Barry Crossno, Friends General Conference
I think in asking the question, “Do you have challenges around being faithful?”, the question for me becomes, faithful to what? I feel like what Spirit has asked of me is multifold; I have been asked to make the Quaker way more visible and accessible for people who are seeking God, the deep well, or whatever you might wish to call it. I have been asked to make a connection between the spiritual practice and the witness that so many Friends are engaged in. In particular, I have a concern with the environment and I feel like I have been asked to engage on that topic.
I also feel in that some ways I’ve been asked to witness around the mystical reality of Spirit. So what’s challenging in being faithful to those pieces is, how do you go about doing those things? What does it look like in lived practice? When I became General Secretary, I had a particular vision of how that might look through this position. I also knew that it was going to be service of spirit and the body, and that what I ended up doing might not look like what I’d imagined. Overall, it’s been a little bit of what I expected, and also a number of things I didn’t. The faithfulness piece, for me, is around asking myself, over and over again: is this what it looks like? Am I properly engaged? Am I walking a walk that has a godly outcome, for the benefit of others? One of the challenges of asking that question is the answers aren’t always clear. In particular around making Quaker faith and practice more visible and accessible to seekers—are we actually doing this? I feel it’s important to keep asking questions and really have faith that there’s guidance. That where I need to be and where others need to be will be revealed, and we will walk it together. And maybe at the end of the journey I can look back and say I was faithful.
For more of Barry’s story, click here
Diane Randall, Friends Committee on National Legislation:
Well, that starts to get into the realm of being the Head of a Quaker organization, and marrying what’s a faith practice and what’s a daily piece of work. In terms of being faithful, I think just creating the time for God, creating a time to both listen and pray. That’s been something that I’ve found increasingly important, because this work requires a level of stamina that I’m not sure that I thought about before I took the job. Now that I’ve been doing it almost five years I see that there’s a certain level of physical stamina, but there’s definitely a spiritual stamina that’s necessary, too.
For more of Diane’s story, click here
Jen Karsten, Pendle Hill:
When I think of faith, I think of trust in an ability to believe beyond evidence, and to rely on that during times where there’s confusion, or the path or the end-state is not known. The nature of faith work is to be in the confusion and reliance at the same time. I’m not a master of that. I also have long felt like, when it comes to faith, I’m “doing it wrong,” because I’ve always assumed that my conceptions of Spirit or relationship to holy traditions are not conforming to set orthodox practices. It’s taken me a long while to come to feel self-acceptance as well as comfort in talking about my own spirituality with others. As someone who has a job in a center defined by its religious tradition and commitments, I’ve never wanted to feel inadequate to that work. Also, realizing that I’ll never be able to be everybody’s conception of what Quakerism is, and so the decision to simply be one’s own, and make peace with knowing that that won’t be something that certain people relate to, has been really helpful and good work for me. It’s hard to know what it means to be faithful-and I think some people use that word with a definition that feels clear to them and unclear to me. When I need renewal, it’s helpful to remind myself that all things change.
For more of Jen’s story, click here
Gretchen Castle, Friends World Committee for Consultation:
I worked at Pendle Hill for a year, which was really amazing-but before, that I had been unemployed. I had been working for a large non-profit 350 employees and part of my job as chief organization development officer was to reduce the staff by 30%. I was flying all over the country telling people they were losing their jobs. It was a difficult job at best, and people often appreciated my thoughtfulness. I lost my job after I did all that letting go. All my life, jobs always fell in my lap and it was easy. I don’t think there was ever a time before that when I had ever had a heavy discernment, other than, “Should I go to graduate school or have a baby?” kind of questions. I was unemployed for a couple of years, and it was a really long time of wondering, Gretchen: “Oh God, what is next for me?” and “Can you help me?” I often think our prayers are either prayers of thanks or prayers of “help me,” and during that time there were a lot of “help me” prayers. It’s hard when we have an idea of what should happen and God’s time is just so different. I didn’t get either of those jobs, and I was really struggling, thinking maybe I just shouldn’t just work for Quakers, maybe my time with that had run its course. Then I remembered that I had met my predecessor at a fundraising meeting in New York about a year before, and she had said “I’m leaving the job, just so you know.” I really believe that God put that idea in my head, because it was the day before the application was due. So I just started cranking away on the computer, and sent it in at 2am. Then heard that I was invited to London for an interview. The other job interviews were hard. I had to work hard at them. This one-even though I had to fly to London, the interview was two days with five people that were from all parts of the world, I had to give a talk, I had to meet with staff, I did some email responses, all of that. It wasn’t an easy interview by most standards. But it was easy. For me, the lesson was: what God calls you to do may come easy to you, even though it’s not easy work, because we walk with God. When it’s discerned well, when I feel that God has a hand on it, the decision becomes an easy one. I got the job, I sold my three-story house and moved into a two-bedroom flat in London, sold my car. It was all of the stuff that most people would say, “Why in the world, Gretchen, would you want to do this?” But it was not a question. It was clear that God was calling me to it, and I continue to feel that way. I feel really blessed to be doing this work. I feel very clear about its purpose, and feel very excited about it. It’s big work, with a tiny little staff, but it’s absolutely thrilling. I love it; everyday I feel very blessed to be doing this work.
For more of Gretchen’s story, click here
Gabe Ehri, Friends Journal:
I have a lot of friends who are not religious, quite a few of whom describe themselves as atheist, and don’t see exploring the question of God or Spirit as something that is valuable to them at all – there’s no room for that. We have so many other things to do in our lives. I can’t say with absolute certainty that God exists and is working in the way I presume God is working. So there’s doubt, that maybe the brilliant and wonderful people who are my friends are right-there’s nothing except to be good people. That makes it a lot less work. Sometimes I like to preach about how Quakers need to be more out there about what we have and how we’re seeking God. I don’t always practice that with my friends – I’m not that guy who is constantly telling them to turn toward Christ or poking them about spirituality. So there’s a nagging feeling that at least in my personal life, I’m not always practicing what I think Quakers ought to do. I think I am successful at looking for that of God in others, but I realize I’m not perfect, and there are many ways I fall short of that. I’m not wracked by guilt or doubt about these things, but recognize that I’m not always doing it perfectly.
For more of Gabe’s story, click here
Christina Repoley, Quaker Voluntary Service:
Where I struggle the most is in being always busy and always doing and always accomplishing and always checking things off my to-do list. Not that those are not ways of being faithful, because I think often they are. But also I have a tendency to stay in that mode so much that I’m not taking the time to stop and recharge, listen and be still. I think one of my big challenges is not prioritizing times of stillness and renewal. Maybe because I’m such an accomplishment-oriented person, I often don’t prioritize that space, and I think that’s probably my biggest challenge around faithfulness. Because if you’re not stopping and listening, then you’re just listening to yourself, you’re not necessarily paying attention to when the call changes, or when you’re asked to do something that’s not just what, in your head, you’re thinking you should be doing. I would say I rely on other people to remind me of that, and to check in.
For more of Christina’s story, click here
Drew Smith, Friends Council on Education:
The hardest part for me is partly maintaining the discipline of worship, and then trying not to feel guilty if I don’t go, because as Quakers know well–or should know well–there are opportunities every day, every minute, to be worshipful. I struggle with reminding myself that this is a thing that we’re all sort of acculturated with: things happen at certain times and it has to happen that way. I struggle trying to relieve myself of the guilt that I’m not practicing as well as I want to. Again, this Integrity Testimony, whatever the adults that I grew up with did–and I can’t exactly explain everything that they did–that one’s gone deep with me, too. So I constantly struggle with the choices that I make, and whether or not they reflect what I want them to, or what I think they should. It’s the never-ending quest to actually be the person who you believe you are and say you want to be. I’ve only ever really met one person, ever, who I felt I could just tell–it wasn’t just me, it was everybody in our presence–this is a person who’s actually figured that integrity piece out. That’s Sister Mildred Barker from the Sabbathday Lake Shaker community. Not a Quaker, but a person of tremendous integrity. So another struggle I have is: I have a person in my head who I measure myself against. If she was alive now, I’d ask her, “When you were 50, what was going through your head about this question of your struggles with your spirituality? Where did you see yourself falling short? Where were you succeeding? What were the important things?” I’m guessing that there were probably things she would have identified at the different points along the way, where she felt like she wasn’t living up to what she felt she should. But again, I knew her when she was pretty fully baked, and it was kind of incredible.
For more of Drew’s story, click here
Doug Bennett, Earlham College (Emeritus):
I have what seems like a profoundly deep well of selfishness. I suspect almost all of us do. There are days, thinking about myself and what I do, that I’m kind of overwhelmed by that selfishness and its ability to let me to do and say things I wish I hadn’t. I don’t know anything to do about that except to know it and to try to develop spiritual habits to curb it.
For more of Doug’s story, click here
Colin Saxton, Friends United Meeting:
There’s a loneliness around the kind of work that I have in this season of life. I travel a lot, like I said. I’m not part of a community. Sometimes that’s just wearing on me. There are days when it’s easier to just get distracted. There’s something about being in fellowship with similarly minded and similarly kindled-hearted people that keeps one alive and moving forward in more healthy ways. So I think that probably is the biggest challenge for me. One of the ways I’ve tried to work on that is I’ve formed a virtual community of friends that I send a monthly confessional letter. In some ways, it’s like a support committee, but we don’t meet face-to-face. I just say, “Here’s where I’m at in my spiritual life. Here’s some ways you can hold me in prayer. Here’s some stuff I’m thinking about in terms of discerning both personal issues and work issues.” That’s been helpful for me.
For more of Colin’s story, click here