Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
Could you elaborate?
Times in the past when I've tried to get my Meeting to approach poorer (& darker) communities, their suggestions have gone more towards "Maybe we could put out a few flyers & pamphlets around the State College." Of various people I've met who I thought would be interested... One woman we'd met at a homeless sleep-out demonstration (She'd been doing some pretty effective leadership towards keeping the group organized & peaceful) was extremely interested until an after-meeting 'Sharing Circle' in which some really nice old Quaker women started talking about homelessness and poverty and what they thought caused it; the cheerful ignorance & prejudice they expressed hurt her pretty unexpectedly; she reacted much the way I've heard black people respond to things they've heard from white people who might have known better...
There was the general reaction to my suggestion (~1993?) that we put the Meeting House Fund into a fixable building in a poor neighborhood. The fact that we ended up making a[n extremely expensive] building a long ways from any such neighborhood -- owed at lot to the fact that a few years later we were offered free space sharing a local Church of the Brethern property -- but meanwhile we'd turned down at least two places in neighborhoods where Anne & I were living, out of a feeling that they weren't new & slick enough. (If we had to visit the baby Jesus in a stable, we might rather see some other baby in a suburban bedroom?)
I'd say the group was fairly welcoming to anyone who showed up to attend, but if such a person came in with a college degree and could answer "What do you do?" with some professional-level job, they might be welcomed with a little more enthusiasm.
I didn't at first understand what Anne used to say about "Quaker Smugness," but sometimes I certainly do!
(But I was hoping someone else might elaborate a little?)
This is a subject that can all too easily slip into accusations, despite my intention to keep things descriptive and causal instead.
We have a small membership of largely professional-class people, of all the genders we can manage to love and collect. We are typically charitable, probably unusually so. Many of us are emphatically Christian, the others purposefully ethical. Some of us bring sandwiches to homeless people, even talk to them with some genuine interest.
Why do we have so few poor members, outside of a scattering of us downwardly-mobile individuals? How much of this results from sheer resistance to change, a feeling that real Quakers listen to NPR and love Hillary?
When a member says "I'm less concerned about how many of these chairs we fill; what matters to me is that everyone sitting in them is a Quaker!" -- Is that only about wanting everyone there to accept the Peace Testimony? Does it reflect an semiconscious elitism of some sort? -- or the sort of "shyness" that comes of feeling that "Average people don't like us"? And why might they not?
Are we too happy with the pedestal we've been collectively relegated to?
Hello, Forrest! I had thought that I would give you some relief from my incessant rants, but this topic hit a nerve for me! I don't want to launch into a long discourse, but will offer a few observations and experiences.
In my younger years, I attended a mostly liberal meeting in a university town. I remember once being invited by a distinguished couple in the meeting to their home on Sunday evening for dessert. Much to my delight, they were serving strawberry shortcake. But when it was put on the table, there was no whipped cream to go with it. Instead, we had a sprinkling of powdered sugar as the topping. Clunk!!
I realized that I had grown up in a working-class family, where we enjoyed rich food. My hosts were upper-middle class and, true to their class folkways, shunned rich foods such as whipped cream in favor of a more genteel dash of confectioner's sugar. What is my point?
My point is that it is extremely difficult to remake a middle class person, church or set of folkways to appeal to lower class or working class people. Simply moving one's meeting place and/or posting notices at a discount grocery store won't be enough to conceal the affluent middle-class character of many Friends meetings! Anyway, one of the well-established findings in the sociology of religion is that religious groups tend very strongly to appeal to specialized social class and racial demographics.
A friend of mine told of a meeting exchanging visits with a black, expressive, working-class church. When some members of this church attended the meeting's unprogrammed worship, my friend asked one of the visitors what her reaction was. She commented: "pretty thin gruel!"
To really speak to the spiritual condition of "ordinary people," a thoroughly middle-class Friends meeting would need to refashion its basic identity and folkways. This would perhaps not be impossible, but it would be very unlikely to happen and very hard work!
Come to think of it, I recall one instance where such refashioning took place on a large scale, and many working class people were drawn in to Friends meetings. I am thinking of the adult schools started by British Friends. These were regular Sunday evening programs of adult education in British meetings. They flourished a century or more ago, and attracted many working class families. Before long, they incorporated programmed worship, including singing and pre-planned sermons. Young adult Friends committed to working with the lower classes became "missioners" in these meetings, and they were supported by a stipend. For many less venturesome Friends, the adult school movement portended programmed meetings of working class people, a development they found distinctly unappealing. When the great paradigm shift occurred among English Friends, beginning at Manchester in 1895, the adult schools were discouraged and lost Quaker support.
I have read that, despite adult schoolers being discouraged from becoming regular members of Friends meetings, many later British Friends traced their ancestry back to the adult school movement.
"Pretty thin gruel" has often been my own reaction to the spiritual fare at some Liberalist meetings I've attended. I'm not referring to the style of expression; and I wouldn't assume that a black church visitor was either.
When one of our frequently-absent Friends briefly returned to my meeting, the worship before a day devoted to ~'How do we want out meeting to continue in future?' (shortly after the completion of the new Meeting House) -- She gave a powerful Message about her own realization that God actually did forgive her (alleged) faults & misdeeds. I was strongly moved; so were several others who followed with equally candid and open messages.
This same young woman, when she'd first begun attending, had asked whether anyone would mind her bringing other people she considered suitable; she said she'd gotten a strong feeling that "you don't want anything about this meeting to change." I told her she shouldn't hesitate, but failed to notice a rush of confirmation or anything.
Something strong and good did come over the group that morning (particularly the visitors -- We have more than our share of Friends on their way elsewhere) -- but it quietly slipped away as we went into the planned activities after Meeting.
In Anne & my brief attendence at the nearby black church (one of those sites we later turned down for our Meeting House) I was struck by their strong, taken-for-granted faith (also noticeable in many of my meetings older, now dead members). Anne liked their music more than I did; we were both overwhelmed by a friendliness considerably more outgoing than that of Friends... and if I hadn't felt that accepting a repressive sexual creed and a somewhat oversimplified theology was part of the deal, if they'd had any significant periods of silence or room for any new light or insights, I think I would have preferred that group.
Is our "basic identity" our religious ideas and feelings? -- or is it our class status and manners? Where is our treasure? -- and is that, generally speaking, "pretty thin gruel" anymore?
Anne and I also spent several months of Saturdays visiting Philadelphia's Jewish Renewal Synagogue in Philadelphia (We were at Pendle Hill nearby at the time.) One thing we'd hear from the Rabbi, Marsha Praeger, was that northern European Reform synagogues had been strongly influenced in style & manner by the Protestant churches around them, hence they'd made their services more sedate, performer-audience rather than participatory --
but what we saw in her group (although the overall form of the service was fixed from ancient tradition) was a revolving service leadership with considerable freedom, flexibility, spontaneity, even excitement -- and a palpable (even to us) feeling of Spirit at work. This was an educated, liberal group who valued study, but were open to anyone's serious interpretation of that week's Torah reading.
If we saw more meetings living _from_ Quaker traditions that freely, perhaps the flavor and the nourishment might be stronger?
I agree with a lot that has been said by Bill. I'd add that, if we can't be hospitable to upper class, college-educated Republicans and libertarians, it is difficult to imagine that we could wholeheartedly welcome people without even - gasp - a bachelor's degree.
"Come to me, all ye who are heavy-laden with at least a Master's?"
Forrest and Adria could start a Quaker comedy act. They could be called "The Iconoclasts"!!
William Rushby, thee and I make a pretty good team if you think about it.
On all sides I see Quakers whose real religion is Democratism or Republicanism or Libertarianism...
and while I don't consider radicalism to be my religion, it is certainly the only secular stance that seems even halfway tenable to me...
but if we were actually Christians, and particularly Quakers, it seems to me that we should not only be able to sit down together and welcome each other -- but put our mere political differences up for the Spirit to settle.
And if that is not possible, isn't this a rather sad comedy?
Quaker worship style is not for everyone. It's for the quiet, the introverted and in a way the more intelligent (them being more skeptical w.r.t. to emotional impulses).
That said, Quakers should at first concentrate on keeping their members, even if they get impoverished/declassed. Why not develop a program "How to cope with impoverishment/declassment"? That would allow you to debate the poverty problem isolated from secondary culture/mentality aspects. You mustn't lose your impoverished members - they are the bridge to the poor.
As for the culture/mentality aspect: In poor or in black communities there's always a minority who is unhappy, a minority who would prefer a more quiet, more introverted, less emotional and more intellectual challenging surroundings. Why not outreach to this minority in particular? "You feel that you are odd - too quiet, too introverted, to "soft" to be in tone with your family or peers? Then try us!"