After 25 years as a computer programmer, Mark Helpsmeet realized in 2005 that it wasn’t what he felt called to do. With help from his Quaker community, he discovered he was led to start a radio show on a small local station. Today his show Northern Spirit Radio is broadcast on over 32 stations nationwide.
Some of my most powerful experiences doing the programming of Northern Spirit Radio have been with people who seemed unlikely ministers, unlikely people to testify. Sometimes they’ve been extremely reluctant to be recorded; they’re very shy.
I remember one woman who had never shared her music with anyone else, and I invited it forth and she broke into tears when she realized that I was actually hearing her and seeing her work and recognizing it, because that doesn’t happen so much. We flit on by and we go with the noisy distractions.
A Quaker Ministry of Radio
I’m Mark Judkins Helpsmeet, and I’m a member of Eau Claire Friends Meeting, that’s in Wisconsin. Founder of Northern Spirit Radio, which is really the fulfillment of the work of my life.
Northern Spirit Radio was founded back in 2005. What happened is I had been working as a computer programmer consultant for a number of years, was clearly not called to be it in spite of the fact that I’d done it for more than 25 years. I was led in some other direction but I didn’t know what that direction was. And a clearness committee was set up in my monthly meeting to find what I’m called to do with my life.
As part of that process, the request came in from the outer world in two different directions that said, “We have a startup radio station. Would you like to do a program on it on activism? We’ve considered other people; we’d like to have something kind of religious on Sunday but we don’t want it to be religious.” So Quakers are kind of good at walking that line. And so, “would you like to do something about activism?”
So in 2005 when clearness came to me, I offered to do this program on my local radio station, a low-power station in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and I did two programs to start. One is called Spirit in Action, and one is called Song of the Soul.
A Ministry of Listening
The focus is different from many other radio programs in that, for me, what it is is a ministry of listening. I am attempting to invite people through the radio programs to their experience of the eternal, to synch to that which is eternal. So that’s a question I’m always asking myself whatever we’re talking about is: “How can I lead this person to that which is eternal?”
The work of Northern Spirit Radio feels me to completely Quakerly—coming straight from the Quaker way—in that it’s really a ministry of listening. It’s really trying to find that of light and that of God in other people, and invite it out, put it in public. So that feels to me essentially Quaker, particularly in the sense that we don’t put someone else in front as “the person” to do ministry. We see that ministry and light present in everyone. So when I sit down and do my radio programs, what I’m trying to do is say, “You share what your ministry is. Let’s hold that in common so that we can raise each other up.”
So I think it is in fact a ministry, but not a ministry where it’s my words, but a ministry where I invite other people’s words. The ministry isn’t about me talking; it’s about me listening in the right way to invite the words in the center out of other people.
A Growing Ministry
When I started broadcasting Northern Spirit Radio programs, both Spirit in Action and Song of the Soul, they were just on the small low-power station in Eau Claire and I think as of yesterday I recognized that we’re up to 32 stations nationwide. You can listen on them, via the point where they broadcast it, or you can listen anytime on NorthernSpiritRadio.org.
The views expressed in this video are of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Friends Journal or its collaborators.
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- Mark Helpsmeet calls his radio show a “ministry of listening.” What does he mean? Have you ever experienced someone listening to you so deeply that it felt like a ministry?
- Mark said that after 25 years, he realized he wasn’t called to be a computer programmer. Do you feel called to do the work that you are currently doing? Have you ever thought of organizing a clearness committee in your meeting to discuss it?