Beauty

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.

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5 thoughts on “Beauty

  1. Gregg… your heading is very true. It’s beautiful to see God working among a group of people. Thanks for sharing.

    Given our polity, (group spiritual discernment at best, and finding the lowest common denominator at worst), we all have horror stories in our minds of the times it just didn’t work. I hear them trotted out all the time, to illustrate hostage taking, inefficiency, and stale-mates. Those situations exist, sure. But it’s wonderful to have the beautiful ones held up as well.

    I know of a couple others. Maybe we should compile them and be as quick to “trot them out” to show the beauty of God at work.

    Thanks for sharing. I’m excited for you and your spiritual community as this act of discernment moves you all deeper into God’s yearning.

    Thank you, and thanks, NFC, for your obedience… and for the beautiful story that results.

    Bruce

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  2. This is indeed a beautiful example of a sometimes-beautiful process. Thank you!

    One thing you wrote is a sentiment that I’ve often heard (and once led a weekend retreat on): that efficiency is somehow antithetical to “waiting on God and wrestling as a community.” It’s an attitude that often reflects a history of hurt and disappointment (like so many attitudes we each carry around with us, even into meeting–or, sadly, even because of meeting). There are times when a fixation on “efficiency” runs roughshod over our ability to be a community or to practice discernment as a community.

    But I believe the idea that efficiency is an enemy to discernment can also limit us or lead us astray. I’ve certainly sat in meetings that seem almost to go out of their way to be inefficient for no apparent good reason. Is that always a reflection of God’s will or gospel order? I don’t think so. I often find such disorganization a real impediment to centering on what God has to say. Sometimes I see those around me leaving, becoming frustrated and disheartened, or manipulating the meeting. (The tender reed comes to mind.)

    God no doubt has efficiencies I can’t begin to apprehend, and I’m willing to have faith that sometimes a process that seems inefficient has some larger purpose I do not see. Disorganized clerks come to mind–often there is some other gift they are offering, or there is growth in ministry going on. Sometimes when a meeting seems to be flailing around, it is because that is the only way for our hurts and needs to be revealed, in order to be healed and fulfilled.

    The old saw about measuring twice and cutting once is an apt one for the efficiencies of Quaker discernment as a community. Our efficiencies should reflect our ends. If we seek to be a people of God, we should, I think, hone our practices to that end–and those practices will reflect God’s efficiencies. They will, of course, be sometimes different than the efficiencies practiced in a business or in a civic arena, but not necessarily totally different.

    Now I realize I’ve taken one little line from your fine post and used it to expound on a hobby horse. I hope I haven’t implied that you hold any of the views I’ve denounced, although, as you point out, disagreement shouldn’t preclude trust and listening, so it’s perfectly fine if you do hold those views–but you haven’t stated them here and I don’t want to suggest that I think you’re promulgating some perfidious point of view. Thanks for the opportunity to set out some of my thoughts.

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  3. Perhaps I should have chosen this line for posting to QuakerQuaker.org: “What I am moved by is how God’s Spirit brought a unity to us as a community that I could not have anticipated.” This is the Quaker way – regardless of many outward forms that we may or may not share.

    One of the things that this taught me was that, in your church – you are the pastor of the Church, but not the clerk of the Meeting. I’m not sure that I knew that before and keeping that distinction seems to matter a great deal to me. The gifts required for each job are not necessarily to be found in one person. And while they might be, there is something valuable in saying you can’t hold both positions at one time. A longer term question is which of these ought to be a full time job for which one needs to be financially released and which ought to be a part time job held by a Friend with some other form of paid work. In our Meeting, the clerk’s position has been held in recent years by retired or semi-retired Friends, because it is time consuming. However, the clerks of our Ministry and Oversight committee have been people with full time jobs. I’m not sure this has served our Meeting well.

    One other thing, please accept my sympathy regarding the difficult discernment about the budget. My Meeting is going to have to do some soul searching about our use of money in the coming year. Not because we don’t have enough, but because we haven’t really thought about how we spend our money in several years, and right now we have a window of opportunity with a small surplus to think about the right holding of resources and the right sharing of our resources. How we use our money is one visible way of gauging how we are being/doing in the world, both as individuals and as a religious society. Like many forms of discernment, the process is often painful but the clarity is priceless.

    Re writing about it on your blog: It is a gift to me to have this window into the workings of other committed Quakers.

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  4. Well, the tough decisions have been made and all can breathe more easily.
    Instead of copying emergent church liturgy, the leaders will echo the questions that have been raised by those who practice emergent.
    Those who expressed concern about the “yellow” and “green” sheets ideas presented at earlier meetings can relax. Functions aren’t going to be laid down to wait until those interested would pick them up. The remaining pastors will continue their duties, some will assume those being dropped by the released outgoing pastor, others those duties which have been reshuffled, or both.
    The organizational chart concisely and rapidly brought people who read them up to speed during the short amount of time they had charts. Those who were worried about radical changes now know that the overall church model remains essentially the same as almost all ministry functions have stayed as they were. The congregants also know that by affirming the minute, it is expected that they volunteer more than ever to help the effort. Big or small, changes in organizations are done best when people know what’s going on.
    Notwithstanding the many reservations in prior meetings, and a few questions in the last, the group rapidly came to a decision. The clerk’s straightforward comments and the next few folks who were led to speak by the Spirit paved the way to a prompt conclusion. The feeling was one of tolerance for those who still may have reservations.
    The church came together with a spirit of community as well as unity.
    We truly do have a God who causes all things to work for good!

    Paul A.

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