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.