Saturday, June 30, 2012

QuakerSpring: A New Creation

Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will appear over you.
- Isaiah 60:1-2

We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.
- Romans 8:22-23

God continues to surprise me. All the Holy Spirit has to do is blow through, and I am back to square one; the sand castles that I have built are swept away by the tide, and I am left without fortifications before God. I suppose it could be frustrating to realize that most of the things I had been worrying about for months do not really matter. But all I feel is joy. I see with stunning clarity that God is not like me at all. Though I am characterized by grasping and self-centeredness, God's character is one of self-giving, healing and mercy. God's presence is power to receive forgiveness, and to be remade in the image of Christ.

This presence and power was very much in evidence this past week at the sixth annual gathering of QuakerSpring in Barnesville, Ohio. QuakerSpring is a unique, Spirit-led retreat that was conceived as an alternative to the frantic programming of some other Quaker gatherings. Rather than planning the schedule ahead of time, each day's agenda is set out according to the group's sense of the Spirit's leading. Rooted in deep worship and shared discernment, QuakerSpring unfolds according to the community's sense of God's call.

I was surprised by the spiritual intensity we experienced this year. There was a palpable sense of connection to God, but also an awareness of spiritual darkness. At the heart of our time together was a deep sense of our human brokeness, and of Christ's presence within, calling us to deeper faithfulness. Our spiritual burdens felt like a heavy weight, but as we sat together in Christ's presence, much of this darkness was revealed, brought into the light, and purified in the Refiner's Fire. Both individually and as a group, we experienced real transformation.

During QuakerSpring, I personally became more aware of the burdens I had been carrying. I saw more clearly that I was struggling with a spirit of anxiety and confusion around issues of financial security and support. I was so caught up in worry about the future that I had lost sight of my present Ground and Source, Jesus Christ.

Fortunately, an elder was able to name what was happening. She expressed her sense that the Adversary was loose in our midst. When she said this, I knew immediately that it was true. I perceived the spirit of confusion and anxiety for what it was - a spirit that was not from God - and I felt an immediate release. In what felt like a miraculous moment of spiritual house-cleaning, the darkness, confusion and anxiety cleared out of me. I give praise to God for using this elder to name what was happening, and to reveal the dynamics at play that were keeping me in bondage.

One thing that struck me this week was the prominence of what I would describe as almost "charismatic" expressions of faith. The reality of darkness and evil emerged as major themes of our worship and conversation. At the same time, there was a deep sense of Christ's inward power that is breaking out of forms and structures and transforming us in ways that we could never have predicted. God is doing a new thing, though it is still unclear what this new creation will look like.

As someone who has been involved in QuakerSpring since the first gathering in 2007, this year felt like a turning point. I have always valued QuakerSpring as a chance to rest in the Spirit and grow in community. I saw QuakerSpring as a vacation from the hard work of ministry in the wider world. This year, however, I had a growing sense that God has a broader purpose for this gathering. What if QuakerSpring is more than a spiritual refuge? What if God is using QuakerSpring as an engine of renewal and rebirth for the Religious Society of Friends?

Everything in the Religious Society of Friends seems to be falling apart right now. Yearly Meetings are splitting, and old venerable institutions are in decline. Many of our Meetings are in states of crisis, and there is a general sense that we don't really know what to do. We are at a loss for how to respond to our present circumstances. At QuakerSpring, I experience a community that is grounded in the Spirit, listening and seeking to be obedient to the voice of Jesus Christ within. This is the kind of community that I want to be a part of. It is a kind of Quakerism that could truly be relevant for 21st-century post-modern America.

QuakerSpring represents the unique meeting of Christian (or Christian-curious) Liberal Friends and Conservative Friends who seek a more vibrant and flexible Christian faith. I learned in high school biology that hybrids are often much stronger than "pure breeds." Could this new community - this mutt of branch lineages united in the Spirit of Christ - find a voice and a witness that speaks to the needs of modern-day North America? How is God teaching us to contextualize the truth that early Friends re-discovered in our own - dramatically different - context? How might we move forward with our Guide?

There are no easy answers. While many of us wish there were some sort of "technical" solution for the challenges facing the Religious Society of Friends today, I am convinced that there is no quick fix that will produce faithfulness and awareness of God's presence and power. Rather than developing a technique or a process, God is gathering a people.

QuakerSpring is not an abstract model or process that can simply be exported. This is not something that we can manage or control. Rather, QuakerSpring is a people who are being knitted together in God's love and power. Based on my experience of QuakerSpring, I am more convinced than ever that rebirth within the Church will not be the result of our human plans and strategies. There is a new creation that we can sense, and Christ himself is creating it.

Have you experienced the Spirit drawing a new community together? What does it feel like on the growing edge of a faith tradition? Where is the intersection between what God is doing in each of us individually, and the ways that God is at work in the Body as a whole? How do we give this new creation space to breathe and develop, avoiding the temptation to suffocate it with our own ideas and agendas?

Sing and rejoice ye children of the day and the light; for the Lord is at work in this thick night of darkness that may be felt: and the Truth doth flourish as the rose, and lilies do grow among the thorns and the plants atop the hills, and upon them the lambs doth skip and play. 
- George Fox


RichardM said...

This speaks to me.

Robin M. said...

Hi - So first I have to get over my envy because I really would have liked to go this year, but we're moving house for the second summer in a row, and it was not feasible. Next year, will it be in Barnesville again?

This last month has been a time of anxiety and confusion for me too (see moving house, above...). But the moments when I am able to take time to pray, to breathe, to write, to look at water running in streams, these are all blessed with the Presence and that makes it all easier.

I am glad to hear of the gathering of Friends by the Holy Spirit - the temptation to despair is strong, with all the anxiety and confusion on the wider scale.

The post-modern theorists talk about deconstruction before a constructive building of new theories, frameworks, institutions, communities. I think we're still in the transition phase.

This morning one blessing was hearing Doc Watson's version of What a Friend We Have in Jesus. My favorite line is this: O what peace we often forfeit, o what needless pain we bear, all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.

This post feels like the same message coming through.

Anonymous said...

I offer my gratitude for your experience, and the idea that, at least for me in Illinois Yearly Meeting (ILYM), that it is not true that "the Religious Society of Friends seems to be falling apart right now." I see Indiana Yearly Meeting (I live in Indiana) doing what the Orthodox have done since the Hicksite reformation. It is nothing new that those who require creeds want to cast out those that do not. We are starting new worship group in ILYM. We have vibrant youth taking up eldering roles. We see different parts of our beloved community, and the parts you do not see or represent need to be articulated too. My intent is not to invalidate your point of view, but to show that there is at least another, and surely there are more.
Brad Laird
South Bend (IN) Friends MM

Steve Olshewsky said...

The Community Testimony was expressed through this Gathering together in & by Jesus Christ.

The many promises of Romans 8 (particularly v. 29, "firstborn among many brethren") was demonstrated to me in hearing so many others reading the very Scripture passages that I was looking at just previously.

Hopefully everyone experienced the presence & power of Christ in a way they can share with their Meetings.

Then if those Meetings could only hold this Divine influence up to the Light in a way that it spills over into the world around us.

Micah Bales said...

Hey Richard and Robin!

I wish we could have had you with us! Fortunately, it seems likely that we will be gathering again next summer. I'm already giving thought to what a more intentional outreach effort might look like. At this point, QuakerSpring is still sort of in the "best kept secret" category.

I agree with you that we are in a historical moment where deconstruction is very important, but I hope that we can also be constructive. I feel like something new and vibrant is emerging here, and I want to be open to the new ways that Christ is moving among his people. I feel blessed to be part of this movement of the Spirit - wherever it is taking us!

It would be great to talk with you two more about how you see this happening in your networks and communities.

Micah Bales said...

Steve -

The eighth chapter of Romans was very heavy on my heart during much of our time together. Thank you for lifting it up!

James H. said...

Well, one flaw I see with this form of ministry is that it hasn't been marketed very well. I'd never heard of QuakerSpring before this blog post, and I doubt anyone else in my Yearly Meeting knew QuakerSpring existed either. God appears to be gathering a rather narrow sample of Friends at this time.

Will it always be in Barnesville? How much does it cost to attend in addition to travel? You say it can't be replicated through a specific "abstract model or process that can simply be exported", but could be it be transplanted somewhere further west or east, perhaps? I would personally prefer for it to go west, but if you are aiming to collect the Universalist and Conservative crowd, east is better.

Anonymous said...

As I am new to my Meeting (or any meeting) I read this with great interest and shall pass it on. We are experiencing this kind of renewal in the Spirit outside Meeting as well. And the Adversary is working hard, which is a sign that we are doing something Godly.

Julie (Magdalena) Armstrong Perks

Anonymous said...


The quote from George Fox that you closed with is in line with what Spirit is saying in me. It also the answers your last question.

To enter the Kingdom of Heaven we have to be as children and play is what children do. The best description of play that I’ve come across is that it’s self-chosen, self-directed and can be quit at any time. Since I’ve known for as long as I can remember that I was created by God and, therefore, the Spirit of God knows me better than I know myself, self in the above definition equals my inward teacher.

According to Bernard of Clairvaux the highest form of love is love of self for God’s sake. Is play the expression of love of self where Spirit is at work conforming us to the image of Christ? Are we each a particular aspect of the singular creation? As each of us is being and doing what we were created to be and do are we bringing the whole of creation to fulfillment?

Some 25 years ago I was centering at home before I left for Meeting and in my spirit I saw me standing before a very tall gleaming white pedestal with a basin of water sitting on it. There were two angels with me, one on each side, lifting me up and saying, “God wants you to come out and play with him, but first you have to wash your hands.” The meaning of that is still maturing in me.

Diane Benton, Oklahoma City

Peter B-P said...

Quaker Spring will gather next at Woolman Hill conference center in Deerfield MA on June 21-26, 2013. Over 75 Friends took part in this gathering when we last met in New England in 2011. We will probably return to Barnesville in 2014 but we try to listen to God's voice about this from year to year.

Costs are very low compared to almost all Quaker gatherings. This past year many participants paid $30/day for room & board. All fees are on a "free will offering basis (with a few Friends not able to contribute at all to our expenses).

We are very sorry that this gathering is not more "on the radar" for most Friends. Several articles and reports have appeared in Friends Journal over the years and many announcements posted on We hope that other Friends may be able to join us in this journey - and help us spread the word about this annual gathering! -- Peter Blood-Patterson