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

Thank you all, Friends, for a wonderful and deeply thoughtful conversation. I have been a Quaker for about 24 years, and been an attender or member of several meetings and now a new, unofficial worship group. Here are a few things that jumped out for me:

Bill Samuel wrote:

(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.)

This is how our new worship group is operating: We are coming, expecting to be transformed by God. For us, too, a gathered meeting is the norm. That expectation makes all the difference in the world. When Friends are united in purpose, focused on the Divine, God replies.

This, I believe, is what Friends have lost. Many liberal Friends treat the meeting as a meditation club. Even my agnostic husband asks about atheist and agnostic Friends, "If you are atheist, what are you worshipping in Meeting for Worship?"

Howard responded to Bill:

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.

I came to Friends from the opposite direction: as a frightened agnostic who had been having feelings that could only be called "spiritual." Local Friends were loving and nurturing towards me, offering the spiritual hospitality that Friends at their best do very, very well. It took me awhile to become comfortable with the name "God," and I continued to be strictly "liberal," until I became exposed only recently to Christian Friends through this website and through workshops at the FGC Gathering.

Like Paula Roberts, I have become more conservative; like Howard, I now "see and experience transforming and immensely loving spiritual power" all around me. That made me unpopular with some local liberal Friends, who want only what Forrest Curo wrote: "They stand at the door of the Kingdom, neither entering themselves nor letting anyone else in."  Nevertheless, I believe that if I were to return to the city where my original meeting is, I would find it every bit as nurturing as it was 20+ years ago. At the moment, the quality of the individual meeting still makes the difference between creating new Friends or driving seekers away. And spiritual hospitality is what makes newly arrived seekers into Friends.

And that's where your most recent comments come in and resonate with me, Howard, where you wrote about your 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.

Locally, I now meet with Friends from two different traditions and three different yearly meetings. I think we all fall into the liberal-to-Christian continuum of unprogrammed Friends, but as long as we meet expecting to be transformed, and practice spiritual hospitality, we will be doing something special for God and for the world.

Love to you all, dear Friends.

Paula,

You have so beautifully described the best of liberal Quakers, and why we must answer the call to ensure this wonderful faith tradition is allowed to live into the future.  It really is bringing the spirituality of Jesus to the world in a universalist fashion. Many would not hear his message if it weren't for our willingness to offer it without strings.  I have come to know in my heart that this universalist offering of Jesus' message was perhaps his own hope for humankind.

Liberal Quakers are positioned to be God's tool for reaching a great number of persons, because of our emphasis on Jesus' teachings over Christianity per se.  I do believe he is with us, as are all who have ever lived in the Light of love and forgiveness.

A few responses:

Paula, your journey is my journey.  I come from a Buddhist background and my Meeting was open, welcoming, and in every way a perfect fit.  And, like you, as I began to explore the Quaker tradition I became more and more attracted to a traditional Quaker view; more explicitly Christian, more Bible centered.  And, like you, because of my own experience, I don't want my Meeting to change, even though I have.  There is a spaciousness that I really admire.  But, honestly, I do at times long for a more explicit embrace of the Christian basis for Quaker Faith and Practice.

 

Howard, it has been my experience that every religious or spiritual group experiences this pattern of having large numbers of visitors, with only a small percentage of people returning, and an even smaller percentage actually becoming committed.  I think it is helpful to keep this in mind.  People who drop by a Quaker Meeting resemble people who drop by any other spiritual group.  I was involved with Buddhism for a long time and the percentage of people who actually become practitioners is soemthing like 2%: that would be 2 out of 100 visitors.  I think that's about right across the board. 

 

The other thing I would like to suggest is that I think Liberal Quakers (and perhaps Quakers in general) underestimate how intimidating sitting in silence for an hour can be for most people.  I think most people experience it as unnatural.  If someone comes to a Quaker Meeting and has never had any kind of practice with silence before, their experience can be overwhelming -- the mind races on, or it is bored, or it starts thinking about all the constructive things it could be doing this hour, or etc.  I really believe that Quakers need to develop at way of introducing newcomers into this practice that recognizes how difficult it is for many people.  I'm not sure what form this would take, but I think it is an important focus.

 

Jim

Thanks, Jim. I think you've pretty well nailed it.

Ken

Jim Wilson said:

A few responses:

Paula, your journey is my journey.  I come from a Buddhist background and my Meeting was open, welcoming, and in every way a perfect fit.  And, like you, as I began to explore the Quaker tradition I became more and more attracted to a traditional Quaker view; more explicitly Christian, more Bible centered.  And, like you, because of my own experience, I don't want my Meeting to change, even though I have.  There is a spaciousness that I really admire.  But, honestly, I do at times long for a more explicit embrace of the Christian basis for Quaker Faith and Practice.

 

Howard, it has been my experience that every religious or spiritual group experiences this pattern of having large numbers of visitors, with only a small percentage of people returning, and an even smaller percentage actually becoming committed.  I think it is helpful to keep this in mind.  People who drop by a Quaker Meeting resemble people who drop by any other spiritual group.  I was involved with Buddhism for a long time and the percentage of people who actually become practitioners is soemthing like 2%: that would be 2 out of 100 visitors.  I think that's about right across the board. 

 

The other thing I would like to suggest is that I think Liberal Quakers (and perhaps Quakers in general) underestimate how intimidating sitting in silence for an hour can be for most people.  I think most people experience it as unnatural.  If someone comes to a Quaker Meeting and has never had any kind of practice with silence before, their experience can be overwhelming -- the mind races on, or it is bored, or it starts thinking about all the constructive things it could be doing this hour, or etc.  I really believe that Quakers need to develop at way of introducing newcomers into this practice that recognizes how difficult it is for many people.  I'm not sure what form this would take, but I think it is an important focus.

 

Jim

Interesting points, Jim. 

You made me think of a small pamphlet that my meeting provides visitors.  It was written 12 years ago the M&O committee.  You and others may find it useful to reprint.  I provide it here in pdf format.

 

Attachments:

I've been hesitant to join in on this discussion for fear of getting too harsh and offending.

I am one of those liberal Friends who, for the last several years, has been on the brink of leaving - and I helped establish my current meeting. I've also done outreach to seekers who have left.

I also have developed deep F/friendships and worshiped with members of the Local Friends church.

So there you have my biases.

Our wide acceptance of people does attract many seekers, but it will only hold a small percentage. When I've spoken to those who have moved on, the most common response is that they wanted to move deeper into their faith exploration, but that the meeting was either uninterested or was uncomfortable with it.

When I sit on clearness committees for membership, people speak of wanting to be in a community of like minded people who share their values. When asked about their personal spiritual practice, most don't have a response.

About 2 years ago, I attended a Quaker spiritual retreat that drew from multiple meetings (liberal and evangelical) over a 2 state area. When the group was asked "why are you here?", every single liberal (and all were long time Friends) said, "because I need something more and my meeting doesn't get it."

In a nutshell, we accept people where they are, but we leave it at that. In my experience, we not very good at sharing our faith with one another, about nurturing spiritual growth or about gently challenging each other to take the next step in the Light.

Re:  "because I need something more and my meeting doesn't get it."

In a nutshell.  I just don't know whether they can or that they should change.  Like I said; maybe the purpose of the Liberal meeting is this very role they're fulfilling.   

Paula

Dear Friends:

An additional observation stimulated by the posts on this thread:  James Schultz noted that his current meeting has a greater focus on spirituality than on social justice.  And others have mentioned that there is a yearning for 'something more'.  It is my view that Quakers in general, and Liberal Quakers maybe more than others (though my experience is not broad) have become so wrapped up in various causes and social movements that this has pushed a spiritual focus to the margins.  In other words, I think the activist focus among Quakers has made it difficult for people to receive spiritual nourishment.  Not impossible, but the activist focus is, in my opinion, an obstacle.

One of the reasons why new people might not return, or only become now-and-then attenders, is this activist focus.  If discussions at Quaker Meetings consist mostly of political issues of the moment, that is not a strong draw for people because you can have a political discussion at any time, anywhere, you can do it online by going to huffingtonpost or other very numerous locations.  In contrast, finding others who have a spiritual focus is rare and difficult to find.

I don't think the current immersion of Quakers in activism and politics is unique; it is simply what is going on in American religion at this time.  Such a political focus mimics what is happening in most American denominations and religious groups from Catholicism to Baptists.  And that is, for me, what is so frustrating about American religion today.  The hunger for 'something more' that several posters have referred to is a hunger I have heard from my Catholic friends who have to endure various political harangues from the pulpit when what they really want to do is enter into the mystery of the mass.  As a Quaker I want to dive deeply into the meaning of gathered silence and worship, but this does not happen when the focus is on legislation or political campaigns.

I'm not sure how a spiritual focus can be recovered.  It is my view that the resources exist in the Quaker tradition for such a recovery (that's why I spend so much time with the 'Guide to True Peace').  But my sense is that the current focus on politics has not, as yet, run its course.  I do believe, however, that this has been, ultimately, damaging for American religion, but that is a perspective that is not shared by most.

Jim

Jim, I think your post shows a great deal of insight.  I had never thought of it this way but as I read your submission it spoke to me.  I think this is precisely what's going on.

Early Friends were led to certain positions (such as abolition) by their faith. They did not come together to become abolitionists, but their understanding of their covenant dictated that it was wrong to own another human being. Current Friends in your scenario are/were drawn to Friends for their politics and perhaps faith second or if at all.   Wow, that's brilliant!  

This past Meeting I was turned off by a letter read to Meeting from another Meeting on its position on gun violence.  It was read at the rise and I felt like walking out.  Friends have beliefs about peace that come from faith, Friends do not have beliefs on gun violence.  It's too bad really that this was how we ended Meeting. In that same silence we had testimony from another where she talked about the song "We are climbing Jacob's ladder" and I felt that song through me, and felt how powerful it would have been had we sung it. 

Paula

I understand what you're saying. I've had this discussion with many Friends.

Liberal Friends as well as Liberation Theology were my path back into religion. I don't want that function to change.

However, if we are concerned about and want to stop the revolving door, change, or perhaps evolution, needs to happen.

I don't like 'either/or '. I think God expects 'both/and'.

Paula Roberts said:

Re:  "because I need something more and my meeting doesn't get it."

In a nutshell.  I just don't know whether they can or that they should change.  Like I said; maybe the purpose of the Liberal meeting is this very role they're fulfilling.   

Paula

Our testimonies, Quaker process and even unprogrammed worship have become our golden calf. We forget that there is Something More behind them.

In his blog on 3/19/13. Wes Daniels wrote "Quakerism is open to all people, but it isn't whatever you want it to be."

I don't have a clear answer, but I do agree with you. If we look back at our own roots, we'll find a wealth of wisdom.

Jim Wilson said:

Dear Friends:

An additional observation stimulated by the posts on this thread:  James Schultz noted that his current meeting has a greater focus on spirituality than on social justice.  And others have mentioned that there is a yearning for 'something more'.  It is my view that Quakers in general, and Liberal Quakers maybe more than others (though my experience is not broad) have become so wrapped up in various causes and social movements that this has pushed a spiritual focus to the margins.  In other words, I think the activist focus among Quakers has made it difficult for people to receive spiritual nourishment.  Not impossible, but the activist focus is, in my opinion, an obstacle.

One of the reasons why new people might not return, or only become now-and-then attenders, is this activist focus.  If discussions at Quaker Meetings consist mostly of political issues of the moment, that is not a strong draw for people because you can have a political discussion at any time, anywhere, you can do it online by going to huffingtonpost or other very numerous locations.  In contrast, finding others who have a spiritual focus is rare and difficult to find.

I don't think the current immersion of Quakers in activism and politics is unique; it is simply what is going on in American religion at this time.  Such a political focus mimics what is happening in most American denominations and religious groups from Catholicism to Baptists.  And that is, for me, what is so frustrating about American religion today.  The hunger for 'something more' that several posters have referred to is a hunger I have heard from my Catholic friends who have to endure various political harangues from the pulpit when what they really want to do is enter into the mystery of the mass.  As a Quaker I want to dive deeply into the meaning of gathered silence and worship, but this does not happen when the focus is on legislation or political campaigns.

I'm not sure how a spiritual focus can be recovered.  It is my view that the resources exist in the Quaker tradition for such a recovery (that's why I spend so much time with the 'Guide to True Peace').  But my sense is that the current focus on politics has not, as yet, run its course.  I do believe, however, that this has been, ultimately, damaging for American religion, but that is a perspective that is not shared by most.

Jim

All these Friends speak my mind!

 

I think our traditional involvement in peace and justice issues is important and important to us spiritually.  I don't want us to ignore it.  But I agree that our Meetings should be places where our focus is on growing in faithfullness and listening to Christ in the midst...

 

But I can see how there can be role in our larger Quaker gatherings for like-minded Friends to gather on peace and justice work.  I can understand how we might turn off newcomers to our Meetings if all we seem to talk about are social issues.  Spirit first, then where the Spirit doth lead...

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