Messages to Meetings
written by Brian Drayton
reviewed by Margaret Kelso
For Christians, epistolary writing (letter writing) dates back to the Apostles and early church fathers, who visited fledgling Christian communities to offer support, encouragement, and correction, which they later continued by way of writing. In like manner, Brian Drayton, a traveling Quaker minister, has written letters to Quaker meetings he has served. He explains that he wrote these out of a sense of “unfinished business” and “motions of love.” Messages to Meetings is a collection of some of these letters, some relevant blog posts, and even notes from some of Drayton’s vocal ministry.
Among the topics in this book, Drayton writes about awe, unity, discerning gifts, gospel ministry, and climate change. Although he addresses particular meetings with specific issues, any reader can benefit from his insights. One letter to a gathering of ministering Friends about their work, offers advice for all: “. . .the call is for us all to bear fruit, each according to our kind, and to give thanks to God for it.”
Drayton’s letter on climate change is topical and insightful. By profession, he is a plant ecologist and sees the climate crisis through the lens of a biologist as well as a Christian. He names climate change as a spiritual challenge because it requires us to grow beyond our current spiritual beliefs and habits. He is clear-eyed about the future and its losses, “My grandchildren will see humans struggling in an impoverished world, with consequences unfolding for societies, economies, cultures, governments, and families.” He advises Quakers to face the desolation, grief, and alarm of the climate crisis and to give up false hope. “It may be that our calling as a people is to be intentional about descending into the depths as we encounter them and then waiting there for the power to call out in thanksgiving and in a hope that lives without any illusion of control.”
Drayton’s letter on “Unity, Disunity, and Diversity” alone justifies this book’s placement on any meetinghouse bookshelf. Addressed to New England Friends, he writes: “Diversity and disagreement are not the same as disunity, and there is no reason why they should not coexist with unity.” With insight and gentleness, Drayton counsels us on these conditions. Perhaps all meetings and worship groups face disagreement at times, but Drayton tells us that disunity can bubble beneath the surface for a long time before it emerges. He offers queries for the individual and the group to use when discord arises. His stories of disunity among Friends and its resolution by movements of the Spirit are inspiring.
Drayton is well-versed in Quaker history and the Bible. He uses his own translations when he includes New Testament quotations. The writing style of epistles from the ancient world are often elegant and formal, and Drayton adopts this style at times, too. He makes frequent use of traditional Quaker and Biblical terms like “Seed,” “yoke-mate,” and “tendering.” As a traveling minister, Brian Drayton has much to offer, and now he shares his wisdom with the readers of this book. ~~~
Margaret Kelso is member of Humboldt Friends Meeting (PacYM)