Sunday, January 11, 2015

Recorded Minister Report for 2014

“But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”  Jeremiah 29:7.
A lot of my ministry this year has been connected to Candler School of Theology, where I am halfway through the three-year M.Div. program.  I completed my second semester of contextual education working as a chaplain intern at Lee Arrendale State Prison in the spring semester.  It was good and challenging work.  A highlight for me was leading music at a Good Friday service with two of the women in prison. 

I am doing my second year of contextual education in Atlanta Friends Meeting.  I spend eight hours a week focusing on five areas of ministry: administration, liturgy (worship and preaching), mission and outreach, pastoral calling and congregational care, and teaching.  These categories do not always fit exactly in the context of an unprogrammed Friends meeting, but I have been able to find ways to engage with the meeting in each area.  For example, I am on the Ministry and Worship committee, I started a monthly meeting for worship at Candler, and I facilitated a panel on sexuality and Quaker identity.  I have also enjoyed providing pastoral care for some of the youngest Friends in the meeting.

At school, I am serving as the chaplain of Sacred Worth (Candler’s student group for LGBTQ students and allies).  As chaplain, I am on the executive board and I hold office hours and have a confidential email.  I enjoy meeting with people and helping to build this community within Candler.  In the fall semester, I was a discussion leader for Early Church History, which felt like another opportunity to provide pastoral care for seminary students.

As the only Quaker at Candler I find myself representing Friends often.  In the past year, I have taken a number of classes that have helped me discern my direction in ministry and have given me tools for the work ahead, including Nonprofit Leadership and Management, Sexuality in the Bible, and Discernment for a Sustained Life of Ministry.  I especially enjoyed my Preaching in a Secular Age class this past fall, where I was able to give a message out of open worship in the manner of Friends, working with an elder.

I also had the opportunity to travel quite a bit this year.  In February, I spent a long weekend in Philadelphia observing a Friends Journal board meeting.  While I was there, I got to spend time with several Friends and Jon W interviewed me for the QuakerSpeak project (I was featured in the QuakerSpeak video “Quakers and Women in Ministry” and a Friends Journal video on my recording process).  In April, I gave the Friday night message for Friends World Committee for Consultation’s Living Waters Consultation in High Point, NC.  It was a joy to work with Deborah S as my elder and I felt very supported and welcomed by Friends there.

I spent the summer living with my parents in Anchorage, working at a law firm.  It was great to be able to spend time with my family there, especially my nieces and nephew and grandparents.  In June, I visited Washington and Oregon for a few weeks, and was able to see many f/Friends and family.  At the end of the trip, I went to the Pacific Northwest Quaker Women’s Theology Conference, where I led a workshop on prayer.  Later in the summer, I visited Friends in Fairbanks and worshiped with Chena Ridge Friends Meeting.  I also worshiped with Anchorage Friends Meeting.  On my way back to Atlanta in August, I visited family in Oakland.  In October, I visited Friends in Nashville and attended North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative) Interim Body Meeting.  Although it was wonderful to see friends and family in all of these places, I was aware that, no matter where I go, I will be far from people I love.

I published an article in the March issue of Friends Journal called “Sending Forth: The Importance of Financial Support in Ministry.”  I have also continued posting on my blog, though most of my writing this year has been for class assignments.

My self-care this year has been good.  I see a spiritual director and a therapist regularly, and I have an anchoring committee through Atlanta Friends Meeting that is currently serving as my site supervisors for contextual education.  Over spring break, I went on a silent retreat at Green Bough House of Prayer.  One of my favorite things this year has been monthly gatherings for Atlanta Beer and Hymns (recently featured on Fox News!).  I have continued spiritual practices of prayer, reading the Bible, and exercise, and added drawing and coloring mandalas.

Looking ahead, I am planning to lead the Atlanta Friends Meeting Gathered Meeting Retreat in March.  I also hope to spend the summer in Greensboro, NC, as an intern with First Friends Meeting.  I am aware that I have been moving a lot and I am often on the edges of various groups, and I am feeling ready to find a place to settle for a while after I finish school.  I am grateful to Friends at Freedom Friends Church and Atlanta Friends Meeting for your support for my ministry, as well as the support and prayers I receive from so many others.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Give Quakers Your Money

It's the end of the year and you know what that means: lots of emails from Quaker nonprofit organizations asking for end-of-the-year contributions. I mentioned this on Twitter today and my friend Kathy H suggested I "do a a year-end blog post reviewing year-end appeals from Quaker organizations."

I don't think I'm up for writing reviews, but I can make a list! Here are quotes from the Friends organizations I've heard from in the last week. Click on the name of the organization to donate.
  • Quaker Voluntary Service: "Your support is vital in creating opportunities for Spirit-led witness, in the long tradition of Quaker service. We are raising funds to support the QVS programs in Atlanta, Philadelphia, and Portland."
  • Friends Journal: "Your tax-deductible online gift will help Friends Journal continue to be a unifying and empowering force for Friends." 
  • Friends World Committee for Consultation: "Answering God's call to universal love, the Friends World Committee brings Friends of varying traditions and cultural experiences together in worship, communications and consultation, to express our common heritage and our Quaker message to the world." 
  • Friends General Conference: "From the Gathering to the Quaker Cloud, from the New Meetings Project to Quaker Quest, together we’ve done so much to build and strengthen the Religious Society of Friends."
  • Pendle Hill: "Contributions allow us to provide experiences that inspire leadership, service, spiritual enrichment, and action for peace and justice."
And, as always, I highly recommend giving money to Freedom Friends Church.  

Happy new year, Friends!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Sexuality and Quaker Identity

For my project for my Sexuality in the Bible class, I facilitated a panel at Atlanta Friends Meeting after meeting for worship on November 30, 2014. The format was to have three Friends on the panel share for 10-15 minutes each about how their sexuality (defined broadly to include sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, and anything else that seemed relevant) has impacted their faith life and their Quaker identity. After the panel, I invited the rest of the people in the room to join the conversation in worship sharing: speaking out of the silence from their own experience in response to the query, “How has your sexuality impacted your Quaker identity?”

I initially hoped to have the forum on the last Sunday in October, but there was another event scheduled for that time. It was a little challenging to find people for the panel on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, but I eventually found three people who were willing: “Anna,” a gender-nonconforming woman in her early 20s who identifies as queer, “Bruce,” a gay man in his late 50s, and “Mia,” a lesbian woman in her early 50s. I did not intend to have only queer-identified people on the panel (I had hoped to have at least one straight person!), but those were the people I found who were willing to participate. There were 22 people present for the panel, ranging in age from 20s to 70s, queer and straight, some married and some not. I invited the teens in the meeting, but none of them decided to come.

Anna spoke first. She grew up as a Quaker and spent several years questioning her sexual orientation and gender identity. She came out as queer in college, and her family and faith community were supportive. She is still questioning her gender identity, but is comfortable with female pronouns and with calling herself a gender-nonconforming woman. Anna said that she was glad to have grown up among Friends, who allowed her to be whoever she was. She was active in the gay/straight alliance in her high school and appreciated all of the support that Quakers offered to LGBT teens. She thinks it was helpful for her as she questioned her own identity, even though she had not yet come out. She feels that her identity as a Quaker is more central for her than her identity as queer or gender-nonconforming, and that has given her something to hold on to even as she questioned other parts of her identity. She also feels like her questions about identity have led her to what she wants to do with her life. She plans to apply to graduate school next year and would like to focus on the intersection of identity and environmental studies, particularly looking at individuals’ narratives.

Bruce spoke next. He talked about how grateful he is that he can now have easy conversations with family members about his partner, in part because his parents have passed away. His father was very conservative and left the Episcopal church over the ordination of women. Bruce was always very politically liberal, and he thinks the fights that he had with his father about politics were really a front for the conversation they did not have about Bruce’s sexual orientation. Bruce knew from a young age that he was attracted to men, but he prayed that God would take those feelings away. He laughed that God always answers prayer, but not always in the way that you want! Bruce said that, even ten years ago, he would have changed that part of himself, but now he sees it as an opportunity for ministry. He has experienced feeling like an outsider, which made him more compassionate, and he is able to share with others about his sexual orientation. Bruce told us how he sat on a nine-hour flight next to a Mormon man who had never met an openly gay man. A week later, the Mormon man sent him a copy of the Book of Mormon with a note saying that their conversation had given him a lot to think about. Bruce felt like it was an opportunity for both of them to learn.

Mia spoke last, and she began with an explanation of how she uses the word “God.” She struggles with saying “God” because it seems male and white to her, but she still uses it because everyone knows what it means. She is not sure whether she believes in God, but she does believe in that of God in everyone. That is the basis for her understanding of sexuality. It is a recognition of that of God in everyone, and sex is a meeting of that Spirit in two people. She feels like her identity as a lesbian and a woman are much less important than her identity as a Friend. Mia is involved with the high school program at the meeting and has taught First Day School in the past. She tries to bring this sense of identity to her teaching and help her students recognize that of God in everyone they meet.

When I opened up the discussion for worship sharing, several Friends spoke. One woman quoted Romans 12:2, “Do not conform to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your spirit.” She said that, as a straight woman, she had mostly conformed to the expectations of her culture, but having a friend who struggled with her lesbian identity to the point of being suicidal helped open her eyes to the diversity of sexual identities and the pain that the society cause to those who did not conform. Another woman talked about how she grew up during the sexual revolution, when it seemed like everything was permissible, but her experience was that a lot of people got hurt through sexual encounters, emotionally or physically (particularly during the AIDS epidemic). What she took away from that experience was that sex was a powerful thing that must be engaged in carefully.

A theme in the sharing was how to talk about sex and sexuality with the children in the community in an age-appropriate way. There was a desire to do so, but some questions about how. I shared that, having grown up in purity culture, I know that a lot of girls do not learn that sex should be pleasurable. I said that I hope the meeting can talk about how sex is a powerful thing, but also a source of pleasure, joy, and connection. One woman reflected how glad she was that two of the people on the panel had come out in environments that were supportive of their sexual orientations. She expressed the hope that the meeting could be a place for children to be who they are, LGBT or straight, and be supported as they question, evolve, and grow.

I was very pleased with how the panel and conversation went, and I got a lot of good feedback from the panel members and those who attended the panel. After we concluded, people stayed to talk with each other about the topics that arose. I think that there will be ongoing conversations in the meeting about sexual identity and Quaker identity, and it seems like there may be more thought and work on a sexual education curriculum for children based on these conversations.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Sex Without Love

Last winter, I had sex with a man a few times.  We weren't dating, really, though we went out to dinner occasionally.  For reasons that are unimportant here, we both knew that the relationship had no future.  

But there was heat.  I didn't want him to be my boyfriend, but he smelled great, I liked the way he tasted, and when he touched me, I melted.

We had conversations about what it all meant, and agreed that we weren't committed to each other or even exclusive.  But sometimes, when we were out in public, he would put his arm around me.  I would awkwardly shrug my way out of it.  

I knew he felt hurt, but I still didn't want to make what we were doing public.  I said that it was because I was new here, and thought that it was because I knew it wasn't going to last.

I've been thinking about this again recently, and realized why I didn't want him to be affectionate in public.  We were doing exactly the same thing, but it made him a stud and it made me a slut.  

Fuck purity culture.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Don't Tell Me to Smile

I got into an extended conversation yesterday on Facebook about street harassment. I mentioned that I have had some recent experiences with men (yes, grown men) yelling at me from cars. I added, "And don't even get me started on men telling me to smile."

A man who I know to be kind and thoughtful asked what was wrong with telling a woman to smile. The following is a slightly edited version of my response:
Thanks for the question! When I said don't get me started, it's because I have so much to say about this. I am happy to respond and point you toward some other sources.

Men telling women to smile is a problem for a lot of reasons. One is that if I am not smiling in a public place, I might have a good reason. Maybe my sister is in the hospital, or I just got fired, or I was just thinking about something.

But when a man I don't know tells me to smile, I have to stop thinking about whatever it was I was thinking about and engage him. I have to either smile for him, even if I don't want to, or I have to refuse. I have to decide how badly he might respond. Will he get mad? Is it possible he could attack me?

In the end, it is a form of body control. It reinforces the idea that I am not out in public for myself, but to be pretty for men. It may seem like a small thing, but when it happens often, it is pretty demoralizing.

In sum, strangers are not entitled to my body, my time, or my attention.
My friend, Monika T, added:
The thing is, telling someone to smile is telling them what to do and how to feel. And you would be astounded how many men regard women that way. Its insidious and pervasive. Every time I go into the city, I have to devote some of my mental energy and focus to assessing who might harass me, and how they might react if I push back. This happens often if not always on my way to class, when I have better things to be thinking about.
 There are some wonderful videos illustrating how ridiculous and awful telling women to smile is, such as this one called Smile, and this one from Stop Telling Women to Smile:



This morning, I saw that I was not the only one thinking or writing about this issue yesterday!  Here is a wonderful article about street harassment: You're a Good-Looking Girl . . . I Want to Attack You.  Cameron Esposito sums it up well:
I do not care if you think I am beautiful. Your feedback or evaluation isn’t needed. I also do not care if you think I am not beautiful. Your feedback or evaluation isn’t needed there either.
I am grateful for the men who engaged in this conversation.  If men are concerned about this issue and looking for ways to help, here are 35 Practical Steps Men Can Take to Support Feminism.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Pastoral Authority in Unprogrammed Friends

[As part of my second year in a Master of Divinity program at Candler School of Theology, I am required to spend eight hours a week in an ecclesial setting.  My site is Atlanta Friends Meeting, where I am a sojourning member.  This week, in the class connected with that site work, we were asked to interview our site mentor about his or her views on pastoral authority and leadership.  These are my reflections on our conversation.]

When I interviewed my site mentor, Paul B, about his understanding of pastoral authority and leadership, we agreed that it is a tricky question for unprogrammed Friends.  In my site, Atlanta Friends Meeting (AFM), there is no pastoral staff.  Paul stated that the pastoral nature of Quakerism is that the community cares for itself instead of having a designated pastor or minister to provide care.  Thus, every Friend has an obligation to support the community.

At AFM, we do have a committee that focuses on pastoral care, the Care and Counsel committee.  That committee is made up of people who choose to be on it and serve for a designated term.  The committee draws people who are gifted in pastoral care, but they are not the only people who provide pastoral care in the meeting.  One of the tensions in an unprogrammed meeting is how to hold (mostly) volunteers accountable.  Having people rotate off the committee after their term is one way to do that.

As we spoke, the primary metaphor that Paul used for pastoral care was the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27).  Christ is the head of our meeting and we are the body.  Within that body, people care for each other and provide care as needed.  Friends are resistant to the idea of authority, other than the authority that comes from the Holy Spirit, but we do recognize the need for leadership.

Three committees in AFM cover three of the roles that a pastor traditionally fills.  Care and Counsel provides pastoral care as described above.  The Ministry and Worship committee focuses on the worship within the meeting and attends to things like weddings, support for ministry, and applications for membership (I serve on the Ministry and Worship committee).  We also have a Social Concerns committee, which connects the meeting to the larger community context and does outreach.

Reflecting on this conversation, I agree that the body of Christ is a very good metaphor for pastoral care in a Friends meeting.  I also realized that my personal metaphor for ministry has been the story of Peter’s shadow falling on people and healing them (Acts 5:15).  In that story, if Peter’s shadow is behind him as he walks, he will never know whom he is healing.

I have been a public minister among Friends for over six years now, and in that time I have lived in four different cities.  Each time I moved, I felt like God was calling me to the next place, but it has been very hard for me.  I feel like I have been planting seeds in ministry, but I do not get to stay long enough to see how they grow or if they bear fruit.  I have to trust that God is working through me even as I move on.

Having a year to spend deeply involved in the life of the meeting at AFM feels like a gift.  My site mentors and I are still discerning what ministry will look like for me in this context, but I know that there are needs in the meeting and that I have gifts to bring.  I am also grateful that I will not be doing this work alone.  We have a well-developed committee structure with many people bringing their time, gifts, and skills to support this community of Friends.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Recording Resources

A few weeks ago, a Friend wrote me asking if I knew of any resources about the Quaker process for recording ministers.  He said he was new to this, and it had been hard to find resources online.  I compiled a list of resources for him, and thought it might be useful for others as well.

My home meeting, Freedom Friends Church, has a page of resources on recorded ministry.

Here is a YouTube video of me talking about my recording process with Friends Journal:


I also posted quite a bit about the process of being recorded on my blog under the Recording label, as well as sharing stories from other women who have been recorded as ministers.

Steven Davidson wrote about some of the objections to recording in an article called Recording Gifts of Ministry in New York Yearly Meeting's Spark.  (See also Resources on Ministry.)

I highly recommend Brian Drayton's book On Living with a Concern for Gospel Ministry.  The whole book is excellent, but he talks specifically about his experience of being a recorded minister and reporting back to his meeting in Appendix 1 and 2.

Are there other resources you would recommend, Friends?