by Noah Merrill
Prophetic ministry has to do not primarily with addressing specific public crises but with addressing, in season and out of season, the dominant crisis that is enduring and resilient, of having our alternative vocation co-opted and domesticated.
― Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination
1. Remember who you are.
A Friends meeting is not a social activist or advocacy group, a political party, or a social service organization. At its heart, a meeting is a body of people covenanted to steward an opportunity for worship—for encountering the transforming power of God together, for opening ourselves to be shaped by these encounters over time, and for accompanying one another with patience and courage as we imperfectly live out the implications of this experience of Divine Love with us in the world, in each aspect of our lives.
From this perspective, how is the meeting’s response to present concerns rooted in, and a reflection of, your ongoing experience of worship together? How can both the meeting’s process and actions bear witness to the Love of God already at work within the meeting community, and help it be expressed more fully in the world?
In a time when crisis is especially felt—when we don’t know what to do—how can we encourage one another—and invite our neighbors—to return together to the Ground of worship, which is our ultimate refuge?
2. Remember where you are.
How does this present crisis resonate with the ways the Spirit is already at work in the life and ministry of the meeting? How might the meeting’s response deepen and continue the meeting’s ongoing discernment and particular expression of its unique story and calling, trusting that the same Spirit is at work in all, yesterday, today, and tomorrow? Trust that we will not truly be given more to do than we can carry, with God’s help.
Reflecting on your meeting’s particular location, relationships, resources, and gifts, how might the meeting—and each of its members—respond to the present crisis close to home in a way that draws on the meeting’s unique context? How can Friends’ actions now deepen trust, increase resilience, and foster wholeness among those with whom the meeting and its members are already in relationship?
3. Remember you are not alone.
In considering actions, are there wider efforts in the community—in relationships locally, and in the ministry of Friends more widely—with which Friends locally can connect and share, rather than “reinventing the wheel”? Are there Friends organizations already involved, who can provide guidance or more detailed knowledge drawn from sustained engagement? Locally, are there trusted people or networks who remain persistently involved, even when concerns are not in the headlines? Remember that sometimes a support role, even an invisible one, is more useful than seeking to lead or to stand out, and that patient consistency is often more healthy than urgent reaction.
When grief or despair threatens to overwhelm us, how can the meeting, or particular Friends, encourage and invite opportunities for lament, for acknowledging the depth and breadth of our sadness and anger, trusting that our burdens can be held in the arms of the Spirit when we can no longer carry them?
Remember that our spiritual ancestors show us examples of turning our broken hearts over to God’s care, crying out, as so many have done before, “How long will this suffering endure?” Allowing ourselves to grieve our own and the world’s wounds can allow openings for compassion and creativity to flow. And remember that we can draw on the testimony, strength, and experience of Friends and faithful people, past and present, who have endured profound suffering and trouble.
4. Remember to let Love move and guide us.
Do we take care that we are allowing ourselves to be moved by God’s Love, grounded in worship, and not from a desire to reduce our own anxiety or grief, or to be seen as being “right”? Do we take care that our advocacy, within or beyond the meeting, does not align with the logic of force—trying to cajole, shame, or pressure people into some particular action, regardless of their conscience?
Especially when we feel strong emotions, a sense of urgency, or the righteousness of our path, do we take care to listen to how God may be speaking to us through the voices or experiences of others with whom we may seem to disagree? In the meeting’s discernment, do we seek to truthfully share our hearts and our sense of what we have been given, and then release this to the meeting, trusting that others will listen for how our words might open them to God’s guidance?
5. Remember we are each given a distinct part to play.
Remember that the gifts of the Spirit are expressed in diverse ways, through many people. Friends’ experience is that important concerns are often felt and carried by particular people for a long time before they might become corporate commitments, if they ever do. In light of this, how can the meeting support the particular ministry of Friends who may feel this concern most deeply at this time, both in assisting them with discernment and oversight, as well as in responding to the call they feel?
Mindful of the authentic limitations of the meeting’s capacity at this time—and of the reality that we can’t do it all—how can the wider meeting accompany those who feel this concern most deeply, as they seek to discern and responsibly carry what they have been given? We may find ourselves implicated in one another’s faithfulness, caught up in the Spirit’s work, as we each seek to discern our distinct part. Consider that responding to God’s call to rest and renew, when it comes, is also faithfulness.
6. Remember the story isn’t finished.
Are we mindful that whatever decisions we make in this moment are only part of the process of the meeting’s discernment, as it unfolds in our living over time? Are we open to hearing “no” or “not now” or “not yet,” when this is the authentic sense of the meeting? As a meeting, can we take what might seem like imperfect and partial steps in faith, trusting that more may be revealed in time, to us and to the meeting? These moments of attention to seemingly small or insignificant things may be preparing us for something more, something we have not yet been able to imagine.
7. Remember we will be changed.
Remember that, in Friends’ experience, the journey of carrying a concern involves both inward and outward dimensions. Friends have found that this journey changes us, and requires sacrifice. Sometimes the tendering of our hearts to feel deeply and walk with our own or others’ suffering is an essential part of the journey of faithfulness over time, tempering and preparing us to be more faithful instruments of Love in our living.
Noah Merrill serves as the General Secretary of New England YM. His travel minute reads:
Noah Merrill is a member of Putney Meeting whose spiritual wisdom is cherished. We recognize the gift of ministry given through him. Noah’s work is the work of the Meeting.
Noah’s faith has served as an instrument of Love in times of trouble. He seeks to live in and be open to the Power of God. We witness this.
Under the guidance of the Spirit and with the prayers of Friends, may his service among you be faithful.
With Noah, we send our loving greetings.
On behalf of Putney Friends Meeting,
Carol Forsythe, Presiding Clerk
Putney Friends Meeting
New England Yearly Meeting of the Relgious Society of Friends
Minute approved Sixth Month 19, 2016