What is the Religious Society of Friends for? — Outreach, Part I
February 21, 2014 § 3 Comments
Vigorous Outreach with the Quaker Message—Who We Are
What is the Religious Society of Friends for? : Bringing people to G*d and bringing G*d into the world.
I have been talking in the last number of posts about the first half of the answer to the question, What is the Religious Society of Friend for?, namely, various aspects of “Bringing people to G*d”. Now we turn to the second half of the answer: “Bringing G*d into the world”. I said at the beginning of the discussion of evangelism that evangelism offered a segue from the first part to the second, because evangelism does both.
From evangelism—bringing people to the Christ / awakening people to the Light within them—it is a short step to outreach, to energetically communicating the Quaker message and advertising our presence, in the knowledge that many people would find their spiritual home among us if only they knew who we are and where we are.
Outreach has three components, as I see it:
- the message—who we are;
- the medium—where we are, how we make our presence known; and
- the welcome—what we do in our meetings to present ourselves effectively and attractively, so that visitors want to come back.
This post is about the message.
Before we reach out, we have to know what we’re going to say. And for God’s sake, it has to be more than “there is that of God in everyone” and our testimonies. The basic questions that visitors are likely to bring to us are:
- What do Quakers believe?
- What’s with this “silent meeting for worship”? and
- Are you going to be friendly, are you going to welcome me?
I have written elsewhere that, in a sense, “what do Quakers believe?” is not quite the right question. “What is your spiritual/religious experience?” is the more important question for us—“what canst thou say?” But inquirers still want to know what we believe and it is a legitimate question, an important question. We have to be able to answer it, confidently, succinctly, and with integrity.
Thus every Friend needs an “elevator speech”, a short, clear, ready-to-go presentation of Quakerism that could lead to a more in-depth conversation if there’s time and interest for it. Furthermore, every meeting needs to be prepared in this way, also. And every meeting needs Friends who know the tradition well enough to start answering the next questions that come up, whatever they are, and to inform the content of the meeting’s outreach efforts (and to teach the tradition in religious education programs).
Here’s my elevator speech. Passages in brackets represent additional material that I might add if I have enough time.
The Light. We believe, because we have experienced it ourselves, that there is in everyone a Light, a light in the conscience that can guide and strengthen us to do the right, that can awaken us to the wrong we have done and are about to do. There is in everyone a presence that can heal us, that can save us from our demons and relieve us of our inner suffering, that can inspire us to acts of kindness, compassion, and creativity, that can lead us to become the people we were meant to be, and that can open to us direct communion with God (however you experience God), both as individuals and as a community. We Quakers have experienced this light as the Light of Christ, as a Spirit of Love and Truth, as a Presence in our midst, as that which has gathered us as a people of God and continues to guide our meetings and the Quaker movement today. In this light, G*d is always trying to reveal to us the way of love and peace and truth. Because we experience the Light inwardly, we have laid down many of the outward forms that other religions rely on for communion with God.
[If I just have a little time, I skip the detail about the Light given above and just say: There is a principle in every person, which Friends call the Light of Christ, the Inner Light, the Seed, ‘that of God in everyone’, that can know God directly. Because we experience the Spirit inwardly, we have laid down many of the outward forms that other religions rely on for communion with God.]
The gathered meeting. Moreover, just as each individual can enjoy a direct relationship with God, so also the community may be led by that selfsame Holy Spirit. [Ever since the 1650s, when Quakers were first gathered as a dedicated people of God, we have known directly and collectively the love and guidance of that same Light and spirit and consciousness of the Christ that dwells within each individual. Therefore, we have no “leaders” over us—we conduct all of our affairs directly under the leadership of the Spirit.]
Continuing revelation. Direct communion with God means that God is still teaching God’s people. God’s revelation did not end with the Bible; rather God is always trying to reveal to us the way of love and peace and truth. [Thus, in answer to God’s call to change, we have laid down the outward practice of the sacraments, we have always recognized God’s prophetic inspiration of women ministers, and we have struggled against slavery (though, to our shame, this took a while), even though the Bible seems superficially to condone slavery, deny women’s role in ministry, and require outward sacramental practice.]
Let your lives speak. God calls us to live our faith in practice, to live our lives as testimony to the Truth that has been awakened within us, leading us to alleviate suffering, injustice, and oppression, and to amend their causes. As a movement, we have come to unity on a number of stands of conscience and we seek to be open to new truth as to how we should live, both as individuals and as a society.
Love. Love is the first motion, the first and last commandment.
Each of these elements can be unpacked to get into our Quaker “distinctives”:
- from the Light we can go on to explain openings and leadings, the faith and practice of Quaker ministry, our stand on the sacraments;
- from the communal experience of the Spirit we can talk about silent worship, meeting for business in worship and corporate discernment in all its other forms, corporate support of individual ministry, gospel order (Quaker process), our stand on “days and seasons” and other outward liturgical forms;
- from continuing revelation we can discuss our relationship with Scripture, our rejection of creeds, the laying down of the outward sacraments, and our experience with new leadings and “the testimonies”;
- from the testimonial life we can elaborate on the particular testimonies, our stands of conscience, on ministries of social change and service, and our approach to missions and evangelism.
What is your “elevator speech”? Does your meeting have posters, pamphlets, and people ready that can answer the basic questions of inquirers when they arrive? Does your meeting do anything to project the basic Quaker message beyond its walls? Does your meeting have a website? If so, how does it present the basic Quaker message?
I recommend that every Friend prepare her or his own “elevator speech”, so that when someone asks about us, you are ready with an answer. Just being ready will be impressive; conversely, not being ready might make people wonder.
Likewise, I recommend that every meeting look at its entryway and reevaluate materials that may have been there so long nobody even knows what they are anymore. Posters on the walls, especially: what do they say? Are their messages welcoming? off-putting? full of Quakerese? Would someone new to Friends be able to walk into meeting for worship after looking at your walls and not talking to anyone and know what to expect? And do you have pamphlets in racks waiting for your greeters to put into seekers’ hands? Does your meeting use greeters at all?
But now I am getting into the next post on outreach media—the methods we use to let people know we exist and who we are.