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A Date

Quest for Adequacy - Thu, 01/23/2014 - 23:00
[This semester, I am taking a class called Vocational Discernment for a Sustained Life of Ministry.  Our first assignment was to write a creative conversation in which we discuss our call to ministry with another person.  This is my paper.]

I have been going on a lot of dates lately and inevitably at some point during the date, the conversation turns to how I am in seminary and that I am a Quaker.  Here is an only slightly exaggerated version of how those conversations go.

DATE:  So, you’re in seminary.  Does that mean you want to be a minister?

ME:  Actually, I already am a minister.  I was recorded as a minister by my Quaker meeting last June.

DATE:  Recorded?  What does that mean?

ME:  Quakers do not have ordination―we believe that only God can ordain ministers.  Instead, Friends observe and record the gifts of ministry.  My meeting observed my gifts of minister over several years, then I went through a recording process, and the meeting recorded me as a minister in a special business meeting.

DATE:  I don’t really know much about Quakers.  How are they different from other denominations?

ME:  Quakers believe that everyone has direct access to God.  Instead of looking outside ourselves for guidance, we turn to the inward Christ, or the light of God that we believe is inside of each of us to guide us.

DATE:  If we all have God inside of us, why do Quakers need to get together in groups?  Can’t you just turn inward?

ME:  A couple reasons.  One is that we are not always good at discerning what is coming from God and what is coming from us.  Our Quaker meetings help us to tell the difference.  Also, we believe that God can speak to us through anyone, so during our meetings, we wait in silence to see if anyone will feel led by God to speak.

DATE:  Wait, do you hear God talking to you?

ME:  Yes, I believe I do.  I hear God in the things that other people say to me, and in the things they do without speaking.  I also hear God in messages in meeting, and in nudges that I feel throughout the day to do or not do something, or to hold someone in prayer.

DATE:  But have you ever heard God speak to you directly, with words?

ME:  Yes.  That doesn’t happen very often, but I have experienced it.

DATE:  Can you tell me about a time when it happened?

ME:  A good example is the story that I consider my call to ministry.

It was in 2008, at the Pacific Northwest Quaker Women’s Theology Conference.  I enjoyed the conference very much, but by the end of it, I felt exhausted and very ready to go home.  I had agreed to be co-clerk of the planning committee for the next conference, and I was feeling overwhelmed because I had never done anything like that before.

I was sitting in our final worship for the conference when I heard God say to me, “It’s not always going to be this easy.”

I said, “What?”  Of all the words I could think of to describe my experience at the conference, “easy” was not one of them.

God responded, “Yes, this is the easy part.  It is going to be a lot harder after this.  But I will be there too.”

DATE:  Wow.  That sounds intense.

ME:  It was.

DATE:  Has it been hard?

ME:  Yes, sometimes ministry has been very hard.  I tend to resist God―mostly out of fear―making it harder for myself.  But I have always had the sense that God is with me.

DATE:  I get the sense that for you, ministry means something different from being a pastor of a church.  Is that right?

ME:  Being a pastor is one form of ministry, but I do not feel called to pastoral ministry right now.  My ministry has taken lots of forms: I have done traveling ministry among different branches of Friends, I lead workshops and preach, and I do quite a bit of writing.  I try to stay open to what I feel God is calling me to do.

DATE:  But what about seminary?  Why go to seminary if you are already a minister?

ME:  One reason is that I carry a concern for supporting leaders in the Religious Society of Friends.  We don’t always do a good job of supporting leaders, and I wanted to go to a school that was clear in its support of leadership and bring what I learned there back to my denomination.  

I was also hoping that seminary would help me learn how to have a sustained life of ministry.  Burnout is far too common, and I would like to be able to do this for as long as I feel God is calling me.

DATE:  I know that you are also a lawyer.  Are you planning to continue practicing law?

ME:  I am doing some legal work while I am in seminary to help pay the bills, but I am hoping to transition to full-time ministry over the next few years.

DATE:  And you’re from Alaska?  Are you planning on going back there after you finish seminary?  Or back to Oregon?

ME:  Probably not.  I love the Pacific Northwest, but I will probably go wherever I find a job.

DATE:  It sounds like you are going through a lot of changes in your life right now!

ME:  Indeed.  How about you?  Let’s talk about you for a while!
Categories: Blogs

26:42

Jez Smiths blog - Thu, 01/23/2014 - 22:54
D and I ran for 26 minutes and 42 seconds. The usual story – up to Victoria park and then one lap. It was D’s fastest timed run so far. I’m looking forward to seeing if I can replicate my form at parkrun on Saturday. Can’t write more – my book is unputdownable.
Categories: Blogs

26:42

Jez Smiths blog - Thu, 01/23/2014 - 22:54
D and I ran for 26 minutes and 42 seconds. The usual story – up to Victoria park and then one lap. It was D’s fastest timed run so far. I’m looking forward to seeing if I can replicate my form at parkrun on Saturday. Can’t write more – my book is unputdownable.
Categories: Blogs

Car! Door!

Jez Smiths blog - Wed, 01/22/2014 - 21:04
Today we did jobs, Junior and I. Visited the launderette, pruned the hedge, refilled the birdfeeder, did some online retail therapy (secateurs, bath mat, doormat, that sort of thing). Every day Junior learns new words. Every day, Junior has to label the things he sees. The route to the park is a slow one, though […]
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Bright Invention

Benjamin Lloyd's blog - Wed, 01/22/2014 - 04:06
Long form improvisation has returned to my life with vengeance. It was 2007 when I was last immersed in it. But now White Pines has formed its own ensemble. I’m in it. Jenn… Read More →
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Dancing in the street

Jez Smiths blog - Tue, 01/21/2014 - 20:55
On the way back from nursery we danced in the street to the sounds of music coming from a car. We crossed a zebra crossing in front of this car, which was stuck in traffic. When the driver noticed us 3 dancing (as badly as we could for 2 of us) he turned his music […]
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City farm

Jez Smiths blog - Mon, 01/20/2014 - 21:48
We hocked it over to Surrey Quays City Farm on Saturday. It’s a great place to go for a family outing. Junior crowed back after a cockerel cock-a-doodle-dooed. He oinked at the pigs too. We bleated with the goats and watched the ducks. Junior liked the geese especially, but we tried to keep him apart […]
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Thank you Hilly Fields parkrun, Janathon, Jantastic

Jez Smiths blog - Mon, 01/20/2014 - 14:39
Oh my, Elizabeth Fry! Today, I really didn’t fancy running. I put my clothes out last night and my beloved put them away thinking I wasn’t running until Tuesday. I got to work and my running colleague, D, said she’ll run tomorrow instead of today. At least she went out running on Saturday, so she’s […]
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Our London

Jez Smiths blog - Mon, 01/20/2014 - 08:56
We have this park near us with a fabulous view of London. Every time I take Junior up there I show him the panoramic view from the city in the east to battersea power station in the southwest. At new years eve and fireworks nights hundreds of people gather here. In the summer people gather […]
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Jessye days

Jez Smiths blog - Sun, 01/19/2014 - 20:37
Today was a Jessye day. You know the ones, you probably have another name for it, or maybe you don’t call it anything. They’re the days when you do nothing for the whole day, but you do lots of small things. It’s usually a day of rest, of respite and refreshment. A day for getting […]
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Baby bedtime routine not working? How to get Out of the Woods

Jez Smiths blog - Sun, 01/19/2014 - 20:10
They say that’s it’s good to have a bedtime routine for your baby. A bath, a story and a drink of milk all feature in the various books and websites I’ve seen. Our bedtime routine has all of these things. But I think we might be unique in the world to have included laughing with […]
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Brockley’s Rock

Jez Smiths blog - Sun, 01/19/2014 - 05:26
I love a good fish and chips meal. And I’m blessed that in Brockley we have a great fish and chips takeaway. The fish is always cooked to order so it’s worth phoning your order in before you set off. As well as fried fish they sell grilled fish, fish cakes and calamari. It took […]
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You really are wasting your own time

Jez Smiths blog - Sun, 01/19/2014 - 04:56
Over at Hilly Fields park run, there was a new race director today. Glenn is head of PE at a local school and is involved in the Run Dem Crew running club. First up, the course was changed from the usual. A good decision, as we have one section that has recently been a bog […]
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Every step you take

Jez Smiths blog - Fri, 01/17/2014 - 19:59
I’ve walked 4,905 steps today, according to the moves app. How accurate this is, I don’t know for sure. Thanks to having the app I know now that from office doorstep to station platform is 1,455 steps. And the day I counted every one of my steps to discover this, the app added around 1,100 […]
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Running in pairs

Jez Smiths blog - Thu, 01/16/2014 - 19:44
We ran in two pairs. One colleague needed to go early; I didn’t fancy it. Then another realised she had forgotten her trainers. A deal was done, an arrangement made. Two running pairs, three pairs of trainers. I felt blessed by the quality of conversation. We ran hard for 2 miles, then slowed. We talked […]
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Trainspotting

Jez Smiths blog - Wed, 01/15/2014 - 20:37
We went to visit a friend today, the boy and me. Up at Willesden Junction. We took the footbridge to Hythe Road. My friend swears she once saw 23 trainspotters on that bridge all at once. Today, there were just two. Me and the boy. And he was asleep and I was halfway there. Still, […]
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Procrastinate! Procrastinate!

Jez Smiths blog - Tue, 01/14/2014 - 20:10
The daleks may have been more successful if they had tried to make everyone procrastinate instead of trying to exterminate. I’ve read the books, I’ve done the courses, I ought to have the sodding T-shirt. Each time I find a new system to get my tasks done, I start well but after a while I […]
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The most precious of gifts

Jez Smiths blog - Mon, 01/13/2014 - 20:21
Working in east London, I see a lot of helicopters. If it’s not the police on a mission, it’s likely to be the air ambulance delivering an urgent case to the Royal London hospital or returning to base there. London’s had an air ambulance service since 1989. One day, on my way to work near […]
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Making new memories

Jez Smiths blog - Sun, 01/12/2014 - 21:05
We had a lie in – our son woke us at 6:20 this morning. It felt good. Pulling up the blind we saw a beautiful morning glow, pink across the sky. There was a frost. Everything was crisp. It had an edge. Later we went out for a walk. Ostensibly we were trying to get […]
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Recorded Minister Report for 2013

Quest for Adequacy - Sun, 01/12/2014 - 19:40
“For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”  Matthew 18:20.Shortly after Freedom Friends Church recorded my gifts of ministry in June 2013, I had a couple opportunities for public ministry.  On June 30 to July 6, I led a five-day workshop on Convergent Friends at the FGC Gathering, and I had the opportunity to preach at Camas Friends Church on July 28.  I also found I had many opportunities, both formal and informal, to use my gifts.  I clerked a conference call clearness committee for a Friend who was discerning how to leave her job, and I was approached by several (mostly young) Friends, online and in person, to talk about topics that have been important for me over the past several years, such as the gift of prophecy, being a woman in ministry, and how it feels to be led to give vocal ministry.  My primary focus during that time, however, was the transition from my life in Salem to beginning seminary in Atlanta.  It was a full, emotional, and surprisingly productive summer!

On August 19, the cats and I flew across the country to our new home in Atlanta.  Orientation at Candler School of Theology began two days later.  The transition was harder than I expected, and my experience at Candler so far has been decidedly mixed.  There are things that I love about studying at Candler: my classes are interesting, the professors are brilliant and entertaining, and my classmates are thoughtful and kind.  I am especially excited about getting to take practical classes such as Nonprofit Leadership and Management and Vocational Discernment for a Sustained Life of Ministry.  As part of my contextual education, I spend Mondays as a chaplain intern at a women’s prison located about an hour north of Atlanta; that is one of the highlights of my week.  I also enjoy singing in a choir for credit.

But in the first few weeks of my time at Candler, the administration decided to give an alumni award to Eddie Fox, a man who has been extremely vocal in the fight to prevent full equality for LGBT people in the United Methodist Church.  I ended up in tears in a meeting with the dean and other students and faculty, saying how hurt I felt by the decision to give this award and questioning whether, as an out bisexual, I was really welcome at Candler.  In response to this controversy, an alum wrote that she feels Candler is “welcoming but not affirming,” and I have to agree.  It was especially disappointing for me because that is not the way Candler presents itself in its promotional materials.  One positive outcome is that I quickly connected with the LGBT group at Candler (Sacred Worth), and I have felt very supported by the Emory Office of LGBT Life and other allies on campus.

Another source of support has been friends at Atlanta Friends Meeting.  It was easy to decide which Quaker meeting to attend in Atlanta because there is only one!  Atlanta Friends reminds me a lot of University Friends Meeting in Seattle, both in size and culture, and Friends there have been very welcoming.  I became a sojourning member in October and I anticipate joining a meeting committee soon.  I have also asked the meeting for a support committee.

In November, I had the opportunity to attend a School of the Spirit spiritual renewal weekend in Durham, NC.  I also got to spend the night before the retreat with Friends at Wings of Dawn Farm.  It was wonderful to see so many friends from my School of the Spirit class and others.  I found while I was there that the planned theme of the renewal weekend (on loss and failure) was not speaking to me, so I spent most of the weekend on a true retreat, taking time for quiet rest and reflection.  It was good for my soul and reminded me of my need to incorporate more times of retreat into my daily life.

I have continued to do some writing, though writing on my blog ebbs and flows as usual.  I published a piece on working with an elder in the Western Friend book An Inner Strength: Quakers and Leadership, which came out in July.  I have an upcoming article in Friends Journal on the importance of financial support for ministry.  I have also been doing a fair amount of writing for my seminary classes and expect to do more this semester.

I feel that my self-care during this time of transition has been good.  My course load last semester felt manageable and I did not do very much paid legal work.  I have been intentional about my spiritual practices: setting aside time in the morning for prayer, reading a chapter of the Bible each night, taking Saturday as a sabbath from schoolwork, and getting regular exercise.  I have begun meeting monthly with a spiritual director, and Aimee M and I have kept up a spiritual friendship, checking in with each other over the phone every few months.

Looking ahead, the biggest thing on the horizon is that I will be giving a plenary message at the FWCC Consultation in High Point, NC on April 11.  I am preparing the message in advance so it can be translated into Spanish for simultaneous interpretation.  I hope to spend next summer working in Salem, and I have offered to lead a workshop on prayer at the Pacific Northwest Quaker Women’s Theology Conference.  My New Year’s resolution this year is discernment for a sustained life of ministry, and I have already found several opportunities to practice discernment!

I am grateful to all of you at Freedom Friends Church for your love, prayers, and support, as well as for the gift of my recording this year.  I am holding you in prayer as you meet for yearly meeting, and I look forward to seeing you next summer.

Love,
Ashley
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