A Quaker Meeting in Camas, WA
This is our first State of the Church report, at least that we are aware of, and our hope is that it will not be the last. Giving reports like this was an old practice of Friends that has fallen out of general practice but seems worth reconsidering for our time. Our goal for this report is to share in the form of an open letter what we at Camas Friends Church have been working through, growing in, and feeling called to over the last year. As our purpose statement says, we truly are seeking to love God and love people and this is evident in this report. we are a Quaker meeting that keeps dialogue at the center, we trust that each person brings something to contribute to our meeting, and we are blessed by the gifts shared among us. we are committed to our Quaker tradition and believe that the heart of Quakerism still speaks today. We work to keep our tradition as a guide and frame for who we are as a community and how we practice our faith, but we also work to keep it in step with God’s Spirit which is ever present and our contemporary guide.
Our hope is that this minute will not only encourage our body as we reflect back on the many stories God is weaving into and through us, but that it will encourage Friends elsewhere. It is also an invitation to join and participate with us more deeply as a community seeking to deepen our relationship with God, help people discover the love of Christ and meet the needs of others.
God is moving, God is alive, the Spirit is Rising and we are witnesses to this movement among us.
In the fall of 2008 Caryl Menkhus laid down her ministry at Camas Friends Church to begin a new phase in her life working full-time with the non-profit organization Godly Play. Her ministry among Camas Friends was clearly profound, spiritually directed, her gifts were easily apparent, and she is deeply loved and appreciated by this congregation. The work Camas Friends did with Caryl Menkhus was based in a desire to hear God. Caryl often taught that we should, “Pay attention to what you pay attention to, and notice what you notice.” She helped Camas Friends learn how to listen better to God, and in turn we have grown as Quakers.
With Caryl leaving, this set in motion a search for a new pastor, with many questions being raised about who the Camas Friends community was in light of Caryl’s ministry, where the Spirit of Christ was leading them, and who we wanted to become as a church. Two signs emerged. First of all, they felt that together as a church it was important to continue to grow as a community of Quaker ministers. Second, they wanted to translate that growth into ways that service God’s Kingdom within the broader Camas/Washougal area.
Through the search process there was a sense of the meeting to call Wess Daniels as the next pastor of Camas Friends. Wess and his family joined us as the new pastor of our meeting last May. Wess and his wife Emily lived in Pasadena, California where he was a student at Fuller Theological Seminary working on a doctorate in Intercultural Studies. Emily, his wife, was a middle and high-school English teacher in Los Angeles. This is Wess’ first full-time pastorate but he did youth pastor at Barberton Evangelical Friends Church in Ohio from 2000-2003. He has also traveled for ministry among Friends on a number of occasions. He brings with him a passion for learning and teaching the Quaker faith, following the way of Jesus, helping those in need, renewing the local congregation and doing ecumenical work among Friends. These things made him a good fit for Camas Friends Church. Over the last year Wess’ travels have included work among Convergent Friends, Friends Association of Higher Education, Quaker Theological Discussion Group, Pendle Hill, and Quakers United in Publication.
Over the course of the last year we have worked to grow closer as a community. We have laughed together, rejoiced with one another, and cried alongside one another. We are a community in the good times just as much as we are in the difficult times. We have helped each other find work, we have done yard work for one another and we enjoy spending time with one another. We understand that we are a formed by Jesus Christ, as Paul says, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col. 3:17).
Some of the other ways we grow as a community is through learning together. We learn because we want to grow and change and in that learning we are brought together through shared experiences. We have a book and video loaning table in our sanctuary that gets much use and is a great way to keep in touch with the many new, as well as old, Christian writings that spur on our faith. Another way we learn is through the topics we discuss on Sunday morning. Typically Wess, or whomever is leading discussion that week, sends out the biblical text and a few queries over email early in the week so that everyone has a chance to come to our meeting for worship prepared. These are also posted publicly on our website for any who may be searching for information about us online. If we are all ministers we all need to come prepared. Last summer we worked our way through the Gospel of Luke, in the fall we discussed the Lord’s Prayer and its impact on the mission of the church. In January, we participated in Peace Month along with many other congregations in the Northwest Yearly Meeting and over Lent/Easter we worked through the lectionary and discussed what it means to be awake and prepared for the coming of Christ. Finally, this summer has been focused on Quaker testimonies and what the tradition has to do with us today.
Another way we have learned is through small groups. We have continued to do courses from Northwest Earth Institute, this past year we were challenged by their Voluntary Simplicity and Choices for Sustainable Living courses. This material has been fruitful in opening up discussions and awareness around how our lifestyles have an impact on everything around us and have helped us to find more ways to worship and obey Christ through how we live. We also had a small group go through the Bible study called “Manna and Mercy,” which was a short introduction and overview of the Bible from a perspective that takes into account God’s work to redeem not just humankind but all of creation. We are grateful for the Shoemaker family who has opened their home and made it a hub for a small group of people to meet during the summer working to solve all the world’s biggest problems, one query at a time! Another way we have built community is through our Prayer Shawl ministry which has continued to bless people in our meeting as well as those who are connected to us through other means with these gifts. A group of women from our meeting started getting together at a local coffeeshop to support one member of our church, but in turn found the support spread out to each of them in meaningful ways. Our mission-aides continue to meet and raise money to support the work of sharing the good news around the world. Our fireworks stand was both a time of community building and was successful in raising money to help with camp expenses. Finally, one of the ways we are working to grow in our understanding of what it means for us to be a Quaker community of ministers is through reading “Ben” Pink Dandelion’s “The Quakers: A Very Short Introduction.” We have more than 20 people reading through the book with new people and long-time members both attending. We are also excited by the fact that Ben will be visiting Camas Friends Church in October of this year. Finally, we have sent people to learn in different settings including the Pacific Northwest Quaker Women’s Theological Conference, as well as eldering and clerking workshops.
Our meetings for worship are heartfelt, authentic and guided by the Spirit of Christ. There are always many who participate in the service, each offering his or her own gifts, styles and ways of worship and experience, which helps add to the kaleidoscope of Camas Friends worship. We typically worship through singing, prayers of thanksgiving and petition, discussion and learning through spoken word, and through open worship. Though this is our normal pattern for worship, we feel free to deviate from this pattern and find ways to incorporate creativity, drama, media, and even walking around the meeting house into our time of worship! One Sunday morning we moved all the pews into a big circle in one of our quarterly silent meetings. For Camas Friends, worship is about practicing listening and responding to God. It is a time of preparation and modelling for the rest of our week. Our meetings for worship reflect the way we want to live our lives, based on the hope of Jesus Christ whom is present among us, guiding us by God’s Light and calling us to love others.
In keeping with our experiential approach to worship we invited two unprogrammed meetings to come and worship with us on a Sunday morning. Both Multnomah Monthly Meeting and Bridge City Monthly Meeting visited us in April this year and shared in a potluck lunch afterwards. The conversations were lively, inspiring and connections began to form. We continued this work a month later as Camas Friends closed the doors to their meeting house on Sunday morning and traveled south to worship with Multnomah. The worship was gathered, spirit-filled, and full of vocal ministry from both meetings. Afterward, we shared a meal together and had a time of discussion around the query: “Where do you, programmed and unprogrammed, Friends find yourselves in the other?” It was helpful to hear how different people experienced the two different styles of worship. The discussion that followed this query was engaged and meaningful for both groups and the sense of the meeting was that these two meetings should continue this bridge-building together.
We have also been blessed to have a number of people visit our meeting for worship, some visiting Friends and others people looking for a place to call home. In the past year we have had close to 30 people sign our guest book and probably twice that many that have visited. (Wess was especially blessed to have T. Vail Palmer Jr and Izzy Covalt, as well as a number of Friends from Pasadena come and worship with us.) We are blessed to have a number of these friends stay and journey with us and we have been enriched by their additions to our faith community. We see ourselves as a community that enjoys extending hospitality to any and all people and look forward to entertaining more sojourners along the way. This coming August we look forward to extending our hospitality again, this time to 30 Quaker youth who are from Europe and North America on a month long spiritual pilgrimage (FWCC).
We have been gifted to have many minister among us. Over the last year we have had many from our yearly meeting and some from outside it come and share, some of these people were Dorothy Sherman (English Tutor to students in China), Ashley Wilcox and Sarah Peterson (Co-Clerks of the Pacific Northwest Quaker Women’s Theological Conference), Cherice Bock (North Valley Friends), Caryl Menkhus, Carole Spencer (Earlham Professor), Heather and Brad Tricola (Boise Friends), Jason and Gena Minnix (Riversway), Shawn McConaughey (NWYM Office), friends from one of our local AA meetings, and at least three members of our meeting, come and minister among us on Sunday morning.
One thing most people notice when they visit Camas Friends for the first time is the amount of children in our congregation. Many of us are family and have families, and therefore family is a central value of our meeting. There was one Sunday morning in recent months where we counted 20 children in attendance, not bad when there were 50 adults present that same day. We are a community that cherishes young people, and we trust that they are not only a gift to us but have a deep spirituality of their own. So in April when we dedicated three new infants in our meeting, it was truly a joyous occasion. We are committed to helping foster their spirituality as well. One of the most important ways we do this is through teaching Godly Play. Last fall 8 of us traveled to West Hills Friends Church to do a two-day Godly Play training with Caryl Menkhaus. Others travelled to workshops at NWYM to learn more about the program. We have also begun doing the Quaker Godly Play stories created by Philadelphia Yearly Meeting called “Faith and Play.” These stories were especially useful during our peace month in Janauary.
Another way we show our commitment to children is through our annual peace playhouse, where we do a three day camp that teaches children about respect for self, others and the earth. This year was the first year we decided to do the young children and the older 4-6 graders together and the results were fantastic. Not only did we have a great turn out of children, but we had many people from our meeting there each day to help. It was clear that this is something that our meeting is really committed to and is something that God is blessing.
Twin Rocks Friends Camp continues to play an important role in gathering together and learning as a church. Our all-church retreat this past December was very well attended, the worship was meaningful and the discussions around the meaning of advent and the Christmas season were helpful in preparing our hearts for the celebration of Christ’s birth. This summer we sent two of our youth to summer camp and both returned with glowing reports and we plan to send a big group of people to Family Camp this year. Many others have taken personal retreats there, and attended other meaningful workshops and conferences throughout the year.
Over the last year we have been looking for more ways to become more missional, or outward-looking in our focus. There are many ways in which Camas Friends has already been working to be a presence in the community. Besides things like Peace Camp, Friends have volunteered at the local farmer’s market, facilitated Northwest Earth Institute classes, supported the many AA, Al-Anon, and 12-step meetings that use our building daily (and have been happy not only to see the number of meetings rise in the last year as well, but to have people from these groups participate in other aspects of our community life), and our “Last Sundays Film and Discussion Series,” which is aimed at creating space for conversation on issues involving the earth and other justice related issues.
We want to grow as a people of responsibility, people who love God by loving others. In the fall a number of us from Camas Friends and St. Anne’s Episcopal in Washougal began meeting together to discuss ways in which we as faith communities can do better at helping those in our community who are homeless, poor, and/or at risk. This grew out of a concern that there is not much in the way of help for those of greatest need among us in East Clark County and we felt this was not the way it should be. Over the course of the last 8 months or so this “Homelessness Task Force” has met discerning ways best to engage. We helped with the national homelessness count, we have met with city officials to discuss the issue, traveled to Vancouver to see other shelters and ministries in action, and invited a variety of people, ministers and social workers to come and teach us about their work. Some of us have volunteered at the Winter Hospitality Overflow Shelters, others have volunteered at one of the family centers in Washougal. We have also collected items for homeless people with our “trashcans can make a difference” campaign, while others in our community are working to launch a project called Laundry Love which aims to take care of an important need, having clean clothes. All the while creating a space to build friendships with people in our communities.
Because we are a community of people, we are a community in transition. Some of the most trying times in the last year have been when we have experienced the loss of our loved ones. We have accompanied one another through the passing of those we deeply cherish, both young and old. Alyce Templer, Robby Shinn, John Paul Morasch and Dot Bahr are the ones most immediately connected to us and who are woven into our story in ways both known and unknown. In walking along-side one another through these difficult times, we have learned to cry out, pray and how to be silent. we have also had times celebration too. Besides the three births of M. Twyman, M. Daniels and O. Maloney, we recently celebrated the marriage of Linda and Robby Shinn’s son Toby to Shannon. We have also celebrated many wedding anniversaries, birthday’s and our pastor’s one year anniversary of being with us. Besides this Helen May and Gina Week were recognized as members last year and these two women continue to contribute to the life and well-being of this church. And Wess and Emily transferred their membership from Barberton Evangelical Friends Church to Camas.
As is the nature of transition, we have also had times of struggle. Last summer we spent two business meetings and a threshing meeting discussing alcohol usage in our building. The discussion arouse out of a question brought to us by the Montesorri school that rents part of our building from us, and we spent a good amount of time discerning the Holy Spirit around this issue. While we did not have unity on how to proceed we felt clear that this was a helpful discussion to have and we felt that the process in which it was handled in keeping with Gospel Order. During our threshing meeting we were fortunate to have a guest from one of our AA groups and a guest from Montessori join us, having their voices represented in our meeting led to a greater feeling of community among all of us who share this building.
In the Spring the elders got together for a one day retreat to talk about where it is God is leading. We discerned a number of guiding values that make up our community, values that stem both from our individual and collective encounters with God, and values we see make-up our community as a whole. Those were growing as a Quaker community, caring for the Earth, becoming a learning community, practicing responsibility, working towards personal integrity, being a community of acceptance, and valuing family and children. These are some of the ways in which we are growing and being led by God’s Holy Spirit as Camas Friends, these values are evident through out this minute as well.
We have also wrestled with our finances as our economy has struggled so have we. Our stewards have been faithful to work for a balance between faith in God’s provision and good stewardship of what we already have. This is a reflection of the rest of us in our community who also have gone through difficult times of their own. We have had many people out of work, but we are thankful to God that many have also found work again as well. We have witnessed God as one who deeply cares and loves this community this year and we trust that God will continue to walk with us in the coming year.
We will continue to work together to grow as a community of Quaker ministers who love God and love our neighbors. We will continue to practice listening and paying attention to God’s movements among us, heeding God’s voice, and responding in love to the Holy Spirit. We long to grow more and more in our submission to God in each moment rather than assume a spirituality based on appearing “perfect” once a week.
God is moving, God is alive, the Spirit is Rising and we are witnesses to this movement among us.
August 1, 2010