Collective discipleship - challenge for Friends?

Some reflections which have been on my mind following a recent conference I was at. It was very encouraging in some ways - lots of bright enthusiastic folks - but it seemed to me that maybe we need to massively step up our Quaker education processes to get Meetings functioning enough to support their members to answer God's call to act on this and other issues! Lots of people seemed to have a disappointment and a lack of hope and energy for the collective dimension of Quaker life. That concerns me as I think the collective stuff is essential. I am not conviced we can live christian lives on our own. I think we need to be part of that wider group in fellowship and discernment. It's the collective element of our discernment that's meant to help stop us going right off the rails like Ranters, mistaking our own will for God's. Are we ready to get the collective discipleship thing started up again?

It's not as if the issues or the challenges of this time of ecological and financial crisis are entirely new - after all our movement was birthed in enormous civil upheaval. I believe God can lead us to answer the challenge of our times if we are ready to help each other respond. We have this whole kitbag of tools from Quaker tradition from journalling, working together in prayer, in listening worship, bible study together, to travelling ministers, ways that have been found to be reliable to learn about God's leadings, and ways of recording and responding to the needs of the poorest Friends. It's all there for us to use if we want to look for it.

Are we willing to go deeper into the life of Christ? One of the bible passages that came up during the weekend in worship was Luke 10. Jesus is instructing his disciples to go out spreading the word and calling others to join in it. "The harvest is ready but the labourers are few". That's my sense of where we might be as a church at this time. I believe there is a clear instruction for all of those who are able to act, and more all the time are laying down their conventional businesses and plans to work more and more for this vision of a future of peace and justice, or at least the survival of the human race, to come about.

It is for all of us to hear what our place is in the work whereby God reconciles us with the nonhuman world through God's pure goodness and grace. We might be called to support others in doing what they are called to, or in helping others to hear and obey what God asks of us. Or we might be called to start up some project in our free time. We might even be called ourselves to get free of our "day jobs" and go out to do God's work full time. It's what a church is for: helping its members hear and obey God's will for them. There are people around the world already doing these things and if we are prepared to learn how to be a people of God together, there is the potential for amazing things to happen. We don't know what the future holds, but we can be confident that God is beckoning us into it and that the potential is always present for peace and justice to break out when we live under God's guidance.

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Comment by C. Morningbear Cullimore Mercer on 11th mo. 5, 2009 at 1:31pm
I wonder if the American Experience of the Society of Friends, has thrown a lot of individualistic sentiment into the practice of Friends generally. I notice the African experience is that of Guerneyite principles modified by the American holiness movement. There is a lot of wistful talking about Friends testimonies, as long as they do not impinge on the community ideal.

Liberal Friends are declining in number, it seems, because of the introspection that does not reach out to people as they are. There are few long term liberal Friends that are of poor circumstances, poor educations or disordered either physically or mentally. These folks bring "heart" to the practice of the Society, something that the "head" folks manage to drive off in time. I recall one unprogrammed American meeting that refused to accept attenders from the local mental hospital because they felt the patients would be a risk to health and decorum.

Further, there is a tug of war with the status of seniors in meeting. Some meetings and churches nearly idolize their active seniors, which can stifle outreach to younger members more connected to secularism and technology and less to established structures. All decision making is deferred to the seniors even when they no longer sit on committees. I recall one senior of such stature who told me that if they could not attract new members they would have to close their doors. What the congregation offered was a time-honored routine that was not meeting the needs of their new attenders. Another meeting had this problem with the one senior member who presumed veto power. Finally, Ministry and Council, also of seniors of that generation, decided that doing the right thing was more important than one members comfort zone, again the issue was being open to the attendance of developmentally disabled people. That meeting has an active relationship with its developmentally disabled, capitalizing on the gifts they bring. On the other end of the scale, seniors are largely set dressing, feeling like they must beg meetings for attention and visitation when they are unable to get to worship. Such meetings may be growing but they are lacking proactive community toward members who are in decline.

These few things I have mentioned belie the universality of George Fox's and Jesus' ideals among Friends. We have high expectations of people that are convinced to be Friends. Most meetings ignore simple educational theory and expect attenders to "get it" via osmosis, slowly observing and participating in a practice they have a deep desire to understand. Not everyone is able to learn abstract concepts by seeing and hearing. Some learn by doing and touching, some learn through emotional connection. We expect attenders to get themselves up to speed without plumbing the depths or offering the tools they might need to do so. I was a "guessing" Friend for 15 years. I had my spiritual experiences that seem to fit the mold of Quakerism. Often, my questions were met with rolling eyes. Four years at Earlham School of Religion did the trick and I found a community that was open to convergent ideas, was Christ centered and accepting of the spiritual gifts and diversity of all that walk through the meetinghouse doors.

Then there are those Friends Churches that refuse to be considered Quakers. Don't get me started.

Enoough, already...


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