Walk Humbly, Serve Boldly (review)

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Walk Humbly, Serve Boldly: Modern Quakers as Everyday Prophets
by Marjory Post Abbott
reviewed by David Tucker

Friend Marjory Post Abbott wants modern Quakers to embrace their prophetic voices. While such a call to action might sound like a daunting challenge – the word “prophetic” does tend to imply something grand and anachronistic to our time – instead, Abbott’s 2018 book, Walk Humbly, Serve Boldly, tells us that prophecy can be ordinary and achievable, if it is approached as a gradual journey. Similarly, this book is also best approached as a gradual journey.

Bearing the subtitle “Modern Quakers as Everyday Prophets,” Walk Humbly, Serve Boldly is the product of Abbott’s years of formal travel and writing in the ministry. It is a call to action, a demand for internal reflection, a guidebook, and a love letter to the variety of Quaker experiences and Friends she has encountered along the way.

Beginning from an understanding that Friends are “everyday prophets” because we “seek to pay attention to the nudges and visions of the Spirit on a daily (or even minute-by-minute) basis,” Abbott takes the reader through thirty-eight chapters that dissect the call and challenge of prophetic ministry. Throughout this book, she reiterates the idea that prophetic ministry can be ordinary; it is not restricted to bold expressions of visions from God; and yet, everyday ministry is no less profound. Abbott recognizes the burden of expectations attached to the word “prophet” and encourages us to “create the conditions that support individual and community witness.” Her concern stems from a belief that prophetic ministry – be it speech, action, leadership, witness, or writing – is critically needed in our time, if we are to alter the dangerous trajectory of our twenty-first century world. Through prophetic ministry, we can name a “new vision of humanity,” enabled by lives lived in love and responsibility toward one another.

As an individual Friend, I came away from Walk Humbly, Serve Boldly with the perspective that my own prophetic ministry will evolve over time and that global Friends are a wellspring of comfort and guidance. I loved this description of prophetic ministry from Mary Lord of Baltimore Yearly Meeting: prophetic ministry “is a life journey of being shaped, molded, healed, broken, and healed [again] until one is taken over willingly (always we are asked to consent) to the Divine Will.” The lessons of our ordinary lives, when listened for in the right conditions, let the Divine build our gifts.

Seeking to apply such lessons to the work of Quaker meetings, I found great depth in the middle section of the book, “Being Part of the Whole.” This section elucidates the ways that we must hold one another to account and push our meetings towards prophetic work, despite our desires for niceness or expediency. Abbott reminds us that prophets neither stand over the rest of us nor do they stand alone. Rather, they are part of a “covenant triangle consisting of God, the faith community, and the prophet,” as a quote from Lloyd lee Wilson explains.

Taken as a whole, this book is lengthy and dense; if one tries to take it in all at once, the distinctions between chapters and the depth and passion of the content will lose their gravity. Instead, I advise you to approach this book as a daily devotional, or as a reference for personal prophetic growth, or as a resource of texts to inspire discussions and spiritual grounding in your Quaker meeting. A gradual approach to reading this book will allow greater appreciation of the many dimensions of prophetic ministry that Abbott has described and will let you soak in the wisdom of the many Friends whom Abbott has sourced. Each chapter concludes with a series of helpful queries. 

At this time in history, especially as the pandemic has often shrunk our world to a room and a screen, with multiple existential threats confronting humanity, we might feel tempted to retreat into ourselves and to scale back our ministry and mission. We must not do that. Take heart in the power of prophetic ministry, emerging in every age and every condition. Take joy in our Global Faith Community, which Abbott has assembled together in this guidebook to support us.  ~~~

David Tucker is a curious spirit, marketing strategist, and reluctant “millennial.” He holds membership at Scarsdale Friends Meeting (NYYM) and currently attends Palo Alto Friends Meeting (PacYM).

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