- Here is the final installment from these letters to the Northwest Yearly Meeting (and to Friends beyond). Please feel free to engage these as you see fit, and to pass them on as you feel led. The other letters are here: Letter 1, Letter 2, Letter 3, Letter 4.
Dear Northwest Yearly Meeting,
We represent the young adults of the friends church, and this year we have taken an active step in learning about the history of our denomination so that we can have relevant input into the workings of the Yearly Meeting. As we studied some of the most influential quakers, a common theme arose. To many of these quakers, meeting together as a body was not the most important of their spiritual activities.
Rather, meeting served as support for the work they were doing outside the church. For instance, take the example of Margaret Fell. She found her purpose in working for prison reform. Instead of meeting being the spiritual climax of the week, it probably served as her day of rest. She was so active in doing God’s work, that meeting was the support for that work, instead of the work itself.
When we juxtaposed that with our experience of meetings today, many of us would probably accredit Sundays with being the spiritual climax of the week. Even past that, many of us are around each other for the rest of the week as well. Jesus often lived and worked with outcasts of society. This has led us to believe that we should not spend our lives only among each other, as we are then directly creating outcasts.
Using Jesus and quakers like Fell as examples, we would like to see the church actively support seeking out, living among, and ultimately loving the marginalized, and claiming this as the lifestyle we are called to live.
Young Adults in the Friends Leadership Program
Here is the 4th installation in this project – please engage with the others, as well (Letter 1, Letter 2, and Letter 3). It is a privilege to walk alongside young people seeking truth. Please join us!
Dear Northwest Yearly Meeting,
As members of the Friends Leadership Program, we’ve come to understand the movement of Quakerism, where we’ve come from, and where we have yet to go. We’ve witnessed the growth of the Quaker movement, where early Quakers once believed themselves as the true and perfect way, into a group of people that became active in the concerns of the world. The importance of silence as means to worship and inward communion is something we feel is incredibly important and should never be lost sight of in future generations.
It is our hope that the Yearly Meeting continues to be open to differing opinions and is respective to the idea of spiritual revelation arising in anyone. We should approach new and changing issues with open ears to Christ’s leading in our lives, such as the topic of homosexuality in the broader church community. This, specifically, is an issue our generation holds strongly to, and it is our hope that we continue to engage in conversation with this as well as similar issues.
We hope that the Northwest Yearly Meeting continues to pursue some of the most fundamental aspects of Quaker belief, such as that of simplicity, peace, justice, and equality in a manner that is respective of the surrounding global culture. The tendency of the modern church in general has been lukewarm in their involvement with the world. Jesus, in response to the Pharisee’s exclusive outlook, was active in the social concerns of his context. Rather than keeping an inward focus within our churches, we should continually approach a kingdom-centered focus in our communities, following both Jesus’ model of ministry and our own personal leadings from the Holy Spirit.
Just as each generation of Quakers has engaged the world in its own context, with the same pattern of discernment and authenticity, there is no other direction we can go but forward.
Young Adult Friends
Dear Northwest Yearly Meeting,
We hope you all find yourselves doing well and blessed in life. We are coming to you with this letter regarding our thoughts on bettering our perspective of diversity in our yearly meeting, which will help us become a more welcoming community.
We believe that if our community were to be more welcoming of different opinions, we would also become more openminded and accepting to others. Having a the same views on life should not be the main focus of our meeting. Our focus should be on God and on loving each other while worshiping together. A relationship with God is between that person and God, and others are in no place to judge someone else’s relationship.
Throughout our studies of Quakers in this course we have learned that throughout history Quakers have been a leading voice of radical and welcoming movements. For example, Quakers were one of the first to put women in leadership and provided assistance in the underground railroad. From the beginning of the early Quaker movement it has been deeply in our roots that everyone is equal. Equality has played a strong role on how we relate to others in and out of the church. Quakers believe that the Light of God is in everyone and therefore everyone has the ability to have God speak through them. We believe that this should in fact include everyone. People who have opinions that differ from our own still have the Light of God in them and therefore we should still hold them with the same respect.
We hope you will hold this close to your hearts and discern on this deeply. As a yearly meeting that believes in equality and that everyone can have God speak through them, our main goal should be to love and worship together and we should not let diversity in opinion get in the way of that. We should still be able to be in community together without having unity in all of our opinions and views on life.
Quaker students from George Fox University
This is the second letter in this series. Click here for a description of this project. Thank you for joining in the conversation!
Dear Northwest Yearly Meeting of Friends:
In our current Yearly Meeting, we need to consider the evolution that Quakerism has endured to see what has changed and ultimately judge whether we are going in the right direction or not.
The early Quakers centralized their faith on the leading of the Holy Spirit. They were so much endowed with the vision of the second coming of Christ, they believed themselves to be the true church of God; and that only through them could salvation be attained. Quakers were extensively focused on open worship; in fact it was their only form of worship. The first Quakers had no pastors or churches; instead they held spiritual meetings at the houses of members.
The early friends, as we know, wore simple clothing; spoke in an obviously different manner than was normal to the time. They were a counter culture of their era. Nowadays, Friends have been modernized. We sing, we dance, we meet in big brick buildings, we have pastors, we wear colors, and we give very little time to open worship. Many of these things are good changes because they make our faith more acceptable and relevant. It is unwise to hold on to archaic beliefs when there is no cultural basis. But, some of these concepts are still very relevant, but we don’t give them much thought, one being the idea of simple, plain dress. Not that modern Quakers should be made to only wear grays and browns, but the idea of putting importance in simplicity, and trying not to be materialistic. It would be a good sign of faith to follow the teachings of Jesus and be clothed in the spirit, and allow us to not worry about appearances. We seem to have no stake in this idea, or we don’t make it prevalent.
Before we move forward, we should look back to see the changes we have made. And then ponder these changes and decide if we are becoming something that is more or less Quaker and more or less Christ-like.
We should not allow modernization to jeopardize what makes us Quakers. Today, Evangelical Quakers are Christians that happen to have Quaker tendencies, not Quakers that happen to be part of the Christian community. In other words we have sacrificed that which makes us distinct to be more like other faiths. The original Quaker church barely resembles what Evangelic Quakers are today.
In order to maintain our identity we must harken back to the original Quaker missions, of social justice and peace. We should find modern equivalents of old Quaker practices. What can we do now, that represents ideas like early Quakers freeing slaves, standing up to oppressive authorities. The first Quakers were willing to go to prison or their faith, what are we willing to do for ours? The first Quakers broke social barriers. They weren’t worried about political repercussions. How can we be like them? How can we be progressive and Christ-like in our day? The first Quakers allowed women to preach and be equals. How can we replicate this type of doctrine? How can we live into the Quaker tradition? I believe we can be more than the original. That we can fight for the oppressed, stand up to the corrupt authorities and bring up social change.
At the conclusion of the fall semester, my Quaker Seminar class wrote open letters to the Friends Church writ large. I will use this space to post their letters, one each day, for you to get a sense of how a portion of the youth in the Northwest Yearly Meeting of Friends are looking towards the future with hope and also concern.
Readers should know the prompt given to each group of students: If you were to write a letter to the members of the NWYM, what would you want them to know?
Here is the first submission:
Dear Friends of the Northwest Yearly Meeting,
God is at at work. God is moving and things are stirring. And it is messy and it is beautiful and it is the heart of our Yearly Meeting. It is the recognition of this action of God that has driven Friends forward since the beginning of the Quaker movement. George Fox’s sensitivity to the ways that God was speaking to him was the very foundation of his seeking and ultimate foundation of Quakers. In the past, this has been seen in ways that Friends have stood up for social justice, accepted and brought forth change, and continue to press forward as a body and accepting our differences all in an effort to do as God leads.
God’s speaking and the “inner light of Christ” in each of us as believers is the central reason that we as Quakers have arrived to where we are today. Our deep value in hearing God speak has shaped our worship practices, grounded our beliefs and theology, and has been why we have moved in the directions that we have felt that God led. A recognition of God’s action in our world and in our individual lives also has been a binding and lasting thread, constantly present and leading us as a body.
For hundreds of years, Friends have listened to and depended on God’s speaking. It is crucial to remember that Friends have always responded to how God leads to arrive at where we are today. We are writing to encourage you to continually strive to be sensitive to how God is working in our individual lives and in our direction as a body of believers.
Trust God as we always have and believe that each one of us has the power to hear God speak. God has a plan for our yearly meeting and we encourage you to listen and depend on his provision as he leads.
This is Post 2 for the series, “From P-Yoo to Pew.” As always, you are welcome to submit your own!
I love the Church—do not be deceived; God and I have had several knock down drag out fights over this one. The Church has been the catalyst for countless tragedies. People have died in the name of Jesus. Others have been exploited for God’s honor. The Evangelical Christian Church has laid the foundation, built the walls, and reinforced the “us and them” barriers between those who are in and those who are out. The place you and I call home, the place where we have been compelled, convicted, and changed—has caused hundreds, thousands, and even millions pain.
I would argue this same place, on a micro or macro scale, has hurt your loved ones.
Correct me if I am wrong, but I bet, you, too, have been hurt by the church.
I have too.
And I have hurt people in the name of Jesus.
And I bet you have too.
The reality is, the brick buildings, the organs, the pews, and the hymnals have not hurt us.
The people who enter those buildings, play the organs, sit in the pews and sing from the hymnals have hurt us. The people who hear our hearts and our hurts, the people we see the ugliest, parts of ourselves. Those we admire who speak words of distorted “truth,” the words that pierce our hearts and make us feel inadequate and unwelcome at the Table.
This is a tragic reality.
Though it’s sad and messy, I choose to trust that those initial wounds were not caused out of malicious intent, rather a desire for us to know Love, Peace, and Grace in the deepest, purest, truest sense.
I can claim that to be True and good, and I can extend grace to that.
I know God’s heart breaks when we intentionally or unintentionally hurt one another.
But I think God is enraged when we choose to avoid or to ignore those hard conversations. Those awkward silences. Those tears. And, if you are me, the swearing.
We suck at apologizing.
We are terrible at reconciling with one another.
I will be the first to admit, I am guilty of this.
I was infuriated as I sat at my birthday dinner looking across the table, to see my step-mom, a woman I haven’t spoken to in years. The woman I hate most was at my birthday dinner. (Pretty selfish eh?)
Mid-meal, the Holy Spirit whispered in my ear, this is what heaven’s going to be like a meal, a celebration of sorts, my step-mom on my right, and another woman who I have not reconciled with on my left.
I was filled with compassion.
And when we recognize, we are all just trying to figure life out, we too will be filled with compassion.
And God is funny, this we know.
I would not be surprised if those we disagree with, those we have treated like shit, and those who we have said are unwelcome at the Table will be the people we will be sitting on our right and our left.
For all eternity.
We can celebrate, reminisce, and enjoy our meal, with one another, or we can listen, apologize, and reconcile during our time together around the Table.
How do you want to spend it?
Vicky is a young adult who loves iced coffee, dance parties, peanut butter and conversing with friends.
This post is the first in the series called, From P-yoo to Pew. Please Let Sandra know your thoughts!
Over the years of being involved in church, I have thought often about children’s ministry. Not just the idea of, “where are the men in children’s and youth ministry”, but also, “why do we always have such a hard time finding anyone to fill the many needed positions in our churches”. If we really value children and young people, shouldn’t there be a waiting list of folks, young and old, male and female, lining up to be involved?
Psalm 145:4 says, “One generation will commend your works to another; they will tell of your mighty acts. They will speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty…they will tell of the power of your awesome works.” I was struck by the idea that “One generation will commend your works to another…”. I have been so blessed by those in generations older than mine who have shared their journey with me. There are times when I am in the midst of a challenging time and I know just whom to call to ask for prayer because they have been through a similar thing. So then I ask myself, “Am I being faithful to share His works in my life, the times when I have experienced His glorious splendor and seen the power of His awesome works”? Am I sharing these things with those younger than me? I don’t have to be a skilled teacher, nor does it matter if I am male or female, to share of God’s faithfulness in my life!
A regular thing I am trying to practice is asking someone how I can be praying for them, and then to pray right then for their request. This can feel so awkward! I remember teaching 4thand 5th grade Sunday school and being asked over and over again to pray for one particular little girl that her parents would let her have a kitten. I think in my mind I rolled my eyes a little but then went ahead and prayed, wondering what God might be thinking. I don’t remember if that little girl ever got a kitten but I do remember several years later when her parents were going through a divorce, she called me one day and asked me to pray for her. Then in her last years of high school, her brother was arrested….she called again. I was glad to pray for her. I wonder if that willingness to pray for a kitten somehow let this little girl know that there were adults in her life who cared about the things she cared about and were willing to pray for her no matter what her requests. I don’t have to be a skilled teacher to ask a young person how I can pray for them!
One of my boys plays football (okay, he might live and breathe football). He doesn’t have any friends at church right now who play football. But there is an older gentleman in our church who played football in high school and college. He found out that my son played football and began to ask him every Sunday at church how his game went that week! Then there was one week when this man even came to one of his games. One of the first things said to me after that game, “did you see ______ at the game”. That Sunday, my son sought him out to say, “thanks for coming”. My son now has a friend at church who played football.
For me this has been an amazing example of how meaningful it can be when one generation shares with another. You don’t have to be a gifted teacher to notice young people in your church who have similar interests to you and then reach out to them and start a conversation.
I have had the privilege over the past 15 years of teaching Sunday School with a team of 4-8 people. Teaching with a team lightens the load and makes being committed to teaching Sunday School do-able. Some of the people on these teams would say, “teaching is not my gift”. Somehow they were able to see being involved with the young people in our church not just as an opportunity to “use their gifts,” but as an opportunity to reach out to a younger generation and build a lasting relationship, sharing what God has done in their life.
One wonderful thing about being part of a team is that each adult seemed to connect with different young people in the class. When there was a challenging situation, there was a group ready to listen and pray with. If I taught a lesson in a way that didn’t make sense, a different teacher would follow up the next week with a different teaching style that might help the class understand better. It’s wasn’t just one adult in the room sharing their experiences with Christ….
It’s not always easy, in fact sometimes it’s hard and exhausting, but God’s faithfulness and blessing have been overwhelming. I don’t have to be a skilled or trained teacher to be part of a team of people reaching out to young people.
Our church and other churches in the Northwest are going through a 50-day prayer journal. As we do so, we are being challenged to ask those around us how we can pray for them. In fact we are being asked to seek out and ask others how we can pray for them. I notice that it is easier to ask my friends how I can pray for them than it is to reach out to someone new. I wonder if it would make a difference if we were all intentional about asking as least one young person every week how we can pray for them! I don’t have to be a skilled teacher, or a woman, or a man, to ask a young person how I can pray for them and then do it!
Sandra Fish is a member of Newberg Friends Church and serves as Chair of the Board at Twin Rocks Friends Camp and Conference Center, and has taught Sunday School in a children’s classroom for the last 15 years!