Among Friends: A Spiritual and Secular Community in One

Earlier this year, I read Thomas Kelly’s A Testament of Devotion for the first time. Published 75 years ago, this slim yet weighty book has become a classic among Friends. I must admit that I feel a little more Quaker after consuming its contents. In “The Blessed Community,” Kelly speaks of “a new kind of life-sharing and of love” in which we find ourselves “when we are drowned in the overwhelming seas of the love of God.” It is here in the strong bonds of God’s love that we find more “friends for the soul”—friends of “real, dynamic connectedness,” resulting in an interknit fellowship where “cultural and educational and national and racial differences are leveled.” Doesn’t that sound wonderful?

The passionate and energizing style that so marks Kelly’s ideas and writings about community reminded me of a particularly inspirational workshop I participated in last summer. Along with 25 other participants (including four of my colleagues), I sat at a long table in a small space listening to the leader, Pamela Slim, present her Indispensable Community Tour to our Philadelphia group: “When we connect with others who share our interests, we feel good. We are part of something bigger. We feel accepted and loved.” Early on, amidst individual introductions, guiding questions, and descriptions of eight-part models for powerful community building, I was struck by a deceptively simple statement: “We all need each other.” These words continue to influence how I think about my own communities, including the community of Friends Journal readers.

Two aspects of community—the spiritual and the secular—come together quite nicely in Quakerism. You will find stories of both tracks in this issue.

First up is our annual Student Voices Project. Now in its third year, the project has seen another increase in the number of participants—a growth that mirrors this year’s project theme, “Building Community.” Our middle school and high school years are when we really begin to understand the power of community. These students find themselves in classrooms, on sports teams, in book clubs, and out in the world with peers who don’t always agree or even get along. Instead of viewing this diversity of thought as a challenge, they begin to embrace it and notice how it enriches their greater community. As SVP honoree Franklin Grear shares in his essay, “I think the thing that could make every community stronger is cherishing each other’s differences.”

Following the students’ work are five perspectives on the issue theme, “Spiritual Nurture and Quaker Training.” It can be easy to forget how vital supportive nurturers are to the health of our inner spiritual lives. I like Catherine Bly Cox’s description of this relationship in her piece on the School of the Spirit Ministry: “spiritual nurturing results when the heart is open to God and, consequently, to other people.” After reading this issue, I think you’ll agree we have a number of incredible resources at our disposal for deepening our understanding of ourselves and our faith—learnings which can, in turn, transform our communities for the better.

Lastly, speaking of her winding path to ministry, Amy Ward Brimmer includes this reminder: “I did not do it on my own, because nobody can.” We can’t do it alone. We all need each other as friends for the soul, differences and all.

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