What do you love about your Quaker space?

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 friend​sjour​nal​.org/​s​u​b​m​i​s​s​i​ons. The new dead­line is Mon­day, May 16. My last post about this issue is here.

Upcoming FJ submission: “Quaker Spaces”

I’ve been meaning to get more into the habit of sharing upcoming Friends Journal issue themes. We started focusing on themed issues back around 2012 as a way to bring some diversity to our subject matter and help encourage Friends to talk about topics that weren’t as regularly-covered.

One of the Greenwich, N.J., Meetinghouses.

One of the Greenwich, N.J., meetinghouses, Sept 2009

The next issue we’re looking to fill is a topic I find interesting: Quaker Spaces. I’ve joked internally that we could call it “Meetinghouse Porn,” and while we already have some beautiful illustrations lined up, I think there’s a real chance at juicy Quaker theology in this issue as well.

One of my pet theories is that since we downplay creeds, we talk theology in the minutia of our meetinghouses. Not officially of course—our worship spaces are neutral, unconsecrated, empty buildings. But as Helen Kobek wrote in our March issue on “Disabilities and Inclusion,” we all need physical accommodations and these provide templates to express our values. Earlier Friends expressed a theology that distrusted forms by developing an architectural style devoid of crosses, steeples. The classic meetinghouse looks like a barn, the most down-to-early humble architectural form a northern English sheepherders could imagine.

But theologies shift. As Friends assimilated, some started taking on other forms and Methodist-like meetinghouse (even sometimes daringly called churches) started popping up. Modern meetinghouses might have big plate glass windows looking out over a forest, a nod to our contemporary worship of nature or they might be in a converted house in a down-and-out neighborhood to show our love of social justice.

Top photo is a framed picture of the Lancaster U.K. Meetinghouse from the early 20th century--long benches lined up end to end, balcony. By the time of my visit, there were cushioned independent chairs arranged in a circle.
Top photo is of a framed picture of the Lancaster UK Meetinghouse from the early 20th century–long benches lined up the length of the space. By the time of my visit in 2003, the balcony was gone and the few remaining benches were relegated to an outer ring outside of cushioned chairs arranged in a circle surrounding a round table with flowers and copies of Faith and Practice.

But it’s not just the outsides where theology shows up. All of the classic Northeastern U.S. meetinghouses had rows of benches facing forward, with elevated fencing benches reserved for the Quaker elders. A theologically-infused distrust of this model has led many a meeting to rearrange the pews into a more circular arrangement. Sometimes someone will sneak something into the middle of the space—flowers, or a Bible or hymnal—as if in recognition that they don’t find the emptiness of the Quaker form sufficient. If asked, most of these decisions will be explained away in a light-hearted manner but it’s hard for me to believe there isn’t at least an unconscious nod to theology in some of the choices.

I’d love to hear stories of Friends negotiating the meeting space. Has the desire to build or move a meetinghouse solidified or divided your meeting? Do you share the space with other groups, or rent it out during the week? If so, how have you decided on the groups that can use it? Have you bickered over the details of a space. Here in the Northeast, there are many tales of meetings coming close to schism over the question of replacing ancient horsehair bench cushions, but I’m sure there are considerations and debates to be had over the form of folding chairs.

You can find out more about submitting to this or any other upcoming issue our the Friends Journal Submissions page. Other upcoming issues are “Crossing Cultures” and “Social Media and Technology.”

Aug 2016: Quaker Spaces

What do our architecture, interior design, and meetinghouse locations say about our theology and our work in the world? Quakers don’t consecrate our worship spaces but there’s a strong pull of nostalgia that brings people into our historic buildings and an undeniable energy to innovative Quaker spaces. How do our physical manifestations keep us grounded or keep us from sharing the “Quaker gospel” more widely? Submissions due 5/2/2016.

“Mainline denominations can seem to “enforce” a scripted liturgy that “must be finished” and surely…”

“Main­line denom­i­na­tions can seem to “enforce” a script­ed litur­gy that “must be fin­ished” and sure­ly the stripped down way in which Quak­ers — even pro­grammed ones — wor­ship might seem like a breath of fresh air to intro­verts who love to reflect and refo­cus on God’s Pres­ence.”

James Tow­er: Is Quak­erism “Wor­ship for Intro­verts?” http://​bit​.ly/​Y​a​j​MEU

Posted February 6th, 2013 , in Uncategorized Tagged , ,

Syrup that Masks the Salt

Wor­ship at the Med­ford (N.J.) Meet­ing start­ed this morn­ing with queries for the upcom­ing “Salt and Light” gath­er­ing of world Friends. Med­ford is send­ing a del­e­gate to the Kenyan event, and in prepa­ra­tion they’re read­ing the queries from the Salt and Light mate­ri­al dur­ing the mon­th of March, along with some pas­sages from the Gospel of Mark(“Salt is good: but if the salt have lost his salt­ness, where­with will ye sea­son it? Have salt in your­selves, and have peace one with anoth­er.” http://​bible​.us/​M​a​r​k​9​.​4​9​.​KJV). I spoke in wor­ship to a recent omis­sion of salt.

A Sat­ur­day rit­u­al in the house­hold is morn­ing pan­cakes. One of the boys likes choco­late chips in his pan­cakes; anoth­er likes vanil­la chips; I myself like blue­ber­ries. What all the pan­cakes have in com­mon is salt: just one and half t-spoons in the mix­ing bowl is enough to trans­form the bat­ter.

A few Sat­ur­days ago I for­got the salt. The results looked like pan­cakes but when we bit into them we knew they weren’t right. Rather than give them up, we poured them extra-heavy with syrup. Enough syrup masked the bland taste­less­ness of the pan­cakes – the emp­ty form of the­se almost pan­cakes – and allowed us to eat it.

How many of the reli­gious bod­ies descend­ed from Mark’s ear­ly gospel have masked our salt­less­ness (or a fear of it) with extra heap­ings of syrup? Cer­tain­ly, the cur­rent fash­ion for charis­mat­ic preach­ers and praise rock bands can act as a kind of mask­ing syrup. But there’s all sorts of ways of com­pen­sat­ing for miss­ing salt.

As Jon Watts and Mag­gie Har­rison have been remind­ing us though the http://​www​.clothey​our​selfin​right​eous​ness​.com project, ear­ly Friends opt­ed for spir­i­tu­al naked­ness: peo­ple gath­er­ing with­out props or dis­trac­tions, one-on-one and togeth­er wait­ing for the Holy Spir­it to lift up and gath­er the wor­ship. The salt is the Liv­ing Spir­it, here to guide, direct, com­fort and scold. In the qui­et of a Friends meet­ing you’ve either got it or you don’t. We’re work­ing with­out nets and there’s not much room to hide. The ques­tion fac­ing the par­tic­i­pants in Kenya – and the gath­er­ers in every Friends meet­ing­house and church in the world – is whether we have the salt.

There are many types of mask­ing syrup. Even once-radical Friends have found ways to side­step the salt ques­tion, pre-empting the emp­ty naked­ness of our wor­ship with caus­es, busy-ness, his­tor­i­cal fes­tishism, etc. When Friends gath­er in Kenya, I hope they will ask one anoth­er about the salt, the Liv­ing Spir­it. May­be they can bring back a re-appreciation of naked­ness. For the good news is that Jesus is always ready to bring salt to the sim­plest of meals: “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” (http://​bible​.us/​R​e​v​3​.​2​0​.​KJV).

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Wel­come to the World Con­fer­ence of Friends 2012 Web­site

The largest world­wide con­fer­ence of Friends since 1967 comes togeth­er from 17 – 25 April 2012 in Kenya. The the­me is Being Salt and Light – Friends liv­ing the King­dom of God in a bro­ken world. One thous…

Last weekend I was invited to speak to Abington (Pa.) Meeting’s First-day school…

Last week­end I was invit­ed to speak to Abing­ton (Pa.) Meeting’s First-day school (n.b. prop­er FJ stylesheet) to talk about vocal min­istry in wor­ship. I haven’t been to wor­ship at that meet­ing for eons and can’t speak to the con­di­tion of its min­istry, but I do know that vocal min­istry can be some­thing of a mys­tery for unpro­grammed Friends. Many of us are “con­vinced,” com­ing to the Soci­ety as adults and often have a nag­ging feel­ing we’re play-acting at being Friends, but I’ve met many life-long Quak­ers who also won­der about it.

Per­haps as a respon­se to the­se feel­ings, we some­times get rather pedan­tic that what­ev­er way we’ve first encoun­tered is the Quak­er way. The cur­rent fash­ion of vocal min­istry in the Philadel­phia area is for short mes­sages, often about world events, often con­fes­sion­al in nature. What I want­ed to leave Abing­ton with was the rad­i­cal­ly dif­fer­ent ways unpro­grammed Friends have wor­shipped over time and how some of our prac­tices out­side wor­ship were devel­oped to help nur­ture Spirit-led min­istry.

(writ­ten this a.m. but only post­ed to lim­it­ed cir­cles, cut and past­ed when I saw the mix-up)

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“The drafters of the statement included Quaker Symon Hill who has written of…

“The drafters of the state­ment includ­ed Quak­er Symon Hill who has writ­ten of the state­ment: “As one of the drafters of the state­ment, I want to make clear that we want to act in sol­i­dar­i­ty with peo­ple of oth­er reli­gions and of none, not impose our reli­gion on them or claim to be a more impor­tant part of the move­ment than they are. This point is made in the open­ing line of the state­ment.”

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A Quak­er pres­ence at Occu­py Lon­don
Almost 100 Quak­ers attend­ed a Meet­ing for Wor­ship on the steps of saint Paul’s cathe­dral in Lon­don on Sun­day after­noon. The Meet­ing for Wor­ship took place in sup­port of the Occu­py Lon­don move­ment that… 

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