Becky Thomas Ankeny's recent message at George Fox University via Wess Danie…

Becky Thomas Ankeny's recent message at George Fox University via Wess Daniels

Reshared post from +C. Wess Daniels

Becky Thomas Ankeny's message at George Fox Chapel yesterday is beautiful litany of God's call to all people. It is especially meant for those who grew up in a religious culture/church who told you that you cannot minister.

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George Fox University Chapel – GFU Chapel
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Do it yourself and don’t get stuck

NMCF Pendle HillThis weekend was the long-prepared New Monastics and Convergent Friends weekend at Pendle Hill, co-led by myself and Wess Daniels, with very helpful eldership from Ashley W. As I posted afterwards on Facebook, “I feel we served the Lord faithfully, navigating the hopes and fears of the members of the church who gathered into this short-lived community. Not the conversation we expected, but the conversation we were given, which is enough (always) and for which we feel gratitude.” 

Wess and I have often described Convergent Friends as a do-it-yourself culture. But this weekend I realized that there’s something more to it. There’s what you might call a “don’t get stuck” ethos. 
On Saturday afternoon, the conversation turned to what our local monthly and yearly meetings aren’t doing well. This is a pretty standard phase of any Quaker gathering thinking about renewal. We had asked for “signs of life” and “what does New Monasticism and Convergent Friends look like at meetings” but this quickly became talk of spiritual sickness and meetings that seemingly want to die. Fine enough, these exist and a half-session feeling sorry for ourselves might be cathartic, but I’m not sure the workshop ever fully got out of this funk. Pendle Hill was also hosting a “Grieving” workshop this weekend and I wanted to ask if all of the participants were sure they were in the right building.
Part of the shift of that amorphous group we’ve been calling “Convergent” is not getting stuck. We use the official structures when they’re in place and healthy and helpful. When they’re not we find informal ways to fill in the gaps. This has been happening for a long time in quasi-official networks, but the internet’s accelerated the process by letting us find and communicate with minimal cost or organization. Most of us are working official and ad hoc techniques for spiritual nurture, oversight and pastoral care.
My guess is that this informal bootstrapping will feed back into formal process as time goes on. But more importantly, we’re learning and spreading a culture of spiritual friendship and support that is flexible and spirit-led and not process-dependent. Praise God!

New Monastics & Convergent Friends update

My workshop partner Wess Daniels just posted an update about the upcoming workshop at Pendle Hill. Here’s the start. Click through to the full post to get a taste of what we’re preparing.

Martin Kelley and I will be
leading a
weekend retreat at Pendle Hill in just a couple weeks (May 14-16)

and I’m starting to get really excited about it! Martin and I have been
collaborating a lot together over the past few months in preparation for
this weekend and I wanted to share a little more of what we have
planned for those of you who are interested in coming (or still on the
fence). During the weekend we will be encouraging conversations around
building communities, convergent Friends and how this looks in our local
meetings. I wanted to give the description of the weekend, some of the
queries we’ll be touching on, and the outline for the weekend. And of
course, I want to invite all of you interested parties to join us!

Read the full post on Wess’s blog

Flashbacks: Aging Youth, Vanity Googling, War Fatigue

I occasionally go back to my blogging archives to pick out interesting articles from one, five and ten years ago.

ONE YEAR AGO: The Not-Quite-So Young Quakers

It was five years ago this week that I sat down and wrote about a cool
new movement I had been reading about. It would have been Jordan Cooper‘s blog that turned me onto Robert E Webber‘s The Younger Evangelicals, a look at generational shifts among American Evangelicals. In retrospect, it’s fair to say that the QuakerQuaker community gathered around this essay (here’s Robin M’s account of first reading it) and it’s follow-up We’re All Ranters Now (Wess talking about it).

And yet? All of this is still a small demographic scattered all around. If I wanted to have a good two-hour caffeine-fueled bull session about the future of Friends at some local coffeeshop this afternoon, I can’t think of anyone even vaguely local who I could call up. I’m really sad to say we’re still largely on our own. According to actuarial tables, I’ve recently crossed my life’s halfway point and here I am still referencing generational change. How I wish I could honestly say that I could get involved with any committee in my yearly meeting and get to work on the issues raised in “Younger Evangelicals and Younger Quakers”. Someone recently sent me an email thread between members of an outreach committee for another large East Coast yearly meeting and they were debating whether the internet was an appropriate place to do outreach work–in 2008?!?

Published 9/14/2008.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Vanity Googling of Causes

A poster to an obscure discussion board recently described typing a particular search phrase into Google and finding nothing but bad information. Reproducing the search I determined two things: 1) that my site topped the list and 2) that the results were actually quite accurate. I’ve been hearing an increasing number of stories like this. “Cause Googling,” a variation on “vanity googling,” is suddenly becoming quite popular. But the interesting thing is that these new searchers don’t actually seem curious about the results. Has Google become our new proof text?

Published 10/2/2004 in The Quaker Ranter.

TEN’ISH YEARS AGO: War Time Again
This piece is about the NATO bombing campaign in Serbia (Wikipedia). It’s strange to see I was feeling war fatigue even before 9/11 and the “real” wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

There’s a great danger in all this. A danger to the soul of America. This is the fourth country the U.S. has gone to war against in the last six months. War is becoming routine. It is sandwiched between the soap operas and the sitcoms, between the traffic and weather reports. Intense cruise missile bombardments are carried out but have no effect on the psyche or even imagination of the U.S. citizens.

It’s as if war itself has become another consumer good. Another event to be packaged for commercial television. Given a theme song. We’re at war with a country we don’t know over a region we don’t really care about. I’m not be facetious, I’m simply stating a fact. The United States can and should play an active peacemaking role in the region, but only after we’ve done our homework and have basic knowledge of the players and situation. Isolationism is dangerous, yes, but not nearly as dangerous as the emerging culture of these dilettante made-for-TV wars.

Published March 25, 1999, Nonviolence.org

Movement for a New Society and the Old New Monastics

Robin wrote a little about the New Monastic movement in a plug for the Pendle Hill workshop I’m doing with Wess Daniels this Fall.

Here’s my working theory: I think Liberal Friends have a good claim to inventing the “new monastic” movement thirty years ago in the form of Movement for a New Society, a network of peace and anti-nuclear activists based in Philadelphia that codified a kind of “secular Quaker” decision-making process and trained thousands of people from around the world in a kind of engaged drop-out lifestyle that featured low-cost communal living arrangements in poor neighborhoods with part-time jobs that gave them flexibility to work as full-time community activists. There are few activist campaigns in the 1970s and 1980s that weren’t touched by the MNS style and a less-ideological, more lived-in MNS culture survives today in borderline neighborhoods in Philadelphia and other cities. The high-profile new monastics rarely seem to give any props to Quakers or MNS, but I’d be willing to bet if you sat in on any of their meetings the process would be much more inspired by MNS than Robert’s Rules of Order or any fifteen century monastic rule that might be cited.

For a decade I lived in West Philly in what I called “the ruins of the Movement for a New Society.” The formal structure of MNS had disbanded but many of its institutions carried on in a kind of lived-in way. I worked at the remaining publishing house, New Society Publishers, lived in a land-trusted West Philly coop house, and was fed from the old neighborhood food coop and occasionally dropped in or helped out with Training for Change, a revived training center started by MNS-co-founder (and Central Philadelphia Meeting-member) George Lakey It was a tight neighborhood, with strong cross-connections, and it was able to absorb related movements with different styles (e.g., a strong anarchist scene that grew in the late 1980s). I don’t think it’s coincidence that some of the Philly emergent church projects started in West Philly and is strong in the neighborhoods that have become the new ersatz West Philly as the actual neighborhood has gentrified.

So some questions I’ll be wrestling with over the next six months and will bring to Pendle Hill:

  • Why haven’t more of us in the Religious Society of Friends adopted this engaged lifestyle?
  • Why haven’t we been good at articulating it all this time?
  • Why did the formal structure of the Quaker-ish “new monasticism” not survive the 1980s?
  • Why don’t we have any younger leaders of the Quaker monasticism? Why do we need others to remind us of our own recent tradition?
  • In what ways are some Friends (and some fellow travelers) still living out the “Old New Monastic” experience, just without the hype and without the buzz?

It’s entirely possible that the “new monasticism” isn’t sustainable. At the very least Friends’ experiences with it should be studied to see what happened. Is West Philly what the new monasticism looks like thirty years later? The biggest differences between now and the heyday of the Movement for a New Society is 1) the Internet’s ability to organize and stay in touch in completely different ways; and 2) the power of the major Evangelical publishing houses that are hyping the new kids.

I’ll be looking at myself as well. After ten years, I felt I needed a change. I’m now in the “real world”–semi suburban freestanding house, nuclear family. The old new West Philly monasticism, like the “new monasticism” seems optimized for hip twenty-something suburban kids who romanticized the gritty city. People of other demographics often fit in, but still it was never very scalable and for many not very sustainable. How do we bring these concerns out to a world where there are suburbs, families, etc?


RELATED READING: I first wrote about the similarity between MNS and the Philadelphia “New Monastic” movement six years ago in Peace and Twenty-Somethings, where I argued that Pendle Hill should take a serious look at this new movement.

More coming in from this weekend’s workshop

Both of my workshop co-leaders Wess and Robin have now checked in with preliminary reports. More material is being collected on the QuakerQuaker event page.

Wess and I have both been uploading lots of photos to Flickr using the “quakerreclaiming2009” tag. I’ve been uploading my video interviews both on Youtube and QuakerQuaker. You can see them at the reclaiming2009 tag (I have the feeling we’ve just doubled the Quaker content on Youtube but it’s not that extreme). Anyone present with more photos can either upload them to Flickr with the “quakerreclaiming2009” tag or send them directly up to QuakerQuaker. Same with videos.

How and why we gather as Friends (in the 21st Century)

On a recent evening I met up with Gathering in Light Wess, who was in Philadelphia for a Quaker-sponsored peace conference. Over the next few hours, six of us went out for a great dinner, Wess and I tested some testimonies,
and a revolving group of Friends ended up around a table in the
conference’s hotel lobby talking late into the night (the links are
Wess’ reviews, these days you can reverse stalk him through his Yelp
account).

Of all of the many people I spoke with, only one had any kind of
featured role at the conference. Without exception my conversation
partners were fascinating and insightful about the issues that had
brought them to Philadelphia, yet I sensed a pervading sense of missed
opportunity: hundreds of lives rearranged and thousands of air miles
flown mostly to listen to others talk. I spent my long commute home
wondering what it would have been like to have spent the weekend in the
hotel lobby recording ten minute Youtube interviews with as many
conference participants as I could. We would have ended up with a
snapshot of faith-based peace organizing circa 2009.

Next weekend I’ll be burning up more of the ozone layer by flying to California to co-lead a workshop with Wess and Robin M. (details at ConvergentFriends.org,
I’m sure we can squeeze more people in!) The participant list looks
fabulous. I don’t know everyone but there’s at least half a dozen
people coming who I would be thrilled to take workshops from. I really
don’t want to spend the weekend hearing myself talk! I also know there
are plenty of people who can’t come because of commitments and costs.

So we’re going to try some experiments–they might work, they might not. On QuakerQuaker, there’s a new group for the event and a discussion thread open to all QQ members (sign up is quick and painless). For those of you comfortable with the QQ tagging system, the Delicious tag for the event is “quaker.reclaiming2009”. Robin M has proposed using #convergentfriends as our Twitter hashtag.

There’s all sorts of mad things we could try (Ustream video or live
blogging via Twitter, anyone?), wacky wacky stuff that would distract
us from whatever message the Inward Christ might be trying to give us.
But behind all this is a real questions about why and how we should
gather together as Friends. As the banking system tanks, as the environment
strains, as communications costs drop and we find ourselves in a curious new economy, what challenges and opportunities open up?

Invisible Quaker Misfits

This week I received an email from a young seeker in the Philadelphia area who found my 2005 article “Witness of Our Lost Twenty-Somethings” published in FGConnections. She’s a former youth ministries leader from a Pentecostal tradition, strongly attracted to Friends beliefs but not quite fitting in with the local meetings she’s been trying. Somewhere she found my article and asks if I have any insights.

The 2005 article was largely pessimistic, focused on the “committed, interesting and bold twenty-something Friends
I knew ten years ago” who had left Friends and blaming “an institutional Quakerism that neglected them and
its own future” but my hope paragraph was optimistic:

There is hope… A great people might possibly be gathered from
the emergent church movement and the internet is full of amazing conversations
from new Friends and seekers. There are pockets in our branch of Quakerism
where older Friends have continued to mentor and encourage meaningful and
integrated youth leadership, and some of my peers have hung on with me. Most
hopefully, there’s a whole new generation of twenty- something Friends
on the scene with strong gifts that could be nurtured and harnessed.

Hard to imagine that only three years ago I was an isolated FGC staffer left to pursue outreach and youth ministry work on my own time by an institution indifferent to either pursuit. Both functions have become major staff programs, but I’m no longer involved, which is probably just as well, as neither program has decided to focus on the kind of work I had hoped it might. The more things change the more they stay the same, right? The most interesting work is still largely invisible.

Some of this work has been taken up by the new bloggers and by some sort of alt-network that seems to be congealing around all the blogs, Twitter networks, Facebook friendships, intervisitations and IM chats. Many of us associated with QuakerQuaker.org have some sort of regular correspondence or participation with the Emerging Church movement, we regularly highlight “amazing conversations” from new Friends and seekers and there’s a lot of inter-generational work going on. We’ve got a name for it in Convergent Friends, which reflects in part that “we” aren’t just the liberal Friends I imagined in 2005, but a wide swath of Friends from all the Quaker flavors.

But we end up with a problem that’s become the central one for me and a lot of others: what can we tell a new seeker who should be able to find a home in real-world Friends but doesn’t fit? I could point this week’s correspondent to meetings and churches hundreds of miles from her house, or encourage her to start a blog, or compile a list of workshops or gatherings she might attend. But none of these are really satisfactory answers.   

Elsewhere:

Gathering in Light Wess sent an email around last night about a book review done by his PhD advisor Ryan Bolger that talks about tribe-style leadership and a new kind of church identity that uses the instant communication tools of the internet to forge a community that’s not necessarily limited to locality. Bolger’s and his research partner report that they see “emerging initiatives within traditional churches as the next
horizon for the spread of emerging church practices in the United States
.” More links from Wess’ article on emerging churches and denominations.

Images from Ohio Yearly Meeting Conservative

Here are a few photos from our trip to Barnesville Ohio for “yearly meeting sessions”:http://www.ohioyearlymeeting.org/. The panel talk on “Convergent Friends”:http://convergentfriends.org/ with C Wess Daniels and Ohio’s David Male seemed to be well received. In some ways I thought it was silly for _us_ to travel so far to tell _them_ about convergence, as OYM(C) Friends have been doing important outreach and renewal work for years, supporting isolated Friends with the bi-annual Conservative Gatherings and though their “affiliate member”:http://www.ohioyearlymeeting.org/discipline.htm#Affiliate program. One place to learn more about current outreach efforts is “ConservativeFriend.org”:http://www.conservativefriend.org/.
Road trip stretch Post-lunch talk planning Photo of photo Kids hang out
Baby on the run