A Leading Writ Large

Story author
Beth Collea
Two large banners with artwork by immigrants to the U.S. hang on the side of a meetinghouse

The Familas Separadas banners currently on display at Dover Friends Meeting. Photo by Beth Collea

Reprinted from the West Falmouth, MA, Friends Gazette; Introduction by Sunny Davidson (West Falmouth):

Leadings as understood by Friends are the actionable outcomes of worship. To be adopted by the Meeting they should be processed (or sifted, or threshed) by others. Normally the leading is presented to an appropriate committee, and often to the meeting for business.

The context of worship is central. We are a religion intent upon the will of God, who dwells as Spirit in each of us and beyond. We expect to see signs of special help along the way if the leading is genuine. Although obstacles and sufferings happen, they often precede breakthroughs and add new meanings to the work.

Worship is neither mindfulness nor figuring things out. It implies a two-way love relationship. There cannot be a leading without a Leader, or at least the tentative, profoundly questioning hope for one by a seeker, a person who knows the need of Love for his or her wholeness. Being in awe of creation and any of its beauties helps. So does timing, being at the right stage of one's development to keep listening, and perhaps being tired of self. We believe in patience. Worship is openness, waiting, watching the sea's wave of light come and cover the ocean of darkness.

The Legacy Gift Report which follows (sent with thanks for funding to New England Yearly Meeting) is a remarkable document about a leading writ large. It constantly refers to the power of spiritual affirmation. Anyone reading it can have faith affirmed. The years of work to help refugees spread over the city of Dover, New Hampshire, gaining more help. The idea of the leading runs through it all, constantly mentioned. Yet it is modern in its reference to spiritual affirmation: "It helped us receive and stand in God's grace and guidance. It can be a little scary to get that close to the power of God ..."

The Legacy Fund has been an important partner for Dover Friends as we carry our leading to offer Sanctuary to asylum seekers and others impacted by the deeply flawed U.S. immigration system. Never underestimate the power of spiritual affirmation! The affirmation, first of our two Legacy Committee reps, Craig Jensen and Fritz Weiss, and then of the whole committee, meant the world to us. It helped us receive and stand in God’s grace and guidance. It can be a little scary to get that close to the power of God, so the heartening was significant for us. It helped sustain us in moments of uncertainty and unclarity. The generous funding made a daunting task seem more possible.

I’m delighted to report that we activated our Building Permit last week and are ready to get started with Phase 1 of the construction. The whole process has been bumpy with twists and turns. Just after we received word of our Legacy Fund award, we learned the work now came under new building codes which went into effect in Dover, NH, mandating that we add a fire-suppression system and a second egress from the meeting room. Bouts of sticker shock and a booming construction industry in our area have slowed our work. And yet, looking back we can see that the occasions of doubt or "stuckness" along the way led us into deeper spiritual waters of prayer and patience, together. I want to share some of the spiritual learnings with you. Doing this faithful work together has planted the seeds of change in our meeting. But, first a little context.

The leading began in 2017. When our Indonesian neighbors were threatened with imminent deportation, the Meeting said "yes" to becoming a sanctuary congregation. We turned to other area faith communities to ask for their partnership in this endeavor, which led to the creation of the Seacoast Interfaith Sanctuary Coalition. We prepared to meet this immediate need but we celebrated with our neighbors as a federal judge granted them a reprieve. They were safe. We continued to prepare our sanctuary space and in November of 2018 we welcomed other neighbors—a Muslim family who were struggling to establish their case for legal residency. They lived with us for two months until it was safe for them to return to their apartment.

The first bout of sticker shock came in October 2019 when Friends learned that in order to continue using our meeting house for Sanctuary, fire safety upgrades were needed. Given a price of $85,000, the meeting stopped and reflected and reflected and then became busy with other issues around the pandemic. It seemed essential to re-engage with the leading and come to a clear place to either find way forward or to rest assured that we had been released from the leading. It quickly became clear that the leading was still Alive and present. We felt strongly that it was our work to do. Trusting that way would open, we launched into the deep.

Enter the Legacy Fund process. Simply participating in the discernment and application process strengthened us. That Craig and Fritz could feel the Life in our leading and believed we could succeed gave us confidence! We now have activated our building permit reflecting the new building code in the City of Dover and the price has gone up significantly. So, another bout of sticker shock has set in.

Friends responded to the challenge by bringing forth their gifts! We hosted a Concert for Sanctuary featuring Friends and friends of Friends; other Quakers sold paintings, elegant bluebird boxes, and tasty honey to raise the needed funds.

Here are some of the Spiritual Learnings we have come to along the way:

1. Respond to "stuckness" by standing in the Light and waiting. Don’t try to force a solution or take premature action. Make space and time for Grace to work. Cling fast to the reality that we have been guided in the past.

2. Frame the leading as a collective Testimony. Part of our practice is to continually examine and explore our leading. We welcome hard questions from Friends or others. What is the Truth we have to tell? How were we called to embody and enact our leading? This approach helps us to clarify our sense of call over time.

3. Fully utilize every opening. Typically, an opening presented with a readily apparent course of action. Often, if we “pushed into the corners” of the opening, we found a fuller measure of Grace intended by the Divine. For example, we were offered the opportunity to participate as one of three display sites nationally for the Familias Separadas banners project by Michelle Angela Ortiz. These enormous banners convey the perilous odysseys of two asylum seekers who have settled in the Seacoast area.