Wider Quaker Fellowship

In 1937, Rufus Jones had a vision for a way to spread the Quaker message. The intent was to be “a way for like-minded people who were interested in Quaker beliefs and practices to stay in contact with the Religious Society of Friends, while maintaining their own religious affiliation, if any.” He wrote, “May this fellowship grow and become the Beloved Community in many lands and of many languages and peoples, joined together in that Spirit and Life which was before the world was.” The result was the Wider Quaker Fellowship (WQF).

Today the WQF is a program of the Friends World Committee for Consultation, Section of the Americas. The WQF sends reprints of Quaker pamphlets and articles twice a year to some 1,600 people, down from a peak of maybe 10,000 in the 1940’s.

Earlier, there were discussion groups that met to read the WQF publications. There are letters reflecting how important WQF was to many people, including documentation of marriages emerging from these groups.

However, the program doesn’t raise enough funds to cover the expenses that it incurs, so some serious changes are being implemented. The committee, which I am now on, is looking at how to proceed. I have a bunch of questions. Starting with, "What is the problem we are trying to solve?"

Who is the audience we are trying to reach? Is it the people who would like to receive free pamphlets or the people who are trying to find the Quakers?

How do we reach all the hungry seekers out there?
Some who would like to be Quakers if they knew about us?
Some of whom want to stay Catholics, etc., but be in touch with Friends?

How do we engage younger Friends in the selection and production of publications and discussion queries?

How do we engage Latin American Friends in the selection and production of publications and discussion queries?

What would be a better name? In Spanish, it’s called The Friends of The Friends. Which is accurate, but that’s probably too obscure for use by non-Quakers. I’m currently thinking something completely different, with a subtitle, “A Network of Friends and Friends of Friends.

Today, I think that much of the function of connecting people through contemporary Quaker writings is being carried out by QuakerQuaker.org. I think that WQF is in fact a print-based (by necessity: slow, limited, expensive) antecedent of QuakerQuaker. In what ways could these two entities support each other?

If you have suggestions, or more questions, let me know.


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Blogger Imperfect Serenity said...

Thanks for explaining what this group is. I've heard of it for years. It makes me think of a few people who were in an Inquirer's Weekend I led recently, a Roman Catholic sister and an Episcopal priest who both felt very drawn to Quakerism, but weren't necessarily called to cut ties with their own communities. Not sure how this fits into bigger questions of Quaker outreach, but it seems to me that making a space for such folk is mutually beneficial.

8/05/2008 10:52 AM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

I had heard vaguely about the WQF before I was asked to serve on the committee, but I had no idea what they did. That's one of the issues as well. Even the Friends don't know what it is or how to find it.

But there are frequently people who write or email in and ask questions. And there are volunteers who answer those questions personally. I'm working on a FAQ with online resources for the answers. If you have suggestions, I'd love to see them.

8/05/2008 1:22 PM  
Blogger Bill Samuel said...

You ask good questions, and groups need to ask themselves these kinds of questions from time to time, and at a point like this it's absolutely essential.

There is a difference in what a blogging community does and what a structured program under an official organization does. It provides a central point of contact, and ideally (& probably actually has) provides a well thought out selection of readings for persons who want a connection with Friends but who are not a real part of a Meeting.

The way that was good 30 years ago will not be appropriate for today, however, as well as being unsustainable in cost. It should probably be mainly an on-line effort now, but with ways to connect with people who aren't on-line.

8/05/2008 8:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very interesting set of questions and observations. I'm wondering how Bill Samuel's organization, Quakerinfo.com accomplishes some of what you are asking, and where other questions such as Spanish language outreach might be incorporated into such an organization. Does wide ranging participation in discussions on the site help or hinder?

In His Love,

8/05/2008 9:50 PM  
Blogger Bill Samuel said...

Well QuakerInfo.com is not an organization but a Web site. But it developed out of writing I was doing for a larger Web operation. My focus for most of the articles was explaining Quakerism to people with little familiarity with it, so it is relevant.

There's also a site QuakerInfo.org which is run by the Quaker Information Center, which is composed of several different Quaker groups, mostly based in Philadelphia. Its purpose may be even more directly relevant. It used to send out snail mail packets upon request, but no longer advertises that service.

8/05/2008 9:58 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Well, this is convenient. Bill, I have had it on my list to email you. My plan is to link to a variety of answers to the FAQ about Quakers, mostly from various yearly meeting sites, but I also would like to link to some of the materials on your site. I just haven't gotten that far yet.

I think that wide ranging discussion on my blog is very helpful. I think the FWCC staff would like to have more interactive options on their website, but they are just now looking into the world of Web 2.0. Margaret Fraser is on Facebook, for example, just as an experiment, as a window into the world of social networking.

One of the difficulties I see is trying to do something new and exciting and cheaper all at the same time.

8/05/2008 11:02 PM  
Blogger Liz Opp said...

It seems to me that there is a resurgence and even zeal for outreach and increased visibility... extending an invitation for seekers and inquirers to attend a meeting for worship.

Perhaps WQF could address this need...?

Here are other suggested names and/or subtitles:

Fellowship for Religious Seekers
World Committee for Religious Seekers within the Christian Tradition
Inquirers' Fellowship of the RSoF
Outreach & Service Committee for Religious Seekers

Thanks for raising our awareness about the WQF, its history, and its work.

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

8/06/2008 10:08 AM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Yes, Liz, I think you've got the right idea. WQF would like to be more visibly extending that invitation.

I think the name has to be something short and snappy. Like Quaker Connect. Or maybe a one word title with a longer subtitle. Like maybe Seekers: A Network of Friends and Friends of Friends.

I don't know. More suggestions are welcome.

8/06/2008 12:14 PM  
Blogger Paul L said...

Robin -- I am glad you're working on this committee.

The first person I knew who was a member of (affiliated with?) the Wider Quaker Fellowship (this was about 30 years ago) was so because she was unwilling to give up her life-long membership in the Unitarian Universalist Church (er, "Association"). She wasn't sure if there was a personal God in the sense the Quakers did; and she certainly wasn't prepared to be a friend or disciple of Jesus -- as she understood the Quakers as being.

But she liked a lot of what the Quakers said and did and wanted to be in contact with them. But she had the integrity of knowing the difference between being a Quaker and being a friend of Quakers. (I also think she secretly did believe in God and was looking for the Friends to convince her (which, alas, they never did.)

WQF put her in contact and fellowship not only with other Quakers near to home and abroad, but also with other outsiders like herself looking in upon the Religious Society with a sympathetic eye while simultaneously maintaining a critical distance.

For her, WQF fulfilled an important need that likely would not have been met elsewhere. I do think that some kind of similar organization is needed today and hope that WQF can find a way to carry out this historical purpose.

But I'm not sure whether the need is as acute these days. Nowadays, you can be an official member of practically any North American FGC-type meeting -- actually be a Quaker -- without making any kind of distinctly Quaker religious commitment. There are many Quaker meeting members these days whose religious beliefs and practices are practically indistinguishible from adherents of other Christian denominations, paganism, Buddhism, etc.

Furthermore, many meetings no longer expect or require a new member to officially relinquish their ties with their prior church (though I am curious to know how widespread this practice actually is; I could be wrong about this).

In other words, many monthly meetings today are more like what the Wider Quaker Fellowship is than they do a covenant community of people who have been "called [by God] out of the world, and worldly spirit, to walk in his Light and Life." (Barclay)

(Because some will misunderstand, I need to emphasize that I am not advocating requiring acceptance of a verbal formula of faith such as a creed in order to be a member of a Quaker meeting. I'm simply observing that there has been a deemphasis on the distinctiveness of Quaker faith and practice and that this has profoundly changed the character of the historic community known as the Quaker church (or, if you will, the Religious Society of Friends), and not for the better in my opinion. See Matt. 5:13.)

Thus, it is no longer necessary to join the Wider Quaker Fellowship just because you want to be associated with Quakers while maintaining your ties to, say, the Presbyterian church of your youth: you just join the Friends Meeting, and perhaps adopt a hyphenated identity.

This phenomenon does not explain away the need for something like WQF for Quakers who are geographically isolated from a meeting, or to serve as a point of entry for seekers who want to learn more about Quakers. But I do wonder with you whether the easy availability of on-line Quaker resources such as Quakerinfo.com, meeting locater services such as Quakerfinder.org, and the outreach and publishing activities of larger YMs, FGC, FUM, Friends Journal, Pendle Hill, etc. leave any distinctive work for something like Wider Quaker Fellowship to serve?

The only logical reason I can think of for something like WQF to be under the FWCC umbrella is out of respect for its oveall purpose to be a more inclusive Friends organiztion than any of the branch's organizational offices. This is not an insignificant consideration.

8/06/2008 1:21 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Thanks, Paul. I think you're right that FWCC holds onto this vision of WQF offering windows into the various branches of Quakerism, just like the various branches offer different doors for people to walk into Quakerism.

The first time I heard of the WQF was when I was fairly new to attending Quaker meeting, and an older woman, a visiting Friend I think, asked me if I was a member. I explained that I was new and also I knew I would be moving in a couple of years, and that the meeting didn't encourage transient people like me to apply for membership. She was indignant on my behalf and said, well, you have to belong somewhere. You could join the Wider Quaker Fellowship or something like that. But I didn't really know what she meant, and I didn't follow up on it.

8/06/2008 5:27 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I think I may need a different way to participate in the SOF. My family has been part of the Quaker world for 11 generations and I don't want to let go of it...it is a strongly meaningful association. I have moved away from Christianity (if I was ever part of it at all) but not away from seeking, continuing revelation, the caring, resourceful, thoughtful community seeking the right path together. Finding a local meeting to share these attributes has not been easy for many years.

5/15/2011 6:55 PM  

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