Category Archives: NFC

Consuming Thoughts

Today at Bible Study we were present with an onslaught of Christmas gift opportunities that benefit others through purchase.

  • A group of women have created bracelets from beads made in Thailand:  the proceeds go to a house that rescues girls from the sex trade industry.
  • A dear friend’s young daughter wants to “buy the farm”:  Her parents turned a picture drawn by the amazing girl into a Christmas card with proceeds going to raise enough money to buy a farm for a village through World Vision.
  • A representative from F.I.S.H. shared a promotion sponsored by the Coffee Cottage:  purchase their Christmas Blend, and $2 of every pound purchased goes to F.I.S.H.
  • Another friend’s daughter is raising money to go on an orchestra tour by selling locally made jams and syrups.
  • NFC is hosting a Make It Yourself Workshop on December 6th.  By signing up for a time slot and paying a minimal fee, the participants are equipped with supplies and personal instruction from very knowledgable and crafty people on how to do things such as make candy, create gift boxes, make memory books, knit and crochet simple projects, etc.  This idea is coupled with our churches participation in The Advent Conspiracy:  spend less on Christmas, give more.  A statistic was given that if Americans put money spent at Christmas towards solving the world’s water crisis, that it would be fixed 45 times over.

The facilitator, one of the most tender-hearted people I know, commented, “Now, I know economic times are hard, and merchants want you to go out and shop, so I do feel a little bit bad about that.”  My wheels started turning (mind you, their idealistic wheels:  if I had realistic wheels, I’d probably be doing rather than yammering about it).

Random thoughts:  what if our way of life is unsustainable (I know:  it’s a fairly obvious answer)?  Why should we spend more and perpetuate an unhealthy system?  When you have those crisis moments, it’s an opportunity to change, or to ignore or make do and limp along until the next crisis.  Like transitioning my sons to sleep through the night:  yes, it stunk.  Yes, we had to get up repeatedly.  But by not giving in, by being consistent, by being committed to doing things differently, it got easier . . . better . . . healthier . . . eventually.  I remember reading in books about establishing healthy patterns with sleep that the author often said, “Just when you’re about to give up, if you stick with it, the tide will turn.”  And each time, that happened.

We’ve been given the gift of a crisis:  will we make do, or will we change?  What is that change we’re called towards?  How do we combat the black pit of consumption?

One thought:  live simply, so others might simply live.  And I’m thinking that living in such a manner requires community . . . .

Another friend and I were Facebook messaging about the food crisis.  She said that the Food Banks are in desperate need for the upcoming holiday and was discerning her call to help.  She mentioned that her family gives, but it’s hard to talk about what to do with others, because we’re supposed to keep our giving to ourselves, not to flaunt it to benefit ourselves. But if we don’t talk in community, however will we be able to act effectively?  What sorts of places or forums can we share such ideas and leadings, to gather together, to equip, to be the hands and feet of Christ?

I heard that Oregon is one of the top five hungriest states.  Where I live!!  Not in rural America, not in the South, but here.  Oregon.  My home state.

Consumption;  too much, not enough.

Again, Isaiah 58 was read today, at Bible Study in a talk on prejudice.

6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?

7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe him,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness [a] will go before you,
and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.

9 Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,

10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.

11 The LORD will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.

12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

13 “If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath
and from doing as you please on my holy day,
if you call the Sabbath a delight
and the LORD’s holy day honorable,
and if you honor it by not going your own way
and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,

14 then you will find your joy in the LORD,
and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land
and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.”
The mouth of the LORD has spoken.

Tears overwhelmed my eyes (i.e. The Spirit was present!)  The speaker said we need to learn to share the Truth in Love.  I thought about how that means to share the Truth in Christ, because Christ is Love.  But what does that look like?  How do we share the Truth in Love about our economy?  Our life styles?  Our consumption?

Words that come to mind:  Baby steps.  Intentionality.  Community.  Vulnerability.  Listening.  Humility.  Sitting with suffering.  Abiding.

May we be your hands and feet:  to create and further Your Kingdom.  Day by day.


Thank you so much for your comments, affirmations, noticings, and heartful desires on living a high bar life.  Today I felt that another little piece of the puzzle was discovered, though I don’t know if I like where it’s going.

Today the family and I went to church . . . reluctantly.  I used to enjoy the Fall Back time change, somehow tricking myself into believing that I got more rest.  However, someone forgot to send that memo to Blessed Children that reside under my roof.  So we were up – early – and fairly cranky about it.  However, when thinking about being home with less sleep and more Awake and Together time, well, it gave us motivation to get out and about and to a place with childcare.  🙂

This morning in Sunday School we practiced a lectio divina on Matthew 14:22-33 in which Jesus, after feeding the 5,000, sends his apostles across the lake and saves them from a storm during which Peter decides to test his faith to buoyancy ratio.

At first, I had a really hard time centering down:  I was with adults!  Fun adults!  While children were contentedly playing!  I wanted to chat and laugh and have fun and teacher don’t make me behave!  We listened to some music (loud music with words:  the overall experience made me more anxious than centered), read the Scripture twice, and shared a phrase that stood out to us.

For me:  “Immediately after this, Jesus insisted that his disciples get back into the boat and cross”.  My perception of God, despite all the Bible stories I’ve read and experiences I’ve had, is that I can take God or leave God:  God gave me free will, and it is my right to exercise it.  But Christ insisted that they cross.

We read the Scripture out loud again, and then shared:  “I see, I hear, I sense Jesus . . . ”

For me:  I sense Jesus being a lot more assertive and commanding than I usually perceive Him to be.  I don’t know why – perhaps it’s my post-modern sensiblities, but I really feel like I have an option.  And I’m sure that the disciples could have said ‘no’ . . . . but this Scripture just doesn’t lend the air of “Well, it’d be better for you if you got in the boat, but I don’t want to offend your free will, so take it or leave it, and I’ll stand by passively with a mournful face, but Lord knows (really) that this would be better for you, but it really is your choice . . .”

We read the Scripture again.  This time:  “Jesus is inviting me to . . .”

For me:  To.Get.In.The.Boat.

Our group discussed all sorts of noticings and thoughts.  Some noticed that Christ went alone to pray:  why did He need to be alone, and is He inviting me to do the same?  Others wondered what it would be like to be Peter – to step out on faith.  One person picked up on the phrase, “It’s a ghost!” and wondered what that meant for her life.  But for me, it was all about insisting that the disciples get in the boat.

I thought about what I would do in the disciples’ shoes/sandals.  First of all, I would want to stay where I was:  Christ had performed an amazing miracle, and I would want to stay where I was so folks could talk about how great Christ was, and I could say, “Yeah, I’m with *Him*:  kudos to me!”  As though I had anything to do with the miracle, or any way that I was worthy enough to be His disciple.

Then, as Christ was kicking me onto the boat (I imagine it as how it is sometimes dropping off my four-year old in Sunday School when he doesn’t want to go:  noodle boy who then sprints off down the hall – lovely), I would turn and say, “Um, look, *carpenter*, I am a fisherman, or have you forgotten?  This morning when we were looking at the lovely sunrise, do you remember what we saw?  That’s right:  red sky.  You remember what that means?  Yeah, I’m not getting in this stinkin’ boat until after the storm, when conditions are, you know, reasonable.  But apparently you *don’t* know, and I’d think you would, Mr. Son of God and all that.”

At 3 a.m., after battling fierce waves, after being shoved away by the one I wanted to cling to, then I would be miffed, you know, in between almost drowning.  I would be so mad!  “I *told* you we shouldn’t sail.  But noooooo:  you kicked us on the boat, and then you ditched us!  You aren’t even here!  And now we’re going to drown, and I’m exhausted and cold and MAD, and I might die!  I didn’t even want to come!  You don’t even know how hard it is out here!  I really have an earful to give to you, if I don’t lose my voice from drinking so  much salt water.”  Yes, I would make a most excellent grumbling Israelite:  fit right in with the crowd.

I think with a high bar existence, I’m waiting for the conditions to be ideal.  But perhaps (shocking, I know) my idea and God’s idea of ideal conditions might  . . . differ.  If conditions had been ideal in the disciples’ perception, they never would have seen the miraculous actions of Christ or recognized the truth in their heart:  that they had little faith.  God is all about the experiential learning, about creating situations that we pray for deliverance from when He’s maneuvered all sorts of things to put us in the middle of it.   I can hear Graham Cooke sharing his take on this Scripture:  Jesus, talking to God:  “Oh, Father, it’s lining up just great!  Can you give them waves, and make them really really big ones?”  🙂

Sometimes I need space to discern, and sometimes I need to just  So I wonder, what areas is Christ “extending” that invitation to me (aka swiftly kicking me in the butt)?  And who’s getting the kick with me?

Outsourcing: NFC Worship during the Fast Week 2

We experienced yet another week of worship with our children, and though this blog has been silent, we lived to tell the tale.  So did the balcony carpet, although it’s been littered with a bit more cereal crumbs that I’m fairly certain it’s ever seen.

This past week did not go as “smoothly” as the week before.  Which, one may think, “But Aj, last week didn’t sound all that smooth in the first place.”  Very very true.  Judah ran even more.  Abel, having had a bout of the stomach flu the day before, was a bit on the clingy side.  And Jason and I were a bit tired with patience lacking.

But we persevered through snacks, bathroom breaks, and pacing.  In my Walking the Balcony I got to hang out with a friend who was pacing with a bebe as well.  Except the last time he had a babe was some 14ish years ago.  Nope, this wasn’t his kid:  he and his family had been taking turns passing the lovely little girl around during service.

And towards the end of service, Judah asked saw Mr. Alan in the sound booth and wanted to infiltrate, but I told him not to be a bother.  Except, of course, Mr. Alan asked if Judah could come and help him run sound.

Judah told me all about the things he learned:  listening on the headset, watching the screens, “working” the nobs.  He felt very informed and helpful.

At the end of service we had a time of prayer.  I think the idea was to reflect on the message, but something was also said about praying for others.  I was a little too busy balancing Abel on the open second story window because I thought he might stop “ditditDITDITDIT!!!”ing at the top of his lungs if he saw his beloved nature.  But a friend came up to me and asked if she could pray for me:  um, yeah?!!  🙂  As she spoke, she prayed for me to have patience, and I must admit I found myself thinking, “Do I look like I need patience?  Man, I thought I was handling myself well this morning!”, but perhaps it was more a reflection on the active tykes rather than my response (I hope).  🙂  She later took Abel for a walk outside so he really could enjoy the sunshine and I could enjoy free arms and quiet.

Again, to me, this is church.  Both my little men have been dedicated in front of this body, and it wasn’t just a commitment from Jason and I to raise them in the ways of Christ, but also for the body of Newberg Friends to commit to walk alongside us.  As other families bring their children in front of the congregation in the same way, so I eagerly commit to walk alongside them, through the good and the bad, through the children who sit still during service and the children who appear to be jumping over the balcony (I can’t tell you how many folks jerked every time Judah approached the edge).  I can’t do it on my own, and I don’t want to; and as I outsourced some of my parenting duties that morning, I looked forward to the day when I can return the favor.

Glad I’m Not Fasting from the Sunday Nap

It’s actually here:  June has arrived, and Newberg Friends Church has begun a six week corporate fast (lots of helpful linky links on the webpage).   Well,  Newberg Friends has begun an  “optional” six week corporate fast, i.e.  many of the adult Sunday School classes are still meeting, but I think addressing what it means to be the corporate body of Christ, setting aside preferences for the sake of others, and laying down some of that individualism we as Quakers love SO very dearly almost to our dying denomination’s detriment is probably another post in itself.

Because this post is about the fun we had on Sunday morning:  so much fun that Abel fell asleep in his high chair during lunch and Judah slept almost 12 hours straight last night.  Now *that’s* a great Sunday.

Jason and I were a bit wary.  We knew this Sunday was coming, the day when all the kids and youth would be in worship with us.  And we also knew that the nursery and the 3’s class would still be in session for our kids to be deposited into.  But it seemed a tad hypocritical to speak for weeks on what a wonderful time this could be to see our full faith community and experience the life and joy and reality of truly corporate worship, you know, minus my kids.

So I prepared:  I packed books and snacks and a sudoku book and pens in my Mary Poppins bag.  I remember a few years ago sitting by a family with young boys, and every Sunday the mom would pull out coloring books and snacks and activities for them to do.  Newly married, and minus the whirling dervishes known as my children, I would look over and think, “Why do these kids have to be entertained?  Why can’t they just sit?  What is wrong with her and her parenting that these boys have to be distracted during service?”  My, oh my, oh my, I should’ve known that that would be a small glimpse into my future.  Because, you see, at least her kids *SAT*.  Sigh.

And so we “congregated” in the very back of the balcony where we could quickly exit if need be and small people could climb under pews with the least amount of distraction and smaller people could crawl on the floor and not conk their noggins and yowl.

It went as well as could be expected.  🙂

People only had to stop Judah from hanging precariously over the balcony once and out the second story window once.  Abel only shouted at his pacifier a few times, during quiet time, of course.  Judah conked his noggin once, had to go to the bathroom once meaning stomping up and down, and mostly worked his army skills climbing under benches.  We only bothered our neighbors a few times (one of them being the president of the university, i.e. my hubby’s ultimate boss – lovely).  Judah sang the songs while Abel and I danced.  Judah ate triskets while Abel stalked him yelling “DIT DIT DIT DIT” and we quickly threw him a piece of chunky cereal to pacify the restless native.  Judah loved seeing “Opal and Pearl” (i.e. Sandra Fish and Teacher Miriam) all dressed up and acting like two crazy old ladies not understanding the concept of the fast (“I tried to tell the officer about the fast, but he didn’t seem to think that applied to my driving here”).

People talked to each other.  People sang and laughed and praised.  Afterwards we congregated on the lawn for muffins and coffee.  While the adults chatted and the little boys ran amuck, I looked at Jason and said, “This is church.”  Minus being able to maintain eye contact with the adults because I was having to monitor too many roads that small people could run out in, this was just like when I was a kid after church:  parents chatting and happy, kids being kids, food and beverage being enjoyed, worshiping and fellowshipping.

Which, apparently, is exhausting.  Who knew I needed to build up my fellowshipping endurance?  Believe me, that’s something that I won’t mind putting effort into.

Next Steps: Stepping into Fast

So, I last left you with the question of what it would be like for a faith community to sabbath for a year:

  • What would that look like?
  • What could be revealed during that time?
  • Where could God take a group who was willing to lay it all out on the table, let God gets His mits all over everything, and wait to receive?
  • Do we really believe that all we do as a church is God’s and for God? Or is it for us and of our own power?

During December I read the book of Isaiah. While everyone else seems to be immersed in Luke, I felt called to look at the “primary resources” behind our Advent readings and meditations. Each day I would read a chapter, trying to figure out what life in Israel and the world at that time really looked like, hoping that would give me insight into how Isaiah’s words might have impacted the Israelites in their day-to-day living. Over my bowl of Bob’s Red Mills high fiber hot cereal with almonds, flaxseed, cinnamon, and blueberries, I’d read and ponder and move on with my day.

Until one day: the day I hit Isaiah 58. The title of the section was “True Worship”. I thought, ‘How applicable to my situation where I’m on a task force discerning the next steps for worship in our community!’ And I ate my gruel and moved on with my day.

Until the next day. When I sat down, gruel in front of my, along with my happy light, and I opened up to Isaiah 59. Except that my eyes went back to Isaiah 58. I tried to move them back down the page: they did not want to budge. It was like that moment in Friends when Chandler proposes to Monica the first time, simply because they had had a fight and he didn’t know how to apologize or make up: everyone was in the room and groaned and turned away except for Rachel who sat at the kitchen table with her hands pressed against the side of her face staring and muttering, “Oh, oh, I can’t not look at it!”

I couldn’t not look at it.

Same thing happened the next day. And the next. And then one of those days happened to be a Sunday, and so I read it during most of church, wondering if I was meant to share it in service.

But no: I was meant to share it during that afternoon’s Next Steps meeting, when I sat silently stewing most of the meeting until finally someone asked if I had something to say (sigh: seriously – don’t they know better?) and the floodgates opened. I can’t remember all I babbled about – it was a bit of a roundabout (shocking, I know). But I do know that at some point I read Isaiah 58 to the group. Actually, I sobbed it out, having to pause because I couldn’t read through the tears (I remember shaking my head to try and get the tears out so I could move on because, dang it, Holy Spirit, couldn’t you move me in some other way so that I’m still functional and understandable? And not quite so soggy? :)).

Isaiah 58

Fasting that Pleases God

1 “Cry aloud, spare not;
Lift up your voice like a trumpet;
Tell My people their transgression,
And the house of Jacob their sins.
2 Yet they seek Me daily,
And delight to know My ways,
As a nation that did righteousness,
And did not forsake the ordinance of their God.
They ask of Me the ordinances of justice;
They take delight in approaching God.
3 ‘ Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and You have not seen?
Why have we afflicted our souls, and You take no notice?’

“ In fact, in the day of your fast you find pleasure,
And exploit all your laborers.
4 Indeed you fast for strife and debate,
And to strike with the fist of wickedness.
You will not fast as you do this day,
To make your voice heard on high.
5 Is it a fast that I have chosen,
A day for a man to afflict his soul?
Is it to bow down his head like a bulrush,
And to spread out sackcloth and ashes?
Would you call this a fast,
And an acceptable day to the LORD?
6Is this not the fast that I have chosen:
To loose the bonds of wickedness,
To undo the heavy burdens,
To let the oppressed go free,
And that you break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
And that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out;
When you see the naked, that you cover him,
And not hide yourself from your own flesh?
8 Then your light shall break forth like the morning,
Your healing shall spring forth speedily,
And your righteousness shall go before you;
The glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
9 Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer;
You shall cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.

“ If you take away the yoke from your midst,
The pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
10 If you extend your soul to the hungry
And satisfy the afflicted soul,
Then your light shall dawn in the darkness,
And your darkness shall be as the noonday.
11 The LORD will guide you continually,
And satisfy your soul in drought,
And strengthen your bones;
You shall be like a watered garden,
And like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.
12 Those from among you
Shall build the old waste places;
You shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
And you shall be called the Repairer of the Breach,
The Restorer of Streets to Dwell In.
13 “ If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath,
From doing your pleasure on My holy day,
And call the Sabbath a delight,
The holy day of the LORD honorable,
And shall honor Him, not doing your own ways,
Nor finding your own pleasure,
Nor speaking your own words,
14 Then you shall delight yourself in the LORD;
And I will cause you to ride on the high hills of the earth,
And feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father.
The mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

What I didn’t know until after I shared is that another church in our area has been praying this scripture over NFC for almost two years, specifically verse 12 (which stood out to me on my initial reading as well as another person in our group).

A member of the task force suggested we sit with this scripture as a group. We did. As we prepare for our upcoming fast, I wonder if others would be willing to think on Isaiah 58 as well, holding up Newberg Friends as well as your own faith gathering if it’s different. What stands out to you? What strikes you? What convinces you? What does true fasting mean to you?

Next Steps: Pausing to Step

It’s relieved me to hear from at least one that my postings have not been “airing dirty laundry“.  Initially I feared that sharing this journey could seem critical or judgmental of people who have questioned the process.  A number of murmurings of “we just don’t know what’s going on/we need a bigger picture/why haven’t we heard a whole lot from up front?” has been uttered.  Some of the tone has been said somewhat disrespectfully, as though the leadership has handled this incorrectly.  I, too, wondered why we didn’t gather the Next Steps group to share in front of the congregation on a Sunday morning.  But then I realized if I criticized, I, too, would be disrespectful.  So instead I’ve decided to share/question/teach/inform on my own turf, which happens to be this little electronic notepad, with the hopes of edification and not tearing down.

In Permission Granted the authors note that vision for a church only lasts for so long, about five to seven years.  Before that time is up, a new vision needs to be being discerned so as to not leave the church aimless.  And as that vision is acted upon, the church will undergo significant transition and will need to be instructed on how to abide in that transition (like childbirth:  the pain doesn’t go away, but at least education helps cope, abide in the pain, and hope for the coming ending).

The authors also focus on Christ’s illustrations of the church – that of a building and that of a field.  A building is a structure:  rigid, inflexible, unchanging.  These are the values we hold as the body of Christ.  A field is an environment:  fluid, flexible, changing.  These are the manifestations of our values as we respond to our current context.

Thinking about fields and hearing that vision only lasts for so long, I had an ‘ah ha!’ moment:  these things have something in common – sabbath!  In the Old Testament God commanded that the fields not be planted every seven years.  Now environmentally we know this is so that the field doesn’t become totally tapped of nutrients, so that it has time to rest, replenish, and produce well:  farmers employ this method in crop rotation.

But God also commanded the Sabbath for another reason:  as a check to see if the Israelites were abiding in Him rather than their own power.  It’s easy to harvest crops and thank God when you are plucking the bounty; it’s another thing to wait for God to provide.  The Israelites were to trust God that He would provide enough crops during the sixth year not only to provide for the sixth year, but also the seventh . . . and the eighth (because during that year, the crops would be growing).  It was a way of laying everything down and relying on God.  But I imagine it was also a time to regroup, to dream, to change old habits, to plan for new things that couldn’t be thought of during the repetition of the previous year.

I called my dad to ask him what the Israelites did during their Sabbath year.  “I imagine they rested!” he said.  Actually, they never took a Sabbath year, he informed me:  this is why they were exiled to Babylon for seventh years – they owed God seventy Sabbaths.  So instead of getting to rest every seven years, they instead were enslaved for seventy years:  makes one really think about resting when God commands it, eh?

So . . . if the church is like a field . . . and fields need to rest every seven years . . . and vision only lasts for five to seven years . . . doesn’t it seem like the church should take some sort of Sabbath every seven years? . . .

I put forth this question to the Next Steps group one Sunday.  I tried to hold it back because it just didn’t seem the direction we were moving.  I sat silently and antsy for an hour and a half during one meeting, a meeting that our clerk and our pastor happened to both be absent for (so it was a bit of a shock for them when they got the minutes :D).  But then someone asked, “Aj, what are you thinking?”  I asked them if they really wanted to know.  They should’ve known better than to say “yes”.  🙂

The floodgates poured forth.  I’m part of a program that connects with young moms, but we can’t find folks to fill the steering team for next year and attendance has been down:  could we lay it down?  Typical church fashion would say, “No!  This is a good thing!  Force people into the holes!  Fill the need!”  But maybe the need has been met, and God’s calling these resources to a new thing.  When do we have time to discern that?   Perhaps during a Sabbath?

What would it look like for a church to Sabbath for a year? Would that mean that the pastor stops delivering a message on Sunday mornings and that other forms of worship are used?  Would that mean that Sunday schools would be laid down and community would meet in other ways?  What would happen if programs were laid down for a year – programs that help teens and old people and folks in the church and folks out of the church?

What would we do for the year?  Would we hole up and be antisocial?  Or would we find new and creative ways to meet – perhaps outside the walls of the church?

What would happen to the folks who rely on the programs and services NFC provides?  Would their needs go unmet? . . . Or are we relying on programs and not God to meet peoples’ needs?

Note:  I am a verbal processor.  I was not saying that these things should happen:  I was simply posing the question to think about “what would it be like *if* we did these things?”  And so we left the meeting with more questions than answers, most unsettledness than direction.  Because that’s so like God.

Next Steps: Who to Do What Step With?

So I’ve shared some about the process of the group.  At least, I feel as though I did:  does it make sense to you?  What are you fuzzy about?  What would be helpful to hear more about?

During this process I read a great book called Permission Granted To Do Church Differently in the 21st Century.  It’s written by Gary Goodell, a person I know not a lot about, and Graham Cooke, a person who has become key in my spiritual journey.  Graham Cooke, originally from Great Britain so he’s got a *great* accent, leads a prophetic ministry centered in Vacaville, CA.  Dad introduced me to Graham in the form of videos and audio cassettes which I listened to while going for morning walks around my neighborhood.  He is one of the kindest, to the point, challenging, loving teachers I’ve ever heard.  So when I heard about this book, I knew I’d need to read it.

Section 1:  The authors talk about the “Third Day” church God’s told them that we’re moving into (there’s lot of references in the Bible about moving into something new on the third day).  Development of people and churches; Church as a living system – organic and organizational paradox (the church is a field – flexible and changing (this is the response to our cultural context) – and a building – rigid and unchanging (these are our values) – how do we hold to both?).

Section 2:  Third-Day Worship; God-centric Worship; the Worship Feast

Section 3:  Third-Day Meetings; Embracing the Unpredictable; What’s Really Sacred?

Section 4:  Transition (Oh, my, how people would be helped if they read this – to actually understand what we’re going through.  It doesn’t make it easier necessarily, but it’s nice to understand what is actually going on).

Section 5:  Third-Day Preaching

Section 6:  Third-Day Mission.

Good stuff, eh?  One chapter really struck me:  Groups of Tens, Groups of Fifties, and Groups of Hundreds.  “It is not that we just need more than one meeting.  In fact, it doesn’t matter how many meetings you have in a week or a month.  What is important is to see the potential of different sizes of meetings that create different atmospheres or venues, and thus produce different outcomes or results” (109).  We have different sized meetings at NFC, but I don’t think we know why we do, nor do I think we always have placed the correct desired outcomes on those meetings.

The first group is groups of ten.  “These smaller groups are home-based, intergenerational meetings, where we share our lives on a regular basis, make our needs know to each other, and bear each other’s burdens.”  This seems to happen with small groups and Listening Life groups and some Sunday School classes.  “These groups are not cell groups, or even home groups; they are real churches – complete and autonomous churches.  They have leaders; the often receive offerings for missions, the poor, the needy.  They evangelize the lost, baptize converts, dedicate babies, marry the wed and bury the dead, and obviously celebrate the sacrament of communion.  These small groups are not just extensions of the ‘mother ship’ local community church that has a central campus around which all life swirls.  They are the Church” (111).  He then goes on to talk about the theological importance of having The Meal together.  “The local church does not do small groups; the local church is a small group where everyone participates” (117).

Groups of Fifties:  “This is the group where everyone worships” (117).  “These groups are not meant to replace the whole body, but rather make possible a type of meeting in which all ages, including children, can participate” (118).  There has been a concern voiced about what to do with the kids during our six-week fast:  people are concerned for their spiritual welfare if they aren’t in Sunday School.  I’m a bit concerned for their spiritual welfare if they don’t know how or get to have an opportunity to contribute to the larger body!  “This meeting is based upon the full priesthood of all believers with mutual edification and mutual up-building for the purpose of personal strengthening” (118).  And Goodall notes that this is not the entire body, but a gathering of several smaller churches or simple churches in a larger setting (even a home, a park, a backyard).

Groups of Hundreds:  “This is the group where everyone listens and learns.”  The point of these groups is for the larger body or network of churches to consider direction.  They are generally led by teams, not an individual, embodying fivefold ministry.

The other week my husband was getting poked by God to consider the point and purpose and elements of worship.  He was questioning the focus on the sermon:  is that very worshipful?   We do need to be taught, but perhaps we have been putting the wrong function on the different group sizes.  It’s like putting a wrong car part in a car engine:  I will probably be frustrated when it does work well, but can the part change to meet my expectations?   Not so much.  When we try to wed worship and teaching, the focus is divided.  When we aren’t being church in small group ways, we’re probably not prepared to worship:  we have to play catch up in worship to get to that worshipful place.  When we try to get our individual needs met in the large group, people will fall through the cracks:  people can’t be held accountable very well in groups of hundreds.

So, as we think about where we are stepping next and who we are stepping with, perhaps we need to make sure the “parts” are serving their intended function, otherwise we’re going to get stuck on the side of the road, and I don’t think Click and Clack will be able to gufaw our way out of this one.

Next Steps: Room to Step

Now that you’ve heard a bit of our process, you may be wondering where our recommendations came from. Remember: I’m sharing only from my experience and journey.

I shared with the group some about my thoughts on worship and community as I experienced them as a child. I also wondered if such an experience would be possible at NFC. We have three services with half and hour in between. The service structure is packed: not a lot of time for flexibility.

And not a lot of space to congregate, so if service runs over, people are backed up everywhere — and not in a good way when it’s commonly known as the “cattle shoot”. When I first experienced worship at NFC, I was floored at how quickly folks vacated the sanctuary. I figured it was to congregate somewhere superdupercool because why else would people run out as though their pants were on Holy Fire? Because where I came from, the earliest we got home from church was about an hour and a half *after* service had ended. People chatted; kids played; kids maneuvered their parents into going out to lunch with friends so that the conversation and community didn’t have to end.

As the Next Steps group shared their longing for community, we recognized we didn’t really have either the space or the time. So folks began to brainstorm: what would it look like if we went to two services and had a longer time for fellowship? What if we knocked down the walls to the library and built out onto the lawn? What if we removed the pews from the sanctuary and installed interlocking chairs that could be moved around for fellowship time? Should we remodel the Friends Center to make it more conducive to congregating for a longer period of time?

People got excited. But they also felt bogged down by the idea of fundraising: did God want us to spend our time raising money to build a bigger building? Is that what would help us reach out to those in our community, or would that weigh us down?

I started to wonder if the setup of Newberg created an environment for fellowshipping for longer periods of time. If we had space, would we actually use it? When I lived in Boise, I lived 20-25ish minutes away from the church. After getting up, getting dressed, getting fed, getting in the car, we weren’t going to go anywhere for quite some time after arriving at church: we were settled. So we’d go to children’s church and then Sunday school and hang out with friends and come home after a long bit – enough time to make the drive “worthwhile”.

But in Newberg, everything is close and convenient. A drive across town is about seven minutes. It’s easy to have a ‘drop-in’ mentality: I’ll drop in to church, and then drop in to the store, and then run back home. If I forget something at home that I wanted to take to church, I can make it there and back and not miss any significant amount of time. I don’t know that people would come and stay for fellowship at NFC.

So what does that mean? I started thinking about Newberg in general, noticing the types of buildings and establishments. And you know what’s abounding right now? Empty buildings. A number of businesses have moved or closed, and empty facilities are left standing. I wondered what it would be like for faith communities to move into those empty places: not necessarily as a church building, but perhaps as a ministry, creating space for the community of Newberg as a whole to fellowship. What would it look like if we moved into one of those buildings as a community center? And on Sundays we could set up activities for fellowship after church (to “drop in”)? Or what would it look like if some folks from different faith gatherings took on leasing a building and putting in a business that helped those who needed a job have one? Or make it a place to teach? Or just hang out (a bowling alley? Hello!).

There’s an empty building I pass every day as I drive from Newberg to Dundee, and I’m so moved to pray that God will fill that building with something that will bless the people of Newberg. I hope my faith gathering gets to be a part of that – the redeeming of the empty places . . .

Next Steps: The First Steps Continued

The whisks have been rescued, and the boys are fitfully slumbering for the moment (kinda like our weather:  all blusterylike).

Meeting the folks nominated to be on the Next Steps group was similar to meeting folks from any newly-formed group.  Some of them I knew, some of them I didn’t.  Some of them I’d never met before and had no clue that they attended my church (probably at a different service gathering).  A few folks had been on the previous committee, and others had no clue that there had been any sort of group exploring a sense that God was calling us to something different in the area of worship.

Mark Ankeny had offered to clerk.  I grew up with his daughters, and my dad had worked with him previously with yearly meeting business, so there was history.  However, I hadn’t known his personal story:  that he felt called to start a sort of alternative service a few years ago and did not receive a blessing or encouragement.  This (and job changes/moving) led to him exploring other faith gatherings.  To me, this was huge:  Mark had been our Yearly Meeting business meeting clerk *and* he’s an Ankeny (who seem to be an old time Friends family) . . . and he’d been attending a non-Friends gathering?!!  And had been frustrated by our faith community to the point of attending elsewhere?  His sharing of this really set a tone of transparency and creating a safe place to question and discern.

The first meetings were really hard for me:  I felt like I was spinning wheels.  Part of it came from having thought about this type of stuff a lot, while this sense of an itching frustration was totally new to others:  they sensed NFC was in a good place, and why would we need to change, and just scratch the itch and move on!  We explored our values, as a church, as Quakers, as Christ-followers, and were supposed to come up with some statements.  Of course, in my group, we came up with questions (because I’m difficult like that):  we didn’t know that we were even asking the right questions to begin with.  The idea of having a task of looking at models of worship seemed so off the mark:  so what *should* we be looking at?  What was bringing this task force together?  What was at the heart of the issue?  If we could figure out what the *right* question was, perhaps the answers would fall into place — or at least we’d know better how to equip to embark on the journey.

And so we shared our stories — about community, about true worship experiences, about the ideal worship experience for us personally, about places we felt worshipful, about ways to prepare.  We started to read — books like Permission Granted (if folks at NFC would read this, I think that would really help prepare us for the road ahead), The Shaping of Things to Come, Present Future, etc.  We attended other worship gatherings:  some Quaker, some non-denominational, some young adult-oriented, some multi-generational.

As we read and pondered and talked with our spouses (who are probably all honorary members of Next Steps) and questioned our small groups and prayed and listened, we began to notice threads —

  • of wondering what true hospitality is
  • of thinking about what elements of worship truly are important
  • of noticing that we don’t have a good space to congregate
  • of recognizing that we desire to be together and hear each other’s stories
  • of feeling moved to be more present in our community
  • of wanting to repent of spiritual pride that holds us back from worshiping fully
  • of wondering how our Quaker distinctives can be tools to help us and others encounter God more fully rather than plaques on the wall

So, what to do with all of those threads . . . .

Next Steps: The First Steps

I don’t have a pulpit, but I do have this blog that can be used as a place to share my story, explain some thoughts, prompt questions, encourage action and contemplation.  If I were a really quality blogger, I would have the journey planned out into a series of blog posts that fall into a theme.  But instead I have brief moments between chasing a magazine-eating bebe, playing instruments with a preschooler, and wondering what it would take to start making my own condiments.

I must confess:  I rarely answer my cell phone.  I don’t answer our landline either, mostly because I don’t have one.  🙂  People may think that I’m ignoring them, but actually I have a very selective window of being able to talk on the phone, because when I talk on the phone, this strange condition comes over my household in which people under four feet are compelled to demand my attention and/or destroy things.  It does not make for ideal conversation.  So I use my cell phone as a really expensive answering machine and often respond to folks by email, because for some reason, the small people don’t realize that I can communicate with the outside world through my computer . . . yet.

Gregg called and left me a message.  It was a long message as I sat waiting for the “whirl” of the phone to say that I had a “new message!”  When I listened, I was a little flumoxed.  “The elders have appointed a group to look at worship at NFC. . . . Called “Next Steps” . . . Next step after the first worship assessment group who did the surveys . . . Going to be implementing things . . . Hadn’t included you in first group because thought you’d be more suited for implementation than assessment . . . Elders wondered if you’d be part. . .”

First, I felt flattered:  it’s fun to be included.  Second, I felt relief about why I hadn’t been included in the first group:  honestly, my feelings had been a little hurt because, hello:  who babbles about worship stuff all the time?!!  And then came the conflicted feeling:  you know, that feeling of “oooh:  do I *really* want to do this?”  Yes, it sounded like a natural fit.  But . . .

  • Did I really want to spend *that* much time thinking about Sunday morning worship?
  • Did I really want to get into looking at “models of worship”?
  • Did the elders really think that a plan of changing worship, kind of like changing a business plan, would really make a difference?
  • Is that what God had in store for NFC – an alternative service, or more upbeat music?
  • Was that really it?

I had chatted previously with my hubby about this sort of stuff, and he seemed to have a lot of opinions about it, which, if you know him, is a bit shocking:  he tends to be an opinion-withholder.  As I listened to Gregg’s message, I had this sense that perhaps Jason should be on the committee instead of myself:  my attitude seemed more frustrated/jaded than his.  Gregg talked with the elders, but the elders felt that the folks being asked to contribute had been prayed about and led to be asked specifically.  So, I figured:  enh, it can’t hurt…

Our first meeting took place on a Sunday afternoon.  The meeting began at 2:00, but folks were encouraged to gather at 1:30 to pray for the church and the group and the process.  Elders and a few others were present:  a little disheartening.

The same structure was set up for each following meeting, and only one or two people in total showed up to pray beforehand.  I understand that it was most likely not an easy time to gather, but I also wondered if the congregation really knew what we were being tasked with and how God could be leading us to a place that could shake us to our core.  When that few of people showed up, was it because our individual schedules were more important than the corporate schedule?  Or had it not been communicated well to the congregation what was going to be explored?  Or did the faith community just not care?

Little People are playing drums . . . with my good whisks.  Look for the next installment in a bit.