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
account). 

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 Con​ver​gent​Friends​.org,
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.

    • @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!

  • 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!