Answering the Call

Proceedings of the Ministers and Elders Colloquium — Part 1 — by Maurine Pyle

The Ministers and Elders Colloquium was held October 6-10, 2017, at the Cenacle Retreat Center in Chicago, IL, sponsored by What Canst Thou Say? The Proceedings was published February 17, 2018. It is available in hard copy on The WCTS editorial team decided to publish the presentations on this blog, one at a time. We hope to start a conversation. Please become a follower and make comments.

Maurine Pyle and Pam Richards were the organizers of this Colloquium, but both became ill as the day of the gathering approached. We began calling it “Holy Spirit Mischief.” So even though Maurine was not able to give her presentation, we have included it in the Proceedings.

My Childhood Calling to Seek God
Up the Magnolia Tree*

*Excerpted from my 1998 Plummer Lecture, Follow Me <>
Let your life be a story worth retelling, I always say. For me life is all about storytelling. Those ancient griots of Africa sitting around the campfire could recite all of the “begats” for their tribe, recounting tales of generation upon generation. I want to restore that storytelling tradition from a spiritual perspective, sharing the lessons I have gathered along the way.
At the heart of my story is my love for Jesus Christ and his love for me. That love has made all the difference. I was surprised and overwhelmed by his love. From the moment I embraced Jesus, my former life was overturned. My life was no longer my own. He said to me, “Lay down your life, take up your cross and follow me,” and I have been following ever since. This is a story about how I became a follower. Before that encounter with Jesus my first intention always was to lead, not to follow. And I started leading when I was very young.
My first kingdom was the magnolia tree in the front yard of my parents’ house in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I loved its smooth branches and fragrant white blossoms. There were small cones filled with bright red berries and glossy green leaves with a fuzzy undercoating perfect for writing secret messages. Most of all I loved being held lightly, but firmly, in her topmost branches. I suppose my mother would have scolded me had she known I was up on the highest branches, but she was always too busy with her many children to spy on me. I was up so high I could see over the trees and look down upon the glistening lake below.
As the wind blew, her branches would cradle me, gently rocking me. Although I was feeling safe as can be, had folks seen me up there, they would have pointed out the obvious danger. But this experience became the pattern of my life—taking apparent risks while feeling perfectly secure. Even then I knew that I was truly safe. For it was there atop the magnolia tree that I first learned to speak to God, to hear gentle whispers in my soul. Visions and mysteries enfolded me. There was just blessed silence, the wind and me, and the magnolia tree.
I knew even then that I could not tell others what I had learned there. Even a child knows the dividing line between everyday reality and the divine mysteries. Maybe children especially understand. They keep their mystical secrets carefully concealed until the moment comes to reveal them. High atop the magnolia tree I learned to let the winds of God blow me wherever it would.
Up over my head, there’s music in the air,
Up over my head, there’s music in the air,
Up over my head, there’s music in the air,
There must be a God somewhere.
Who Am I?
My own story and my early religious life was grounded in the Cajun Catholic culture of South Louisiana. The Cajuns (i.e. Acadians) were French settlers who were forced by the British to flee from their homes in Nova Scotia in 1756, with many of them eventually ending up in South Louisiana. They have added spice to the American culture in their spiritual practices, as well as their famous cooking.
As a counterpoint to most of American culture, in my Cajun family we do not find it strange to hear reports of conversations with dead people or of messages from the saints. From early childhood, I knew that I could hear the voice of God speaking directly to me, telling me in which direction to go. This was not considered strange or dangerous in my religious culture.
As I was growing up, I kept searching for a way to answer the ever-present and insistent message to serve God. For a female growing up Catholic in those days, the call to service could be very troubling since the Catholic Church of the 1950s and 1960s was intensely patriarchal, a society largely closed to women. Only nuns could serve God. Anyway, I knew I wanted to be a mother; therefore, no religious path seemed open to me within the Church. As a young adult, I eventually left Catholicism quite angry over not finding acceptance of my gifts.
Later when I heard of the Quakers, I was delighted to discover their long history of equality for women. I resolved to locate their meeting houses and group members, which was not an easy task. They usually congregate in small groups that are often hidden, so my attempts to find them met with little success. Finally, it was through God’s serendipity that my path crossed theirs. In 1973, my husband and I were living in Maryland. We loved to wander the countryside looking for colonial buildings. One day we spotted a “chapel-of-ease,” a tiny Episcopal Church building where country residents in colonial times could worship when severe weather prevented them from going into town. As I approached the building, I saw a small sign which read “Welcome: Quaker Meeting.” The following Sunday, I joined their small silent worship group. The white-washed interior filtered a pure white light. In the pristine silence, I found my joy. I was home at last!
I had been looking for a place where a woman’s spirituality was respected. I joined the Liberal branch of the Religious Society of Friends in my twenties. What I discovered was that for the Friends, having a direct experience of God was normal religious practice.
At the age of 24, I was accepted into membership and made a lifelong commitment to the Quaker way. Many wonderful elders taught me by their example how to be a Friend. There was no catechism or instruction manual to guide me, only the elders gently guiding me along the path. I have been a Friend now for over 40 years, and it has been a richly rewarding lesson in how to live adventurously. Now I have become an elder whose role is leading young Friends on their adventures in spiritual development. In return, they teach me how to remain refreshed and connected to life in all its vicissitudes.
Among the Friends I found a spiritual community where I could respond to God’s beckoning. At age 35, I received a spiritual calling to become a minister, and finally was recognized by a Quaker meeting in Southern Illinois that released me to become a traveling minister at age 60.
My Spiritual Timeline among the Friends
1983—received a vision of the Cross of Joy.
1985—began hearing messages to “record my ministry.”
1985—met Louise Wilson at a Quaker Hill Consultation sponsored by Earlham School of Religion (sent by an elder of my meeting, Alice Walton, who recognized my calling and tried to bring it to acceptance at my post-Christian meeting).
1985—met Lucy Talley [Davenport] and formed a covenant group with Evanston Friends: Wilfred Reynolds, Lucy Davenport, and Annette Reynolds, which met weekly to pray together. We were all devout Christians.
1998—was asked to give the Plummer Lecture at Illinois Yearly Meeting which was a call to Friends to return to Christ. Clance Wilson, a returning elder to Clear Creek Meeting, heard my message and asked me to “become his minister.”
1998—went to Louise Wilson in Virginia Beach for confirmation of my calling into ministry. At that time, I was facing strong resistance to my being a “called Christian minister” in a post-Christian meeting. She assured me that I should go forward.
2003—was called to serve as clerk of Illinois Yearly Meeting (ILYM) during a period of organizational and building restoration.
2005—was called to serve as ILYM Field Secretary.
2008—resigned my membership in my Quaker meeting because of strong resistance to my Christian ministry.
2009—asked for clearness to become a member of Southern Illinois Quaker Meeting. I was graciously received into membership even though several attendees said that they were atheists. They recorded my ministry even though I had not requested it. Then I moved to Carbondale and entered graduate school [2000 – to date). I have traveled among Friends of all branches in America.
2013—was invited to be the plenary speaker at Ohio Valley Yearly Meeting in 2013. I met Pamela Richards who later became my constant traveling ministry companion.
2014—was invited to travel to speak at the Menucha Women’s Conference in Portland, Oregon. “Wilt Thou Go with Me on My Errand?” was the theme—traveling ministry. This conference of Unprogrammed and Evangelical Women of the Northwest have been meeting for years to bridge the cultural religious gap. Lucy and I spoke together of our experience with Louise Wilson and how each of us had found difficulties in bringing forth our ministries. Below, in brief, is what I said to the Menucha Women: I have named my story “Set Apart by God.”
I told them my life story. It concerns my receiving a leading in 1985 to become a called minister for Christ. I was then a member of an unprogrammed Quaker meeting where I faced another door that did not open to me.
“The time has come,” said God, “for you to come away and be alone with Me for a while.” I wrestled with this thought like Jacob with the angel. I was to be given a new name if I succeeded in this wrestling match with my God. Did I want to be renamed? I knew in my heart that I would be set apart from all that I had come to love in my life if I accepted the name of God’s Child. The path ahead was murky and uncertain and caused me to tremble with fear. At that moment, a brilliant light appeared showing me the way forward. It was Jesus, my guide and my teacher, leading me one step at a time. My fear began to leave me.
Then I told them about the challenges that I had encountered in recording my ministry and my encounters with Louise Wilson who encouraged me to keep going forward. I finally found an open door among Friends in Southern Illinois Quaker Meeting. Several people asked me for copies of my travel minute because they too were looking for a way to go forth, and it spoke to them of their own struggles to have their gifts acknowledged.
All around the conference room on the final day of the retreat I could hear the voices of Quaker women of all ages, all stages of life, singing with great joy and gusto:
Oh let us sing, sing till the power of the Lord comes down,
Oh let us sing, sing till the power of the Lord comes down,
Lift up your voice, be not afraid,
And sing till the power of the Lord comes down
2016—I was invited by my friend Mariellen Gilpin to attend my first WCTS Mystics Reunion in Chicago. At the end of the retreat, Michael Resman asked me to create a design for a Ministers and Elders Retreat. At the moment he asked me, I knew this would call forth all of my experiences as a Friend. I said, “Yes,” and immediately consulted Pamela Richards, my traveling ministry companion.

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