In Fall 2005 I led a six-week Quakerism 101 course at Medford (NJ) Monthly Meeting. It went very well. Medford has a lot of involved, weighty Friends (some of them past yearly meeting clerks!) and I think they appreciated a fresh take on an introductory course. The core question: how might we teach Quakerism today?
This is the proposal for the course. I started off with a long introduction on the history and philosophy of Quaker religious education and pedagogic acculturation and go on to outline a different sort curriculum for Quakerism 101.
I took extensive notes of each session and will try to work that feedback into a revised curriculum that other Meetings and Q101 leaders could use and adapt. In the meantime, if you want to know how specific sessions and rolesplays went, just email me and I’ll send you the unedited notes. If you’re on the Adult Religious Ed. committee of a South Jersey or Philadelphia area Meeting and want to bring me to teach it again, just let me know.
Thoughts on a Quakerism 101 Course
Over the last few years, there seems to be a real groundswell of interest in Quakers trying to understand who we are and where we came from. There’s a revival of interst in looking back at our roots, not for history or orthodoxy’s sake, but instead to trying to tease out the “Quaker Treasures” that we might want to reclaim. I’ve seen this conversation taking place in all of the branches of Friends and it’s very hopeful.
I assume at least some of the participants of the Quakerism 101 course will have gone through other introductory courses or will have read the standard texts. It would be fun to give them all something new–luckily there’s plenty to choose from! I also want to expose participants to the range of contemporary Quakerism. I’d like participants to understand why the other branches call themselves Friends and to recognize some of the pecularities our branch has unconsciously adopted.
Early Friends didn’t get involved in six-week courses. They were too busy climbing trees to shout the gospel further, inviting people to join the great movement. Later Quietist Friends had strong structures of recorded ministers and elders which served a pedagogic purpose for teaching Friends. When revivalism broke out and brought overwhelmingly large numbers of new attenders to meetings, this system broke down and many meetings hired ministers to teach Quakerism to the new people. Around the turn of the century, prominent Quaker educators introduced academic models, with courses and lecture series. Each of these approaches to religious education fiddles with Quakerism and each has major drawbacks. But these new models were instituted because of very real and ongoing problems Friends have with transmitting our faith to our youth and acculturating new seekers to our Quaker way.
The core contradiction of a course series is that the leader is expected to both impart knowledge and to invite participation. In practice, this easily leads to situations where the teacher is either too domineering _or_ too open to participation. The latter seems more common: Quakerism is presented as a least-common-denominator social grouping, formless, with membership defined simply by one’s comfortability in the group (see Brinton’s Friends for 300 Years.) One of the main goals of a introductory course should be to bring new attenders into Quaker culture, practice and ethics. There’s an implicit assumption that there is something called Quakerism to teach. Part of that job is teasing out the religious and cultural models that new attenders are bringing with them and to open up the question as to how they fit or don’t fit in with the “gestalt” of Quakerism (Grundy, Quaker Treasures and Wilson’s Essays on the Quaker Vision).
The greatest irony behind the Quakerism 101 class is that its seemingly-neutral educational model lulls proudly “unprogrammed” Friends into an obliviousness that they’ve just instituted a program led by a hireling minister. Arguments why Q101 teachers should be paid sounds identical to arguments why part-time FUM ministers should be paid. A Q101 leader in an unprogrammed meeting might well want to acknowledge this contradiction and pray for guidance and seek clearness about this. (For my Medford class, I decided to teach it as paid leader of a class as a way of disciplining myself to practice of my fellow Philadelphia Yearly Meeting Friends.)
The standard Quakerism 101 curriculum compartmentalizes everything into neat little boxes. History gets a box, testimonies get a box, faith and institutions get boxes. I want to break out of that. I can recommend good books on Quaker history and point participants to good websites advocating Quaker testimonies. But I want to present history as current events and the testimonies as ministry. The standard curriculum starts with some of the more controversial material about the different braches of Friends and only then goes into worship, the meeting life, etc. I want discussion of the latter to be informed by the earlier discussion of who we are and who we might be. The course will start off more structured, with me as leader and become more participatory in the later sections.
What I want to do is have one solid overview book and supplement it with some of those fascinating (and coversation-sparking!) pamphlets. The overview book is Thomas Hamm’s Quakers in America. Published last year, it’s the best introduction to Quakerism in at least a generation. Hamm wrote this as part of a religions of America series and it’s meant as a general introduction to contemporary Quakerism. His later chapters on debates within Quakerism should be easy to adapt for a Q-101 series.
Session I: Introductions
- In-class reading of two pages from Quakers in America (profile of Ohio Yearly Meeting sessions, p. 1), reflections. (maybe start this class 2?)
- Introductions to one another.
Session II: What Are Our Models
- In-class reading of two pages from Quakers in America (profile of First Friends Church of Canton, p. 3), reflections.
- What are our models? Roleplay of “What Would X Do?” with a given problem: JC, George Fox, Methodists, Non-denominational bible church, college. Also: the “natural breaking point” model of Quaker divisions.
- Reading for this class: “Convinced Quakerism” by Ben Pink Dandelion
Session III: The Schisms
- In-class reading of two pages from Quakers in America (profile of Wilmington Yearly Meeting sessions, p. 5), reflections.
- Reading for this class: Quakers in America chapter 3, “Their Separate Ways: American Friends Since 1800,” about the branches
Session IV: Role of our Institutions
- In-class reading of two pages from Quakers in America (profile of Lake Erie Yearly Meeting, p. 7), reflections.
- Reading for this class: “The Authority of Our Meetings…” by Paul Lacey
Session V: Controversies within Friends
- Could pick any 2–3 controversies of Hamm’s: “Is Quakerism Christian?,” “Leadership,” “Authority,” “Sexuality,” “Identity,” “Unity and Diversity,” “Growth and Decline.” Early in the course I could poll the group to get a sense which ones they might want to grapple with. The idea is not to be thorough covering all the topics or even all the intricacies within each topic. I hope to just see if we can model ways of talking about these within Medford.
- Reading for this class: Quakers in America chapter 5, “Contemporary Quaker Debates,” p. 120
Session VI: Role of worship, role of ministry, role of witnesses.
- Focusing on Worship/Ministry (Witness)/MM Authority (Elders). If the calendar allows for eight sessions, this could easily be split apart or given two weeks.
- Reading for this class: “Quaker Treasures” by Marty Paxton Grundy, which ties together Gospel Order, Ministries and the Testimonies.
Session VII: What kind of religious community do we want Medford MM to be?
- This should be participatory, interactive. There should be some go-around sort of exercise to open up our visions of an ideal religious community and what we think Medford Meeting might be like in 5, 10, 25 years.
- Reading for this class: “Building the Life of the Meeting” by Bill & Fran Taber (1994, $4). I’ve heard there’s something recent from John Punshon which might work better.
- Also: something from the emergent church movement to point to a great people that might be gathered. Perhaps essays from Jordan Cooper & someone at Circle of Hope/Phila.
- “Quakers in America” is Thomas Hamm’s excellent new introduction to Friends is a bit pricey ($40) but is adapting well to a Q101 course.
- “Convinced Quakerism” by Ben Pink Dandelion mixes traditional Quaker understadings of convincement with Ben’s personal story and it sparked a good, wideranging discussion. $4.
- “Quaker Treasures” by Marty Grundy. $4
- “The Authority of Our Meetings…” by Paul Lacey. $4
- “Building the Life of the Meeting” by Bill and Fran Taber. $4
- “Why Friends are Friends” by Jack Willcuts. $9.95. I like this book and think that much of it could be used for a Q101 in a liberal-branch Friends Meeting. Chapters: “The Wonder of Worship,” “Sacred Spiritual Sacraments,” “Called to Ministry,” “Letting Peace Prevail,” “Getting the Sense of the Meeting,” “On Being Powerful”–I find the middle chapters are the more interesting/Quaker ones).
- Silence and Witness by Michael Birkel. I haven’t read through this yet, but in skimming the chapters it looks like Birkel shys away from challenging the Quaker status quo. Within that constraint, however, it looks like a good introduction to Quakerism. $16.
- “Quaker Culture vs. Quaker Faith” by Samuel Caldwell.
- The Philadelphia Yearly Meeting Quakerism 101 curriculum. It’s not as bad as it could be but it’s too heavy on history and testimonies and too focused on the Jones/Brinton view of Quakerism which I think has played itself out. I’ve seen Q101 facilitators read directly out of the curriculum to the glazed eyes of the participants. I wanted something fresher and less course-like.