FTE & Ecumenical Excitement

“Christ has no body now on earth but yours; No hands but yours, no feet but yours; Yours are the eyes through which His compassion will look upon the world; Yours are the feet with which He will go about doing good; Yours are the hands with which He will bless others.”
-Teresa of Avila
Do you want to know what the best part of working a 12 hour day is?

…getting to go in to work 4 hours late the next day!

I’m definitely not a morning person, and so I love these kinds of days.  Getting to roll around in bed for an hour before actually getting up is the bee’s knees, and taking your time to eat breakfast and make coffee is the cat’s meow!

…ok animal allusions aside, I really appreciate a nice slow start to the day.

One morning last week when I was getting ready to take a shower and start my walk to Habitat for Humanity, I decided that I really wanted to hear a sermon that came highly recommended from some friends.  So, I clicked open the FTE app on my phone, and found the audio file for Bishop Yvette Flunder of the United Church of Christ.   I understood quickly why it came so highly recommended, and it was an altogether wonderful way to end a great easy morning!

At this point you might be asking yourself what on earth FTE is! Well it stands for the Forum for Theological Exploration (formerly the Fund for Theological Education).  As taken from their website , FTE’s mission is, “to cultivate diverse young adults to be faithful, wise and courageous leaders for the church and academy.”  Since their founding in 1954, they have done this through grants, fellowships, and many different events. 

The event that first got me connected to FTE was one that they called Volunteers Exploring Vocation.  The majority of the people who were invited to attend were from faith based service year programs, with a few others like AmeriCorps, who were coming towards the end of our terms and discerning next steps.  I was one of the people nominated by QVS staff to attend the event, and while I’d never heard of this organization before, a quick glance over their website got me intrigued.

Well shoot! I liked the sound of this! Because outside of the amorphous “I want to be a pastor and go to seminary…eventually” I was kind of feeling like my next steps in life were about as clear as mud!

FTE was generously offering to cover all of the volunteers travel expenses for the event, and I the Northwesterner in me was positively giddy to be going to Washington.

Not quite Oregon, but close!

There were around 70 or so volunteers who came from all over the country, and this it was amazing to hear how many common experiences or thoughts that we shared across all the programs.  Myself and my housemate Lara where also able to connect with members of the QVS house Portland and Philadelphia at the event!

We had a variety of small group discussions and workshops throughout the course of the weekend, which ranged from learning about Native American spirituality to practicing intoning prayer.  The session that was the most meaningful to me was one on Clearness Committees, and I must admit my eyes got a little wide when I saw that this was going to be an option! It was going to be taught by a released minister from New York Yearly Meeting, Callid Keefe-Perry,  over the course of 2 hour long sections. 

Now while this deserves an entire blog post itself, I’ll say briefly that the Clearness Committee is one of the oldest spiritual practices amongst Friends.  When a Quaker feels what might be a leading from God to do something, but it is also unclear, they can request one from their Meeting.  It is composed of a few other Quakers, and when it gathers the focus person explains what their situation is that they are seeking clearness on, and then they all enter into worship, and the members of the committee then ask question to the focus person that they feel God is leading them to ask.  They do this trusting their collective listening, and knowing that the Spirit’s way forward can be found.

Now that explanation doesn’t do it any justice at all, and while it might sound like it could be chaotic, it is amazing how well it tends to work!

So when I was taught the practice, it was a difficult leap of faith for me...even though I counted myself as a mystic at the time! I say that to say that I thought it was extremely ambitious to be able to teach the practice in 1 hour, and then dedicate the other hour to actually doing one….with non-Quakers! How is this going to work?!

Callid Keefe-Perry
Well as I participated in the workshop, Callid’s explanation of it was masterful and easily accessible.  He framed the Clearness Committee as a “Spiritual Technology”, and the eagerness to try out what he was talking about in the room was palpable.  I can’t mention the specifics of the Committee that I served on in the 2nd hour….but I will say that it was one of the most gathered, moving, and incredibly Spirit-filled moments I’d ever experienced.  You would have thought you were in a room of birthright Friends! (Actually the people who learned about Clearness Committees that day were more excited about the Spiritual Technology than many Quakers seem to be…so I feel like I want to write more about that at a later date)

Another part of VEV that meant a lot to me was a lunch table conversation on queer Christians.  It wasn’t a terribly long conversation, and there were only about 10 of us, but it still touched my heart.  I’m so involved with this concern inside of the Religious Society of Friends, that I don’t feel very up to date on where other denominations of Christianity are at with the topic.  At the table there were Mennonites, Baptists, and Presbyterians to name a few.  As we all gave tiny updates about where our denominations where at and what we as individuals were doing…a very particular thought occurred to me. 

Wow…I like…REALLY care about what is happening in these denominations!

That may sound silly, because its not like I ever felt like I didn’t care, but something about hearing my kin actually talk about their stories stirred that deep compassionate concern within me.  Also, a moment that left me affected was when a person who’s denomination is very progressive and advanced on the topic, rather than being confused and put off by what they were hearing others of us say, said “Wow…after hearing about what all is happening in other denominations, I feel like I need to inform myself more so I can support you better.” The genuine concern not to rest after their own denomination had made it, but to look back and help others, felt a lot like Christ to me

Towards the end of the conference I was told that there was going to be another event in  couple months called the Christian Leadership Forum.  That event was going to primarily cater towards students in seminary, those strongly considering seminary (Ooh thats me!), PHD track seminary students, and faculty of partner institutions. Hmmm...Christian Leadership Forum...

Might this be uncomfortable? My experience with "Christian leaders" thus far has been....mixed? What if the crowd that might be drawn to service year programs and trying to explore their own vocations is more accepting than a crowd that wants to lead churches in the future. Well...nothing ventured nothing gained! What I'd experienced so far had been great, so why not take another chance? 

Stephen Lewis 
The president of FTE, Stephen Lewis, gave an address at the beginning of the Forum at a banquet dinner. This was the 60th anniversary of FTE, and he spoke about how it had lived into its mission over those years.  From its beginningsFTE had funded the theological education of where the church appeared to be heading, staying ahead of the curve.  Not as a way of disrespecting or throwing away our traditions, but as a way to not limit what God was doing.  Looking around the ballroom, I saw a lot of queer people, a lot of women, and a lot of people of color.  And ya know what else? The white straight cisgender men who were there, were genuinely happy about our presence, and excited to have opportunities for authentic conversation and to move into the next chapter of the life of the Church with us.

The address struck me because it wasn't the filled with the pity party rhetoric that a lot of Christians use, that the Church is crumbling apart, and that the younger generations are a lost cause that just don't get it.  FTE had planted itself firmly in the camp that claims the best is yet to come!  We claimed that we are indeed capable of collaborating in new ways to meet the needs of the those around us.  The rest of that conference was steeped in that sense of optimism, and it was fun to imagine what could be with my peers.  Yeah, sometimes I have no idea why I feel called to do what I do, but I wasn't alone in that! I can't help but feel that I'm going to be calling upon many of the friendships that began there later in my ministry, and I sure as shoot hope they call upon me if needed.  

Things that were probably once impossible, like a queer Quaker, a Southern Baptist, and a member of the Church of Christ embracing as brothers, happened there.  People who were (and to a large extent still are) on the margins of the Church, have begun to move into the leadership of it.  One workshop that moved me to tears was about making our churches more inclusive to people with disabilities.  It was taught by a man whose daughter was born with Down Syndrome, and he shared words that will stick with me for the rest of my life (again this will be another blog post, hopefully even an interview!).  At one point he said that sometimes people are born apparently knowing what they've been called to do...but sometimes you'll find that it is placed upon you, as unprepared for it as you may be.  Even though his ministry now making churches more inclusive to the needs of his beloved daughter was something he never imagined doing, and with all the challenges and heartache that is sometimes included in that, he said he wouldn't change a thing about his life now.  His words sounded a lot like Christ to me.

I know it may be hard to believe, but I didn’t grow up thinking “gee wiz, I sure hope someday to be advocating for LGBTQ students at Christian colleges!”….haha, but that’s where I am now.  It’s hard a lot of the days, but it’s where I’m supposed to be…maybe even something I was born to do. I wouldn't change that for anything. 

Christina Repoley 
Now I should mention that I’m a little more closely connected with FTE than the beginning of my post led on.  Actually the Executive Director of Quaker Voluntary Service, Christina Repoley, was an FTE fellow.  They provided support and encouragement as she seasoned the idea years ago that has been my living reality for the last 10 months! What a gift it is to have an organization that can pour belief into leaders who are envisioning new life in the Church.  Have you ever had someone tell you that they really believe in what you are doing? What a wonderful feeling My year in QVS has blessed me with more opportunities to travel and explore my passions than I could have ever expected, and I hope that wherever I end up in life that I'll be able to pay it forward in some way.  

It might seem like a strange part of the Bible to find comfort in, but I do personally find a lot in the book of Judges.  When Israel was in a time of hopelessness, with so much appearing to be going wrong, even then God lifted up and empowered different people to undertake vital ministries.  I try to remind myself that when I get overwhelmed by the monumental problems that I see, and when I feel like my tiny part is an insignificant drop in the bucket.  I try to trust that I am doing my part, and that other people in faraway places who I will never know are being called to do their own parts, and the moral universe will continue in its arc towards justice.

At the Christian Leadership Forum
The FTE conferences felt especially meaningful for me because it felt like the ministries that I try to convince myself are happening all over, where gathered for a few precious days.  We all were able to soak that truth in, and marvel at the work that was being done by each other.  How often can a room filled with leaders from 60 different denominations of Christianity gather in a room and move beyond simply tolerating each other?  How often can that kind of room celebrate each other’s diversity? Well now I can say I’ve seen it happen, and I couldn’t be more happy to get to know the FTE community more. In the weeks since the conference, as I’ve sat with the feeling that stirred in me....the words that I've found that can best describe what I feel are probably, ecumenical excitement


  1. The best is yet to come! I appreciate your optimism and I am glad that you were able to be apart of this. It sounds awesome ;)

  2. Thanks for encouraging the optimism Friend! I thought about you when I was able to chit chat with some of the PhD track studnets...and humored the fantasy of getting a PhD someday...maaaybe X )

  3. Friend, dost thee know that our major exhibit on queer Quakerism is launching? http://exhibits.lgbtran.org/exhibits/show/towards-a-quaker-view-of-sex

    1. Thank you for sharing my unknown Friend : D that is badass!



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