Among Friends: Casting the Light

Every so often I’m struck by the kind of luck the Friends movement seems to attract. Traveling Friends have grumbled over the disorganization of yearly meeting sessions since the earliest days. Eighteenth-century Friends got into the habit of purging the rolls for infractions we’d now consider petty. Friends fed up with the infighting and turmoil of the nineteenth-century schisms left in large numbers to join (and often lead) growing spiritual movements like the Mormons, Methodists, Shakers, and Pentecostals.

Betting money would have had Friends following in the footsteps of the many other colorful dissenting groups of the seventeenth-century British countryside, companions to the Diggers, Muggletonians, and Fifth Monarchists. Quakers: another funny-sounding extinct sect for the history books. Yet Friends persisted and evolved.

Then luck can strike. An example: in the late 1990s, entrepreneurs saw profit potential in the online spirituality market. Some decided to maximize their advertising revenue by creating funny online quizzes to get people to spend more time on their site. The programming team went to a  library to draft questions. As far as I know, it’s complete luck that the quiz told so many of its takers that they should become Quaker. Yet a random sequence of actions brought lots of curious visitors to our meetings—some of whom have stayed and joined.

But perhaps this is not all luck. I would like to think that some of the curiosity Friends engender in spiritual seekers arises from the relevance of our essential core message. Our practices and techniques still hold power. People still seek a direct communion with the Divine. They intuitively understand the humility of our silent practice and the joy of the inspired ministry. They feel the wisdom of grounded Friends come together for group decision making, social witness, or individual clearness.

The rise of online social media is the newest gift for our outreach efforts. Services like Facebook and YouTube let us reach out to neighbors and seekers with a directness that early pamphleteers could only dream about.

In this issue, we’ve asked some digitally pioneering Friends to talk about what they’ve been doing with social media. Mackenzie Morgan starts us off with an overview of social media platforms and specific techniques and case studies readers will find useful. But social media is not just mechanics: she and our other authors also touch on the careful discernment needed for Quakers to engage online. As Kathleen Wooten reminds us in “7 Advices for Online Gospel Ministry,” social media is first of all social; we should expect the same dynamics on the Internet that we see in our real-world lives. Isaac Smith’s “Walking Cheerfully Over the Web” shares an example of an online conflict that needed the same level of care from Ministry and Counsel as a conflict inside the meetinghouse would.

I hope that you will indulge us in a look at our own work: the QuakerSpeak video project is wrapping up its third season and closing in on its one-millionth view. Associate editor Gail Whiffen and I interviewed videographer Jon Watts in “Three Years and 153 Faces of QuakerSpeak.” I must admit that even I learned things about Jon’s careful spiritual preparation before interviews and the pun behind the QuakerSpeak name.

Social media is only ten-odd years old and there’s much room to learn and innovate. I hope Friends will continue these great experiments and cast our Light ever further.


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