Visit with Christian Friends Conference & New Foundation Fellowship

In late Jan­u­ary 2004, I went to a gath­er­ing on “Quak­er Faith and Prac­tice: The Wit­ness of Our Lives and Words,” co-sponsored by the Chris­t­ian Friends Con­fer­ence and the New Foun­da­tion Fel­low­ship. Here are some thoughts about the meeting.

I heard about this con­fer­ence almost by acci­dent, from a list­ing on Quakerinfo’s Chris­t­ian Renew­al page. It was hard to get details about it, as my emails to the orga­niz­ers kept get­ting lost, but final­ly I did hear back. Ses­sions included:

  • The Sim­plic­i­ty of Our Wit­ness to That Which We Know Within
  • The Wit­ness of Our Meet­ings, Our Lives, and Our Words
  • Being a Wit­ness to Christ’s Pres­ence and Pow­er in a Time of Strife
  • Liv­ing Our Wit­ness in a Sec­u­lar Age. 
  • Our Wit­ness in Scrip­ture and Friends Writing

So what did I think of the conference?

I liked meet­ing the work­shop lead­ers and fel­low par­tic­i­pants. There are very sin­cere, devote Friends who are aware of the need to have the Soci­ety of Friends look more close­ly at our roots. The New Foun­da­tion Fel­low­ship has been around since the mid-70s and gath­ered around a series of Lewis Benson’s talks about George Fox and ear­ly Friends. They pub­lish a num­ber of inter­est­ing books and pam­phlets. The Chris­t­ian Friends Con­fer­ence is rel­a­tive­ly new and I nev­er found how quite how it dif­fered from NFF: there was so much over­lap between the two groups that that it was hard for this out­sider to fig­ure out the difference. 

I felt very wel­comed, espe­cial­ly by the event orga­niz­er (who went out of her way to attend to my strange veg­an diet). The weekend’s agen­da was upend­ed at the last moment by the absence of NFF orga­niz­er Ter­ry Wal­lace, who was too ill to come.

Many of the ses­sions were on the intel­lec­tu­al side – pre­pared speech­es read from notes. I sus­pect this is the lega­cy of Lewis Ben­son, who was very much a pres­ence at the con­fer­ence even though he died over fif­teen years ago. I missed the kind of mys­ti­cal, don’t-speak-unless-led spir­it of old qui­etist con­ser­v­a­tives and the extend­ed wor­ship ses­sions that are becom­ing pop­u­lar with post-liberal con­ser­v­a­tive Friends. Some­where between these extremes there’s a bal­ance and I won­dered if NFF could reach the larg­er audi­ence it deserves with just this lec­ture format.

Size, aka there are more Chris­t­ian Friends than this:
The first impres­sion was how small the gath­er­ing was. I sus­pect­ed this would be the case when I saw so lit­tle pub­lic­i­ty. As the week­end came near, I men­tioned it to a few Philadelphia-area Chris­t­ian Friends, who were sur­prised to hear that such an event was hap­pen­ing. Most ses­sions had about eight peo­ple and maybe two dozen or so Friends cir­cu­lat­ed through dur­ing the week­end. Most of the par­tic­i­pants already knew each oth­er and were mem­bers of New Foun­da­tion Fel­low­ship and/or Ohio Year­ly Meet­ing (Con­ser­v­a­tive).

This was kind of a shame. With almost 12,000 mem­bers, there are cer­tain­ly more Chris­tians embed­ded in Philadel­phia Year­ly Meet­ing than there are in New Foun­da­tion Fel­low­ship and Ohio Year­ly Meet­ing com­bined. This kind of a con­fer­ence could have eas­i­ly attract­ed more peo­ple than this. Many small Quak­er orga­ni­za­tions act more as sup­port groups for a core group of peo­ple who share inter­ests and a desire to see each oth­er reg­u­lar­ly (I’ve joined these kinds of groups in the past, mis­tak­en­ly think­ing they would get excit­ed if they real­ized how many peo­ple they could attract with only a lit­tle out­reach). I don’t know if this was the dynam­ic with NFF/CFC but no one seemed to be too con­cerned at the small turnout or lim­it­ed pub­lic­i­ty in Philadel­phia Year­ly Meet­ing. The NFF nev­er put this event up on their web­site cal­en­dar and the CFC doesn’t even have a web­site, which has become a cru­cial out­reach tool for any small, geographically-dispersed new ini­tia­tive that wants to reach its intend­ed audience.

Divides and Reach­ing Across:
I also felt sort of sad for the self-imposed divide going on here. In between ses­sions, Seth Hin­shaw, clerk of Ohio Year­ly Meet­ing, asked me about FGC and then asked each of the oth­er peo­ple there at the time if they had ever been to the FGC Gath­er­ing. Almost none had. I know the Gath­er­ing can be a depress­ing place for a Chris­t­ian Friend, but if you want to go fish­ing for new dis­ci­ples, there’s noth­ing like it. Just the pres­ence of ground­ed tra­di­tion­al­ist Friends at the Gath­er­ing does a lot to dis­pel stereo­types and gen­er­ate good will. 

When Jack Smith (Ohio YM, CFC) gave his spiel on the Chris­t­ian Friends Con­fer­ence, it sound­ed very much in the same spir­it as FGC’s Trav­el­ing Min­istries Pro­gram. There’s a shared impulse to look anew at tra­di­tions and to make the time to tell sto­ries with one anoth­er, one on one, in an authen­tic shar­ing sprit. Call this the spirt of the age and label it post-liberal, emer­gent church, what­ev­er – there is a lot more kin­ship here than we think and a lot of oppor­tu­ni­ties to go beyond our cir­cles to con­nect with others.

Geo­graph­i­cal­ly Scat­tered Meetings:
From con­ver­sa­tions and read­ing the Ohio Year­ly Meet­ing minute book I learned more about a very geo­graph­i­cal­ly diverse meet­ing–Rock­ing­ham Friends. Although there’s a phys­i­cal town in Vir­ginia after which it’s named, only a few mem­bers of the meet­ing actu­al­ly live near­by. The great major­i­ty live across the coun­try and around the world, made up of Quak­er Chris­t­ian Friends hold­ing dual mem­ber­ship in a local year­ly meet­ing and in Rock­ing­ham. I’ve had won­der­ful fel­low­ship in the Spir­it with the Rock­ing­ham Friends I’ve met (I spent some time with the Lon­don cohort last Spring). While many meet­ings have long-distance mem­bers on the books (it’s not uncom­mon to find a Philadelphia-area meet­ing that claims hun­dreds of mem­bers but only has a few dozen peo­ple on First Day), Rock­ing­ham Friends out­side Vir­ginia seem to val­ue and affirm their “affil­i­ate membership”: (link to the Ohio book of dis­ci­pline). It would be fas­ci­nat­ing to hear more about how busi­ness meet­ing works and to under­stand the impulse and ben­e­fits of being part of a geographically-diverse meet­ing like this.

I find it fas­ci­nat­ing that the most socially-conservative year­ly meet­ing in the U.S. would have one of the most ground-breaking con­cept of mem­ber­ship. Per­haps it’s part of an evolv­ing twenty-first cen­tu­ry mod­el. Many peo­ple with­in the Reli­gious Soci­ety of Friends and in the larg­er reli­gious world have a clos­er sense of iden­ti­ty with an intentionally-defined iden­ti­ty group than they do with their local meet­ing. Per­haps the most live­ly, spirit-led exam­ple in the Quak­er world had its mid-winter gath­er­ing in the same Burling­ton meet­ing­house a few weeks lat­er: FLGBTQC, Friends for Les­bian, Gay, Bisex­u­al, Trans­gen­der, and Queer Con­cerns. I didn’t attend but all reports were that it was a much big­ger gath­er­ing. (I can also guar­an­tee that there were more Chris­t­ian Quak­ers in the meet­ing­house that week­end, an irony that deserves some chew­ing over some­time in the future).

Final Thoughts:
I’d cer­tain­ly go again. There was some very good, thought-provoking con­ver­sa­tions there. Is this the spring­board of a Chris­t­ian renew­al that will sweep through­out all branch­es of the Reli­gious Soci­ety of Friends? Well, prob­a­bly not. But it is anoth­er rivulet mak­ing its way into the future and a inter­est­ing group to go pad­dling down­stream with on a week­end in January.

  • Michael Daw­son

    Hi, Mar­tin. It was nice to meet you at the con­fer­ence this past week­end. I am enjoy­ing your web­site. Got­ta go for now, but I’m look­ing for­ward to get­ting back to it lat­er. Hope our paths cross again, Friend.
     — Michael Dawson
    Prince­ton Meeting

  • Deb­bie Sutton

    I am very impressed by your web­site. It was good to hear your account of the week­end gath­er­ing and even a bet­ter to meet and have fel­low­ship with you.

  • Chris­tine Greenland

    Dear Mar­tin –
    I regret­ted not being at the NFF/Christian Friends Gath­er­ing, but had oth­er oblig­a­tions that week­end. I think you’re quite right, there are far more Chris­t­ian Friends around (even at FGC). 🙂 Thanks for the observations
    There are affil­i­ate mem­bers of oth­er meet­ings asso­ci­at­ed with Ohio YM. This oppor­tu­ni­ty allows me to stay focused and spir­i­tu­al­ly fed.

  • Con­rad Lindes

    I enjoyed what you wrotte, but I am trou­bled by your page head­er, “Quak­er Ranter.” In 17th cen­tu­ry Eng­land, there was a group which was called the Ranters. They claimed that Christ was in every one and that, since He was in them, any­thing they did was real­ly Christ’s doing, so they could do what­ev­er they want­ed. Need­less to say, espe­cial­ly in that puri­tan­i­cal era, this phi­los­o­phy was not only reject­ed but per­se­cut­ed. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, those who want­ed to per­se­cute Freinds accused them as being the same as the Ranters. It was with great dif­fi­cul­ty, some­times, that Friends over­came this false accu­sa­tion, and the per­se­cu­tion that came with it. It is there­fore grat­ing for me to read the terms Quak­er and Ranter togeth­er as you have put them.
    Your Friend in Christ,
    Con­rad Lindes

  • Andy Hugh­es

    I’m con­fused. I can not deter­mine whether you are an evengili­cal (Chris­t­ian) friend or a non-evangelical (do not believe Christ to be your Lord and Sav­ior) friend. This page seems to indi­cate you are a Chris­t­ian, how­ev­er when I searched the list of meet­ings using the quak­er find­er you rec­om­mend I find only non-Christian meet­ings (in Salem Oregon).

  • I respond­ed pri­vate­ly by email to these past two com­ments when they came in but Julie says it “left me hang­ing” not to see any response from me. So here are the emails I sent:
    *Hel­lo Con­rad,* Nice to see you google in, wel­come. I’m glad you liked the CFC piece. The “Quak­er Ranter” name is meant to grate actu­al­ly; “We’re all Ranters Now” explains the title. I don’t think some­one from Ohio would nec­es­sar­i­ly debate the premise, once put in a bit of con­text. (I have a link to the post on every page and on the intro page). So come on back, take your shoes off, look around a bit. Welcome.
    *Dear Andy,* I am not Evan­gel­i­cal by your def­i­n­i­tion (and maybe not a Chris­t­ian either). I’m fine with that and have no inter­est in a debate about cor­rect Chris­tian­i­ty. This is a per­son­al web­page about my expe­ri­ences search­ing for God and I’m not going to com­pose any state­ments of faith. I describe Quak​erfind​er​.org as a util­i­ty to find unpro­grammed Quak­er meet­ings, which are all over the map when it comes to Chris­tian­i­ty. If there’s an unpro­grammed Chris­t­ian meet­ing in Salem that’s miss­ing from Quak­erfind­er, you should report it to the folks that main­tain the database.
    Inter­est­ing obser­va­tion: both vis­i­tors came in off of Google links (“Chris­t­ian Friends” and “friends indi­ana quak­er”) but nei­ther respond­ed to my reply or has vis­it­ed the site since post­ing (no one has vis­it­ed from their ISPs since then). Con­rad is clerk of Ohio Year­ly Meet­ing Conservative’s “Elec­tron­ic Evan­ge­lism Over­sight Com­mit­tee” and has an inter­est­ing per­son­al Quak­er Wit­ness web­site (heads up: turn off the sound if you’re at work, there’s a very cheesy midi song there). I’ve talked a lit­tle more about vis­i­tor pat­terns in How Insid­ers and Seek­ers Use the Quak­er Net.

  • I see the next con­fer­ence is ten­ta­tive­ly set for Sat­ur­day Sep­tem­ber 25th, 2004 at the Adel­phi Mary­land Friends meet­ing­house. See the web­page of it’s cospon­sor, Friends in Christ (http://​www​.friendsinchrist​.net/) for details.

  • Those want­i­ng to know more about Virginia’s Rock­ing­ham Friends are invit­ed to con­tact Faye Chap­man at fmchap­man (at) hot​mail​.com or to check out their web­site at http://​mem​bers​.tri​pod​.com/​r​o​c​k​i​n​g​h​a​m​f​r​i​e​n​ds/. Faye assures me that the Meet­ing is not entire­ly vir­tu­al though she also told me their next busi­ness meet­ing ses­sion will be held in Lon­don – yes Lon­don, Eng­land! – where they will meet with affil­i­ate mem­bers asso­ci­at­ed with Friends House. I was for­tu­nate­ly enough to be host­ed by these dear folks a few years ago when I attend­ed Britain Year­ly Meet­ing ses­sions and am glad to hear Rock­ing­ham is giv­ing spe­cial atten­tion to its far-off members.

  • Dale

    Hey, I would like to hear about what Quak­er freinds believe I am a chris­t­ian and have had a few stints on the revivals of the quakers

  • sar­fraz­masih

    I am Chris­t­ian from Pak­istan . I am liv­ing in Pak­istan as minor­i­ty. I want Chris­t­ian friends