"We are all humble learners in the school of Christ, but we are also slow learners"
Ralph Greene, a Quaker pastor from South China Maine Meeting, took us up on the hillside and spoke to us for more than an hour. Over 25 of us were almost like the disciples attending the Sermon on the Mount. However this sermon was peppered with good old fashioned Maine anecdotes and gentle promptings to listen to the leadings that God presses upon us. Ralph Greene is truly a person who's become part of the "people of the way" as the early Christians were known, and he prodded us towards that kind of self definition with a feisty warmth that was hard to resist.
He spoke about Lucy Graham who died at age 106, whom he knew as a young man. Before she died she spoke about listening, in her youth, to Hannah Bay who lived to be 100 and Ralph was amazed that here was a stretch of Quaker testimony that reached back to the 18th century.
He told the story of an old couple who had very little in the way of fancy things who were visited by a traveling salesman who showed them a hand mirror. The old gentleman was taken aback. How, he thought to himself, had this young man found a picture of his granddaddy? And when the old woman looked in the mirror she said to herself, now that is the woman who my husband has been running around with all this time!
Before this trip Ralph hadn't been out of Maine for many years and as he waited in the Boston train station to come south he was saddened by the poverty that he saw, punctuated by the large number of homeless walking around with no one to care for them. This troubled him and made his journey a heavy one. But at a train stop in Connecticut, 3 women sat next to him, and he started a conversation and discovered they were workers for the American Friends Service Committee, whom he had worked for many years in his younger days. And they had a grand time talking together the rest of the way down.
In his time with us there were many threads about Quaker ministry given by Ralph Greene.
He spoke of the Sermon on the Mount, clearly his favorite in the bible, as the primary book of guidance on how one should live a worthy christian life.
A man falls off a cliff in the dark and on his way down he grabs a branch and is dangling there crying out for the Lord to save him and in the darkness he hears a voice saying "Let go!"
He exhorted us not to become the "Frozen Chosen" like the pharisees.
Rufus Jones once gave ministry at Durham meeting regarding Quakers and the higher guidance. Rufus was an intellectually gifted Friend and a few moments after he finished one older Friend rose and said: "Jesus said feed my lambs not my giraffes!"
He told us of his friend at Durham whose long white beard made him the choice one year as Santa Claus for their Christmas party. He came into the room, shouted "Ho! Ho! Ho!!" Then said loudly "Now what?"
Well, we must learn to follow the guidance which is always available to us:
The personal guidance the comes from the gifts you are born with
The guidance of the holy spirit that arises from the sense of the sacred encountered in our contemplative worship
The guidance of the bible which has nourished 3 great faith traditions
The guidance that comes from living in a blessed community
The guidance of elders who we encounter in our blessed community
And finally the guidance of pastoral ministry which seeks to pass wisdom down from one generation to the next.
He told a joyful story of meeting a family of 8 Cambodian refugees at the Portland airport on a cold December day and he took them back to his blessed community, Durham Meeting, where members were waiting for them with a Christmas party where all the gifts were warm clothing which the meeting had purchased for the destitute family. There was a genuine joy in his heart as he told this story. Truly he was experiencing the joy of one who had embraced "the way"
Along our way with him we sang 2 songs, "Neighbor and Friend" and "Higher Ground". He led us in the singing with such gusto, that it evaporated any timidity any of us held about our own voices.
And then there were stories about Joshua Evans, a New Jersey Quaker who lived during the Revolution. Ralph's favorite Quaker! Wikipedia describes Evans this way: "He practiced a simple ministry and an ascetic and pious life style, and was a vegetarian. In 1759, Haddonfield Monthly Meeting acknowledged him as a minister. Evans was an abolitionist and a passionate supporter of Quaker plainness and the Peace Testimony and war tax resistance." We all noticed some striking resemblances.
Ralph Greene has been a recorded minister in New England Yearly Meeting since the early 1960's. He served as pastor of a very well regarded monthly meeting, Durham Meeting, in Durham Maine for 15 years. Last year some members of Middletown Meeting were led to worship at Durham Meeting at Easter. The experience of hearing a Quaker pastor give a Quaker interpretation on the gospel story of the disciples "casting their nets to the other side of the boat" so excited one member that he spoke about it in ministry during his next Meeting for Worship at Middletown. Chris Stern, a member of Middletown, afterwards told us of his association with Ralph Greene and Durham Meeting when Chris was a younger Quaker traveling in the ministry. Later that summer Chris visited him with Chris' son Sam after being out of touch for several years. That encounter led to the Meeting inviting Ralph to do this workshop.
Ralph is nearing the end of his hour long talk. There is one more story to be told.
Ralph goes to visit Rose, a Quaker woman in her late nineties. She admonishes Ralph for neglecting to share a prayer together after he was there a while. They settle into silent worship and he is waiting for a leading to speak when she cries out, "you better hurry up because suppas coming!"
After we chuckle he says - "There is the message Friends, that is what it is all about for us. Don't wait, It's time to get going!"