by Cathy Walling

What follows is one version of a remarkable experience of healing and forgiveness that happened during a visit from an FGC Traveling Ministry Program traveling minister to our yearly meeting’s annual session. For more than a decade we had labored with the concern that an African-American member had been deeply hurt by overhearing a racist remark by another Friend at annual sessions and had not attended since. Our attempts at reconciliation over the years had not been successful.

The minister had arrived four days before annual sessions for a time of retreat with a designated local elder in order to get a “feeling sense” of the yearly meeting and in that awareness to pray for guidance and clarity. She also met with the local monthly meeting one evening, part of which turned out to be a sharing of her preparation thus far for yearly meeting, emphasizing the importance of eldering. This led to her asking a person there to be a second elder for her.

At the conclusion of this retreat time, a message to be given at the appointed time in the yearly meeting session had not yet emerged. During the opening meeting for worship on the first day of sessions, the second elder offered a message: “As we gather for yearly meeting in this place, I want to acknowledge our need for healing the rift in our midst.” This message proved to be the seed which drew out the needed ministry from the visiting minister.

The minister had awakened that morning with Matt. 18:15-17 and Matt 5:23-24 on her heart. [The first passage advises you to go directly to the person you have a concern with, and if that doesn’t work to take another trusted person with you, and then if that doesn’t work to go to the community. The second passage says if you are taking your gift to the altar and remember that someone has something against you, you leave your gift there and try to be reconciled and then come back to offer your gift.] She believed these verses were given as a response to the un-reconciled relationship in the yearly meeting, but had determined she would not speak them in worship because she would already be speaking at length the following day.

After the second elder’s message in worship, the minister found the two scripture passages return with power together with some words from Richard Foster stating the truth that in communities we are always going to be hurting each other, so we have to deal with forgiveness. In this power, she spoke that truth and shared the scripture passages and the two models for reconciliation they represent – either the offender or the person offended can begin the process. It doesn’t matter who begins. She then posed the question from Psalm 69:4: “Must I restore what I have not stolen?” and the necessary response of “yes.” She concluded with her sense that it’s grace that enables us to open ourselves either to forgive or to ask for forgiveness and her gratitude for these two scripture passages describing both possibilities.

The words from the Psalms hit home with a member who had been struggling with how to apologize for his part in the rift without identifying himself as a racist. He slipped out after the meeting for worship and spent several hours with the aggrieved party, asking for forgiveness. When the two of them walked in for dinner together that evening there was a palpable sense of joy and gratitude for the healing we were witnessing.

Later that evening, the two elders gathered with the minister, who still felt unclear about the presentation she was to make the next day. They affirmed that the message she had delivered that morning had already born rich fruits, and if no further ministry came, it would be enough.

We remain grateful for this work of the Spirit in our midst.

For the Traveling Ministries Program

Some reflections on this experience:

While TMP has recently decided to send out pairs travelling in the ministry, this experience is a testimony to the fruits that can come from having elders from the local meeting. For example, the local elder was able to draw upon prior experience with this yearly meeting to offer the seed for the healing ministry. Also, the local elders were able to discern the import of the ministry that was offered and affirm the minister’s faithfulness. Finally, one of the local elders experienced for the first time having her gifts named, called forth, and rightly used, and she has since found many ways to be faithful to these gifts of the Spirit.