Monday, February 07, 2011

The Revitalization of the Quaker Message for Today: The Final Report on the Recent Retreat

This is the final report from the revitalization retreat held at Quaker Hill Conference Center last month. In the final session, I introduced the group to some positive change tools that could be used in their local meetings.

Since we were running out of time we only did one of the tools as a group (more about that later). The three tools were:

  • Interview
  • Asset Mapping
  • Flourishing Café

Since "Interview" is the tool we used, I'll talk about it in this report last -- and show what results we had from doing it.

Asset Mapping is an exercise that has the purpose of transforming thinking from “deficit based” to “abundance.” We often talk about what we don't have (our lacks) instead of what we do have (our assets). When we approach things from an asset point of view, we can see "deficits" in a new way and turn them into positives. Assets we were going to map as part of the retreat were
physical assets, individual assets, associations, institutions, and economic assets.

If you're interested in seeing how you can use asset mapping in your Meeting, go to

World Café -- I had planned to use this tool last in the day. World Café is an innovative yet simple methodology for hosting conversations about questions that matter about important questions that a group needs to work on. These conversations link and build on each other as people move between groups, cross-pollinate ideas, and discover new insights into the questions or issues that are most important in Meeting. As a process, the World Café is meant to make visible the collective intelligence of any group. To see how it works, visit

We were going to use it, as a group, to address three questions:

  • what has the retreat said about Friends at our best?
  • what three practices, conditions, or circumstances contribute to revitalization?
  • what have you heard that has real meaning/resonates with you?

The tool we used was "Interview." I asked everyone to pair up with someone they did not know well (which was not difficult, given the diversity of the crowd). Once they had chosen a person to interview, I explained that I would give them three questions. It was to be an interview, not a dialogue. So each person got fifteen minutes to ask their partner the three questions. They should take notes, just like a "real" interview. Then their partner would ask them the same three questions.

The questions were:

  • what attracted you to/kept you among Friends?
  • what was a “best moment” for you among Friends?
  • what three wishes do you have for Friends?

The purpose of these questions was to discover the circumstances, condition, and/or practices that contribute to vitality. After 30 minutes, the group came back together and reported what they found in their interviews. I recorded the answers to questions one and three. I have not edited or commented on what was said. They are in the order they were presented to the group. I offer them for your thinking/observation.

What Brought You To/Kept You Among Friends?

Being a camp counselor
Hearing an inner voice
Strong youth group
Wife is a Quaker minister
Was a church/meeting for the whole community
The mystical worship where God was experiences
The values and beliefs made sense to me
I was born a Quaker, believed the tenets, and experience the truth of it for myself
Learning that I didn’t have to be born a Friend
The people were friendly
There were women in ministry
The lack of liturgy and doctrine
The contemplative nature of worship
The emphasis on peace

What Three Wishes Do You Have for Friends?

We’d be open to change
We’d share non-violence
We’d have the ability to communicate in English instead of Quaker-ese
We’d nurture everyone’s spiritual gifts
We’d Spread message of tolerance/forebearance
That more Friends could have the ESR experience
We’d stop divisiveness
We’d be able to listen deeply to each other
We’d live faithful, holy lives
We’d exemplify integrity
We’d leave a positive legacy
We’d let our current light shine
We’d humble ourselves
We’d grow numerically and spiritually
We’d have some positive surprises

I found the time together engaging and energizing and would love to do it again. The conversations were rich and deep. I just wish we'd have had more Friends present and more time together.

-- Brent

Sunday, February 06, 2011

The Revitalization of the Quaker Message for Today: Report 4 on the Recent Retreat

After the groups reported out on their responses to the four proposals ("Unprogrammed Programmed or Programmed Unprogrammed?", "Where to Sit: A Shift in Architecture", "The End of the Quaker Pastorate" and "Seeking the Seekers"), Katie Terrell and I had a "public conversation" about worship groups and why we each participate in one. The title for the session was "New Worship Forms."

We opened by me giving a brief introduction to three main forms:

  • Monastic Communities
  • House Churches
  • Worship Groups

I noted that New Monasticism differs from traditional Christian monastic movements in many ways. The New Monastics generally do adopt a "rule of life" (i.e. the Benedictines) though traditional monastic vows of celibacy, poverty and obedience are not normally taken. People who participate in New Monastic communities do not always live in a single place but rather geographic proximity. New Monasticism allows married couples and celibate singles and their
members do not tend to wear religious habits.

I had additional information to present at the retreat, but since time was getting tight, I did not share it there. The following is what I would have presented, if I would have had time.

New Monasticism is characterized by (in their words):

  1. relocation to the abandoned places of Empire
  2. sharing economic resources with fellow community members and the needy among us.
  3. hospitality to the stranger
  4. lament for racial divisions within the church and our communities
  5. combined with the active pursuit of a just reconciliation
  6. humble submission to Christ’s body, the church
  7. intentional formation in the way of Christ and the rule of the community along the lines of the old novitiate
  8. nurturing common life among members of intentional community
  9. support for celibate singles alongside monogamous married couples and their children
  10. geographical proximity to community members who share a common rule of life
  11. care for the plot of God’s earth given to us along with support of our local economies
  12. peacemaking in the midst of violence and conflict resolution within communities along the lines of Matthew 18
  13. commitment to a disciplined contemplative life

Some of the people who are known for participating in and writing/speaking about this movement are Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Shane Claiborne, and Maria Kenney, and Sarah Jobe. For information, check out

Next I spoke about House Churches. It is estimated that there are between 30 - 50,000 house churches in the United States with between 5 - 12,000,000 adults attended regularly. According to one pollster (Barna) 10% of the adult population claims to have attended a house church in the past month.

House Churches are also known as “simple church” and they share particular characteristics:

  • they are born out of the spiritual life of their founders/original participants
  • they tend to be grass roots/local experiences
  • they believe in face-to-face community
  • every-member has a role and responsibility to the church
  • their meetings are open-participation
  • their leadership is non-hierarchical
  • they celebrate centrality and supremacy of Jesus Christ as the functional Leader and Head of the gathering

For more information, go to or

Next Katie and I began our conversation on worship groups. We both shared how we had felt led to begin worship groups -- but that we needed, to an extent, the encouragement of others to do it (mini-clearness committees?).

The Friends in Fellowship group that meets biweekly at Ploughshares Farm (Brent's farm) was started as place of theological hospitality -- where everyone is encouraged to speak of her or his spiritual journey in her or his theological language. Those who gather listen respectfully and we hope to learn from each other. We have programmed Friends and unprogrammed Friends who attend. There is theological diversity represented -- from Friends who a theologically conservative to very liberal. There is no "program" -- other than a starting time, the evening progresses as the Spirit leads. FoF is open to all (Quaker or not) and we occasionally advertise on Facebook. The group was started largely by e-mail invitation (sent to people we though might be interested, many of whom passed it along to others). We have had as few as 3 and as many as 25 in attendance. Once a year we decide, via sense of the Meeting, whether we feel led to continue the group or lay it down. This group has been meeting a bit more than 3 years.

Katie spoke of her group, which consists of three women who are single and have no children and live on the same street. Their goal is to go deeper in their spiritual lives and to provide spiritual support for each other. Like the FoF group, they have no set program. They have a starting time and meeting place (in a home) and leave the "work" to the Spirit. Participation is by invitation only and occasionally (by invitation) other women attend.

Both of us said that the groups we participate in do not replace our desire to be active in a local worshipping community. We both feel that being a part of a worship group sharpens our spiritual lives and makes us long for real connection with a vital, living worshipping community. We both cautioned that Meetings should not think about starting worship groups primarily as a way to attract new members. Such groups need to arise from a true movement of the Spirit and leading by people who have a deep spiritual need.

We offered some queries for people as they think about worship groups:

  • do they replace/supplement congregational life?
  • what needs are they serving?
  • do they contribute to revitalization of larger faith tradition – or just for personal growth?

For more information on starting a worship group, go to

The next post will be about final session of the retreat -- including "what brought you/kept you in Friends?" and "what are your three wishes for Friends?"

-- Brent

Friday, February 04, 2011

The Revitalization of the Quaker Message for Today: Report 3 on the Recent Retreat

Following the presentation of my four proposals for revitalization, the group (again -- consisting of Friends from a number of states and pastoral and unprogrammed (Conservative and FGC) traditions), the participants then self-selected which topic most interested (or irritated!) them and joined a group to address that topic.

Below are the notes (unedited or commented on by me) from the four discussion groups. They are rough -- but should give you an idea of some of the groups' thinking. The "Unprogrammed Programmed or Programmed Unprogrammed" and "Where to Sit" were the smallest -- 2-5 participants in each one. The "End of the Pastorate" and "Seeking the Seekers" were the largest, with about 15 participants each.

Unprogrammed Programmed: Group Notes
Having a bulletin is okay if there is plenty of time for meaningful open worship.
• Announcements on paper are helpful
Involve kids by having them help with offering, children’s message, reading scripture
Begin worship with period of silence
Remember, the Spirit works during the week (in planning), too! Not just “in the moment”
Having no bulletin means pressure on the organist
A challenge will be how to get people to go through the initial anxiety of not having a bulletin/order of worship
• Also is a challenge for the worship leader (if you have one)

Where to Sit: Small Group Notes
Sitting in the arrangement proposed in “A Modest Proposal”
• This setting promotes engagement
• Promotes the atmosphere of the equality of all believers
• Individual seats would provide more flexibility than pews
The current forward facing seats (of most Friends churches) promote passive observation of worship
• Forward seats promote a desire to be entertained or “fed” or disengaged critique rather than full engagement
• Forward facing makes hearing and sharing/vocal ministry difficult
o Speaking to backs of heads
o No dialogue or feeling of interchange
Meetings members will be highly resistant to change
• Perhaps short term experiments in new seating arrangements might overcome resistance
Some Meetinghouses’ architecture would make reconfiguration difficult – sloping/angled floors

End of the Quaker Pastorate: Group Notes
Unprogrammed Friends – yes to “released minister”
Survival is dependent on local people
Empower people in worship/care
Too many rules in open worship (what can be said/not said/how said)
• Some Meetings don’t have so many rules
Released minister
• Courage to say Spirit did not guide me to give the message today
• Congregations would have to trust the minister
o People want their “money’s worth” – what do you do w/ rest of your time???
Other examples
• Baltimore YM – Meeting Coordinator
• West Richmond – “Pastoral Minister” (not always charged w/ preaching)
Fifth Sundays could be opportunities for unprogrammed worship and encouraging members to minister
• Fewer people come on Fifth Sunday
• Try to break tradition
o 5 or 10 minutes of silence to start
Spend more time in prayer arising out of silence
Empower more small groups
Have to be more externally centered (not so inward)
How do we heal churches and communities from division
• Overcoming judgmentalism
• Love quietness and hear God’s speaking of love
• Listen for Christ’s example of forgiveness
What do you expect of worship?
• Inspiration
• Worldview expanded out of narrow-mindedness
• It’s not theology – it’s loving everybody
Speaking out of silence
• Different window to look through
• Speak from experience
• Worship is a process
• Train congregation HOW to hear ministry
o There is an art to listening
• Train ministers to affirm ministry by the congregation
Need more “teaching meetings”
• Where mentoring of ministers can occur
Acquaint congregations with what is coming out of ESR
• More mentoring of current ministers by ESR?
• Most denominations have problems with their seminaries
When people leave a congregation, minister by talking with them and learning why
• No one calls to see why people leave
Remember – absolutes don’t work.
Church of the Brethren is facing many of this issues, too

Seeking the Seekers: Group Notes
Regarding using “social media” we don’t know what we don’t know. Need more training.
• Suggested Indiana folks could attend a workshop social media held by the Indianapolis Center for Congregations on either May 19 or May 20 (depending on their location
Get training on what makes for a good website
Should look for outreach opportunities (i.e. QuakerQuest, etc)
Investigate other times than Sunday morning for events/worship

Following the small group discussions, each group had someone report their discussion and notes to larger group. The total group then engaged in asking clarifying questions, offering comments, and so on. It was a very energizing time -- with much positive language and feeling.

Next up was the conversation between Katie Terrell and me about new monasticism, house churches, and worship groups. And then participation in a positive change activity -- that's all in the next report.

-- Brent

Thursday, February 03, 2011

The Revitalization of the Quaker Message for Today: Report 2 on the Recent Retreat

The second session of the revitalization retreat began on Saturday morning with a look a four topics, three of which had been included in A Modest Proposal. The topics were
  • Unprogrammed Programmed or Programmed Unprogrammed?
  • Where to Sit: A Shift in Architecture
  • The End of the Quaker Pastorate
  • Seeking the Seekers

In the "Unprogrammed Programmed or Programmed Unprogrammed?" I said that what Quakers have for others (and ourselves) is a winsome invitation – to meet God. It's this idea of silence being an opportunity for participatory listening to/for God sets us apart from other Christians. We don't have a mass or proclamation of the Word as other Christians do. So we should scrap a written order of worship included in a bulletin and formalized worship planning (again as in the order -- "We'll do this now and that next and then..."). Let's trust the Spirit to lead worship.

I said I felt that if we did that that perhaps more of us would come prepared to encounter the Divine because worship would require us to be to be more participatory. We could recapture the idea that we are each responsible for being fed in worship -- and stop looking to the singing, or choir, or message from some "official person" to feed us.

I said I was not proposing that we scrap singing, choir, sermon, etc. No. Choirs can still rehearse. Pastors can still plan sermons. What I was saying that we should hold worship in holy silence and trust God to lead people to sing, share, sermonize at the right time. We should also try to find creative ways to involve children and kids and young adults in worship.

I said our goal in ditching the printed (or implied) order of worship was to create a sense of spiritual hospitality in the silence where there was a feeling of expectation that “anything, God willing” can happen -- and would!

In "Where to Sit" I noted that the buildings of Friends churches (primarily) resemble other church buildings and that this seating arrangement puts the focus on people and performance — not on God. Again we have no mass to celebrate or Word to be proclaimed by an ordained clergy authorized to do just that, so why are we all facing the front? This doesn’t fit what Quaker worship should be about — welcoming the presence of Christ in our midst.

I said we should do a seating arrangement something like this:

I then gave three reasons for this alteration. One is so we change from looking at a particular place from which we expect ministry to a view that says ministry comes from anywhere/anyone. The second reason is that the said rearrangement makes it easier to hear vocal ministry which can arise from anywhere. The third reason is so that we can see the faces of those God has gathered that day -- as we see the gathered community, we pray for, care, and love them.

The next proposal was to "End the Quaker Pastorate." In this I noted that the concern about Quaker pastoral ministry has always been that it will evolve into “profession.” Using the word "Pastor" has led us more toward that evolution, especially since most congregations members have a well formed idea of what a pastor is based on their experience in other congregations. A former Lutheran turned Quaker has an idea of what a pastor is and does that is different from what Roman Catholic turned Quaker does and what a Quaker who's always been Quaker. All of which may be completely different from what the reality of what a Quaker paid minister should be -- some odd creation!

For our congregations to be receptive to the Spirit in this day, there are four needs.

  • specialized ministry of a trained and called paid minister and the universal ministry of a called and equipped congregation
  • the meeting for worship must be free from rigidity which prevents the workings of the Spirit
  • preaching in our meetings for worship must be under the leadership of the Spirit.
    we must adhere to Friends’ business methods and never let power and authority be centralized in the pastor
  • paid ministers and the other members of the meeting must be trained in the art of silence.

Lorton Huesel, former General Secretary of Friends United Meeting and a Friends pastor, formulated these -- not me!

I proposed that a new descriptive name could be 'released minister.” This helps us recover the idea that all of us are ministers and recapture the Friendly idea that there are many types of ministry. We also need to encourage local Friends congregations to recognize those among them who exhibit gifts of ministry – but may not be “professionals.”

In the "Seeking the Seekers" section, I said that we needed to think outside the Church Box by becoming more missional and reaching out to those who would resonate with our message. I showed three videos...

Seeking the Seekers, Part 1

Seeking the Seekers, Part 2

Social Media
Then I spoke about using Social Media to advertise this retreat. I took out a Facebook ad for this conference and targeted people who live in the United States, aged age 18 and older
who like Quaker, Quakers or Religious Society of Friends. The ad generated 120,000 views in 9 days and resulted in 180 clicks on the Quaker Hill Conference Center site for a cost of $47.55.

We then broke into four small groups to based on interest in these four topics. My next post will be the notes those interest groups developed.

-- Brent

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

The Revitalization of the Quaker Message for Today: A Report on the Recent Retreat

On Friday and Saturday January 27-28, around forty Friends (and others) gathered at Quaker Hill Conference Center in Richmond, Indiana to talk about how to revitalize the Friends message. Friends came from a variety of states (mostly Indiana, Ohio, and Illinois), represented unprogrammed Friends (FGC and Conservative) and pastoral Friends (FUM). The following is a summary of the weekend. More detailed reports on each session will follow.

The retreat's titles was "Worship Groups and Other Alternatives to “Traditional” Church: A conversation about the revitalization of the Quaker message for Today." On Friday night we began with my presentation "Facts and Figures." After a season of deep worship, I opened with this quote by George Fox:

“The Lord had said unto me that if but one man or woman were raised by His power to stand and live in the same Spirit that the prophets and apostles were in who gave forth the Scriptures, that man or woman should shake all the country in their profession for ten miles round.”

I mentioned that everything that followed had to be predicated on our being open to being vessels of the Spirit -- otherwise we were merely rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic. Well, if not the Titanic, maybe the Woodhouse.

I then presented some statistics (most of which are in "A Modest Proposal"), beginning with
the idea that "Congregations Still Matter" and noted that in the past 20 years there were
+32,000 new congregations in the US, with +28,803,815 new attendees, and that religious affiliation is up 26%.

Then I asked "But… do Quaker Congregations Still Matter?" and noted that in the past 20 years
we’ve added 311 new congregations, but have have lost 17,000 members, and dropped recognized affiliation by 14%. Friends United Meeting has dropped 15,000 members, Evangelical Friends International has dropped 3,000 members, and Friends General Conference has grown 1,000 members.

I spoke of myths that we (as congregational members) live by, strengths of growing (spiritually, numerically) congregations, activities that are undertaken by growing congregations (not just numerically growing!), and showed the interrelation of theology and growth (none!). These were all based on scientific studies of religious life in the United States and Canada.

On Saturday we began with me presenting "A (Not So) Modest Proposal. This consisted four ideas, three of which came from my tract (pamphlet, essay, rant) "A Modest Proposal." The four were:
Unprogrammed Programmed or Programmed Unprogrammed?
Where to Sit: A Shift in Architecture
The End of the Quaker Pastorate
Seeking the Seekers

After I presented these ideas, the group broke into four self selected groups to talk for about an hour on the topic that most interested them. They gathered their thoughts on presentation pads. At the end of this session, the groups on "Unprogrammed Programmed" and "Where to Sit" presented the highlights of their discussion. The entire group then asked questions (clarifying ones, mostly) and offered some opinions/thoughts.

Following lunch, we heard from "The End of the Pastorate" and "Seeking the Seekers" groups -- again followed with questions and thoughts.

Immediately after that, Katie Terrell and I had a dialogue, with questions and conversation from the attendees, about "New Worship Forms" -- including New Monasticism, House Churches and Worship Groups. Katie and I both belong to (and helped start) worship groups that meet in homes. They have very different purposes (except for the common theme of worship and sharing) but shared some similarities -- wanting to go deeper in faith, allowing the Spirit to lead the time together, having a set starting time but not ending time, and other things.

After a short break, I introduced the group to some positive change tools that could be used in local Meetings, at Yearly Meeting, in YM committees or other places that wanted to address revitalization issues. The three were interview, asset, mapping, and World Café.

As we were near the end of the day, there was only time to practice one of the tools -- interview. I asked everyone to pair up with someone they did not know well (which was not difficult, given the diversity of the crowd). Once they had chosen a person to interview, I explained that I would give them three questions. It was to be an interview, not a dialogue. So each person got fifteen minutes to ask their partner the three questions. They should take notes, just like a "real" interview. Then their partner would ask them the same three questions.
The questions were:
what attracted you to/kept you among Friends?
what was a “best moment” for you among Friends?
what three wishes do you have for Friends?

The purpose of these questions was to discover the circumstances, condition, and/or practices that contribute to vitality.

After thirty minutes (give or take a few minutes -- you know how Quakers are!), we got back together and people shared their "interviewee's" answers to the questions. I captured these on chart paper.

Then, since time was waning, we went into a period of rich worship, with some vocal ministry.

All in all, I found the retreat a powerful experience. There seemed to be high energy and engagement in the topic. Friends also seemed to be sorry that the time was drawing to a close -- feeling that we could have gone on longer. Of course, that's my perspective as a leader. I'll be curious to hear what participants think!

More detailed reports on each session (especially the notes by the groups and thoughts from the interviews) will follow in the coming days.

-- Brent

Art Photography: Ice Storm 2011 -- Swing