Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
Problem: Many unprogrammed meetings seem to be dying, at least in the eastern part of the country. I know that many people react to this by arguing that saving meetings from extinction is NOT what we are called to do. I guess I must be old-fashioned. When I see an abandoned meetinghouse or a meeting with a few faithful old timers trying to hang on, I feel very strongly that we shouldn't look the other way and do nothing to help to rebuild these meetings!
A few years ago a power company lineman came to the farm on business. He told me that he is a native of the deep South, and that his family had moved several times as he was growing up. His father, a Southern
Baptist minister, was a "turn around specialist." When a local church was losing out, his father would be called in to provide leadership, to get the church rehabilitated and healthy again.
I have heard of cases of turn around specialists working in pastoral meetings, sometimes successfully and other times rejected by the locals who did not want to change because they were contented with the status quo, even if it meant gradually dying as a meeting.
I don't see similar efforts among unprogrammed Friends. I have discovered that there are several books, some probably rather enlightening, on how to reorient dying churches. One book addresses 50 ways that local churches turn off newcomers. See *Unwelcome: 50 Ways Churches drive Away First-time Visitors*: http://www.amazon.com/Unwelcome-Churches-Drive-First-Time-Visitors/...
Other books attempt to speak to the condition of dying churches. *Autopsy of a Dying Church: 12 Ways to Keep Yours Alive* http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/143368392X?psc=1&redirect=true...
*Comeback Churches: How 300 Churches Turned Around, and Yours Can Too* http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0805445366?psc=1&redirect=true...
Where are the turn around specialists, or at least the turn around mentality, among unprogrammed Friends?
The vocabulary is nuanced in that "a newcomer" in some cases may be transferring from another meeting, so whereas new to the meeting joined, not new to Friends in general.
Such newcomers perhaps arrive with expectations, such as they'll be taken more seriously if actually from London or Philadelphia. :-D
Our branch out here in the North Pacific (NPYM) traces back to the Bean family and so we're called "Beanites" by some. Chuck Fager's on-line version of our history speaks of our disownment by Iowa Yearly long ago. The Beans escaped persecution by moving further west (an old story) and founded something called "College Park Association" in sunny California, as the name of their group.
That sounds just like something liberal college professors would think up. In hindsight, I'd say we come from strongly academic stock, but not exclusively. That's just a part of the Beanite blend (insert joke about how we drink lots of coffee at our gatherings -- good Mormons we are not, beer and wine are fine too...).
Given our own disownment, one might expect we're a bit jaded around the whole institution of membership.
Not so, in my estimation; we take membership quite seriously, meticulously recording it, having Clearness Committees (run by Oversight). We see membership as a practice aimed at building one's public identity, to have a pedigree as it were -- which is close to having a title in ways we get ironic about, so yes, there's some tongue in cheek aspect to the practice as well, some humor.
Walking the talk of a Quaker ain't that easy, if one takes the testimonies seriously, so putting it out there in public, that one is one (a Quaker), is a way of challenging oneself to not be a hypocrite. That's a valid practice among athletes as well, to be public with their goals, performance-wise, as a way of keeping themselves on the straight and narrow with their workout routines.
I'd say dressing up as a fan or mascot or cheerleader for one's school is the rough equivalent. That sounds phony on the surface but think how "school spirit" leads to fellowship and community. The institution of membership feeds us, helps cohere our group identity.
In being a member, one is saying:
"I am not ashamed to be public about my enthusiasm for the Quaker sect, and on the contrary I'm 'card carrying' having cleared my membership status with a real Quaker meeting and everything!"
Bragging rights, snob appeal... it's easy to make it all sound so negative, but we do need those "Quaker patriots" as if some "Quaker nation" actually existed. What's wrong with "flag-wavy Quakers" i.e. proud of their own brand? Given our branch does not practice missionary work, that's about the extent of our proselytizing.
Others are more content to splash themselves with Quaker coloration, without coating themselves with it, while yet another group, the "Quaker jocks" I'll call 'em, feel so confidant in their Quakerism they don't deign to seek confirmation through the membership process.
Or perhaps their meeting is happy to not dispute their status as Friends. We often use the word Friend in ways that overlook the niceties of pedigree. One of our oldest founding families at Multnomah, the Pinneys, never took membership simply because they didn't believe in joining clubs or inner circles of any kind -- but they're as Quaker as it gets.
What we don't have are "Members Only" privileged communications, like so many other sects might have. Quaker business is conducted in a transparent manner. In becoming a member, no secret doors open to reveal all the "controls behind the curtain" with further levels of initiation promised. We don't pretend there's such a curtain.
Finally, since coming into my role at the Yearly Meeting level, of Technology Clerk, I've become newly reminded of how whole Worship Groups sometimes join in, perhaps taking the path towards becoming another NPYM Monthly Meeting.
That has happened in Portland as in other cities, to where we now have two NPYM Monthly Meetings.
Yet Portland has more Worship Groups still, as yet with no formal ties to NPYM or any other Yearly Meeting.
This Little Light of Mine (TLLM), for example, has a strong track record working with AFSC.
Another group is Hillsdale Friends.
So yes, it's definitely complicated, how it all works. But that's OK, as Quakerism has never been a tight ship "march in formation" type movement.
We don't need to sound pseud0-precise to cover up our somewhat chaotic state as we're not all that defensive about it. The Spirit thrives in semi-chaotic environments (sometimes).
William F Rushby said:
Stephanie Stuckwisch said:"In my last meeting, new attenders were so valued that we automatically accommodated to the point of losing our anchor. The most egregious was a move to eliminate God language to avoid "insulting" anyone. That was when I left a meeting I helped start."
Hello, Stephanie! I think you make a good point here. Opening up to new attenders does not mean that a meeting needs to become a "doormat" for whoever knocks at the door! My experience is that meetings are usually not responsive enough to newcomers, rather than too responsive.
By the way, my wife and I were instrumental in starting a new meeting, and then found ourselves disfellowshipped when we balked at the direction it took.
After reading Matt Hisrich's blog entitled "Anarchic Harmony" http://quakerlibertarians.weebly.com/blog/anarchic-harmony-toward-a..., I looked up on Amazon one of the books he recommended, *The Turnaround Church* by Mary Louise Gifford. It received somewhat tepid reviews. http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1566993938/ref=olp_product_details...
The Amazon page for Gifford's book recommended another book, *Turnaround Pastor* by Don Ross. Ross's book listed 52 reviews, all of them giving five star ratings! http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0989769801/ref=olp_product_details...= I have not read this book, but I am impressed by the enthusiastic endorsements it has received. When my book budget recovers from my purchase of several "turnaround" and "comeback" volumes, Don Ross's book will be close to the top of my priority list. That it is about his own pastoral ministry, and I am an unprogrammed Friend, will not deter me from mining it for whatever gold I can find!
Most of the Friends Meetings in my (east coast, liberal) area seem to be thriving. There's one that has all but died in the last 15-20 years. Folks who used to attend that one said it was a matter of bad eldering. Too many people used it as group therapy, and nobody was very successful at getting them to cut it out. They went to using "joys and concerns" time at the end to try to get people to hold that stuff until after worship, but it was too late. Just about everyone else went to one of the other half dozen Meetings in the area.