Quaker Life: A New Kind of Quaker

Have you seen the January – February issue of Quaker Life magazine? The theme for this issue is 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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Blogger Martin Kelley said...

Hi Robin, thanks for summarizing this. You might have seen the Facebook thread where I grumped about the comparison of Convergent Friends with Five Years Meeting.

I'm glad Scott's piece was put up online since he had some good points about the organizational and institutional change-of-mind that a lot of us see happening. It reminds me of Robert Webber's generational chart that I put at the bottom of my 2003 emergent church piece.

I wouldn't say we're just holding space for the future. We're the present negotiating with the eternal, just as every generation is and will be. I too resonate with the pre-Fox Seekers of Northern England. I think the Quaker-leaning seekers movement is much larger than the current RSOF. At some point I decided to care more about those who would be Friends if they knew about us (and if we acted more in line with our principles) than those who actually were. It helps keep me from getting too bent out of shape over current internal controversies.

1/31/2010 5:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lots of appreciation and thanks to all who contributed to current QL ... as one who is supported (hired) by the institution I am grateful for those who not only recognze the new stirrings of the Spirit but are partners with God in the stirring. Thank you ... Deborah Suess, Greensboro

1/31/2010 6:31 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Hey Martin, I think it's a very interesting issue. It's worth trying to find someone who subscribes and reading the whole thing.

Deborah, I'm looking forward to hearing you speak at the FWCC meeting in March. For other Friends in the Baltimore area, did you know that you can come to hear Deborah too? There's no charge, but the conference organizers would like people to preregister -more info at the link above.

1/31/2010 11:15 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

It is also possible of course to subscribe to Quaker Life yourself. It's really quite interesting and well-done, in every issue I've gotten since I started subscribing a year ago.

1/31/2010 11:17 PM  
Blogger forrest said...

I like what the article is trying to encourage; I'm a little annoyed by the " 'New' Good! 'Old' Bad!" format

It seems to me that this "new" sort of people have always been around, among Friends and many other religious organizations. When, as you say, the weight of institutional arrangements has become largely irrelevant, even perhaps an impediment, to the purpose they were meant to serve, people like us are led to fuss more conspicuously about that. But the tension between "bury it in the ground" spirituality and "Shout it from the rooftops!" -- Can you think of a time when that hasn't been an issue?

2/01/2010 8:21 PM  
Blogger forrest said...

[after interruption & afterthoughts]

All of us, and our recent predecessors, grew up in a world dominated by the idea that the physical world was real, the spiritual world imaginary. If we were lucky, we found some refuge from such notions (for me, via the spiritual turmoils of the 60's)

A person needs more courage to affirm spiritual values if he more than half suspects they may be merely his personal hopes... If he can't justify them to anyone else, he becomes spiritually reticent. I think this was a common outcome for an older generation of Friends. How can they put their faith in a power they're afraid to talk about?-- and without such faith, how could they expect the things they love to survive except via buildings, organizations, doctrines?

If one has had to face the Spirit as a reality in one's life, that changes everything!

2/01/2010 9:24 PM  
Blogger Liz Opp said...

Hi, Robin--

Thanks for taking the time to write about this past issue of Quaker Life. I was able to purchase this issue separately ($4.00 USD) and was eager to read it because of Scott's, Wess's, and your articles.

I also read Jack Kirk's article, and had a reaction similar to yours, that God called Friends back then to establish an organization, and God is calling Friends these days to another path, one that transcends organizational and institutional boundaries.

I'm sad that I won't be at Baltimore to see you, but I think you'll have a great time and a lively conversation--about Convergent Friends, FWCC, and more!

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

2/14/2010 11:14 PM  
Anonymous Chad Stephenson said...

I guess you saw that Jack Kirk also put out a great PH Pamphlet, "Kindling A Life Of Concern" last month. A really great read!

2/16/2010 8:57 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

No, Chad, I didn't know. Thanks for passing that on.

Liz - thanks for the reminder that people could buy the issue themselves. I'll miss you in Baltimore, but hope that our paths will cross somewhere in 2010.

Forrest, really good points!

2/16/2010 10:54 PM  

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