This week I received an email from a young seeker in the Philadelphia area who found my 2005 article “Witness of Our Lost Twenty-Somethings” published in FGConnections. She’s a former youth ministries leader from a Pentecostal tradition, strongly attracted to Friends beliefs but not quite fitting in with the local meetings she’s been trying. Somewhere she found my article and asks if I have any insights.
The 2005 article was largely pessimistic, focused on the “committed, interesting and bold twenty-something Friends
I knew ten years ago” who had left Friends and blaming “an institutional Quakerism that neglected them and
its own future” but my hope paragraph was optimistic:
There is hope… A great people might possibly be gathered from
the emergent church movement and the internet is full of amazing conversations
from new Friends and seekers. There are pockets in our branch of Quakerism
where older Friends have continued to mentor and encourage meaningful and
integrated youth leadership, and some of my peers have hung on with me. Most
hopefully, there’s a whole new generation of twenty- something Friends
on the scene with strong gifts that could be nurtured and harnessed.
Hard to imagine that only three years ago I was an isolated FGC staffer left to pursue outreach and youth ministry work on my own time by an institution indifferent to either pursuit. Both functions have become major staff programs, but I’m no longer involved, which is probably just as well, as neither program has decided to focus on the kind of work I had hoped it might. The more things change the more they stay the same, right? The most interesting work is still largely invisible.
Some of this work has been taken up by the new bloggers and by some sort of alt-network that seems to be congealing around all the blogs, Twitter networks, Facebook friendships, intervisitations and IM chats. Many of us associated with QuakerQuaker.org have some sort of regular correspondence or participation with the Emerging Church movement, we regularly highlight “amazing conversations” from new Friends and seekers and there’s a lot of inter-generational work going on. We’ve got a name for it in Convergent Friends, which reflects in part that “we” aren’t just the liberal Friends I imagined in 2005, but a wide swath of Friends from all the Quaker flavors.
But we end up with a problem that’s become the central one for me and a lot of others: what can we tell a new seeker who should be able to find a home in real-world Friends but doesn’t fit? I could point this week’s correspondent to meetings and churches hundreds of miles from her house, or encourage her to start a blog, or compile a list of workshops or gatherings she might attend. But none of these are really satisfactory answers.
Gathering in Light Wess sent an email around last night about a book review done by his PhD advisor Ryan Bolger that talks about tribe-style leadership and a new kind of church identity that uses the instant communication tools of the internet to forge a community that’s not necessarily limited to locality. Bolger’s and his research partner report that they see “emerging initiatives within traditional churches as the next
horizon for the spread of emerging church practices in the United States.” More links from Wess’ article on emerging churches and denominations.