December 29, 2007

A portable faith community

Our beliefs and practices travel with us as we go on vacations and travel to both new and familiar places. But as I was growing up, I never once saw my parents look into attending Shabbat services while they were away.

Somehow, Quakerism has instilled in me an understanding that I can call on Quakers at any time, in any place--and not just for worship but for pastoral care and support as well. And so that is why I called on Summit-Chatham Meeting when my sweetie developed significant pain while we have been traveling. We've camped out at my folks' place for a while, and when I realized that I needed care and attention, it was easy for me to look up the local Quakers, make a call, and explain what was going on.

Within four hours, I met with two women who simply sat with me, worshipped with me, and heard me out.

Given the situation--and yes, I'm intentionally being vague in order to respect certain privacies--it's likely I'll see or talk with these Friends again soon.

Or at the very least, perhaps Way will open for me to worship with Summit-Chatham Meeting tomorrow.


P.S. Prayers are welcome. It's been a long haul...

December 18, 2007

You can't stop Christmas (or elders) from coming

Every Who down in Whoville
The tall and the small
Was singing without any presents at all!
He hadn't stopped Christmas from coming.
It came!
Somehow or other it came just the same.

And the Grinch with his Grinch feet, ice-cold in the snow,
Stood puzzling and puzzling:
"How could it be so?
It came without ribbons!
It came without tags!
It came without packages, boxes, or bags!"

--from How the Grinch Stole Christmas
I had a rather obvious-in-hindsight thought the other day, while talking with a Friend about my experience at a recent Quaker event.

Despite the fact that many meetings have stopped using the practice to name, record, or otherwise formally acknowledge Friends who have gifts of ministry and eldership, these gifts still exist among us.

The Spirit moves within our meetings, speaks to our condition, and calls forth from us those gifts that the body of the meeting needs. Such gifts might be to provide a nurturing presence to young children; to maintain accurate financial records; to be available to coordinate visits to Friends who are ill; or to have the temperament and time to work in the kitchen during a busy potluck.

None of these gifts get the flack or attention that gifts of ministry and eldership seem to get from meetings. Then again, many of these other gifts seem to go unacknowledged or are taken for granted, which could be seen as a different sort of flack--the flack of unintended neglect.

Yet the gifts of ministry and eldership, like the gifts of caring for our children and coordinating potlucks, still exist within our meetings--even if we as a body never name them or acknowledge them; even if there is no meeting of ministers and elders to be convened or if a meeting doesn't craft a letter of introduction for a Friend who travels beyond the meeting in service to the Spirit.

A number of Liberal Friends meetings and others have done away with recording of elders, ministers, and overseers. Yet Friends with vocal gifts, gifts of counsel, and gifts of expressing care for one another, coupled with the yearning to be obedient to how the God calls us, will strive to be faithful to the leadings of the Spirit, not to how meetings do or don't affirm one another.

And yes, all gifts are equal in terms of importance to bringing about the Kin(g)dom of God, but all gifts are not identical. So it is that each gift requires a different sort of support, a different sort of care and accountability, in order to ensure that the gifts are being put to right use.

Even without formal acknowledgment, the support of care-and-accountability committees*, or informal appreciation, all the gifts of First Day School teachers, pastoral caregivers, childcare providers, treasurers, elders, ministers, and cooks will still come into service to the meeting community and to the Living God:
We will come without ribbons
We will come without tags
We will come without packages, boxes or bags!

*FGC calls these committees anchor committees.

December 5, 2007

Guest piece:
What might an early Friend have said...?

Friend and fellow blogger Marshall Massey sent me a lengthy email in response to my earlier post about a set of queries that were shared at the November 2007 FGC consultation. His replies, offered from the perspective of "an eighteenth-century Quaker minister," struck a chord with me.

Even though I have shared with him my own take on the role of a human community within a Quaker meeting as that role relates to these questions, I find Marshall's words--and those of a hypothetical early Quaker minister--valuable enough that I don't wish to have them buried within a comment or isolated in an email.

Through no fault of his own, Marshall's "relationship" to Blogger seems to have changed, in that Blogger doesn't seem to allow him to participate as he once had. With his permission, then, I am posting his comments in this guest piece. --Liz

Most of the questions on the list you posted seem to me to be grounded in an idea that gospel ministry is something I decide to do in my own way, according to my own program and agenda.

This is different from the traditional Quaker understanding. Traditionally, Friends have regarded gospel ministry as being what happens when the Holy Spirit decides to use someone according to Its plans, not his.

I can imagine a dialogue between the author of the questions you posted, and an eighteenth-century Quaker minister:

AUTHOR: How do we let our Light shine without our fire consuming those we are trying to warm?
EARLY MINISTER: If thee is doing the letting and the trying, thee is not acting in the gospel ministry! Gospel ministry does not begin until thee is able to honestly say to God: God, use me as thou pleasest, I do not resist thee longer.
AUTHOR: Who elders the ministers? Who elders the elders?
EARLY MINISTER: Why does thee think that the eldering has to be done by humans? It is Christ our Lord who does all the eldering, anyway; the humans who seem to thee to do it are just his instruments. Hast thee not felt Christ in thy heart and conscience, reproving thee for the wrongs thee hast done, the ways in which thee has crucified him afresh? We choose our ministers and elders in accordance with the signs we are given that they are listening very carefully to Christ and actually hearing him; and when we, or they, see that they are no longer hearing him daily, they step down from their positions, or are asked to step down. This is of course not a complete guarantee that things will never go wrong — does not the Psalmist say, put not thy trust in men? — but if thee cannot ground thy trust in Christ, what can thee ground thy trust in?
AUTHOR: How do we discern the ministry we are called to? How do we discern if we are still called? How do we discern if we are called to travel in the ministry... or if we are to stay in our meeting?
EARLY MINISTER: When thee experiences the sense of being drawn or led to minister at a particular place and time (we Friends do not speak of "callings to the ministry", since callings are understood to be for one's whole life, and we do not believe that this is the way the Holy Spirit operates) — that sense of being drawn or led, is itself the discernment. Why should there be anything more?
AUTHOR: If we are called to travel, how do we discern a companion?
EARLY MINISTER: If God wants thee to have a companion, God will raise up a companion for thee. The companion will know she is called to be thy companion because she will feel the leading in her heart and conscience, just as thee feels thy leading in thine own.

Just speaking personally, Liz, it seems to me that the answers to all these questions become fairly obvious, once we understand that it is God who is in charge and not ourselves!

All the best,