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Open Letter from Quaker Youth, Part 5

January 29, 2013 Leave a comment
  • 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.

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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.

Sincerely,

Young Adults in the Friends Leadership Program

An Open Letter from Quaker Youth, Part 3

January 24, 2013 2 comments

Here is the third installment of these open letters from youth to the Northwest Yearly Meeting. Please also read Letter 1 and Letter 2. I welcome any insight or feedback you may have.

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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.

Peace,

Quaker students from George Fox University

An Open Letter from Quaker Youth, Part 2

January 23, 2013 6 comments

This is the second letter in this series. Click here for a description of this project. Thank you for joining in the conversation!

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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.

An Open Letter from Quaker Youth, Part 1

January 22, 2013 6 comments

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:

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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.

Sincerely,

Quaker Youth

“I Can Pray” by Sandra Fish…(Post 1 from P-yoo to Pew)

July 6, 2012 2 comments

This post is the first in the series called, From P-yoo to Pew. Please Let Sandra know your thoughts!

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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!

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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!

Where Are the Men Hiding?

June 26, 2012 17 comments

I want to start this post by stating something I want everyone to hear clearly – I am not writing this as a guilt trip. I am not trying to manipulate or coerce service out of anyone.

But I believe this message needs to be shared, needs to be heard, and ultimately, needs to be acted upon.

Two occurrences have happened over the past two weeks that have made me no longer able to keep silent:

1) During Vacation Bible School, in which 200 children were present every day from 9-11:30 engaging their minds, their hearts, and their bodies with the wonder of a life lived for Christ, there were hardly any men who volunteered to help out. Out of what was probably 50 volunteers (maybe more?) less than 10 were male.

2) When the summer list of volunteers came out for the children’s programming at my church, there were a total of 100 spots that needed filling. 60 of them were filled by women (women who also serve in classrooms throughout the school year), and 10 of them were filled by men (of which one man is filling 8 spots).

And the issue is this:

Men are, generally speaking, absent from our children’s classrooms in the church – and I don’t think this is just a problem at my church.

This is not ok.

I am not suggesting that our educational programs in the church are lacking due to the many women who work tirelessly to plan lessons, share Bible stories, listen to children talk about their week, and create a safe environment for kids to encounter Christ. In fact, in my church experience our children’s classrooms are places where all of these things happen extremely well.

I am not in any way advocating for men to take over the education of our children. That would be equally egregious to men staying out of the classrooms.

The spiritual education of our children is not just the work of women. It is too serious of an enterprise to just leave all of the work to one gender.

The women get this. Thank God for these women!! And here, just like when Jesus rose from the dead and Mary and Martha were given insight to be shared with the men who had scattered, our women are sending us a message we need to hear. The spiritual formation of our children is a vital enterprise in which men and women are needed. The women get it. The men, for the most part do not.

Let’s stop hiding, men! Let’s stop expecting the women to do all the work. Let’s stop making excuses. Let’s join together, men and women, to create space where our young people can see that Christ is present and moving in all of us.

They see it in the women who serve them every week. Many of our children do not get the chance to see it in men.

And so I am calling you – dad, single guy, grandpa, young, old – to be courageous and volunteer your time in a child’s class. You are capable of holding a baby, of rolling a ball across the floor, of reading a Bible story, of telling a child about how you saw God this past week.

The spiritual growth of our children is everyone’s business. Stop making excuses, either to yourself or to others, and give one hour a month, or perhaps even 1 hour a week, to investing in our children. Help them to see that many people care about who they are becoming, how they are experiencing Jesus – because the more people they have in their lives who express care for their growth, the more likely they are to remain committed to serving Jesus their entire life.

A Holy Spirit Ambush

January 9, 2012 1 comment

Yesterday I experienced what I’m choosing to call a Holy Spirit ambush. It’s nothing that was overly dramatic – in fact, in was in small episode that came to life from the spoken words of a 2nd grader.

I get the privilege of serving every so often in a first and second grade classroom for Sunday school at Newberg Friends Church. I really like working with grade school aged children. They are joyful, fun-loving and have short-attention spans. (What was it I was just now doing?)

This is great, because if something is not working, you just stop doing it and move onto something else – and they just think its normal. Talk about grace!

We were having one of those moments in class this past Sunday. I was fumbling around with an activity where they were sitting and answering questions I was asking. No matter which question I asked, the only two answers I got were Jesus and Prince Caspian.

And so, since we had been talking about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, I had them get up and begin a game of follow the leader. I spent time appointing each different student as the leader and giving them time to lead the actions of others.

I was just about to end the time and then ask them some questions about how the game paralleled a life of following Jesus, but it turns out what needed to be taught was going to be taught through one of the 7 year-old followers.

As one of the kids was leading, he got stuck behind one of the other adults so that a portion of the line could not see him, and therefore could not follow. A few of the kids just stopped moving at all, waiting for the leader to reappear.

But he didn’t. He stayed hidden behind the adult, and those who could not see began to get a little impatient.

The conversation which came from this is what has glued itself to my heart. It went like this:

Girl: Why are you guys not following the leader?

Boy: Because we can’t see what he is doing! 

Girl: That’s ok – just follow me – I can see him and I’ll show you what to do.

A simple spoken word, a profound truth for what it often means to be a follower of Jesus.

Because sometimes my view of Jesus is skewed or blocked. Sometimes I can’t see him because I’m stuck in self-pity, or I’m blinded by my own pride, or someone else’s actions or words are blocking me.

And when this happens, I have a choice:

Either I stop moving, assuming that at some point it will get better.

Or I listen to the voices around me, those encouraging me to just follow them because at this moment they can see Jesus.

My life as a follower of Jesus is not just about me. It is also about us, and how we point each other towards Christ. This is something that I (and many others!) think the early Quakers were right on about – and something we need today in the life of the American church, perhaps more than anything else.

Sometimes we will be those who are blocked, and sometimes we will be those who need to bring others along to a place where even if they can’t see Jesus, they are not left out in the darkness.

I’d encourage you to listen to this sermon by Gregg Koskela. It actually happened after this little God sighting in Sunday School – see what I mean by a Holy Spirit ambush?