I’ve been trying to write this post since Sunday night, but I’m having a difficult time doing it. If you’re reading it, I must have finally finished it.
I witnessed a beautiful thing Sunday night as Newberg Friends gathered for business again. We’ve been struggling as a community to come to unity, struggling to figure out and understand how God is leading us about our budget and our staff. Would God lead in such a way that meant a pastor doing good work would no longer be released to do so? What if the elders and myself have been wrong in our recommendation? How does a community ask those questions, how do we come to a decision when we have different views of what is right and how God is leading?
I know some may feel that merely having pastors who are released financially goes against everything that it means to be Quaker. But I am so glad that we hold strongly to a Quaker way of doing business. We have been trying, through three meetings for business, to seek together the voice of the Spirit and come to unity around that. I would not want to be a part of any other way of making decisions, even as difficult as it can be.
Our clerk helped us remember what we are about: we are looking for a way to be a community, not just make a decision. We are looking for a way to be together as we seek God’s leading. His responsibility as clerk, he said, was not to advocate for a decision. His responsibility was only to help us to listen; listen first of all to God, and also to one another. Any decision needs to be informed; questions for information are welcomed and needed. Then comes the time to listen and discern, listen for what the Spirit of Christ is speaking through and to our community.
Our silence as a gathered community was deep and long. It truly was business as worship. The first person who spoke expressed his love for NFC, and how so many people he has known do not have good feelings about their church. Some churches cannot trust their leaders, because they have been burned. Some pastors cannot trust their churches, because they have been wounded. He said we are called to trust, and we often feel that in order to trust we must agree. He simply held out the possibility that we could trust and still disagree. In fact, we needed to trust each other and listen to each other precisely when we disagree.
As I listened to each person who was led to speak, I realized something so important, something I’ve known throughout this process, but something which I now feel at a very deep level. All of our struggles and pain and questions as a body over the last few months, all of our agony about feeling disagreement and division, it all came because we do love Newberg Friends. It is a community which God has used to shape each of us in some way for the better. It is a wonderful community that seeks and trusts God and wants what is best.
Several people who in previous meetings had questions or reservations or had been unable to approve the recommendation spoke about how and why God had changed their hearts to be able to approve. There was a profound sense of unity and togetherness around a minute which acknowledged our pain over losing this pastor’s effective ministry, and a willingness to move forward with the elders recommendation. There was a wonderful commitment to be a church community that tries to make a difference in the lives of those in our world who go through life outside of the light of Jesus Christ.
I think the reason I’ve hesitated to post this is the fear that some may think I’m just glad that the decision went the way of our recommendation. That’s not why I’m writing. This recommendation has been the most difficult thing I’ve done in ministry. What I am moved by is how God’s Spirit brought a unity to us as a community that I could not have anticipated. What I am moved by is how God spoke through our clerk, reminding us to show care and patience with those in our community who still don’t agree with this decision. What I am moved by is how we who gathered Sunday night were shown that waiting on God and wrestling as a community is better by far than an efficient or expedient decision process.
On the cross, Jesus prayed, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” I believe what we did as a community Sunday night was to say, “God, into your hands we commit our church.” Do with us what you will, God.