Friends General Conference

Nurturing faith and Quaker practice

FULL: Paradox and the Dynamic Center of Quakerism

Workshop Number: 
Tom Gates
Who may register?: 
Open to All (adult & high school)
Experiential Activities: 
full-time attenders only

Spiritual truths are often expressed as paradoxes. We will explore the spectrum of Quaker belief and practice by examining eight core paradoxes, ranging from the practical to the theological to the controversial.  In all cases, we will see that the dynamic center of Quakerism affirms "both/and" rather than "either/or" thinking.

Workshop Description

Some truths -- especially spiritual truths -- are best expressed as paradoxes, statements that initially appear nonsensical or self-contradictory, but seen from a different perspective turn out to be deeply true. We will look briefly at the nature of paradox and its role in Jesus' teachings, and then examine eight paradoxes that are, in my view, at the heart of Quaker belief and practice.  These range from the practical (e.g., the relationship between silence and vocal ministry in the meeting for worship) to the theological (e.g., God as both immanent and transcendent) to the potentially controversial (universalist and Christ-centered views of Quakersism).   

The goal of this workshop is to gain a better understanding of the Quaker way and to deepen our Quaker meetings.  Building on the idea of "the dynamic center of Quakerism" (from Bill and Fran Taber, 1992), we will develop a framework to better understand and constructively engage with the diversity of Quaker belief and practice. We will find that in each case, an appreciation of paradox will guide us toward "both/and" rather than "either/or" thinking.  We will make the case that our willingness to embrace or grow into these paradoxical understandings may well determine whether or not Quakers grow and flourish in the 21st century.   

The format will be informal lecture, group discussion, small group worship sharing around specific queries, and closing with 40 minutes of worship each morning. Suggested (but optional) reading: Pendle Hill Pamphlet #422, Reclaiming the Transcendent: God in Process (June 2013). 

Leader Experience

I have twice led weekends at Pendle Hill ("Opening the Scriptures: Early Friends and the Bible").  I also have twice led workshops at the Gathering, most recently in 1994.  

I have on three occasions been the teacher / facilitator for weekend retreats on Worship for the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting program "Strengthening Our Meeting Communities,"  involving about 30 people from a variety of meetings.