A number of Friends have asked me lately: “You haven’t published a post since October 8th. Where in the world have you been?”
Well, part of the silence has been a commitment not to publish when I don’t have anything to say. And part of it’s been a combination of really busy and kinda fried. But actually, I think there might be value in giving an honest answer to the question, “Where have you been?” Because it’s hard sometimes to explain what full-time, non-institutional ministry really means, and understanding one another’s ministries is a pretty important thing. So here’s a snapshot—the last two months—in answer to the question.
Where have I been?
This is the final week of the Social Media Ads Experiment, Phase Two. I have significant learnings to share, and this requires writing another report. I like writing, but the way things have shaken out, there’s less time to get this done than there was at the end of Phase One. I’m also wishing that I could include exactly where my work with social media outreach might go next. But I don’t have an answer to that question, so all I can say is that it will go forward, somehow. (The plan’s in place. I just don’t know which Quaker organization, or organizations, it’ll go through.) I worry a little about the loss of momentum when I don’t have a concrete next step for interested Friends, but as is so often the case, I have to let that go. “Dear God, I know that this matters, and I’ll trust that You will take care of it.” I tie up loose ends with the twelve local meetings who have been participating in the experiment, and I post the report.
As an interim young adult field secretary for New York Yearly Meeting, I’m invited to a two-day gathering to talk about the Partner Project. This joint project, funded by the Shoemaker Fund and involving both New York and New England, has the goal of promoting and developing vibrant, multigenerational local meetings. We’re in need of a checkpoint retreat for the two staffs to see how things are going and confirm next steps.
On the way to Powell House, I work on figuring out transportation for what’s coming up next—a gathering near Lake Chautauqua on October 7th—and this is how I find myself on a train from New York City to Hudson with my laptop open showing two Google maps, one for the route from Denville, New Jersey to Lake Chautauqua and one for the route from Philadelphia to Rochester because I need to figure out where the two paths intersect, and I’m texting with my friend Gabi and also my friend Robin while Robin is on the phone with her husband and I feel like mission control.
The two yearly meeting staffs have thirty-six hours together. We reflect on where the project’s been and where it’s going. We worship. We laugh about Sesame Street over dinner. A notable moment comes when we ask the question, “What are the necessary conditions for culture change?” Our list includes things like “courage” and “new tools” and “healthy spiritual practice,” and right away I know this is a question I’ll be tackling. But not in October. There’s too much else to do.
We make a list of all the things—the things that are part of the Partner Project, and the things that are not—but all of the things that are happening in our two yearly meetings that are making progress toward the development of vibrant, multigenerational local meetings, and not for the first time I’m overwhelmed by gratitude for the faithfulness of Friends and also inspired by how much more we could do if somebody coordinated all this across yearly meetings. (Not managed—just coordinated—so that six different Friends weren’t all doing the same thing without knowing about each other.)
The night of the 4th, I slip away for an hour to facilitate a videoconference on “Supporting Friends in Multiage Spaces.” The basement at Powell House gets the best Internet reception, and I find a good spot standing by the copy machine in front of the office supplies. From there, I speak with Friends in Rochester and New York City and Connecticut. I lose my Internet connection and get kicked off the call three times, but we still manage to do some good work together.
After one night of sleep at home, it’s off to New Jersey, where I jump into Gabi’s car at the train station and we immediately take off for Lake Chautauqua, stopping at a Sonic in Birmingham to pick up Robin Mohr, whose family is mid-drive from Philadelphia to Rochester—the fruits of my earlier work as mission control. At a house on Lake Chautauqua, we meet Jane and Max Carter (who’ve driven up from North Carolina) and the Friends of Buffalo meeting (who’ve all driven down from Buffalo), though not before driving on a road so small we thought it might be a sidewalk and then wandering aimlessly through a neighborhood of houses looking for an address that turned out not to exist—ah, typos.
We’re here for a QuED Day—Quaker Exploration and Discourse—a series Gabi Savory Bailey and I have been facilitating once a month for all of 2017. Buffalo meeting agreed to host the day as part of their monthly meeting’s retreat. QuED Days are opportunities for the sharing of testimonies and informal connections, and the only thing they all have in common is the format—three speakers, Q&A, and unstructured time to do as Spirit leads. We livestream the talks on Facebook, and they’ve been watched all over the world by Quakers and non-Quakers alike.
Sharing ministry through Facebook to viewers you can’t see is…well, it’s bizarre. Because it’s not only about not seeing them; you also can’t feel them. You don’t have a sense of how your message is being received. But our three speakers are outstanding. Jane talks of visiting with and knowing the people of Palestine; Max talks of Friends’ imperfect work through history; Robin talks about the virtue of compromise. In the afternoon, we go for walks together and stop to buy apple cider doughnuts from an Amish farmer, then return to sit and chat on the porch. At one point, on the way to the bathroom, I pass a Friend who’s working alone on his laptop. He says, “I have a presentation to give tomorrow, and after hearing this morning’s speakers, I realized my approach was too single-minded; I have to make space for other people’s perspectives.” Ripples. I love ripples.
Gabi and I leave at 4pm, and she drives (and I ride) all the way back to New Jersey that night. We arrive a little after midnight. Her husband and children are at Powell House, so the place is empty. I crash in her little boy’s bed and sleep solidly.
We wouldn’t have had to drive all the way back last night if it weren’t for the fact that I have a commitment to give a report this afternoon. So by 8am, I’m on a train back into the city. By the time I arrive at Fifteenth Street—my home meeting—I’m tired and in need of a shower, and I look it. But this report matters.
I carry a travel minute from my local meeting, and that minute ties me and the ministry I carry to that meeting. Most of the regular spiritual support and accountability comes from my support committee—a small group of three Friends that’s a committee under the care of another committee of my meeting—but twice a year, I report back to the entire body. I share with them three or four major themes and also submit a detailed written report. They’re good to me. They’re curious. They receive the report and thank me for my work. It’s very hard to stay in relationship with your home meeting when you’re away most of the time. Fifteenth Street is my Quaker meeting—the first one I ever attended, the one that accepted me into membership, the one that “raised” me—and for that reason, they’re family.
To North Carolina!
This is my first journey as part of the Friends World Committee for Consultation Section of the Americas Traveling Ministry Corps. The corps is a brand-new concept, and this is its first year. There are seven of us—four English speakers and three Spanish speakers—and we are supported by a working group and sent to visit Friends who have invited us to come. The group that invited me this time is Winston-Salem meeting, a pastoral Quaker church in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, but arrangements have been made for me to make a variety of other visits while I’m down there. I’m not completely sure where I’m sleeping each night, which makes me nervous, but I try to reassure myself that that’s just my own tendency to over-plan.
On the way down, my first Greyhound kicks me off unexpectedly in Richmond, Virginia in the middle of the night. I am perfectly safe in the bus station, but it’s two o’clock in the morning. They inform me that I will transfer to a new bus, boarding at 5am. I’ve been stranded in this station before. I resolve to never to take another Greyhound that passes through Richmond.
I board my next bus without incident, and we’re delayed somewhere in North Carolina—I’m not really sure where we are—when the police have to be called to arrest the woman in the seat in front of me for semi-mysterious reasons. Then, two stops before mine, the bus breaks down on the side of the road. We’re leaking fuel, so we’re immediately evacuated, which means we’re standing by the side of the highway.
We receive essentially no communication from the driver except that we’ll have to wait—for what, I’m not sure. A couple folks try their luck hitchhiking. But it’s warm and sunny and there’s a large grassy expanse, and I’m tired, so I—and a number of others—stretch out to take naps. This is the sort of experience that ministry has taught me not to worry about. There’s no immediate threat of actual harm, so everything’s fine.
A few hours later, there’s still no threat of harm, but this has become less fun. It’s getting cold, and we’re hungry, and apparently Greyhound is not sending another bus until they’re completely sure they can’t fix this one. That’s when Lindy shows up. She drove by a little while ago, she says, and she saw us all sitting there and couldn’t not help. She delivers bottles of water and snacks, then leaves for half an hour and returns with twenty pepperoni pizzas!
I ask her why she’s doing this, and she tells me, “I just couldn’t drive by. I try to always put a little love and kindness in the world whenever I can. Because when people don’t have love and hope, all they’re left with is fear, and that’s where hate comes from.”
Kathleen Wooten shared something on Twitter once—“don’t tweet about the ministry, tweet the ministry”—so I take photos of Lindy and photos of the pizza and post the whole thing on Facebook, along with her words. Today I am the recipient of ministry.
The next few days, I dip in and out of my comfort zone. I do indeed find a place to sleep each night. I take my first Lyft when I find myself stranded forty miles from where I’m staying, and I find myself saying a strange little prayer: “Thank you, God, that I have an iPhone and can download this app.” I meet Friends for coffee and tour Friends’ churches and meet new Friends at Guilford College and spend an hour sitting with a student who asks me, “How do I know if I’m being called into ministry?” I also have a chance to sit with an elder I’ve never met before, and he names for me Truths—quite personal things—that are challenging and comforting and change the way I look at my own next steps, and I’m extraordinarily grateful for this man and his faithfulness.
That same night, from the bedroom of a house where I’ve never been before, I take a break from my trip to facilitate a videoconference on “Reinterpreting Traditions in the Light.”
Then it’s off to Winston-Salem, where I meet some of the friendliest and funniest Quakers I’ve ever seen, and we talk about how faithfulness is more like a roller coaster than a straight and narrow path, and then I’m back on a bus to New York. (It’s delayed, but I make it.)
It’s amazing how much emailing ministry seems to require. I also take some time to sleep and watch silly TV. I meet with my support committee, and I share with them what I heard from the elder in North Carolina, and we talk once again about money. (How are we going to make sure you’re supported?) A Skype call the next day—discernment with an evangelical Friend about an opportunity for the two of us to work together on something—and a Zoom call with a group to discuss Essays on the Quaker Vision of Gospel Order. (I run a book group on Facebook that’s reading this together. There are 97 of us from I-don’t-even-know-how-many-anymore yearly meetings around the world and across all the branches of Friends.)
In the next few days, phone calls and follow-ups.
Saturday morning, I travel downtown to the apartment of a Friend I’ve never met before so we can drive together to a meeting about ninety minutes to the north where I will facilitate a day-long meeting retreat on discernment. The day doesn’t go as well as I would have wished. It’s fine—just not extraordinary—my own work isn’t extraordinary. For the most part, I’ve gotten past the point of chastising myself for less-than-stellar work, provided I was faithful and did my best. But it does seem like reason to reflect. Is this a commitment that I should have said “no” to?
At the end of the meeting retreat, a Friend from New England Yearly Meeting picks me up and drives me to Massachusetts. One thing I’ve learned when traveling in the ministry is that often, what comes out of trips is not at all what we would expect or plan. This is one such moment. I met this particular Friend in August, when I attended New England Yearly Meeting’s annual sessions, as I’ve done for the past several years. We shared a home group. As a result of this contact, he invited me to present to his quarterly meeting on the subject of outreach and social media. When we arrive, I’m delighted but not terribly surprised to discover that I already know many of the Friends gathered. I’m delighted and surprised by the presence of s’mores.
The next day following worship, I have a full hour to present on the topic at hand, and I revel in such an abundance of time. I explain the work thoroughly, painting in detail the potential of a strong social media strategy embedded in an overall commitment to visibility and the health of the local meeting. It’s another of those moments when I don’t know what might come out of this gathering that will ultimately nurture many more than the people who are physically there. The group is eager and interested and open to trying new things.
When the presentation is over, I find a mattress in the First Day School room and curl up to sleep until it’s time to go to the bus station.
In the early morning, I’m lying in bed checking email on my phone when something startling appears in the inbox. I squeal and dash out to the kitchen, where one of my roommates (there are two of them, a married couple, a social worker and an artificial intelligence programmer) is blearily making coffee.
“I’m going to Tanzania!”
To her credit, she wakes up immediately and puts the coffeepot down and wants to hear everything. I’ve been selected as a delegate to attend the World Council of Churches’ upcoming Conference on World Mission and Evangelism…in Tanzania…in March. I’d known that I’d been nominated, but the person who’d nominated me had done so with the proviso that she was almost certain I wouldn’t be chosen. I know nothing about the World Council of Churches, or for that matter Tanzania, and my excitement is all tangled up with mental questions about things like visas and finances and the yellow fever vaccine. Still, this is worth celebrating. I’ll figure out the details later.
In July, I’d been sort-of-accidentally nominated to the Friends United Meeting general board. Sort-of-accidentally in that my name appeared on the consent agenda at yearly meeting sessions without my remembering having ever agreed to join the board—and for that matter, no one on the nominating committee remembered asking me. We decided to call it a God typo and move forward anyway.
This weekend is my first meeting as a board member, but I can’t go straight to Indiana because first I have to go to Baltimore; I’ve been invited to present on the Social Media Ads Experiment to the Friends General Conference central committee. I carpool down with a good friend and, upon arrival, enjoy a lovely dinner. I have twenty-five minutes to present what I had an hour to do in Massachusetts, but nevertheless it feels right, and again, the message is all about potential. What can happen if we are open to experiments? God’s imagination is so much bigger than ours…
I wish I could stay to answer individual questions, but a local Friend has volunteered to drive me to a hotel near the Baltimore airport, from which I can catch an airport shuttle at 3am. I fly to Charlotte first and then to Dayton, and another local Friend (God bless local Friends) picks me up there and drives me to the board meeting in Richmond, Indiana. I’ve already missed the first day, so I go straight to the meetingroom where work is in session. They have coffee. Yay.
Not for the first time, I’m amazed by the ministries connected with Friends United Meeting, everything from clean water for villages to financial health of yearly meetings to education for Kenyan girls. Also not for the first time, I’m grateful to be a member of a blended yearly meeting, affiliated with both Friends General Conference and Friends United Meeting. Sometimes stretching to keep a hand in both worlds makes me feel a bit like Gumby, but for the most part I’m just grateful to know so many members of the wider family of Friends.
I understand us—all of us—to be part of the same covenant, and just like a family, we might not always like each other much (or even know one another well), but nevertheless, we’re connected, even in those moments when we might prefer not to be.
Eden Grace and I talk about my upcoming trip to Tanzania—she’s Friends United Meeting’s Global Ministries Director—and she asks me what else I might feel led to do as long as I’m in Africa. Immediately I say, “I want to go to the shepherds’ school!” This is a ministry I heard about in Kansas in July, at the Friends United Meeting triennial. The Samburu people of rural Kenya are semi-nomadic shepherds, and many of the children are responsible for watching the family’s animals during the day. So Samburu Quakers started a school for shepherds, which meets after dark. They provide elementary-level education, and the whole community takes turns walking the children home late at night. Eden says this might be possible but reminds me that there’s no plumbing, no roads, no electricity…then she asks me if I’d be willing to take photos and video while I’m there. I wonder about that one for a minute, but apparently there are cell towers, and you can charge your phone on a car battery, so there won’t be any toilets, but I’ll still have access to Facebook.
Home again, I have a videoconference with Chris Venables in Britain Yearly Meeting. He’s terrific. He’s on staff over there and works with the whole yearly meeting on young adult inclusion. We’ve spoken a few times and emailed on occasion, in the spirit of colleagues, and he asks me—“Would you come to London on your way home from Africa? I mean, you’ll have to fly through Europe anyway…” It’s not really a surprising suggestion; Friends in Britain Yearly Meeting have accessed my blog almost as many times as Friends in the U.S. I’m thrilled by the possibility of following up with that community.
So suddenly we’re looking at possibly an up-to-six-weeks trip, with Samburu and then Tanzania and then London and then Indiana (because I’ll be bumping up against the next Friends United Meeting board meeting.) I recognize intellectually that this is, in concept, a Potentially Scary Thing, but I decide to be excited instead.
I’m going to fast forward a bit. November includes much of the same…emails, Facebook group, working with individual Friends, speaking to groups of Friends, traveling, gatherings, buses, trains…frankly, by now, you get the basic idea.
But the pace is much slower. October was the most packed-full month I’ve had in a long time, to the extent that it stopped being fun being so busy. Ultimately, that kind of pace is unhealthy for the minister and the ministry. So in November, I commit to making space for self-care. Long walks. Better food. Plenty of sleep. Virtual Lunches—human connection with good friends for an hour or so, by video conference, around lunch time, because we all have to eat lunch anyway, right?
In addition to Samburu/Tanzania/London/Indiana, here’s what I know is coming up:
For twelve days at the beginning of December, I’ll be on vacation somewhere warm, and I’ll have my phone in airplane mode—completely off the grid, a genuine Sabbath. After that, Christmas with family and New Years with Friends.
I’m in conversation with a large Quaker organization about institutional support for the next steps of the social media ad work. So if you’re still hoping there will be an opportunity for your meeting to participate in that—there will be.
I hope to attend the Beyond Diversity 101 retreat at Pendle Hill in January, because although I haven’t always known this, I now understand that if I don’t have anti-racism tools in my toolbox, the ministry will always be potentially damaging, or at the very least, woefully incomplete. (I’m sorry it took me so long to figure that out.)
I’ll continue the Facebook reading group for Lloyd Lee Wilson’s Essays on the Quaker Vision of Gospel Order and will start a second one in the new year for Mathilda Navias’ Quaker Process for Friends on the Benches. There are more on the horizon, but I’m not quite ready to make a public commitment yet.
And I’m chewing on what will likely be a massive project, the details of which are still pretty hazy. It’s one thing to publish the kind of articles that I did in the series “Building a Culture of Multiage Inclusion,” but it’s quite another to walk alongside Friends who are willing, even eager, to put these ideas into practice. I’m working on finding the right ways to do this, in a manner that’s accessible to anyone who’s interested, including individuals, small groups, local meetings, and larger organizations.
So that’s where I’ve been—and where I think I’m going! As always, enjoying the adventure.
And now I’m curious–where have you been?