On Thursday, April 4, from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m. in Founders Hall West Gallery, JM Ward Visitor Ashley Wilcox led a meeting on Quakerism and the Prophetic Tradition. Wilcox is a recorded Quaker minister and the founder of the Church of Mary Magdalene in Atlanta, Georgia.
The meeting started off with a moment of silence for all Guilford and Greensboro community members in attendance. After the moment of silence, Wilcox delved into the objectives of the meeting as well as some background information essential to the subject matter.
Wilcox began the discussion with a question of whether or not the Guilford community should seek out prophets and prophecies. Wilcox sought to relate this question to the Quaker tradition.
“This talk is about prophets and prophecy,” Wilcox said. “So the first question is, ‘What does it mean to be a prophet?’ I don’t think Jeremiah would recommend it.”
Wilcox spoke a bit about her background and what led her to preach.
“I grew up in Anchorage, Alaska, in a non-denominational evangelical church where women did not preach,” Wilcox said. “I did not hear a woman preach in my own church until I was in my thirties. And then I became a friend and mostly spent time in meetings where there was no preaching.
“I felt called to preach and now I teach preaching. I teach Methodists mostly, and also Lutherans and Episcopalians how to preach. Which is so [out of my place] for so many reasons, but that is what I am doing currently.”
Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies Wess Daniels was also in attendance. Daniels described how far Wilcox has come in terms of her work since first meeting her.
“Ashley is a good friend of mine and is in the same generation of leadership within the Quaker tradition,” Daniels said. “I met her about 10 years ago when I was doing research for my dissertation on new expressions of the Quaker tradition in our time and interviewed her for my research. That set off a decade-long friendship.
“We remain connected over social media, collaborate on writing together, co-led workshops at Quaker Yearly Meetings and she has acted as a travelling elder for me (Quaker speak for spiritual support/companion while someone is traveling in Quaker work). I find her creativity, authenticity and fearlessness to be inspiring.”
Daniels also made note of what specifically interested him in the meeting.
“One of the things I’ve been reflecting on from Ashley’s visit is the importance of discerning when it is time to lay certain things down,” Daniels said. “Sometimes because that thing’s time has come to an end (in this context a church or meeting but it could be many different things) and sometimes we lay things down in order to allow new possibilities to emerge.”
Daniels spoke more on the topic of laying things down.
“After hearing her stories, I’ve been thinking a lot about how we can build this in better to what I/we do?” Daniels said. “What makes it so hard to lay something down and to let it go, and what do we keep from happening when we refuse to let go?”
Junior Emma Chaiken voiced her opinion on the unity aspect of the Quaker meetings.
“I think it’s great that we, as a school, can generate an event such as this and have so many people of different backgrounds interested,” Chaiken said. “Sure, it’s a Quaker meeting, but it’s also an opportunity for individuals to come and see what we’re all about. I am personally not a Quaker, but it’s interesting to see what other people’s beliefs are.”
Wilcox ended the meeting, explaining what Society of Friends are moving towards now.
“One of Wess’s students today asked me if ‘remix’ was in the prophetic tradition, and it is,” Wilcox said. “This idea of taking something and remixing it and making it new, of taking what works and putting it in a new context (and) seeing what will happen there, it is really messy and sometimes it’s unpleasant.”
Wilcox continued on this note of remixing.
“My brother’s a musician and some of his early stuff I just didn’t want to listen to, but he kept doing it and he’s amazing,” Wilcox said. “And we have to get through that uncomfortable place and get to the deep place. And so I want us, when someone comes with a leading that seems really weird or seems like something we don’t do, (to) listen together.
“And it may not be for us, that’s part of our discernment too. It may be that individual’s leading. It may be that individual isn’t called to Friends and is called somewhere else, but we can help that. We can help that person grow and learn and discern what that meaning is. The religious society of friends is so much bigger and so much more diverse than our individual meetings … How can we go deeper, listen better and give with more integrity?”
With this in mind, Wilcox encouraged those in attendance at the meeting to enter into a moment of silent prayer.
Individuals were given the freedom to stand up and speak if compelled to do so. The time of reflection through prayer provided community members with the opportunity to speak without fear of judgment.
The space that this yielded seemed to be a central focus of the meeting that emphasized the importance of looking at the bigger picture.