Quakercraft: Becoming the Quakers the World Needs

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Excerpts from a presentation to North Pacific Yearly Meeting; July 16, 2015; Whitworth University, Spokane, Washington

The Friends World Committee, Section of the Americas – where I work – was engaged last year in the periodic exercise of strategic planning. One of our facilitators asked us to answer this question as succinctly as possible, “What business are we in?” He gave us the example of a company that makes environmentally sensitive wall paint, which decided that they were in the business of “happy walls.” And so everyone in the company, from the chemists to the accountants to the truck drivers, could answer that question in two words, “Happy walls. I am in the business of happy walls.” They could see how their work connected to that business, and how they contributed to it.

Robin Mohr, photo by Sakre EdsonWell, our executive committee did not come up with a two-word explanation for the Friends World Committee that day. But the question stuck with me. And a few months later, the answer came to me in the middle of the night: We are in the business of being the Quakers the world needs. Every local meeting, every yearly meeting, every Quaker organization is in this business: Being the Quakers the world needs. We forget this at our peril.  We are all in the business of living up to that calling. If we are not, then the Religious Society of Friends, this living craft, is dying.  So what do we do? I have four suggestions for Friends:

First, real formation as a Quaker happens by doing real work as a Quaker, from doing real service and from being in worship together. You don’t learn a craft by just reading about it. The book of James in the Bible says, “Real religion is to reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight and guard against corruption from the godless world.” So our meetings need to organize ourselves to have real work experiences – visiting members of meeting when they are in the hospital, organizing meals for families with new babies, setting up chairs. Being in worship – those hours in the chairs – is also a necessary part of becoming a Quaker. Going to business meeting – doing the work of the meeting – also makes us Quakers. G.K. Chesterton said that the real problem isn’t that Christianity has been tried and failed, but that Christianity has been found difficult and therefore not tried. Unprogrammed worship can be like that, too. Our traditional “learning by osmosis” doesn’t happen unless we are physically and frequently present to one another.

So we need to ask: For isolated Friends, who live too far away to attend meeting for worship weekly, do our yearly meetings make it a priority to help these Friends get to quarterly or half-yearly meetings? For our young people, do our monthly meetings make a concerted effort to get teenagers into meeting for worship when they come back from Quaker camp or from yearly meeting, all lit up with the Holy Spirit? Being a Quaker means showing up.

My second suggestion is based on the observation that reflection on our practice informs our practice. If we are practicing our Quaker skills, then reading Quaker materials will also be useful. Books and pamphlets and magazines and blogs – there are Quaker writings on all aspects of Quaker life widely available, both old and new, short and long, academic and homespun. These materials give us access to a wider conversation on how to be a Quaker – with Friends who went before us, and with fellow practitioners today who don’t live nearby. Discuss what you’re reading with Friends in your meeting or in an online community. This will help you incorporate the learning into your own practice. And reflecting on our practice doesn’t only come from reading. Some of it comes from prayer and time in meeting for worship. Some of it comes from gentle and honest eldering by skillful Friends about our practices.

My third suggestion is for Friends to attend to rhythms of rest and re-creation. As a community, we need to receive the gift of enthusiasm from people who have been to the mountaintop, but if adrenaline becomes a steady drip, that’s not healthy either. We need to balance the family, the ministry, and the paycheck – in different proportions at different times. Sometimes they overlap and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes we have to find our God opportunities in whatever work we can get paid for in order to pay the rent or the college tuition. Whatever activites are in our lives, we need to include rest and re-creation.

My final suggestion for Friends is to pursue both generalization and specialization. All Quakers need to have some experience with being both minister and elder. Beyond that, we each need to grow more fully into the specific gifts we have been given. Me, I can organize a great intergenerational cleaning day or an engaging religious education session, but I am not actually that good at pastoral counseling or at clerking a business meeting. I do the best I can when it’s my turn, because sometimes we all have to take a turn, but I try to focus more fully on the things I am better at doing.

Robin Mohr, photo by Kirby UrnerEven though we may have different gifts, we all need some basic training in certain areas. None of our meetings is big enough to specialize that closely. We all need some skill in pastoral care, like what not to say when you visit someone in the hospital. We all need to know something about the property we worship in, like where the broom closet is with the mop if we spill something. We all need to learn something about our own racism and how to overcome it. We need to learn something about our own theology and how to articulate it. And, as Colin Saxton says, we need to be bilingual – we need to learn how to speak NPR and NASCAR, how to speak to insiders and outsiders, to peace activists and military families, to Evangelical Christians and Buddhists, to gays and straights, to blacks and whites. Effective peacemaking requires these skills. Effective education requires these skills. Effective outreach requires these skills. 

We are practicing a living craft. Our craft is being and becoming the Quakers the world needs. And just like any craft, we have to keep practicing to maintain that mind-eye-hand-and-heart coordination. We know that God is still forming us, guiding us, encouraging us with new leadings, new projects to work on. And we have to keep forming new apprentices into skilled Quaker craftsmen and craftswomen who will go on to craft new things, write new things, and live things we never dreamed of.   ~~~

Robin Mohr is a member of Green Street Monthly Meeting in Philadelphia and she is the Executive Secretary of Friends World Committee for Consultation, Section of the Americas. Robin has written extensively about convergent Friends and about her own struggle to blend motherhood and ministry on her blog at robinmsf.blogspot.com.

For a complete transcript of this presentation, see: westernfriend.org/media/quakercraft-becoming-quakers-world-needs