60th Anniversary: Worship Sharing Comes to Friends

Cover photograph by Terry Foss of Rachel Davis DuBois, 94-year-old member of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting's Committee on Aging.
Cover photograph by Terry Foss of Rachel Davis DuBois, 94-year-old member of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting’s Committee on Aging.

The pages of Friends Journal record a history of our Quaker customs and language. Some common phrases were present from the beginning (“as way opens”) while others are remarkably recent. The metaphorical image of “holding” someone “in the Light” didn’t appear until a 1969 poem by Barbara Reynolds which included this couplet: “First take your thought, this baby thing / And hold it to the Light” (it wouldn’t become common in prose for another decade).

A practice that one can trace through the archives is “worship sharing,” a mix of worship and discussion in small groups that centered on particular questions or queries. The term doesn’t appear in our pages until the late 1960s, but the idea first appears in 1959 through the work of Rachel Davis DuBois. Born in southern New Jersey in 1892, DuBois committed herself to overcoming racial prejudices after attending the first World Conference of Friends held in London in 1920. She became good friend of Margaret Mead, and knew Jane Addams, George Washington Carver, and W.E.B. DuBois (no relation). Over a long and distinguished teaching career that included schools in New York City, Chicago, and West Germany (on behalf of the U.S. State Department), she developed a teaching technique called Group Conversations.

In her late 60s, DuBois adapted these “Conversations” for Friends and began touring the country sharing the technique. In September 1959, we ran a three-paragraph news item titled “Quaker Dialogue.”

Quaker Dialogue

Rachel Davis DuBois of New York Monthly Meeting has recently completed visits to ten Meetings along the Eastern seaboard and in Florida under the sponsorship of the Advancement Committee of Friends General Conference. The purpose of the visits was to experiment with a new application of “group conversation,” a method successfully used by Rachel Davis DuBois in intergroup and intercultural relations.

Specifically, the “Quaker Dialogue,” as this new kind of ministry has now been named, is directed towards helping small groups of Friends share informally their ideas and concerns on the nature and role of the unprogramed meeting for worship, the business meeting, and outreach. Generally speaking, the aim was to help individuals to become more inwardly aware of the religious process in themselves, to sense what steps to take to stimulate spiritual growth, and in so doing to attain a greater sense of the inner harmony needed for counteracting the strains of today.

Typically, there were three two-hour sessions spread over two or three days, or, as in the case of one Meeting, all on one day. Each session included at least a half-hour of worship based on silence. No arrangements were made for notes to be taken, and in each case, to assure frankness and spontaneity, the groups were told that no decisions had to be made or agreements reached. The actual content of the discussions was different in each case, because of the differences in individuals and in the Meetings.

Most of the Meetings visited were enthusiastic about this type of ministry. The Advancement Committee of the Con- ference is considering the possibility of releasing Rachel Davis DuBois for additional service in another part of the country.

In the April 15, 1963 issue of Friends Journal, DuBois wrote an article called “Quaker Dialoguing,” introducing it with a lament that still regularly echoes in our pages:

In almost every Quaker Dialogue group there come such statements as “We don’t know each other enough in our Meeting” and “It was a shock when we realized how superficial had been our knowledge of each other.”

Later that year, Claremont (Calif.) Meeting shared its experiences of the Dialogues in an article titled “A Meeting’s Creative Experience.” They met once a week for six weeks to consider “how to raise the level of spirit in our meeting for worship.” Claremont Friends went on to share the format in an influential pamphlet and their version was sometimes known as the “Claremont Dialogues” among Western Friends.

In the mid-1960s, DuBois started leading shorter version of the Dialogues as a practice she called “worship sharing.” It was especially popular with younger Friends. The 1967 World Conference of Friends featured “two morning periods for meeting in small groups for worship-sharing and discussions of a variety of set topics.” A write-up of a large Young Friends of North America conference that summer worried it was already becoming too rote: “Some said that their worship-sharing groups became so entranced with the various techniques available for their use that they had not really taken the time to get to know one another.”

The next year, Friends General Conference held its last Gathering in Cape May, N.J. Worship groups were a major feature. The Gathering’s theme was “Renewal and Revolution.” Many younger Friends, radicalized by the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement and frustrated by the cautious policies of established Quaker bodies, were leaving to form their own unofficial networks, like “A Quaker Action Group,” founded in 1966. Rachel Davis DuBois’s political concerns, focus on group process,  and willingness to work outside established Quaker channels were to become a major influence on this generation of Friends. DuBois herself continued organizing cross-cultural dialogue for decades more and also worked on aging issues (she appeared on the cover of a 1986 issue on aging). She died in 1993 at the age of 101.



1 thought on “60th Anniversary: Worship Sharing Comes to Friends

  1. I have warm memories of Quaker Dialogues in Live Oak Meeting in Houston, including one co-led with May Mansoor Munn.

    Now I’m in Memphis Friends Meeting, and would like to share the process with my new meeting, but no longer have my Quaker Dialogue instructions. How does a Friend find the questions for Quaker Dialogue?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Maximum of 400 words or 2000 characters.

Comments on Friendsjournal.org may be used in the Forum of the print magazine and may be edited for length and clarity.