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

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