25 July 2013

Yearly Meeting shorts

Friends (Quakers) "record" ministers rather than "ordaining" them. There's some background in this post.
Northwest Yearly Meeting sessions for 2013 just ended this evening. At our closing celebration, we gave certificates to our three newly recorded ministers; we commissioned Elizabeth Todd to serve in Ramallah under our care and the care of the Ramallah Friends Schools; and we listened to a charge by our superintendent Becky Ankeny to heed always the voice of our true Shepherd.

Judy and I were tired but still reluctant for the Yearly Meeting to be over, so we walked across the "Canyon" on the George Fox University campus to visit Gail House, the headquarters of the Young Adult Friends for these sessions. They gave us a warm welcome, and made it clear that our invitation to spend some time with us in Elektrostal was not at all unreal. We took their encouragement back with us as we finally went to our residence for our last night in Newberg, Oregon.

Now I have some time to think about the highlights of these last few days. Here are just a couple:

Paul Bock (guitar) and Steve Fawver leading Steve's prayer exercise in song.

Our business sessions included periods of worship with music. Three times we sang the words of Matthew 11:28-30, using a melody by Liam O'Doherty. On the first day, we just learned the song. On the second and third days, we sand the song through, then used the gap-fill version above. On day two, Steve and Paul invited us to find words for ourselves as individuals--for example, one person called out the words "weak" and "discouraged" and Steve suggested the word "strength" for the third gap. (By the way, one thing I love about our community is that we are not required to be artificially happy.)

On the third day, we were invited to suggest words reflecting the state of the whole yearly meeting in session. Here are some of the words we sang:
Come to me all who are expectant
And anxious and I will give you vision

... gathered ... listening ... guidance
... lighthearted ... joyful ... more
... conflicted ... seeking ... truth

On the third day of business, we received this suggested query from the Youth Yearly Meeting, to be forwarded (if approved) to all local churches and eventually included in the yearly meeting's full set of queries:

Anna Rose Rediske explains the context of the proposed query.

The concern behind this query actually preceded last year's discussions on same-sex relationships, but the discussions in our listening groups and the yearly meeting business sessions last year convinced the Youth Yearly Meeting participants to pursue the development and adoption of this query. When it came to the floor yesterday, several Friends suggested edits, some reflecting biblical concerns, but we ultimately recognized that the minute was addressing behavior rather than primarily doctrine or discernment. I personally felt that it was an instruction in discipleship that I would welcome receiving for myself. The query was adopted almost unchanged--only the word "How" was added to the beginning of the question, "Am I leaving space for change?"

The query might have borne fruit today when our discussion turned to a possible revision to our yearly meeting's book of discipline, addressing same-sex relationships. The elders had agreed to bring a revised text for that passage, reflecting a charge not to change the basic position of the yearly meeting but to express that position more graciously. An hour of fairly tender discussion revealed that, although many agreed with the need for change, the new text was not yet acceptable. Once again, we were unable to find closure on this subject, but, once again, love and courtesy prevailed. We have much work to do, because our courteous community continues to include people for whom any weakening of the yearly meeting's traditional stance represents a breaking of biblical covenant, while others find any formulation, whether addressing "sexual perversion" or "distortions of sexual intimacy," painful beyond words.

As I listened to these dear Friends today, in my head I could fill in the "other side's" response to each one of the arguments or testimonies that were expressed. However, given our yearly meeting's deep bonds of love, our increasing experience with the use of "listening groups" ahead of difficult questions, our trustworthy clerks and elders, and the discipline suggested by the Youth Yearly Meeting, I believe we can expect the Holy Spirit to break through where today we don't yet see a way.

Richard Foster, son Nathan Foster, and Becky Ankeny

Bestselling Quaker author Richard Foster, our speaker for three evenings, studied at George Fox College (now University) and many of his early experiences as a Friends pastor and leader were in our yearly meeting. This sermon transcription gives you a good sense of his tone and message among us; and, just as in the online presentation, he included an interactive component in each of the three evenings. On two evenings, his son Nathan questioned both Richard and our own Becky Ankeny on major themes of the evening. (I loved Becky's response to one of the questions: "Why can't you ask me something that would make me look better?")

At the end of yesterday's presentation on spiritual confidence, Foster led a time of healing prayer, asking those who were suffering from great sorrow, a seething anger, or a deep wound, to come forward and receive prayer. After he prayed for the group who had responded and assembled at the front, he asked elders to come forward and pray. That was a wonderful and remarkable moment, as I watched Friends who were not only elders by title, but--as I knew personally--were truly gifted in eldership, come forward and touch or hug or kneel with those who'd responded to Foster. Many were not young, and it was so moving to see their white-haired selves slowly moving forward and humbly extending a hand to touch the deep pain of someone they might not even have known.

This sort of evening is, of course, standard fare in many churches and church conferences, but I personally have not witnessed it often. I'd like to believe that when I am in that kind of need, this quality of eldership will continue to be available among Friends, whatever the channel or occasion might be.

A video glimpse of our yearly meeting: Gil George (the Younger*) gives his testimony as his recording in the ministry is considered by Friends. (*Northwest Yearly Meeting has two Gil Georges, unrelated.)

Richard Foster has another gig among Friends soon: he will give the Johnson Lecture at Friends United Meeting's 2014 Triennial sessions.

For your prayer calendar: "A Journey Toward Peace and Justice"--a four-venue event in Rwanda, Burundi, and Congo. August 4-7 in Kigali, 8-11 in Bujumbura, 12-14 in Uvira, 15-18 in Gitega.

You may have heard about the requirement (in the USA) that a magician have a disaster plan for his or her rabbit. Here's such a plan.

Howard Macy on "The Hilarity of Grace."

Micah Bales asks, "What is your posture towards money?"

Maybe I was prophetic in commenting (in "Twilight of the hypocrites") that Russia was not an absurd destination for Edward Snowden. Now it looks like he might be staying. Meanwhile, Common Dreams addresses the "irony" of his requests for asylum in Ecuador and Venezuela.

Rose Marie Berger on "Refugees from the Military-Industrial Empire."

"Perfect love it casts out fear, what can I do but give?"

Grace Laxson :: Give It All from Antioch Church on Vimeo.

1 comment:

Nancy said...

Yes, yes, yes to all the above. By the way, great photos.