This is an online companion to “What Bridges Are Made Of,” the author’s piece in the June/July 2012 issue.
Last spring I toured Europe to promote the collection Spirit Rising: Young Quaker Voices. I often like to read aloud to an audience: we needn’t always be so quiet; why are we? As a question about Quaker mores, this question is similar to another that we have asked for hundreds of years: why do we travel in the ministry? Why are we compelled to leave home and travel somewhere far away to speak to an audience who may or may not understand what we say? What is the purpose of all the planning; the physical, emotional, and spiritual energy expended; and the processing afterwards? There are many reasons to travel in the ministry: to visit friends, share a message, take part in the larger community of Friends, and expand one’s own viewpoint. But despite all that, I hold to the truth that God had His own purpose for my being in Europe, which may or may not have included reasons of my own. I trust God led me to say what I shared, that He opened the doors to where I needed to be, and that there is some lasting truth or inspiration in the footsteps I left behind.
I started the tour at Watford Meeting just outside of London and then visited the historic Jordans Meeting to see the meetinghouse and visit William Penn’s grave. These meetings set the tone for the rest of the trip: interesting discussions, experiencing things I had only heard about, and getting to know Friends from around the world (including a few published in the book). There were twelve talks in four of the six countries I visited; the talks mostly centered on Spirit Rising, and they all went well. I spoke in England, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and France and spent time with Friends in Belgium and Germany.
For the annual conference of Friends World Committee for Consultation Europe and Middle East Section that was held in Herzberg, Switzerland, Friends used Spirit Rising as background reading. They wanted the attendees to explore Quaker diversity before meeting at the conference with more than a hundred other Friends from 26 countries. I greatly enjoyed this opportunity to spend time with a larger variety of Quakers than I had previously met, and I delighted in being the warmly welcomed outsider. As well as being culturally diverse, the conference was also generationally diverse—we had a few children, nearly 30 youth and young adults, and around 70 older adults for the business sessions. One of the highlights was our having split up into small groups for regular meetings throughout the beautiful grounds of Herzberg, meetings where we discussed and shared our perspectives. The young adults, who also held meetings of their own, considered what it meant to live as Quakers in their home countries; they then shared these reflections with the wider fellowship. Knowing how important it is to build relationships, we young adults also made time to explore the nearby town of Aarau and take a long hike up a high bluff. We played games, laughed with each other, and built the strong friendships so essential to the international work of Friends.
In Birmingham, Harriet Hart and I officially released Spirit Rising in the United Kingdom at the Quakers Uniting in Publications conference. Deciding on a creative approach to our presentation, we put together a “slide show” to tell the story of how the book came together. As I told the story, Harriet acted it out with me, jumping in when interaction was needed. With both of us enjoying being goofy and making people laugh while still conveying our message, the “slide show” was a huge hit and made for a memorable evening. We also each read aloud a favorite piece from the book and selected excerpts for others to read, in order to have a variety of voices both in words and sound. During our business meetings, we discussed the future of Spirit Rising and decided upon the leadership needed for reaching our goals of publishing a Spanish translation (currently in progress) and subsidizing 500 copies to be sold in Kenya (so Friends there can afford them). In fact, one meeting that I spoke with in Cambridge, England, was inspired by the book to raise funds for helping to send books to Africa.
After leaving the conference in Birmingham, I traveled to northern England to stay at Swarthmoor Hall. It was fascinating to see where Margaret Fell and George Fox lived and worked: to walk across the fields where Fox would stroll to think, read selections from his journal, and try to imagine the early Quakers gathering there between trips. Though I firmly believe Jesus, not Fox, is the one we should emulate, I developed a new respect for what Fox went through on behalf of the message he firmly believed. Several days later, I also explored another famous British Quaker site: Lancashire’s Pendle Hill. Climbing that outlook, I felt that I had finally earned my Quaker badge. Though I appreciated the historicity of the experience, I also enjoyed the climb for the sheer beauty of the view and the delight of spending the day with two lovely Friends. And just like George Fox, once I reached the top, I was able to see the sea in the distance.
As I traveled through Europe, I imagined having a seed bag swinging at my side. Stopping at a field, I would throw my seed out over the furrows, and then God would take me via train to the next field that could use the seed I carried. I didn’t get to stay to see the seed take root. I didn’t even get to see it watered and I never will, but I know God had me throw those seeds into those particular fields for a reason. Truth spoken in love is never wasted: God will bring those seeds to fruition in His own time.
Traveling in ministry is an act of trust. I don’t get to see the message take root, but I know the seeds will flourish in their own way. Though I don’t understand the why of it all, I know God does and that is enough for me. I am simply grateful to have been given the gift of throwing the seeds.