January 27, 2015 § 24 Comments
I want to start a new series to which I expect I will return from time to time, though I may not sustain it like I have some of my other posting series; in those previous themes, I have written until I felt I had shared everything I thought I had been given to say. I am less sure where I’m going with this one. Here’s what I’m up to:
I want to analyze and address the Quaker-pocalypse, the seemingly irreversible general decline of Quakerism.
In subsequent posts, I want to look at the causes of this decline in its various aspects, propose some efforts to stem the tide, and—here comes my own predilection for apocalyptic thinking—suggest how we might reorient ourselves toward our virtually inevitable though not imminent demise.
For I believe in the Quaker-pocalypse. I retain my faith in the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit among us, but I have lost my faith in our ability to answer that of God among us with the faith and practice, the attitudes and processes and structures that we use today. That is, I believe that G*d is deconstructing our current structures and challenging us to listen up in new ways. Our job now is to open ourselves to the new world G*d is trying to inspire.
The good news is that the Holy Spirit is at work among us. So I bring with me into this apparently gloomy undertaking the joys of the Quaker Way that I’ve been celebrating in my more recent posts.
Here’s my outline of our general decline:
- the decline of our membership;
- the decline of support for meetings in terms of money, time, and engagement;
- the now spotty but increasingly common collapse of Quaker meetings due to lack of people and resources, including existential challenges to some yearly meetings;
- the erosion of gospel order, defined in this case as the three-tiered structure for meeting life established by George Fox in the 1660s, so that many quarterly and regional meetings are on life support and most local Friends and local meetings feel quite disconnected from their yearly meeting; this is a problem especially for those yearly meetings big enough to have staff and relatively extensive committee structures;
- the steady shift
- toward a community defined by values and process rather than by substantive content, until all that most of us are able to say in answer to the question, What do Quakers believe? is that we believe in that of God in everyone, plus perhaps some reference to the testimonies, thereby balancing a rich, centuries-old tradition on one slender column that’s been hammered into a new shape that is quite foreign to its original materials;
- toward secularization, increasingly replacing our processes of discernment with the world’s ways, including decision-making by consensus rather than the guidance of the Holy Sprit, the use of standing committees organized around concerns rather than the faith and practice of Quaker ministry, and of visioning exercises and brainstorming rather than prayer, meditation, and worship, especially in our committees and non-meeting para-structures, like Quaker Earthcare Witness, AFSC, etc.;
- toward individualism, accepting and even encouraging all modes of personal spiritual expression while thoughtlessly abandoning our own shared traditions, deliberately resisting any form of collective discipline, and sometimes embracing a perverse kind of anti-traditionalism;
- away from our roots in the Christian and biblical tradition and toward every direction conceivable, but most notably toward atheism and nontheism, leaving us a tattered and misunderstood vestigial vocabulary and no coherent message or shared framework for approaching the life of the spirit;
- the steady loss of Friends who know the tradition well enough to practice it, let alone teach it, so that more and more meetings don’t really know what they’re doing any more, especially in certain areas, but still think they do;
- the corresponding selective redefining of our tradition, usually in ignorance and almost always without real thought, epitomized by redefining the phrase “that of God in everyone” in neo-gnositc terms as a divine spark in everyone;
- the decline of personal spiritual practice and of family devotional life, so that most Friends now come to meeting for their spiritual life rather than with their spiritual life, because meeting for worship is all there is to their practice;
- correspondingly, the increasing shallowness of meetings for worship and, especially, of vocal ministry, and thus
- the corresponding decline in the frequency of gathered meetings for worship, so that many Friends have never experienced one and do no know what it is.
- Why are we declining?
- What can we do about it?
- Most importantly, what is G*d trying to awaken in us?