Thursday, June 30, 2011

Greetings from Illinois Yearly Meeting by Paul Buckley

In a number of ways, Illinois Yearly Meeting is a throwback to a much earlier era in Friends’ history. Business meetings are held in an 136-year-old meetinghouse without air conditioning, just as they have been since the first sessions in 1875. Following a practice that goes back to the seventeenth century, the yearly meeting’s ministers and elders (now called the Ministry & Advancement Committee) met on the day before the annual sessions commenced. Many of those in attendance camped on the meetinghouse grounds, while others shared rough summer-cabins (i.e., naturally ventilated by the chinks in the walls and with no running water) that were built out of materials salvaged when an old dormitory was torn down.
For the last decade, the historic meetinghouse and its grounds have taken up a large portion of the business sessions. It started with termites in the meetinghouse and a concern for the safety of the dormitory, moved on to a grand plan for a new kitchen, dining hall, and dormitories, and finally to the unexpected purchase of six adjacent acres, complete with a farm house, barn, and assorted out-buildings. Fundraising for this last endeavor was accomplished in the space a few days!
Half a dozen ad hoc and standing committees have been involved in all this work, and it wouldn’t be surprising if a certain degree of property-weariness had set in. But if anything, the steady improvements to the site have energized the meeting – both in its annual sessions and in-between – and to support the work, contributions have more than tripled since 2000.
But not all energy is tied up in bricks-and-mortar. This year, the Ministry & Advancement Committee presented a vision statement for service to the monthly meetings and their members. A centerpiece of this plan is two annual series of events, called days of spiritual sustenance, that are aimed at providing spiritual nourishment to those who, in an earlier time, would have been recognized as ministers, elders, and overseers – especially, those in smaller and more geographically isolated meetings.
While the yearly meeting encompassed much of the theological range found elsewhere among Friends, it seems to have held these in creative tension, rather than points of contention and discord. This isn’t mere tolerance of each other’s divergent views – they seem genuinely to respect the diversity and enjoy their times of worship, business, and more informal discussion together.
William Penn wrote more than 300 years ago, “They meet together – they help and support one another. It is common to hear someone say, ‘Look how the Quakers love and care for one another.’ If it is the mark of primitive Christianity to love one another and know intimate religious communion, to meet frequently to worship God and care for one another, then – bless the Lord! – they have it in abundance.”
You could say it today at Illinois Yearly Meeting.

 Paul Buckley is well-known among Friends for his many articles on the history, faith, and practice of the Religious Society of Friends and for his books, The Quaker Bible Reader, Twenty-First Century Penn, Owning the Lord’s Prayer, The Journal of Elias Hicks and most recently, Dear Friend: Letters and Essays of Elias Hicks. He also gives short courses, workshops, and retreats for groups across the Quaker spectrum and occasionally teaches at the Earlham School of Religion.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Greetings from IMYM by Rob Pierson

Greetings from IMYM!  IMYM held its 37th Annual Gathering in early June at Ghost Ranch, New Mexico. If you know Georgia O'Keeffe's paintings, you'd recognize Ghost Ranch as her old haunt, with its mesas of ochre, vermilion, yellow and gray rising above the valley cottonwoods.  This year smoke sometimes obscured the inspiring vistas – a reminder of raging wildfires to the West, threatening our clerk’s home in the wilderness near the New Mexico / Arizona border.

The Big Country: This year, 333 Quakers camped among sagebrush, bunked on the mesa and ate ribs and barbecued tempeh in the ranch dining hall. There were slightly under 100 Young Friends (up through high school) and over 100 OAFs (Older Adult Friends - a term of endearment chosen by the 60+ year old crowd). I'm in the residual third, neither YAF nor OAF, and this year, aside from representing Earlham & ESR, presenting one seminar on pilgrimage, and being nominated as representative to FWCC, I got to sit back and enjoy the gathering!

Our region spans the vast area from Wyoming south to El Paso and from Colorado and New Mexico west through Arizona and Utah. (That's an area 12 times the size of Indiana!) Many of the Meetings and small worship groups are separated by hundreds of miles.  So it is a great joy to gather and worship together. In fact, each afternoon during Early Days offered three hour extended worship sessions. It was also nice to sit over lunch talking with Friends from northern Mexico and Mexico City.

To Diversity & Beyond: One of my favorite activities at IMYM, worship sharing groups, comes in a variety of flavors: traditional, bible-based, intergenerational and Spanish. Although there's inherent diversity within the gathering, we are increasingly aware of issues of privilege based in our predominantly white middle-class roots. The keynote speaker, Niyonu Spann [link: ], a musician, former dean of Pendle Hill and creator of the Beyond Diversity workshops, led singing and spoke on "Confronting Racism."  She called us to connect, tell truth, let go of fears that block the Light and do the "heart work" needed to transform systems of discrimination at the individual, organizational, and societal levels.  

Immigration and Border Issues: Meetings within our region have decried the militarization of the U.S./Mexican border and the treatment of both legal and illegal aliens within this country.What are we led to do? For many here, immigration is the "Civil Rights of our time" driving them to take a stand and face prison time if necessary - for example by illegally placing water tanks out in the desert to reduce the number of dead from the border crossing. One Friend has recently published a book on the experience of four bright young women in a Denver high school whose fates are intertwined with their differing immigration status.

Yearly and Monthly: Many Friends were gladdened by the focus on immigration.  Others were alarmed by the lack of attention to the ongoing wars. The clerk reminded us that yearly meeting cannot offer simplicity. It is our responsibility to maintain simplicity and seek clarity among all the activities. A new Stewardship Proposal re-emphasizes that we find authority and responsibility for service arising at the Monthly Meeting level, with our Yearly Meeting remaining, deliberately, a small volunteer body with no paid staff, minimal budget, and little central authority.

However, I was glad to see, after almost forty years of remaining independent, that IMYM's recent association with FGC had borne fruit through the visits of traveling ministers who worked with us on issues of finances and service through ministry & oversight. Also, although a few Meetings in our region lament a lack of vigor, I was heartened to hear that some of our Meetings are struggling with issues of growth and expansion.

Quaker Art & Rampant Frivolity: Given my own ministry in writing and photography, I was happy to find a renewed emphasis on the arts within IMYM. A move is afoot to associate with the Fellowship of Quakers in the Arts (FQA).  There was a week-long track for Quakers expressing their gifts in music and dance, sculpting and painting. No longer a "frivolity," the arts are seen as another way of publishing Truth.

No account of the week at IMYM would be complete without mentioning the ultimate frivolity, the "Intergenerational Exchange of Colors." Picture four or five dozen Friends from tot to elder, all dressed in white (at least to start), some sporting goggles to protect the eyes, and clutching bottles of sprayable dye in vibrant blue, green, pink, yellow and red. What would George and Georgia say? (Fox & O'Keeffe, that is)

The ESR Connection: There are quite a few Earlham graduates scattered throughout IMYM, though only a very few ESR grads (for example Peter Anderson. As I try to represent ESR here, I find myself trying to explain again and again why anyone (myself included) would be crazy enough to go to a Quaker seminary in Indiana!

But I was pleased to find unexpected help from another ESR grad on the
Ghost Ranch staff. Susan Rench (ESR, late 1980s) works at Casa Del Sol (Philip Newell's retreat center) at Ghost Ranch, and she sends a shout-out inviting all of you to look into the programs at Casa Del Sol and come out to Ghost Ranch for a retreat!

With love & light from Rob, George F. & Georgia O.,
Rob Pierson

Rob Pierson is in the ESR Access M.Div. program with particular interest
in the relation of science and faith, Quaker readings of the Bible, and
the nature of pilgrimage as a practice of sacred time and sacred place. He
is a systems engineer and clerk of Oversight & Counsel at Albuquerque
Monthly Meeting.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Traveling Among Friends by Mac Lemann

            Traveling to my yearly meeting for the first time in 2009 set me on an unexpected path. Growing up in New Orleans, the eastern-most meeting in South Central YM, I had never attended yearly meeting before. Having recently graduated from ESR, I supposed it was time. When I arrived in Bruceville, TX I was greeted by a newly forming group of Adult Young Friends. Talking with them I realized that we had  a common question: What does it mean to be a Quaker today? It seemed that young people in our Religious Society were disappointed with their understanding of Quakerism and were hungering to learn more about the roots of their faith and its practice. I returned home and asked the question in my monthly meeting. They replied; “if you figure it out, let us know.”

I resolved to travel to Pendle Hill. I expected to stay for only one term, but after that term was over I knew that there was still more for me. Living at Pendle Hill gave me a terrific opportunity to meet with Friends from across the country, and indeed the world. Listening to them over meals and in worship I realized that many Quakers were asking the same question: what does it mean to be a Quaker today? I began to tell a story to the Friends that I met. I told them that in the 20th century many people came into Quakerism because of the Religious Society’s stance on equality and peace. It was a very violent century and so it makes sense that the testimony of pacifism was held up above the other testimonies. Many people I met agreed with me.

I also the chance to travel to Guilford College that year as well as Ben Lomond Quaker center for small gatherings focused around “Convergent Friends,” an emerging group within Quakerism that I believed might be addressing the question that seemed to be burning among us. The power of these experiences was not in the answers that arose but in the opportunity to connect with other Quakers in worship, joining together to seek communion and Truth. I came to believe that when we travel to Quaker events we need to have less time in workshops and more time in worship, that our spiritual practice must be the ground of our life as Friends.

I was once in a very powerful worship with several young Friends and Deborah Shaw. None of us felt able to break the silence and close the meeting. Finally, Deborah said, “we separate in body Friends, but not in Spirit,” and we were released. Being in a place like Pendle Hill with many traveling Quakers, and traveling myself across the United States, I and realized that though we are not physically present with one another we are bound together in God when we practice. We can sense the common Truth of our experience as we seek the answer to the perpetual question of what we are, and how we are, as Friends today. Many revelations came to me during that year and continue to follow me since returning home to New Orleans. When I travel to South Central Yearly meeting, to Kansas last Fall, to ESR for the Leadership Conferences, being in worship and meeting with Friends brings a continual unfolding of my sense of where Friends are and what we could be. 

Mac Lemann, ESR '07, is the clerk of the Friends Meeting of New Orleans, Board Chair of the New Orleans Food Cooperative, and is renovating property damaged by the failure of the flood-walls after hurricane Katrina.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Travel Interlude

Dear f/Friends,

From June 16 to July 3rd, the majority of the ESR faculty will be traveling to Kenya and Rwanda.  (I am leaving tomorrow on the 18th.)  Please pray for us, our safe travel, and for illuminating experiences for both us and the people we will be visiting.  We ask all of our Master of Divinity/Master of Ministry students to take cross-cultural trips that allow them to explore theology in a very different context.  We're taking a "dose of our own medicine" (actually, for this trip it's more vaccines . . . lots and lots of vaccines), expanding our own experience of Quakerism, and delving into new cultural contexts!

As you might have noticed, our blog posting has slowed down somewhat as the semester has ended here and this trip will continue that trend.  You'll hear from some of our alumni and current students on Yearly Meeting annual sessions while we're gone.  When we return we will be sure to share our thoughts and impressions from this trip.

Valerie Hurwitz

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Not the Best, Just Faithful, by Faith Kelley


As I read through the Old Testament, God calls individual after individual to be part of his plan for humanity and almost every person has a similar reaction, “Sorry, God, not me.  You’ve got the wrong guy.”  Moses is probably the most famous example of this with his claim that his speech impediment disqualified him from God’s service, but there are other examples.  Gideon was so unsure of himself that he made God jump through hoops involving wool and dew.  Jonah said no by running in the opposite direction and then pouting.  Leadership is avoided. 
Sometimes, we seem to have a very different attitude towards leadership.  Leadership is something to be grasped and striven for, even in the church.  Often we don’t wait for God to call us, but hurry ahead mumbling “Well, someone has to do it.”  We set up meritocracies in our meetings similar in attitude to secular businesses and non-profits.  People must earn leadership and gain skills, rather than be called and gifted by God.  I’ll blame at least part of this on secular society’s expectations and values infiltrating the church, but a good part of it might just be unredeemed human nature.  I don’t think running from God’s call is a good practice (as it doesn’t seem to work and may get you swallowed by a big fish), but trying to earn a particular place of leadership in God’s denies God’s grace and wisdom just as much as Moses’s shrinking from the burning bush’s instructions.
            For many years I didn’t realize that God’s kingdom works differently than the systems of power of this world.  Or even if I knew it intellectually, I didn’t live it.  Throughout most of my schooling I was “Super Faith,” with extra-circulars, honors and all A’s.  I was very involved in youth group and service work.  I was busy all the time.   I enjoyed the challenge to do my best, but a big motivation was a desire earn others approval and love.  I longed to be recognized and put in leadership positions at school and in my meeting.  When I wasn’t a small voice in the back of my head would start to say, “They don’t like you.  You’re not good enough.  You must have failed.”  All my self-worth was tied up in being the best and being in charge.
I probably could have gone on like this for most of my life- striving for the recognition of others and only feeling loved when I was given leadership and honors.  I grew up in a Quaker home, had excellent models of faithfulness at my church and was taught about God’s great grace and mercy for each of us.  I had gone to the altar and confessed my sins and asked Jesus into my heart.  I know he was working there and I felt his living presence, but still had this compulsion to earn my salvation by leading and doing.  I, and most of those around me, seemed to all be part of the pull yourself up by your own bootstraps school of spirituality. 
Thankfully, after I graduated from college every single graduate program I applied to rejected me.  I had no backup plan; no idea of who I was if I was not the perfect student any more.  This crisis gave God an opening to begin the process of slowly stripping away what society had taught me leadership meant and where my self-worth came from.    A larger part of this work took place in the context being hired as an intern at the William Penn House, a Quaker hostel and seminar center in Washington, DC.  My coworkers there encouraged me to ask the question what was God calling me to and then to begin that work.  For the first time I began to realize that God was not calling me to be in charge of everything or to be the best at everything.  Tied up in this was the radical revelation that God’s love for me was not contingent on me “successful.” 
About a year into my internship I was part of a retreat in which someone asked me what gave me life, what filled my heart with meaning and purpose.  In a moment of divine clarity I was able to name was God was calling me to more clearly and concisely than I ever had before.  I answered that I have a burning passion for creating space for transformation to happen in other people’s lives.  Since then the question has always been does this job/event/committee/role fit with God’s call in my life.  The focus is no longer on doing and being a leader in everything.  Rather, I keep my eyes solely on God and the way he is moving me.  Being surrounded by others on a similar journey has been particularly helpful.  As a Quaker institution that strives to live what it professes to believe, the William Penn House has allowed me to explore how my call fits WPH’s mission and incorporate the organization’s call with mine where they overlap.  I still can be taken over by the desire to be the best so as to be recognized, but the basis of my identity is slowly being remade into something more Christ-like.  On my best days I no longer want to be the best, I just want to be faithful.

Faith Kelley is the hospitality coordinator at the William Penn House in Washington, DC.  She grew up in Evangelical Friends Church-Eastern Region and is now a member of Rockingham Monthly Meeting, a part of Ohio Yearly Meeting.  Together with her husband, Micah Bales, she has started Capitol Hill Friends, a Christian Quaker worship group in DC.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Young Adult Friends Gathering Video Series - Service Days

By Micah Bales

This video is the tenth in a series put together from footage and interviews taken during the 2010 Young Adult Friends Gathering in Wichita, Kansas. This gathering took place over the 2010 Memorial Day Weekend and was perhaps the most diverse and balanced YAF gathering in generations. Roughly equal numbers of Liberal-Unprogrammed, Pastoral and Evangelical Friends were in attendance, along with a small number of Conservative Friends.

This video features the service portion of the gathering, which took place after the weekend event. We spent our days doing landscaping for Mennonite Housing in Wichita. Our nights were spent playing games and getting to know each other better. While only about a dozen of us were able to stay for the service days, it was a blessed time that had its own special flavor.

Micah BalesMicah Bales serves as Coordinator of Young Adult Engagement at ESR. He lives in Washington, DC with his wife, Faith Kelley. He is active with Capitol Hill Friends and is a member of Rockingham Friends Meeting, Ohio Yearly Meeting.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Native American Quakerism at Great Plains Yearly Meeting

By Micah Bales

Great Plains Yearly Meeting was founded as Nebraska Yearly Meeting in 1908, when it was set off (amicably separated from) Iowa Yearly Meeting. Nebraska Yearly Meeting was established as a member of the Warren Pratt, Jr in Hominy Meeting HouseFive Years Meeting (today Friends United Meeting). It was founded as a pastoral, Evangelical-leaning body of Friends on the great American prairie.

In 1957, twenty-one of Nebraska Yearly Meeting's twenty-seven local churches left NYM to form Rocky Mountain Yearly Meeting. Though officially RMYM was “set off” from Nebraska Yearly Meeting, this reorganization was essentially a schism. Rocky Mountain Yearly Meeting, with the vast majority of NYM's Monthly Meetings, would become a part of the emerging Evangelical Friends branch. Nebraska Yearly Meeting, with its six remaining churches, would remain loyal to FUM.

It is perhaps an indication of the character of the old Nebraska Yearly Meeting that one of the favorite hymns of Friends in Great Plains Yearly Meeting is "Trust and Obey." In many ways, Nebraska Yearly Meeting represented Warren Pratt, Jr Delivers Keynote at Great Plains Yearly Meetingthe "loyalist" faction of pastoral Friends in Nebraska and Kansas. The Yearly Meeting, renamed Great Plains Yearly Meeting in 2001, continues to embody this character.

Today, GPYM is a fellowship of five Monthly Meetings in Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma. Of the original Nebraska Yearly Meeting, only Central City (Nebraska) Monthly Meeting remains. There are two Meetings in Wichita, Kansas - one pastoral/Evangelical and another non-pastoral. The other two Meetings are Native American congregations in northern Oklahoma. With a total membership of around 600, GPYM is one of most diverse Yearly Meetings in the world. It represents cultures rural and urban, Anglo-American and Native American, theologically liberal and Evangelical.

This year, GPYM met in Hominy, Oklahoma, in the heart of the Osage Nation. We were reminded that a substantial portion of our Yearly Meeting is ethnically and culturally Native American, and we were invited to deepen our relationship with this part of our heritage as a Yearly Meeting. We played local games and learned Osage dances. WePawnee Woman Dances at Great Plains Yearly Meeting heard the stories of the Kiowa people and were blessed by a keynote address of a local Pawnee Baptist pastor, who is doing the work of sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ within the Native American context, rather than as something separate and foreign.

Great Plains Yearly Meeting this year gave me much to think about, especially with regards to how our Quaker Christian faith plays out in different cultural contexts. What makes us Friends? Must we adhere to the British cultural heritage of most North American Quakers, or can the gospel as understood by Friends be adapted authentically to non-British, non-Western contexts and cultures?

Thanks to the brothers and sisters at Hominy Friends Church, we are learning what it can look like for a Quaker Meeting to live fully into its non-Western cultural identity, while at the same time remaining true to the gospel of Jesus Christ's living presence and teaching power in our midst. This can onlyFriends at Great Plains YM serve to strengthen Great Plains Yearly Meeting as a member of the wider Body of Christ. I pray that this might also provide an example for Friends beyond GPYM.

How are Friends called to emerge from our cultural heritage as a mostly British-originated religious movement? How can we open a space for women and men of all cultures and nations to receive and embody the good news that Jesus Christ has come to teach his people himself? What of our theological insights and traditions are essential, and what ideas and practices can be faithfully jettisoned or adapted in order to meet the challenges of new cultural contexts? I pray we will be open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit in all that we do. I thank God for Friends in Great Plains Yearly Meeting, who provide us with a living example of how this important work is being carried out.

Micah BalesMicah Bales serves as Coordinator of Young Adult Engagement at ESR. He lives in Washington, DC with his wife, Faith Kelley. He is active with Capitol Hill Friends and is a member of Rockingham Friends Meeting, Ohio Yearly Meeting.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Young Adult Friends Gathering Video Series–The Epistle

By Micah Bales

This video is the ninth in a series put together from footage and interviews taken during the 2010 Young Adult Friends Gathering in Wichita, Kansas. This gathering took place over the 2010 Memorial Day Weekend and was perhaps the most diverse and balanced YAF gathering in generations. Roughly equal numbers of Liberal-Unprogrammed, Pastoral and Evangelical Friends were in attendance, along with a small number of Conservative Friends.

In this video, we hear from one of the members of the YAF 2010 Epistle Committee about the Spirit-led process of composing a statement for the gathered body of Young Adult Friends from across North America.

Make sure to check out the YAF 2010 Epistle, which is available on the Gathering’s the official website, where you can also find the advance materials that Friends were asked to use in their preparation for the conference.

Micah BalesMicah Bales serves as Coordinator of Young Adult Engagement at ESR. He lives in Washington, DC with his wife, Faith Kelley. He is active with Capitol Hill Friends and is a member of Rockingham Friends Meeting, Ohio Yearly Meeting.