“Teachable Moments” at ESR

I look back with gratitude on how ESR prepared me for pastoral ministry among Friends, especially in the area of spirituality. I consider myself fortunate to have the opportunity to take spirituality classes with Alan Kolp. In the class on prayer we would spend the first hour discussing the week’s reading. The second hour was spent in small groups sharing and praying for one another. For the third hour we gathered together again and entered into silent worship. Many times the silence was broken in profound and deep ways with people asking for prayer or simply folks praying for others. Sometimes the silence was enough. The beauty—and genius—of the class was that we didn’t just discuss the idea of prayer or read about prayer; we prayed! It was this kind of experiential learning that sticks with me to this day. When I find myself in prayer groups or trying to figure out how to organize a prayer class, my mind goes back to that class at ESR and I find myself structuring it the same way.

I learned from the vulnerability that Alan Kolp modeled as our instructor. On more than one occasion, I observed Alan get up from where he was sitting and go over to individuals to be present with them as they poured out their heart. One time, Alan literally sat down on the floor and put his arm around a crying individual. As a pastor I have not had many occasions to do this, but I certainly have had opportunities to be vulnerable and offer deep presence to others who were in pain. When those opportunities arise, I think back to what was modeled for me at ESR by Alan Kolp—and if a person like Alan with a PhD from Harvard is not too good to get down to someone else’s level and be present with that person in a time of need, then neither am I. And neither should I be.

ESR opened me to being tolerant. For some, tolerance is not a positive term, but for me it describes a way I can be hospitable to others who are on a different spiritual path than mine, and yet live out of my true self. ESR is a diverse place theologically, and though some see this as a weakness, I see it as one of its greatest strengths. The diversity was very real and very rich.

I can remember one time in which I had spoken in meeting for worship. After my message, one of the women students came up to and thanked me for my message but also shared with me how my lack of inclusive language made it hard for her to hear my message at times. In that very moment I was inwardly defensive, never having had to deal with issues of inclusive language before. But as the years have gone by and my work among Friends has widened, I have gone back to that moment many times in my memory as a way of reminding myself that my use of language does matter and that it can very much affect whether or not I will be heard. The wonderful thing about that moment at ESR is that it was neither arranged nor scheduled; it just happened. This was a teachable moment that has stuck with me for 25 years.

My time at ESR gave me the opportunity to live into my own faith tradition as a Quaker. Coming out of college, I was less concerned about being Quaker and more concerned about being Christian. It remains important to me to live into my identity as a Christian but, as the years have gone by, I have noticed a hunger in my life to anchor my soul to a group, a tradition, a way of doing faith that has a particular identity. That identity has been my Quaker faith. More than ever it shapes me and speaks to me a truth that is becoming ever more real. I can look back with gratitude to my ESR days for providing me with this anchor.


Scott Wagoner, a pastoral minister at Deep River Meeting in High Point, N.C., has served in pastoral ministry for over 25 years. His blog, "New Kind of Quaker," can be found at http://www.newkindofquaker.blogspot.com.