In recent months, I have wondered how to describe what it means for an individual, a committee, or a meeting to "come under the weight of a concern."
No matter how much experience a Friend has with the concern at hand, it doesn't seem like it's enough for that Friend to say, "This is important; we need to do something about it!"
In my experience, even if a larger group finds itself united with the concern--for example, witnessing to the support for the GLBTQ community--the group may never move from saying the words to taking the corresponding action or providing the relevant outward witness.
It worries me, frankly.
"The meeting is so large that we no longer know one another well enough to provide the pastoral care and nurture we wish to."All of these comments, or some variation, are things I have heard over the years and during my travels among Friends. Sometimes a committee addresses the concern and then presents a report to the meeting, which in turn often records a minute, hoping that that will move things along to resolution, to new practices, to greater cohesiveness.
"Not enough Friends are stepping forward to serve on the committees or in positions that require the greatest amount of dedication and service but we can't twist people's arms to do that."
"The number of Friends who understand the foundation of our faith and what gives rise to Spirit-led vocal ministry is diminishing and we need to do something to revitalize the meeting."
"So few adults even know who the teenage Friends are in the meeting!"
But the more things change, the more they stay the same.
What is it, then, that stirs a committee, let alone a meeting, to come under the weight of a concern, to the extent that our inward condition is changed as well as our outward witness?
In addition, while I understand that much of this inner work is left to God and the workings on our heart of the Inward Light, I also believe that as a corporate body, God does work through us, speak through us, love through us. I worry that entire meetings might experience the promptings of the Spirit but end up dropping the ball rather than taking it the distance.
I worry because if our meetings are not faithful to the small nudges of the Spirit, how can we prepare ourselves to be faithful to the larger prompts and leadings off the Spirit?
Still, I can point to some comtemporary examples of a subgroup, monthly meeting, or yearly meeting that has come under the weight of a concern, to the extent that the faithfulness of these Friends is now bearing fruit:
But what is it about these particular events that lend themselves to large-group action and commitment; to a sense of the meeting that is written in our hearts and brought forward in a living testimony based on the inward motion of the Spirit, rather than allowing the sense of the meeting to be frozen in words that are recorded on a page and placed into an archive somewhere?
In 2004, the Central Committee of Friends General Conference came under the weight of affirming that spiritual gifts are not distributed according to sexual orientation or gender identity. That minute and corresponding epistle still is causing some positive ripples among American Friends. It has also provided the challenging opportunity for liberal Friends and evangelical Friends, for North American Friends and African Friends to labor with one another around the same concern. A number of years ago, the monthly meeting I was attending at the time discerned that it would bring the meeting community together in an intergenerational retreat setting. For a number of years after the initial experience, the meeting continued to offer the retreat annually, which allowed the whole of the meeting to see itself with new eyes and without the usual separations that occur during First Days (i.e. adults stay for worship; kids go to First Day School). Adults and children sang together, did crafts projects together, engaged in worship-sharing together. I believe the meeting still seeks opportunities to come together in fellowship as a whole, away from traditional First Day activities. I remember being prodded and moved when I learned that New England Yearly Meeting had come under the weight of the concern to address racism. The minute that the yearly meeting approved mentions a "working party" within the yearly meeting's Ministry & Counsel--which says to me that the yearly meeting has made a commitment to carry this concern for a long time.
Certainly each of these events required a few dedicated and faithful Friends... but each meeting certainly has some of those, right?
Certainly each of these events required close and careful listening for the movement of the Spirit and testing of what would be in harmony with bringing about the city of God right here, right now... but each meeting certainly engages in that sort of discernment process, right?
Or does it?
So I am left with asking the questions:
Somewhere in my heart, I feel I know the answer. Yet I wrestle with how to bring the concern forward of what it means to come under the weight of a concern.
What does it mean to come under the weight of a concern? How do we help Friends understand what is meant by this concept? How does a meeting or committee come under the weight of a concern? How do we know that's what's happened? If it's "simply" a matter of experiencing the Shepherd's guidance together and then being faithful to following its Voice as a community, then why does it seem so many times we go astray? If a group or meeting affirms that it is under the weight of a concern, how do we hold one another accountable to bearing that burden and participating in relevant activities over time, especially as a faith community? How can a subgroup or a committee or a meeting ask Friends to come under the weight of a concern, especially if a clerk or if another subgroup doesn't see the value of the thing?
It's a Catch-22: waiting for others to come under the weight of the concern for how we come under the weight of a concern...
Thank you, in advance, for helping me consider these questions prayerfully.