Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
What I find refreshingly "new" in Quakerism (well-established by now) is a mode of corporate self governance designed around the concepts of managing a business, a shared enterprise.
A monthly Business Meeting is deliberately kept open to involvement by the whole community and treasures transparency in its doings, as manifest by the meticulously recorded, agreed to, and archived Minutes of each meeting.
A Nominating Committee fills a Slate of Characters, the cast of a play, while Friends enter and exit, going back stage to dress up in different costumes and to come out in new roles.
I was AFSC rep from NPYM to AFSC, flying to Philadelphia every year. Now I'm on NPYM's IT Committee, scoping out the latest relevant technologies. Who knows what I'll be doing next, the play is always changing. Quakerism is dynamic and unpredictable, yet manages to stay around.
No full time pastor-managers need apply in this model business, as this is a DYI (do-it-yourself) apparatus. We grow in our practice precisely through the undertaking of a business together.
We afford ourselves the opportunity to put our faith into practice by co-steering a Monthly Meeting, sometimes a multi-million dollar affair, with lots of moving parts. No one clerk has oversight over all of it and indeed it takes a whole committee of Overseers to keep a sense of the bigger picture.
In a 1790s context we'd have a fleet of Quaker businesses running alongside the Monthly Meeting, accepting guidance from the Mother Ship in a project to build God's Kingdom, a workers paradise with health care and education for all, including the weak and the injured. These businesses made iron and steel, designed ships, ran railroads. For the most part, they stayed out of making armaments, though one of the original ship designers for the US Navy was a Quaker.
That being said, I'm not entirely partial to 1600s Anglo-centric monotheistic jargon, always mixed up with monarchic tropes, with Jesus a King on a Throne and other such anachronistic imagery. "A Mighty Fortress is Our God" is too redolent with imperialistic metaphors to generate much beyond irony in my personal sensory apparatus, when I hear Friends sing it. If I'm in a room of Quakers singing about their Mighty Fortress, then I'll make sure to make a point of mentally picturing said fortress as essentially a tetrahedron, just to make sure I don't succumb to the prevailing four square orthodoxy. Yes, I'm getting esoteric; my transcendentalism is showing through, adding spice to a bland English flavor.
But then of course I realize historical accuracy was never the goal in billboard-style PR. People look for the punchy image and Jesus on a Throne made emotional sense. Logos takes a back seat to pathos and even bathos sometimes. Madison Avenue had its previous incarnations too (speaking of corporate personhood).
I would not call myself Anglo-phobic however (unlike Lyndon LaRouche, another famous Quaker heritage guy lets not forget -- seems we give all the attention to Richard Nixon). I was immersed in Junior English School of Rome and did 3rd grade as First Forum (or was it Form?). I wore a blazer and developed a reasonably practiced British accent (which was about the time my parents thought a more International School might be better, so Overseas School of Rome for the next five years).
What we offer the general public, as Quakers, unlike those other religious establishments up and down the street, is a chance to jump in and become Assistant Treasurer or maybe Clerk of Communications Committee. Suppose you're already a super-duper bookkeeper, like my wife was. She got to jump in and contribute skills.
Meetings stand to benefit in allowing themselves to be steered by willing outsiders happy to jump in and then maybe jump out again. Are we lessened by such lone ranger folk? On the contrary, many an Italian peninsular city-state saw the wisdom in bringing in outside talent. Local Mafia i.e. old feuds between families, would get short-circuited thanks to the "new blood". Quakerism is no less intelligent, about allowing for turnover at all levels, according to the Good Order of Friends.
My goal, therefore, is to make sure Quaker Meetings (at the Monthly level especially) stay self-documenting enough that the newcomers will be able to play the game as equals, in terms of knowing the rules i.e. process.
The more experienced Friends will often still have a stronger hand, as that tends to come with seniority simply for having played more roles and seen the action from more angles. However, young fresh talent will find willing allies in the older Friends (the Elders and Overseers) and before ya know it, we have a twenty-something on Oversight.
That we provide such pragmatic opportunities to practice one's faith communicates volumes to other twenty-somethings, about how Quakers do business. We like how that sets us apart, makes us proud of our brand.
Of course worship is what holds it together. People left to their own egotism are for the most part too immature and inept to actually play such a game with decorum. The whole play falls apart minus a sense of cooperation through corporate discernment of God's will. Minus any sense of the transcendent, the stars peel off for more promising ventures. Old story. Religions come and go.
But Quakers have been at it for close to four centuries and have a lot of organizational memory regarding how to not come unglued. Yes, we use religious language to express this side of our practice and those more theologically-minded are welcome to wax cosmic in their humble ministries. Jesus called us to be Friends, not servants or groveling sycophants. We're Friends who do business together, advancing God's Will even in this life before another after. The "Kingdom" of Heaven is here, were we only less ignorant of our good fortune.