The new traveling ministries

Quak­ers are a bit infa­mous for our opaque acronyms but FWCC’s is worth remem­ber­ing. The Friends World Com­mit­tee for Con­sul­ta­tion bridges togeth­er Friends across the­o­log­i­cal and geo­graph­ic dis­tances.

Tonight I got to hear a pre­sen­ta­tion on the trav­el­ing min­istry corps host­ed by FWCC’s Sec­tion of the Amer­i­c­as. I was phys­i­cal­ly in the audi­ence but you can watch too via the mag­ic of Pen­dle Hill con­fer­ence center’s livestream:

For more bite-sized videos, you can check out the minis­eries they spon­sored with Quak­er­S­peak.

Can Quakerism Survive?

Some­times I’m remiss at actu­al­ly shar­ing arti­cles I’ve worked on as part of my duties as Friends Journal’s edi­tor. It’s espe­cial­ly iron­ic this week giv­en that one of the most talked-about recent Quak­er arti­cles comes from the Feb­ru­ary FJ issue.

Don McCormick’s piece has a bold title: Can Quak­erism Sur­vive? He talks about thr decline that many Friends geoups have been expe­rien­ing and won­ders who it is that might have. vision for twenty-first cen­tu­ry Friends.

The arti­cle has gar­nered over eighty com­ments. The range and depth of that con­ver­sa­tion has been hum­bling as as edi­tor. But this is a good cross-section of visions of Quak­erism. An excerpt from McCormick:

Over the past 40 years, I have been part of and seen orga­ni­za­tions that had high ideals and did good work but were focused on inter­nal dynam­ics and paid lit­tle atten­tion to threats to their exis­tence. As a result, they went under. I wor­ry that our year­ly, quar­ter­ly, and month­ly meet­ings will also.

“Quakerism has ruined me for other faith experiences”

Great tweet­storm by life­long Friend Susan­na Williams on why she left Quak­ers and why she remains so attached to Quak­ers:

Quak­erism has ruined me for oth­er faith experiences- I was empow­ered from an ear­ly age to have a direct & per­son­al rela­tion­ship with God, to give vocal min­istry (as I first did when I was 12), to dive into silent wor­ship.

Where are the new Quak­er meet­ing plants? Where are the din­ner wor­ship groups? Where is the con­nec­tion with the Spir­it? Where is the space for Friends to encounter and share authen­tic faith jour­neys?

This reminds me of some of the themes I wrote about in The Lost Quak­er Gen­er­a­tion (turn­ing fif­teen this year) and 2013’s Quak­erism Left Me by Bet­sy Blake. Should the kind of Friends com­mu­ni­ty Susanna’s look­ing for real­ly be all that rare? Click on the link to read the 10-part sto­ry.

QuakerSpeak DVDs for new visitors

So I’ll admit some­thing: although I’m the senior edi­tor of Friends Jour­nal, and the Quak­er­S­peak YouTube video series is a project of Friends Jour­nal, I’m still jeal­ous of the way it pro­vides a far supe­ri­or entrée to Quak­er thought and life. The way you get to know some­one with such imme­di­a­cy for ten min­utes or so is very pow­er­ful.

Every year, Quak­er­S­peak video­g­ra­ph­er Jon Watts has put togeth­er DVDs with col­lec­tions of that season’s videos. There’s a bit of irony in pay­ing for DVDs of free videos but the col­lec­tions are use­ful for shar­ing in meet­ing­house fel­low­ship rooms as part of First-day class­es.

But this year’s DVD is spe­cial. It’s only eight videos and they’ve been curat­ed with a very spe­cif­ic audi­ence in mind: new­com­ers and first-time atten­ders. Because the entire DVD runs a bit under an hour, the per-disk price has been made low­er. Low enough hope­ful­ly, for Quak­er meet­ings to buy them in enough bulk that they can be giv­en out to atten­ders who come to vis­it.

Quak­er wor­ship is an alien con­cept to a lot of reli­gious seek­ers. And it’s very pos­si­ble to attend a Quak­er meet­ing and leave not know­ing much more about Friends’ beliefs and val­ues than a vis­i­tor had walk­ing in that morn­ing. Imag­ine hav­ing some­thing you could hand them to teach them more about the diver­si­ty and depth of Quak­er belief. That’s what these DVDs offer (and, if they’re from the cord-cutter gen­er­a­tion, they can always use the print­ed playlist to open YouTube on their phones).

The dif­fer­ence between a curi­ous per­son vis­it­ing once and a reg­u­lar atten­der (and some­day mem­ber) is some­times just a bit of fol­lowup. I’m excit­ed to see if meet­ings take up this oppor­tu­ni­ty. I think Quak­er­S­peak has been the most impor­tant Quak­er out­reach pro­gram of recent times; this DVD is yet anoth­er way that we’re bridg­ing it with on-the-ground Quak­er meet­ings. Check it out.

Quak­er­S­peak DVDs

Remembering Christine Greenland

Over email, the news that Chris­tine Manville Green­land has passed. In recent times I worked with Chris­tine most­ly through the Tract Asso­ci­a­tion of Friends but I’ve known her for so long I don’t know when I first met her.

When­ev­er she said some­thing it was well worth lis­ten­ing to. On online forums from Soc.religion.quaker to Face­book she was always encour­ag­ing to what Samuel Bow­nas had called “infant min­is­ters.” She had the rare abil­i­ty to slice through thorny Quak­er issues with unex­pect­ed obser­va­tion and wis­dom. She had a long view of recent Quak­er his­to­ry that put things in con­text and she would pull metaphors from her train­ing as a botanist to explain mys­ti­fy­ing behav­iors in our core­li­gion­ists.

She also had a wealth of insti­tu­tion­al mem­o­ry. There’s incred­i­ble val­ue in this. Friends, like most humans, give a lot of val­ue to the ways we’re doing things right now. It only takes a few years before a process feels time­less and essen­tial. We for­get that things once worked dif­fer­ent­ly or that oth­er Friends have a dif­fer­ent meth­ods. By being involved with Friends in dif­fer­ent areas — Cana­da and Col­orado — Chris­tine brought geo­graph­ic aware­ness and by being involved in Philadel­phia so long she brought a mod­ern his­tor­i­cal aware­ness. That dys­func­tion­al meet­ing everyone’s talk­ing about? She’ll remem­ber that every­one was talk­ing about it thir­ty years ago for anoth­er con­tro­ver­sy and point out the sim­i­lar­i­ties. That doubt you’ll have about a path? Chris­tine will tell you how oth­ers have felt the lead­ing and assure you that it’s gen­uine.

She did all this with such gen­tle­ness and mod­esty that it’s only now that she’s gone that I’m real­iz­ing the debt I owe her. More than any­thing per­haps, she showed how to live a life as a Friend of integri­ty through the pol­i­tics and foibles of our Reli­gious Soci­ety.

I used Google to find pre­cious gems of wis­dom she left on com­ment threads. It’s a long trail. She was active on soc.religion.quaker back in the day, com­ment­ed on most Con­ver­gent Friends blogs and was active on Face­book. She took the time to write many enlight­en­ing and warm com­men­tary. Here is a ran­dom sam­ple.

Com­ment on my post “Vision and Lead­er­ship”

Yes­ter­day, I  clerked a small quar­ter­ly meet­ing work­ing group — I’m co-clerk, since it  isn’t my quar­ter… and the oth­er co-clerk is, which works well. We keep ask­ing the ques­tions and see­ing the poten­tials … but when it comes down to being faith­ful (a term I use instead of “account­able”) that needs con­sis­tent test­ing. It is impor­tant to cen­ter in wor­ship, no mat­ter what we are doing.

I had the expe­ri­ence of being chair of a group of biol­o­gists, and found that, even then, I con­duct­ed busi­ness in the same way… one of seek­ing guid­ance from oth­er mem­bers of the group — even though the group of which we were a small part used Robert’s rules of order. I felt our group was too small to make that approach work­able… Occa­sion­al­ly, I for­got I wasn’t among Friends until anoth­er mem­ber of the group (a Unit­ed Church grad­u­ate of Swarth­more Col­lege) remind­ed me… Church of the Brethren folks just grinned and allowed as how they pre­ferred the approach; we were, after all, both friends and biol­o­gists.  For most of us, the work had both a sci­en­tif­ic and a spir­i­tu­al basis.

To Mic­ah Bales’s “Is It Time to Get Rid of Year­ly Meet­ings?”

I checked in with Friends at our Quar­ter­ly Meet­ing pic­nic yes­ter­day; respons­es were mixed for a vari­ety of rea­sons, some hav­ing to do with resis­tance to chang­ing the ways in which we are Friends, and oth­er respons­es that I can only describe as “insti­tu­tion­al cheer-leading”.

Some of this has to do with expect­ed ten­sions as we grap­ple with mat­ters of both race and class; still oth­er mat­ters have to do with the fact that our struc­tures have changed at least twice in 30 years, as has the out­line of our faith and prac­tice. The ques­tion I have (of myself and oth­ers) is “How do we — indi­vid­u­al­ly and cor­po­rate­ly — show that we tru­ly love one anoth­er as Christ has loved us?” By that, I mean all oth­ers.

The most hope­ful exchange was speak­ing with a dear Friend in my for­mer meet­ing who had gone for the first time in decades, and feels strong­ly led to encour­age her meet­ing to assist in work going on at both the quar­ter and year­ly meet­ing lev­el; this will cross bound­aries. I was hope­ful in part because this Friend exudes con­sis­tent love. … and has in the 25 years I’ve known her. Love of God/neighbor are insep­a­ra­ble. She lives that bet­ter than I do.

It seems I have much to learn.

Com­ment on my “What Does it Mean to be a Quak­er?” (on an old site)

I cringe when I hear the word “Quak­erism” or “the Quak­er Way”… I find the two terms inter­change­able — both can lack sub­stance. It seems we have final­ly become the “bureau­crat­ic asso­ci­a­tion of dis­tant acquan­tances” rather than the Reli­gious Soci­ety of Friends. Some years ago, an expe­ri­enced Friend wrote that Integri­ty (say­ing what one means, mean­ing what one says) was at the heart of Quak­er Prac­tice — as a tes­ti­mo­ny.

If we’re just going for PR, that lacks integri­ty.

The ques­tion — for me — becomes “How can I live as a Friend?”

Com­ment on Eric Moon’s “Cat­e­gor­i­cal­ly Not the Tes­ti­monies”

When I first came to Friends, it was the way of life — not the intel­lec­tu­al con­struct — that drew me to meet­ing week after week (a uni­ver­si­ty meet­ing in what lat­er became Inter­moun­tain Year­ly Meet­ing). When I applied for mem­ber­ship, my com­mit­tee of clear­ness ques­tioned more whether I could live into a way of life, into the com­mu­ni­ty of that par­tic­u­lar meet­ing. Friends felt that wrestling with the under­stand­ing of the faith tra­di­tion was a part of my edu­ca­tion. Only after I moved to Philadel­phia did I begin hear­ing of the “pars­ing” of the faith tra­di­tion. It seemed too pat.

Still, the over­lap­ping cat­e­gories are still as use­ful by way of expla­na­tion, but it isn’t the whole sto­ry.

As with many mat­ters of faith, for those who pos­sess it, no expla­na­tion is nec­es­sary; for those who do not, no expla­na­tion is pos­si­ble. Howard Brin­ton did his best by way of expla­na­tion, but faith-wrestling is a task we all have.

Com­ment on Ash­ley Wilcox’s The Cost of Trav­el­ing Min­istry

My ques­tion about younger Friends serv­ing as trav­el­ing min­is­ters is some­what more seri­ous: Are their meet­ings atten­tive to both the spir­i­tu­al gifts and the needs (cost of trav­el, etc.)as well as the spir­i­tu­al need for sup­port. If not, is the Friend with a con­cern for trav­el, teach­ing, or any oth­er min­istry) hum­ble enough to ask the ques­tions Jon is ask­ing. In my expe­ri­ence (as an old­er adult Friend)there is lit­tle com­mu­ni­ca­tion among age groups so that gifts of min­istry are ful­ly rec­og­nized… Young Friends are often left to their own devices. It may be that lack of spir­i­tu­al sup­port that is the “last door out.”

For instance, I would not trav­el with­out the full con­sent of my past com­mit­tee of care, all of whom know me well. They have gen­er­ous­ly sup­port­ed me this year (as well as my co-leader).

What con­cerns me is the ener­gy it takes (spir­i­tu­al and phys­i­cal), and that it most often takes an elder to attend to the mun­dane things — as well as to keep the min­is­ter on track.

She was also always one to think of the kids. Here she is com­ment­ing on Kath­leen Karhnak-Glasby’s “Bring­ing Chil­dren to Wor­ship: Trust­ing God to Take Over from There”

I recall one par­ent of a small meet­ing in Ontario at Cana­di­an Year­ly Meet­ing ses­sions try­ing to encour­age his daugh­ter to sit qui­et­ly dur­ing wor­ship… Her very rea­son­able response was “but Dad­dy, I can pray stand­ing on my head!” Her min­istry caused me to reflect on whether I could indeed pray/worship in all cir­cum­stances, and from what­ev­er posi­tion I was in at the time. I still reflect on that…

At anoth­er meet­ing, when Friends noticed the pow­er strug­gles between chil­dren and their par­ents, we asked elder Friends to serve as “adop­tive” grand­par­ents, with whom the chil­dren could sit… That defused the pow­er strug­gles, and mem­bers of meet­ing who had no chil­dren of their own were very help­ful to par­ents in that meet­ing.

I also recall learn­ing to sink deeply into wor­ship — and hear­ing a younger Friend’s grand­moth­er gig­gle. I looked down and there was the 1 – 2 year old peer­ing up in won­der at why/how I could sit so qui­et­ly when he was busy crawl­ing under the bench­es. it was just fine. He became a part of my prayers that day, and still is a part of them.

And this one has to be the last I’ll share, from a Quak­erQuak­er dis­cus­sion start­ed by Richard B Miller and titled “Elders’ Cor­ner”

Like you, I learned about the role of elders from Con­ser­v­a­tive Friends (in Cana­da and Ohio).  In the con­text of my own meet­ing (and quar­ter), how­ev­er, there are Friends who can and do serve as guides and sound­ing boards — offer­ing cor­rec­tions as may be required.  Ide­al­ly, elders should arise from the month­ly meet­ings, and then be rec­og­nized in larg­er bod­ies of Friends, not nec­es­sar­i­ly being named by a year­ly meet­ing nom­i­nat­ing com­mit­tee.

I was asked to serve as an elder for Year­ly Meeting/Interim Meet­ing… but because I was also on the nom­i­nat­ing com­mit­tee, had a “stop” about whether that was right­ly ordered. I con­sult­ed some North Car­oli­na Friends, who agreed with the “stop”.

One dif­fi­cul­ty that you raised is that many of the con­ser­v­a­tive Friends who held that tra­di­tion are no longer avail­able as guides… One effect is that the role elders once played is dimin­ish­ing among con­ser­v­a­tive Friends.

I’m feel­ing pret­ty bro­ken up right now. And I’m feel­ing the weight of this loss. I’ve found myself more and more to be the one giv­ing out advice and giv­ing his­tor­i­cal con­text that new­er Friends might not have. It’s the kind of perch that Chris­tine had. I’m only start­ing to appre­ci­ate that she formed a gen­tle men­tor­ing role for me — and I’m sure for many oth­ers.

A few years ago my wife and I lost our remain­ing par­ents (her dad, my mom) and we had the unescapable recog­ni­tion that we were now the old­est gen­er­a­tion. I know there are old­er Friends around still and some have bits of Christine’s wit and wis­dom. But one of our human guides have left us.

Interviewing the next head of AFSC

This week’s Friends Jour­nal fea­ture is my inter­view with Joyce Ajlouny, who is leav­ing her role as head of the Ramal­lah Friends School to become the next gen­er­al sec­re­tary for Amer­i­can Friends Ser­vice Com­mit­tee.

I inter­viewed her by phone from my back porch on a snowy day and very much enjoyed con­ver­sa­tion. I’m fas­ci­nat­ed by the chal­lenges of an orga­ni­za­tion like AFSC — one that has to bal­ance strong roots in a reli­gious tra­di­tion while large­ly work­ing out­side of it. How do you bal­anc­ing the con­flict­ing iden­ti­ties? It’s not unlike the chal­lenge of a Friends school like Ramallah’s.

I was also par­tic­u­lar­ly moved by the gen­uine enthu­si­asm in her voice as she talked about engag­ing in hon­est con­ver­sa­tions with peo­ple with whom we have strong dis­agree­ments. In this polar­ized age, it’s tempt­ing to try to stay in the safe­ty our bub­bles. Joyce seems to thrive step­ping out of that com­fort zone:

I think we’ve learned from this last U.S. elec­tion that we need to lis­ten more. This can often be a chal­lenge for peo­ple who are very pas­sion­ate about the posi­tions they take. Some­times the pas­sion is so over­whelm­ing that it sort of over­rides that will­ing­ness to lis­ten to oth­er nar­ra­tives. This is some­thing that we real­ly need to work much hard­er on. Truth is always incom­plete. We always have to look for oth­er truths. We need to break through some of these bound­aries that we’ve put around our­selves and seek a wider spec­trum of per­spec­tives.

I think AFSC will be in good hands with Ajlouny.