Exciting Philly Convergent Friends opportunity

ppThe most excel­lent Peg­gy Sen­ger Par­sons of Oregon’s Free­dom Friends Church emailed me today say­ing she and the equal­ly excel­lent Marge Abbott will be co-leading a work­shop at the Philadel­phia area Pen­dle Hill Retreat Cen­ter from 3/27 – 29. These two were cross­ing the­o­log­i­cal bound­aries and pio­neer­ing the Con­ver­gent Friend ethos long before Blogs, Twit­ter & Face­book. The work­shop is called “Are we still a dan­ger­ous peo­ple?” and as rock­ing as that sounds, I’d be will­ing to lis­ten to these two read the Salem, Ore­gon phone book for a week­end. If you have a pil­low stuffed with some extra cash ($200 for com­muters) then you should def­i­nite­ly try to make it (unfor­tu­nate­ly I don’t have a lumpy pil­low­case and can’t afford to take anoth­er three days off). 

Peg­gy wrote that she wants to make her­self “avail­able for the Sat­ur­day after­noon free time for a con­ver­sa­tion with any Friends who want to drop in and crash the par­ty.” That sounds good to me! If I can rearrange some child­care sched­ules, I’ll try to make that. That would be Sat­ur­day the 28th from 1:00 – 3:30pm.

Another Quaker bookstore bites the dust

Not real­ly news, but Friends Unit­ed Meet­ing recent­ly ded­i­cat­ed their new Wel­come Cen­ter in what was once the FUM bookstore:

On Sep­tem­ber 15, 2007, FUM ded­i­cat­ed the space once used as the Quak­er Hill Book­store as the new FUM Wel­come Cen­ter. The Wel­come Cen­ter con­tains Quak­er books and resources for F/friends to stop by and make use of dur­ing busi­ness hours. Tables and chairs to com­fort­ably accom­mo­date 50 peo­ple make this a great space to rent for reunions, church groups, meet­ings, anniversary/birthday par­ties, etc. Reduced prices are avail­able for churches.

Most Quak­er pub­lish­ers and book­sellers have closed or been great­ly reduced over the last ten years. Great changes have occurred in the Philadelphia-area Pen­dle Hill book­store and pub­lish­ing oper­a­tion, the AFSC Book­store in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, Bar­clay Press in Ore­gon. The ver­i­ta­ble Friends Book­shop in Lon­don farmed out its mail order busi­ness a few years ago and has seen part of its space tak­en over by a cof­fee­bar: pop­u­lar and cool I’m sure, but does Lon­don real­ly needs anoth­er place to buy cof­fee? Rumor has it that Britain’s pub­li­ca­tions com­mit­tee has been laid down. The offi­cial spin is usu­al­ly that the work con­tin­ues in a dif­fer­ent form but only Bar­clay Press has been reborn as some­thing real­ly cool. One of the few remain­ing book­sellers is my old pals at FGC’s Quaker­Books: still sell­ing good books but I’m wor­ried that so much of Quak­er pub­lish­ing is now in one bas­ket and I’d be more con­fi­dent if their web­site showed more signs of activity.

The boards mak­ing these deci­sions to scale back or close are prob­a­bly unaware that they’re part
of a larg­er trend. They prob­a­bly think they’re respond­ing to unique sit­u­a­tions (the peer group Quak­ers Unit­ing in Pub­li­ca­tions sends inter­nal emails around but hasn’t done much to pub­li­cize this sto­ry out­side of its mem­ber­ship). It’s sad to see that so many Quak­er decision-making bod­ies have inde­pen­dent­ly decid­ed that pub­lish­ing is not an essen­tial part of their mission.

Turning workshops into worship

Last night LizOpp, Robin M and myself hosted our FGC Gathering interest group. The title was "On Fire!: Renewing Quakerism through a Convergence of Friends." All morning long we've had Friends grabbing our arms to tell us how powerful and important it was for them. One well-traveled Friend went so far as to say the spontaneous worship that occurred halfway through was the deepest he's experienced in twenty years of Quakerism. The obvious challenge for us hosts is keeping our egos securely tamed from all this praise.

The work wasn't ours. We simply set the stage. My first impulse is to say we helped create an environment where the Spirit could break into the event, but that's not really it. We tried to create a space where participants would recognize when the Spirit knocked on the door.

Powell House Weekend (Food for Fire participants.Powell House Weekend (Bloggers at the workshop pose for a goofy attacking-one-another photo.

What happened last night felt similar to what happened in last February's Powell House Food for the Fire workshop. While I took notes and journaled a lot about it I never gave a followup blog post. It was powerful and I needed to digest it. Luckily participants Rob, Amanda and Zach and Claire all shared about it or its themes in the weeks afterwards.

I'd like to share something about the assumptions and preparation that went into these two events. There's no way to create a cookie-cutter agenda to force a deep spiritual high. In fact part of what's needed is to move beyond predictability. Both times I've had a clear sense that a point came when I was no longer facilitating, where Spirit was actively guiding us and participants were actively responding to that process, even eldering us past the control of facilitation.

When I came to Powell House I had a workshop description and a keen interest in the topic. What I didn't bring was an agenda. I'm trying to experiment with not being too prepared.* Early Friends held open meetings and while they often bore concerns and had themes that frequently reoccurred in their ministry. Friends today rely very much on models borrowed from higher education: we have workshops that expect agendas, we give talks that expect pre-printed speeches. These are often the opportunities we get for teaching ministries, yet they are very programmed. The challenge is to figure out how to subvert them to allow for unprogrammed surprise.

At Powell House I spent time before each session walking around the grounds in prayer for guidance on what to do next. I had brainstormed ideas beforehand but my main preparation had been a lot of Quaker reading and prayer in the weeks preceeding the event. I wanted the sessions to connect to the spiritual condition of the participants, as individuals and as a group. There were a few moments I thought I was nuts. For example, walking around before the Powell House Saturday afternoon session it seemed like reading a chapter of Samuel Bownas's Description of the Qualifications would be a good idea, but by mid-afternoon I could see the sleepy faces. We did it anyway and faces and spirit lit up. People wanted to engage with Bownas. As it turns out we read all of chapter three, "Advice to Ministers in a State of Infancy." It was so cool.

The real inbreaking happened a little later. The group was tired, dinner was nearing. I started to recommend we go into a circle to break up. One Friend interrupted, looked at another across the room and said "you have something to say, don't you." The second Friend said yes, then challenged us that we hadn't actually answered our queries at all. The main question was still on the table. "What are we called to do?" There was a release. I knew I was not in control of the workshop anymore. We came into a prayer circle and started to talk about some of this. One Friend said something about naming who it is that call us. A theme came out that it wasn't enough for us to find some sort of personal salvation and comfort in our Quaker meetings: we needed to bring all the world into this if it was to be meaningful. It truly felt like the Holy Spirit was in the room. It wasn't necessarily so comfortable and it somehow seemed like not enough, but it pointed to the work we needed to do afterwards.

On Fire! FGC Interest GroupBlogging participants of On Fire! workshop pose together. About fifty people total came out for the Monday night interest group. Click photo for names and links.On Fire! FGC Interest Group
Lots of discussions happened at the rise of the worship.
The semi-impromptu post-discussion group. (Thanks for FGC's Emily for taking & posting this!)

FGC Gathering photos on Flickr and Technorati

Last night, at the FGC interest group, something similar happened. Robin, Liz and I had planned out the first half of the meeting. The most important piece: coming early to sit in prayer and holding it well past the time the interest group was supposed to start. The work of Friends needs to be rooted in worship. We need to be still enough to hear the Holy Spirit. If the medium is the message, our message was about the need to not pack ourselves in with agendas. We started predicatbly enough by asking the fifty-or-so participants to give their names and to name a spiritual practice that gives them joy. We asked for space in between speakers to keep worship at the fore and we were blessed by a self-faciliating group; Friends did hold the spaces in between.
Then the three of us told our stories of starting spiritually-focused blogs and coming to find a fellowship that extended beyond our traditional Quaker branches (hence the term "Convergence of Friends"). I went first and explained that I trying to be careful not to do this to lift myself up. My story is simple and like those of many Friends. I was giving testimony. The idea of testimony rang throughout the evening. Robin's story in particular was very grounded and coming last it took us into the unprogrammed agenda-less time we had left free. Friends rose to give testimony of other "convergent" experiences, for example particpation in the Northwest Women's Theological Conferences, events of the Western branch of the Christian Friends Fellowship.

At some point a woman I didn't know stood up without being recognized and she had a pose of supplication. My first though, "oh no!" Then I noticed another Friend, worshipful in spirit, who pointed her to us. She said she was going to sing a song. "Oh no again!" I thought. But this was the facilitation coming off our shoulders. This was a Friend rising to name what we needed and another Friend pointing that we needed to go this direction. It was like the two Powell House Friends: one recognizing in the other a need to share ministry and being willing to break through "proper" group process. At the interest group the song was powerful, it brought us to a place where we could be low and thankful. We were now spontaneously in worship.

Liz, Robin and I had planned some closing worship but this wasn't the time yet. But it was the time and the suceeding ministry was heartfelt and largely from the Source.
The only funny aside was that we felt we couldn't let the group go on past our 8:45 end time, for the simple reason that childcare ended then and we needed to let parents go. We mentioned this around 8:30 but twenty minutes later the worship was continuing. Just then the cellphone of the Friend giving ministry went off: it was his daughter calling to ask where he was! He turned off the phone but it gave us the excuse to close the meeting and invite an extended meeting to continue outside. This was wonderful as there were a number of other similarly-themed interest groups (one on youth ministries, the other on the World Gathering of Young Friends) and participants from all three groups met outside and continued the sharing for another two hours.

Lessons? Simply to ground workshop events in worship, let the agenda be empty enough for the Spirit to intervene (having backup exercises just in case it doesn't is fine!). I don't think this is a foolproof method. A lot depends on the participants and how willing they are to share in the faciliation and worship. A lot also depends on Friends breaking into the agenda, for both times that was what turned the event from a workshop to a gathered meeting.

* For me the danger is a personal style that has long relied on a last-minute miracles (I was the kind of college student who read all the material through the semester but didn't actually start writing anything until the night before an assignment was due). I don't want my theology to be an excuse for my procrastination and I try to test this regularly.

Related posts

Lots of folks have been talking about the Gathering and the Monday night interest group:

I'm sure more reaction posts are up there and I'll link to them as I find them. I suspect that in addition to being the biggest group Quaker blogger photo to date (sorry Gregg!), this will end up being the most blogged about Quaker event yet, at least till Wess gathers West Coasters together next month. I counted at least 20 Quaker bloggers at the Gathering.

Friends Familiar with My Struggles

A Guest Piece from ‘Quak­er­s­peak’ C. Reddy.

On April 23 I flew to Ore­gon to serve on an edi­to­r­i­al board for a book that QUIP is putting togeth­er of young Friends’ expe­ri­ences of Quak­erism. After arriv­ing in Ore­gon but before I met with the edi­to­r­i­al board for this, I served on a pan­el with the oth­er young Friends on the edi­to­r­i­al board in a QUIP meet­ing (as we had arrived at the end of a QUIP con­fer­ence for our meet­ing) about how media, print­ed or oth­er­wise, inspired us spir­i­tu­al­ly. As we relat­ed our expe­ri­ences as young Friends (and grow­ing up as Quak­ers), a num­ber of issues sur­faced rather quickly.

As young Friends move through high school and enter the [young] adult world, there is often a gen­er­al lack of com­mu­ni­ca­tion between young Friends and adults in Meet­ings, as if there’s some ten­sion about it. Per­son­al­ly, as a young Friend in Durham Friends Meet­ing (NCYM(Cons.)), I’ve found that I know cer­tain adults — ones with whom I have inter­act­ed more specif­i­cal­ly over the years as I have grown up. Often these are par­ents of oth­er young Friends in the Meet­ing or peo­ple who have been involved in youth group events. What’s miss­ing is the con­nec­tion to the rest of the adults in Meet­ing; I’ve been attend­ing Durham Friends Meet­ing since I was born (with a peri­od dur­ing mid­dle school where I was most­ly absent, but for the last few years I’ve been quite reg­u­lar in atten­dance) and I feel like most of the meet­ing has no idea who I am. In addi­tion to that, I’ve not known how to com­mu­ni­cate my involve­ment and ded­i­ca­tion in var­i­ous nation­al Quak­er com­mu­ni­ties, such as being cho­sen as one of six co-clerks of the HS pro­gram at FGC Gath­er­ing this sum­mer, my par­tic­i­pa­tion in Young Quakes, my atten­dance at a Pen­dle Hill Clerk­ing work­shop last fall, my involve­ment in this QUIP book, or how I have been read­ing many Quak­er books over the last few months, all of which have been VERY inte­gral in my spir­i­tu­al devel­op­ment. Even Friends in Durham Friends Meet­ing with whom I do con­verse some­times after Meet­ing do not know of all these things with which I am involved.

Also, when I stopped attend­ing First Day school in Jan­u­ary of my junior year in high school (a lit­tle over a year ago) and began attend­ing the full hour of Wor­ship, I spoke to two youth lead­ers about it briefly so they would under­stand, and then there was no fur­ther response. Look­ing back on this, I feel that the Meet­ing should be more involved in such a tran­si­tion for all young Friends — not just those adults direct­ly involved in the youth group/First Day school, but every­one should be more aware and atten­tive of the young Friends in Meet­ing and their involve­ment in Quak­er com­mu­ni­ties out­side of Meeting.

One thing that each of us felt is very impor­tant yet very lack­ing is men­tor­ship with­in Meet­ing for Wor­ship. There need to be adults who are not nec­es­sar­i­ly First Day school teach­ers, youth group lead­ers, or par­ents who are will­ing to have a rela­tion­ship with a young Friend as some­one who has had more expe­ri­ence with Quak­erism and can nur­ture a young Friend’s spir­i­tu­al devel­op­ment. A young Friend who was in Ore­gon with me relat­ed her expe­ri­ences with a men­tor she has at Earl­ham (she is a second-year there, cur­rent­ly), and how she sees him about once a week; often she even receives books to read from him.

As the only active young Friend at my school (I’m sort of the ‘token’ Quak­er around), I usu­al­ly do not have any­one to talk to about my spir­i­tu­al find­ings and lead­ings. As I have con­tin­ued to devel­op spir­i­tu­al­ly, I find more and more I need oth­er Friends to talk who are famil­iar with my struggles.

These are issues not only with­in Durham Friends Meet­ing, but in Meet­ings across the coun­try. I rec­og­nize that there are efforts to improve youth pro­grams every­where, but it nev­er hurts to start locally.

As a grad­u­at­ing senior this year, and as an involved Friend, I would like to improve my rela­tion­ship with the Meet­ing as a whole and make way for bet­ter rela­tion­ships between mem­bers and young Friends in the future. This, how­ev­er, needs to be ful­ly a double-sided effort.

Net Sightings

The Pub­lic Quak­er writ­ing about prayer
bq. Prayer is one con­stant thing for me, a reli­able base. When am I hav­ing epis­te­mo­log­i­cal doubt about every­thing, I do know that is good for me to pray.
A month ago LizOpp post­ed a inter­est “FAQ on her wor­ship group”:http://thegoodraisedup.blogspot.com/2005/03/faqs-about-my-worship-group.html which is well worth read­ing. Last week she fol­lowed it up with a very chew-worthy post on “The­o­log­i­cal uni­ty and spir­i­tu­al diversity”:http://thegoodraisedup.blogspot.com/2005/04/theological-unity-and-spiritual.html (which adds new ground to the ter­ri­to­ry we’ve been explor­ing here on Quak­er Ranter on “Non-Theism”:http://www.nonviolence.org/martink/archives/000567.php and “Lov­ing God”:http://www.nonviolence.org/martink/archives/000577.php).
“Quakerspeak”:http://www.livejournal.com/users/Quakerspeak/ is the new blog by a high-school Friend I met last week in Ore­gon. Whew, is she on fire!:
bq. I nev­er real­ly thought much about how I was sort of bot­tling up all my the­o­log­i­cal and spir­i­tu­al con­tem­pla­tions; sud­den­ly I feel like I’m pour­ing it all out on the table and exam­in­ing it all.. well, except that I’ve been exam­in­ing it all. I’m try­ing to bet­ter apply my spritu­al­i­ty to my dai­ly life and inter­ac­tions with­out los­ing sight of myself; I’m try­ing to fig­ure out where it all fits into my own life with­out try­ing to alter my per­son­al­i­ty or ways of being.
Beppe’s just start­ed a new series with a post, “The Trou­bles with Friends Part 1”:http://beppeblog.blogspot.com/2005/05/trouble-with-friends-1-too-much-of.html. This first install­ment focus­es on our fear of judge­men­tal­ism. Speak on, bro!