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 there 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.