I had an interesting opportunity last Thursday. I skipped work to be talk with two Quakerism classes at Philadelphia’s William Penn Charter School (thanks for the invite Michael and Thomas!). I was asked to talk about Quaker blogs, of all things. Simple, right? Well, on the previous Tuesday I happened upon this passage from Brian Drayton’s new book, On Living with a Concern for Gospel Ministry:
I think that your work will have the greatest good effect if you wait to find whether and where the springs of love and divine life connect with this opening before you appear in the work. This is even true when you have had an invitation to come and speak on a topic to a workshop or some other forum. It is wise to be suspicious of what is very easy, draws on your practiced strengths and accomplishments, and can be treated as an everyday transaction. (p. 149).
Good advice. Of course the role of ministry is even more complicated in that I wasn’t addressing a Quaker audience: like the majority of Friends schools, few Penn Charter students actually are Quaker. I’m a public school kid, but it from the outside it seems like Friends schools stress the ethos of Quakerism (“here’s Penn Charter’s statement”). Again Drayton helped me think beyond normal ideas of proselytizing and outreach when he talked about “public meetings”:
We are also called, I feel to invite others to share Christ directly, not primarily in order to introduce them to Quakerism and bring them into our meetings, but to encourage them to turn to the light and follow it” (p. 147).
What I shared with the students was some of the ways my interaction with the Spirit and my faith community shapes my life. When we keep it real, this is a profoundly universalist and welcoming message.
I talked about the personal aspect of blogging: in my opinion we’re at our best when we weave our theology with with personal stories and testimonies of specific spiritual experiences. The students reminded me that this is also real world lesson: their greatest excitement and questioning came when we started talking about my father (I used to tell the story of my completely messed-up childhood family life a lot but have been out of the habit lately as it’s receded into the past). The students really wanted to understand not just my story but how it’s shaped my Quakerism and influenced my coming to Friends. They asked some hard questions and I was stuck having to give them hard answers (in that they were non-sentimental). When we share of ourselves, we present a witness that can reach out to others.
Later on, one of the teachers projected my blogroll on a screen and asked me about the people on it. I started telling stories, relating cool blog posts that had stuck out in my mind. Wow: this is a pretty amazing group, with diversity of ages and Quakerism. Reviewing the list really reminded me of the amazing community that’s come together over the last few years.
One interesting little snippet for the Quaker cultural historians out there: Penn Charter was the Gurneyite school back in the day. When I got Michael’s email I was initially surprised they even had classes on Quakerism as it’s often thought of as one of the least Quaker of the Philadelphia-area Quaker schools. But thinking on it, it made perfect sense: the Gurneyites loved education; they brought Sunday School (sorry, First Day School) into Quakerism, along with Bible study and higher education. Of course the school that bears their legacy would teach Quakerism. Interestingly enough, the historical Orthodox school down the road aways recently approached Penn Charter asking about their Quaker classes; in true Wilburite fashion, they’ve never bothered trying to teach Quakerism. The official Philadelphia Quaker story is that branches were all fixed up nice and tidy back in 1955 but scratch the surface just about anywhere and you’ll find Nineteenth Century attitudes still shaping our institutional culture. It’s pretty fascinating really.