The Case for a Testimony of Empowerment

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The other night, my wife and I were having a conversation that had me thinking. She is a kindergarten teacher wrestling with the challenges of the pandemic and virtual learning. At dinner, she shared with me an email that the school’s principal had sent out to the entire staff that day. Laying a copy of the email in front of me, she said, “Read the last paragraph.” As I read it, I realized the principal was praising my wife’s creativity and the innovative approaches she was using with her students during this difficult time. Even though the principal did not mention my wife’s name, it was clear who she was talking about. My wife’s smile said it all. I told her how wonderful it was that the principal would say those things about her and especially to the entire staff. Then she said it: “I feel so empowered!”

That’s it: empowerment! I have been trying hard to put my thumb on what is missing in our world. Most people are so self-obsessed these days that they rarely take the time to celebrate and acknowledge the gifts, potential, and innovative approaches of people around them, leaving others feeling discouraged and questioning if they have anything to offer. As I gave this idea more thought, it occurred to me that this may also be a major hindrance among Friends to growth and interest in new possibilities.

So often Friends have become myopic or have reverted to navel-gazing, and we have lost the ability to see the hope in our midst. Too frequently Friends embrace a distorted view of empowerment in which the goal to achieve some limited purpose is accomplished by almost forcing or manipulating others to help. This puts a huge damper on people’s creativity and ability to bring change, leaving them forced to conform to former ways and discouraged from moving forward. It makes me wonder if Friends are afraid of empowerment or just struggle to see its potential impact.

What if more Quakers saw empowerment as a process that challenges our assumptions about the way things are and could be? Might we be in need of a testimony of empowerment? As Friends, we know that testimonies are ways to live and act based on our beliefs. Like our other testimonies, empowerment would also focus us on living and acting out our beliefs, but it would be directed toward empowering individuals to bring life and change among Friends.


As Friends, we know that testimonies are ways to live and act based on our beliefs. Like our other testimonies, empowerment would also focus us on living and acting out our beliefs, but it would be directed toward empowering individuals to bring life and change among Friends.


To begin developing a testimony of empowerment, we must first talk honestly about the word at its core: power. Yearly meetings and their leadership—as do many religious organizations today—clearly wrestle with power. Often focus is on a small group of individuals who coerce local meetings or ministers to execute, fund, or drive a specific agenda. Tension arises when power is seen in terms of control and domination. This often leads many Friends to become unchangeable and unchanging: hunkered down in a power struggle to be right or in charge.

There is also a spiritual imbalance among Friends which has us waiting or listening to the Spirit or the Inner Light but not embracing the empowering force that moves us to act. Just maybe we need to take more risks, have faith, and lean into the leadings of the Spirit. Like our Quaker ancestors, we may find ourselves having divine empowerments and moments of inspiration for positive change in our personal lives as well as our local and yearly meetings.

To welcome a testimony of empowerment would lead us to the opposite of the need to control and an unwillingness to change. When Friends embrace empowerment, we celebrate creativity, inspire expansion, and seek reform and spiritual transformation. There comes a willingness to move power structures from isolated individuals or small groups made of cookie-cutter participants to more diverse groups that support a variety of ideas, beliefs, and relationships.


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What if Friends began to embrace a testimony of empowerment that intentionally inspired change, developed partnerships, and sought to name and honestly address the complex issues Friends face?

What if we recognized and celebrated individuals for their whole being, their gifting, their personalities, and acknowledged them for more than what they can do for us?

What if while committing to this, we valued and prioritized collaborations that were based on mutual respect; diverse perspectives; and the development of a positive and energizing vision, where creativity is valued and people empower one another at all levels of life and faith?

Lifeless meetings would gain new perspectives and be perceived as sounding boards, launching groups, and creative think tanks, where new life is born and evolves. The value and contributions of people who are searching for what Quakers have to offer would again become important, and a new desire for communicating with them would arise. A genuinely supportive and celebratory community would begin to put aside differences to welcome diversity and the possibility of collaborating and having a positive impact in the world. People within our local and yearly meetings would feel the excitement, hope, and personal empowerment to be part of the change. Just writing these words gets me excited about the possibilities!

I would have never become a convinced Friend if it weren’t for people in my life who recognized the value of a testimony of empowerment and—like my wife’s principal—were willing to acknowledge my gifting, creativity, and potential. These people gave me permission to challenge my assumptions, seek diverse and new perspectives, listen to the Inner Light, and expand my understandings about faith and my world. These people were willing to come alongside and mentor, celebrate, and partner with me to paint a positive and energizing vision that spoke to my condition and the condition of my world. And probably the most important thing these people did was set me free to empower the next generation of Friends who will carry on that legacy.


What if Friends began to embrace a testimony of empowerment that intentionally inspired change, developed partnerships, and sought to name and honestly address the complex issues Friends face?


What would a testimony of empowerment look like for Quakers today? How about this: Empowerment is the act of liberating and supporting one another to challenge and expand our assumptions, seek diverse perspectives, develop our understandings, encourage change, grow unique partnerships, and work to magnify a positive and energizing vision that speaks to the condition of our world through the guidance of the Inner Light.

Robert Henry

Robert Henry is the pastor of Indianapolis First Friends Meeting in Indianapolis, Ind. He is a speaker, activist, neighborhood collaborator, and avid artist. He lives in Fishers, Ind., with his wife and three boys.

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