Spark, May 2008
15 Rutherford Place
New York, NY 10003
|New York Yearly Meeting News|
|The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)||May 2008|
- WHAT IS YOUR MINISTRY?
- Everyone Has a Ministry
- What Is Your Ministry?
- The Ministry of Parenting
- Answering That of God in Humanity: A Call to Pastoral Ministry
- Pastoral Ministry
- Called to Ministry
- The Ministry of Advancement
- Griefwork: Presence with Persons Experiencing Loss
- AVP in NY State and Colombia
- Writing as Ministry
- True Multigenerational Ministry
- A Ministry of Forgiveness
- Ministering to Those with No Voice
- Ministry to the Campuses
- Letting Go of That Which No Longer Serves
- Ministry of Now
- The Meetinghouse As a Source of Ministry
- Meeting for Listening
- Ministry of Money
- Ministry in the Bronx
- The Ministry of the Body at Peace
- 2008 Youth Empowerment Gathering
- The Three Keys to a Successful and Spiritual Retirement
- NYYM Peace Concerns Coordinator
- Letter to the Editor
NYYM Summer Sessions at Silver Bay
What Is Your Ministry?
Everyone Has a Ministry
Several years ago, when I heard the story that John Perry tells in his article, the central query really stuck with me: “What is your ministry?” For me, that query carries two implicit messages. First, everyone has a ministry; it is not just those who have a very public way of serving. This is a query for every one of us. Second, among all the various things that we do, any or all of them may or may not be our ministry. We need to be aware in our busy lives of that which we are called to, to give it the space it requires.
When Ernie Buscemi and I, point persons for this issue, looked at what focus we needed to bring to the vast topic of ministry, we were clear that this query needed to be the focus. And we were clear to ask Friends being faithful to a wide variety of service, not only the most public forms, to reflect on this query with us. We hope that their stories help you in your own exploration of this query: What is your ministry?
This issue also contains minutes from Spring Sessions and information on our 2008 Summer Sessions, whose theme is “Spiritual Community Across the Spectrum of Age.” These sessions will be devoted to looking at how we can become a more integrated multigenerational community.
The question to consider is “Which gifts do I have, and how will I use them?”
—Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
What Is Your Ministry?
SCENE: Brooklyn Meeting
TIME: Probably late ’70s after a meeting for worship
BACKGROUND: I was probably visiting Brooklyn as a member of a Yearly Meeting committee.
ACTION: A man comes up to me, introduces himself, makes a few social remarks, and then asks in a very direct manner, “What is your ministry?”
I am speechless. My mind races. Obviously, he needed something more specific and less glib than a comment about all Quakers being ministers.
Somewhat lamely, I said that I was part of the group from my meeting that attended a prison worship group and that I tutored one of the inmates in basic accounting.
He seemed satisfied, even approving. “A prison ministry.” And that was it. I later discovered that he was active in AVP—which I didn’t get around to doing for at least eight more years.
Reflections: This question, “What is your ministry?” has often come to mind since then. My own ministry became AVP in a Connecticut maximum-security facility and, later, the Spiritual Nurturance/Nurture program with its emphasis on daily spiritual engagement. On several occasions my activity in these programs transcended the secular volunteer role and I was “used.”
I now see ministry as being
- a long-term adventure
- spiritually grounded (“led”)
- responsibly carried out (with appropriate clearness and oversight)
The calling to ministry may come as a surprise and be resisted at first or it may require continued commitment to a path and intention. Once the call is answered, authentic ministry will feel “right,” albeit challenging, and will often be seen by others as courageous.
It will generally be congruent with one’s gifts. It may involve deep witness…and learning to love one’s enemies. It may be allied with pastoral care.
My own experience of the call leads me to my present understanding of a radical Christianity that speaks of Jesus the Christ, of the Christ that was before Christ, and of a living, inward, multicultural Christ. So many words, so many opportunities for misunderstanding, even alienation. But I now see this as naming the ground of my being, and perhaps this, too, is ministry.
The Ministry of Parenting
I feel there is a basic human need, a hunger, for a relationship with the Divine. This need is as real and pressing as any other. As a parent it is part of my responsibility to see that this aspect of human existence is recognized and explored. In my own life, Quakerism has helped fulfill that need and has brought me closer to knowing God in the way that I need. This religion, this path to serving God, this community, and this way of living is so precious to me how could I not share it with my children? I could no more keep this joy from them than I could keep food, shelter, or education from them.
Although I, like many of my generation, was raised with a reluctance to talk openly about my religious experience, I made the decision early in my parenting life that I needed to overcome this. The fear that I continued to carry about forcing my own spiritually on my children or turning them off by being “too religious” gave way as I saw how they responded to honesty about my beliefs and experiences. We talked and read and shared, at all stages of their lives. I used the language traditional to Quakers and Christians, and soon it became more comfortable for me and natural for them. We talk about religion a lot in our house, over dinner, in the car, on long walks, while grocery shopping. It’s amazing how much of our lives have a spiritual aspect and how open and eager young people are to explore that greater meaning once they are given the space and the language.
I’ve emphasized that the community has a responsibility to them as Friends but that they too have a responsibility to the community. At times this was for me a huge act of trust. It meant that I needed to entrust my beloved child to the wider Quaker community and hope and pray that both sides would live up to the expectations.
I knew and accepted that each one of us needs to be convinced at some point and that any one of my children might someday choose a different path. But I wanted them to know the richness and possibilities of the Quaker way before deciding if it was for them or not. Several of my kids did explore other religions, and I tried to be supportive, but I still asked them to keep the dialog open and to take their own seeking seriously. So far all four have remained active Friends.
Answering That of God in Humanity:
A Call to Pastoral Ministry
We are blessed to have wonderful, spiritually led and qualified pastoral leaders among us. Many, both male and female, have shared the stories of their call to ministry. In the diversity of their circumstances, often heard are the emerging threads of several common themes: an initial response of “Who, me?” reflecting doubts about personal adequacy; a struggle to give up other life paths; and the crucial role of the Bible, and of family and church in confirming the inward call. As their stories show, neither the call, nor finding the right places in which to live out the call, has always been easy. Yet each story affirms in its own way the truth of Jesus’ promise, “I will be with you.”
Reflecting on my own calling to a pastoral counseling ministry, the part I enjoy most is forming relationships with people. I didn’t know that when I heard the call. In fact, when I heard the call I thought for sure God had a wrong number! I had definitely been called to seminary, but the idea of a pastoral ministry had not occurred to me. Listening was one of my gifts, I knew, and teaching. But the chasm between recognizing I had some counseling gifts and realizing I could use them in a pastoral ministry was way too wide for me. Pastoral ministry was what other people did—serious people whose lives hadn’t taken the dips and turns my own had taken. I knew all pastoral leaders weren’t solemn and pious. After all, I had met Kathleen Maloney (now deceased), a pastoral Friend and elder of New Paltz Friends Meeting who became my spiritual mother, a deeply spiritual person as fully an example of integrity as I ever have known. She saw something in me that I could not see in myself. And even though I felt that God could take my sometimes-irreverent sense of humor, and the fact that I was currently serving a life sentence in prison, seemed a bit much. A man such as myself, with a past such as mine, serving as a pastoral minister? It really didn’t seem possible. But the call came nonetheless, not a voice or a dramatic moment like in the movies, but quietly, over a period of time.
Many Friends, as well as members of other worshiping communities and prison worship groups, walked with me through those days of discernment. Walked with me. Prayed with me. Prayed for me. Listened to me. Talked to me, In short, these wonderful men and women of God embodied God for me as I struggled with becoming that which God wanted me to be. After years of struggling with God’s call on my life I surrendered. I’d like to say it was of my own choosing, but the truth of the matter is, we do not choose the ministry—it chooses us! I felt like the Apostle Paul: “for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel.” In realizing God’s direction for my life, I realized I was a part of God’s plans, but still had no clue as to what I was actually supposed to do. Nevertheless, the Holy Spirit impressed its calling upon me in a very real way, and almost immediately, all the doubt I had experienced was burned away; there was something in me that God wanted, that God needed. Even my being in prison, my hesitancy didn’t turn God away. As I awakened to the oneness of God, I knew that my past had led me to this moment. I knew God could use not only the man I was becoming, but also the man I had been, I didn’t know how, but I was confident, that along with my calling, I had been given my life’s task.
I may not be typical Quaker pastoral material, but the joy shared and experienced being with people in all their most trying, most joyous moments, gives me such energy that I just know God is present with us. The evidence is that the men and women whom God has called to serve among us as pastoral leaders, and the stories they tell, ring every bit as true as the calls recorded in the Bible. Our meetings—and the new meetings we should be starting—as well as those meetings now growing behind prison walls need many, many more pastoral leaders, genuinely called of God to declare the Good News and to nurture the spiritual life of all those gathered.
In this brief sketch I have given you the two elements that hindsight has shown to be the primary methods God used to direct my life into pastoral ministry. The first element is the input of godly people. I’ve discovered people often see something in me before I see it in myself. God’ s specific direction for me came in part through the counsel of godly people. Trusted Friends have always been a part of divine direction for me. The second element is the worth of the message. The gospel of God’s grace freely offered through Christ Jesus is a wonderful, life-giving, message. To date, my heart’s desire is to be one who proclaims that message. I don’t know what the future holds, but I am confident that the life-changing message of the gospel is worthy of proclamation and that godly people will be glad to help me discern my role as one who proclaims. I pray that many will respond to God’s call, answering that of God in humanity! Whatever your circumstances, I hope my story, and stories yet being told, will encourage you and help tune your ear to hear the call of God on your life.
I have often shared with folks that my ministry appears to be an oxymoron or a paradox, in that Quakers have traditionally understood pastoral ministry to be a responsibility or opportunity for any or all in a faith community, with no one person assuming the role for a specific group or meeting. However, I am guided and focused by the following pieces of truth about Quaker pastoral ministry as I live and experience it:
The following definition written by Josh Brown when he was at Adirondack Friends Meeting as pastor:
Quakers don’t ordain ministers or elders; Friends do recognize God’s call to allof us to minister in daily life, in the community, at work, and in the home as well as in worship. A Quaker pastor is a Friend who has been freedby the Meeting for study, outreach, visitation, and leadership.
I am also guided by the observation of two sacraments (sacraments being outward signs of the inward reality of the divine): the sacrament of the routine and the sacrament of the care of others. The sacrament of the routine and the sacrament of the care of others are well described by Ernest Boyer Jr. in Finding God at Home: Family Life as Spiritual Discipline. These sacraments are enacted by those who seek to practice the presence of God as they live out the ebb and flow of their daily journey in every facet of that journey—relationships, experiences, issues, work, play, etc.
Finally, my ministry has been shaped by my intention to live a life devoted to God—through worship, study, accessibility, transparency, and service in the midst of a faith community. This focus is based on what I understand about the Russian Orthodox spiritual practice of Poustina. That practice is described in the following quote from a Wikipedia article:
A poustinik is one who has been called by God to live their life in the desert (poustinia), alone with God in the service of humanity through prayer, fasting, and availability to those who might call upon him or her. …The poustinik is not a solitary, but is a part of the local community to which he or she is called.” (emphasis mine)
This, then, is for me the work of a lifetime…as a Quaker pastoral minister.
Called to Ministry
The purpose of all our ministry is to lead us and other people into closer communion with God and to enable us to carry out the tasks which Spirit lays upon us.
London Yearly Meeting, 1986
Often the call to ministry is something we have not planned out or ever would have imagined for ourselves. We may not come to it by choice or even willingly. It is a journey of sacred learning that calls for surrender to what we think we cannot do and may even be afraid of. The courage to persist is not the absence of fear, but rather, doing something in the face of that fear. When a true leading is followed, the impossible appears possible and even exciting, and then, by grace, the task at hand becomes easy and joyful. We must remember that we are never alone….
My journey to this place and into Healing has been similar to my path into membership with Friends—by convincement! The deep similarity between Quaker worship and service, and healing work remarkably affirms my Quaker experience of direct connection to Spirit and faithfulness to the opening path. Increasingly, I have been asked to incorporate my background and experience as a parent, educator, Healing Touch practitioner, and student of life experiences to assist with the nurturing of healing ministry within the local, regional, and yearly meetings. Each event has become what I have come to call an “Oh Wow! Oh No!” moment of consciousness; out of the rapture comes the responsibility. At times, “way would open”; other times it has slammed shut, usually at the very point I thought I knew what to do! When least expected, I have encountered the greatest results and experiences. The ongoing miracle of getting one’s self out of the way in order to let Spirit work is a truly humbling experience. Showing up and being fully present is sometimes the greatest challenge, as is remembering that this is not the work of “curing” or the “power” to heal; it is not my work, but “Thy will be done.” The joy of sharing what I have learned with others and acknowledging that this work, this process of transformation, is accessible to all is a wonderful extension of the foundation of Friends testimony to “that of God in all of us” and “continuing revelation.”
I often struggle to describe the many miracles surrounding this work. It is difficult to place words into the sacred space of these profound spiritual experiences. The opportunity to reclaim our long, deep history of the ministry of healing as part of our heritage is fulfilled with each contact and gathering.
The ministry of working at Powell House has been the present culmination of my journey with Friends for nearly twenty years. It has become the ministry of “Hugs, Hospitality, and Healing,” answering a “call” to become part of a living center of Spiritual nurturance for so many. It has given me the chance to provide welcome, service, and a place to practice the gift of Healing that has been nurtured within me and among Friends for many years. It has been a place to share and witness the immense diversity and depth of Quaker ministry and gifts and to be part of seeding the garden of Spiritual abundance. I am grateful for the ongoing journey.
The Ministry of Advancement
Advancement is my ministry. The reasons are pretty straightforward: I was drawn to Friends a little over three years ago, and found a spiritual home for the first time in 30 years. In the process, I became drawn to the work of Advancement. Having found fulfillment in Quakerism, I wanted to share that joy with others, and open doors for folks who are “Friends but don’t know it yet.”
How do we do that? By finding ways to “live our faith out loud.”
We do it every day by enacting our beliefs, by living in accordance with our principles. We do it by talking one-on-one with folks about our actions and our convictions—not by proselytizing or seeking to convert but by making our faith-led actions known to those around us.
I feel moved to extend that conversation more widely, seeking ways to make our living ministry known publicly. When the spirit leads us to write a minute, publicize it. When we are driven to witness, let us do so publicly, or let Advancement folks witness our witness. Screening films and inviting speakers who reflect Friends’ testimonies enriches our lives and may enrich the lives of others in your community. I know it has in mine. And I personally feel moved to help facilitate the advancement efforts of others to live their faith out loud, by discussing and helping to focus their publicity efforts.
Advancement is also about renewal—about making sure that when seekers walk through the doors to the meetinghouse, they find that the spiritual ground is fertile. Efforts to share how the spirit moves among us in our monthly meeting, to learn more about faith through adult education, and to facilitate that movement and witness, have helped to till the soil and enrich my faith.
In sum, my ministry calls me to change what some only half-joking refer to as the “Secret Society of Friends” back into the Religious Society of Friends, drawing strength from the images of John Woolman living his faith among Friends far and wide and of George Fox perched on a pew, speaking truth to power.
Presence with Persons Experiencing Loss
A few spontaneous acts of kindness, trusting in the Divine to lead, grew into a pattern of availability to family, friends, coworkers, and clients with developmental disabilities dealing with life-altering loss. Humbled by the depth of their questions, concerns, and pain, it became clear that I needed some training. On the one hand, training in bereavement facilitation, spiritual counseling, and pastoral care was the easy part. Discerning a leading to ministry, and spiritual development in ministry to the dying and their survivors, was more demanding.
This griefwork ministry required a shift in my mindset from “doing” to “being.” Death isn’t something we can “fix.” Here the minister’s gift is not action, but presence. Profound, sacred listening allows space to bring Light—a person’s own Light—to both pain and joy. In listening, meaning, value, and purpose are sought and affirmed. And there might be an opening for unexpected layers of understanding.
When I began training as a pastoral-care visitor at a local cancer-treatment hospital, I thought my ministry was one of bringing comfort. I learned that it is more important to be able to sit with a person’s pain, to let each speak their truth, uncomfortable as it may be, and to listen for how God is revealed in their life. The settings for this ministry have been varied—hospitals and family homes, a group home for adults with developmental disabilities, conventions, retreats, halfway houses for persons just released from prison, schools, day treatment facilities, Quaker meetings, and even a Supercuts hair salon. I have witnessed a part of survivors’ journeys with sudden, unexpected, traumatic death, lengthy illness, murder, suicide, and war. My own understanding and appreciation of death has grown, as has my wonder at life. What we call death may be healing by other means. And death can be a transformative experience not just for the dying person, but for the survivors. It has been for me.
AVP in NY State and Colombia
What is my ministry? Where is the Life for me? What brings joy, challenge, and meaning? What stretches me to live more fully into the Light?
Several things come to mind. One that stands out at the moment is witnessing to the power of the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) as a tool to practice what it means to live nonviolently here in New York State and, last summer, in Colombia, South America.
People in prison and people in Colombia who do not identify with any of the armed groups know what it is to be oppressed. AVP provides a space to look at oppression, and in that small act, its grip is lessened and we are a bit more empowered.
For those granted power or privilege through nationality of birth, skin color, economic station, gender, sexual orientation, age, physical appearance, etc., AVP challenges us to look at the violence we perpetuate when we accept that power or privilege either knowingly or unconsciously. White people need to learn to look at and let go of white privilege; men need to learn to look at and let go of male privilege; those in heterosexual relationships need to recognize and reject accepted-coupling privilege; we in the overconsumptive-of-nonrenewables world need to learn to reject hegemony. In the process we will begin to taste the sweetness of power-with rather than the bitterness of power-over, or oppression.
AVP can, if we are open to seeing clearly, provide a safe space for learning about power and privilege.
We practice nonviolence best in multigenerational, multiracial, multicultural groups. There we learn about the boxes we carry—the boxes we put people in—people we perceive to be different from ourselves. The boxes we carry say, “My work is more valuable than yours because our culture has valued mine in monetary ways more than it has yours,” and “Your opinion is more worthy than mine because you have had more formal education than I have,” and “Because you are in prison, you must have done something wrong and it is okay for me or others to dismiss you.”
We carry these boxes into prison with us. Then, over a few days of intense workshop experience, we discover that the people we have come to know, to begin to love, do not fit into the box we have for them.
AVP creates space for deep listening and discovery of others and ourselves. And it is fun. There is a built-in rhythm of intensity / discovery and levity. The levity is essential. It provides space for release and re-collecting and it helps the group form community.
In Colombia, 50 years of armed conflict have left people raw, fearful of trusting, and in some cases traumatized. The stress of living with violence in the public realm is carried into the private realm. Domestic violence is pervasive. Sexual abuse of children seems to be commonplace.
In AVP workshops, people begin to trust and speak of the horrors they have experienced or witnessed. But workshops are only three days long, and then we (the Colombian–North American facilitation team) leave. There is no sustained support for those who have become vulnerable in the telling.
This summer, Friends Peace Teams (www.friendspeaceteams.org) intends to address this concern by conducting workshops designed to train Colombians for community-based trauma-healing work. AVP facilitators fluent in Spanish are invited to apply to be part of a delegation.
AVP/NY can be reached at 800-909-8920 or 315-364-8210; avpnyso [at] aol.com.
Writing as Ministry
My ministry is my writing. More exactly, my ministry is metaphor. In literature, a metaphor is a relationship, usually between a concrete image and an abstract idea. The relationship between the two enhances our understanding of each individually and both together. When the Scottish poet Robert Burns says, “My love is like a red, red rose,” he puts body and sensuality into the abstract concept of love. (Yes, that line is technically a simile, but simile is a subset of metaphor; both identify relationships.) Perhaps that love is as heady as the aroma of a rose; perhaps it also causes pain, like the thorns of a rose, and dies too quickly, like the flower. But in this metaphor we also learn more about our own responses to the physical entity of the rose—that we view it symbolically, spiritually as well as physically, even if only at an unconscious level. Poetry and spiritual writings are built from metaphor, from an awareness of the ongoing relationship between the physical and the spiritual in our everyday lives. To me, this awareness of metaphor is very much like the Quaker awareness of ongoing revelation—and it is, I think, a much-needed corrective to the prevalent modern sense of the world as physical only, matter to be used as we wish. I write poetry to explore my own spiritual, metaphorical connection to the world around me. I teach poetry to help others to see in this compound, analogical way as well. I am working on a pamphlet I have tentatively titled “A Quaker Book of Nature,” in which I hope to demonstrate a connection between this analogical/metaphorical way of seeing and the Quaker way of being in this world. If we can accept that we live in this world as in a relationship, that all is physical and spiritual at once—to me, that is a liberation.
True Multigenerational Ministry
EDITOR’S NOTE: The members of the Task Group on Youth wish to share the following article with all Friends in preparation for the theme for Summer Sessions: Spiritual Community across the Spectrum of Age.
Friends have a strong and wonderful desire to nurture the spiritual lives of our children. We do this in two common ways. The first is to set up high-quality programs that minister directly to children. The second is to invite children to participate in adult structures. The strengths and follies of these two approaches are explored in a Friends Journal article from July 2007. The author, Christie Duncan-Tessmer, then describes a third alternative, a multigenerational approach that brings the strengths and needs of all generations together. The article finishes with examples of ways to create multigenerational community in our Meetings. Here is an excerpt from her article. The full article can be read here. Many more resources for this topic are at www.pym.org/education/children (click on “Inspiration for Meetings” and scan down).
A third alternative is necessary to welcome Friends of all ages into being the NOW of our existence.…We need to explicitly plan ways to include adults and children in Monthly and Yearly Meeting structures that are meaningful for each of them. I call this building multigenerational community. It is not intergenerational because we are not trying to find ways that the different generations can interact with each other. It is multigenerational because we are multiple generations coming together for the same purposes: learning, worshipping, serving God, and having fun together, regardless of age, in order to bring the community into deeper relationship with each other and with the Divine. A successful multigenerational experience…allows kids and adults to interact while being reflective and expressive in a way that is meaningful for everyone. Children’s frank, simple, concrete, and magical ways of seeing the world can expand an adult’s understanding of a question. An adult who listens as earnestly to a young person’s answer as to a peer’s validates the child’s position in the community. A teen’s belief that we can and should change significant chunks of the culture today can get us all moving out of our complacency.
Multigenerational community is about asking the community to recognize the power, the gifts, the fun, and the potential of all of the members of the community.…It asks us to be accountable to and respectful of each other, even if we wiggle a lot or talk too long. It is not appropriate for every situation, but when it is, we, as the adult Quaker community, need to be willing to engage in some significant give and take: we need to give ourselves the time, space, and resources to figure out what it means to meaningfully include everyone and we need to take the risk of being playful in the Spirit and of trusting children to be centered in the Spirit as we move forward.
These ways of being in the world together are not part of our dominant culture and don’t come naturally to many of us. Simply because we may believe with all of our hearts that it is important and we want to create space in our Meetings for all of us to be significant in our NOW does not give us the tools to do it. Last year Philadelphia Yearly Meeting changed the structure for our annual sessions so that the afternoons were open for recreation and time to connect with friends outside of business. This change was prompted by the children’s program insisting that kids were not well served by being in program 10 hours a day while their parents were in business sessions (one could argue adults were not well served either!). Everyone on the planning committee agreed that the afternoons would largely be unprogrammed with opportunities for re-creation offered to those who wanted them. However, at every single planning meeting, someone would propose adding in just one more business meeting on just one afternoon.…The planning group needed to remind itself every time that it made this plan for a reason and the afternoons were going to be open! In the end, we did have open afternoons except when there were workshops which included children’s and multigenerational options. And, can you believe it? in addition to the children’s programming being successful with fewer stressed-out kids, all the business got done and adults reported feeling more positive about YM sessions than they had in years. It took an enormous amount of discipline and trust to make these changes though. Changing the culture is hard, we don’t always see where it needs to be changed, and we don’t always want to make the changes when we do see them.
A Ministry of Forgiveness
What is my ministry? I queried and the answer came back—healing myself. My ministry is to serve Spirit by healing myself, releasing my angers, resentments, negative judgments, and pain; to do this as much as I can, whenever I can; and then, as far as I am able, to support others in healing themselves. This happens for me through working on forgiveness as a spiritual practice.
I did not plan or expect to be involved in a ministry around forgiveness. It kind of crept up on me. It happened because I was in a place of deep hurt and anger and looked for help. The help came when I decided to take a workshop at the Friends General Conference 2002 Gathering titled “Forgiveness As a Spiritual Practice.” I began to realize I have more choice than I thought about how I interact with others, about how much hurt and anger I feel, and about how I release these feelings and make space in my mind and heart for love, for Spirit.
What the workshop taught and what I have continued to learn since then is that I can choose to forgive myself and others, to release my pain and suffering. Such forgiveness does not mean condoning the other’s behavior nor giving permission for hurt to be done again. It is not about denying my anger or pain, and it doesn’t mean forgetting serious hurt. It does mean changing myself and not trying to change the other. The definition of the forgiveness process that I work with is: Forgiveness is something I choose to do within myself so I can go back (or forward) into relationships with love. It means “letting go of all hope for a better past.” (Gerald Jampolsky, Forgiveness: the Greatest Healer of All)
Rochester Friends Meeting has several ministries under its care, including this one. It provides a support committee and a travel minute that has been endorsed by Farmington-Scipio Regional Meeting and by NYYM. My meeting also oversees a fund for the work. Several meeting members serve as elders traveling with me to provide retreats or workshops in Attica Prison, Powell House, Pendle Hill, Woolman Hill Center, Friends Conference on Religion and Psychology, FGC Gathering, and many monthly meetings in different parts of the country. Support for the work also comes from FGC’s Traveling Ministries program.
Having been engaged in the process of forgiveness for almost six years, I can now say that it has transformed my life. Plus, I have had the tremendous blessing of witnessing transformation in the lives of many others who have decided to walk the way of forgiveness. It’s a path that leads to peace individually and collectively.
NOTE: The next Forgiveness workshop at Powell House will be March 13 to 15, 2009.
Ministering to Those with No Voice
Photo by Jamel Massey
My ministry encompasses working with people who are being released from Prison. I am a Christian, and I endeavor to walk my faith in my everyday life. After spending 22 years in prison, and being out in the public for approximately seven years, I have learned that ministry means much more than talking about the word of God—it’s living the word of God. Jesus said in Mathew 25:35–40 that when he was thirsty they gave him something to drink, when he was hungry they gave him something to eat, when he didn’t have any clothes they gave him something to wear, when he was in prison they visited him. When they asked, “When did we do those things?” his reply was that when we do it unto one of the least of these, we do it to him.
When I was in prison, I often thought about what I would do when I was released. I knew that I had to do something for those whom society has written off, who don’t have a voice. So when I was released the first job that God sent me too was Exodus Transitional Community. There I got the opportunity to work with people being released from prison. I remember that once when I was attempting to find housing for a young transsexual, the difficulties I encountered where enough to make you want to cry. This individual was only 23 years old. After spending several days attempting to find a place for this individual and literally sleeping at the office in Exodus Transitional Community, I finally found someone to host this person until they are able to find employment. At this point I began to talk to the executive director of Exodus Transitional Community—Julio Medina—my long-time friend and first employer—about housing.
I knew at that point, if we really want to help save lives, and restore hope, housing is a major factor, and that is something that we have to do for people coming out. So, we put together a team , myself, Andra Indarmattie (program director of the Redemption Center), Jamel Massey (director of Field Operations), and Faiz Shabazz (house manager), and started working on a building that Andra had acquired. I wanted to make this transitional house feel, look, and operate like a real home, not like a shelter or institution. This was the ministry that I had been called to do—restoring lives, one life at a time.
When I wondered how this place would operate with no money, God spoke to me and said “ Fear not. I will take care of you” so we opened up the Redemption Center on the 5th of July, 2007. I cannot say that there have not been countless sleepless nights, worrying, wondering how we were going to pay the bills to keep the place open. Eight months later, I still have the same issues; however, God has been keeping the Center open and telling me where to go and what to do.
Ministry for me has always been defined as providing a tangible service, giving when you have nothing to give, providing when you have nothing to provide, sharing when there is really nothing to share. Giving up things that are most important to you—this is exactly what we have done at the Redemption Center. I haven’t been paid for the work that we are doing here, and Andra just recently resigned from her job to come to the agency full-time so that we can help individuals transition from the center to independent living. Jamel hasn’t been working since the agency opened. Even though we are having a hard time in our personal lives, we are still here for others. This is ministry to and for me. I have shared several times with the participants at the agency, “This will work or I’m going to die trying to make it work and keep the Center open.” I know that I’m living out my faith, and doing the work that God has called me to do. In Christendom, there is a saying “ In order to be a Christian, you have to be crazy.” I guess I fit that criterion, because I’m doing the work, and receiving the satisfaction of knowing that individuals being released from prison have a safety net upon release. How long my passion with no funding will last is strictly up to God. I will continue to do my part.
Ministry to the Campuses
The Religious Society of Friends has a long history of investing in the nurture of children. Eventually, many of them go off to colleges and universities and we lose contact with them. They return with less and less frequency, and often they lose their connection with fellow Quakers. There is no way in which we can be certain that they will always be a part the Society. We can be certain that contact is not lost. Ministry to young adults in general, and those on campuses in particular, is a collective opportunity for every monthly and yearly meeting.
The students to whom we reach out may or may not be from our yearly meeting and some may not be Quakers but may share our values and beliefs. Young Quakers from other yearly meetings have left behind families and meetings who are concerned about them. We need to remain in contact with Quakers who leave our yearly meeting to pursue their education. In addition to direct contact with Quaker students, we should be in contact with monthly and yearly meetings where their schools are situated.
Those of us who engage personally in this ministry receive our leading from our meetings. The New Brunswick Friends Meeting provided me with the opportunity to carry the meeting’s ministry to Rutgers University. A New York Yearly Meeting Working Group on Campus Outreach has opened the possibility that we may all share in and support each other in this ministry. My role is to play a small part in this effort. Please join me in reaching out to young people who are such a vital part of the future of the Religious Society of Friends. I can be reached at jpmenzel [at] optonline.net. We are hoping to have a Campus Outreach interest group at Silver Bay.
Letting Go of That Which No Longer Serves
To me, letting go of that which no longer serves is part of the rhythm of wholeness. It is stated in I Corinthians, “When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things.” As a child, I learned to make room for the unspoken and the unallowable. The abuse of my household, which did not fit in with the family myth, needed to be acknowledged somewhere. So I learned to hold space for the whole of the family truth, not just the myth. As an adult, I have been called to untangle, in the Light, the compulsions of a child who grew to earn her way in the universe by being a container for the shadow. I learned to hold space within myself and outside of myself for allowing feelings, emotions, and experiences to be as they were in their entirety, without judgment, without labeling—first personally and then both for individuals and the collective communities of which I am a part.
At the Spiritual Gifts retreat on eldering last year at Powell House, I was able to put into words my journey of ministry: We are all part of the body of Christ, and quite often, I am asked to be the digestive system.
Our digestive systems are essential for health and well-being. Everything the body takes in is processed through this system; nutrients and water are given back to nurture health, toxins and poisons that the body cannot use are eliminated. Physical constipation is painful; how much more tender is emotional and spiritual constipation?
I see my concern as one who can hold gentle, loving and solid space for those individuals and groups who are allowing painful hurts, anger, and other difficult feelings or emotions to come into the Light. In this release, in the Light, I become a vessel of Spirit embracing the whole, nurturing that which brings life and releasing that which is destructive. It is not in my words, although sometimes I do feel led to speak, or in my actions, because usually I am sitting still—it is in simply being a safe place for that which we perceive as negative, as unspeakable, as unallowable, to be made known. Can only Holy Presence create that space? Yes, of course. Is my presence, and my experience as a child, an integral part of that space? Yes, of course. How can I describe a Mystery?
As Friends, as we move further into the mystery of the blessed community, we continue to shed old ways that no longer serve us. Often, we find that our community is stuck, or that we personally are stuck, in old ways that hinder our ability to be faithful to the Spirit. We hold on to emotions or learned behaviors that are toxic to us and our communities—toxic to our call to live in truth and love. Learning to eliminate these behaviors furthers our communal journey to wholeness. Is it as we learn to nurture each other in our place in the body, including the digestive system, that the blessed community blooms?
Ministry of Now
Sunday morning, March 20, 2005; getting ready for the last day of an advanced AVP workshop at Woodbourne prison. A phone call: my 19-year-old grandson has been in a serious DWI accident. A rush to join the family in the neuro unit of a hospital near our hometown. A 180-degree turn in our lives.
|Florence and Luke
Photo by Lucas Ray
There’s a crowd of scared young people milling around. (As I step through them into the emergency room I sense a circle of Iraqi grandmothers huddled on the floor with injured grandchildren but no hospital or doctors or beds.) Later, my daughter, Jenny, asks the doctor if there will be permanent brain damage and he says, “Yes.”
A couple of days later three wide-eyed younger grandchildren settle down on a blanket with me, on the floor behind some chairs. I ask how they’re feeling. “Fine.” No, I mean how are you really? “Sad. It’s scary. I feel restless. We want to help!” How about talking with God about this? “Okay.” Well, what words come to your mind when you think of God? “Spirit. Nature. Powerful. Guide. In everyone.” That’s a good list! Here’s some paper and markers and stuff. What would you like to do?
Caroline (age 6) fills a red page with bright stickers and drawings, focused on i love luke, and decorated with hearts and stars along with a figure who’s part angel part Pippi Longstocking.
Aidan (8 years) writes a letter:
March 24th, 2005
Dear creator of the world,
Hello. Our family has a really big problem. Our cousin got in a car crash and was seriously hurt. We are all sad and it’s scary! We know you are strong and you can help our cousin be healed. Please help us and let Luke live his life. Love,
And Jake (age 10)
God, great merciful creator of the universe,
Please bring peace upon this day.
Yesterday was a dark day.
Feelings of sadness and stress filled the air.
Yet all was hopeful
And faith was strong.
Today was a brighter day.
Enjoyment could be found,
The sun was shining bright;
Although you could not see it,
Its warmth was all around.
God, great merciful leader of the universe,
Please bring peace upon this day.
And my prayer:
Beloved Spirit, You’ve guided us through another day and we’re asking for awareness of you presence for another night. The image of the good shepherd is with us, especially the rod-and staff, and the valley of the shadow of death. Please defend us from things that go bump in the night, and if we venture out into a bog by ourselves, please haul us back unto you presence. You know how tired we all are…we can hardly think. Please guide us along until we (and our darling Lucas) can find the tall, deep grass where there is some shelter, where we can turn around in a few circles and then settle down in safety and really rest. Thank you very much.
Mid-April, and we can at least breathe again. Luke is transferred to the neuro unit of Helen Hayes Hospital in Rockland County, still basically comatose. One of my sons and his family live a few minutes away and they open their home to us, making it possible for me and Luke’s mother, Jenny, to stay with Luke.
I sit by his bed. Whether he can hear me or not: “Luke, I can’t fix this , but I can stay here and keep your spirit company, and I will listen to you.” In spite of the urge to “zone out” my prayer is that I may stay awake and pay attention. This is an important experience and as time goes by we realize it’s an awesome mystery.
Friends and family begin to sort ourselves out, see how we fit into this new reality. Lots of miles are covered by aunts and uncles, cousins and classmates, bringing their love and hugs. We soak each other up. Contact with Luke’s younger brother seems urgent to me. He and his friends are a constant wandering presence in the hospital and sometimes Ben will bolt and head outside alone. “There’s no place to go where it doesn’t hurt!” (I feel adrift sometimes, too.) After he returns to school he reports “People walk up to me and say “Hey, Ben, how’re you doing—how’s your brother?” They never wait to see how I am.” I’m reminded: Listening is an act of love.
The process of healing , recovery, and rehabilitation goes along at its own pace. Consciousness and speech slowly return. It seems as if one day the therapists strap Luke to a flat surface and slowly tilt it until he’s vertical; and how long was it really before he could use that walker? Another young lady asks what would be on the menu at an Italian restaurant. “Pizza, spaghetti, lasagna…” And what would you order? No way can he choose from the list. I’m beginning to realize how incredibly complex this injury is! I watch pet therapy and pool therapy. The tubes begin to come out. Luke can and does talk every waking minute and then ask his mother questions all night; she “sleeps” in his room.
It’s mid-summer and we’re having a picnic at Bear Mountain Park. I sit by Luke’s wheelchair and we watch the family play ball and explore. As they begin to set the tables and get coolers out, I wonder if I should go and do something useful. Luke’s response to that idea still warms my heart: “You’re sitting here being my grandmother, and that’s enough.” I decide that when Luke speaks from his heart, words don’t have to go through his beat-up brain.
After a few months, Luke moves to a residential rehab on the hospital grounds, and is part of a group of 8–10 people with traumatic brain injuries (TBIs). We aren’t with him 24/7 and it is quite an adjustment for all of us. Jenny supports the used-book industry and we learn more about TBI than we’ve ever wanted to know, which has been a huge help along the way. Our cars are on autopilot to Rockland County.
Fifteen months after the accident, Luke comes home. Another click of the kaleidoscope. How will the design look with Luke and me dancing around the house every day? Plus two lively puppies. And a flood that nearly wiped out our town. And so much to learn! What is my job and what isn’t? Old priorities out the window! (Along with various objects that annoy or confuse Luke.) John Calvi teaches us to be grateful for this opportunity to love.
Early on, a scrabble game. Lots of laughter and goofing off. Luke puts down “oposm” and that’s fine with me, but we do decide not to keep score just yet.
Here’s a nice idea: let’s build a bird house with this kit, you could give it to your mom for Christmas. Luke’s not enchanted, but willing to give it a try. It’s harder than they make it look and we both get frustrated. I’m trying to screw the roof on, muttering under my breath and getting nowhere. Here comes a sly grin and the voice of experience, “It relieves a lot of tension if you throw it across the room!”
For some reason we’re talking about the difference between wishes and hope and prayer. Luke says: “A wish connects with what’s outside around us, sort of cosmic/karmic orientation; hope is more self-reliant, something we have a hand in accomplishing; prayer relies on the action of a specific being outside of our own abilities. Asking for help from a specifically understood entity.” What?? “I have lots of good ideas; don’t you wish you had a brain injury?”
I don’t put the bones down on the floor when both puppies are around; they get into screaming squabbles. Luke thinks this is a stupid way to deal with the problem. One morning he looks me in the eye and puts all four bones down right between the puppies, then smiles sweetly and says, “There, that’s my act of defiance for the day!” These are the flashes that are part of my balance-pole as I walk a tightrope between the pain of the losses and isolation, and the growth, humor and trust that we rely on. It’s about keeping a peaceful space for him to do the work. It’s a chance to practice every single positive thing I’ve ever learned.
Think of how a little bat finds its way around. The sound wave goes out and the echo comes back to tell the bat where it is and what’s going on. Okay. I’m doing dishes, Luke’s in the other room. He calls out a question (about every seven seconds), “When is Lucy’s birthday?” I appear, dishtowel in hand: “Let’s look it up.” He sees what’s going on and where he is…he’s not alone.
Up until one a.m. getting stuff ready for the AVP basic in the school. Oh well, who needs sleep? There’s an imprisoned man headed for yet another parole hearing too. Thoughts and prayers.
I feel spring this year; it’s the way my heart feels when I see the first Scottish Highland calf of the year chasing around with the yearlings. Spring is like fog. It doesn’t hold you up or down, but it surrounds you and touches you and has its way with you. That could be a definition of God, there! The subject may be spring, but it could be God or it could be love, I think.
As Luke meanders off on a mission, I can see that he’s lost track of what he’s doing. I tell him that I can see by his eyes that he’s off the trail, and ask what’s going on in his head. What’s it like? His answer: “Well, my eyes can see everything perfectly well, but I have no idea what I’m supposed to pay attention to and what I should ignore.” Terrific insight into one of the quandaries of life, seen from a unique perspective!
After a meeting with several resource people, I ask Luke how he’d felt about it. A small grin, then “I had delusions of grandeur with all those people sitting around because of me.”
We’ve passed the three-year mark. I’m sitting in a college hallway, waiting for Luke to appear after his psych class. (My own current assignment is learning a heartfelt prayer of gratitude for his presence in our lives and his continued willingness.) He steps carefully out of the elevator, classy cane in hand and a Giants backpack over his shoulder. “Hi, old woman!” grins on both our faces “Hi, young man!”
Reflecting on our days, I’m aware that for us, time between now and Next and THEN is not a progression, it’s a series of NOWs. Aha!! Not from A to B to get to C It’s A to blue to Stevie Ray Vaughn to the aquarium to filling the bird feeder to calling Jenny to putting on… Well, that’s the general idea, and this on a day when Jim is coming at 11 instead of 1, or 1 instead of 11, or not at all as the case may be…and I’m supposed to be the guide?! I carry a cup of tea around, keep my knitting handy, take little trips off to find Luke and let go of urgency and control and outcomes. Keep the energy easy and positive while he works his life out.
Andrea Boccelli reminds me, “Like stars across the sky, we are born to shine; all of us here because we believe!”
The Meetinghouse As a Source of Ministry
The Historic Shrewsbury Meetinghouse stands as a silent witness to the Testimonies of Friends. Our area of New Jersey has a vital interest in local history. Our 1816 meetinghouse represents much of that history. Friends began meeting for worship when they arrived and established the settlement of Shrewsbury in 1665. This was the first Friends meeting in New Jersey. By 1672 a meeting for business had been established and George Fox visited as he toured Friends meetings throughout the colonies.
Beginning in 2005 we began holding Historic Events, inviting community neighbors, regional teachers, and historians to tour our meetinghouse and hear a presentation about Shrewsbury Quaker history. These presentations provided the opportunity to present Friends’ Testimonies (particularly Equality and Simplicity) in the context of the history and the architecture of the building. The Meeting is struggling to preserve the meetinghouse through major historic restoration. At these events, we invite the community to participate with us in this restoration.
Our presentations trace Shrewsbury Meeting’s commitment to the Testimonies of Equality and Simplicity as they are manifest in the history of the Meeting and in the meetinghouse. Some examples are:
- 1757--Shrewsbury Meeting disowns John Wardell for buying a slave.
- 1816 Meetinghouse is of the classic “double-celled” type with a moveable wall to separate the men’s and women’s meetings for business, allowing women to conduct business of the Meeting on an equal basis.
- 1865—Equality manifests itself in young women like Harriet La Fetra, who leads Central Jersey women to the state capital to present a petition to the state legislature requesting equal rights under state law. Her gravestone is part of the tour.
- The simple architecture and the later migration from facing benches to meeting for worship in the round are both testimonies to Friends’ commitment to simplicity and to a growing understanding of equality.
While working to restore our building we aspire to also restore in our community the witness to Friends’ Testimonies.
Meeting for Listening
I carry a concern for Meeting for Listening, a form of worship that builds upon unprogrammed meeting for worship and encourages improvised music, dance, and other forms of artistic expression in addition to vocal ministry. Like meeting for worship, Meeting for Listening is a deeply prayerful gathering of friends who seek to be led by Spirit, together, through expectant waiting upon divine guidance. Since direct experience of Spirit is ineffable, sharing that experience through musical expression may provide openings for rich sharing and assist friends in experiencing worship in ways that go deeper than the verbal mind alone can grasp. While it is essential that friends deliver vocal ministry one at a time with space between messages, music and dance are enhanced when two or more play at once. Friends may experience a cohesive form of communal worship in Meeting for Listening.
I experience this concern as a traveling ministry, offering workshops that provide Friends of all levels of musical experience and ability with the listening skills and simple instruments needed to make rewarding music that comes directly from Spirit rather than from a songbook. Traveling deepens my own spiritual life as I visit, worship with, and seek eldering from the Friends I visit. This work is also a kind of peace-building as people of diverse backgrounds and theologies, even those in conflict with one another, can suspend their disagreements and create a joyful noise together!
Bulls Head-Oswego Monthly Meeting, has recognized Vonn New’s ministry under concern with a minute of travel. She may be contacted at vonn.new [at] gmail.com or www.vonnnew.com.
Ministry of Money
Finding my calling and feeling like I fit in the world has been an interesting journey. When I was a young adult, spirituality, God, and any kind of organized religion were unimportant to me. In my early 30s, my focus changed and I started a relationship and friendship with God. Tentative at first, this process has created many changes in my outlook and life. The most dramatic change has been asking for guidance from God. I’ve heard the saying throughout my life, “Many are called, but few are chosen,” with sadness—thinking that I wouldn’t be called and God wasn’t interested in having me do anything special. Today I know that God has a plan for all creatures. I have the choice in how and whether to respond and the direction and focus of my life and energy. Slightly altering that saying continued a change in my life: “All are called; few choose to listen.”
My vocation is a payroll professional. I currently serve as treasurer for my monthly meeting and the Yearly Meeting. This unfolding focus on money was a surprise to me! Money used to create fear, anxiety, and stress for me. Years ago someone I worked with told me never to work with money—her opinion was that I was not good at it. At the time, I operated from a place of lack and fear rather than prosperity, faith, and trust. I focused on it as a power by itself instead of a vehicle. To be trusted with other people’s money seemed a huge responsibility.
I have seen growth regarding money. Opportunities arose and I have a sense that I am listening to a call in this area. I can simplify and explain money matters to others. I can use my knowledge and continue to learn. My own attitudes have changed. Money is a medium of exchange we give value to. Handled with trust and faith and used with generosity and compassion, it can be a positive aspect of life. Working with money gives me the opportunity to interact with many people, share, and listen. And listening is where it all began.
Ministry in the Bronx
What is my ministry? To nurture the young people of the Bronx—as many as I can, individually, one a time. To listen and love them. To let each one know he or she is lovable, capable, beautiful, valuable. They are also accountable, but not for everything that happens to them.
For many years I have worked in community health centers in the Bronx, helping to provide healthcare to families striving, against incredible odds, to survive and to succeed. I have seen the hope and ambition in the young ones, bright eyed and optimistic, as they speak of being dancers, designers, pediatricians.
Recently, my health centers have been in public high schools. These are underfunded, challenged schools in economically and socially stressed neighborhoods—neighborhoods where only one in three graduate from high school, many males go to prison, and girls have babies, enrolling both mother and child in a life of poverty. Textbooks are few.
They come for pre-participation sports physicals and clearance for working papers; medication for headaches, menstrual cramps, stomach aches, and sprained ankles; for vaccines, asthma treatment, and diabetes surveillance. We provide this and more.
I listen, between the lines, as it were. “Would you tell me a little more about…?” Then I hear. I hear about a friend shot and in intensive care; about life-threatening illness or death of parents, leaving the student in unsupported circumstances; about “boyfriends” who are 20 or older who control her activities and friendships; about police officers who stop and frisk at will. The list goes on. Thankfully, our school health program has some resources for support, but the needs are great.
Now, as retirement beckons, I plan to take Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) to these same schools, with the help of Friends well versed in AVP.
The Ministry of the Body at Peace
My ministry in the South Bronx and Colombia began with a meeting for worship at the University of Chicago in 1957. My work with a Bronx youth “gang” 1967–76, brought me into the Society of Friends. I was led also to bring my martial art, Aikido, into Friends’ peacebuilding. A second-level Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) workshop resulted and in 1997 an ongoing project, the Peace Dojo.
Since then Peace Dojos have sprung up in conflict areas from Israel-Palestine to Ethiopia, South America, and the United States, some linked to the Bronx Peace Dojo. Further, an international group of four martial artists, including myself, has just completed a “Peace Dojo Definition” to help the movement coalesce.
As president of Urban Visions, Inc. I work directly with ghetto groups in the South Bronx and Bogotá, Colombia, to replicate peace dojo methods, with AVP to link physical and verbal nonviolence; indirectly I consult with other groups from Mennonites to advertising firms. My associates often tell me I am a mentor (which mystifies me). These experiences teach me that our methods, even our best peacebuilding, are secondary to who we are: the intimate connection human to human as beings within Being which passes all boundaries and limitations.
The practical core of my work is helping people use their bodies (and their words) to bepower and love while facing danger and social challenge. Dr. Paul Linden’s statement “Emotions are an action in the body” crystallizes that core in words. Aikido crystallizes the core in movement.
At 72 I am an active martial artist member of Aiki Extensions, Inc. I belong to Bulls Head-Oswego Meeting, which recognized my work as “authentic ministry.” Both continue my spiritual support and development as a peace worker. Please refer to www.UrbanVisionsInc.org for more detail.
2008 Youth Empowerment Gathering
July 10–13, 2008,Timonium, Md.
AFSC Middle Atlantic Region invites youth to join in helping to empower youth by learning about different conflict-resolution skills. Get introduced to HIP (Help Increase the Peace) by taking Basic HIP training or brush up your facilitator skills in a HIP Refresher seminar. Learn how to take charge and bring peer-mediation skills to your school or youth group from the region’s best community organizers. Meet the new Middle Atlantic Region youth leaders and find out how the face of Help Increase the Peace is changing in the new millennium!
For further information go to www.afsc.org/midatlantic/youth-empowerment.htm, e-mail bmattingly [at] afsc.org, or call 410-323-7348.
The Three Keys to a Successful
and Spiritual Retirement
As Msgr. Fahey of Fordham’s Third Age Center always said, everyone needs three components to have a successful retirement. (If you don’t think of yourself as ever retiring, think in terms of “last third of life.”)
The first task is to develop a rich inner life. Many Quakers, busy with children and work earlier in life, intend to develop a prayer life after 60, and that’s a good start. Friends may want to consult with a spiritual guide, keep a journal, attend retreats, explore books they haven’t had time for in the past. An inner life may include a life review: What have been my guiding principles, what have been the obstacles overcome, where do I see myself growing now? This is the time to go deeper, spend time there longer, start as a seeker, become a finder.
The second and equally important task is to have a creative life. Some Friends can now turn back to an instrument they played long ago, or learn the one they always yearned to play. Some paint, quilt, knit for the grandchildren. A creative life might mean writing your memories down for the next generation, organizing a peace-film festival, building with Habitat for Humanity, taking on making dinner, having a garden.
The third task is to have a connected life. Many leave behind those they shared their life events with when they leave paid employment. Often, men have the most trouble re-creating a friendship network. Joining a band, Powell House work weekends, coffee at the diner may begin to make new connections. Women traditionally have less trouble with developing a connected life but still need to be deliberate in meeting this need. Joining a quilt guild or book club may be a start. Volunteering works for many, whether with the library, school, or neighborhood group. For the introvert, doing the family genealogy and sharing it with the family may be enough.
Msgr. Fahey also went on to say the purpose of the last third of life is to show younger generations how a life should be lived. That is an enormous responsibility, but it is also helpful to evaluate whether we are living this part of life the way we are called to do: Am I using my time, energy, resources in ways that make a difference? In ways I am proud of? In ways that teach what is truly important in living? When that is the goal of this third of life, every aspect of how we live has a spiritual meaning.
NYYM Peace Concerns Coordinator
Witness Coordinating Committee has appointed Greta Mickey to serve as Peace Concerns coordinator for New York Yearly Meeting. The Peace Concerns coordinator is to work at the grassroots level to facilitate networking and communication, and to coordinate among individuals and monthly and regional meetings that hold peace concerns.
Greta has been contacting monthly meeting peace and social action clerks and is hoping to facilitate a meeting of all those who are working to facilitate peace concerns when we meet for Summer Sessions at Silver Bay in July. (Watch for more information!) She is also planning to travel to regional and quarterly gatherings for similar meetings. Please feel free to call or e-mail to share your ideas, experiences, suggestions, or invitations. Your input is needed and appreciated! You can contact Greta by phone at 607-243-5668 or e-mail at gmickey [at] stny.rr.com.
Letter to the Editor
NOTE: Letters to the editor are presented when space is available. Letters raise and explore topics of concern to NYYM Friends. As in any Quaker forum, views here are uncensored, should be expressed briefly and gently, and may discomfort some Friends. The Communications Committee welcomes unsolicited manuscripts of opinion or reporting and will publish material that seems provocative and timely.
I believe Don Badgley (January 2008 Letters to the Editor) speaks for other Friends too when he states “Racism in NYYM is insignificant if not nonexistent.” This deserves a lengthier response than fits here. Many Friends have gone on record as having experienced or perpetrated racism, at the current time, in our beloved Religious Society of Friends. To deny this has happened is to rub salt in deep wounds.
Friend Don says that because “‘race’ is a false construct,” we must not “perpetuate the lie.” His example of the lie is our use of terms such as African American or European American.
The horrible damage of racism has left us with the deep impression that noticing someone’s skin color is racist. This is untrue. Racism is a system of false or negative thoughts, feelings, words or actions based on race. Noticing skin color is, in fact, a profound and necessary step in recognizing a person as an individual. Our brains naturally take in such details as the shape of a nose, the length of hair, the precise shade of skin. We cannot be, and are not, colorblind.
In Africa, a common greeting translates, “I see you.” It is vital to human beings to seeone another.
Removing color blinders may make us uncomfortable because it moves white people from center stage to an appropriate place alongside all other races. If white Americans view ourselves as European Americans, we become one among many kinds of Americans.
Giving up blinders means we have work to do, learning about people of other races. When we insist we’re all human, therefore all the same, we unconsciously assume others are the same as ourselves. We can’t know their experience, their wisdom, their reality. The social construct of race has ensured that people of color have vastly different lives from those of white people. When we insist on ignoring race, we erase the challenges and successes that people of another race have encountered.
The benefit of taking off color blinders is that we can tell the truth. I see you. You have brown skin, or peach, or cream or midnight. I know that, because of the color of your skin, you have probably had experiences I have not. I am now open to seeing and hearing them. Because we do share a common humanity, I can feel how hard racism has been on us all, and I won’t stop until we have overthrown it.
Robin Alpern,Scarsdale Meeting
This column is prepared from information about membership received from the local meeting recorders.
Daphne Mason, to Butternuts from Sandwich (NEYM)
Mary Ann Meirs, to Dover-Randolph from Crosswicks, NJ (PYM)
Ninon Rogers, to Flushing from Fifteenth Street.
Anna Crumley-Effinger—at Brooklyn, from West Richmond (IN)
Edward Druck, member of Brooklyn, on February 3, 2008.
Dean Freiday, member of Manasquan, on March 4, 2008.
Hans Janitschek, member of Bulls Head-Oswego, on February 21, 2008.
John Randall, member of Scarsdale, on April 29, 2008.
Harold Shriner, member of Perry City, on February 24, 2008.
Elizabeth Townsend Williams, member of Poughkeepsie, on April 12, 2008.