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Tuesday, March 2nd 2004

6:00 PM

Quaker Prophetic Ministry

This last weekend (Feb. 27-29, 2004), I participated in the Retreat on Prophetic Ministry sponsored by the School of the Spirit at the Franciscan Spiritual Center in Aston, PA. Conceived both as a retreat and a reunion for School of the Spirit (SOTS) alumni, it also included some Friends (Quakers) who were not alumni whom it was felt would be valuable additions to the retreat. About 45 Friends from various places in the United States and Canada came.

The retreat was indicative that SOTS is having an impact. A number of the alumni present have been active in spiritual nurture and ministry. Some of those present, including both alumni and others, have been active in restoring the elder function among unprogrammed Friends in North America where it is generally been dormant outside of Conservative Friends.

Those called to travel in the ministry or to lead workshops, in the absence of a formal elder role in many places where they serve, have found elders to accompany them or have requested that the host group provide elders. While many among liberal unprogrammed Friends think of elders as folks who go around admonishing people, this practice has reminded Friends that traditionally elders perform very important spiritual nurture work. A number of Friends reported that they wouldn't have felt able to engage in the ministry work, or that work would have suffered greatly, had elders not been available to provide spiritual support.

There was also a lot of emphasis on prayer, which was interesting since most participants come from liberal meetings, and there is a great deal of doubt about prayer in such meetings. A number indicated their ministry was prayer, and most appeared to find prayer very important in their lives. I found this very encouraging.

While most participants come out of the liberal unprogrammed Friends tradition, where Christian and Biblical references are often viewed as suspect, there was no shortage of Christian references and scripture was used a lot. The SOTS programs, which are Christian in orientation, may have contributed to this. However, the comfort with Christian reference points does not mean there isn't still a lot of confusion about faith issues.

One of the interesting aspects of the retreat, which is not particularly connected to the teaching at SOTS as far as I know, is the recovery of the charismatic aspect of Quaker worship apparently present in the beginning but long dormant in much of Western Quakerism. I noted the presence of weeping, moaning, speaking in tongues, and quaking which probably mirror the experience of early Friends. There was also strong feeling that extended worship was needed, not just the one hour worship times typical of modern Friends. The charismatic feel also borrows from the broader Christian tradition, including the use of song with active participation elements like clapping, and response to ministry such as Amens. In addition, there was a healing service with laying on of hands for those interested during the free time.

During the Saturday evening worship, there was a very lively reading of the third and fourth chapters of Acts. This reminded me of some major points which keep coming to me which relate strongly to the content of Acts.

  1. Spiritual Power.  In Acts, the disciples are shown as being the vessels of the power of God, power which is so evident that it is noticed by all, believers or not, discerning or not.  In the passage read, it is the healing of the lame man which shows this power. This power was, of course, very evident in the ministry of Jesus.  This power was also evident in the ministry of George Fox (see The Gift of Healing in the Life of George Fox), albeit it was largely expurgated from his Journal by its editors.  It is a challenge to us.  Are we so filled with the Spirit of Christ that God's power is evident through us to those around us?


  2. Identification with Jesus Christ. In Acts, quite evident in the particular passage, the disciples clearly and unabashedly associate the exercise of power to it being in the name of Jesus Christ.  They are in trouble with the officials not for the healing, but for the relentless insistence that it was only through Jesus Christ that it was accomplished. No matter what the consequences, they will not fall back from that declaration.  The revelation to George Fox upon which the Society of Friends was that "There is One, even Christ Jesus, who can speak to thy condition." Today many Friends are inclined to say that the power can come through other means than Jesus Christ.  But it seems to me that the spiritual power - the "signs and wonders" - are inextricably tied to the understanding that it is the name of Jesus Christ through which this can be accomplished.  We dilute the power when we are not bold in proclaiming that Jesus Christ is exactly whom the New Testament says He is.


  3. A God for All Peoples. Later in Acts, the disciples learn that the Gospel is for all peoples, and does not require cultural uniformity of believers. Where the churches established in the apostolic era were in locations with different people groups around, there are indications that the churches contained a mixture of those groups. Christ transcends the differences in this world of ethnicity, class, culture, gender, etc. The church, the body of Christ, is to reflect that transcendence. That many Quaker meetings located in diverse areas are predominantly composed of white, middle class people with a great deal of cultural uniformity is an abomination in the eyes of God, IMHO. I believe this glaring failure to reflect Christ's transcendence of these worldly differences seriously impedes the ability of Friends to serve God.

-Bill Samuel, March 2, 2004

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