Quaker-pocalypse—Spiritual Nurture Infrastructure
February 16, 2015 § 1 Comment
I have been looking for a new meeting, now that I’ve moved to Philadelphia, and in the process of “evaluating” the meetings I’ve been visiting, I have been refining my sense of what I’m looking for and refining the questions that I ask of myself and that I ask of people in the meetings I’m visiting.
Meanwhile, here in this blog, I’m thinking and writing about the Quaker-pocalypse, which raises a whole different but related set of questions. Now these two sets of questions are interacting with each other in my brain:
For myself: What do I want from a meeting and can I get it here? What gifts do I have to offer this meeting and does it look like my gifts would be welcome and nurtured here?
Regarding Quaker decline and renewal: Does the meeting seem to be aware of the forces driving our decline and does it seem committed to the kinds of things that invite the Holy Spirit into the lives of its members and into the collective life of the meeting? Is this meeting already in the process of spiritual renewal, or does it at least have enough spiritual resources in place to begin the effort?
I said in my previous post that Central Philadellphia Meeting seems to have several of my desiderata, the things that I desire as essential, in both these regards. The list of things that excited me is rather long, so I’ll have to take them one at a time.
At the top of my list was “a robust infrastructure for spiritual nurture”. What do I mean by “infrastructure for spiritual nurture”? What form does that “infrastructure” take? And how does an “infrastructure for spiritual nurture” serve our need for renewal in the Spirit?
I raise up Central Philadelphia Meeting as an example because I like some of the things they have done, but the specifics are less important than the concrete fact of having done something to nurture the life of the Spirit in its members. So I will use their examples as springboards to talk about what any meeting might do to renew its spiritual life.
So what has Central Philadelphia Meeting done to nurture its members’ spiritual lives? They have some structures in place and they have some processes in place. In terms of structure, we’re talking, of course, about committees.
The basics—spiritual and pastoral care committees. Like most meetings, Central Philadelphia has a Worship and Ministry Committee, responsible for the right ordering of meeting for worship and for the spiritual nurturing of meeting members and attenders, and a Membership Care Committee, responsible for pastoral care. I don’t know the meeting well enough to know how proactive Worship and Ministry is in the spiritual nurture of the meeting’s members and attenders. But they do have a spiritual journeys and practices series in which members share their spiritual journeys and practices with the rest of the meeting. Programs like this, for sharing our religious lives with each other, are a very effective and non-threatening way to nurture spirituality in the meeting. I don’t know which committee, if any, sponsors that program, but hurray for them, whoever they are.
Adult religious education committee. I believe that adult RE is absolutely essential to a vital Quaker meeting. When you don’t have religious professionals who have been trained in the tradition, a meeting needs a critical mass of people who know the tradition well enough to actually practice it in a faithful way. Learning Quakerism by “osmosis” is a Quaker myth. Newcomers should not be left to figure things out for themselves; they should have frequent and regular opportunities to learn the Quaker way. If people have come to us and stayed for a while, then it seems Quakerism is what they want, so we should give it to them.
And the meeting also needs them to know their Quakerism; we do not need ignorant Quakers. I think this is so important that I would be tempted to require some level of study before giving applicants their membership. All the other faiths have confirmation classes, and they don’t need their members to actually run the religion the way we do. As a Lutheran teenager, I took two years of confirmation classes, even though I was given almost no opportunity to use my knowledge in the service of the congregation; the pastor did almost everything. Members of Lutheran and other churches are actually mostly “consumers” of their faith. You and I are also “consumers” of Quakerism, too, but we are also the “producers” of Quakerism—without us Quakerism doesn’t get produced. And you can’t produce something you don’t know and understand.
Gifts and Leadings Committee. This was the clincher for me. A committee for gifts and leadings—how fantastic! This suggests that the meeting as a whole has an active consciousness of this most essential aspect of the Quaker way: that everyone can and will be called by G*d into service, that each of us has unique gifts to bring to the meeting, to the world, and to the service of G*d, and that the meeting has a vital role to play in nurturing those gifts and raising up those ministries. I am mostly guessing what Central Philadelphia’s committee does, since I have no direct experience of it yet, but I hope it means that some seasoned Friends are trying to be actively alert to the spiritual gifts of the meeting’s members, that they proactively help both the members and the meeting recognize these gifts. Likewise, that they are ready and eager to provide Friends who have leadings with the discernment, support, and oversight they need. Presumably, the existence of such a committee also means that Friends who feel that perhaps they do have a leading know where to go with it. Finally, having such a committee means that the meeting as a whole is focused on gifts, leadings, and ministry, that they enjoy some level of unity in the Spirit about how important these things are, and that they are willing to take responsibility for the role the community should play in the spiritual lives of its members and their ministries.
So structures are in place at Central Philadelphia for nurturing individual Friends’ spiritual gifts and ministries and for facilitating some of the meeting’s roles in that work. However, the meeting also has roles to play that lie outside the purview of these committees in the form of processes that belong to the wider gathered body.
Recording gifts in ministry. I wish I could remember better the details of a conversation I had when I last attended Central Philadelphia Meeting. But I had the impression that the Meeting had in some formal way acknowledged the gifts and/or ministry of one of its members. I don’t know whether it was a “recording” in the elder-days tradition; PhYM’s Faith and Practice does not seem to address the practice of recording ministers and I’m pretty sure that the yearly meeting laid the practice down, maybe in the 1920s. So either my impression is incorrect or perhaps the Meeting has opened a new path and formally recognized that Friends’ gifts in some other innovative way. But stepping aside from Central Philadelphia Meeting as a pattern and example, I’m saying that if your meeting did something as a body to name and raise up the gifts of the spirit that our faith tells us each of us have, your meeting would have turned its face decisively toward renewal in the spirit. It wouldn’t have to be recording ministers in the way of our ancestors; each meeting could find its own way forward in terms of the form. But I think it’s really important to actively identify and nurture the spiritual gifts of our members and attenders.
Clearness committees for discernment. If the Gifts and Leadings Committee is alert to the leadings rising up in the members, then presumably they are conducting clearness committees for discernment to help these emerging ministers confirm that their leadings are of the Spirit and to gain greater clarity about just what the Friend has been called to do.
Minutes of travel, support, and service for ministers. Once the meeting and a Friend with a leading are clear about a Friend’s leading, then the meeting may write and approve a minute in support of the ministry. I believe that Central Philadelphia has done this.
Care committees. The ministry and the minister may also benefit from a care committee, which would provide support and perhaps oversight for the work, and serve as the liaison between the ministry and the meeting. Again, I’m pretty sure that Central Philadelphia Meeting is doing this kind of thing.
What kind of infrastructure does your meeting have for spiritual formation? Is your meeting actively trying in some way to identify the gifts of the spirit with which your members have been blessed? Does your meeting know and practice the basics of Quaker ministry—discernment of leadings, minutes of travel and/or service, committees of support and oversight for active ministries? If someone in your meeting does have a leading, would they know where to go for the discernment and support the leading requires? Does your meeting offer regular opportunities for members to share their personal faith and practice? Does your meeting offer regular adult religious education that focuses in a meaningful way on Quaker history and tradition, on Quaker biographies, on Quaker faith and practice, on Quaker spirituality and ministry?