Six Months With a Quaker Preacher Project

As you may have noticed it’s been quite a while since I’ve blogged with much passion, or interest. This isn’t necessarily a problem, things like this come and go, and in the grand scheme of things this blog is inconsequential. Where it becomes a concern for me is that I really enjoy writing and have always felt I process best when I write (now this is different than thinking I’m a good writer, which I do not. I just realize that I processor outwardly more than I do inwardly). This staleness isn’t surprising to me given the fullness of life right now and I don’t need anymore projects, that is unless it’s something that will actually be something I find enjoyable and restful. So I’ve decided to share my life as a minister in daily posts here for the next six months.

Since starting back into ministry this past May, I’ve wrestled with WHAT to write here. Besides not having much time, I’ve wondered what is appropriate to share and what is not. And let’s be frank, no one wants to hear some guy who  has been pastoring for a few months try and give tips on ministry (But then again, I’m the kind of person who won’t read a book about parenting from a person who’s never parented). But this doesn’t mean that I haven’t been working through issues that need to be processed, because I have. Over the last year I’ve been learning how to preach (every week), how to learn and grown into a new community, a town with a history and a small church that’s trying to find its way, how to adopt visions and dreams already in place, what God is calling us to here and now and how to carve out something of a new path that always comes when you add different (and new) people into the mix.

And then there is the whole paradox of being a QUAKER PREACHER, which in my estimation is something similar to a silent-2yr old. And just like the latter metaphor, when you put these seemingly incompatible things together it can be a really beautiful thing. For instance, in my mind, a Quaker preacher is one who does not preach in order to give answers (you need to live this way, do these three things, etc), but rather to open up a space where we can connect with God. Anyways, this whole paradox freaks a lot of people out, or at least makes them scratch their heads. I’ve had many many people genuinely ask “Quakers have preachers?” and of course, “what on Earth does a Quaker preach do?” While some may discount this role as either a) not enough Quaker or b) not enough preacher, I feel that it’s just the paradox I’m called to explore. And so I ask patience as I still work through what all this means for me (and us). As an aside, I’ve been feeling as of late that my learning curve (from pastor, to father, to husband, to Northwesterner, to doctoral student) is less like a curve and more like Mount Hood.

So considering all this, I thought it would be interesting to do a project where I invite others into this process of, well, processing, rather than shying away from it. So I’m going to do a six month day-in-the-life of a Quaker preacher thing right here. I’ll go until  July 9, 2009 and at the end figure out what’s next. The challenge for me will be to pay attention, remain open, clear and succinct and write about this everyday. Where in everything that happens is God? Listening for that still, small voice, that is so easily drowned out by the noise of the day is not something that comes naturally for me.

This all means I’m not going to be writing about much of anything else in the next six months, I won’t be posting my sermons as much, and will shy away from academics. This is really just going to be about my experience as a Quaker preacher. I want to sit with the tension this calling holds for me, share the aspects of my life where the paradox is evident, and show where I strike a balance between these two things, and where the scales get tipped.

I did my first post yesterday on a memorial service we did yesterday.

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Wess

...is the William R. Roger Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC., PhD in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, served as a "released minister" at Camas Friends Church, and father of three. He enjoys sketchnoting, sharing conversation over coffee with a friend, listening to vinyl and writing creative nonfiction.

12 thoughts on “Six Months With a Quaker Preacher Project”

  1. “I want to sit with the tension this calling holds for me, share the aspects of my life where the paradox is evident, and show where I strike a balance between these two things, and where the scales get tipped.”

    I’m excited about this project Wess. I love how you talk about the tension and you’re honest about how it’s there. Good luck with this, can’t wait to read.

  2. I gave a lecture at Pendle Hill the other night, and afterwards one of my elders pointed me to your project as a way of thinking about the difference between lecturing and preaching (and I think to challenge me to think about which one I should be doing). Of course, liberal, Philadelphia Friends might feel even more conflicted about Quaker preaching, but I think we have much to learn here. I look forward to hearing your learnings.

    1. Eileen, Thanks for the comment. What was your lecture on at PH? Martin Kelley and I will be there in May. It will be my first time there and am looking forward to it. As someone drawn to academics I too have a difficult time with the distinction and am still working on it as well. Thanks for reading.

  3. My talk at Pendle Hill was called “Hot and Bothered in Thy Own Mind: Coping with fear when facing transition.” It was mostly about how fear can block us, some practices that can help us turn down the volume on our fear, and how sometimes we can’t turn it down ourselves–we need to let God release our anxiety. Here’s my blog post about my process: http://www.eileenflanagan.com/blog/2010/1/14/inner-preparation.html

    I too am drawn to academics and sometimes wonder if I’m “deep enough,” whatever that means. After that blog post a friend reminded me that being an academic is part of who I am, so I shouldn’t assume that sharing ideas is somehow inauthentic. I found that comment really helpful. I think bringing together ideas and lived experience is part of what I like to do, but it’s probably impossible to strike the right balance for everyone. I think Pendle HIll in particular has a history of tension between the thinking and feeling modes of learning, which is part of why I love the place. What will you and Martin be doing there?

  4. Wess, I rarely can remember what a sermon was about. If it changed me, it’s because I was attentive to the word that came obliquely through an evocative phrase or story or scripture, and worked on my “sanctified imagination” in the gathered meeting. The sermon “opened up a space”, to use your words. Blessings on your undertaking.
    Tom

    1. Tom, Thanks for leaving a comment here. This is how I feel too. I can remember so few sermons that I’ve spent a lot of time wondering why we do them, and how to do them in a way that may be more useful for people. I don’t have any good answers yet, but we do try and mix things up pretty regularly here. I like the language of a “sanctified imagination,” and I hope that at least some times Christ can cut through and evoke a phrase or imagine within us and inspire all of us during a “pronouncement!”

  5. Wess, somehow I think the path to authentic Quaker preaching must meander through the parables. Friends have not been great at 3-point sermons or doctrinal explication. What we have been good (or at least prolific) at is story-telling, often in the form of journals.

    1. Thank you for this. I don’t think anyone’s ever really put it like that to me. I’ve avoided 3 point sermons since I’ve begun (I too have an allergy to them) but this thing about the parables/journals is really helpful.

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