Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
Many talked about their need to belong to two congregations. I have belonged to one in my childhood and young adulthood. I left it when I no longer could embrace the tenets of their theology. It took me ten years of attending Friends' meetings before I felt I could ask for membership. I wanted to be clear with myself, the Religious Society of Friends and God, that I could embrace the teachings of George Fox, the tenets of the theology that has grown since then, and the commitment to support the meeting and its outreach. There is no pastorate, no hierarchy. I would be on my own as one of its preachers and/or "missionaries" or activists. And, it was clear that I was expected to belong to the local, regional and yearly meetings. I also had to search my soul about the peace testimony. I had served--for good reasons, I thought when I was young and naive--in the military and I didn't know what I would do if my home were threatened. For the past forty years, I have lived a full and active life, attempting to learn, to deepen my spiritual life and helping others to do so, trying at all times to center myself in the Spirit. I have at all times, put Meeting for Worship as the first thing on my calendar, ministry and counsel of the whole as the second. People around me and at my job learned that. As much as possible (which when I really tried was more than I might have thought) attempted to keep my and our children's schedules empty on First Day of secular activities, sometimes when I was under a great deal of pressure in my job, even sacred activities except Meeting for Worship. This happened once for job related reasons, once for personal reasons. I simply needed more of what Howard Brinton called "retirement time." In each case, I discussed the situation and my need to rest with ministry and council. What a support that was! In all of this, I couldn't possibly have been a faithful member of a second congregation! The one I was to which I was faithful took my time and energy. When I needed more quiet, I sat with a Zen group that met nearby once a week. I talked with the leader and told him what I was needing and he welcomed me. He knew that I was not going to be doing other things with the group. I never said I was a member of Falling Leaf Sangha; I only sat zazen with the group. I am trying to understand my amazement at someone's wanting to belong to two congregations--congregations are social--not the Spirit itself. I find fully participating in many organizations drains my time and energy. Furthermore, if Friends have laid down the laity and we are all pastors, it dominates my time, enriches my life. Forty years of faithfulness has deepened my faith. I thought young people were so busy! How do they have time to be faithful members of two congregations? Is something important changing that I don't know about? Please enlighten me. I want to be part of this world, too.
Sharon, I completely agree with you.
While I feel that I can interact with, and have deep relationships with other meetings and members of other meetings, as one invests oneself in the community of a meeting, there is a vortex effect that continues to draw one in. This is not a bad thing, as long as one sets proper boundaries. For me, this is why my decision as to which meeting I choose to become a member of is so critical. The emotional, spiritual, and temporal investment that one can make is significant, and in the end the purpose of religion is to support and enrich a ones understanding and practice of their beliefs.
So while I can see that a person may find the need or desire to transfer ones membership, to belong to two meetings to me would be a dilution of my experience, not an enhancement. The opportunity to broaden ones investment is available by participation at the regional or yearly level. If one is considering a transition, I see sojourning as a more valuable method, both to the member, and to both communities.
Times are a-changin' in the Church, Sharon and not just with young people. Many people who are looking for something different that their churches are not offering are finding expressions in multiple places. It's not uncommon to hear of someone who may attend a house church as well as a traditional church or for someone to be involved in a parachurch ministry and hold membership in a traditional church. People are not getting what they desire from one church and are going to different churches to fill a void. Maybe the traditional church doesn't do much outreach, so people will find a way to do that and attend their church's services.
The appeal of the traditional view of membership and dedication to one church has changed and one thing that contributes to the change is that people are not drawn to a dogmatic group that attempts to dictate to them every area of their life but offers little in the way of real answers to their questions. Many are fed up with the demands of membership and the non-inclusiveness of some churches. Thus, they involve themselves in more than one ministry to meet their various needs or interests. People are not necessarily seeing or feeling the whole idea of allegiance to one group as a must. It seems for some, it's more about affinity and it's possible for them to have an affinity with more than one group.
A consumerist mindset may also be driving this. We live in a society where there are lots of choices and the Church has probably just become another area of life in which people have a choice. They can go to church A for the music, church B for a social program and church C for something else. I think a lot of people are turning their focus away from devotion to a church (or institution, as they see it) and more to devotion to Christ and they don't necessarily feel that is diluted by going to multiple churches. It's an authentic relationship with Christ that they seek and if it can be found in multiple places, so be it.
I quite agree with the earlier comment about boundaries... Some meetings have clear boundaries (matters of confidentiality and clarity, for example.) I struggled in one meeting because there were few boundaries and little discipline -- things I expect in a spiritual community.
After years of attending a mid-week meeting, I gradually moved into a new community, leaving the other with some regret and leaving close Friends in a difficult situation ...Thankfully, boundaries are very clear in the second community. Friends remind each other.
However, there is another challenge ... and that has to do with "too many opportunities". The yearly meeting to which I belong has many, many activities. If I am to be faithful to my home community, there just isn't the time to devote to both the local, regional and yearly meeting. I'm often torn, but have made my choice to "stay local" as much as possible.
Our center should not be in a particular meeting or church, but in God. We are each unique, and God relates to us as we are. I think being faithful for most people is going to mean being deeply involved with just one congregation (at least at a time), but for some that may not be their call, at least at a particular time of life.
I appreciate that splitting time among different faith groups and moving frequently from one to another is often a reflection of the consumerism in our society, and not healthy. But we don't properly deal with this by formal restrictions, but by a deeper walk with Christ, our Living Teacher who can show us the way. We should not be seeking to follow some idealized path, or the way of a particular tradition, but to live in such unity with the Spirit that everything we do and say is guided by that Spirit.
I did not see the original writing you're referring to, so I cannot speak to it. The world I live in, however, is exponentially more mobile than in the past. Celebration, lamentation, and daily life attuned to the Living Spirit is a local matter, but seeking, discernment and the conversion of manners of daily life grows in close, mutual relationships. When those people move frequently, I find the best testing and maturing of my discernment among people who are scattered. This mobility not only reshapes or disrupts long-term relationships, but is imposing pluralism in more tangible ways. The Vietnamese and Cambodians discovered that regardless of the intention, peace actions by singular religions or ethnic groups, no matter how impressive, did not result in a more peaceful community, but peace actions by groups that combined people of various faiths and ethnic backgrounds had significant results in the community. There may be a struggle going on to pluralize our religious lives without watering them down so far there's nothing left.
I appreciate this question and feel a great deal of resonance with Pat's words.
1) "people are not drawn to a dogmatic group that attempts to dictate to them every area of their life but offers little in the way of real answers to their questions. "
and 2) "A consumerist mindset may also be driving this. "
I ended up feeling like a Poster Child for what she and Bill Samuels are talking about. Here's how this developed in my case:
I fell terribly in love with the Quakers when first discovering them, then gradually found that the meeting included people who felt more awkward or uncomfortable with Christianity than I did and were having knee-jerk reactions to what I said when led to speak. Later after a move out of state and looking for a new meeting, I found that the one Friends meeting I felt most kinship with was not accessible to me (no car and they weren't on mass transit line). Now that I knew where I felt at home, I needed to come up with some other place to be instead. A fascinating spiritual fact, when it happens. We sometimes can think we are "supposed" to be at the place that we feel fits, or are supposed to look for it.
God didn't work it out for me to go where I felt most at home. So I spent about 10 years (!) exploring various solutions -- tried other Friends Meetings, and a zillion more "Christian" solutions including Lutherans, Episcopalians, Methodists, and Catholics. Stayed in some for up to a year. I never felt permanently encouraged to stay either from internal or external sources. I never felt like they needed me there or God needed me there (or I needed it).
At one point it occurred to me that among the Quakers I had felt too Christian but among the Christians I felt too Quaker. Through the 10 year process God seems to have resolved the conflict for me:
-- kept showing me that I was a Quaker and would NOT let me find any other solution that satisfied,
-- gave me some health I'd been lacking that really remedied my own spiritual perspective and what I felt able to take on in the world around me,
-- gave me a sense ultimately that I should just go back to the Quakers and be myself. I was no longer looking for the right church or meeting, I was now BEING the right space for myself (definitely the opposite of the consumer message).
I returned to a nearby Friends Meeting with a determination to enjoy them "as they are" and a little bit of a punchy feeling that they were just going to have to deal with me, like it or not. I found over time that they actually have room for me just as I am and are glad to hear my perspective. I wouldn't have realized this years ago -- had looked elsewhere without a thought of bringing myself and my needs fully into that previous community.
Maybe as consumers we learn to be better at shopping around than at being ourselves. We shop before we just be ourselves....not thinking to do that until later.
An Amish person I met a few years ago mentioned that in order to love (and forgive) others, we first need to love (and forgive) ourselves for many shortcomings... The rest, he assured me, would come in God's time, and so it has.
After 20 years in one community, trying to go with the flow, the discordant notes (not just with me but with others) impeded the joy I feel now... There isn't much I can do except to work on love and forgiveness daily, and pray for others. It could well be that I've learned to forgive myself... but for some (Friends included), this can be a very hard thing to do... Howard Thurman wrote that sometimes angers define who we are, and we fear to let it go... and leave the healing to God's own time.