West Richmond Friends Meeting.
Friday, July 29, 2011
West Richmond Friends Meeting.
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
By Adam Webber
I recently spent five days in Tampa, staffing the exhibit for Earlham School of Religion at the General Synod of the United Church of Christ. The UCC's Synod is held once every two years, in different locations around the country, for learning, for business, and for worship. There were three thousand people in attendance. My little booth was one of nearly a hundred in the exhibit hall, including sixteen other educational institutions.
Few of the people who stopped to talk with me knew anything about ESR. A quick sampling of my interactions:
- A woman researching M.Div. programs for her husband. Her: "I can't picture my husband moving us to Indiana." Me: "It's not as bad as it sounds."
- "Can I have a pen? I have a friend who's a graduate."
- "Is that Quaker?"
- A long talk with a young man who seemed interested and took all the flyers.
- Several people asking about occasional courses -- not seeking another degree, but seeking interesting classes for continuing education.
- A long talk with a 60-something African-American guy, who told me about an enslaved ancestor who was taught to read by Quakers. I described modern Quaker diversity, and he had many questions.
- Several people looking for D.Min programs -- sorry.
- An Earlham College graduate, touching base.
- "Is that like Amish?"
- A UCC pastor who wondered if there were hard feelings at ESR against the UCC on account our faith ancestors' persecutions of Quakers. (He mentioned Mary Dyer specifically.)
- A guy who said he was too old for seminary -- I tried to convince him he wasn't.
- Good questions from a guy who's unsure of his calling. He wanted to take a few classes -- wanted Greek and Hebrew -- was intrigued about the Access program.
- "I'm a Quaker, and I've been planning on taking some online courses."
- A navy chaplain, with whom I had an interesting conversation about the peace witness and military chaplaincy.
- A Quaker who is a licensed minister in the UCC.
- A Hungarian leader from the Calvin Synod. I think they'd like to start their own seminary, and they're looking for ideas.
- A woman from Maine, who wanted to know more about the arts and music in ministry at ESR.
I'm not sure how many new students I attracted, but I am sure that I gave my little spiel about ESR at least a hundred times. Marie Eastman, a current ESR student, was there as a Synod volunteer, and I also found several indirect ESR connections. I spoke to people who knew several of our UCC-ordained recent graduates, including Hunter Thompson and Tyler Conoley.
I took a few breaks from manning the display to sit in on some of the business sessions. High parliamentary procedure is the process there, with voting by a thousand delegates apportioned democratically. It's quite a spectacle, like a political convention, except that the process pauses frequently for prayer. The UCC's polity is very congregational, so the resolutions of Synod are not binding on local congregations or on individual members. Synod speaks "to, not for" the congregations; congregations consider themselves bound in covenant to prayerfully consider the resolutions of the Synod, but not necessarily to agree with them or to obey them.
The Synod ratified a "Mutual Recognition of Baptism", an ecumenical agreement previously worked out between the Roman Catholic Church and the four major parts of the Reformed tradition in the United States (United Church of Christ, the Presbyterian Church USA, the Reformed Church of America, and the Christian Reformed Church). In other business, the Synod tabled a resolution relating to the Palestinian situation -- a resolution that would have called for actions including divestments and boycotts. It adopted a resolution calling for advocacy on behalf of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and another resolution supporting the right of LGBT people to adopt and raise children. It approved a resolution in support of "mindful and faithful eating", a resolution calling for the release of Puerto Rican political prisoners, and a strong resolution "To Counter Actions of Hostility Against Islam and the Muslim Community".
After some tense debate, the Synod also approved revisions to the UCC's constitution and bylaws. These revisions streamlined the governing boards of the denomination, establishing a "unified governance". (The prior mess of overlapping governing boards was an artifact of the UCC's history as a child of the mergers of a number of earlier denominations.) Incidentally, these revisions also removed some gendered language from the denomination's 1957 constitution: "believing in God as Father" is now "believing in the triune God", for example. Conservative religious news services pounced on this change, and Christian News Wire reported it under the headline, "United Church of Christ Set to Reject God the Father"!
The polity at Synod was rowdy and parliamentary, and the worship noisy and theatrical. It made quite a contrast with the Quaker ways I loved at ESR. Yet, as I told people over and over, I think ESR is a great place for UCC folks to study.
For one thing, the UCC slogan these days is "God is Still Speaking," including that trailing comma to indicate open-ended, continuing revelation. (That sounds familiar -- isn't that just the sort of idea that got people thrown into prison in George Fox's time?) UCC folks at ESR get a chance to learn from a tradition that not only expects continuing revelation, but also has a strong shared practice of listening for it.
Another point of contact is in our diversity. With the flexibility of its highly congregational polity, the UCC holds together a lot of diversity. (Even while the Synod was voting for a progressive set of resolutions, its "Biblical Witness" subgroup was in the exhibit hall asserting their dissenting opinions that A) God is the Father, and B) He isn't happy about homosexual behaviors.) Most of the people I spoke with were unaware that modern Quakerism encompasses a similar degree of diversity.
A third connection is our shared stance of respect for science -- a special area of interest for me because of my former career as a professor of computer science. At Synod I attended the dinner of the UCC's "Science and Technology" working group. There I heard a very interesting presentation on evolutionary psychology, bringing it into conversation with Christian ethics. It was a solid talk -- respectful, intelligent, humorous, and challenging -- a pleasant surprise these days, when so many discussions involving faith and science seem to degenerate into knee-jerk reenactments of the Scopes trial. I found myself wishing I could bring the speaker to a colloquium on faith and science at ESR. There are too few places these days where such conversations are welcome.
For these and many other reasons, I'm glad that ESR had a representative at the General Synod of the United Church of Christ, and I'm grateful that I got to be it. I'm an introvert, as some of you know well, and it should have been highly effortful for me to spend five days striking up conversations with strangers. As it turned out, I really enjoyed it. I'm sure I have some brothers and sisters in the UCC who would benefit from finding ESR, and it was fun to try my hand at helping them make that connection.
Adam Webber graduated with an MDiv from the ESR Access program in 2011. He is a founding member of the Open Prairie United Church of Christ in Princeton, Illinois, where he has served as organist, composer, preacher, teacher, retreat leader, and chocolatier. He blogs at adambrookswebber.com .
Friday, July 22, 2011
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Tuesday, July 19, 2011
by Micah Bales
This past week, I traveled to Wilmington, North Carolina as Friends gathered there for the sessions of North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative). It was a blessing to be with these Friends during their annual gathering. I would like briefly to give a sketch of what I observed while with them.
There are two North Carolina Yearly Meetings - one which is a part of Friends United Meeting and another which a part of the small Conservative branch of North American Quakerism. Each of these Yearly Meetings is the result of the division in 1902 of a previously unified North Carolina Yearly Meeting. Today, North Carolina Yearly Meeting (FUM) is a generally pastoral body - that is, most of their local congregations employ pastoral ministers and have adopted pre-planned sermons, vocal prayer and congregational singing as part of their worship services.
North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative) is "conservative" in the sense that it conserves the Friends tradition of extended waiting worship and has not adopted the practice of financially releasing pastors. Neither have Friends in this body adopted the pre-planned elements - congregational singing, sermons and set prayers - that are now common in the other North Carolina Yearly Meeting. If you were to attend any of their local congregations, you would encounter a worship service that consists of roughly an hour of silent waiting, occasionally punctuated by spontaneous sharing in words or in song.
While Friends here have much in common with the Liberal-unprogrammed tradition represented by Friends General Conference and Britain Yearly Meeting, they see themselves as forming part of a distinct branch of Quakerism. Together with Friends in Iowa and Ohio, North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative) seeks a middle path between the innovations of the pastoral/Evangelical and Liberal-unprogrammed branches.
Friends in NCYMc place their emphasis on waiting upon the direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Informed by their wrestling with Scripture, North Carolina Conservative Quakers seek to submit their lives to the personal, living guidance of the God of Abraham and Jesus. While there are clearly a wide variety of theological understandings within NCYMc as a whole, it seems fair to describe the Yearly Meeting as being fiercely God-centered and intent upon leading lives that are submitted to God's Holy Spirit as it is experienced in each individual's heart, as well as in their midst as a worshipping community.
I was blessed to be with Friends in North Carolina this past week. As a member of Ohio Yearly Meeting, I see these Friends as my spiritual kinfolk. We share a rich historical tradition, and I pray that we might grow closer together as we wrestle with our shared history and tradition as Conservative Friends.
For further reflections on my trip, check out these posts on my blog, The Lamb's War:
Micah 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, July 15, 2011
Weather relief: Although storms raged across the US and tornados and floods in the southeast this year, Friends enjoyed cool, beautiful weather during the SAYMA weekend. SAYMA’s daily activities included Meeting for Worship, Worship Sharing with specific Queries, choices of workshops ranging from Interplay (dance) to piano playing. Attendees also enjoyed plenary sessions on FWCC and Quaker Quest, a Talent Show and a Folk Dance. SAYMA Business Meetings were also held daily as well as excellent children’s programs.
ESR, Earlham and SAYMA: I met two or three folks who had graduated from Earlham and ESR and many were quite interested in hearing about the Access Program. Most Quakers are involved in social justice programs now, but a growing number of Quakers are interested in taking social justice into the workplace.
Blessings and Light,
Friday, July 8, 2011
|Our lunch in the villlage|
Tuesday, July 5, 2011
All of the travelers from ESR have returned safely home, without any major travel delays or mishaps! Many people have been praying for us and it is truly a blessing that we were able to go and return home. There is a good deal of processing to do and hopefully myself or others will be able to share further thoughts on this blog in the future. Micah Bales has already written a really thoughtful and heartfelt post about the trip from his perspective that I encourage you to read. For now, let me tell you a bit about what we did:
The majority of the group left on June 16th and flew to Kenya to go on a safari before the main part of our trip. I did not attend, but met them at the Mennonite Guesthouse on the 20th. One of the first things I noticed was the flowers, bright-colored and spilling out over everything. The guesthouse had a labyrinth with morning glories vining up in the middle. The beautiful flowers and other plants spilling over everything became a theme of our travels.
On June 21st, we went to St. Paul's University in Limuru, where Esther Mombo (a previous Willson Lecturer here at ESR) teaches. There is a Christian-Muslim Relations master's degree program there, and we meet with three professors in this field and some of the students as well. One student was from central Sudan. As we walked, he held up his cell phone: one of his nephews had been killed in the continuing violence there. "Tell people it's still going on", he said, "that many people are still dying there."
The reality of Nairobi hit me as we drove out of the city through a slum. I had read about the slums, the gangs, and the poverty, but seeing them there, with house made out of scraps of everything and anything, is much different. People had told me that you've never really seen material poverty until you've been to sub-Saharan Africa, and soon I knew what they meant in a very gut-wrenching way.
Wednesday the 22nd we flew to Kisumu and were met at the airport by Eden Grace, who works with FUM ministries. We drove up to Kaimosi Friends Hospital. It was fascinating to hear about how a rural Kenyan hospital works:
- The hospital became run-down in the 90s, but improvements are being made and the number of patients using the hospital is rising. The HIV care center in particular sees a huge number of people in a given week.
- The nearest hospital is at least a half-hour drive away, and most of the people in the area don't have cars. This area also has a particularly high infant-mortality rate, making the hospital uniquely suited to improve the health of people in the area. They have extensive immunization services.
- We spoke to the chaplain and some of the volunteers at the Comprehensive Care Center who work with HIV positive people. They do HIV testing, education, support groups, antiretroviral therapy, and testing for complicating illnesses (i.e. typhoid, malaria, or other illnesses that HIV positive people are more prone to get).
- We saw baby quilts and clothing, donated by American Friends, being sorted to give to new mothers!
- Just as we arrived, there was a baby born premature by c-section (due to maternal health complications). The electricity was out in the region, so the operating room lights had to be run by generator. The incubator, however, drew too much from the generator and the baby was taken to a larger hospital using the land rover donated to the hospital by FUM.
|Lonnie Valentine, speaking about Peace|
|Me, drinking fermented milk|
|(Don Spencer, plus children)|
On Saturday June 25th we all went to Friends Theological College, where we were greeted by women singing in the chapel as we arrived. We met with the faculty and some of the students for singing and worship, as well as heard from one of the faculty about the Friends testimonies in an African context. Kenya has, as mentioned above, recently had difficulty with tribal violence. It also has a long post-colonial history of corruption. Churches still struggle with the idea of women in leadership. Thus, the Quaker testimonies of Peace, Integrity, and Equality could speak a great deal to their lives in western Kenya both in spiritual and in positive, concrete ways. The use of AVP by FCPT after the 2007 elections is a strong example of this.
After eating lunch with our hosts, I went on a tour of the campus with an FTC student. He showed us the FTC farm, which provides both money and income for the institution. They have a greenhouse, a chicken coop, and have a nursery of plants they are raising to sell. As a higher education administrator in the US, I was struck by how different a mentality this is; in Kenya colleges must diversify, coming up with other revenue streams aside from tuition. It was explained to me that this is little different from the life of a pastor: work is part-time and pastor must develop "tent-making" skills that allow them to support themselves materially while allowing them to continue in their ministries.
Some happened at FTC that sticks in my mind clearly. During a break, a few of us walked up to FTC's bookstore to see what they had. There was a stack of baskets on one of the shelves, ranging from larger to tiny. I bought one and when I left the bookstore, one of the FTC faculty said to me, "Oh, I'm so glad you bought a basket!" "Oh?" I asked, thinking that this person's response was a little too enthusiastic for one little basket. "Yes! The widow who makes these brought some yesterday because she heard we were having visitors. Her cupboard is empty and she has no money to buy food."
Yikes. It was difficult to resist the urge to walk back into the bookstore and buy every single basket sitting there. Our tour guide told us that the price of cornmeal, a staple for Kenyans, has quadrupled in the last few years, stressing the food budget of many families. The Kenyans we met were so spiritually and communally rich. The material poverty there makes it tempting to scramble for what you can personally do to "fix" it. I had moments in Africa where I simply wanted to give away all my money, but ultimately I can't know best where money should go or how it should be used. There are also deep structural issues and impediments to development in many countries, issues which we should be asking ourselves deep spiritual questions about. (I think, however, that ESR folks bought most of the baskets, so our widow will have food for the foreseeable future!)
Sunday, June 26 I was not feeling well and unfortunately missed the morning sessions and part of the afternoon. Various ESR and FTC professors presented on Women in Ministry, Being a Mission-Sending Church, and Interfaith Dialog.
Well, I've written a lot and haven't even gotten to Rwanda! I'll finish this on Friday.
Valerie Hurwitz, Director of Recruitment and Admissions
|Stoney, a local ginger ale which was a particular favorite of some in our group!|