November 18, 2007

Three reflections from FGC's consultation

I continue to digest and sift through what I experienced during the recent FGC consultation on gospel ministry.

Here are three items I wish to remember and have often reflected on:

1. Practicing gratitude rather than supplication. When we believe that we have been forsaken, when we believe that our meetings are not helping us and that Friends have turned away or otherwise reject the gospel ministry we have been called to, then is the time for us to offer prayers of thanksgiving to God, for God is already with us. God is already helping us and accompanying us. When we practice gratitude, we begin to see the things that are already in front of us, helping us in our struggles.

2. Turning the soil versus planting the seed. When we insist that our monthly and yearly meetings are not providing us with the care and accountability that we yearn for, we must ask ourselves if we are being humble, if we are keeping low. Do we think we can take a whole apple, place it in the ground, and expect it to bear good fruit so quickly? Perhaps instead, what is being required of those of us engaged in this service is that we take the rake or the pitchfork and simply turn the soil. Maybe remove a stone or two. It will fall to another, after we have moved on, to place the seed in the soil. Perhaps ours is the responsibility to help clear the brush, not blaze the trail...

3. Fulfilling wholeness needs rather than ego needs. At times we may mistakenly place our own ego needs in the Center, insisting that our needs be addressed before we can move forward in our service to the Life and the Light. This is dangerous. We must take care to restore God at the Center and then move once again into a low place so that we may be best be available for to be called upon.

We must be clear, though, that it is when we give attention to our ego needs--wanting our hurts to be relieved right now, wanting our gifts to be named prior to freely offering our gifts for the Service, wanting things to be different--that we fail to listen further for Instruction; we fail to be Obedient.

There are other needs, however--needs of wholeness--that help us understand who God calls us to be so that we might live into our measure of Light. These are needs such as time for reflection; time for self-care and spiritual nurture after we are spent; and time for renewal and praise after a time of dryness or struggle. These wholeness needs also help us move closer to God and free us to love one another more deeply, becoming more than who we already have understood ourselves to be.

Blessings,
Liz

12 comments:

David Carl said...

OK, I want to print this off and put it in a binder, keep it in "favorites," reflect on it often. This in itself is ministry.

Michael said...

Friend Liz,

Thank you for this...especially item 2, "Turning the soil versus planting the seed."

I've been very stuck in my personal need this past year, and disappointed that my meeting is so small and "thin" that I find little spiritual feeding or practical eldering there.

You remind me to step back, look for ways to feed my meeting...and wait.

In the most concrete of ways, my partner Jim and I have decided to feed the meeting by hosting them for a Thanksgiving potluck Thursday.

We are a small, scattered meeting in a large city. Bringing folks together socially may be the best way to bring us together again.

Blessed Be,
Michael

Liz Opp said...

David Carl and Michael --

Thank you both for your affirmation about these reflections.

One of the eight Friends who were serving as a resource person at the consultation is a member of the same monthly meeting where I also worship. He spoke about the time when he first felt the call to ministry, and the meeting--medium-sized back then--didn't have the structures in place to support him.

He spoke about "building the boat while riding it," which included finding Friends to give him care, nurture, and eldership while pursuing the call to ministry.

Now that same meeting is MUCH larger... and I feel as though I'm still a part of building the boat, too. It's just that I've got the skeleton of the hull to stand on, and some floorboards, thanks to the work of the Friend who has been traveling these seas before me.

Over and over again, I've been given the reminder that our meetings, like the individual Friends within them, are doing the best they can.

It's tricky, to be of service to our meetings so our meetings might in turn be of service to us, in the way that we yearn for.

All of which makes me think of the line from Scripture:

Feed my sheep.

Blessings,
Liz

Mark Wutka said...

Liz,
Thank you for posting this, and the epistle. It helped me crystallize at least a few of my thoughts from the consultation. I really haven't had much downtime to contemplate things, I'm hoping things will be slower this week. It was really great having you stay with us, and also sharing the consultation with you. I hope FGC does something like that again, maybe on a regular basis. I'd really like to see how it has affected people in 6 months, or a year.
With love,
Mark

Callid Keefe-Perry said...

Liz,

Since I knew you had at least held out the possibility of others posting reflections, and since I know thegoodraisedup is well favored with readers, I thought I'd let you know that I have a reflection up on an FGC site here Consultation Reflections

Perhaps it will forward conversation and reflection as well. Either way, it is available.


It was great seeing you again,

Callid

Rochester Monthly Meeting
Farmington-Scipio Regional Meeting
New York Yearly Meeting

Mark Wutka said...

Looks like a wayward ; got into the link to Callid's post, this link should work.

Liz Opp said...

Hi, Callid!

Thanks so much for stopping by and for pointing me to your own reflections. It's critical that we hear from one another in order to overcome the isolation that sometimes puts us into a spiritual slumber when we return home from such a tender, enriching event...

Mark,

Thanks for catching the "wayward link" that was included in Callid's original post (there was a wayward semi-colon at the end of the URL). And now I see you've posted some thoughts of your own. It's so nice to learn what others have taken away from an event like this, even as the days turn into weeks...

Blessings,
Liz

MartinK said...

Hi Liz,
Interesting reading. There is real wisdom in all you write but I keep finding myself saying "but..." Where is the room for a prophetic ministry in this? Yes we should count our blessings and not expect our human institutions to be perfect. But can't we call them to greater perfection? If we take the be-grateful message too far it becomes the same Christian palliative that told women to stay in their place or kidnapped Africans to be happy slaves. There's a certain "don't look at the man behind the curtain" aspect to this. When is it appropriate to question power?

This was an invitation-only gathering. By definition consultation-goers had certain privileges. Would a more diverse group made up of people who don't get invited to such events have been less quick to talk about gratitude? Even before my fallout I talked about the need for FGC to examine issues of privilege and tokenism, inclusion and exclusion. I think this examination is part of our gospel mission too, it certainly was part of Jesus' message.

Liz Opp said...

Martin, it's so good to read you here!

I wish there had been time for us, as a large group, to consider the distinctions and the overlap between gospel ministry and prophetic ministry. I know it's not clear in my own head-and-heart as to how they are similar and dissimilar.

I also know that I was acutely aware of the age and race of the Friends who had been identified as resource people, and I couldn't help but wonder about the social class background of each of them as well.

And it was also not lost on me, personally, that there were, I think, but two Friends of color among us...

More than once I had wondered "What Would Martin Say?!," and at the same time, it was clear to me that I was not given anything to say myself about the makeup or apparent privilege of the group.

On the other hand, I was pleased to see in the consultation evidence of the work that you and others have begun, with bringing attention and nurture to the youngest among us and the ministries and concerns that they are bringing forward.

And yes, there is still more, much more, for all of us to reach for and grow into. And I believe FGC is working on an event (a consultation? a small conference? something else?) that will be coordinated by both the Youth Ministries Committee and the Committee for Ministry on Racism.

I hope that you and I and so many others will continue to be both faithful and loving, whether we are addressing privilege, -isms, or a falling away from our faith tradition.

Blessings,
Liz

Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) said...

Your three points are well taken: good, humbling advice to the budding minister.

What bothers me, personally, though, is that all of your points appear to start from a presumption that the meeting as a whole must be in the right. A given meeting's failure to respond to a budding minister is to be received with gratitude, is to be regarded as meaning that the young minister is not called to plant seeds but merely turn the soil, is to be taken as a sign that the young minister is driven by ego needs — rather than being seen as an indication that the meeting itself has dropped the ball.

I'm afraid I am hearing the apostle reply, "Don't quench the Spirit! Don't despise prophecies!" (I Thessalonians 5:19) It's quite true that the apostle followed this up by advising the gathered community to "test all things", but your essay here reads as if you are speaking of situations where the meeting never bothered to do even that much.

William Charles Braithwaite wrote in his book, The Second Period of Quakerism:

"A series of extracts from the Yorkshire Quarterly Meeting Records will illustrate the way in which help to approved ministering Friends was given [in the early days]:

"Q. M. 21st December 1671: — Monthly Meetings to take care out of the public collection that all persons employed in the public service of the Truth have their charges sustained, as may appear to them necessary, rendering account to the Quarterly Meeting.
...
"Q.M. 19th March 1679: — To Robert Lodge [frequently assisted] towards his charges in travelling in the public service of Truth, and the loss his family may sustain at home by want of his necessary help and charges of his intended journey to London ... £7.
...
"Q.M. 20th June 1683: — Malton Friends to be re-imbursed £4:10s. for a horse for George Sykes, a public labourer, whose horse died in his journey.
...
"Q.M. 9th March 1687: — Agreed that William Dewsbury have £5 given him out of the public stock, as a remembrance of Friends' love and kindness for his former labour and travels amongst us, and considering his old age and weakness coming upon him.

"Q.M. 21st September 1687: — Agreed that £6 be given to Benjamin Brown as an encouragement to him in his intended journey into Ireland, to visit Friends on Truth's account, with which Friends have good unity."

Braithwaite then commented:

"These specimen entries, together with other similar ones, show that many of the leading Quaker ministers in Yorkshire received substantial monetary help from the Quarterly Meeting. When at home they earned their livelihood.... But they kept their business within compass so as to be free to obey the call to itinerant work, and their Friends felt no hesitation in giving them or their families such help as was required. Nothing like a regular stipend was ever paid, so far as I am aware, but the gifts made were often given 'in token of Friends' love', rather than for the direct relief of proved necessity. The right relation of the minister to the main body of Friends in this matter depended upon mutual confidence and a certain simplicity of fellowship...."

Braithwaite also gave a Swarthmore lecture on this general topic in 1909 — "Spiritual Guidance in the Experience of the Society of Friends". Perhaps he was already inspired by the example of early Friends when he wrote it, for in that lecture he declared,

"It is with individuals rather than with communities that new truth originates.... While corporate guidance is of great value in controlling individual extravagance, it is a source of great danger to the church if it is opposed to a genuine individual concern.... [The church] should be concerned not with its privileges but with its duties; not with its limitations but with its life; not with its methods but with its message. The living church has a prophetic function — the duty of using its faculty of spiritual vision so as to penetrate below the surface of life to its inner meaning.... It is the business of the church to foster ... all those human channels along which education and illumination come. Chiefly does it need to promote leadership and comradeship — leadership strong in teaching and in high example, comradeship rich in study and in service."

The fact that the modern Society of Friends (liberal division) often fails to rise to this level of ministerial empowerment, may help to explain why the modern Society of Friends (liberal division) is so ineffective in outreach to the wider world.

MartinK said...

I have had age-patronizing run-ins with some of the consultation's "resource people." This isn't to say they aren't faithful Friends and don't have important things to teach but they have blind spots and don't always follow gospel order when it comes to supporting young people. For many years younger Friends were kept off the invite list for these consultations and at least one previous session featured uncharitable gossip about "emerging" Friends. Some of the unconscious assumptions of Baby Boomer culture have been a big part of the problem and it's fair to call it a generation gap. Progress that younger Friends are allowed to attend the event; same-old same-old that they might have something special to teach.

"What would Martin say" indeed. For years I was the only voice around the FGC staff table asking why younger Friends weren't being included or why the few that did get invites to insider events were all children of well-known Friends. I got a lot of blank stares and more than once found my awkward questions missing from the minutes. At the 2005 Youth Ministry consultation I asked if we could rename the (baby boomer-named) "Leadership Training" group to a "Naming of Gifts" group so I smile that there are now consultations looking at this. Obviously I didn't invent gifts language but I did help FGC realize that one of the ways to think about youth inclusion was to talk about gifts. Oh well, me and my big mouth. I can presume I won't see an invite when FGC-led QUIP talks about Quaker blogging next April. I shouldn't be surprised about my outsider status but it does mystify the naive me sometimes.

Liz Opp said...

Marshall -

It's good to see your words again here on this blog. And it's important for me to hold onto the advice, "Don't quench the Spirit!" It is a refrain I have come across several times, both before and after posting this piece. And it is a refrain upon which I reflected for a good while during Meeting for Worship this past First Day.

I also enjoyed and appreciate Braithwaite's words on corporate guidance and individual extravagance. It's an excerpt that has much relevance for me right here, right now, which I appreciate.

Martin -

Sounds like you had a fair part to play in both turning the soil AND planting a few seeds while at FGC... difficult as it was at times.

Blessings,
Liz