We’re extending the deadline for the August issue on Quaker Spaces. We’ve got some really interest articles coming in – especially geeky things in architecture and the theology of our classic meetinghouses.
So far our prospective pieces are weighted toward East Coast and classic meetinghouse architecture. I’d love to see pieces on non-traditional worship spaces. I know there newly purpose-built meetinghouses, adaptations of pre-existing structures, and new takes on the Quaker impulse to not be churchy. And worship is where we’re gathered, not necessarily where we’re mortgaged: tell us about your the rented library room, the chairs set up on the beach, the room in the prison worship group…
Submission guidelines are at friendsjournal.org/submissions. The new deadline is Monday, May 16. My last post about this issue is here.
Outreach, Family, Pacifism, and Blog Culture
At year’s end it’s always interesting to look back and see which articles got the most visits. Here are the top-five QuakerRanter.org blog posts of 2013.
This grew out of a interesting little tweet about search engine optimization that got me thinking about how Friends Meetings can retain the curious one-time visitors.
My father-in-law died in January. These are few pictures I put together while Julie was still at the family home with the close relatives. Thanks to our friends for sharing a bit of our life by reading this one. He’s missed.
A look at Friends testimonies and the difficulties of being a fair-trade pacifist in our hyper-connected world today. I think George Fox and the early Friends were faced with similar challenges and that our guide can be the same as theirs.
A number of new services are trying to update the culture of blogging. This post looked at comments; a subsequent one considered how we might reorganize our blogs into more of a structured Wiki.
This year saw a lot of hang wringing by mainstream journalists on the anniversary of the Iraq War. I didn’t have much patience and looked at how dissenting voices were regularly locked out of debate ten years ago – and are still locked out with the talk that “all of us” were wrong then.
I should give the caveat that these are the top-five most-read articles that were written this year. Many of the classics still outperform these. The most read continues to be my post on unpopular baby names (just today I overheard an expectant mother approvingly going through a list of over-trendy names; I wondered if I should send her the link). My post on how to order men’s plain clothing from Gohn’s Brothers continues to be popular, as does a report about a trip to a legendary water hole deep in the South Jersey pines.
Over on Twitter feed came a tweet (h/t revrevwine):
To translate, SEO is “search engine optimization,” the often-huckersterish art of tricking Google to display your website higher than your competitors in search results. “Usability” is the catch-all term for making your website easy to navigate and inviting to visitors. Companies with deep pockets often want to spend a lot of money on SEO, when most of the time the most viable long-term solution to ranking high with search engines is to provide visitors with good reasons to visit your site. What if we applied these principles to our churches and meetinghouses and swapped the terms?
Outreach gets people to your meetinghouse /
Hospitality keeps people returning.
A lot of Quaker meetinghouses have pretty good “natural SEO.” Here in the U.S. East Coast, they’re often near a major road in the middle of town. If they’re lucky there are a few historical markers of notable Quakers and if they are really lucky there’s a highly-respected Friends school nearby. All these meetings really have to do is put a nice sign out front and table a few town events every year. The rest is covered. Although we do get the occasional “aren’t you all Amish?” comments, we have a much wider reputation that our numbers would necessarily warrant. We rank pretty high.
But what are the lessons of hospitality we could work on? Do we provide places where spiritual seekers can both grow personally and engage in the important questions of the faith in the modern world? Are we invitational, bringing people into our homes and into our lives for shared meals and conversations?
In my freelance days when I was hired to work on SEO I ran through a series of statistical reports and redesigned some underperforming pages, but then turned my attention to the client’s content. It was in this realm that my greatest quantifiable successes occurred. At the heart of the content work was asking how could the site could more fully engage with first-time visitors. The “usability considerations” on the Wikipedia page on usability could be easily adapted as queries:
Who are the users, what do they know, what can they learn? What do users want or need to do? What is the users’ general background? What is the users’ context for working? What must be left to the machine? Can users easily accomplish intended tasks at their desired speed? How much training do users need? What documentation or other supporting materials are available to help the user?
I’d love to see Friends consider this more. FGC’s “New Meetings Toolbox” has a section on welcoming newcomers. But I’d love to hear more stories about how we’re working on the “usability” of our spiritual communities.
Earlier this week I wondered if it might not be such a bad idea if some of our struggling established meetings experimented with the house church model. An commenter maps out the difficulties:
Speaking as a “meeting planter” (our small Friends meeting here was founded two years ago by me and one other Friend), I can tell you without reservation that, while we could meet in people’s homes, it would strictly limit the ability to reach out with our message and attract others to participate. You can pretty well be certain that only those who already feel comfortable with you will come back to someone’s home, which may not include the seekers who really are looking for something they can be part of.
I have seen this with other churches as well; the local UU fellowship grew from ten to 15 people in the 5 years that they met in living rooms; they grew from 30 to 60 in two years when they had their own meetinghouse.
I am trying hard to raise the money to allow us to purchase and maintain an appropriate building for a meetinghouse. Until we do, our Meeting will continue to hide its light under a bushel, despite all our efforts to the contrary. The desire to have a “home” is deep within the human heart, whether it is where we reside or where we worship.
The commenter was anonymous (update: no, he’s not, it’s Bruce Arnold of Letters from the Street) but I’d love to hear more. I wonder particularly of there’s a zone of difficult viability when the worship community it’s too small to support a building structure and need to pick a bigger-or smaller model for long-term viability.
Burning down the meetinghouse is a metaphor for the true freedom that we find when we renounce all the things that we put before God. What would it look like for younger Friends to take responsibility for leadership within our Yearly Meetings, not waiting for permission or validation?
Here's a few scenes from the meetinghouse and grounds beforehand.
In album Scenes of Abington Meeting (10 photos)
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