Over email, the news that Christine Manville Greenland has passed. In recent times I worked with Christine mostly through the Tract Association of Friends but I’ve known her for so long I don’t know when I first met her.
Whenever she said something it was well worth listening to. On online forums from Soc.religion.quaker to Facebook she was always encouraging to what Samuel Bownas had called “infant ministers.” She had the rare ability to slice through thorny Quaker issues with unexpected observation and wisdom. She had a long view of recent Quaker history that put things in context and she would pull metaphors from her training as a botanist to explain mystifying behaviors in our coreligionists.
She also had a wealth of institutional memory. There’s incredible value in this. Friends, like most humans, give a lot of value to the ways we’re doing things right now. It only takes a few years before a process feels timeless and essential. We forget that things once worked differently or that other Friends have a different methods. By being involved with Friends in different areas — Canada and Colorado — Christine brought geographic awareness and by being involved in Philadelphia so long she brought a modern historical awareness. That dysfunctional meeting everyone’s talking about? She’ll remember that everyone was talking about it thirty years ago for another controversy and point out the similarities. That doubt you’ll have about a path? Christine will tell you how others have felt the leading and assure you that it’s genuine.
She did all this with such gentleness and modesty that it’s only now that she’s gone that I’m realizing the debt I owe her. More than anything perhaps, she showed how to live a life as a Friend of integrity through the politics and foibles of our Religious Society.
I used Google to find precious gems of wisdom she left on comment threads. It’s a long trail. She was active on soc.religion.quaker back in the day, commented on most Convergent Friends blogs and was active on Facebook. She took the time to write many enlightening and warm commentary. Here is a random sample.
Yesterday, I clerked a small quarterly meeting working group — I’m co-clerk, since it isn’t my quarter… and the other co-clerk is, which works well. We keep asking the questions and seeing the potentials … but when it comes down to being faithful (a term I use instead of “accountable”) that needs consistent testing. It is important to center in worship, no matter what we are doing.
I had the experience of being chair of a group of biologists, and found that, even then, I conducted business in the same way… one of seeking guidance from other members of the group — even though the group of which we were a small part used Robert’s rules of order. I felt our group was too small to make that approach workable… Occasionally, I forgot I wasn’t among Friends until another member of the group (a United Church graduate of Swarthmore College) reminded me… Church of the Brethren folks just grinned and allowed as how they preferred the approach; we were, after all, both friends and biologists. For most of us, the work had both a scientific and a spiritual basis.
I checked in with Friends at our Quarterly Meeting picnic yesterday; responses were mixed for a variety of reasons, some having to do with resistance to changing the ways in which we are Friends, and other responses that I can only describe as “institutional cheer-leading”.
Some of this has to do with expected tensions as we grapple with matters of both race and class; still other matters have to do with the fact that our structures have changed at least twice in 30 years, as has the outline of our faith and practice. The question I have (of myself and others) is “How do we — individually and corporately — show that we truly love one another as Christ has loved us?” By that, I mean all others.
The most hopeful exchange was speaking with a dear Friend in my former meeting who had gone for the first time in decades, and feels strongly led to encourage her meeting to assist in work going on at both the quarter and yearly meeting level; this will cross boundaries. I was hopeful in part because this Friend exudes consistent love. … and has in the 25 years I’ve known her. Love of God/neighbor are inseparable. She lives that better than I do.
It seems I have much to learn.
Comment on my “What Does it Mean to be a Quaker?” (on an old site)
I cringe when I hear the word “Quakerism” or “the Quaker Way”… I find the two terms interchangeable — both can lack substance. It seems we have finally become the “bureaucratic association of distant acquantances” rather than the Religious Society of Friends. Some years ago, an experienced Friend wrote that Integrity (saying what one means, meaning what one says) was at the heart of Quaker Practice — as a testimony.
If we’re just going for PR, that lacks integrity.
The question — for me — becomes “How can I live as a Friend?”
When I first came to Friends, it was the way of life — not the intellectual construct — that drew me to meeting week after week (a university meeting in what later became Intermountain Yearly Meeting). When I applied for membership, my committee of clearness questioned more whether I could live into a way of life, into the community of that particular meeting. Friends felt that wrestling with the understanding of the faith tradition was a part of my education. Only after I moved to Philadelphia did I begin hearing of the “parsing” of the faith tradition. It seemed too pat.
Still, the overlapping categories are still as useful by way of explanation, but it isn’t the whole story.
As with many matters of faith, for those who possess it, no explanation is necessary; for those who do not, no explanation is possible. Howard Brinton did his best by way of explanation, but faith-wrestling is a task we all have.
My question about younger Friends serving as traveling ministers is somewhat more serious: Are their meetings attentive to both the spiritual gifts and the needs (cost of travel, etc.)as well as the spiritual need for support. If not, is the Friend with a concern for travel, teaching, or any other ministry) humble enough to ask the questions Jon is asking. In my experience (as an older adult Friend)there is little communication among age groups so that gifts of ministry are fully recognized… Young Friends are often left to their own devices. It may be that lack of spiritual support that is the “last door out.”
For instance, I would not travel without the full consent of my past committee of care, all of whom know me well. They have generously supported me this year (as well as my co-leader).
What concerns me is the energy it takes (spiritual and physical), and that it most often takes an elder to attend to the mundane things — as well as to keep the minister on track.
She was also always one to think of the kids. Here she is commenting on Kathleen Karhnak-Glasby’s “Bringing Children to Worship: Trusting God to Take Over from There”
I recall one parent of a small meeting in Ontario at Canadian Yearly Meeting sessions trying to encourage his daughter to sit quietly during worship… Her very reasonable response was “but Daddy, I can pray standing on my head!” Her ministry caused me to reflect on whether I could indeed pray/worship in all circumstances, and from whatever position I was in at the time. I still reflect on that…
At another meeting, when Friends noticed the power struggles between children and their parents, we asked elder Friends to serve as “adoptive” grandparents, with whom the children could sit… That defused the power struggles, and members of meeting who had no children of their own were very helpful to parents in that meeting.
I also recall learning to sink deeply into worship — and hearing a younger Friend’s grandmother giggle. I looked down and there was the 1 – 2 year old peering up in wonder at why/how I could sit so quietly when he was busy crawling under the benches. it was just fine. He became a part of my prayers that day, and still is a part of them.
And this one has to be the last I’ll share, from a QuakerQuaker discussion started by Richard B Miller and titled “Elders’ Corner”
Like you, I learned about the role of elders from Conservative Friends (in Canada and Ohio). In the context of my own meeting (and quarter), however, there are Friends who can and do serve as guides and sounding boards — offering corrections as may be required. Ideally, elders should arise from the monthly meetings, and then be recognized in larger bodies of Friends, not necessarily being named by a yearly meeting nominating committee.
I was asked to serve as an elder for Yearly Meeting/Interim Meeting… but because I was also on the nominating committee, had a “stop” about whether that was rightly ordered. I consulted some North Carolina Friends, who agreed with the “stop”.
One difficulty that you raised is that many of the conservative Friends who held that tradition are no longer available as guides… One effect is that the role elders once played is diminishing among conservative Friends.
I’m feeling pretty broken up right now. And I’m feeling the weight of this loss. I’ve found myself more and more to be the one giving out advice and giving historical context that newer Friends might not have. It’s the kind of perch that Christine had. I’m only starting to appreciate that she formed a gentle mentoring role for me — and I’m sure for many others.
A few years ago my wife and I lost our remaining parents (her dad, my mom) and we had the unescapable recognition that we were now the oldest generation. I know there are older Friends around still and some have bits of Christine’s wit and wisdom. But one of our human guides have left us.