advertising, putting a sign out on the sidewalk during our gatherings, and more direct relationship-building with the residents and commuters who walk by the William Penn House on a daily basis.
At the same time that we increase our outreach to our neighbors in Washington, we also feel a concern to nurture the development of covenant community within our core group. We desire to prioritize our life together in community, seeking ways to care for each other, learn and grow together, and to become more accountable to one another.
We also seek to make space for others who are feeling called to this path of common discipleship. We hope that in the coming years we might be joined by others who feel God calling them into a life of greater commitment to Christ in the context of community. With a bonded, loving and accountable community of disciples at its core, it is our prayer that Capitol Hill Friends will be a blessing to the city of Washington, embodying the love and peace of Jesus in our daily interactions and lifestyles.
Please continue to pray for us as we seek God's guidance for our community. Please pray also that the Spirit will raise up women and men who are called to join us in this labor. We sense that we cannot do this work as isolated individuals, and we yearn to have others of like mind and heart join us in the harvest field that we are discovering in the District of Colombia.
In the Light that overcomes the ocean of darkness,