Articles & News

The Deadline is Approaching…Register Now to Join the Cuba Living Letters Trip in November 2017! (11-21 November 2017)

Friends United Meeting - Fri, 06/09/2017 - 2:07pm

JUNE 14, 2017 is the deadline for the upcoming Cuba Living Letters trip! 

Register here today!

Every year in November, Cuba Yearly Meeting celebrates the arrival of the first Friends missionaries to the island. The trip includes celebrating this anniversary and intervisitation with Cuba Yearly Meeting Friends.

Here are just a few highlights from last year’s November 2016 trip…

  • Meeting in Miami and visiting with Miami Friends Church
  • Celebration and performances for the Cuban Quakerism anniversary
  • Visiting Quaker meetings and engaging with Cuban Friends
  • Exploring Cuban history in the city of Holguin
  • Learning about Cuban Quaker history around the city of Gibara

Click here to learn more or contact Click here to register today!

Categories: Articles & News

Stoking the Fire Schedule Released

Friends United Meeting - Tue, 06/06/2017 - 1:50pm

The schedule for Stoking the Fire: Claiming Spiritual Power for Transformative Action has been set! Here’s the plan:

Sunday, July 9th

Friends will arrive between 3:00 and 5:00 pm. Dinner will run from 5:30 to 7:00 pm, and then Kelly Kellum will lead the opening session.

Monday, July 10th

Morning worship will be led by Nancy McCormick from 7:00 to 8:00 am, with breakfast to follow. Jan Wood will lead the morning Plenary Session, and blocks are set aside for both meeting with Home Groups and unstructured time.

Afternoon workshops will include Being Grounded in Spiritual Practice (led by Kathryn Damiano), The Third Way: Nonviolent Resistance and Civil Disobedience (led by Leslie Manning), Prophetic Witness I (led by Dorlan Bales), and Discernment for Spirit-led Action I (led by Patricia Thomas).

After a break and dinner, Friends will re-gather for Experimental Semi-programmed Worship with Eden Grace.

Tuesday, July 11th

Morning worship will be led by Nancy McCormick from 7:00 to 8:00 am, with breakfast to follow. Jan Wood will lead the morning Plenary Session, and blocks are set aside for both meeting with Home Groups and unstructured time.

Afternoon workshops will include Quaker Social Change Ministry (led by Lucy Duncan), Music as a Grounding for Action (led by Leslie Manning and Kathy Luethje), Prophetic Witness II (led by Dorlan Bales), and Discernment for Spirit Led Action II (led by Patricia Thomas).

Wednesday, July 12th

Morning worship will be led by Nancy McCormick from 7:00 to 8:00 am, with breakfast to follow. Home Groups will meet, and then following a break the Closing Session will be led by Scott Wagoner and Kelly Kellum.

You can download the schedule as a PDF here: Stoking the Fire 2017 conference timetable 6June2017. More information, including details about childcare and scholarship assistance for Young Adult Friends, is available on our Stoking the Fire site.


Categories: Articles & News

West Richmond Friends Meeting Seeks Leadership in Pastoral Ministry and/or Religious Education

Friends United Meeting - Fri, 06/02/2017 - 10:38am

West Richmond Friends Meeting (Richmond, Indiana) requests proposals from individuals who wish to explore a calling to full-time or part-time leadership in Pastoral Ministry and/or Religious Education. We will accept proposals immediately until the opening is filled. We hope to fill the opening by July 1, 2017. For more details, see

Categories: Articles & News

Reimagining the Quaker Ecosystem: June/July Full Issue Access

Friends Journal - Thu, 06/01/2017 - 2:05am
Members can download the full PDF or read any article online (see links below). Features: “Consensus Decision Making in Eusocial Organisms” by Barbara Dale, “What We Cannot Do Alone” by Noah Merrill, “Worshiping Online” by Rachel Guaraldi, “Finally Breaking Down the Hedge?” by Thomas Hamm, “Turning Somersaults in the Quaker Ecosystem” by Margaret Fraser. Online exclusives include: “ePublishers of Truth” by Kathleen Wooten, “We Need a🔒 Friends Journal Member? Sign in here!
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Categories: Articles & News

Life, Death, and Resilience

Friends Journal - Thu, 06/01/2017 - 2:00am
Among Friends June/July 2017

In the temperate rain forests of the Pacific Northwest, which surround the cities where I grew up, death and life are a continuum. The same is true for ancient ecosystems everywhere.

These damp, lush, wild places were magical to me as a child, and they are no less so today. The giants of the Pacific Northwest’s old-growth forests are towering trees: Sitka spruce, western hemlock, Douglas fir. These forests are remarkable not only for their beauty but also for their diversity and their resilience. Scientists who study the processes at work in forest ecosystems contend that biodiversity aids in resilience. When a canopy tree dies, the hollows in its standing trunk become homes for owls, its bark fodder for insects, its roots shelter and hiding places for small mammals. Amid a carpet of ferns and lichen, young trees draw new life from the nourishment of a soil enriched by the life, activity, and death of organisms large and small, a life and power compounding since the dawn of our planet. When a tree falls, the sun’s light reaches the forest floor with a new intensity, catalyzing new growth, making room for tomorrow’s yearning limbs.

Our giants do not, need not, and must not live forever in order to nourish the ecosystems of the future. When I see Quaker systems, processes, or institutions failing to serve us now the way they seemed to serve Friends in ages past, a reflection on the life of the forest is one I find not only informative but transformative.

Our institutions are important, but as four centuries of Friends following the Quaker way have demonstrated, none has survived unchanged, unbroken. Tall trees have fallen, and we hear the crack and thrash today of more still. Species have evolved—not because our ancestors or their ways were primitive, but because adaptation is a necessity for survival. Our experience is that God, the Divine, the universal Spirit, constantly reveals truths to us directly and as a community as we practice patient listening, waiting worship, and faithful ministry. By breathing in and living out these messages, we are changed. And the forest lives.

In this issue of Friends Journal, we invite you to observe and to consider. How are new Quaker practices, processes, even institutions emerging to serve us now? How must our structures adapt? What can we learn from that which thrives within our communities? How are we ourselves adapting to the Quaker ecosystem in which we function? As a unique individual and a participant in this sacred life, what is my niche and how does my life support the life of the holy whole? We invite your reflections, dear reader. Thank you for being our companion in this walk in the woods.


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Categories: Articles & News

Forum June/July 2017

Friends Journal - Thu, 06/01/2017 - 1:55am
The steps forward Thanks for Dyresha Harris’s invitation to do more than contemplate problems (“The Shape We Take,” FJ May)—not only permission to act but the program and the very steps needed to move forward if we dare. For many of us 500 Friends who attended the 2016 White Privilege Conference, the question of what now and how is nicely laid out. And yes, there are many groups who could bring spiritual gifts. Emily Boardman Chester, N.Y. Impressed by student voices I am very impressed with the writings of the young people in the🔒 Friends Journal Member? Sign in here!
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Categories: Articles & News

Love Cannot Be Overwhelmed

Friends Journal - Thu, 06/01/2017 - 1:50am
Photo by Rob Deutscher (Flickr/bobarc, CC BY 2.0) As Quakers, we participate in a free state of universal community. That community, some of us feel, is now immersed in a dark sea of predation that includes people who do not seem to realize that unchecked predation must ultimately consume itself. For those people who would live by generosity of🔒 Friends Journal Member? Sign in here!
Not an FJ member? To read this piece, please join us today! For $28, you'll get:
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Categories: Articles & News

Consensus Decision Making in Eusocial Organisms

Friends Journal - Thu, 06/01/2017 - 1:45am

During a chaotic senior year of college, I found religion in bees. Ants held the deepest truth I had ever known, and scientific papers on slime molds (a multinucleate amoeboid plasmodia) triggered existential crises. In the spring of 2015, I wandered around Earlham College in a hazy metacognitive state, looking at how groups and ideas interact through a stolen and unabashedly misappropriated scientific lens. As I tried to pin down wily concepts for my biology comprehensive exams, finish out my service scholarship program, and manage living in an intentional community of nine people, I found a strange manic solace in the decision-making processes of eusocial organisms.

Despite my stress-induced delirium, the question that plagues all college seniors did not leave me respite: “What next?” echoed around my head throughout the semester. Due to a timely recruiting visit, I found the answer to be Quaker Voluntary Service (QVS), a radical year of faith and service that fit into my buzzing worldview.


The crux of my existentialism lay in the similarity of decision-making processes in natural organisms. In studies of slime molds, bees, ants, brains, and primate groups, I saw scientists documenting how once a buildup of evidence reaches a critical threshold, a choice is made that impacts the livelihood of an entire codependent group.

The terms “superorganism” and/or “eusocial” describe a particular type of life strategy of some species that involves a division of labor and extremely high social cooperation. Eusocial insects (some ants, bees, and termites) are considered to be superorganisms because many worker individuals do not reproduce individually. Rather, one sole delegate—the queen—carries out reproduction for the entire colony. The term superorganism denotes an understanding that though there are many bees in a hive, it is functionally a single reproductive entity. The bond of a eusocial organism is fierce because it is a group of mutually dependent (and genetically identical) individuals. They have a single, common goal: survive and reproduce.

Nest Site Decisions—A Consensus

There is a joy I find in nest site decisions that I will share with anyone who asks, and with many who don’t. A eusocial insect group’s decision on nest site beautifully highlights a moment in which the colony relies on the transfer of knowledge from a few informed individuals to the clueless colony in order to create an accurate, cohesive movement vital to their success. This phenomenon provides a unique area of study in decision making, allowing for insights on universal themes, such as speed-accuracy tradeoffs in a decentralized system.

Small, rock-dwelling ants (Temnothorax albipennis) often have their homes disrupted. When a rock is overturned, scouts rush out into the world to inspect potential new sites. A worker finds an opportunity, runs back to the colony, and recruits another individual to come look at her discovery. (This is called tandem running.) The recruit looks at the site and makes an assessment. If she, too, finds it to be exciting, she’ll run back and begin recruiting. This is a positive feedback loop of information. Once there is a critical threshold of excited individuals (a quorum) running back and forth between the old site and the potential new home, the entire nest emigrates to this new, happy home.

Similarly, honey bees (Apis mellifera) recruit their sisters to new hive sites through an extremely cute method of communication called “waggle dancing.” The higher the quality of the potential new home, the more enthusiastically the bees waggle their abdomens and, consequently, the faster they are able to recruit and hit that threshold for emigration.

A vital aspect of these decision-making processes is that scouts recruit other workers to a site, but all scouts actually inspect the potential site for themselves before becoming recruiters. Through this amazing process, individual assessments are translated through the group to make a collective decision.

My Recruitment into QVS

In the midst of my stressful final semester, I was in charge of trying to dispel an alarming sense of apathy that had overtaken the Bonner Scholars service program. At a party I attended, a freshman asked me in a slurring drunken stupor: “Do you think Bonner makes meaning out of meaningless things?” I was incensed by this question and felt the need to bring to the attention of my peers the fact that they had skin in the game: finding meaning in service is the job of the individuals involved. The structure of the Bonner program existed for them to use and personalize, not to exploit for its financial benefits and then bemoan. I stood in front of some 50 pairs of eyeballs and asked questions, trying to spur communication and a sense of responsibility for the state of things. There was some lack of oversight going on, but that meant there was room to reclaim the narrative.

That night Ross Hennessy, QVS’s Philadelphia coordinator and part-time recruiter, was sitting in the back of the room. He got in front of our agitated group and began talking about why we might choose to be in community. Do we want to be a part of a system that is self-affirming, or something that is challenging? He lifted up the value of being confronted by people you love, and I saw the hum of bees in that idea. Feedback loops circled through my neuron system, and I fairly well made up my mind that the QVS program was going to be the right decision for me.

Quaker Voluntary Service: My Household Is a Superorganism

The cohesion of an ant group (and most social groups) is genetic, but the interconnection I found in Quaker Voluntary Service is ideological. I lived with seven other people for one year in the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia. We all worked at nonprofits in the city, coming home at night to cook dinner, do our chores, talk at length, and sleep.

In our “nest” there was a common commitment to the process we would use to explore our year together, and inescapable proximity to cooperative ideas and information sharing. I saw our communal narrative as a collective decision. If I tell you a story of injustice, am I not recruiting you into a different worldview? During my year in QVS I found that, in unbeknownst alliance with my admiration for eusocial insects, Quakerism theologically encourages individual assessment and transfer of information to the group.

Our house was often in conflict with competing ideas and assessments of what to do in order to live into sustained movement toward a better world. How much “self-care” is needed? What are the boundaries of community? How much space do men take up in this group? We pushed and shoved, ideologically. Sometimes, we agreed. I found beauty in the averaging, resilience in the skirmish. The divinity in my year of simple living existed in the positive and negative feedback of my housemates.

Speed vs. Accuracy Tradeoff: Quakers and Racial Justice

For house-hunting ants, harsh conditions during nest emigration make speed essential. One group of scientists found that quorum thresholds, or the number of individuals needed to make a decision, are lowered in Leptothorax albipennis colonies exposed to wind, and that these ants were less discriminating between sites. In contrast, in the presence of calm weather, the control groups were able to choose the best site at their leisure.

We cannot talk about consensus decision making without recognizing the excruciation found in hours-long deliberation over a collective choice. Quakers try to incorporate all opinions, giving each equal weight and recognition, and that can really take forever. This is laughable when we consider the question of which color to paint the walls, but can be problematic for a more serious decision, such as how to respond to racial injustice.

I have heard negative experiences trickle through the grapevine of my housemates. While advocating for racial justice within the Religious Society of Friends, they have come into cultural clashes with larger systems of Quakers, some of who cry out against movement because it is “not in their language”: not in the language of peace, inclusion, and tolerance. There seems to be a desire within Quakerism to choose the best way to move forward calmly, deliberately, accurately, and at leisure. When I told a black woman Friend that I was attending the White Privilege Conference, she responded with something along the lines of “Why do you white people need to keep talking to yourselves in rooms? Just do something!”

At the same time I was studying ants and their choices, I came upon an article that was being read by a classmate in a women’s and gender studies class: Audre Lorde’s reflections on anger. Her first example of how her voice as a black woman had been delegitimized by white women (even those “on her side”) is pertinent to the predicament of the larger structures of Quakerism today, and reflects a speed vs. accuracy tradeoff we face as an American society:

I speak out of direct and particular anger at an academic conference, and a white woman says, “Tell me how you feel, but don’t say it too harshly or I cannot hear you.” But is it my manner that keeps her from hearing, or the threat of a message that her life may change?

Lorde states later: “Anger is loaded with information and energy.” In the long negotiations of peaceful white folks, we are not able to hear the information and energy of the oppressed. A few Quakers of color and some white allies are unduly burdened in trying to drag the body to the living edge of radical faith. I am worried that Quakers will deliberate for too long as they wait in silence for the correct choice, all the while perhaps ignoring those they “cannot hear” due to harshness or the threat it poses to comfort. There is insidious white supremacy inherent in a religion largely comprised of the input of white individuals, and it often manifests as systemic complacency. This occurs while maintaining a high-minded narrative of being on the correct side of history.

There are some times when it is important to be quick, and other times when time is needed to be precisely accurate. In our current, stressful sociopolitical environment, it is necessary to be swift in listening to the energy of the individuals in our group who are angry, who need our help. I hope that the larger Religious Society of Friends can coalesce around the choice to support people of color however they can, to admit to systemic white supremacy, and to act in accordance with anti-racist principles.

The Relationship Between the Individual and the Group

Quakerism has been an important structure for me to learn in and from. I still live with housemates from QVS, and I feel clued into something larger than myself through my relationships with them. This household of former QVS participants still feels right to me in a way that the entirety of Quakerism and its social baggage does not yet. I have confidence that somehow the radical love and commitment to justice I find in my house is being translated and manifested into society through our individual efforts. I believe in the power and energy of an idea, like a waggle dance, to recruit. In my existential world of ants and bees, ideas don’t even necessarily live entirely in our brains or bodies but rather somewhere in the space between tandem running and Spirit. I have faith that, despite all odds, we will choose a more inclusive and just society than exists today.

The post Consensus Decision Making in Eusocial Organisms appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

What We Cannot Do Alone

Friends Journal - Thu, 06/01/2017 - 1:40am

Image by Freshidea

But are [these] two diverse aims inconsistent and exclusive? Is it not possible to have both aims united in a larger synthesis? May we not become efficient in fact just because we have succeeded in finding God? Can we not be flooded with the consciousness of God and at the same time perfect some form of organization that will be the effective body and instrument of that experience?

That is the goal of this search.

—Rufus Jones, New Studies in Mystical Religion (1909)

I am as convinced as ever of the invitation and challenge before us. In the 1650s, the Quaker movement came together when it seemed the world was coming apart—a time very much like our own. These times call for no less courage, resilience, and vision.

If we can rediscover, reclaim, and reinterpret the gifts our tradition offers to encourage faithfulness in the context of today’s needs, Friends can make a precious contribution for the future of our planet. We have much to do to more fully take our place alongside all who are seeking and living a way of deep hope and love in a time of turmoil, separation, and fear in our world.

We need to renew our openness to bold vision. We need to be ever more clear about the Life and Power we are inviting people to discover and encounter. We need to help one another to know and abide in that Life and Power ourselves. And we need to deepen our shared work to reclaim and renew our institutions.

What follows are field notes from my experience serving at the intersection of institutional leadership and renewal in the Quaker movement. I hope this reflection might offer encouragement to your work of exploration and discovery in your own context: your local meeting, yearly meeting, other Friends institution, or in some new garden where you find yourself called to labor. I hope it will kindle something, stir something. It’s time to engage with our institutions in fresh ways.

Focus on Quaker institutions—really?

Facing the challenges in the United States and in our wider world, it’s easy to see how it could seem short-sighted, selfish, and privileged to devote energy to something as seemingly inward-looking as the present and future vitality of Quaker institutions. But I believe that movements need tools, and that’s what institutions are, essentially. The usefulness of tools depends not on their form but on how well they function—how well they serve the purpose for which they were made. And just like keeping a hoe sharp to help with the coming year’s garden, how we care for our tools matters.

It is through our institutions that we govern, administer, serve, and strengthen the Quaker movement. The integrity, strength, and vitality of these institutions affects our witness in the world: the inclusivity and depth of the welcome we offer, the boldness and vitality of our ministry, and the ways we relate and witness. Our shared values and behaviors as faith communities are shaped by these institutions: they influence where we invest our attention, our time, and our resources—ultimately, where we give our love and find our common life.

Stories of institutional decline, struggle, and crisis have become a common narrative among Friends in recent years: exhaustion of leadership, internecine conflict, budget shortfalls, declining membership, challenges with generational transitions, obstacles to diversity and inclusion, poor management, and lack of volunteers to serve in the many committee roles that need to be filled. We see the strains at all levels and in every dimension. Some days facing these challenges seems daunting and fruitless. The truth is that many of the forms we’ve inherited aren’t serving anymore.

It can be tempting to depict the situation as a choice between having institutions and being free from them, pacifying ourselves with the idea of being Spirit-led and not having to pay attention to the burdens of administration. But that’s ultimately a false choice. As Moses understood when he shaped a new way of living for the prophetic people he led into the wilderness, institutions are inevitable. The issue is whether the institutions are the right size and in right relationship; whether they are effective, accountable, and wisely used to support and strengthen the movement, as the Spirit leads. What matters is whether they help us to be more available and responsive as instruments of God’s Love.

As changing ways of working, living, believing, belonging, and connecting spiritually reshape religious life, the need for adaptation, growth, and renewal in Friends institutions—and especially in our denominational structures—is undeniable. Much work is happening; there are signs of health and hope. But in many places, we still aren’t responding with the vigor, courage, speed, and scope of vision that renewal demands of us.

But renewal of what? What essential qualities of Friends tradition will we invest in? What will we allow to be transformed or to die so that something new can be born?

An Answer to a Question

Fundamentally, I believe that Quaker institutions arose in response to a simple question:

What is needed for this life-changing—even world-changing—spiritual movement to grow and thrive?

The first organizational forms, including the first yearly meeting, were an answer to that question. At their best, our institutions are still helping us to do together what we cannot do alone.

Searching for Roots of Renewal

I’ve come to trust that by understanding the origins of the organizational forms we’ve inherited, we can find helpful glimpses of how we might reimagine them now. Following the threads of our institutional inheritance back through time, we can discover the necessary functions these forms played and the needs they originally addressed. Keeping our eyes on the function—the life in the form—and not the form by itself, we can glean fresh insights. Our movement’s history has much to teach us as we seek to be faithful to the Spirit now.

Here’s one such glimpse: The practice of keeping membership records wasn’t part of the plan. As the movement grew, many Friends were being imprisoned or killed for their faith, and it became essential to clarify which local group of Friends would take responsibility—financial and otherwise—for caring for and educating children in the absence of their parents. From this perspective, the creation of membership rolls wasn’t originally an effort to keep a census or establish who was “in” and who was not; it was a response to oppression, adding resilience to a movement growing rapidly in numbers, spiritual vitality, and influence.

How might our changing understanding of membership today—and more deeply, of belonging and mutual responsibility—be informed by the power of the shared commitment and relationship that early Friends witness offers?

Here’s another glimpse: The Meeting for Sufferings was one of the first bodies responsible for the day-to-day governance and care of the Quaker community. It was established to provide for the time-sensitive needs of imprisoned Friends and those who suffered for the Truth. The nascent institution was created to enable Friends to respond quickly, meaningfully, and effectively to the needs of the movement. Because of the close and concrete nature of the work to be done, feedback would have been clear, direct, and immediate; learning and adaptation would have been swift. The form arose out of necessity, and form followed function.

How might our contemporary business meetings and institutional governance change if we sought to be as responsive and agile as our spiritual ancestors in embracing the challenges before us? What might we give less weight? What would we find is essential? What might we let go of?

Beneath the spiritual story of the Quaker movement, there’s a parallel story of institutions. Institutions don’t bring renewal; they aren’t the source of our hope. But they can be—in fact, must be—part of how we rediscover and embrace God’s invitation for new life today. Faithful, skillful stewardship of organizations has an essential part to play in freeing the Life among us.

Institutions are fundamentally an integration of people, money, structures, processes, capacities, values, and behaviors that are crafted and employed for a purpose. But from many of our oldest stories (Moses at Sinai, Jeremiah before the Exile, the ministry of Jesus, and early Friends witness to religious oppression), we know that institutions can become the purpose, rather than serving the purpose. Our energy, focus, and attention can be diverted to serving the organization as an end unto itself, to the detriment of the movement it was created to serve. Sometimes we get lost on our way home. Despite a self-identity as rebels and the ever-present invitation for us to be a prophetic people, it turns out we’re just as prone to this as everyone else.

But there’s good news: It’s in our spiritual DNA to renew, redeem, and reimagine our institutions. That’s how Friends got started in the first place: reclaiming the life-giving energy that kindled primitive Christianity.

And there’s more good news: there’s nothing sacred or timeless about the form of today’s Quaker institutions. We can change them; in fact, we’re always changing them, often unconsciously. The better we know our roots, the functions that the forms were created to serve and what we need from them now and going forward, the more intentional, discerning, and courageous we can be.

The foundational institutions of the Quaker movement—monthly meetings, quarterly meetings, and yearly meetings—weren’t established to take us out of our wider communities into monocultural enclaves. Early Friends were able to be so radically inclusive precisely because they were powerfully clear about the invitation they were offering. They knew what they were about, and they shared it.

The movement was kinetic: it was always in motion, realigning and reorganizing itself in response to changing conditions. It was strategic: early investments in pamphlet printing and well-positioned real estate, coupled with shrewd provocation of public controversy, demonstrate early Quakers’ keen awareness of emerging technologies and the effective use of mass communication. Friends’ organizing center at the Bull and Mouth tavern combined a base for printing and distribution of publications with a space for meetings, public preaching, worship, and religious education, all of which greatly increased their capabilities and fueled the success of the Quaker movement during its dramatic expansion into London.

Many early leaders were gifted administrators. Margaret Fell was the architect of the whole system, a powerful complement to her spiritual eldership that made her the movement’s midwife. James Nayler served for years as a military quartermaster in the war against the King before becoming one of the most influential voices of the Quaker movement. In later years, George Fox held regular office hours through which he managed and adjudicated the affairs of Friends.

The organizational structures these leaders established were intended to serve as birthing rooms, conduits, amplifiers, watering cans, and catapults for a movement at the growing edge of change and possibility for the world. Early Friends heralded and modeled the revealing of a new way of Life, Love, and Truth born from the ashes of struggle, despair, and suffering. To do this, they forged fresh tools whose form followed their function. They paired compelling vision with effective action; a great People was gathered. And the Spirit moved powerfully through it all.

What happened? Thoughts on how we got here

At the beginning of the twentieth century, Friends led by visionaries like Rufus Jones created many of the wider Quaker institutions we know today. Largely through these efforts, a divided, scattered religious society at risk of irrelevance, following the separations and decline of the previous century, was reconnected and molded into the shapes we recognize. They forged new forms to sustain and transmit the Quaker movement in their time. This was vital and needed work. And now it’s our turn, a century later, to reimagine how to reclaim and recycle the tools we’ve inherited to respond to today’s needs.

Like their religious contemporaries and the whole society, those Friends were influenced by an early twentieth-century worldview that institutions and organizations were like machines. In subsequent generations, the energy of newness and renewal that fueled their efforts has subsided; in many places an attitude of “this is how it’s always been” has set in.

In the early twenty-first century, our human community is finding in the natural world wisdom to help us re-learn what we have forgotten about living on this planet. While not losing what we’ve learned, we now need more organic, ecological, and relational ways of understanding how our institutions function and support the wider Quaker movement—the whole ecosystem. Perhaps not surprisingly, much of what we are discovering resonates deeply with far older understandings of nourishing spiritual community.

So where do we go from here?

We don’t know how this story ends. But I am convinced and daily see fresh evidence that a new vision—a new way of relating organizationally—is breaking through the numbness that sometimes clings so closely in our institutional life. It’s on its way, and already here.

There is shift happening from an industrial lens to a view that also includes an ecological or relational lens, from the institution-centric orientation to an emerging—and also much older—movement-centric one. Both are present in our Friends institutions and culture today, often in the very same space. These two ways of seeing and being show up in and shape our meetings, our institutions, our worship, our witness, and our relationships with one another. It isn’t always an either-or; both have something to offer us, and both are available. Have you seen signs of this transition?

When we can create shared vocabularies and shared understandings, we can have shared conversations. Those shared conversations can inform our discernment and decision making, and build our capacity to envision our way forward. They may allow us to be more intentional about what we’re valuing and what tradeoffs we’re making. They may help us to adapt or create fresh forms that will serve the functions we most need at this crucial time in the life of this still life-changing, world-changing spiritual movement.

We have choices before us, Friends. These choices matter more than ever. What are you daring to risk in faith? What are you learning? Please share your news, your discoveries, and your challenges. Our journey of faithfulness continues.

Now faith is the turning of dreams into deeds; it is betting your life on the unseen realities.

—Clarence Jordan’s translation of Hebrews 11:1, The Cotton Patch Gospel


Web extra:

Download a printable version of Noah Merrill’s chart.

The post What We Cannot Do Alone appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

Worshiping Online

Friends Journal - Thu, 06/01/2017 - 1:35am

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An Experiment with Online Programmed Meeting for Worship

I’m not quite sure when my fascination with religion began. I’m not even sure when I learned that there were other religions, but I do have early memories of going to meeting for worship at Stony Run Meeting in Baltimore, Maryland, and having to drive past the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen each and every Sunday.

They were next door to each other, and at some point, my First-day school class climbed the hill from our parking lot to the cathedral’s, and attended mass. I remember walking into the enormous gothic building and staring up at the extremely high ceiling. The paintings, the sculptures, the candles, the altar—each and every part of the church fascinated me. We sat quietly through the service and did not rise for communion, our First-day school teachers using that opportunity to describe to us how communion was different in our Quaker tradition. When the service was done, we tumbled back down that hill between our two parking lots and joined Quaker worship with our parents. Each Sunday thereafter, when the bells of the cathedral tolled 12, indicating the end of our worship, I would think about that church and how different it was from the simple, yellow walls and brown benches of our meetinghouse.

By the time I was in high school, my fascination with religion had led me to sing in a Baptist choir before Quaker meeting on Sundays, and attend Catholic mass at that same cathedral on Saturday nights. My time at Quaker summer camp and my attendance of Baltimore Yearly Meeting Quaker high school conferences had deepened my relationship with the tradition of waiting worship, but my thirst for more—more spirituality, more religious experience, more knowledge and understanding of religious tradition—wasn’t satisfied. An opportunity arose for me to attend Youth Quake, a national conference that no longer exists that brought together high school youth from different Quaker traditions. Encouraged by the adult leaders of my Quaker youth group, as well as my parents, my mom and I flew out to Seattle, Washington, to attend.

It was there that I experienced programmed Quaker worship for the first time. There was something in the heart of the scriptures that were read and the songs that were sung that made my body shiver. It was the same feeling when someone spoke in waiting worship and I knew that message had come from God. At Youth Quake I befriended some young people from Friendswood, Texas. They were politically and theologically different from me. I haven’t stayed in touch with them and don’t even know if they remember me. Yet this group of Friends introduced me to vocal prayer; in a time of personal difficulty, they prayed for me. I felt God’s presence in that prayer; I experienced that still, small voice in me connecting with everyone else. It was my first experience of communion.

From there, my journey took me many places to study religion in college and in graduate school. I studied Quaker faith and practice, Abrahamic traditions, Eastern religions, liberation theologies, Christian history, and spiritual formation. I’ve attended services at many different churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, and holy places. And more recently, I’ve trained as an interfaith hospital chaplain. As with most interfaith experiences, the more I’ve learned about other experiences and traditions, the more I’ve learned about myself. I’ve learned that while Quaker waiting worship is at the core of my faith and practice, unprogrammed Quaker worship does not completely satisfy my religious and spiritual hunger.

I also learned that for the first several generations of Friends, waiting worship was not the only time of spiritual focus during a Friend’s week. Friends read scripture; participated in Bible studies; and later on, influenced by the American revivalist movements, wrote and sang worship songs. In fact, the practice of preparing for worship was more than just being awake on Sunday morning; rather, it was an involved practice of integrating spiritual experience into every aspect of life.

Personally, I need more than an hour of waiting worship once a week. I’ve often supplemented Quaker worship with worship experiences of other traditions. While high liturgical services, Catholic mass, Gospel choirs, and contemplative practices have filled that need over the years, I’ve often wished that I could receive more from my Quaker tradition.

When I was a student at Earlham College and later at Earlham School of Religion, I was blessed to be able to attend First Friends Church in Richmond, Indiana, and experience programmed Quaker worship as part of a community. This has been the Quaker worship experience that has most holistically fed my spiritual needs and longing. Situated uniquely in the Quaker world at the crossroads of the liberal and programmed traditions, First Friends (now part of the New Association of Friends) offered scripture, song, a children’s message, and a sermon, in addition to waiting worship. The community was vibrant, involved in each other’s lives in healthy and positive ways, and intricately part of making worship whole on Sunday mornings.

When I moved to New England Yearly Meeting, I was hopeful to find other liberal programmed and semi-programmed meetings, but both geography and the situations of these meetings have prevented me from attending them. Indeed, the meetings themselves seem to be moving away from the programmed tradition: four out of the seven programmed meetings no longer have pastors.

Yet a hunger is emerging among Friends for creative, semi-programmed, full, and alive worship. There is an experimental semi-programmed worship group in the Boston area, and I hear from many Friends a longing to be part of a programmed or semi-programmed Quaker worship environment. More and more Friends I meet consider themselves multi-spiritual or bi-spiritual and seek to meet some of their spiritual needs in other traditions. Some are even afraid to offer vocal prayer or scripture in waiting worship, fearing that their ministry will be eldered as too programmed.

So several years ago in worship, the idea came to me to host an online programmed meeting for worship. There are several unprogrammed, waiting worship opportunities online, but to my knowledge, there are no other online programmed meetings for worship. I seasoned my leading to host an online programmed meeting for worship by talking with friends, praying, and bringing it to discernment circles. At first, it felt like a leading to supplement my Sunday waiting worship experience with scripture, song, and study. As months and years went by, I began to understand how an online programmed meeting for worship might serve the needs of others in the wider Quaker world.

Around the same time that I began publishing online programmed meeting for worship outlines, a dear friend of mine, Ashley Wilcox, started a mid-week in-person programmed meeting for worship in Atlanta, Georgia, with her friend Hannah Hill. This is a region that hasn’t historically had programmed meetings. Ashley and Hannah’s vision for this worship lifts up the voices of women and queer people, and provides an inclusive and radical place to unite Christianity and liberation theology. Their Facebook page reads that their church, the Church of Mary Magdalene, is “a place where women preach. It is a community where the voices of women, queer people, and others on the margins are centered.” They host semi-programmed Quaker worship on Wednesday nights at 7:00 p.m.

Since December of last year, I’ve written weekly posts with scripture, songs, a message, and a format for prayer and reflection. Forty-five to fifty people or more visit the site each week (“unique visitors” in tech speak). On average, my tweets about the worship are retweeted ten to fifteen times, and my posts on Facebook to various Quaker groups are reposted five to ten times. The unique online format of this programmed meeting for worship offers Friends an opportunity for programmed Quaker worship wherever they are, and is connecting Friends around the world.

From my limited data, I suspect that there are at least four different reasons people are reading or participating in the online programmed meeting for worship each week:

  1. The first group are those who are unable to go to Sunday worship. This group is perhaps the most obvious: Friends who use the online programmed meeting for worship as a substitute for going to worship in person. Some Friends live far from a Quaker meeting; some Friends have physical or medical limitations that prevent them going to meeting; some Friends work on Sundays as religious educators or in other professions; some Friends just moved to a particular area and haven’t connected with local Friends yet; and some Friends haven’t been to meeting in years but still want to stay connected with our faith tradition.
  2. Some Friends participate in the worship, or indeed just read the worship, as a preparation or supplement to their Sunday worship experience. Different elements offered speak to different people at different times. One participant wrote in a comment: “Perhaps it would help me to open myself to the song selections as I do to messages in meeting for worship: listen, feel with the messenger, then tune out the spoken words if they are not for me.”
  3. Some Friends long for connection with liturgical traditions and/or work in ecumenical settings where knowledge of the weekly scripture, as outlined by the Revised Common Lectionary, would be helpful. Connecting liturgical tradition to the Quaker experience helps Friends interact with other Christian communities as authentic and informed members of our own faith.
  4. A few of my friends who are Friends pastors and others who are preachers of other faith traditions have found the worship outlines helpful for settling into a place of contemplative worship as they prepare their own sermons. In this way, both the faith and practice of Friends has something to offer our own tradition as well as the wider religious world.

My own process in putting these worship outlines and messages together each week is grounded in worship. I often write them when my son is napping, settling into waiting worship and prayer. I then read the scripture chosen for the week as well as newsletters, emails, posts, and blogs that I’ve collected. Finally, before I begin to write, I consider the books on theology and history I have on my shelf and surround myself with voices of others. Then, as the writing unfolds, I weave together the insights on these different sources and the stories of my own life. I pause before again diving deep into that place of worship and asking God what message should emerge. Sometimes I get stuck, and I wonder if God wants me to stop writing mid-sentence. Other times the lyrics of a particular song will arise from that place of worship, and listening to it over and over unlocks another place in the soul. And as I write, I ask myself if the messages that are rising are for me or for others. I know that sometimes what comes out on the page are messages for me, but I hope that I am being faithful in my discernment of messages that are for others, too.

I have felt blessed by the comments and feedback that I have received so far from this ministry. I intend to continue the weekly posts and hope that this worshiping community will grow. I am excited to see what God has in store by bringing together Friends and seekers from around the world in this way. I am also discerning how and when to take the next steps. One possibility is to host a live programmed worship time online. I’ve also been inspired by the mid-week programmed and semi-programmed meetings for worship that are emerging, and I am discerning whether I am led to start one myself. I am bringing these ideas and questions of accountability, partnership, and support to my support committee, and expect that there is time needed to fully discern the next steps.

The post Worshiping Online appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

Finally Breaking Down the Hedge?

Friends Journal - Thu, 06/01/2017 - 1:30am

© hydebrink

It appears that Friends are again at a point of questioning whether institutions that have served well for centuries have finally become obsolete. Part of the problem may be that we are using structures that past generations of Friends created for very different purposes.

From the beginning of the Quaker movement, Friends have made decisions about acceptable conduct. The Epistle from the Elders at Balby is the best-known example of this. By the eighteenth century, these rules and advices were collected in what Friends referred to as the Discipline. Friends created rules and structures “for the exercise of a Christian care over each other for the preservation of all in unity of faith and practice” and “as an exterior hedge of preservation to us, against the many temptations and dangers to which we are exposed.” Today, my sense is that only a minority of Friends—mainly pastoral Friends and those in Ohio Yearly Meeting—are concerned with the “unity of faith and practice” that our structures were intended to uphold.

Until the late nineteenth century, it was understood that to be a Friend meant to live according to the Discipline. Some of its strictures, against dishonesty, drunkenness, and other forms of immoral behavior, would have been embraced by believers of all kinds. Others expressed distinctive Quaker beliefs, such as the prohibition on oath taking. Still others, founded on Quaker understandings of Truth, served as part of the “hedge,” most notably plainness of dress and address. Finally, Friends created a hierarchy of meetings, similar to a Presbyterian system, to maintain ties and order.

Before the mid-nineteenth century, few Friends questioned this hierarchy of Quaker business organization. It was understood that preparative meetings were subordinate to monthly meetings, monthly meetings were subordinate to quarterly meetings, and that yearly meetings represented the highest level of authority among Friends. In turn, American Friends deferred to London Yearly Meeting as “the good old mother yearly meeting,” and regarded visiting English Friends as especially favored guides.

The theological diversity that appeared among Friends after 1820 produced the first challenges to this consensus. When Orthodox Friends in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting tried to silence Elias Hicks, Hicks and his supporters perceived a clear abuse of power. It finally led them to conclude that Philadelphia Yearly Meeting had become so corrupt that a complete reorganization was necessary to return it to a sound basis. Once reorganized, however, they made only minor changes in the Discipline. They reinterpreted certain aspects of Quaker business practice, determining, for example, that a yearly meeting could not transfer a monthly meeting from one quarterly meeting to another without its consent. What distinguished Hicksites from Orthodox was the emerging Hicksite consensus that purely theological views were a matter of individual science and thus not a matter for church Discipline or disownment.

The only truly radical challenge to customary ways came in the 1840s and 1850s, when Hicksites who had embraced radical reform causes like women’s rights and nonresistance broke away, or (in their own view) were forced out to form groups of what they called Congregational or Progressive Friends. Committed to the utmost spiritual and political liberty, they effectively abolished the Discipline, ceased appointing elders or recording ministers, and regarded anyone as a member who wished to attend their meetings. Some see the Progressive Friends as forerunners of modern liberal Quakerism, although their organizations proved short-lived.

By the late nineteenth century, Hicksite Friends, while maintaining their long-standing organizational structure, had ceased to see the Discipline and the plain life as hedges against the world. Only flagrant moral failures, such as being convicted of a felony, brought disownment. By far the most common reason for loss of membership was effectively resigning it by nonattendance or joining another church. Hicksites found a new vision of religious life through forming a religious community based on commitment to the Inner Light as the highest form of religious authority and bringing the message of Christ to reality through philanthropic and humanitarian work. Thus Friends General Conference (FGC) began as Friends Union for Philanthropic Labor. Similarly, the schools under their control ceased to be “select,” limited to Quaker students and staff. By the 1910s, a few meetings were finding it desirable to employ a meeting secretary to coordinate the varied committees that meetings saw as necessary to the life of the meeting. Over the past century, meetings in FGC and independent yearly meetings, such as Pacific, have shown considerable creativity in adapting older structures. Clearness committees are a prime example.

Meanwhile, Orthodox Friends were passing through a different set of changes, which ultimately brought them, however, to a similar conclusion. They also experienced stresses in the 1840s and 1850s. Most drew closer to the larger religious culture of the United States, becoming explicitly evangelical in faith and forming links through reform and humanitarian work, ranging from antislavery to missionary societies to Sunday schools, with non-Quaker evangelicals. They became known as Gurneyites, after Joseph John Gurney, the English minister who was an articulate advocate of this vision. The minority who saw such ties as endangering Quaker peculiarity and distinctiveness became known as Wilburites. The result was another series of separations. After 1870, most Gurneyites transformed even more radically, eventually embracing pastoral ministry and a programmed form of worship. Those who could not accept such changes left to join the older Wilburite groups, forming what became known as Conservative Friends. Conservative Friends held to traditional understandings of the Discipline long after other bodies of Friends had given up on them.

Pastoral Friends mostly embraced what became in 1902 the Five Years Meeting of Friends (now Friends United Meeting). They had revised their Disciplines after 1870 to reflect their ceasing to enforce older standards of Quaker plainness and separation from “the world.” Many attempted, however, to preserve the Discipline for use against moral and theological deviations. Selling alcoholic beverages, for example, meant forfeiting one’s membership. And to challenge what were seen as fundamental Christian doctrines, such as the authority of Scripture or the Atonement, still brought disownment. But pastoral Friends were more lax on other matters. They maintained traditional statements concerning war, for example, but did not see military service as a matter for disciplinary labor but rather of individual conscience.

Over the course of the twentieth century, this drift away from organizational and disciplinary uniformity continued. One of the foundations of the Five Years Meeting had been a Uniform Discipline for its member yearly meetings. In 1950, however, diversity had become so great the Five Years Meeting gave up on a uniform doctrinal statement, and since then its yearly meetings have given up any coordination.

Still, some few Conservative Friends and many evangelical Friends (both those in Evangelical Friends International and Friends United Meeting) have continued to see yearly meetings as final guarantors of faith and practice, with the power to bring the erring into line, both for their own well-being and for maintaining a consistent Christian witness to the world. Such Friends, however, generally distinguish between essential and nonessential matters. A good example can be found in Indiana Yearly Meeting in the past decade. Some of its churches decided to allow what they called “liberty of conscience” on the matter of outward sacraments, permitting their use in their worship. This brought protests from others in the yearly meeting, but the yearly meeting was never able to agree on a response. On the other hand, when one meeting adopted a “welcoming and affirming” statement on same-sex relationships, churches where outward sacraments were used were among the most vocal in demanding sanctions from the yearly meeting. The difference proved so intractable that it led to what became known as “reconfiguration.” The meetings that desired an organization in which the yearly meeting did not have oversight powers left to form the New Association of Friends. The 15 meetings who chose thus are theologically diverse but are united in desiring maximum local autonomy. Meetings with dual affiliations feel such tensions acutely. Western Yearly Meeting is a good example. Beginning in the 1980s, meetings also affiliated with Ohio Valley or Illinois yearly meetings decided to bless same-sex unions. For Ohio Valley and Illinois, such decisions were a local matter. But for Western, they were fundamental matters of faith and practice not to be done before the yearly meeting had reached unity. The response of some Friends is to affirm diversity as a good. For others, it is to challenge the very viability of dual affiliation.

For over a century, Friends have adapted traditional structures to contemporary needs. But the breaking point may have been reached. The next decade may well show whether Friends will be able to continue.

The post Finally Breaking Down the Hedge? appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

Turning Somersaults in the Quaker Ecosystem

Friends Journal - Thu, 06/01/2017 - 1:25am
Photos courtesy of the author.   In terms of the Quaker ecosystem, I have turned somersaults. First, I had certainty; then my convictions were challenged; third, I had the rug pulled from under me. Now I live in ecological fluidity, and that’s fine. The illusion of certainty When I first became a Friend, I tried to make the Quaker system fit into my existing🔒 Friends Journal Member? Sign in here!
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The post Turning Somersaults in the Quaker Ecosystem appeared first on Friends Journal.

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