Five Quaker Podcasts You Should Listen to Right Now
Quaker worship involves deep listening to promptings of the Spirit as well as to vocal ministry. In keeping with Friends’ belief in continuing revelation, we can listen for vocal ministry even in settings outside of meeting. Hosts of interview-based Quaker podcasts listen profoundly to create space for speakers to offer Spirit-led messages.
Speaking always has the potential to be ministry, according to Jon Watts, executive director of Thee Quaker Project, the organization behind a new weekly podcast of the same name slated to launch next week, on May 24.
“For a lot of our meetings for worship, we have our eyes closed, so there’s a sonic element to our spirituality that I think we’re just scratching the surface of exploring,” Watts said.
Thee Quaker producer and cohost Georgia Sparling intends to trace historic Quakerism’s evolution into the religion it is today, incorporating various voices along the way. Possible topics of future episodes include the Grimké sisters’ impact and Friends who felt strong callings that initially seemed contrary to their Quaker faith. Sparling also wants to produce an episode about whether George Fox really ate dolphin meat, as some apocryphal sources have suggested. One story that arose from a pitch meeting was about a Quaker pawpaw fruit expert, according to Watts.
Watts, who will also cohost Thee Quaker, previously worked as a singer-songwriter. While a student at Guilford College in North Carolina, Watts wrote an eight-minute song about the true story of James Nayler riding into Bristol, England, on a donkey in 1656, then released it on his website where it gained many listeners. In 2013, he started the video series QuakerSpeak, in partnership with Friends Journal. He directed that project for six years before leaving to pursue other endeavors.
Dwight Dunston, host of the Pendle Hill podcast The Seed: Conversations for Radical Hope, elicits spiritual insights by listening to interviewees in a “provocative and invitational” way, said Frances Kreimer, director of education at Pendle Hill, a Quaker conference and retreat center in Wallingford, Pa. Kreimer led a team at Pendle Hill to launch the podcast last fall; it’s now approaching its third season.
“For me as the host, I would say one lesson I have learned is just the power of being present,” said Dunston.
Dunston lived and worked at Pendle Hill teaching a course on Kingian nonviolence in the spring of 2022. He started there on a two-week sojourn that extended for three months. While at the center, he experienced a spiritual awakening. He contemplated his purpose and values and talked with others about their awakenings. As a result of Dunston’s ongoing relationship with Pendle hill, Kreimer invited him to be the host.
When considering starting The Seed and determining what topics to include, Kreimer and her team contemplated some of the same questions Friends use to determine whether to speak in meeting: Is this the time and place for the message? Am I the one to deliver it? Is it divinely inspired? These queries helped with discerning what specifically was Pendle Hill’s contribution to share.
Kreimer sees podcasts as analogous to the long-running Pendle Hill pamphlet series, which sends six short pamphlets a year to subscribers, because both seek to communicate with the general public in a substantive and affordable way.
Podcasts can replicate one of the most powerful aspects of an unprogrammed Quaker meeting for worship by allowing interviewees to spontaneously share messages, according to Peterson Toscano, who hosts the podcast Quakers Today, which is produced by Friends Publishing Corporation (also the publisher of Friends Journal and QuakerSpeak). In addition to featuring interviews, the podcast gives space for listeners to respond to specific queries. Each episode ends with a question for the audience to contemplate, followed by voicemails that were left in response to the previous episode’s question.
“I want listeners to hear their voices on the show,” Toscano said.
Episode topics for the Quakers Today podcast reflect both Friends Journal and QuakerSpeak content. The podcast airs mid-month and incorporates material from or inspired by that month’s issue of the magazine and recent QuakerSpeak videos.
“It’s a way of taking this excellent content and putting it in a different context,” Toscano said.
Toscano also works as a performance artist, Bible scholar, and community organizer focusing on LGBTQ+ issues and climate change.
The Honestly Aging podcast incorporates a mix of topics from the emotionally burdensome to the lighthearted, according to host Cheryl Proska, marketing director at Friends Life Care Partners, a Quaker-founded aging-in-place company based in Blue Bell, Pa. One guest from the LGBTQ+ community discussed the death of his longtime partner; another interviewee recounted the grief of losing his father.
The inaugural season deals with solo aging, which poses particular challenges and requires strong self-advocacy, according to Proska. She noted that childfree, divorced, and single people especially need information about aging on their own. The experience is becoming more common as people live longer and their grown children move away. Proska held virtual meetings with occupational therapists and nurses to brainstorm solo aging topics. Lighter episodes featured pet care advice for seniors and a choir of older adults that performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
Ohio Yearly Meeting’s Podcast features a study of the book of Mark in the Bible as led by Quaker Henry Jason, who reads New Testament Greek. Other episodes focus on studies of such volumes as Traditional Quaker Christianity, which is an exploration of the beliefs of modern-day Conservative Friends published by Ohio Yearly Meeting, and Ohio Yearly Meeting’s Book of Discipline. The podcast’s creators aim to help Friends at varying points of spiritual development.
“There are many Friends out there for whom we will speak to their condition,” said Chip Thomas, who coordinates the Ohio Yearly Meeting podcast.
“I find there’s an advantage in feedback,” Thomas said when asked about the strengths of the medium. Because users stream or download podcasts and those metrics can be tracked, creators have a better idea that their audiences are interested in the content than they would if they were sharing information via a website.