Quaker Life: A New Kind of Quaker
The cover story, "What Does A New Kind of Quaker Look Like?" by Scott Wagoner is on the QL website. An early version of my article, "The Essentials of Quaker Practice" appeared here last October. Two of the main articles that are not available online are “The New Quakers: A Faithful Betrayal?” by C. Wess Daniels and “Friends United Meeting – The Original Convergent Friends Group” by Jack Kirk.
Wess looks at the future of Quakerism as requiring a break with the forms of our current institutions in order to be faithful to the true spirit of Quakerism. He quotes George Fox, Peter Rollins, Everett Cattell, Chad Stephenson, and the Gospel of John in proving his points. Excellent work, Wess.
Jack Kirk, a former editor of Quaker Life (who I haven’t met, and so I won’t call him by his first name in this post), gives a brief and lively history of Quakers in America. He cites my blogpost/definition of convergent Friends as a clue to the new stirrings of the Holy Spirit among Friends. He likens this coming together of several strands of Quakerism to the “growing sense amongst these separate and diverse yearly meetings that they shared many concerns and perhaps belonged together in some way” that led to the formation of the Five Years Meeting and eventually Friends United Meeting (FUM).
I resonate strongly with Kirk’s desire that “we could return to that early spirit, come together to learn from each other’s experience, with a commitment to follow boldly where the Living Christ may lead us.” I agree that “He [meaning the Living Christ] speaks as clearly now as he did then. He calls us to a spirit of embrace and not one of exclusion. He moves in our midst as wind and as fire.” I appreciate Kirk’s closing query, “Are we willing to let him reshape and transform us to serve in a new age?” I am honored that my words have spoken to Kirk’s condition, and been published in this magazine.
Where I see the difference between the formation of the Five Years Meeting and the current convergent Friends movement is that a century ago, Friends discerned that God was calling them to form a new organization. They felt that the movement of the Holy Spirit would be best served by coordinating “their work together in such areas as production of Sunday School curriculum, peace work, young Friends activities, promoting the welfare of African Americans and the American Friends Board of Foreign Missions.” (I quote Kirk here because I am not an expert on the origins of FUM.)
Today, we see the derivation or evolution of that inspired work into a bureaucratic institution supported by a fragile coalition. I don’t hear anyone calling for the formation of new “convergent” institutions. I suspect we have become burdened by our inheritance of our spiritual grandparents’ treasures and their neuroses. Perhaps we need to break free of the weight of our inheritance, sort the treasures from the junk, and wait to see where God is leading us.
This could take more time than we’re accustomed to thinking about. Like a whole generation. It may be our work just to name the fact that what we’ve got is not working. Is our generation’s work merely to clear and hold space for the next generation? Is it enough to be really plain and stop squandering the Earth’s resources so quickly and hold Phyllis Tickle’s rummage sale so that our children and grandchildren can use the proceeds to build a new foundation for the centuries to come?
Perhaps we can be public witnesses to the fact that no human institution lasts forever. No political empire, no church hierarchy, no economic system will serve forever more.
Maybe we are like the Seekers in northern England who didn’t know quite what they wanted but they knew clearly what they didn’t want and they knew enough to be faithfully and patiently seeking together.
Maybe our role model is Moses – to lead our people out of Egypt but never to enter Canaan.
I don’t know. We can only be faithful in what measure of the Light we have been given. But I’m grateful to Quaker Life for inspiring these thoughts and the discussions that will ensue, here and in Quaker Meetings and Friends Churches all over the world.
P.S. If you don't get the reference, the phrase "A New Kind of Quaker" reminds me a lot of "A New Kind of Christian," a trilogy of books by Brian McLaren.
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