Crisis and Leadership
November 4, 2012 § 12 Comments
I believe modern Liberal Quakerism is in crisis. What little I know about the programmed branch in the United States suggests that they are, too. Our numbers are declining. Our meetings and institutions are facing severe declines in financial support resulting from this decline in membership, the relocation of older, stalwart supporters into retirement communities, and rampant niggardliness among those who remain. Many meetings lack vital vocal ministry, the energy and people to host first day schools that would attract and keep young families, and elders who know enough of the tradition to guide their meetings and pass it on.
But this is not the first time we have faced serious challenges like these and we have turned ourselves around in the past. The problems we face today are nothing compared to the challenges Friends overcame in the 1660s and ‘70s when we first established gospel order as a way to reign in ranters among us and protect us from the depredations of official persecution.
Two hundred years later, British Friends faced with unQuakerly speed a steady and disastrous decline in membership not unlike our own, laying down the practices of disowning members who married out of meeting in 1859 and making plain dress and speech optional in 1860, coming to both decisions within only three years of their first proposal. They then went on to completely revise the book of discipline, kicked in the pants by the publication of John Stephenson Rowntree’s Quakerism Past and Present, the winning essay in a competition for an account of the causes of Quaker decline.
The common factors in both these revivals are crisis and leadership. Things were really bad and everybody knew it, and then divinely inspired Friends stepped forward with solutions. The community was then gathered into unity around changes that had seemed unthinkable just a handful of years before and now suddenly seemed obvious.
So we have the crisis. Where are the leaders?
Right here: Jon Watts: Support a Minister. Sell Your Meeting House. (http://www.jonwatts.com/2012/support-a-minister-sell-your-meetinghouse/) And here: Ashley Wilcox: The Cost of Traveling Ministry. And here: Micah Bales: Get a Job, Minister! And here: Maggie Harrison: Clothe Yourself in Righteousness.
These emerging ministers are all young adults. Just as John Stephenson Rowntree was a young adult when he wrote that pamphlet that turned London Yearly Meeting back from the abyss in 1859. And they are not alone. As Jon Watts says in his blog, he grew up with a whole coterie of inspired young people in Baltimore Yearly Meeting, but their seed feel among the birds, and the stones, and the weeds, and the dry ground of our meetings. Even so, there are still more beyond this little but vital list. I just met another—Vonn New—last week.
I appeal to my readers: Read these blogs! Read these pamphlets! Listen to this music! Bring them to your meetings. Do what you can to support them.
I believe these young people have answers. Not the answer, necessarily, but spirit-led ideas nevertheless. I believe a tidal wave of truth is sweeping through Quakerism carried in the voices of young Friends who have been touched by the Holy Spirit. This is what they really have: the Holy Spirit.