In early March 2014, FGC brought together 65 Friends “to help make the full depth, joy, and fire of Quaker faith and practice highly available, teachable, and experiential for all those who are or will become part of our faith communities.”
This special consultation was organized by FGC in response to what many Friends see as a pivotal time in the Religious Society of Friends. Its goal was to discover seeds of ministry in the areas of religious education, spiritual deepening, and spiritual formation in order to move toward the vision expressed above.
The group, made up of Friends from across the US, Canada and from Great Britain, came from 23 Yearly Meetings and a host of Quaker organizations.
Members of the consultation worshipped together a number of times through the weekend. This helped them stay grounded and open so that they could settle deeply into the small group work that characterized much of the consultation. The participants also heard from four speakers who offered ideas and concepts, a framework to guide and aid the discernment of the small groups.
A framework for discernment
Barry Crossno, FGC General Secretary, shared some of the lessons he learned a number of years ago as a Quaker working for a rapidly growing Buddhist organization. He noted:
- They created a clear religious education program that had a focus on improving the daily life of those who practiced it and on exercising compassion as they interacted with others.
- Even though they were a small organization, their materials conveyed a clear, teachable, and replicable set of messages, designed to be accessible and easy to use by thousands of people.
- Their program started with a foundation course, now online, that allowed beginners to progress intentionally towards deeper and more advanced learning. This clear progression helped make the value and potential of Buddhist teachings clear to those who were just starting their practice.
Beth Collea, Religious Education Coordinator for New England Yearly Meeting, shared from her experience and understanding of the growing edges of today’s and tomorrow’s religious education. She:
- Introduced the work of Diana Butler Bass, author, speaker, and scholar on religion and American culture, to provide a conceptual framework for re-imagining religious education and spiritual formation within the Society of Friends.
- Suggested identifying stages of proficiency in adopting the Quaker way, such that a path deeper into the faith is available.
- Spoke about the need for a social and community structure within meetings that carry the intention of perpetuating the faith journeys of those who participate.
Simon Best, tutor for Nurturing Friends and Meetings at Woodbrooke Quaker Study Center in Birmingham, UK, challenged Quakers to live up to the Simple, Radical, Contemporary description offered by Quaker Quest. He challenged us to:
- Consider which aspects of our current practice are stuck in the 20th century, and which are stuck in the 18th century?
- Use the technology of today to build today’s Quaker movement.
- Build a firm base of Quaker identity, a strong foundation upon which we can build our outreach efforts.
Focused small group discernment
Between these foundational conversations, Friends gathered in small-groups to focus on specific topics and areas of work including:
- Spiritual Deepening: Rethinking the Meeting experience itself as Spiritual Formation
- Welcoming Families into the whole life of the meeting
- Hungering for deeper worship
- Supporting meetings to create identities as spiritual organizations within the RSOF
- On-line education and using new media
- Building loving community
- Welcoming seekers and a broad diversity of people into the RSOF
- Living a deeper daily life through spiritual tools and daily spiritual practices
- Reconsidering membership in the RSOF
- Reach for the primacy of the Light: Prayer, discernment and the gathered meeting
- Living Quaker Faith
As these groups met, worshiped, and explored and discussed these topics, they prepared brief presentations for the large group summarizing their work. Several ideas appeared as recurrent themes between these groups, sometimes dovetailing with work FGC already has in progress.
- Developing a “story core” – recording the spiritual journeys of a number of Friends. Sharing this work in many formats: video, audio, in print – downloadable – as a pamphlet or book.
- Check out www.quakerspeak.com for a new joint project between Friends Journal, FGC and Quaker Voluntary Service based on this idea.
- Developing “rack cards” – brief descriptions of worship, of a particular spiritual practice – etc. which should sound familiar to CNM Friends as just like our “Newcomer Cards” except these might also have use for people who are beyond the newcomer stage in their spiritual journey.
- Inter-visitation and regional gatherings
- Develop a set of “best practices” for welcoming families into the life of the meeting and providing care for those with young children
- FGC is in the process of assembling a white paper looking at the needs of parents of young children
- Offer Buddies and mentors for Friends and meetings.
- On-line coursework in spiritual formation, Quaker history, etc. Modules which could be used by individuals or small groups
- Friends at the Woodbrooke Quaker Study Center in the UK have had good success with this and shared about their work at the consultation.
- Developing a certification program for “welcoming and inclusive meetings” to support meetings that want to be a welcoming to the diversity of our whole human family.
- Reclaiming the richness of spiritual language across the life cycle!
- FGC’s Traveling Ministries Program has worked towards this goal since its inception.
These are just some examples of common threads arising from the small group efforts. FGC Staff and Committee members are still reviewing the detailed efforts from many of the small groups.
The consultation closed with a presentation from Ben Pink Dandelion from the Woodbrooke Quaker Study Center in Birmingham, UK. He identified key elements of our faith and practice and needs for moving forward, drawing on historical knowledge and listening deeply to God:
- We know we can encounter the divine directly
- We choose a form of worship to nurture that experience
- We have developed practices of discernment so we can recognize and understand what this experience demands of us
- We base our business method on our experience of direct encounter with the divine
- This transforms us and calls us to a way of life
- Transformation is CENTRAL to what we are about
He also identified areas where many Friends desire a deeper experience:
- Powerful spiritual experience
- More disciplined worship and spiritual practice
- Recognition of need for eldership and teaching
- Willingness to work toward a shared understanding of the Quaker way and
- A new language to communicate the Quaker experience
- Reengagement with our tradition — we are hungry to learn what we are a part of — our legacy
- A willingness to overhaul spiritual practice — a desire to be simpler, more radical and more contemporary.
These are some of the threads which have come from the weekend. There are more which will fill in this initial tapestry. If you are interested in learning more, or following this work, pay attention to future issues of the FGC eNewsletter. Subscribe here.
Photography by Sharon Gunther