For a world that seems to be crying out for unfettered spirituality, a world that questions authoritative leadership, a world that longs for spiritual transformation that is based on love; why aren’t liberal Quaker meeting houses overflowing with seekers?

The truth is that most liberal meetings experience a revolving door.  A large number of seekers are very excited to discover our local meetings, and they eagerly attend worship often – at first.  Some do attend long enough to become recorded members, and some become permanent attenders (or unrecorded members, if you will).  However, the vast majority of visitors don’t return.  In fact, most recorded members and permanent attenders eventually slack in their enthusiasm, participation, and support of the meeting. 

What is going wrong?  Something is turning these potential and self-identified Quakers off, whether they consciously realize it or not.  Why does this happen?  

The liberal Quaker message is a simple one.  There are no hidden beliefs that surprise new ones eventually.  Doctrines are not really a part of the liberal Quaker theology; so no one is coerced into believing any particular party line.  Plus, there are no required life changes to become a part of the meeting because liberal Friends tend to meet seekers where they currently are in order to support them on where their spiritual journey is taking them.  All of this is the very reason new ones are attracted to our liberal Quaker meetings in the first place.  So again, what’s going wrong once many get better acquainted with us?

When George Fox and Margaret Fell forged an inward looking religion nearly four hundred years ago, they cried out for spiritual realness.  And it was the power of this spiritual realness that attracted so many to their revived Christian message. 

Fox and Fell, along with other early Friends, soon settled on three distinctives that would ensure their fellowship of primitive Christians remained led by the inner Christ.  And today, perhaps of all branches of Friends, it is liberal Quakers who adamantly defend the continued practice of all three of these distinctives: unprogrammed worship, Quaker process, and continuing revelation.  Yet, many liberal Quaker meetings have not taken advantage of the transforming power these three distinctives may offer to those who might be attracted to liberal Quakerism.

Unprogrammed worship is what we today call the original Quaker practice of communal ‘expectant waiting’ worship that is based on a backdrop of silencing the mind so we are able to hear that “still, small voice”.   Some liberal Friends compare this practice to meditation.  While it is akin to individualized meditation – especially at first glance – it is really a different experience.  Unlike meditation, Quaker unprogrammed worship has the specific purpose of Friends coming together to collectively listen to that mysterious eternal force that all existence has in common.  Liberal Quakers each may term this force differently, calling it various names.  But the experience of it is the same because there is a common recognition that it simply IS.  One Friend may personalize this force as Jesus of Nazareth, another may view it more amorphous, or may simply term it as “God” or “Spirit”, and yet another may just settle for general terms such as “the universe” or “nature” or “the way”.  The point is that we are experiencing together something that is real, and no matter how our individual minds try to understand it, the experience of all present is rooted in the same core power - if it is indeed worth experiencing at all.  How can we cultivate this recognition that no matter what we each call it, we are experiencing the same thing?  This is more than an academic question if we are to “walk cheerfully over the world answering that of God in every one”.

If liberal Quakers do believe we are experiencing the same eternal reality no matter how our individual minds might perceive it, then we should embrace the terminology of each other during vocal ministry as we sit in silence.  One Friend might express her experience in God language; another in Bible language, another in New Age speak, another in eastern spirituality terminology, and yet another in everyday words.  Are we going to risk missing the essence of a message from the Spirit because we don’t fully relate to the terms used by the person chosen by the Spirit to convey it?  An even worse situation is when someone is “eldered” because of their terminology.  This false eldering action is offensive to the liberal Quaker tradition because it establishes a doctrine for the meeting based on a petty language preference.  And as happens with all doctrine, the action of the Spirit among us becomes limited because we’ve established our preference for the divisive ego over the unifying Spirit.

Unprogrammed worship takes discipline and regularity if the individual and the meeting are to benefit fully from it.  The discipline involves the need to continually be vigilant in quieting our own thoughts during worship, so the transforming power that is always present within can come to us and to others through us.  The regularity means worshipping often, making it a routine, a habit – just as early Friends did so they could benefit from it during the ensuing week and come to know each other well in “Spirit and Truth”. 

A demonstration of our modern lack of faith in the power of our own unprogrammed worship is the worry that it is too boring for the children among us to fully participate.  Some meetings have established elaborate First Day or Sunday Schools to occupy their young ones and teach them Quaker values.  While a degree of indulgence for the young ones among us is proper and loving, shouldn’t our worship together as a community be the foundation of children’s Sunday School?  What benefits might the whole meeting enjoy by setting aside one or two Sundays each month to have the adults and children worship for the whole hour together?  Quiet activities in the worship room could be provided for the younger ones that help center their own minds in the hour long silence.  Friends just one hundred years ago did not even have children’s First Day school during worship for a reason.  Can we rediscover that reason in our modern meeting setting?

Have we begun to lose the transforming power of the worship experience due to a watering down of its real essence and neglecting the need of making it the highlight of our week for both young and old? If more Friends employ inner discipline and regularly come to worship, our meetings are more likely to experience the joys of a gathered worship experience.  And the meeting community will be strengthened and unified in the Spirit.

Quaker process is more than consensus decision-making. It is the communal search for the right way to proceed; a way to move forward that brings our spiritual community into harmony with the loving eternal force and ultimate truth that permeates everything.  Without the recognition that this is the primary purpose for Quaker process, the power of it will elude us.  When a spiritual community deeply grasps what is being undertaken through this process, the act of a corporate search for the right decision becomes worship itself – a holy experience that spiritually uplifts the community together.

Are we missing opportunities to engage the whole meeting community in a spiritually meaningful Quaker process during our meetings for business?  Does the clerk of meeting remind Friends of the holy purpose of these once-a-month gatherings each time they are held?  While our Quaker worship is noted for being simple and organic with everyone present participating in the experience, has the increasingly complex structures governing the business of our meeting communities become worldly-like, unfulfilling, and a burden for many of us?

Could the root cause be that our meetings have become dependent on their committees to oversee, determine, and carry-out spiritual, pastoral, and social justice activities – instead of utilizing the whole meeting to do these things?  Think how the whole meeting community would benefit by engaging one another in these core spiritual purposes.  Too often ministerial, pastoral, and social action functions are routinely carried out by a few Friends on appointed committees, while matters brought to meeting for business are more mundane and routine.  Perhaps that is why some meetings experience scarce participation in meeting for business, since little of any deep spiritual consequence occurs.  Have we inadvertently made some of our committees the meeting’s pastor or minister or meeting activist, and thereby missed the power of the whole community uniting in the common activity of spiritual oversight, pastoral care, and social activism? 

During meeting for business, very early Friends appointed committees for three reasons: (1) to labor with a Friend in order to understand and validate a leading or concern that the Friend had brought to meeting for business; (2) to oversee or carry-out things once the whole meeting united on a particular course of action; and (3) to help provide clearness to a Friend during a time of life stress, change, or decision-making.  These committees served temporarily as long as needed, and they served entirely at the direction of the whole meeting community.  These ad-hoc committees were not permanent steering committees for the meeting.  There is no better branch of Quakers well-suited to re-embrace this original Quaker use of committees than liberal Friends.

Our meetings for business should not function as the world’s business meetings.  For expediency sake many meetings have the appropriate standing committee prepare and flesh-out an issue, provide answers to any potential questions before they are even asked, and also recommend a course of action – all this before the item ever comes to meeting for business.  By any other name, this constitutes these standing committees as permanent steering committees.  Instead, why not encourage a culture where an individual Friend may express a concern or leading at meeting for business for the meeting to organically process from start to finish?  This unfolding Quaker process might first include an ad-hoc committee to validate the concern or leading.  Then over subsequent meetings for business, the process could include an ad-hoc committee(s) to take action on the concern or leading. 

For liberal Friends the days of having a few “wise” overseers, do seem to be over (whether those overseers realize it or not!).  People who may be attracted to our theology and religious outlook are not usually also attracted to a religion that has implied “elders” suggesting, directing, or guiding the unfolding of truth.  If we look at Quaker history, it was more often than not, the permanent committee of elders and overseers within a meeting who attempted to forestall the embracing of farsighted social advances for the world at large and the Religious Society of Friends.  So, perhaps the very early communities of Quakers at the start of the movement were on to something by heavily utilizing ad-hoc committees to carry out the important work of the meeting.  Rather than “overseers”, these temporary committees were tools of the whole meeting.  Their temporary nature ensured they would remain so.

Think of the side benefits from eliminating permanent committees wherever we can.  No more burn-out of Friends!  The dirty little secret of unprogrammed Friends is that if you hang out with us long enough you will get a job that takes a lot of your time, is unpaid, and will entail some grief and controversy.  How vibrant our meetings might become if the whole meeting is actively engaged in the monthly oversight of the spiritual, pastoral, and social action of the meeting.  Those would be meetings for business that Friends would be eager to attend!

Any permanently standing committees that deal with spiritual matters, pastoral care, or social action might be good candidates to be eliminated, so the whole meeting is able to be actively involved in these essential matters for any Quaker meeting.  The corollary to this is that routine activities that must be done in order to provide Friends a comfortable place to worship, would best be handled by permanently standing committees.  This is because these activities tend to be more temporal in nature, and do not deal with the core spirituality and care of Friends.  Once basic operating parameters are established for them, committees like ‘House and Grounds’ and ‘Financial Stewardship’ should be allowed to function without constant reporting to and intervention from meeting for business.  Similarly, informational updates could best be handled through electronic communications instead of presenting them at meeting for business. These few changes would free up time spent on mundane, temporal concerns so Friends at meeting for business could spend time on important spiritual, pastoral care, and social activism matters.

I would offer that if a meeting is too large to function in the way I am suggesting, then it just might be too big and should divide into smaller groups, even if the smaller groups share the same meeting house.  Frequently, to build a sense of community our meetings are contriving ways to do this, when the answer is staring us in the face.  Our meeting structure should be as simple as our way of worship.  It’s that simple and intimate worship that first attracts people to our liberal Quaker meetings, and it is often the over-built, business-like structure of the meeting that eventually sends them away.

Undergoing a simplification process for our meeting’s Quaker process will lead to all types of revealing questions regarding our over-built structures.  Let’s just take one example: our pastoral care committee. How would we handle the care of Friends in need if we eliminated a permanent pastoral care committee?  One way is to establish a culture within the meeting of naturally caring for one another, as did early Friends and early Christians.  For example, at the close of worship each Sunday, it could be asked if any Friend in our community has a need.  Then, on the spot, someone present could offer to check in with the Friend and coordinate what’s needed. Once this is done, it may be shown that an ad-hoc committee needs to be formed to handle some ongoing situation. Time could also be spent during each monthly meeting for business to consider how the meeting is doing in its care for one another. 

Turning this vital community function over to the whole meeting in an organic manner at the end of worship and during meeting for business, will lead to some in-depth soul-searching for the whole meeting.  Also, it might just be the right time in our history for liberal Friends to consider eliminating things that add no real spiritual value for most people who are attracted to liberal Quaker theology.  For example, many liberal meetings no longer make any distinction between recorded members and permanent attenders.  So why not consider the advantages of no longer keeping a written record of who’s a member and who’s not?  Is it really part of being a spiritual community? 

The above paragraphs regarding the pastoral care committee could serve as an example for each of our meetings’ committees. We might find that by going through this simplification process, the energy and action from Friends will become more heartfelt, more personally satisfying, and more equally shared.  This enlivened spiritual culture with little formal structure will be evident to new ones who visit.  And perhaps they will stay to become part of our meetings because our structure truly reflects our values as liberal Friends.

Continuing revelation is the process by which liberal Quaker theology stays relevant to the world we live in.  If there is any gripe against religion that people express, it is that most of the world’s religions have remained stagnant; stuck in their holy books that were written thousands of years ago.  Continuing revelation, a hallmark of liberal Quakerism, protects us from that charge.  Or does it?

Attempt to present nearly any theological perspective within your liberal Quaker meeting, and it will be welcomed with open arms.  Present something that reinterprets for modern times one of our procedural, terminology, or value traditions – and you may find you have committed a heresy.  I’m not talking about the three distinctives of ‘unprogrammed worship’, ‘Quaker process’, or ‘continuing revelation’ that are important in order to maintain our Quaker identity.  I’m talking more in the vein of the traditions that started long ago; traditions that some mistakenly think are what make us Quakers.

These traditions are perhaps quaint and endearing – but may be misunderstood by the casual observer. Using “First Day” instead of Sunday, or other Quakerees is one example.  Using old-timey Quaker names and speech patterns might make us comfortable; but what does it say to visitors to our meetings?  It likely gives the mistaken first impression that we are somewhat exclusionary, or even cultish.   If continuing revelation does not even prompt us to change our language to use words that are meaningful to the general populace, then perhaps we liberal Quakers are not as open to it as we think.

If formal membership in a spiritual group is no longer appealing to people we are drawing to our meeting houses, perhaps continuing revelation is telling us something.  Are we listening?  And if Friends are exhausted and have to be convinced to participate on one or more of the numerous committees in our meetings, perhaps continuing revelation is telling us modern Quakers, who want to be relevant in the modern world, that we must do something different.  Are we responding to its nudging?

Since “God is love”, that constant will continuously reinterpret the world we are experiencing in light of ‘what’s loving’.  What seemed loving at one time or place may no longer be experienced as loving.  If we experience continuing revelation as helping us to love as God loves, it will lead us to amazing places.  It will lead us to want to expand that experience of love to others in ways they can grasp, interpret, and express.

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Replies to This Discussion

I hesitated to reply to this because I felt that my point of view was personal and I wasn’t trying to make liberal Meetings change. They were there before me, after all, and it’s not for me to make people see my way of thinking –especially since I don’t know what my philosophy is going to be in the future.   But I’ve decided I will answer your question with my personal perspective.

When I came to Friends, the liberal Meeting was perfect. It was non-denominational, non-religious, open, free, and still Society of Friends. I felt drawn to Friends and at that point my concept of Friends worked very well with this liberal approach.  However, one of the drawbacks to Quakerism is the practice of being still and listening for that still, small, voice that reveals your truth. As the years went by my truth became more Christian, more conservative, and Quaker in a way I had not anticipated.   These little openings would occur.

For example, I started reading Woolman, and realized how challenging it was for early Friends to step off the path, to swim against the tide. Not only did they live in a time when society’s pressures to conform were backed up with much more than just a look or a shrug, but their choices had real-life implications. For example, to be abolitionist in a time when slavery was the way of doing things meant either you had to work very hard or be wealthy enough to pay somebody to work for you.   To be Plain, to not take oaths, to practice plain speech and social interaction in those times had real political, economic, social, and even sometimes legal ramifications.  I asked myself, what makes me Quaker today? What do I chafe against? What struggles, what positions, what voices set us apart and off the well-worn path?

I was reintroduced to the bible by Friends here on Quaker Quaker and it spoke to me in ways it had never done before.  I began to embrace our testimonies as more than just a history lesson.  As this developed I felt the liberal Meeting wasn’t giving me what I needed.  Where I saw a place for every one and every thought with no pressure to conform in any way as a boon, now I see it less as a community, and more as a number of individuals who happen to be standing next to each other.

Please do not misunderstand me.  I don’t need for them to change. The Meeting is exactly as I’d found it.  However, I’ve changed and no longer fit as well.  Frankly if there was a conservative Meeting close by I’d attend there.  In fact I may well go to Bird In Hand where Quaker Jane told me some time ago there is a conservative Meeting.  They’re about 1 ½ hours away.

So maybe the answer is that liberal Meetings serve a purpose. They might be more of a conduit to Friends rather than an end point. Maybe that’s why they draw people in, but then the people do not stay. And maybe that is their purpose.

Well done. Your concerns mirror my own. I too have no answers as to why so many of those who show interest evaporate into the mists. Data would be interesting. What happens in other orthodoxies? A neighbor has recently taken up with Mormons. So far, even with periodic great misgivings, she sticks with it. The Mormons do a lot of very practical stuff for her and she feels she, on some level, 'owes' them and thus can accept some of the dogma she isn't comfortable with. This isn't a Quaker style to approach things and I think that is good.

In my own life I've become much more laissez-faire on many levels and this results in my not being very action-oriented on these matters. If one comes to meeting, sits among we who seek the Light while doing so oneself, and that doesn't connect or seem like enough, I simply don't know what to say that might incline that person to stay. I think it is indeed important to provide as receptive of a meeting as we can; but, in the final analysis, one's religious choices are one's own to make. Non-Quakers often see us as wishy-washy because we are not rife with dogma and rituals. Well, we indeed are wishy-washy on dogma and rituals but when it comes to justice, peace work, prison reform, and social agendas, the Quakers are anything but. Some notice this too and it may be our best recruiting activity for attracting new members. 

Last year, I did an informational table at ASU on a campus faith day. Basically, the college kids were a lot more interested in free pizza than any of the religious tables. My impression is that these kids have mostly written off religion from their lives as homophobic, hypocritical, anti-choice, and narrow-minded. That's what they hear around them and what many have, if fact, experienced. But, if those things are one's problem, wouldn't liberal Quakerism be fine place to explore? So I kind of came to thinking marketing may be our biggest challenge. 

We've been discussing at next year's faith day having a very short survey or the like to allow one to take a direct action with a targeted student walking by. As opposed to sitting at a table attempting to attract action by brain waves through the air which doesn't seem to work. This will allow us to collect some data (not sure what yet) on the questions, also force an interface with students and maybe collect some more data on the interfaces. Any suggestions on what data might be interesting to get at would be appreciated. I'm thinking pretty simple stuff like, 'Have you heard of Quakers or Friends?' or 'What's the first thing you think of when you hear "Quakers?"' I'm betting more think of pilgrims than William Penn. 

The small number of liberal Quakers continues to baffle me too. I intend to worry that question for some extended time.

Ken

Paula,

I think liberal Quaker meetings should be places where we all are united and enlivened by the living Spirit. It would be a sad situation if they truly are just way-stations for spiritual passers-by.

Christ-centered Friends have so much to offer their liberal Friends meetings. Any meeting should be thrilled to enjoy your presence. You have a perspective on Quaker faith and practice that could only add to the spirituality of the whole meeting community. Even Friends who are not Christ-centered need to realize that all liberal Quaker testimonies and theology are based on the teachings of Jesus that center on love and forgiveness. Some would even argue that Christianity's destiny was at first to become a universal religion.

I like to think that liberal Quakers have taken those originally Christian "testimonies" to the world - just not cloaked in the setting of Jewish history from which Jesus emerged. They really are universal truths. Should some liberal Friends find them more powerful and meaningful through the actual person of Jesus and the New Testament of the Bible, what could possibly be wrong with that?

I would hope that Friends like yourself would be willing to accept the mission of reminding liberal Friends of where our wonderful faith tradition came from.

Hello, Cotswold Quaker!

Sociologists call the tendency for power to become concentrated in the hands of a few "the iron law of oligarchy". This problem is especially acute in voluntary organizations.   As I recall, Elizabeth Isichei wrote about this phenomenon among English Friends in her book on Victorian Quakers: Oxford University Press, London, 1970.

 

Paula Roberts' response resonates with me. I have known many for whom liberal Quakers was a very helpful way station but for whom it ultimately did not work. This is not "the" reason for the turnover in attendance at liberal meetings, but it is a reason that is far from unique.

Howard Brod's response represents a typical liberal Friends' response to that - which misses the point. While it is very definitely not always the case that "Attempt to present nearly any theological perspective within your liberal Quaker meeting, and it will be welcomed with open arms." as Howard asserts (the more orthodox Christian the perspective, the less likely it will be welcomed with open arms, many Friends report from experience), in my personal case I remained very welcome in my liberal meeting, and most Friends genuinely seemed to want me to remain active there. I'm not saying that there aren't Christian Friends called to stay in liberal meetings, but for me it simply could not be my faith community. I felt led to withdraw from business of the meeting because my call to let Christ be the guide seemed fundamentally at odds with the consensus perspective of a liberal meeting. And I didn't feel that unprogrammed worship was the same as waiting worship, despite outward similarity. (One of the things I discovered when a small group of us formed a Christian worship group was that, consistent with Christ's promise, a gathered meeting should be the norm, not a rare blessing.) Eventually I left the meeting entirely.

I do think that one problem is the bureaucratization of Friends, although I don't fully unite with what Howard says about that. Modern Quaker procedure has become unduly time consuming and often boring. The modern Monthly Meeting experiment (my understanding is that the current concept of a meeting of the whole conducting all the business dates only from the late 19th century) has been a failure, IMHO.

I would recommend to all Friends that they spend some real time with other Christian churches - vital ones, not one of the many that are barely spiritually alive. What I found in doing that is that I gained tremendous perspective on Friends. I learned in a way that I couldn't have if I just remained with Friends both what some of the real strengths of Friends are and what some of the real weaknesses are. One of the things I discovered is that there can be Spirit-led corporate discernment by the body which doesn't look like typical Quaker process. And other churches sometimes do a far better job of distinguishing between those matters that need real corporate discernment by the body, and those (many of the implementation matters) that are best delegated to smaller bodies or individuals, understanding that this is to be done openly with opportunity for input by others in the congregation.

I do think that one issue with liberal Friends is that they often do not have a spiritual unity. While it is true that sometimes Friends are saying essentially the same thing with different vocabularies, in my experience often the different vocabularies actually express very different faith understandings. Without a common faith understanding, IMHO you lack the basis for either Friends worship or Friends business. You then have forms which look a lot like traditional Quaker ones, but the substance is not there. The result is something which in important ways is very like what early Friends objected to in the "apostate" church. And when you don't have a spiritual basis for unity, some other basis will take over - one normally not explicit, and often one that would be rejected if presented as a basis for the meeting. Liberal meetings sometimes seem to have a certain cultural basis for unity - white, liberal, educated, white collar, NPR listener, etc. This is not healthy.

I apologize if it is inappropriate for me to post here. I wasn't aware that this was in a "Liberal Quakers" group until after I posted, although it is in the fine print up top. It asked me to join the group before posting, but did not tell me what group I was joining and I just assumed that I wasn't logged into QuakerQuaker and that's why I got the message until I saw the email which welcomed me into the Liberal Quaker group.

As must be obvious from what I posted, I am not a Liberal Quaker and am not particularly sympathetic with Liberal Quakers.

I don't think there is any need to apologize, Bill. The question was asked -why aren't liberal Friends Meetings overflowing with seekers, and why do people seem to move away.  It is only reasonable that people who might have left should speak.  

Paula

Bill,

Your presence in this group is welcomed, and your comments were from your heart. I, for one, much appreciate them and enjoyed considering your personal experiences.

I originally came from a Christ centered perspective when I first started attending a liberal Quaker meeting 26 years ago. Although at times in those first few years I felt like an oddball in that meeting, I did always feel welcomed and listened to.

Eventually, I came to embrace a wider view of spirituality - mainly because the Friends in that liberal meeting acted more Christ-like than most Christians I had known my whole life. Yet, they did not proclaim they were Christians. I thought of Jesus' (or was it Paul's) words, "by their fruits you will know them". As a result I now see and experience transforming and immensely loving spiritual power everywhere I look.

The liberal meeting I am now a part of has a good number of Christ-centered Friends, and therefore there are Christian/biblically oriented messages during worship on occasion. There are also a number of Friends from other spiritual perspectives who use language they are comfortable with, as well as a few proclaimed atheists. The meeting embraces all of these wholeheartedly, seeking unity in the Spirit rather than unity of minds.

I feel and experience unity with them all because since there is that of God in all of them, how can I not.

I have only been a member of two quaker monthly meetings so Idon't know how most liberal meetings are.  The first meeting I attended I joined in spite of the lack of what most christians would consider a nurturing environment but at the time I had an excellent relationship with God through Jesus Christ, was very familiar with the Bible and had other Christians, including my wife, with whom I could felllowship and pray.  I saw in that meeting the coming and going of new attenders on a regular basis.  While there were attempts to provide spiritual nourishment through adult discussions, there was no question that the heart of the meeting was in social justice.  My wife and I left because we were not in the same place as the core of the meeting.  They treated us well but there just wasn't a unity of heart.

In my present meeting, I am much more in synch with the other members and the heart of the meeting is more spiritual than social justice though we actually are in a better position to and have used the resources of the new meeting in greater ways towards that end than my first meeting was able to.  In this meeting I am attempting to provide more supportive spiritual activities for the meeting and community in the hope that attenders will feel welcomed.  I also believe that God is generating a spirit of love among the members that the attenders can sense and it is hoped they will decide to stay.  It's too soon to say that this is successful.  As an aside, though the heart of the meeting is spiritual, the Christ centeredness of the meeting results in constantly looking to help anyone in need that we come across or who comes to our attention.  So far I have found there isn't that much interest in the Quaker community at large in spending time on spiritual matters, though there is such interest from the larger spiritual community.

So in short I think it's important that attenders feel welcomed into the meeting and that M & C make it a priority to determine what the meeting can do for the new attenders to help them mature at whateever stage of life they are in and then urge the meeting to prioritize events which will show the new attenders that the meeting has the ability to help them attain their goals.  To this end I think M &
C, or whatever name your meeting gives ministry and counsel, should consist of the most outgoing and discerning members of the meeting and not necessarily the most spiritual or weighty.  Those members should be saved for mentoring.

We often do have institutional problems with institutional solutions; but this is not what concerns me.

We are collectively in the position of the Pharisees under Jesus' criticism: ~"They stand at the door of the Kingdom, neither entering themselves nor letting anyone else in." (Some Pharisees of Jesus' day undoubtedly did make it in, and many Friends in our own -- but that criticism was not a blanket condemnation of individuals; it was pointing to a tendency.)

We may have taken "being Children of God" too much as a traditional phase, not enough as a metaphor. Don't we need to "become as little children," to actually be children before we can start to grow up as children of God? Instead we've been busy playing grown-up, trying to become God's employees... and is that truly what God wills for us? Good, competent people with strong administrative gifts... are not necessarily well cast in leadership roles, if the task is not to build a strong organization, but to bring ourselves home to God.

My wife, before she quit and rejoined the Episcopalians last year, responded to a query re what she wanted our Meeting to be: "A group of people in love with God and each other." I'm still coming to Meeting most weeks, but I'll stop for adult Sunday School at her church, feeling that this particular group is much closer to what she was asking for. I don't think many of our good friends at Meeting quite knew what she meant.

Friend Howard;

You raise many interesting points here, as do all the Friends who have commented. I agree that sometimes it seems that we focus too much attention on trying to maintain an institution for our own purposes rather than trying to be the transformed community the RSoF was founded to be. But for what church is this not also true? We may seem to be a peculiar people, and sometimes a plain people, but we are just people. Like any other church I imagine we inspire sometimes, bore sometimes, draw some people and chase away others, and are ofttimes unsure whether we aren’t even more asleep than the Friend next to us.

I came to Friends over a quarter century ago because this is where I believe God led me. I’ve stopped trying to figure out why. I am part of a Liberal Meeting but I feel spiritually aligned with Conservative Friends, and my best guess as to why I feel called to the RSoF may be that I am comfortable in both of these traditions and need to be in a place where that is O-K.

I heard a Friend recently repeat that tired old cliche that "Quakers don’t proselytize." Yes, I replied, and it may be on our tombstone someday. But so what if it is? Our purpose is not to keep an institution going but to follow the Spirit wheresoever it goes, isn’t it? And I believe the Spirit is still blowing new things in the world, in the Church, and in the Society of Friends. And besides, let’s face it, sometimes Quakers DO proselytize!

Maybe faith requires that Friends consider from time to time raising that old prayer of Monty Python: "And now, for something completely different." I hope we’re ready for it.

Thanks Randy for your insightful perspective.  I share much the same.

There's still no where I'd rather be when I'm not with my family than sitting in the worship room each Sunday with the other Friends at my liberal meeting.  It is there that I know I am accepted, loved, and supported as I travel on my spiritual path. I haven't found any other religious institution that speaks to me so profoundly as the liberal Quaker tradition.

I think with just a little effort at "airing out" our time-tested distinctives, liberal Friends can be poised to be a beacon that offers much to many yet undiscovered Quakers.

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"Up in Frederick, the Friends Church that meets at Friends School of Baltimore might be a good one…"
10th month 8
Dave Bishop replied to Olivia's discussion 'Hungry for more of the Jesus of the Quaker tradition?'
"That's a wonderful idea.  I have a friend from Kenya who fits that description (i.e. she…"
10th month 8
Olivia replied to Olivia's discussion 'Hungry for more of the Jesus of the Quaker tradition?'
"AS AN  UPDATE:  We are meeting on First Day/Sunday afternoons.   Our upcoming…"
10th month 4
Olivia replied to Olivia's discussion 'Hungry for more of the Jesus of the Quaker tradition?'
"Thanks, Mackenzie.  I've contacted you privately about details.  This sounds great,…"
10th month 4
Mackenzie replied to Olivia's discussion 'Hungry for more of the Jesus of the Quaker tradition?'
"Hi! I live in Maryland and currently am a member of Adelphi Friends. Let's connect, because I…"
10th month 4
Keith Saylor left a comment for Daniel O'Keefe
"Hello Daniel, Your comment is received in love and affection. It sometimes happens in human…"
10th month 3

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