August 25, 2010

Why I am still a Quaker

a. Why are you a Quaker?
b. How are you a Quaker?
c. Please give an example of how a Meeting for Worship is conducted in your tradition.

These are three questions that a friend of Wess' asks and for which she seeks answers from a wide variety of Quakers. My answers are below, and I acknowledge that I skimmed a few earlier posts I've written, believing I had covered some of these topics... and curious to know what, if anything, still holds true.

a. Why am I a Quaker?

When I am asked to consider this question, I often think of when I was in elementary school, and some classmates of mine would ask me things like, "Be honest! Do you like my new dress?" ...or "Tell me the truth: Am I your best friend?"

I don't know why, but I was never taught to tell even a white lie, so when I discovered a people of faith who--as human and as flawed as we all are--do their best to be honest in all their affairs, well, I was relieved to learn that I wasn't the only person in the whole world who believed it was more important to be honest than it was to be liked.

There are other reasons why I'm a Quaker, like this one:

    Doing something that feels right, even if no one else around me is doing it, is more important to me than doing what my peers--or my mother!--want me to do.  
    I yearn to be faithful to the leadings I am given.
Or this one:
    I believe that all of us have more potential and magnificence in ourselves than we ourselves believe. We just don't always know how to help one another get there. A lot of times, only God can do that.  
    We can help one another live up to our measure of the Light. And if we can't, then the Light itself can.
But perhaps a more important question for long-time Friends to answer with one another is this:

Even after a number of painful experiences and disillusionments, why am I still a Quaker?

After each painful experience, I certainly reassess if I am to remain among Friends or not! But I believe I have remained among Friends because I have reached outside of my monthly meeting when I have been hurt or disillusioned by something that's happened--I've reached out to other Quakers to hear me out, give me counsel, and hear a bit about how they themselves "came out the other side."

I'm still a Quaker simply because I have chosen to stay--to stay in worship, to stay engaged with the pain until God shows me the way through, to stay involved in the life of the meeting that exists outside of the painful incident.

And I'm still a Quaker because so much of Quakerism brings me emotional and spiritual fulfillment.

b. How are you a Quaker?

This question reminds me of the query, If you were accused of being a Quaker, would there be enough evidence to convict you?

I hope my life as a Friend reflects the practice of living according to how we are led by the Spirit; that I live from a place of Love in my life, even and especially through conflict; that I fall into worship when I have large and small decisions to make; that I seek out others when I am not clear of the way forward; that I place God at the center of my days, of my worship, of my faith.

There are certain Quaker practices and traditions I engage in, like (most recently) intervisitation among Friends, along with seeking and receiving eldership from seasoned Friends.

Most important, I am a Quaker because I place myself in Quaker contexts--not exclusively, but primarily: be it with other Quakers for socialization; or reviewing Quaker writings for inspiration and guidance; or engaging in corporate worship, even on a sometimes irregular basis.

But as I read over what I've already offered, I find myself returning to this:

I am Quaker because of how I open myself to listen for and follow God's guidance. The "how" is based on 350 years of practice by my Quaker predecessors.

c. An example of how a Meeting for Worship is conducted in your tradition.

In recent years, in addition to worshiping with Liberal Friends, I have had the opportunity to worship with Conservative Friends in the U.S., mostly during their yearly meetings. As a result, I have learned to talk about how both Conservative and Liberal Friends worship in the unprogrammed tradition. I worry that there's a misconception that Conservative Friends are more fundamentalist in theology than Liberal Friends (more fundamentalist, not entirely; a bit more Christocentric, yes) and therefore there's the misconception that Conservative Friends have programmed or highly structured worship with a pastor of some sort (they don't).

From the outside looking in, Meetings for Worship have looked the same in these two U.S. branches* of Friends: people gather in a meetingroom that has chairs roughly in a circle, or in concentric circles, and quietly take it upon themselves to "center down"--with no outward direction by a person or a chime.

"Centering down" is not a phrase I often use, but what I mean by it is that the worshipers begin to get less fidgety; their mind-racing usually slows down; maybe their breathing even deepens or becomes more intentional for a time. If we could get a glimpse into the most invisible workings of these worshipers, we might understand that their hearts, souls, and minds all turn away from the rush of the outside world and turn toward the Light.

Ideally, we become entrained to one another and to the Living Presence that has been awaiting us.

Among a group of Friends who know one another very well, I have found this shared or corporate centering to be nearly palpable and somewhat invigorating, and I feel like we are all leaning forward, spiritually, as if someone is whispering something to us and we strive to hear...

And when in fact a worshiper confirms for herself or himself, in a wordless, internal discernment process, that she or he has heard God's message, that person speaks out of the silence, being mindful of staying close to the message that was given and keeping away from, as much as possible, the temptation to change the message, lest it be made "nice" if it's a challenge to the community, or lest it become needlessly "polished" if there are parts that seem uneven.

For about an hour, unless someone has specifically convened an "extended" Meeting for Worship, the worship continues in this manner, mostly worshiping in a cohesive and active silence (ie. corporate worship), with perhaps one or more spoken messages adding to the experience--that is, ideally, deepening the stillness in which we listen for the Loving Principle that many Friends call God or Christ or the Inner Light.

At the close of the hour, Friends shake hands and quietly greet one another. A number of monthly meetings then move into an added bit of time to share of their experience--either what they experienced during the worship itself, the sense of the Spirit among them; or about thoughts and reflections that emerged for them in the worship but "didn't rise to the level of vocal ministry" in their own hearts and minds. Some meetings share prayer requests during this time or share news of how the Spirit and Truth has been moving among them during the previous week. Usually then there is a time for announcements, fellowship, and maybe a bit to eat.

A final reflection

Putting words to the experience of Meeting for Worship is a difficult task, because there is a qualitative difference between the words I use (and you read) and the experience of worship itself. It's like searching for words to describe the water that one might swim in, as compared to swimming in the water itself.


*Because of my service on the Central Committee of Friends General Conference, I know not to call FGC a "branch." There are FUM Friends, Conservative Friends, Liberal Friends, and even friends of Friends who participate in programs or otherwise use the services that FGC offers. But because of how FGC talks about affiliation and constituent meetings, there remains a persistent misconception that meetings in the U.S. or Canada might be "FGC meetings." Not so: Monthly meetings belong to a yearly meeting, which typically has its roots of one branch of Quakerism or another; and monthly meetings are accountable to their yearly meeting (and vice versa), not to FGC.

Ten Reasons Why I'm Quaker
I Should Have Known I Was a Quaker

August 19, 2010

Root bound?

In the room where the worship group meets, there is a single large pot with five plants that look like miniature palm trees. Sometimes they look thirsting for water, their slender leaves folded down, close to the candle-stick sized trunk.

This past First Day, I couldn't help but wonder if those five trees were root-bound, given that the pot was only about eighteen inches tall, was about a foot in diameter, and has been there, unchanged, since we started worshiping in this location, I think.

That got me thinking:

Our meetings can get root bound, can't they? ...Like when we fall into spiritual ruts of faith and practice, never seeking new opportunities to listen for God's call, or letting those new opportunities slide by, or failing to take a stand publicly for an important social-justice issue because it's too much work to organize and step out into public.

Or when our committees are root-bound, they tend to focus on whatever is on their plate in front of them and seldom take time out to consider rising concerns that might lead the committee and its members onto a new and interesting path, maybe incorporating a longer view or a way to involve more worshipers over time.

Our worship can get root bound, when we stop anticipating the Living Presence to dwell among us and we fall into our own private reveries, or when we stop sharing our experience of God in our lives and substitute such tender sharing with a litany of complaints about our worldly concerns.

Similarly, having too little soil in the pot can leave the roots overly exposed to air pockets and without enough nutrients. There is a necessary Something in the ground that surrounds the roots and fills the pot, and we must be careful to learn when the pot's soil is too dry; when it is too wet; and when the plants themselves need to be transplanted to some new pot for greater freedom for the roots to grow and for the soil's nutrients to be refreshed.

Maybe my choice a few years ago to begin worshiping with the worship group was a way to transplant myself into a pot that seemed to have more fertile soil, more nutrient-rich dirt. More than once, though, someone in worship has cautioned us to be wary of becoming "spiritually sleepy," and we have stayed open and alert for an opportunity to participate in a service project, to stretch ourselves beyond our familiar pattern of worship.

This fall, we'll be finishing a formal commitment to help a refugee Somali family resettle in the Twin Citiesl. Also we'll return to our experiment with providing some Quaker adult education for the worship group. We may also consider having a retreat since recently the worship group has added a few people who are new to Quakerism.

And always, always I'll be on the lookout for an opportunity to travel among Friends or to bring a visiting Friend to us: Such opportunities are good reminders for me that no one has to stay rooted in one place; that we often grow from being exposed to new environments and even to some cross-pollination.

We can remain grounded in our tradition, faith, and practice but that doesn't mean that we must restrict our roots from branching out...


UPDATE: While reading additional Quaker writings on the internet shortly after I posted this piece, I came across this Minute of Exercise from the 2010 annual sessions of New England Yearly Meeting.

August 13, 2010

Qualities of a Quaker worship community

A short while ago while traveling in southern Oregon, I worshiped with South Mountain Friends in Ashland. A couple of us shared after worship that we each had been reflecting on Thomas Gates' pamphlet Members One of Another.

In addition to thinking on the relationship between the meeting and its members, I was thinking about those who have written about the qualities of the Inward Light, especially Samuel Caldwell.* I then found myself considering what are some of the primary qualities of a healthy and vibrant Quaker worship community, be it a monthly meeting or a worship group.

*I believe I've read at least one other Friend's remarks on the topic but can't come up with who it was or with any link...

Qualities of a Quaker worship community

  • Provide spiritual nurture and pastoral care for one another. It seems like many meetings provide pastoral care pretty well: when a Friend is in crisis, our meetings rally around the person to help her or him over the hump, providing careful listening and regular support--be it financial, medical, familial, vocational. On the other hand, how regularly do we ask questions of one another about God or the Loving Principle in our lives, or how the Truth prospers, when our lives aren't in turmoil...? Must we wait for workshops or adult education sessions to learn of and share about our spiritual lives? Must spiritual nurture be limited to confidential clearness committees and ad hoc care committees?

  • Welcome the stranger as one of our own. I sometimes fantasize that as worship breaks, the Friend who closes worship rises and says, "Before we move into announcements and introductions of visitors, please look around the room and if you see someone near you who you don't know, please welcome them and introduce yourself to them..." It seems like a challenge to discipline ourselves so as not to rush across the meetingroom at the rise of meeting in order to talk to a fellow committee member, when what we could do is take the time to welcome the stranger and the visitor to meeting, asking these newcomers why they came that particular day, what their experience of worship was, and what questions they have about Quakerism.

  • Call out and provide stewardship for each other's spiritual gifts. Especially in large meetings, this task seems to have been relegated to the Nominating Committee. But what about the spiritual gifts that don't apply to "regular" committee service? What about the Friend who has a gift for providing hospitality when people come to visit in her home? or the Friend who can build an intergenerational community through storytelling and games? or the back-bencher who whispers spot-on insights to his neighbor during Meetings for Worship for Business? How do we ourselves feel when someone "finally" affirms a talent, gift, or perspective we have but feel like few others ever notice? I have had the opportunity to witness one Friend in particular who will say, "I wonder if Such-and-so Friend could help us with that particular task, since I see she (or he) has a gift for such-and-so..." It's one way the worship community becomes responsible for the nurture and stewardship of the spiritual gifts among us, since these gifts belong not to the individual but to the community.

    cf. Lloyd Lee Wilson has an excellent chapter on "Community Stewardship of our Spiritual Gifts" in his book of essays on Gospel Order.

  • Guide one another into greater faithfulness, discipline, humility, obedience, and love. In order to offer such guidance, we have to be willing to share our vulnerabilities, our leadings, our struggles, and our overall experience of the Inward Teacher more openly with one another and with the community as a whole. We learn not only by formal study and by informal discussion but also through watching how we conduct our lives both in and outside of the meetingroom. When under stress, do we take time out to pray and to seek God's guidance? During a conflict within our meeting, do we respond to others harshly or with kindness? When a particular activity goes well, are there Friends who insist on grabbing all the credit, or is there gratitude for the Spirit for having led us into such a happy opportunity?

  • Knit together the corporate body in the Spirit and sustain the corporate nature of the faith's tradition. This is perhaps the least tangible, least visible element of our worship communities. There's a wordless, visceral experience, though, when we are gathered as a corporate body, whether it be during a Meeting for Worship on the occasion of a marriage, or having a special event to celebrate all the young people in the meeting. That said, there are ways to watch and listen for the increeping of individualism in our Quaker community, such as giving weight to personal and individual preferences; the use of the phrase "I think we should..." or "I'd like to see us..."; the (unintended?) attempt to hold a meeting for worship for business hostage by saying "I'm going to stand in the way of that decision" or the more subtle "I'm not in unity with that decision so therefore we don't have sense of the meeting and can't move forward."

  • How to live into a vibrant and healthy Quaker community

    Here are a few specific steps we can take to strengthen and deepen our worship communities as Friends.

  • Study together: Scripture, Quaker writings. By studying and learning about our faith tradition together, we develop a shared language about Quakerism. We also develop a shared understanding about our earliest roots, about our growth as a "people to be gathered," and about the people and events that continue to shape who we are in modern times.

  • Worship together. During tragic events; to honor momentous occasions; during times of struggle; and out of a yearning for healing, worship is our touchstone where we come to lay aside our personal agendas and to lift up our hearts, be it in celebration or in sorrow. Contrary to what it looks like to those visitors unaccustomed to Quaker worship, we are not individuals sitting in a dead silence: we are seekers of the Truth who yearn to know God's message for us, to live out God's call in our daily lives, individually and as a body joined in the Spirit.

  • Cherish one another as family. Bitterness toward our fellow worshiper cannot easily coexist with our desire to cherish one another. We can learn to love one another without condoning irresponsible or disrespectful behavior: it is a discipline for which we need much practice--and much forgiveness when we ourselves fall short. But let us try what Love can do, regardless.

  • Provide measures of loving accountability. In a healthy, vibrant Quaker community, there is what I call an "appropriate nosiness" for us to engage in with one another. Surprisingly, setting limits and providing accountability--such as testing our leadings with one another and meeting with a care-and-accountability committee--can be a source of support and spiritual nurture. When we understand that such things are part and parcel of Quakerism's practice, we feel cared for when members of our Quaker worship community engage with us around sharing our spiritual gifts and around our steps and missteps on the way to being faithful to God's call.

  • Labor together... and stay to see the results over time. Sometimes it is easier after a hard, contentious decision has been made to leave the community altogether, especially if things did not go "our" way. As a corporate body, staying despite the pain or disillusionment allows the community to reflect on how things are going afterward, whether or not there are fruits of the Spirit, or how good or poor those fruits actually are. Plus, when we are struggling with one another, those may be the times when God breaks through and reveals a new way to move forward. Laboring together can also mean finding a service project or a hands-on activity in which to participate as a worship community. Sometimes unknown gifts are brought into the Light when we are taken out of our comfort zone and we are forced to draw on resources that we otherwise hadn't known were available to us. New voices among us might be drawn out; previously hidden skills may appear, and we learn anew who we are as a community.

  • Bear witness together. Similar to laboring with one another, bearing witness together can develop or strengthen a sense of interdependence, a reliance on one another when witnessing to Truth in public or against "the establishment" may feel risky or even dangerous. Bearing witness can also be less visible--not as confrontational--while still carrying weight because the entire worship community has agreed to take action together. When we feel responsible to a group we care for, we are likely to engage in action to which the group as a whole has committed itself.

  • Point out to one another when individualism is threatening to take hold and then re-engage our corporate practice. When our Quaker worship community and the worshipers within it are surrounded by the distractions and even lusts of the secular world, even Quakerism's corporate nature can be undermined by the wider culture that swirls around us. We need one another to remind us of our Quaker heritage, of the disciplines of corporate worship and corporate discernment, of the practice of waiting on the Lord rather than making decisions out of convenience of time or of money.

  • Speak openly of our struggles, joys, and successes in following the Inward Teacher. We grow our identity as Friends and sustain our worship communities as Quakers by telling our stories of God in our lives and by remembering the roots of where our peculiar practices, vocabulary, and witness come from. If we gather only for worship, we miss the opportunity to hear about the rest of our lives as we strive to put our faith into action.

  • Critical mass, "togetherness," and being a corporate body

    As I was finishing up my list of the qualities of a Quaker worship community, I realized I wanted to address the concept of doing things "together" as it relates to the corporate body.

    "Being a corporate body" does not mean having 100% of the body together 100% of the time, but it does mean striving to have 100% of the body engaged in the entire life of the community over time.

    By "life of the community," I mean worship; meetings for worship for business; committee service; projects involving the community; intergenerational activities; care and nurture of our youngest and of our eldest community members; and so on.

    It's unrealistic to assume that everyone within a Quaker meeting or worship group will be available to participate in a given activity on a given day. But it is realistic to assume--and I would say reasonable to expect--that over time, everyone will be able to participate in a given activity; that no one will completely and forever stay away from worship, or from meeting for worship for business, or from an opportunity to bear witness against injustice.

    The element of participating in a corporate body together is more than having critical mass for any single event. Through worship, struggle, witness, service projects, adult education, intergenerational activities, learning about Quakerism, there is a cumulative experience that occurs over time and it is the cumulative experience among Friends that both shapes and is shaped by the worshiping community and all of its participants.

    As always, thanks for reading me.



    Martin Kelley's suggestion that we invite a newcomer to lunch is the Outreachiest Program Ever

    my blog post that refers to critical mass of a Quaker meeting in light of weddings and memorials

    August 1, 2010

    2010 Iowa YM Conservative annual sessions

      How is it that I am refreshed after four days of this routine, with 12 hours of worship, neither drained nor eager to return home?
    These are the words I posted on The Good Raised Up after returning from my first visit to Iowa Yearly Meeting Conservative during its annual sessions in 2005.

    This year I return from sessions--my fifth journey there--with the same sense of sweetness and fullness, though I came home a day early, missing the final business session and the closing worship on First Day.

    Unlike last year, which I missed entirely, I was able to attend most of the annual sessions for Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative). I was eager to get to the Scattergood campus, in part because my summer had involved travel and activities that made it hard for me to have quality continuity with Quakers. I also was looking forward to seeing a few Friends I knew who would be visiting IYMC for the first time: I think of these Friends as having a deep and alive relationship with the Inward Light, and I was looking forward to getting to know them better during the week.

    Panel on outreach for the 2011 FGC Gathering

    The evening when sessions started, we heard a few stories from five Conservative Friends who have been to FGC's Gathering. Part of the reason for having this panel is because the Gathering will be held for the first time in Iowa next year at Grinnell College.

    There are questions at FGC's end about whether Friends will be willing to travel to Iowa--after all, it's not part of the densely Friend-populated areas of the Mid-Atlantic or of New England; and it's not in a "destination" like the Pacific Northwest, when the 2006 Gathering was held in Tacoma, Washington. Another concern is whether eastern Friends even know where Iowa is--and I'm not being facetious. It wasn't until I moved to the Midwest that I began to care about knowing which Midwestern states were what and where!

    Anyway, the panel was a way to explain to IYMC Friends a bit about what the Gathering is (or isn't), as well as to hear any concerns from the body about the event coming to the region.

    I was impressed that there were two young adults and one high school student on the panel, as well as two older adults. Some had experienced the Gathering only once ("It was a really important experience for my family."), and others had attended a number of times ("I went through spiritual depths and growing; anger and exhaustion. But there's something to being among Quakers and not feeling weird about being Quaker.")

    One of the younger Friends commented on how the Gathering can help "cement" one's identity as a Quaker... which may be true for a young person, but I personally worry that the "cement" at Gathering is more often associated with being among a peer group and having fun, often with activities that aren't necessarily rooted in the practice of Quakerism, or in the growing together in the Light and in the Life of the Spirit. (Some Friends familiar with the Gathering call it a "hot house"--an artificial environment where community grows quickly but might not be able to be sustained outside of the event itself.)

    I was also struck by an insight that a particularly shy young adult Friend said:
      The Gathering is the best when you come out of your shell and put your best self into it.
    This reflects some of my own peak experiences at Gathering, when I feel I am pulled into a greater measure of the Light than I had experienced in my local worship community back home.

    The remarks that caught my attention the most, though, came from Marshall Massey, who used to write regularly for a wonderful Quaker blog and is now very active on Facebook... Marshall is knowledgeable and challenging, and sometimes I'm uncomfortable in my skin when he takes up an issue and speaks very thoroughly about it, sometimes calling on us to see the world--or Quakerism--through a new lens. I've learned to continue to listen for the Light in anything he has to offer.

    This particular night, he raised the question--and I'm paraphrasing here:
      Is FGC bringing the Gathering to IYMC as part of a "courtship dance," to build ties with us, hoping we might affiliate with FGC? As a host to the Gathering, how do we explain ourselves, how do we explain how we practice our faith, and how do we share the stories of how IYMC has shaped our lives?
    After a few other remarks from the panelists, we moved into a quieter time when those of us there could speak of our own experiences or concerns. Here are some that particularly stay with me:
    • One Friend commented with some disgust that he had once seen a sign at a Liberal Friends' event saying, "You can believe whatever you want." The Friend went on to testify that being a Quaker isn't about believing what you want. It's about living your life by following the leadings of the Spirit.
    • Another Friend spoke about the rootedness that is encountered and experienced within IYMC, and that FGC sees that IYMC has something that other Friends not only lack but also hunger for.
    • And one or two Friends spoke to the possibility that perhaps IYMC is being called to minister to the FGC Gathering in some capacity, and we may not know what that is just yet.
    It was just the first session of our five days together, and already there was a lot to think about!

    Interconnectedness between the yearly meeting and its monthly meetings

    This year as in other years, I again was struck by the nature of the relationship between the monthly meetings and the yearly meeting. (Readers from IYMC: if I misrepresent this relationship or make an error in my summary of the tasks below, please put a correction in the Comments or contact me directly at lizopp AT gmail DOT com.)

    As I understand it, several monthly meetings are responsible for the non-business sessions during annual sessions, and that responsibility rotates among all the monthly meetings, rather asking for individual volunteers to serve on a planning committee (though it may be that individuals from each of the appointed meetings comprise the committee).

    Each year a monthly meeting is identified to serve as the "Document Committee," reviews all the epistles received by the clerk of IYMC, and identifies excerpts of epistles that are to be read aloud during annual sessions. That responsibility also rotates among the meetings.

    Each meeting is to appoint one of its own members to serve on the yearly meeting's Nominating Committee--no need for a Naming Committee!--as well as the Representatives Committee, which proposes a budget and a few other things. The same process is used to identify what IYMC calls the Caretakers for the annual session: the Friends from across the yearly meeting who will help with the logistics of the annual sessions: setting up rooms, getting water to the clerks' table, making announcements, etc.

    Also, a good number of meetings--maybe all of them--have Friends who participate on the yearly meeting's Peace and Social Concerns Committee, and it appears that many meetings actually take action in response to recommendations made and issues discussed during sessions.

    Ken and Katharine Jacobson

    On the second night of sessions, Ohio Yearly Meeting Friends Ken and Katharine Jacobson spoke tenderly on the theme "The Way of Love."

    It happens that in recent years, I have been counseled and encouraged to meet these Friends, especially since they moved to southern Wisconsin a few years ago. It seems some of our concerns about Quakerism overlap, or maybe our mutual fFriends believed we would just get along so well... It so happened that last year, Way opened for a phone conversation between us, and I was eager to meet them here at annual sessions. They are warm-hearted people with a generosity of Spirit that is visible in their eyes...

    By the sound of things, Ken's engagement and study at Chicago's Theological Seminary has brought important Light to his fellow seminarians. He spoke to us of how astonished they were by the possibility that worship doesn't have to be a "performance" packaged in liturgy, hymn singing, and preaching, but that rather that worship "can come out of nothing and out of Presence." Ken joked about how eager these colleagues were to learn about the Quaker way of waiting worship: "Can you say more about silence?!"

    Katharine spoke quietly, in part due to her declining health as she deals with Parkinson's, but her Light shone clear in her words, gestures, and smile. She spoke about her movement into greater Listening and she hinted at her service to Friends as elder and spiritual companion.

    Ken did much of the talking, and his exuberance for living in the Life was palpable:
    • Practicing the Way of Love is something that not a lot of Friends know we have: it can come and go very quickly.
    • Tapping into God's Love means that God's Love is close, available, and accessible.
    • There are three words connected to the practice of the Way of Love: choice, obedience, and discipline.
    • The rhythm of Friends' life moves in three steps: releasing all that we hold onto, that keeps us from living the Way of Love; receiving the Light and the Love that is available to us; and the offering out to others and to the world all the Light and the Love that we ourselves have received.
    • All of us are being called to live the Way of Love, so we have a responsibility to help one another live into that call.
    It's this last point that gives me pause:
      All of us are being called to live the Way of Love, so we have a responsibility to help one another live into that call.
    Isn't that truly what is meant by answering that of God in everyone, to help one another live into that deep, silent call from the Inward Teacher...?

    And wouldn't that reminder put an end to all the fuss over theological differences--and even the seeds of war--when all we need to focus on is how we are being called to live the Way of Love?

    There were other evening presentations but this one had the most impact on me.

    Meetings for Worship for Business

    When the yearly meeting takes up its business, the first session or two consist mainly of reports from a number of smaller committees, reading of excerpts from epistles of other yearly meetings in the U.S. and from around the world, as well as the sharing of epistles from the two other Conservative bodies, Ohio Yearly Meeting and North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative).

    This year it was noted that each of the three Conservative yearly meetings has welcomed a new monthly meeting into the fold: Crossroads Meeting (Michigan) became a part of Ohio; Davidson Friends Meeting (North Carolina) became a part of North Carolina; and Yahara Friends Meeting (Wisconsin) became a part of Iowa. (For the record, Laughing Waters Friends Worship Group remains unaffiliated, with some worshipers having affinity for Iowa, and others having affinity for Northern Yearly Meeting.)

    Among the reports that I was able to hear--I left a day early and missed the final business session--there was one from the Earthcare Subcommittee of the very-active Peace and Social Concerns Committee. The Earthcare Subcommittee included information on Yahara Meeting's program on evaluating the true cost of travel. Apparently, this program includes information on how to calculate one's petroleum use and the true cost of that use. Friends who are following this program then put the amount of money needed to cover that "true cost" into a fund for Scattergood Friends School to use as the school explores the use of wind power on its campus. (The school was recently made local news about its new solar panels and about its new head of school.)

    Other energy-conservation related initiatives were mentioned, such as Each of the above websites offer some creative thinking that is going on around the world in order to address climate change.

    Two other topics brought to the yearly meeting in recent years and again this year address immigration issues and the events surrounding the Postville, Iowa Agriprocessors raid. This year in particular, the Peace and Social Concerns Committee crafted a minute, which the yearly meeting approved, encouraging each Friend and monthly meeting of the yearly meeting to come under the weight of the concern for how the U.S. is addressing immigration. The minute, as I recall, directs Friends to become "well versed" in the issues and explore how to get involved locally, making the issue more personal.

    As someone who typically doesn't care for the activist element of many Friends' meetings, I am taken up by the hope and by the real-world practicality--grounded in Friends' testimonies, practice, and faith--that IYMC and its Peace and Social Concerns Committee lift up year after year. There is a humility among these Friends that I seldom experience in other monthly and yearly meetings, as they seek the way forward with complex and potentially overwhelming issues. That humility and keeping low appeals to me and speaks to me of the abiding Love that makes us all of one Family...

    Answering the Queries

    Every year, at least in the years I've attended, each monthly meeting sends answers to the Queries to the the assistant clerk, who then selects a representative response to each query to be presented during annual sessions. First the query is read aloud, followed by the selected response, with no mention made of the monthly meeting from where it comes.

    What was different for me this year as compared to other years was that for a number of months in 2009, the worship group I attend experimented with answering these queries "in the manner of Iowa Conservative Friends." As the queries and their responses were read, I fell into my own silent review of what some of our own comments were, as well as the overall deep worship and holy fellowship that we engaged in each month to consider that month's query. I found myself missing those opportunities of collective reflection, now that the worship group's ad hoc committee on affiliation has been laid down for a time.

    Answering queries as a body requires all of us to listen for and help articulate the True Response that exists wordlessly in the life of the worshiping body--which pragmatically means resisting the temptation to write "One Friend said this; another Friend said that; still another Friend added such-and-so..."

    Instead, when recording a response to a query, that response is to be representative of the extent to which Truth and Love prosper among us, as a gathered body, and relative to the topic of the query. When our replies authentically express our struggle as well as our success, and when those replies are shared with a larger body, such as a yearly meeting, we are likely to work harder to live in Gospel Order, tap into God's Love, and reach out to the stranger in order to bring about God's kin(g)dom.

    A few miscellaneous closing thoughts

    During one of the business sessions, we heard a report from the Ministry & Counsel Committee of the yearly meeting. Part of the report included a reference to the concern that some meetings have about diminishing numbers of worshipers. The committee encouraged Friends to resist the usual worry that accompanies this decline and instead focus on the opportunity that is given: to work together to deepen and grow the Life that is within the remaining worship community, to continue to focus on the Presence of God's Love in their midst, and to continue to answer God's call as it is revealed to them.

    To me, such counsel speaks to tending to the quality of the practice, not to the quantity of the practitioners.

    Lastly, this year is the last that Friend Deborah Fisch is serving as presiding clerk of the yearly meeting. She has served as clerk for more than ten years, and the clerk before her, Bill Deutsch, also served for (I believe) ten years.

    IYMC's practice has been to have a committee discern, together with the clerk, whether that Friend is to continue serving as clerk the following year. So it goes, year after year, allowing the Spirit to guide Friends as to which gifts are needed by the yearly meeting at what point and from whom.

    While it may well be true that my Conservative leanings as a Friend have been impacted directly by my personal friendship with Deborah over the years--I believe we met in 2000 when I began serving on the Central Committee of Friends General Conference, where she works; and she has provided me with loving eldership over the years--I'll learn experimentally about the deeper nature of Conservative Quakerism in the midwestern U.S. as the incoming clerk presides over next year's annual sessions.

    I have put the dates in my calendar already: 26-31 Seventh Month 2011.