From Spiritual Friendship to Yokemates

A few weeks ago I flew to Raleigh/Durham airport where I was picked up by my F/friend, Lloyd Lee Wilson for our third in-person meeting to work on our joint vision. We have been working together now for almost a year. In recent months we have made an effort to meet for an hour or two via Skype or phone one morning a week. We have found it helpful to get together every few months at one of our homes  for three or four days at a time to work on the parts of the project done easier face-to- face and perhaps more importantly to worship together and grow as yokemates in the ministry of Christ’s Love. I look forward to my time with Lloyd Lee.  We have an easy kinship and we both find Joy in these Opportunities to share our faith with each other.  The Spirit seems to cover us as we work on Broken Vessels Quaker Ministries and on its “Deeper Roots” project. And though the work is plentiful, we are finding it so far, to be joy filled. As we have delved further and further into this work of the Spirit our spiritual Friendship has deepened and changed.  We each have been humbled by God’s grace  recognizing  that we have been called to be yokemates in this ministry of Christ.

I first met Lloyd Lee Wilson about 17 years ago when I was a fairly new employee of Friends General Conference[i] (FGC) serving as the coordinator for their new Traveling Ministries Program. FGC was holding one of our first, if not our first, retreats for Friends traveling in the ministry. This particular retreat was at Bethany Hills Church Camp about 30 minutes outside of Nashville, TN. (Interestingly, this is also the site reserved for the “Deeper Roots” course!)  Friends currently traveling in the ministry for FGC and other Quaker ministers from across the United States and Canada who we knew were seasoned in traveling ministry and/or in companioning those who travel in the ministry were invited to attend.

Lloyd Lee and his companion in ministry[ii], Mike Arnold were (and still are) members of North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative[iii)].  Lloyd Lee was known among Conservative Friends because he was a published author and experienced speaker and, well, there just weren’t that many Conservative Friends around at that time. I was both excited and nervous to have Conservative Friends at our retreat.  Since I was new to the wider Quaker world I did not expect either Lloyd Lee or Mike to know who I was. I wanted our retreat to be of value to the participants and I’ll admit I hoped to find favor with the Conservative Friends. I need not have worried about the latter!  During one of the first breaks I walked by Lloyd Lee and Mike who seemed to be deeply engaged in conversation. As I passed by Mike said, “Deborah, you’re a Conservative Friend. Whose suspenders are the correct width for Conservative plain dress[iv]?”  They were very close to the same width but Lloyd Lee’s were a little wider,  so I went with the Friend who was most well-known at the time and said with question in my voice, “Lloyd Lee’s?”  At which Mike proclaimed, “Heathen!” and both men laughed in a way that welcomed me into the joke. You may ask me, “so which had the right width for plain dress?” I’d have to say that to the best of my knowledge there is no correct width for “Conservative” suspenders.   This is how my spiritual F/friendship with Lloyd Lee (and Mike Arnold) began and through the last 18 years they have continued to grow in the Spirit of Love.

Some of you might know that almost 2 ½ years ago now I came down with a serious case of Guillain-Barre Syndrome[v], also known as GBS. I was in the hospital 40 days and nights before being released for several weeks of outpatient therapy and frequent check-ins with my family physician and neurologist. Those visits continue, but not as often. I returned to work part-time at FGC about five months after becoming ill and to full time at the beginning of the year. Although I was able to do parts of my work, I needed a great deal of help from colleagues for me to keep up with other parts and the constant travel that was required began to take its toll. During the late summer of 2015 I went on full-time long-term leave or as some would call it, early retirement.  And it was also at that time that I felt the Spirit of God touch my heart with the assurance that though the ministry I did with FGC was coming to a close, my call to ministry was not. I stood on that promise, but I admit I was very surprised when not one, but two invitations came to me within weeks of my leave from FGC. In the past I have had to wait months, even years before I understood what the Spirit was trying to say.  You already know about the invitation received through Lloyd Lee. I also received an invitation from Helen Thorpe, a published Quaker author from Mountain View Meeting in Denver, CO to co-author a book.  After some careful prayer, checking in with family and anchor committee [vi]and apprising both Friends of my physical and cognitive challenges I felt clear to accept both invitations.  Perhaps someday on a different blog site I’ll share with you more about the book I am writing with Helen.  But for now my attention is on developing Broken Vessels Quaker Ministries, Inc. and our first project, the creation of “Deeper Roots” our 18 month four- residency course for Friends who, like us, want to grow deeper in our walk with God.

[i] Friends General Conference, commonly referred to as FGC, is a Quaker faith-based service organization that is made up of yearly meetings, conferences, and a few independent monthly meetings across the United States and Canada. It provides services to meetings, Quakers, and seekers such as a bookstore, annual gathering of Friends, and various programs that help meetings speak to the Spiritual condition of their members/attenders. Although FGC serves different branches of Friends meetings, because it was begun over 100 years ago by a branch now known as liberal Friends, Quakers often use FGC as a shorthand meaning liberal Quakers. None of the three Conservative yearly meetings are affiliated with FGC. Some Conservative monthly meetings are affiliated with FGC due to their participation in Quaker gatherings such as Piedmont Friends Fellowship that are affiliated with FGC.

[ii] Companions in ministry travel with Friends called to travel in ministry. As in Jesus’ time, Friends have, for the most part, felt the value of traveling in pairs. A companion in ministry must have developed gifts of Listening and be able to help the traveling minister review ministry that has been given, especially if the minister has a concern about its value or his/her faithfulness.  The companion is sometimes asked to write a report for the home meeting’s Ministry and Counsel Committee.

[iii]  Conservative Friends are the smallest branch of modern Friends in the United States. Although a larger number at one point in history only three yearly meetings of Conservative Friends remain. They are Ohio Yearly Meeting, North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative) and Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative.) The three Conservative yearly meetings remain close to each other in F/friendship, but there is no overarching governing body that ties them together.

[iv] Plain dress is a term referring to the Quaker practice, started by the first generation of Friends when they decided that they could not in good conscience continue to spend money on the newest fancy clothing that was popular because it was a waste of resources that could be put to better use elsewhere. Men were known for wearing dark plain suits with simple pockets, a plain collarless shirt, dark pants, suspenders instead of a belt, and a broad brimmed black hat (similar to the man on the Quaker Oats box, and no, Quakers did not start nor have they ever owned Quaker Oats, or as far as we know, any product using the Quaker name.)  Women wore simple plain dresses of solid color and a bonnet. These actually were similar to the styles of the day; they just did not change styles from year to year. The practice seems to have faded out over a period of years, ending as a  general discipline  or expectation among  Conservative Friends in the middle 20th century.  Others stopped the practice even earlier. Note that there are still Friends who find value in wearing traditional plain clothing. Many modern Friends believe that by dressing simply and not letting today’s rapidly changing fashions dictate what they wear they are still following the Truth of the original practice of plain clothing. Some Friends joke that plain dress among Friends in the late 20th century was worn t shirts with some sort of peace slogan or good cause, well-worn blue jeans and Birkenstock sandals or shoes.

[v] Guillain-Barre Syndrome is a very rare acute post-infectious autoimmune disorder that can occur at any age. It varies in severity, but in the more serious cases, left undiagnosed or treated it can lead to death. In laypersons’ words, GBS usually, but not always follows a time of a mild virus. When the virus is gone, the white blood cells don’t get the message to go back to normal and since there is nothing else to eat it attacks the person’s nerves by eating away the myelin sheath which causes severe pain. There is no cure, but once diagnosed and treated white blood cells return to normal and quit attacking the body. All that is left then is the very, very slow process of rebuilding the damaged nerves and relearning how to walk, swallow, climb stair, etc. Google GBS for more information.

[vi] An anchor committee is made up of a handful of Friends who have gifts of Listening and wisdom, who gather sometimes regularly, sometimes at the request of the Friend called to public ministry, to hear reports of visits to monthly meetings or work being done in some other way. This committee is traditionally appointed by the meeting’s Ministry & Counsel Committee, but is sometimes selected by the Friend called to ministry outside of the meeting.  It helps the Friend traveling in the ministry consider invitations to travel if the Friend doesn’t have a clearness about it. They also receive reports from the Friend concerning recent work, and report annually to the monthly meeting.  At times they have to lovingly hold someone’s feet to the fire, or in other words help them see where they are straying from the path, and hold them accountable.  This committee was once known as an Oversight Committee and still is among some Conservative Friends meetings.

(The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the apprentice authors, and not official statements of North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative) or Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) of the Religious Society of Friends.)


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