Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Quaker Confirmation

Quakers do not have Confirmation, but I think we should.  For those who are unfamiliar with the term, Confirmation is a process for young people in the church to become a member of the church.  In many denominations, this occurs when the young people are between 12-14, though it can happen earlier or later.  After a series of classes, the church has a special liturgy for the confirmands to make a statement of faith and the church to welcome them.  In some denominations, like the Holy Roman Church, Confirmation is a sacrament.

Friends do not have any outward sacraments, and I am not suggesting that we create a sacrament of Confirmation.  I think there are good reasons, however, to have a Quaker version of a Confirmation class for our high school group in Atlanta Friends Meeting, culminating in an invitation to become a member of the meeting.

For Friends, membership is a way of establishing mutual support and accountability between the individual and the meeting---the Friend makes a commitment to be a part of this faith community and support it spiritually, physically, and financially.  In return, the meeting recognizes that the individual is a part of this spiritual community and the meeting is responsible to care for and encourage the person in body and spirit.  Membership is not required to be involved in the life of the meeting, but there are certain positions and committees on which one cannot serve unless one is a member.

In Atlanta Friends Meeting, we have many teenagers who are part of the meeting, but not many of them are members.  As these teens graduate from high school and begin thinking about college and finding jobs, they will most likely move into a time of transition.  This may result in moving to another place and they may not find another meeting to join for a decade or more.  Having a class on what it means to be a member of a Quaker meeting and encouraging them to become members of Atlanta Friends Meeting is a way to provide support and accountability for these young Friends during this time of transition.

Ideally, a Quaker Confirmation class would include the following:

  • An overview of Quaker history, including the different branches of Friends and the Testimonies (Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality, and Service)
  • A discussion of what occurs during Quaker worship
  • A workshop on Faith and Practice and Quaker business process
  • Invitations to participate in business meeting and to sit in on a committee meeting
  • A panel on what it means to be a member and why one would consider membership
  • An explanation of the process for membership, with an invitation to apply for membership
Ultimately, the process for membership for those in the Confirmation class would be the same as for anyone else in the meeting, as set forth in SAYMA Faith and Practice, p. 34.  The individual would write a letter to the Ministry and Worship committee, indicating why they feel drawn to the Religious Society of Friends.  Ministry and Worship would then set up a clearness committee to meet with the individual.  Once the committee is clear to recommend membership, it would report back to Ministry and Worship, which then makes a recommendation to business meeting.  The business meeting would hold the recommendation over for one month and, if all approved, welcome the individual into membership.

Some caveats:  First, I think we may need to call it something other than Confirmation.  When we discussed the idea of having a class like this in our Ministry and Worship committee, there were some who came from liturgical traditions and balked at the word Confirmation.  Second, it would have to be very clear that this is an invitation, and the teenagers are not required to become members of the meeting.  Third, if the class is interested, it might be a good idea to have time for visiting other kinds of faith communities, to give the class an opportunity to see whether another path might be a better fit for them.

Regardless of what the meeting decides to call it, I hope that Atlanta Friends Meeting will consider some form of Quaker Confirmation.  I recommend holding the class at least once every four years for the high school group, and preferably every other year, to give the teens two opportunities to consider whether they want to become members.  This is a way for everyone in the meeting to engage in intergenerational conversations of what membership means, and for the meeting to provide support and accountability for the teens as they consider their next phase of life. 


[Written for my Practicum in Liturgy on Weddings, Funerals, and Confirmation.]

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Recorded Minister Report for 2015

My soul waits for the Lord
more than those who watch for the morning.
Psalm 130:6

Looking back over this year, it is helpful for me to separate it into three seasons.  In the spring, I finished my second year of Contextual Education through Candlereight hours a week of being involved in the life of Atlanta Friends Meeting.  My main focus was on the meeting’s Gathered Meeting Retreat, which took place the last weekend of March.  The theme was “How Friends Worship.”  I was glad to have the opportunity to lead this retreat; it felt like a good use of my gifts.  I continued to facilitate monthly mid-week worship at Candler.  I also served on various committees at Atlanta Friends Meeting, including the Worship and Ministry committee, an anchoring committee, and clearness and wedding committees.  I finished my time as the chaplain of Sacred Worth (the LGBTQ Candler student group), and helped organize the Sacred Worth week on Trans*forming Christianity, where we celebrated the gifts of trans Christians.

Over the summer, I worked for ten weeks as the pastoral intern of First Friends Meeting, an FUM meeting in Greensboro, NC.  I was able to experience many aspects of pastoral ministry, including helping with four weddings, a memorial, and two baby blessings. I also

preached in programmed worship, worked in the office, went on pastoral visits, and organized Quaker Eights groups.  I was surprised by how much I enjoyed pastoral ministry, and how it brings together my gifts of vocal ministry, pastoral care, and administration.  It was also wonderful to connect with Friends from other meetings during my time in Greensboro.

In the fall, I returned to Atlanta for my final year at Candler.  Now that I have finished my Contextual Education obligations in the meeting, this has been a good time for me to discern what I feel called to do and what to let go.  I joined the Friends Journal Board of Trustees and traveled to Philadelphia for my first board meeting.  I took some interesting and challenging classes, including Ecclesiology, which gave me an opportunity to think about Friends’ practices and structures, and a class on Religion, Sexuality, and Reproductive Health, which was cross-listed with Emory’s school of public health.  I experienced a lot of changes in my life: I started a new relationship, had to leave my apartment, and I got a car.  The changes have been mostly very good, but I am still adjusting.

Letting things go has continued to be a good spiritual practice for me.  I withdrew from a class this year for the first time in my academic career, and I am not planning on taking the second semester of Hebrew; instead, I plan to focus on my thesis.  My support network is
good: I meet monthly with a spiritual director and am part of a spiritual nurture group that
meets twice a month.  I met regularly with members of my anchoring committee in the spring, but have not been as consistent this past fall.  I have found self-care practices that work for me, including exercise, drawing and coloring mandalas, and singing in choirs, and I have recently started playing more board games.

Looking ahead, the biggest thing on the horizon is graduation in May.  I am actively seeking employment for after graduation.  In December, I spent a weekend interviewing and preaching for a semi-programmed FUM meeting that is looking for a full-time pastor.  The search committee and I are in discernment, and I should know more in January.  I feel like my classes this semester are preparing me for pastoral ministry: I am taking classes on Conflict Transformation, Preaching, and a practica on Weddings, Funerals, and Confirmation.  I am trying to be open and embrace the new things ahead in the coming year.

Thank you for your support and prayers.

Friday, August 28, 2015

On Yearly Meetings "Releasing" Meetings

With all the news about certain yearly meetings (*ahem* Northwest Yearly Meeting/North Carolina Yearly Meeting) "releasing" meetings, I think some Friends have lost the thread.

And the fact that in both cases it was a small committee acting outside of its authority, in my opinion, indicates a lack of Gospel Order.

If it is the will of God to expel the meetings who don't "follow Faith & Practice," bring it to the floor of business meeting.

(Which is kind of ridiculous because Faith & Practice is descriptive, not prescriptive. If Friends are hearing otherwise, revise F&P.)

I am encouraged by the faithful response of individuals and meetings saying that these decisions will not stand.

But there are a lot of wounded people right now. If we say we are Friends, we'd better listen for the voice of the Spirit together.

If not, we shouldn't call ourselves Friends. Just some other group that doesn't believe in listening for unity in the Spirit.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Let's Talk About Sin

[The message I gave in programmed worship on August 2, 2015 at First Friends Meeting.  An audio recording of the message is available on the First Friends website.]
2 Samuel 12:1-13 (NRSV)

And the Lord sent Nathan to David. He came to him, and said to him, “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor.  The rich man had very many flocks and herds; but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. He brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat of his meager fare, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him.  Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was loath to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb, and prepared that for the guest who had come to him.”  Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man.  He said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”

Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I anointed you king over Israel, and I rescued you from the hand of Saul; I gave you your master’s house, and your master’s wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more.  Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites.  Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, for you have despised me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.  Thus says the Lord: I will raise up trouble against you from within your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes, and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this very sun.  For you did it secretly; but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun.”  David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”  Nathan said to David, “Now the Lord has put away your sin; you shall not die.”
This morning we are talking about a challenging topic: sin.  A lot of the time, Quakers do not like to talk about sin.  We prefer to start with the Light within: there is that of God in each of us, and if we listen for that voice of God, we will hear.  But sometimes that Light within is what shows us the ways that we have strayed, the ways that we have missed the mark.  And there are a lot of people missing the mark in this passage.

I also think it’s important to talk about sin because, as one of my professors in seminary said, if we don’t have a theology of sin, then we tend to locate sin outside of ourselves.  We see it in other people or other kinds of people rather than in ourselves.

A lot of people know the story that came before this one, the story of Bathsheba, but let’s talk about that first so we have some context.  It’s a hard story.  David had become king of Israel.  He was the ruler with all the power, and he had wives, property, and a house.  One day as he looked out, he saw this woman Bathsheba as she was bathing for a purification ritual, and he wanted her.  So he sent out his men to her and brought her to him.  He knew she was married to Uriah, but he did this anyway, and he slept with her.  Then when Bathsheba told David that she was pregnant, he first tried to get her husband to come back to make it seem like the baby was his.  But when Uriah refused, David then arranged to have him killed in the front line of battle.

So we go from that story to the story of Nathan confronting David.  This is the second time that we have seen Nathan confront David: we saw that a few weeks ago when David wanted to build a house for God and Nathan said no, David would not be the one to build a house for God.  And so Nathan comes again to David and he tells him this story and gets David to be sympathetic.  Then he tells David, “You’re the one who did this.”

Often when I hear sermons on this passage, they focus on that first part: on the story and on David, and how Nathan kind of tricked David, and they ask us to sympathize with David.  But what struck me when I read this passage again is that even though this is a story about Bathsheba, the passage never says her name.  The passage says she is the wife of Uriah.  It is not only Bathsheba who is treated as property in this passage, but all of the wives are treated as property.  As punishment for David’s sin, Nathan says that his other wives will be taken before his eyes and given to another and another person shall lie with his wives.

David wrote a Psalm after this story.  Psalm 51:3-5 says,

For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you alone, have I sinned,
    and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are justified in your sentence
    and blameless when you pass judgment.
Indeed, I was born guilty,
    a sinner when my mother conceived me.
In this Psalm, David is saying that he sinned against God alone, but I disagree!  David sinned against Bathsheba and he sinned against Uriah.

I have struggled with the idea of sin.  I came from a denomination that was much more focused on sin than Friends sometimes are, and there was a lot about making everyone feel bad and guilty.  I don’t think that’s necessarily helpful.  But I read a book recently that really helped me rethink sin.  The book is by Serene Jones and it is called Feminist Theory and Christian Theology.  I am going to draw on some of Jones’ ideas on oppression and sin to approach this passage.

Bathsheba lived in a patriarchal system.  She lived in a system that did not recognize her full humanity.  In her book, Jones reminds us that there is a tension between individual and personal sin and collective and institutional sin.  We see David’s individual sins here: murder and rape.  Those are sins that are easy to identify.  But there is also a sin here: both David and Nathan are within this patriarchal system.  Denying Bathsheba’s humanity is a sin and it is contrary to how God wants the world to be.  Jones says that we believe, as Christians, “that the brokenness we experience is not right, that there must be another way for us to live, a way that enables the flourishing of women and of all people.” (93)

So David confesses his sin to God and he is forgiven, but Bathsheba is still hurt.  Bathsheba is powerless, she is marginalized, and she is subject to sexual violence.  These are faces of oppression that we still see in lives of women today.

The Psalm also says, “Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.”  That, to me, sounds like original sin, which is another thing that I have really struggled with.  And I think especially for many women, sin talk has meant people telling them that they should be ashamed of their bodies and ashamed of their sexuality.

That is a way that this passage is often interpreted.  I read a commentary yesterday saying that Bathsheba was a righteous woman: there is no indication that she was unfaithful to her husband.  That was healing for me to read, but it still kind of said that it was her fault.  The commentary said that she was doing this ritual washing at the wrong time, and that was why David raped her.

I can’t believe that.  I can’t believe that it was her fault.

This book by Jones has been helpful for me because it takes some of the traditional male approaches to theology and she re-maps them from the perspective of women.  A powerful example for me was contrasting how the theologian Calvin saw sin (this is a kind of traditional version of sin) with a woman’s experience.  Calvin described sin as looking into a mirror and seeing oneself, and the sin that one sees is pride.  This is a version of sin that really comes from the perspective of a man with a lot of social power and a loud voice.  But for many women, the sin is not pride.  Women are much more likely to have an incomplete sense of self, and the sin is not being able to see one’s full self.  So Jones suggests instead an image of a mirror that is fragmented.  That we are looking into a mirror and not seeing our complete selves.  That we are looking into a mirror and not seeing the world as it should be, not the way God intends it to be in its wholeness.

Jones also re-maps the idea of original sin in a way that is helpful for me.  She says that we recognize that we are all born into systems of oppression.  I named some of those earlier in oppression of women: women are oppressed by being powerless, by being marginalized, and being the subject of sexual violence.  We are all born into a world where that happens.  It’s not something that we can avoid.  But we have the opportunity to resist these systems of oppression as they come up in our lives.  As people make small comments or we see something that we know is just not right, we can speak up against these systems of oppression.  Or we can perpetuate them.  We are in them, regardless.

The last time we talked about David and Nathan, I asked who we identify with in these passages.  And I ask that again: who do we identify with when we hear this story?  Do we identify with David, the ruler who has lots of power and is recognizing his own individual sin?  Do we identify with Nathan, a prophet who is confronting David and is doing the right thing, but is still complicit in this system of oppression of women?  Do we identify with Bathsheba, the person who has been sinned against but is not named?

When have people sinned against us and then made it all about them?  When have we had to confront people in authority about the ways they have perpetuated systems of oppression?  How do we do this within the relationships that we already have?  
 

Last week in Deborah’s message, we heard the passage in Ephesians 4:1 that begins, “I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called . . .”  How do we walk worthy of our calling?  How do we name uncomfortable truths?  How do we recognize these systems of oppression that we are in?  It’s not just oppression of women, but oppression of people of color, and people with disabilities, and people with diverse sexual orientations.  We may be called to speak out against any one of these, or we may be called to speak out where they intersect.  How do we listen to what our calling is?

As we enter into a time of open worship, I invite everyone to listen for the voice of God.  Listen to how God is calling us in these hard places.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Business Meeting Report (July)

[As part of my internship with First Friends Meeting, I am writing short reports to the monthly meeting for business.  This is my report for the July business meeting.]

I am over halfway through my 10-week internship with First Friends Meeting and I have been having a wonderful time!  Everyone has been so friendly—I feel right at home.  In my first week, I had the opportunity to travel with other Friends to the FUM Stoking the Fire conference in Ohio.  Since then, I have been able to experience many aspects of pastoral ministry, including helping Deborah with three weddings, a memorial, and two baby blessings, along with working in the office, pastoral visits, and other forms of pastoral care.  I have been working on putting people in the First Friends community into Quaker Eights groups, with the hope that these small groups will help foster community and deepen relationships in the meeting.  I enjoyed preaching at Vespers for Friends Homes (West), and I look forward to preaching during First Friends’ programmed worship.  It has also been a joy for me to join the choir.  Thank you all for being so welcoming!  I look forward to getting to know you better as the summer progresses.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Guest Post: Why Can't We All Just Get Along?

[I am spending the summer as the pastoral intern at First Friends Meeting, a church in North Carolina Yearly Meeting (FUM).  On Sunday, June 21, Deborah S offered this message in programmed worship.  She agreed to let me share her message as a guest post here.]


We in the Quaker tradition generally don’t incorporate the outward sacrament of confession and absolution into our worship service.  But sometimes I wish we did.  Because I believe that we who are leaders in our state denomination—North Carolina Yearly Meeting of Friends—we have sin to confess. And it’s the sin of once again dividing up the body of Christ.

If we did offer public confession, my prayer would be this:
Jesus, during that last meal with your friends, you interceded for your disciples and said: “I pray that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.”  (John 17:21)

Jesus prayed that his followers may be one.  Yet, like so many before us in so many different Christian denominations, our state gathering is spiritually divided. We are not one. We who preach peace are fighting among ourselves.

Forgive us, O God.

Jesus, you said, “Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”  (Matthew 12:50)  And yet, in our brokenness we have taken it upon ourselves to judge who is right, who is wrong, who is in, who is out.

Forgive us, O God.

Jesus you said, “This is my commandment, that you Love one another, as I have loved you.  You are my friends if you do what I have commanded.” (John 15:12, 14)

Our very name, The Religious Society of Friends, comes from that same passage, this passage calling us to Love.  And while I think Friends in all of our meetings (churches) want to love one another, we have failed.  And instead, some have questioned other’s integrity and we have had spats over theology.  While I believe differing opinions are fine, in our disagreements in our wider Quaker denominational gatherings, we have often been unkind to one another.  Hurtful words have been uttered. We have not stayed centered in Christ’s love or centered in the Holy Spirit.

Forgive us, O God, I pray.

Amen.
For those of you who are visiting today or are relatively new to First Friends Meeting, I promise that today’s sermon is a one-off. We don’t normally focus on our denominational woes. And let me emphasize that the divisions I am speaking about are not internal to First Friends Meeting. So… please don’t let today’s message scare you away, okay?

Thankfully, we at this meeting are not fighting over theology. We certainly have our own failings and growing edges, but as a local congregation we are not struggling over the issues that are dividing the wider state denomination.  And while I haven’t wanted to preach about this before (there is not a lot of joy in it), I think it’s time to talk plainly from the “pulpit” about these wider concerns that are taking place beyond our local meeting in our wider North Carolina Quaker world.

I, of course, can only speak this morning from my experience and my perspective.  I encourage you to talk with others, ask questions, read the material that we will get out to you soon.  Then please come to our July 12 Monthly Meeting for Business, as we seek to hear God’s voice among us in order that our First Friends representative can then speak clearly on our behalf to the wider Quaker body on August 1.

Many of you have heard rumblings that our state denomination is in trouble. And you have asked, “What the heck is going on? What are we arguing about? What is dividing the sixty plus Quaker meetings (or churches) that we’ve been connected to for over a hundred years?”

Well… it’s complicated.  Of course. But here’s my best understanding on what we are struggling with:

The first issue in our Yearly Meeting is that, among the 60 different churches, we have differing views of Scripture. Many of our beloved siblings in Christ understand scripture to be their primary authority.  First and foremost, their source of spiritual authority is the Bible. While we at First Friends love scripture, we also believe (much as early Friends taught) that the Bible is merely words unless the Holy Spirit brings our reading of scripture to life.

As we read scripture, we seek to understand it through the lens of Jesus who said that the greatest commandment is to love God and love our neighbor. So we try to read and interpret scripture in that spirit.

Which means, for instance, that even though there are parts of the bible that say women should be silent in the church, we affirm that God can speak equally to all people. It means that although war was understood in King David’s day to be God-led and even spirit-inspired, we choose to say war should never be the answer.

And getting to one of the current major dividing points: while Jesus didn’t speak to the issue of same-sex marriage, it is our understanding that scripture, properly interpreted, affirms covenantal relationships. And so yes, we will affirm and marry a same-sex couple that is choosing to make the huge and prayerful commitment that marriage asks of anyone.

(And, since same-sex marriage is a huge topic, if my words surprise you, please feel free to call me and we can talk about it further.)

So, the first point is that people within our state denomination are divided over scripture and its authority.


A second issue is the question: Who is saved? And how are we saved?

Many of our fellow Quakers believe that the only way to God is through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and that it is through the sacrificial blood of Christ that our sins are forgiven and one receives salvation.

Now here at First Friends, we will respond to that question of salvation in a variety of ways. But, in general, we would affirm that it is not ours to judge who is in and who is out. Early Friends preached about the universal saving Light of Christ. About how people who are living out a deep and genuinely loving faith that results in loving their neighbor—those people with such a faith—are encountering the Living Christ even if they don’t know the name of Jesus.

So, there are genuine differences in how we view salvation, and those differences have become a great concern for some in our Yearly Meeting.

In my experience, those are the two main theological concerns.


Of course, the underlying question is: Why can’t we all just live with the differences? Why do we need to agree on our view of Scripture or salvation?  After all, we in NCYM have lived with theological diversity for years … why can’t we continue to do so?

I wish we could. I personally think we could.  I believe First Friends is made richer for being in association with others who think and believe differently. I like the diversity. I need the wideness of thought, prayer, and belief.

However, not everyone in our Yearly Meeting is comfortable with that range of beliefs.  And I respect their reason for wanting to disassociate with us and those who believe differently.  It comes down to what the Apostle Paul called being “unequally yoked.”

The Apostle Paul wrote that we should not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. Many of our beloved Friends feel their association with those who believe differently regarding salvation and the Bible (and same-sex marriage) qualifies as being unequally yoked.  And this is a sincere belief. My more theologically conservative friends are not trying to be mean or judgmental, they are simply stating what they understand to be true and wanting to be faithful to their beliefs.

As one of my friends from the other end of the theological spectrum said to me, “How can we preach Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross as the only way to salvation when you across town teach something else? Our association dilutes the clear message of salvation in Christ.” And again, he said that not with a mean spirit, not even critically, but in care and with sincerity.

For our more theologically conservative Friends, our diversity of belief is a genuine stumbling block. And I get it. So let me emphasize: this is not light versus darkness or good guys versus bad guys, etc.  For the most part, these are our fellow Quakers who like us and even love us, but simply feel like they can not continue to remain yoked with us.

Which brings me back to my first words: May God forgive us. For I believe that somewhere along the way, we all haven’t maintained the relationships that could have seen us through these theological differences.

And so our state denomination is at a standstill. Our body of representatives will gather on August 1 and possibly make a decision to separate in some manner. Or maybe some other GREAT wisdom will arise allowing us to health-fully, authentically remain as one body.  

What I do know is that it is time to stop our theological spats. Because the world needs all of us, conservatives and progressive alike, to do the work of Jesus, who called us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the orphans, and work for justice.  And friends, I am hopeful because we worship a God who forgives our brokenness, wipes away our sin, and calls us into new life together.

So, let us pray for wisdom. Whether we stay together as a denomination or not, let us prayerfully determine in the wider body to at least love one another.  For they will know we are Christians by our love, by our love.  And they know we are Christians by our love.

Amen.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Stoking the Fire

I had my first real experience with Friends United Meeting (FUM) Friends over the weekend at the Stoking the Fire conference, which took place May 22-25 in Milford, OH.  This was supposed to be my first week of work at First Friends Meeting, but since my supervisor is out of town, she suggested that I attend the conference and get to know FUM Friends that way.  I usually like to wait a while to let things settle before writing about an experience like this, but since I am leaving for California tomorrow, I want to write some of my initial impressions.

One of the highlights for me was being able to ride in the car with other Friends from North Carolina Yearly Meeting (FUM).  I did not know any of these Friends before we set off together on the 7.5-hour trip from Greensboro to Milford, but we know each other well now!  We spent a lot of time talking about our meetings, yearly meetings, and preaching, and we laughed a lot.

This was the first Quaker conference I have been to in a long time where I did not have any
responsibilities.  That was a little strange for me, but also pretty great.  The planners did a good job of building spaciousness into the schedule, with breaks and unstructured time, and I spent a fair amount of time napping and reading for pleasure.  The conference center was also very comfortable, with single rooms and plenty of food.

I didn't know what to expect entering an FUM gathering, but the Friends were extremely welcoming.  I got to spend time with some Friends I hadn't seen since the 2012 World Conference of Friends.  It was lovely to be able to catch up and share new ideas (some Friends and I especially enjoyed debating the parameters of "bro theology" over lunch one day).  I also got to know some new people, and I expect those relationships will continue online and as we travel among Friends.

The worship times were warm and welcoming, with a spirit of listening and a willingness to experiment.  The gathering was explicitly Christ-centered, and I got the sense that many Friends there feel out of place in their own meetings; they seemed relieved to be in a place where they could share their Christian beliefs freely.  The singing throughout the weekend fed my soul, especially in the Saturday evening Taize worship.

One thing that was surprising and disappointing was the gender imbalance in presenters over the weekend.  Men preached every morning, led the plenaries, and led most of the other activities in the large group.  In our main sessions, only two out of ten were led by women.  There were three young men (i.e., under 40) present, and all of them had leadership roles in the main sessions; there were at least eight young women, and none of them did.  The women who led tended to be in typically female roles: as support, leading music, or leading prayer.  I also noticed immediately that everyone was using male pronouns for God.  I am not used to hearing exclusively male pronouns anymore, and it was distracting and a little alienating for me.

Even more distressing were some of the comments that older men made to younger women present.  There was one man in particular who referred to all of the women there as "honey" and "girl," and then proceeded to tell them what to do.  I heard from three women that some of the men had made inappropriate comments about their appearance, including sexual and racial remarks.  This behavior is unacceptable and I expect better from Friends.

The conference took place over Pentecost weekend, and there was a sense of longing for a new Pentecost among Friends, a renewed fire in the Religious Society as a whole.  We did not experience that kind of fire, but there was a warmth to the gathering that was encouraging.  I think most of the Friends there came out with a renewed feeling of commitment and a greater sense of hope for the future of Friends.


In the final session, we spent time sharing where we had seen fire in various places throughout the weekend.  Rather than a bonfire, many of the fires were more like the candles in the Taize service—small but giving off more light and heat than we might have expected.  

Then Colin invited Friends to join him in the center of the circle, to draw near to Christ with him.  He started by inviting people individually and eventually everyone was welcomed in.  Afterward, a Friend referred to this moment as an altar call, and I realized that it was, but unlike other altar calls I have witnessed, which can feel manipulative and coercive, this grew organically out of the time that we shared together.  Friends felt free to come to the center or stay on the edges, and Christ was present everywhere.