How and why we gather as Friends (in the 21st Century)

On a recent evening I met up with Gathering in Light Wess, who was in Philadelphia for a Quaker-sponsored peace conference. Over the next few hours, six of us went out for a great dinner, Wess and I tested some testimonies,
and a revolving group of Friends ended up around a table in the
conference’s hotel lobby talking late into the night (the links are
Wess’ reviews, these days you can reverse stalk him through his Yelp

Of all of the many people I spoke with, only one had any kind of
featured role at the conference. Without exception my conversation
partners were fascinating and insightful about the issues that had
brought them to Philadelphia, yet I sensed a pervading sense of missed
opportunity: hundreds of lives rearranged and thousands of air miles
flown mostly to listen to others talk. I spent my long commute home
wondering what it would have been like to have spent the weekend in the
hotel lobby recording ten minute Youtube interviews with as many
conference participants as I could. We would have ended up with a
snapshot of faith-based peace organizing circa 2009.

Next weekend I’ll be burning up more of the ozone layer by flying to California to co-lead a workshop with Wess and Robin M. (details at,
I’m sure we can squeeze more people in!) The participant list looks
fabulous. I don’t know everyone but there’s at least half a dozen
people coming who I would be thrilled to take workshops from. I really
don’t want to spend the weekend hearing myself talk! I also know there
are plenty of people who can’t come because of commitments and costs.

So we’re going to try some experiments–they might work, they might not. On QuakerQuaker, there’s a new group for the event and a discussion thread open to all QQ members (sign up is quick and painless). For those of you comfortable with the QQ tagging system, the Delicious tag for the event is “quaker.reclaiming2009”. Robin M has proposed using #convergentfriends as our Twitter hashtag.

There’s all sorts of mad things we could try (Ustream video or live
blogging via Twitter, anyone?), wacky wacky stuff that would distract
us from whatever message the Inward Christ might be trying to give us.
But behind all this is a real questions about why and how we should
gather together as Friends. As the banking system tanks, as the environment
strains, as communications costs drop and we find ourselves in a curious new economy, what challenges and opportunities open up?

  • Patricia

    Youtubing the conference participants is a great idea. I find that a conference can sometimes feel canned. The old timey Friends had huge un-programed meetings.

    With the old ways slipping away, Friends can find Truth and Light in the darkness of the temporal world to bring great gains to the cause of individual liberty and life’s great freedoms.

    I was really sick of the old economy anyway.

    • Martin Kelley

      @Patricia: I’ve always been a bit skeptical of the college model of workshops that’s largely replaced the old un-programmed meetings. But it’s a tool we have. And we have budgets and conference centers are geared up to work this model. Generally I try to arrange workshops so they break down into unprogrammed gathered worship somewhere in the middle and I can throw away the rest of the agenda.

      We’ll see about Youtube. I half-heartedly tried it at an FGC Gathering once but found a lot of people were unwilling to talk. I’ll try to practice my interview technique this weekend!

  • Wess

    I think it’s going to be fun, and the simple fact that we’re thinking about (and open too) how to extend our physical meeting into a virtual one is good enough for me. Whatever big or little things we can actually get done. I agree, I can’t wait to learn from all the other people involved!