Category Archives: Travel in Ministry

Can I Have a Definition, Please?

How would you define travel in the ministry?

The definition matters more than we might think, especially when it comes to the connotation of the phrase, which for me has long included meetings for worship, vocal ministry, and somehow or other, the presence of horses. I feel a bit foolish revealing this as my mental image because I’ve spent huge amounts of time asking the question, “How do we define travel in the ministry?,” and I feel like I should know that it doesn’t have to involve bonnets or anything, and yet, when I close my eyes and picture it . . .

At the same time, for years, there’s been all this anxiety about how to define my own call to ministry. I phrase it deliberately as “there’s been all this anxiety” and not “I’ve had all this anxiety” because mostly the anxiety hasn’t come from me. It’s come from other people who have, for various totally valid reasons, needed to be able to describe what I’m doing. But even with help from clearness committees and support committees and other ministers and trusted elders, there never seemed to be the right language.

“Writing-speaking-organizational consulting-storytelling-multigenerational community-systems analysis-outreach-revival ministry” is reasonable accurate, but . . . seriously?

Hearth-building ministry” is something I made up that’s easy to say, but nobody knows what it means.

This all brings me back to a time when I was very young and had a boyfriend who’d never kissed me. One particular evening, we found ourselves in a situation that was very TV-show-romantic (mountain climbing, sitting by a fireside), and it certainly seemed like he ought to be kissing me, and I wondered why he wasn’t kissing me, and at the same time he kept doing this weird thing with his face where he would turn and put his mouth very close to my chin and I couldn’t figure out why—

It took me six weeks to put that together.

Anyway, in what feels like a similar phenomenon, it finally occurred to me about three weeks ago that what I’m doing among Friends is traveling in the ministry, which really and truly does not require horses and which is sufficient as a phrase all by itself, and why didn’t I figure that out a lot earlier? Why did it seem like I had to come up with something else to say?

I think it’s because Quakers, collectively, don’t have a good definition of traveling in the ministry. I mean, aside from the horses and bonnets thing.

Lloyd Lee Wilson has some words about this that I’ve found handy. He says that “travel in the gospel ministry is different from, feels different from and looks different than, travel under a social concern or a simple visitation,” and he also mentions that “the first motion toward travel in the gospel ministry is love for Friends, usually not personally known, in distant meetings.” Both of those statements ring true, but Lloyd Lee’s description of travel in the gospel ministry leans heavily on vocal ministry in meeting for worship and also worship opportunities within homes, and he doesn’t say much (as I recall) about whether other venues of ministry might also be gospel ministry.

My own yearly meeting’s Faith and Practice (New York Yearly Meeting) emphasizes the procedure around travel in the ministry much more than the essence of what it is. And I will understand if you read the first few words of this quote and then give up and skip to the next paragraph. “Where a member proposes to travel under the weight of a concern, the monthly meeting may issue a minute of travel releasing the Friend for a particular service. The minute of travel is a certificate endorsing the Friend’s concern, indicating that the meeting is in unity with and in support of this venture. The service undertaken may include arranging public addresses, informal conferences, visiting in families, appointing meetings, or making group visits, prompted by a desire to deepen the religious life of the Society or promote a specific form of social action. At the business meeting where the proposed minute is taken up, and in advance of that meeting, where possible, Friends should give counsel and sympathetic consideration to the individual and the concern. Discretion and sensitivity to divine guidance, as well as to the conditions of those who will be met, are vital qualifications for visitors. A minute of travel should not be granted lightly, and the monthly meeting’s preparers should so phrase it that there can be no doubt of the purpose for which the monthly meeting issued it or any basis for confusion with a letter of introduction.”

Friends World Committee for Consultation Section of the Americas tells us that traveling ministers “encourage Friends to learn from one another, and following consultation and discernment with the local communities, proceed to minister through prayer, pastoral counseling and encouragement, religious education, or peace, justice and environmental concerns.”

In Quaker Process for Friends on the Benches, Mathilda Navias quotes Jonathan Vogel-Borne: “Throughout significant portions of Quaker history the traveling ministry has been the lifeblood of the Religious Society of Friends. Since the earliest days women and men have been called by God to travel to various places among the ‘world’s people’ as well as among already established groups of Friends.” True, and helpful in setting it in historical context.

Callid Keefe-Perry talks about this at length and in wonderful ways, and one thing he mentions is that his “own service falls within the . . . category [of] Traveling in the Ministry, meaning that while I continually return to, and am grounded and held accountable by, community there, the work I do is primarily outside of my congregation.” This accountability piece feels important to me.

Brian Drayton and Noah Baker Merrill once said that “the calling to ministry always involves travel—and travail. The motion of love, the inward response (willing or unwilling), and the risk of service demand preparation, clarity, listening, humility, trust.”

SO MANY WORDS.

Don’t get me wrong—Lloyd Lee Wilson, Faith and Practice, FWCC, Mathilda Navias, Callid Keefe-Perry, Brian Drayton, and Noah Baker Merrill are all awesome. There’s not one name or organization or publication on that list that I don’t respect, and I’ve found all of the above text genuinely helpful over the years.

But somehow, I’ve still got horses and bonnets in my head.

In contrast to the horses-and-bonnets thing, here’s some ministry stuff that I’ve actually done lately:

– Traveled to Africa and the Middle East and a bunch of places in the United States

– Clerked committees

– Taught in a one-room schoolhouse in Kenya

– Tutored special education students in Palestine

– Administrated Facebook groups

– Made a documentary

– Published blogs

– Wrote a workbook for sixth graders

– Led programmed worship

– Facebooked and Instagrammed

– Facilitated workshops

– Went for walks with people

– Attended a World Council of Churches gathering on evangelism and ministry

– Consulted with staff members of various Quaker organizations

– Raised money

– Served on a board of directors

– Took over somebody’s Twitter feed

– Sent a whole bunch of emails

Is there a phrase for this other than “travel in the ministry?”

For the sake of recognizing travel in the ministry, and also for the sake of making it feel attainable, we’ve got to come up with a modern-relevant definition. I think I might take mine from Jeremiah. “All you have to do is go where I tell you to go and do what I tell you to do.” That’s a pretty good definition of travel in the ministry, right?  (Jeremiah 1:7)

Though I don’t want to lose the accountability piece, the connection to a local meeting, the corporate discernment process of sending someone out and receiving them back. That’s the difference between Quakerism and what I understand about historical Ranterism; for Quakers, there’s an emphasis on knowing that we can’t consistently discern where God tells us to go and what God tells us to do without a community to help us test things. So . . .

Travel in the Ministry: going where God tells you to go and doing what God tells you to do while checking in with your home faith community pretty often so you don’t accidentally go rogue or forget to take care of yourself.

How would you define travel in the ministry?

Also, what does it look like?

A Song of Peace

Where I’ve Been (November)

I fixed a child’s hair bow. The clip had broken, and I had bobby pins. I pulled one out of my ponytail and slid it through the little red ribbon and reaffixed the bow to its four-year-old owner. If I’ve done nothing else here, I know that I’ve done that.

That’s not meant to sound despairing. It’s just that travel in the ministry is much like any other bit of life, and it’s not always clear what we’ve achieved—so it helps to celebrate little things, like fixing a tiny bow.

I have a little chart next to the light switch in “my” bedroom, here in Palestine. It tells me what time to set the alarm each day. Some days start earlier than others, and no two are the same, so I made myself a chart to simplify things. Of course, this is a chart of normal, and normal rarely happens here, not with the government reorganizing social security, which has led to regular city-wide protests on top of the usual half-days and parties and holidays of school life.  I do the best I can to keep up.

Most days, I work with three or four or five or six kids. With some, my job is to teach some English. With a few of the smallest, it’s help with behavior management. Little S only wants to play with toys (forever). Little L tends to hit. And kick. And spit. Little T is a sweet thing cloaked in dignity; she permits me to assist with homework, but not cuddle. Young A, a middle schooler, is learning that not everyone wants to hug. Last week he told me very clearly to move my chair back “because personal space.” And my new friend B is near graduation. Some academics are out of reach, but she might be a greeter or a clerk in a store. She is learning to say “excuse me” and “how are you?” at all the right times, and in two languages.

Ramallah bustles. I don’t know how to describe this place. Begin with the color gray; then add a great many yellow cabs. Lots of people. The occasional donkey cart. Hundreds or thousands of little shops, many with automated barkers, tape recorders playing through megaphones, “pajama ten shekel, pajama ten shekel,” and the tape recorder never gets tired so it never, never, ever stops. Call to prayer five times a day. Onions three shekels for half a kilo; when I just want one, the vendor laughs at me and says, “Just take it.” With a cone, you automatically get three kinds of ice cream.

I’ve made some new friends. Sometimes I find myself sitting and listening. Grief or frustration or wistfulness—a traveling minister is safe to talk to. One day, I made a Christmas tree out of glitter paper. Another day, I sharpened three hundred colored pencils. Every Friday, some local friends (small ‘f’) feed me and a handful of others some breakfast, pita and hummus and olive oil and vegetables.

Sundays are worship days. Ramallah Friends Meeting has a meetinghouse made—I think—of 1500 stones, not counting the floor, but it’s possible my multiplication is wrong. It feels very safe. The space around the meetinghouse is brilliantly green. “A Song of Peace” is the meeting’s sort of unofficial anthem.

I’m tied to home. This month, from Ramallah, I’ve run Facebook groups and answered emails and clerked committee meetings (thank you, Skype) and worked for New England Yearly Meeting and scheduled fundraising travel for Friends United Meeting. I’ve blogged less often because my writing energy is going into a book. This one’s about Quaker culture and faith. Another one, later, will be about travel in the ministry.

The school’s amazing. I won’t tell you it’s perfect—and if I did, you very sensibly wouldn’t believe me—but it’s really quite wonderful. The families are dedicated. The kids work hard. The teachers care. Last week the college counselor, who lives down the hall, pulled up a photo on his phone to show me this year’s first college acceptance. “And he still has interviews for Harvard and Columbia,” he told me proudly.

It’s easy to forget the occupation…that is, easy for me. I know I can leave this place anytime I like, and if I want to visit Jerusalem, I can take the 218 bus. But my Palestinian friends can’t come with me. I haven’t been to Jerusalem.

 

Where I’m Going (December)

My flight out of Tel Aviv is December 9, and I’ll stop in Paris for twenty hours on the way home. (Believe it or not, this was the cheapest option!) I’ll be home for a little more than a week and then go see family for the Christmas holiday.

October-November 2018

Where I’ve Been (October)

October was packed in a wonderful way. I started the month by speaking to the lower school at Friends Seminary in Manhattan. My subject was “being a bridge,” and I spoke for about forty minutes on bridging cultures and on education as a bridge. I showed the kids some of the work that I did in a classroom in Samburu, Kenya, where the students are eager but the materials are few. We also talked about engineering and how two pieces leaning against one another are stronger than one piece stretching over a big gap—so, who do you lean on?

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The next day, I headed for New Jersey to be part of a group building a strategic plan for outreach in New York Yearly Meeting. The weekend planning session was the end of two years of background work on the part of many Friends, and it was really exciting to see everything come together. The group developed a strategy by which we could do research, build resources, work directly with meetings to connect them to the resources, and tell inspiring stories all at the same time.

A quick trip to Texas meant spending some time with my aunt and uncle (and another aunt, and another aunt, and a handful of assorted cousins), and my dad met me there too, which was a bonus. Then up to Indiana for a Friends United Meeting board meeting. We heard some really extraordinary stories about work happening around the world.

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FUM’s advancement committee (of which I am a member) also got plans in place for me to do some storytelling/fundraising work for FUM in the month of February—woohoo! I look forward to traveling through Ohio, Indiana, and Iowa in that month and would love to stop at your church or meeting if yours is somewhere in that area.

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I also connected with the FUM Press about a new common core-aligned workbook (sixth grade) to accompany the middle school book Luke’s Summer Secret.  Coming soon!

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Then I hopped a plane to Chicago, then Amman, then Tel Aviv, all followed by a taxi to Ramallah. The trip wasn’t flawless but wasn’t as tricky as it might have been. I spent my first couple of weeks in Palestine going from disorientation (I’m sorry, I’m supposed to do what to cross the street?) to basic competence (pretty sure I can find the grocery store…) to comfort (one o’clock pita time!)

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Ramallah Friends School is an extraordinary place. The community is welcoming, and the teachers are passionate and highly competent. There are fourteen grades, from lower kindergarten through twelfth, and the lower, middle, and high schools are all International Baccalaureate curriculum. In kindergarten and lower school, the language of instruction is Arabic, with English as an additional course, but in the upper school, the language of instruction is primarily English, and kids graduate fully bilingual. The school is also inclusive of children with special needs.44112840_10156176070339086_3525572738699755520_n

I’m still keeping a number of plates spinning at home—three cheers for the Internet—and I’ve signed on to do some consulting work (mostly writing-related) for New England Yearly Meeting over the next year.

 

Where I’m Going (November)

In November, I’ll have a full month to spend at Ramallah Friends School. I have a pretty regular routine going—get up, do some work on at-home projects online, eat breakfast, spend a day teaching, buy pita, come home, eat lunch, do some more work on at-home projects, go to the corner and buy a fancy juice or some ice cream, read, sleep, rinse, repeat. It’s a surprisingly spacious schedule.

Mondays I’m at the upper school. I work with two tenth grade students early in the morning, both in special education, but very different from one another. One is vision impaired but has excellent conversational English, and the other has very little English. After that, I visit two middle school English classes and assist a few kids who are having a hard time, and then I work one-on-one with a twelfth grader, also in special education.

Tuesdays are lower school days, and there I have four children, each one-on-one, over the course of the morning and afternoon. These are two second-graders, one fourth-grader, and one-fifth grader, and they’re dealing with various combinations of ADHD, dyslexia, and developmental delays. One is still working on letter recognition; the most advanced of them is working on writing complete sentences.

Wednesdays, it’s off to kindergarten! I spend most of the day in English classes, where my focus is support for kids who are having a particularly hard time, mostly behaviorally. Kindergarteners are young enough that no matter what the neurological or psychological condition might be, it tends to manifest as behavior problems, so it takes careful observation to figure out which ones are having sensory integration problems and which aren’t processing language well and which might be on the autism spectrum…once you’ve figured out the cause of the trouble, you can often intervene in a helpful way. The school does have experts in this field—and they are more experienced than I am—but an extra pair of eyes comes in handy, or at least I hope so.44930619_10156198573549086_243013132258115584_n

Thursdays are back to the upper school, where I have one-on-ones or one-on-twos all day. My youngest on Thursday is sixth grade, and my oldest is tenth grade. Again, it’s a wide range of exceptionalities, everything from “still learning English phonics” to “needs help organizing essays.”

Friday, NO SCHOOL! Or as we say in kindergarten—and you have to imagine this in a sing-song voice like nanny-nanny-poo-poo—“Friday is a day off, Friday is a day off, no school on Fridays!” Friday, of course, is the Muslim holy day, and Sunday is the Christian holy day, and some of the students are Muslim and some Christians, so . . .

Saturday is a school day, which sort of means that I feel like a hobbit here, with “first weekend” and “second weekend.” It’s another day of kindergarten, very similar to Wednesdays, except I also pull some kids out of class for a few minutes at a time to work on fine or gross motor control. Up the stairs…down the stairs…hop on one foot…catch the ball…up the stairs…down the stairs…seriously, though, did I mention these kids are really cute?

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September-October 2018

Here’s the third in a series of updates on travel and projects.

 

Where I’ve Been (September)

The first week or so of September was pretty quiet—mostly at-home work, keeping up with emails and letter-writing and Quaker Open Book and Holy Experiments. I also started working with a group of 50 Friends from a total of 19 meetings on the FGC Digital Outreach project. This project includes training for participants in using Facebook as an outreach tool while simultaneously running ads in the local meetings’ areas. (As of the end of September, these ads have reached a total of almost 98,000 people. I don’t want to go into the other results/data quite yet, though I might at the end of next month when the project is officially over.)

Mid-September, I spent an evening at Westbury Friends Meeting, first talking with their ministry and counsel committee about social media presence and then—after a lovely potluck dinner—doing some storytelling to the meeting in general about the world of Friends and 1 Corinthians 12. That same week, I did a Saturday workshop on building a healthy multiage meeting community at Monadnock meeting in New Hampshire. They are an hospitable, friendly crew, and I was so glad to get to know them.

Later in September, I did a little consulting with some Friends on how to market a new retreat series they’re planning to offer, and then I headed to Maine for a gathering of recipients of the Lyman grant. This grant is provided for the purpose of helping people to pursue whatever they are Spirit-led to do, and though the monetary amount isn’t huge, the affirmation of receiving it was very helpful to me—and the gathering for recipients was relaxing and warm and full of opportunities to connect and hear stories of how God is moving in each person’s life. Oh—and I had some super fun, very geeky conversation with a couple of Baha’i about systems analysis and organizational effectiveness. (The gathering was hosted by a Baha’i retreat center.)

 

Where I’m Going (October)

It’s a big month—exciting and a little intimidating. In the first week of October, I’ll serve as a facilitator for a community period at Friends Seminary lower school on the topic of “being a bridge.” This basically means speaking to a group of kids, teachers, and parents, the kids falling between the ages of 5 and 12. The next day, I’ll head to New Jersey, where a small group of Friends is gathering to create a strategic plan for how New York Yearly Meeting can support local meetings and Friends in outreach in the next few years.

In the second week of October, I’ll fly first to Dallas to spend a couple of days with some extended family and then to Indiana for a Friends United Meeting general board meeting. From Indiana, I’ll fly to Chicago and Amman and Tel Aviv—in that order—on my way to Palestine, where I’ll settle in to spend a couple of months at Ramallah Friends School. RFS, for those who don’t know, is located in the West Bank. It’s a ministry of Friends United Meeting and educates Palestinian girls and boys from pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade. This school year is their 150th. I’ll be working in their special education department through the first week of December, though I’m told I’ll still have excellent and consistent access to Wi-Fi, so I won’t be disappearing from the world online.

August-September 2018

Here’s the second in a series of updates on travel and projects.

 

Where I’ve Been (August)

August began with New England Yearly Meeting sessions at Castleton University. There’s an official website with talking points that I encourage you to check out, but a couple of things really stood out for me.

The first thing that resonated was the anchor group that I facilitated. There were about fourteen of us, varying in number from one day to the next. Many large Quaker gatherings have some sort of daily small group meetings, and this tends to be really important because otherwise the crush of people and the pace of activities can become truly overwhelming. Different gatherings do this in different ways. In New England, the small groups are randomized rather than grouped by interest or age or other factors. This has its pluses and minuses, but a major virtue is the chance to know people that you might not otherwise meet. Small-group sharing with Friends outside our usual circles is vital in a time when many Friends are striving to build more fully inclusive spiritual communities. In my small group were Friends from a variety of gender identities, ages, classes, and theological paths.

The second memorable thing was a long piece of work in business meeting about contributions to Friends World Committee for Consultation, Friends United Meeting, and Friends General Conference. New England Yearly Meeting contributes financially to these organizations at nearly three times the level of other, comparably-sized yearly meetings. The question came to to the gathered body: should the yearly meeting cut back on these contributions in order to balance its budget? In the end, the group affirmed that it would continue its current level of giving, as led, stepping out in faith, doing what they understood to be right rather than what might be seen, arguably, as “fair.” It was not an easy decision. I was grateful to witness it.

It’s worth noting that I was Facebooking things that happened throughout the week. I encourage that others try this kind of sharing when possible; it can make a real difference in a sense of community for Friends who aren’t able to physically attend.

Much of the rest of August was quiet—lots of emails, lots of Facebook work, a certain amount of committee work, some writing. Quiet time’s not so bad, especially considering the travel coming up in the fall and winter.

 

Where I’m Going (September)

September 1st will be the first day for the Friends General Conference Digital Outreach cohort. I’m looking forward to working with Friends from Maine to Florida to Indiana—and maybe the west coast, too? Not sure yet. We’ll be running Facebook ads for local meetings while simultaneously training local Friends in the skills needed to maintain an effective social media presence. My primary goal in this program is to make myself—and any other outside assistance—irrelevant, with the meeting having everything it needs to do the work independently down the line. (Of course, I always recommend a community of practice. “Independently” doesn’t have to mean “alone.”)

Later in September, I’ll have an evening gathering at Westbury meeting on Long Island, which looks like it will consist of a brief social media training, a potluck, and a chance to do some storytelling about Friends around the world. These kinds of storytelling opportunities are among my favorite parts of travel in the ministry; there’s something wonderful about having the chance to share about the global covenant community.

Westbury will be followed by a day-long workshop at Monadnock meeting on multiage inclusion, and a week after that, I’ll be at a gathering for Lyman grant recipients in Maine. The Lyman Fund exists “to support individuals seeking to follow their deepest inward spiritual leading,” and I’ve received two grants from the Lyman Fund in the last year. This has been important because, unlike many other grants, Lyman grant funding can be used for the types of personal support (food, rent, etc.) that enable ministry work.

July-August 2018

A couple of Friends recently asked whether I could provide monthly updates on where I’m going and where I’ve been. The answer is yes, I can—and this is the first of those.

 

Where I’ve Been (July)

On the first day of July, I found myself in Toledo, Ohio, preparing for the Friends General Conference gathering. I spent my week facilitating a workshop called Building a Culture of Multiage Inclusion. I had seven vital and remarkable participants.

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We covered a number of topics, and often in a very lively way—but one of my favorite moments was when we got quiet and I asked the parents in the room, “What would you want other Friends to know about how to nurture you?” Below is their response. I’d love to bring this workshop to other places; feel free to reach out to me.

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July 1st was also my first day being an associate with Good News Associates, an organization to support non-institutional ministry. Through this group, I can receive donations for the first time, and I also have a cohort of other Friends engaged in non-institutional ministry. It’s really quite something to find that kind of home.

The second week of July brought two videoconferences with Friends involved in the Friends World Committee for Consultation traveling ministry corps. The first was a gathering of just the Friends from North America, and the second included Friends from all parts of the Americas. A very hard-working translator made sure that we all understood one another. The second call was an opportunity for the members of the traveling ministry corps from both language groups to engage in deep sharing of our experiences with travel in the ministry. It can be hard to maintain a sense of family and togetherness across continents and language barriers, but in the end, our connection goes beyond these things.

(And Skype helps, too.)

A handful of Friends gathered for a little swimming-and-picnicking day that week, as well, which was a rare opportunity to be together in a way that was strictly “off the clock.” You could also call it a Sabbath.  I ate some chives.

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The following week brought several meetings, including one for the advancement committee of the North American board of Friends United Meeting. This is a new field for me, and many of you know how I excited I get about new fields! I’ve raided the New York Public Library and am happily settling down with a collection of charts and spreadsheets. I’m passionate about this work because I’ve seen, first hand, the effects of FUM’s ministries. You can’t quite look at a budget the same way after you’ve had the experience of meeting a little girl in Kenya whose education relies on those numbers. Hidden in those rows and columns are a new car for a medical center and a periodical for aging Friends and peace work in troubled communities and extra pencils for child shepherds.

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Then came New York Yearly Meeting sessions, and what a week it was. My favorite moment was the announcement of a new preparative meeting in New York Yearly Meeting. “Christ is the Answer Friends Church” is a Swahili-speaking congregation of Congolese refugees outside Buffalo. Translation for Faith and Practice, anybody?

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Where I’m Going (August)

For today and the next two days, I’m spending quality time with my computer, catching up with—and getting ahead on—emails and so forth. This includes work on Holy Experiments and Quaker Open Book and ongoing research in several areas.

Next week I’ll head for New England Yearly Meeting annual sessions, where I’ll be a facilitator for a worship sharing group and where I’ll just generally have the opportunity to meet with Friends and to worship with them. There’s a healthy, ongoing relationship between New York and New England Yearly Meetings, with many Friends who travel back and forth. Both feel like home to me.

After that, the plan is to come home and do some writing, along with preparing for Digital Outreach (a project for Facebook training and social media outreach through Friends General Conference) and the upcoming trip to Ramallah Friends School.

Chesed by Pizza

The obligations of normal human kindness—chesed, as the Hebrew has it—that, we all owe.

(Madeleine L’Engle, A Ring of Endless Light)

Each mode of travel—bus, train, plane, automobile—has its own character. I find buses to be the most strange. They’re always cold, except when they’re hot. Transfers come disproportionately in the middle of the night. And even if you’re promised wifi and electricity, your chances are fifty-fifty of receiving either. Something about the combination of continual jostling, sleep deprivation, and the inability to fidget in your seat evokes a sort of twilight state that I don’t entirely dislike. The rules of the world change. You slip into magical realism.

By two-thirty Tuesday afternoon, I’m halfway between nowhere and North Carolina. Home is at least fourteen hours behind me. So, too, I’ve left behind the coffee shop that took forty-five minutes to bring me a bagel and the woman with the duffel bag who was arrested and dragged off the bus three stops back.

We pull over on the side of the highway. This is sometimes an indication of calamity and sometimes an indication that the driver needs to pee. He disembarks—not a promising sign—and reboards barking orders: EVERYONE OFF, IMMEDIATELY!

Backpack and I rush to comply. When all of us are off and well clear, a few minutes pass, and then the driver makes an announcement only audible to the six people nearest him, but through the crowd like a game of telephone, we learn that our fuel is leaking. We’ll be here for awhile. It’s not a bad side of the road, as roadsides go, wide and well back from traffic and reasonably clean. So, once I’m sure an explosion’s unlikely, I lay down and go to sleep. Many others do the same.

An hour later, I’ve finished my nap and have stretched out on my back to watch the sky. Two passengers hitchhike. The police appear, and I watch them curiously, wondering how they intend to be helpful; they firmly request that we not litter, then get back in their cars and drive away. Our driver keeps himself apart from his passengers, but he’s sitting and waiting as powerlessly as we. Another hour passes by. It’s now four-thirty.

It’s also getting hot. At first, this experience was odd but not unpleasant. Now, it’s becoming uncomfortable, and our spirits are not lifted when the driver announces that the company won’t send a new bus until they’re sure they can’t fix this one, but the mechanic has not yet appeared, and when he does appear, if he can’t fix the bus, it will take at least an hour after that to get a new one. Among us are a toddler and two women who are fairly elderly. They’re being good sports, but there’s an end to their physical capacity.

That’s when Lucy pulls over.

At first I’m confused. Who is this person? She pulls over, and she opens up her backseat, and she’s unloading granola bars and bags of chips and two dozen bottles of water. Did she happen to be coming from a grocery store? No—she passed us, took the next exit, went shopping, and then returned to make her delivery. We thank her in at least three languages. She disappears as suddenly as she came.

After Lucy leaves, the mechanic arrives. He can fix the bus but didn’t bring the parts he needs. Which means the bus is “fixable” and the company won’t be sending a new one. The granola bars have taken off the edge, but it’s a whole new thing when Lucy comes back, this time with two dozen pepperoni pizzas!

We spread out across the grass and feast, plumbers and computer programmers, toddlers and grandfathers, Puerto Rican and Korean, hip hop and jazz.  We don’t leave behind a single box or napkin.  (The police will be gratified to know this.)

I take Lucy aside.  Who is she?  Why is she buying pizza for strangers?

“I believe that when people don’t get enough kindness, what they’re left with is fear, and fear becomes hate. So when I get the chance, I put kindness in the world.”

I recognize a sister in the ministry.

 

 

 

 

This story is part of a series on traveling in the ministry. Names and identifying details have been changed. 

If you’re in the Caribbean, South America, Central America, or North America, and if your Friends’ community might benefit from the experience of having a traveling minister come to visit, take a look at this program from Friends World Committee for Consultation.

STOP. STOP.

When one tries to avoid death, it’s impossible to affirm life.

(Madeleine L’Engle, A Ring of Endless Light)

In my grandmother’s rocking chair, I hear a voice: YOU WILL TRAVEL IN THE MINISTRY IN BRITAIN YEARLY MEETING FOR A NUMBER OF MONTHS BEGINNING IN SEPTEMBER OF 2014.

This, for many reasons, is startling. I’m not accustomed to hearing voices. It’s early in the morning, before dawn, and I’m quite sleepy. I’m reading John Woolman’s journals by candlelight. I’m cold. I’ve been a Friend since only 2010 and hardly feel I know what travel in the ministry might mean. Is this a thing that Quakers still do?

I remember advice I’ve read in a book: when you think you’re having a leading, first wait, tell no one, and see if it goes away. It is my inclination to say nothing. Tell no one; this I can do. It is now only August of 2013. I resolve to keep quiet at least until October.

It doesn’t go away. It’s persistent, tugging at my heart. October 1st comes and I excuse myself from speaking up—after all, I never said the beginning of October. The weeks melt away. Who, exactly, do you reveal such things to? It is nearly the end of October when an elder pointedly asks the question: Is there something you’re not telling me?

Well, as a matter of fact…

The meeting arranges a clearness committee. I sit with them. I tell the story. They affirm: This is a leading.

They give me three concrete instructions. Attend worship every week; resign from as many Quaker committees as you can; go and talk with Joshua Knapp.

Joshua Knapp is a Quaker I barely know. An important type. Why him? I send a message and ask for a meeting. He wants to know why. I tell him I don’t know. My clearness committee told me to. That’s enough for us both.

We sit in a room. I tell him the story. He says many wise things, but in the end, one stands out: he looks me in the eye and says, This sounds real and genuine. But don’t fall in love with the idea of having a leading. In the end, it might turn out you’re not supposed to go. And not going might be harder than going.

I know I’m not ready for this. So I prepare. I go and visit Friends in my own yearly meeting—some I know, some I don’t—and sit at their feet and listen. I read everything I can find. I pray.

The meeting lays down the clearness committee and creates for me a support committee. The support committee writes a travel minute, which the meeting endorses. There are letters to write and more endorsements to get and money and visas and procedures that are fuzzy in Faith and Practice, and one morning in March I panic and send an email to every member of the meeting that I know and trust and beg that someone meets with me and that afternoon, four Friends gather in the midst of a snowstorm. They are gleefully excited. And together, we bang out the details.

My yearly meeting endorses the travel minute and rallies around me. Then we send it to Britain Yearly Meeting—I’m coming. They don’t know what to do with me. They meet. They develop a reasonable procedure. Then I’m talking with Friends overseas by Skype and email and building an itinerary and the visa application’s in and I’m quitting my job and giving up my apartment…

The yearly meeting’s annual sessions is spiritually wrenching. For a week in July, I’m thrown in over my head. I find myself giving vocal ministry that’s beyond what should be my level of ability. On the way home, I nearly throw up in Johanna’s car.

The next day, the letter comes.

VISA DENIED.

Appeal only by proving my human rights have been violated. I’m not sure what that means but can’t imagine they have been. So, I can’t go, and I feel—

Relief.

I don’t have to go. It happened to Comfort Hoag. She got on a boat to cross the Atlantic and after a day told her traveling companion God didn’t really want me to go, He only wanted to know that I would, and now He’ll provide a way to go home again, and sure enough the boat sprang a leak and turned around and Comfort didn’t go.

But nobody else sees it that way. I send out a message—VISA DENIED—and back to me comes promises of support and hope rallying. We’ll find a way around it, maybe Britain Yearly Meeting can do something, maybe the legislature can do something, and that’s how I find myself in a congressman’s office sitting across from his aid, but she can’t call any phone number except the ones I can and they won’t talk to her either and finally she says:

“Why are you going, again?”

It’s a religious call.

A light behind her eyes flicks on, but ultimately, there’s nothing she can do.

Two weeks go by and every day I wake up dreading. I start having migraines. Finally I say STOP. STOP. I’m not led to go.

(I have to be just that specific in saying it.)

Everyone’s disappointed, and I’m confused as all get-out, but I’m not led to go.

And then, of course, I’ve given up my job, and my apartment, so there’s nowhere to go and nowhere to put my stuff and I end up moving into a deserted fifth floor that’s only recently been evacuated by squatting models who left an inflatable swimming pool and twenty pounds of cat litter and seven unabridged French dictionaries and it’s my job to carry all this down the stairs, and also there’s no place for my things in these temporary digs so they all go to an abandoned bar in Brooklyn that’s already overfull with a disco ball and a motorcycle and an abundance of old easy chairs, and after a few months most of my things end up—I don’t even know where, but they’re gone and I don’t have to worry about them, and I saved what’s most important, like my grandmother’s rocking chair, and the rest isn’t all that hard to sacrifice.

In fact, I’m grateful. The loss of my old job (with its inflexible hours), and my old apartment (with its escalating rent), and my old stuff (that made it hard to move) makes space for me to devour whole sections of the library, to soak up local Quaker history, to travel to and connect with Friends General Conference, Friends United Meeting, Friends World Committee for Consultation, New England Yearly Meeting Friends, and Baltimore Yearly Meeting Friends. I go from a calling to one particular location to a vocation that transcends location.

I also know, now, the feeling of release. This will be important in the coming years: the ability to recognize and even embrace endings, the ability to articulate STOP, STOP, because without the endings, there’s no new life.

 

 

This story is part of a series on traveling in the ministry. Names and identifying details have been changed. 

If you’re in the Caribbean, South America, Central America, or North America, and if your Friends’ community might benefit from the experience of having a traveling minister come to visit, take a look at this program from Friends World Committee for Consultation.

We Are a People

Two weeks ago, I was invited to talk with a class of first graders about my work as a Quaker minister. First graders ask awesome questions—“how does it feel” questions and “when did it start” questions and “why is it like that” questions, and perhaps best of all, they have no idea which sorts of questions don’t have answers, so they just go right ahead and ask everything. If you’re looking for insight into a difficult situation, I highly recommend attempting to explain it to a first grader.

I’ve worked a lot with this age group, so their reactions didn’t surprise me much except for one part, when we got stuck on the question, “Who picks you up at the airport?”

Me: …and then, when I get where I’m going, somebody picks me up at the airport and takes me to the conference center or the meetinghouse or wherever I’m supposed to be.

Kid #1: Who picks you up at the airport?

Me: Well, somebody who’s a local Quaker does. It’s different every time.

Kid #2: Do you just get in a random person’s car?

Me: Well, no, I usually have the person’s phone number or something ahead of time. And I send them a text message and say something like “we’ve landed, and I’m coming downstairs now, and I’m wearing a black jacket and carrying a blue backpack.” And they say, “I’m the bald guy in the gray car with the blue bumper sticker that says “Love Thy Neighbor (No Exceptions).”

Kid #3: And then they just drive you to where you’re going?

Me: Exactly.

Kid #4: Why?

Me: Because they know I need to get there.

Kid #5: Is it ever not a Quaker who picks you up at the airport?

Me: Um, sometimes it’s a person who’s a friend of Quakers, but usually it’s a Quaker.

Kid #6: How do they know you’re coming?

Me: Usually somebody who’s a Quaker that I know reaches out to them and says “Emily is coming on Saturday and she needs somebody to pick her up at the airport and take her to the conference center” and then the local Quakers talk to each other and figure out who can do it, and that’s how it happens. Not just for me, but for other visitors, too, if other people are coming.

Kid #7: So they just pick you up at the airport? Just because you need somebody to pick you up at the airport?

Me: They do. See, being a Quaker is kind of like being part of a big family. So even if we don’t know each other, we know we’re kind of like family and we try to take care of each other.

And that’s when it clicked. A sort of general murmur of ohhh went through the group, and we were able to move on. But at the end of the thirty-minute conversation, guess what was the one specific thing that the first grade teacher commented on as I left the room? “I love that idea, that you’re all like a family.”

Sometimes I forget how counter-cultural this idea can be, and I forget how surprising it can sound and how difficult it might be to understand. For a group of six-year-olds in a secular school, I used the word “family.” A more complete description would be “a covenant people.” Friends are a covenant people, a group given to one another by God with the assignment to build the beloved community.

It’s important to recognize that we are not the only covenant people; there are other groups who understand themselves this way, and it’s my feeling that God probably recognizes them that way, too. It’s also important to recognize that being a covenant people does not imply that we are perfect. To be a covenant people is about the nature of our relationship with one another and with God; it has nothing to do with the degree to which we are successfully living out that relationship.

There are lots of ways in which we’re falling short. And our failings are worth talking about—not feeling guilty about (which is frankly counter-productive and spiritually destructive)—but recognizing and talking about so we can learn and grow and do better. But just this once I don’t want to talk about our failings. I want to talk about the potential. What does it mean, that we are a covenant people?

It means that we are inexorably connected to the Divine. You will be my people, and I will be your God.

It means that we can experience division, but we can never be truly torn apart. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? . . . And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”

It means that we can learn from one another—and praise God with one another—across cultures and nationalities and languages and theological differences. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.

And it means that we pick each other up at the airport. Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.

I’m so glad to be among you. Thank you.

Where Have You Been?

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?

 

October 1-6

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.

 

October 4-5

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.

 

October 6-8

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.

 

October 8

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.

 

October 11-15

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.)

 

October 17-20

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.

 

October 21-22

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.

 

October 23

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.

 

October 26-28

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.

 

October 30

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.

 

November

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?

 

Next

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?