A Very Small Meeting Funds Traveling Ministries
Southern Illinois Quaker Meeting (SIQM) in Carbondale is a small meeting with about 20 regular attenders, most of whom aren’t members. Despite its small size, the meeting has funded four ministries in less than a decade. SIQM meets for worship every Sunday in a room at Gaia House Interfaith Center, a non-denominational foundation on the campus of Southern Illinois University (SIU). As a result of the meeting’s location, a number of the attenders are college students, and SIQM works intentionally to lay out a welcome mat for these young people.
The Friends of SIQM have a few important characteristics that help grow the meeting and support the leadings and ministries of those connected with it. In the first place, SIQM Friends try hard to notice and recognize the gifts of new attenders, often recruiting them to help the meeting reach out to other young people. Secondly, they encourage the students to reach out in various ways, such as inviting like-minded campus organizations to use free office space in Gaia House—the idea of SIQM attender C.J. Jones. Students in these organizations thus come in contact with spiritually based activism, Quaker-style. Intrigued, some of the students begin to attend worship. More newcomers get noticed and encouraged, leading to new attenders for SIQM and more energy and ideas to encourage.
Thirdly, the meeting has a process in place to support the leadings of these students. For example, when Gavin Betzelberger, an undergraduate at SIU and a Mennonite, had a leading to travel to Colombia with the Christian Peacemaker Teams, a committee of elders sat with Gavin to help him discern the calling. Then the meeting focused on helping Gavin develop a concrete plan to accomplish his leading. Once the plan had taken shape, the elders supported Gavin in bringing the plan to business meeting and requesting travel funds: transportation to Colombia for a two-week sojourn, plus a small stipend for food while there. Additionally, SIQM has a line item in the budget for supporting traveling ministries, which allows people and organizations outside the meeting to donate to the traveler.
Finally, the meeting provides an ongoing support committee for those pursuing traveling ministry, a committee that can teach new skills when necessary. In Gavin’s case, the support committee trained him to fundraise, and the meeting provided the nonprofit structure so that all the money Gavin collected went directly to funding his leading. He was not a salaried employee of the meeting; he donated his service, and the financial donors paid only his travel and food costs. He submitted the receipts for larger expenses, such as airfare, to the meeting’s then treasurer, Dawn Amos. The support committee kept in touch with Gavin, allowing the meeting to receive regular updates and reports from him. His committee also helped him thank the donors by writing overviews of the trip and interesting places where he served.
In another example, Justin Leverett, a young adult affiliated with SIQM, was working as a dishwasher when he had a leading to go to Atlanta, Georgia, with Quaker Volunteer Service. Illinois Yearly Meeting, Blue River Quarterly Meeting, and several individual donors contributed thousands of dollars to SIQM’s traveling ministries fund specifically for Justin’s expenses during his year of service with QVS in Atlanta. Again, he received no payment for his services, only reimbursement for some expenses. After his QVS experience ended, Justin reported back to the meeting: “As my year of service drew to a close, I decided that it felt right to remain in Atlanta, and I am now starting a new intentional community in the Old Fourth Ward (a very poor neighborhood in Atlanta).” The new intentional community is committed to carrying on the vision of QVS. Justin then worked short-term for a start-up local newspaper for immigrants, but the venture was not sustained. Now he is a valet at a high-end hotel in Atlanta and is pursuing his career as a writer while seeking regular employment. He recently wrote to SIQM with an update:
QVS has transformed me. I was able to have this experience because SIQM, Blue River Quarterly, ILYM, and many f/Friends and family members had such faith in me and were willing to support this endeavor. As a young adult Friend, it gives me hope to see older, established Quakers reach out to support and encourage my generation of seekers.
I have been spending time with the current cohort of Atlanta QVS-ers, and they are a remarkable group of people. They are engaged in very good work at their placements with nonprofits here, and they are welcoming, thoughtful, and serious about making the most of their year. I am working to coordinate a QVS trip with them and the other alumni in Atlanta to the museum attached to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, based here, to see an exhibition exploring the history of healthcare access inequality in the United States during the twentieth century, particularly along racial lines. It should be a valuable experience for us all! I miss everyone back home, and I want you to know that I deeply appreciate all the support you have provided me, financially and personally.
When the traveling ministry is done by a student, it usually is the case that the minister is transient. One doesn’t have to be an official member of the meeting to follow this path, although all the SIQM Friends who have traveled under a leading have been regular participants in the life and work of the meeting. Thanks to SIQM’s efforts to notice, encourage, support, and train new attenders, these young adults who became traveling ministers started out already acting like Quakers, making big contributions of labor to the meeting. Both Gavin and Justin were well known by the entire meeting when each first shared his sense of leading.
Other Friends besides students have received support for traveling ministries. The entire Amos family, including Dawn; Mark; and their three daughters, Miranda, Delia, and Marlena, traveled to Kenya to serve with African Great Lakes Initiative (AGLI) of the Friends Peace Teams. Their trip was made possible with some assistance from the meeting’s line item for traveling ministries. Dawn remembers the process:
Friends Peace Teams expected us to raise $10,000 for a family of five. We applied, and they sent us to our own meeting to discern our readiness with a set of queries. The family had discussed the idea for a couple of years. A clearness session was held in a Quaker home, and at least five members from the meeting attended. Mark and Dawn were the focus of the discernment. Concerns were raised and answered. The entire family decided to go to Kenya for a five-week summer workcamp helping to build a peace center. SIQM decided to accept funds for this volunteer activity and formed a special fund to receive donations. The funds were to be forwarded to AGLI, and this helped in terms of IRS issues. But this later led to a discernment about formulating guidelines to support ministers in the future. What followed after 2007 was the practice of sending ministers and providing them with the necessary funds for travel.
Dawn also points out the role other organizations have played in the discernment process, not only for her family but for others as well:
Southern Illinois Quaker Meeting was not alone in helping with the process of discerning leadings. Christian Peacemaker Teams (for Gavin), QVS (for Justin), and Friends Peace Teams (for my family) each backed up SIQM’s local discernment efforts for the ministers we sent. SIQM was the back-up for volunteers who answered a call from one of three organizations. These organizations discerned the propriety of the ministers, and SIQM provided ongoing fundraising support to get them to Colombia, Atlanta, and Kenya, respectively.
SIQM was aided in setting up the original line item for traveling ministries. The meeting used both a Quaker accountant and a Quaker attorney as consultants to set up the process and the structure of oversight. (Go to fdsj.nl/SIQMfund to see the guidelines they developed more than a decade ago.)
The meeting has benefited from focusing on and supporting these leadings. Maurine Pyle, a Friend who has been supported by SIQM in her traveling ministry among the wider Quaker fellowship, shares how:
SIQM has built a strong mission to the Quaker world and beyond by supporting people who have leadings into service. In the process, we have learned how to be elders, wise guides, and we have developed the financial acumen to support those who are called to serve. We have become very skilled at focusing on and discerning a leading. This has given us a new spiritual bond internally. Our meeting is diverse in its spiritual pathways, and we offer mutual respect for anyone who chooses to sit with us.
As John Woolman said, “Love is the first motion,” and SIQM has become a listening meeting that listens to leadings with love.