Yesterday I attended 'Community - build it or break it?', tenth in a series of Dialogues organised by London Quaker's. 53 friends from across London gathered at Friends House to hear Catherine West and Nigel Norie speak about difficulties of finding ways of tackling inequality consistent with Quaker principles. We heard about initiatives such as the Islington Fairness Commission, North London Citizens and the Islington Youth Council. Catherine described Islington’s methods of tackling gang-based crime through restorative justice. The afternoon raised many more questions than it answered.

Nigel spoke of how, as a photographer, his camera was originally a way of maintaining distance from a community alien to him, before it became a way of making contact. Are we keeping others at arms length? Jesus said ‘the poor will always be with you’. Are the poor with us? Or, perhaps it is better to ask, are we with the poor? Do campaigning and charitable giving without building relationships perpetuate our separation from the dispossessed? Does it concern us that many of our Meeting Houses are in affluent areas? The issue of economics was so important to the early church that two members are struck dead for deceitfully withholding some of their resources from the group. What issues are so important to us that we would challenge someone’s membership of the Quaker community? Why do we not model the radical economics and intimate sharing of the early church?

Mark keeps a blog on Quakers and Community (http://qicil.org/)

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Comment by James C Schultz on 4th mo. 29, 2012 at 2:29pm

There's a lack of intimacy among the brethren.  I spent years trying to help someone but they only wanted help their way even though their way was to kill themselves.  I can only help a limited number of people.  I can't justify helping one person who is insistent on killing themselves at the expense of another who might actually have a chance at a better life.  It's the same with charitable organizations.  I bring people to organizations that are supposed to help people help themselves and I talk to the leaders of these organizations about what the person needs and I'm told the organization will work on helping the client do that but after years of observation it it apparent that they are only interested in serving as a baby sitting service and collecting money from the government or grants on a per capita basis.  How am I supposed to support such organizations?  I believe we have to assist our neighbor on a one to one basis if we want to help.  We have to take them fishing and not give them a fish.  Some things never change.

Our meeting houses might be in affluent areas but we don't all live in affluent areas.  Furthermore if a meeting house is in an area that limits it use maybe we should sell it and buy a place in a poor area.  Just a thought.

Comment by Mark Russ on 4th mo. 29, 2012 at 3:39pm

Thanks for your comment James. It brought these words of Thomas Kelly's to my mind - "Within the Fellowship emerges the special circle of a few on whom, for each of us, a particular emphasis of nearness has fallen... But the membership of such special groups is different and overlapping... The total effect, in a living Church, would be sufficient intersection of these bonds to form a supporting, carrying network of love for the whole of mankind".

Comment by James C Schultz on 4th mo. 29, 2012 at 4:52pm

Your blog got my attention.  So I posted my own.  I think this is a man of la mancha moment.

Comment by Forrest Curo on 4th mo. 29, 2012 at 5:20pm

San Francisco Meeting, a few years back, sold their beautiful Meeting House in a beautiful neighborhood & moved downtown to a building they share with the AFSC, right on the edge between ritzy & homeless. I don't know how many coming to Meeting actually stop to talk with those homeless folks on their doorstep, but this did always strike me as a good move, a sign of spiritual life at work among them....

We don't model ourselves on the Early Church because we ain't them! We can brag or deplore all we like, about that!

But to really be like that Church-- for the same right reasons that they found it natural-- We would need to take ourselves back before Pentecost. To await Power-- and wisdom-- from above.  To literally 'Do nothing till you hear from Me!'

"But what if...." "What about?..." Well, when you're faced with cases which are that clear, that Power is at work in them, and clearly calling! But what does it profit a man to figure out The Right Thing To Do-- if that wasn't what God really wants from him?

Comment by James C Schultz on 4th mo. 29, 2012 at 5:54pm

I have found that when I am in doubt about what God would have me do, I try to do that which is loving and against my natural instinct.  It's too easy to do nothing.  If Christ is in me I have to believe He wants to love through me.  That's not to say I don't often do nothing waiting for that extra confirmation or for God to make a wider way open.

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