By Vince Schueler
WHEN I WAS ASKED TO WRITE A PIECE on the beginnings of the Northwest Quaker Men’s Gathering, it quickly evolved into an appreciation for the gentle and powerful work of Good News Associates in nurturing spiritual leadings.
Ever since the Pacific Northwest Quaker Women’s Theology Conference first convened in the 1990’s and spouses and friends in our Meetings and churches shared how powerful, meaningful and nourishing the experience was – there has been an interest and hope among some of Quaker men to create a similar sacred space. Our emerging vision was that men from across our traditions could gather with each other and with the Spirit.
For the most part, the conversations took the form of “wouldn’t it be good to…” And that is where things stood for two decades until about a year a half ago, when the Spirit began to move. It began, for me as a fragile leading during the second Way of Spirit retreat on creating beloved community. Perhaps now was the time for the Quaker men to gather, since so many women had been blessed by being part of one or more of their numerous gatherings. As with many leadings, I was initially resistant. I was reluctant to speak about it, in part because it did not seem like the right time in my life. Indeed, my life was full of chaos and transition. But something, beyond me prompted me to put my thoughts into words.
My first “testing” of this leading was with Chris Hall and Jan Wood, leaders of the Way of the Spirit program. They listened and they provided both encouragement and the space for me to sit with the leading in prayer and on meditation walks to get clarity on whether this was work I was being called to. And “just in case,” they suggested the names of a half dozen men from Friends Meetings and Churches who might be interested. After a month of reflection, during which a part of me was hoping the leading would go away, I took a cautious first step and sent out an e-mail to some Quaker men, asking whether there was interest in taking steps toward planning a Quaker Men’s gathering, patterned after the women’s gathering. Again, part of me was hoping that there wasn’t. All the recipients of the e-mail responded positively and four (Lon Fendall, Lee Foster, Jim Hall and Al Hendrix) committed to coming together in worship to explore this leading. That first exploration took place at Camas Friends Church in early October, 2017.
My thought going into this clearness process was that we would take a year or two to plan and perhaps convene a conference in 2019. That was not what God had in mind. Out of our worship we settled on a theme, “Finding Our Way”, and to holding our first gathering in April, 2018, in Ocean Park, Washington, on the Long Beach peninsula. Our strong leading was that it was important just to come together and to trust where the Spirit would lead us. Each on the committee offered their gifts and put them to use. Lee brought the gift of encouragement, Al stepped up in a big way to find a facility that could host us, which “just happened” to be a short distance from his house. Al volunteered to take care of logistics and serve as the communications hub and registrar. Lon and Jim agreed to focus on developing and the program. I helped with convening and putting together the registration packet. Several others stepped forward to help out.
So it was that on April 13-15, 2018 seventeen Quaker men gathered on the Washington Coast to get acquainted with each other and to listen together to the Spirit’s leading. It was a rich and precious beginning, and one for which I do not have adequate words. It was a beginning, for while our precise purpose and path forward was not completely clear at the time, we were clear that Spirit was calling us to continue in evaluating our first gathering and even to plan a second gathering in the coming year. And so it is that we have settled on a place and dates to gather in this new year. We knew the women’s gathering has been held every two years, but we felt clear that we should build on the momentum and enthusiasm generated in the first gathering.
We first decided to move to a place that we hoped would be more accessible for some of the Quaker men in the Northwest, Camp Tilikum, a Quaker camp and retreat center just out of Newberg, Oregon. We found our leading confirmed in being told that the facility was available on March 29-31, 2019.
This good beginning would not have been possible without the support and nurture of Good News Associates and Way of the Spirit and their alumni — who just don’t teach about nurturing leadings — they live them. And in so doing, they taught me about living out their leadings — trusting the in-dwelling Spirit in the face of discomfort and doubt. The planning group has learned about discovering and uncovering gifts and most importantly, getting out of the way when Spirit moves. We have learned about being open and willing to move with the Spirit, who has a way of working through you and I, whether or not we are “ready”.