Tag Archives: friends general conference

Outreach as Retention

From Cal­lid Keefe-Perry, a vlog entry on the appar­ent dis­crep­ancy between what Friends think they want to be doing (out­reach) ver­sus what they think makes for a healthy meet­ing (deep wor­ship), as indi­cated by a just-released sur­vey from Friends Gen­eral Con­fer­ence, the umbrella orga­ni­za­tion for many of North America’s Lib­eral Friends.


Cal­lid says:

there’s a dis­con­nect between deep wor­ship as a mark of health, and out­reach as the most impor­tant thing to do. We try as peo­ple to make things hap­pen that are beyond our con­trol. If we really attended to deep wor­ship, if we attended to root­ing our com­mu­nies in a sense of dis­ci­ple­ship and dis­ci­pline, then out­reach and care for com­mu­nity, and lead­ing by exam­ple would come from that. Those things are fruits; their root is liv­ing in the pres­ence, liv­ing in gospel order. I’m con­cerned that in the hus­tle and bus­tle of out­reach and mak­ing things work we might miss that still small voice. [Loose tran­script, lightly edited]

There is much we can do to pro­mote com­mu­nity aware­ness of Friends (aka “out­reach”), but I sus­pect the great­est effect of our efforts is internal–raising our own con­scious­ness about how to be vis­i­ble and wel­com­ing. Friends are always get­ting free pub­lic­ity (just this morn­ing I fin­ished Jef­frey Eugenides’s The Mar­riage Plot, whose final pages are prac­ti­cally an ad for our reli­gious soci­ety, and there’s the seeker-producing mill of the Belief-o-Matic Quiz). What if vis­i­bil­ity isn’t our biggest prob­lem? Callid’s post reminds me of some­thing that Robin Mohr said when I inter­viewed her “Eight Ques­tions on Con­ver­gent Friends” for Friends Jour­nal:

Though it may be dif­fer­ent in other places, San Fran­cisco always had peo­ple vis­it­ing; there was no short­age of new vis­i­tors. The key was get­ting them to come back… I don’t think the Con­ver­gent Friends move­ment is nec­es­sar­ily going to solve our out­reach issues, but it can absolutely change the reten­tion rate.

What if we thought of out­reach as a reten­tion issue? How would it relate to the “deep wor­ship” the survey-takers lifted up?

Looking at North American Friends and theological hotspots

Over on Friends Jour­nal site, some recent stats on Friends mostly in the US and Canada. Writ­ten by Mar­garet Fraser, the head of FWCC, a group that tries to unite the dif­fer­ent bod­ies of Friends, it’s a bit of cold water for most of us. Offi­cial num­bers are down in most places despite what­ever offi­cial opti­mism might exist. Favorite line: “Per­haps those who leave are noticed less.” I’m sure P.R. hacks in var­i­ous Quaker orga­ni­za­tions are burn­ing the mid­night oil writ­ing response let­ters to the edi­tor spin­ning the num­bers to say things are look­ing up.

She points to a sad decline both in yearly meet­ings affil­i­ated with Friends United Meet­ing and in those affil­i­ated with Friends Gen­eral Con­fer­ence. A curios­ity is that this decline is not seen in three of the four yearly meet­ings that are dual affil­i­ated. These blended yearly meet­ings are going through var­i­ous degrees of iden­tity cri­sis and hand-wringing over their sta­tus and yet their own mem­ber­ship num­bers are strong. Could it be that seri­ous the­o­log­i­cal wrestling and com­pli­cated spir­i­tual iden­ti­ties cre­ate health­ier reli­gious bod­ies than mono­cul­tural groupings?

The big news is in the south: “His­panic Friends Churches” in Mex­ico and Cen­tral Amer­ica are boom­ing, with spillover in el Norte as work­ers move north to get jobs. There’s sur­pris­ingly lit­tle inter­ac­tion between these newly-arrived Spanish-speaking Friends and the the old Main Line Quaker estab­lish­ment (maybe not sur­pris­ing really, but still sad). I’ll leave you with a chal­lenge Mar­garet gives readers:

One ques­tion that often puz­zles me is why so many His­panic Friends
con­gre­ga­tions are meet­ing in churches belong­ing to other denom­i­na­tions.
I would love to see estab­lished Friends meet­ings with their own
prop­erty shar­ing space with His­panic Friends. It would be an
oppor­tu­nity to share growth and chal­lenges together.

Hey who am I to decide anything

Over on Non­the­ist Friends web­site, there’s an arti­cle look­ing back at ten years of FGC Gath­er­ing work­shops on their con­cern. There was also a post some­where on the blo­gos­phere (sorry I don’t remem­ber where) by a Pagan Friend excited that this year’s Gath­er­ing would have a work­shop focused on their concerns.

It’s kind of inter­est­ing to look at the process by which new the­olo­gies are being added into Lib­eral Quak­erism at an ever-increasing rate.

  • Mem­ber­ship of indi­vid­u­als in meet­ings. There are hun­dreds of meet­ings in lib­eral Quak­erism that range all over the the­o­log­i­cal map. Add to that the wide­spread agree­ment that the­o­log­i­cal unity with the meet­ing is not required and just about any­one believ­ing any­thing could be admit­ted some­where (or “grand­fa­thered in” as a birthright member).
  • A work­shop at the Friends Gen­eral Con­fer­ence Gath­er­ing and espe­cially a reg­u­lar work­shop at suc­ces­sive Gath­er­ings. Yet as the very informed com­ments on a post a few years ago showed, the­ol­ogy is not some­thing the plan­ning work­shop com­mit­tee is allowed to look at and at least one pro­po­nent of a new the­ol­ogy has got­ten them­selves on the decid­ing com­mit­tee. The Gath­er­ing is essen­tially built on the non­de­nom­i­na­tional Chau­taqua model and FGC is per­fectly happy to spon­sor work­shops that are in appar­ent con­flict with its own mis­sion statement.
  • An arti­cle pub­lished in Friends Jour­nal. When the the Quaker Sweat Lodge was strug­gling to claim legit­i­macy it all but changed its name to the “Quaker Sweat Lodge as fea­tured in the Feb­ru­ary 2002 Friends Jour­nal.” It’s a good magazine’s job to pub­lish arti­cles that make peo­ple think and a smart mag­a­zine will know that arti­cles that pro­voke a lit­tle con­tro­versy is good for cir­cu­la­tion. I very much doubt the edi­to­r­ial team at the Jour­nal con­sid­ers its agree­ment to pub­lish to be an inoc­u­la­tion against critique.
  • A web­site and list­serv. Fif­teen dol­lars at GoDaddy​.com and you’ve got the web address of your dreams. Yahoo Group is free.

There are prob­a­bly other mech­a­nisms of legit­i­macy. My point is not to give com­pre­hen­sive guide­lines to would-be cam­paign­ers. I sim­ply want to note that none of the actors in these deci­sions is con­sciously think­ing “hey, I think I’ll expand the def­i­n­i­tion of lib­eral Quaker the­ol­ogy today.” In fact I expect they’re mostly pass­ing the buck, think­ing “hey, who am I to decide any­thing like that.”

None of these decision-making processes are meant to serve as tools to dis­miss oppo­si­tion. The orga­ni­za­tions involved are not hand­ing out Impri­maturs and would be quite hor­ri­fied if they real­ized their agree­ments were being seen that way. Amy Clark, a com­menter on my last post, on this summer’s reunion and camp for the once-young mem­bers of Young Friends North Amer­ica, had a very inter­est­ing comment:

I agree that YFNA has become FGC: those pre­vi­ously involved in YFNA have taken lead­er­ship with FGC … with both pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive results. Well … now we have a chance to look at the legacy we are cre­at­ing: do we like it?

I have the feel­ing that the cur­rent gen­er­a­tion of lib­eral Quaker lead­er­ship doesn’t quite believe it’s lead­ing lib­eral Quak­erism. By “lead­er­ship” I don’t mean the small skim of the pro­fes­sional Quaker bureau­cracy (whose mem­bers can get _too_ self-inflated on the lead­er­ship issue) but the com­mit­tees, clerks and vol­un­teers that get most of the work done from the local to national lev­els. We are the inher­i­tors of a proud and some­times fool­ish tra­di­tion and our actions are shap­ing its future but I don’t think we really know that. I have no clever solu­tion to the issues I’ve out­lined here but I think becom­ing con­scious that we’re cre­at­ing our own legacy is an impor­tant first step.

Why would a Quaker do a crazy thing like that?

Look­ing back at Friends’ responses to the Chris­t­ian Peace­maker hostages

When four Chris­t­ian Peace­mak­ers were taken hostage in Iraq late last Novem­ber, a lot of Quaker orga­ni­za­tions stum­bled in their response. With Tom Fox we were con­fronted by a full-on lib­eral Quaker Chris­t­ian wit­ness against war, yet who stepped up to explain this modern-day prophetic wit­ness? AFSC? FCNL? FGC? Nope, nope and nope. There were too many orga­ni­za­tions that couldn’t man­age any­thing beyond the boil­er­plate social jus­tice press release. I held my tongue while the hostages were still in cap­tiv­ity but through­out the ordeal I was mad at the exposed frac­ture lines between reli­gious wit­ness and social activism.

When­ever a sit­u­a­tion involv­ing inter­na­tional issues of peace and wit­ness hap­pens, the Quaker insti­tu­tions I’m clos­est to auto­mat­i­cally defer to the more polit­i­cal Quaker orga­ni­za­tions: for exam­ple, the head of Friends Gen­eral Con­fer­ence told staff to direct out­siders inquir­ing about Tom Fox to AFSC even though Fox had been an active leader of FGC-sponsored events and was well known as a com­mit­ted vol­un­teer. The Amer­i­can Friends Ser­vice Com­mit­tee and Friends Com­mit­tee on National Leg­is­la­tion have knowl­edge­able and com­mit­ted staff, but their insti­tu­tional cul­ture doesn’t allow them to talk Quak­erism except to say we’re a nice bunch of social-justice-loving peo­ple. I appre­ci­ate that these orga­ni­za­tions have a strong, vital iden­tity and I accept that within those con­fines they do impor­tant work and employ many faith­ful Friends. It’s just that they lack the lan­guage to explain why a gro­cery store employee with a love of youth reli­gious edu­ca­tion would go unarmed to Badg­dad in the name of Chris­t­ian witness.

The wider blo­gos­phere was totally abuzz with news of Chris­t­ian Peace­maker Team hostages (Google blogsearch lists over 6000 posts on the topic). There were hun­dreds of posts and com­ments, includ­ing long dis­cus­sions on the biggest (and most right-leaning) sites. Almost every­one won­dered why the CPT work­ers were there and while the opin­ions weren’t always friendly (the hostages were often painted as naive ide­al­ists or disin­geneous ter­ror­ist sym­pa­thiz­ers), even the doubters were moti­vated by a pro­found curios­ity and desire to understand.

The CPT hostages were the talk of the blo­gos­phere, yet where could we find a Quaker response and expla­na­tion? The AFSC responded by pub­li­ciz­ing the state­ments of mod­er­ate Mus­lim lead­ers (call­ing for the hostages’ release; I emailed back a sug­ges­tion about list­ing Quaker responses but never got a reply). Friends United Meet­ing put together a nice enough what-you-can-do page that was tar­geted toward Friends. The CPT site was full of infor­ma­tion of course, and there were plenty of sto­ries on the lefty-leaning sites like Elec­tron­i­cI­raq and the UK site Ekkle­sia. But Friends explain­ing this to the world?

The Quaker blog­gers did their part. On Decem­ber 2 I quickly re-jiggered the tech­nol­ogy behind Quak​erQuaker​.org to pro­vide a Chris­t­ian Peace­maker watch on both Non​vi​o​lence​.org and Quak­erQuaker (same list­ings, merely rebranded for slightly-separate audi­ences, announced on the post It’s Wit­ness Time). These pages got lots of views over the course of the hostage sit­u­a­tion and included many posts from the Quaker blog­ger com­mu­nity that had recently congealed.

But here’s the inter­est­ing part: I was able to do this only because there was an active Quaker blog­ging com­mu­nity. We already had gath­ered together as a group of Friends who were will­ing to write about spir­i­tu­al­ity and wit­ness. Our con­ver­sa­tions had been small and inti­mate but now we were ready to speak to the world. I some­times get painted as some sort of fun­da­men­tal­ist Quaker, but the truth is that I’ve wanted to build a com­mu­nity that would wres­tle with these issues, fig­ur­ing the wrestling was more impor­tant than the lan­guage of the answers. I had already thought about how to encour­age blog­gers and knit a blog­ging com­mu­nity together and was able to use these tech­niques to quickly build a Quaker CPT response.

Two other Quak­ers who went out of their way to explain the story of Tom Fox: his per­sonal friends John Stephens and Chuck Fager. Their Freethe​cap​tives​now​.org site was put together impres­sively fast and con­tained a lot of good links to news, resources and com­men­tary. But like me, they were over-worked blog­gers doing this in their non-existant spare time (Chuck is direc­tor of Quaker House but he never said this was part of the work).

After an ini­tial few quiet days, Tom’s meet­ing Lan­g­ley Hill put together a great web­site of links and news. That makes it the only offi­cial Quaker orga­ni­za­tion that pulled together a sus­tained cam­paign to sup­port Tom Fox.

Lessons?

So what’s up with all this? Should we be happy that all this good work hap­pened by vol­un­teers? Johan Mau­rer has a very inter­est­ing post, Are Quak­ers Mar­ginal that points to my ear­lier com­ment on the Chris­t­ian Peace­mak­ers and doubts whether our avoid­ance of “hireling priests” has given us a more effec­tive voice. Let’s remem­ber that insti­tu­tional Quak­erism began as sup­port of mem­bers in jail for their reli­gious wit­ness; among our ear­li­est com­mit­tee gath­er­ings were meet­ings for sufferings–business meet­ings focused on pub­li­ciz­ing the plight of the jailed and sup­port the fam­ily and meet­ings left behind.

I never met Tom Fox but it’s clear to me that he was an excep­tional Friend. He was able to bridge the all-too-common divide between Quaker faith and social action. Tom was a healer, a wit­ness not just to Iraqis but to Friends. But I won­der if it was this very whole­ness that made his work hard to cat­e­go­rize and sup­port. Did he sim­ply fall through the insti­tu­tional cracks? When you play base­ball on a dis­or­ga­nized team you miss a lot of easy catches sim­ply because all the out­field­ers think the next guy is going to go for the ball. Is that what hap­pened? And is this what would hap­pen again?

Sharing our Quaker event photos

Over on the photo shar­ing ser­vice Flickr, I’m notic­ing a bunch of pho­tos from this week’s Britain Yearly Meet­ing ses­sion. One con­trib­u­tor has tagged (labelled) all her pho­tos with “britainyearlymeeting06” which means they’re all avail­able on one page. Cool, but what would be even cooler is if every Flickr user at the event used the same tag. We’d then have a nearly real-time group photo essay of the yearly meet­ing sessions.

So this year I’m going to tag all my per­sonal pho­tos from next month’s Friends Gen­eral Con­fer­ence Gath­er­ing of Friends as “FGCgathering06″. I invite any other Flickr-using atten­ders to do the same. While I do work at FGC, please note this is not any sort of offi­cial FGC deci­sion, it’s just my own idea to share pho­tos and to see how we can use these online net­works to share and pro­mote Quak­erism. In a few weeks you’ll start see­ing entries via flickr and tech­no­rati. I’ll prob­a­bly start with a few pic­tures of the book­store truck being loaded for its cross-country trek. Update: one embed­ded below.
Blog posts:
If your blog­ging sys­tem doesn’t sup­port the use of tags, then sim­ply add this line in the bot­tom of each of your Gathering-related posts:

Update: here’s one: