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


Steven Davison said...

Brent, I am eagerly following your report on this retreat. While I think you're right that the "concern about Quaker pastoral ministry has always been that it will evolve into "profession," two other problems with an established pastorate actually worry me more. The first is that an established pastorate might tend to co-opt the workings of the Holy Spirit. The essence of Quaker spirituality, I believe, is the faith and practice of Quaker ministry: the faith based on experience that both individuals and the meeting are called to direct, unmediated relationships with God—that God can call anyone to service; and the distinctive practices by which Friends prepare themselves for hearing God's call, discern whether the call is of God, and support ministry through eldership.

When a congregation has an established pastor, they tend to expect her or him to cover the call to ministry and might be less attentive to their own promptings. A structure for meeting life and meeting for worship that favors the established minister over everyone else might constrain opportunities to hear, discern and answer God's.

My other concern developed when I attended a Bible class at Earlham School of Religion while working on one of my books as Earlham's Patrick Henry Scholar. The class was discussing Judges, a very difficult book, and specifically, the very bizarre story in which a Levite gives a mob his concubine to protect himself, and after the mob has left her for dead on his threshold, he cuts her apparently-not-yet-dead body up into twelve parts and ships them to the tribes of Israel to muster a holy war against the men of Gibeah who had done this thing.

Naturally, the class was struggling with what this story meant, how much of it had happened as reported in Judges 19, and—to the point I'm getting at—how to present the story to parishioners, once they became pastors.

They worked on two diverging tracks: On one, they were working out for themselves the truth and meaning of the passage. On the other, they were seeking a way to present this passage in a way that would serve their parishioners' spiritual needs—that is, something that would not disturb their faith too much, something they could accept and understand, something simple, pastoral, and reassuring.

This dual path to truth freaked me out. I've talked to pastors since and discovered that this is an ever-present tension built into the job: satisfying a congregation with needs, a culture, expectations and patience for complexity that are not necessarily your own and still feeling relatively good about it; holding one truth for yourself and presenting another to the congregation. It concerns me that a conflict with the testimony on integrity is integral to the work of a pastor in this way, and of course, the fact that your livelihood is at stake just exacerbates the problem.

Finally, on "released ministry." If I'm not mistaken, this is not a new name but an ancient traditional practice in which the meeting recognizes a member's call to ministry and covers his or her responsibilities so that they can follow their call—usually, traditionally, travel in gospel ministry. These responsibilities might include helping with work in their household, farm or business, as well as covering their responsibilities in the meeting. It might include providing money. But usually it applied to the pursuit of a specific leading that had undergone corporate discernment, for which a minute of service had been approved, and which would end when all had agreed that God was done with that particular minister for that particular service. I know the phrase is now often applied to pastors and that seems a natural enough expansion of its meaning and practice. But using a more traditional term doesn't really change the dynamics of an established pastorate.a

I would like to know how Friends at the retreat reacted to your proposals.

Quaker Jane said...

This is a case where I think including the branch before using the word "Quaker" would be most helpful and respectful, at least in the introduction if not the title of the piece. While these musings seem potentially applicable to the Evangelical branch, if I read thee accurately, thee means them specifically for the Orthodox or FUM-affiliated Pastoral meetings. Clearly none of the revitalization discussed here applies to the unprogrammed meetings of the Conservative or Liberal branches.

Brent Bill said...

Well, actually, Quaker Jane, there were unprogrammed (conservative and liberal) Friends at the retreat and we did address concerns from their standpoint. Of course, getting rid of the Quaker pastorate as it is currently constituted did not apply -- other than it opened up the idea of what constitutes ministry among Friends.

When I post the notes from the groups, I think you'll see a number of them address the wider body of Friends.

In my booklet "A Modest Proposal" (available at Quaker Books of FGC for $1) and the earlier series of blog posts titled "A Modest Proposal," I address some of these issues to the unprogrammed tradition more fully than this brief report

And the "Seeking the Seekers" part of the retreat, and other sections, certainly applied to all branches of Friends, including unprogrammed.

Reading this piece out of the larger context could lead one to believe, I guess, that this is narrowly focused on pastoral Friends. While that certainly is one main component, it is not the sole focus.

Brent Bill said...

Here's a link to a free download of "A Modest Proposal" --

Brent Bill said...

@ Steven Davison -- thanks, Steven, for your comments. They're very thoughtful (and I agree with many of them -- which may be one reason I find them so thoughtful. LOL).

The concerns you raised are some of the some that I (and others like Elton Trueblood, Seth Hinshaw and others out of the pastoral tradtion) have had and expressed over the years. I talk about them more fully in the print edition of "A Modest Proposal" and there are a fair number of comments on the blog posts about this topic (in October, I think).

I think the concept of "released minister" is old, but I haven't heard the term used much lately. I hear "released Friend" which really doesn't say much about what that is to outsiders. "Released from what???" The word minister I think would cause some reaction to which we could witness our unique understanding of ministry among Friends and others -- when we are asked "You're a released minister. What's that?"

The response has been pretty positive -- especially since I put them out to get people to think abou these issues -- not necessarily agree with me.

Dale Graves said...

Obviously I am just catching up with the conversation,but let me note that Brent is doing a really good job of objectively reporting the event.

Although his first remark on the session about Pastors was 'First let's kill all the pastors,' said with a real twinkle in his eye. (With apologies to Mark Twains comment, "First let's kill all the lawyers.")

As a Friend who attends a pastoral meeting, I understood completely what he was trying to get at, and I think the concept of released minister could be really helpful.

My experience among unprogrammed friends, admittedly limited, suggests that they might be well advised to consider the term and what it could mean in their own context.

Anyway, it was a great conference and I'm still mulling it over.

Greg said...

As an unprogrammed Friend, I think the discussion around ending the Quaker pastorate is relevant to Liberal unprogrammed meetings.

The discussion brought up several questions:

How can unprogrammed meetings improve nurturing their members and attenders and renew the tradition of recording ministers? On the flip side, how can meetings improve eldering and spiritual guidance to their members and attenders?