The Revitalization of the Quaker Message

Several people have posted recently about what needs to change now in order to make Quakerism more accessible and relevant. Chief among these is Brent Bill, who has a whole series of excellent posts in the last two weeks on his blog, Holy Ordinary. Eileen Flanagan wrote an excellent response to it as well. Martin Kelley and Liz Oppenheimer are promoting the Invite a Visitor to Lunch method of Church Growth. All of these are very good and important suggestions. But they are all dependent on people actually coming to our meetings to find out about us.

What I think we need to do is to tell more people that Quakerism is wonderful and powerful. That God is speaking to them right now. That if they want, they can listen and do better. That they are created for more than shopping and eating and scraping for their boss. That they can live up to the Light that has been given to them.

We need to start now. We don’t have to wait for the mass media marketing campaign to kick in. We have to start with the people we know. We have to start with the people we meet – on the bus, at the store, at the movies, on Facebook, at our kids’ schools, in our college classes.

The point is not to convert people who are already happy with their faith life or lack of one. It is to reach all the people who are unhappy at the mall, at the gym, at home in front of their computers. It is to be sure that people who are looking for something just like the Quakers, even if they don’t know what that word means, can find us. There is real suffering out there and we can help.

Now it may be that many of you who are reading this are already out of the Quaker closet. That’s great. Some of you are already inviting friends and new acquaintances to come to meeting with you. Some of you are already posting videos on YouTube. Super. Leave a comment here and tell us how you did it. But most of you are not. Because if you were, there wouldn’t be so many people who said, “I didn’t know there were any Quakers around here.”

So here’s my suggestion for the revitalization of the Quaker message in the United States. Take this pledge:
“This week, I will find a way to work the fact that I’m a Quaker and I’m happier for it into a conversation with a non-Quaker.”
Can we do it? Would you do it?


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Anonymous LC said...

hi, excellent post! I am newly quaker, but a long time christian. I grew up in a church that was initially good, but ended up super strict and unloving. It was very difficult to the leave the church and I thought I would never be involved with a 'church' again. Then, a few of my friends were quaker and I decided to research it. Wow!

I think you are so right about people not knowing about quakers. I also think that it is important to emphasis that quakers basically break every stereotype (judgemental, conservative, procapitalism, etc) that exists about christians.

10/06/2010 4:44 AM  
Blogger Ray Lovegrove said...

One of the best ways that you can start to tell the world that you are a Quaker is to make certain that the 'Q word' appears prominently on social networking site profiles - face-book, twitter etc.. Many Friends I know could not be identified as a Quakers from their published profiles. Your friends should know that you are a Quaker as well as your Friends.

10/06/2010 5:41 AM  
Blogger forrest said...

But can we say this to our fellow Quakers? Most of the ones I know personally don't seem to know...

10/06/2010 6:21 AM  
Anonymous Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) said...

I like and share your overall concern. But I’m a tad skeptical of the approach you suggest in that pledge.

In my own life, back in my twenties, I found that whenever I “worked” my belief in the desirability of my religion into a conversation, it was off-putting to the person I was talking with.

I have come to believe that the topic of one’s choice of religion is so big, so overwhelmingly big, that it cannot just be casually worked into a conversation. It must be the point of the conversation from the very beginning. And there must be a clear shared sense amongst all participants that this is what they all want to talk about. Otherwise, the conversation is imposed, and the very fact that I am willing to impose it on others without their agreement is enough to discredit the whole thing.

I’d be interested in knowing if you, and other readers, see the matter differently —

10/06/2010 10:16 AM  
Blogger forrest said...

Marshall, do we ever "choose" our religion? (Choose our wives, [really] choose our friends, etc?) And can we really give our religion to anyone, no matter how much we want to? (even when we and they belong to the very same religious disorganization!)

There's a taboo to be overcome: the notion that "religion" is a personal matter akin to one's preference in tooth pastes, or one's notions about optimal diet-- and overall, not a subject that can be profitably talked about (except to put down those "Fundamentalists" with their stupid beliefs that none of us present share [and we wouldn't want to look at the possibility of them being right about anything whatsoever, those people so intrinsically uncool and unus!]

I think there's a big difference between "Accept my doctrinal soundbite; it's just what you need!" and the willingness to converse openly about religious issues. By being willing, you give others permission! (But too often, admittedly, they're afraid of it, are only able/willing to talk about it on a smalltalk level, treat it as a sort of hometeam rooting occasion, etc. Pitfalls abound, and one probably needs to be obsessed, just to overcome the fear of rebuffs. But to God, all things are possible, and when they're being possible, such a talk can be wonderful, even if the victim never comes near a Meeting...

10/06/2010 1:20 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

LC - I am so glad that you had friends who were open enough about being a Quaker that you knew to research it. That is what I am talking about.

Hay - Totally agree. Thanks for an easy suggestion that other people can take up.

Forrest, :-) We can try.

Marshall, I have to admit that I don't have much experience with one-on-one evangelism. I have lived all of my adult life in urban areas and in lefty circles within that, and I have never had anyone ask me if I was saved.

I think the key to starting this conversation is not to imply that the other person should become a Quaker. But just to say, on Monday morning at work when someone asks how your weekend was, that you went to this interesting discussion at your Quaker meeting. That is no more imposing on anyone than saying you heard this great new band on Saturday night. Or hiked on such and such a trail. And it leaves it open for someone who is interested, now or someday in the future, to know who they should ask about Quakers.

My own big risk lately was during a rough patch at work, when a co-worker was sympathizing, to say clearly that this was giving me an opportunity to practice my Christian values of patience, humility and forgiveness. (Everybody here already knows that I'm a Quaker. In SF, it's a bigger deal to out myself as a Christian.)

I really have low expectations for this "campaign." It's not intended to be a high pressure sell. My real goal is that no one in America (or England or Mexico) would say, "Quakers? I thought they were all dead."

10/06/2010 1:21 PM  
Anonymous Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) said...

Forrest, I believe that I chose my religion, after hovering between three alternatives for some time. I believe I chose my wife (and she chose me), and I believe I chose many (though by no means all) of my friends.

I don’t agree that there is a taboo to be overcome. I do agree with you, though, that the “willingness to converse openly about religious issues” is very precious. The ability to so converse — which goes beyond mere willingness, because it also requires an ability to be dispassionate — is even more so.

And, Robin, I agree that a readiness, such as you describe, to talk about one’s own religious life, is a very important part of what’s needed. Readiness, too, seems to me to be a step beyond mere willingness.

10/06/2010 2:11 PM  
Blogger Brent Bill said...

Wonderful idea, Robin!

10/06/2010 3:53 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Thank you. It's not exactly a new or very original idea, but it bears repeating from time to time.

10/07/2010 12:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree completely. I am a new Quaker and found it pretty much by the grace of God. Quakerism is the best kept secret everyone should know about.
I searched for years trying to find a way of worshipping that fit. I ultimately found it in a small meeting house like 2 miles from where I grew up. Heck I thought all the Quakers were dead and it was some historical society keeping the building up. Yeah, Its time to spread the "Good News" about the Quakers.


10/07/2010 9:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My husband and I have begun to do this to some degree, although it really does depend on the situation. I find it a bit difficult to just start talking about my faith right off the bat, because I was taught that that was considered rude. But generally it will come up in some form or fashion in my day to day conversations. Thanks for the reminder that we need to keep doing this!


10/07/2010 11:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

October 11 is National Coming Out Day. Are you a closetted Quaker?

10/07/2010 12:41 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Hi Birg - I know too many people who feel like you do. And I think there are more out there who will be grateful if we are more out there.

Mia - I agree, it can't be the place to start, or be the point of, every conversation, but from time to time, it's not a bad thing.

Fortunately, coming out of the Quaker closet in the US is a lot less risky than coming out as gay or lesbian these days.

10/08/2010 12:20 AM  
Blogger naturalmom said...

Robin, your idea of just mentioning so that people will know who to ask if they are interested resonated with me. I do this sometimes and it's how I knew who to ask when I got interested. A woman in my "moms group" had mentioned her Quaker meeting a couple of times in passing. (e.g., "Some people from my Quaker meeting offered to watch my child so I could go to XYZ for the weekend.") Later, when I decided I wanted to visit the local Quaker meeting, but was nervous about what to expect from silent worship, I emailed her. Getting my questions answered -- just about the "order of worship" (or lack thereof) -- made that first visit much more enjoyable.

One thing people might want to be prepared for, however, is that merely mentioning "my Quaker Meeting" can sometimes launch you into a question and answer session that can be awkward if you are not prepared for it. I've BTDT and wrote a blog post about it, lol!

HayQuaker, great suggestion about social network sites. I had Quaker in my full FB profile, but didn't have it visible on the sidebar on my FB wall. So I fixed it and now it is!


10/09/2010 12:45 AM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Stephanie, yes, I've had good conversations and awkward conversations. I think that even the awkward ones serve a purpose, if only to help us think about what we should have said, and they still get the word out that there are Quakers, even if I'm not the best example of one.

10/09/2010 12:29 PM  
Blogger Daniel Wilcox said...

Hi Robin,

Thanks for the post on sharing "good news".

Some good points.

My only difficulty is identifying with the label "Quaker" itself. The term seems to have the same problem of "Christian". The words have become so content-empty, even filled with stuff/values that contradict.

When I share that I am a Quaker or Christian, I often need to spend so much time explaining what I don't support that I have come to the conclusion maybe a new term needs to be given with the new "wineskins."

In the Light,

Daniel Wilcox

10/09/2010 5:58 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Daniel, then you should definitely read Brent Bill's series. I think Quakerism is such an odd duck that it would require explaining no matter what the word was.

10/09/2010 11:46 PM  

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