Quaker Universalist Conversations

Letters of Support: Living or Dead?

By Rachel Stacy

While I have several more articles about the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation (IEPC) coming out over the next few weeks, Anthony and I concurred it would be helpful to continue this thread of dialogue as way opened. Questions concerning letters of support, recording ministers and membership are emerging and I hope that my essay below helps to spark further conversation. If you would like to keep reading about my experiences at the IEPC, while several more articles will appear on this forum, you can also read more at rachelstacy.blogspot.com Many thanks!

Six years ago, after participating on the fundraising and planning teams for the World Gathering of Young Friends (WGYF), my meeting wrote me a minute of support to attend the 2005 gatherings. The letter was signed, the experienced shared back at my home meeting during a forum and then dropped. I think that a bunch of us reported back to Yearly Meeting as well. It was assumed that all the BYM participants were positively affected by the experience and everyone applauded our participation.

And… doors were opened. From that experience, I began working on various boards and committees for Quaker organizations and my meeting set up a support committee to help me negotiate it all. This happened to many people who had attended the WGYF and in this sense these letters of support from meetings became living letters and ministry was both recognized and supported.

But when I graduated from college, I took a break from all this involvement. Actually, I ran away from Quakerism entirely, quit all the committees and stopped going to meeting. Since I wasn’t involved in anything anymore, my meeting laid down my support committee and I drifted.

Two years later I found my way back. Not only did I return to worshiping regularly but I also enrolled at the Earlham School of Religion. The following summer I coordinated the Young Adult Leadership Development program at Pendle Hill which I am doing again this summer. I formed a clearness process to participate in Christian Peacemaking Teams and I’ve begun immersing myself in my passion of ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue. In the last two years I have gone from zero to sixty in a matter of months… but I haven’t lived in a single place for more than 4 months, or worshiped in the same meeting but a few times in a row.

While I have kept my home meeting updated throughout all this time and involved them in small ways when I could, it’s been hard. I haven’t attended my home meeting regularly for many years and while it is very much still home, home had changed. Does that mean that I’ve acted in ministry for the last two years without any kind of support?

Oh no.

But, if I had abided by traditional Quaker systems of ministry and support, I would neither have returned to Quakerism nor had the transformational experiences of the last two years. In fact, if most young adults abide by the “get permission first from your home monthly meeting” few young adults would be in ministry; how many of our home meetings know where we are right now? Some do. Some don’t. Graduate programs, marriage, families and steady jobs do place young adults into stable faith communities, but these days when most people don’t have a single job all their life, movement disrupts what it means to be a life-long member of a Quaker meeting.

So let me talk a bit about my own experience. I’ve set up and abided to not only processes of clearness but also systems of accountability, support and seasoning. I have a strong network of peers, mentors and elders who do not worship together each Sunday. Many of them know one another and often small groups of us come together not just for my own purposes but also for the support and accountability of others. Quaker opportunities are happening over skype (I’m serious, video chat has aided exponentially both in committee involvement and spiritual concerns). Clearness committees gather informally in living rooms and at coffee shops. Entire meetings are springing up due to the needs of folks to worship in the middle of the week instead of on Sunday; entire meetings I might add that are not under the care of an established one. And, the most powerful meetings for worship that I have attended are 3+ hours long in a community that sees each other perhaps once a year.

So what I am alluding to is that in this world of technological networking, physical fragmentation and instantaneous communication across large distances, Quaker community needs to be re-imaged and membership revised.

I’m not however suggesting that the Monthly Meetings should be disbanded and membership dropped… oh no, please don’t get me wrong but what about other options for those of us in the in-between? Membership on a Yearly Meeting level? Membership on a level to FUM or FGC? Institutional recognition of small groups of diverse Friends supporting each other. A revitalization of the concept of sojourning (how many people in your meeting even know what that means?). What does it mean to be Quaker when your ‘church’ your community is spread across the world? What if your ‘church’ is the people you go to the market with? Where does your membership lie then?

If tradition was strictly followed, I wouldn’t have gone to this peace conference, I may not have ever gone to ESR and I may have never returned to Quakerism. In time, I will return to a greater sense of tradition and when I start my PhD and settle somewhere for 6+ years I will most likely transfer my membership and actively engage in a single monthly meeting. Until then? I actively engage in my Quaker community as the networked phenomenon that it is and I participate in opportunities and committees that support others—sometimes from a distance.

So what was my letter of support? Do two recommendations from my seminary professors count? How about greetings to Quakers in Jamaica from a slew of individuals and small communities? And accountability… well, for starters, you’re looking at it! Writing, dialoguing and reflecting are only the beginning. I checked in with both other Quakers and several mentors throughout the conference who were also in attendance. Plus, I have already received a few very challenging emails and have worked with a group of Friends to season responses. Is that enough?

The work that is coming out of this Peace Convocation will take me across the country to facilitate conversations of Just Peace in the public sphere. Not only am I being held accountable for my reflection, but I’m being held accountable to do something with this experience. My letter of support therefore is not simply a piece of paper affirming my good character or good standing in my meeting, my letter of support is a living document that pulls me into engaging my community in my experiences. This living document evolves and changes as the systems of support and accountability around me hold the container for my ministry. Those systems aren’t traditional… but does that mean that they are wrong?

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