March 24, 2009

2009 Report to Committee of Elders

What follows below is my annual report to the committee of elders that was appointed me a few years ago. We've been meeting monthly ever since, with few exceptions, focusing on the condition of the concern I've been carrying:

How do we convey our faith to one another as Friends and to those who are new among us; and what sustains us in our identity as Friends?

As the burden has grown lighter of late, and the yoke has felt a bit looser, the committee found itself clear to lay its work down at the end of our most recent meeting. I am grateful for the service, support, care, nurture, challenge, and presence that this dedicated circle of Friends has provided me over the past three years.

Now it remains to see what else Love might call me to.


Third Month 2009

During 2008, there have been a number of seasons I experienced: A time to reflect; a time to speak out. A time to serve; a time to serve further. A time to lift up, a time to let go.

A time to reflect, to let the Light search me

In order for me to understand how I might be either outrunning my Guide or lagging behind it, I am helped by taking time, alone and with my committee, to "wait in the Light and let it search me." Sometimes what is revealed is an element of my personality or a long-standing behavior that interferes with my ability to live into a faithful and loving ministry.

One of the most important observations I made about myself in 2008, in which I felt searched by the Light, was when I understood that I go through periods of being sour:

During those times, I can sour events. I can sour relationships. I can pour sour upon sour and not find my way out but for the in-breaking of the Spirit.

When I am filled with sourness, I disallow God’s Love from moving through me—or at least that motion of Love is slowed considerably. When I am sour, I view the world, and especially the monthly meeting, as being against me, as being unwilling to open itself to the concerns I bring, about how, if we are not careful, our committee meetings, our business sessions, our First Day School, and our worshipful interactions with one another will look and sound and feel less Quaker and instead will become more and more "of the world."

When I am in Love, low enough to let the Spirit guide me, these concerns do not vanish but I am brought into a certain new sympathy for those with whom I worship. The conversation opens and I am made tender and vulnerable as I share the concern I carry.

But then that season of Light passes and I again become sour for a time once more.

In my sourness, my perceptions fuel my sour view of the world, and my sour view of the world magnifies my sour perceptions. I extrapolate an interaction I have with one or two Friends and generalize my experience as being the result of how I've been treated by the entire meeting.

It’s a cycle of how sour perceptions create sour interactions, and sour interactions intensify sour perceptions. It's a cycle that requires only a simple choice to break: to choose to turn towards the Light, to be searched, to be made low.

When I quiet myself and center down, I remember the Light and the Love that warms me, comforts me, envelops me so I may grow and even flourish. When I am centered, while to that Rock I’m clinging, I cannot be shaken. At the same time, I feel immense inward quiet and humility, and I feel the Living Presence beside me.

A time to speak out

The work of making our faith more transparent and more explicit to those who have questions about it continues to move and live within me. Sometimes, the opportunity arises when I feel particularly suited or called upon to take action, speak out, or get involved. Again, my committee of elders helps me stay close to the Root and test if the Way is open, if I am acting out of faithfulness or out of ego.

I felt particularly well used in the time leading up to the February 2008 panel “Living Our Leadings” and during the panel itself. Friends on occasion still talk about how much they got out of that panel, and a few have since requested clearness and care-and-accountability committees, perhaps having been encouraged by the panel to seek one.

In addition, the opportunity came to me to begin working with a writing coach. During the second half of 2008, a writer and a friend of Friends, Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew, began to draw me into a regular discipline of writing. She has helped me work into my own process of writing for depth in addition to breadth. I look forward to continuing to work with her in 2009, finding a balance between the blog writing for The Good Raised Up and the longer, slower writing I've been doing about Quaker identity.

While discovering a new writing discipline, and even after the panel in early 2008, I found I continue to yearn for the meeting--and other Liberal Friends--to have the opportunity to hear from those Friends who have come into some ministry and who have an ongoing committee of elders or a similar committee for spiritual nurture, care, and accountability. As we Friends go about our life in service to the Spirit, the community as a whole doesn't necessarily know the work or ministry that is being offered through us as we travel. This seems out of Gospel Order to me, and it weighs on me to this day.
Thus, when meetings find a way to support a concern for gospel ministry... they may also find that the lessons learned encourage them to find appropriate ways to encourage other kinds of gifts and callings.
[To] the extent that we learn of each other’s ministry, we are made richer by it, both individually and corporately.
I myself have been helped to come to know Friends in a deep way when I have learned how a concern or ministry of the Spirit has grown within a Friend, has been nurtured, has taken root, and ultimately has borne fruit. Hearing the stories of their struggles to be faithful and to stay low is like a lighthouse's beacon for me on a dark and foggy night. Experiences of how we "give over"--or don't; of how we come into new Light or witness others doing so become my guideposts along a sometimes unfamiliar or rocky path.

And I have been made increasingly tender by having this committee of elders bear witness to how the Spirit is using me, how I am wrestling to be faithful, how I cry out in my broken-openness that we need each other to help us ALL be faithful to our measure of Light.

My experience has been that we are bound together in a unique way when we hear from one another about the leadings we have come into and when we witness the humility that comes with making ourselves vulnerable to our community of faith.

A time to serve

In 2008, I continued to serve the meeting as a member of Ministry & Counsel. Through service on M&C, I began to be shown more clearly how M&C sets an example for the corporate body, whether that example be one of a more secularized way of being with one another as a faith community, or of offering a more disciplined and loving way of laboring with one another and seeking greater Light together to address complex concerns.

Serving on M&C has been a piercing exercise of the spirit for me, and I have learned much about the nature of Love, of speaking when one is "cool in thy own mind," of staying low, and of acting out of a sense of cherishing one another. I still get it wrong sometimes, thinking I "know better" than other Friends, or that somehow my experience should be given more weight than what others have been through. But my committee reminds me again and again to consider what it means to be meek in any given circumstance, and their reminders are priceless.

In the past couple of years, as the concern I carry has seasoned, and as I have been counseled by my care-and-accountability committee, I have spoken more gently both within M&C and in the meeting at large of how we might slow the impulse of drawing on traditions outside of Quakerism and of how we might make our own faith more explicit to one another, given that the meeting has a large proportion of young families and attenders among its worshipers.

Much of my time on M&C has reinforced the message I was given one day, that in addition to speaking the Truth faithfully, I must also strive to speak the Truth from a place of love.

My time of service on M&C has been a difficult part of my path, a trial of my spirit in some ways. I had expected the Friends who serve on M&C to have more grounding in the discipline of Quakerism, but the reality is, we are all learning new things about Quakerism by worshiping with one another and having opportunities for fellowship. While some members and long-time Friends have questions about what a leading is and what it means to test a leading, other Friends grapple with what the difference is between listening to individual voices and striving for corporate unity around a sense of the meeting.

A time to serve further

In the summer of 2008, per its customary cycle, M&C sought a new clerk, or new co-clerks. I initially felt the Way was open for me to serve, but I had no specific leading, neither to offer myself as clerk nor to refrain from offering myself as clerk.

Having learned from my 2006-2007 experience of clerking the Workshops Committee for FGC's 2007 Gathering, I knew I should not pursue clerking without having either a co-clerk or an assistant clerk, and after a few conversations with another M&C member, she and I stepped into co-clerking M&C in October 2008.

That service through the end of 2008 and into 2009, has tested me further. I have begun observing that there are different elements of listening and what it is we give weight to--whether we listen to good ideas, seek to know the guidance of the Spirit and the motion of Love, or follow the way things have been done over the years by the Friends who have been around the longest.

Away from M&C meetings, I have been stretched to listen for what it is that God has placed in my heart, bring that message to the co-clerk's attention, and then engage in mutual listening to one another while seeking the Way forward when we disagree.

With the help of this committee of elders, I have begun to realize that the more grounded I am in how God asks me to be in the world and among Friends, the more liberated I am to be my authentic self, to live into my measure of Light. In turn, the different styles, preferences, and understandings that the other co-clerk and I have are transformed from places of friction to opportunities for reconciliation and gentle collaboration.

Again, I treasure the reminders from the committee to live into my measure fully and authentically, from a place of humble obedience.

A time to lift up

Over the past year, a few opportunities arose through which I could articulate elements of the Quaker faith tradition that otherwise may have gone unnoticed or may have stayed invisible.

The February panel "Living Our Leadings" was certainly a time of bringing Friends together to share and learn from one another how we provide spiritual nurture, accountability, and eldership to Friends who have come into some ministry or spiritual concern.

The blog I maintain, The Good Raised Up, continues to find favor among Friends and friends of Friends from around the world. According to Site Meter, a tool that tracks data about those who view a website, approximately eighty percent of readers are from Canada and the U.S., ten percent are from Europe, and ten percent are from Asia and elsewhere.

Unfortunately, Site Meter doesn't identify if the readers are Quaker or, if they are, what branch of Quakers they are connected to. I do know, however, based on comments left on The Good Raised Up, that some readers are from the Conservative branch and a few are from Friends United Meeting and other pastored Friends churches. At least one reader is from an Evangelical Friends church. We learn from each other, and my eyes are opened to the gifts that all parts of the body bring.

One such learning was shared with me through a comment made on a post I wrote about what seemed to be a waning of attendance at recent weddings and memorials. The reader made this remark:
A late comment of thanks. I was recently in a committee meeting where I related how this blog post had cemented my intention to attend the wedding of two members recently held under the care of our meeting, and another Friend shared that it had similarly ensured her presence at the same event. It was a beautiful wedding, with rich worship, and a wonderful day for our meeting. Thanks for helping ensure that we got there!
Though the blog writing comes and goes, this vehicle for sharing my experiences among Friends and for responding to items that other bloggers write continues to stretch me, grow me, and call me out.

A time to let go

As the year began to wind down, I became aware that I felt that the yoke I had been wearing was growing lighter. Something in me seemed to be loosening, especially around the spiritual concern I have been carrying.

It may be that the process of working with a committee of elders for over two years has helped me know at a deep, wordless level that I am not alone and that ultimately, this work is God's work and the work of God through the eyes, hands, feet, mouths, and ears of the meeting community.

It may be that enough seed has been sown onto good soil over time by any number of Friends and that something is in fact taking root, loosening the yoke that had been placed on me a bit.

Or it may be that I can go no further in this "travel within the meeting" as recommended by my initial clearness committee.

But as I complete the writing of this report, for now, I feel worn.* I am uncertain if I have more to give, if the Spirit gives me more.

I also recognize that the Spirit will out, no matter our best intentions or loftiest plans. Even though the initial clearness committee discerned that the Way was not open for me to seek to travel among Friends as part of FGC's Traveling Ministries Program, the fact is that some of what I have been carrying has been shared among Friends beyond the meeting's walls.

In addition, as 2008 has progressed into 2009, I sense a call in 2009 to dedicate more attention and energy into preparing a publication that would make important blog posts from across the Quaker branches available in print.

I find myself wondering if now is the season for me to let go of my formal concern and lay down this committee. Though the concern still resides in me, as I have said, the yoke feels lighter, and I don't know that there is more for me to do that would need the undergirding of this committee.

With that, I leave it in the hands of these faithful Friends to share a report with M&C and to discern if our work is done.

In service,
Liz Opp(enheimer)

*The committee inquired about just what I meant by this word. Through our conversation, "worn" was clarified to mean "broken in" and "used up in a good way," perhaps to be re-purposed.

1 comment:

Gil S said...

Thanks so much for sharing this Liz. I find it very helpful as a way of looking at my own journey.