Stillwater Meetinghouse, Barnesville, Ohio
Sixth Month, 2007
To Friends everywhere,
We pray for your tenderness of heart to listen beyond the imperfect words we are using to describe what the Living Spirit has done among us here this week. We know that the Truth is beyond any words we might use to describe it.
We are more than 80 Friends, young and old, from the US, Canada, and Ireland, gathered in Barnesville, Ohio, at Olney Friends School and Stillwater Meetinghouse. During our opening weekend, many Friends who had participated in Young Friends of North America from the 1950’s to the 1990’s came seeking reunion and renewal in the Spirit. The following week’s Quaker Camp attracted additional Friends who were hungering for Spirit-led community. We worked to find Truth together, and to support each other’s ministries and leadings. During our entire gathering, we were blessed by the presence of Friends from the YFNA years and of a committed group of Young Adult Friends who seek to plant the seeds of a new Young Friends movement that can minister to the needs of our whole Society.
At our opening Meeting for Worship, one Friend prayed that we experience a fresh incursion of the Holy Spirit. We have been blessed by just such an incursion again and again. We have experienced this presence in open worship, in searching past words for common ground, and as we sought comfort in facing both the terrible suffering in the world today and past wounds in our own lives.
We have been grateful for the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit in our worship, worship-sharing, Bible study, song, interest groups, and play. Young and old have felt deeply connected, though not always comfortable with each other’s ways. Older Friends have needed to learn restraint in speaking, to provide space for younger Friends to speak. Younger Friends have reminded all of us of the importance of expectant waiting on the inward voice of Christ.
We were enriched by Friends from Ohio and Ireland Yearly Meetings who spoke to us of their practices and traditions and the testimony of their lives to the power of their faith. We have been deeply touched and challenged by the experience of these Friends who root their spiritual life in listening for and obeying Christ’s voice. Many experienced the Living Christ working with us in new ways as we engaged in intense study of the scriptures together.
Young Adult Friends among us are feeling deeply called to create new opportunities to meet with their contemporaries in all branches of North American Friends, knowing they will encounter God in deeply committed Friends from different traditions. We call upon Friends throughout North America to nurture and encourage these efforts.
As we met in this beautiful setting, we felt intensely the sadness and suffering of a world broken by war, injustice, poverty, hunger, and despair, and we cried out in lamentation. We have expressed a growing concern for the suffering of all of God’s creation through misuse at human hands. At the same time, we have felt a deep joy in being called corporately to service in God’s healing work.
We have felt painfully the intense divisions among Friends over sexuality and sexual morality. Many of those present this week felt led to explore deeply together what God requires of us in this area. Tender intergenerational sharing took place about these issues. This was enriched by open discussion of the brokenness we have experienced when sexual behaviors are not consistent with God’s will. We have found a new degree of unity in the call to witness to the importance of mutual faithfulness and commitment in all sexual relationships.
We recognize that all branches of Friends bear great riches from our common roots, as well as great wounds. No branch has carried into the present the full revolutionary message and experience of the first generation of Friends. We affirm the ways we have been blessed to grow in understanding of different’ traditions within the Friends’ family this week. We call upon all Friends to work together to overcome the deep divisions of understanding among us today.
To us, the heart of Quakerism is in listening and responding to the voice of the Inward Teacher in worship and in shared discernment of God’s will. To hear this voice as a community requires us to engage in a covenant of mutual vulnerability. We must examine our preconceptions about how we encounter God and our rigid assumptions about what the Holy Spirit is saying to us as Friends today. We have been open to language and religious structures with which we are not familiar or comfortable. We have received many gifts as a result of engaging in this vulnerability with each other across generational and theological separations. As we shared our leadings and concerns together, we became elders to each other in love, and for this we are deeply grateful.
We call Friends everywhere to enter into an adventure of mutual vulnerability, discernment and accountability – both in their own meetings and across the barriers that divide Friends. This journey will not be easy, but we trust that God will accompany us and will respond to our prayers for help and guidance. We need to find the courage to wrestle with each other, listen tenderly to each other’s witness, and learn from each other’s testimony.
Yours in God’s love,
Ruth Raffensperger & Pamela Haines, Co-Clerks