Anarchic Harmony: Toward a creatively evolutionary Quaker organizational structure

I am in a reading group that recently finished up a book on the “dones” by Josh Packard and Ashleigh Hope - Church Refugees: Sociologists reveal why people are DONE with churc.... The authors surveyed people from across the U.S. that have left the church and found some striking commonalities in their responses. One of those key areas has to do with a phenomenon well-described by Ryan Frame as “sacrificing community for the sake of the institution.” This is a particularly timely consideration for Friends in light of the recent schism in Indiana Yearly Meeting and the ongoing struggles in North Carolina and Northwest Yearly Meetings. 

The book and the yearly meeting arguments have led me to re-visit a workshop I presented at the 2012 ESR Spirituality Gathering on the evolution of Quaker organizational structure. The workshop was intended to serve as one effort to work out some of the practical organizational implications of Phil Gulley’s book, The Evolution of Faith.

My sense is that these books and the yearly meeting situations are interconnected. We may be in the midst of a painful confrontation between existing organizational structures and assumptions and new or differing approaches that may better fit the realities of faith in 21st century America. 

If we are open to the idea of our faith communities adapting to better meet the needs of today, then we need to be intentional about the process. For those concerned about evolution, it can mean the loss of history and identity. For those drawn to evolution, it can mean positive progress. Neither necessarily represents the whole truth. A better understanding of evolution is on the one hand building on (rather than abandoning) what has come before, and on the other hand an experimental process that sometimes ends in unexpected outcomes or even failure.  But if we can’t risk the possibility of failure we also can’t risk the possibility of new growth and insight that might be absolutely what we need to survive and thrive. 

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Comment by James C Schultz on 9th mo. 22, 2015 at 11:57am

I'm just not sure that the present "realities of faith" are anything more than just a lack of "faith" or maybe just a lack of time for "faith".  "Church time" is just not a priority in our "more" civilized societies that socialize around sporting events and entertainment media and only pray when someone close is in danger of dying.  If Church was a place where the presence of God could be found in answered prayer and/or love, attendance would not be a problem.  Organizational matters are only necessary when local communities are growing and need organization to provide guidelines for orderly growth.  If there's no growth you can cut back on the organizational structure.  In other words, Organizational structure doesn't create growth.  Growth creates the need for organizational structure.

Comment by Matt on 9th mo. 22, 2015 at 12:05pm

I'm actually not that pessimistic about faith lives, but I do think (especially after reading Packard and Hope's research) that structure can play a role in driving people who want to be part of a faith community away from congregational life. Attracting people in to structures that too often lead to negative outcomes will only lead to as active an exit as an entrance. 

Comment by Kirby Urner on 9th mo. 22, 2015 at 12:39pm

Every meeting / church / temple has its regional history of course.  NPYM Quakers in Portland owe a lot to entrepreneurial non-Quakers, first generation Silicon Forest.  Our Leeds Platinum building (thanks to the remodel) was originally from Electro-scientific Inc. which got it from Jantzen swimwear... (the main idea was to give AFSC shelter and a platform for anti-militarism, with Oregon to this day way low on the totem pole of defense contractors (which is "way high" as in "high five" for us Quakers). Silicon Forest has always prided itself on its focus on civilian / peaceful uses of technology, with Intel happily based in Hanoi, not just Texas.

Anyway, for our branch of Meeting to remain relevant it cannot afford to get "too quaint" i.e. a creaky floor and cranky furnace may be charming to a point, but we also want amplification with headsets, WiFi, and our committees need listservs and wikis (we have all this).  Take away our technology and you'll lose a whole cast of oldsters who like tinkering at the Yearly level with MySQL + PHP. 

In sum, Quakers minus LAMP stack = non-viable in Silicon Forest (because too Luddite seeming).  One of my biggest concerns about Philadelphia Friends in Friends Center is how much they use Windows relative to Ubuntu.  That tells me more about the future of what I call "East Coast Quakerism" than maybe anything.  The Republic of South Africa (RSA) is more where it's at (our family was active there for many years, a family HQS in Lesotho).


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