Monday, October 26, 2015

Growing New Quakers; Re-energizing Old Ones

Nearly all spiritual denominations wrestle with the questions of gaining and retaining followers.  Our small group, like many, must deal with attrition due to personality or theology conflicts, health issues, or simply people moving away.

What about us Quakers? How do we encourage others to embrace, or simply sample, our way of worshiping? One idea is have Quaker Meeting occasionally at a college or university, with the idea of attracting students.  Perhaps a pithy ‘elevator’ speech on Quakerism, initiating a discussion about living simply or speaking about our own inward spiritual journey would intrigue someone enough to find out more about Quakers.  Another aspect of outreach would be making more use of social media, such as Facebook or press releases of our activities in the community.

What about those who do come to our Meeting?  How do we nurture and encourage them spiritually? One way to do this might be to periodically have a potluck lunch after Meeting for Worship – once a month, perhaps?  Words, ideas, and fellowship often flow more easily over food. Our Meeting has regular discussions and readings about Quaker individuals whose lives have had an impact. We discuss what those Quakers taught and wrote.  We also have out-of-Meeting gatherings such as book discussions, potlucks, and Bible study. 

The activities above are crucial, though perhaps carrying friendships outside of Meeting events and into the social realm are even more important. How often do we invite a new attender out to lunch or coffee?  These invitations are powerful gestures to those seeking a spiritual home and show a genuine interest in the seeker as a person worth knowing more deeply, not just as a ‘recruit’.

Early Quakers were often good at sensing the spiritual condition of those they encountered and speaking to that condition.  Can contemporary Quakers hone this skill?   A life spiritually lived can be a beautiful statement of our beliefs on its own. Is this enough? In many instances, Quakers today, tend to be introverts, shying away from discussing their faith and beliefs unless asked directly. 

There is one important point to remember. Sometimes, people are impacted by Friends outreach and testimony in ways we’ll never know, in times and places we are not privileged to see.

Susan W, Charleston Friends Meeting

(This post focuses on ideas gleaned from a discussion of “Outreach” in Charleston Friends Meeting.)

Monday, October 12, 2015

What are Your Testimonies?

Recently, our Meeting had a discussion on the Quaker testimonies, based on Eric Moon’s article “Categorically Not the Testimonies” in the June/July 2013 of Friends Journal. We examined the meaning of testimony and explored several connotations, including vocal ministry, the witness of the Spirit in Quaker lives, the inward leadings of the Divine that lead to outward expression.

Over the years, Quakers have developed an acronym (SPICES) to stand for the testimonies that have been important to Quakers.  Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality, and Stewardship all play an important role in our description and identity as Quakers. As we listen to the leadings of the Spirit, or Inner Light, we are led differently to each of these testimonies. One Friend asked everyone at the discussion to tell which testimony they felt was most important to them, and the result was diverse. That is one reason that our community of believers is so spiritually rich -- we all have something unique to offer the Meeting.  

Moon’s article spoke about his concern that the testimonies have been “overused as an explanation of Quakerism,” and may limit our awareness of the possibilities of God’s working in our lives. At our discussion, we shared other words important to us as individuals that could be included in the list.  Compassion, joy, generosity, awe, respect, listening, and honesty were mentioned. Can you think of anything else?

I think it would be a beneficial exercise for anyone to examine how testimonies are manifested and practiced in our lives. Sharing our self examination can be a testimony to others. Moon described a question posed at a workshop he attended -- “the testimonies are important because they are __________________”.  His favorite response was “unfinished”. That is the essence of Quakerism to  me. This is how we remain living witnesses, responding to the issues of our times. That is why Quakers remain important to the world.  Last year, when several of us were lobbying with the Friends’ Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) for the nuclear agreement with Iran, one of the legislators asked us how many Quakers were in West Virginia.  One of our delegation responded, “Our numbers are small but our witness is powerful.“

Generally we felt that the testimonies are an important part of who we are, and they can provide a discussion point when we try to explain to others what is means to be a Quaker, but Moon feels that it should not become a creed or the focal point in our discipleship. That is what early Quakers escaped when differentiating themselves from the established religions of the day. More important is the working and recognition of the Inner Light, or that of God in everyone.

I would really like to hear from readers of this blog on how a particular testimony resonates with them, or how it plays out in their lives.

Peace and Joy to you all.