In praise of an editor past

Frances William Browin from the September 15, 1968 Friends Journal.
When I became an editor at Friends Journal in 2011, I inherited an institution with some very strong opinions. Some of them are sourced from predictable wellsprings: William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White’s foundational mid-century style guide and the editorial offices of the Chicago Manual of Style. But some is all our own, logically tested for consistency with Chicago but adapted to Quaker idiosyncrasies.

One of our most invariable (and contested) formats comes from the way we list congregations. Quick aside for non-Quakers: you will often see a Quaker meeting listed as  Town Monthly Meeting, Town Friends Meeting, Town Quaker Meeting, etc. People often have strong opinions about the correct ways to write them out. Sometimes an author will insist to me that their meeting has an official name that is use consistently but I can usually find this isn't true within a few minutes with the help of Google.

To cut through this, Friends Journal uses “Town (State) Meeting” everywhere and always, with specific exceptions only for cases where that doesn’t work. Town, state abbreviation in parentheses, capital-M meeting. This formatting is unique to Friends Journal--other Philadelphia-based Quaker style sheets don't follow it. We’ve been doing it this distinctively and consistently for as long as I can remember.

Fortunately we have digital archives going back to the mid-1950s thanks to Haverford College's Quaker and Special Collections. So a few months ago I dug into our archives and used keyword searches to see how far back the format goes. Traveling the years back it time it's held remarkably steady as "Town (State) Meeting" until we scroll back into the fall of 1962. The October 15 issue doesn’t have consistent meeting listings. But it does announce that longtime Friends Journal editor William Hubben is going on a six-month sabbatical, with Frances Williams Browin filling in as acting editor.

It didn't take her long. The next issue sees a few parentheses unevenly applied. But by the November 15th issue, nineteen meetings are referenced using our familiar format! There’s the “member of Berkeley (Calif.) Meeting” who had just published a pamphlet of Christmas songs for children, an FCNL event featuring skits and a covered-dish supper at “Swarthmore (Pa.) Meeting” and the announcement of a prominent article by “Kenneth E. Boulding, a member of Ann Arbor (Michigan) Meeting.”

I've tried to imagine the scene... Browin situated in her new temporary office... going back and forth, forth and back on some listing... then finally surprising herself by shouting "enough!" so loudly she had to apologize to nearby colleagues. At the end of the six months, Hubben came back but only as a contributing editor, and Browin was named editor. Friends Journal board member Elizabeth B Wells wrote a profile of her upon her retirement in 1968:

Her remarks usually made sparks, whether she was expressing an opinion (always positive), exerting pressure (not always gentle), or making a humorous aside (often disturbing). For in her amiable way she can be tart, unexpected, even prejudiced (in the right direction), then as suddenly disarmingly warm and sensitive.

This sounds like the kind of person who would standardize a format with such resolve it would be going strong 55 years later:

She was so entirely committed to putting out the best possible magazine, such a perfectionist, even such a driver, that her closest colleagues often felt that we knew the spirited editor far better than the Quaker lady.

It’s a neat profile. And today, every time an author rewrites their meeting’s name on a copyedited manuscript, I say a quiet thanks to the driven perfectionist who gives me permission to be prejudiced in the right direction. Wells's profile is a fascinating glimpse into a smart woman of a different era and well worth a read.

Spiritual self-understanding as pretext to organizational renewal

Brent Bill is con­tin­u­ing his “Mod­est Pro­pos­al” series on Quak­er “revi­tal­iza­tion” on his blog Holy Ordi­nary. Today’s install­ment (part sev­en) is great but I’m not sure where it leaves us. He starts by talk­ing about how some Quak­er body’s books of dis­ci­plines (“Faith and Prac­tice”) are becom­ing more legal­is­tic as they pick up ideas from oth­er reli­gious bod­ies. He then chal­lenges year­ly meet­ings and oth­er Friends bod­ies to a “seri­ous exam­i­na­tion of their pur­pose and pro­grams” in which they ask a series of ques­tions about their pur­pose.

I agree with a lot of his obser­va­tion. But at the same time I’m not sure what a seri­ous exam­i­na­tion would look like or would pro­duce. In recent years my own year­ly meet­ing has devel­oped a kind of cir­ca­di­an rhythm of con­stant reor­ga­ni­za­tion, tin­ker­ing with orga­ni­za­tion­al charts, leg­isla­tive process­es design to speed up deci­sions, and chang­ing times and fre­quen­cies of events hop­ing to attract new peo­ple. And yet, as I wrote a few weeks ago, when I went to sit in on a meet­ing of the gov­ern­ing body, I was the third or fourth youngest per­son in a room of about 75 Friends. It was pret­ty much the same group of peo­ple who were doing it ten years and mul­ti­ple reforms ago, only now they are ten years old­er. We actu­al­ly ripped through busi­ness so we can spend an hour naval-gazing about the pur­pose of this par­tic­u­lar gov­ern­ing body and I can report it wasn’t the breath of fresh air that we might have hoped for.

A big part of the prob­lem is we’ve for­got­ten why we’re doing all this. We’ve split the faith from the prac­tice – and I don’t mean Chris­t­ian vs non-Christian, but the whole kit-and-kaboodle that is the Quak­er under­stand­ing of gospel order, a world view that is dis­tinct from that of oth­er Chris­t­ian denom­i­na­tions. Lloyd Lee Wil­son calls it the “Quak­er gestalt” in Essays on the Quak­er Vision of Gospel Order. When a spir­i­tu­al tra­di­tion has an inter­nal con­sis­ten­cy, and the process and the­ol­o­gy rein­force each oth­er. Archi­tec­ture and demeanor, cul­tur­al and busi­ness val­ues fit togeth­er. It’s nev­er per­fect, of course, and main­tain­ing the con­sis­ten­cy against new influ­ences and chang­ing cir­cum­stances is often the source of unnec­es­sary pet­ty squab­bling. But even some­thing as innocu­ous as a meetinghouse’s bench arrange­ments can tell you a lot about a group’s the­ol­o­gy and its bal­ance towards author­i­ty and indi­vid­u­al­ism.

It’s our under­stand­ing of our faith and our con­cept of body-of-Christ com­mu­ni­ty which under­girds our insti­tu­tion­al struc­tures. When we don’t have a good grasp of it, we do things mere­ly because “we’re sup­posed to” and the process feels dry and spirit-less. We defend par­tic­u­lar insti­tu­tions as nec­es­sary because they’re cod­i­fied in our books of doc­trine and lose our abil­i­ty to pos­i­tive­ly explain their exis­tence, at which point frus­trat­ed mem­bers will call for their aban­don­ment as unnec­es­sary bag­gage from a bygone age.

As an exam­ple, about sev­en years ago my quar­ter­ly meet­ing went through a naval-gazing process. I tried to be involved, as did my then-Quaker wife Julie. We asked a lot of big ques­tions but oth­ers on the vision­ing com­mit­tee just want­ed to ask small ques­tions. When Julie and I asked about divine guid­ance at ses­sions, for exam­ple, one fel­low con­de­scend­ing­ly explained that if we spent all our time ask­ing what God want­ed we’d nev­er get any­thing done. We real­ly didn’t know what to say to that, espe­cial­ly as it seemed the con­sen­sus of oth­ers in the group. One thing they were com­plain­ing about was that it was always the same few peo­ple doing any­thing but after a few rounds of those meet­ings, we ran scream­ing away (my wife right out of the RSoF alto­geth­er).

Re-visioning isn’t just decon­struct­ing insti­tu­tions we don’t under­stand or tin­ker­ing with some new process to fix the old process that doesn’t work. If you’ve got a group of peo­ple active­ly lis­ten­ing to the guid­ance of the Inward Christ then any process or struc­ture prob­a­bly can be made to work (though some will facil­i­tate dis­cern­ment bet­ter). Our books of “Faith and Prac­tice” were nev­er meant to be inerrant Bibles. At their core, they’re our “wiki” of best prac­tices for Quak­er com­mu­ni­ty dis­cern­ment – tips earned through the suc­cess­es and fail­ures of pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions. I think if we under­stand our spir­i­tu­al roots bet­ter we’ll find our musty old Quak­er insti­tu­tions actu­al­ly still have impor­tant roles to play. But how do we get there? I like Brent’s ques­tions but I’m not sure you can just start with them. Any­one want to share sto­ries of spir­i­tu­al deep­en­ing in their meet­ings or faith com­mu­ni­ties and how that fed into a renewed appre­ci­a­tion of Quak­er bod­ies and process?

Philadelphia Yearly Meeting’s Interim Meeting: Getting a horse to drink

This past week­end I gave a talk at the Arch Street Meet­ing­house after the Inter­im Meet­ing ses­sions of Phi­ladle­phia Year­ly Meet­ing. Inter­im Meet­ing is the group that meets sort-of month­ly between year­ly meet­ing busi­ness sess­sions. In an ear­li­er blog post I called it “the estab­lish­ment” and I looked for­ward to shar­ing the new life of the blog­ging world and Con­ver­gent Friends with this group. I had been asked by the most excel­lent Stephen Dot­son to talk about “Find­ing Fel­low­ship Between Friends Thru The Inter­net.”

I was curi­ous to return to Inter­im Meet­ing, a group I served on about half a decade ago. As I sat in the meet­ing, I kept see­ing glimpses of issues that I planned to address after­wards in my talk: how to talk afresh about faith; how to pub­li­cize our activ­i­ty and com­mu­ni­cate both among our­selves and with the out­side world; how to engage new and younger mem­bers in our work.

Turns out I didn’t get the chance. Only half a dozen or so mem­bers of Inter­im Meet­ing stuck around for my pre­sen­ta­tion. No announce­ment was made at the end of ses­sions. None of the senior staff were there and no one from the long table full of clerks, alter­nate clerks and alter­nate alter­nate clerks came. Eleven peo­ple were at the talk (includ­ing some who hadn’t been at Inter­im Meet­ing). The inti­ma­cy was nice but it was hard­ly the “take it to the estabish­ment” kind of event I had imag­ined.

The talk itself went well, despite or maybe because of its inti­ma­cy. I had asked Seth H (aka Chron­i­cler) along for spir­i­tu­al sup­port and he wrote a nice review on Quak­erQuak­er. Steve T, an old friend of mine from Cen­tral Philly days, took some pic­tures which I’ve includ­ed here. I videoed the event, though it will need some work to tight­en it down to some­thing any­one would want to watch online. The peo­ple who attend­ed want­ed to attend and asked great ques­tions. It was good work­ing with Stephen Dot­son again in the plan­ning. I would wish that more Philadel­phia Friends had more inter­est in these issues but as indi­vid­u­als, all we can do is lead a horse to water. In the end, the year­ly meet­ing is in God’s hands.


Below are obser­va­tions from Inter­im Meet­ing and how the Con­ver­gent Friends move­ment might address some of the issues raised. Let me stress that I offer these in love and in the hope that some hon­est talk might help. I’ve served on Inter­im Meet­ing and have giv­en a lot of time toward PYM over the last twen­ty years. This list was for­ward­ed by email to senior staff and I present them here for oth­ers who might be con­cerned about these dynam­ics.

 

GENERATIONAL FAIL:

There were about seventy-five peo­ple in the room for Inter­im Meet­ing ses­sions. I was prob­a­bly the third or fourth youngest. By U.S. cen­sus def­i­n­i­tions I’m in my eighth year of mid­dle age, so that’s real­ly sad. That’s two whole gen­er­a­tions that are large­ly miss­ing from PYM lead­er­ship. I know I shouldn’t be sur­prised; it’s not a new phe­nom­e­non. But if you had told me twen­ty years ago that I’d be able to walk into Inter­im Meet­ing in 2010 and still be among the youngest, well… Well, frankly I would have uttered a choice epi­thet and kicked the Quak­er dust from my shoes (most of my friends did). I know many Friends bod­ies strug­gle with age diver­si­ty but this is par­tic­u­lar­ly extreme.

WHAT I WANTED TO TELL INTERIM MEETING: About 33% of QuakerQuaker’s audi­ence is GenX and 22% are Mil­lenials. If Inter­im Meet­ing were as diverse as Quak­erQuak­er there would have been 16 YAFs (18 – 35 year olds) and 25 Friends 35 and 49 years of age. I would have been about the 29th youngest in the room – mid­dle aged, just where I should be! Quak­erQuak­er has an age diver­si­ty that most East Coast Friends Meet­ings would die for. If you want to know the inter­ests and pas­sions of younger Friends, Quak­er blogs are an excel­lent place to learn. There are some very dif­fer­ent orga­ni­za­tion­al and style dif­fer­ences at play (my post sev­en years ago, a post from Mic­ah Bales this past week).


DECISION-MAKING

 

The first part of the ses­sions was run with what’s called a “Con­sent Agen­da,” a leg­isla­tive mea­sure where mul­ti­ple agen­da items are approved en masse. It rests on the ide­al­is­tic notion that all seventy-five atten­dees has come to ses­sions hav­ing read every­thing in the quarter-inch pack­et mailed to them (I’ll wait till you stop laugh­ing). Inter­im Meet­ing lumped thir­teen items togeth­er in this man­ner. I sus­pect most Friends left the meet­ing hav­ing for­got­ten what they had approved. Most edu­ca­tors would say you have to rein­force read­ing with live inter­ac­tion but we bypassed all of that in the name of effi­cien­cy.

WHAT I WANTED TO TELL INTERIM MEETING: Quak­er blogs are won­der­ful­ly rich sources of dis­cus­sion. Com­ments are often more inter­est­ing than the orig­i­nal posts. Many of us have writ­ten first drafts of pub­lished arti­cles on our blogs and then pol­ished them with feed­back received in the com­ments. This kind of com­mu­ni­ca­tion feed­back is pow­er­ful and doesn’t take away from live meeting-time. There’s a ton of pos­si­bil­i­ties for shar­ing infor­ma­tion in a mean­ing­ful way out­side of meet­ings.


MINUTES OF WITNESS

 

Two “min­utes” (a kind of Quak­er statement/press release) were brought to ses­sions. Both were vet­ted through a lengthy process where they were approved first by month­ly and then quar­ter­ly meet­ings before com­ing before Inter­im Meet­ing. A minute on Afghanistan was nine months old, a response to a troop lev­el announce­ment made last Decem­ber; one against Mar­cel­lus Shale drilling in Penn­syl­va­nia was undat­ed but it’s a top­ic that peaked in main­stream media five months ago. I would have more appre­ci­a­tion of this cum­ber­some process if the min­utes were more “sea­soned” (well-written, with care tak­en in the dis­cern­ment behind them) but there was lit­tle in either that explained how the issue con­nect­ed with Quak­er faith and why we were lift­ing it up now as con­cern. A senior staffer in a small group I was part of lament­ed how the min­utes didn’t give him much guid­ance as to how he might explain our con­cern with the news media. So here we were, approv­ing two out-of-date, hard-to-communicate state­ments that many IM reps prob­a­bly nev­er read.

WHAT I WANTED TO TELL INTERIM MEETING: Blog­ging gives us prac­tice in talk­ing about spir­i­tu­al­i­ty. Com­menters chal­lenge us when we take rhetor­i­cal short­cuts or make assump­tions or trade on stereo­types. Most Quak­er blog­gers would tell you they’re bet­ter writ­ers now than when they start­ed their blog. Spir­i­tu­al writ­ing is like a mus­cle which needs to be exer­cised. To be blunt­ly hon­est, two or three blog­gers could have got­ten onto Skype, opened a shared Google Doc and ham­mered out bet­ter state­ments in less than an hour. If we’re going to be approv­ing these kinds of thing we need to prac­tice and increase our spir­i­tu­al lit­er­a­cy.


THE ROLE OF COMMITTEES

 

The sec­ond part was Inter­im Meet­ing look­ing at itself. We broke into small groups and ask­ing three ques­tions: “What is the work of Inter­im Meet­ing,” “Are we sat­is­fied with how we do this now?” and “If we were to make changes, what would they be?.” I thought to myself that the rea­son I ever go to events like this is to see dear Friends and to see what sparks of life are hap­pen­ing in the year­ly meet­ing. As our small group went around, and as small groups shared after­wards, I real­ized that many of the peo­ple in the room seemed to agree: we were hun­gry for the all-to-brief moments where the Spir­it broke into the reg­i­ment­ed Quak­er process.

One star­tling tes­ti­mo­ni­al came from a mem­ber of the out­reach com­mit­tee. She explained that her com­mit­tee, like many in PYM, is an admin­is­tra­tive one that’s not sup­posed to do any out­reach itself – it’s all sup­posed to stay very “meta.” They recent­ly decid­ed to have a pic­nic with no busi­ness sched­uled and there found them­selves “going rogue” and talk­ing about out­reach. Her spir­it rose and voice quick­ened as she told us how they spent hours dream­ing up out­reach projects. Of course the out­reach com­mit­tee wants to do out­reach! And with state PYM is in, can we real­ly have a dozen peo­ple sequestered away talk­ing about talk­ing about out­reach. Shouldn’t we declare “All hands on deck!” and start doing work? It would have been time well spent to let her share their ideas for the next thir­ty min­utes but of course we had to keep mov­ing. She fin­ished quick­ly and the excite­ment leaked back out of the room.


FOLLOW-UP THOUGHTS AND THE FUTURE OF THE YEARLY MEETING

 

Now I need to stress some things. I had some great one-on-one con­ver­sa­tions in the breaks. A lot of peo­ple were very nice to me and gave me hugs and asked about fam­i­ly. These are a com­mit­ted, hope­ful group of peo­ple. There was a lot of faith in that room! Peo­ple work hard and serve faith­ful­ly. But it feels like we’re trapped by the sys­tem we our­selves cre­at­ed. I want­ed to share the excite­ment and direct­ness of the Quak­er blog­ging world. I want­ed to share the robust­ness of com­mu­ni­ca­tion tech­niques we’re using and the pow­er of dis­trib­uted pub­lish­ing. I want­ed to share the new spir­it of ecu­men­ti­cal­ism and cross-branch work that’s hap­pen­ing.

I’ve been vis­it­ing local Friends Meet­ings that have half the atten­dance they did ten years ago. Some have trou­ble break­ing into the double-digits for Sun­day morn­ing wor­ship and I’m often the youngest in the room, bring­ing the only small kids. I know there are a hand­ful of thriv­ing meet­ings, but I’m wor­ried that most are going to have close their doors in the next ten to twen­ty years.

I had hoped to show how new com­mu­ni­ca­tion struc­tures, the rise of Con­ver­gent Friends and the seek­ers of the Emerg­ing Church move­ment could sig­nal new pos­si­bil­i­ties for Philadel­phia Year­ly Meet­ing. Toward the end of Inter­im Meet­ing, some Friends bemoaned our lack of resources and clerk Thomas Swain remind­ed them that with God there is no lim­i­ta­tion and noth­ing is impos­si­ble. Some of the things I’m see­ing online are the impos­si­ble come to life. Look at Quak­erQuak­er: an unstaffed online mag­a­zine run­ning off of a $50/month bud­get and get­ting 10,000 vis­its a month. It’s not any­thing I’ve done, but this com­mu­ni­ty that God has brought togeth­er and the tech­no­log­i­cal infra­struc­ture that has allowed us to coör­di­nate so eas­i­ly. It’s far from the only neat project out there and there are a lot more on the draw­ing boad. Some year­ly meet­ings are engag­ing with these new pos­si­bilites. But mine appar­ent­ly can’t even stay around for a talk.

Max Carter talk on introducing the Bible to younger Friends

Max Carter gave the Bible Asso­ci­a­tion of Friends this past week­end at Moorestown (NJ) Friends Meet­ing. Max is a long-time edu­ca­tor and cur­rent­ly heads the Quak­er Lead­er­ship Schol­ars Pro­gram at Guil­ford Col­lege, a pro­gram that has pro­duced a num­ber of active twenty-something Friends in recent years. The Bible Asso­ci­a­tion is one of those great Philadel­phia relics that some­how sur­vived a cou­ple of cen­turies of upheavals and still plugs along with a mis­sion more-or-less craft­ed at it’s found­ing in the ear­ly 1800s: it dis­trib­utes free Bibles to Friends, Friends schools and any First Day School class that might answer their inquiries.

Max’s pro­gram at Guil­ford is one of the recip­i­ents of the Bible Association’s efforts and he began by jok­ing that his sole qual­i­fi­ca­tion for speak­ing at their annu­al meet­ing was that he was one of their more active cus­tomers.

Many of the stu­dents going through Max’s pro­gram grew up in the big­ger East Coast year­ly meet­ings. In these set­tings, being an involved Quak­er teen means reg­u­lar­ly going to camps like Catoctin and Onas, doing the FGC Gath­er­ing every year and hav­ing a par­ent on an impor­tant year­ly meet­ing com­mit­tee. “Quak­er” is a spe­cif­ic group of friends and a set of guide­lines about how to live in this sub­cul­ture. Know­ing the rules to Wink and being able to craft a sug­ges­tive ques­tion for Great Wind Blows is more impor­tant than even rudi­men­ta­ry Bible lit­er­a­cy, let alone Barclay’s Cat­e­chism. The knowl­edge of George Fox rarely extends much past the song (“with his shag­gy shag­gy locks”). So there’s a real cul­ture shock when they show up in Max’s class and he hands them a Bible. “I’ve nev­er touched one of these before” and “Why do we have to use this?” are non-uncommon respons­es.

None of this sur­prised me, of course. I’ve led high school work­shops at Gath­er­ing and for year­ly meet­ing teens. Great kids, all of them, but most of them have been real­ly short­changed in the con­text of their faith. The Guil­ford pro­gram is a good intro­duc­tion (“we grad­u­ate more Quak­ers than we bring in” was how Max put it) but do we real­ly want them to wait so long? And to have so rel­a­tive­ly few get this chance. Where’s the bal­ance between let­ting them choose for them­selves and giv­ing them the infor­ma­tion on which to make a choice?

There was a sort of built-in irony to the scene. Most of the thirty-five or so atten­dees at the Moorestown talk were half-a-century old­er than the stu­dents Max was pro­fil­ing. I pret­ty safe to say I was the youngest per­son there. It doesn’t seem healthy to have such sep­a­rat­ed worlds. 

Con­ver­gent Friends

Max did talk for a few min­utes about Con­ver­gent Friends. I think we’ve shak­en hands a few times but he didn’t rec­og­nize me so it was a rare fly-on-wall oppor­tu­ni­ty to see first­hand how we’re described. It was pos­i­tive (we “bear watch­ing!”) but there were a few minor mis-perceptions. The most wor­ri­some is that we’re a group of young adult Friends. At 42, I’ve grad­u­at­ed from even the most expan­sive def­i­n­i­tion of YAF and so have many of the oth­er Con­ver­gent Friends (on a Face­book thread LizOpp made the mis­take of list­ed all of the old­er Con­ver­gent Friends and touched off a lit­tle mock out­rage – I’m going to steer clear of that mis­take!). After the talk one attendee (a New Foun­da­tion Fel­low­ship reg­u­lar) came up and said that she had been think­ing of going to the “New Monas­tics and Con­ver­gent Friends” work­shop C Wess Daniels and I are co-leading next May but had second-thoughts hear­ing that CF’s were young adults. “That’s the first I’ve heard that” she said; “me too!” I replied and encour­aged her to come. We def­i­nite­ly need to con­tin­ue to talk about how C.F. rep­re­sents an atti­tude and includes many who were doing the work long before Robin Mohr’s Octo­ber 2006 Friends Jour­nal arti­cle brought it to wider atten­tion.

Tech­niques for Teach­ing the Bible and Quak­erism

The most use­ful part of Max’s talk was the end, where he shared what he thought were lessons of the Quak­er Lead­er­ship Schol­ars Pro­gram. He

  • Demys­ti­fy the Bible: a great per­cent­age of incom­ing stu­dents to the QLSP had nev­er touched it so it seemed for­eign;
  • Make it fun: he has a newslet­ter col­umn called “Con­cor­dance Capers” that digs into the deriva­tion of pop cul­ture ref­er­ences of Bib­li­cal phras­es; he often shows Mon­ty Python’s “The Life of Bri­an” at the end of the class.
  • Make it rel­e­vant: Give inter­est­ed stu­dents the tools and guid­ance to start read­ing it.
  • Show the geneal­o­gy: Start with the parts that are most obvi­ous­ly Quak­er: John and the inner Light, the Ser­mon on the Mount, etc.
  • Con­tem­po­rary exam­ples: Link to con­tem­po­rary groups that are liv­ing a rad­i­cal Chris­t­ian wit­ness today. This past semes­ter they talked about the New Monas­tic move­ment, for exam­ple and they’ve pro­filed the Sim­ple Way and Atlanta’s Open Door.
  • The Bible as human con­di­tion: how is the Bible a sto­ry that we can be a part of, an inspi­ra­tion rather than a lit­er­al­ist author­i­ty.

Ran­dom Thoughts:

A cou­ple of thoughts have been churn­ing through my head since the talk: one is how to scale this up. How could we have more of this kind of work hap­pen­ing at the local year­ly meet­ing lev­el and start with younger Friends: mid­dle school or high school­ers? And what about bring­ing con­vinced Friends on board? Most QLSP stu­dents are born Quak­er and come from prominent-enough fam­i­lies to get meet­ing let­ters of rec­om­men­da­tion to enter the pro­gram. Grad­u­ates of the QLSP are fun­neled into var­i­ous Quak­er posi­tions these days, leav­ing out con­vinced Friends (like me and like most of the cen­tral Con­ver­gent Friends fig­ures). I talked about this divide a lot back in the 1990s when I was try­ing to pull togeth­er the mostly-convinced Cen­tral Philadel­phia Meet­ing young adult com­mu­ni­ty with the mostly-birthright offi­cial year­ly meet­ing YAF group. I was con­vinced then and am even more con­vinced now that no renew­al will hap­pen unless we can get these com­ple­men­tary per­spec­tives and ener­gies work­ing togeth­er.

PS: Due to a con­flict between Feed­burn­er and Dis­qus, some of com­ments are here (Wess and Lizopp), here (Robin M) and here (Chris M). I think I’ve fixed it so that this odd spread won’t hap­pen again.


PPS: Max emailed on 2/10/10 to say that many QLSPers are first gen­er­a­tion or con­vinced them­selves. He says that quite a few came to Guil­ford as non-Quakers (“think­ing we had “gone the way of the T-Rex”) and came in by con­vince­ment. Cool!

Quaker video outreach, a talk with Raye Hodgson

An inter­view with Raye, a mem­ber of Ohio Year­ly Meet­ing Con­ser­v­a­tive who serves on their Elec­tron­ic Out­reach Com­mit­tee. You can also watch it on Quak­erQuak­er: Quak­er Video and Elec­tron­ic Out­reach.

Raye: Ohio Year­ly Meet­ing holds our year­ly meet­ing in Bar­nesville Ohio – some peo­ple know us as those Bar­nesville folks. We have an elec­tron­ic Out­reach Com­mit­tee and that includes the over­sight and min­istry asso­ci­at­ed with our web­site. We spend time think­ing about how to open up to peo­ple who might be inter­est­ed in Friends’ ways and might want to know more about us whether or not they’ve ever read the Jour­nal of George Fox. We’re try­ing to expand our wit­ness, if you will.

One of the ques­tions that has come up in this elec­tron­ic out­reach group is: what types of com­mu­ni­ca­tion or video are use­ful for some­one to get to know us but also respect­ful of the fact that we do wor­ship and that wor­ship is a spir­i­tu­al­ly inti­mate time. We’re try­ing to bridge and deal with respect­ing the wor­ship­pers, the Friends them­selves, to not put on a per­for­mance and yet to try to com­mu­ni­cate what it is that is edi­fy­ing in prac­tice and wor­ship.

Mar­tin: How do you give new­com­ers a taste of Quak­ers with­out direct­ing it too much? If you just have that silent emp­ty box it’s hard for new­com­ers to know what should be fill­ing that box.

Raye: One of the things Friends have done for hun­dreds of years is to pub­lish, to keep jour­nals and to share that. But that’s not all there is to the Friends expe­ri­ence. There are those qui­et times and those moments of min­istry that we believe are Spirit-inspired. Many of us wish we could give peo­ple a lit­tle taste of that because that doesn’t show up in a lot of pub­lished writ­ings. That spon­ta­neous and time­ly, and at times prophet­ic, wit­ness that we see in our Meet­ings. We have con­sid­ered dig­i­tal video as a way to do that.

Mar­tin: I love the video pos­si­bil­i­ties here. Video can be a way of reach­ing out to more peo­ple.

Raye: It’s not just any­thing that can be writ­ten. Cer­tain­ly the writ­ings that have been pub­lished are very help­ful in get­ting some sort of a glim­mer of where we have been, or in some cas­es where we are head­ed or where we are. But there is noth­ing like that expe­ri­ence of being with Friends in meet­ing. It doesn’t always hap­pen but there are these moments called a cov­ered meet­ing or a gath­ered meet­ing where every­body seems to be in the same place spir­i­tu­al­ly and when seems to be mes­sages and gifts com­ing through peo­ple. That’s dif­fi­cult to get across.

We’re hop­ing that with video we can dis­cuss these kinds of things after the fact. We don’t want to turn it into a spec­ta­tor sport or per­for­mance.

Mar­tin: Authen­tic­i­ty is a key part of the Quak­er mes­sage. You’re not prac­tic­ing what you’re going to say for First Day or Sun­day. You’re sit­ting there and wait­ing for that imme­di­ate spir­it to come upon you.

Raye: We don’t know when that will hap­pen. There are meet­ings where every­body is very qui­et, where there’s a sense of that spir­it and uni­ty but it may be an out­ward­ly qui­et meet­ing. I have been in meet­ings where some­one stood up and began to sing their mes­sage or a psalm or some­one had a won­der­ful ser­mon that was per­fect for the moment. These things hap­pen but we don’t know when they will.

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. I found it simul­ta­ne­ous­ly dis­ori­ent­ing and shock­ing that I actu­al­ly iden­ti­fied with most of the trends Web­ber out­lined. Here I was, still a young’ish Friend attend­ing one of the most lib­er­al Friends meet­ings in the coun­try (Cen­tral Philadel­phia) and work­ing for the very orga­ni­za­tion whose ini­tials (FGC) are inter­na­tion­al short­hand for hippy-dippy lib­er­al Quak­erism, yet I was nod­ding my head and laugh­ing out loud at just about every­thing Web­ber said. Although he most like­ly nev­er walked into a meet­ing­house, he clear­ly explained the gen­er­a­tional dynam­ics run­ning through Quak­er cul­ture and I fin­ished the book with a bet­ter under­stand­ing of why so much of our youth orga­niz­ing and out­reach was floun­der­ing on issues of tokenism and feel-good-ism.

My post, orig­i­nal­ly titled  “The Younger Evan­gel­i­cals and the Younger Quak­ers,”  (here it is in its orig­i­nal con­text) start­ed off as a book review but quick­ly became a Quak­er vision man­i­festo. The sec­tion heads alone ticked off the work to be done:

  • A re-examination of our roots, as Chris­tians and as Friends
  • A desire to grow
  • A more personally-involved, time-consuming com­mit­ment
  • A renew­al of dis­ci­pline and over­sight
  • A con­fronta­tion of our eth­nic and cul­tur­al big­otries

When I wrote this, there wasn’t much you could call Quak­er blog­ging (Lynn Gazis-Sachs was an excep­tion), and when I googled vari­a­tions on “quak­ers” and “emerg­ing church” noth­ing much came up. It’s not sur­pris­ing that there wasn’t much of an ini­tial response.

It took about two years for the post to find its audi­ence and respons­es start­ed com­ing from both lib­er­al and evan­gel­i­cal Quak­er cir­cles. 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). Five years after I postd it, we have a cadre of blog­gers and read­ers who reg­u­lar­ly gath­er around the Quak­erQuak­er water cool­er to talk about Quak­er vision. We’re get­ting pieces pub­lished in all the major Quak­er pub­li­ca­tions, we’re asked to lead wor­ships and we’ve got a catchy name in “Con­ver­gent Friends.”

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. A few years ago I start­ed com­mut­ing pret­ty reg­u­lar­ly to a meet­ing that did a good job at the Christian/Friends-awareness/roots stuff but not the discipline/oversight or desire-to-grow end of things. I’ve drift­ed away the last few months because I real­ized I didn’t have any per­son­al friends there and it was most­ly an hour-drive, hour-worship, hour-drive back home kind of expe­ri­ence.

My main cadre five years ago were fel­low staffers at FGC. A few years ago FGC com­mis­sioned sur­veys indi­cat­ed that poten­tial donors would respond favor­ably to talk about youth, out­reach and race stereo­typ­ing and even though these were some of the con­cerns I had been awk­ward­ly rais­ing for years, it was very clear I wasn’t wel­come in quickly-changing staff struc­ture and I found myself out of a job. The most excit­ing out­reach pro­grams I had worked on was a data­base that would col­lect the names and address­es of iso­lat­ed Friends, but It was qui­et­ly dropped a few months after I left. The new muchly-hyped $100,000 pro­gram for out­reach has this for its seek­ers page and fol­lows the typ­i­cal FGC pat­tern, which is to sprin­kle a few rotat­ing tokens in with a retreat cen­ter full of poten­tial donors to talk about Impor­tant Top­ics. (For those who care, I would have con­tin­ued build­ing the iso­lat­ed Friends data­base, mapped it for hot spots and coor­di­nat­ed with the youth min­istry com­mit­tee to send teams for extend­ed stays to help plant wor­ship groups. How cool would that be? Anoth­er oppor­tu­ni­ty lost.)

So where do we go?

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?!? Britain Year­ly Meet­ing has a beau­ti­ful­ly pro­duced new out­reach web­site but I don’t see one con­vinced young Friend pro­filed and it’s post-faith empha­sis is down­right depress­ing (an involved youngish Amer­i­can Friend looked at it and remind­ed me that despite occa­sion­al atten­tion, smart young seek­ers seri­ous about Quak­erism aren’t anyone’s tar­get audi­ence, here in the US or appar­ent­ly in Britain).

A num­ber of inter­est­ing “Cov­er­gent” mind­ed Friends have an insider/outsider rela­tion­ship with insti­tu­tion­al Quak­erism. Inde­pen­dent wor­ship groups pop­ping up and more are being talked about (I won’t blow your cov­er guys!). I’ve seen Friends try to be more offi­cial­ly involved and it’s not always good: a bunch of younger Quak­er blog­gers have dis­ap­peared after get­ting named onto Impor­tant Com­mit­tees, their online pres­ence reduced to inside jokes on Face­book with their oth­er newly-insider pals.

What do we need to do:

  • We need to be pub­lic fig­ures;
  • We need to reach real peo­ple and con­nect our­selves;
  • We need to stress the whole pack­age: Quak­er roots, out­reach, per­son­al involve­ment and not let our­selves get too dis­tract­ed by hyped projects that only promise one piece of the puz­zle.

Here’s my to-do list:

  • CONVERGENT OCTOBER: Wess Daniels has talked about every­one doing some out­reach and net­work­ing around the “con­ver­gent” theme next month. I’ll try to arrange some Philly area meet-up and talk about some prac­ti­cal orga­niz­ing issues on my blog.
  • LOCAL MEETUPS: I still think that FGC’s iso­lat­ed Friends reg­istry was one of its bet­ter ideas. Screw them, we’ll start one our­selves. I com­mit to mak­ing one. Email me if you’re inter­est­ed;
  • LOCAL FRIENDS: I com­mit to find­ing half a dozen seri­ous Quak­er bud­dies in the dri­vable area to ground myself enough to be able to tip my toe back into the insti­tu­tion­al mias­ma when led (thanks to Mic­ah B who stressed some of this in a recent vis­it).
  • PUBLIC FIGURES: I’ve let my blog dete­ri­o­rate into too much of a “life stream,” all the pic­tures and twit­ter mes­sages all clog­ging up the more Quak­er mate­r­i­al. You’ll notice it’s been redesigned. The right bar has the “life stream” stuff, which can be bet­tered viewed and com­ment­ed on on my Tum­bler page, Tum­bld Rants. I’ll try to keep the main blog (and its RSS feed) more seri­ous­ly mind­ed.

I want to stress that I don’t want any­one to quit their meet­ing or any­thing. I’m just find­ing myself that I need a lot more than business-as-usual. I need peo­ple I can call lower-case friends, I need per­son­al account­abil­i­ty, I need peo­ple will­ing to real­ly look at what we need to do to be respon­sive to God’s call. Some day maybe there will be an estab­lished local meet­ing some­where where I can find all of that. Until then we need to build up our net­works.

Like a lot of my big idea vision essays, I see this one doesn’t talk much about God. Let me stress that com­ing under His direc­tion is what this is all about. Meet­ings don’t exist for us. They facil­i­ate our work in becom­ing a peo­ple of God. Most of the inward-focused work that make up most of Quak­er work is self-defeating. Jesus didn’t do much work in the tem­ple and didn’t spend much time at the rab­bi con­ven­tions. He was out on the street, hang­ing out with the “bad” ele­ments, shar­ing the good news one per­son at a time. We have to find ways to sup­port one anoth­er in a new wave of ground­ed evan­ge­lism. Let’s see where we can all get in the next five years!

Talking like a Quaker: does anyone really care about schism anymore?

Over on my design blog I’ve just post­ed an arti­cle, Bank­ing on rep­u­ta­tions, which looks at how the web­sites for high-profile cul­tur­al insti­tu­tions are often built with­out regard to nat­ur­al web pub­lic­i­ty – there’s no focus on net cul­ture or search engine vis­i­bil­i­ty. The sites do get vis­it­ed, but only because of the rep­u­ta­tion of the insti­tu­tion itself. My guess is that peo­ple go to them for very spe­cif­ic func­tions (look­ing up a phone num­ber, order­ing tick­ets, etc.). I fin­ish by ask­ing the ques­tion, “Are the audi­ences of high brow insti­tu­tions so full of hip young audi­ences that they can steer clear of web-centric mar­ket­ing?”

I won’t bela­bor the point, but I won­der if some­thing sim­i­lar is hap­pen­ing with­in Friends. It’s kind of weird that only two peo­ple have com­ment­ed on Johan Maurer’s blog post about Bal­ti­more Year­ly Meeting’s report on Friends Unit­ed Meet­ing. Johan’s post may well be the only place where online dis­cus­sion about this par­tic­u­lar report is avail­able. I gave a plug for it and it was the most pop­u­lar link from Quak­erQuak­er, so I know peo­ple are see­ing it. The larg­er issue is dealt with else­where (Bill Samuel has a par­tic­u­lar­ly use­ful resource page) but Johan’s piece seems to be get­ting a big yawn.

It’s been super­seded as the most pop­u­lar Quak­erQuak­er link by a light­heart­ed call for an Inter­na­tion­al Talk Like a Quak­er Day put up by a Live­jour­nal blog­ger. It’s fun but it’s about as seri­ous as you might expect. It’s get­ting picked up on a num­ber of blogs, has more links than Johan’s piece and at cur­rent count has thir­teen com­menters. I think it’s a great way to poke a lit­tle fun of our­selves and think about out­reach and I’m hap­py to link to it but I have to think there’s a les­son in its pop­u­lar­i­ty vis-a-vis Johan’s post.

Here’s the inevitable ques­tion: do most Quak­ers just not care about Friends Unit­ed Meet­ing or Bal­ti­more Year­ly Meet­ing, about a mod­ern day cul­ture clash that is but a few degrees from boil­ing over into full-scale insti­tu­tion­al schism? For all my brava­do I’m as much an insti­tu­tion­al Quak­er as any­one else. I care about our denom­i­na­tion­al pol­i­tics but do oth­ers, and do they real­ly?

Year­ly meet­ing ses­sions and more entertainment-focused Quak­er gath­er­ings are lucky if they get three to five per­cent atten­dance. The gov­ern­ing body of my year­ly meet­ing is made up of about one per­cent of its mem­ber­ship; add a per­cent or two or three and you have how many peo­ple actu­al­ly pay any kind of atten­tion to it or to year­ly meet­ing pol­i­tics. A few years ago a Quak­er pub­lish­er com­mis­sioned a promi­nent Friend to write an update to lib­er­al Friends’ most wide­ly read intro­duc­to­ry book and she man­gled the whole thing (down to a total­ly made-up acronym for FWCC) and no one noticed till after pub­li­ca­tion – even insid­ers don’t care about most of this!

Are the bulk of most con­tem­po­rary Friends post-institutional? The per­cent­age of Friends involved in the work of our reli­gious bod­ies has per­haps always been small, but the divide seems more strik­ing now that the inter­net is pro­vid­ing com­pe­ti­tion. The big Quak­er insti­tu­tions skate on being rec­og­nized as offi­cial bod­ies but if their par­tic­i­pa­tion rate is low, their recog­ni­tion fac­tor small, and their abil­i­ty to influ­ence the Quak­er cul­ture there­fore min­i­mal, then are they real­ly so impor­tant? After six years of mar­riage I can hear my wife’s ques­tion as a Quaker-turned-Catholic: where does the reli­gious author­i­ty of these bod­ies come from? As some­one who sees the world through a sociological/historical per­spec­tive, my ques­tion is com­ple­men­tary but some­what dif­fer­ent: if so few peo­ple care, then is there author­i­ty? The only time I see Friends close to tears over any of this is when
a schism might mean the loss of con­trol over a beloved school or camp­ground – fac­tor out
the sen­ti­men­tal fac­tor and what’s left?

I don’t think a dimin­ish­ing influ­ence is a pos­i­tive trend, but it won’t go away if we bury our heads in the sand (or in com­mit­tees). How are today’s gen­er­a­tion of Friends going to deal with chang­ing cul­tur­al forces that are threat­en­ing to under­mine our cur­rent prac­tices? And how might we use the new oppor­tu­ni­ties to advance the Quak­er mes­sage and Christ’s agen­da?

Making New Factions

Strange­ly enough, the Philadel­phia Inquir­er has pub­lished a front-page arti­cle on lead­er­ship in Philadel­phia Year­ly Meet­ing, “Friends frus­trate some of their flock, Quak­ers bogged down by process, two lead­ers say”. To me it comes off as an extend­ed whine from the for­mer PhYM Gen­er­al Sec­re­tary Thomas Jeav­ons. His cri­tiques around Philadel­phia Quak­er cul­ture are well-made (and well known among those who have seen his much-forwarded emails) but he doesn’t seem as insight­ful about his own fail­ings as a leader, pri­mar­i­ly his inabil­i­ty to forge con­sen­sus and build trust. He fre­quent­ly came off as too ready to bypass rightly-ordered decision-making process­es in the name of strong lead­er­ship. The more this hap­pened, the more dis­trust the body felt toward him and the more intractible and politi­cized the sit­u­a­tion became. He was the wrong leader for the wrong time. How is this wor­thy of the front-page news­pa­per sta­tus?

The “Mak­ing New Friends” out­reach cam­paign is a cen­tral exam­ple in the arti­cle. It might have been more suc­cess­ful if it had been giv­en more sea­son­ing and if out­sider Friends had been invit­ed to par­tic­i­pate. The cam­paign was kicked off by a sur­vey that con­firmed that the great­est threat to the future of the year­ly meet­ing was “our grey­ing mem­ber­ship” and that out­reach cam­paigns “should tar­get young adult seek­ers.” I attend­ed the year­ly meet­ing ses­sion where the sur­vey was pre­sent­ed and the cam­paign approved and while every Friend under forty had their hands raised for com­ments, none were rec­og­nized by the clerk. “Mak­ing New Friends” was the per­fect oppor­tu­ni­ty to tap younger Friends but the work seemed designed and under­tak­en by the usu­al sus­pects in year­ly meet­ing.

Like a lot of Quak­er orga­ni­za­tions, Philadel­phia Year­ly Meet­ing has spent the last fif­teen years large­ly rely­ing on a small pool of estab­lished lead­er­ship. There’s lit­tle atten­tion to lead­er­ship devel­op­ment or tap­ping the large pool of tal­ent that exists out­side of the few dozen insid­ers. This Spring Jeav­ons had an arti­cle in PYM News that talked about younger Friends that were the “future” of PYM and put the cut-off line of youthfulness/relevance at fifty! The recent polit­i­cal bat­tles with­in PYM seemed to be over who would be includ­ed in the insider’s club, while our real prob­lems have been a lack of trans­paren­cy, inclu­sion and patience in our deci­sion mak­ing process.

Philadel­phia Friends cer­tain­ly have their lead­er­ship and author­i­ty prob­lems and I under­stand Jeav­ons’ frus­tra­tions. Much of his analy­sis is right. I appre­ci­at­ed his reg­u­lar­ly col­umn in PYM News, which was often the only place Christ and faith was ever seri­ous­ly dis­cussed. But his approach was too heavy hand­ed and cor­po­rate to fit year­ly meet­ing cul­ture and did lit­tle to address the long-term issues that are lap­ping up on the year­ly meet­ing doorsteps.

For what it’s worth, I’ve heard some very good things about the just-concluded year­ly meet­ing ses­sions. I sus­pect the year­ly meet­ing is actu­al­ly begin­ning a kind of turn-around. That would be wel­come.

 

Don’t miss: