What is Quakerism for? An outline
October 10, 2013 § 7 Comments
I recently found amongst some papers I was cleaning out a printout of an essay entitled “What is the Future of the Religious Society of Friends in Britain” by John Fitzgerald, a British Friend, published in 2009 in his blog things that might have been otherwise. I found Friend Fitzgerald’s thoughts very insightful. I agreed with much of his description and analysis of the current state of Liberal Quakerism, and found, not to my surprise, that the British experience is very similar to our own condition in the US. Much of his description of Britain Yearly Meeting could aptly apply to New York Yearly Meeting. I want to return to some of the themes he raises in future posts.
But the thing that really caught my eye was his question, “What is the Religious Society of Friends for?” What follows is an outline of my answer(s) to his provocative question. I plan to unpack the individual entries in future posts.
What is the Religious Society of Friends for?
Answer: To bring people to G*d (1) and to bring G*d to the world.
I have organized this answer into two sections:
- The goals of the Quaker Way, and
- the way to the Quaker goals.
The goals of the Quaker Way
Bringing people to G*d:
The purpose of the Religious Society of Friends is to awaken people to the Light within them, the Christ within, their Inner Teacher.
To nurture people’s growth in the Spirit:
- to nurture their spiritual gifts,
- to help them answer faithfully G*d’s call to service and ministry and the call to witness on behalf of the truth that has been awakened within them, and
- to give them confidence in their faith.
To nurture families.
To foster genuine worship in spirit and in truth.
To foster fellowship in divine love.
Bringing G*d to the world:
The purpose of the Religious Society of Friends is to help us love one another, to love our fellow humans and our nonhuman neighbors, and to love our enemies, answering that of G*d within all.
To be patterns and examples, both in our personal lives and in our communal life.
To listen to the world’s needs and woes and answer with corporate service and witness.
To support the ministry and witness of our members.
To be visible, present, and available to those who seek the life of the spirit.
The way to the Quaker goals:
Bringing people to G*d:
Spiritual nurture of individuals:
- Present clearly and confidently the Quaker good news, to seekers, attenders, members, and our children. (Henceforth, “members” includes attenders.)
- Recognize, name, and nurture our members’ spiritual (and other) gifts and religious temperaments. Provide opportunities for members to express their gifts and find support and fulfillment that matches their temperament..
- Recognize and nurture our members’ ministry.
- Expose our members to the various spiritual disciplines (a la Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline) and provide training in the disciplines to which they feel called.
- Help Friends find answers to their spiritual and religious questions (provide religious content).
- Help Friends discover their religious identity and their direction in the world, their religious “genius/daemon”.
Community: foster loving, supportive, and joyful community.
Worship: give members the experience of direct communion with G*d by fostering deep silence, spirit-prompted vocal ministry, and the gathered meeting .
Communal spirituality: religion.
Families: provide religious education for children and supportive community for families.
Spiritual nurture in covenantal community:
- Engage in each other’s spiritual growth through a robust and nurturing culture of eldership;
- protect the communal fellowship and the community’s worship.
- Take responsibility for the corporate side of personal spiritual nurture; that is,
- work together to name each other’s gifts and
- discern and support each other’s ministry.
Fellowship: celebrate and share our joy in G*d’s work and love.
Worship: give members the experience of direct communion with G*d by fostering deep silence, spirit-prompted vocal ministry, and the gathered meeting.
- Seek to be gathered in the Spirit.
The work of the meeting: conduct the meeting’s business as worship.
Service to the meeting: focus on the gifts and the ministries of the members, rather than their service on committees: seek not where in the committee structure they could serve, but what enriches their lives and gives them religious fulfillment.
Bringing G*d to the world
- Explore corporately the world’s condition and open ourselves to G*d’s call to service and witness.
- Create an environment in which we recognize emerging ministry.
- Support our members’ (G*d’s) work in the world.
Publishing the truth:
- Encourage and support the written ministry and the outreach ministry of our members.
- Develop a vigorous advancement/outreach program, especially an active and effective web presence, including outreach to religious bloggers and aggregator sites on religion (eg., Beliefnet.net).
- Participate in witness at all levels, from the local to the international.
- Actively engage with ecumenical organizations.
In future posts, I will get into these answers in greater detail.
(1) G*d. For centuries, Friends have written and said the word “God” with the relative assurance that their Quaker readers knew what they meant. This is no longer true, at least among Liberal Friends. Now the word carries baggage; or rather, we carry baggage and we load it onto the word. The asterisk I use in “G*d” stands in for whatever you mean by “God”. For myself, the asterisk stands for the Mystery Reality behind my spiritual and religious experience, which has taken many forms, and also, if you will, for the Mystery Reality behind your spiritual/religious experience, whatever that experience is.