What is keeping YOU from coming to Christ-centered Friends gatherings?

Hi, Friends! My name is Adria Gulizia, and I'm the "new media" coordinator for "Follow Me," this year's Annual Northeastern Christ-Centered Friends Gathering, which is happening at Powell House in upstate New York over Labor Day Weekend. I want to not only invite people who are curious about or committed to Christ to join us, but I would also like to know, for those of you who will not be joining us, why not?

I'm hoping Friends will tell me:

  • If you have come to Christ-Centered Friends Gatherings in the past and you aren't coming to this one, why not?
  • If you have never been to a Christ-Centered Friends Gathering, why not?
  • If you've been to Christ-Centered Friends Gatherings in the past and you ARE coming back, why do you keep coming?

Please be candid, Friends! I really want to know what you are thinking.

Thanks,

Adria

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My thanks, to you and to Bill, for your welcoming Spirit.

Stephanie Stuckwisch said:

Proximity is the issue for me. I live in Seattle.

In response to David Brundick, please don't assume unprogrammed equals non-christian. I am an unprogrammed Christocentric Quaker.

To Aaron, I would welcome you at any gathering. I try to respect others' beliefs even as I would like my own respected.

Aaron, I am sure that many attendees (perhaps not all) would value you and your encounter with the Living Spirit.   Having met Adria, I feel sure that she, for one, is able to combine a deep Christian faith with an openness to the insights and experiences of others.

Theological differences are real and I would never say that they aren't important, but sometimes deep sharing can happen even where they exist.  It's notable that Jesus didn't approach his first followers with an invitation to believe in a doctrine about him - just to "follow me".  Doctrines (i.e. teachings) came later and have their own importance, but they're not the first thing.

- - Rich



Aaron J Levitt said:

I hear truth in (what I understand to be) the teachings of Jesus the man, but not in the theology of Jesus as Christ. Which isn't to say that there isn't truth there to be had, or that it isn't profoundly meaningful for many others; I just haven't experienced it.

None of this would present any obstacle to attending a "Christ-Centered Friends Gathering", however, if I felt confident that other attendees respected and valued my encounter with the Spirit (for myself) as I do theirs (for them). Unfortunately, that hasn't been my experience of many people who identify themselves as "Christian", and trying to share fellowship with folks who don't recognize me as a "fellow" just makes me sad.

I want to thank Friends for their responses so far! It seems like one of the biggest constraints on the Friends who have responded is simply the cost and difficulty of traveling far for a gathering. That is totally understandable. For those who are in that circumstance, it is my hope that you will be able to find such a gathering near by. Also, many gatherings of this type offer financial assistance to those in need. Alternatively, you may be able to convince your Meeting to help you fund the trip. We'd love to see you!

I also want to respond to Aaron and those who may share his concern of not being welcome among us:

At least for the Northeastern Gathering, there is a huge theological diversity, even among self-professed Christians. I, with my nose ring and form-fitting t-shirt, was in a small group session with a plain-dressing, plain-speaking  Ohio Yearly Meeting Friend, along with someone who came to Friends from a Pentecostal Church. When I attended year before last, there was also at least one person who came as a skeptic, not as someone who was interested in following Jesus at all. As far as I know, he was not made to feel unwelcome (I ate with him and spoke with him on at least two occasions, but I don't know how the rest of his weekend went).

With that said, we want to be a place that welcomes everyone, from those who are committed to following Jesus as a Teacher and Savior to those who find him merely interesting to those who don't know what to think. We attempted to convey that in our flyer by calling it a "Gathering for the Committed and the Curious."  Aaron, as someone who has been made to feel an outsider in the past, do you have any advice for how to better communicate that commitment to welcoming all? Do you have any thoughts on what such a welcome  would look like?

Thanks, Friends, for your responses so far! Keep 'em coming!

Thanks, Rich. Just to clarify, I absolutely didn't mean to suggest that this was an issue with all, or even most, Christians, and I don't doubt that you're correct regarding many attendees of these gatherings.

Rich Accetta-Evans said:

Aaron, I am sure that many attendees (perhaps not all) would value you and your encounter with the Living Spirit.   Having met Adria, I feel sure that she, for one, is able to combine a deep Christian faith with an openness to the insights and experiences of others.

Theological differences are real and I would never say that they aren't important, but sometimes deep sharing can happen even where they exist.  It's notable that Jesus didn't approach his first followers with an invitation to believe in a doctrine about him - just to "follow me".  Doctrines (i.e. teachings) came later and have their own importance, but they're not the first thing.

- - Rich

Hi Adria,

There's a core thought here that I find hard to articulate, but I'll give it a shot. First of all, I don't think of my experiences in this regard as "being made to feel like an outsider," nor was I necessarily made to feel unwelcome. In fact, that's kind of the issue: I almost never feel like an outsider where people come together to worship G-d, in whatever guise. Sometimes, though, it becomes apparent that the person I perceive as a brother or sister in spirit sees an outsider when looking back at me. That's the source of the sadness: to not be recognized by my brethren, and to know our family grows weaker for that lack of recognition. 

It doesn't feel much different as an observer. Many years ago, when I was a strictly observant Jew living in a Chasidic community in NYC, I caught a cab with another young Chasid. The cab was driven by a somewhat older Jamaican immigrant, to whom my fellow passenger immediately began to preach about the seven Noahide laws that are (believed by Orthodox Jews to be) binding on non-Jews. The cabdriver, a Christian, listened graciously and then enthusiastically replied along the lines of, "Yeah, man! The ten commandments [...naming a few...]! That's it, brother!"

In fact, the ten commandments essentially encompass the Noahide laws, but my fellow passenger literally couldn't hear the cabbie, who wasn't using the right name and wasn't one of the group supposed to know about G-d. The fact that they were saying the same thing and professing the same faith simply escaped him, and he kept trying to educate the cabbie until our ride ended. My fellow passenger was a brother in the cabbie's eyes, but to him the cabbie was only a candidate for redirection.

Sorry for rambling on for so long; your question touches on issues that matter a great deal to me. As regards communicating a welcome, all I can suggest is to describe freely and without inhibition who you believe will be truly welcomed by your attendees, and why, and let folks find themselves (or not) in that description.

With highest regards and best wishes for your gathering,

Aaron

Adria Gulizia said:

With that said, we want to be a place that welcomes everyone, from those who are committed to following Jesus as a Teacher and Savior to those who find him merely interesting to those who don't know what to think. We attempted to convey that in our flyer by calling it a "Gathering for the Committed and the Curious."  Aaron, as someone who has been made to feel an outsider in the past, do you have any advice for how to better communicate that commitment to welcoming all? Do you have any thoughts on what such a welcome  would look like?

Thanks, Friends, for your responses so far! Keep 'em coming!

Aaron, what a beautiful response! Thank you. It certainly speaks to my condition.

Adria, I must confess that your questions leave me with the same feeling that Aaron felt about his cab companion. The main question is, "What is keeping YOU from coming to Christ-centered Friends gatherings?" This implies that I would be coming if Some Thing weren't keeping me from attending.

The truth is that I wouldn't be drawn inherently to a gathering with that sort of name. I have attended Quaker Spring and found it an amazing experience; I hope to go back whenever it is held in Ohio, at the very least. But the title "Christ-centered" sounds like a line drawn in the sand--I must believe X in order to attend. I got no sense of this barrier in the neutrally named Quaker Spring.

One of the things I like about the definition of Convergent Friends is that there is no stipulation about belief. Robin Mohr's definition has something particularly welcoming in it: That it includes Friends who don't know what to think about Jesus, or Christ, or Christ Jesus but aren't afraid to wrestle with the question.

The upshot: If I were to come to a "Christ-centered" gathering by that name, I would assume that my experience would be too close to the taxi ride, and that I would be considered a person whose experience of God doesn't measure up. 

Yours in God's Love, Paula

Thank you, Paula.

It's perhaps worth saying that this story took place in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, back in 1988. Around the same time, I made a few feeble noises about setting up some kind of encounter groups between the Chasidic and Island communities, but encountered no interest and quickly dropped the idea. When the Crown Heights riots struck three years later, I was, unfortunately, not at all surprised.

Jaded as I may sometimes be, I honestly believe that, had there been a few dozen more people like my cabbie in both communities, the riots would never have occurred.

Peace

Hi, Paula. I had two reasons for framing the question that way:

  1. In the conversations of the planning committee for the gathering, some people said that they had spoken with Friends who self-identified but who would not come to a Christ-centered Friends Gathering for various reasons. This made me think that it would be a good idea to get some feedback from people who WEREN'T coming or who had not been in the past.
  2. It seemed like people on a website that has as a subtitle "Primitive Christianity Revived," there might be a lot of people who are curious about or interested in Christ, who might be open to coming to a gathering of other Friends who are interested in/committed to Christ, but who, for one reason or another, had never come to a Christ-centered Friends gathering, where they could have the opportunity to wrestle with the message of Jesus in community. I very much want to hear from those people.

I certainly didn't mean for anyone to feel left out. As we said in the flyer, it is a Gathering for "the committed and the curious." There are no tests of belief, either explicit or implicit, for those who want to come and gather with us, but most of the people there will consider themselves Christ-centered Friends. As you probably know, Paula,"Christ-centered" is a very big tent. It includes people who follow Jesus as the anointed one, son of the living God and savior of mankind, but it also includes people who see Jesus as merely a mortal man, who was a wise Teacher with a powerful and challenging message for the world that they want to respond to in their lives. The gathering welcomes those people, as well as others who are curious or skeptical or have other views entirely. 

I suspect, though I do not know (and invite anyone involved in planning the first Gathering to chime in), that part of the reason that "Christ-centered" is in the name is because many followers of Jesus feel isolated in their meetings. By putting Christ-centered in the name, it says to those Friends: "You are not alone. Come, gather, and be a part of the Body of Christ." But that is just speculation.

We want to let everyone who might be curious know that they would be welcome among us. Paula, do you have any advice for doing that, other than taking Christ-centered out of the name?


Paula Deming said:

Aaron, what a beautiful response! Thank you. It certainly speaks to my condition.

Adria, I must confess that your questions leave me with the same feeling that Aaron felt about his cab companion. The main question is, "What is keeping YOU from coming to Christ-centered Friends gatherings?" This implies that I would be coming if Some Thing weren't keeping me from attending.

The truth is that I wouldn't be drawn inherently to a gathering with that sort of name. I have attended Quaker Spring and found it an amazing experience; I hope to go back whenever it is held in Ohio, at the very least. But the title "Christ-centered" sounds like a line drawn in the sand--I must believe X in order to attend. I got no sense of this barrier in the neutrally named Quaker Spring.

One of the things I like about the definition of Convergent Friends is that there is no stipulation about belief. Robin Mohr's definition has something particularly welcoming in it: That it includes Friends who don't know what to think about Jesus, or Christ, or Christ Jesus but aren't afraid to wrestle with the question.

The upshot: If I were to come to a "Christ-centered" gathering by that name, I would assume that my experience would be too close to the taxi ride, and that I would be considered a person whose experience of God doesn't measure up. 

Yours in God's Love, Paula

Hi Adria,

I obviously can't speak from personal knowledge, but I've been disturbed to read about (and occasionally hear from) a number of Christ-centered/Christian-identified Friends who feel isolated or unwelcome in their Meetings. I think it's incumbent upon me, as a non-Christian who has encountered the Spirit in meeting, to remember that the Society I have come to value was raised up by fervent Christians, and I owe them a debt for that creation. It seems a great shame that Christ-centered Quakers, those founders' most direct descendants, should feel isolated or unwelcome in what is in some sense their forefathers' house. If I should ease my own encounter at the cost of burdening theirs, that is, perhaps, even worse...bordering upon the theft of an inheritance. 

Best,

Aaron

Adria Gulizia said:

Hi, Paula. I had two reasons for framing the question that way:I suspect, though I do not know (and invite anyone involved in planning the first Gathering to chime in), that part of the reason that "Christ-centered" is in the name is because many followers of Jesus feel isolated in their meetings. By putting Christ-centered in the name, it says to those Friends: "You are not alone. Come, gather, and be a part of the Body of Christ." But that is just speculation.

Well, this is a tough one. Let me try again.

An event labeled Christ-centered, to make Christ-centered Friends feel safe, does cause me to stay away. I do feel very bad for my Christ-centered kin that they do not feel safe in liberal meetings. (And I myself have been told I am too spiritual for my local meeting--which I no longer attend.) At the same time, my first time at Ohio Yearly Meeting, I learned from two Friends that they considered non-Christ-centered Friends to be a pollutant, and they did not want to worship with them.

Also, Adria, I must disagree with the following statement:

As you probably know, Paula,"Christ-centered" is a very big tent. It includes people who follow Jesus as the anointed one, son of the living God and savior of mankind, but it also includes people who see Jesus as merely a mortal man, who was a wise Teacher with a powerful and challenging message for the world that they want to respond to in their lives.

I am doing my utmost to be totally obedient to God. I prescribe to "Primitive Christianity Revived." I am really not hung up on any theology surrounding Christ, but for those Christ-centered Friends who consider me a problem, it is a very big deal. I really doubt that they would agree that "Friends who see Jesus as merely a mortal man" could possibly be labeled as "Christ-centered." I can't see it either.

I feel that you may need to contemplate just what you wish to have happen at your event, Adria. There was Christ-centered worship at the last FGC Gathering, and I attended that, and felt welcome. But that was just a small slice of the Gathering, rather than an event lasting several days, and that requires travel. I just wouldn't--couldn't--attend your event. But I can and will attend Quaker Spring.

 

Yours in God's Love, Paula

 

Hello again, Aaron!

I have read extensively about the Hasidic movement and the Lubavitchers.  Have you heard of Ted A Campbell,  The Religion Of the Heart: a Study of European Religious Life in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries?  This is the 1991 volume.  See http://www.amazon.com/Religion-Heart-Ted-Campbell/dp/1579104339/ref...

Campbell identifies the Hasidic movement as a Jewish manifestation of the pietism that swept through through European Christianity back in those times.  I think that you would find Campbell's book fascinating to read.

By the way, my own faith pilgrimage was deeply influenced by Professor Abraham Luchins, "of blessed memory" as the Jews would say.  He taught psychology at Albany State when I was a student there, and helped me to navigate through the rocky waters of modern secular scientism.  It took me a few weeks to understand his New York accent, but I found intellectual and spiritual treasures when I mastered his manner of speaking.

Still hoping to see you at Powell House!

Bill Rushby

 

I think there's a delicate balance between being honest about the intent of any gathering and potential feelings of exclusion.

My yearly meeting is one of the most liberal in the US. Attitudes about Christianity generally range from uneasy tolerance to outright attempts to silence any mention of Jesus. So for me, seeing a gathering labeled as Christocentric is like seeing an oasis. It's a place where I can speak my experience freely.

In the end, I think we need to be clear about who we are while very explicitly welcoming all to the table.

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