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Yes, indeed. I think many people are feeling the need for a positive statement of what Quakerism is and are dissatisfied with the "we are not fundamentalists" line.

You will find quite a few of us on QuakerQuaker trying to give positive expression of what we think Quakerism is or should be.

there's too much to talk about in just a comment on your post but I'll content myself with this one observation. The best and most sophisticated proponent of religious pluralism, John Hick, is also a committed Christian. To some this may seem contradictory. How can he admit the value of Buddhism and at the same time be committed to Christianity? The basic answer is just what you note. You can only travel one path at a time. If one is to drink deep you have to stick with one tradition and really enter it. One can do that without having any disrespect for other traditions, but you can't do it as a spiritual tourist. If Quaker meeting becomes all things to all seekers then it becomes a place for spiritual tourists who have so little in common that they cannot form a spiritual community.

Anyway, I hope you will join the conversation on QuakerQuaker.

Martin Kelley

Hi Kevin: I started commenting on this but then decided to make it a post over on QuakerRanter.org instead, with a link back to your article and to articles from a well-known Quaker outreach worker who left Friends for McLaren's church a few years ago. Thanks for your post, it's important for Friends to hear all this. What if all of us who want a stronger Quaker voice just started using it more or find places to share it? Could we keep those seekers who are now sliding through our fingers?


What an important and fascinating post, Kevin. I'm grateful that you wrote it and shared it.

As *extremely* wary and distrustful of religious communities as I am, I could still appreciate the worth of what you say.


I really enjoyed your article and I feel the same way you do. I too get tired of Quakers explaining the Quaker faith by saying what we are not as opposed to what we stand for.
We need to give people a reason to become Quakers. Just saying that we are a nice, nonjudgemental group of people who come to sit for an hour in silence every Sunday is not gonna cut it. Why would that interest anybody? We should be telling them that coming to meeting is a way to get in touch with God and to have a life changing experience. I'm sure some people would think that would make us sound too much like evangelicals. (Horrors!) But to me that is what the Quaker faith is all about. We have the potential to be a dynamic faith community but too many of us prefer The Religious Society of Friends to be just a group of nice little seekers.
On the positive side I do see signs of things moving in the right direction. But will it be enough? Only time will tell.


Richard, Martin, Megan, and Richard -- thank you for your comments. I felt like I was really going out on a limb, so I'm heartened to know that I'm not alone.

Richard W. said:
"On the positive side I do see signs of things moving in the right direction."

That's true, and I didn't mean to come off all doom and gloom in that entry. Some of the younger Quakers I know, the folks in their 20s, absolutely humble me with their commitment, their insight, and their prophetic voices. My hope is that their home meetings can develop a way to cultivate and sustain the energy of young (and not so young) people like these, rather than standing back and saying, "Wow, look at ________. Isn't she great?"

Martin said:
"What if all of us who want a stronger Quaker voice just started using it more or find places to share it?"

That's an important reminder to those of us who like to gripe from the sidelines. The fact that Quakerism lacks a centralized authority puts a greater pressure on individual meetings and individual Friends to "be the change they want to see in the world," to use another tired dictum. :)

Paul Ricketts

Thank you Friend for your post!!!!!!!!

Bring a Person of Color and a religious minority ( Christian) among unprogrammed Friends can be a struggle at times!

Part of me wants to fit into ethos of the larger Unprogrammed
Quaker community and a growing part of me struggle against

You said,A couple of years ago I attended a newcomers' breakfast at a large local meeting. The breakfast was billed as an opportunity for those new to the meeting to learn about Quakerism from "seasoned" Friends, members and longtime attenders alike. I was distressed to hear speaker after speaker extol Quakerism for what it is not: not oppressive, not judgemental, not elitist, not closed-minded, not fundamentalist, not doctrinaire . . . also not Catholic, not Episcopalian, not Baptist, not (horrors!) Evangelical, not even necessarily Christian.

Two things I have found that works for me is,

1.When folks start going negative
in are Meetings around race,
gender, class, sexual orientation.
yes Christianity.

We who are or allies need to
interrupt the that negativity and
come out of closet, yes speak our truth.

I am Unprogrammed Friend because
this where I have found Jesus!
Try that at a "newcomers' breakfast"

2. Circles of Support
Quakers of Color all over country
we have created circles of support
for each other.

In my article in Friends Journal
A Call for Racial Justice Among Friends, I said "In sharing our stories, people of color have found that we are not alone-that this Quaker faith is our faith, too.Coming into our own power is important because it calls us to speak truth about who we are".

And finally I belive the corporate worship of Friends transforms us from a crowd of people into a family of faith; from separate individuals into sisters and brothers, from a wandering mass of people into the People of God.

I love these words from the Roman Mass,

In this great sacrament you feed your people and strengthen them in holiness,so that the human family may come to walk in the light of one faith,in one communion of love. We come then to this wonderful sacrament to be fed at your table and grow into the likeness of the risen Christ.

This great sacrament for me is
the The Meeting for Worship.

God comes to us which is a more sacramental approach to faith then the individualism of Protestantism.

God not me is transforming,
White Quakers, Christians Quakers,Universalist Quakers,Quakers of Color,into the presence of God’s child the Eternal Spirit of the living Christ.

This sacramental approach
has help me to value diversity among Friends.

Because it is God not me who is at work in the diversity ……………..

Yes, God calls us sometimes to participate in the work of transformation of God’s people
but at the end of day we need to remember this is God’s work not are work….



Zach A

I'm with you on the diagnosis. I especially appreciate the way you parse social inclusiveness -- which we don't even live up to! -- from the "confessional" inclusiveness that is such a mixed blessing. (I mean "mixed" literally: real negatives but also real positives.) And yes, we need communities where we are challenged, communities that are about spiritual and social transformation.

What I think you're wrong about is your cure. Forgive me if I am too blunt, but "active acknowledgment of our Christian origins" isn't going to do a damn thing. At bottom it's just words and forms.

I think the way forward lies mostly in getting serious about our spiritual practice. Our spirituality, however sorry its current state, is the primary between us and the Baltimore Ethical Society. Having our heads filled with Christian ideas rather than humanistic ideas isn't a big difference except for idea-centered people, and the Society of Friends has always been about substance and experience over ideas and images.

I could get behind a movement to come to more clarity, discipline, and communal accountability on how our spiritual practices work (or should work), however much of the liberal Quaker world would be against or indifferent to it. But reaffirming our historic Christianity at a corporate level is a dead end.


Paul - thank you for your eloquent words about the sacramental nature of transformation. Being the one to stand up and speak the truth of one's experience so directly is a daunting prospect, but I agree that that's what we as Quakers are called to do.

Zach - that's a fair point. Simply paying lip service to Christian beliefs isn't transformative in the way that Paul suggests. So I'm curious: what would "getting serious about our spiritual practice" look like? I'm excited by the concept, and I'd love to hear more from you about how it might take shape, particularly at the individual meeting level.


What would "getting serious about our spiritual practice" look like at the individual meeting level? Use the practices of traditional Quakerism is the brief answer. A more specific and probably more helpful suggestion is for monthly meetings to answer their queries. Honest answers that reveal our weaknesses as well as our strengths is the key. Most of the monthly meetings in our YM do this (I must confess that my own monthly meeting has gotten so small and weak that we let the practice lapse for several years, but we are giving it another shot this year.)


Kevin, thanks for this weighty post. I've been struggling with the same thing in my meeting, and my response was to apply for formal membership. And to start draggin my sleepy ass to business meeting. "You want your meeting to be more Quaker? Then YOU be more Quaker." is about the gist of the shove I felt to join.

In the meantime, still seeking for the answers, still chewing on the gristle.


Hi Amanda,

As usual, you know just the thing to say. For months now I've been mulling over applying for membership, trying to weigh my leading in that direction against the sorts of concerns that I raised in my post. I've been taking small steps toward deepening my connection with my meeting: going on retreats, participating in a spiritual formation program, attending Bible study and Quakerism 101 classes, etc. But I've been waiting to apply for membership until it felt "right."

Well, inspired by your comment, this evening I told the meeting clerk that she could expect my letter. She was delighted, and I feel that it was the right thing to do.

So thanks.


Well, this is great! Thank you for posting it. I am going to wrangle with your thoughts on my own blog. As I said there, I am pastoring two churches, a re-vitalizing suburban congregation and an ecumenical urban church start. It's a challenge to say the least. And you post hits the nail on the head. We, pastors and interested laypeople, want our congregations to grow and flourish. But in what way? Active discipleship? Butts in the pews? Programs! Get yer programs? Yeah, it's hard to know what both generates livliness and growth as well as generating faithful discipleship.

Good stuff, sir. Excellent.

Zach A

Thanks for you friendly answer to my slightly testy comment :) I think there are a number of things that could be a part of getting more serious about our spiritual practice(s). Here are some of my ideas.

One thing I think would help would be formally defining ourselves (e.g. minuting a purpose statement, much as FUM has done in a Christian vein) as communities that are about spiritual transforming through particular spiritual practices, with everything else ("Quaker culture," particular ethical/political positions) seen as secondary to and ideally flowing from that. In the absence of such a definition, we attract people with different priorities.

That wouldn't much affect our spiritual life by itself, but it would make it easier to take other steps. Like:

* Richard's good suggestion that we wrestle with hard queries more often.
* Meeting for worship:
** 60 minutes a week is a not enough. If you exercise or practiced violin only 60 minutes a week -- less that 1 percent of your waking life! -- you make little or no progress.
** We should explore more what we're actually doing during meeting. A major aspect of how early Friends conceived of the Light was as that which "shows" and "discovers," what lets you *see* your true condition. Seeing spirituality, so to speak, not (or not just) the "listening spirituality" that we speak of today, and in my experience the one is rather more transformative than the other. Rex Ambler has good things to say on this issue.
** Compromising the first 10-15 minutes of each meeting due to latecomers should not be acceptable, because it sends the message that it's not an important thing we're doing.
* Business meeting:
** Meeting clerks perhaps should be required to attend clerking workshops/retreats, and the meeting should hold regular classes on right conduct of business.
**Reports of meetings with lax standards should be a big deal.
* There should be more opportunities for people to share what's on their hearts and minds in a less weighty context than meeting for worship. Like regular worship sharings.

This is beginning to be my major concern about the SoF, so I expect to be blogging about these things.


Apropos of Zach's elaboration of my suggestion. If you look at the queries of most YM you will find that they address some of the points Zach elaborates on. So answering the queries is a way to make progress on a number of fronts.

Another concrete suggestion is for people to be more open about their own spiritual experiences--good and bad. This doesn't have to occur as vocal ministry. In fact it works better in an informal setting. Going out for coffee/breakfast after meeting for worship is good. Some meetings provide coffee and snacks at the meeting house after worship but I find it works better for two, three or four Friends to go out to a restaurant or someone's home. Being able to sit down at a table with the food creates a kind of Quaker communion where the possibility of a richer sharing of our spiritual lives becomes welcome.

I'm not so sure about Zach's idea of a Richmond Declaration for Liberals. In fact I'm downright wary of it. I do want Friends to be more forthright about stating their beliefs. There's far too much reticence about expressing one's faith for fear of offending others. But the right way to create a stable Quaker identity is to allow it to develop naturally by having a core of weighty Friends who are in unity. They shouldn't require that everyone who wants to be part of Meeting share in that unity but rather wait patiently and draw them in by the power of attraction to the truth.

The image that comes to mind is of a cozy fireplace. The weighty Friends are gathered around it and do not insist that the others sitting in the colder, darker places of the room move closer. Instead they just enjoy the light and warmth and each others company and invite others to come closer.

In my opinion this was the traditional understanding of Friends, which is why we never wanted or needed creeds.


Zach and Richard - those are excellent suggestions, and they seem well within the bounds of feasibility for most meetings, with no explosive, divisive reshaping of ourselves required. I would be proud to be part of a community that looked like what you described.

Tripp - thank you for the kind words.

Zach A

What happens when people other than the "weighty Friends" become the majority?

I understand your wariness about having a "Richmond Declaration for liberals." To the extent that's a good image for what I'm talking about, it's taken me a long time to get to this place.

But I don't think that's the best comparison. Like other historic Protestant confessions, the RD (1) has an inflated sense of it's own importance, as some kind of modern Mosaic tablet, and closely related, (2) is a static document, with no internal mechanism describing how it can substantially change. I'm thinking of something that is (1') more modest, simply a basis-of-unity document for a particular community and (2') open to change.

Better comparisons would be a non-profit's mission statement, or a constitution, which are obviously only about particular communities, and have mechanisms for future change.

I will say though, that as much as this is compatible with much of what we think of as "liberal Quakerism," including being non-dogmatic about theology, it's enough of a different vision of liberal Quaker polity that I have doubts about it being fruitful to try to "make" existing liberal meetings take on something like this. (I could see myself introducing a minute somewhere though to test the waters...)



I'd be more happy with something less rigid than the Richmond Declaration but I still think it's the wrong way to acheive the ends I think many of us have vaguely in mind. I think the fireplace is the better way--and the way more consistent with Quaker tradition.

Let's focus a bit more on the end we have in mind. (Bear in mind I'm speaking out of the conservative tradition which is Christian though quite theologically liberal as well as being unprogrammed.) In some of the more extreme liberal meetings you get a cafeteria approach. With everyone dipping a toe into different spiritual traditions and coming together in silence each doing something different. What's wrong with that? Well, without a focal point there really isn't a faith community. Individuals depend on books for their spiritual growth because they don't have people to talk to about what matters. While reading spiritual books is good there are distinct limits on how far they can take you. Too much book reading creates a spirituality of the imagination rather than something that is lived in the grit and the grime of everyday reality. In a cafeteria meeting each individual develops a set of ideas that sound spiritual but don't connect very well with their lives. Real spiritual growth requires that people connect with each other to consciously help each other connect with God. A certain minimum shared language and belief is necessary for two people to communicate with each other, and hence help each other deal with the challenges in their lives. If one speaks Buddhist while another speaks Christian they are not going to be much help to each other. It's like learning a language in another sense too. It's almost impossible to become fluent in any language without spending time among native speakers. To really learn any spiritual tradition you need to spend a lot of time living among people who have practiced that tradition. That's how traditions get passed on. Face to face. A tradition that has to rely exclusively on books to reproduce itself is dead already.

So you ask what if the majority aren't weighty Friends? I actually think that's the normal situation in a meeting. The weighty Friends are usually a minority. Their influence on the meeting doesn't derive from their numbers or from their long membership, it derives from the fact that they Know the light. It's not an idea they read about. The problem isn't their being a minority in a meeting. The problem comes when the weighty Friends in a meeting are so few and so silent that they don't find each other and support each other. There does need to be enough of them to create critical mass.

Bill Samuel

The proposal was a statement of purpose, not a declaration of faith. Of course, I think FUM's is fine as is!

But I really like my church's purpose of "being and making disciples, in authentic community, for the good of the world." I don't think that has any of the problems of creeds and formal statements of faith, and it is a succint expression of what we try to be about. Is that in the nature of what Zach was proposing?

Liberal Friends insistence on concentrating on what they weren't (even the non-traditional term unprogrammed worship) and lack of clarity on what they were was part of what led me away from Friends.

Zach A

Hi Richard,
I guess my question would've been more precisely put, What happens when the 'weighty Friends' no longer have 'critical mass'?

I thought you were going to explain why the fireplace paradigm is the best way to achieve the ends we have in mind, but you never did.

Your church's purpose statement, in form though not necessarily content, is pretty much what I have in mind. I have something in mind along the lines of:

"Sometown Meeting exists to facilitate spiritual community, growth and transformation through the practice of XYZ, and to support and undertake individual and collective action based on leadings arising from those practices."

This would make it explicit what we're doing (XYZ, which would be some description of worship/meditation, of which many are possible; I prefer something along "Experiment with Light" lines), why we're doing it, and what we expect to come of it.



Sorry if I didn't explain the fireplace metaphor. What happens when there is no critical mass of weighty Friends in a meeting? This is a serious question and given the number of very small meetings and the number of "refugees" from authoritarian churches who come to Friends with only a vague idea of what they are looking for, it needs to be faced squarely. But while realism seems to counsel despair in some situations I remain hopeful. First, you don't need much of a critical mass. I really think that two or three solid Friends can be a good core if they find each other and support each other. Also my experience has confirmed the belief that God will give people what they need. If another serious seeker after truth is needed then one will show up. Or you might have to look a little further afield to a worship group a longer drive away or even a YM or quarterly meeting you can only get to once a year.

The reason I favor the idea of drawing people in is because of the large number of people who are still hurting from bad experiences with other churches. When the Meeting as a whole has some kind of policy statement it can create a "fight or flight" reaction in people who have had bad experiences in the past. That's why we get such bland statements of who we are. But if a few individuals quietly but clearly state what they believe, careful not to speak officially, but to speak personally and powerfully and positively (none of the "we are not this and not that" variety) it creates an attractive force for those who are already listening to the spirit. I suppose what I am suggesting is that each weighty Friend should work on their own personal "Richmond Declaration" and be ready to share it when asked.

Zach A

I don't think there's a need for us to come to agreement on this, but for the record I'm rather more interested in experimenting with what I described.

Part of that is because I don't think the system you're describing has been working very well. Unprogrammed Friends are a tiny and slowly dying movement. I would attribute much of the growth of evangelical Friends to the fact that they have concrete statements about what they believe, which means they have an actual message they can share and publicize, while we can say little more than "Quaker Meeting for Worship, 10 a.m." They've gone WAY too far down that road to the point that they've sold their birthright, I believe, but I think it's worth trying to learn from them. You could call them the radicals who went too far so that others could go far enough.



We really aren't very far apart on this. If you go all the way back to the first entries in my blog you will see that I started it with something like this in mind. And I pushed our own YM for about three years into having open discussions of our personal theological beliefs. The result was that we gathered at Representative Body and shared about this and there was pretty goo agreement on the essentials within our YM. We were in unity. (more or less, I have heard rumors of grumbling within one of our monthly meetings that they don't unite with any understanding that we are Christian in any sense.) Now I wouldn't say that other unprogrammed Quakers are in unity. A very modest purpose statement might be a positive thing, but its difficult to do without creating divisions and provoking "fight or flight" reactions. Better, I think, for individuals to be clear in their own purpose statements and share them and eventually come to unity with each other on their understanding of the Spirit. I do agree that a total "I'm OK, you're OK" approach sucks the life out of the Religious Society of Friends and that we need to be more positive and definite about what we do believe and not just negative about what we don't believe. So I would encourage you to tentatively and patiently push in the direction you feel lead to go. It's the right direction but be prepared to experience zigs and zags and delays. I predict it will be slow going and will try your patience.

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