Sunday, July 14, 2013

Report on the FGC Gathering

Report on the FGC Gathering
June 30 – July 6, 2013, Greeley, Colorado
At the Growing Edges of our Faith 

“The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
surely I have a delightful inheritance.”  Psalm 16:6.

I did a variety of ministry while at the FGC Gathering, but my primary focus was on the workshop I led, “Convergent Friends: Worship and Conversation.”  This workshop took place over five days, meeting each day from 9:00 to 11:45 a.m.  Considering the context, the participants were quite diverse.  Twelve Friends registered in advance; another joined partway through and two were drawn away after the first few days by outside circumstances.  The Friends ranged in age from 18 to 92.  Most were from liberal, unprogrammed meetings, but one was from an Evangelical meeting in Bolivia and another was from a Conservative yearly meeting.  The participants were pretty evenly split between men and women, and we had varied levels of physical ability.

One of the gifts of doing this ministry was working with Aimee McAdams.  Aimee had eldered for me a few times at the World Conference of Friends last year, but this was her first experience traveling in the ministry as an elder.  It was a joy to see her growing in her gifts.  Each morning before the workshop, Aimee and I spent time in worship together.  That helped us connect with each other and be grounded for our work.  It became clear early on that we perceive the world in very different ways, which required us to be clear in communicating what we saw and felt.  We naturally split the work in the workshop, often with me paying attention to the group as a whole and Aimee tending to individuals who needed a little extra attention.  There was a high level of trust between us, in part based on the fact that we have a similar understanding of how God is present and at work in the world.  Working with Aimee was a pleasure, and I hope to have the opportunity to work together again. 

Leading the workshop was a growing experience for me.  Overall, I feel very good about it, but there were unexpected challenges.  Going in, I was a little nervous about the length; I had never led a week-long workshop before.  However, I felt pretty confident about the content.  With very few exceptions, I had successfully led all of the exercises in workshops in the past.  One thing I remembered as the week progressed is that every group is different―just because one activity was popular or meaningful in the past does not mean it will have the same impact this time.  Likewise, some things that had not been as meaningful in previous workshops took on new life.  This helped me learn to stay flexible and temper my expectations.  I heard feedback throughout the week that Friends found the workshop “gently challenging.”  I encouraged participants to stay with things that were uncomfortable, but to stop if something felt wrong.  

There were two main challenges that arose for Aimee and me as leaders.  The first was that we had a newcomer on the third day.  I had specifically asked the conference organizers not to allow anyone to take my workshop part-time, but I think this person changed workshops at the last possible moment on Tuesday.  The person was a fine addition to the group, but it was challenging for me because having a new person at that point changed the group dynamics and the new person did not know what we had done the previous two days.

The second challenge also involved an individual in the workshop.  I tried to be clear about my plans and expectations for the workshop, both in my written description of the workshop and in a schedule that was posted on the board all week.  I was intentional about the flow of the workshop, with more content and full-group activities in the beginning and more spaciousness and small-group activities as we got closer to the end.  I also decided to have Friends meet in the same small groups for the entire week.  In my experience, I have found that meeting in the same small group builds a level of trust and sharing that does not occur when the groups change each time.

The participant that I found challenging first approached me after the second day of the workshop.  He said that he had a lot of experience leading workshops and suggested that, instead of meeting in the same small groups, we change them.  He also informed me that his meeting was involved in the recent Indiana Yearly Meeting split, and offered to share those experiences with the group.  In retrospect, I should have said that the workshop was not the place for that discussion, but instead I just said that I would wait and see if there would be time for it.

About halfway through the final day of the workshop, we reached an impasse.  The group had finished one activity and I was about to introduce the next one, when the Friend said that he wanted to speak.  I tried to engage him individually, but it was clear that he wanted everyone to hear.  He then said that he had thought we were going to talk about the Indiana Yearly Meeting split, and he felt like we should take the time to do that.  Another Friend said he wanted to talk about some of the other large issues Friends face today, and a third said she wanted to talk about the issues the plenary speaker had raised the previous evening.

This was a hard moment for me because I knew that, no matter what I did, some people would be disappointed.  I listened to the Friends’ concerns, but Aimee and I were both very clear that we needed to follow the plan we had discerned in advance.  I suggested that, if Friends felt the workshop had not met their expectations, they share that in the written evaluations.  I can’t say for sure, of course, but my sense was that there was something about me or my leadership style that seemed particularly challenging to the individual who approached me.

I am happy to say that, during my time at the FGC Gathering, my self-care was the best it has ever been.  As is often the case when I do traveling ministry, I had trouble eating and sleeping.  It was a gift for me, however, to have so many people present who know me extremely well, including my former housemate, people from my School of the Spirit K-group, and members of my School of the Spirit care committee.  They were able to gently reflect back when I was acting tired or giddy.  I did yoga every morning, took breaks when I needed them, and went to the healing center twice for energy work.

One thing I was very aware of and had a hard time with was my rising level of "Quaker celebrity."  It felt like a lot of people knew who I was, either because they had read something I had written or heard about me some other way.  I felt like a lot of them wanted something from me, and I struggled with that feeling of fame and others' expectations.  It got to the point where I was carrying around a disguise (a hat and sunglasses), so I could escape when I felt like I needed to.  I have the sense that this will be an ongoing challenge for me.

Since returning home, I have tried to be very intentional and transparent about my process.  I was grateful that the gathering ended on Saturday, so I could take Sunday for re-entry.  I spent the morning in worship, creating a Venn diagram of my experience of the Gathering: preparation, what I thought I would do, what I did, and what I see coming out of it.  I have also written blog posts reflecting on re-entry and some of the themes I saw emerging at the Gathering, including privilege and vocal ministry.

I am grateful to all of the individuals and groups who made this ministry possible financially:  The Pickett Endowment, for its grant (and Lloyd Lee Wilson for nominating me); Friends General Conference, for the workgrant and travel grant; and Freedom Friends Church, for its scholarship.  I am also grateful to Freedom Friends Church for its spiritual support and traveling minute.  Thanks to everyone who was praying for me and who helped me to process my experiences both during and after the FGC Gathering.  And thanks, most of all, to God, for being with me every step of the way.

Ashley Wilcox 
July 14, 2013

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