Sunday, August 03, 2008

Of Pioneering Quakers

Western Yearly Meeting's annual sessions are wrapping up this afternoon. I've attended sporadically. I especially enjoyed Tom Hamm's "Quaker Lecture" and John Punshon's Firstday message, along with Max Carter's morning "Bible Hours."

In one of his Bible Hour talks, Max spoke of Alan Jay, a Hoosier Quaker of the 19th century, who once asked the question, "How can we save our young people for the Friends' church?" A worthy question then -- and now -- and one that sparked a good deal of speaking from the silence that morning. As one Friend noted, even if we wanted to keep them Friends, what do we do when they move to towns where there is no Friends church?

That's true for members of Nancy's and my family. As careers have moved them around the country, they have often lived in places where there was no Friends congregation.

Which set me to thinking -- as most things do these days. Perhaps, just perhaps, part of the answer to that lies in inculcating passions for the Friends understanding of the gospel and testimonies along with a pioneering spirit. After all, as we were frequently reminded this yearly meeting, 150 years ago when Friends came to this part of Indiana, there were no Friends churches -- until they established them.

Now we Gurneyite, Orthodox Friends have fallen into the trap of thinking of the "church" as being the building. Friends General Conference Quakers have been much more comfortable with the idea of people setting up Friends groups whereever they settled. They even have a book about how to do so. But we move, don't see a Friends church listed in the yellow pages, and look for some other church to join.

What would it be like to train and equip our young people (and some of us older ones!) to set up Friends worship groups wherever they move? On college campuses? In the towns of their first job? Or third job?

In this day of blogs, facebook, MySpace, et al it should be easy enough to connect with Friends in new areas. Is it time to put together a "How To ..." start your own Friends worship group for us more Orthodox Friends? Could we do it with out pastors? Or a building?

I think we can -- and that it would be a good thing.

What thinkest thee?

-- Brent


Wess said...

sounds good to me!

Heather said...

Logical, sensible, revolutionary, all at the same time! :)

Carol said...

Brent, I travel under appointment of New York Yearly Meeting in a ministry of presence and encouragement for our small meetings and worship groups, one of which (in the Adirondack Mountains) has three members for most of the year. (The tourists come in July and August.)

Ever since I began to learn more about midwestern Friends when I joined the FUM board six years ago, I have been wondering what I (raised a Hicksite in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting) have to contribute to Friends who are accustomed to having a pastor. I am, by no means, an expert in church growth or outreach, but we do have some Good News.

I am eager to be part of a serious conversation about this. I expect to be in Richmond over the Columbus Day weekend.

Shawna said...


The conservative branch (or at least OYM) has historically said to its kids: "Oh, don't move away from your meeting. But if you do... come back and visit sometime." Aaaack! That's changing, thank goodness, but it's been a long time coming.

We have such good news to share! It's time to begin encouraging that "mission sense" in people. Go for it, Brent.

maurine said...

In the Chicago area we have a small worship group called Friends Gathering in Jesus Christ, which meets on Saturdays twice a month. Our attenders come from three different Quaker traditions and share the Gospel tradition. Not all Quaker gatherings need to happen on Sunday.

Brent Bill said...

Thanks to all. Ideas to incorporate into such a "guidebook" would be appreciated -- a sort of "how-to?" Maybe formatted as a PDF and downloadable for free for anyone who wants a copy.

I just attended the Indianapolis version of "The Church Basement Roadshow" with Doug Pagitt, Tony Jones, and Mark Scandrette -- very encouraging and helps me think we might be on the right track here. Not puttng new wine in old wineskins, but doing a new thing. Like Maurine pointing out that Sunday morning is not "sacrosanct." I know our group meets on Sunday evenings.

I'd be happy to do some writing/assembling? Any others wish to contribute, edit, etc?

Anonymous said...

I have had a similar problem. I have moved 17 times in 7 years, and while I have always been near a meeting (except for right now, in Korea), I have yet to be able to actually officially join the RSoF, because I have never been with one meeting long enough to do so!

L. Whisler said...

Exactly! My town is rumored to have a Quaker worship group. The local paper has a church directory that has two different listings with different phone numbers for the same worship group. Neither one works. My cousin (a FGC Friend) knew about, and I finally found a good phone number...but they're off until September.

So I think rule #1 of your manual should be to make sure all directory listings are routinely updated.

#2 should be to look at

L. Whisler
laurelwhisler at yahoo dot com

Peggy T said...

Well, in Dec. 2003, I moved to Terre Haute, where there was no apparent meeting in the phone book or on (I now know that there is a Friends Holiness Church, but it's not a good fit for me) and no one I asked had heard of any Quakers. I quickly discovered that driving to Bloomington every Sunday was not realistic for me.

I sent off for the booklet you refer to. The first step: Find the other Quakers in your community. Hmmmm. How exactly would I find them? A smell? A look? (Actually, I heard a message once about the Secret Quaker Dress Code, but the blue jean/sandle look is shared by other groups). A secret handshake (and can I say that I would LOVE a secret Quaker handshake?) It's just not that easy to spot a Quaker in a crowd, unless, hey, it's a crowd doing something close to a Quaker's heart.

So I attended an anti-war event at the local Unitarian church. The Unitarians gathered round me to find out who I was and where I was from, and I told them that I had moved to Terre Haute and was a Quaker. They were stunned! A Quaker! A real, live Quaker! Right there! I thought they were going to touch my hair. Sigh. Obviously no Quakers there.

I went to the White Violet Center for Eco-Justice. I told them that I was a Quaker. They looked at me with a puzzled look. No Quakers there either.

I finally found one Quaker woman attending a Congregational church. She said that there used to be 14 Quaker families many decades ago who all attended the Congregational church in the morning and then would gather for Quaker worship on Sunday afternoons. Because they never built a meetinghouse, though, kids grew up, went away, but then didn't have a place to come back to. She felt it was a mistake that they never built a meetinghouse. Not only was there nowhere for their kids to return to or attend, there was no way for new people or interested people to find them. She said she was the last surviving member of that group to the best of her knowledge.

On one hand, it has been good for me to worship with other groups--from an Episcopal church to an Evangelical, nondenominational church. It allowed me to refocus on what we have in common rather than how we are different. On the other, I have sat through many services longing for a period of silence - and the presence of other Quakers. I also have my own little Quaker meeting of one from time to time. Mostly on my deck. Sometimes in bed.

Luckily, last month a Quaker family moved from Boulder to Terre Haute, though they are committing themselves to driving to Bloomington for worship. They did mention they might be open to a worship group for those weeks that weather or something else keeps them from the drive. I'm hopeful!

David H. Finke said...

Peggy in Terre Haute --

I KNOW of another Quaker family, which had silent meeting in their home for a number of years after moving there from Peoria, and then gave it up. They were even listed in the Illinois Yearly Meeting directory for a while as "Wabash Valley Worship Group." Alas, as can happen with self-started worship groups, it was not under the care of an established Monthly Meeting, and thus lacked regular ongoing support.

Frank & Julie Young are the couple. Frank was once clerk of Illinois YM, and is brother to the former presiding clerk of FGC. He is retired (I think) from teaching at Rose-Hulman in computer science. Maybe can track him down there, if they're not in the phone book.

You folks deserve to find each other!

Wishing you well, -David Finke
Columbia, MO (ILYM)

Peggy T said...

Thanks so much David! I will look for them in the phone directory! If they are interested in becoming part of our worship group, that would be five of us -- an abundance! Blessings -