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 GoDad​dy​.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 naïve 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​erQuak​er​.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.


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:

Deepening the intervisitation of Gathering

The pro­gram for this year’s FGC Gath­er­ing of Friends went online at mid­night yes­ter­day – I stayed up late to flip the switch­es to make it live right as Third Month start­ed – right on sched­ule. By 12:10am EST four vis­i­tors had already come to the site! There’s a lot of inter­est in the Gath­er­ing, the first one on the West Coast. 

Stu­dents of late-20th Cen­tu­ry Quak­er his­to­ry can see the pro­gres­sion of Friends Gen­er­al Con­fer­ence from a very Philadelphia-centric, provin­cial body that had its annu­al gath­er­ing at a South Jer­sey beach town to one that real­ly does try to serve Friends across the coun­try. There’s loss­es in the changes (alum­ni of the Cape May Gath­er­ings all speak of them with misty eyes) but over­all it’s been a need­ed shift in focus. In recent years, a dis­pro­por­tion­ate num­ber of Gath­er­ing work­shop lead­ers have come from the “inde­pen­dent” unaf­fil­i­at­ed year­ly meet­ings of the West. It’s nice.

Joe G has been send­ing me emails about his selec­tion process (it’s almost real-time as he weighs each one!). It’s help­ful as it saves me the trou­ble of sort­ing through them. It’s usu­al­ly tough to find a work­shop I want to take. A lot of Friends I real­ly respect have told me they’ve stopped going to the Gath­er­ing after awhile because it just doesn’t feed them.

It’s a shame when these Friends stop com­ing. The Gath­er­ing is one of the most excit­ing annu­al coming-together of Quak­ers in North Amer­i­ca. It’s very impor­tant for new and/or iso­lat­ed Friends and it helps pull all its atten­ders into a wider Fel­low­ship. Inter­vis­i­ta­tion has always been one of the most impor­tant tools for knit­ting togeth­er Friends and the Gath­er­ing has been fill­ing much of that need for lib­er­al Friends for the last hun­dred years.

I’ve been hav­ing this sense that Gath­er­ing needs some­thing more. I don’t know what that some­thing is, only that I long to con­nect more with oth­er Friends. My best con­ver­sa­tions have invari­ably tak­en place when I stopped to talk with some­one while run­ning across cam­pus late to some event. These Oppor­tu­ni­ties have been pre­cious but they’re always so fran­tic. The Trav­el­ing Min­istries Pro­gram often has a won­der­ful evening inter­est group but by the time we’ve gone around shar­ing our names, sto­ries and con­di­tions, it’s time to break. I’m not look­ing for a new pro­gram (don’t wor­ry Liz P!, wait it’s not you who has to wor­ry!), just a way to have more con­ver­sa­tions with the Quak­erQuak­er Con­ver­gent Friends – which in this con­text I think boils down to those with some­thing of a call to min­istry and an inter­est in Quak­er vision & renew­al. Let’s all find a way of con­nect­ing more this year, yes?
_For those inter­est­ed I’ve signed up for these work­shops: “Blessed Com­mu­ni­ty in James’ Epistle”:http://FGCquaker.org/gathering/workshops/work14.php (led by “Max Hansen”:http://alphamind.maxhansen.net/ of “Berke­ley Friends Church”:http://www.berkeleyfriendschurch.org/), “Deep­en­ing the Silence, Invit­ing Vital Ministry”:http://FGCquaker.org/gathering/workshops/work20.php (20), and “Find­ing Our­selves in the Bible”:http://FGCquaker.org/gathering/workshops/work22.php (22)._
h4. Relat­ed Entries Else­where:
* “Robin”:http://robinmsf.blogspot.com/2006/03/FGC-gathering-registration-begins.html
* “LizOpp”:http://thegoodraisedup.blogspot.com/2006/03/posters-themes-and-historyof-FGCs.html

Excitement outside fgc

The offices of Friends Gen­er­al Con­fer­ence are across the street from the Penn­syl­va­nia Con­ven­tion Cen­ter, which is this week host­ing a biotech con­ven­tion. The streets out­side are host­ing a bit of a counter-convention led by a group named “BioDemoc­ra­cy 2005”:http://www.biodev.org/. Here are some shots from a mêlée out­side our front door a few min­utes ago.
*Update:* appar­ent­ly one of the police offi­cers at the cen­ter of this scuf­fle “suf­fered a heart attack and has since died”:http://www.philly.com/mld/philly/business/special_packages/bio2005/11949070.htm. I’m not even sure how to com­ment on that. From my van­tage point it cer­tain­ly seemed like the police offi­cers were using undue vio­lence. But while I was ten feet away I don’t know who threw the first punch and what exact­ly hap­pened in that sea of bod­ies. What­ev­er hap­pened, it’s quite appro­pri­ate to hold him and his fam­i­ly in our prayers.

It’s My Language Now: Thinking About Youth Ministry

This past week­end I took part in a “Youth Min­istries Con­sul­ta­tion” spon­sored by Friends Gen­er­al Con­fer­ence. Thir­ty Friends, most under the age of 35, came togeth­er to talk about their expe­ri­ence of Quak­erism.

Con­formed to the World

The issue that spoke most strong­ly this week­end was the expe­ri­ence of not being known. Young and old we longed for a nam­ing & nur­tur­ing of gifts. We longed to be seen as mem­bers one of anoth­er. Ear­ly on a young Friend from a well-known fam­i­ly said she often felt she was seen as her mother’s daugh­ter or con­fused with cousins and aunts. Anoth­er Friend with pedi­gree com­plained that as a young per­son inter­est­ed in Quak­erism he was seen by nom­i­nat­ing com­mit­tees as a gener­ic “Young Friend” who could be slot­ted into any com­mit­tee as its token youth rep­re­sen­ta­tive. Anoth­er young Friend agreed that, yes, there is “affir­ma­tive action for young Friends.”

Affir­ma­tive action?!? For young Friends?? At this state­ment my jaw dropped. Through­out most of my time as a twenty- and thirty-something Friend I have felt almost com­plete­ly invis­i­ble. I’d have to walk on water to be named to a com­mit­tee by my year­ly meet­ing (only in the last year has a year­ly meet­ing nom­i­nat­ing committee-member approached me). I can get pro­filed in the New York Times for my peace work but request as I try I can’t even get on the mail­ing list for my year­ly meeting’s peace com­mit­tee!

And yet the deep­er issue is the same for me and the annoint­ed young Friends: we are seen not as our­selves but in rela­tion (or non-relation) to oth­er Friends. We are all tokens. As a small group of us met to talk about the issue of gift-naming, we real­ized the prob­lem wasn’t just lim­it­ed to those under forty. Even old­er Friends longed to be part of meet­ings that would know us, meet­ings that would see beyond our most obvi­ous skins of age, race and birth fam­i­ly to our deep­er, ever-changing and refresh­ing souls. We all long for oth­ers to give nur­tur­ing guid­ance and lov­ing over­sight to that deep­est part of our­selves! How we long to whis­per, sing and shout to one anoth­er about the Spirit’s move­ment inside us. We all long for a reli­gious soci­ety where expec­ta­tions aren’t lim­it­ed by our out­ward dif­fer­ences.

This isn’t about fill­ing com­mit­tees and find­ing clerks. What if we could go beyond the super­fi­cial com­mu­ni­ties of nice­ness main­tained in so many Meet­ings to find some­thing more real – a “cap­i­tal ‘C’ Com­mu­ni­ty” as one Friend put it? This is about liv­ing that beloved Com­mu­ni­ty. Con­sul­ta­tions and pro­grams are easy but the hard work is chang­ing atti­tudes and chang­ing our expec­ta­tions of one anoth­er, expec­ta­tions that keep us from hav­ing to get to know one anoth­er.

One Body in Christ

As the con­sul­ta­tion wrapped up we were giv­en an overview of the next steps: set­ting up com­mit­tees, doing fundrais­ing, sup­port­ing iden­ti­fied youth work. It’s all fine and good but it was a pret­ty gener­ic list of next-steps that could have been gen­er­at­ed even before the meet­ing.
Caught up in the idea of a “youth min­istries pro­gram” are assump­tions that the prob­lem is with the youth and that the solu­tion will come through some sort of pro­gram­ming. I don’t think either premise is accu­rate. The real change needs to be cul­tur­al and it needs to extend far past youth. Even most of the old­er Friends at the con­sul­ta­tion saw that. But will they bring it back to the larg­er orga­ni­za­tion? Last Novem­ber I shared some con­cerns about the Youth Min­istries ini­ta­tive with its orga­niz­ing com­mit­tee:

I haven’t heard any apol­o­giz­ing from old­er Friends for the neglect and invis­i­bil­i­ty that they’ve giv­en my gen­er­a­tion. I haven’t heard any­one talk about address­ing the issues of Quak­er ageism or the the cul­ture of FGC insti­tu­tion­al nepo­tism. At [the FGC gov­ern­ing board’s annu­al meet­ing] I heard a state­ment that a youth min­istries pro­gram would be built on the ongo­ing work of half-a-dozen list­ed com­mit­tees, most of which I know haven’t done any­thing for youth min­istries.

The point was hit home by an old­er Friend at the con­sul­ta­tion dur­ing a small-group break­out. He explained the all-too-familiar ratio­nale for why we should sup­port youth: “because they are an invest­ment in our future, they’re our lead­er­ship twen­ty and thir­ty years from now.” I sus­pect that a num­ber of Friends on gov­ern­ing boards – not just of FGC but of our ser­vice pro­grams and year­ly meet­ings – look at “youth min­istries” in a similarly-condescending, dis­mis­sive way, as invest­ment work in the future. Why else would younger Friends be so under-represented in most Quak­er com­mit­tees and pro­gram work?

The prob­lems tran­scend Quak­er insti­tu­tions. But Friends Gen­er­al Con­fer­ence is in a par­tic­u­lar­ly good posi­tion to mod­el the work. Will FGC cre­ate a youth min­istries ghet­to or will it do the hard work of inte­grat­ing its com­mit­tees? Will it final­ly start spon­sor­ing young min­is­ters in its Trav­el­ing Min­istries pro­gram? Will FGC ini­ti­ate out­reach efforts specif­i­cal­ly tar­get­ed at 20-somethings (the demo­graph­ic of the great major­i­ty of seek­ers who come to our doors)? Will there ever be a Friend under thirty-five invit­ed to give a major Gath­er­ing ple­nary talk?

Trans­formed by the Renew­ing of Our Minds

The con­sul­ta­tion was just 30 Friends. Most of the most excit­ing young Friends I know weren’t even invit­ed and real­ly couldn’t be with such a lim­it­ed atten­dance cap. One old­er Friend tried to sum up the week­end by say­ing it was the start of some­thing impor­tant, but that’s the wrong way to look at it. It’s real­ly only anoth­er step along the way, the con­tin­u­a­tion of work that’s been going on for 100 years, 350 years, 2000 years or more depend­ing on your frame of ref­er­ence. This is work that will con­tin­ue to be done over the course of gen­er­a­tions, in hun­dreds of meet­ing­hous­es and it will involve every­one in the Reli­gious Soci­ety of Friends in one way or anoth­er.

Lurk­ing unnamed in the back­ground of the Youth Min­istries Con­sul­ta­tion is the pop­u­lar “Quak­er” sweat lodge, which became so pop­u­lar pre­cise­ly because it was part­ly orga­nized by young Friends, gave them real lead­er­ship oppor­tu­ni­ties and knew–knew with a cer­tain­ty–that they could expe­ri­ence the divine and share that expe­ri­ence with their peers. If FGC’s pro­grams can’t match those cri­te­ria, then FGC will suf­fer the loss of yet anoth­er gen­er­a­tion.
What was impor­tant to me were the trends rep­re­sent­ed. There was a def­i­nite inter­est in get­ting more deeply involved in Quak­erism and in explor­ing the reli­gious side of this Soci­ety of Friends.

Grace Giv­en Us

One strug­gle we’re going to con­tin­ue to have is with lan­guage. For one small-group break­out, the orga­niz­ing com­mit­tee broke issues down by top­ics. One was dubbed “Lead­er­ship Train­ing.” With that moniker it was sure­ly going to focus on some sort of delim­it­ed, sec­u­lar – and quite frankly bor­ing – pro­gram that would be based on an orga­ni­za­tion­al design mod­el. It wasn’t the con­cern I had heard raised so I asked if we could rename it to a “nam­ing of gifts” group; thank­ful­ly the sug­ges­tion was eager­ly accept­ed. Renam­ing it helped ground it and gave the small group that gath­ered per­mis­sion to look at the deep­er issues involved. No one in our small group point­ed out that our dis­cus­sion uncon­scious­ly echoed Paul’s let­ter to the Romans:

Do not be con­formed to this world, but be trans­formed by the renew­ing of your minds, so that you may dis­cern what is the will of God – what is good and accept­able and per­fect… For as in one body we have many mem­bers, and not all the mem­bers have the same func­tion, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and indi­vid­u­al­ly we are mem­bers one of anoth­er. We have gifts that dif­fer accord­ing to the grace giv­en to us. Romans 12.

This uncon­scious Chris­tian­i­ty is very strong among our branch of Quak­ers. As our small group dis­cussed nam­ing of gifts we turned to the roles of our month­ly meet­ings and start­ed label­ing their func­tions. As the mis­sion state­ment was worked out point by point, I noticed we were recre­at­ing gospel order. I sug­gest­ed that one was to “for­give each oth­er our tres­pass­es,” which was an idea the small group liked. Even so, a few mem­bers didn’t want to use that lan­guage.

We were talk­ing gospel order, but with san­i­tized lan­guage; it’s an odd­i­ty that we mod­ern lib­er­al Friends turn so often to sec­u­lar vocab­u­lary: we talk of child­hood devel­op­ment mod­els, we use orga­ni­za­tion­al design lin­go, we speak in the Quak­er committee-speak.

My feel­ing is that lib­er­al Friends do want to be reli­gious. But we’ve spent a gen­er­a­tion replac­ing any word that hints of reli­gion with sec­u­lar­ized alter­na­tives and that now we often can’t think past this self-limited vocab­u­lary. One word that needs to be exer­cised more is “God.” If you want to be a mod­ern day Quak­er min­is­ter, just refor­mu­late every sec­u­lar­ized Quak­er­s­peak query you see to include “God.” When Friends ask “How can my month­ly meet­ing meet my needs,” nice­ly sug­gest that we also ask “How can my month­ly meet­ing meet God’s needs.” I found myself con­stant­ly refor­mu­lat­ing queries over the week­end. It’s kind of odd that the word “God” has become so absent from a Peo­ple gath­ered in the knowl­edge that “Christ has come to teach the peo­ple Him­self,” but that’s the Soci­ety we’ve inher­it­ed and this is where our min­istry must start.

Near the end of the con­sul­ta­tion one college-age Friend explained a moment when her Quak­erism was trans­formed from out­ward iden­ti­ty to an inward knowl­edge. “It’s my lan­guage now” she declared to us. Yes, it is. And that’s youth min­istry and elder min­istry, the good news that there’s a God we can name who will reveal what is “good and accept­able and per­fect.” That’s our work today, that is the min­istry of our ages.

More Read­ing:

FGC pub­lished a Good News Bul­letin about the Youth Min­istries Con­sul­ta­tion.