Max Carter talk on introducing the Bible to younger Friends

Max Carter gave the Bible Asso­ci­a­tion of Friends this past week­end at Moorestown (NJ) Friends Meet­ing. Max is a long-time edu­ca­tor and cur­rent­ly heads the Quak­er Lead­er­ship Schol­ars Pro­gram at Guil­ford Col­lege, a pro­gram that has pro­duced a num­ber of active twenty-something Friends in recent years. The Bible Asso­ci­a­tion is one of those great Philadel­phia relics that some­how sur­vived a cou­ple of cen­turies of upheavals and still plugs along with a mis­sion more-or-less craft­ed at it’s found­ing in the ear­ly 1800s: it dis­trib­utes free Bibles to Friends, Friends schools and any First Day School class that might answer their inquiries.

Max’s pro­gram at Guil­ford is one of the recip­i­ents of the Bible Association’s efforts and he began by jok­ing that his sole qual­i­fi­ca­tion for speak­ing at their annu­al meet­ing was that he was one of their more active customers. 

Many of the stu­dents going through Max’s pro­gram grew up in the big­ger East Coast year­ly meet­ings. In these set­tings, being an involved Quak­er teen means reg­u­lar­ly going to camps like Catoctin and Onas, doing the FGC Gath­er­ing every year and hav­ing a par­ent on an impor­tant year­ly meet­ing com­mit­tee. “Quak­er” is a spe­cif­ic group of friends and a set of guide­lines about how to live in this sub­cul­ture. Know­ing the rules to Wink and being able to craft a sug­ges­tive ques­tion for Great Wind Blows is more impor­tant than even rudi­men­ta­ry Bible lit­er­a­cy, let alone Barclay’s Cat­e­chism. The knowl­edge of George Fox rarely extends much past the song (“with his shag­gy shag­gy locks”). So there’s a real cul­ture shock when they show up in Max’s class and he hands them a Bible. “I’ve nev­er touched one of these before” and “Why do we have to use this?” are non-uncommon responses. 

None of this sur­prised me, of course. I’ve led high school work­shops at Gath­er­ing and for year­ly meet­ing teens. Great kids, all of them, but most of them have been real­ly short­changed in the con­text of their faith. The Guil­ford pro­gram is a good intro­duc­tion (“we grad­u­ate more Quak­ers than we bring in” was how Max put it) but do we real­ly want them to wait so long? And to have so rel­a­tive­ly few get this chance. Where’s the bal­ance between let­ting them choose for them­selves and giv­ing them the infor­ma­tion on which to make a choice?

There was a sort of built-in irony to the scene. Most of the thirty-five or so atten­dees at the Moorestown talk were half-a-century old­er than the stu­dents Max was pro­fil­ing. I pret­ty safe to say I was the youngest per­son there. It doesn’t seem healthy to have such sep­a­rat­ed worlds. 

Con­ver­gent Friends

Max did talk for a few min­utes about Con­ver­gent Friends. I think we’ve shak­en hands a few times but he didn’t rec­og­nize me so it was a rare fly-on-wall oppor­tu­ni­ty to see first­hand how we’re described. It was pos­i­tive (we “bear watch­ing!”) but there were a few minor mis-perceptions. The most wor­ri­some is that we’re a group of young adult Friends. At 42, I’ve grad­u­at­ed from even the most expan­sive def­i­n­i­tion of YAF and so have many of the oth­er Con­ver­gent Friends (on a Face­book thread LizOpp made the mis­take of list­ed all of the old­er Con­ver­gent Friends and touched off a lit­tle mock out­rage – I’m going to steer clear of that mis­take!). After the talk one attendee (a New Foun­da­tion Fel­low­ship reg­u­lar) came up and said that she had been think­ing of going to the “New Monas­tics and Con­ver­gent Friends” work­shop C Wess Daniels and I are co-leading next May but had second-thoughts hear­ing that CF’s were young adults. “That’s the first I’ve heard that” she said; “me too!” I replied and encour­aged her to come. We def­i­nite­ly need to con­tin­ue to talk about how C.F. rep­re­sents an atti­tude and includes many who were doing the work long before Robin Mohr’s Octo­ber 2006 Friends Jour­nal arti­cle brought it to wider attention.

Tech­niques for Teach­ing the Bible and Quakerism

The most use­ful part of Max’s talk was the end, where he shared what he thought were lessons of the Quak­er Lead­er­ship Schol­ars Pro­gram. He

  • Demys­ti­fy the Bible: a great per­cent­age of incom­ing stu­dents to the QLSP had nev­er touched it so it seemed foreign;
  • Make it fun: he has a newslet­ter col­umn called “Con­cor­dance Capers” that digs into the deriva­tion of pop cul­ture ref­er­ences of Bib­li­cal phras­es; he often shows Mon­ty Python’s “The Life of Bri­an” at the end of the class.
  • Make it rel­e­vant: Give inter­est­ed stu­dents the tools and guid­ance to start read­ing it.
  • Show the geneal­o­gy: Start with the parts that are most obvi­ous­ly Quak­er: John and the inner Light, the Ser­mon on the Mount, etc.
  • Con­tem­po­rary exam­ples: Link to con­tem­po­rary groups that are liv­ing a rad­i­cal Chris­t­ian wit­ness today. This past semes­ter they talked about the New Monas­tic move­ment, for exam­ple and they’ve pro­filed the Sim­ple Way and Atlanta’s Open Door.
  • The Bible as human con­di­tion: how is the Bible a sto­ry that we can be a part of, an inspi­ra­tion rather than a lit­er­al­ist authority.

Ran­dom Thoughts:

A cou­ple of thoughts have been churn­ing through my head since the talk: one is how to scale this up. How could we have more of this kind of work hap­pen­ing at the local year­ly meet­ing lev­el and start with younger Friends: mid­dle school or high school­ers? And what about bring­ing con­vinced Friends on board? Most QLSP stu­dents are born Quak­er and come from prominent-enough fam­i­lies to get meet­ing let­ters of rec­om­men­da­tion to enter the pro­gram. Grad­u­ates of the QLSP are fun­neled into var­i­ous Quak­er posi­tions these days, leav­ing out con­vinced Friends (like me and like most of the cen­tral Con­ver­gent Friends fig­ures). I talked about this divide a lot back in the 1990s when I was try­ing to pull togeth­er the mostly-convinced Cen­tral Philadel­phia Meet­ing young adult com­mu­ni­ty with the mostly-birthright offi­cial year­ly meet­ing YAF group. I was con­vinced then and am even more con­vinced now that no renew­al will hap­pen unless we can get these com­ple­men­tary per­spec­tives and ener­gies work­ing together.

PS: Due to a con­flict between Feed­burn­er and Dis­qus, some of com­ments are here (Wess and Lizopp), here (Robin M) and here (Chris M). I think I’ve fixed it so that this odd spread won’t hap­pen again.


PPS: Max emailed on 2/10/10 to say that many QLSPers are first gen­er­a­tion or con­vinced them­selves. He says that quite a few came to Guil­ford as non-Quakers (“think­ing we had “gone the way of the T-Rex”) and came in by con­vince­ment. Cool!

Visiting a Quaker School

I had an inter­est­ing oppor­tu­ni­ty last Thurs­day. I skipped work to be talk with two Quak­erism class­es at Philadelphia’s William Penn Char­ter School (thanks for the invite Michael and Thomas!). I was asked to talk about Quak­er blogs, of all things. Sim­ple, right? Well, on the pre­vi­ous Tues­day I hap­pened upon this pas­sage from Bri­an Drayton’s new book, On Liv­ing with a Con­cern for Gospel Min­istry:

I think that your work will have the great­est good effect if you wait to find whether and where the springs of love and divine life con­nect with this open­ing before you appear in the work. This is even true when you have had an invi­ta­tion to come and speak on a top­ic to a work­shop or some oth­er forum. It is wise to be sus­pi­cious of what is very easy, draws on your prac­ticed strengths and accom­plish­ments, and can be treat­ed as an every­day trans­ac­tion. (p. 149).

Good advice. Of course the role of min­istry is even more com­pli­cat­ed in that I wasn’t address­ing a Quak­er audi­ence: like the major­i­ty of Friends schools, few Penn Char­ter stu­dents actu­al­ly are Quak­er. I’m a pub­lic school kid, but it from the out­side it seems like Friends schools stress the ethos of Quak­erism (“here’s Penn Charter’s state­ment”). Again Dray­ton helped me think beyond nor­mal ideas of pros­e­ly­tiz­ing and out­reach when he talked about “pub­lic meetings”:

We are also called, I feel to invite oth­ers to share Christ direct­ly, not pri­mar­i­ly in order to intro­duce them to Quak­erism and bring them into our meet­ings, but to encour­age them to turn to the light and fol­low it” (p. 147).

What I shared with the stu­dents was some of the ways my inter­ac­tion with the Spir­it and my faith com­mu­ni­ty shapes my life. When we keep it real, this is a pro­found­ly uni­ver­sal­ist and wel­com­ing message.

I talked about the per­son­al aspect of blog­ging: in my opin­ion we’re at our best when we weave our the­ol­o­gy with with per­son­al sto­ries and tes­ti­monies of spe­cif­ic spir­i­tu­al expe­ri­ences. The stu­dents remind­ed me that this is also real world les­son: their great­est excite­ment and ques­tion­ing came when we start­ed talk­ing about my father (I used to tell the sto­ry of my com­plete­ly messed-up child­hood fam­i­ly life a lot but have been out of the habit late­ly as it’s reced­ed into the past). The stu­dents real­ly want­ed to under­stand not just my sto­ry but how it’s shaped my Quak­erism and influ­enced my com­ing to Friends. They asked some hard ques­tions and I was stuck hav­ing to give them hard answers (in that they were non-sentimental). When we share of our­selves, we present a wit­ness that can reach out to others.

Lat­er on, one of the teach­ers pro­ject­ed my blogroll on a screen and asked me about the peo­ple on it. I start­ed telling sto­ries, relat­ing cool blog posts that had stuck out in my mind. Wow: this is a pret­ty amaz­ing group, with diver­si­ty of ages and Quak­erism. Review­ing the list real­ly remind­ed me of the amaz­ing com­mu­ni­ty that’s come togeth­er over the last few years.

One inter­est­ing lit­tle snip­pet for the Quak­er cul­tur­al his­to­ri­ans out there: Penn Char­ter was the Gur­neyite school back in the day. When I got Michael’s email I was ini­tial­ly sur­prised they even had class­es on Quak­erism as it’s often thought of as one of the least Quak­er of the Philadelphia-area Quak­er schools. But think­ing on it, it made per­fect sense: the Gur­neyites loved edu­ca­tion; they brought Sun­day School (sor­ry, First Day School) into Quak­erism, along with Bible study and high­er edu­ca­tion. Of course the school that bears their lega­cy would teach Quak­erism. Inter­est­ing­ly enough, the his­tor­i­cal Ortho­dox school down the road aways recent­ly approached Penn Char­ter ask­ing about their Quak­er class­es; in true Wilbu­rite fash­ion, they’ve nev­er both­ered try­ing to teach Quak­erism. The offi­cial Philadel­phia Quak­er sto­ry is that branch­es were all fixed up nice and tidy back in 1955 but scratch the sur­face just about any­where and you’ll find Nine­teenth Cen­tu­ry atti­tudes still shap­ing our insti­tu­tion­al cul­ture. It’s pret­ty fas­ci­nat­ing really.

Strangers to the Covenant

A workshop led by Zachary Moon and Martin Kelley at the 2005 FGC Gathering of Friends.

 

This is for Young Friends who want to break into the pow­er of Quak­erism: it’s the stuff you didn’t get in First Day School. Con­nect­ing with his­tor­i­cal Quak­ers whose pow­er­ful min­istry came in their teens and twen­ties, we’ll look at how Friends wove God, covenants and gospel order togeth­er to build a move­ment that rocked the world. We’ll mine Quak­er his­to­ry to reclaim the pow­er of our tra­di­tion, to explore the liv­ing tes­ti­monies and our wit­ness in the world. (P/T)

Per­cent­age of time: Wor­ship 20 / Lec­ture 30 / Dis­cus­sion 50

 

Extended Description

We hope to encour­age Friends to imag­ine them­selves as min­is­ters and elders and to be bold enough to chal­lenge the insti­tu­tions of Quak­erism as need­ed. We want to build a com­mu­ni­ty, a cohort, of Friends who aren’t afraid to bust us out of our own lim­it­ed expec­ta­tions and give them space to grow into the aware­ness that their long­ing for deep­er spir­i­tu­al con­nec­tion with shared wide­ly among oth­ers their age. Our task as work­shop con­ven­ers is to mod­el as both bold and hum­ble seek­ers after truth, who can stay real to the spir­it with­out tak­ing our­selves either too seri­ous­ly or too lightly.

Mar­tin and Zachary have dis­cov­ered a Quak­er tra­di­tion more defined, more coher­ent and far rich­er than the Quak­erism we were offered in First Day School. In integri­ty to that dis­cov­ery, we intend to cre­ate a space for fel­low­ship that would fur­ther open these glimpses of what’s out there and what pos­si­bil­i­ties exist to step out bold­ly in this Light.

Sun­day: Introductions
The most impor­tant task for today is mod­el­ing the ground­ed wor­ship and spirit-led min­istry that will be our true cur­ricu­lum this week. In a wor­ship shar­ing for­mat we will con­sid­er these questions:

  • What brought me to this workshop?
  • What did they fail to teach me in First Day School that I still want to know?

Mon­day: What is this Quakerism?
Today will be about enter­ing this ground­ed space togeth­er as Friends, begin­ning to ask some ques­tions that reveal and open. How do I artic­u­late what Quak­erism is all about? What ideas, lan­guage, and words (e.g. “God”, “Jesus” “Light”) do use to describe this tra­di­tion? Today we start that dia­logue. At the end of ses­sion we will ask par­tic­i­pants to seek out an old­er Friend and ask them for their answers on these queries and bring back that expe­ri­ence to our next gathering.

  • Wor­ship. Read­ing of select­ed texts from jour­nal and Bible
  • Present ques­tion: When some­one asks me “what is Quak­erism?” how do I respond.
  • Mar­tin and Zachary will share some thoughts on this ques­tion from oth­er Friends
  • Jour­nal­ing on Query
  • Dis­cus­sion of ideas and language.

Tues­day: The Mys­ti­cal Tra­di­tion and Gospel Order
We enter into the lan­guage and fab­ric of our Tra­di­tion at its mys­ti­cal roots. Ask­ing the ques­tions: What does God feel like? Intro­duce ear­ly Quaker’s talk about God. What does it feel like to be with God? What is Gospel Order?

  • Wor­ship. Read­ing of select­ed texts from jour­nals and Bible
  • Follow-up on pre­vi­ous day’s discussion/homework what new came into the Light overnight?
  • Jour­nal­ing on Query: When have I felt the pres­ence of God? Describe it in five senses?
  • Ini­tial dis­cus­sion and shar­ing of thoughts and ideas.
  • Intro­duce some ideas from ear­ly Friends and oth­ers on this Query. How have oth­ers (Jesus, Isa­iah, Mer­ton, Fox, Day) spo­ken of this experience?
  • Intro­duce themes of Spir­i­tu­al Prac­tice: If Quak­erism is about ask­ing the right ques­tions, how do we get into the place to hear those ques­tions and respond faith­ful­ly? We have already been incor­po­rat­ing devo­tion­al read­ing into our time togeth­er each morn­ing but we will intro­duce into the Light of Dis­ci­pline as such here. Nam­ing of oth­er prac­tices, pre­vi­ous­ly acknowl­edged and oth­er­wise, with­in the group.
  • Intro­duce ‘Spir­i­tu­al Dis­cern­ment’ themes for the fol­low­ing day’s session.

Wednes­day: The Roots of Friends’ Dis­cern­ment Tra­di­tion and the Testimonies
We delve into the archives, the dusty stuff, the stuff First Day School didn’t get to: the preach­ing from the trees, the prison time, the age George Fox was when he was first incar­cer­at­ed for his beliefs, what the tes­ti­monies are real­ly about and where they came from. Today is about tak­ing the skele­tons out of the clos­et and clean­ing house.

  • Wor­ship. Read­ing of select­ed texts from jour­nals and Bible
  • ‘Let’s talk his­to­ry’: Ear­ly Friends, the Mak­ing of The Soci­ety, and the Dis­cern­ment Tra­di­tion. [Mar­tin and Zachary may cov­er this, or we may arrange to have anoth­er Friend come and share some thoughts and infuse a new voice into our dialogue]
  • There are lots of tes­ti­monies: what are ours? Name some. How to they facil­i­tate our rela­tion­ship with God?
  • What’s up with “Obe­di­ence”, “Plain­ness”, and “Dis­ci­pline”? How do we prac­tice them?

Thurs­day: Friends in a Covenant­ed Relationship
We grow into our roles as lead­ers in this com­mu­ni­ty by con­sid­er­ing the oppor­tu­ni­ties and the hur­dles in deep­en­ing our covenant rela­tion­ship. We begin with con­sid­er­ing spir­i­tu­al gifts, and then con­sid­er ques­tions around min­istry, its ori­gin and its dis­cern­ment. We will take up the task of con­sid­er­ing what our work, what piece of this respon­si­bil­i­ty is ours to carry.

  • Wor­ship. Read­ing of select­ed texts from jour­nals and Bible
  • Jour­nal­ing on the Queries: What is alive inside of me? How are my spir­i­tu­al gifts named and nurtured?
  • What are the tasks of ministry?
  • What are the tasks of eldering?
  • What are the struc­tures and prac­tices in our month­ly, quar­ter­ly and year­ly meet­ings that we can use to test out and sup­port lead­ings? How do these struc­tures work and not work. Clear­ness com­mit­tees? Trav­el­ing Friends? Spir­i­tu­al nurture/affinity groups?
  • What is hold­ing us back from liv­ing this deep­ened rela­tion­ship? What is our respon­si­bil­i­ty to this covenant and this covenant community?

Fri­day: The Future of Quakerism
We begin the work that will occu­py the rest of our lives. The par­tic­i­pants of this work­shop will be around for the next fifty or more years, so let’s start talk­ing about sys­tem­at­ic, long-term change. We have some­thing to con­tribute to this con­sid­er­a­tion right now.

  • Wor­ship. Read­ing of select­ed texts from jour­nals and Bible
  • Where do we go from here? Mar­tin will present on emer­gent church. Zachary will present some thoughts on ‘Beloved Community’.
    Many have talked about deep com­mu­nion with God and about covenant com­mu­ni­ty. Many have spo­ken our hearts and giv­en voice to the pas­sion we expe­ri­ence; now it’s on us what are we going to do about it? Where is it happening?
  • Dis­cus­sion (maybe as a fish­bowl) Where do we envi­sion Quak­erism 50 years from now? 100 years from now?

External Website: Quaker Ranter, Martin’s site.

FGC Gathering Workshop

This fall Zachary Moon and I put togeth­er a work­shop pro­pos­al for the 2005 Gath­er­ing, which has been approved: “Strangers to the Covenant” is the title and here’s the short description:

This is for young Friends who want to break into the pow­er of Quak­erism: it’s the stuff you didn’t get in First Day School. We’ll con­nect with his­tor­i­cal Quak­ers whose pow­er­ful min­istry came in their teens and twen­ties and we’ll look at how Friends wove God, covenants and gospel order togeth­er to build a move­ment that rocked the world. We’ll mine Quak­er his­to­ry to reclaim the pow­er of our tra­di­tion, to explore the liv­ing pow­er of the tes­ti­monies and our wit­ness in the world.

This was very much an “as way opens” process. At the 2004 Gath­er­ing I felt sad that there weren’t more work­shops that I’d like to attend. And obvi­ous­ly I have a long-standing con­cern to sup­port younger Friends. But I wasn’t sure if I had the skills to han­dle this. One piece of dis­cern­ment was lead­ing the Quak­erism 101 class at Med­ford Meet­ing: I knew I would have most of the ses­sions under my belt by the time the work­shop sub­mis­sion dead­line came around and I hoped I’d have a feel whether I actu­al­ly like lead­ing workshops!

The Med­ford expe­ri­ence was sur­pris­ing­ly good, even on weeks where I could have been bet­ter pre­pared. I learned a lot and gained con­fi­dence in “teach­ing” Quak­erism to Medford’s class of very weighty, expe­ri­enced Friends.

Still, the Gath­er­ing work­shop sub­mis­sion dead­line was loom­ing and I had no spe­cif­ic top­ic in mind. Julie, my wife, was get­ting a lit­tle sus­pi­cious whether the work­shop would hap­pen or not. I knew that the most impor­tant thing was attract­ing the right mix of eager, curi­ous par­tic­i­pants and that for me the top­ic was almost sec­ondary. Still: a focus and top­ic is impor­tant, yes.

The week before the dead­line, I attend­ed the FGC Cen­tral Com­mit­tee meet­ing in New Wind­sor, Mary­land, as a staff­per­son. In a lunchtime dis­cus­sion I learned that my friend Zachary Moon was also con­sid­er­ing lead­ing his first work­shop. As soon as we sat down and start­ed talk­ing it seemed like the obvi­ous thing to do. The dis­cern­ment to co-lead this took two a half sec­onds or so, but of course this quick process was built on the thought, prayer and dis­cern­ment both of us had already been giv­ing the mat­ter. I’ve found that when I’ve laid the ground­work for a deci­sion, things can often move supris­ing­ly quickly.

The work­shop has devel­oped dif­fer­ent­ly than I sus­pect­ed. The most sig­ni­cant piece is its age lim­i­ta­tion: it’s for high school and adult young Friends only, mean­ing it’s par­tic­i­pa­tion is lim­it­ed to 15 to 35 years olds. I’ve always been a lit­tle wor­ried about con­struct­ing youth ghet­tos but I think it will work in this case. I apol­o­gize in advance to those Quak­er Ranter read­ers who might like to take it but can’t because of age (I’m too old myself, after all!). There will be many oth­er chances to spend time at Gath­er­ing and Zachary and I are only a part of a shift that’s been hap­pen­ing at the FGC Gath­er­ing over the last few years.

What makes a Quaker meeting house?

An Atlantic County Methodist Episcopal Meetinghouse. Picture from NJChurschape
An Atlantic Coun­ty Methodist Epis­co­pal Meet­ing­house. Pic­ture from NJChurschape

One of my favorite sites is the amaz­ing NJChurch​scape​.com—that’s New Jer­sey Church­scapes, put togeth­er large­ly through the efforts of Frank L. Greenagel. It’s a true labor of love, a cat­a­loging of church and meet­ing archi­tec­ture in New Jer­sey. It has beau­ti­ful pho­tos, great sto­ries, read­able essays on archi­tec­ture. In a state where every­thing below Cher­ry Hill often gets ignored, South Jer­sey gets good cov­er­age and there’s a lot from the old Quak­er colony of West Jer­sey. This month’s fea­ture is on the meet­ing­house, a build­ing of endear­ing sim­plic­i­ty and it rais­es a lot of ques­tions for me of how we relate to our church buildings.

We modern-day Friends tend to think of the term meet­ing­house as unique­ly ours, but go back in his­to­ry and you’ll find just about every­one using the term to describe the non-showy build­ings they erect­ed for reli­gious ser­vices and town life. Dri­ve around South Jer­sey and you’ll see old Methodist church­es that start­ed out life as meet­ing­hous­es and look sur­pris­ing­ly Quak­er. Greenagel looks at the style and then asks:

At what point does a struc­ture cease being a meet­ing­house and become a church?.. With the ris­ing afflu­ence and increased mobil­i­ty of the pop­u­la­tion came a demand for more spe­cial­ized places to meet, as well as more of the basic com­forts and style which hereto­fore were dis­missed as too world­ly, so many church­es added small­er lec­ture rooms, class­rooms for Sun­day school, and oth­er assem­bly rooms dis­tinct from the main auditorium.

By this mea­sure, how many of our beloved East Coast Quak­er meet­ing­hous­es should real­ly just be called “church­es?” In the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry the Protes­tant “Sun­day School Move­ment” was picked up by Gur­neyite and Pro­gres­sive Hick­site Friends, with the class­es sim­ply renamed “First Day School” in def­er­ence to Quak­er sen­si­bil­i­ties (I’ve always won­dered if the name switch actu­al­ly fooled any­one, but that’s anoth­er sto­ry). By the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry, the new mod­ern lib­er­al Friends had picked up the lec­ture for­mat, which like the First Day School move­ment had been adopt­ed from edu­ca­tion­al mod­els via oth­er reli­gious groups. Many of our larg­er month­ly meet­ings have fel­low­ship halls, class­rooms, kitchens, etc. These build­ings have become spe­cial­ized reli­gious wor­ship build­ings and many of them sit emp­ty for most of the week. But not all.

Nowa­days many Quak­er meet­ings with build­ings open them mid-week for use by com­mu­ni­ty groups. Quak­er meet­ing­hous­es host peace groups, bat­tered women hot­lines, yoga class­es, reli­gious con­gre­ga­tions in need of a tem­po­rary home and sim­i­lar caus­es. There’s often an ele­ment of good works in the group’s charter.

Per­haps this will­ing­ness to open our build­ings up earns us the right to con­tin­ue using the meet­ing­house name. If so, we should be care­ful to resist the pres­sure of the insur­ance indus­try to close our­selves up in the name of lia­bil­i­ty. One unique­ness to our wor­ship spaces is that they are not con­se­crat­ed and there should be no spe­cial rules for their use. They are over­sized barns and we should cher­ish that. We should remem­ber not to get fetishis­tic about their his­to­ry and we shouldn’t tie up our busi­ness meet­ings in end­less dis­cus­sions over the col­or of the new seat cush­ions. When we turn our build­ings over for oth­ers’ use, we shouldn’t wor­ry over­ly much if a chair or clock gets damanged or stolen. Friends know that our reli­gion is not our build­ings and that the mea­sure of our spir­it is sim­ply how far we’ll fol­low God, togeth­er as a people.

Related Reading:

  • There’s a very hand­some book about the HABS work on Quak­er meet­ing­hous­es in the greater Philadel­phia area called Silent Wit­ness: Quak­er Meet­ing Hous­es In The Delaware Val­ley, 1695 To The Present. (only $10!).
  • My friend Bob Bar­nett has been putting a lot of great work into a new West Jer­sey website.