Can Quakerism Survive?

How can we speak truth to ourselves if we deny its existence? I worry that we are in denial about a truth that threatens Quakerism’s survival. Membership in many of our yearly meetings has been shrinking for decades. There are relatively few young members and attenders, and many (if not most) of our meetings are primarily made up of aging baby boomers. When they are gone, there will likely be a sudden decrease in overall membership—maybe even a collapse—because there won’t be younger people to replace them. If membership continues to decrease, Quakerism in the United States will eventually die out.

The urgency of this problem struck me this past summer, when I attended Pacific Yearly Meeting for the first time. Although it was fulfilling and I was glad that I went, I expected to see at least some time devoted to the problem of dwindling membership. None was. I also have seen little about it in Quaker magazines, books, and pamphlets. This is what leads me to suspect that we avoid speaking truth to ourselves about our future—that we don’t want to face it. Acknowledging and dealing with the real threat to our existence may be so anxiety provoking that we ignore it and instead focus inward on less threatening topics.

I’ve seen this dynamic before. Over the past 40 years, I have been part of and seen organizations that had high ideals and did good work but were focused on internal dynamics and paid little attention to threats to their existence. As a result, they went under. I worry that our yearly, quarterly, and monthly meetings will also.

As part of vocal ministry during a plenary session at Pacific Yearly Meeting, I expressed some concern about the problem of decline. Afterwards, many people thanked me and said that they had had similar thoughts. Former presiding clerk Steve Smith wanted to start an email conversation about the topic, and so I sent him an email detailing my concerns and some possible solutions. It seemed to me that we didn’t know what methods or programs could be used to turn things around.

He wrote back and mentioned that in his own library he had a copies of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting’s Outreach Handbook: Suggestions for Attracting and Nurturing Newcomers and Enriching Quaker Meetings, published in 1986. FGC, which has seen an overall decline in attendance at its annual Gathering of Friends in the last decade, had also produced some material on outreach, found at “Outreach: Friends General Conference” with a link to “Growing Our Meetings Toolkit.”

I thought about what Steve had written, the resources he described (including FGC’s Quaker Quest outreach program and the Spiritual Deepening small group program), and realized that my initial diagnosis of the problem was wrong: it isn’t a lack of methods or programs; it’s a problem of motivation. Steve had written, “It appears to me that most Pacific Yearly Meeting Friends have come around to a fatalistic attitude, and take it for granted that our numbers will continue to shrink.”

This attitude needs to change. We need to be much more active if we’re going to survive and flourish.

Discontent, Urgency, and the Brutal Facts

Becoming active starts with acknowledging the problem. This may go against a tendency in Quakerism to avoid conflict and unpleasant truths, but you can’t solve a problem if you don’t recognize it. Acknowledgement often begins with a frank discussion—“confronting the brutal facts,” as American organizational theorist Jim Collins puts it. This is the start of speaking truth to ourselves. There are many forums in which to begin such a conversation, including monthly, quarterly, and yearly meetings; Quaker publications; and FGC and other larger Quaker bodies.

The point of frank discussion is to break out of complacency and increase discontent with the status quo. This is likely to create conflict, but dissatisfaction is the fuel of organizational change. Without dissatisfaction and a sense of urgency, people won’t act. And many motivated individuals need to act to turn around Quakerism. The strongest possible case for change needs to be made. Author and emeritus professor of leadership John Kotter writes that the point of increasing a sense of urgency is “to make the status quo seem more dangerous than launching into the unknown.” (Many of the ideas in this article came from the work of Kotter, organizational design researchers Bert A. Spector and Todd Jick, and church consultant Lyle E. Schaller.)

Why Is There No Vision of the Future of Quakerism?

Increasing discontent and fostering a sense of urgency is a good start, but without creating a vision of the future and showing the path to get there, people will just feel helpless. A well-defined vision allows people to clearly see the discrepancy between their hopes and reality. Confronting this gap is motivating, and the more people who do it, the better—because people who act to create change are more committed to it. Burning discontent with the status quo moves people to get away from an intolerable situation. A stirring vision of the future attracts people towards it. This combination of two forms of motivation is uniquely powerful.

Often a small group of three to five activists start a change process like this. They usually operate outside of normal organizational channels and committees. Individuals in such a group may want to look toward another person who changed Quakerism—John Woolman. He modeled the changes he advocated and had enormous determination. A small group may be all that’s needed in the first year, but a larger group is needed to pull together a rousing vision of the future, and this takes time.

Without the clear goal a vision provides, a change effort can fall apart and become a mishmash of unrelated programs that work against each other or lead nowhere. In The Vision Thing, author Todd Jick argues that an effective vision is “clear, concise, easily understood. Memorable. Exciting and inspiring. Challenging. Excellence centered. Stable, but flexible. Implementable and tangible.”

Is there such an inspiring vision for the future of Quakerism? If there is, I am unaware of it. And that’s a problem, because a vision needs to be widely held throughout Quakerism, if it is going to motivate people to change. It needs to be continually “reinforced through words, symbols, and actions or else it will be viewed as temporary or insincere,” according to Jick.

A Starter Vision

It may help to see a specific example of such a vision, so here is my vision of Quakerism in five years. It is just a possible starting point. If it proves effective, many people will add to it, correct it, and change it to fit their needs.

You can walk into any monthly meeting and see strong First-day school and youth programs. There are people of all ages sitting down for worship. Some newcomers are there because members and attenders invited them. Others are there because of the meeting’s outreach programs. People explain to newcomers what to do in meeting for worship before it starts, and they have a meaningful first experience of worship. The meetinghouse has the look of a spiritual home that is vibrant and growing. People new to meeting are greeted warmly during fellowship. A lot of newcomers are staying because they’re finding a spiritual friendship and intimacy in the small groups. People in meetings are focusing their lives on the Spirit more and more—discerning leadings and acting on them. This has led to inspiring, influential peace and justice programs.

We Must Commit and Persist

The changes suggested here won’t be accomplished if they’re the result of weak or intermittent efforts. In an email, Steve Smith wrote:

Dwindling membership and attendance in Pacific Yearly Meeting has been on the front burner at times, both at Pacific Yearly Meeting and in various monthly meetings and worship groups in Pacific Yearly Meeting. A few years ago, there was a modest burst of energy invested in Quaker Quest.

A burst of effort that fades away won’t work. We need long-term, persistent, strong effort at all levels—local, regional, and national. Half-hearted measures, like adding a session to a yearly meeting’s annual gathering, won’t do it. Tenacious effort is essential.

I’m only touching on the first steps that are needed to change the direction of Quakerism. There are more. Kotter suggests that they include communicating the vision; empowering others to act on it; creating short-term wins; consolidating improvements, and producing still more change; and institutionalizing new approaches.

There Is Hope

I don’t want to give the impression that all Quaker meetings are slowly dying or that all of us really don’t want to face this crisis. Some meetings are growing, and that shows that it is possible to counter the slow decline that afflicts so many meetings.

In 2013, I was a member of Santa Monica Meeting in southern California. Attendance at meeting for worship had been shrinking for at least ten years. But that year we started an outreach committee. We examined the problem of declining attendance, looked at what other denominations were doing, came up with some ideas of our own, and put what we learned into action. The next year, attendance increased somewhere between 15 to 20 percent. Since then, my wife and I moved about 400 miles north and now attend the Grass Valley Meeting in Nevada City, California. I still get back to Santa Monica Meeting once in a while, and every time I visit, it just seems to keep growing and flourishing.

The change made by Santa Monica shows that decline is not inevitable. Even though it may be controversial or cause conflict, we need to speak truth to ourselves by breaking out of denial and publicly acknowledging the problem, increase discontent with the way things are, clarify the urgent need for change, forge an inspiring vision of the future, start to take action, and persist until we’ve reversed the trends that threaten our survival.

Donald W. McCormick was a professor for 30 years. He taught leadership and organizational change. Currently he is the director of education for Unified Mindfulness, a mindfulness teacher training organization. He is a member of Grass Valley Meeting in Nevada City, Calif. Contact: [email protected].

Posted in: Features, February 2018

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35 Responses to Can Quakerism Survive?

  1. Robert Oberg February 1, 2018 at 5:20 pm #

    City & State
    Charlotte, NC
    The statement of the problem resonated with me immediately. I have been wrestling with the problem of conflict and spiritually-led decision making in connection with a new foundation whose mission is to support spiritual art. We have written into our bylaws a “sense of the group” process inspired by Quaker process, although I am the only member of the Board with Quaker experience. There has been a lot of discussion of conflict and decision-making in recent issues of Friends Journal, and I have been grateful for that. One resource for me has been the Pendle-Hill pamphlet “Beyond Consensus: Salvaging Sense of the Meeting” by Barry Morley. One thing I learned was that the original name of our organization was Religious Society of Friends of the Truth. Thus I was struck by the opening sentence “How can we speak truth to ourselves …”

    Morley’s subtitle suggests that “sense of the meeting” needs to be salvaged. All is not well. Besides dropping “of the Truth”, in practice it appears that Friends sometimes think of our movement as simply “Society of Friends”.

    I believe the essence of our problem is not outreach programs, greeting newcomers warmly and the like – all fine actions but they would be applicable to any progressive secular organization dedicated to good fellowship and social causes. We have a precious spiritual core. Let us connect to it!

    • Sarah February 2, 2018 at 10:35 pm #

      City & State
      Yes! This Friend speaks my mind.

      I married a man who is Several generations Quaker. We attend the same Meeting his Grandfather attended. My hubs has said before that the Meeting we attend is not the same that his Grandfather attended and it isn’t in a positive way.

      It has been a jarring adjustment for me. Our sign say “Religious Society of Friends” but there seems to be a sense that we are not religious or even people of faith. That is just historically not correct. The bones are good but I definitely feel that “modern” Quakerism seems to be more of a political social club than anything else.

      I think it is fine to explore ideas and question what we used to know vs. what we know now, but new families and persons do not look for a house of worship to AVOID faith. And sadly that seems to be what we are doing. It is disheartening.

      We attend Meeting as a family with the goal of growing our closeness in spirituality, fellowship and faith. We go to skip the other 6 days a week where we are constantly bombarded with the world in order to have a time of reflection and divine guidance. . I cannot think of one Meeting for Worship that I have attended in the past year that didn’t concern itself primarily with secular, political and social causes first and religion, faith and spirituality as an afterthought.

      I don’t know if it is coming from a sense of fear that we will scare people off ,or just not really having a good sense of how to discuss faith , or even embarrassment that leadership refuses to admit they just don’t know how to start. But it needs to be corrected.

      When I speak with friends (small f) about meeting and they ask about faith life and spirituality I have relatively little to offer. I love Quakerism enough to want to share it with everyone I meet but there seems to be a limited amount to share that meets the spiritual needs of my social circle.

      Two weeks ago, someone who I would consider a “weighty Friend” shared a short section of a William Comfort writing with me and it moved me tremendously. Oh how I wish Friends could be brave enough to hear and respond to the needs of the Meeting Body instead of pretty much insisting an ideal of quiet compliance.

      I really do hope that this article reaches MANY Quaker Meetings. Sometimes the truth is difficult to hear but in reality it is a gift to learn and grow and develop. Unless those changes are made I am sure Quakerism will die out.

      I am not under the impression, from my self guided research and readings, that we are not in a good place as a collective body. We have 3 children and I am frustrated that I am continuously floundering for ways to talk about faith at home and there being relatively little to support that though meeting. And after talking with Friends of all ages there is a clear gap between needs and what is being offered. The REALLY old generation quietly laments the loss of faith as the main focus. Baby boomers who seem to think we must abandon any sense of religion and faith, and then the younger families who are desperately looking for a place of faith to bring their families and are being largely ignored.

      I am happy to read that this concern is on other Friend’s minds as well.

      • Don McCormick February 7, 2018 at 6:32 pm #

        City & State
        Grass Valley, CA
        Dear Sarah,

        I am struck by your post about the “sense that we are not religious or even people of faith.” Recently I have been impressed by a survey of 2,000 churches and half a million churchgoers-the Reveal survey. 54% of the churchgoers surveyed said that the primary thing that they wanted from church was spiritual guidance. Something over 30% said they wanted fellowship. Important parts of spiritual guidance include wanting to be challenged to grow spiritually, to be provided “a clear pathway that helps guide my spiritual growth,” and be given next steps.

        I don’t think that Quakers are all that different from the churchgoers from the survey. I think that most seekers, first-time attenders, attenders and members also come to meeting wanting spiritual guidance in the form of a clear path, next steps, and challenge. We don’t always provide this, but if we did provide what people truly want from a spiritual community, I think that there would no longer be a problem of shrinking membership.



        • Anthony Hicks February 19, 2018 at 5:32 pm #

          City & State
          Memphis, TN
          I reluctantly admit to being among those who have drifted away from active involvement in Quakerism. I was a regular Attender for a couple of years. A point came when it seemed like I was gathering for a weekly seminar more than a life affirming religious experience. Not wanting to give up, I drove four hours to different Meeting. On the third visit, which happened to coincide with a facilitated workshop on Witnessing Whiteness, where white members had been spending several weeks prior taking a sobering look in the mirror, I discretely left the meeting and have not been back to a Quaker meeting since. This was about three years ago. At the meeting, one of the outside facilitators (white) quietly asked me, (African-African), not to participate in the discussion period because the idea was for the whites in the meeting to speak among themselves about issues surrounding their whiteness. Definitely a needed discussion, but to ask me not to participate was unsettling. All I could think was here I am the lone black person among a room full of liberal Quakers having a Jim Crow moment. I still admire Quakerism for what it stands for and 1) think it should put more emphasis on spirituality first and 2) be more vocal and strategic on social justice issues.

      • MH February 13, 2018 at 4:09 pm #

        City & State
        Hi Sarah,
        “Quakerism seems to be more of a political social club than anything else.”

        As a political social club we have automatically excluded half the population. Read “The Trouble with Strangers” in this month’s issue and see if members of both political parties would feel welcome in Quaker Meeting. It almost seems as if being a member of one party is a requirement for attending a Meeting. And as you said, “religion, faith and spirituality” are secondary concerns.

        • NC February 14, 2018 at 1:27 pm #

          City & State
          Philadephia PA
          This^ This so much it hurts. I no longer attend meeting because it is no longer about spirituality, just politics. Every week it is an Anti-Trump rally, and although I am not a fan of Trump, it’s gotten tiresome, unwholesome, redundant, and ridiculous. These messages are from the Ego and not the Spirit. Once the Spirit returns, then maybe I will return.

        • Sarah February 14, 2018 at 11:32 pm #

          City & State
          Agreed. I have not been to a single event in the past year that didn’t imply that there was a “right way” to vote and a “wrong way”

    • Don McCormick February 7, 2018 at 7:41 pm #

      City & State
      Grass Valley, CA
      Dear Robert

      You wrote, “I believe the essence of our problem is not outreach programs, greeting newcomers warmly and the like – all fine actions but they would be applicable to any progressive secular organization dedicated to good fellowship and social causes. We have a precious spiritual core. Let us connect to it!”

      I agree with you but I still appreciate the value of things like “outreach programs, greeting newcomers warmly and the like.” Many of these comparatively superficial activities can make a big difference when it comes to the continued survival of meetings. If people are initially put off when these activities are done poorly or not at all, they won’t get the chance to experience the deeper, more meaningful aspects of Quakerism.

      But let me reassert that I agree with you completely about the essence of the problem. We aren’t just a “progressive secular organization.” We do need to connect to our “precious spiritual core.” I say a little bit more about this in my response to Sarah’s post.



  2. Cynthia B. Stafford February 5, 2018 at 10:07 am #

    City & State
    Westfield, IN
    Like Sarah, I am not a birthright Quaker, but married one. Our town is famously (to locals anyway) where Asa Bales, Simon Moon, Ambrose Osborne, and the whole town put their lives and faith on the line to operate stations on the Underground Railroad. Isn’t that living God’s love and service?

    In 1861, these Quakers established Union Bible College and Academy which is still in operation a few miles from my home. Earlham College, a Quaker institution, is in our state.

    The meeting we attend is shrinking because the Friends there are aging. Most Sundays I hear talk about the M & C’s quest to attract new Quakers to our meeting.They have tried all kinds of “things”/programs to attract new families. I am a relatively new Quaker, but what I don’t understand is why Quakers seem afraid to share with others their rich heritage of love, service, and faith. Like Dr. McCormick, I believe the reason has something to do with facing reality and the motivation to do something about the future of Quakerism.

    Quakers do not need to try to compete with seeker churches. While they are energetic and fine for some, there are plenty of people like me who searched for years and went to almost every denomination looking for the peace I encountered as I continued to attend meetings. I read everything I could find about the whys and wherefores of Quakerism. Our history speaks for itself and we need to stand on that.

    Quakers are quiet, simple-living people. but we’re going to have to get a bit more vocal is we expect to share the faith with future generations. Didn’t George Fox do that?

    Thank you for publishing this article. I hope and pray it sparks conversation and motivates all Quakers to publicly define ourselves and commit to action. Otherwise, there will be no more Quakers.

    • Kathryn Ruud February 9, 2018 at 3:13 pm #

      City & State
      Middletown Maryland
      You speak my mind, Friend. I was attracted to Quakerism because of the history you describe and found a caring community, people who do act on behalf of the welfare of our society, but the underlying passion to speak truth to power as did the early voices seems lacking to me. Many early Quakers seemed (in my reading of Quaker history) fierce and willing to take risk. This now seems to be lost as I think many shy from being seen as at all offensive or confrontational against abuse of power.

      I also do not want to attend a Meeting in which worship seems like one political statement after another. But it seems to me, in my understanding of Quakerism, both the cultivation of spirit and bringing it forth into the challenges of our time (nourishing a shared confrontation against darkness) are called for.

      There seems to be much disagreement about what ministry actually is, today, in my experience. If early Quaker history is any guide, there is and should be a wide range of voices, with ministry not just done one way. In the past, for instance, John Woolman and Abby Kelley had very different approaches to bringing forth the anti-slavery abolitionist message, which was of course an outgrowth of Quaker conscience and the testimony of equality. He was soft-spoken, of gentle manner, worked one-on-one: she was outspoken, fiery, attracted large (and often hostile) crowds wherever she travelled. And there were many giving testimony in in-between ways.

      That said, I do notice Quakers are often on the scene, acting individually in our larger society, to be present where healing and light are needed. It may not be enough for others to take notice, though, in anything but small numbers.

    • Don McCormick February 10, 2018 at 5:11 pm #

      City & State
      Grass Valley, CA
      Dear Cynthia

      I appreciate your post and your prayers. They are starting to be answered in this forum in a small way. Conversation has been sparked and Gabrielle has called for publicly declaring who we are and what we stand for. I was discussing this article with an editor at Friends Journal and he said that the staff appreciated the spirited discussion that they are seeing in this forum. I hope that a sense of urgency develops in Quakerism because if the current trend continues and we don’t do something about this problem, we’re sunk.

      Yours in the Light,


      • Cynthia February 11, 2018 at 10:42 am #

        City & State
        Dear don,
        I am glad the conversation has started. Quakerism has much to offer NOW as in the past. I hope the Friends Journal will keep in front of Quakers everywhere the discussion and that there will be subsequent action steps.

        I would appreciate updates on any developments from you and the Journal. I plan to share your article with our meeting.


  3. Dan O'Keefe February 7, 2018 at 5:21 am #

    City & State
    Milwaukee, WI
    Donald McCormick’s heartfelt words should be taken seriously. Two of us at Milwaukee Monthly Meeting have
    documented and presented information that of the members and attenders who provide the energy and spirit of
    our meeting, 2/3’s are over 65 years of age. We suspect that this is not unusual among other monthly meetings. This was difficult information to share. We did not receive enjoy sharing such dark information.

    We must now respond to Donald’s query, “What do we have to do to develop a sense of urgency?” Here is a list of tasks, in no particular order, that will be necessary:
    Share paper and electronic copies of Donald’s articles with Friends.
    Talk about this topic informally before and after worship.
    Bring before meeting for business and other committees, again and again.
    Bring before yearly and quarterly meeting for business, again and again.
    Begin the hard work of reallocating finances to this effort.
    Know this will not be easy. Denial takes persistence to overcome.
    Also, know that complex forces are challenging all mainline congregations, and this effort will require
    a vivid, bold and an exhilarating imagination, as well as commitment and hard work.

    And we can do this with love and guidance of the spirit.

    Dan O’Keefe

    • Don McCormick February 7, 2018 at 7:23 pm #

      City & State
      Grass Valley, CA
      Dear Dan

      I think you are completely right about the need for persistence. I also really appreciate the point you make about bringing up this crisis in quarterly and yearly meeting, and meeting for business.

      Also, when you look at all the various committees in monthly and other meetings, you see that they all have things that they can contribute to turning things around. Just to take two examples, adult education committee can make sure that first time attenders are educated about what to do in this strange new type of Sunday morning worship, and make sure that the people who are starting to attend have the opportunity to learn what Quakerism is about sooner rather than later. The building maintenance committee can see what can be done to the physical setting to make it more welcoming-like making sure there are signs that show where to take your children if you bring your kids, putting up signs that show where the bathrooms are, making sure that there isn’t peeling paint or other things that suggest that the meeting is on a downhill slide, or replacing the hand carved, all lower case, wooden sign in front of the meeting house that screams “We are stuck in the 1970’s!” with a sign that is a bit more up to date.

      Hmm. It appears that I got on a bit of a rant there.

      Anyway, I really appreciated your post.


      Don McCormick

  4. Gabrielle February 8, 2018 at 7:56 pm #

    City & State
    Parsippany, NJ
    I spent 5 years in ministry for Young Adult Friends and families on staff at my yearly meeting. I see the problem less about vision, I don’t think many would disagree with the vision you lay out. I think, honestly, it is about the struggle to say who we are NOW. I find North American unprogrammed Friends, on the whole, terrified of defining who we are for fear of excluding someone. So much so, that when people visit we don’t say who we are and what makes us alive NOW. We lament declining membership and when newcomers arrive we pounce on them and expect them to save us.

    Friends in other parts of the world see growing membership. As I talk to them to see why it is not because they have a vision of the future, but that they are so on fire in the present that people want to be a part of it. Even if no one joined ever again, they are on fire, now. Their future doesn’t depend on a vision of the future, but in a willingness to say who they are and what they do TODAY.

    If a newcomer comes into our meeting, in search of life and we tell them, “we will be awesome in 5 years, you just have to stick around long enough to see if you can make it so.” They will leave.

    If they walk in and are greeted with a menu of ways that friends are living into their leadings and that they can see what speaks to them, they are more likely to stay. If our meetings are simply made up of committees that exist solely because they have always existed and are not filled with leadings from those members and attenders presently, we are not living NOW. And God is NOW.

    • Don McCormick February 10, 2018 at 6:33 pm #

      City & State
      Grass Valley, CA
      Dear Gabrielle,

      Your observation that “North American unprogrammed Friends, on the whole, [are] terrified of defining who we are for fear of excluding someone” is a really interesting one. I know that when I first started attending Quaker meeting I was quite frustrated with all the ambiguity about what Quakerism was about. Eventually I grew to see the ambiguity as a strength, as it allowed people of a wide variety of different spiritual persuasions to find a home in Quaker meeting. Lately though, I’m not so sure. I think that we would be stronger if we had less ambiguity and more clarity about the spiritual path of Quakerism and the destination it leads to. I discuss this in a bit more detail in my response to Sarah’s post.

      You write, “If a newcomer comes into our meeting, in search of life and we tell them, ‘we will be awesome in 5 years, you just have to stick around long enough to see if you can make it so.’ They will leave.” I agree. A vision isn’t for the first time attender, it is for the people already involved.
      You write, “If they walk in and are greeted with a menu of ways that friends are living into their leadings and that they can see what speaks to them, they are more likely to stay.” I like what you are saying about what could happen in Quaker meetings in the future. It’s a vision of the future of Quakerism that we can both get behind. In fact, in many ways it’s better than the one in my article. To borrow from the old fable, I thought of my vision as the stone that could possibly start a stone soup.



      • Robert Oberg February 11, 2018 at 11:49 am #

        City & State
        Dear Don,

        I really appreciated Gabrielle’s post and your reply. I too like the vision of “If they walk in and are greeted with a menu of ways that friends are living into their leadings and that they can see what speaks to them, they are more likely to stay.” If one of the items on that menu is Spirit, not as a vague metaphor but a living reality that indeed sets people on fire, I would be more deeply drawn into our Meeting. In his classic book, “The Varieties of Religious Experience”, William James gives Quakerism as his very first example of true religious experience. James writes:

        “I speak not now of your ordinary religious believer, who follows the conventional observances of his country, whether it be Buddhist, Christian, or Mohammedan. His religion has been made for him by others, communicated to him by tradition, determined to fixed forms by imitation and retained by habit. It would profit us little to study this second-hand religious life. We must make search rather for the original experiences which were the pattern setters to all this mass of suggested feeling and imitated conduct. These experiences we can only find in individuals for whom religion exists not as a dull habit, but as an acute fever…

        “If you ask for a concrete example, there can be no better one than is furnished by the person of George Fox, The Quaker religion which he founded is something which is impossible to overpraise. In a day of shams, it was a religion of veracity rooted in spiritual inwardness, and a return to something more like the original gospel truth than men had ever known in England.”

        A religion of veracity rooted in spiritual inwardness is something I seek today. I do believe that religious veracity can take many forms.

        When I first attended a Quaker meeting I was greeted warmly and shown a literature rack that included a pamphlet “Your First Time in a Quaker Meeting?” What was said there resonated with me deeply, including this sentence: “United in love, and strengthened by truth, the worshippers enter upon a new level of living, despite the different ways in which they may account for this life-expanding experience.” Later on during the silent worship I felt a burning in my mind that I had to stand and speak of this welcome I felt, not knowing them how rare it is for one to actually speak out of the silence. I attended virtually every Sunday for over a year. But someone how I lost a sense of connection to the Meeting and dropped out. Ironically, the Friend who so warmly welcomed me that first day also dropped out around the same time. (I stayed in touch with him, and recently felt a call to talk to him again, but sadly he has passed away.)

        I had not attended Meeting for over a year when my wife died suddenly from injuries suffered by being hit by a turning vehicle while we were out on our regular walk. I called the Clerk of the Meeting, and she said “you are one of us”. The Meeting hosted a very nice memorial service, and afterwards I visualized myself returning to the Meeting. But it has not happened except for coming occasionally to stay in touch. I had never felt again that burning to speak out of the silence until a few months ago, when it happened again. I don’t know exactly what prompted it, but I felt a call to quote a short poem I wrote many years ago while attending a Zen meditation weekend with my wife the week after my mother died.

        He was a stranger among them
        Their ways were strange to him
        He was lonely
        So he clung to his own ways.

        A thousand paths
        A thousand divisions
        A thousand tears.

        The world is so divided now, there are so many divisions. I believe a revitalized Quakerism can offer a path to healing. Many thanks, Don, for beginning this discussion.

    • Don McCormick February 12, 2018 at 1:49 am #

      City & State
      Grass Valley, CA
      What do you think can be done so that Quaker meetings become places we “say who we are NOW… and what makes us alive NOW” and where people “walk in and are greeted with a menu of ways that friends are living into their leadings and that they can see what speaks to them”? How can meetings across the country become “so on fire in the present that people want to be a part of it”? I like your idea. For me, the question is–how do we get there from here?

  5. Mackenzie February 9, 2018 at 11:57 am #

    City & State
    If Quakerism should keep going just for the sake of keeping institutions going, it doesn’t deserve to survive. That’s all I see in this article, though.

    This article makes no mention of God, Jesus, or Christ. There’s only one reference to Spirit. You could substitute “Kiwanis” in and have about the same article. There’s no vision here.

    If we have a vital faith in the living Christ who speaks to us, loves us, and welcomes us into his friendship, to whom we listen and obey, and we believe others would be well-served if we invited them to meet this Christ and grow in friendship with him and in his discipline, then yes, Quakerism deserves to survive. And it’ll do so when we start inviting people in to that relationship—going and making disciples, as Jesus commanded. Faithfulness requires obedience. If we are to be as faithful as we claim, we must obey.

    If, on the other hand, we only want Quakerism to survive so we can keep seeing our buddies week after week: set up a recurring dinner party in your calendar app!

    • Don McCormick February 10, 2018 at 8:15 pm #

      City & State
      Grass Valley, CA
      Dear Mackenzie

      Thank you for responding to my article.

      You wrote, “If we have a vital faith in the living Christ who speaks to us, loves us, and welcomes us into his friendship, to whom we listen and obey, and we believe others would be well-served if we invited them to meet this Christ and grow in friendship with him and in his discipline, then yes, Quakerism deserves to survive. And it’ll do so when we start inviting people in to that relationship-going and making disciples, as Jesus commanded. Faithfulness requires obedience. If we are to be as faithful as we claim, we must obey.” I am sure that you know that not all Quakers are Christians-that there are Jewish Quakers, Buddhist Quakers, nontheistic Quakers-all sorts of Quakers. It looks like you are implying that Quaker groups that aren’t explicitly Christian don’t deserve to survive, but I strongly suspect that this isn’t your actual position, which I assume is more nuanced. Am I right about that?

      I’d be very interested in hearing what you think should be done in order for Quakerism to survive. Do you have a vision of the future of Quakerism that you’d be willing to share? I ask in part because I was talking about the responses to my article with a senior editor of Friends Journal, and he said that when he read the part of the article that said, “Often a small group of three to five activists start a change process like this,” he imagined you as one of the members of that small group.



      • Mackenzie February 12, 2018 at 10:00 pm #

        City & State
        Silver Spring, MD
        I just told a friend that the reason I am constantly struggling about whether to stay in this denomination is that I like Quaker theology, but I dislike how Quakers seem to see no value in its continued existence.

        He agreed and told me about his yearly meeting’s visioning process, where they basically said “more meetings,” but they never answered “why?” That’s the same problem I have with your article. Why should Quakerism survive? Why should it increase? What unique thing do we bring to the world? I think “should we?” must always come before “can we?” And we might have to define who we are and what our purpose is before we can answer that.

        Are we a group who meets weekly, can each believe whatever we want, and are interested in progressive politics and social justice? If so, what sets us apart? Silence?

        If it is our affection for silence (perhaps 5 minutes in the programmed traditions and an hour in the unprogrammed), then it seems we’ve made silence into one of those empty forms the early Friends so often decried.

        If it’s not silence, then we need to do a much better job articulating that first. Step zero in coming up with a communications plan or an outreach plan is to figure out who you want to reach with what message. What is our message? Do we have one?

        As Sarah said in another comment here, “people don’t go looking for a house of worship to AVOID faith,” but that’s often how Liberal Quaker communities behave.

        Ultimately, I think a vision needs to be compelling for both those inside and those we are seeking to reach. While what you’ve said might sound motivational for those already inside (especially those who would be sad to see something they built die out or long for “the good old days”), it’s not going to be a good answer when someone we’re trying to invite in asks “what’s your vision?” or “what’s your mission?” Breaking yours down:

        1. We want more people of more ages. “Join us because we’re short on people your age!” doesn’t seem likely to work 😛
        2. I think “people are showing up because we invited them” is kind of “cart before the horse.” People are coming to a house of worship or a faith community because they have a spiritual yearning, need healing after abuse (that was my reason), etc. Which one they end up in is partly dependent on who invites them, but I think the vision should say what we have to offer people who are hurting. People are coming because we offer them a place of healing, and we offer them a new way to think about God. And offer is a verb! It still implies those invitations and programs, but I think starting with what we offer and then later saying “and we invite others to share in the transformation we’ve found” would mean more to people who aren’t yet insiders.
        3. Greeters are competent. Should be a given in any organization.
        4. The property is well-maintained. Should be a given in any organization.
        5. Regulars…aren’t…jerks? Should be a given in any organization.
        6. “spiritual friendship and intimacy” — I think you mean something beyond the regular friendships I find in live action role-playing, but I would love to see this part expanded upon.
        7. People in meetings are focusing their lives on the Spirit more and more—discerning leadings and acting on them. — *thumbs up* but I might rephrase to make more sense to people who don’t speak Quakerese (ie, everyone else says “calling”)
        8. Are “peace and justice programs” the goal of our faith community? I think those are peripheral to transformation and growth.

        If I was going to give it a try:

        “We envision a community, driven by love for God, one another, and the world, growing together in faithful obedience to our callings, inviting others to experience the healing, transformation, and growth we’ve found, and working together to make visible the Kingdom of God that is within us.”

        I also don’t think the fact that non-theists have decided to join a Christian denomination means the Christian denomination needs to stop saying “God” 😉 But I suppose you could leave God out of the first bit and say “make visible the Light that is within us” if God-talk really bothers you.

        • Paul Ricketts February 13, 2018 at 11:58 am #

          City & State
          Fort Wayne IN
          Mackenzie you shared ”I just told a friend that the reason I am constantly struggling about whether to stay in this denomination is that I like Quaker theology, but I dislike how Quakers seem to see no value in its continued existence.”

          I too struggle with Quakers. Like Queen Elizabeth I, I have no desire to make windows into men[women] souls. Mackenzie, I was raised in a High(Lutheran) church. What was deeply etched in our minds and hearts at early age was the belief that the church was not a voluntary association of individuals. The church was a mystical communion In which we all share in the divine life of God. Regardless of who we are.

          So when Quakers have worked my last nerve, in regards to spirituality and race in particular. I’m reminded by my Lutheran antecedents that the Church and Quakerism in particular is not about individuals aka ” hyphenated Quakers” or a particular political ideology. The sovereignty of God.

          Paul’s address to the leaders of Areopagus – the city council of Athens “One who is not really far from any of us- the One in whom we live and move and have our being. As one of your poets has put it, ‘We too are God’s children.’’ (Acts 17:28 The Inclusive New Testament).

          God is sovereign! Whether we are faithful or not, whether we acknowledge there is anything beyond human experience or not, and whether we are on the margins. We are people of faith, I believe, when we live and love in the power of that sovereignty. God need not be believed in to be joined. Perhaps God believes in us far more than many of us believe in her..

          So query for me this morning is how do we create welcoming,safe,life-giving and affirming faith environments. That all my participate in the divine life of God?

          One of my favorite songs by Carrie Newcomer “Room at the Table”
          “Let our hearts not be hardened
          To those living on the margins,
          There is room at the table for everyone.”

          • Sarah February 13, 2018 at 9:34 pm #

            City & State

            How beautiful and comforting. I have re read your words several times. They have eased my mind and soul tremendously.

            “God is sovereign! Whether we are faithful or not, whether we acknowledge there is anything beyond human experience or not, and whether we are on the margins. We are people of faith, I believe, when we live and love in the power of that sovereignty. God need not be believed in to be joined.”

            Thank you.

          • Liz February 19, 2018 at 3:55 pm #

            City & State
            Thank you

        • Don McCormick February 13, 2018 at 7:19 pm #

          City & State
          Grass Valley, CA
          Dear Mackenzie

          I like your vision. It is concise and deep.

          One of the things about it that struck me is your description of a community driven by love for God. It made me realize that I have heard a lot about listening to God in Quakerism, but hardly anything about love for God. I’m not sure why that is the case, but I do find it striking.

          I laughed when I read #5 in your critique of my “starter vision”—“5. Regulars…aren’t…jerks? Should be a given in any organization.”

          I think that you may be putting more time into critiquing the vision I wrote in the article than it deserves. When I called it a starter vision, my idea was that it would just be a sort of place-holder that would start people talking about a better, deeper, more inspiring one. I thought of it as being like the stone in the old fable of stone soup. Once everyone in the village contributed their bits of food and the a kettle of water with a little rock in it had turned into a tasty, nourishing soup, the original stone could be taken out and thrown away.

          – Don

          • Mackenzie February 14, 2018 at 5:19 pm #

            City & State
            Silver Spring, MD
            It often seems there’s a temptation to choose between the two greatest commandments. Love God or love your neighbor.

            Part of “why?” might also include “why do we need yearly meetings?” and a reimagining of what they’re for. Why do we need membership? What’s it for?

            I’ve been finding it much more beneficial in this modern, interconnected world to reach across yearly meeting (and branch!) lines to work together. It seems like each yearly meeting has one or two people who are really driven to see how we can reach out to others in cyberspace, so we’ve been coordinating, with occasional check-ins to our yearly meetings. And there’s the Quaker RE Collaborative. Yearly meetings aren’t in competition with each other, so we build inter-YM projects and share the results. And then I wonder why we have so many yearly meetings and what all those sets of hierarchy are doing.

  6. Paul Ricketts February 11, 2018 at 3:14 pm #

    City & State
    Fort Wayne IN
    [Removed by request of comment author]

  7. Gregory Allen-Anderson February 11, 2018 at 7:56 pm #

    City & State
    Orlando FL
    I appreciate the discussion that is unfolding in response to this article.

    As a relative newcomer to Quakerism and my meeting, I confess I was a little taken aback that there was no real outline on how to ‘do this Quaker thing’. So I agree that I think newcomers would appreciate that kind of orientation. Something that is available, not required, but that can help a newcomer learn the lingo, and basic practices that have historically been used.

    On the other hand, we don’t want to make it seem that there is “The Quaker Way”. We are a non-creedal church with no official dogma, and I think that is one of our strengths.

    I think that sort of welcome and orientation is one thing we can do to help newcomers feel more comfortable in taking part of the life of the meeting.

    The other is deciding what a particular meeting is about. Most of our meetings are pretty small, so we don’t have the capacity to be engaged with every aspect of Quakerism.

    Is our meeting more focused on the individual spiritual growth of the members?
    Is our meeting more focused on creating social change in our community?
    Is our meeting more focused on demonstrating a different way of being in community?
    Is our meeting more focused on being a prophetic witness calling our leaders to cherish peace and justice?

    While it would be ideal if a meeting were good at all of these things, that probably isn’t realistic. But I think we can, as meetings, discern where the Spirit is calling us as a meeting and still do our best to welcome and support those whose spiritual focus is different.

    Not every meeting will be the same, and that is as it should be, but I do think every meeting has the opportunity to labor together and come to know what the meeting is FOR. It may be though that the meeting discerns a different path than I would have chosen and hopefully I have the Grace to accept that.

    Hopefully we also are open to being led to being the change we seek. Perhaps God is calling us to start a spiritual enrichment program, or a social justice committee, or a young adult ministry.

    George Fox seemed pretty big on the Spirit being a source of unity, so the impulse not to draw a circle that leaves people out is I think a worthy one, but I have faith that if we stand in the Light together, we will find our way forward.

    What are we being called to do together?

    • Mackenzie February 12, 2018 at 10:08 pm #

      City & State
      Silver Spring, MD
      Are you familiar with Blue Ocean Faith? They have a nice little explanation and diagram (click on “2. CENTERED SET IS OUR PRIMARY METAPHOR.”) of something I remember Wess Daniels talking about in regard to Quakers.

      Wess says, as you do, that drawing a circle that leaves people out isn’t the way to go. We shouldn’t be policing the edges. Rather, if we’re all clear on what our “center” is, we don’t need to worry about the edges. People who share that center will gravitate toward us. People who don’t, won’t.

      • Robert Oberg February 13, 2018 at 2:32 pm #

        City & State
        Charlotte, NC
        Dear Mackenzie

        I have appreciated your comments very much. ” … drawing a circle…” makes me think of the verse:

        He drew a circle that shut me out
        Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout
        But Love and I had the wit to win
        We drew a circle that took him in.

        I was not familiar with Blue Ocean Faith. Thank you for the link. I appreciated their website, including the item on ecumenical. Quakers are far more diverse in our beliefs, but I think it might be possible to formulate a vision very succinctly. Jesus had a very short statement, much simpler than the Nicene creed:

        Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
        Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.

        I would suggest the core of Quakerism is:

        There is that of God in everyone.

        Yes, that uses the word “God”. I think for several of us in this discussion, God or Spirit or Christ is very important, and should be at the core of Quakerism. But there are many ways of understanding God. I like the poem “Each In His Own Tongue” (http://holyjoe.org/poetry/carruth2.htm).

        Seeing that of God in EVERYONE is to me what is precious in Quakerism. There is so much polarization in our world today. The whole world needs this vision. That is why it is important that Quakerism survive. I would like to offer this vision of the Quaker “house”:


        Our house is open to all
        We have many rooms
        We yearn to share our vision
        Of many paths leading to God
        Of all rivers coming at last
        To the Great Sea.

        But our house is open to you
        Even if you do not share that vision
        Perhaps there is a truth that guides you
        That you feel is the only truth
        But you love us as people
        And hope we will find our way
        You are welcome in our house.

        Or perhaps you do not believe in God
        Or you have questions and doubts
        You are working for the good of human beings
        You are welcome in our house.

        Or maybe the “good of all”
        Is to you an empty phrase
        The pathetic utterance of the weak
        For you life belongs to the strong
        I do not think you want a room in our house
        But if a time comes
        When you feel lonely or afraid
        You are welcome in our house.

        Our blessings go to you all
        Be welcome in our house.

        • Mackenzie February 13, 2018 at 6:07 pm #

          City & State
          Silver Spring, MD
          I don’t think “there is that of God in everyone” is really the core of Quakerism. It’s not the message Fox came to preach. It’s a string of words taken completely out of context from something he said so that it has a different meaning. Well, maybe over the last century it’s become the practically only thing agreed-upon in Liberal Quakerism (which, of course, is only a small subset), but I’m with Lewis Benson: “Christ has come to teach his people himself” seems to be the core for Quakerism over 350+ years. Alternatively, someone noted in Pink Dandelion’s “Radical Spirituality” online class, the Quaker gospel seemed to match Jesus’s gospel (but not Paul’s): the kingdom of God is within you.

  8. Joan Kindler February 12, 2018 at 3:53 pm #

    City & State
    Flushing, New York
    Is there a way to reprint all replies and original article. And be a handout for all members and attenders…to remind those of

    a certain age (I am 88) that these feelings of being a seeker for over 40 years….and of sharing these different “visions” with

    others in our over 300 year old Meetinghouse. I feel change is coming if we obey God’s “Love one another’.

  9. Paul Ricketts February 12, 2018 at 10:02 pm #

    City & State
    Fort Wayne IN
    I am posting an update to my original post. What do you believe?Are you Christian?Because of the pluralist nature of Quakerism it’s very hard to answer these questions. These questions are too broad and vague.

    So Quakers squirm and struggle with terms like mission/visions statements and the e word.(evangelism). Which simply means’’good news.” Often we talk about what we don’t believe.This makes outreach rather difficult. Some Quakers simply choose not to engage in the dialogue, saying that our beliefs are private thing we need not discuss. Yes, Quakers do not have a creed. No single statement of religious doctrine is accepted by all.

    Like some in the early christian church, the early Quakers were not systematic theologians.(except for Robert Barclay) In other words, their theology was experiential. What I have learned from these early seekers is what we claim and experience about God is beyond the power of words to explain, for each definition or description, even the most beautiful and eloquent, is in one way or another a limitation and falls short of the real thing.

    The good news I think we Quakers can offer new seekers is,God is working in us in ways that we do not yet understand. As we continue to listen, worship, pray, love and serve, it will gradually become clearer to us. Words are just that. What is more important is the reality and fruits behind the words.

  10. Maxwell Pearl February 19, 2018 at 2:44 pm #

    City & State
    Healdsburg, CA
    As a relative newcomer to Quakerism, I want to let you all know why I chose it, and why I’m sticking with it. I’ve been regularly attending my meeting for about 18 months, and have been involved a bit in governance – as a committee member as well as attending meeting for business. I don’t know if this will be helpful to the conversation, but some might appreciate it.

    Some background: I’m a “spiritual mutt.” I was raised Presbyterian, left Christianity for a while, started a Buddhist meditation practice in the early 90s, and returned to Christianity via the Unitarians, and then the United Church of Christ. I even went to seminary (in 2005.) I call myself a Christian usually, although by most standard definitions, I’m not one, because I don’t believe in the divinity of Jesus, or that we needed a sacrifice to be saved from the “justice” of God. But I do take his teachings quite seriously, and do my best to be a follower of Jesus. I’m also an explorer and practitioner of Christian contemplative practices, in which I find a deep connection to God.

    Contemplative practice is what originally drew me to Quakerism. But that’s not what has kept me here. What has kept me here is the deep integration of spirituality and governance. I’m a “the means and the ends are the same” kinda guy. The governance of most Christian churches and denominations are hierarchical, when, in practice, Jesus wasn’t. I never liked that when I went to meetings, the spirituality we were supposed to take seriously was given a back seat to “getting things done.” (I was the moderator of a UCC church for a time – a basically sort of equivalent to clerk, except it’s not.)

    I see in Quakers a way to live life in community that puts Spirit (writ broadly, of course) in front of everything else. I guess what I’m saying is that what I see in Quakerism is a model for a new way of living in the world – a way I want more than anything.

  11. Mary February 19, 2018 at 4:19 pm #

    City & State
    Address withheld
    I do not know if Quaker meeting will survive, but some Meetings certainly seem survivable and helpful to communally gathering to sit in Presence . In meeting we are challenged to live in truth that is beyond ego searching. We Hear/experience the Spirit of Love challenging and consoling us in meeting.

    We follow the challenge to share hospitality to each other and to have active responses to situations that communally and individually reach our hearts.

    We are willing to face personally difficult financial situations and live in simplicity so we share what is basically not ours anyway . We have the example of those among us who are actively living such simplicity of living and some of us recognize the call to do the same. We see our Meetings giving away money, and also living simply in order to share the gifts each of us have.

    While living simply we find ways of celebrating and having fun too.

    We see Friends avoiding more carbon producing trips for pleasure and find joy in other ways. There is no judgement as to what one is doing, just appreciation of the example of those who live most simply and yet are most joyful in their challenges.

    Individually during the week we connect with others alone in silence and/or on-line meetings for worship or brief silences and sharing with Friends and friends.

    We find spiritual discernment in our Clearness Committees and support in our responses that Love requires. We sit with each other in the deep anguish in emotional and spiritual reciprocity rather than doing charity for another.

    We suffer one another and are annoyed with each other, and grow from one another. We rejoice in the births during joys and tear up with each other during concerns, and we bury those we loved , and remember them well with a minute that lasts a long time.

    And more.
    I see this communal interaction among some very gathered meetings. I also experience the same dynamics in other areas of my life and with other people.

    Whether formalized Quakers continues or not, I do not have a clue, but Love always finds a way to enter our world and calls us to change more and more. Love calls us to act upon that change which often calls us to a life of justice, and laying down our very physical lives as Quakers did in past times (and some do today). We find example and strength from many sources such as Jesus, early Quakers, Buddha, Old testament Justice Seekers, Desert Fathers and Mothers, Agnostics and Non Deity explorers, and so much much more and together we reside in the Presence of Love from many traditions and expressions.

    I still have hope.

    Young people are coming to Friends from the example and participation in American Friends Service Committee and that Quakers, Jews are on Israel’s BDS blacklist . Quakers are with others are going to jail (as is our tradition) in civil disobedience for the justice/love of DACA kids and families. Young people come to those assisting with sanctuary to those willing to be guardians for children of deported people. Young people come to Quaker Meeting for worship, or create their own meetings that look and feel like active Quaker meetings when none there may have attended one. Young people come to Quakers where Friends are also in places where violence and hunger hunts their lives. They meet Friends at the Pennsylvania Detention Home for Women and Children where food is brought, and gatherings across the barb wire are held and tears are shed for a mother who is deported to her death and a child watches as the guard rapes his mother and is fired brought not brought to court.

    Wherever Quakers are there with them, they come. Wherever Friends meet them in the Name for all Goodness/Love they use they come to us, an so do the people who walk and work aside of them.

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