July 28, 2008

Biking along a spiritual path

A few friends know that I am mentally gearing up to take my recumbent trike to the meetinghouse sometime this biking season.

A trike like this is fun to ride, but recumbent bikes and trikes are known to be more difficult to get up a hill, in part because you can't stand on the pedals and use your body weight to keep up your momentum. Add to that the weight of the trike (about 35 pounds, a few more pounds than a conventional bike) and the fact that, when going up an incline, the rider's own body weight is "dragging" at the back of the trike, while the rider's legs are doing an awful lot of work to "pull" the rider and machine up the hill.

On top of that, the four miles of primary roads to the meetinghouse are hilly and therefore daunting to a recumbent trike rider like me.

Nevertheless, because I enjoy the trike so much and am slowly working my up to one-way trips of three or more miles (did I mention that I was a novice biker who has poor lower body strength? Three miles is currently considered a long trip for me...), I have been intentional when I drive to meeting to look for alternate roads that might somehow magically get around those hills.

After about a month of "paying attention," I think I finally hit on a route, and I decided to test drive it by car the other day on the way to Meeting for Worship. My plan was to pay careful attention both to general dips and inclines in the road as well as the turn of the odometer on the dash.

As I turned off the main road and made the first significant detour away from a major hill, I saw a ways down the road that there was a recumbent bike farther along, maybe three blocks ahead of me. As I approached the next turn off, the biker signaled a left turn, which is where I was headed, too.

It was only one or two more blocks before I'd be turning right, and the biker was going at a good clip, so I didn't rush to pass in such a short distance. Then the biker signaled a right turn also, turning just in front of me as I reached the same intersection.

I wondered if this person was headed to Quaker meeting.

In fact, he was.

In fact, he was one of a number of Friends in meeting who rides a recumbent bicycle.

In fact, as the biker took his right turn, I realized it was none other than Paul L.

I grinned: I felt like I received confirmation that this indeed would be an adequate biking route to meeting, especially for recumbent riders.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

During Meeting for Worship, I reflected on the turns I had taken this morning and the joy I felt at seeing Paul. It was as if he had been companioning me all along, even though I had yet to push myself and bike to the meetinghouse on my own.

I also considered how, so often we take our usual path to addressing concerns that arise for ourselves, and we so often take our usual problem-solving path in addressing difficulties during meetings for worship with attention to business.

It's easy to see the hills and climbs we have before us: the budget needs to be funded; the capital improvements needed on the building--and paid for; the children's need for a decent First Day School curriculum.

It's easy to consider options we typically draw on, like asking Friends to donate a bit extra this year, or hiring staff to address a long-term need, or asking for Friends to volunteer during some drawn out process where greater attention by the meeting is called for.

But if we are spiritually mature enough, we might be willing to explore new paths that would address the concern while also circumnavigating the obstacles we know are there. If we are spiritually disciplined enough, we might be willing to wait on the Lord until we have that familiar felt sense that indicates there may be a third way opening.

And maybe, just maybe, we will discover that others have traveled along the same path ahead of us and therefore might help guide us and shepherd us along, affirm the direction we are headed, pointing out the killer hills to avoid as well as where there are flats and easier stretches on the path, where we might be able to enjoy coasting, at least for a time...


July 23, 2008

A "New Kind of Quaker" conference

While I was attending the annual sessions of North Carolina Conservative, a Friend approached me and asked if I had heard anything about an upcoming conference that would be dedicated to Convergent Friends.

My answer?

No, I hadn't.

(Usually a group of bloggers and other Friends interested in the Convergent conversation have a meet-up that is planned outside of a larger gathering, such as during Robin's experience at a recent QUIP meeting.)

Yesterday I remembered to look for such a thing: I did a Google search for "Max Carter convergent Friends." I came up with this blog post by Scott Wagoner. Here's an excerpt:

Just letting you know that Max Carter is planning a Quaker Renewal conference in November to be held at Deep River Friends Meeting in High Point, NC. It's theme will be "A New Kind of Quaker" and is intended to bring together young adults, seasoned (old) adults, and others that have an interest in what a "new kind of Quaker" looks like for the 21st century...
I also did a bit of searching within QuakerQuaker, unsure if someone had already tagged this post, but it doesn't look like it.

So I thought I'd lift up the November event in case anyone missed it on the blog A New Kind of Quaker.

Of course I have my own reactions when I look at the likely workshops and the event's organizers--but my reactions are such because I haven't met Max Carter, Scott Wagoner, or a number of other Friends who are involved!

If any bloggers plan to attend, do let us know.

...Hmm, I wonder if there will be a Convergent Friends meet-up apart from the Convergent Friends event....? smile


July 20, 2008

North Carolina Yearly Meeting Conservative

It's taken me some time to get back on my feet after nearly three weeks of traveling among fFriends, with a quick visit with my folks' thrown in for good measure.

I've already written about my time at FGC's 2008 Gathering, so now it's time to turn my attention to what I experienced at the 311th annual sessions of North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative) [NCYMC].

(Mark has already written about the sessions; I traveled to North Carolina by train with Rebecca and Kody and another Friend, Sadie (Kody and Sadie were headed to the FUM Triennial in High Point, NC). During sessions, I saw Craig once more; and I also met Richard and a handful of other regular readers of The Good Raised Up.)

For the past couple of years, I had been considering traveling to NCYMC, given my growing interest in Conservative Friends and given my experience of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) [IYMC]. This year, I saw that the location of the FGC Gathering, in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, was not tooooo far from Guilford College, where NCYMC sessions were to be held, and that sessions were to begin four days after Gathering was to end. (Each year, the site of sessions moves around the state.) I felt there was an opening for me to extend my east-coast travels, and so I took advantage of it.

Ministry & Oversight Committee

The train from Philadelphia arrived about 90 minutes late, and I ended up missing all but the last few minutes of the Committee of Ministry & Oversight--a report I was very eager to hear. For one thing, I always find myself hoping that a report from such a committee would provide a certain perspective of how the Spirit is moving through the yearly meeting as a whole.

Secondly, it seems to be not-too-common a practice in meetings among Liberal Friends for Ministry & Counsel committees to provide similar reports about how the Spirit is leading and calling out gifts among Friends within our meetings. I was curious how this body of Conservative Friends might address that, given my understanding that the ministry and gifts that are called out of us are fruits of the Spirit that belong to the faith community, not to any single individual.

In addition, I have appreciated the statement that this committee had crafted in 2006, about what the threads are that "weave the fabric of Conservative Friends." The statement lifts up perspectives and practices that have Life for me personally, even though my home meeting, as a body, would likely have a hard time uniting with many of these more traditional concepts.

The only part of the committee's report for which I was present, though, was its very last bit: the clerk of the committee asked that, out of worship, those Friends who had come into some ministry, or who had come under the weight of a concern, or who had engaged in some ministry in the past year, would rise and share with the body what they had experienced.

There was no "selection" of who was to share and who wasn't. The floor was completely open to those gathered to speak for themselves about the movement of the Spirit in their own life. Even a visitor or two spoke of their experience.

After it seemed like there was to be no more sharing, the clerk invited a Friend who has affinity for the yearly meeting, and who may be seen as an "infant minister" (see Samuel Bownas, chapter III), to say a few words about his own life in service to the Spirit.

That simple act speaks volumes to me of how we might call out the gifts in one another and how we might nurture the Seed in each other, if we only accept the public invitation by those Friends more seasoned than ourselves to share what it is we carry and have been given.

Out of those few minutes I had witnessed that first evening, I had a felt-sense that this committee and its work was somewhat central in checking the spiritual grounding of the yearly meeting as a body.

Openly Christ-centered

I'll touch on language-related observations in the next section, but I want to state how clearly Christ-centered this yearly meeting is. As a matter of fact, when I called home and spoke with my partner the first or second night, I think I said something like, "These Friends are really eager to talk about Jesus!"

I never felt preached to, and no one ever came close to asking me, "Are you saved?", but if I hadn't already reconciled myself to a certain understanding of Christ, I fear I would have been hard put not to have hid in my room for much of the remainder of sessions.

It was clear to me that Friends and the yearly meeting have a deep, central, and enthusiastic relationship with Christ Jesus. During meals and breaks, many spoke of the presence of Jesus in their life as well as how Christ was moving among them in their meetings.

I remarked to my partner another time on the phone that if I had been exposed to NCYMC before having attended IYMC sessions, I likely would never have given Conservative Friends another look. My experience among Iowa Conservative Friends has been that they are more private, more inward about their faith than many of the NCYMC Friends I met, though the personal stories about their spiritual condition, the warmth, and the fFriendly greetings I've received from both groups have felt very similar and of the same spiritual cloth.

(To those NCYMC Friends who are reading, please know that the words used in no way impacted my ability to receive the greetings, hugs, love, and care I received from so many of you there. Your openness to share authentically your understanding of Christ Jesus gave me freedom to share myself authentically as well.)

As for the place of Scripture during these sessions, Bible study was held at a reasonable hour each morning after breakfast--unlike IYMC, when it's held before an early breakfast, and unlike my own yearly meeting, which in the time I've attended has never had a daily Bible study, from what I can recall.

Over the years, I've begun to poke my head into Bible study when I've been at Quaker gatherings. Raised Jewish, my reform synagogue's version of "studying Scripture" was "reading the Torah," which consisted of little more than memorizing the Hebrew of a certain Torah passage, and reading the English translation of that one short section, in order to be bar- or bat-mitzvahed and welcomed into Judaism as a young adult. There was no "study" involved at all.

I was hopeful that Bible study at NCYMC might help "open the Scriptures" for me, but that wasn't the case. But what I did enjoy was the Bible study that was held one afternoon and convened by one of the monthly meetings. It was peer led and seemed to have a more intimate feel than the morning Bible study (the afternoon session was, after all, a much smaller group).

That particular Bible study was also based on a lectionary, a concept completely new to me. This manner of Bible study appealed to me, in the short time that I observed it, if for no other reason than it seemed to provide equal weight to the Hebrew and Christian texts and there seemed to be a willingness for more of the Friends gathered to engage in the discussion, reflection, and study.

Use of language

At the close of that first evening, and as I was greeted by familiar and unfamiliar Friends, I was struck by the language that was used so readily by the North Carolinian cousins of IYMC.

There was plenty of "thee-ing" going on, including with me by fFriends I've known either through blogging or through various meet-ups. There was also an ease among these Friends to speak of "Fourth Day evening" (Wednesday), or "Seventh Day morning" (Saturday), in addition to the more widely known "First Day" (Sunday).

The "thee-ing" and use of numbers for the days of the week stunned me at first: these practices weren't alive in my experience among Friends until these session. They were part of our past, part of the history of Quakerism.

Or so I had thought.

Instead, here it was, this peculiar use of English. And it wasn't just used for formality, such as in the minutes, and neither was it used by the weightiest of Friends. It floated in the air and off the tongues of many of the Friends gathered there.

At the same time, I felt no pressure to work to change my own speech: No one seemed to expect me to change how I spoke; no one asked me to change; and no one changed her or his own speech, either. Thee-ing and the numbered days of the week simply are a part of the yearly meeting's culture and overall gestalt.

As the days continued, I became aware, too, of the use of the word "corporate" and the phrase "corporate body."

There was, for me, a touch of implicit reverence of sorts when such a reference was made... Nearly a week after having returned from these sessions, I still find myself reflecting on the connection between language and culture, between the Conservative Friends' use of this language and their apparent awareness of themselves as a corporate body and as a part of the body of Christ. It's in such stark contrast to the way Friends in Liberal meetings speak of personal preferences, unknowingly reinforcing the invisible and secular individualism that erodes our religious society.

At another point during some social time over a meal or during a relaxing afternoon, I was part of a conversation about what it means, within NCYMC, to be an "overseer." I have known that not all meetings have laid down this term, or its relative, "oversight" (as in "Ministry & Oversight")--especially among Conservative Friends--and I was curious how Friends here would speak to this term.

Friends spoke about how an overseer within a meeting typically has a natural eye towards Friends who maybe don't yet feel connected to the meeting, or who have been going through a difficult time in their personal life.

The one Friend at the yearly meeting who I knew had been recognized as an overseer would hop up off of her chair whenever she saw someone for whom she had a concern, rushing off to greet them and see how they were doing. I never got the sense from any Friend that this particular woman's actions were unwelcome...

And then the conversation shifted to the use of the word "overseer." (Note: I wasn't the one who raised the issue.) A Friend mentioned that he (or she) had heard that a number of meetings had discontinued use of the word and its relative, "oversight." There were some guesses as to why that change had occurred, and one Friend surmised that "it was probably one Friend who complained and then everybody rushed to change it" (I'm paraphrasing here).

I hadn't intended to say anything, but given my past involvement with Friends General Conference and the early evolution of its Committee for Ministry on Racism, I felt nudged to offer what I knew of the change in usage of "overseer," at least from FGC's vantage point.

I explained that the concern about the word wasn't from just one Friend, and that in fact, as I understood it, a number of allies to Friends of Color were also part of the early conversations among FGC-affiliated meetings and within FGC's initial ad hoc committee on racism.

I went on, adding that as Friends who had ties to FGC labored with one another about the historical use of the term and the possibility of laying it down, more and more Friends--and then meetings--also considered changing the term.

My explanation seemed to be welcome, though nothing more about the matter was said, as far as I can recall.*

Answering the queries

It seemed as though the heart of the business conducted during annual sessions was focused on reading aloud each monthly meeting's answers to the twelve queries that NCYMC includes in its book of discipline.

There are eight monthly meetings in the yearly meeting, so it was reasonable to hear from each of them. That said, it still required three separate sessions of 45-60 minutes each in order to cover four queries at a time.

The responses were read out of worship, and after all the meetings had read their response to a query, we stayed in worship for a minute or two, allowing the body time to reflect more fully on what we had just heard. In many cases, there was additional ministry or insight that was shared by Friends during that brief pause between queries. A similar process was used for reading the states of society that each meeting brought forward.

It occurs to me that some of what happens when such time is taken for these matters is that the group is brought together, hearing the words for the first time and reflecting on them as a community in the face of the session.

I can understand the temptation to "save time" and not read each meeting's response to each query, but Conservative Quakers seem to place greater value on learning about the spiritual health of their meetings through a shared, corporate experience than they do about moving quickly through an agenda.

The unexpected

The most unexpected element of these annual sessions for me was that very few reports that were presented were written. Many were given in a manner that looked like it was off the cuff, where the Friend who was giving the report appeared to speak extemporaneously and in a manner that reminded me of a Liberal yearly meeting's conduct of addressing business.

True, NCYMC is a very small yearly meeting, with about 65-80 Friends attending (not including the 20 or so visitors), and the body seemed disciplined in terms of waiting to hear one another in love and avoiding the pitfalls of personality differences. My sense is that the presiding clerk probably did not have to keep very tight reins on anyone.

But I was surprised, nevertheless. I find I am still puzzled by NCYMC's conduct at Meetings for Worship with attention to Business, which is in not at all like what I have observed at IYMC sessions.

To be clear, it is not that one way is better than another; just that the ways are different. What is similar, though, is the sense of deep love and care for one another, and the sense of striving to listen for God and yearning to be faithful, together.

I was glad to have been at 311th annual session of North Carolina Yearly Meeting Conservative. It was a reality check for me about how sometimes Conservative Friends and Liberal Friends can look and sound like one another, while at other times they look and sound completely different!


*From what I can tell, while IYMC seems to have laid aside the use of the term "overseer," NCYMC has not: The yearly meeting's website has a link to an essay, in pdf form, entitled "Overseer in the Usage of Friends." The 2006 essay is by Lloyd Lee Wilson, but it only covers historical and biblical references to the use of the word "overseer" and doesn't go into contemporary concerns of FGC's committee, of other monthly and yearly meetings, or of Friends of Color and their allies.

FYI: Pendle Hill job opening

Recently I received an email from Pendle Hill's Dean of Students, Walter Hjelt Sullivan. It so happens he, his wife, and I went to college together, but it's taken more than twenty years for us to strike up an acquaintance. Walter contacted me, seeking help to get the word out about an important job opening at Pendle Hill.

Even though the job announcement is a bit out of the scope of what I write about on The Good Raised Up, it's close enough to my concern about finding people to help convey our faith and help sustain us as who we are as Friends... despite the fact that PH has a reach far beyond Quakers!

If you or someone you know might fit the bill, please contact Walter. His information is at the end of his remarks, below. --Liz

This summer at Pendle Hill we have been richly blessed by the gratitude and enthusiasm of many. We are excited by our up-coming program schedule. In the midst of this, our long-time Director of Short-term Education Programs, John Meyer, is leaving. We are sad to see him go, but find in that experience a tremendous opportunity. I will be hiring and supervising the new person.

Would you help me find those energetic, visionary individuals who can rise to the challenges of program development, team work, teaching/workshop leading and living in community? We need to quickly identify candidates for this role. Full details on the position are on [this page] on the Pendle Hill Website.

Please forward this message to anyone in your network that might be the person or who might know the person who could serve Friends and Pendle Hill in this way at this time. Or send your suggestion or your resume to me: wsullivan AT pendlehill DOT org

Thank you for your interest, your support, and your creative thinking.

Much Love,
Walter Hjelt Sullivan
wsullivan AT pendlehill DOT org
610/566-4507 x160

July 7, 2008

Report on FGC Gathering 2008 - Part 2

NOTE: This is a continuation of my previous post.

Interest group on Convergent Friends

Robin and Chris M and I helped organize and co-lead an interest group on Wednesday, around the question Where Is The Convergent Conversation Now?

About 35 Friends were there, and I got the sense that a few of them were either fairly new to the conversation or weren't very connected much at all to the Quaker blogosphere. And a handful of participants are themselves active bloggers.

Chris was a wonderful support to Robin and me when we met to finalize our plans. He took notes while Robin and I threshed, brainstormed, and ultimately settled on what we were going to do and how we were going to do it. (Thanks, Chris!)

The process we came up with was this:

1. Chris would hold us in prayer and ground us as Robin and I facilitated the group.

2. Robin and I would introduce ourselves and share a bit of our story, especially around how we got involved in the Convergent conversation.

3. We would pass out index cards to each person and ask them to write a single question they had for us, after listening to our opening remarks.

4. Out of a worshipful frame, the participants would read their questions, one at a time, and then Robin and I--and anyone else who was moved to--would answer a question for which they felt some resonance or prompting.

5. We would close with worship.

I would say the process worked well overall. One Friend in particular commented on how much he liked the use of the index cards as a way to draw out questions without obligating the facilitators or participants to have to answer all of them.

(Personally, I was pleased to have thought to have cautioned Friends that the interest group was fair "blogger fodder" for any of us who had blogs--with the caveat that if there was something tender or sticky that came up, the expectation was that there'd be some extra care taken in how we might address that online...)

Here are some of the questions that were raised. If you attended the session and you see a question here that I've misquoted or have wrongly paraphrased, please let me know!

  • Are there commonalities among universalist, nontheist, and Christian Friends?

  • How can Friends engage in the Convergent conversation if they don't blog?

  • Will the conversation become More?

  • How can monthly meetings, quarterly meetings, and yearly meetings become more involved in the conversation?

  • Are there any formal structures for Convergent Friends?

  • Is "convergence" seen as reforming, renewing, or revolutionary?

  • In your stories, you used words like "renewal" and "reclaiming" [of traditions]. Does that mean you think the Religious Society of Friends is degenerating?

  • Does "convergence" require unity within a monthly meeting?

  • What does the concept of living in the Kingdom of God mean, if none of us have actually lived in a kingdom?

  • What do you think the conversation will look like 50 years from now?

  • Are "inclusive Friends" the same as Convergent Friends?
  • I found myself speaking most directly to two threads that emerged from these questions, namely:

    1. How can individuals and meetings that aren't involved in blogging get engaged in the Convergent conversation?


    2. Is our faith tradition degenerating?

    In response to the first thread, I described how some Friends were printing copies of specific blog posts and using those to focus a discussion during adult education programs.

    I also pointed out that Robin and I (mostly Robin) had put together a handout which included a few printed articles, such as an article from Friends Journal and an article from Quaker Life.

    Somehow I also touched on Friends who travel and make visits to meetings--not necessarily those who travel in the ministry, but that in order to understand the cross-schism and inter-branch conversation that is going on, we need to meet and interact with Friends from outside of our own monthly and yearly meetings.

    I loved some of the other ideas that sprang forth around this topic:

  • Attending sessions of Friends World Committee on Consultation (FWCC);

  • Exploring Quaker Quest* together;

  • Setting up an interest group within monthly, quarterly, and/or yearly meetings around the question, "What do you know about Convergent Friends?" and

  • Carving out time to share not just our spiritual journeys with one another, but also and perhaps more pointedly to share our transformative experiences with one another, too.

  • In response to the second thread, about whether our faith is in fact degenerating, I found myself speaking more passionately than I had expected, about practices and traditions that some Liberal Friends have moved away from.

    I don't recall what exactly I lifted up at the time, but during the course of the interest group, I had compiled my own list of where I fear we are drifting afar and what I believe Convergent Friends are reclaiming and re-affirming:
  • The use of corporate, spiritual discernment;

  • Testing of leadings;

  • Mutual accountability;

  • Place of Scripture;

  • Worship as the faith's central experience; and

  • God's place at the center of our faith, rather than individuals' preferences.
  • In addition, I made a note to myself later that we can view the renewal either as a response to the concern about "fixing" something that is "broken" within the Religious Society of Friends, or we can view the renewal as a commitment to strengthening the core of our religious tradition.

    Maybe it's a bit of both, and in the past I have struggled with how to respond to Friends who have worried that I am acting and speaking as if some monthly and yearly meetings are broken. Maybe I need to start saying, Yes, I think some things among Friends are in fact broken, as far as I see it...

    The most poignant moment of the evening for me, though, was when a Friend addressed the question about none of us having real-life experience of living in a kingdom. An older Friend quietly spoke about his experience of having been in and come out of a spirhttp://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gifitual desert:
    "I have never lived in an earthly kingdom," he said, "but I HAVE lived and I DO live in a spiritual kingdom now."

    Faith and Play

    One afternoon, I went to a session on a new approach to First Day School and religious education, called Faith and Play.

    FGC's Religious Education Committee is investing human and financial resources to develop a Quaker curriculum that draws on the methods used in Godly Play.

    In addition, the worship group I attend is considering using Godly Play as a basis for religious education for the six youngest people among us, who range from about 2-11 years old. So I was interested in the topic for a couple of different reasons.

    While Godly Play focuses on stories from Scripture and "wondering together" about the stories, Faith and Play focuses on stories and experiences from Quakerism.

    FGC staff person Michael Gibson, the coordinator of the Religious Education program, presented us with two stories in this fashion. The first was based on the parable of the mustard seed; the second was based on George Fox's initial opening, when he realized that the answers to his deep, weighty questions were not found in steeplehouses and books, but were found when he listened inwardly for the Inward Teacher.

    In both cases, simple props made of wood, paper, and brightly colored felt were used, and the stories and subsequent "wonderings" were shared out of a sense of worship.

    In fact, the whole experience felt to me like a Meeting for Worship with attention to Story.

    There is much technique involved in Godly Play and in Faith and Play. The storyteller focuses all of his or her attention on the props being used, avoiding eye contact with who is in the room. The pace by which the story is told is very deliberate and slow. Words are used at a minimum, so there is much silence--and observation and curiosity--as the story unfolds through manipulating felt figures and other props.

    When it is time to consider the story and whatever lessons it may hold, the storyteller begins by making statements that start with, "I wonder...," which in turn invites the listeners to wonder too, and to offer possible answers. Correction or interpretation is never offered; only more wonderings.

    After some time of "wondering together," the storyteller directs the listeners to art supplies. This is a time of individual "work," a way to express visually something that the story has stirred, and again is carried out in a form of worship.

    Some observations and wonderings of my own

    I found the experience of listening to the story and doing the work afterward very engaging. (There's a video of a sample story on the Godly Play website, toward the very bottom of this page.)

    But I also came away with some questions.

    At what point does the group of listeners--of Quaker listeners--engage in corporate expression of what they observed? The "work" was so individualized, and it was in stark contrast to the sense of being drawn, as a corporate body, into the story and the storytelling itself.

    What happens with members of a culture where collective threshing and reworking of a story is valued over personal reflection and individual consideration?

    Is there something inherently racist about the Montessori method of education on which Godly Play--and Faith and Play--is based? From what little I know, the creators of these three forms are all of European descent.

    If Quakerism is historically based on the stripping away of outward empty forms and distractions, how do we help the youngest ones understand that answers don't lie in felt props and artful self-expression, but in being still and waiting expectantly on the Inward Teacher?

    Despite my own reservations, and given my overall positive experience during the session, I recognize that Faith and Play could in fact be a useful tool for religious education among Friends. Not to mention that there is a training at Pendle Hill for those who are interested in learning more. There isn't an online announcement yet about it, but if you are interested, contact Michael Gibson at FGC, 215-561-1700, or email michaelg AT fgcquaker DOT org.


    P.S. Some other posts about the 2008 FGC Gathering can be found here. I'll have to add related links at a later date, when I have more time and more computer access!

    *FGC now has materials for North American Friends interested in Quaker Quest.

    July 6, 2008

    Report on FGC Gathering 2008 - Part 1

    This year's summer Gathering was, for me, unremarkable.

    That's in the sense of having nothing or little to say.

    There was nothing terrific that happened for me, http://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gifand neither was there anything horrible that happened.

    I didn't stay in a workshop; I didn't have a structured morning routine (because I didn't stay in a workshop!); and I had committee responsibilities for Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Concerns (FLGBTQC), which also reduced my free time.

    Nevertheless, there were a few highlights--or not-so-low-lights--that I can report on.

    One-on-one with Jan Hoffman

    Back in November 2007, I met Friend Jan Hoffman at a Traveling Ministries Program consultation organized by FGC.

    While there, Jan and I had a few brief moments during which she affirmed in me a gift of eldership. We also spoke about how I might gain support for some writing I have been putting off. Shortly after we each returned home, we lost touch and I mostly put aside our conversations.

    So when Jan passed me in a corridor last week, stopped me to say hello, and asked me how the writing was going, I froze: I hadn't anticpated her remembering anything about me, since I hadn't heard from her after November.

    We ended up putting aside time during the week for the two of us to get together, and we met for about an hour one morning.

    After settling into a bit of silence, we spoke with one another about our respective care-and-accountability committees, and the importance of having our monthly meetings hear reports from these committees, or from Ministry & Counsel, about the movement of the Spirit.

    I also mentioned to Jan that already that week, a number of Friends had been encouraging me to offer again what is fondly known as "the Shadow workshop," which I had offered at three Gatherings in the late 1990s. Formally, was titled "Bringing Our Shadow into the Light" and was a transformative experience for many who participated in it.

    It was a workshop I also loved doing, simply because I got to witness the growth and transformation of the participants, which in turn both grew me and humbled me.

    I explained to Jan that I also was considering proposing the more recent workshop on Quaker identity that I had developed and offered in 2005.

    The workshop on the shadow is something that the community seems to be wanting to draw out from me; the workshop on Quaker identity reflects the concern that I have been carrying, about conveying our faith and looking at what sustains us as Friends.

    Jan and I held together the question of whether I was to propose a workshop for 2009--fewer than 60 workshops are likely to be offered next year, given the projected enrollment--and if so, what might it be?

    I found myself wondering what a workshop entitled The Good Raised Up might entail, so I'll have to let that possibility speak to me as well...


    It's been about eight years since I last played volleyball during Gathering. The group I used to play with was tight-knit and pretty decent, as far as a non-competitive pick-up game goes. We would play for two hours straight and then head to dinner together.

    One of the regulars was Doug. He's tall, with a big head of hair and a smile that spreads across his face. Doug is the type of person who pulls out the best in people, simply by his presence and a kind word inserted at just the right moment.

    After I stopped playing volleyball, I would see Doug about every other Gathering, and he would ask me if I would make it to volleyball.

    But I was getting older and was putting more energy into nurturing my relationship with my partner. Me and my kneepads weren't gonna make it to the volleyball court.

    And then a couple of years ago, I started to work out and get into better shape. I still didn't think of volleyball, though.

    Until this year.

    There were two lovely sand volleyball courts that I passed everyday, either between lunch and Meeting for Worship or between dinner and the evening plenary. Sometimes, there'd be one of those great pick-up games going on...

    And there was Doug.

    Each time he passed me in the early part of the week, he'd ask me, "Are you coming to volleyball?"

    By the fourth day, Doug had worn me down. It was also the first sunny, fairly dry day of the Gathering, and I folded: "Okay... Yes, I'll come play volleyball."

    Doug grinned; I cringed. What had I just gotten myself into? I wondered.

    I had the best time!
    I was amazed how readily my body remembered how to judge the ball's trajectory and speed in relation to my own ability to move from side to side or even to drop to my knees for a dig.

    I also marveled at how words like "Mine!" and "I go!" and "Help me!" broke forth from me like a song from the mouth of a Sacred Harp singer.

    I was tempted to play a second day, but I ended up conserving my energy, since I still had a trip to North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative) to make!

    Other news

    I'm intending to write a second post that will cover the interest group on Convergent Friends and a few other items, including a session I attended about a new way to approach First Day School, called Faith and Play, based on Godly Play. Stay tuned!


    UPDATE: I have completed my subsequent post. Some other posts about the 2008 Gathering can be found here.