Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Future of Friends

Since I was a bit toward the negative side in my previous post, I thought I should do something positive. Something that shows that I have actually given a good bit of thought about the future of Friends and this thing that I've been calling theologically hospitality. That latter phrase -- "theological hospitality" has come under fire by some people who think it means being wishy-washy or non-committal about faith matters. So I invite you to read my thoughts on it -- and how it could impact the future of Friends and our ability to share God's good news with a hurting, searching world. I gave these thoughts as part of a keynote speech to North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative) earlier this summer.

Discerning Which Way Now
North Carolina Yearly Meeting – Conservative Lecture
University of North Carolina -- Wilmington
Seventh month 10, 2009

I want this lecture to be both a combination of information and challenge – information about how I see the best of Quaker discernment and how it can be used by Friends to determine “Which way now?’ and a challenge to think about what God is calling us to do with this people in this place at this time.

I want to say something about the second part first – the reason that this topic matters to me. First, besides being a writer and Quaker minister (no longer a hireling for the Society – I have hired out to some Christians who actually pay very well), I spend my days as a congregational consultant. In my role as executive vice president of the Indianapolis Center for Congregations, I see all sorts of congregational dynamics at work – in Indiana congregations large and small, rural and urban, Christian and other. And that includes Friends. I also actually read such journals as the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion and peruse statistics on The Association of Religion Data Archives.

All of these have a sobering effect. They mostly show that Friends are losing ground. In North Carolina since 1980, Quakers have posted a twenty-seven percent decline, losing almost 3,000 members – though there are fifteen more congregations than in 1980. Nationally, Friends United Meeting has lost 20,000 members in the past thirty years. The Evangelical Friends International has barely stayed even. Only Friends General Conference has increased in numbers.1

That is why a question that was raised recently at the worship group meeting at our farm seems especially relevant. The question was whether Friends would even exist one hundred years from now. I think that is more than a rhetorical question or an interesting mental exercise – it is a real one. But behind it is an even deeper question – should Friends exist in another 100 years?

To read the rest, visit

1 comment:

forrest said...

If I don't have people quibbling about my posts, it makes me think they aren't reading/thinking-about them! So: "Appreciation! Yay!"

It sounds like you're recommending the (good) old standard Pendle Hill rules for religious discussion: "Say it in the language that feels appropriate to you; translating what others say is the listener's job." And much like what "Liberal" Friends Meetings seem to do, in terms of welcoming people of any (or no) belief to join us in the practice.

We do, however, get gifted/afflicted with a fairly high percentage of more-or-less overt atheists. I can only conclude that 1) the prevalence is high in the general population and 2) God is sending them to us. They serve, for one thing, as a test case for the proposition that everybody can find God by looking within...

One thing about this: It seems like God doesn't do appearances to satisfy idle curiosity. No appetite, no meal. And we get people who've oversimplified their theology to "God doesn't care about anything except whether we're good, and I'm good, so I don't need to believe in or know anything about God and I don't!" This doesn't seem to lead to a great hunger for spiritual connection.

I guess this comes down to: "I like what you're saying, but there are difficulties in practice. It sometimes stretches my faith, having to let God work them out!"