This project — writing a Faith & Practice book — is a work in progress. Whenever a significant update is made to a published installment, the revision date will be posted at the top of the installment as well as in the Table of Contents. Following are the 7th and 8th parts of “The Life of the Spirit.”
7. The Meeting as Caring Community
And dear friends, dwell all in the everlasting power of God, and his life, in which is … unity, order, peace, and fellowship; and wait in the fear of the everlasting God, that his wisdom you may receive, which is pure and gentle from above, by which all things were made, and by which wisdom you may order all things to the glory of God. The poor, the sick, the widows, the fatherless, the prisoners be tender of, and feel every one’s condition as your own, and let nothing be lacking amongst you, according to the apostle’s doctrine to the church of God of old time; and if nothing be lacking, then all is well.
And … know in all your meetings who is sick, and weak, and in want, and widows, and fatherless, and aged people, that cannot help themselves; and such as God hath distributed unto, of that which God has distributed, to lay aside for the necessities of others, as you are moved and commanded of the Lord God by his power and spirit; for [one who] gives to the poor, lendeth to the Lord; and he loves a cheerful giver. (George Fox, c. 1669)
As members of a Quaker community, our primary responsibility is to “dwell all in the everlasting power of God, and his life” — to live in agapē. Living in that love, we are moved and empowered to care for each other’s fundamental human needs, both physical and spiritual. Accordingly, a healthy Friends meeting actively discerns the needs of its members and addresses them by such means as religious education, spiritual support, and material assistance. It has been found effective to designate committees or other formal groups to coordinate that work. In addition, frequent opportunities for fellowship and service — such as shared meals, work days, and activities in service of peace, justice, and relief of suffering in the greater community — help us to know each other’s needs and gifts.
‘By this all shall know that you learn of me: that you love each other.’ (Jn 13:35)
All aspects of Quaker life being characterized by surrender of self to divine love, caring for each other is as natural and essential an expression of our spirituality as are our worship, vocal ministry, decision-making, and social activism. Indeed, the measure of our active caring for each other is the measure of our spiritual life and fidelity.
Our life is love, and peace, and tenderness; and bearing one with another, and forgiving one another, and not laying accusations one against another; but praying one for another, and helping one another up with a tender hand …. (Isaac Penington, 1667)
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8. The Use and Nurture of Gifts
Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. … For by one Spirit we all are baptized into one body …. For the body is not one member, but many. (1 Cor 12)
Indeed, several gifts of the Spirit were given, some to one, some to another, according to the pleasure of the giver, and diversities of manifestations and operations of the same inward life and power: but [all] received so much of the Spirit as to make [them children of God, empowered] to cry Abba, Father, and to wash [them]. And this is the one washing which all the flock are washed with, and so baptized into the one pure, living body …. (Isaac Penington, pub. 1671)
We recognize that one divine spirit of agapē works in us diversely, through what Friend Caroline Stephen, writing in 1891, called the individual’s “natural temperament and special gifts.” Whether in visitation, administration, instruction, vocal ministry, or other forms of service, all Friends are invited and called to exercise their gifts “toward equipping the saints for the work of service and the building up of the body of Christ” (Eph 4:12). Invited, because in offering their gifts for the sake of others, givers benefit as well; called, because the meeting community, being one body, needs the strength and contributions of all its members.
Each Quaker community has a responsibility, therefore, to discern, encourage, and help develop and apply the spiritual gifts of its members. In doing so, the body is “built up” in spiritual power and wisdom through the exercise of gifts according to each person’s measure of life in universal love. And each member has a responsibility to discover her talents, develop them to the fullest, and offer them to her Quaker community and the wider world as appropriate.
Let the time past suffice, that you have hidden the talent in the earth which you have received from the Lord to profit withal. … Consider one another, and provoke one another to Love and to good works, not forsaking the Assembling of yourselves, but exhorting one another, and so much the more, as you see the day approaching. Dwell in love and unity, in the pure eternal Light; there is your fellowship, there is your cleansing and washing. (Margaret Fell, 1656)