Monday, December 14, 2009

Micah's Ministry Newsletter #14 - Sowing Seeds at Home and Further Afield

Dear Children of Light,

The past weeks have been quite eventful, and we have had a sense that God's work is being advanced. Both here in DC and further afield, God has been very generous in placing us in a position to share the message of the Lord's indescribable love and peace, available to each of us as we open ourselves to it. Faith and I were grateful to have the opportunity to visit Friends at Takoma Park Meeting (Preparative), a short metro ride away - right on the northeastern border between DC and Maryland. Takoma Park is a sweet little Meeting, with perhaps fifteen in attendence when we visited. We felt very honored to be asked to stay after Meeting and share with a group of Friends about our experiences traveling among Friends. It was a joy to share some of our observations with them, as well to hear their perspectives on a variety of issues. We pray that God continue to bless Takoma Park Meeting, calling it into ever-greater spiritual depth as the work of the Holy Spirit brings Friends there into maturity, bestowing all of the gifts of the Spirit upon them.

We have spent a lot of time away from home in the last weeks, and we have felt blessed by those whom we have encountered in our travels. Faith and I spent most of the week of Thanksgiving in Ohio, visiting her family. On our way back to DC, we were able to attend Sunday morning worship at Stillwater Friends Meeting, in Barnesville, Ohio. After worship, Fran Taber and Richard Simon invited us to have lunch with them; we greatly enjoyed their hospitality and warm company, before hitting the road again.

On December 4-6, we flew to Wichita, Kansas, to take part in a planning meeting for a Young Adult Friends gathering. This gathering, which will take place over Memorial Day weekend, 2010, seeks to bring Friends together from across the United States, Canada, and possibly Mexico. This was the full planning committee's first in-person meeting, and I was very pleased with how well we worked together. Almost a dozen of us spent the weekend worshiping, getting to know one another, and seeking God's guidance to make the initial decisions that would guide the rest of our planning process. We were led to adopt the theme: "Bearing Witness to the Word Among Us - Witness, Testimony and Transformation." The accompanying scriptural passage that we felt directed to was 1 John 1:1-3.

I was very excited to see the kind of broad participation that we are getting from YAFs in the Evangelical Friends world early on in the process. Of the twelve members of the planning committee, four are from Evangelical Friends Church; with two from Eastern Region, one from Mid-America Yearly Meeting, and one from Northwest Yearly Meeting. One of our number is from the Conservative Friends tradition (Ohio Yearly Meeting), another is from the Beanite/Independent branch of the Liberal-Unprogrammed tradition (Pacific Yearly Meeting), and another is a member of an FGC Yearly Meeting (Lake Erie Yearly Meeting). Three of us are from the FUM branch of the Orthodox tradition - Great Plains Yearly Meeting, North Carolina Yearly Meeting, and Wilmington Yearly Meeting; and two of us are members of University Friends Meeting, which is dually affiliated with Great Plains Yearly Meeting (FUM) and Mid-America Yearly Meeting (Evangelical Friends Church).

With this kind of diversity on our planning committee, I feel very hopeful that the gathering we are planning can be an inviting space for Friends of all backgrounds - particuarly for pastoral and Evangelical Friends. In the coming months, the planning committee will be doing extensive outreach to Friends across the continent, in a wide variety of Yearly Meetings, seeking maximum participation by Friends from all backgrounds. We would be very grateful for your prayers as we work on the event planning and outreach work that will be necessary to bring together Young Adult Friends from across our geographical, cultural and historical landscape. I am confident that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. I have already seen what a great group of people the Lord has brought together to work on this project, and I am convinced that if we are obedient we will serve God's purposes in the months to come.

Here at home, Faith and I have been doing a bit of local organizing. This past Wednesday, December 9th, we had the second meeting of the Christian worship group that we have been hosting on Capitol Hill. We had a good turnout, with nine individuals in attendence; and our time together was blessed with a sense of joy. Dinner was provided, following which we sang hymns together and read the first two chapters of Luke aloud. Following this time of preparation, we entered into open worship. After about an hour, and several vocal messages, an advice was read aloud. After another short period of silence, the meeting for worship ended with the shaking of hands. I felt very encouraged by the spirit that was present among us as we worshiped together and shared fellowship after worship. Of the nine of us, seven of us were in our mid- to late- twenties, while the other two participants were Baby Boomers. It is my hope that this worship group will serve as a place of spiritual refreshment and encouragement to seekers of all ages and life stages. I also hope that it can be a group in which all attenders are loved and accepted for who they are, even as Christ calls us to go deeper and be transformed in His purifying light.

After our positive experiences hosting this time of worship and fellowship, Faith and I feel clear to begin holding this worship group on a regular basis starting in the new year. Beginning on Wednesday, January 13th, the worship group will meet every second and fourth Wednesday of the month. It is our hope that a solid group might develop over a period of sustained and regular meetings for worship. Please pray for the worship group as it takes its first halting steps. Pray that the group grow, gain in strength and maturity, and be raised up as a body that can be of service to God and our neighbors in the District of Columbia. Please also pray that God spiritually ground and actively teach every person who attends our meetings for worship, that we may all be brought into maturity and empowered to instruct others in the Way of the Gospel.

God bless each of you who read this letter, and may the Lord bless the ministry that God has called you to.

Your co-worker in Christ's labor of love,

Micah Bales

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Micah's Ministry Newsletter #13

Dear beloved sisters and brothers in Truth,

The past few weeks have been a time of getting settled into a new way of life. I have begun to adjust to life in the District of Columbia, at the William Penn House. I have taken time to be present with my wife, my housemates, and my neighborhood; and I have spent a good amount of time alone seeking God's guidance for me in my next steps in this new chapter of my life. As I have sought to be intentional about giving myself time to develop roots here in DC, I have also spent some time exploring my relationship with the wider Mid-Atlantic region. This month has been a time of rest, renewal, spiritual growth and deepening relationships.

Life at the William Penn House is good. It has been a joy to be present on an ongoing basis in the community where my wife has lived and worked for more than two years. I have been impressed with the professionalism and good management that I have observed at the House, and it has been a particular joy to see Faith at work, exercising her considerable gifts of administration and hospitality. I feel that I am able to participate in the community life of the house to a great degree, but I appreciate that I am also given the space I need to focus on my own work and recreation.

I have attended a couple of Friends Meetings in the DC metro area. The first was Friends Meeting of Washington, part of Baltimore Yearly Meeting. I attended this Meeting alone, because Faith had work that day. Friends Meeting of Washington has three worship services on Sunday, two of them concurrent. Of these two simultaneous services, there is the larger one held in the main worship room, as well as a smaller one held in an adjacent building. I had already attended the larger service a number of times, so this time I tried out the smaller one. It was, as advertised, a quiet worship service. There was only one spoken message, and I gathered that most Sundays are either entirely silent or with very few spoken messages.

On another Sunday, Faith and I attended the Friends Meeting in Alexandria, Virginia, also a part of Baltimore Yearly Meeting. Faith and I had visited this Meeting once before, and we were pleased to be among them once again. Friends in Alexandria are a very sweet community of seekers, and we felt very welcomed among them. Faith and I felt blessed that each of us were called upon to deliver vocal ministry during the meeting for worship. We pray that our visit was profitable in building up the Body of Christ in Alexandria.

On the first Sunday of this month, Faith and I visited Friends near Harrisonburg, Virginia, at Rockingham Friends Meeting, part of Ohio Yearly Meeting. We had been excited to visit this Meeting for months, and it was a joy to be with them for worship, followed by a meal. We were honored to join them for their monthly meeting for business, and we were very impressed by the gospel labor of spiritual nurture and evangelism that this small Meeting is involved in throughout the world. This tiny group of Friends has care of a worship group outside Atlanta, Georgia, as well as serving a large number of affiliate members throughout the world.

Rockingham Meeting is two and a half hours South of DC. Despite the distance, Faith and I hope to return on a regular basis. We sense a deep spiritual affinity with these Friends. Of all of the Meetings that either of us have experienced in this region of the United States, Rockingham is the one that we feel most akin to. This feeling of affinity was further confirmed when I visited the Stillwater Quarterly Meeting of Ohio Yearly Meeting the following Saturday, in Bird-in-hand, Pennsylvania. I was very impressed by the ministers and elders of Stillwater Quarterly Meeting, to which Rockingham belongs. Their dedication to the gospel of Jesus Christ as understood in the Friends tradition is inspiring to me, and their emerging focus on evangelism is in line with my own concern to share the good news across borders, cultures, languages, national identities and ethnicities.

Almost one week after traveling to Pennsylvania for Stillwater Quarterly Meeting, my work with Earlham School of Religion took me North again, to the city of Philadelphia. I spent the better part of a week meeting with Friends in the Philadelphia area. I met with a number of young Quaker leaders, talking up the YAF gathering that will be happening in Wichita next May and hearing their questions, concerns, and feedback about the event. This was a very valuable experience for me; I felt like I learned a lot about the needs and perspectives of Young Adult Friends in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. I was made more sensitive to how to work more effectively with Philadelphia YAFs as we seek to share the love of Christ with all people.

While in the Philadelphia area, I was also able to travel to Pendle Hill, where Betsy Blake spoke about her experience of Jesus. (She was magnificent!) In addition to the blessing of being present for Betsy's witness, it was also a delight to be present with the wide array of Friends who attended the lecture. It felt great to connect with many Friends that I had not seen in months or years, as well as to make connections with Friends I had not previously met. After all of this, I drove from Pendle Hill to New Jersey to have a brief but blessed late-night opportunity with Martin Kelley and his family.

I feel very blessed by all of the work that God has been doing in my life these past weeks. I have experienced times of spiritual darkness and desolation, but I have been repeatedly delivered and built up in Christ. I praise God for the spiritual baptism that the Holy Spirit is working in me as I pass from darkness into light, from death into new life in Christ. I thank God for every single person and event that has been placed in my life and for the way that God works through all things for our transformation and reconciliation to God in Christ.

May each of you know the tender love of our blessed Savior. Pray for me as I pray for you. Peace and grace be with you in the Lord.

In brother- and sisterhood,

Micah Bales

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Young Adult Friends Gathering, 2010: Save the date!

To all Friends everywhere,

We are excited to announce that University Friends Meeting is inviting Young Adult Friends (aged 18-35) from across North America to come together Friday, May 28 - Monday, May 31, 2010, in Wichita, Kansas. It is our prayer that this will be a time for Young Adult Friends from a wide variety of Yearly Meetings to gather to worship God, share in fellowship, and grow together in our faith as Friends.

Following the gathering, there will be an opportunity for a shared service project, Tuesday, June 1 - Thursday, June 3. YAFs will work together to let our faith shine, demonstrating our love for the people of Wichita. Finally, Thursday, June 3 - Sunday, June 6, Great Plains Yearly Meeting invites Friends to join them for their annual sessions, also held in Wichita.

We hope that you will join us as we worship God, share in fellowship, and are challenged to serve others as Christ calls us to. Please save these dates, and let other young adults know about this opportunity to deepen our faith together as we are gathered and led by the Holy Spirit.

In God's love,

Karla Moran (Indiana Yearly Meeting)
Tyler Hampton (Lake Erie Yearly Meeting)
Katie Terrell (Wilmington Yearly Meeting)
Eileen Kinch (Ohio Yearly Meeting)
Faith Kelley (Evangelical Friends Church - Eastern Region)
Kate Newlin (Pacific Yearly Meeting)
Micah Bales (Great Plains Yearly Meeting)
Ruth Lowe (North Carolina Yearly Meeting [FUM])
Abbie McCracken (Northwest Yearly Meeting)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Micah's Ministry Newsletter #12 - New Hope at FUM

Dear children of light,

I write you from my new home, the William Penn House, just blocks from the United States Supreme Court, the US Capitol Building, the White House and many other monuments to civil authority. Since I moved in almost a month ago, I have been on the road a great deal. I've begun my work with Earlham School of Religion, and have made trips to Philadelphia and New England. October 12-17, I traveled to Richmond, Indiana, for the three-times-annually meetings of Friends United Meeting. This year, there were actually four meetings - the usual three in February, June and October, and and one more, a called meeting held at Stony Point, New York, late this September. I was not able to be present at this called meeting, as Faith and I had just returned from our honeymoon and I was moving my belongings out East from Kansas. The mood of our last regular meeting in June had been troubled, and a special meeting was called for board members to thresh out our shared difficulties and help us come to a clearer place in our ongoing discernment about God's will for Friends United Meeting as an organization and as a fellowship.

As Friends began to arrive at our meeting this October, I realized that some serious work had been done at Stony Point. In June, many board members had been uncertain about the value of continuing FUM in its present form, suggesting that a "redemptive separation" might be necessary. Now, however, the board was united in love and respect for one another. I saw evidence of a deep willingness to bear one another's burdens and seek the will of God together, even as many of us have sharp disagreements. I experienced the presence of genuine love among the board members, calling us into greater patience and humility.

There were some important affirmations made at Stony Point, that were re-stated at our meetings this October. The first, and most foundational, is that we are convinced that God still has a purpose for FUM. At the Stony Point meeting, Friends came together and openly examined whether it might be time for FUM change drastically in composition, or to be laid down entirely. Friends waited together to hear whether God did indeed have "a hope and a future" for Friends United Meeting as an organization and as a Christian fellowship. The answer that they heard was, yes. We sense a call to continued work together and to continued relationship with one another as Friends United Meeting.

Another important affirmation that came out of Stony Point and was re-stated this October is that FUM is a Christian association. For many years, the question had been held up: "What is FUM?" The alternatives that I usually heard given were: "Are we a denomination? An association? A non-governmental relief organization?" This fall, the FUM General Board has reached clarity that we are a Christian association, which, "does not have the 'right' to impose an authoritative will or doctrine upon constituent members." Whatever pretensions FYM/FUM ever had to be a decision-making body for its constituent Yearly Meetings, any such notions have now been definitively set aside. The FUM General Board does not pretend to impose itself in the decision-making process of Yearly Meetings.

My sense from this meeting is that there has been a breakthrough in FUM this fall. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the General Board has been freed from the spirits of division, suspicion and enmity that have for so long plagued this body. While we acknowledge that there are still deep differences in understandings both within and between the Yearly Meetings of FUM, the Lord has opened the hearts of those on the General Board and granted us the Spirit of love and unity. Praise God for the work of Christ in our midst!

I ask that you continue to pray for Friends United Meeting. Now that God has given the General Board the gift of mutual love and spiritual unity, it is more important than ever that we pray for FUM. May we be completely healed as a society of the Body of Christ, not for our own sake, but so that the Good News might be proclaimed to the poor and the testimony of Jesus witnessed to among the peoples of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, Congo, Belize, the United States, Canada, Jamaica, Cuba, Israel/Palestine, and the whole world. Pray that God will continue to make us one, united in Christ Jesus, so that the world may see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven.

Love one another, and let there be no divisions among you. I send my loving greetings to you in the Name that is above all names.

Your brother in Christ,

Micah Bales

Monday, October 05, 2009

To Detroit, our Wedding, Mexico, and moving to DC - Micah's Ministry Newsletter #11

Dear Friends in the love of Christ,

The last month has been a whirlwind for me. I've visited Friends in Michigan; gotten married in Barnesville, Ohio; honeymooned in Mexico; and traveled halfway across the country as I moved out to Washington, DC to live with Faith at the William Penn House. God has been doing a lot of important work this month. In this letter I'd like to highlight God's work among Friends and beyond, both in my life and in the lives of Friends in the United States and Mexico.

I felt that my time among Friends in Michigan was very fruitful. I was able to attend meeting for worship at Detroit Monthly Meeting (Lake Erie Yearly Meeting) and New City Friends Worship Group in Detroit, and Crossroads Monthly Meeting (Ohio Yearly Meeting) in Flint. I had precious times with each of these groups, and I am particularly grateful for the time that I was able to spend encouraging Friends from New City Worship Group as they deepen their walk together in Christ. I was also very grateful for the time that God allowed me to spend with some members of Detroit Monthly Meeting, and the opportunities that I was given to witness to my faith in Christ Jesus.

In addition to regular meetings with Friends in Detroit and Flint, New City Friends Worship Group hosted a regional gathering at which there were Friends in attendence from across Eastern Michigan and Northwestern Ohio. At this called meeting for worship, I felt the quickening power of Christ's Spirit among us and was grateful to how He ministered to us as individuals and as a gathered body. On a personal note, I was very grateful for how Tyler and Ray opened their home to me. I was very much in need of some quiet time alone with God, and I was able to rest and wait on the Spirit during the time I spent with them in their home.

Following this blessed time in Detroit, I returned to Marysville, Ohio, and spent a number of days with Faith's family. I accompanied Faith's father and brother as they drove out to DC to pick up Faith and her sister, and a few days after that my father, grandmother and aunts picked me and Faith up in Columbus and took us to Barnesville, where we would be married that coming Saturday. It was a joy to spend time with my extended family - who I see so rarely because of geographic distance - and to have them get to know Faith.

Our wedding was all we could have hoped for. We were grateful for the presence of family and f/Friends from across the country and across the spectrum of Quakerism. The worship service for marriage was deep and rich, with many Friends sharing grounded messages out of the silence. There were many Young Adult Friends in attendence, which allowed for a mini-YAF-gathering during our reception on the front porch and lawn of the Stillwater Meeting House. As I understood, YAFs continued to meet together into the evening following the reception. Faith and I were pleased that our wedding could be a venue that brought together young Friends leaders and encouraged them to deepen their connections to one another.

Following our wedding, Faith and I spent two weeks together in Mexico. We spent most of our time in Mexico City and Xalapa, in the state of Veracruz. These two cities are both very special to me: Mexico City, because of the time that I spent working at the Casa de los Amigos in 2005; Xalapa, because of the time I spent there during college (in 2003) and returning on an continuing basis since then. I have many friends in both cities, and I enjoyed introducing Faith around. Faith and I didn't get too involved in the Quaker community for most of the trip, but we were able to visit Mexico City Monthly Meeting, as well as meeting with Young Adult Friends in Mexico City and encouraging them in their walk. We pray for Mexico City Monthly Meeting, the Casa de los Amigos, the Friends who live and work there, and for the Church as a whole in Mexico - that they be strengthened and encouraged as they walk in the way of Jesus.

Faith and I flew back to Ohio, and the next day I flew to Wichita. I loaded up my belongings into our car and then spent a day driving out to Richmond, Indiana, for the Board of Advisors meetings at Earlham School of Religion. This coming year, I will be working part-time for ESR doing outreach to Young Adult Friends, helping to increase the school's visibility as a resource for young Friends leaders who are feeling the call to deepen their life in Christ as they are called into a variety of ministries. I am looking forward to connecting with Friends from across North America in this coming year to talk about the value of theological education for the Religious Society's emerging leadership and the important role that ESR is playing in this process of equipping servant-leaders for the work that the Spirit has set before us.

While in Richmond, Faith and I were able to attend the final meeting for worship of Fountain City Friends Meeting. In the past few months, they had made the decision to lay down at the end of September; when we found out about this at our wedding, we told them that we would be there for their last session. It was a touching final meeting, and few of us avoided crying. Though this meeting of the Church is being laid down, however, we are convinced that the Church of Jesus Christ is more alive than ever. We branches wither and die, but the True Vine is eternal and unbreakable. This assurance has been confirmed by the new ministry that we observed taking place in Fountain City.

A new group called "the Underground Connection," has begun to meet in Fountain City's meetinghouse on Sunday evenings for praise, teaching and worship in the name of Jesus. Describing themselves as, "a place where people can worship God freely," their ministry is one of creating a space for seekers and believers to experience the freedom that comes in worshiping God in spirit and in truth. What Faith and I witnessed when we visited this past Sunday was a truly Spirit-led worship service consisting of praise music led by an Evangelical-style praise band, a sermon (that evening, delivered by a young child), and a time of open worship. The open worship was a time of great depth, a powerful sense of Christ's presence, and grounded vocal ministry out of the expectant silence. We were greatly encouraged by what we saw, heard and felt while we were among the Friends of the Underground Connection. We are convinced that Christ is doing a new thing among this meeting of God's people, and they are in our prayers as they continue to seek God's will for them as children of light.

On Tuesday, Faith and I drove the rest of the way home, to Washington, DC. Faith has lived and worked at the William Penn House for the past two years, and I am joining her there. We have just gotten mostly unpacked, and this weekend I'm in Philadelphia to take part in a 50th anniversary celebration that ESR is holding at Arch Street Meeting House. This is the beginning of a lot of traveling that I will be doing for ESR as we work to raise the school's visibility as a resource for Friends who are being called into servant-leadership. Next weekend, I will be traveling to Boston for a friend's wedding, and I will also be meeting with area YAFs to share with them about my experiences as a recent graduate from Earlham School of Religion and to hear about the needs they have from an institution like ESR. Following that weekend, I will be flying out to Richmond, Indiana, to meet with folks at ESR and Earlham College to talk about how we can better engage with Young Adult Friends, both across North America as well as at Earlham College itself. I will also be attending the sessions of Friends United Meeting's General Board.

As I travel this month, I would be very grateful for your prayers - prayers for protection, and that God's will be served in all that I do. I am at a moment of great transition in my life - a new marriage, a new home, a new city and a new job! I need your prayers that I be kept grounded in the Spirit of Christ and that I not be overcome by fatigue or a wandering mind.

Your friend in Christ Jesus,

Micah Bales

Friday, August 21, 2009

Health Care and the Cross

"Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death -
even death on a cross.

Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under
the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father."

-Philippians 2:5-11

Yesterday afternoon, president Barak Obama gave an online press conference for his supporters. The "town hall" style interaction and Obama's remarks were designed both to allay fears and to rally the energy and support of those who are in favor of health care reform and who have been disoriented by the right-wing offensive against any kind of reform that we have witnessed in the media and online in the past couple of weeks.

What the president said did reassure me. As far as his remarks yesterday were concerned, he displayed a stance that indicated an enduring support for a public health care option and a desire to push this legislation through, even if it's ultimately along party lines. I was pleased to see him re-affirming his support for the public option and his unwillingness to put up with obstructionism on the part of the Republicans who only seek to destroy the president and the emergent progressive political wave in the United States. He and members of Congress still need to be pressured on a regular basis and not allowed to forget why we elected them - but it was reassuring to hear him say the things that he said.

In my relief, I began to reflect on the extremely negative reaction that I had to a New York Times report a few days ago, which suggested that Obama was possibly backing down on providing a public option for health care. This afternoon, it has occurred to me that while my position on the issue is to some extent based on righteous indignation and a demand for justice, there is also an element of personal fear and defensiveness in it. I am afraid of what might happen to me and my family should our present system of for-profit medicine continue.

It came to me in a flash that, if I allow myself to act out of this fear and instinct for self-preservation, I will deny the cross. If I try to defend myself - or even those I love - from the injustice of the for-profit health care system, I will take the way of the zealot instead of the way of the cross. The way of the zealot, lashing out defensively against injustice and seeking to defend myself and other through force or evasion, is the way that comes naturally to me; but I know that I am called to follow the example of my crucified Lord.

I must not put my trust in chariots or high walls, nor in human rulers. As a Christian, I am called to speak and witness prophetically to those who are powerful in our society - to civil authorities, powerful organizations and elite families - but my prophecy cannot be from a position of power or defensiveness. On the contrary, it must be from the position of one who is willing to endure the punishment of the powerful and the consequences of their sin. I as a son of God must be prepared to be crucified just like our Lord. I cannot hang onto any pretentions of self-defense.

So, yes, I am called to witness to those who are seated on the thrones of human power. I am called to announce the year of the Lord's favor, the setting free of the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and healing for all, regardless of economic condition. I am called to appeal to the imprisioned Seed of Christ in the hearts of temporal authorities. But if these powerful people are unmoved by my testimony and proceed to trample the children of God with their wickedness and greed, I am called to suffer.

Instead of feeling indignant at those who value profit more than my life and health, I am called to witness to them, seeking their redemption that they may be turned from darkness to light and made sons and daughters of God. I am called to witness to them in my suffering; even my death. I am called to bear witness to Christ's unspeakable love for them through my willingness to die for them to bring them this message.

The Kingdom I am called to live in is one in which perfect love has cast out all fear. Where the fear has gone, all that remains is loving concern for those who despise and persecute the innocent lambs of God. I trust my Good Shepherd to see me through all suffering. My focus is not to be on my own trials but on the terrible spiritual danger of my fellow men and women who oppress the Seed of Christ with their greed, ambition and fear.

I am called to be life, a giver of life and true love - a love that confronts evil, even when evil threatens to kill it. I am called to lay down my life for my friends, yes, and for my enemies as well. When I am in Christ, I am free to lay down my life because I have been given so much more. Eternal life. Unlimited life. Unbounded, indescribable, free life. When I am in Christ, those who seek my life can have it: for all I desire is their entrance into the true life of our beautiful Savior, Jesus Christ.

I see in the Spirit of Christ how we are called out of all war and strife, and into the blessed peace of the cross. All contention is silenced because we have been nailed to the cross, put to death, and raised to new life in our Lord and Redeemer. When I know this love and life, I am ready to lay down my life so that the insurance executive or member of congress might be brought into the Truth of Christ and out of their wickedness and greed. The Seed of Christ struggles within them to bring them into true peace and the mercy of God. May I be an instrument of that salvation through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Micah's Ministry Newsletter #10 - Ohio Yearly Meeting

Dear Children of Light,

Following Northwest Yearly Meeting, Faith and I flew back to Ohio. She soon returned to the William Penn House, in Washington, DC, while I made my way to the sessions of Ohio Yearly Meeting, in Barnesville. I was pleased to return to Barnesville after being away for the past year. I feel a special peace and tenderness to the Lord when I am among Friends in Barnesville, and I was grateful for the sense of homecoming I felt at Stillwater meetinghouse after what had been in some ways an emotionally and spiritually difficult summer. I arrived fairly early, so I had about a day to settle in before the business began. I had a good time shucking corn, cutting up fruits and vegetables, and catching up with friends.

I had experienced Conservative Friends' business the previous summer, when I visited Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) and also sat in on a small bit of North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative). Having had that experience, business at Ohio Yearly Meeting was familiar. I was again impressed by the Conservative tradition of having the clerk both preside and record. I found it particularly good practice the way in which Conservative Friends prepare their minutes during meeting for business, presenting the wording of each minute for approval at the time it is being discussed. This way, there is no need to go back and review minutes and approve them at a later time. Each minute is composed and approved then and there. Friends worked together to guide the body's discernment and come to Spirit-led decisions; and most of the time it seemed like there were many clerks, not just the one at the clerk's table.

Business at OYM is slow. Sometimes breathtakingly so. There are long stretches of silence between items of business, allowing the clerk time to compose a minute to be approved then and there by the body. One thing that particularly struck me about the business I observed at OYM was the way in which the clerk would wait and ask questions of the body to ensure that there was indeed clarity of God's will for Friends. Even when Friends were in easy agreement, the clerk would wait and encourage Friends to seek clarity from Christ. I believe this is valuable. It was recently pointed out at a clerking workshop at Northwest Yearly Meeting that the times when we are in most danger of making a mistake is when all are in agreement from the beginning. I respect the way in which OYM takes the time to sit with questions that they think they know the answers to, leaving room for God to work and overturn their assumptions.

A great amount of the business this year had to do with queries. OYM takes a great deal of time answering queries: First on a Monthly Meeting level; then synthesizing these answers at their Quarterly Meetings. Finally, at the Yearly Meeting, the Quarterly Meeting responses to the queries are read and synthesized into a single response for the Yearly Meeting as a whole. This year, in addition to answering the queries as a body, the Yearly Meeting also undertook to revise one query which speaks to oaths and gambling/speculation. The query had read in a way that admonished Friends not to sign statements "under penalty of perjury," nor to "affirm." Some Friends pointed out that signing a statement "under penalty of perjury" or "affirming" a legal statement is not equivalent to swearing an oath. Instead, signing or affirming such statements is a statement of agreement to be held legally liable for falsehood. Friends accepted this correction and amended the eighth query accordingly.

Seeing how much time and energy OYM Friends devote to them, I came to appreciate what the queries have to offer us as Friends. Friends at OYM discussed why the queries were important to them, and their reasons included the importance of the queries in: establishing and maintaining Christian identity and spiritual understanding as a corporate body; teaching us how to live as Christians and helping us be accountable; and encouraging Meetings to have a corporate relationship with Christ and to be established as a Christian body. They also spoke of how the queries were useful for individuals: challenging us to greater faithfulness; calling us to accountability to one another and to Christ; and providing a sense of connection between (affiliate) members who live at a distance and correspond with their Monthly Meeting, giving their individual reponses to the queries.

Overall, I was very impressed by Ohio Yearly Meeting. I am comforted to see a Friends body that is unreservedly Christian and clearly committed to the Friends tradition, including waiting (unprogrammed) worship. I think that Friends in Ohio often feel compelled to over-state their Christianity as they seek to distinguish themselves from other bodies of Friends that disregard the centrality of Christ Jesus. While there is sometimes a certain rigidity in their stance, there is also undeniable truth in it. This truth attracts me to Ohio Friends. I appreciate their unwillingness to water down their theology or their practice.

And I'm not the only one who is attracted. Ohio Yearly Meeting, after more than a century of decline, is growing once again. It is growing numerically, spiritually and in terms of morale. This year, Friends celebrated as they welcomed Crossroads Friends Meeting into full Monthly Meeting status. This was the second Monthly Meeting to be added to OYM in two years. The last time that two Meetings were added to OYM in such a short period of time was in 1866. This growth is due in large part to a new wave of evangelism undertaken by OYM Friends in the past years. Friends are laboring to encourage new Conservative worship groups across their region, throughout the United States, and even in other countries. If the Lord wills it, we can expect to see continued growth among Friends in the tradition of Ohio Yearly Meeting - Meetings that bear witness to the Quaker understanding of the gospel of our Risen Lord, Jesus Christ.

During this period of new growth and vitality, there seem to be two primary tendencies or streams in the body of Ohio Yearly Meeting: The first is those who are of an Evangelical bent, but who appreciate waiting (unprogrammed) worship. It is important to them to be clear on the fundamental doctrines of Christian faith, as well as practicing a listening spirituality. The other significant group is those who are attracted to the hyper-traditionalism that OYM allows room for. Of those in attendance at OYM this year, I would guess that roughly half were in some form of plain dress - that is, they wore clothes that visibly marked them as separate from "the world." This ranged from those whose dress was remarkably simple to those who wore Quaker attire that would probably be suited for historical reenactment of eighteenth century Friends. Many men wore suspenders, broad-brimmed hats, buttoned-up shirts, non-descript slacks, and black shoes. Many women wore bonnets or other head coverings, as well as a simple dress and simple black shoes. Many Friends, both plain-dressed and not, used plain speech ("Thy fly is unzipped, Friend"). I enjoyed the plain language, and used it myself often. It serves as a form of intimate address among spiritual brothers and sisters.

After Ohio Yearly Meeting, I caught a ride with Tyler Hampton and a couple of folks from New City Friends in Detroit. At this time, I am staying with Tyler and Ray at their home in the city of Detroit. I praise God for allowing me this time of rest and reflection as my wedding approaches. In the past weeks, I have been increasingly feeling that God is calling me to prayer and rest from labor. I pray that I may be faithful in resting, just as I have sought to be faithful in laboring. In many ways, resting is harder.

I appreciate the correspondence that I have received from Friends, and I hope that you will continue to write to me as the Lord leads. I hope to see many of you at Faith and my wedding on September 5th, at Stillwater Meetinghouse. All are invited. (Click here for details.)

God bless you. May each of us continue to be brought more deeply into the Way of Jesus.

With love,

Micah Bales

Monday, August 03, 2009

Micah's Ministry Newsletter #9

Dear Friends of Truth,

Faith and I were pleased to be with Friends in Northwest Yearly Meeting during their annual sessions this year in Newberg, Oregon. Northwest Yearly Meeting is a group of Evangelical Friends churches in the states of Oregon, Washington and Idaho. I have personal connections with Northwest Friends, as my father grew up in this Yearly Meeting, and my grandmother and aunt are still active members. I had visited them last year, and I was very pleased at what I observed and experienced among them. I feel confident in saying that they are one of the healthiest Yearly Meetings in the United States, standing firmly in the Quaker tradition while also embracing their Evangelical heritage.

Colin Saxton, NWYM's superintendent, gave the opening sermon on Monday night. It was an impactful message, calling us to greater faithfulness in our spiritual lives as we prepare for the inevitable spiritual storms that threaten to tear us apart as individuals and as the Body of Christ. Colin said that the word that God had kept giving him as he prepared for that night's message was, "deeper." Colin emphasized that, as important as "bigger and better" can be, all of our efforts are for nothing if they are not built on the Solid Rock. He encouraged us to get serious about our spiritual disciplines and to pay attention to the ways we are called to deepen our lives in Christ, to become a holy people fit for God's work. Colin called us to be a people focused on being what God means us to be - not just on good works and achievement based on our own goals and expectations. It seemed that God was using Colin to call Northwest Yearly Meeting to prepare spiritually for the difficult times that are coming.

This year's sessions were mostly easy. Last year, there had been a minute brought by a couple of the local churches regarding immigration and the US government's response in curtailing illegal immigration. The minute was not ultimately approved, as Friends did not feel clear that they understood the issue sufficiently to approve a statement. This year, instead of trying to pass a minute, the Yearly Meeting approved forming an Immigration Taskforce. This working group will focus on three areas: 1) Providing accurate information to the churches about the realities of immigration to the United States and the injustices faced by many visitors in this country; 2) Carrying out advocacy to influence more just legislation and governmental policies towards visitors in our midst; and 3) Engaging in direct action to help immigrants in local communities, providing assistance and aid to those in greatest need. I was impressed with the way that NWYM moved forward, not trampling the concerns and perspectives of Friends on of this hot-button issue, but engaging with it in a way that will hopefully allow the Yearly Meeting to gain greater clarity and unity as they move forward in the ways that God is calling them.

I was pleased to meet with Ángel and Hernán Díaz, two leaders of the Spanish-language Friends Church movement in the Pacific Northwest. Ángel is pastor of a Spanish-language Friends church in Newberg, Oregon, and Hernán is a pastor in Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, Washington. Together, they are helping to develop an energetic Christian ministry among Spanish-speaking Friends in their areas. I was very impressed by them and the work that they are engaged in, and I pray that God will continue to guide them as they build up the Church in their communities. I also pray that God will continue to open ways for Spanish-speaking and English-speaking Friends to work together more closely as time goes on. This is an acknowledged concern of Friends in NWYM, and I hope that they will be encouraged as they seek to make their Yearly Meeting more integrated across cultural and linguistic barriers, so that the world may witness the Truth of Christ that breaks down all barriers of class, culture, race, nationality and gender.

The main speaker for Northwest Yearly Meeting this year was Bob Adhikary. Bob has previously spoken to Friends in Eastern Region, Mid-America Yearly Meeting, and at Barclay College. At these two last, there were widely publicized reports of spiritual outpourings that overwhelmed those present to hear him speak. Many came to Northwest Yearly Meeting wondering whether Bob would bring Revival with him, though we were cognizant that it is only God who can bring Revival, and that Bob could at best be an instrument of God's work among us. Unfortunately, Bob's style and message were uncomfortable for many of those gathered in Newberg, and deeply offensive for some. A hint of this is present in NWYM's 2009 Epistle, which cites the Senior High Epistle, saying that, "The meeting was encouraged by [Bob Adhikary's] passion for evangelism and the excitement in his message, but some of his statements caused a difference of opinion among the members of our group." Adhikary's statements included that the September 11th attacks and the Hurricane Katrina disaster were God's Wrath on the United States for accepting sin - in particular, homosexuality.

The intensity of Bob Adhikary's rhetoric led to some amount of response from the gathered body over the course of the week. During open worship in business, near the end of the sessions, several Friends stood up and reminded us of God's universal love for all people. While Bob emphasized God's anger at sin, some Friends felt led to encourage us to focus on God's love and mercy. They reminded us that we are judged by God for how we treat the outcast and marginalized.

Colin Saxton's message near the beginning of the sessions, calling us to go deeper and to make sure that we are truly grounded in Christ before the storm comes, was surely prophetic. Northwest Yearly Meeting is likely headed into a period of stretching and difficult discernment around the question of homosexuality in the Church. One of the local churches in the Portland area recently adopted a minute which states that they do, "not judge a person’s ministry and leadership on the basis of any incidental characteristic. It is our experience and testimony that God works through people without regard for race, age, gender or sexual orientation." It seems inevitable that in the coming years Northwest Yearly Meeting will be challenged with divergent understandings of God's work through people of differing sexual orientations and gender identities. I am confident in the human leadership of Northwest Yearly Meeting to guide the Yearly Meeting through these birth pangs. I pray that the one true Leader and Guide of Northwest Yearly Meeting, Jesus Christ, might be present with all Friends as they seek together the will of God and learn to walk together in Christ's Way.

I have great love for Friends in Northwest Yearly Meeting. They feel like family to me. To be fair, that may be because much of the Yearly Meeting literally is family, to greater or lesser degrees. I hope to be able to continue to visit Northwest Yearly Meeting in the years to come. I pray that they will stay low and open to God's present guidance in the way I have seen them be receptive these past two years, especially as they encounter greater challenges as a Yearly Meeting. I see God at work in Northwest Yearly Meeting, and I have greater hope for the future of Friends because of it.

Next, I'll be visiting Ohio Yearly Meeting (Conservative), in Barnesville, Ohio. I am looking forward to spending some quality time with what is, in many ways, the most traditionalist of our Yearly Meetings. I am particuarly interested to see how business is conducted among them, and I pray that we will experience a palpable covering of Christ's Spirit as we gather together this week.

Finally, please pray for Western Yearly Meeting. I am receiving reports that they are having very difficult sessions this year and could use our spiritual support. Please pray that they may be covered with the uniting and healing power of Christ.

Your brother in Christ Jesus,

Micah Bales

Friday, July 24, 2009

Micah's Ministry Newsletter #8

Dear brothers and sisters in Truth,

My travels among Friends this summer are now underway as Faith and I visit Eastern Region Yearly Meeting at their annual sessions in Canton, Ohio. It might be fair to say that Eastern Region Yearly Meeting is the flagship of Evangelical Friends Church in North America. Eastern Region (formerly Ohio Yearly Meeting [Damascus]) was the only one of the Orthodox Yearly Meetings to decline membership in the Five Years Meeting (now Friends United Meeting) when it was formed in 1902. Eastern Region felt that FYM's statements of faith were not sufficently Evangelical. They were certainly uncomfortable with some aspects of FYM's corporate statement of faith - the Richmond Declaration - which denied the use of outward signs of sacrament, such as water baptism and bread and wine communion. Since the late 19th century, Eastern Region has held that there should be "freedom of conscience" with regard to outward signs of sacrament. Since the 19th century, some churches in Eastern Region have celebrated these rituals, but they are optional: No one is required to be baptized with water or partake in bread and wine communion in order to be a member of the Friends Church.

Over time, a number of other North American Yearly Meetings became disaffected with the insufficiently Evangelical stance of the Five Years Meeting. Oregon (now Northwest) Yearly Meeting broke away from FYM in the 1926 after FYM would not acknowledge the Richmond Declaration as a creed. Kansas (now Mid-America) Yearly Meeting withdrew in 1937, and most of Nebraska Yearly Meeting's monthly meetings withdrew and formed Rocky Mountain Yearly Meeting in 1957. Evangelical Friends Alliance (now Evangelical Friends Church) was formed in 1965, and Evangelical Friends Church in North America now includes Southwest Yearly Meeting (formerly California) and Alaska Yearly Meeting.

But Eastern Region is the original. Here, ever since the Revival experience of the mid-1800s, Friends have greatly emphasized the tradition of Evangelical Protestantism, often at the expense of Friends heritage. The attitude among Friends in Eastern Region might be described as: "hold onto what is essential, jettison everything else." And for most Friends in Eastern Region, what is essential is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, fidelity to the Bible as the Word of God, and an actively missional stance in the wider world (see Matthew 28:19-20). And, by and large, the Evangelical Protestant tradition has all of these things.

The Friends tradition, except as it directly supports these three emphases, is not seen by most Friends in Eastern Region as being necessary. It is worth noting that the Friends tradition is often referred to as "Friends distinctives" by members of Evangelical Friends Church: They are the things that make Friends "distinctive" from other Evangelical Protestants. But the Evangelical Protestant tradition - the story of Luther and Wesley - is normative. As a Yearly Meeting, Eastern Region is Protestant first, Quaker second - if at all. It is worth noting that most Friends here do not identify as "Quaker," as that word is associated with liberal, non-Bible-based Friends branches. Friends here are very careful to distinguish between the Friends Church and Quakers.

Attending Eastern Region Yearly Meeting has been a "cultural experience" for me on a variety of levels. The first worship service I attended was a three-and-a-half-hour-long Spanish-language service. There were around 200 Spanish-speaking Friends in attendence to hear many individuals and groups perform music, to sing congregationally, and to hear a number of speakers, including a guest preacher who spoke for around an hour. He was an impressive orator who alternated between stand-up comedy and fire-and-brimstone screaming. Just when I thought I couldn't take any more warning and judgment, he made us laugh. I enjoyed seeing the vibrancy of the Spanish-language Friends at Eastern Region, though I was a bit concerned at how segregated the Spanish-language and English-language sub-Yearly Meetings were. Most of the Spanish-speakers only stayed for the weekend, leaving the English-speakers to do Eastern Region's business on Monday and Tuesday. It was as if there were two Yearly Meetings, and the English-language Yearly Meeting was where the business was done.

The English-language portion of the Yearly Meeting was just as much a cultural experience. The worship services were made up of three primary elements: Congregational singing; performing artists (from Hungarian Gypsy musicians to a teeny-bop Christian rock band); and preaching. Friends applauded after most of the songs and sermons, and there were rarely even a few seconds of silence between events. I had difficulty with how prepared and managed everything felt; and the congregational singing and preaching was often triumphalist in nature.

Another challenge for me was the almost exclusively male leadership of the Yearly Meeting. Eastern Region has no female senior pastors. One younger Friend who I spoke to said that she had female Friends who had left the Friends Church to join the Mennonites in order to be able to engage in pastoral ministry. They did not feel that they could do so in Eastern Region. It was noteworthy that this year the Yearly Meeting recorded one of their long-time missionaries as a minister of the gospel - but not his wife, who has been co-missionary with him for decades. No one publicly questioned why this should be so. Throughout the time here at Yearly Meeting, I have heard statements that underscored the role of women in Eastern Region: For example, when one leader prayed that God would, "raise up new missionaries and missionaries' wives."

Another thing that I must mention is that Eastern Region Friends vote. I had known this before I arrived, but knowing that Friends in this Yearly Meeting vote could not entirely prevent me from having my breath taken away when I first witnessed it. Most of Eastern Region's business is done without discussion: A report is presented and approved (they say "favor" to indicate approval). However, a vote is taken on "motions" - that is, on any action item.

Voting seems to be especially important for cases when there is a question from the floor about the decisions that the leadership has presented to the body. The only vote where I heard any "noes" came after one individual questioned whether it was in right order to freeze for the coming year the Yearly Meeting's "minimum wage" for pastoral ministers. After this man had spoken, the clerk called for a vote on the matter without hearing further discussion. The vote was taken by voice, and I would guess that it passed by a margin of at least ten to one. It seems that voting in this particular case served the function of allowing some Friends to "stand aside" on the decision. But I was disturbed that no time was given to discernment of the matter; Friends were not encouraged to wait on God to provide further guidance. There was a schedule, and Friends intended to get on with it - so a quick vote took care of the voice of dissention.

Eastern Region had its good points, of course. I was impressed with the fact that the Yearly Meeting took half a day to do service projects in the community. I went with a team of Friends that weeded the grounds of a local Jewish community center, and a dozen other teams served the local community in many other ways. One team visited a man in very poor health and cleaned up his yard. Another team visited the local fire station that had just lost a fireman and cleaned their vehicles and prayed with them. Yet another team worked with children. I thought that many Friends could learn from Eastern Region's very practical service orientation.

I was also deeply impressed by Eastern Region's cross-cultural emphasis. While I am concerned by the de facto segregation of the Spanish-speaking and English-speaking sections of the Yearly Meeting, I am very excited about the development of that relationship. Eastern Region also has a Chinese-language congregation, and "ethnic ministry" is a stated emphasis of the Yearly Meeting. I am excited to see how greater partnership might develop between Friends of different cultural and linguistic backgrounds. Eastern Region bears witness to Friends' Testimony of Unity: to the power of Christ's Spirit to unite us across cultural, class, and linguistic barriers.

The emphasis at Eastern Region is on church-growth, foreign missions, and Evangelical Protestant theology based in the authority of Scripture as the Word of God. I did not detect much interest in engaging with other (non-Evangelical) Friends. Nevertheless, I believe that Friends would do well to reach out to Eastern Region Yearly Meeting, inviting them to share fellowship with the wider Religious Society of Friends. Despite our doctrinal differences, we are all children of one Heavenly Father, and we are all brothers and sisters in Christ. I pray that the Holy Spirit will permeate all of the churches of Eastern Region Yearly Meeting and that Friends will be responsive to the Inward Light of Christ as it seeks to lead them in His Way.

This coming week, Faith and I will be visiting Northwest Yearly Meeting, also a part of Evangelical Friends Church. I was blessed to visit Northwest Yearly Meeting last year, along with Tyler Hampton, and I am looking forward to being among Friends there again.

I pray that the Spirit of Christ is richly dwelling in each of you, leading you in the way of truth and mercy, justice and love.

Your friend in the Way of Jesus,

Micah Bales

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Micah's Ministry Newsletter #7

Dear Children of Light,

I write to you from Richmond, Indiana, home of Friends United Meeting's North American office. This week, FUM's General Board is coming together for its three-times-per-year business meeting. As I write to you about the way God has been working in my life and in the life of Friends in the Great Plains region, I ask you to take a moment to pray for Friends United Meeting. I further request that you continue to hold FUM in prayer. FUM as an organization and as a fellowship of Friends is severely tested at this time, with financial, spiritual and intercultural difficulties that threaten to overwhelm the tenuous unity that Orthodox Friends do have after almost two centuries of schism and contention. We on the General Board need your prayers this week, as we come together to discern the future of FUM. Please pray that Christ's presence be keenly felt here among us, and that we be receptive to our Present Teacher and Lord.

Before I dive into the depths of discernment with Friends in Richmond, I would like to update you about the events of the past few weeks among Friends in the heartland of the United States. Three main events have taken place since I last wrote you: A visit among Friends in Saint Louis; a visit to the Meetings of Manhattan, Topeka, Lawrence, and Kansas City; and Great Plains Yearly Meeting, which met this past weekend at University Friends Meeting, in Wichita. This has been a time of intense activity, spiritual preparation, and discernment.

St. Louis Friends Meeting

I spent Sunday, 24 May, with St. Louis Friends Meeting, part of Illinois Yearly Meeting. I enjoyed my visit among Friends in St. Louis, staying with a lovely family from the Meeting who opened their home to me for several days. I was very grateful for their graciousness as hosts and their eagerness to share about their lives and their experiences among Friends in the St. Louis area. My interaction with the Meeting as a whole was limited to a few hours on Sunday morning. Despite the brevity of my visit, I felt that I received some sense of those who were gathered. Their meetinghouse was lovely. It seemed to have been converted from something else, but I was not sure what. I appreciated the meetingroom, which had soaring ceilings and enormous windows that bathed the space in light. The meeting for worship itself was quite grounded ("more than usual," a local Friend told me) and fairly large (by Great Plains standards, anyway). I estimated that there were probably thirty or so in attendance that morning. I was grateful for the chance to visit Friends in St. Louis and for the hospitality that I was shown.

The I-70 Corridor

The following weekend, I made another trip to be with Friends in Manhattan, Topeka, Lawrence, and Kansas City. I am always astonished by the joy which I feel when I am among Friends along the I-70 Corridor. I tell them that they are the closest the Great Plains comes to being like "out East" - in this little strip of Kansas-Missouri, Meetings are less than an hour apart! But my joy at being with Friends here comes not from blessings of geography, but instead from the quality of their fellowship and their hunger for God's presence. Friends in Manhattan are doing well, despite the recent loss of two key members who have moved to Virginia. They are presently exploring Quaker understandings of marriage, as two sojourners from the Kansas City area have asked to marry under the care of the Meeting.

I was delighted to see new faces everywhere I went during this trip, and my visit to Topeka was probably the prime example of this. I spent most of my time in Topeka with several members who I had not met before. They gave me a tour of the scenic Potwin neighborhood in Topeka, and we sat together on one family's porch in that neighborhood, getting to know each other better. We talked a great deal about the history of Topeka Meeting, and Friends noted how it had been in decline in terms of membership and energy for the past decade or more. Friends expressed their hope that the Meeting might recover the vitality that it once had, but there was uncertainty as to what form that recovery might take.

I spent Sunday morning with Friends at Oread Meeting, in Lawrence, and I went out to lunch with three Friends from the Meeting after the service. I was sad that more Friends did not feel able to meet with me and share about their Meeting, though I was grateful for the few who did. In Kansas City, at Penn Valley Friends Meeting, quite a few Friends turned out to share a potluck dinner with me at their meetinghouse, and I was very encouraged by our conversation during and following the meal. Friends at Penn Valley Meeting are very earnest and have a hunger to learn more about the wider Quaker world. I was encouraged by their enthusiasm and their thirst for the things of the Spirit. I pray that I may be able to visit them, and all of these Meetings, again in the near future.

Great Plains Yearly Meeting

As I mentioned in my previous newsletter, I have sought to spiritually prepare myself during these past weeks for the annual sessions of Great Plains Yearly Meeting, which took place 4-7 June. It is as if my entire year had been inclining towards this moment, the yearly meeting being to my year what Sunday meeting for worship is to my week. Yearly Meeting time is a moment to pause and discern with the wider body of Friends what God is calling us to in the coming year. I went into the sessions holding before God my ministry among Friends in this region, and asking God to guide me and Faith as to the next steps in our walk in Christ. As a part of this discernment, there was a review of the past year's ministry with GPYM's Ministry and Counsel. We heard from my Oversight Committee, as well as from representatives from each Monthly Meeting in the Yearly Meeting about how they had experienced my ministry.

Finally, Ministry and Counsel considered the future of my ministry in the Great Plains. It quickly became clear that some Friends in the Yearly Meeting were out of unity with my ministry. Some were uncomfortable with their perception of my theology. Some did not see how my work fit into our current model of ministry - there's really not an easy "job description" for what I am engaged in. Some were uncertain of how they felt about free gospel ministry - witness to the Seed of Christ in all people, in the tradition of the Apostle Paul and George Fox. A visiting Friend pointed out that Great Plains Yearly Meeting had a choice: We could stick to our status quo of routine and ritual; or we could embrace an apostolic ministry, which would not fit our current plans, but which would shake us up and call us to deeper faithfulness as a Church. The road that we were on, this Friend insisted, would lead ever downward into stagnation; but the apostolic ministry builds up, even as it challenges our feelings of self-satisfaction and safety.

Ministry and Counsel concluded by drafting the following minute:

Friends are deeply grateful for Micah's faithful service among us this past year. Nevertheless, we do not feel able to lend the kind of support that would enable Micah to continue as a released Friend. Our Yearly Meeting simply is not yet at a place where we can corporately affirm an apostolic ministry. With needs so great and laborers so few, it grieves us not to be able to fully take advantage of Micah's willingness to serve among us.

We are encouraged that Micah continues to feel a burden for Friends in the Great Plains. As we look to the future, we hope that opportunities will present themselves for Micah to continue in service to Friends in the Great Plains. We thus authorize the preparation of a general travel minute to facilitate his continued ministry as way may open. (One Friend stood aside on the authorization of a general travel minute.)

I was initially saddened by this outcome, because I had hoped that Friends would feel led to release me to continue ministry in the Great Plains region. But as it became clear that there was not unity for this, I felt an unexpected joy in my heart. I knew that I had been faithful, and that that was sufficient. I did not (and do not) know what the future holds for me and Faith, but I felt deep certainty in that moment that God's purposes were being worked out in me and that God would provide for tomorrow, just as God is providing for today.

Most of the rest of GPYM was fairly routine, but Saturday evening was remarkable. "The future of GPYM" had been on the agenda for business meeting and was supposed to have been up for discussion during the second-to-last business meeting on Saturday. However, there was so much other business, including the approval of the long-awaited Yearly Meeting Handbook, that business was about to close without discussing our future at all. As the clerk was about to close our sessions, visitor Jonathan Vogel-Borne asked, "what about the future?" The assistant clerk looked at his watch and said, "well, we have two minutes left. Would anyone like to talk about the future?" I was on my feet and at the front of the assembled Body before I knew what I was doing.

I was so grateful for those Friends who were holding me in prayer in that moment, because I was quite disoriented. I just knew that I had to speak to the Body. I tried to calm myself, praying for guidance before I spoke. I told Friends, "I'm going to speak for myself, and I hope that some of God comes out." I told Friends that I was disappointed with them for letting annual sessions slip by without wrestling with our future as a Yearly Meeting. I told them that I was concerned that we have become as formal as the Pharisees or the Christians of George Fox's day, mistaking routine for virtue and form for substance. I told them that I loved them all, and I begged them to humble themselves and open themselves to the presence of Christ in their hearts, to follow that inward guidance. Because the status quo hasn't been working for a long time.

This led to a time of open worship. It was a remarkable time of deep prayer out of which some Friends spoke, encouraging Friends in Great Plains Yearly Meeting not to give up the race, but to press forward in faith. Immediately following that, Friends reassembled downstairs to hear Jonathan Vogel-Borne speak for the third time. Jonathan spoke with reference to Ezekiel and the dry bones, and there was a palpable covering of the Holy Spirit among us, which continued as we returned to open worship. Some gave vocal ministry out of this silence that was distinctly Spirit-led and prophetic. Following this time of deep worship, we continued worship as we sang hymns together.

This was, without a doubt, the most spiritually-active session of Great Plains Yearly Meeting that I have experienced since I first attended in 2004. The air was thickened at times with God's presence, and it was clear that the Holy Spirit was working on us, calling us to greater faithfulness and vision. I do not know what the future holds, but I am at peace. The Day Star shines in the darkness and exposes our strongholds of rebellion. The Lamb's War is underway and Christ's victory is assured. I only pray that we will turn, that we will yield, that we will allow God to shape us into what we were meant to be - a holy people, set apart to do the work of Love in the world.

Next Steps

My summer is looking to be quite intense. I will be in Richmond all this week for General Board meetings. The week after next, I will be helping out with Quivering Arrow Camp, a Friends summer camp for children in Northern Oklahoma, headed up by Brad Wood, pastor of Kickapoo Friends (Mid-America YM). Shortly thereafter I will be leaving Wichita to travel throughout the United States for most of the summer, up until my wedding on September 5th. Among my intended travels are: Evangelical Friends Church - Eastern Region, Northwest Yearly Meeting, and Ohio Yearly Meeting (Conservative). I also hope to visit Friends in Michigan, and may visit other Friends as way opens.

As for after September 5th - God only knows. Faith and I are in active discernment about where we are going to land after the wedding, but this has still not been made clear to us. We hope that God will let us in on the secret soon. We can wait, though; we know God is at work and has a plan for us, even if we can't see it yet.

I pray that you experience the peace of Christ in your midst and in your hearts as we strive together in the work that God has laid out for us.

Your friend in Christ,

Micah Bales

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Micah's Ministry Newsletter #6

Dear Friends of Truth,

My travels in the ministry in the past weeks have been wide-ranging and diverse. I have been able to visit with brothers and sisters here in the Wichita area who, though sharing a common bond in the Spirit of Christ, are in many ways quite different from one another, and have in many cases have little contact with one another. I have also traveled in the wider region, to visit Friends in Oklahoma; and we've also been blessed to receive Friends from the wider region at Heartland.

On Saturday, 2 May, Heartland Meeting hosted a gathering of Friends from the wider region. In addition to Friends from Heartland and University Meetings in Wichita, we also had visitors from Great Bend and Lawrence, Kansas. We met at Heartland meetinghouse and shared a rich time of fellowship, worship, a potluck meal, and discussion about the state of our personal walks with God, our meetings, and our hopes for the future of Friends in this region. We agreed that more frequent regional gatherings would be a good thing, and we thought that it would be a step forward if there were four opportunities for regional fellowship each year. Great Plains Yearly Meeting (in early summer) and Missouri Valley Friends Conference (in early fall) seemed like good opportunities for Friends to gather regionally, and we considered how we might host winter and springtime gatherings for Friends in our part of the country. We plan to have workshops about this topic at both Great Plains Yearly Meeting and Missouri Valley Friends Conference.

The next day, I attended Sunday worship at Iglesia Evangélica Amigos, the Hispanic Friends church in Wichita. I was warmly received by the brothers and sisters there, and I took part in their Bible study and worship service. The service featured singing, with the lyrics of the songs projected onto a screen at the front of the worship space; and some of the young girls of the meeting danced and played tamborine at the front as we sang. The speaker that day was a visiting pastor. He was the founding pastor of the meeting in the 1980s, but had since moved on to shepherd another Friends church in Emporia. After the service, he told me about his ministry of teaching among Hispanic Friends in Western Kansas: He visits four different meetings in one day - one Sunday every month - and teaches workshops. It seemed he was doing the same thing at the Friends church in Wichita: After the worship service, he led a workshop on leadership for the brothers and sisters here in Wichita. I was very impressed with the meeting and leadership at Iglesia Evangélica Amigos, and wished I could spend more time with them. I suspect I'll be back.

The following weekend, I was invited to attend Mennonite Church of the Servant's annual retreat at Camp Mennoscah. I really enjoyed my time with folks there. We did scripture memorization (1 John 4:7-8), worshipped, and spent time discussing and discerning how Church of the Servant is to become more missional as a body. Church of the Servant is moving in the direction of becoming more in line with the New Monastic movement. They are seeking ways to be more intentional about their community life together, including seeking a cause/project that they can work on as a church. In my observation of this church, I would say that they are already more community-oriented than most congregations, and I am excited at their passion to continue to deepen their corporate life with God and to examine how they can live more Christ-like lives together. I felt grateful that they included me in their retreat. It was good to get to know them better, and spending time with them in the countryside was refreshing.

On a related note, I continue to assist with the Church of the Servant's Celebrate Recovery program. The main organizer of the group, Amy, has been very ill in the past weeks and has been unable to attend, much less organize, our weekly sessions. Jerry Truex and I have been taking up the slack. Given the circumstances, however, I think things are going well. We have a solid core group at this point, and I hope that we will soon be ready to start advertising the group and seeking a larger attendance.

My one real out-of-town ministry trip in the past few weeks has been to visit Friends at Council House Meeting, near Wyandotte, Oklahoma. I headed down on Saturday and stayed with Frankie Sue Johnson, the clerk of the Meeting. I got the chance to meet her daughter-in-law, and to see her three grandchildren again when they dropped by for dinner. Sunday morning, I was asked to give the message at meeting for worship. I invited the meeting to share a bit of open worship with me, and several people shared out of the silence. Then, I spoke about my own spiritual journey and about the importance of waiting on God's guidance in our hearts. It was a small group, so it felt silly to stand up on a platform and preach; I just turned around in my bench and spoke to everyone seated next to and behind me. Afterwards, we had lunch together before I headed back to Wichita.

I hurried home, because I had an engagement with the University Friends youth group that evening. Dave Kingrey, the youth minister there, had asked me to share about my ministry and experience. I spoke first to the high school group, and then to the middle school group. My topic with each was: "How does God speak to us?" I asked the youth whether God had ever spoken to them, and what it felt like. I led each group in a brief period of open worship and then asked them what their experience of the silence was. I was particularly impressed with how tender and spiritually sensitive the middle schoolers were. They had experienced silent worship before, but they had not understood what the purpose was. After sharing a few minutes in silence together, one boy said, "it was different this time, now that I know what we're supposed to be doing." I felt blessed to have this opportunity with the youth group.

I expect that the next few weeks will be fairly intense. For me on a personal level, the coming weeks will be a time of inward preparation for yearly meeting sessions, 4-7 June. Yearly meeting will be a time of discernment with Friends as to whether my ministry has been helpful, and as to whether we feel that God is calling us as a Yearly Meeting to continue this ministry. I am praying for God to grant me spiritual groundedness and peace as I go into this process, trusting that God is in control and will work all things for good for those who love God. As I do this inward preparation, I will continue my work. This coming weekend I will be visiting Friends in St. Louis, Missouri. The weekend following that, I hope to visit Friends in Manhattan, Topeka and Lawrence, Kansas; and Kansas City, Missouri.

I thank you for your prayers and words of encouragement, and ask that you continue to pray for me and my work of visitation and encouraging the Church to turn to its Inward Guide, Jesus Christ. I hope that you will join me also in prayer for the spiritual renewal of the Church in a world that is so deeply in need of Christ's presence, love and justice.

Yours in Christ's service,

Micah Bales

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #5

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 Wichita

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.

Looking Ahead

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,

Micah Bales