This is my last prepared message given to Camas Friends Church (June 21, 2015).
“Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.” (John 3:5–6 NRSV)
The Power of Origin Stories
For a moment, I want you to think about the power of origin stories. Origin stories are birth stories, but often applied to how a certain comic book character became a superhero (Wikipedia).
Let’s investigate a couple origin stories:
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?
When a boy was walking, carrying his four turtles in a bowl of water, a toxic slime truck stood in his way. All four turtles and the slime fell into the sewers, where Splinter raised the turtles. They then came to fight an evil that invaded New York in the form of the Shredder (Wiki).
Bitten by a radioactive spider, Peter Parker found himself bestowed with spider-based superpowers. He was motivated to fight crime by his uncle’s death, which he blames on himself (Wiki).
He is a wizard and his parents were killed by Voldemort, who left him with a scar. He survived and gained powers because of his mother’s love for him. (Wiki)
How about one last one: The Powerpuff Girls
Professor Utonium mixes the ingredients to create the perfect little girls using a mixture of sugar, spice, and everything nice. However, he accidentally spilled an extra ingredient called “Chemical X” into the mixture, creating, instead of the perfect little girl, Blossom, Bubbles and Buttercup (Wiki).
Origin stories are important because they not only give us a glimpse into who this person was and how they got these superhero fighting skills, but it often tells us something about who that person is going to become.
For instance, Daredevil not only was blinded by a chemical spill, but two other factors helped make him who he was: his father was a well-renowned boxer from Hell’s kitchen who was killed by some corrupt business people in Hell’s kitchen. So Matt Murdoch’s origin story involves him using his skills to clean up Hell’s kitchen from the corruption it faces.
And so it is important for us to not only know how we were born, but who we are becoming because of our unique origin story.
As Rob Bell says,
“it’s the beginning of the story and the end of the story that tells you what kind of story this is going to be.”
A more down to earth version of this is our own birth stories. I love hearing birth stories. A few years ago we decided to tell the kids how they were born on their birthdays. Each was so very different, and in one way or another give us a clue into who that little individual might become.
Our last born, C., was given a name that means peaceful and calm for a reason was in no rush to be born. He came a week late and that was only after having to break momma’s water. He has preceded ever since being evicted from the womb to take things at his own pace. I doubt he’s ever felt rushed for anything.
Another way we can think about birth stories are birth stories in the Spirit. In the church there is a long tradition of sharing conversion stories, how you came to be aware of God in your life, or how Jesus first spoke to you, or that first time in meeting when you were led to stand and speak out of the silence. Each is a birth. Each is the first step in being “reborn” as Jesus says.
And for those of you who identify as being “Quaker,” we talk about how we became “convinced” of becoming members of the Quaker tradition.
In John 3, Jesus says, there are two ways we are born one if via the flesh and the other is through the Spirit. Both are essential if we are to experience the fullness of life. Jesus says, we cannot “see” God in the world around us without being born of the Spirit. And without this second birth we cannot experience the overflowing abundance of God’s life in this world.
I believe that the goal of every human life is to have two birth stories, to have two ways of talking about how we “came into being” and where we are headed. Maybe it is that second birth that helps us know where to go, or helps correct course in our lives?
I wonder what this story is for you and how it is taking shape in your own life?
CFC Origin Story
What about communal birth stories? They have birth stories too, don’t they?
Here is some of the origin story of Camas Friends Church (long before it was ever called Camas Friends).
This story comes from Helen Senger and was given to me by Ron Myers. Helen Senger was the daughter of the woman who started this church: Viva LaFrance.
The first time I ever remember going to church or Sunday school was when I was about 11 years old and my folks lived over at Lents in Portland. Our next door neighbor took us to church with them. That’s where my mother, Viva La France, was converted. I remember the people and I remember Dick [Edmonson’s] parents went to church there when I did. The reason I remember them is both got up and sang. I remember that he had a different kind of glasses on. > It was really a Quaker church. I remember we had Sunday morning and Sunday evening services. The young people had Christian endeavor. We also had Wednesday night service. I remember quite a few people at Sunday night service and when they went to prayer everyone kneeled unless they were so old they couldn’t. I remember I thought they’d never get through praying and kneeling that long but they did know-how to pray and to seek the Lord…
We then moved to Washington up on Prune Hill. It was during the depression and I don’t remember that we had transportation. The Lents Friends Church sent all their old Sunday School papers and quarterlies over to my Mother. She would make us kids get up and get ready, as though we were going to Sunday School. Then we would gather round her and she would teach us. We started inviting the neighbors in. > Some people moved next door to us and their names were Armstrong. My mother and Vivian Armstrong used to get together every morning to pray for the church. At that time there was a column in the Columbian called Mr. Fixit. If you wanted something or wanted to sell something you just wrote in. We didn’t have an organ. My mother wrote in and asked if anyone had an organ they would donate to the church, which was in our house at first. We received the offer of seven, which was a miracle.
We didn’t have anyone to play the organ. The neighbors down the road (she, and I think her husband, were atheists) had a couple of children that came and one of them could play the organ. So we had someone from an atheist home that came to play the organ. That was because these people were praying. The Lord did it. In time there were too many for our house.
My mother went to the school board and asked if we could use the empty Prune Hill School. So we went down there to have our Sunday School. Around 1932 or 1933 I think Mother went to the Yearly Meeting to ask if they had someone they could send over to preach to us and because there were quite a few by that time and they sent Fred Baker. He brought Ed Harmon with him. Both were in school and would take the bus to come over Sunday morning. Sometimes they would stay a little longer so they fixed a little bed in the school and they cooked some of their meals there too. They made a great sacrifice to do this. They had no money and no one else had money either. We couldn’t help them out much. There was a lady that came with them to help.
I remember at Prune Hill we had quite a large group of young people and Fred Baker took us out on Sunday evenings to different churches and we had the service. We had what they called deputation work. We’d give our testimonies, sing the songs, have specials, and some would read scripture. We went to many of the churches—just the young people. As they were brought in and saved they were taught. It was a good foundation for them. Fred Baker was good to do that. We did have fun too. We had our parties.
I don’t know how long we were there but It grew until they decided to buy the parsonage in Forest Home. They used it as the church while they built the church. So that was the beginning of the church in Camas.
After we got the church built in Forest Home, there were different pastors in the parsonage. It was Mahlon Macys first pastorate out of school. He came and he really helped us get going. Norval Hadley came and it was his first pastorate. Ronnie Crecilius came and it was his first pastorate as well. It seemed that Forest Home Church was used to get those young men started. They did very well after leaving there. They were willing to learn in their first pastorate what to do. And it grew. I remember I think we did hit 200 at one time. There were others there. I don’t remember all their names (From “Helen Senger Remembers”).
“I don’t remember all their names.”
Helen Senger says at the very beginning of the life of this church called Camas Friends, there were many birth other stories, many first-time ministers who found their origins in this place.
So many she couldn’t remember all their names.
Here’s what strikes me about the birth story of this church: it has since the beginning been supporting, mentoring and giving birth to Quaker ministers. And these ministers, just as myself, go on out into the world to continue God’s work with the support and skill they learned right here in Camas.
In other words, the origin story of Camas Friends points the a reality I have personally experienced: you are midwives of the Spirit.
And as midwives you have throughout your whole life created space for God to be born in any one who is ready to give birth.
And as midwives you have watched those born and mentored here the very DNA of this community has spread out all over the world. And it continues to spread.
Midwives of the Spirit
When I first reflected on the strengths I see at Camas Friends this was actually the first attribute I thought of for the church.
For Me personally it has been a supportive and mentoring community as I learned how to be a minister, as I worked learning how to preach, do pastoral care, practice discernment, and be a leader in the Quaker community. This is where I learned those things on the ground.
I feel as though I am graduating from Camas Friends Quaker Leadership Program. And I look forward to carrying you and your nurturing of me out into the world. I see myself as going for as a kind of missionary from this place – I hope that you see it that way too.
Being midwives of the spirit means that you tend to the births but then you eventually see those children move on.
Being midwives means you cannot force a birth, you cannot do it for another, and you don’t know when it’s going to happen.
Being midwives is not something you do because it is nice, it is not even something you necessarily know you are doing, it is embedded in the DNA of the shared history of this community. It’s what you do. You nurture people, you raise up Quaker leaders, and you mentor Quaker ministers and send them off.
I know this because I am not the only one who has been midwifed in this community.
- I think about all the children in our midst who are honored and cared for (and those who have grown up and continue to do that work). Who are given a safe space to experience the life of the Spirit.
I think about each of you here who have in one way or another found life in the Spirit through a connection to this community. Some of you have come to know God in a new way. Some of you have met God here. Some of you were on your way to giving up completely on the spiritual until you found yourself here.
I also think about all the ways that you have mentored one another into the Quaker way of life. How you have give each other opportunities to be in leadership roles, learn how to do communal discernment, and participate in the many ways we mentioned last week.
You have cared for each in difficult times.
You have challenged each other’s ideas and you have learned from one another.
In all of these ways you are mid-wives of the spirit.
- And then there are people like Al and Sheri whose own spiritual lives have taken on a call to minister more broadly among Friends.
And there is Seth Martin who has been woven into the fabric of this church’s story and his ministry nurtured and supported here, even if it was birthed in this place.
Sending Co-Companions in ministry with other traveling ministers.
And we cannot forget about Zachary Moon’s ministry as a chaplain in the reserves. He found the support for the birth of that work that he continues to work at right here with you all.
And there is Caryl Menkhus who pastored here in her first solo pastorate and then went on to become an international trainer for the Godly Play foundation.
And there are many more. So many that we “…Don’t remember all their names.”
I want you to know how deeply grateful I am to you all for the opportunity to be born in this meeting. When I came here 6 years ago and had my first Sunday ion May 24th, 2009 we had no idea how it would go. You took a chance in hiring a younger minister who was new to the role.
We didn’t know how long this would last or how it would go, but I do feel that we have both been faithful to what God has called us to.
Now I see more clearly why God called me here, it was just to help you in your Quakerism and outreach and spiritual life, it was because I was still yet to be born as a Quaker minister. That happened here. That happened with you midwifing me along the way.
And for the rest of my life your story and mine are woven together.
And I will always remember you and Give thanks to Jesus because of you.
May you continue to embrace the role of mid-wife, helping people give birth to the spirit in their lives and give birth to ministers who go out and continue to spread the network of love that begins right here in this community.
May you continue to be a mid-wifing community that creates peace for God to be born in any who come to you…
And may you continue to honor all the birth stories among you, and continue to tell your own.
May you see just how essential and needed this role you play in the history of the Quaker church really is.