This weekend, the worship group was blessed by the visit and presence of Deborah Fisch, clerk of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) and coordinator of FGC's Traveling Ministries Program. Aside from the positions she holds, Deborah is also a personal friend to some of us in the worship group, and she has been following the progress of our small group for the past few years.
The ministry that Deborah shares is often expressed through her personal stories... stories which are slowly finding their way onto paper, not because she is writing them, but because Friends groups are recording the plenary sessions where she speaks, and then producing the transcripts as pamphlets. During the evening presentation that Deborah gave on Saturday night, she again returned to the stories of her life that serve as examples to her and to many Friends about the nature of God's Love; the discipline of corporate practice; and the challenge and reward of being faithful to God's leading.
This weekend was not the first time I have heard Deborah speak; and her stories that she shared for Beacon Hill Friends House's Weed Lecture are more of the same. There are few Friends who provide a plenary presentation by speaking out of the Silence, without notes or a complete draft of their remarks in front of them. Maybe it is because of Deborah's careful listening for what God lays on her heart that Friends are brought closer to the Inward Teacher as a result of Deborah's tender sharing. It amazes me each time--not just the power of story and personal experience, but also the way that we connect with one another, and with God, as a result.
At one point, at the close of her evening presentation, Deborah was asked if she had actually experienced a meeting that she described in her stories: a meeting whose members actively nurtured the spiritual gifts of each other and freely welcomed the children into the whole life of the meeting; a meeting whose members regularly companioned one another through crises of faith, without giving answers or trying to fix another's shortcomings; a meeting whose members noticed who had not come to worship and then make a phone call to those Friends on Second Day, asking if all was well.
I think Deborah's response is indicative of the caring "center" out of which Conservative Friends, as a group, seem to live more intentionally:
Well, I can say I have traveled to a lot of meetings and I have visited with a lot of Friends. And each meeting has at least a piece, or maybe even a few pieces, of what is possible. Friends are wanting to be faithful to how they are called, and they are hungry to know one another in That Which Is Eternal...It was not lost on me that Deborah did not raise her own meeting above any other; and neither did she put any meeting down.
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Deborah also referred to a metaphor she had used earlier in the evening, about the "spiritual refrigerator" within our meetings.
There is plenty of nourishing food already in the spiritual refrigerator of our meetings, but many Friends are at that "hungry" stage of our spiritual journey among, where we open the meeting's refrigerator door, stare past the shelves full of food, and groan, "There's nothing to eat!"
What we need to do, Deborah explains, is take a closer look at what's inside the fridge; maybe seek out the Friend who has the gift to use what is on the shelves and create a delicious meal from it. Or maybe another Friend has the gift (the patience? the willingness?) to sort through the really old stuff that's in the way back, stuff that maybe has gone bad because it's been ignored or forgotten for so long. And maybe that Friend can recognize if there is something still of value in that old container that's worth saving, while tossing out the stuff that has no Life anymore.
My own thought is that we need to be careful not to throw out the container itself when throwing out the spoiled food within it. That's a very easy thing to do, so as not to have to deal too closely with what can be so nasty. And yet we need to be careful not to discard the practice--the container of a part of our faith--without first learning where the practice came from, what its roots are, and how might it add to the spiritual banquet if it were to be restored.
UPDATE: The story of Deborah's visit doesn't quite end there...