Teaching Quakerism again

Quakerism 101 classes at Moorestown Meeting NJGet­ting 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.

  • What is Quak­erism real­ly about? If you asked one of the ear­ly guys, no doubt you’d get a lot of slight­ly spir­i­tu­al­ized 17th Cen­tu­ry Puri­tan the­ol­o­gy, with the Quak­er twist. But the essence of it was that God was acces­si­ble for teach­ing and guid­ance. That belief and expe­ri­ence gave a par­tic­u­lar shape to the denom­i­na­tion they even­tu­al­ly found­ed – but the essence, the Truth, is still that God is avail­able to teach his peo­ple him­self. He nev­er said that all his peo­ple were Quak­ers, that these were the only peo­ple he was will­ing to teach, that he would force teach­ing on peo­ple who weren’t look­ing for it.
    You can revive every­thing else about pre­vi­ous incar­na­tions of Quak­erism – and even if these are excel­lent tra­di­tions, as they often are – this in itself can only invite peo­ple to the Quak­er Museum.
    I like to dig into old tra­di­tions and scrip­tures and notions myself, because it reminds me of God. Some­times, instead, it reminds me of how peo­ple can know God with­out (usu­al­ly) Hav­ing It All Down. (Some­thing I keep look­ing for, some­one who Has It All Down. Not that it would do me much good, still hav­ing to digest It All myself…)
    Yes, it was a delight and a won­der and an hon­or to find out that I was a Quak­er, that there had been oth­ers I could approve and appre­ci­ate and learn from, all that. But the plain fact is, their move­ment went into a coma, send­ing up the occa­sion­al odd saint from time to time, but most­ly con­tin­u­ing to serve the luke­warm as a nice lit­tle church.
    I would like to see Quak­erism tried again, in what­ev­er shape it might take, this cen­tu­ry. But I think this will hap­pen, less by study­ing “Quak­erism” than by meet­ing God. If our meet­ings for “wor­ship” are not serv­ing as occa­sions for that (and I agree, by obser­va­tion I pret­ty much doubt it!) we should best study how peo­ple come to know God bet­ter, in any tra­di­tion that helps.

  • I like this idea too. Gee, some of Chris’s and my first dates were cof­fee after the Seeker’s Class at 15th St Meeting.
    Our mid-week meet­ing for wor­ship in San Fran­cis­co ordi­nar­i­ly has a focus on peace con­cerns — it was set up orig­i­nal­ly as an out­let for anger and frus­tra­tion (besides Sun­day morn­ing wor­ship) start­ing in 2001. But we have also had good suc­cess with hold­ing adult reli­gious edu­ca­tion pro­grams in con­junc­tion with it. It runs Tues­day evenings: 6:00 meet­ing for wor­ship, 6:45 brown bag sup­per, 7:15 pro­gram. When there’s not a planned pro­gram, some Friends con­scious­ly try to sched­ule clear­ness or oth­er com­mit­tee meet­ings for Tues­day evenings after the worship.
    In our Meet­ing, we are look­ing at dif­fer­ent modes of adult reli­gious edu­ca­tion. One of the things I’m most excit­ed about right now is a Sat­ur­day night film screen­ing and dessert potluck- two or three films from http://​www​.nooma​.com and dis­cus­sion after/between. I first heard about these films from Gregg Koskela because he showed one as part of their pro­grammed wor­ship. They’re short (like ten min­utes) post-modern films about God and oth­er reli­gious top­ics. They come on DVD with a study guide. Open to every­one, but with spe­cif­ic out­reach to young adult Friends. Host­ed by me from the Min­istry and Over­sight Com­mit­tee and a cou­ple of younger Friends.
    We’ll see how it goes!

  • I was vis­it­ing a Philly meet­ing this week­end, affil­i­at­ed with a Q school, West­town by name. I went a bit ear­ly and found a group set­ting up for some singing from the FGC hym­nal. I was invit­ed to join, and did, with some awk­ward­ness. I was not in a ‘set­tled’ frame of mind as yet.
    I tell this because I was sur­prised that I found the at-first mechan­i­cal singing in uni­son, of a famil­iar hymn/tune, was what I need­ed to start cen­ter­ing. I lat­er min­is­tered to the effect of expe­ri­enc­ing a bridge of sorts: quak­erism old and new, my own church upbring­ing (not quak­er) and from the sec­u­lar to the sacred.
    Mar­tin is speak­ing about teach­ing the old ways, reviv­ing quak­er tra­di­tions, teach­ing Q101 with new sources. I applaud all that. Even to the state­ment of new­com­ers need­ing to hear the ‘quak­er take’ on an issue. Except I would per­haps not be will­ing to say ‘the’ but more ‘a’ quak­er take, since I find it pre­car­i­ous to be able to iden­ti­fy ‘the’ quak­er take. So have the his­to­ri­ans over the years. Some like Braith­waite appar­ent­ly want­ed Quak­erism to be under­stood as a deriv­a­tive of Puri­tanism, in order to be con­sid­ered for the WCC. I would not put Quak­ers in that tra­di­tion, nor would Brin­ton, I believe.
    But new­com­ers need a frame­work, and after that, I like what For­est said, (alone with Ambler), that Fox’s mes­sage was you have with­in you all you need to know the Pres­ence. Go for it.
    tbc
    Ian

  • I was vis­it­ing a Philly meet­ing this week­end, affil­i­at­ed with a Q school, West­town by name. I went a bit ear­ly and found a group set­ting up for some singing from the FGC hym­nal. I was invit­ed to join, and did, with some awk­ward­ness. I was not in a ‘set­tled’ frame of mind as yet.
    I tell this because I was sur­prised that I found the at-first mechan­i­cal singing in uni­son, of a famil­iar hymn/tune, was what I need­ed to start cen­ter­ing. I lat­er min­is­tered to the effect of expe­ri­enc­ing a bridge of sorts: quak­erism old and new, my own church upbring­ing (not quak­er) and from the sec­u­lar to the sacred.
    Mar­tin is speak­ing about teach­ing the old ways, reviv­ing quak­er tra­di­tions, teach­ing Q101 with new sources. I applaud all that. Even to the state­ment of new­com­ers need­ing to hear the ‘quak­er take’ on an issue. Except I would per­haps not be will­ing to say ‘the’ but more ‘a’ quak­er take, since I find it pre­car­i­ous to be able to iden­ti­fy ‘the’ quak­er take. So have the his­to­ri­ans over the years. Some like Braith­waite appar­ent­ly want­ed Quak­erism to be under­stood as a deriv­a­tive of Puri­tanism, in order to be con­sid­ered for the WCC. I would not put Quak­ers in that tra­di­tion, nor would Brin­ton, I believe.
    But new­com­ers need a frame­work, and after that, I like what For­est said, (alone with Ambler), that Fox’s mes­sage was you have with­in you all you need to know the Pres­ence. Go for it.
    tbc
    Ian

  • Mar­tin,
    I’m work­ing with this mod­el (or some­thing like it) these days as well. After about a year of dream­ing and schem­ing, a f/Friend and I final­ly pulled togeth­er a mid-week meet­ing on our col­lege cam­pus. So far, we’ve done unpro­grammed wor­ship, wor­ship shar­ing, and hymn singing. We hope to have some Bible study soon. We’ve aver­aged ten peo­ple a week so far.
    I real­ly relat­ed to what you were say­ing about the chal­lenge of get­ting peo­ple to iden­ti­fy with Friends rather than just pass through and think it was pret­ty cool. At first, I was dis­ap­point­ed that our atten­ders seemed to rotate a lot, and there was very lit­tle spo­ken min­istry (and what there was came from those of us who are already Friends). When I get dis­ap­point­ed like that, I try to call myself back to an under­stand­ing of servi­tude; God is using me to do this for what­ev­er ends God may have- not my own. I nev­er know what open­ings will hap­pen in a person’s soul as result of join­ing wor­ship for one week, even if they nev­er come back.
    love,
    kody
    P.S. I was excit­ed to see Ben’s Wal­ton Lec­ture on your list. I was there when it was given!

  • I’d like to know more about how the Free­dom Friends wor­ship. I like Peggy’s blog very much. I too feel that silence alone doesn’t cut it (but wor­ship with­out a sig­nif­i­cant amount of silence is worse).
    We need to devel­op alternatives.

  • R

    hey Mar­tin -
    A few folks around here (Boston) have been gath­er­ing here and there in people’s homes for a lit­tle wor­ship, singing and what not. It’s been a real­ly pow­er­ful expe­ri­ence. We man­aged to pull togeth­er a lit­tle semi-programmed wor­ship a few months ago, and that seemed to have a bit of life to it. Now, I’m in the process of see­ing if folks want to make it a more reg­u­lar thing, like one Wednes­day a month. I’ll let you know how it goes.
    The first thing some­one asked was,“Is it under the care of a Meet­ing?” Yikes. I didn’t know how to respond. “No.” I guess it depends on a) whether this becomes a reg­u­lar thing, and b) whether Friends gath­ered feel like a par­tic­u­lar Meet­ing should be approached on the mat­ter. I looked high and low for guid­ance on this in F&Ps, and it seemed like all the stuff about wor­ship groups was writ­ten on the assump­tion that they would want to be a full-fledged Meet­ing one day (or at least act like one), and I’m not at all sure if that’s the case.
    I guess it would help if all the folks who have expressed inter­est were from the same Meet­ing, but that’s not so. We’ll see.
    Any­way, good ideas and thoughts. Thanks,
    R

  • Hi Rob,
    The whole care & non-care of the meet­ing issue is an ambigu­ous one. At this year’s FGC Gath­er­ing we had some great out­reach ses­sions with West­ern Friends and one of the most marked dif­fer­ences was how loose they were with for­mal meet­ing estab­lish­ment. Meet­ings tend to start organ­i­cal­ly, often with­out any for­mal Quak­er body even know­ing. Some start small and stay small, with no inter­est in doing any­thing oth­er than serv­ing a small inward-looking com­mu­ni­ty. Oth­ers wait until they’ve hit a self-defined crit­i­cal mass and then approach the near­est com­pat­i­ble meet­ing to dis­cuss for­mal affiliation.
    East­ern Friends love their process of course and while I appre­ci­ate care and atten­tion in these mat­ters I also have to note that the loose process of West­ern Friends has actu­al­ly start­ed a whole lot more meet­ings! I wouldn’t sweat it much. It sounds like your group is doing some very need­ed work – I’m jeal­ous of course! If and when it’s time to hook up with oth­ers or incor­po­rate more I trust you’ll know it.

  • I would LOVE to be a mem­ber of your class. I bet I would learn tons and grow in my faith. I agree that we need more than unpro­grammed wor­ship. Friends for most of our his­to­ry spent so much time togeth­er talk­ing about their faith, read­ing the Bible togeth­er, shar­ing meals. In our mod­ern times these moments of faith shar­ing and grow­ing need to be carved out. Year­ly Meet­ing just is not enough for me. I need more and seek more.
    Thanks Mar­tin for artic­u­lat­ing this clearly.

  • Hi Peter­son, thanks for your vote of con­fi­dence. Last night was the third of the four ses­sions and what was fas­ci­nat­ing was how self-directed it was. Let me get out my note­book.… let’s see, we talked about heav­en and hell, the after­life, the Quak­er cau­tions against drink­ing and gam­bling and the pos­si­bil­i­ties for spir­i­tu­al refresh­ment offered by long car com­mutes and showers.
    We occa­sion­al­ly touched base on our home­work read­ings (Bill Taber’s _Four Doors to Meet­ing for Worship_ and Birkel’s chap­ter on “Nur­tur­ing the Inward Life”) but the par­tic­i­pants were hun­gry for an oppor­tu­ni­ty to to talk about these kind of issues among them­selves. It can be dan­ger­ous let­ting a group go on its tan­gents – I’ve seen sit­u­a­tions where the more-forward mem­bers start to dom­i­nate con­ver­sa­tion – and so I kept scan­ning the cir­cle of eight for any body-language clues that they might be drop­ping out but every­one kept remark­ably engaged. It felt clear to me that my job was to chime in with the tra­di­tion­al Quak­er par­ty line on an issue as a point of infor­ma­tion, con­nect their dis­cus­sion with the read­ing and keep things going when the con­ver­sa­tion start­ed to lag or repeat itself.
    It’s pret­ty amaz­ing that busy peo­ple are will­ing to spend two hours on a Wednes­day night like this.

  • adri­ane

    hel­lo! do you know of any ear­ly amer­i­can quak­er crafts for kinder­garten to 5th graders that would take 10 – 15 min­utes to make? 

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