Renew–>New: What is Renewal, anyway?

So what does it mean to renew our local meetings?

For starters, we tried looking at this as a question of fact that can be answered by looking at the spread of Quaker blogs. Doing so, we count at least eight interpretations of what people say it would it mean for Quakers to renew. After each interpretation, there is a quote from a representative post across the Quaker blogosphere.

Renewal #1. This is what renewal actually looks like on the ground. 

There is a dearth of blogs that describe actual attempts at renewal or that address the nuts and bolts of our condition.

This perspective, looking clearly at what is happening and what could be happening, is where we hope to situate our retreat  in May, 2019.

One of a series of blog posts that does have a similar purpose :

Like many of our cultural tendencies, idolatry of Quaker process disproportionately affects the young (and, of course, anyone who is new.) If you’ve been around for many years, you’re likely to know exactly which committees do what and which committees meet when and which clerks are semi-non-functional and when you should cc other people in the meeting and when you shouldn’t and, especially, the right combination of words to phrase something in such a way that a committee will actually take it on. And if you don’t know all these things, an attempt to get anything through our process will generally be thwarted by our process, not by discernment in the Light of the Spirit of God.

Emily Provance, Building a Permission-Giving Culture 

But there are lots of other assumptions about renewal out there.

Renewal #2: Quakerism is declining.

Some writers seek ways to quantify this. Others speculate on why. Some say what we might do about it.

In the last 50 years, Quakerism has basically imploded in many parts of the United States. Meetings have dwindled and winked out of existence. There are many indications that this rapid decline may still be in process. An enormous question facing the overwhelming gray-haired North American Quaker community is, Can the Religious Society of Friends survive the passing of the Baby Boomer generation?

Micah Bales, Are Quakers Going Extinct?

Renewal #3: To renew means to do better outreach, better welcoming of newcomers, etc.

Renewal = outreach.  Friends are urged to support creative means toward welcoming, outreach.

Lastly, we need to disregard the unwritten rules that have kept our meetings, especially unprogrammed meetings, so rigid that sometimes I wonder if we are actually listening to the Holy Spirit. Instead, we need to work on providing a space for the community to gather together to worship the Holy Spirit and await leadings. For example, Freedom Friends Church in Salem Oregon offers people the opportunity to write, read, even play video games as long as they do not bother other people. Their rule is whatever helps you listen to God, so long as it doesn’t distract someone else from listening.

Greg Woods, Reviving Quakerism in the New Millenium

Renewal #4: It is imperative that Quakers (re)turn to their Christian roots. That is the renewal that must happen if Quakers are to survive and thrive.

On the one side, there is a group that now seems to be largely influenced by the secular left. These yearly meetings and meetings may be spiritual but not religious, think of themselves as secular or even anti-religious, while still being interested in the “values” of Quakerism or some of its specific practices, like communal silence and consensus building. Not everyone within these groups identifies this way but the larger trend seems to suggest that there is far more emphasis on this secular liberalism than the socially aware Christianity that one can find within these groups as well. 

C. Wess Daniels, A Radical, Liberation Christian Quakerism

Renewal #5: To renew might not have to mean to return to Christian roots, but it does mean that we place God at the center of Quakerism. 

We could not find a blog site explicitly supporting this, but Paul Buckley’s book does.

The first prerequisite for a revitalized Religious Society of Friends is putting God at the center of our lives and our spiritual communities …. Like the early Quakers, we need to stand still in the Spiritual Light so that we can see the Spiritual Darkness we harbor and identify what we have placed at the center of our lives. The Inward Light exposes our Inward Darkness and allows us to know and to feel how evil has captured our spirits.  When that happens, our first response may be that it is impossible to be free of that Darkness.

Paul Buckley, Primitive Quakerism Revived

Renewal #6: In order to renew, it is imperative that present-day Quakers understand deeply the thinking of early Quakers.

One Friend asked: In addition to worship, do you have any information about the hard-and-fast ways that early Friends gathered into community? Did they have Friendly Eights or a potluck? Did they meet to hear about the newest project of their local Quaker institution? 

This tongue-in-cheek question highlights how many of us think about community today.  To my knowledge, early Quakers did not organize events for the primary purpose of fostering or creating community. Daily they prayed and meditated on scripture. Then, during lengthy and frequent meetings for worship, they were brought together by the power of God, united into a spiritual body. Almost as important, they depended upon one another to live faithfully in a hostile culture. This helped forge deep spiritual bonds among them. 

Marcelle Martin, Gathered Into Community Today

Renewal #7: Quakerism no longer needs to be Christian or to study it’s historic roots.

 Although we could find no blog posts which proclaim this spiritual but not religious view, such thoughts are commonplace in the liberal unprogrammed tradition. A sample modern language that translates away from historic Quaker understandings:

Courage & Renewal programs cultivate the heart and soul of leadership, encouraging people to lead from within. Courage & Renewal programs help people:

  • Lead and act with courage on their true callings
  • Develop trustworthy relationships.
  • Cultivate practice to sustain themselves and inspire others for the long haul.
  • Work together to transform the institutions they serve.

Parker Palmer, About the Center for Courage and Renewal

Renewal #8: You know, you really should renew.

A large literature urging Friends to adopt better spiritual practices.  Sometime the “you” refers to individual practices, sometimes to corporate practices among Friends. Some of this writing mourns the lack of such spiritual practices:

I’ve met others who need a Spirit-led Society. We share this vision, and we share the disappointment of being drowned out in meeting by classism, ageism, and racism. Some of us wonder if Quakerism isn’t all that different from the rest of liberal religion. From what we’ve seen, it isn’t apocalyptic. It isn’t radical. It doesn’t sound like Fox or look like Jesus. It works at incremental transformation while simultaneously shushing those who need the system overthrown.

I’ve moved on.

Hye Sung Francis, Seeking a People

Is this it?  Probably not.

Besides our bias towards blogs, admittedly for convenience, we realize that we ourselves are somewhere within the liberal unprogrammed tradition which is a distinct minority within all of Quakers.  We have no doubt that we are missing nuances of how renewal is seen within the programmed and evangelical Quaker traditions. But this is a start, our start.


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