Necessary but Not Sufficient

I went to a Quaker Revival the other night. Organized by a small group of Christian Friends in the Eastern U.S. and held in West Philadelphia. It fit my idea of a good time.

First, a potluck supper with some Friends I don’t see often enough and some new-to-me people. The house was packed. I didn’t count but I wouldn’t be surprised if there were 50 people there.

Followed by two hours of semi-programmed worship. I would happily have continued in worship much longer – I don’t think the Holy Spirit was done with us by any means. But I had to take my kids home, so I was glad it ended at 9 pm anyway. Well, the meeting for worship ended. The conversations were still going strong when we left.

On that note, why am I (and my husband) the only one who brings her kids to stuff like this? In fact, it worked out pretty well for them. They got to eat what they wanted at the potluck, see and talk to some people they know, sing with the group, pet cats, do their homework and stay up a little (but not too, too) late. On the whole, not such a bad deal from their perspective. It’s important to me that they ARE part of the Quaker community, and the only way to really be part of something is to show up.

For me it was nice that I went, not as a part of my job, but just as a Friend in the community. So I feel like I can write about it here in a different way than if I had been working. On the other hand, I don’t go anywhere anymore without my official (but metaphorical) hat and I know that. Still, probably half the people there didn’t know I was wearing it, and the ones who did know, didn’t care. I’m glad that’s possible.

But, back to what actually happened. There was some singing at the beginning, and then there were three visiting Friends who were asked to prepare a message, and then the rest was unprogrammed worship, with some Bible reading, some more singing, and a variety of messages. It was nice. I enjoyed it. I was not transformed in any noticeable way. Other people seemed generally pleased, some more than others, of course. I think the difference is that it wasn’t exciting to me in the way new things often are, because I’ve done stuff like this before. I asked Chris, “So am I just jaded?” And he said, “Yes.” It reminded me a lot of the convergent dinners that I helped organize over the course of a few years, or the dinners after Quaker Heritage Day. (See SF, LANewbergBerkeleyBoston, Indiana, Baltimore, BerkeleyPhiladelphia).

Another key is not to have too high of expectations. As George Fox learned, when we are hoping for too much from other people, we are often disappointed and disillusioned. If calling it a revival means you’re expecting Azusa St. all over again, you’re going to be sorry. But if you’re open to what the Holy Spirit has to offer in the moment, you will be refreshed.

The important point is that evenings like this shouldn’t be a one time event. They should be a semi-regular event in the life of all Quaker communities. Any time a traveling minister is visiting – the community should gather like this. And that is how we revive ourselves. Revival is not a once and for all kind of event. It is the regular infusion of energy, not in the slow trickle of everyday life, but in cloudbursts of the Holy Spirit among us.

The long-term transformation of lives really happens in the steady flow of service and forgiveness and patience and commitment that we experience in our local meetings. But we need the little jolts of enthusiasm that come from really inspired preaching. We need the friendships and connections that are built in an evening like this. It brought together Friends from several worshipping communities in the area, who live too far apart to do this every week, but ought to know one another in the way of extended family. That too makes a difference over time. The ministry that comes out speaks to different people each time.

It may have been a little gimmicky to call it a Quaker Revival. But it got people to come – a wide range of Friends from 20 miles around. Plus the Holy Spirit. For that, let us be truly thankful.

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Blogger forrest said...

Thanks, I was curious!!!

I agree we need to vary the form of worship so as to meet more than one need of the worshippers (which is, after all, the basis of God's interest in being 'worshipped.') I'm glad we've got people trying this.

& collecting more lively spirits, now & then, yes also!

Probably, more than anything, finding ways to avoid being so bogged down by people's habitual attachment to remaining safely 'dead'.

12/08/2012 11:17 PM  
Blogger RantWoman said...

Tell me more about taking your children places like this.

Today I was doing some mental housekeeping related to a Salt and Light event at my Meeting a couple years ago.

I was involved in the planning. I cannot remember whether anyone made some gesture of asking people who needed childcare to sign up in advance. I cannot remember whether there was childcare but NO ONE thought to include activities involving children. This was a silly oversight given the gifts of the travelling ministers.

For our trouble we got gently eldered at the end of a day by one of the ministers: he asked "where are your children?" He talked about how in their church in El Salvador, there are lots of children but in his travels in the NW US he hardly ever saw children.

But I am curious: do you think the kids ability to participate in this way would hold steady if there were more kids?

12/09/2012 1:42 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

As the meeting was meeting, i was greeting the Spirit of Lovingkindness in intercession (or 'holding in the light' -the appropriate Quaker lingo) for all of the everybodies there.

I was Moved from my little dormer-garret-room to the prayer-walk path at Pendle Hill at the urging of Sweet-One SPIRIT. (A 30-40 minute journey for me)

I am a former SanFrancisco resident, (77-80 market and guererro Harvey Milk/early punk scene) And i am pleased to have your impressions of the meeting.

My experience at Pendle Hill, while you met was quite spectacular, and the 'indicator' of the 'gathered meeting-off site watcher' status, was this...

After speaking to no one except for a quick 'how do i get to the path' with my flashlight in hand, after 2+ hours of walking in the spirit, i took a 'water and song' break in the dark silent dining room. A woman stepped in and greeted me. She is sojourning at Pendle Hill. "I am here to hold a meeting in the light that is happening tonight. Have you heard of an event being called 'quaker revival'? "ive just come from there" It was Carol Holmes. I got a pleasant report immediately!!

Thanks for Children-bringing!! -David/stephen.

12/09/2012 6:04 AM  
Blogger Jenny58 said...

Robin- Thank you so much for this. I had been really interested to hear about the evening and your blog post answered so many of my wonderings. I feel a need for renewal and refreshment for our larger community but had been put off by much that was said and written in advance of the event. Yes I feel that our reluctance to include children in so many circumstances is a major issue on many levels.

12/09/2012 1:38 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

I'm glad this has been helpful to people. I'm still hoping that other people who were there will write about their experience.

As to bringing children, there are two ways to go about that. One is to have organized children's activities, which is a lot of work, but especially important for very young children to have dedicated adults caring for them. The other way, which happened at this event, is just to create some space where kids can hang out without bothering other people and come and go when they need their parents or want to participate. In this case, it was just another room in the house where my boys went when they were tired of the meeting for worship. They hung out together with the cats who didn't appreciate the crowd downstairs, and were able to do their homework, since it was a school night after all. I can imagine circumstances where this would not work, but in this case it was perfect. If it hadn't been a December night, some outside space to run around, in sight but not too close, would have been great too.

12/09/2012 3:40 PM  
Blogger Pat Pope said...

In an evangelical meeting that I used to attend, there were usually one or two people who talked about the need for revival and I used to want to ask them to define that for me because I was pretty sure they were talking about something with an outward visibility or an Azusa-like feel as you mentioned in your post. But sometimes, what we're wanting is really a projection of our own desires rather than a desire to see God move among His people, however that may look.

12/09/2012 4:26 PM  
Blogger Martin Kelley said...

Ah, the kid question. The reasons I didn't bring mine are all pretty obvious. It was a school night, I live at a distance, there's four of them along a range, with one autistic. If my wife had met me down there it would have been an hour drive, then three hours of trying to keep four tired, wired kids quiet without breaking anything or tromping up and down the stairs. Major stress for her, unhappiness for them, etc. Like most Quaker events, there was nothing to do with children. A pair of relatively well-behaved older kids could find a quiet spot but not a small gaggle of little ones.

Another possibility is that this is partly an effect of "Quaker lost generation." I don't post about it much anymore, but for awhile I was trying to alert my blog readers to the phenomenon of my Philadelphia Quaker age peers all disappearing (the closest example for me being my wife who left after 11 years and heavy involvement). Back in the late 90s there was a large social set of twenty-somethings who circled around Central Philadelphia Meeting. We would have spontaneous post-worship brunches of us to 25 people. Including the occasional regulars and there were probably somewhere around 70 in the social set. There was similarly-sized group that identified with the yearly meeting young adult retreats.

Thursday night's "Revival" had attendees from an incredible-diverse cross-section of Philadelphia Quakers. But going through the list of attendees, I was the only one present who had been part of either of those scenes. Many members of this group now have sticky high chairs and Thomas trains underfoot. I can think of a dozen or so still involved with Philadelphia Friends but that's a pretty dismal retention rate.

12/09/2012 4:29 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Pat, you are so right. Checking my expectations was a big part of my process in writing this.

Hey Martin - other than the kid thing, what did you think?

12/09/2012 6:45 PM  
Blogger Marcelle Martin said...

I was sorry I was not in Philadelphia for this event and I'm glad to read about it here. I agree that regular doses are good and needed!

12/10/2012 9:25 AM  
Blogger Kathy, Western Friend said...

What everyone else said. :) I'm glad to hear you are feeling your way through the balancing act of being a professional Quaker with some success! Refreshment is valuable, as you point, and I think it's often easy for us to overlook its value in our quest for the electrifying transformations we are familiar with from the journals of early Friends. Both are necessary, and in a faith community, one does not happen without the other.

12/10/2012 7:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I grew up going to parties with my whole family and with other people's whole families, from youngest to oldest, including unmarried singles, gay couples, etc. Whole family parties seem to be a common part of the experience of first and second generation immigrants. So my "automatic setting" is to want to take my son too. I've sadly learned to ask whether an event is kid-friendly and I've been quite disturbed at the number of times that I'm told "No." Well, if my kid isn't welcome, then, effectively, I'm not really welcome either. I can get a sitter and go anyway, but it's not comfortable to me. I particularly don't like the narrow categories that seem to have been imposed by single age education on who I'm "supposed" to be friends with.

12/14/2012 4:51 PM  

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