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