Friends General Conference

Nurturing faith and Quaker practice

The Controversies of the Quaker Way

Workshop Number: 
Zachary Dutton
Who may register?: 
Intergenerational (50% HS and young adults, 50% older)
Experiential Activities: 
full-time attenders only

Let's delve into present-day controversies about membership, gifts, eldership, ministry, activism and the internet! These controversies are especially relevant for young adults who see possibilities for renewed ways of making meaning. Let's finally talk seriously about them and seek answers! We will write an epistle to report on our progress.

Workshop Description


Starhawk writes, and I quote, “Somewhere there are people to whom we can speak with passion without having the words catch in our throats. Somewhere a circle of hands will open and receive us, eyes will light up as we enter, voices will celebrate with us whenever we come into our own power. Community means strength that joins our strength to do the work that needs to be done. Arms to hold us when we falter. A circle of healing. A circle of friends. Someplace where we can be free,” (Starhawk 1997:92-96).

Does this sound like Quaker Community to you? It doesn’t necessarily sound like Quaker Community to me. Yet, I’d like it to be. I firmly do not assert that Young Adults are the sole mechanisms for attaining Starhawk’s vision, quoted above. Young Adults are not, say, the fuel for an out-of-gas engine made of under-populated Committees and emptying Meetinghouses. Young Adults do, however, have a simple and humble proposition, which is that we are entering an age of increasing isolation. Quaker Meetings experience a disconnect between what happens inside and outside their wood, brick and mortar. Questions of gifts, leadings, ministry and vocation go largely unaddressed. So we have begun to compensate, but how? How do Young Adults manage life within the confines of a spiritually isolating age? If we can answer this question alongside our elders, maybe we can help the rest of the Society of Friends answer it too.

Through worship, worship sharing, art, role-play, and discussion this workshop explores different alternative propositions towards attaining something like Starhawk’s vision in a spiritually isolating age. Each day we will use different exercises to explore how we understand our identity, solidarity and life-purpose and then we will apply this exploration to discussion of particular controversies.

All sessions begin with twenty minutes of un-programmed worship no matter what!

Day 1—I am Mosaics: Membership

We will explore our different identities and social positions through an exercise called "I Am Mosaic," which incorporates collage, poetry, and prose. It shows us the different facets of our identity and helps us get clear on the total picture. Then we will take this total picture and engage the controversy about membership. Is membership useful or out-dated? How do we approach membership when it comes to geographically transient Young Adults? What role does membership play in how we make sense of who we are?

Day 2 – Stories of Identity: Gifts

We will appoint an Epistle committee today charged with the responsibility of crafting a report on our work together to be shared with all Friends everywhere at the end of the Gathering. We will then explore the stories that surround our identities and social positions. We will use some basic role-play techniques based on Augusto Boal's Theatre of the Oppressed to explore some key aspects of the stories that surround our identities and social positions. We will consider where spiritual gifts fit into our identities, and the stories that surround them. Do we need to pay more attention to our gifts? Should paying closer attention to gifts influence the processes we use to nominate people in our decision-making structures?

Day 3—Self and Community: Internet and the Young Adult Diaspora

We will explore how our communities support us in understanding who we are. What role does our community play as we grapple with our identity? This is a different look at the topics we explored in Day 1. How do we understand the nature of community? Is it physical, local, and anti-internet? Is it possible to constitute solely via the internet? Something between these poles? How do we draw the bounds of a community partially constituted via social media and the internet? How would it function? Who is a member of this kind of community?

Day 4—Stories of Struggle: Ministry, Vocation, and Elders

We will explore the struggles in our stories largely through worship sharing. We will ask whether our stories help us to articulate life-purpose, while asking about whether this relates to ministry and vocation. Can processes like spiritual support groups, clearness committees, and accountability groups be connected with how we understand our life-purpose? How much should we rely on groups like these? Who should populate them? Do we need to re-introduce the role of “elder” in our communities to help us identify our gifts, ministries, vocations and/or life-purposes? We will also consider the Epistle our Epistle Committee has written.

Day 5—Purpose and Community: Activism and Engaged Spirituality

We will explore how our communities can support us in our life-purpose (or ministry or vocation) largely through worship sharing. We will consider whether our communities should formally support us in things as mundane as getting a job at a local cafe, let alone in getting arrested. How do we understand spirituality that moves beyond our meetinghouses and the activism that may accompany it? We will hopefully approve the Epistle that our Epistle Committee has written.


Boal, Augusto. 2002. Games for Actors and Non-Actors 2nd Edition. 2nd ed. Routledge.

Starhawk. 1997. Dreaming the Dark : Magic, Sex, and Politics. 15th ed. Beacon Press.


Leader Experience

I co-led a workshop about empowering youth for High School students during the 2010 Gathering. I have led classes exploring nonviolent communication ( I have led workshops at smaller gatherings of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting for Young Friends, Young Adult Friends, and Older Adults alike on the topic at hand and on other topics such as Quaker Process and Community Building.