from the Committee on Ministry and Counsel
This month’s reading is our corporate answer to the Queries our Meeting was asked to address by the Ministry and Nurture Committee of Lake Erie Yearly Meeting. The queries read:
In what ways has the Living Presence awakened my faith and turned me around?
As a Meeting, how do we support each other in being faithful?
Ann Arbor Friends Meeting
Responses to LEYM Queries - November 2005
Active Faith and Living Practice
After publishing the queries and a one-page selection of the Advices and Quotations in the Meeting newsletter, Ann Arbor Friends considered the personal and Meeting community queries in two different modes. First, Friends were asked to share at a Friendly Friday Fellowship Feast about how "the Living Presence awakened [their] faith and turned [them] around." And then, Friends were invited to gather at the Meetinghouse on the evening of 18 November to have pizza and shared salad and desserts, and to reflect on the second query: "As a Meeting, how do we support each other in being faithful?" At the latter event, there was some reporting on the first round and sharing on the personal query as well.
Query One. Although a few Friends were able to speak of personal experience of a Living presence or of remarkable changes in life direction, a number shared that the first query did not speak to them or describe their experience. The "turning around," while commonly described in the journals of early Friends, is not a comfortable phrase for some because it feels to them like born-again Christian "jargon," outside their sense of credulity. In fact, for most of us, the awakening of faith can be described as more an experience of gradual maturation than a sudden "road to Damascus" whammy. Thus, at some of the "feasts," Friends didn't have much to say on the topic and so the sharing quickly departed from the query and focused more on personal experiences of coming to Friends and on the life of the Meeting. Some spoke of making progress in dealing with personal problems, such as growing through their anger or past feelings of homophobia where the Meeting community has been supportive and non-judgmental. Others spoke of the value of meeting for worship as a place to experience the Living Presence through the examples and spoken messages of others. Listening in that setting and being open and vulnerable has led some to valuable openings.
Some Friends have no experience of God and do not share the "beliefs" that are professed in Christian churches. They come to meeting for worship because in that respectful setting, they are encouraged to listen and ponder, experiencing "belief" as a personal journey. Also, it is the "social gospel" of Friends - the living practice of service that many find makes them feel comfortable in our midst and want to come back.
Finally, the "turning around" metaphor reminded one Friend of those rare times when unbidden feelings of love can come quite suddenly from a source outside ourselves and provide the energy to go beyond our fears and relate to another in an open state of grace.
Query Two. The fourteen Friends who gathered first thought about what "being faithful" meant. Faithful to whom or what? Ideas offered were God, our beliefs, our highest values, each other, our family and friends, the Meeting. Then we thought of opportunities the Meeting community provides for supporting each other in being faithful. These included Spiritual Formation groups, the women's group, Bible study, fellowship feasts, Young Adult Friends, social action groups.
Certainly the common setting we share as a Friends community is the meeting for worship. The silence can provide deep healing. Spoken messages can be of support for our own faith, as is the example of others - their putting faith into action, their way of living, and their caring. Sometimes the personal pain expressed in meeting for worship brings silent prayer for that person through the week. Our meetings for business bring opportunities for deep listening, where sometimes conflict arises, but disagreement does not get in the way of our continuing to accept, even care for each other.
Reaching out to support those among us who experience personal difficulty is not easy in modern American society where you are not supposed to meddle in private affairs. A Friend encouraged us to go ahead and meddle - that may be what is called for. There may be difficulty with domestic violence or addictions in some of our private lives which cry out for a listening ear, prayer, or holding in the living Light. When a marriage occurs under the care of the Meeting, we promise to support the union through time. How often do we do that, actually staying close enough to the couple to provide intervention if difficulty arises? Often, by the time the couple asks for help, the problem has gone too far for turning around. It is not easy to be faithful when in the midst of such a struggle. Are we open to receive the support that is offered to move us toward faithfulness?
Several expressed their appreciation for the sheet of Advices and Quotations which accompanied these queries. As in years past, we have found it useful to read of these patterns and examples. Several of them were referred to during our discussions as providing helpful paths to follow. Images like "Stay close to the root" or "Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works …" are worth a thousand sermons.
Reporting for Ann Arbor Friends -
[Two members of the Committee on Ministry and Counsel]