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Epistle from the Conference on
Quaker Volunteer Service and Witness,
Burlington, NJ, April 18-20, 1997




  "When He had finished washing their feet He put on his clothes and returned to His place.  'Do you understand what I have done for you?' He asked them.  'You call me Teacher and Lord, and rightly so for that is what I am.  Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet.  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done to you.'"--John 13:12-15

  We, more than 100 Friends from 19 Yearly Meetings and other Friends associations and 19 states, Washington, D.C., and Mexico,  gathered together in Burlington Meetinghouse, Burlington, New Jersey, April 18-20, 1997 under the leading of the Divine Spirit with a concern to expand opportunities for Quaker volunteer service and witness.  We gathered with many of the same goals of the 1980 Consultation on Quaker Service held in Richmond, Indiana, with some added concerns. We sought to learn from the past without dwelling on it; to examine how we can build programs that stay Spirit-led and rooted in Quaker spiritual practices and identity.  We heard the voices of Friends for whom simple love is the driving force and from Friends whose mission is also to share their Christian faith with others. We are hopeful that we can share our service efforts across these traditions.
  Work is love made visible. Volunteer service may or may not change the structures of society, but if we claim to love God and all Creation then we need to express that love through service. Whom does service benefit? This weekend James Hamilton and David Richie showed us a visual example of the mutual enrichment of volunteer service: partnership rather than patronizing, a joining together of communities to solve a problem together.
    Several referred to the Biblical metaphor of building a house on sand versus on rock (Matt 7:24-27). The sand foundation would be a human vision alone, whereas the rock is the love of a living God, and our willingness to be obedient to it. We seek not simply to address social concerns, but to find what God calls us to do.
    "Accountability is the measure of our seriousness,"  said one speaker, as we began to consider how ongoing oversight is a support for our hopes to keep our service projects Spirit-led.
    Quakers also need to recognize and nurture what is unique in Quaker process relevant to service. We see this spiritual process consisting of: 1) waiting; 2) discerning a leading; 3) reaching clearness; 4) receiving oversight and rendering accountability; 5) continuing support; 6) laying down of concern. Other Quaker perspectives for service projects include serving those burdened by poverty; a non-violent approach; simplicity in style; friendship across divides. There are also Quaker practices that base our work in worship, such as Meeting for Worship, Bible reading, sharing of beliefs, and evaluation.
  As we worshipped together and shared our visions and witness, we laid the groundwork for a North American network to carry forward the concern about Quaker volunteer service brought to us by Illinois Yearly Meeting. The conference accepted the offer of co-facilitators for ongoing communication among the participants at this conference to move us in the direction of convening an interim steering committee.  They will also keep in touch with individuals who agreed to take on specific tasks and responsibilities to make sure that everyone knows what everyone else is doing.
  We were reminded by the ministry of one friend that we tend to write the script and want God to fulfill it for us.  We have to have the strength to dream and the faith to have these dreams broken and remolded in God's vision.