Tuesday, December 9, 2014

When one door closes

I've been struggling with listening to God and where she's directing me. I haven't had much time for quiet, spaciousness and discernment, plus some pretty big challenges have surfaced.

Those challenges revolve around Artsy Fartsy. I don't know whether to read them as a signal that it's time to let it go or that this is a period of change. I confess to dragging my feet in launching headfirst into the long process of acquiring non-profit status, though I completed a course on building boards (of trustees, a requirement) and a matching session through one of my funders, ArtsWave. I learned a lot, felt very included with the area's other arts organizations, yet we did not get a match. Most likely because we are in Clermont County and those seeking board positions live in or near downtown Cincinnati.

I pushed my Quaker Meeting on whether or not they could accept donations on Artsy Fartsy's behalf and they reached the conclusion that it could jeopardize their non-profit status. They are urging and have provided the funding for Artsy Fartsy to strike out on its own.

On one level, that seems like the right, smart move. Get your own board, your own 501c3 status and the doors open to larger grants and the ability to raise funds yourself. We have some of that ability now, it's just that donors won't get a tax deduction and larger grantors give to non-profits exclusively. Fortunately, those that I have applied for and received either came directly to me or through my Meeting as the fiscal agent.

As a result of formally asking that question, my support committee has been charged with helping me navigate the process. All of this super-structure just to do the work bothers me. But, as the clerk of my support committee pointed out, if you want to produce income, you have to have it. There are expenses involved, including compensation for my time. 

Perhaps that's the crux. I've been doing this work for three years, unfunded the first year, a morsel of payment the second and what my friend calls an honorarium this year. I am clear that I can not continue this ministry without a real salary.

Officially, my Meeting has named my efforts as ministry, taken it under its care and funded rent and salary. I hear people refer to it as an art class and the name causes some to think it's not serious. Yes, we have a lot of fun and art is the vehicle, but, for me, it is about nurturing kids with very little positive in their lives, giving them a voice, unique experiences and a venue in which to express themselves. On a deeper level, it's helping them to see that of God in themselves. It's reaching into families and an entire community. Clearly, I see that. So do those who've witnessed it.

Of course I am disappointed with my Meeting's recent decision, but I respect it.  When I asked my care committee if this is how early Quakers funded ministry, I received the response that they didn't have to deal with the IRS. Quakers have a history of caring for members called to ministry and their families. I've put everything on the line for this ministry: myself, my livelihood, my own money and resources, even my family. Sometimes I feel like the surrogate with sleeves rolled up, working where God directs and the need is great, while others say this is ministry they support ... to a point.

Honestly, I wonder, do churches detach from missionaries because of IRS regulations? Perhaps missionaries are on their own. I merely work up the street with my neighbors, but is it ministry and mission work. I don't believe geography defines spiritual mission. It's God's way that some are called far away and, others of us, closer to home. We have different gifts to share and, in that manner, both needs are fulfilled.

With that mindset, I walked into a meeting last night with another church. Not my own, but one in the community where I live and work. I was concerned about what I would say to them until it occurred to me to simply tell the truth: that I am burned out and too tired to listen for where God wants me.

I connected with their pastor several weeks ago through our police chief. We met and both felt God had put us together. I then met with a small group at the church. They want to collectively roll up their sleeves and work in this same community. How can we help you and partner? they asked. We each spent a month answering that question, then re-gathered last night.

Before I had the chance to make my confession, one member of the group had thoughtfully prepared some information on discernment. How could she have known? I wondered.

This church purposely re-located to Milford with a calling to look "for the presence and activity of God." In doing so, they must deepen their practice of discernment, the handout stated. It contained a wonderful reminder of, exactly, what discernment is: "the journey from spiritual blindness to spiritual light."

Discernment, the space and peace to practice it are exactly what I need and they totally understood. Becky, who compiled this incredible document, included a Thomas Merton quote, the beginning of which was on my heart before I ever entered the church. "My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. (Thoughts in Solitude).

With those, I was able to share my heart, my struggle and, yes – the reason for the meeting, the areas where Artsy Fartsy could use help from transportation to fundraising, identifying a new space, accounting and everything in between.

"Our gift is organizing and logistics," one of the members said, "that could free you to do what you do best, work directly with the kids, in that community." Did I really just hear that?

"That light you see," the pastor said, "and think is the train, is really the cavalry." I left lifted and flitting to my beloved book club, eagerly waiting to learn about the meeting. As I buckled my seat belt, powered up the car and began to disengage the parking brake, I looked up at the church sign. I hadn't really even known it's name: Christ Community Church. The word community was broken into two colors and the middle "M" split into two people holding hands. It reminded me that many years ago, I had journaled about being part of a commUNITY center. Could this be it?

• When has God provided a solution I couldn't even see?
• How is God's response always so much wiser and encompassing than what I imagine?
• How often do see the train light and not the cavalry?
• Where is God working in my life right now?
• Where is God calling me to ministry?

I pushed and
was less than
pleased with the

when will I
learn to read
God's signs?

that when one
door closes,
another opens

Listen to this post:

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