A few weeks ago I wrote on the subject of a Quaker renewal. This post was a flood of thoughts, questions, doubts, and all I knew by the end of the post was that the Society of Friends desperately needs the Spirit of God. This is not a unique conclusion, nor a particularly specific one, but it’s all I could confidently claim as vital in Quaker renewal. The thing is, I’d go as far as saying that we need more than renewal; Quakerism needs a revival in order to survive. We don’t simply need a refreshing move of the Spirit to encourage us on our way but we need the Spirit to crash down on us and to confront us with the Good News that was so dear to the hearts of the apostles and early Friends. We are rapidly shrinking, and many meetings and churches have little vision guiding them. It seems to me that we need the Spirit of God more than ever.
These are trying times for institutional and historical churches, as all of them are losing numbers and as the percentage of the non-religious increases each year. It seems that we’re currently experiencing the collapse of the American Church as we know it, but I’ll say that I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing. The Church as we know it has a whole lot of good, but also has a whole lot of bad. American Christians have too often succumbed to individualism, capitalism, violence, and the ways of the world, and we need to relearn faithfulness to the distinct and profound teachings of Jesus Christ. Though we like to think of ourselves as not nearly as bad as Evangelicals, us Quakers are no exception. We too have inherited much from the world.
It appears that the Church is being called to lay down many of her old ways, letting whatever is quenching the Spirit within her to die so that she may even more fully experience Christ’s resurrection-power. I see these trying times to be a time of liberating the Church from the lies of the world, and I see Christ pushing us to earnestly seek spiritual vitality and to creatively and prophetically reach the world with his good news.
So what are we to think of all those who label themselves “spiritual but not religious” or those believers who have fled our Sunday morning services for more organic fellowship, found in pubs, living rooms, and coffee shops? I see both these trends as potentially gifts from God, as the hierarchical tradition preserved in institutional churches is being done away with, and as people are less tied down to dogma and more often seeing themselves as spiritual seekers. In my opinion, this is the perfect recipe for a Quaker revival. We are in a world that is hungry for wholeness, simplicity, integrity, community, and authentic spirituality, and our tradition has that to offer. Perhaps the huge wave of “nones” and “dones” are the result of the Spirit moving.
As I’ve made clear, I don’t necessarily find the decline of institutional and historical churches to be tragic, but what I do find tragic is the gifts these traditions offer being lost. I’ve come to love so much about Quakerism: the testimonies, history, communal mysticism, discernment practices, Spirit-led activism, prophetic ministry, and contemplative spirituality. If I am led to abandon institutional Quakerism in order to bring these gifts elsewhere, I will. In a lot of ways, this would be easier and perhaps more effective. But I personally feel led to honor the living and deceased Quaker saints who have built up this beautiful and bizarre community since the mid-17th century by continuing my involvement and fellowship within Quaker meetings. Our community has a lot to offer the world, and so I will continue to contend and pray for revival in the Society of Friends.
Out of discussions with other Friends at the World Plenary Meeting, and further reflection, two specific things came to mind on how we can actively pursue a Quaker revival. Both are not spectacular, but they keep rising in my spirit.
- Organize a prayer meeting. Gather Friends to pray for each others’ needs, the local meeting, and other issues that need to be held in the Light. Pray for vision in the Society of Friends. Pray for the Children of God to rise and manifest, among Quakers and in the wider Church. It does not have to be complicated or elaborate, but simply a space to enjoy the presence of God and corporately invite the Kingdom of God. You can ask for this to be held at the meetinghouse, or invite Friends over your house for cheese, crackers, wine, and spiritual warfare. I think it’s wise to make it clear that these meetings are not in competition with meeting for worship on Sunday, but rather a supportive, complementary element to the meeting’s worship. These smaller gatherings can be a centering presence for the meeting, offering vision and nurturing to the wider community. It would also be helpful to make this a space where everybody is invited to participate, offering their spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12). This space of eager, expectant open worship, where inspired vocal ministry, intercession, and whatever else the Spirit orchestrates is welcome, can also overflow into the life of the meeting, encouraging the pursuit of Spirit-led worship.
- Support efforts of unity in the Society of Friends. Connect to Friends from other regions, yearly meetings, and branches of Quakerism, and try to build dialogue and partnership for the edification of the whole Society. I am convinced that each branch of Quakerism preserves and builds upon various convictions and impulses that existed among early Friends. Therefore, I find inter-branch fellowship to be extremely helpful in discovering a fuller vision of Quakerism. Perhaps you can visit another yearly meeting’s sessions, or make it to a Friends World Committee (FWCC) event, such as the Section of the Americas meeting in March 2017, or attend the Midwest Interbranch Young Adult Friends gathering next month in Richmond, Indiana. I would also like to remind Friends that you can also monetarily support these initiatives and gatherings, even if you are unable to attend. For very biased examples, you can donate to the Friends World Committee, which does amazing inter-branch work and Quaker education, and the Quaker Voluntary Service, which brings together birthright, newly convinced, not (yet) convinced, Liberal, and Evangelical Friends into a year of service, spiritual exploration, and communal living. To further reveal my bias, I also have to recommend attending the biannual gatherings of the Friends of Jesus Fellowship, where there is gathered worship that is thoroughly informed by Quaker history and spirituality, but not held back by it. These gatherings draw folks from throughout the “Quaker spectrum”, as well as Quaker-curious Christians, and offer a space to dive into the experience of the Risen Christ and receive counsel and empowerment to extend the reign of God in the world.
I suppose I can only follow up these suggestions, ideas, etc., with some queries.
What are some others way we can seek vision, new Light, and revival as a community and for our community?
What is keeping us from growing and what do we need to change?
What message do modern Quakers preach, and is it the same as early Friends? If not, is that a problem?
How do we create strong-visioned communities that are also inclusive of all people?