February 25, 2008

Panel discussion: Living Our Leadings

This past Saturday, I participated on a panel of Friends to talk about our experience of living with and receiving support for being faithful to a leading or concern we had come under the weight of.

The evening was described this way:

PURPOSE: To make transparent a Quaker process that is often invisible to the community, as well as to learn a bit of how the Spirit has been moving within and among Friends within the meeting.

Panelists will share their experiences of testing a leading, struggling to stay faithful to God’s call, dealing with their own humanness, and receiving support from an ongoing committee of elders.
With the help of a facilitator, the panel had a chance to share with the wider meeting community the tenderness, vulnerability, intimacy, and challenge of working with an ongoing care-and-accountability committee (a.k.a. "committee of elders" or "anchor committees").

Among us were a young adult Friend who is coming into a ministry of listening to plants, trees, and other parts of Creation; an older Friend who, for about 15 years, has been providing public ministry through workshops and presentations to Friends; a 50-something Friend who has a concern for the Earth and sees himself as a Gaia troubador; another 50-something Friend who has been leading workshops in the meeting about historical Quakers and spiritual formation; and myself, 40-something, carrying a concern for how we convey our faith and sustain our identity as Friends.

We covered a wide range of topics, including:
  • the struggle to name and be birthed into the leading or concern we were each given;

  • the process of seeking and receiving support from the meeting to be faithful to God's call;

  • the gifts and ministries that we are bringing forward are in fact gifts and ministries that belong to the community and not to any individual, per se;

  • the feeling that those of us on the panel are no different from those who were sitting in front of the panel; and

  • the experience of being brought low and facing our humanness over the course of working with our committees.
  • Five or ten minutes before the panel was to get started, there were about 10-12 other Friends already gathered, but by the end of the evening, there were probably 35-40 people who attended, including some of the most senior members of the meeting, some of the newest attenders, and at least one friend-of-Friends who had never been to a meeting for worship.

    No one really expected such a good turnout for a Saturday night in late February, and a number of Friends I spoke with afterward told me and other panelists how rich and moving they found the experience.

    The idea for such a panel came in what now seems like a momentary eruption of the Spirit, one afternoon when I was meeting with my own care-and-accountability committee late last fall.

    I was in a bit of a rant about my own frustration that I knew there were other committees going on within the meeting, and that other Friends were struggling to live into their leadings and be obedient to God's call. But since the meeting as a body never hears reports from these ongoing committees--presumably for the sake of maintaining confidentiality--there is no way for the meeting to know how the Spirit is moving among us, corporately, let alone how our individual lives, concerns, and leadings might be intertwined.

    For example, in the years leading up to this event, I had been puzzled, confused, and even angry to find out through channels other than the meeting about one Friend in particular who travels one or more times a year across the country as a sought-after workshop leader and speaker.

    Though the travel itself and the sharing of gifts in this way is something I am easy with, it is the lack of corporate process and corporate accountability that concerns me: the Friend's name is attached to the monthly meeting while traveling (e.g. in flyers, brochures, etc.), yet the monthly meeting hasn't received endorsed letters of travel, reports from the Friend's committee of elders, etc.

    My own belief is that if the meeting were to hear reports of how this Friend is being used and transformed by the Spirit through his encounters with other Friends, perhaps the meeting itself would invite Friends from beyond our own meeting to share their experience with us and grow into other areas that cannot be foreseen when we "keep to ourselves."

    (I have spoken directly with this Friend about all of this, by the way.)

    Anyway, during my rant with my own committee about all this, I think I probably blurted out something like, "I know I'm not the only one who has this sort of committee going on, and I think it robs the meeting of a chance to learn how the Spirit might be working through us! Can't we set up something like an event where there'd be a panel of Friends who have been doing this for some time... and let them share their experience?"

    And what did my committee say...?

    Great idea! Do it!

    It nearly was as simple as that, and so the faciliator and panelists were identified and the announcements went out and the people came.

    Back to the panel:

    One of the things that struck me was how varied our experience had been about getting involved with an ongoing committee. For a couple of us, it was because an individual had spoken up and had said, "You need to ask M&C for a committee."

    For another one of us, it was because one or two Friends had offered simply to begin meeting with the person, and only later were those monthly get-togethers recognized as a committee of elders.

    For myself, it was because a few years earlier, in a meeting I was visiting, I had been invited to sit in on and observe another fFriends' care-and-accountability committee, and that experience planted a seed in me that such support was possible. Shortly after that, I sought a clearness committee from my own meeting to help me test the veracity of a concern was carrying, which in turn led to being appointed an ongoing committee of my own.

    I don't remember the questions we were asked, but I do remember that the whole evening was conducted in a worshipful frame, with pauses between speakers and between questions.

    I remember how most of us touched on the theme of our lives becoming turned upside down in order to accommodate the leading, especially if the leading seemed to be a red herring, with Friends and family wondering how they could have felt so clearly led and have things seemingly go so terribly wrong.

    When a Friend asked how any of us have "matured" as a result of having an ongoing committee to help us in this part of the journey, I remember speaking to the fact that in my experience, there is a different sort of joy that comes from being well-used in service to the Spirit. There is a joy that comes from being faithful and obedient, despite the difficulty of doing so at times.

    I added that I feel I also have grown in my capacity to be obedient, in that I believe we are given small and frequent opportunities to be faithful to how God directs us, like when we're driving home from somewhere and we have a nudge to go to the grocery store. It's easy to ignore those nudges--after all, weren't we planning to go to the store in another day or two, why go now? But it may also be that as we are faithful to yielding to the small nudges, we are being prepared to receive and yield to the larger ones.

    God knows that we humans need lots of practice!

    In closing, I want to acknowledge that the seed of the idea to have this panel has to do with the Quaker Heritage Day that Robin and others have written about. In some ways, having a format that didn't fit into a predictable one allowed the plan for the evening to be developed outside of the meeting's committee structure--which at times can simply talk or "discern" a good thing to death.

    I heard a few folks say they are hopeful that something else like this panel can be provided in the future. My sense is that the panel was well received because this sort of event speaks to a yearning that long-time attenders and dedicated members have, about their knowing there is more to Quakerism than meets the eye... and somehow Quakerism 101 and hour-long adult education programs don't address that yearning adequately.

    Now that the panel is behind me, I'll be awaiting any new nudges--or rants--that might make themselves known to me!



    Chris M. said...

    I like this post very much. Thank you, Liz, for following the nudge -- or perhaps outright push -- from your committee to put this together. One of the things I value about Quaker blogs is the ability to share how the Spirit is moving among us across wide geographical distances. At times we may know more about someone else's meeting than we do about our own, so it's a good reminder to "bring it home."

    -- Chris M.

    Liz Opp said...

    Amen! to all you've said, Chris. smile