Friday, December 28, 2012

The Need for Eldering

Last week I wrote about where I see hope among Quakers today. Let me be clear that was only a partial list of the good news and I was primarily focusing on YAFs because I have read and heard YAFs talk about their negative experiences of not being supportive. With the post I did not want to diminish these concerns, but I do not think that is the only storyline out there about the current state of YAFs. But that is the only storyline I see being repeated over and over.

With that being said, I do have a concern about the current state of Quakerism: Our lack of effective eldering (that is, eldering that is spiritual-led and not personal attacks).

We need eldering again. We need people to be elders. We need people who are willing to be eldered.

We need Quaker meetings/churches to be a guide for ministers and a nurturing place for them, but also a place for people in ministry to be challenged and held accountable. I do not see this happening a lot and I, for one, have ran away from eldering on several occasions.

I have held this concern for a while, but I have not written about it yet because I do not have any concrete ideas on how to get to that point. But I feel like I needed to write this post anyways.

Overall, I do not think ministry happens just because of one person or a small group. I do not believe if the one person or group does not act or is not adequately supported, that ministry will disappear forever into the abyss. I know this because I have seen this happen a couple times where people independently feel led towards a particular ministry. Sometimes they join together and work towards this common vision. Sometimes only one or two goes forward with the ministry while others find other callings.

I want to share a personal story about not following a leading. After the last YouthQuake in 2004 (a triennial event that bought together teens and younger young adults from all kinds of Quakerism), I was pumped to have an event for Young Adult Friends across the divide and hold it during the summer at Earlham College. I even gathered together some traveling Quakers in a room to talk about this idea and to gather their opinions about this kind of event. I had found someone else to join me in this work. But it never got off the ground.

But this event still happened about four years later in May 2008 and the people who ultimately organized the conference were not in that room when I shared my idea. I did not feel called or I was not ready to take on the leading, but that energy was not lost because I did not stand up to follow. I am glad others did. It was a great conference. In the future, I hope I can stand up and follow a leading that others had, but, for some reason, they couldn't follow through.

God works in mysterious ways and being in ministry is about being faithful to God and to your own self. But also ministry is also about the community and is larger than one person or a handful of people. I am wary of ministries being focused on the glorification of an individual or a small group. Ministries are a way to live out God's Kingdom here and to show people to see what is possible through God.

This lead me to offer some queries rather than solutions:
How can ministers ground themselves into monthly meetings/churches?
How can monthly meetings/churches hold ministers accountable and ask difficult questions?
How can ministers hear these difficult questions and not feel personally attacked?

I have more questions than answers on this subject, but I am clear that Quakers need eldering again.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Bringing the Good News about the Current State of Quakerism

This summer, I preached three times at the church where I was interning. Part of sermon writing is to bring the good news at the end of the sermon that let people know that Christ loves them and to point out the good in our world that sometimes look like anything but good.

Over the past few months, I have read blog posts about how Quakerism is dying, no one is supporting Young Adult Friends' ministry, etc... I think these points do have a point, but I don't see it as that as the only point. I have seen several instances of Young Adult Friends being supported by the wider community and I believe that we are growing.

Here is some of the good news:

  • New York YM Young Adult Friends Field Secretary Gabi just wrote a post about her travels among Young Adults Friends in New York and New Jersey in the past six months. She has been busy attending to the needs of Young Adults there.
  • Christina has been carrying a leading since 2002 about a Quaker yearlong service program. She followed the leading and others joined her along the way. She was supportive by Friends all over and by her home meeting.  In August her leading came into reality when seven Young Adult Friends arrived in Atlanta to begin a yearlong internship with Quaker Voluntary Service. The leading is still growing. Houses will open in Philadelphia and Portland, Oregon next August too. And it will not stop there... People are energized about bringing this explicitly Quaker program to their community and our dream (Currently I serve on the board) is to keep growing a network of houses. 
  • In Portland, two Evangelical Friends churches and an unprogrammed meeting have joined together to support the new QVS house there. That is amazing and exciting to see the branches working together!
  • Another Young Adult Friend, Ana, followed a leading to create a Quaker summer camp in the Intermountain Yearly Meeting region. She worked for several summers at different Quaker summer camps and visited others. She and her partner, Ariel, have shared their vision with Friends across the Southwest. The camp, Mountain Friends Camp, has been going three years now and it keeps growing each summer. 
  • An unprogrammed Young Adult Friend, Zachary, was led into Navy chaplaincy. He is currently serving in the Navy under the care of an Evangelical Friends church, who have taken him in and supported him in his ministry. Next month he will speak at a Convergent Friends gathering in the Northwest, A Nursery of Truth. I wish I could go. Hopefully others can go!
  • Friends General Conference just started the New Meetings Project. The coordinator, Brent, has found that more than 70 Friends worship groups/meetings/church have started in the last ten years. That translates to one new group starting roughly every seven weeks. I have been to several of these new groups and they have a great sense of community.
  • I am a big proponent of online outreach, but two of these new meetings, West Philadelphia Worship Group and Silver River Meeting, do not have an online presence. They grow because of the community they have created. They see each other throughout the week in between meetings for worship and are deeply connected to each other lives. How can we grow to know each other outside of worship? 

Lastly, God loves us for the imperfect human beings we are.

These are just a few examples I know of and why I have not lost all hope in my faith community.

Yes, there is a lot to be sad about with Friends today, but I don't see it as just doom and gloom. I am having conversations with Friends all over about a whole range of topics and I am excited. Yes we have a lot of divisions, but amazing conversations and projects are starting!

Where do you see hope in the world of Friends today?