Getting right back on the horse, I’m teaching Quakerism 101 at Moorestown NJ Meeting Wednesday evenings starting in a few weeks. The original plan was for the most excellent Thomas Swain to lead it but he’s become rather busy after being tapped to be yearly meeting clerk (God bless ‘im). He’ll be there for the first session, I’ll be on my own for the rest. A rather small group has signed up so it should be nice and intimate.
For the last year I’ve been pondering the opportunities of using mid-week religious education and worship as a form of outreach. Emergent Church types love small group opportunities outside of the Sunday morning time slot and it seems that mid-week worship is one of those old on-the-verge-of-death Quaker traditions that might be worth revitalizing and recasting in an Emergent-friendly format.
Last Spring I spent a few months regularly attending one of the few surviving mid-week worships in the area and I found it intriguing and full of possibilities but never felt led to do more. It seemed that attenders came and went each week without connecting deeply to one another or getting any serious grounding in Quakerism.
Reflecting on the genesis of a strong Philadelphia young adult group in the mid-1990s, it seemed like the ideal recipe would look something like this:
- 6pm: regular religious ed time, not super-formal but real and pastoral-based. This would be an open, non-judgemental time where attenders would be free to share spiritual insights but they would also learn the orthodox Quaker take on the issue or concern (Barclay essentially).
- 7pm: mid-week worship, unprogrammed
- 8pm: unofficial but regular hang-out time, people going in groups to local diners, etc.
Unprogrammed worship just isn’t enough (just when y’all thought I was a dyed-in-the-plain-cloth Wilburite…). People do need time to be able to ask questions and explore spirituality in a more structured way. Those of us led to teaching need to be willing to say “this is the Quaker take on this issue” even if our answer wouldn’t necessarily pass consensus in a Friends meeting.
People also need time to socialize. We live in an atomized society and the brunt of this isolation is borne by young adults starting careers in unfamiliar cities and towns: Quaker meeting can act as a place to plug into a social network and provide real community. It’s different from entertainment, but rather identity-building. How do we shift thinking from “those Quakers are cool” to “I’m a Quaker and I’m cool” in such a way that these new Friends understand that there are challenges and disciplines involved in taking on this new role.
Perhaps the three parts to the mid-week worship model is head, spirit and heart; whatever labels you give it we need to think about feeding and nurturing the whole seeker and to challenge them to more than just silence. This is certainly a common model. When Peggy Senger Parsons and Alivia Biko came to the FGC Gathering and shared Freedom Friends worship with us it had some of this feel. For awhile I tagged along with Julie to what’s now called The Collegium Center which is a Sunday night Catholic mass/religious ed/diner three-some that was always packed and that produced at least one couple (good friends of ours now!).
I don’t know why I share all this now, except to put the idea in other people’s heads too. The four weeks of Wednesday night religious ed at Moorestown might have something of this feel; it will be interesting to see.
For those interested in curriculum details, I’m basing it on Michael Birkel’s Silence and Witness: the Quaker Tradition (Orbis, 2004. $16.00). Michael’s tried to pull together a good general introduction to Friends, something surely needed by Friends today (much as I respect Howard Brinton’s Friends for 300 Years it’s getting old in the tooth and speaks more to the issues of mid-century Friends than us). Can Silence and Witness anchor a Quakerism 101 course? We’ll see.
As supplementary material I’m using Thomas Hamm’s Quakers in America (Columbia University Press, 2003, $45), Ben Pink-Dandelion’s Convinced Quakerism: 2003 Walton Lecture (Southeastern Yearly Meeting Walton Lecture, 2003, $4.00), Marty Grundy’s Quaker Treasure (Beacon Hill Friends House Weed Lecture, 2002, $4.00) and the class Bill Tabor pamphlet Four Doors to Quaker Worship (Pendle Hill, 1992, $5.00). Attentive readers will see echos from my previous Quakerism 101 class at Medford Meeting.