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Communicating Quaker experience to connect and deepen spiritual lives
Updated: 2 weeks 3 days ago

ePublishers of Truth

Mon, 07/10/2017 - 7:00am

Swarthmoor Hall, photo Martin Kelley.

The shared lessons of strengthening a movement among Friends

My first introductions to early Friends characterized them as rebellious, Spirit-led trouble makers who brought haphazard and serious disruption to the official church of England. It seemed to me that Quaker ministers wandered forcefully and randomly into public spaces and other churches directly—without the formal training, credentials, or funding that supported the preachers of the established church of the time. I wondered how this group could have possibly survived, and in fact thrived and grown as a movement without more underlying organization. As I explored more, I learned about a strategic, direct attention to publishing tracts and books, and disseminating a high volume of printed works as well as spoken word shared by traveling ministers. In this way, this roaming band of faithful Friends was strategic, organized, and connected—and founded a movement with lasting and far-reaching influence.

What lessons can we take from this history of an early movement? As someone who travels with questions on how we connect and support faithful community in digital as well as brick-and-mortar spaces, I look at tools of communication and church-building that can be effective no matter what their platform. As my local meeting considers how to share a message, adopt a communications strategy, and faithfully carry a message of “who Quakers are” to the wider world, the call is clearly the same as what those early Friends heard. The tools are varied and different. The pervasive strategies that early Friends of the Quaker movement used hold some remarkable lessons in what we might use today in our rapidly changing, growing sense of networks and connections. In thinking more about these early Friends, I began to wonder if I could find the elements of contemporary church communication strategies in their actions.

There’s a few specific elements that help me to connect the motivations and faithful support of the Quaker movement of both early and contemporary Friends. This list of ”lessons” from these early Friends has emerged as encouragement for me, as I consider these questions of faithful message and purpose in my own meeting, wider yearly meeting, and the wider Quaker movement that we are a part of today.

1. Let the Life speak through you on all platforms.

It is adherence to the Spirit that is important. Early Friends considered their written tracts as important and representative as their preaching. This is why their publishing and distribution was both extensive, well discerned, and very controlled. Today our secular world might call that “branding.” What that really means is being consistent and recognizable in all places. We are faithful in those ways to our discipline. Then it was published tracts and preached messages—today it might just as easily be 140 characters on Twitter!

2. Have all information centralized in one place, easy to access

Friends recognized a need for a central hub for connections, dissemination of information, and standardization of publications and travel. Margaret Fell created this center for information and support at her house, Swarthmoor Hall, in North West England. Eventually this physical place housed the Kendal Fund for support of ministers. She insisted on there being a centralized address for letters and news carried by ministers. This gave the Quaker movement consistency and strength in being responsive and organized. Today? That might be our meeting website. A central place where we hold and share information with each other and the wider world, a consistent email address for new attenders to contact us and receive consistent information. We might post our minutes of importance, our spiritual messages to the world—sending them out as the early Friends did in this new way.

3. Consider how we use language publicly

Early Friends developed a careful consideration of use of language. The word “Quaker” seems to have been adopted by public ministers around 1652. Pamphlets published at this time of have the word “Quaker” in a larger font size, emphasized for consistency (usually with a “the people scorned as,” etc!). There was no mistaking when a Friend had adopted the more public (even derogatory) label to make it their own. How do we do this today? Early Friends recognized that how we present to the world is important. Consistency in describing fully who we are, either avoiding insider jargon or using it and explaining it clearly when absolutely necessary and makes sense, was their process, and should be ours. Early Friends public adoption and use of the name “Quaker” created a name for a movement recognized instantly by those outside their smaller circles.

4. Assume your reach is wider than the in-person contacts

In 1653, there were 23 Quaker pamphlets in print. By 1659 there were over 150. The sharp increase filled a need for the words of Quaker ministers to be carried beyond their in-person visits. Ministers would often share and preach from their own writings, but then would leave the writings behind for young and growing Quaker meetings. They were handed out at public meetings. The author was present to answer questions. If a need for more support and writings was sensed, Friends would write back to Margaret Fell (and George Taylor and a few others) at Swarthmoor to ask for books to be sent as soon as possible. Edward Borough, for example, found himself in Ireland in a “great want of bookes”—and writing back to Fell for more. He needed to have a consistent supplier for his tools when he needed them most.

5. Know your audience

Why would Early Friends bother to use so much print, in a world where “that of God in everyone” meant sometimes people only minimally literate would be hearing their message? Because that message was for everyone, not just the hierarchy of the state church. As Friends realized their message was being heard in written form, they increased their publications at a surprising rate. They still were preaching, and visiting in person, and gathering local meetings. Do we make those assumptions today? Do our meetings only use verbal announcements at the end of meeting? Do we speak to visual learners, digital learners, and the google calendars of all who might follow us on many platforms? We hope our message is for everyone; so how do we carry it in multiple ways, at varied times, to the audience of everyone?

6. Mobilize your volunteers

As the Quaker message spread, many newly convinced Friends were compelled to alter their very lives to be faithful to this message and movement. The seemingly haphazard lack of organization became a strategic process of sensing where ministers were needed, where there might be ears to hear, and where the Quaker Movement might grow. Ministers checked in with letters sent back to their meetings, and with letters sent to Fell, Fox, and others as coordinators of the movement. Growing meetings and newer Friends could ask for visitors to be sent to minister to their condition. This represented adept responsiveness to growing faith, wherever it had sprouted. How do we do this today? Do our meetings respond to growing and deepening faith with readings, in-person conversations, and digital resources in a timely manner?

7. Have a system in place

This “sending forth” and “hearing back” needed a codified system to be effective, even in 1650. This network emerged as crucial in growing areas of the movement. How do we do that now? Do we respond quickly to newcomers who attend more than once? Do we welcome and offer support and help to those who seem ready to grow and learn more, or become members of our society? Do we have a regular system to respond to inquiries from newcomers, and a published phone number and someone to respond promptly on social media?

8. Tell your story

Stories are what move people. How do you share yours? Early Friends knew the tales of each others’ journeys, of scripture (our “forefathers”), and carefully listened to what was emerging in the time. They shared these stories in their growing network of experience. We still are storytellers. How we share the story has expanded in breadth and depth. Why we share that story is the deep call that early Friends heard as clearly as we do today—in video, in Facebook posts, in written books and journals. Those stories have a far reach and can encourage us to find more and deepen our faith.

These lessons of early Friends help to guide my current work among Friends in sharing an eternal message in contemporary ways. It may seem that these platforms and methods are new in ways Fell and others might never have dreamed of. And yet, I suspect those Friends, in faithful adherence to the message they were given, would today find many ways to share as they did then. Early Friends innovated their systems to become a faithful people of a movement. We are still called, sometimes in ways that look very different from those of 1665, to spread that message today.

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Categories: Articles & News

Reimagining the Quaker Ecosystem: June/July Full Issue Access

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

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

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

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!
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Categories: Articles & News

Consensus Decision Making in Eusocial Organisms

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

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

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

© WavebreakMediaMicro

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.

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Categories: Articles & News

Finally Breaking Down the Hedge?

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.

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Categories: Articles & News

Turning Somersaults in the Quaker Ecosystem

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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Categories: Articles & News

After Mowing Hay

Thu, 06/01/2017 - 1:20am

after William Stafford

After a June day’s work, having driven
a diesel tractor, dodged limestones and sinkholes
hidden in the folds of earth and grass, I waited
in the shade of old maples where the house
used to stand curtained, windows screened.
Dusty with hay seed and red clay, I waited
for my return driver while the tractor cooled.

A ball of light emerged from the ridged wood,
rose and descended; circled, then engulfed me.
So immense, once it arrived, all edges disappeared.
Fireflies’ twilight. Hundreds, perhaps thousands,
dancing a golden rhythm, tapping messages—light,
no heat wasted—folding me into their world,
overlapping themselves then roving on into the meadow.

They left me standing alone in the dusk.
The last of blinking lights lingered
then melted away. Fodder lay felled in the fields;
I was but fourteen

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Categories: Articles & News

A Grace of Thanksgiving

Thu, 06/01/2017 - 1:15am
頂きます Itadakimasu (I humbly receive) We are cooking and talking about how some foods require attention and care while others are more forgiving. When things blend easily, everything flows. Lasagna, for example, is forgiving, and vegetable soup is very forgiving. Pie crust, on the other hand, is persnickety— exacting and demanding— the very definition of unforgiving🔒 Friends Journal Member? Sign in here!
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Categories: Articles & News

The Value of Seminary

Thu, 06/01/2017 - 1:10am
The author preaching at Church of Mary Magdalene on a recent Wednesday evening. Photo © Hannah Hill. “But why go to seminary?” I heard this question so many times in the months before I left for my first year of seminary. Usually, I would be sitting across the table from a weighty Friend, and the conversation would progress to how we don’t do that—Quakers don’t go to seminary. The honest🔒 Friends Journal Member? Sign in here!
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Categories: Articles & News

News, June/July 2017

Thu, 06/01/2017 - 1:05am
Albuquerque Friends provide sanctuary

Emma Membreno-Sorto sharing a statement at the March 14 press conference held at Albuquerque Meeting. Image from YouTube.

Albuquerque (N.M.) Meeting is providing sanctuary for a local woman facing the possibility of deportation or detention. Emma Membreno-Sorto came to Albuquerque Friends on March 6, and has been staying at the meetinghouse since. Membreno-Sorto, a Honduran immigrant with incomplete immigration paperwork, requested sanctuary in light of the dramatic increase in detentions and deportations by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) as a result of executive orders issued by the Trump administration that makes immigration law violations a deportable offense.

Albuquerque Meeting has been involved in sanctuary work around immigration since the 1980s. In 1984, the meeting approved a minute offering “the sanctuary of religious fellowship to refugees fleeing violence in Central America.” At that time, the meeting was involved with housing and supporting refugees as they either settled in Albuquerque or moved on to other destinations.

Thirty years later, Albuquerque Friends revisited the idea of sanctuary. Two more minutes were approved relating to sanctuary in August and November of 2014. These minutes laid the groundwork for the meeting’s involvement with the new sanctuary movement and its continuing relationship with the New Mexico Faith Coalition for Immigrant Justice, leading to its provision of sanctuary.

On March 3, members of the meeting met with the New Mexico Faith Coalition for Immigrant Justice and other local churches committed to sanctuary work. At this meeting, representatives learned of a request for sanctuary by a local woman who feared deportation or detention by ICE.

On March 5, Albuquerque Friends postponed most of the scheduled business at their business meeting to discuss the possibility of offering sanctuary at the meetinghouse. The business meeting lasted over four hours, and unity was found to offer sanctuary. The previously accepted minutes, which outlined reasons for providing sanctuary, proved very important in the discussion of this opportunity. A member of the newly formed Sanctuary Task Force said the decision to provide sanctuary housing “took four and half hours, and 34 years.” Membreno-Sorto moved into the meetinghouse on the following day.

Although the physical housing for sanctuary is being provided by Albuquerque Meeting, the meeting is not alone in supporting Membreno-Sorto. Approximately 100 volunteers from the local community, including many other local places of worship, have been trained to provide accompaniment. A volunteer is with Membreno-Sorto 24 hours a day, seven days a week. These volunteers have been trained in supporting Membreno-Sorto through sanctuary. Trainings included the legal rights of those offering sanctuary, as well as role playing on how to respond if ICE came to the door.

Additional support for the meeting has been provided by American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), through both the Albuquerque and Denver, Colo., offices. Further support was provided by Mountain View Meeting in Denver, which has been providing sanctuary since December 2016. Information and support provided by AFSC and Mountain View Friends assisted Albuquerque Meeting with the transition from discussing to providing sanctuary at their meetinghouse.

The Albuquerque Meeting press conference on providing sanctuary to Membreno-Sorto can be viewed on YouTube; go to

Friends engage in immigrant rights work

Friends across the world have expressed concerns with growing anti-immigrant attitudes and policies. In February, the Quaker United Nations Office (QUNO) published a briefing for Friends: “Protecting refugees and migrants under the New York Declaration: challenges and opportunities at the UN level.” The briefing states that QUNO’s work on behalf of refugees and migrants “stems from [their] principle to uphold the dignity and worth of every individual, regardless of their nationality or circumstance they find themselves in.”

The QUNO briefing reflects other statements that have been put out by Friends. On April 21, Mount Toby monthly meeting of Leverett, Mass. published a statement urging Massachusetts lawmakers to pass the Safe Communities Act. The act would prevent the commonwealth from creating a registry of Muslim residents, and from assisting the federal government in doing so. The article echoes the QUNO briefing in stating that Quakers “are called to love our neighbors as ourselves and cannot support the recent federal executive policies restricting immigration and accelerating deportation which put our friends, neighbors, and fellow human beings in unconscionable jeopardy.”

In addition to statements, local meetings and churches are also taking concrete actions to support immigrants and their families. Quaker meetings in Denver, Colo. and Albuquerque, N.M. have taken in people seeking sanctuary, or protection from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers. Provision of sanctuary has been a movement embraced by U.S. faith organizations since the 1980’s. At that time, churches and faith communities would offer shelter and hospitality to people fleeing violence in Central America.

Today, sanctuary has come to mean providing shelter on a church or meeting property. Although legally churches can be raided by immigration officers, it has long been practice that people taking sanctuary on the grounds of a faith community are not taken into custody. Mountain View Friends Meeting took in a family seeking sanctuary in November. The meeting had been involved with the Metro Denver Sanctuary Coalition for two years before taking in the family. In a press release, David Poundstone of Mountain View Friends said of offering sanctuary, “we cannot stand idly by and let our government threaten the integrity of families. We feel called upon to engage in civil initiative to invoke the tradition of sanctuary to protect those under threat of harm.”

Bridge Film Festival announces winners

The Bridge Film Festival features films by youth who attend a Quaker school, camp, or meeting. Film submissions for the eighteenth annual festival were due by March 15, and the judges choice awards were announced on April 18. Entries were submitted under four competitive categories: narrative, documentary, public service announcement, or new media.

Each of the entries was evaluated on its representation of the festival’s mission, which is to “provide[sic] a forum for dialog, learning, and exchange of ideas of commonality and diversity.”

A total of 19 films were submitted to the festival, from participants in three different countries. Judges evaluated the films across multiple criteria, including creativity, technical quality, and relevance to Friends. A winning film was selected from each category of submissions, and a Spirit of the Festival award was also given across submissions from all four categories.

The winner of the documentary award, Being Other, was submitted by students at George School. The film features multiracial students talking about their experiences being part of multiple cultures and navigating feelings of belonging and otherness.

In the public service announcement category, the film Be a Friend, Not a Bully was chosen. This submission came from Friends School Mullica Hill. Be a Friend, Not a Bully is a short dialogue-free piece showcasing the power of students standing up to bullies and reaching out to each other.

An LD Student’s Educational Journey was recognized in the new media category. This film was submitted by Delaware Valley Friends School. It features a student speaking about her own experiences with dyslexia and ADHD.

The award in the narrative category went to the film Simply Sophie, submitted by Tandem Friends School. This short film looks at the pressure of being a young student, and the joy that can be found outside of the classroom. Students at Tandem Friends School also submitted the film Mannequin Challenge – Peace and Stewardship. This film addresses the concepts of peace and stewardship with frozen tableaus. Mannequin Challenge – Peace and Stewardship was chosen for the Spirit of the Festival award.

The Bridge Film Festival website features a short film that announces the winners in each category, as well as showcasing festival entries and judges’ evaluations. The site also features playlists of films based on the SPICES testimonies (Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality, and Stewardship).

The videos can be viewed at

Earlham College receives $7.5 million gift

Earlham College, a Quaker university in Indiana, recently received a $7.5 million donation. The gift will go toward the school’s Earlham Plan for Integrative Collaboration (EPIC) program. The new EPIC Advantage program guarantees all junior and senior level students an opportunity to participate in a paid internship or research opportunity, beginning in summer 2017.

The money is a gift from Alan and Peg Kral Scantland of Columbus, Ohio. Both graduated from Earlham in 1974. Their gift is the largest single alumni donation to Earlham in the institution’s history. In an article published on Earlham’s website, Alan Scantland is quoted as saying that he and Peg both “have benefitted tremendously from our Earlham education,” and “are happy to support Earlham in its efforts to provide similar experiences to future students.”

EPIC began at Earlham in 2016, providing academic and career advisors to each student. EPIC aims to bring together liberal arts education with practical experiences, and to help students put their learning into practice. The EPIC program provides extensive advising and guidance. This guidance helps students find the right opportunities for their own goals. Through EPIC, students may participate in self-guided research, internships, or collaborative projects.

Earlham’s three interdisciplinary academic centers are housed in the campus’s CoLab. The three centers—global health, entrepreneurship and innovation, and social justice—promote EPIC internships and research that are focused on each center’s particular field.

The EPIC gift and the new Advantage program will offer internship and research opportunities to students who may not have had the opportunity before. With continually rising costs of tuition at colleges and universities, many students are unable to devote time to an unpaid internship, needing to spend the time at a paying job instead. The EPIC Advantage program scholarships, which can be applied toward travel and living expenses, will help students who need an active income to take full advantage of extended learning opportunities.

Oread Friends install a Little Free Library

Young Friend Gus Richardson, age 10, stands by the Little Free Library erected by Oread Meeting in Lawrence, Kans.

Oread Meeting in Lawrence, Kans., recently installed a Little Free Library outside their meetinghouse. The library is dedicated to the memory of the late Deborah (Misty) Gerner, a passionate reader, beloved member of Oread Meeting, and contributor to When the Rains Return: Toward Justice and Reconciliation in Palestine and Israel, published by American Friends Service Committee in 2004. Misty’s legacy included a donation to the meeting. In October 2016, the meeting decided to use the legacy donation to help pay the costs for constructing the Little Free Library structure.

Set beside a leafy trail next to the meetinghouse, the weatherproof wooden box is about the size of a dollhouse. Decorated by the children in First-day school, the Little Free Library is meant to entice strollers to take a book, and later return the book or leave another one.

The Little Free Library structure was crafted by Lawrence local Jo Anderson out of recycled materials, and roofed by a local roofer. Once the library was built, it was painted by the participants of Oread Friends’ First-day school. The children painted the structure in colors to match the outside of the meetinghouse. Adult members of the meeting completed the decoration by stenciling “Little Free Library” on the side of the house and attaching plaques. A plaque commemorating Misty Gerner states that she was “Friend, Scholar, Peacemaker, and Lover of Reading.” A second plaque was provided by the Little Free Library Association. The library is also registered with the Little Free Library Association, and is listed on the association’s website. The library was erected in March, and stands at a height easily accessible to children.

After the library was installed, each child in the First-day school class brought in at least one favorite book to share. They each took a turn telling the others why they chose the book they brought, and the books were all placed in the library. The library was also supplemented with additional books for adults from the meeting’s library. A guest book and pen were also placed in the library, for people to sign when they take or leave a book.

On April 30, Oread Meeting held a grand opening and reception ceremony for their new Little Free Library. The meeting invited the neighborhood through the local neighborhood association to join in celebrating the new community resource.

The post News, June/July 2017 appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

Envisioning Broader Quaker Membership

Thu, 06/01/2017 - 12:30am

via Flickr/anyjazz65


The Alternate Pathways to Membership Working Group was formed semi-spontaneously in New York Yearly Meeting, and was formally taken under the care of the Ministry Coordinating Committee in November 2016. We have seven active members.

Our work is to discern whether we may be led to recommend one or more alternate pathways to membership within the Religious Society of Friends—and if so, what those recommendations might be. As we’ve explored the membership process, it’s become obvious that the question, “How do we approve and accept new members?” is inseparable from other questions, such as, “What does membership mean?,” “What is a monthly meeting for?,” and “How do Friends care for one another?”

We’ve discovered a need to begin with stories—the personal stories of Friends, plus the historical stories surrounding our current membership practices. In deep listening to all of these pieces, we begin to understand our collective story and how Spirit might guide us next.

Here we present two of our own stories. What common themes do you hear? Where do the stories diverge? What questions rise up in you?

Emily’s story

My yearly meeting has gathered in the same place every summer for the past 60 years. In 2014, I discovered that if I slipped into the auditorium after breakfast, but before worship sharing, I could have the space to myself for ten whole minutes. I used this time to stand on the stage and look out over the empty wooden seats. I’d imagine all the generations of Friends who came before me, and I’d envision all the generations of Friends still to come. It felt like holding hands across time. It felt like communing with family.

I was not born a Friend, but I knew as a child that my parents’ faith wasn’t mine. I started seeking at age ten and found Quakers at 27. When I finally found Friends, the sensation was one of finding home.

That’s why I applied for membership so quickly. It took ten months, and only that long because I couldn’t figure out who to ask. I wanted to claim my people and to be counted among them.

I always thought of membership as joining the worldwide body of Friends. I had a nice local meeting, and I loved the people there, but this was more, a big thing we were doing around the world all together. After I’d been a Friend awhile, somebody gave me historical language to describe that thing. We were a covenant community, given to one another by God, charged with establishing the kingdom of God on earth. And that moment that I remembered so vividly—October 10, 2010, when the clerk had asked, “Do we accept Emily into membership?” and the body had chorused, “APPROVED!”—that was the moment I had joined the covenant, and the moment the meeting had reaffirmed it.

Or had they?

Shortly after becoming a member, I threw myself into travel and study. I attended conferences, asked questions, worshiped with Friends from far away, and read everything I could find. I began to know more about traditional Quaker understandings. More importantly, I began to experience all that came from the practice of traditional Quakerism.

For example, I began to learn what it meant to “establish the kingdom of God on earth.” I learned that it wasn’t just about protesting wars and advocating for climate justice, though of course Friends’ witness in the world was imperative. It was also about practicing long-term mutual commitments, about learning the sorts of skills required to coexist in a meeting with the most annoying person you’ve ever met—not just to coexist, but to voluntarily enter into a process, again and again, in which you and that person mutually seek to discern the will of God. Only by practicing these skills among ourselves can we ever hope to help bring them to the world.

Still later, I learned about spiritual accountability. “Have you established a daily spiritual practice?” elders asked me. “Are you being faithful to Spirit’s call?” When I found myself doing more work among Friends, some of those same elders said, “Have you asked your meeting for a support committee?” and “Do you carry a travel minute?” They explained that ministry must be rooted in your meeting, and that this is why we have local meetings—for mutual support and accountability.

When I first became a Friend, I’d assumed that we had monthly meetings because we needed geographically convenient groups to worship with. But now I understood that my membership within my local meeting was an important part of the covenant, equal to marriage in solemnity and level of commitment. I was responsible for the other members of my meeting, responsible for helping them to be faithful—and they were equally responsible for me.

And this is why I can have the traditional-membership-versus-alternate-membership argument all by myself, internally. Because nobody in my meeting ever told me these things—not about the covenant, not about practicing the establishment of the kingdom of God, and certainly not about mutual spiritual accountability. They didn’t tell me because most of them didn’t know. They themselves had never been taught these things. So how is it possible, when they accepted me as a member of the meeting, that they were reaffirming the covenant, if neither they nor I knew that was what we were doing?

What I know now, experientially, is that membership in a meeting exists because God gives us to a specific community of people so that we might worship with one another, commit to one another, care for one another, and know one another in that which is eternal so that we can have the conversations about personal faithfulness and accountability—the kinds of conversations that we simply don’t have with occasional acquaintances. And I cannot imagine how Quakers who are not fully committed—covenanted—to a local community could have this vital, long-term, mutual relationship.

Yet here’s the question I find myself asking: when many, perhaps most, local meetings are not fully engaging in the meaning and practice of membership and covenant community, when many or most Friends don’t even know about these traditional concepts, or else reject them, and when Friends I love are telling me that traditional membership is either not possible or not relevant in their circumstances, then is God really asking me to hold to traditional membership?

I do not know the answer yet.

Jennifer’s story

I have always identified Quaker. I have not, however, felt true connection with a monthly meeting. As a twelfth-generation Friend born into a family that moved frequently, I was never in a meeting long enough to gain a true sense of connection. My spiritual home became New England Yearly Meeting. I attended every year, became deeply involved in junior young Friends and young Friends, and by high school never missed a monthly retreat. I also attended Friends Camp in Maine during summers. The community gained within those circles is incredibly transformative and will last my lifetime.

Some of my family had, at one time, strong connections with monthly meetings. Over the generations they even helped establish some. By the last three generations, my family lived internationally, and membership in a monthly meeting meant accommodating to what was available in places that often had very few monthly meetings, far apart. My mother attended seven monthly meetings before she married. I attended four by the time I was nine.

After finishing my undergraduate work I began a career that placed me in an office most Sunday mornings. My family did not express concern over this, as they had faced challenges of their own regarding attendance. I kept my faith strong in other ways through volunteer work, mediations, assisting others in exploring connection to source, and activism. I witnessed and was witnessed to in the ways my life could accommodate.

Throughout these times I retained membership at a monthly meeting—one I had not attended in many years. I did so not because of a connection to the meeting itself, but because I could not imagine the loss of card-carrying Quaker membership. I struggled with that choice and the discord within. Attending a Quaker function often meant this monthly meeting boldly displayed on my nametag. In conversation, the introductory question was often which meeting I attended.

It was a difficult position to be in. I felt my connection points lay elsewhere, and this label did not adequately express my relation to, nor my understanding of, being a Quaker in the world. After reconnecting with more childhood young Friends at a retreat in 2015, I realized my circumstances were not unique. Many of us felt a tug-of-war surrounding our identification with membership. We understood that today’s society is often one of frequent travel and relocation. We often live far from the places to which we identify, and we yearn for a way to feel properly represented as the Quakers we are.

Joining the Alternative Pathways to Membership Working Group was something I was deeply led to do, and I am grateful for the opportunity. Through this work I am reminded that Quakerism means we adjust and change as times and perspectives become clearer. Hearing a wide variety of experiences has been grounding. I can more clearly understand not only the reasons for my situation, but also how connection to a monthly meeting can provide many people with a spiritually grounding, uplifting, and supportive base.

This new lens gave me appreciation for the space provided within monthly meetings, and I began the process to move my membership to the meeting I attend when able—Fifteenth Street Meeting in Manhattan. Yet I am still operating within the one path available to me. I wish for others.

There are great struggles associated with having just one seated connection. I know my core identity within Quakerism is not the loving spot in which I corporeally worship when I am able. I see Quakerism’s boundaries, and they worry me. Many in my generation have moved on from membership due to the struggle of being mislabeled and misunderstood. I want those voices heard.

Ask yourself; does anything within this resonate for you? Could a loved one be experiencing this? Perhaps an oft-missing member of your meeting? Think about other Quaker entities you connect with. What sense of relation do you feel to them? Could you imagine other gateways to Quakerism? What would happen if you lived too far away from a monthly meeting? What if you’d stepped into a few local meetings but none felt right? What if you attended many a Quaker conference, session, and workshop but never felt a leading to connect with a meeting. What if you were too overloaded with work and child-rearing to attend a meeting with any regularity? How else might you connect to source and communion with others?

As Friends we seek. As seekers we have a duty to give all those who seek a connection that sits right within them. We must find these ways.

The Alternative Pathways to Membership Working Group needs your story. What has membership meant, or not meant, in your journey as a Friend?

The post Envisioning Broader Quaker Membership appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

It Breaks My Heart

Thu, 06/01/2017 - 12:30am

Via Flickr/revdave


I recently watched a QuakerSpeak video by Colin Saxton, the general secretary of Friends United Meeting (an international organization of the Religious Society of Friends) and was struck again by the wonderful explanation of the Friends’ belief that Christ dwells within each of us and is our spiritual teacher and guide if we allow it.

The fractured nature of the Quaker community breaks my heart. If we truly believe that Christ is our teacher and guide why are we not listening to that inner voice? Why are we not living the testimonies that we claim?

Fear and anger are the two most destructive forces within the human lexicon of emotion. The Bible says over and over again, “do not fear,” yet that is where we constantly take ourselves. Fear creates the feeling of being threatened by “the other” and human nature creates an overwhelming need to defend ourselves. This need to prove that we are right and the other is wrong has created the most damage the world has ever experienced.

I have been a deeply spiritual person from my earliest memories as a child. My personal journey is marked with dissatisfaction with organized church; raised Lutheran, a short foray into a Full Gospel Student Fellowship, many years outside church, Methodist, and finally Quaker. Every time I have embraced a group and felt it might be a place to seek spiritual truth and find comfort and support, I have been disappointed, yet have never wavered in my knowledge that God is One. I know that people who attend church are sinners and flawed but I long—no, yearn—for a spiritual community that accepts and loves each other for who each person is, and for and where they are in their journey.

I thought I had found that in a Quaker meeting. The writings of the early Quakers George Fox, Isaac Penington, Margaret Fell, and John Woolman spoke truth to me, and later writers did as well: Caroline Stephen, Thomas Kelly, and Rufus Jones caused my heart to soar. The people of this meeting greeted my family warmly and drew us into their embrace. We felt loved and wanted. We participated gladly in all activities and got involved at the yearly meeting level as well. I thought I had at last found my spiritual community and home. I knew I was more liberal politically and in some of my interpretations of scripture than the majority in this rural meeting but I did not get the sense of being an outsider. I respected their opinions and spoke what was being revealed to me from my meditations and spiritual explorations as it seemed appropriate.

Then things began to change.

I felt restless when the open (silent) worship portion of the service was often cut short to accommodate all the other things: special music, a guest speaker, youth skits, announcements. That space of quiet seemed to become shorter and shorter. But I loved these people and if that made them happy, I would spend more time in silent listening at home. I sensed that sometimes when I asked earnest questions to learn why others believed made them uncomfortable.

With a new pastor who was not from a Quaker background, things changed even more. The fear of the world and the way things are was emphasized and encouraged. The “end times” were discussed often and with great drama. I heard more negative tone in what was said about that awful world “out there” and how we must guard against it and keep our children insulated and isolated from its evil influence. We began to teach them to fear the world rather than to walk within the inner light of Christ with as perfect a love as we can muster. All educators were portrayed as secular humanists intent on tearing our children away from our belief in God (not necessarily the child’s; it was about preserving what “we” believe) and we must fear it and fight against this influence. It was insisted upon that the Bible must be taken literally (including the creation story which made evolution impossible and a lie instead of a wondrous work of God) and the interpretation of scripture must be the one preached from the pulpit and not from the ultimate teacher, the inner light of Christ (hence even the pastor doesn’t believe the Bible can be taken literally).

I saw people change, become more judgmental, critical, angry, and fearful. They laughed at jokes made from the pulpit at the expense of those not exactly like “us.”

The loss of my community came when I asked this pastor if there was room for me at this meeting if I did not agree with everything being taught. I was told I could stay if I kept silent. I was crushed.

It broke my heart and still breaks my heart that so many Quaker meetings have either gone down this path and lost the original intent of what George Fox had revealed to him or have taken a path totally eliminating Christ in favor of political activism. Losing the corporate, silent listening to God left me isolated and alone, unable to be in this meeting any longer. I grieved mightily. And I grieve for our yearly meeting that is being torn apart, weakened beyond repair because the two versions of Quakerism appear to be irreconcilable, both sides digging in with intractable positions. This leaves me with no Quaker or spiritual home since I cannot participate in either option.

I still have not found a spiritual community yet I still yearn for one. I may never find it and I am at peace with that. I am willing to continue my journey to experience Christ personally and honor the inner seed alone until way opens and God brings me into community again if that is what I need.

I still read historic Quaker writings with awe at the authentic joy and peace experienced when centered in Christ and find inspiration there but the reality of the Quaker meetings where I live do not reflect the depth of spiritual understanding of these wise elders.

I do not see a middle ground in North Carolina. Our yearly meeting is dissolving. It is one of the oldest yearly meetings in the United States. We are as polarized as the political environment thus unable to help heal the divides and demonstrate the peace testimony.

I am at a loss for where those of us displaced by this contentious battle are to go and unable right now to keep seeking. As I meet others in this situation, I pray that the light within will find a way to reach out, connect and form new community even as the established community dissolves around me.

The post It Breaks My Heart appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

We Need a YAF

Thu, 06/01/2017 - 12:30am

Creative commons from Flickr/zach_a

What four words do I not ever want to hear a member of a nominating committee say to me? “We need a YAF.” YAF stands for “young adult Friend” and is usually defined as ages 18 to 35 or 40, depending on the yearly meeting. Yes, I am a Friend under age 35. Yes, age is one type of diversity it’d be good to have on your committee. That doesn’t mean you skip discernment.

I remember a friend answering her phone while we were hanging out. She was angry when she hung up. She had served two terms on a committee and had reached its term limit. She could take a year off from committee service to recharge, or she could move to another committee. The person on the phone had told her, “We need a YAF for ____ committee, so we thought you could do that instead.”

I’ve heard from other folks my age that they feel the same half dozen YAFs are asked to sit on many committees at once. Beyond that being a recipe for burnout, they feel frustrated and tokenized.

Why do efforts at increasing the diversity of a committee easily devolve into tokenization? I believe it is because we have abandoned our theology of gifts. Faith and Practice of Baltimore Yearly Meeting says, “each of us has God-given gifts or talents, which we are obliged to develop and use to the glory of God. . . . We are obliged also to recognize the gifts of other Friends.” In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul asks, “Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?” Hint: the answer he’s pointing toward is “no.”

Faith vs. Practice

When I found Quakers in 2009, I did a lot of reading and made friends with the clerk of a nearby meeting. My understanding of the nominations process was that I should expect someone from nominating committee to approach me at some point, having prayerfully discerned that God has a plan with a part for me in it, based on their recognition of my particular spiritual gifts. This turns out to be more of a theory. We have a disconnect between faith and practice.

Instead, what I found at one meeting was a “committee fair” like the student organization fairs on college campus. At each table, a representative of a committee pitched people passing by on why we should sign up for their committee. At others, I found that emailing a committee resulted in the clerk of the committee approaching and asking, “Hey, can I refer nominating committee to you about my committee?” The optimistic view here is “Oh good, you’re interested in what we’re doing!” The cynical view is “That’ll teach you to speak up.” I do prefer the optimistic view.

In either case, this is not a nominating committee full of people who have put in a particular effort to get to know everyone in the meeting so that they can properly discern who God is calling to what service. This is nominating committee matching up a list of names given to them to a list of job openings.

Last year I asked a Friend on the yearly meeting nominating committee why it was that I hadn’t been tapped until the clerk of the Advancement and Outreach Committee went to them and asked that I be nominated. I’d served on committees in two local meetings over the last five or six years. I thought this made it clear I was willing to serve. The answer was that they typically only bother to ask people who are already involved in some way with the yearly meeting—already on a committee or at least attending annual sessions. I only visited annual sessions that evening because I was coming to my first committee meeting with a yearly meeting level committee. Friends, I’m not sure whether the committee or the committee member is the chicken or the egg, but in any case, there’s a chicken-and-egg problem here. The pool of potential nominees has been artificially restricted to people whose employment situation can support taking several days off from work and paying several hundred dollars for the privilege of doing so. Given all that has been written about my generation’s employment difficulties, I think it should be obvious why the half-dozen YAFs present at YAF business meeting said they feel there are a half-dozen YAFs asked to fill far too many committee slots.

Even without economic barriers, limiting the pool to mostly people who are already serving means never getting a break and being asked to serve more than might be sustainable. That problem isn’t limited demographically. Overwork is a problem.

Getting at the Roots

There are several contributing factors. The most talked about is the pressure to staff an ever-increasing number of committees. Another is about welcome and timing. And then there are the good-intentioned diversity efforts.

Quantity and Quality

Over time, as new concerns arise, meetings add new committees. Those committees hang around. They must all be fully staffed. They are rarely laid down, even as the meeting’s membership and attendance shrink. Instead, individual Friends are asked to serve on two or three committees, to ensure each committee gets its full headcount. This is a recipe for burnout.

I know this is not a unique problem for Baltimore Yearly Meeting Friends. The other BYM (Britain Yearly Meeting) has it too! In his 2014 Swarthmore Lecture, Ben Pink Dandelion discusses many issues facing Quakers today, including recognizing gifts and the difficulty of staffing all open committee slots.

This pressure to come up with a list of names that is possibly longer than the list of adults in active attendance negatively impacts the discernment process. Perhaps a different stage of discernments needs to happen first. What is the meeting being led to do? Is it still being led to all the activities in which it has historically participated? You know the saying: if everything’s a priority, nothing is. And having such a long list of service positions to staff must be overwhelming and exhausting. How much energy does it leave for the important prerequisite of getting to know everyone in the meeting sufficiently well that their gifts can be discerned? I would submit the answer is “not enough,” since the task of finding people often is delegated to the committees themselves.

Welcome and Timing

We hear many jokes about committee service. A card game was made about committee service called “Unable, Unwilling,” where the aim is to dodge committee service. We joke about people being scared away by attempts to put them on a committee after their second visit.

By all means, wait more than two weeks to get someone on a committee. Don’t wait so long, though, that the person frustratedly goes to a committee saying, “Oh for crying out loud, will you just let me help?” Sound funny? I’m sure many meetings have experienced an IT professional saying, “Oh please, just let me fix the email/website/wifi” due to frustration about its insufficiency. Or perhaps their frustration is that they know how to fix the window that won’t stay up. Or they have a leading, and the social witness committee is too busy with other ones to look into it. Or they are led to do a book discussion around Thomas Kelly, but the religious education committee is dealing with curriculum. Yes, this frustration can bubble up as regards many committees.

It’s not uncommon to talk in other groups about how getting people plugged into service is a way to make them feel involved and really part of the community. Similarly, it can be hard for individuals to judge when their contributions will be viewed as coming from an invested part of the community versus an interloper. Letting them know their contributions are wanted and valid is part of welcoming. I submit that after three to six months of regular attendance, a person is likely to feel sufficiently committed to the meeting to entertain the suggestion of service.

If a regular practice was made of meeting with people in this category to discern their spiritual gifts, we might find we have more people willing to serve and a better idea of where their gifts are most needed. There is no reason why clearness committees should be saved only for membership, weddings, and when someone is having a hard time making a major life decision. Get someone from nominating committee (and perhaps one or two others Friends) to sit down with the not-so-newcomer over their favorite hot beverage and start discerning the person’s leadings. Maybe they’re not being called to service yet. Fine. Check back in a year. Maybe they actually have some leadings, though.

If your meeting has such a high rate of growth that sitting down with each new person who has managed to stick around for three months would be burdensome, I salute you and wish to know how you’ve managed that. You could teach the outreach committee of every other meeting a lesson.


I was pressured, as a YAF on a committee, to come up with names of other YAFs who could serve on this same committee. I tried to think about who I know whose regular occupations or hobbies suggested they had the talents needed by the committee. My list was far shorter than the list of all Quakers near my age I knew. One Friend told me her concern would be that she and I have the same weaknesses, and so she would not be rounding out the committee’s collection of gifts, but instead contributing to lopsidedness. I conveyed this sense to the clerk of the committee, who suggested I go back and tell her that’s fine since what we really need is a larger YAF presence on the committee, and so her perspective as a young person was enough. I did not do so. I did not wish to insult my friend that way. Being a warm body that has not yet walked this earth 40 years does not trump her gifts.

The same, of course, goes for any other type of diversity. Failing to look beyond someone’s age, race, sexual orientation, or any other demographic category to see their gifts is insulting.

The desire to be more intentional and inclusive about who is serving on committees is a good one. This means doing much more than adding a quota though. Individuals must be treated as individuals. Be ready to name the gifts a candidate brings. That means doing the hard work laid out above to really get to know people and their gifts.

I think we’re up to it.

The post We Need a YAF appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

Membership as Commitment and Belonging

Thu, 06/01/2017 - 12:30am

Europe and Middle East Section annual meeting 2017. Photo by Kate McNally, courtesy of the author.


Membership has become an optional extra for many meetings in the Liberal tradition in Europe. No longer does it define identity—something inherited like one’s DNA, or absorbed growing up—yet there are still many yearly meetings that acknowledge birthright membership, including entitlement to burial in Quaker grounds!

Membership is often seen as a sign of commitment. However, some already very engaged and active attenders who think of themselves as Quaker hesitate to apply for membership because they expect that it will bring new obligations and demands, often at a time in their lives when they feel already stretched and pulled in several different directions. Some say their own unworthiness holds them back from application: “I smoke and drink, how can I be a Quaker?”

Membership is also acknowledgement of an existing relationship within the community: “If it quacks, it’s a duck.” So why bother with elaborate membership processes, when all we need to say is, “Yes, this Friend is known to us, and we consider them to be part of our meeting”? After all, attenders are often included in the book of members.

Perhaps membership should allow the exercise of accountability, but how? Should we ensure applicants are well-versed in “Quaker ways”—at least as we understand and practice them? What of disownment, much used at various times in our history and still technically in our books of discipline? Would we use it today? In what circumstances?

Should membership be about explicit acceptance of a common religious practice? Or a shared understanding of what it means to be a community of faith? Have we become blessed with too much diversity to hope to establish any such common ground?

Membership has been compared to marriage, and I wonder what kind of marriage—a mutually supportive, contented companionship; a daily struggle for adjustment and compromise; or an all consuming passion to know and be known?

For some, membership is a lifeline connection that provides an anchor of stability in times and situations of personal challenge or isolation. This is the case for many international members who have no meeting to relate to, or the young woman who applied for membership of my area meeting just as she prepared to leave to take up a challenging job in a war zone.

For some Friends, formal membership is simply a divisive, un-Friendly, exclusive practice which places artificial barriers to people’s participation in the corporate life of our communities: an intrusive scrutiny of someone’s beliefs and way of life.

So, is membership a pragmatic arrangement to enable us to operate as a corporate body? Is it the culmination of a process of coming to belong in fellowship? Or, is it first and foremost a spiritual experience, the beginning of a new way of being and a new set of covenantal relationships? If it is primarily a spiritual experience, what bearing does “convincement”—or, dare I say it , “conversion”—have on the membership application process?

Considering the commitment aspect of membership, I hear the voice of Martha in the longing we express for more attenders to come into membership: “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself—tell her to help me!” Jesus responded: “Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:40–41). So perhaps, like Mary, attenders are indeed attending to what Love requires of them, focussing on the essentials, on the meeting for worship, on living a faithful life, whilst resisting the formality of membership—entanglement with elaborate committee structures that can, at times, be perceived as a hindrance, rather than a support, to the life of the spirit. Many attenders contribute as much as many members to the support of their meetings. So is the distinction between members and regular attenders a real one? In other yearly meetings people not in membership are called “Friends of Friends.” Would it be more helpful to describe both active formal members and regular attenders as participants in our meetings? Should we consider what is really essential, and prune our structures? Are we really open to the changes and challenges that new members bring?

Finally, to the question of convincement. We tend to think of it as a form of persuasion, or the discovery that the Quaker way suits us. This is not the meaning that earlier generations of Friends gave the word. Convincement was an experience of transformation, a sudden or unfolding realization of deep truths with life-changing significance. It can be an exhilarating experience of liberation, but also a terrifying ordeal that confronts us with the depths of our darkness, so that the Light can break through. Such convincement is no longer a requisite for membership. Yet it is a fundamental part of the Quaker insight that we are all called to live in holy orders; we have no separate priesthood to mediate the sacred to us, we are therefore the “royal priesthood,” and “peculiar people” (1 Peter 2.9). Living in holy orders means becoming aware of one’s unique place and purpose in the world, being the most authentic “me” I can be—and encouraging you to be fully and uniquely “you.” Living this truth changes us and makes us instruments of transformation: “They were changed men themselves before they went about to change others,” William Penn wrote.

Membership in the Religious Society or any religious or spiritual community is a means to an end, and not an end in itself. I was helped to see this by Evangelical Friends, who say they are Christian first and Quaker second. I initially found this disturbing: are we not an alternative to mainstream Christianity? Until I understood that, for them, being Christian means pledging loyalty to something greater than a human institution, however cherished, and connecting to others who express that loyalty in different ways.

I hope we can give thanks for all those Friends who have chosen to be in formal membership, for all those who are members in all but name, and perhaps should be recognized as such. We can rear and nurture them lovingly from an early age in our meetings, sowing seeds that will bear fruit that we cannot imagine. We can honor all who choose to participate in the life of our communities but whose sense of integrity holds them back from full membership for whatever reasons. May we sit lightly to the letter of any mechanism we choose to adopt, tending first to the Spirit always.

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Categories: Articles & News

A Letter from James: Essays in Quaker History

Thu, 06/01/2017 - 12:10am
By John Lampen. The Hope Project, 2016. 107 pages. Free digital download available at Free digital download at Hope Project

Many Friends will be familiar with Friend John Lampen as one of the most thoughtful, and readable, Quakers writing today. This collection of essays ranges broadly over Quaker history. But the history has applications that Lampen wants contemporary Friends to understand.

Aside from the introduction and conclusion, this little book has nine chapters: “George Fox and the Child,” “John Woolman’s Dreams, “The Witness of Job Scott,” “Speaking Truth to Power (1),” “The Grimke Sisters,” “Tolstoy’s Last Novel,” “Schooling & the Peace Testimony,” “Speaking Truth to Power (2),” and “A Letter from James,” which deals with James Nayler. Some are more original and provocative than others, although all are well worth the time needed for a close reading.

Lampen is quite willing to take up awkward topics. The opening essay, on George Fox, notes the accounts Fox left in which he claimed to have been the instrument of miraculous divine healings. Friend John is particularly incisive in his reading of the journal of the eighteenth-century New England Friend Job Scott, which he sees as the record of the life of a Friend devoted to utter self-abnegation, convinced that he could do no good thing, even offer a prayer, unless it was in obedience to clear divine guidance. Probably the most piquant essay deals with the role that English Friends played in the publication of Leo Tolstoy’s last novel, Resurrection. Banned in Russia, it was issued by Headley Brothers, the London Quaker publishing house. Friends greatly admired Tolstoy as a pacifist and great Christian soul. They were appalled, however, when they actually read the novel and discovered that at the heart of its narrative was the seduction of a servant girl and her subsequent life in prostitution. (There is much more to Resurrection than this. But these facts were enough to cause uniformly prim Friends to distance themselves.)

For me, the two most meaningful essays deal with peacemaking. Many contemporary Friends will be disturbed to learn that corporal punishment was once widely used in Friends schools. But Lampen also tells a moving story of innovative Quaker teachers who introduced methods of peacemaking into their schools in the past half-century. Particularly relevant today is Lampen’s account of the work of Corder and Gwen Catchpool in Berlin in the 1930s. Their commitment to seeking the Light in all meant that they befriended Nazis and even Gestapo officials, using those contacts to win occasional release of a political prisoner. Their experiences taught them the dangers of unrelenting moral indignation: “If you allow yourself to remain in it, it is a sort of selfish luxury. You may come to rejoice in hearing more evil of the wrong-doer.” That is an exhortation Friends may want to ponder in the next few years.

Lampen worries that Friends are losing sight of their history. His stories remind us how precious that history is.

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Categories: Articles & News

A Lenape among the Quakers: The Life of Hannah Freeman

Thu, 06/01/2017 - 12:00am
By Dawn G. Marsh. University of Nebraska Press, 2014. 240 pages. $27.95/hardcover; $17.95/paperback or eBook. Buy from QuakerBooks

William Penn’s Peaceable Kingdom is a keystone of the Quaker myth. Made most memorable in Benjamin West’s famous painting Penn’s Treaty with the Indians, it projects the comfortable notion that colonial Quakers had a benign, harmonious, and mutually respectful relationship with the Lenape/Delaware indigenous peoples of what eventually became Chester County, Pa.

In her book A Lenape among the Quakers, historian Dawn G. Marsh contends that things weren’t that clean and simple. In essence, Marsh sets out to demonstrate that the Quakers dispossessed the natives of their land just as surely as every other European group that came to the New World. The difference, Marsh suggests, is that the Quakers were nicer about it.

Marsh tells this unsettling story through the eyes of the Lenape woman Hannah Freeman, also known as “Indian Hannah,” whom many considered “the last of her race” when she died at an advanced age in the county poorhouse in 1802. Throughout, Marsh discusses in detail the relationship between the Quakers and the Lenape, represented by Freeman, and shows that it was ambivalent at best. While unquestioningly assuming their own cultural superiority, like Europeans generally, the Quakers were indeed kinder to their indigenous neighbors, paying them fair wages for work they performed, for example, and not giving them blankets infused with smallpox. But when the Lenape, a migratory people like most Native Americans, moved in the fall from the fertile bottomlands of the Brandywine River and other watercourses to upstream woodlands with their shelter and game, Quaker landowners, following European common law, decided the natives had abandoned the rich soil, and claimed it as their own. Yes, they paid for it, but only after announcing that it was now theirs.

Issues like this, Marsh shows us, contributed to the disintegration of the Peaceable Kingdom ideal in the generations following Penn’s. His “haven for religious tolerance and good governance unraveled under the forces of rapid expansion and colonialism,” she writes. It was not just Quakers who were responsible, of course, yet she presents evidence that indicts some Friends.

Marsh develops “Indian Hannah’s” story as best she can, given a lack of documentation except for her final few years of virtual incarceration in the county home for the indigent, deprived of her ancestral lands and her way of life. As for the overarching attitude toward native peoples, Marsh proves that Freeman was not in fact “the last of her race,” pointing out that Lenape still live as close by as New Jersey. The Quakers and others constructed that meme to justify their land claims and to mythologize both the Lenape and their own benevolence toward them, she contends.

Marsh, at the time of publication an assistant professor of history at Purdue University, does not indicate whether she is a Friend, but regardless, she displays an adequate understanding of Quakerism and its practices, and treats the Quakers of the eighteenth century thoroughly, accurately, and forthrightly. My one concern here is that she twice identifies Philadelphia Yearly Meeting as “the central governing body of the Society of Friends.” For a mostly non-Quaker readership, that may be the simplest way to explain Quaker organization.

The content of this book is good, but its execution is weak. It’s addressed primarily to a scholarly audience, so clumsy academic jargon like “problematize” slips in. There is extensive repetition; we are told over and over that “we cannot know” what Hannah did or felt. Paragraphing and sentence sequencing are poor, punctuation is inconsistent, and errors like “statue” for “statute” and “principals” for “principles” intrude. In short, the book needed an editor.

That shortcoming aside, Marsh challenges Quakers to rethink with an unvarnished lens their fraught relationship with native peoples. Were we as considerate as we could have been, and believe we were? Are we smugly content that we did the right thing? Are we willing now, some 325 years after first contact, to consider the “pay the rent” movement, through which in locations such as Australia and Manitoba surviving indigenous populations are being compensated for Caucasians’ occupation of their historic lands? It may not be easy, but this book forces us to look to ourselves.

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Categories: Articles & News