John S made an interesting comment at the end of my last post (all ) about live twittering tonight’s Presidential Debate got me thinking about a Quaker response to the debates might be. As I’ve admitted I can be rather snarky and partisan. So I prepared some interesting quotes from some old Quaker tesimonies and have been sprinkling them throughout my twitter commentary.
- 1762: Friends ought not be active in electing to offices, the execution whereof tends to lay wast our Christian testimony
- <1879: Members should maintain inoffensive, circumspect emeanour towards all men, manifesting peaceable spirit of Christ.
- <1879: Friends should avoid those heats & controversies respecting the policies and govt’s of the world.
- 1874: The mere natural wisdom and will of man have no palce in the church of Christ.
- 1808: The preservation of love and unity is a duty in every state of religious attainment.
- 1853: It is upon the simplicity of the Truth as it is in Jesus that our testimony to plainness and moderation rests.
- <1879: Friends are to avoid electing brethren to civil govt as may subject them to temptation of violating testimonies.
- 1808: Friends are not to unite in warlike measures, either offensive or defensive, we are subj of Messaih’s peaceful reign.
- 1843: Fds must decline acceptance of any office or station in civil govt w/duties inconsistent w/our religious principles.
- 1843: Friends warned vs. raising & circulating paper credit w/appearance of value w/o intrinsic reality.
- 1843: Friends should be open-hearted and liberal in raising funds for relief for members in indigent circumstances.
- 1843: So may we be living members of the Church militant on earth; and inhabitants of that city which hath foundations.
- 1853: The standards which the world adopts in pursuit of trade and desire for riches in not safe for disciple of Christ.
- 1853: May no Friends involve themselves in worldy concerns disqualify for right use of their time, talents & temporal substance.
The quotes are culled from “Christian Advices” (1879) and “Rules of Discipline” (1843), both published by Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. I think these are Orthodox and Hicksite respectively, but I’m not an expert in the investigative details necessary to differentiate between yearly meeting publications. If anyone knows “Christian Advices” says it’s available from the Friends Bookstore at 304 Arch Street; “Rules of Discipline” is printed by John Richards of 130 N. Third Street.
One has to applaud the sheer honesty of the group of leading Quakers who have recently proposed turning the grounds of Philadelphia’s historic Arch Street Meetinghouse into a retirement home. It makes perfect sense. Arch Street is the host for our annual sessions, where the average age is surely over 70. Why not institutionalize the yearly meeting reality?
The Arch Street Meetinghouse grounds are also a cemetery. In about ten years time we can raze the meetinghouse for more headstones and in about twenty years time we can have a big party where we cash out the yearly meeting funds and just burn them in a big bonfire (there’s a fire station across the street), formally laying down Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. The fifteen of us who are left can go attach ourselves to some other yearly meeting.
This year’s annual sessions continue their tradition of self-parody: the featured speakers are the umpteenth gray-hair professional Quaker talking about the peace testimony and a psychologist who appears on NPR. It’s safe to assume neither will stray beyond the mildest communities of faith talk to mention God, gospel order or naming of gifts, and that neither will ask why there’s almost no one under forty involved in the yearly meeting. The last time I went to a nominating committee workshop at annual sessions, members openly explained to me why Friends under forty couldn’t serve on committees. Later during that session we learned the average new attender was in their thirties yet the yearly meeting clerk didn’t think it was appropriate than any Friend under fifty comment on that (about 40 older Friends were recognized to share their thoughts, natch).
The generational freefall is coming to the yearly meeting. Arch Street Meeting is smack in the middle of one of the premier hip young neighborhoods of Philadelphia yet they’ve been resistant to doing any serious outreach or adult religious ed (I could tell stories: don’t get me started). This weekend I learned that the other downtown meeting, Central Philadelphia, continues its practice – almost policy – of not supporting emerging ministry in long-time young attenders (I could really tell stories). I wouldn’t be surprised if Philadelphia has the lowest per-capita yearly meeting attendance.
So why not just admit that the yearly meeting is irrelevant to younger Friends? Why not turn our meetinghouses into retirement homes?
PS: How I wish I weren’t so cynical about the yearly meeting. I don’t want to feel like it’s a state of all-out generational warfare. I’ve tried, really I have. I’m even willing to try again. But no where have I found a space to have these discussions, at yearly meeting or anywhere else. Other Phila. YM Friends concerned with these issues are welcome to email me – maybe we can figure out some forum for this either inside or outside of the official structures.
PPS: There are a lot of wonderful Friends involved with the yearly meeting. They have good ideas and sincerely try to make it a more welcoming place. The best part of the yearly meeting sessions I’ve attended have been the unexpected conversations. It’s the institution I am frustrated with: the sense that it’s bigger and dumber than all of us.
PPPS: What if I took my own words to heart and considered a PhYM renewal as part of the fifty-year plan? If I just stopped complaining and just attended patiently and faithfully year after year for those “teachable moments” that might inch it forward?