“Best Practices” for Quaker Meetings

January 7, 2017 § 1 Comment

My meeting (Central Philadelphia Meeting, CPM *) does a number of things that I think are very important quite well. This has inspired me to think about “best practices” for Quaker meetings in general. I have organized these examples from my meeting and other meetings according to the various aspects of meeting life:

  • Outreach, membership, and attention to attenders
  • Spiritual nurture—support for spiritual gifts and ministries
  • Meeting for worship
  • Meeting for business in worship
  • Pastoral care

To cover all these aspects at once would make for too long a post, so I start with outreach, membership and attenders.

Outreach, membership, and attention to attenders

Best practices:

  • Clear visibility, both on the street and online.
  • A welcoming fellowship with structures in place to ensure a connection with visitors to meeting for worship.
  • A website with the basic information.
  • Information on how to apply for membership and what membership means to the meeting that’s easy to find.
  • Some structure for meeting attenders’ needs and helping them to integrate into the life of the meeting.

Signage

Central Philadelphia Meeting is an urban meeting and the meetinghouse, large as it is, is somewhat obscured and visually confusing to visitors coming by both car and foot because it’s attached to Friends Center, an even larger building. The whole complex is hard to miss but the actual entrance is harder to find; it’s set back in a courtyard behind rather high walls quite a distance from the street. Thus the meeting sets out on the sidewalk in front of the entrance to the courtyard an A-frame sign that’s about three feet tall. It’s simple, visible, and inviting.

Welcoming visitors

Greeters meet everyone as they enter the meeting room, and they are ready to answer any visitor’s questions. At the rise of meeting, visitors are invited to introduce themselves. The gathered body calls out a welcome to each person who does so, and someone in the meeting is very likely to approach them personally as we adjourn to the social room. There they can usually find a visitors table with a person to answer questions and some literature to take home.

Website

The meeting has a nice QuakerCloud website. Every meeting should have a website. This is how people find us nowadays. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but it should have the basics: a welcome, where and when meeting for worship takes place, including at least a full address for those using a GPS device to find you, if not a Google Map, and information on how to contact the meeting. CPM’s website includes lots of other resources focused on answering seekers’ questions and needs for information.

Seeker-focused information

The home page is very friendly to seekers visiting the site. It prominently displays a link to “Learn more about Central Philadellphia Monthly Meeting” [see * below]. This link takes you to a quite thorough Frequently Asked Questions page. In the sidebar on this page are links to a lot of other valuable resources for seekers, including . . .

  • resources on various essential aspects of the Quaker way,
  • a document that describes how to apply for membership, and
  • a document that explains what membership means to the meeting,
  • plus other useful resources.

Membership

I would like to modify these documents offered to newcomers on membership (and in fact, they are in review), but it is really important, I think, that they exist in the first place and that they be easy to find. The process for becoming a member should not be a mystery.

Attenders

CPM has an Attenders committee that is charged with meeting the needs of attenders and fostering their welcome and integration into the life and fellowship of the meeting.

 

* A note on “monthly” meeting

I would note that most members of the meeting refer to Central Philadelphia Monthly Meeting (this is the title of the meeting on the home page), or they shorten it to CPMM. Note also that the meeting’s domain name is cpmm.org. I use CPM rather than CPMM and never say Central Philadelphia Monthly Meeting because I believe local meetings should never use “monthly meeting’ in their public communications, and that it’s not even good practice with your internal audiences. Saying “monthly” meeting may lead newcomers to think that we meet only once a month to worship, at least until they see some indication otherwise. Then they will wonder what “monthly” actually means. Then you have to explain it, which is irrelevant to their real concerns as visitors and a distraction from our core message to newcomers. I think this peculiar usage is potentially off-putting as insider language. Eventually, this odd detail in our jargon will come clear if newcomers stay for a while, but why put a hurdle in their way when they are first inquiring? Unfortunately, CPM is stuck with their domain name, cpmm.org—changing that would be a real mess. But in my opinion as a professional Quaker website manager and communicator, at the least, the title on a meeting’s home page and its practice in other public communications should not refer to “monthly” meeting.

Meeting Outreach Checklist

May 28, 2016 § 1 Comment

Working recently with a group that has formed in New York Yearly Meeting to facilitate outreach in the yearly meeting, I thought to come up with a checklist of the things a meeting should have in order to maximize the meeting’s visibility to seekers and to be ready to hold onto newcomers who visit the meeting.

Here is my first draft of such a Meeting Outreach Checklist. Does anybody have any suggestions for things I should add?

Quaker-pocalypse—Advancement: Outreach & Inreach

July 17, 2015 § 2 Comments

Outreach and Inreach

Quaker renewal depends on “advancement”, on advancing Quakerism—reaching people who hunger for what we have to offer, but haven’t found us yet, and being ready for them when they come. Thus there is both an outreach and an inreach dimension to Quaker advancement.

A lot of the posts in this Quaker-pocalypse series so far have been about inreach, the project of deepening the spiritual life of the meeting into maturity so that we are ready when seekers come.

But now I want to turn to outreach. Or really, to the bridge we must inevitably build between the two—how we present our faith and practice to these seekers when they ask—what do Quakers believe?

For very often, this is the first thing seekers ask us.

When people ask us this question, we often stumble in our answer. We often start with a bunch of disclaimers about how diverse our theologies are, and how we can’t really speak for all Friends, and really, I can only speak for myself . . .

Then we are likely to start by saying that we believe that there is that of God in everyone—which isn’t true! “We” don’t believe this; only some liberal Friends do. And, while it may be true that many, or even most, liberal Friends believe there is that of God in everyone, this turns what George Fox meant by this phrase on its head and has only been used by us this way since Rufus Jones started it around the turn of the twentieth century.

And anyway, just what does it mean to say that there is that of God in everyone? What does “that of” mean? What do we mean by “God” when we use the word this way? And how do we know there is that of God in other people? Are all of the Friends who profess a belief in “that of God” in other people so psychic that they have actually experienced the “that of God” in someone else? Or do we just believe it because we believe it of ourselves?

After perching all 350 years of our exceedingly rich, centuries-old tradition on this one slender, 100-year-old notional pedestal, we then go on to say, maybe, that we believe in “the testimonies”. But we don’t “believe in” the testimonies; we hold them as truths that have been consistently revealed to us over the centuries, but what we “believe in” is the guiding and strengthening power of the Light and a G*d who breaks into the community’s life with new truth about how to live when we turn toward the Light in our individual and collective discernment.

We need more of an answer than this when people ask us what we believe. What canst we say?

I have been working on an answer to this question of what we believe for decades. I received an answer in 1991 and I’ve been trying to refine it ever since. I now have several versions, and I want to publish them here, but most are quite long, so I will have to publish them as downloadable pdf files. And, as usual, now that I look at them again after some time away, I find I have some things to add and some things to change, so they’re not ready yet.

My latest effort, however, is fairly short and designed to be easier to read online. I will publish it next. But first, I want to provide a resource, a set of links to how various Quaker organizations present the essentials of Quaker faith and practice.

Various Quaker answers to the question, what do we believe?

 

Quaker-pocalypse—Advancement

May 16, 2015 § 2 Comments

In my first post in this series I listed among the signs of Quaker decline the steady decline in our membership. This has been going on for decades. We keep dying off. And most of our kids, though they often retain a Quaker identity (when asked what religion they are, they are likely to answer “Quaker”), most still do not remain active in a Quaker meeting when they become adults. And these two forces consistently outstrip our rates of convincement of new members in many of our meetings.

The intuitive response to this problem is more and better outreach—letting the world know who we are in a way that might encourage seekers to check us out. I like the broader rubric that New York Yearly Meeting uses for this aspect of meeting life—advancement. Advancement includes all efforts to advance Quakerism, and this includes “in-reach” efforts as well as outreach. For, to grow our membership, we have to actually have something valuable waiting for these seekers when they do finally find us.

But, while advancement in this broader sense is important, I don’t think growing our membership ought to be our primary goal. Our goal as meetings should be to bring people to God and to bring God into the world, not so much to bring people to Quakerism and make Quakerism more visible in the world.

Nevertheless, we do have something uniquely spiritually valuable to offer people in this age, for those people anyway who want a shared path, a tradition, a community—a religion—as their way to commune with the divine and channel their desires and efforts to heal the hurts of the world.

So, to do this—to advance Quakerism—we need three things:

  1. A vital religious life—we need the goods:
    1. worship that offers true communion with God,
    2. fellowship that is welcoming and caring, and
    3. spiritual nurture for individuals and families, including
      1. recognition of spiritual gifts,
      2. support for ministry,
      3. religious education for adults, and
      4. a First Day School, or readiness to provide some religious education for children on the spot if a family comes.

  2. A message—we need a clear, truthful, articulate message:
    1. a confident, simple, but not dumbed-down answer to who we are, what we “believe”, and what we offer; and
    2. a vision of a world rightly ordered in God’s shalom.

  3. Vehicles for outreach:
    1. a decent website (doesn’t have to be great),
    2. a social media presence, not necessarily very active, but with proper attention having been paid to the social media platform profiles, so that when seekers land there, they can actually find out who and where you are;
    3. a listing in the web portal(s) for churches in your area;
    4. a sign at the street, well lit at night, big enough, and readable at the speed limit;
    5. parking—clear indications on the website and at the street as to where to park;
    6. witness engagement, as led, in your neighborhood, your municipality, your region;
    7. a modest, consistent advertising presence.

So the next questions are:

  • Have I missed anything?
  • Does your meeting have all these elements in place?
  • If not, do you agree that you should?
  • What about that last one—advertising: do you agree that you should be advertising your meeting, and if so, what media would you use?

In the next post, I plan to unpack each of the items above a little bit with queries.

What is the Religious Society of Friends for? — Outreach, Part III

February 28, 2014 § 6 Comments

Social Media

Friends are pretty far behind the curve with social media, I think, mainly because our median age is so high. This seems quite natural to me. I know that in my life, there just isn’t room or time for the kind of active online life that drives Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and the rest. It’s hard enough to keep up with this blog. But we could be experimenting more and asking those who are involved more to share their interest and energy with the meeting.

For instance, nowadays your meeting probably does need a Facebook page. For one thing, this is one of the platforms through which people will search for you, especially younger people. In fact younger people are the main reason to have a Facebook page. And a Twitter account, for that matter.

These media present problems, however.

First, if a static, unchanging website is bad, an empty and dead Facebook page may be even worse. So someone has to keep up with it. Who? Most meetings are already having trouble filling more important roles in the meeting.

Second, people have to Like your Facebook page before they will receive your postings, so you have to start off with a campaign to get members to Like your page. In my experience, this progresses slowly, especially if there’s not much going on on your page.

Third, many Friends don’t even have a Facebook page themselves, or they’ve stopped paying attention to the one they opened years ago out of curiosity or a sense of resigned necessity. I don’t pay much attention to mine. The population that really does pay attention is going to be a very small portion of your meeting. But some of them are going to be young.

What to do?

See if you can find someone who is engaged in that world and who actually does want to manage the page. Maybe make this a project of your First Day School. But don’t micro-manage them or exhibit other forms of paranoia about what they might do on your Facebook page. If you can’t trust them, don’t ask them. And if you can’t trust yourselves to leave them alone, don’t get a Facebook page. I say this because I know of a meeting that is anxious enough about what someone might be doing on the meeting’s Facebook page that the person who manages it doesn’t feel it’s safe to do it.

Get in the habit of thinking about the meeting’s activities as opportunities to post. Use it to post highlights from your minutes. Do you already use GoogleGroups to communicate within the meeting using email? Some of what gets communicated this way may be appropriate for a Facebook page posting. Encourage members to repost things that catch their attention. Think of your Facebook page as the time after meeting in which you give announcements.

Find other meeting’s Facebook pages, those in your quarterly and yearly meeting, especially, and other nearby meetings of other affiliation, if there are any. Then Like their page, and get them to Like yours. Then you will all know what each other is up to. This might be the most valuable use for a meeting Facebook page, as a kind of regional newsletter.

And accept your limitations: do what you can do and don’t feel bad about the rest.

Other connections

QuakerQuaker. Perhaps most of my readers will already know about QuakerQuaker.org, but many people in your meeting may not. QuakerQuaker is a platform for conversation among Friends and it gathers together Quaker blogs from all over. It offers a digest that will periodically bring featured blog entries straight to you by email. This is a great way to follow the Friendly blogosphere. Spread the word; put a notice in your meeting’s newsletter.

LinkedIn. Friends are also holding conversations on various topics on LinkedIn. Check it out.

Twitter. Twitter seems even less valuable to the majority of Friends than Facebook, as a constant, sustained social media presence. But it might be far more valuable as a tool for local, short-term communication inside events, especially crowd events like yearly meeting sessions. New York Yearly Meeting publishes a daily newsletter during its week-long summer sessions, and these items could be tweeted as well as posted on Facebook, in addition to appearing in the printed handouts (though the yearly meeting’s summer sessions site on Lake George has notoriously bad cell phone coverage). This would also allow Friends who cannot attend sessions to get a more or less real-time feel for what’s going on without being there. And Twitter would be good for getting the word out about spontaneous events. I remember one year we came out of the dining hall at NYYM summer sessions to a huge double rainbow. Time to tweet the photo.

Outreach online

I wonder whether one of best new ways to reach out to non-Friends with the Quaker message might be to actively participate in the wider online religious community and especially, communities formed around spirituality more generally defined. This is just an idea, not something I have tested yet, though I plan to try it out when I get the time. But websites like beliefnet.net offer platforms for conversation about religion in which lots of people are talking to each other. If we were participating and self-identifying as Quakers, we might reach some of these people. So also for the very many websites and forums and Facebook and Ning groups organized around spirituality, separate from “religion”. Many people have abandoned “religion” but are dedicated to the life of the spirit more broadly defined and earnestly seek community. I would think we would be very attractive to some of these people.

Likewise for the websites and blogs of nonprofits and activist organizations in areas touching on our testimonies. I think we could be building alliances between our witness committees and these non-Quaker organizations, or at least sharing our spirit-led perspective with them, if we were a real presence in their conversations.

The danger with this latter effort would be that we will attract some people who might accelerate our trend toward secularization, which is already a problem in our witness life, in my experience. I have seen so many witness minutes that would leave you completely unaware that a Quaker community—or any religious community—had written them, so full were they with cogent but totally secular arguments as rationale.

Likewise, reaching out to the people in the “spirituality” cyber-world would inevitably attract people who might resist the religious impulse that lies at the heart of Quakerism—or ought to. We already suffer considerably from such influences, with lots of refugee members who are allergic to “religion”, people who think of meeting for worship as little more than group meditation, and activists who barely understand the role of the spirit in the testimonial life.

Thus it behooves us to maintain our identity as the Religious Society of Friends and to be clear, with ourselves and with newcomers, that we are a religion, that as a community we are Christian (if a bit “neo”), whatever our individual experience is. The last thing we want is to accelerate these trends ourselves by misrepresenting Quakerism in an exclusively universalist mold.

This gets back to message, being clear about who we are and what we have to say. And that brings us forward to the third aspect of outreach—being a warm, welcoming community that knows how to answer newcomer’s questions, so that people who come to check us out might decide to come back.

What is the Religious Society of Friends for? — Outreach, Part II

February 22, 2014 § Leave a comment

Websites

Once we have become clear about what we have to say, then we are ready to explore how we say it.

The best outreach, of course, is personal contact—inviting people we know to meeting, putting up tables at local events, inviting the public to events in our meetinghouse. But I suspect that very many of our new attenders are seekers who have found us on their own somehow. How do they find us?

Nowadays, most people find almost everything on the internet. Mostly, they are relying on search engines. This means that your meeting absolutely must have a website if you want people to find you.

I encourage you to visit Joshua Brown’s blog arewefriends in which he analyzes and compares the websites of 34 yearly meetings in North America and some Quaker organizations. The blog entry has a long list of really valuable questions to answer about your website. I cannot emphasize enough how valuable I think this entry, this list, and the accompanying comparative analysis is. Click the following for the blog entry “What does your yearly meeting website say about you?” and the following for a very useful table comparing websites, “Yearly Meeting and Quaker Organization Websites”.

Ideally, your website meets the following qualifications:

  • It should be attractive—if not actually pleasing to the eye, then at least not truly ugly. (There are a lot of really ugly Quaker websites out there.) But more importantly . . .
  • It must have attractive content. That is, the visitors to your site must find what they are looking for. More about this below in the section on Audience.
  • It should be active, rather than static. It should be obvious that things are happening on it, which signals that things are happening in the meeting.
  • It should be current. What a turnoff to find content that is two years old, or even four months old.
  • It should be search engine optimized. That is, it should at least be registered with all the major search engines, it should have the basic meta tags (code that search engines use to refine search results), and it should have at least one sentence on the home page that lays out clearly the information that seekers are likely to want. This makes it more likely that your sentence will show up as a sentence in the search engine result, where it could answer many of the practical questions a seeker is likely to have right away. This sentence should also appear in the Description meta tag. For example:
  • “Hometown Quaker Meeting (congregation) meets to worship every Sunday at 10 am in a light-filled modern building [beautiful historic building; a welcoming space that we rent from X Y Z; etc.] at 123 Main St., Hometown, US 11111. Please come! You are welcome to join us.” Or something similar.
  • You should avoid using Quaker jargon in your url, your page titles, menu titles, content headings, and content text, unless you explain them right away. Examples:
    • “Monthly Meeting”. I believe that you should never use the phrase “monthly meeting” in public outreach content, especially not in your url. It gives people unfamiliar with Quakerism no useful information about your meeting and it suggests that you only meet for worship once a month. And trying to explain what “monthly meeting” really means will make their eyes roll up inside their head. If “monthly meeting” is part of your domain name (e.g., hometownmonthlymeeting.org), get a new domain name. If your banner (the part at the top of your website with your name and logo, or whatever) says “monthly meeting” in it, change it to “Quaker Meeting” or just “Meeting”.
    • Add “congregation” in parentheses after “meeting” somewhere prominent and early on your home page, and in your descriptive sentence. Don’t leave people guessing about what a “meeting” is.
    • Avoid Quaker acronyms. Write out American Friends Service Committee, etc.
    • If you use the word “testimonies”, explain what they are.
    • Likewise, be careful with “witness”: people may associate it with the Jehovah’s Witnesses and they may not know what it really refers to.
  • The basic information. Don’t make people hunt for basic information; they won’t. Make sure your home page includes:
    • your address with zip code (people want this for their Google maps search);
    • your phone number;
    • your contact email address or some easily recognizable way to contact the meeting without using the phone (usually a contact page with a tab in the menu);
    • the times for worship;
    • a link to a Google or Mapquest map, or at least, to a page with directions to your meeting place.

People are used to finding an organization’s address and phone number in the footer of web pages, but you might think about putting your phone number somewhere more prominent.

Audience.

As a guide to what kind of content your site should have, think about who your audiences are. You will have at least two:

  • an internal audience—members and attenders of your meeting; and
  • an external audience—mostly people who have either happened on your site by accident or, more hopefully, people who are looking for you: seekers.

It should be clear to all kinds of visitors that they have come to the right place and where to go next to find what they want.

Seekers will be looking to find you, to know when you worship, and to get some sense of the meeting and of Quakerism more generally. In this latter regard, you will want your home page to be welcoming and to clearly offer access to more information about Quakerism. Pictures of the meetinghouse and worship space and of people in the meeting greatly enhance your welcoming presence.

As for explaining Quakerism more generally, seekers are likely to want answers to some basic questions: what do you believe? and what can I expect from your worship service?

In my experience, answering these questions in the process of upgrading your website often leads a meeting to ask really deep and valuable questions about your identity. This can be very enlivening—and it can be quite contentious. However, when you are done, you will be able to answer these questions with confidence, so walk closely and optimistically in the Light as you discern. Consider also the possibility of linking to other sites for some of this content. Friends General Conference and Philadelphia Yearly Meeting have attractive websites with pretty good resources in this area.

Process.

As I said, developing a website or upgrading the one you have is an exciting and a challenging project. I recommend that the committee in charge of the project be rather small and that the meeting consciously agree to give this committee its confidence and the freedom to work unencumbered by Quaker “red tape”. Let them bring fairly well-developed proposals to the meeting for comment and approval. At all costs, avoid writing the content in committee or, worse yet, from the floor of the business meeting. Assign someone the job and then review it.

Ideally, you will have at least one person on this committee who knows a little bit about websites and how to organize their development, plus someone fairly knowledgable about Quaker faith and practice, and someone with outreach experience. I realize, however, that very often you won’t have the human resources you really need, especially a technical person. What then? Take a look at other meetings’ websites in your region to find the ones you like the best and see whether you can bring their web guru in as a consultant, if only to meet with your committee once to help you learn how to think and create a project outline. Or check with your yearly meeting. Or with either FGC or FUM, both of which have some resources for web development.

Web services.

You need to bring into in the meeting’s institutional memory two specific sets of information related to web services, if you haven’t done so already:

Domain name. Your domain name is your website’s name (e.g., hometownquakermeeting.org). If you don’t already have a webesite, you have to choose and pay for a domain name; if you already have one, you need to know who owns the account, what the account details are, especially the financial terms of the contract (when it is due and how you are going paying for it), and how to log in to the account. Very often, someone in the meeting has taken this on, but the meeting should own it. If this person moves on, dies, or gets distracted, you will be stuck. Decide who will keep this information, and especially, who should pay for your domain name and how.

Hosting service and content management system (CMS). Your hosting service is the company that provides the servers that your website lives on. The CMS (if you have one) is the interface you use to develop and maintain the site, which can be provided by your hosting service or some third party. As with the domain name, bring the hosting service account and the CMS account into the meeting structure, so that you have an institutional memory of who your hosting service and CMS providers are, what the account logins are, and who and how you’re paying for them (many CMS providers, like WordPress, are free).

Quaker Cloud. Let me recommend here FGC’s hosting service Quaker Cloud. It’s a little pricey, relative to the alternatives, but still not so much in absolute dollars: $120/year for meetings of 50 and under, $240 for larger meetings, when paid annually. That said, it really has a lot to recommend it. It’s attractive in a Quaker plain way. It’s easy to use. Your online assets will be in Quaker hands, not those of some corporation. You will have good support. And the service includes platforms for securely managing your minutes and your meeting member directory. Most importantly, their staff will help you get going.

Content.

Content comes before structure. The first thing to do is to identify your audiences: to whom will you be providing this content? Who will be coming to your website and, most importantly, what do they need from you? 

You probably will be tempted to start thinking right away about what your meeting has to say. Turn it around: ask instead what the visitors to your site will need, and let that guide the kind of content you develop and how you say it. If you think you still have something else to say beyond visitor needs, then say that, too.

Well, this post is already very long, so no room for social media. Maybe in the next post.

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:

  1. the message—who we are;
  2. the medium—where we are, how we make our presence known; and
  3. 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.

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:

  1. What do Quakers believe?
  2. What’s with this “silent meeting for worship”? and
  3. 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”:

  1. from the Light we can go on to explain openings and leadings, the faith and practice of Quaker ministry, our stand on the sacraments;
  2. 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;
  3. 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”;
  4. 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.

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