Updated: Nov 3, 2021
Message for worship at West Richmond Friends Meeting, 17th of First Month, 2021
Speaker: Katie Breslin
Scripture: 1 Samuel 3:1-12, NRSV
Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread. At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!” and ran to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So he went and lay down. The Lord called again, “Samuel!” Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” Then the Lord said to Samuel, “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle. On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end."
This is Fine ~KC Green
Good morning West Richmond Friends --
It is very strange to be back at this podium. The last time I was here the world was on fire and we were discussing meeting online and yet the majority of you are online and the world is still on fire . . . so some things never change.
I want to thank Lyn for being the worship leader for today and for picking out this hymn “Here I am Lord”. She didn’t know it at the time, but it is one,of my favorite hymns. This is one of the hymns that is a crossover from my Catholic roots. But it wasn’t until this week, looking over the lyrics, that I realized...I have been singing this hymn wrong my whole life. Very specifically the chorus. The lyrics for the chorus are
“ Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord?
I have heard you calling in the night
I will go, Lord, if you lead me
I will hold your people in my heart”
So when I was a kid - I would sing very quietly “I will go Lord” and then really let the next line rip “if you NEED ME”. Need me. If you need me. It completely changes the whole song. And no offense to Dan Schutte, who composed the song, but I like my lyrics better. It feels more true to how I’ve experienced God’s call because whenever I’ve heard God’s call I feel more reluctant than having the clarity of mind to be grateful for God’s leadership.
My experience of discerning God’s call is that it often happens in the metaphorical night, just like it did for Samuel. And like the song says, the strength I’ve needed to fulfill the call has come from the people around me. Community has been a central part of my faith, so often it is the community,
in particular elders, that help me figure out what God is saying in the moment.
I think about my call to go to seminary in this way.
The first person to talk about Earlham School of Religion was Matt Hisrich, former Dean of Earlham School of Religion and at the first time I met him, Director of Admissions. I was aware of Earlham School of Religion, but I hadn’t given it much thought. I was staying with Rob and Sue Settlage, two incredible FCNL supporters and Friends from Whittier Friends Meeting, and Matt was taking a delegation from ESR to visit Whittier.
It was not a good day for me. It was January of 2017, the first few days of the Trump presidency. I had been traveling for at least a week, and I had just given a training that was supposed to have 20 people at it and instead it had 60. You would think that this was exciting, and it was, but the amount of extra adrenaline needed for a group 3 times as big as I was expecting after traveling for so long was exhausting. Plus, after the training, a well-meaning Friend tried to give me advice as I was walking out exhausted. I was driving to Rob and Sue’s house to have dinner with this ESR delegation and I just -- couldn’t do it. I pulled over and cried in my car, overwhelmed by the world, by the new reality I was facing, and by the feeling that I had failed this training. I missed the dinner, but I made it to the dessert round.
It was there that I met Matt. He gave me his card and we talked a bit about ESR. FCNL has a small fund for staff to take grad school classes and I was starting to become convinced, so I thought perhaps I would take a class or two. Matt emailed me later to follow up and ask if I still wanted to submit my application. I ended up declining his offer to apply. It seemed overwhelming
for me to think about doing grad school when my FCNL responsibilities were increasing with the new administration.
I was not ready to hear God’s call.
That year of 2017 was one of the hardest years of my life, and that is saying something because of how incredibly hard 2020 has been. My workload had increased, my stress levels were up and my 7-year relationship ended at the end of 2017. Going into 2018, I felt messy.
One silver lining was that I felt like I finally had time to dedicate to exploring my faith, and I will always be grateful for the ways that FCNL fostered my relationship to Quakerism. Truly Diane, my boss Jim and our Quaker Field Secretary Christine Ashley gave me the opportunities I needed to explore my curiosity around Friends. They allowed me the opportunity to attend Friends General Conference’s Gathering in 2018 and attend a full workshop on clerking with Arthur Larrabee, truly one of the most important workshops of my life. I was fortunate enough to sit next to Steve Angell,
who would later become my academic adviser, my mentor and my friend.
We were fast friends during that workshop, and I deeply enjoyed his sense of humor. During a break, I told Steve that I had once considered taking some classes at Earlham School of Religion and he immediately encouraged my action to do so. After the conference, I received an email
from Matt and we emailed back and forth….and then I decided that my life was too messy to apply.
I was not ready to hear God’s call.
During FCNL’s 75th anniversary event in Richmond, I met Stephanie Crumley-Effinger. Honestly, the 75th anniversary was not my best time in Richmond either. I wear glasses now because my eyes never completely adjusted to the dog food smell of Richmond while wearing contacts, something I didn’t know then. I also lost my rental car keys and had to search all over Earlham’s campus. I went with the rest of the FCNL crew to attend West Richmond and I immediately loved this delegation. And during fellowship hour, I asked Stephanie if I could talk to her about ESR. We chatted briefly and I remember telling her that I felt too messy to come to seminary. I told her about my breakup and how I was still figuring out my life, and that I would like to be more settled before coming to seminary.
Now, of course, I know seminary is done best when you are a little messy. I’ll never understand people who come to seminary with their lives figured out. Stephanie listened carefully to my rambling, and made me feel like seminary was possible...but perhaps at a distance. I still didn’t apply after our conversation.
I was not ready to hear God’s call.
I think it is important to note in the story of Samuel that Eli was able to see something that Samuel couldn’t in his call from God. Samuel got up three times before Eli told him to say “ Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” I say this because of my experience of God’s call, and when I’ve spoken to others about their calls, it is often not a singular event but a collection of events to prepare one for receiving a message.
You can say one clear sign that I was meant to come to ESR was in receiving an email from Julie Dishman, the head of admissions at ESR, inviting me to an Open House at Earlham that was connected to a conference on queer spirituality. I wish I could make this up but the dates of the Open House started the day after I was supposed to already be in Richmond for FCNL -- and I hadn’t booked my housing or my plane ticket yet. I looked at the email stunned. And then resigned
that I was going to go to this Open House.
I was still thinking I would take a class or two online until a moment in Julie’s presentation. She was talking about the different programs and as I was looking at the classes I would take at ESR as a residential student, something clicked.
I’m a little jealous of Samuel because my calling wasn’t a call in the night to wakeme up. It felt like I was getting the wind knocked out of me. I sat there, and tried to look as normal as I could, but I felt like I was not really there. I was starting to think that I should come here to stay.
I finally heard God’s call. But I wasn’t prepared for it.
When I got back from my trip to Richmond, I came into my boss Jim’s office in tears to tell him that I am feeling a pull to go to ESR residential. We were both shocked. I told Diane, who was incredibly supportive, and asked her if I could pull together a clearness committee to be sure. She agreed and we asked Barbara Monahane to clerk the committee.
The committee met after FCNL’s Spring Lobby Weekend and I anxiously awaited what it would have in store for me. Barbara convened the committee with a few of my FCNL colleagues, including Barb Platt who was an ESR alum and who happened to be appointed to work at FCNL for a short period of time when there was a gap. I am grateful she was there at the right time to be on my committee.
Barbara explained the process to the staffers, many who hadn’t been part of a clearness committee before, and we settled into silence. The committee asked me helpful questions and then at the end Barbara asked me, “Do you feel clear?” to which I said, “Yes,” and then burst into tears. Barb Platt handed me a bunch of tissues and told me that I could cry as much as I would like. I felt clear -- and terrified.
This is why we discern our calls in community. And for me, in particular, in a community of elders. I was terrified of the thought of moving to Indiana, and while I had my talking points of the logical reasons why I should come to Richmond, I still felt unsure. At a Friends General Conference Gathering lunch, I saw two Quakers who I loved: John and Gail Fletcher. Christine and I were leading a presentation about faithful lobbying, but it was at lunch that I was grateful for the time I could spend with my Quaker parents. And in a moment of vulnerability, I shared how terrified I was to leave FCNL. I had never been in the Quaker community without an official “role” and I was terrified that the community would not just want “me”. John and Gail listened to my concern and then John spoke, “You don’t even know what’s out there yet, and I think you are going to be great!” I don’t always remember the exact words, but I remember feeling a moment of peace.
Quaker elders have talked me through a lot in my short period of time in Quakerism. Even in my first thought that I might be convinced, at a young adult retreat at Pendle Hill, I remember calling one of my other sets of Quaker parents, Doug and Becky, about the feeling I was having about being part of the religious society of Friends. I cried into the phone to Doug about how I wanted to be part of a community that is queer affirming andthat would respect the role of women in leadership. He listened to me deeply, and he and Becky have been my cheerleaders ever since in my Quaker journey.
In her book Living Eldership, which is part of the British Friends series A Journey of Discovery, Jenny Routedge writes about the Quaker tradition of eldership and the way Friends may be called to elder today. Brian spoke last week about the term “gospel order”, and Jenny picks up this thread in
her description of how it is connected to eldership.
Jenny writes, “From the earliest time there have been members of the community who were acknowledged for their wisdom and spiritual maturity, and who came to be called elders. The role has sometimes been described as upholding ‘gospel order’ which is possibly best defined as the way the community is in the right relationship with the Spirit and with each other. Discernment of that right relationship and the testing of leadings to ministry were part of the role of elder.” (Page 17)
In the Bible, Eli is not a perfect mentor, but he is the mentor, the elder, that helps Samuel find the words that God needs to hear from Samuel. The words God wants to share with Samuel are not favorable to Eli, and yet Eli knows his role as a elder is not to tell Samuel what he thinks he should do, it is to listen to God in him and help him along his way, even if it is to his own destruction. “He is the Lord; let him do what is good in his eyes.”
I am grateful for elders like Eli in this moment, in this passage, who are able to look beyond their own desires and see what is God’s will. And I have been blessed along my journey to have those elders in my life. I am grateful for the elders that I have in this meeting, in my work at FCNL and in the broader Quaker world to help me out of the fire. Because this work of eldering is how we find God’s path forward for all of us.
Thank you Friends.
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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