4.16.2008

Where do you see the signs of Quaker renewal around you?

[This is the question I wish I had asked at the recent convergent Friends dinner in Indiana.]

I like to say that "convergent Friends" is not something I’m trying to start; it’s my way of naming the renewal movement I see happening. I see it happening in various parts of the Quaker world. In this post, I wanted to write about a couple of ways renewal is happening in my local community. I would love it if you would write about how you see renewal happening around you.


In San Francisco, I see Friends overcoming our fear of being visible and Friends rediscovering the Christian roots of Quakerism.

There have been nudges to "outreach" for a while now. But they’re gathering steam.

One of our most enthusiastic new attenders is still mad that it took him so long to find out about Quakers, when he was clearly seeking for a long time. But we’re listening to him, and to the leadings of other Friends, old and new, and trying to do better.

Several years ago, we hung an enormous (4’x16’) sign on the front of our building that says Quaker Meeting House, with the AFSC (our upstairs tenant) logo in the middle. In SF, the most common response I hear when I tell someone I’m a Quaker is, “Oh, yeah. I’ve seen your place, whatever it’s called, somewhere downtown, right?” Which is a whole lot better than “Oh, I thought the Quakers were all in Pennsylvania/dead.”

Lately, we started putting posterboards in the front window with excerpts from our book of Faith and Practice about the religious aspects of our Quaker testimonies. As has been discussed previously on this blog, they may not be perfect, but they didn’t raise any hackles in the Meeting either. They even motivated Friends to re-hang another, simpler, banner that was languishing in our basement for a while.

We started a few years ago to have regular sessions on introduction to unprogrammed worship, to have introductory Seekers’ Packets (of pamphlets and other readings) not only available in the library but announced regularly after meeting, and a brochure that explicitly welcomes children to meeting for worship, with some suggestions for parents. Some weeks, the current clerk of ministry and oversight, who looks cooler than most of us, with his shaved head and motorcycle gear, and who has the extroverted personality of a great middle school teacher, invites everybody who’s new to chat with him at the rise of meeting.

Our next idea is to encourage Friends to hang flyers about Quaker events that are happening around us on their neighborhood bulletin boards. Like announcements about Quaker Center workshops in the grocery stores or coffee shops that we go to, or online listings that we visit. This summer we will join the SF Friends School contingent marching in the Pride Parade at the end of June, and have our own booth at the Pride Festival, with flyers and pamphlets to hand out, and LGBTQ and straight Friends to talk with in the booth.

That we agreed to do this intentionally as an opportunity to invite more people to come to meeting is a change for us. A next step will be to do more outreach in places where we don’t already know people, and that is a lot harder for most of us. But we’re starting small, and trying to do both the outreach and the inreach to make this work.

The best thing for me is that I haven’t heard anyone say (yet) “You can’t do that. We wouldn’t want to proselytize; it’s not Quakerly.” The line that seems to be working is this: “We’re not trying to convert anybody who’s not interested. We’re just trying to make it easier for the people who are looking for a faith community to find us.”

The second thing is probably more controversial than the whole proselytizing question, if that’s possible among unprogrammed Friends.

In my Meeting, more and more, but not all, of the long-time, intentional-about-their-Quakerism members are taking Jesus and the Christian roots of Quakerism more seriously.

There are some folks who have always considered themselves Christian, in fairly orthodox ways. There are others, including me, who are still fumbling around in the dawn of a new understanding of what Jesus or Christ means. We have lots of people with unorthodox Christian theology. Folks who claim the path of the followers of Jesus but not the label Christian. Folks with plenty of scriptural knowledge and a wide open interpretation of the resurrection, or salvation, or atonement theory. We also have a healthy number of Friends who are comfortable with other people using Christian language, even if they would use other words to express their religious beliefs.

What is most important to me is that we have a growing number of people who are seeking, in their own lives, to live in more Jesus-like ways. People who are trying to live lives of generosity and self-discipline, justice for the oppressed and obedience to the leadings of the Holy Spirit. People who are trying to live in harmony with the earth and our community and the diverse people around us. People who are reading old and new Quaker writings, searching for how other Friends have lived into this calling, and what we might learn from them. People who are hearing the word of God in the voice of Jesus without demanding that everyone else hear it the same way.

It is still not a requirement or even an assumption that everyone uses Christian language in our Meeting. I don’t see that happening any time soon, nor do I desire that outcome. But we have developed a culture wherein it is possible to use traditional and innovative Christian language, imagery, scripture, whatever, without triggering an immediate counter-offensive. This was not true thirteen years ago, when I first arrived here. It is a sign of healthy growth of a convergent Quaker culture.

So these are two signs of renewal of faith and practice among us. How fares the Holy Spirit among you?

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12 Comments:

Anonymous Allison said...

Yay for SF Meeting! I can't wait for the Pride Parade! I will be there in my Halloween costume.

I was reading in Friends for 350 Years that Friends rejected the separation of God into the Trinity and believed "God is one." I wonder if more talk about the Trinity aspect, God=Jesus=Holy Spirit, would help non-Christians become more comfortable with Jesus, and help Christ-centric people be more comfortable with people who work mostly with the Spirit.

4/16/2008 12:54 PM  
Anonymous Allison said...

PS - If it is helpful for others, when I'm talking to my personal friends, all under the age of 30, these are the points they are most impressed by, in order of impressiveness:

1) The Meeting for Business decision-making process
2) Quaker history of social justice
3) silent worship/ contemplation/meditation

The unity in decision-making is truly radical and evolutionary. I think people should talk about this as much as possible. Today my boss is going to a Power Analysis Training and I got excited for her because it sounds cool. I told her about the Quaker decision-making process and she said, "Wow!"

4/16/2008 1:12 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Allison, was your costume the angel wings?

Thanks for your ongoing efforts to share your spiritual seeking with us!

4/16/2008 5:21 PM  
Blogger Will T said...

Robin,
The growing comfort of liberal Friends with Christian and Biblical language is not just happening in San Francisco. At the FGC Traveling Ministries retreat in Pittsburgh this March I noticed towards the end of our extended meeting for worship on Sunday that to that point, all of the messages given had a Biblical hook of some form or another. I don't remember whether this continued for the remainder of the meeting but this was much more Bible related than would have been the case five or ten years ago.

Will T

4/16/2008 8:20 PM  
Anonymous cath said...

I was raised in a Christian home and value that so much. I attended church twice a week until I left home at 17 and began a spiritual search for myself.

Still a Christian, I discovered Friends and over many years of prayerfully waiting for promptings of the Spirit I became convinced that my spiritual truth was not mainstream Christianity and especially not trinitarian Christianity. This has been spiritually affirmed many times over for me.

Over time, and in the company of Friends (of all kinds) I became a non-Christian theist who values the ministry of Jesus and believes that there is no eternal damnation--the traditional use of the word "universalist."

Phil Gulley and Jim Mulholland make the case better than I do about that last part.

To this day, I will not repudiate the faith of my childhood because that is the spiritual truth of my parents, who gave me my spiritual start in life. I followed the Spirit to a new place, and that is more a sign to me of a spiritual leading than a rejecting.

So, after a few decades of being a Friend I can say that I am a non-Christian who thinks there are portions of the Sermon on the Mount that just rock! And I own 5 different translations of the bible.

I have no problem with Christian language at all. Verily. :)

However--discussing the trinity is not going to make me feel more a part of the convergent conversation. That sounds very much like a dogmatic discussion and not true to the tradition of avoiding credal statements. I don't think it will help in any attempt to bring people together (to converge) if one doctrine is considered more important that the direct revelation of the Spirit to an individual.

One of my fears is that we non-Christians will be stereotyped: you know, those people who don't believe in God, who are nursing he wounds of their childhood religion, who won't worship with people who read scripture, wouldn't set foot in a pastoral Meetinghouse, etc. etc.

I love breaking molds--and while I didn't plan this to be a mold-breaking thing, I ended up in a pastoral Meeting when I moved to a city with choices. It was the most theologically open Meeting and a good place to receive the Light and Grace God has for me. How lucky for me that I moved away from the east coast and to the midwest where I could encounter my pastoral brothers and sisters.

When I found the discussions (not just the convergent ones) going on in Quaker blogs, I was thrilled. I do feel there is a new day ahead for Friends. We have a message the world needs, and we can model it for the world.

But first, I suspect we need to shake some cobwebs off, be more like the Public Friends of old, and maybe a few of us need to stop going to Meeting as a way to "be alone." And, yes, stop the bickering between branches of Friends. There is too much at stake to continue asking the question "Are you FGC or FUM?" before even starting a conversation.

I am not convinced yet that non-Christian Friends will initially have an equal place in the conversation. I haven't seen enough on the blogs to allow me to feel that much consideration has been given to the non-Christian POV in the convergent discussion. But I am committed to the Testimonies, and since Equality is one of them, I am hoping that I can do my part to make those who are like me more visable. My leap of faith has to be that if we are "seen" we will be embraced.

Renewal has to begin somewhere--and cyberspace is as good a place as any. May we all carry back to our own Meetings the things we find we have in common with each other.


cath

4/16/2008 10:37 PM  
Anonymous cath said...

Come to think of it, the entire history of the RSOF has been marked with renewal. And each one of them was new for its time. I suspects those who were part of the renewing process felt just as excited and challeneged as folks do today.

cath

4/16/2008 11:27 PM  
Blogger Chris M. said...

This is from the Clerk's Minute, Pacific Yearly Meeting, 2007:

"What a joy it has been to serve as your Presiding Clerk at our annual sessions this year! One Friend spoke in Meeting for Worship about being on fire! Another talked of being swept away by the Holy Spirit. These are strong words to describe an even stronger spiritual renewal for which the word discernment seems hardly adequate. Your Clerk senses a strong Spirit within the Yearly Meeting, a renewed desire to live our radical faith, unhindered by priests, pastors, or other intermediaries as we minister to each other, seeking to know more clearly what Spirit requires of us. We have sought this week to be present to each other in new spiritual ways and we have deepened our worship by extending the time we gave ourselves to worship. This Clerk believes that our increased time in worship has allowed us to do our business in new ways with a renewed trust in each other, relinquishing a little of our need to hold things too tightly."

From www.pacificyearlymeeting.org. Our presiding clerk is, of course, Joe Franko.

4/17/2008 12:03 AM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Will, I noticed that at the FGC consultation on spiritual hospitality last year too, and in the large worship at the FGC summer gathering - not all the messages were Biblical, but many, and they weren't met with immediate resistance. Maybe my standards are low, but I still think this is progress.

Cath, I hope you will continue to speak/write your own valuable understanding of Truth and not feel like you have to represent other people too much. I agree that the history of the RSoF is full of cycles of renewal, it is one of the strengths of our tradition!

Chris - thanks for the evidence from a slightly larger iteration of our community. This sense of renewal is not just my imagination.

4/17/2008 12:16 PM  
Anonymous Allison said...

Yes the angel wings were my costume. I don't know how well celebrating Halloween goes with plainness, but I figure Pride Parade is like a holiday too...

4/17/2008 12:43 PM  
Anonymous cath said...

bin, I do feel I need to represent others and may continue to do so; but I also appreciate that you might feel you need to nudge my responses in a certain direction.

It will all work out.

cath

4/17/2008 6:23 PM  
Anonymous Sherrill W said...

I remember one of your members saying to me probably 14 years ago now that he felt quite comfortable being openly gay in your Meeting, but that that wasn’t true when he spoke of his Christian beliefs. Isn’t it sad that Quaker wheels turn so slowly sometimes? I wish too that you weren’t so wedded to your expression “convergent.” I sense a yearning in our yearly meeting (PYM – Pacific, not Philadelphia) for renewal, and a moving toward it, but I wonder if using words such as convergent, missional, etc. doesn’t just create more unnecessary “boxes.”

4/21/2008 5:38 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Sherrill, at least we can be grateful that the wheels keep turning, even if they are slow. And sometimes we don't notice that they've moved until we're on the other side of the rotation.

For me, the word convergent is useful as shorthand, but I don't expect that everyone will adopt it, like a flag or something. I am open to other suggestions, or at least learning what words are helpful to other people.

4/22/2008 5:13 PM  

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