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:

  1. The goals of the Quaker Way, and
  2. 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:

Personal spirituality:

Spiritual nurture of individuals:

  1. Present clearly and confidently the Quaker good news, to seekers, attenders, members, and our children. (Henceforth, “members” includes attenders.)
  2. 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..
  3. Recognize and nurture our members’ ministry.
  4. 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.

Answers: 

  1. Help Friends find answers to their spiritual and religious questions (provide religious content).
  2. 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

Ministry:

  • 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).

Witness:

  • 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.
Notes:
(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.

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§ 7 Responses to What is Quakerism for? An outline

  • […] A reminder that the original post with the outline of my answers to the question “What is the Religious Society of Friends for?” can be found here. […]

  • Thank you for this, and I look forward to more.

  • Emily says:

    John Fitzgerald’s piece on “What is the Future of the Religious Society of Friends in Britain?” did not directly address the issue of how the Quaker community belongs to the larger community, which is vital to its future.

    In The Friend in 1971, an article in February and July 1971, addressed this issue. Laurence Lerner (July 19, 1971, “A role in the community”) responded to a piece by David Birmingham (February 5), where Birmingham had urged a “positive Quakerism that stressed service to the community. ‘Perhaps,’ Birmingham had written, “individual Friends should resolve to support Meeting House appeals only where the building will have a full-time primary function in the community.’”
    In response, Lerner wrote that Brighton Friends Meeting House had fulfilled that service from 1945, when the meeting stated its purpose as “the need for fellowship, the need to share religious experience, to meet the hunger for knowledge, to encourage a vision of peace and international understanding, to arouse interest and action in civic and social affairs, and to provide a means of developing creative ability.” Since that time, the Meeting House had served as an adult education center, with discussion groups, courses in French and dressmaking, and lectures on developing nations.

    What Brighton did is in a way similar to the Quaker International Centers, proposed by Carl Heath, which were pivotal in spreading the Quaker faith in Europe after World War I.

    This is different from the central issue of Fitzgerald’s piece, which seems to have been the spiritual health within the meeting, a vital issue. It does, however, address the issue of the future of Friends: it introduces non-Friends (many of whom do not know that Quakers still exist) to the presence of Friends without proselytizing (Lerner wrote that no attenders felt they were there to be “coaxed” or converted). This simple introduction increases the possibility of greater attendance and membership within any Meeting.

  • I find myself unable to end the day and get to bed without writing a little more about “the Quaker good news.”

    The bad news is that we experience a world of meaningless suffering in which we are all doomed to die, and in it we say, do and tolerate things that we hate ourselves for saying, doing and tolerating. If we didn’t find ways to distract ourselves from our self-loathing, or project it onto “bad guys” who seem to personify the foolishness and evil we dare not see in ourselves, we might go screaming mad. We may be comfortable now, but on the other side of the world there’s someone in unbelievable pain, and there’s no good reason why she and I shouldn’t change places tomorrow, especially since I know I buy the products of her sweatshop labor when I go clothes shopping; or perhaps it’s my cousin in the army who’s just killed her husband and is raping her now. Doesn’t this terrify me? Am I not guilty? If I act one whit morally superior to the sweatshop-owner or the war-criminal today, but relax my vigilance tomorrow, might I not do something that proves me morally inferior to them? Then if I can’t forgive myself, how then will God forgive me?

    The good news must be as good as the bad news is bad, or it’s not good enough news.

    The Good News is that there is a Savior who wills the salvation of all human souls, and has the power to make it happen, provided that each soul is willing to say “yes” to His offer. That’s good enough news to die for. That’s good enough news to live for, despising all lesser reasons to go on living. That Savior has healed me of self-loathing. That Savior, known inwardly but also recognizable in the scriptural record, teaches me to live in hope, even as fools and open enemies of the common good stand poised to plunge the country and the world into economic ruin. My hope is even for their salvation.

    • I like what you wrote here, “The Good News must be as good as the bad news is bad, or it’d not good enough news”.
      I believe that the Quaker tradition HAS a good answer, as long as it doesn’t dilute it in a misguided quest to simply be an amorphous society of “seekers”.

  • Don Badgley says:

    For me, worship begins in silence and the silence allows me to experience stillness. The stillness opens the way to the Experience of the Divine. This can be accomplished alone and gathered with others seeking the same stillness. When stillness is experienced by and nutured by a gathered body the resultant Experience of G*d is the place of Divine Peace. The labor begins there.

    How sad is our 21st Century Quaker reticence to share this with others or at least support those who would carry this ministry into the world. This blog is a blessing.

  • It’s good to see you back online, Steven, and thank you for this excellent, concise formulation of what Quakerism is for!

    But one thing seemed to me to be missing from Friend John Fitzgerald’s outline. If you’ll look under…

    II. The way to the Quaker goals:
    A. Bringing people to G*d:
    1. Personal spirituality:
    a. Spiritual nurture of individuals:
    i. Present clearly and confidently the Quaker good news…

    What I find missing here is the commandment to love the Lord our God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our strength, and with all our mind. If we’re not doing that, if we’re not engaged in a constant effort to love God ever more dearly, more purely, more one-pointedly… then any “Quaker good news” we have to present, I’m afraid, will be lukewarm good news, mildly good news, the kind of good news we might read in the daily horoscope column.

    But there is better Good News than that… and we have the possibility of embodying it. Paul expressed it: “All things are yours… And ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s.” (1 Corinthians 3:21-23) My own experience tells me that we have a living Savior who frees the prisoner and heals the sick even today, whose perfect love casts out fear and triumphs over death. With such ample reason to love God with all our heart, we put ourselves in a position to learn for ourselves that “all things work together for good to them that love God.” (Romans 8:28) How much better can Good News get?

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