Wealth and Witness

by Bill Graustein

My present understanding of wealth and of the Light emerges from a combination of example and on the job training. I am a member of New Haven Meeting and my principal work in the world is to serve as trustee of a charitable foundation that seeks to improve elementary and preschool education in Connecticut.

I first attended Friends meeting some thirty years ago while in college in the company of a Quaker girlfriend. I continued to worship with Friends after the immediate affiliations with both the college and the girlfriend passed. The witness of individual Friends to the working of the Spirit in their lives began to illuminate the path that I was on and to allay an inherited fear of organized religion. About five years later, I discovered that meeting had become my home and I applied for membership.

Shortly after I was born, my father established the William Caspar Graustein Memorial Fund in memory of his brother. About eight years ago, as the result of the sale of a business he had started and the death of my mother, it fell to me to confront my fear of inherited wealth and to oversee a transition of the Memorial Fund from a file drawer and two phone calls a year to an office and professional staff. The outward labor of creating a program that would serve others led to a startling change in my inward understanding of the path that my family had followed. I came to understand that my father’s naming of both me and the Memorial Fund after his brother was an expression of love, although it and I have very different legacies, one of money and structure the other of love and encouragement, and we differ in the way we are present to others in the world. Three years ago, I recognized that that labor of facilitating the transition had become my vocation, and I resigned my day job doing geophysical research.

I found that establishing a charitable program is like deciding to speak in meeting for worship. A test of a leading to speak in meeting is to ask, “It this message true to my experience? Does it speak to the condition of others, or is it relevant to me alone?” A test of a charitable program is to ask, “Does it enable the participants to develop and express their own gifts or does it satisfy only the donor’s need? Is this a fitting memorial to the lives of the donors?”

The mission of the Memorial Fund is to improve the effectiveness of education in promoting personal development and leadership. For me, the purpose of education and of my work is to meet people where they are and to support and challenge them to realize what they can become. I am reminded of George Fox’s description of the purpose of Friends, “to lead men to Christ and leave them there.”

Friends’ intention is to honor the Light within each person and Friends’ practices are established so as not to hinder the discovery and expression of that Light. Listening to and learning from the stories and examples of the participants in the Memorial Fund’s program is a stated goal of the organization, for we strive to be examples of what we seek to encourage. The Advice on outreach speaks clearly to me “Let us teach by being ourselves teachable.”

When I was a child, I thought that both churches and schools were there to tell us how things were and what we should know. I think of both now as institutions that help us cope with how things change in our awareness of the Light within and in our relation with the world without. The stories of our lives are stories of how we change through inquiry, interaction, waiting and discovery. I find in mid-life that these actions do not observe a boundary between the sacred and secular.

A slightly different version of this article appeared in The New England Friend, Spring 1997.

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