Quaker “Best Practices”—Meeting for Business

February 6, 2017 § 4 Comments

Best practices:

  • Distribute the agenda and relevant documents in the week prior to meeting for business in worship.
  • Consider one of the queries from your Faith and Practice.
  • Set aside time for exploring long-term issues, big picture issues, and other concerns that lie outside the usual business of the meeting.

Business materials

Central Philadelphia Meeting distributes materials pertaining to the upcoming meeting for business in worship by email during the week before meeting. The meeting also provides some packets of these materials on a table by the door into the meeting room for those who don’t use email or have not printed them or brought some mobile device to view them on. These should be in a format that makes mobile viewing manageable; pdf files work pretty well; html pages work better.

Queries

One of the first things on the agenda is to read and consider one of the queries in PhYM’s* Faith and Practice, rotating through them month by month. I think this is an excellent practice. My previous meeting (Yardley, PA) also read the queries in the meeting for worship on the same Sunday as meeting for business, so that the larger number of members attending worship could respond. It tended to shape the vocal ministry, sometimes, but that was the point. I liked this practice, also.

Dedicated time for exploration and reflection

On most business meeting Sundays, Central Philadelphia Meeting holds two meetings for business in worship, one before meeting for worship, and one after. The morning session is dedicated to considering the kinds of things that the necessary and regular business of a meeting almost always pushes to the side—exploration of issues facing the meeting, presentations from important outside groups, consideration of matters that affect the meeting but are not part of the meeting’s regular business, etc. We used this time a while back to work on the FCNL priorities survey. We’ve looked at the annual budget and the meeting’s priorities for the coming year. We’ve had a presentation from a local interfaith witness network that we’ve joined. We considered the report and recommendations from an ad hoc committee charged with addressing racism.

This makes for a long day for sure. For personal reasons, I myself am rarely able to dedicate that much time on a Sunday, so I often attend only one. I imagine that many meetings would never consider doing this. But I do think that it’s important to set aside time regularly for these kinds of concerns. Otherwise, they never happen. There is always too much regular and pressing business to attend to. Which sounds like an argument to not set aside such time. But realistically, how often would the meeting really suffer if some of the regular and even the pressing business didn’t happen until the next month? When you make an hour and a quarter available virtually every month to consider the important meta-issues of the meeting, as CPM does, the meeting grows into the future with self-awareness and a measure of confidence that is hard to get otherwise.

*  I use PhYM for Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, even though members of the yearly meeting and the yearly meeting itself use PYM (it’s url is pym.org). I do this because Pacific Yearly Meeting also uses PYM, and I think it’s worth minding the distinction. PhYM’s historical importance, its venerable age, and its large size has given it first chance at PYM and this history encourages the yearly meeting to be a little self-centered. I have never heard anyone even mention the problem of the overlapping acronyms with Pacific. One could refer to Pacific Yearly Meeting as PaYM, I suppose, but that would suggest Pennsylvania and be confusing. Meanwhile, it seems to me that the “Ph” in Philadelphia lends itself nicely to an alternative usage for PhYM. PhYM can do nothing about its url, though, so I am resigned to being eccentric in this usage.

One day, I’m going to write a series of posts on “Bioregional Quakerism” and make a case for completely abandoning our historical nomenclature and boundaries and adopting bioregional names and boundaries. Then there wouldn’t even be yearly meetings named after cities, as Philadelphia, New York, and Baltimore Yearly Meetings are. We already have some bioregional yearly meeting names, Pacific being one of them. But I suspect that most yearly meetings—maybe all—are virtually totally unaware of the bioregion they inhabit, its geology and physiography, its flora and fauna, its watersheds, its endangered species and invasive species, its water supplies and waste management systems, its fault lines and ecosystems. What would North American Quakerism look like if our yearly meetings had boundaries and identities that were directly informed by their bioregions, if the places we lived in really mattered?

“Best Practices” for Quaker Meetings—Worship

January 20, 2017 § 10 Comments

Best practices:

  • Match the seating in the meeting room to the size of the worshiping group.
  • Welcome newcomers before meeting and after.
  • Provide accessibility for Friends with mobility and hearing difficulties.
  • Invite Friends to share the deeper things on their hearts while we’re still all together.
  • Invite newcomers to introduce themselves.
  • Avoid announcements and afterthoughts in the meeting room.

Seating

Central Philadelphia Meeting is a large meeting with a large, historic meetinghouse, complete with raked facing benches and a sizable balcony. The meeting has roped off the back-most benches in the back and on one side. The result is that, when attendance is normal, a lot of people are sitting relatively close to each other. I believe quite strongly that proximity to each other fosters a gathered meeting, and that allowing the community to disperse too much (they will occupy as much distance as you give them) hinders the gathered meeting. I would rope off even more seating in our meeting room, but there we are. In the summer when attendance drops off, the meeting moves into another room that more nicely fits the size of the worshiping group. We sit inside each other’s auras when we worship and I think this provides a medium for the subtle psychic dynamics that mark the gathered meeting.

Welcoming

Greeters await you at the doors into the meeting room, ready to ensure that newcomers know what to expect and warming the hearts of the regular attenders. At rise of meeting for worship, a member of Ministry and Worship committee greets everyone, points out the guest book, which does NOT get you on any mailing list, and invites newcomers to visit the visitors table during fellowship for more information. Individual Friends often follow up on this “official” welcoming of newcomers with personal approaches.

Accessibility

Our meeting room has a ramp and several places in the meeting room that can accommodate a wheelchair and one Friend who uses them regularly. We also provide listening devices, which is especially important in such a large meeting room.

Joys and sorrows

Ministry and Worship has a “script” that the Friend who closes meeting (never say “break”) usually adheres to. After the usual “Good morning” and shaking of hands, she or he begins by asking us to remain in a spirit of worship, which helps to keep the meeting centered, and then invites Friends to share their joys and sorrows—whatever deep things are on their hearts at the moment. These can be uplifting and they can also be opportunities for prayer on someone’s behalf.

Introductions

The Friend who closes meeting then invites newcomers to introduce themselves and the body enthusiastically replies to each person with a collective vocal welcome.

Announcements

Central Philadelphia Meeting does NOT have announcements at the rise of meeting. It makes its announcements using a microphone and small amplifier about fifteen minutes into the social hour. This doesn’t reach everybody who was in worship, but it reaches most of the people who are likely to act on the information—and it doesn’t prolong the meeting for worship or degrade the worshipful feeling that we are able to maintain to a degree during the joys and sorrows and introductions in the meeting room. I highly recommend this practice.

Afterthoughts

I dislike afterthoughts and am very glad that the meeting does not encourage them or set aside a time for them. I fear that afterthoughts interfere with Spirit-led vocal ministry in worship. Do they allow a voice to Friends who feel too timid to speak in meeting? Maybe. Or do they get the potential minister “off the hook”, enabling him or her to avoid doing the deeper discernment that would clarify whether the ministry should be spoken or not? Do afterthoughts liberate the worship time from ministry that may not be so Spirit-led by making room for such messages later? Or do afterthoughts feed back into the worship, lowering the bar for what constitutes more deeply Spirit-led ministry? I’m pretty sure that afterthoughts do affect our vocal ministry somehow, but who knows how? The very fact that we don’t know what affect afterthoughts have on the vocal ministry is reason enough, in my opinion, to leave it alone. Why mess with something so sacred, so central to our way? Why isn’t traditional vocal ministry during meeting for worship enough for us? It’s enough for me. I am very grateful that Central Philadelphia Meeting does not invite afterthoughts, though sometimes a Friend will give us one anyway.

“Best Practices” for Quaker Meetings—Spiritual Nurture

January 13, 2017 § 1 Comment

Support for Spiritual Gifts and Ministries

Best practices:

  • Provide an “infrastructure” for the spiritual nurture of members’ gifts, leadings, and ministries that is visible, welcoming, and both proactive and responsive—a structure in the meeting in which Friends with the gift of eldership work together to recognize and foster spiritual gifts in the members and to whom members can come for discernment and support of their gifts, leadings, and ministries.
  • Provide resources on the faith and practice of Quaker ministry

Quaker spirituality

I have for some years now felt called to a ministry focused on raising up the traditional faith and practice of Quaker ministry, and I feel that the nurture of our members’ and attenders’ spiritual lives is one of the core purposes of the Quaker meeting. (See my 2014 series on What is Quakerism for?)

I feel that Quaker spirituality comprises two essential aspects, one inward-looking and the other outward-looking. Both are what Patricia Loring has called listening spirituality in her books with this title.

The inward-looking spiritual practice involves turning toward the Light within and what early Friends described as “standing still in the Light”, surrendering to the redeeming, healing, whole-making, refreshing, awakening, and inspiring Light within us, which threshes out the kernels from the chaff in our hearts and souls and winnows the chaff away in the winds of the Spirit.

The outward-looking practice involves surrendering our life and our inner moral and spiritual compasses to the Seed within us, as Doug Gwyn has put it in A Sustainable Life—giving ourselves over to divine direction in our lives and “listening” for the voice within us, which calls us betimes into loving service in the world.  When one receives such a call, the meeting should be there to help with discerning the truth and the direction of the leading and with support for the ministries that such leadings awaken.

Such openings and leadings and ministries arise from an internal ecosystem of spiritual gifts in an individual. They often sprout directly from one of these gifts. Thus another core mission of a meeting is to recognize and foster these gifts, to help our members till their souls, live in the Seed, and produce good fruit.

Creating an infrastructure for spiritual nurture

Central Philadelphia Meeting has a Gifts and Leadings committee whose charge is to “nurture gifts of the spirit [and] support efforts to discern one’s ministries”.

CPM is a large meeting, so a separate committee for this work makes sense. In much smaller meetings, this would be one of the functions of the worship and ministry committee. But even in a medium-sized meeting, having a separate committee for gifts, leadings, and ministry means that this important work doesn’t get pushed back in the agenda by the routine business that nevertheless must be done and by matters that might seem more pressing.

The point is that whoever takes on this work should have the time not only to recognize and respond faithfully to the leadings and ministries that arise in the life and membership of the meeting, but also to work proactively to foster a vibrant culture of eldership in the meeting around spiritual gifts, leadings, and calls to ministry. The goal is that

  • all in the meeting are used to thinking about their own lives in the light of the faith and practice of Quaker ministry;
  • someone is regularly encouraging Friends to deepen their spiritual gifts, come forward with their leadings, and pursue their ministries in the light and shelter of meeting life;
  • the meeting periodically offers programs for education in the faith and practice of Quaker ministry and for deepening in the life of the spirit; and that
  • it’s obvious where to go in the meeting for discernment and support.

Resources

However this nurturing eldership is structured, Friends with the responsibility should know about resources that are available to those who want to learn more and those who have been called.

  • Funds. Some meetings and yearly meetings have bequests and other funds to which Friends with leadings may apply for support of the ministry.
  • ReleasingMinistry.org. Every meeting should know about (and maybe support) ReleasingMinistry.org, an online education and support network for Quaker ministry that I feel is one of the most important innovations in Quaker practice since the invention of the clearness committee.
  • Clearness committees. The meeting should know how to constitute and conduct clearness committees for discernment. Patricia Loring’s Pendle Hill Pamphlet Spiritual Discernment: the context and goal of clearness committees (#305) is an invaluable resource. Friends should also be aware that clearness committees for discernment are not constituted or conducted the same as clearness committees for membership or marriage, or clearness committees for decision making. See my blog entry on the four types of clearness committees.
  • The meeting and ministry. Meeting websites should have resources describing how the meeting supports Quaker ministry (assuming that it does) either in the main menu or at the most, one click in. Central Philadelphia Meeting has a QuakerCloud website and they have a submenu under About that has a tab for Ministries. Right at the top of that page is a link to a page that describes the ministries currently active in the meeting (though as I write this, that link isn’t working), and in the sidebar, the page has links to a page describing a ministry fund, a page describing “the emerging understanding in CPMM of how we support one another in dynamic faithfulness”, and a page describing an earlier version of the same kind of document.
  • Library. Meeting libraries should have resources on Quaker ministry. For a list of printed resources on Quaker ministry, visit this page on the New York Yearly Meeting website. For resources on Quaker spirituality, try this page.

Have we learned anything?

January 7, 2017 § Leave a comment

I recommend Joshua Brown’s latest post on his excellent blog arewefriends, titled Have we learned anything? about the lessons we could be learning from the recent divisions among us. Josh has been close to the divisions in Indiana Yearly Meeting (2008–2013) and North Carolina Yearly Meeting (2016), both of which revolved around sexual issues and faith.

In my opinion, Josh’s analyses and comments have been consistently penetrating, respectful, community-building, and faithful. This post is especially good.

“Best Practices” for Quaker Meetings

January 7, 2017 § 1 Comment

My meeting (Central Philadelphia Meeting, CPM *) does a number of things that I think are very important quite well. This has inspired me to think about “best practices” for Quaker meetings in general. I have organized these examples from my meeting and other meetings according to the various aspects of meeting life:

  • Outreach, membership, and attention to attenders
  • Spiritual nurture—support for spiritual gifts and ministries
  • Meeting for worship
  • Meeting for business in worship
  • Pastoral care

To cover all these aspects at once would make for too long a post, so I start with outreach, membership and attenders.

Outreach, membership, and attention to attenders

Best practices:

  • Clear visibility, both on the street and online.
  • A welcoming fellowship with structures in place to ensure a connection with visitors to meeting for worship.
  • A website with the basic information.
  • Information on how to apply for membership and what membership means to the meeting that’s easy to find.
  • Some structure for meeting attenders’ needs and helping them to integrate into the life of the meeting.

Signage

Central Philadelphia Meeting is an urban meeting and the meetinghouse, large as it is, is somewhat obscured and visually confusing to visitors coming by both car and foot because it’s attached to Friends Center, an even larger building. The whole complex is hard to miss but the actual entrance is harder to find; it’s set back in a courtyard behind rather high walls quite a distance from the street. Thus the meeting sets out on the sidewalk in front of the entrance to the courtyard an A-frame sign that’s about three feet tall. It’s simple, visible, and inviting.

Welcoming visitors

Greeters meet everyone as they enter the meeting room, and they are ready to answer any visitor’s questions. At the rise of meeting, visitors are invited to introduce themselves. The gathered body calls out a welcome to each person who does so, and someone in the meeting is very likely to approach them personally as we adjourn to the social room. There they can usually find a visitors table with a person to answer questions and some literature to take home.

Website

The meeting has a nice QuakerCloud website. Every meeting should have a website. This is how people find us nowadays. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but it should have the basics: a welcome, where and when meeting for worship takes place, including at least a full address for those using a GPS device to find you, if not a Google Map, and information on how to contact the meeting. CPM’s website includes lots of other resources focused on answering seekers’ questions and needs for information.

Seeker-focused information

The home page is very friendly to seekers visiting the site. It prominently displays a link to “Learn more about Central Philadellphia Monthly Meeting” [see * below]. This link takes you to a quite thorough Frequently Asked Questions page. In the sidebar on this page are links to a lot of other valuable resources for seekers, including . . .

  • resources on various essential aspects of the Quaker way,
  • a document that describes how to apply for membership, and
  • a document that explains what membership means to the meeting,
  • plus other useful resources.

Membership

I would like to modify these documents offered to newcomers on membership (and in fact, they are in review), but it is really important, I think, that they exist in the first place and that they be easy to find. The process for becoming a member should not be a mystery.

Attenders

CPM has an Attenders committee that is charged with meeting the needs of attenders and fostering their welcome and integration into the life and fellowship of the meeting.

 

* A note on “monthly” meeting

I would note that most members of the meeting refer to Central Philadelphia Monthly Meeting (this is the title of the meeting on the home page), or they shorten it to CPMM. Note also that the meeting’s domain name is cpmm.org. I use CPM rather than CPMM and never say Central Philadelphia Monthly Meeting because I believe local meetings should never use “monthly meeting’ in their public communications, and that it’s not even good practice with your internal audiences. Saying “monthly” meeting may lead newcomers to think that we meet only once a month to worship, at least until they see some indication otherwise. Then they will wonder what “monthly” actually means. Then you have to explain it, which is irrelevant to their real concerns as visitors and a distraction from our core message to newcomers. I think this peculiar usage is potentially off-putting as insider language. Eventually, this odd detail in our jargon will come clear if newcomers stay for a while, but why put a hurdle in their way when they are first inquiring? Unfortunately, CPM is stuck with their domain name, cpmm.org—changing that would be a real mess. But in my opinion as a professional Quaker website manager and communicator, at the least, the title on a meeting’s home page and its practice in other public communications should not refer to “monthly” meeting.

Publishing the Truth—Suggestions on Presenting a Quaker Testimony

January 5, 2017 § 3 Comments

In the shadow of a looming Trump presidency, I’ve been thinking about how to present to the world a counter-weight for peace, justice, and sustainability. I often have not been happy with how we Friends do this, how we publish our truth in our books of discipline and in our minutes of conscience.

Over and over again, I have seen Quaker meetings approve witness testimonies and minutes of conscience that just barely represent our faith, or do not do so at all. All too often, they are mostly—or thoroughly—secular in nature and language. One often could read them and never know that a religious organization wrote them, let alone a Quaker one.

Thinking about this phenomenon has led me to propose a framework for writing a testimony or a minute of conscience that does a better job of presenting the religious foundation for our stands. Filling out all the elements of the framework I offer below would produce a rather lengthy document, so I don’t actually expect anyone to do so in practice very often.

Therefore, I offer these ideas primarily as a framework for how to think about our testimonies and the publishing of our truth. We should be able to fill out each of these elements, even if we do not do so in a particular instance in great detail; in the instance, we would just choose highlights that speak to the moment’s circumstances.

Here is my framework for the writing of a Quaker testimony or minute of conscience. In future posts, I plan to flesh this framework out for the testimony of earthcare as an example.

  • First, the testimony of the Holy Spirit—The story of how the community came to unity in the Spirit around the testimony. How were we led?
  • The testimony of scripture—Where do we find confirmation of our testimony in Hebrew and especially Christian scripture; that is, how do we speak to the rest of the Christian world about our testimony in terms that matter to them? Also, how do we defend our stand against any counter-testimony in the Bible, as Margaret Fell did for women speaking in meeting, or as abolitionists did for a stand against slavery?
  • The testimony of Quaker tradition—In a similar vein, how does Quaker tradition support our testimony? And, how do we explain our stand when we deviate from our tradition?
  • The testimony of reason and common sense—Here we bring in the thought and language that usually dominate in our presentation of a testimonial stand, the worldview of the world, of scientific, social, political, economic, and philosophical thought.
  • The testimony of the lives of our prophets—By this I mean what the testimony looks like in action, in the lives of those who already are living under the guidance of the concern.
  • Implications for action—What actions do we feel called to by this leading of the Spirit? How would we be living, what would the world look like, and what happens next, if we took real responsibility for the truth we have been given?

That of God in Donald Trump

January 2, 2017 § 9 Comments

In every aspect of his being but one, Donald Trump assaults the sensibilities of liberal Quakers. His decadent moral character, his coarse, bullying personality, his utterly self-absorbed psychology, his willful and dangerous ignorance and lack of identifiable personal or political philosophy, his divisive and demeaning political tactics, his racism, xenophobia, and misogyny—all these things would make it really hard for a meeting to welcome him into membership.

But some Friend would inevitably pipe up and say, but there is that of God in Donald Trump.

Is there? The one thing left of Donald Trump’s humanity is his divinity?

How would we know if this is true? On what basis would we make this claim? Well, there is that of God in everyone, we would say; even him. This is the central article of liberal Quaker faith.

Okay. I do not know this experientially myself. To say that there is that of God in everyone looks to me more like a nice but very speculative metaphysical notion about human nature. But let’s say it’s true. Certainly, I do agree that anyone can commune directly with the Divine, whatever the metaphysics involved. (Though just because they can commune directly with the Divine doesn’t mean that they do.)

So there’s that of God in Donald Trump, whatever that means. What then? How do we answer that of God in Donald Trump?

The famous passage that Friends quote from George Fox’s Journal to say that there is that of God in everyone is a pastoral letter admonishing ministers to do their own inner work so that they may minister to others in theirs:

Bring all into the worship of God. Plough up the fallow ground. Thresh and get out the corn; that the seed, the wheat, may be gathered into the barn: that to the beginning all people may come; to Christ, who was before the world was made. For the chaff is come upon the wheat by transgression. He that treads it out is out of transgression, fathoms transgression, puts a difference between the precious and the vile, can pick out the wheat from the tares, and gather into the garner; so brings to the lively hope the immortal soul, into God out of which it came. None worship God but who come to the principle of God, which they have transgressed. None are ploughed up but he who comes to the principle of God in him, that he hath transgressed. Then he doth service to God; then is the planting, watering, and increase from God. So the ministers of the spirit must minister to the spirit that is in prison, which hath been in captivity in every one; that with the spirit of Christ people may be led out of captivity up to God, the Father of spirits, to serve him, and have unity with him, with the scriptures, and one with another. This is the word of the Lord God to you all, a charge to you all in the presence of the living God; be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations, wherever you come; that your life and conduct may preach among all sorts of people, and to them. Then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in every one; whereby in them ye may be a blessing, and make the witness of God in them to bless you: then to the Lord God you shall be a sweet savour, and a blessing.

The minister who has done the “threshing” inwardly themselves “can pick out the wheat from the tares, and gather into the garner. . . . Then you will come to walk cheerfully” (in a way that brings blessing, not in a lighthearted mood) over a “world” that could not comprehend the light that was coming into the world in Christ (John 1:5, 9, 10)”. Do your own inner work, then you can answer that of God in others.

So. Assuming that Donald Trump has that “principle of God in him” (Fox), we must thresh out that chaff in our own hearts and souls before we can answer whatever that principle is in him. This means prophetic speech that has no hate in it or even disrespect, but only the power, the Spirit, of Love and Truth.

Hard to do. I find this very hard to do. I have come to think of Donald Trump as Jabba the Hutt, a toadish head of a criminal organization who yearns to lick the captive, scantily-clad princess with his oversized tongue. So I have some inner work to do.

But unlike Princess Leia, our princess must strangle him with the Word, not with a rope—not with counter-violence. We must embrace the third way, and choke Trump’s hatred with our love, not with counter-hatred. We must choke his lies with the Truth. We must protect the least of us from his assaults with ideas that lift everyone up, not just the rich. We must deny the worship of Mammon, for whom Trump is prophet, with Jesus’ proclamation of good news for the poor (Luke 4:18). And we must try for some measure of faith that the Truth will, in fact, prevail.

Then we can walk cheerfully over the world. But I don’t expect to be very cheerful while while waging this new Lamb’s War, or even afterwards. It will be a grim four years.