Nearly fifty Friends from across the US and Belize gathered online for this year’s Stoking the Fire retreat over Pentecost weekend. This virtual community and worship experiment was highlighted by opportunities for worship, inspiring messages, small group sharing, and a service project.
Bill Jolliff and Katie Ubry-Terrell launched our Friday gathering with lively music and honest sharing. Jolliff, a poet, songwriter, and professor at George Fox University, used his banjo and guitar to lead Friends in hymns and original music. Several Friends described the music as “soul renewing” and a highlight of the event. Katie’s message on seeking to live in and reflect God’s light in personally dark times was refreshingly honest and vulnerable. Her message inspired us to reflect deeply on our situations.
With the gathering focused on the theme Hope and Light, our Saturday speaker, Bryce Coefield, shifted our attention toward hope. As a young African American Quaker deeply engaged in the struggle for racial justice, Bryce offered a timely message around staying engaged even when it is difficult, and choosing joy in the midst of adversity and struggle. Bill Jolliff joined in with another selection of moving songs.
Ember groups followed each plenary session. Friends found these valuable times to reflect, process, and get to know each other more deeply. Our inability to connect face-to-face made these groups especially meaningful. After the Saturday morning plenary and Ember Groups, participants spent the next several hours engaged in some service in their home communities. These expressions of service ranged from visiting elderly shut-ins to doing yard work around the Meetinghouse. Others found the opportunity to offer help to a neighbor, spend time in prayer, or volunteer with a local ministry. The group joined together back online to share their experiences.
Saturday evening, Paul Bock and his granddaughter Ely guided us through a moving and meaningful Taize service. Blending contemplative songs with prayers, readings, and silence, we were drawn to the Presence of Christ and led to pray for one another and our world.
Sunday morning, Janine and Colin Saxton facilitated worship. Janine’s music joined us together in heart and spirit. Colin’s message arose from the text of Philippians, and the author’s call for us to “shine like stars in the universe.” He emphasized the necessity of spiritual power—emanating from our intimate and authentic relationship with Jesus—and proximity—how closely we connect with others—as central to Friends’ ongoing work and witness.