Interesting reading today about how our Quaker structures can choke the Spirit and hem in our communities. Johan M is no stranger to Quaker institutions, but in “Clerk Please” he writes:
But who will see and proclaim these things to new audiences if we are so busy trying to sort out our structures, nomination processes, and interpersonal animosities that we don’t take the time to discern and honor leadings?
Susanne K echos some of these themes in her latest post, “Quakerism and Structure”:
One of the key parts of George Fox’s revelation was that religious structures can kill the free movement of the Spirit… My Ffriend R has advocated the practice of disbanding the Religious Society of Friends every 50 years. He believes that the spark of the initial vision and passion of religious groups only survives for about 50 years before developing structures start to choke the movement of the Spirit.
It’s been about eighteen months since I was sidelined from the professional Quaker world (I work for some Quakers now, but on a contract basis and the relationship is much different). A year or two before this, my monthly meeting melted down and more or less devolved into a worship group and while I’ve found a more active meeting to attend, it’s not particularly close and I haven’t joined.
The result of these two changes is that I haven’t sat in a staff meeting for over a year; I don’t attend business meetings; I don’t belong to any committees; I don’t represent any group at conferences. After years of being what Evan Welkin called an uberQuaker, I’m an uninvolved slacker. Bad Martin, right?
Except I’m not uninvolved of course. I feel I’m doing as much now to help people find and grow into Quakerism than I did when I was paid to do this. I don’t spend much time with that 2% skim of Quaker élite who attend all the same conferences and appoint each other to all the same committees, but then catering to their needs was pretty high maintenance and was never something I thought of as the real mission.
Suzanne talks about the “Sabbatical Year” meme, and of course lots of electrons fly about the blogosphere about the possibilities of the Emerging Church movement. There’s a hunger for a different way of being a Friend. I know one Quaker who threatens to burn down the famous meetinghouse he worships in because he feels that the building has become an empty icon, a weight of bricks upon the Spirit (I’ll leave him anonymous in case something mysterious happens to the meetinghouse tonight!). How tragic would it be, really, if some of institutional baggage was laid down and we had to find other ways to confirm and support one another’s ministries?
I love teaching Quakerism, I love helping Quakers use the internet for outreach and I love reaching out to potential Friends with my writing. I’m doing all that without committees or staff meetings. No budgets to fight over, no mission statements to write.
Half a decade ago now I wrote about the “lost Quaker generation,” active and visionary Gen X Friends who seemed to be dropping out in droves. We’re all keeping in better touch now via Facebook but I haven’t noticed much jumping back into the fray. What I have noticed is a phenomenon where Friends half a generation older are taking on Quaker responsibilities only to drop away from active meeting involvement when their terms ended.
If we could pull together all of the dropouts together and start meetings that focused on worship, religious education and deep-community activities, I think we’d see something interesting. I envy those with less-musty, Gen-X heavy meetings nearby (Robin M showcased her meeting recently). And don’t get me wrong: I also love the old Quaker ideal of the strong local Quaker community and the bonds of the community on the individual, etc., etc. But I don’t see meetings like that anywhere nearby and the only clear leading I really have is to continue this “freelance” teaching, writing and organizing. It’s not the situation I want but it’s the situation I have and at this point I have to just trust the leadings as they come step by step and have faith they’re going somewhere. Boy though, I wish I knew where all this was heading sometimes!