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Excerpts on Vocal Ministry

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Excerpts from various YM disciplines on the subject of
Spirit-led Vocal Ministry

The EARLY disciplines of American YM's (those written before the 1827 schism) have a great deal in common in structure and language.  The issue of spirit-led ministry is addressed in sections specifically addressed to the meeting's ministers & elders, as these are considered the members with special responsibility for this area of meeting life.

Philadelphia YM:  "Ministers and elders watch over one another for good, to help those who are exercised in the ministry in the right line, discouraging forward spirits that run into words without life and power, advising against affectation in tones and gestures."

Each of these early American disciplines had special queries that were to be answered by the committee of ministers and elders, such as these:

Baltimore YM & New England YM:  "Are ministers, in the exercise of their gifts, careful to wait for divine ability and thereby preserved from being burthensome?"  ["Divine ability" is a term frequently used to refer to the specific calling from God to speak during meeting.]

New York YM [Do ministers & elders] "discourage forward persons whose communications do not proceed from the right authority?"  [Are the mtg's ministers] "careful to minister in the ability which truth gives?"

Later, perhaps in response to the concerns generated by the Hicksite-Orthodox split, the emphasis seems to shift from divine ability or leading to asking whether ministry is "sound in word and doctrine".

I particularly like this version from Virginia YM's 1814 discipline:  [Ministers and elders should exhort the meeting's ministers to] "earnestly seek the mind of the spirit of truth to open the mysteries thereof, that abiding in a simple and patient submission to the divine will, and keeping down to its opening of love and life in themselves, they may witness a gradual growth in their gifts, and be preserved from extending their declarations further than the power of truth shall be experienced to accompany them."

Here are three fine excerpts from MODERN DISCIPLINES

Pacific YM (1985) and North Pacific (1993) include the query: "Is the vocal ministry exercised under the divine leading of the Holy Spirit without pre-arrangement and in the simplicity and sincerity of truth?"

New York YM (1998) asks: "Are we careful that our ministry is under the leading of the Holy Spirit?"  Direction is also offered: "Friends are advised to observe our Christian testimony for a faithful ministry of the gospel under the influence of the Holy Spirit.  Members are reminded that all have a responsibility in ministry." This same query was strengthened in the 1986 revision of New England's discipline.

A very similar query was among the queries adopted jointly for use by the Hicksite and Orthodox YM's of Philadelphia in 1948 but was dropped from the 1997 revision. 

(Although I was unable to discern from those on the revision committee the reasons why it was dropped, my strong suspicion is that this was due to a deep-seated discomfort with "judging" the quality of others' spoken ministry within the meeting.  I attempted without success to urge Philadelphia YM, which I was a member of at the time, to reintroduce this important query to their discipline during a minor revision around the year 2001.  This is an interesting commentary on the difficulty many Friends today have, even those on ministry and worship committees, feeling the authority to actively nurture the quality of waiting worship and vocal ministry within their meeting.)

Britain YM does not appear to address the issue directly in its discipline.

Although Ohio YM still has committees of ministers & elders, its 1992 discipline no longer has specific queries for ministers & elders.  Ohio' general queries do not really address the quality of vocal ministry directly.  The following instruction is provided, however, in the section on Meeting for Worship:  "Though the nearness to God may result in spoken ministry or vocal prayer, the distinctive excellence of heavenly favor consists in the direct communication with the Heavenly Father by the inward revelation of the Spirit of Christ."  The same message is reinforced later:  "Vocal service in such a meeting, whether prayer or exhortation or teaching, should be uttered under the direct guidance of the Holy Spirit." 

Created for as a handout for a course entitled "Gospel Order Exploring Some Challenging Issues in Quaker Faith & Practice" offered at London Grove (PA) Meeting, Jan. 14-Mar.18, 2001.  For the full curriculum for this course see: Gospel Order Course

Four Pillars of Meeting for Business

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Four Pillars of Meeting for Business
by Debbie Humphries

In May 2007, the board of the School of the Spirit Ministries, on which I was serving, was in the process of discerning whether to add a new program. We had a very intense one-and-a-half-day meeting, which resulted in the decision to move forward with our new program, which has since become The Way of Ministry. At the end of a long Saturday, I headed to Philadelphia's 30th Street Station to catch a train home to Hartford. I knew I was to speak the next morning at the Unitarian Universalist Society of Greater Hartford, and they had asked me to give a presentation on Quaker business practice. Sitting in the station, I was inspired to write down four key components of Quaker corporate discernment, using examples from the School of the Spirit Ministries board discernment experience, which then formed the backbone of my presentation.

Over the next year I stayed with these four components, and I have continued to grow in my understanding of each of them. As I have sat with Friends in corporate discernment and visited meetings in New England, I have come to believe that we need to revisit the practice of corporate discernment. The form of our business practice is a rich process that builds community, changes hearts, and can unite us with the Spirit, despite differences of opinion. We need to refresh our understanding of our purpose and our practices, and seek to hold them more deeply, to bring ourselves more fully into alignment with God's purpose in our lives.

At the heart of Quakerism is George Fox's statement that there is "that of God in every one." Quakers repeat this phrase to try to describe the core that we share. Embedded in it is the belief that the good--that of God--can be raised up in each of us. As early Quaker theologian Robert Barclay described his experience of worship with Friends:

When I came into the silent assemblies of God's people, I felt a secret power amongst them which touched my heart; and as I gave way unto it, I found the evil weakening in me, and the good raised up and so I became thus knit and united unto them, hungering more and more after the increase of this power and life, whereby I might find myself perfectly redeemed. (Apology for the True Christian Divinity, Proposition 11, Concerning Worship, par. 7).

The potential of attending to that secret power, of listening in the silence, of giving way to that power and finding the evil weakening and the good raised up, is foundational to all branches of Quakerism.

The Quaker tradition challenges us to relate to others in ways that call forth and resonate with the good within them, however deeply it may be buried. Quakerism is an optimistic tradition, as we believe that hearts can change and the good can be raised up. The potential for growth in the Spirit is there for each of us. Our worship and our business practice, at their core, are about creating the conditions for hearts to change. By using these corporate practices we are also learning how to act toward others in ways that honor that of God in them.

As I have visited Quaker meetings, I have observed Friends faithfully following the form of Quaker business practices without necessarily understanding the importance and purpose of the forms. George Fox challenged the people around him to seek the power rather than the form. He condemned many as engaged in religious practices that were empty forms, where people followed their practices without understanding the deeper meaning and so had lost contact with that meaning. We are in danger today of living out what George Fox railed against. Accepting the responsibility to keep the Quaker tradition living and vibrant requires that we work to understand why we use the forms that we do, so that the practices are not empty but rich with life. Within the Quaker practice of corporate business there is a treasure that the world needs. It is a way of coming together as individuals with different experiences, needs, agendas, and perspectives and engaging with each other to strengthen relationships and make decisions that affect the community positively.

The pillars that I see undergirding the forms of Quaker business practice are:

·      that the meeting is rooted in worship;

·      that the meeting is clerked;

·      that there is enough time, a sense of spaciousness; and

·      that decisions are made by sense of the meeting.

Meeting for Business is Grounded in Worship

Every business meeting begins with a time of worship. At times the worship is perfunctory, but at its best, the opening worship is long enough to remind those present that we are listening deeply and seeking to hear the Spirit in the agenda items addressed.

The entire meeting for business is the corporate implementation of the skills developed in meeting for worship. Each time we sit together with others in corporate worship, we have the opportunity to further develop these skills. Some of them are at the individual level, where each of us needs to develop our inward ear, the ear of our heart. Building upon the individual skills are the corporate ones of listening together for something more than what we hear individually. Both the individual and corporate skills can be understood as queries:

Can I hear God/Spirit in my heart? Do I know what it feels like to hear God in my heart? When is my ego talking, and when is it other? When I listen, can I tell the difference between my own ego and Spirit?

Early in my journey into Quakerism, after having a powerful experience of being called to ministry, I called together a support committee of three seasoned Friends to sit with me to provide some guidance so I didn't run ahead of--or behind--my leading. Shortly after they came together, I was led to commit to monthly retreats for nine months. At that time, my children were three and five years old, so it was no small feat to make time to go away one weekend a month. The support and understanding of my husband, John, made it possible.

I met with the support committee right before my first retreat, and they asked what my focus was for that particular retreat. Tears came to my eyes as I told them I didn't know how to hear God except when I was moved to speak in meeting for worship. My hope for the personal retreats was to be able to come to know that voice--that Spirit: to recognize it when I felt it, and to be able to hear it when I stopped to listen. The retreats were at different locations--a Benedictine Abbey in Connecticut, a Quaker conference center in Massachusetts, a friend's home on Block Island in Rhode Island--but at each place I would look for a comfortable armchair beside a window and spent a lot of time sitting comfortably there. That silent time was where I became aware of the physical sensations that accompany my attending to the Light within.

The lesson of discerning when my ego is talking is one I have not learned easily, and I have to relearn this lesson time and again. But I remember one particular business session at New England Yearly Meeting where the lesson came home strongly. I knew the session was going to be long, although I couldn't have predicted how few people walked out even when we were over an hour and a half late in completing the business. During that evening session I groaned internally when someone repeated what another had already said, or when a speaker was going on at what I thought was excessive length, or when a speaker didn't appear to be listening to what others had said. I came to the realization early on that all of these internal criticisms were my own ego, and I committed right then to lifting those internal voices up, and then letting them go. I listened deeply that night, holding the business in my heart, feeling deep warmth in my belly, and knowing that we were exactly where we needed to be as a worshiping community. That experience helped me name the voice of my own ego.

The touchstone for discerning Spirit and ego in my own experience is the love that will fill any motion that starts with Spirit. And the love will be for all. So the voice that holds up honor and respect for each of us is more likely to be Spirit than a voice that diminishes the worth of another. Paul provides his own guidance for this same discernment when he says:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control." (Gal. 5:22)

When do I hear Spirit moving in the silence?

Quakerism is about listening in silence. Early Friends spoke about what happened in the silence and focused much less on the content of vocal ministry. It was in the silence that their hearts were broken open. As Robert Barclay describes it:

Yea, though there be not a word spoken, yet is the true spiritual worship performed, and the body of Christ edified; yea, it may, and hath often fallen out among us, that divers meetings have passed without one word; and yet our souls have been greatly edified and refreshed, and our hearts wonderfully overcome with the secret sense of God's power and Spirit, which without words hath been ministered from one vessel to another. (Apology for the True Christian Divinity, Proposition 11, Concerning Worship)

We need a vocabulary to describe the different textures of our corporate silence so we can better appreciate the experience. When we focus on the vocal ministry to evaluate the quality of our corporate worship we have looked to the fruits and missed the source. Attending to the quality of the corporate silence can disentangle the personal issues that arise in reacting to the vocal ministry of another. Sometimes our experience in the silence might be fragmented, distracted, or scattered, with our thoughts and focus jumping from one thing to another. Other times it might be a deep stillness where many of those present feel held to attention, perhaps like what happens in a yoga asana where the breath moves through us while the mind is quiet. Practice can help us come to that place of deep, focused attentiveness more readily.

We practice listening to the Spirit in meeting for worship. It is important to also practice listening individually, on a daily basis. A regular spiritual practice such as daily prayer time, a journal, walks in nature, or Scripture reading can help us tune the inward ear to God's presence. Meeting for worship is an opportunity to practice corporate listening, and the skill of listening to Spirit as individuals prepares us to move beyond ourselves into this corporate experience. We need to develop the skills of listening in the silence for the Spirit, to know when the silence is rich and deep, and to feel when the silence is scattered, disjointed, and not yet gathered. Then we will understand that the quality of Quaker worship is about much more than the messages.

When do I hear Spirit in the ministry of others? Can I hear the spirit of the messages of others, the Spirit that underlies the words?

The work of listening, the capacity to distinguish between when something is only "a good idea" and when it is the Spirit moving, is fundamental to the Quaker business practice. We work on that listening corporately every week in worship. This is not an easy listening, and it is an extension of the earlier exercise of being aware of our own ego. I have visited meetings where the Spirit was powerfully present in the ministry, even though messages felt to be longer than needed and there wasn't as much silence and worshipful space surrounding the messages as I would have liked. If I had stayed with my impatience over the length of the messages and the lack of silence, I would have missed the very real presence and movement of the Spirit.

One of the challenges in learning to listen deeply to the Spirit in worship and silence is that Quakers seldom intentionally create opportunities to check with others about what they heard in worship, and to receive feedback on our sense of when the Spirit is moving and when it is not. We need to create more opportunities to work on our worship skills--to talk about, practice, and then discuss the experience.

The skills of discernment and listening that we practice in meeting for worship are essential for the corporate business practice. Being grounded in worship is critical. If the worshipful environment changes or discussion becomes heated, the clerk may ask for silence to give those present the time to go back to worshipful space. Centering in the silence can help us be tender with the agendas of others, and be more aware of our own.

Meeting for Business is Clerked

Each meeting for business has an individual who has been named to clerk the meeting. The clerk's work includes visible and invisible tasks. The former include preparing the agenda, calling on people to speak, and suggesting a sense of the meeting for those present to respond to. The latter include the prayer and discernment that go into preparing the agenda, being in a grounded and centered place from which to attend to the motion of Spirit in the corporate body during the conduct of business, and hearing what is not said but is present in the room.

The visible tasks are not necessarily simple. In most meetings, the clerk is responsible for identifying agenda items and discerning the order in which to consider those items. The order of the agenda can be important: for instance, addressing difficult items--the ones where discussion might be tense--closer to the beginning of the meeting, when people are fresh and may be more focused.

The clerk is also responsible for recognizing individuals before they speak. This can be a very important practice of discernment, as Jan Hoffman demonstrated during her time clerking New England Yearly Meeting when she listened inwardly to discern who to call on next. This is an important tool that allows clerks to wait and feel the inward motion, reminding the body over and over of the importance of that posture of deep listening. Clerks of New England Yearly Meeting continue to use this practice, although some present may not understand.

A clerk can also make use of the process of recognizing someone to speak to call the group into waiting worship until the Spirit is ready.

In business meeting, speakers address their remarks to the clerk. This allows a little more space for Friends to not feel directly attacked by someone else's differing opinion, and to listen better to perspectives that differ from their own. This can help Friends disentangle their ego stake in an issue, listen to the guidance of the Spirit, and be open to letting go of their own position. At times when the business is focusing on questions of clarification or when the business before the group is easily agreed upon, the clerk's role may seem less critical, but even then these disciplines are important because the practice of being recognized by the clerk and speaking to the clerk needs to be second nature in times of tension and disagreement.

The invisible tasks of the clerk help to hold a worshipful space and remind those present of the importance of listening to the Spirit. Praying about the agenda, about which items to include, whether to hold an item over to another meeting, and how best to prepare the meeting for a particular business item can undergird the business meeting with an invisible sense of Spirit.

The first time I went to a meeting of New England Yearly Meeting's Ministry and Counsel, I was deeply moved by the clerking. Cornelia Parkes maintained a presence free of anxiety despite an overfull agenda. She had clearly prepared well; she knew the agenda items and people involved well enough to rearrange the agenda when needed, to attend to each business item gently and faithfully, and to keep us in a listening space as needed to move through the work people had gathered to complete.

One of the important practices of a clerk is being a non-anxious presence. This is a challenge for many of us. When a situation gets tense, we may become reactive rather than remaining deeply rooted in our own sense of Spirit. When disagreement or strong feelings are present, the greatest hope for change comes when someone is able to remain in a place of centered calm. But this does not mean disengaging from the process or from those present. Instead, it means being able to hold the tension of others without catching it or needing to release it. When we merely avoid tension, we limit our ability to face conflict and to enable transformation from the tension. In contrast, staying in a place of conflict in a respectful and centered way, knowing that we need inspiration to resolve the conflict, releases the full transformative potential of meeting for business and increases the likelihood that those present will be able to hear and respond to the motion of the Spirit.

Business Meeting Will Have Enough Time

Quakers make jokes about how long the business process can take, generally without realizing that what takes so long is for hearts to change. It is difficult for most of us to admit publicly that we are wrong, especially when we have spoken strongly about a topic. This can take a long time, particularly since we may not consciously realize that we're waiting for participants to set down their egoistic voices. Changing hearts is eased when we all can discern the source of the words that come to us and to others. Quaker business practice is about speaking our own Light on the subject, and then setting aside our own perspective to listen to the moving of the Spirit.

At its best, Quaker business practice carries a sense of spaciousness: the search for the right outcome will take as long as it needs to. There is enough space for people to bring and share their opinions, hesitations, and concerns; and because they will not be attacked for their perspectives, or challenged directly and personally, there is a potential for movement.

In the School of the Spirit Ministries board meeting, where the decision was made to move forward with the Way of Ministry Program, several board members expressed deep concerns about the additional financial burdens and oversight responsibilities for a new program. No one expressed a perspective that initiating a new program would be easy. We held the concerns about the board being too small, and we waited for the Spirit. When we found clarity, it was with a decision to move forward in faith, trusting that way would open and the necessary resources would be found.

I visited a meeting some years ago whose members were struggling with questions about their meeting space--whether they should seek another space, build an extension, or build a new meetinghouse. They were in the stage of gathering information and identifying and costing out the alternatives. The meeting was carefully following Quaker process, bringing the alternatives forward. However, the meeting was a young meeting--not in age, or even in experience with Quaker organizations, but in having limited experience diving fully into the Quaker tradition as a guide for individual spirituality. I was led to remind them that when the time came to make a decision, they needed to put their own opinion of the best option down so they could be open to how they might be led by the Spirit.

Business Meeting Decisions Will Be by Sense of the Meeting

One of the assumptions in Quaker business practice is that something more than the best wisdom of the group will be achieved--that those present are listening for something more than what each person thinks. Working toward a sense of the meeting is about listening for what Spirit would have us do in this instance. It is not a negotiated settlement or compromise, giving each person some of what they want. Rather, it is a moving toward, which does not require logical agreement.

Barry Morley's Pendle Hill Pamphlet, Beyond Consensus: Salvaging a Sense of the Meeting, is a wonderful description and invitation into the power of waiting and listening for a sense of the meeting.

At its best, Quaker business builds the worshiping community, strengthens relationships, and encourages each of us to grow. When our corporate decisions are faithful to this Spirit, they not only change the participants; they hold the seeds that change the world.

© 2009 Friends Journal.  This article first appeared in the September 2009 issue of the Journal.

YFNA Reunion Sexuality Queries

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Queries on Sexuality & Spirituality

These queries are offered by a group of Friends from different yearly meetings and of different ages, to encourage conversation among Friends.

Are you comfortable with your own sexuality as an individual?

Do you treat your physical body and your sexuality with respect, care and gratitude, remembering that they are a gift from God?

Do you recognize the physical, emotional, and spiritual damage that can result from sexual activity outside the bounds of a relationship that is loving, mutually faithful, respectful, and committed?

Are you mindful that sexual activity is most holy within the context of a lifelong relationship of growing love and intimacy?

Do you recognize when there are forces upon you pressuring you toward irresponsible or harmful sexual behavior?

When you consider entering into a sexual relationship, do you look for one that is permanent?

Do you consider the permanent effects, on you and others, of any sexual relationship?

Are you mindful of the physical safety of yourself and your partner when you enter into a sexual relationship? Do you educate yourself about family planning and safer sex?

Are you willing to speak to others when you think they may be engaging in destructive or exploitative behavior?

Are you physically, emotionally and financially prepared to nurture into adulthood any children conceived as a result of your sexual activity?

Do you tell the truth to those you are in relationship with and expect the truth from them?

Are you faithful in keeping the promises with which you began a committed relationship? Do you remain in a process of discernment with your partner about these promises?

Are you mindful of the power of forgiveness, which is a place of wholeness in God?

Are you mindful that, as George Fox said, "we marry none; it is the Lord's work."

Do you affirm and celebrate all marriages made in God? Do you refrain from any word or action that would endanger or undermine them?

Deborah Haines, recorder
June 28, 2007

Note: These queries were written following two sessions that took place during a YFNA (Young Friends of North America) Reunion held in Barnesville OH where a great deal of sharing and reflection was done on how sexual relationships were handled by many Young Adult Friends during the late 1960's and 1970's.

Queries on Sexuality

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Queries on Sexuality

based on Peter Blood-Patterson's paper
"In the Presence of God & These Our Friends"

These queries should be viewed as my own shot at brainstorming to encourage Friends and others to reflect on important issues around sexuality and our life in God. I invite your feedback, new queries, responses, and suggestions for improvement. Can you encourage your meeting or faith community to come up with its own (far better!) list? (The statements in italics following each group of queries are some of my own personal reflections on each issue: articulated as a provisional sense of what God "wants" or "hopes for" us in this area of sexuality. These are drawn from my essay on this subject entitled In the Presence of God and These Our Friends.)

#1 Hearing God's Voice as a Faith Community:

Do you believe there is a Heart in the Universe that has specific intentions & hopes for us as humans generally and as a faith community specifically?
Do you believe that God cares what we believe and practice about sexuality?
What are you doing as a meeting (church, synagogue, sangha, etc.) to try and discover together what God wants of us in these matters?
Is your search for unity on these matters carried out in the spirit of humility, tenderness, mutual respect as well as forthrightness and courage?

[God cares what we do with our bodies and minds sexually. God wants us to struggle with each other towards unity of vision as to what is right and wrong sexually.]

#2 Personal Guidance:

Do you believe in the kind of God who has specific hopes or intentions for what you do personally in your life?
Do you believe God has intentions for us around the decisions when and with whom we marry?
Does your meeting consider clearness for marriage a shared search for God's will regarding the couple's intention to marry?
Have you experienced God as providing guidance for you around specific sexual acts?
What spiritual disciplines do you practice to make it easier for you to hear and obey God's leadings in your life?
Have you been obedient to the promptings of the Spirit in your sexual practices?

[God also cares about the sexual decisions we make personally. God wants us to attempt to hear and heed the leadings of the Spirit as we attempt to be faithful in our personal sexual lives.]

#3 Embodiment:

How do you embrace your own bodiliness?
What are the ways in which you treat your body as a temple of the Spirit?
Do you experience your sexuality as healthy and holy? How do you embrace your sexuality as being "of God"?

[We are physical beings. Sexuality is an integral part of our spirituality. Sexual joy can be as holy as any other kind of joy. Physical expressions of love can draw us closer to God as well as to the person we are touching physically.]

#4 Sexual Acts as an Expression of Love:

How do you think God looks on casual sex? Can casual sex be holy? Does it honor the sacredness of your body? Of your partner's?
Are you responding to that of God in your partner every time you engage in sexual activity? (inside or outside of a marriage)

[God wants us to utilize the act of physical lovemaking as the outward expression of emotional and spiritual intimacy with the person we are touching physically.]

#5 Long-term Partnering:

Do we mean it when we take vows today to be a lovely and faithful partner "as long as we both shall live"?
How does your meeting nurture and support the sanctity of the marriages among its members or the marriages of those joined together under the care of the meeting?
What, in addition to sexual infidelity, threatens the long-term stability of marriages within the faith community?
What can the faith community do to educate its members about the spiritual riches of live-long, loving partnerings?
Does your meeting take action to support and protect marriages among its members that appear to be challenged?
Would the meeting expect a couple whose marriage is in trouble to seek clearness of the meeting prior to any decision to dissolve the meeting?
How relevant today do you feel Jesus' strong spiritual opposition to divorce is?
If your marriage is in danger, do you seek the guidance of others in your faith community to assist you in discerning God's will about your marriage before reaching any decision that might affect its stability?
What are you doing to strengthen and enrich your own marriage? The marriage of your friends? The marriage of your parents? The marriages of others in your faith community?

[Sexual intimacy has a special and unique role when it occurs in the context of a permanent life-long committed relationship. God wants us to support and nurture stability in long-term relationships as an important part of God's vision for humanity.]

#6 Honesty & Openness:

What does the Testimony on Integrity have to teach us about sexuality and lovemaking?
Is there ever room for deception in holy love?
Would you ever countenance or collaborate with deception tied to marital infidelity?
What are the boundary lines among discretion, privacy, and untruthfulness in the area of sexuality?
What does it mean when the psalmist writes in Psalm 139 about being searched and known by God, even in the deepest parts of our being? Is there any part of our sexual lives that we would be ashamed to bring before the Living Spirit? Before our precious partner in life?

[God desires that we be radically honest with others in our sexual practices and to be willing to allow others to know what we are practicing.]

#7 The Testimony on Simplicity:

What does the Testimony on Simplicity have to teach us about sexuality and lovemaking?
Does our sexual practice make us more or less open to hear God's voice? To follow God's leadings? To be used by God in Meeting for Worship or in the gospel community?
Does our sexuality bring us closer to God or move us farther away?
Does our sexuality open up your heart to the Heart of the Universe or close it off?

[We are called to practice sexuality in a manner that keeps our hearts as open as possible to God.]

#8 Equality within a Sexual Partnership:

What does the Testimony on Equality have to teach us about sexuality and lovemaking?
Does your touching another person respond to and give honor to that of God in the other?
What happens to the sacredness of lovemaking if you come to your beloved with more or less power than your partner brings?

[God intends for us to enter into sexual relationships as equals.]

#9 Equal Access to Sexuality:

What do you believe is God's hope for the person who is deeply attracted to the same gender?
Do you the perceive evidence of the fruits of the Spirit at work in life-long committed same gender partnerships that have been blessed by a faith community?
What is God's hope or intention (in terms of sexuality) for people with physical disabilities, older people, those with developmental disorders or others who are often denied full access to sexual activity?

[God wants to insure that whole groups of people are not excluded from being sexual because of prejudice or injustice.]

#10 Freedom from Violence & Force:

What does the Peace Testimony have to teach us about sexuality and lovemaking?
What is your faith community doing to educate itself about and prevent rape, date rape, sexual harassment and sexual abuse?
What are you doing to combat rape, sexual servitude and other forms of sexual violence in the world?
What is your faith community doing to support its members who have experienced sexual violence and abuse and to help them heal the scars of these experiences?

[Spiritually grounded sexual acts are only possible between partners acting out of free choice, making decisions to participate free from any form of violence or coercion.]

#11 Pornography & Awe:

Does your faith community wrestle together in any way with the ethical and spiritual implications of personal sexual practices such as the use of sexually explicit media?
Does viewing or reading sexually explicit media bring you closer to or move you further away from God?
Does such activity open or close your heart to others as children of God - including your sexual partner or partners, your family, your faith community, and any persons involved in the production of that media?
What is your relationship with a person whose sexual image you view? Is it possible to view pornography and still hold all human beings in awe and deep respect?
How is your faith community educating its young people and other members regarding the violence and degradation involved in pornography and the increasing use of exploitative sexual images in advertising and commercial media?
Is there a fundamental discernable spiritual distinction between pornography and erotica? If there is, how is your faith community providing guidance to its members about this?
What is the effect upon your heart of reading a piece of sexually explicit literature or viewing sexual images? What is the effect upon your relationship with your partner?
If you read or view explicit media, how do you seek to enable God to guide your practice in this?

[Pornography is based on addictive pulls and rooted in exploitation of those involved in its production and use. It at best avoids and at worst suppresses healthy intimate relationships with others. It is incompatible with treating all persons with awe, respect and love - as children of the living God.]

#12 Sex & Care of the Earth:

What does our emerging Testimony on Care of the Earth have to teach us about sexuality and lovemaking?
How do sexual attitudes contribute to overpopulation? To overconsumption? To other attitudes that threaten the viability of the planet?
Does treating another person with less than total respect and awe in a sexual relationship encourage similar attitudes towards the earth and its endangered species?
Is there a relationship between treating our own body as a temple of the Spirit and treating the earth itself as a vessel of the Living Spirit?

[Wrongly-ordered sexual attitudes and behavior are damaging to the earth.]

#13 Sexuality between Singles:

Is the traditional Christian ideal of chastity outside of marriage still relevant today?
Does sexual practice between single people ultimately undermine or strengthen the joy and stability of marital love?
What does your faith community do to encourage abstinence among its single members?
How does God feel about sexual activity between single people if it is practiced in the spirit of deep love and spiritual discernment?
Was the world a safer and more loving place when sexuality was (at least in the ideal) limited to life-long marital relationships?
Is there significant biblical teaching for singles regarding sexuality?

[I believe God embraces some kinds of sexual activity between single people when it is practiced as an expression of deep spiritual and emotional caring and in response to a mutual effort to discern God's will.]

#14 Fidelity in Sexual Relationships:

What is the meeting doing to encourage its members to love their partners single-heartedly?
Is your loved one first in your heart? (as opposed to your job, Quaker service, good causes, financial security, your children's needs, protecting the earth, personal enjoyment, etc.)
What actions draw you closer to the love of your life? Which draw you further away?
Is sexual infidelity ever permissible in God's eyes?
Do you believe a person can ever engage in sexual activity outside of marriage and still love her or his partner with all of her or his heart?
Would you ever protect deceit of a friend or meeting member regarding sexual infidelity? What action would or should your meeting take if it was aware of a member participating in sexual infidelity?
Do you have any reason to believe that God ever approves of plural marriage?
Is there ever any conflict between putting your life partner first and your ultimate loyalty to God?

[God longs for us to love our life partner with all our heart.]

Healing queries

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Reflection Questions

Experiencing God's Love through Health Changes

 

MEANING & MYSTERY

How do you understand the myriad of changes our bodies go through?  

Do you experience them as meaningful?  random?  confusing?  mysterious?

How do you understand God's presence during illness, disability, the changes in capacities and gifts that come with aging, healing from illness, and our passage from this life?

HEARING GOD'S VOICE

Do you feel that God speaks to you through changes in your body? 

Do you experience God as guiding you towards specific lifestyle or medical choices? 

Have you ever felt (as some early Friends did) that God was giving you a leading through being ill?

FEELING LOVED

Do you feel companioned or alone in living with such changes?

Do you feel deeply known and loved by God? 

Have you experienced love as being powerfully healing?

Psalm 139, 33:22, 1 John 4:7, 1 Corinthians 13.  Song of Songs is often interpreted as a metaphor for God's love for us.  Hosea is a great parable of God's steadfast love for us. 

SAFETY & TRUST

Do you feel you can lean into God? 
Do you feel you can lean into the love you feel from others?

Do you feel that God is fundamentally trustworthy? 

Does the possibility of someday facing severe pain, life-threatening illness, or losing physical abilities frighten or worry you? 

Do you feel protected by God?

Exodus 19:4, Psalms 13, 22, 30, 62, 63, 102, 121, 131, Isaiah 40

GOD'S ROLE IN WHAT HAPPENS TO US

Do feel that God plans or causes changes that happen in your body? 

Does your belief / experience about this deepen or serve as barrier to your sense of faith and trust in God?

Do you feel God can be both omnipotent and all-loving?  If not, which way do you experience God more simply / unqualifiedly?

Job, Psalm 38


HEALING

Where do you experience healing coming from?

From self-healing resources within your own and others bodies?  From others' love? 
From God?  From the Universe?

Do you experience bodies as having great, largely untapped self-healing or restorative capacities?  
If so, what unlocks these?

Do you feel you have a gift for healing others or being a channel for healing energy? 

There are many healings by Jesus recorded in Luke.  These highlight key dimensions of healing, ie.
The role of spiritual authority  Luke 4: 31, 9:37, 13:10.   The relationship with forgiveness  5:17.    
The role of touch & energy  5: 12, 6: 17 & espec. 8:43   vs.   Distance healing  7:1.
"The Light of the body" 11.33.  "Your faith has healed you"  17:11, 18:35.

See also Psalm 30:2, John 14:12 (on doing even greater works than Jesus), Acts 3:1, 9:33.

PRAYER

What do you hope for, yearn for or expect to happen when you pray for others?

How do you pray for others?  What do you ask for? 

Do you experience your prayers as being answered?

What does it mean to pray for healing - in our own lives and bodies or for others? 

What do you experience as happening when Meetings hold others in the light or hold healing sessions?

Is intercessory prayer the same thing as "holding someone in the Light"?

Many psalms are personal prayers for help - e.g. 6, 22, 41:1-3

Matthew 7:7, 17:29 & 21:21 (faith moving mtns), cf. John 14:12

DYING

Do you feel protected by God in death? 

What do you think happens to us when we die? 

Do you feel God sets our lifespan for us?

Do you anticipate (with Richard Hubblethorne) that you will be "wound into largeness" when you die?

Do you know others who have experienced the kind of at-easeness that characterized many early Friends in the hour of death? 

Do you feel this way about death? If not, what difference would it make in your life if you did felt this way?

Raising the dead: Luke 7:11, 8:40-56,  John 11:1,  Acts 9:36

Jesus' dying sayings: Matthew 27:46 (cf. Psalm 22),  Luke 22:44; 23:46,  John 19:30

Paul on immortality: 1 Corinthians 15 (cf. Luke 20:34)

(c) Peter Blood-Patterson, prepared for the Quakers in Pastoral Care and Counseling gathered held at Richmond Indiana in March 2006

Holy Obedience

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HOLY OBEDIENCE

Corporate Discipline and Individual Leading

When the time of Jesus' death was approaching, he promised his community of disciples that after his death he would send the Holy Spirit to comfort them and provide them with direction as to what they should be doing as a Church.  The Book of Acts provides several examples of ways the early Church tried to carry out this mission of being a faith movement led by Christ's spirit.  This includes a description of their efforts to reach common understandings of what is expected of community members on key issues such as circumcision and Jewish dietary laws. For many years prior to the blending of the Church with secular authority at the time of Constantine, the Christian community stood apart from the surrounding secular society and government on a number of major issues, including participation in the military.

A generation or two before early Friends, Anabaptist fellowships on the Continent attempted to recreate this earliest form of church community both in terms of radical expectations of its members set apart from secular society and in terms of the methodology of community decision-making and discipline. 

The first unique dimension of Fox's ministry was to proclaim the possibility of a direct, ongoing relationship with Christ as teacher and leader of the faith community.  The second unique dimension of his ministry was to establish a system of church governance that institutionalized this relationship with the inward living Spirit of Christ in terms of corporate decision-making and discipline.  The structure of monthly, quarterly and yearly meetings offered a practical method by which Friends could discern the will of God in decisions facing the community. This included the position which the community was to take on key social questions such as payment of "tithes" that supported the established Church of England and whether Friends should participate in the military.

One of the key reasons why Fox and other early Quaker leaders established this system was to provide a mechanism by which individual Friends' leadings could be tested and either approved or disowned by the larger Quaker community.  This became an issue when some Friends (such as Naylor and his Bristol followers) engaged in forms of public witness that were profoundly disturbing to many other Friends.  Another reason for establishing organizational structure to the early movement was to organize support for those who suffered persecution for following through on their Quaker faith.  The main original reason, for example, for establishing meeting membership rolls was to have an organized way of identifying individual families who should be provided financial support as a result of religious persecution.  This was necessary in part because Friends had rejected adult water baptism as the outward ceremony marking a boundary between members and non-members utilized by the Anabaptist communities.  (This is the origin of the name for Britain Yearly Meeting's interim meeting as "Meeting for Sufferings".)

This ongoing intimate relationship between the individual Friend, the larger larger Quaker community and the living spirit of Christ remains at the heart of Quakerism to this day.  This interplay can be summarized as follows:

l. INDIVIDUAL LEADINGS. The first question that an individual Friend must ask her/himself is: "What do I believe God is telling me to do?"

Individual Friends feel leadings to carry out their faith in many particular ways, including the leading to carry a "concern" to other Meetings or to carry out acts of conscience which may violate secular law. Such a leading may in some cases take the individual Friend into new territory which Friends have not as yet recognized as acts of conscience or obedience to God's voice.

2. CLEARNESS & CORPORATE SUPPORT FOR INDIVIDUAL MEMBERS. Are we as a Quaker community able to unite in believing that God is in fact telling this individual to carry out this action?

The meeting tests the authenticity of the leading which its member feels drawn to and either unites with it (often expressed through writing a traveling minute or a minute of support) or is unable to do so.  The Friend may or may not go ahead and carry out the leading without the support of the community.  A committee of clearness may meet with the Friend to assist with the individual Friend's discernment process and the Meeting's process of discerning whether to unite with the individual's leading.  

Individual Friends may be far ahead of the rest of the meeting in terms of what they see as holy obedience.  Individual meetings may also be at a very different place than their yearly meeting.  And various yearly meetings today have very different understandings of what they are prepared to recognize as authentic expressions of obedience to God's will.  Such differing understandings of God's voice have been present since the beginnings of Quakerism. Two early conflicts among Friends were over whether to schedule regular beginning times for worship and whether men should remove their hats when someone prayed out loud during meeting for worship.

Although Friends today like to "claim" the Underground Railroad as a shining example of Quaker faithfulness, the large majority of Friends at the time did not support either abolitionism or violation of fugitive slave laws.  This led during the early 19th century to separations by Friends in several yearly meetings who were uneasy with the reluctance of their yearly meeting to take a more forceful position in opposition to slavery. Benjamin Lay was read out of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting for the colorful and forceful manner in which he communicated his concern about slavery to other Friends. 

Although Friends led to take a draft noncooperation position since 1940 initially encountered lukewarm support or even active resistance from their Meetings, support for this stance became stronger and stronger during the Vietnam War years especially among unprogrammed Friends.  Many Friends read letters of support from their monthly or yearly meetings during their draft trials.  The same evolution in the response from the wider Quaker community has also occurred for Friends led to refuse taxation supporting the military during this century.

Some of the other forms of support offered to individual Friends during the Vietnam War include: offering symbolic sanctuary in the meetinghouse to a member at the time of arrest, attendance of and testimony at trials, prison visiting and support for families of imprisoned Friends, and the "Sufferings Column" printed for a number of years in the Friends Journal.  Meetings have also "released" members at times though providing financial support for them to pursue work they feel called tocarry out.

3. CORPORATE GUIDANCE TO THE MEETING'S MEMBERS. Can the meeting unite in believing that God is telling it to call upon ALL its members to take (or at least seriously consider taking) a certain stand--as opposed to simply supporting individual Friends called to take that position?

Friends have traditionally utilized the Bible, Friends writings, and the corporate experience of other Quaker and Christian groups to assist them in the process of hearing together in the present what God is telling them is required of them.  These sources are not always clear in what they suggest God is saying to the community.  As a result, it often takes a considerable period of time for Friends to move from support for individual concern to full unity around the position originally taken by a few individual Friends. It took a century of contentious struggle, for example, for Friends to reach unity around the unacceptability of slave owning by Friends. We may well forget as we struggle to hear what the Bible is offering as guidance today on issues from war tax refusal to same gender sexuality how many biblical passages were cited over the centuries justifying the practice of "kindly" slave-owning.

The classic ultimate expression of unity once it has been attained is a statement on the subject in the yearly meeting's Book of Discipline.

A conference on the subject of conscription was called at Earlham College in 1968 that was attended by representatives appointed by a large number of yearly meetings.  The new Richmond Declaration on Military Conscription agreed upon by this gathering expressed strong opposition to military conscription and offered strong and unequivocal support BOTH for those called to accept conscientious objector status and those called to the noncooperation position.  This conference represented a kind of watershed shift in the corporate position of Friends from an earlier position heavily weighted towards the cooperating C.O. position.

As yet, few Friends bodies have moved from support for individual Friends war tax resisters to statements asking all Friends to wrestle with the incompatibility of opposition to war and paying for it.

4. PUBLIC CORPORATE WITNESS.  Is the meeting able to unite in believing that God is asking it to communicate its position to the wider non-Quaker community around it?

This is presumably the basic source of the term "Testimony", although the term is used today to refer both to the public aspects of the corporate position and the internal expectations placed upon members. Some of the ways in which Friends expressed their public opposition to war during the period included: the public offers of "sanctuary" mentioned above, letters to the media, letters and delegations to public officials, and publication of books and pamphlets expressing Friends' position on the issues.  Friends were increasingly willing as the Vietnam War progressed to join with a wide variety of church, pacifist and other antiwar groups in attempting to mobilize opposition to the war and the draft.  This was in sharp contrast to the relatively limited attempts by Friends to influence broader public opinion during other wars in the past.

5. CORPORATE ACTION BY THE MEETING.  Can members unite in believing that God is asking the meeting to carry out action as a group as an expression of one of the community's corporate testimonies in a given area? 

Many monthly meetings, yearly meetings, and Quaker organizations wrestled with whether they could as corporate bodies directly carry out actions in violation of law.  Examples included willingness to send medical supplies to all sides in Vietnam, willingness to honor employees' requests that their salaries not be withheld for federal income taxes, and active support for those led to leave the military during time of war.  A number of yearly meetings were in fact able to unite on such actions, though only after considerable struggle and conflict.

There have been many other examples of meetings wrestling with similar issues of corporate action since that time.  Many meetings wrestled with whether to hold onto investments in South Africa under apartheid.  Some meetings today make it a matter of principle to avoid use of paper products, Styrofoam or plastic utensils as an expression of their understanding of our new unfolding testimony on unity with nature.  The question of whether to hold a ceremony of commitment for a same gender couple is particularly challenging for many meetings precisely because it represents corporate action by the meeting rather than merely an abstract position on the issue of same gender relationships.

6. INTERNAL TEACHING TO MEMBERS. How does the community communicate to its own members (including especially children raised within the group and new converts) the positions that it feels are important? 

Differing religious communions utilize a variety of similar methods from religious education, camps, religious youth organizations, voluntary service projects, and rituals surrounding rites of passage such as first communion, first baptism, and confirmation.  Amish churches set up youth fellowships to help maintain interest in the church community prior to an adult decision to join, but then struggle when those fellowships engage in practices contrary to church beliefs.  (For example, several members of such an Amish youth group were arrested recently for selling hard drugs to other members of their group.)  Friends in Philadelphia Yearly wrestled for years with the question of whether to permit smoking at Young Friends gatherings for similar reasons. The upshot is, however, that if a community cannot effectively communicate to new members its deeply held convictions, it will either die out or no longer stand for those values it once held dear.

The Peace Churches have had widely varying degrees of success in communicating the importance of non-participation in the armed forces to their draft-age male members in different wars. Different branches of Friends have often placed very different emphasis on what kinds of behavior are considered essential to being a Friend and what behaviors are considered "optional extras".

7. DISCIPLINE OF MEMBERS.  What action does the faith community take if individual members fail to practice the teachings of the group?

Several examples are given in the Book of Acts of ways a religious community can handle failure by its members to follow its teachings.  These efforts are rooted in the foundational teaching of Christ given in Matthew that when a member of the community strays from the community's principles that bind it together, it should be handled first through one-to-one private discussion. If this fails, then a meeting with two or three other members of the community, is to be arranged. Only after these steps have been attempted is a question of "discipline" to be brought to the community as a whole.

Presumably Friends follow this practice today: beginning with informal one-to-one communication of concern, proceeding to private discussion with a few other individual members, next taking the matter to an official committee such as overseers or worship and counsel, and finally bringing the matter to the attention of monthly meeting itself.

The ultimate form of discipline for Catholics is excommunication, which means banning the incalcitrant member from receiving the rite of communion.  An important method of discipline for some Anabaptist groups is "shunning", which involves members in good standing being asked to stop socializing with the member who has violated church teaching. 

There are two ultimate forms of discipline which have been practiced traditionally by Friends. The first is being read out of meeting, through which the monthly meeting decides to remove a member from its rolls. 

The second is disownment.  Disownment technically means something quite different from removal from membership, although the terms are often used interchangably among Friends today. The term disownment originally referred to the public action of witnessing to the surrounding non-Quaker community that the action of a person who claims to be a Friend is, in the meeting's understanding, inconsistent with Quaker practice and testimony.  The purpose of disownment is essentially evangelical - that is, to maintain the clarity of the Quaker message to the world.  The practice has largely fallen into disfavor - perhaps in part because of the frequency with which different Friends groups disowned each other during the 19th century schisms.

Concern among many liberal Friends about Richard Nixon's Quaker membership illustrates well the difficult issues around reading out and disownment.  Friends outside of California YM who were deeply uneasy with Richard Nixon's active leadership of the nation in prosecuting a war clearly lacked authority to tell East Whittier Meeting or California YM what they should do concerning his actual membership.  They certainly did have the option, some might say the obligation, of communicating in a loving and respectful manner their concerns to Nixon's own meeting what effect they saw Nixon's publicly recognition as a Friend having on the clarity of Friends' testimony against war. 

In the end, however, disownment is not in the end an issue of membership but of witness.  Therefore, it does not seem inappropriate to the basic idea of disownment that in some extreme instances (such as Friend Nixon) a yearly meeting might feel called to communicate to the public that the behavior in question seems to it to violate core tenets of Quaker belief. 

A meeting which publicly distances itself from the actions of Friends from another Quaker group must, of course, be prepared to accept the possibility that other Friends groups may feel called, in turn, to distance themselves from other actions of their meeting or its members.  There is a real danger that Friends today could be drawn into another process of mutual disownment over difficult issues such as same gender commitments.

INDIVIDUALISM AND 20TH CENTURY FRIENDS

Friends and Buddhists have classically leaned more heavily towards individual conscience while certain other religious communities like Anabaptists and Catholics have leaned more towards corporate discipline.  This difference is illustrated by the discussion following a presentation that a Friend made to an ecumenical course on spiritual direction on the Quaker practice of clearness committees.  The non-Friends present were deeply intrigued and drawn to the practice.  One asked what happens when the group and the individual Friend reach different conclusions at the end as to what God is asking the individual to do. Her expectation (based on her own faith community's approach to corporate discernment and discipline) was that the individual Friend would follow the direction of the clearness committee.  The Friend making the presentation surprised many of the non-Friends present by confessing that in most cases the individual Friend would probably go ahead and do what she or he felt was right.

In fact, corporate discipline seems to be little exercised among Friends in this century.  Some view this fact as a strong pendulum swing away from overly severe exercise of discipline by meetings on issues like marrying out in the 19th century.  Some see it as the influence of rampant individualism ("Do your own thing") in the surrounding secular society.  Still others see this as a healthy and natural evolution towards respect for diversity of personal discernment.

Very few Meetings, if any, read out members for military participation during the Vietnam War.  I expect that even gentler forms of discipline have been fairly rare in many meetings during this century for military participation.  There have been Friends meetings that have exercised stronger corporate discipline in response to social taboos such as dancing than towards participation in war.  Mid-America Yearly Meeting recently revoked the recorded minister status of two of its members for public disagreement with its stand on homosexuality. The only basis for being read out of many liberal meetings, on the other hand, appears to be consistent failure to attend meeting, contribute to the meeting, and to respond to letters of inquiry from overseers. 

There are actions which do sometimes put members of liberal meetings "beyond the pale" of tolerance by their meeting.  Members whose long-standing mental disorders lead them to consistently disrupt worship or to seriously disrupt in other ways the life of the meeting have occasionally been removed from membership.  The same has been true in some meetings for a member who has engaged in sexually abusive behavior towards another member.  A member of Canada YM at the Friends and the Vietnam War gathering described the efforts of that yearly meeting to wrestle caringly with protocols or guidelines dealing with sexually abusive behavior which occurs within the life of the meeting. 

·    Has your meeting ever counseled or otherwise challenged a member for failure to live out core Quaker testimonies? 

·    Has it ever removed a member of your meeting from membership for anything other than wholesale non-participation in the life of the meeting? 

·    Are you aware of any other meetings in your yearly meeting which are more willing to engage each other on such questions? 

·    What area, if any, would you feel it might be positive for your meeting to exercise discipline or offer direct guidance concerning personal behavior of its members? 

·    How could this best be approached in a way that was tender and supportive rather than judgmental? 

·    Has our deep reluctance to practice any discipline among liberal Friends weakened the meaning of membership or our testimony to the world?

PASTORAL CARE IN UNPROGRAMMED MEETINGS

What in fact is the best way in which members of a religious community should approach issues of personal behavior?  One of the major differences between pastoral and non-pastoral meetings is that a pastor has access to homes in the way that members of a non-pastoral meeting often do not.  You almost have to go into members' homes to know them well enough to communicate concerns about personal dimensions of faithfulness in a way that is both true to the members' actual life context and tender to their efforts to obey God in their life. 

Some meetings have a practice of assigning responsibility for each meeting family and single Friend to a member of overseers or ministry and counsel.  The idea is that this member of the meeting gets to know each of her/his families and single members well enough to be able to recognize pastoral needs and provide a loving and appropriate response to unhelpful or un-Friendly behavior.  My sense is that this is a nice theoretical plan, but that such assigned overseers often find it hard to carry out this role as intended.  Both the committee members and the members of the meeting assigned to them may feel too uncomfortable with this level of engagement with each other.

Perhaps the deeper question is:   How can our meetings become the kind of redemptive community which is touched by the Holy Spirit in a way which changes the lives of its members - and creates the sense of deep trust and safety necessary to wrestle together with issues of personal and corporate faithfulness?  How many of us have ever experienced that kind of redemptive community any time during our lives?  Certainly the early church was that kind of community - as was the early Quaker movement.

In large "super churches" today, it is generally felt that the larger church community as a whole should be a place for public worship, celebration and affirmation of common bonds. Issues of personal discernment and lifestyle choices can be much more easily addressed in much smaller ongoing face-to-face groups. Such churches often require all members to be part of small "cells" or prayer groups who remain together over time. There may be hundreds of these cell groups in a single large congregation.

Even if none of our unprogrammed meetings approach the size of these mammoth congregations in terms of membership, this model may be a useful way for meetings to try venturing into the risky territory of loving mutual accountability.  Certainly it is much more possible to experience the sense of safety, of being personally known at the core, and of being touched by God's love in an ongoing group of 6-10 than even in a modestly sized meeting as a whole.  The richest experiences I personally have had of tender accountability have been in the context of small ongoing cell groups of this type.

SOME CLOSING QUERIES

  • What are the "frontier areas" that you know of individual Friends today being led to take stands which may be hard for many Friends to support?
  • What do you see as possible new "testimonies" emerging among Friends in the 21st century?  War tax resistance?  Unity with nature?  A stronger commitment to simple lifestyle given the terrible impact which over-consumption has both on environmental integrity in planting the "seeds of war"?
  • Are there actions which our meetings, yearly meetings and Quaker organizations could be taking today to live out what we believe in the peace testimony or other core testimonies?
  • Does our peace testimony mean anything at all when our membership in this country is living at a standard of wealth so distant from that of most of the world's inhabitants, sowing the seeds enormous future conflicts?
  • How are our meetings communicating their ideals to our young people?  Do our younger members know anything at all about the stands taken by older members of our meetings during periods such as the Civil Rights Movement or Vietnam War?
  • Has the pendulum swung too far from corporate discipline to individualism?  Do we in fact stand for anything as Friends today? (I am thinking especially of FGC and other unprogrammed Friends.) Are we truly "members of one another" in any sense?  Do we want to be?
  • What will it take to raise up public ministers among us today who will communicate powerfully and effectively to the world around us an alternative vision of a peaceable kingdom shaped by the living Spirit of God?

© August 1998.  Written after participating in a panel at the Friends Conference on the Vietnam War, held at Bryn Mawr College under the sponsorship of Pendle Hill earlier that year.

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Quote that speaks to me

Death Cannot Kill What Never Dies

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They that love beyond the world cannot be separated by it.  
Death cannot kill what never dies.  
Nor can spirits ever be divided that love and live in the same Divine Principle; the Root and Record of their friendship.
If absence be not death, neither is theirs.  
Death is but crossing the world, as friends do the seas; they live in one another still.  
For they must needs be present, that love and live in that which is omnipresent.
In this Divine Glass, they see face to face; and their converse is free, as well as pure.
This is the comfort of friends, that though they may be said to die, yet their friendship and society are, in the best sense, ever present, because immortal.
 - William Penn, More Fruits of Solitude, 1702.

Note: This passage was quoted by J.K.Rowling as the epigraph of her novel, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Braithwaite on Outreach

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Men & Women with a Message of Power

It is as a "religion of life" that Quakerism will be presented in the future and is being presented now.

Its distinguishing note will be its resolve to bring all this human life of ours under the transforming power of spiritual life.  It will stand out against all divisions and compartments that separate the sacred from the secular, the sanctuary from the outward world of nature, the sacrament from the days' common work, the clergy from the laity. 

It will tell of a Christian experience that makes all life sacred and all days holy, all nature a sanctuary, all work a sacrament, and gives to every man and woman in the body fit place and service.  Its concern will be to multiply men and women who will have a message of power because they are themselves the children of light.  It will claim the whole of man's life, and the whole of life, individual, social, national international, for the dominion of the will of God.

William C. Braithwaite and Henry T. Hodgkin, The Message and Mission of Quakerism (Philadelphia, Winston, 1912), 25-26.