Invisible Quaker Misfits

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 Quak​erQuak​er​.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. 

Else­where:

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.