Last night my wife Julie and I (and baby Theo) went to a service at Circle of Hope church at 10th and Locust. Very Gen-X oriented, it goes to some trouble to not look or feel too churchy. It meets on Sunday night on folding chairs in a spartan room above a convenience store. The minister gave a low-key non-sermon, played a clip from a pop movie, gave out index cards with scripture verses for people to read aloud while music played. There are guitars and tamborines but it’s more lo-fi/punk than folksy twelve-string. The language is Christian but not churchy. It’s big into house-church “cells” as the small-scale community building block. Theology seemed secondary to community, which could also be described as the practice of living a Christian life.
The elements I found interesting were the same ones I would find worrisome were I to stay. Almost everyone was a twenty- and thirty-somethings and it had the feel of a “scene,” in that there was a dominant style and demographic to the participants. While I suspect there’s a little too much of a social component to the community, I have to admit to a certain intoxication to being in the midst of so many age peers. There was a definite sense that I could belong there and that my participation would be welcomed and encouraged. It was quite a change from the invisibility I often feel among Friends as a convinced thirty-something with a concern for traditional Quakerism.
While I have been in large gatherings of “young adult” Friends, they’ve tended to be dominated by non-practicing kids of Quakers who are there primarily to see their high-school-era friends. The group at Circle of Hope chose to be there and their primary identification with one another is through this worship group, which allows for deeper (and bolder) fellowship than the young adult Friends gatherings I’ve been to.
But could I belong at a place like Circle of Hope? Probably not. I’m too Quaker, crazy enough. I didn’t join in their communion since I don’t believe in outward sacraments. I wouldn’t like the idea of a prepared ministry, and the entertainment of showing video clips and playing music would grate on my beliefs. While I know there are many paths to the divine, I agree with Friends’ experience that the path least likely to become encumbered with false idols and barriers is the one that is most stripped of artifice and programming, the one that allows an unmediated direct experience and obeyance of Christ as manifested in the moment.
But am I too hung up on Quaker practice? Many local Friends meetings could be more accurately described as meditation groups, there being little common faith and many members who don’t believe in the possibility of the divine presence during worship. With Circle, I’m confronted with the one of the central dilemmas behind the last 150 years of Quakerism, namely: is it better to participate with:
- the programmed (often younger) people boldly espousing faith who might be too socially oriented and flighty; or
- the silent worshippers who threaten to replace faith with process , are tone-deaf to generational change and have trouble transmitting faith to their children or responsibility to their sucessors.
You can’t quite reduce all the splits between Hicksites, Gurneyites, Beanites, etc. to this dichotomy but it is a factor in most of the schisms. I suspect I would eventually be as frustrated by Circle as I currently am with cultural Quakerism but for entirely different reasons. Perhaps I should follow the advice of a current article in theooze and official take some time to “detox from the church.”