After hearing that, I said that I doubted that they would reach agreement unless they returned to an older model of Faith and Practice -- one that more resembled the 1967 Christian faith and practice in the experience of the Society of Friends of London Yearly Meeting than it does the Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church or the Presbyterian Book of Order.
The "old" Christian Faith and Practice is filled with, as the title implies, the experiences of Friends regarding important faith issues and their practice -- God, the Bible, worship, family life, and more. It is instructional in an illuminating -- not dictatorial -- way.
But many books of Faith and Practice are becoming imitations of other Protestant denominations books of discipline -- which I think indicates that the creeping denominationalism has moved more into many of our Yearly Meetings becoming Protestant judicatories like synods or presbyteries or dioceses. According to one definition, a judicatory "is an administrative structure or organization found in a religious denominations between the local congregation and the ... [body] which is [a] higher court. ... the judicatory can have decisive authority over a local church, can offer standing for clergy members, ..."
I think this court language is especially dangerous -- especially in light of some things going on in certain largely programmed Yearly Meetings. I think it's dangerous because it shifts the emphasis from a focus on serving local congregations to the local congregations being subservient to and under the direction of the Yearly Meeting. And plays into the potential for power plays and an increasing disconnect between the Yearly Meetings and the local meetings.
I am not advocating anarchy -- we Friends say we are about Gospel order. I agree. And there is much written in the Bible and other places about what that means and how to follow it. What I am against is a institutionalism that is dedicated to keeping institutions alive -- and to get rid of anyone (or meeting or group) that disagrees with the institutional hierarchy.
So part 7 of my modest proposal is that Yearly Meetings and other Friends bodies (whether they are centuries old, decades old or relatively new) stop and do serious examination of their purpose and programs. By that, Friends (and the institutions) need to ask things such as
- Why do we have Yearly Meetings or other institutions?
- What is their role?
- What is their purpose?
- Why were they created?
- Does that need still exist?
- What are they doing that needs to continue to be done?
- Is there a better way of doing these things?
- Is the institution serving the needs of the local Meetings or are the Meetings serving the needs of the institution
Further, I think these larger institutions and their staff and constituencies need to look at every program and staff position and ask the question "How does this fit with our mission -- our raison d'être?" We shouldnt' be asking "Is it good or worthy?" Many programs and staff people may be good and worthy, but they may also detract from the institution's primary purposes. In which case the organization then does not do the ministry for which it was created.
I fear we spend too much time staffing boards and committees that may no longer be needed -- simply because Faith and Practice tells us that we need X number of representatives from each Meeting, Quarterly Meeting or whatever to serve on such and such a board. And we hear reports and do some business and rarely ask, "Is this what God is calling us to at this time?"
It is my contention that the primary purpose of these larger institutions at this particular time should be
- to serve the local meetings and their needs (which means asking them how best to do that!)
- asking God where we should be taking the Quaker message and supporting folks ala the Valiant 60 to do that
- nurturing groups of Young Adult Friends (at colleges or in cities where there are no organized Friends Meetings) by supplying leaders at those places
Of course, there are many nuances to the three things above. They can be parsed a number of ways depending upon the institution's answer to some queries
- Who are we?
- Why do we exist -- what's our mission?
- What is God calling us to be and do?
- How do we relate to our constituency?
- How do we adapt to change?
- Are we willing to adapt to change?
These questions seem vital to me -- especially if our larger institutions want to become or remain vital. The questions need to be asked regularly. They can't be answered once and for all time. If the organizations don't ask these questions -- and engage the people served by them in a discussion of the questions -- the organizations, no matter how worthy or long-lived up until now, will become increasingly anachronistic. They will then either die or be replaced by new organizations that spring up to meet the needs they are not fulfilling. Organizations that are mission driven, leaner, think faster on their feet, and adapt to the needs of the people and organizations that created them.
That's one way to look at how early Quakerism came into being. As a fresh way to communicate a Gospel that had been boxed in by institutionalism, rites, rituals, clergy, and books. Fox and the early Friends sprung up in reaction to and against that. What would they think of us today?