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

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:

133 thoughts on “Can Quakerism Survive?

  1. 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!

  2. 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.

  3. 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

  4. 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.

  5. 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!

  6. 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?

  7. 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’.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. Don’t you think the religion of our forefathers is finished, because it hangs on concepts that are no longer tenable? To the degree that Quakerism shares those concepts it will inevitably suffer the same fate. To the degree that it abandons those concepts without replacing them with theory and practice more acceptable to modern people, it becomes more and more a community of social activists, without much spiritual base. The most central and also the most untenable concept in Christianity is the concept of God. Many people today describe themselves as spiritual but not religious, because they believe there is something to life beyond the sum of individual beings, but it is not God in the sense of a supernatural being who intermittently intervenes in the lives of individuals and displays humanlike characteristics on a grand scale. Many find Buddhist and Vedantic practices more acceptable, because they focus not on God as a ‘being,’ but on Being as one indivisible Self.

  12. I applied for membership in a meeting in Southwest Florida, but met resistance from a couple of influential members, who said they spoke for the entire meeting (I don’t know if that was true). The only correlation I can give is, it was like applying for membership in an old-establishment country club, or an exclusive co-op in NYC. Another attender told me she had chosen to resolve the meeting’s ‘offstage’ but pervasive ‘closed-door’ code, in her own heart, by just not even approaching the membership gate at all. She added that the meeting seems to hypothesize that change is a net-negative. Membership of the meeting is based on the ideological, political, and personal comfort of its settled aristocracy.

    No, I don’t know if my experience is widespread, but the various parent bodies of Friends organizations couldn’t help me.

    However, one contact I spoke to acknowledged that there is a broad need for meetings to conduct outreach into their communities, to 1. nurture the provinces meetings find themselves in, AND 2. cultivating meeting rosters. Meetings need MEMBERS for Quakerism to thrive.

    One Friend, who I spoke to on the telephone, told me, “Membership is akin to the marriage contract.” But this is a flexible premise. We all probably know that meetings across the country expedited memberships for men, so that they could avoid military service in the Vietnam War. This kind of approach makes membership a political tool.

    Convincement is personal.

    If Quakerism is to thrive in the 21st Century, it must examine all obstacles, and the ‘gatekeeping’ approach to membership is one.

    Instead of simply being satisfied to attend the meeting, I decided to form a Friends meeting in my city (which currently has none). I reached-out to the yearly meeting, in writing, but have gotten no response. No, I won’t give up.

  13. I agree very with Mackenzie.
    I left my Meeting here after years as attender and then member, because it had slid into exactly what Pink Dandelion so eloquently diagnosed in his Swarthmore Lecture: it no longer teaches God and His word, not even to the children, and in fact teaches nothing in particular, but welcomes everyone, including open atheists. It had become a nice club for nice people with nice motivations and causes and offered a nice peaceful hour once a week in which one could relax a contemplate one’s issues.

    But that is not Quakerism. George Fox, William Penn, Robert Barclay et al defined it for us: ‘Quaker’ is a place where God is acknowledged as the creator and maker of the laws we should live by, and the One we are ultimately accountable to. It is also a place where Christ’s teaching is lived out in daily life. And it is a place where the Spirit is alive and is understood to be our helper and friend and that with his help we can do great things. And finally it is a place where God’s word is studied and taught, and the insights and experiences of Fox, Penn, Barclay etc are familiar to everyone.

    I do not believe that any Meeting should be allowed to call itself ‘Quaker’ or ‘Religious Society’ if it does not do the things above. All the other Quakerly structures are fine and worthy, but without these things they are just any nice organisation and not a place of spiritual nourishment.

    Dandelion put it well: “Welcome anyone, but also tell them: THIS is what we stand for; join us if that’s what you want, and if you don’t like it, please go elsewhere.” If Quakers want to remain, and retain any real meaning, then they must find the courage to do exactly that.

    I still count myself a Quaker and attend a lovely little Meeting in which everyone acknowledges God. I thank Him for bringing me to this group, which is a vital and valued part of my life.

  14. I am trying to turn my recent (2017) Phd into a book (or two). I examine how Quakers engage with the church as a religious organisation and in comparative terms how they engage with the contemporary workplace. I suggest that Quakers at work participate in the workplace ‘as if’ they were Quakers. The individual worldview is primary in the work setting and what counts as religious and Quaker is backgrounded by church affiliates in the everyday. This is contrary to their historical and contemporary claims. And it is highly typical of how almost all individuals engage with the workaday world. We conform because non-conformity has its consequences. Quakers are not prepared to pay a high price for their faith but are conversely able to pursue it by working in organisations which espouse ambitions conversant with those of the movement.

    But there is a Quaker outlier in this thesis. A Christo-centric Quaker who believes in the literal truth of the Bible, that Jesus will come again and his teachings should be followed in the everyday. He works, not in services, but as a manual worker in a manufacturing company. He has serious mental health problems, a failing marriage, drug dependency and suffers abuse in the workplace for his faith. He is bombed out of his job by management who believe him to have been ‘brainwashed by the Quakers’ because he stood up for his bullied friend.

    If anyone would like to know more, discuss my ideas (there are many more than can be included here) or to offer advice and practical help to publish this work, I would be interested to hear from you at .

    My thesis can be downloaded from for those who might have time and interest.

  15. Quakerism is already gone. It has become an inclusive meditation group with a social justice agenda (at least here in Britain). Of course there is nothing wrong with either of these, but the movement has lost spiritual focus and direction. To complete the rebranding and to honour the great Quakers of the past, Quakers should find a new name for themselves.

  16. It would be nice if Quakerism, particularly unprogrammed Quakerism, survives in the USA, but, if it does not, I will find or create another place where balance for nurturing my inward guide, attention to the group’s dynamics in finding unity, and a fiery and focused engagement with the outer world is present. Focusing on saving Quakerism seems misplaced. The focus should be on the spirit (place your current useful metaphor here) moving in us, us struggling mightily together with love, and getting it on. I will suggest that when we are suburban and middle class and up, we are lost (this is not the only difficult constellation, but it is surely one). There is no future spiritual path there I can see, but I will be happy to be surprised. Our salvation is wrapped up in being one with the precariat, painfully facing our racism, xenophobia, economic privilege, hetero-normative patriarchy; and seeing how we are the problem, purifying ourselves as a prelude to action. Let’s quit being so polite and get really uncomfortable together so that the amazing (dangerous, even perilous) life we see in our history becomes present. This is what we need. That might save Quakerism or not, but it is that to which I was called as I joined Friends, and now I have a committee being formed to support this leading in ministry. There are the seeds of this in many meetings. Many complain that the Meeting does not support them. Listen with love to those trouble makers. Despite their real interpersonal weaknesses (and we are full of weaknesses), they are probably who you need to incorporate fully into your notion of “on earth as it is in heaven.” If the children aren’t motivated in the manner of early Friends where they would hold worship even if the parents were in jail, then they will not be interested in first day school, and then we are just another boring religion that does not possess what we profess, and that needs to die, is already death. Maybe we need this death and a resurrection.

  17. Here is a question that is both timely and oriented toward the pragmatic: What, specifically do you believe your own meeting would do if the HS senior Emma Gonzalez, now speaking so forcefully to other young people, to her community, the nation and especially legislators, on the gun violence epidemic, should show up at your meeting’s doorstep, there from her own initiative, her own budding interest in Quakerism?

    What kind of proof would the meeting need to see and accept her as a Quaker? Is her current vision a Quakerly one? What would your meeting do to cultivate and bring forth further into the world (and to many more young people) the energy she has, the vision she brings?

    Consider the quote cited by Don: “In [the book[] 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? “

  18. I think it’s not a question of Quakerism surviving because Quakerism IS. Quakerism wasn’t founded or created by Fox, it was discovered by him. And he was able to communicate that discovery to the many other seekers of his time in the intellectual and religious idiom of that time.

    I’m not very good with words but it seems to me that Quakerism is a way of being–trusting, courageous, loving, honest. A way of seeking to live by the highest light we are given. We’re inspired by and stand on the discoveries and witnesses of Quakers in the past, and we expect always to be given new light and new leadings.

    There’s something about the idea of “visioning” or planning for the future of Quakerism that I find uncomfortable. I’m reminded of a conversation recounted by theologian Ivan Illich with his mentor, Jacques Maritain. Illich was trying to explain to the old man the new administrative practice of “planning”. It was not accounting, nor legislation, nor scheduling. . . Finally Maritain exclaimed, “Ah, my friend, now I understand. It’s a new species of the sin of presumption!” I believe this is also a conservative Quaker perspective.

    Somehow I think it’s too logical or mechanistic to be considering how to maintain or grow Quaker membership. Shouldn’t we be talking about all the love in our hearts that we want to share? And the ways we want to serve the people in our communities?

  19. Maida sent me an email and I asked if I could post it and my response. (She was having some difficulty with her computer.) She consented. She wrote:

    ” Your article and others of the Feb 2018 Friends Journal have stimulated quite a bit of discussion among Atlantic Friends. Of course we don’t have Trump on our side of the border but Canada is always affected by U.S. policies. As is the World!”

    “Re: faith — I so agree that “We need to be much more active if we are going to survive and flourish.” Jesus said you don’t light a candle to put it under a bushel and hide it – you set it up for all to see. And that is what we are not doing. We are too laid back, too polite, too afraid of being like the “pushy” evangelists who knock on our doors to tell us about the coming end of the world and the hell-fire awaiting us! Being Universalist should not mean being afraid to talk about Jesus’s teaching, or afraid to use the word Christian!”

    I responded by saying that I shared her concerns.

    It seems like most Quakers seem unwilling to even tell their friends that they are Quaker, much less invite them to meeting. As one British friend put it, “It feels harder saying I am Quaker to people than it does saying I’m gay.” I think that many Quakers have only negative images of evangelism in their minds—like the door-knockers you mentioned or the ones that tried to pass out tracts to strangers on street corners. Outreach doesn’t need to be like that. I came to Quakerism because the woman who shared my wife’s office told her that she thought that my wife would find Quaker meeting meaningful and invited her to attend. She did this more than once. My wife attended and then asked me to attend. That was twenty five years ago, and I’ve been attending Meeting ever since.

  20. I just discovered that FGC has a vision statement.

    “Vision Statement”

    “We envision a vital and growing Religious Society of Friends—a faith that deepens spiritually, welcomes newcomers, builds supportive and inclusive community, and provides loving service and witness in the world.”

    “Through Friends General Conference, we see Quakers led by the Spirit joining together in ministry to offer services that help Friends, meetings, and seekers explore, deepen, connect, serve and witness within the context of our living faith.”

  21. Hello, I would like to contribute to this conversation even though I never formally joined as a Friend, but I was a regular attender at the wonderful Quaker meeting in Brant Broughton, Lincolnshire, England. I would still be going regularly but have now moved to rural Austria so am afraid that is not feasible anymore!

    Quaker meetings offer people so much peace, reflection, unity and goodness and to be able to tap into that regularly was a privilege. My ´Christianity´ is probably on the non-orthodox side, I am what would be called a ´skeptical´ Christian believing that I (like all people) have a direct link with the divine through my own ´light that is within´ and that there is so much social manipulation in many other forms of worship. I loved the fact that I was allowed to connect with God through meeting without ´being preached at´ – there is so much honesty and faith there. Quakers have faith that you will find your own light and path, through a supportive meeting, to connect with the divine. Thank you for providing me with a safe space for that.

    I believe that what makes Quakers so special is their Christian ethos and their deep and profound belief. I am also worried that outreach to a wider, possibly non-christian public would result in meetings ´getting watered down´ in their Christian ethos and becoming like a friendly meditation group – sigh. That would seem to be the danger – however I have never experienced a ´watered down´ Quaker meeting, so even though there could be a clear danger in outreach to people not in the broad Christian church I feel that there are possibly more benefits and concerns.

    In our increasingly stratified and polarized society reaching out to others seems to be more important than ever. Quakers have never shirked from advocating doing the right thing, and opening Meeting doors to all is a hugely important step in helping to heal the hate and anger rife in society today. May the divine protect the profound Christian ethos of Quakerism while letting others drink from their cup of peace.

    Thank you Friends.

  22. This realization is for me, rather than suggesting it is , or should be for all. I hope however that there is place in Quakerism for this way of approaching Meeting for Worship. I have experienced it, in a particular meeting as ok.

    Rather than watering down a person’s Christianity or other tradition, sharing Silence from differing faith expressions can strengthen and enhance one’s own faith. This is a quote from Richard Rohrer a strong Christian, in which he presents a complementary picture of God among all of us. The Spirit of Holiness is farther reaching than I realize.
    “I was a hidden treasure and longed to be known,” says God, according to an ancient Islamic teaching, “and so I created the world.” [2]
    Foremost among these qualities . . . is love. In the Christian West we are accustomed to rattling off the statement “God is love” [1 John 4: 8, 16]. . . . Love is a relational word, and that relationship presumes duality, or twoness, “because,” in the words of Valentin Tomberg (1900-1973), “love is inconceivable without the Lover and the Loved, without ME and YOU, without One and the Other.” [3] In order for love to manifest, there must first be duality. . . . In the words of another Sufi maxim whose truth is apparent to anyone who has ever experienced the sublime dance of recognition and mutual becoming at the heart of all love: “You are the mirror in which God sees himself.”
    To many people Jesus is their path in prayer and beatitude living. Other traditions and expressions can enhance our shared waiting on/with Presence . We can all be enhanced by Truth and Light expressed in other ways than our own. In Silence we meet beyond doctrine, institution, and are together in God/Divinity/Goodness .
    It was a man of the Muslim faith , speaking from his understanding from his tradition who opened the Gospel of Luke to me in a beauty I had not seen so deeply before. He is a gift to Friends.

  23. Dear Friend Janet Nagle and others,
    Yes we are a people of service. Yes Quakers are a people, and are becoming a people. The institutions can be heavy and stiff, like old branches. We need to heed the sap running through the tree’s core. That’s The Holy One stirring us to be more than of service to our community.

    We need to move beyond our bickering of silent vs programmed Meetings; pastoral vs liberal; mystic vs Biblical; orthopraxis vs orthodoxy. Spirit asks me to move past binary into fluidity. Quakerism is a religion and a movement. We have unique messages to offer— that of God in everyone is more than equality. We can find right action in our individual choices. And when making decisions the Divine can guide us as a whole Body.

    My Meeting in Cambridge MA is gargantuan for most Friends. It’s not a chatty Meeting (not popcorn, but corn kernels). We have mostly gathered Meetings with 160 people attending, 60 for Business Meeting. How can Young Adults join in sharing the “life” ? As a middle-age Quaker 62 years young, I need to share my Love/Power/Joy with Seekers of all ages.

    Can we give Quaker Pride marches in the malls, schools and beaches? Our witness needs to ignite outside of the Meetinghouse for us to survive.

  24. There are nearly 80 responses to this article versus 4 to the one about FCNL. That alone should tell us what Friends are yearning for. Sharing our spiritual beliefs with each other and with newcomers with as much enthusiasm as we share political action alerts, will go a long way to answering the searching expressed in the many responses above. This article was a great start.

  25. May I offer an English comment?

    In skimming through comments on your article, I did not notice any reference to exodus. Quaker survival here in England was partly due to mass exodus to what became the USA. Then Woolman, by his example in challenging the slave trade near home, helped revive Quakerism in the U.K. by inspiring us also to reject the slave trade. Toynbee, in his monumental study of history, calls this pattern “withdrawal and return”. Staying in a situation without being able to change it can be interpreted as “complicity”.

    In our vision of the future, the temptation is to fantasize about taking Quakerism to another planet. Our testimony to truth needs to scotch that fantasy. Enough is now known about what has happened to our astronauts when they spend more than a few months away from Earth. The bodies which they had inherited had evolved over millions of years conditioned to prosper on Earth. Outside gravity, bombarded by cosmic rays, they start to disintegrate. Unmanned spaceships can travel to other planets and beyond, but just the five days to the moon and five days back had severe effects. Just orbiting around Earth in satellites several months has proved problematic, so in the future staff will be changed in a shorter time. Since it would take several months to go to Mars, and climate changes there are more extreme than here, life, once supplies brought with them had finished, would be problematic. Quakers should reject that vision.

    Withdrawal, to maintain a Quaker vision in the spirit of Fox and Woolman and the peace and environmental and racial testimony of today, might be “in the world, but not of it” like Thomas Merton, the monk (wasn’t his mother a Quaker?), or to emigrate to a country whose values enable one to be a Quaker without being merely a Quaker on Sundays, if that is where complicity in daily life is leading us.

    George Fox, once he had his vision, was persecuted mercilessly, because his vision was ahead of his times. His vision went beyond the spiritual into the political, as did Jesus of Nazareth’s vision. George Fox was asked by some to form the next government after Cromwell died, but in declining gave an impressive list of political suggestions for his time. Quakers were barred from university in Fox’s time. That did not deter them.

    Is our vision ahead of the time? Does it matter so much that we would be prepared to accept that it could bar us from usual ways of becoming qualified? Are we resilient enough and convinced enough to take that plunge? I am in my last years, but on the lookout for young Quakers with those trends. With, or without our support, they are the future of Quakerism.

  26. There is great humility in the faith that Fox and other early Friends knew. For example, when Fox was being questioned for blasphemy before the magistrates at Derby, he was asked if he was sanctified, and replied:

    “Sanctified? yes,” for I was in the Paradise of God.

    They said, had I no sin?

    “Sin?” said I, “Christ my Saviour hath taken away my sin, and in him there is no sin.”

    They temptingly asked if any of us were Christ.

    I answered, “Nay, we are nothing, Christ is all” (Nickalls, 51-52).

    To realize that “we are nothing; Christ is all” entails a humility that is intrinsic to original Quaker faith, and unknown among today’s Liberal Quakers. The mission of early Friends was to turn people to the light in the conscience, which would first of all show them where they’d missed the mark. If Friends today would turn our Society around, we must first turn ourselves around inwardly.

    Either make the tree good and its fruit will be good, or make the tree bad and its fruit will be bad; for a tree is known by its fruit (Mt. 12:33).

  27. I noticed a rather lively discussion of this article on Reddit ( and

    I also noticed that the Friends Journal Twitter account contained this tweet:

    “We checked the stats and it’s official: Don McCormick’s article on the vision of Quakerism is now the most talked-about Friends Journal article of recent times as measured by comments.”

    This is quite a contrast to the response my previous Friends Journal article gave rise to. “Mystical Experience: What the Psychological Research Has to Say.”

    – Don

  28. I disagree of the when and where the contemplative movement revival began in the West. I think that particular white men think it began with them, but it was well among some Friends, the grandmothers and uncles and many others. I meant to delete that introduction, but forgot to do so. There is a long tradition among many of waiting upon the Lord in communal silence, singing, dancing and shivering (Quaking) that precedes white celibate men.
    The communal shared song “The Presence of God is in the Atmosphere” is an expression of the long communal worship waiting tradition albeit far from silent ..

  29. This essay presents a clear, pragmatic vision for Quakerism. It begins with the recognition that a vibrant meeting requires people of all ages, in sufficient numbers.

    Yet when I go to meeting, I find myself surrounded by people ages 55 and up. To the readers here who are Baby Boomers (or older), let me ask you a question: Do YOU regularly attend any group/club that consists almost entirely of people in their 20s-30s? Would you find such a group to be a fruitful place to make deep peer friendships? Do you think that such a group would be likely to fully and deeply understand your generation’s perspectives and struggles?

    If not, then you can understand why we young people don’t come to meeting. I was raised Quaker and would like to raise my children that way as well, but after months of cajoling them to go to meeting with me (and sporadically succeeding), I will admit that it’s just not working well for our family.

    Perhaps some or all of my family’s experience may be true for others as well. So I would like to share with you. Here are some of our experiences:

    (1) We are highly stressed, very busy, and usually overscheduled. In theory, I would like to attend meeting regularly, but I’m juggling birthday parties, soccer, swimming, errands, and the fact that both my job and my spouse’s job each require more than 40 hours/week (thus work regularly spills over into our evenings/weekends). We do not have relatives nearby to help us. I’m exhausted. My spouse is exhausted. We don’t always want to mobilize the kids to do yet one more thing…

    (2) …and our motivation is further reduced because there are SO few other young families at meeting. Like ours, many of these families attend sporadically, so it’s a small (and different) group of parents/kids each time. For that reason, it’s challenging to build meaningful relationships. My kids feel the same… the other First Day School children are their acquaintances but not close friends (and most are not their age anyway), so there’s no social motivation for them to go to meeting.

    (3) The culture of the meeting is tailored to the middle-aged and elderly. The weekly “announcements” mainly consist of updates about (a) Friends who are sick, (b) Friends who extremely sick, (c) Friends who are about to die, (d) Friends who have recently died, and (e) Friends’ grandchildren. (That tells you all you need to know about the age distribution!!) The meeting’s communication is conducted via printed handouts and/or daily listserv email messages that I don’t have time to read. Use of social media is non-existent. There are no events (maybe 1 per year) specifically for the younger crowd. Younger people are not represented in the leadership (e.g., meeting is never closed by a person <50).

    With that in mind, here are my suggestions for meetings who want to support and/or increase the attendance and involvement of young people and families:

    (1) Please do not guilt trip us about not attending meeting more often.

    (2) Please understand that, while we value intergenerational relationships, the opportunity to build PEER relationships is critical. I'm talking about Facebook groups, movie nights for the college crowd, casual group get-togethers for the young families, etc.

    (3) Consider whether the meeting is interested in playing a deeper and more active role with the young families. If there are older/retired folk in your meeting who have the time and willingness, perhaps consider hosting a monthly "Parents' Night Out" so that young parents can have a date night and have that time to reconnect – without scrambling to schedule a babysitter. Or start a baby-sitting co-op! In a nutshell, young families are struggling! They say it takes a village to raise a child. Many of us don't have a sufficient network for tangible social support (our friends are just as overwhelmed as we are). If you can be our "village," it will go far in keeping us engaged.

    (4) If children join for the first (or last) 15 minutes of meeting, consider whether some of this time could be used for group singing. I understand the value in sitting quietly, especially for the older children. But for my kindergartener, it's an absolute eternity. She is not using those 15 minutes to silently communicate with God, nor is she feeling a deep sense of connection with others. She's bored out of her mind and is brainstorming about how avoid having to attend next Sunday. If your meeting wishes to include the little ones (and I hope they do!), then INCLUDE them in a way that is age-appropriate and meaningful.

    (5) Last but not least, treat children with respect. Sometimes they are asked to create art or ideas in First Day School and share these with the meeting. My children may say, write, or draw things that are unintentionally cute or funny. They might misuse a word in an adorable way. PLEASE do not laugh at them. Do not even giggle. I know you mean well and that you're charmed by their sweet innocence. But when children are being serious — when they were encouraged to think about big ideas (e.g., peace, kindness) — they don't wish to be met with laughter! I have had multiple instances of a child's facial expression falling or their eyes welling up with tears in these situations and the adults seem oblivious. It is a battle to get my kids to want to go back to meeting after this happens. (And I don't blame them one bit.)

    Overall, I do believe that Quakerism has much to offer in today's world, and that it CAN survive. But I am deeply troubled by how out of touch it is with the younger generations — and how little effort and creativity seems to be exerted in this direction. The older folks appear to be either unable to understand the problems or unwilling to make changes. They already have their idea of what the meeting should be.

    But on Sundays, I look around the meetinghouse and think to myself — how many of these people will even be alive in 20 or 30 years? That's not so far away — and what then?

  30. A Mom

    Thank you for your understanding and explanation of your concerns. I appreciate your request that children not be laughed at when they do something that can be cute and endearing to adults, but is done in all seriousness by a child who is then hurt by the laughter no matter how unintentionally it is meant to hurt.

    I also appreciate your call to creativity. Would a once a month two or three hour family event (with food) be a helpful idea for busy families today? Perhaps the event could be based on the Godly Play program or something similar. In addition to members becoming more aware of how to respond to children, what specific events could you recommend that would be helpful for your family and other young families. Is there something you might be called to work with some of us “Getting-it Grandmas” who could help you with your ideas and endeavors. Thank You for wanting and writing about the need for family and children presence and programs in our Meetings.

  31. I appreciate greatly Don’s understanding of organizational development and applying that to the reality of faith communities. I think part of what I have come to understand and appreciate it that local meetings can be “gathered fellowships” in that mystical kind of way but they are also sociological realities that contain issues of culture, ethos, and organizational dynamics. I think Friends (and this may sound a bit harsh) tend to overlook the sociological realities and keep trying harder on the mystical/spiritual part…forgetting that all is spiritual…even the sociological / organizational reality of a meeting. Consequently, there is a tendency to “keep on praying and discerning” when there may be more structural or organizational dynamics in play. Often Friends can get stuck in discernment when it’s possible we are more stuck in our unwillingness to move forward in considering new methodologies or new understandings of organizational life

  32. I left the local Friends Meeting six years ago and recently returned out of sheer curiosity to discover it literally unchanged. Still a closed party. The same core group of people in leadership, rotating in and out of clerkship.
    Still struggling with the selection of a First Day curriculum- one of the reasons that we left earlier was that my preteen children could not verbalize one concrete lesson from First Day School, every topic was so vague and presented so gingerly as to be insignificant. In the five years that we attended, I can honestly say that we heard the name of Jesus spoken perhaps three times. Nothing distinguished Christmas or Easter from any Sunday service. A continuous litany of social justice causes are paraded through replete with banners – Black Lives Matter, Gay Pride, No Human Being is Illegal, etc. but to find the religious basis of allegiance to the current cause du jour being discussed ? Never.
    I’ll be the first to admit that I have wrong and romanticized notions of Quakerism, but I also had no saw no opportunity through the Meeting to develop an understanding of the faith- the group entitled “Seekers” proved to be a poetry discussion group. Often what I read in Faith & Practice did not jibe with the conduct of the meeting.
    This past September, I attended a QUED ( Quaker Ted Talk ) in which a presenter enthusiastically praised two Catholic Workers who physically destroyed engineering equipment during the Dakota Access Pipeline protest demonstration. Having assumed that Quakerism had some relationship to pacifism, I was puzzled to find this supported so agreeably to the core old timers of this Meeting,75% of whom are over 65, and a turnout of 40 people in total is the average attendance. No observation of any motivation to change- my young adult children and I have moved on, this time for good.

  33. “A continuous litany of social justice causes are paraded through replete with banners — Black Lives Matter, Gay Pride, No Human Being is Illegal, etc. but to find the religious basis of allegiance to the current cause du jour being discussed ? Never.”


    It’s become a Leftist Virtue Signaling contest every single week. And if you get moved by the spirit to share a message that is even mildly different, you get scowls and glares from “The men with beards and glasses”

  34. Perhaps there is a way to do bridge building in our meetings

    Here is a sample of a broadening of understanding that was presented to a more religiously evangelical congregation. The purpose was to explain the example/message of Jesus which underpin the justice/equality endeavors. Although I do not find the theology in my understanding/vocabulary, I think this article is an example of the most theologically bent people trying to find common ground. Certainly Friends can do something similar for ourselves within our own context .

    Certainly Friends can share both underpinnings and actions without requiring such strict institutional theological allegiance. We do have the allegiance of our historical professions of practice, including abiding in the Light together and recognizing that Light of God in each of us.

    And perhaps it would help for those of us whose loved ones are being excluded, beaten up, and taunted because of race, orientation, and /or are being deported away from our arms: That our concerns are not named as “The current cause du jour ” . I am grateful for the Friends who speak and act for the concerns of my heart for understanding of the devastating situations of our families and those we love.

    At the same time, when someone gives a message uniting the concerns and actions with the message and example of Jesus and others, I am grateful. I am called to more than do-gooderism, ego building, and charity that is us giving to the them. We are called to deeper times of silence, beatitude living, selling our goods and sharing all, and being willing to die in standing up as Jesus did.

    Thank You for your message here of your deep want for the substance beneath the current cause.
    I needed to hear your message, for it is also the longing of my heart too.

    I ask you to hear the pain and fear beneath the continuous litany of social justice causesl Hear the message of care for our brothers and sisters in those call to social justice messages. . Hear it as a part of the whole message, as we usually are only given a part of the message and need each other for the fuller message ..

    I am grateful when I walk into the meeting and see that our concerns/pain is recognized here in social justice action. I am grateful when those with a love of Jesus and the Gospel (as well as other traditions) message that contemplation/mysticism/ historical foundations and justice actions for the oppressed , are united here. We are one fallible people here, trying to be faithful to listening and abiding in the Holy Spirit of Love.

  35. Will the core principles and the profound idea of Quakerism survive? Yes, it will. Will it always be called Quakerism, or always look like as it looks today? Most probably not. This is a very confused world, with a lots of spiritual paths overlapping each other. There will always be a need, and there will always be a way as well for the seekers to follow. I am not a Quaker, (well, not yet at least) but a seeker of the truth and like it’s progressiveness. While others would clearly rather preserve it’s religious roots and core. None of these interests are necessarily conflicted. Ironically, giving a voice to silence, or more like many voices – helps. If you want Quakerism to grow, people need to tell their stories and have dialogues and engage with the rest of the world. The young, and the young at heart perhaps both need to express themselves and shine a bright light into the lives of people, who aren’t ordinarely seeking it in indistinguishable houses once a month. Perhaps bringing silence into parks and the streets and all kinds of places is the key to spread awareness about Quakerism. But if the mere survival is the concern… it will survive. Because it was born out of a need that we all share.

  36. Will Quakerism survive? Yes. Will it survive, as George Fox and it’s other founders envisioned? No. There have been many scissim among Quakers since its origins, and sometimes un-Friendly and acrimonious ones. Many of these different Quaker groups has have evolved or digressed over time to the point that George Fox wouldn’t recognize them as Quaker groups.

    I can only speak of my limited experiences and observations as a former Quaker of unplanned meeting for warship that spanned a time period of about three decades. And, I must acknowledge, despite the harmonizing influence of Yearly Meetings, that each of the many meetings I have attended were unique. But, there was and continues to exist patterns and trends in these meetings that guide their direction that ultimately change the very fabric of its means to be a members of the Religious Society of Friends.

    One of these common trends among many Quaker groups is the shift in focus or emphasis away from religiosity and a commonly accepted deity among Friends to religious like devotion to issues that would define an elite or exclusive social club or group. This is not unique to Quakers, most religious organizations have this element of us (brotherhood) vs. the non-believers. But, Quakers have a particularly hypocritical, but nuanced approach to this issue that has been quite self destructive as it pertains to the overall philosophy of equality and inclusion for all.

    Focus away from warship to the practice of self affirmation and self identifying with an exclusive social/economic, educational class, or political philosophy. Unfortunately, this is the unmistakable and perhaps destructive trend I have witnessed in the un-programmed Religious Society of Friends meetings over many years.

    I wish to provide several personally troubling experiences I have witnessed as an impoverished child and young adult that converted to Quakerism, but was truly never fully accepted as a real Quaker. Yes, I am now going to speak “truth to power,” regarding social class bigotry among Friends and the humiliation and harm it has caused!

    As a young college student from an impoverished inner city getto, this tentative acceptance was extended to me so long as my existence among Friends served as a self affirming mechanism to Friends that saw themselves as socially caring, gentle, humanitarians, educators, and professionals.

    When this no longer existed, I was treated, generally speaking, like any other person from the an impoverished lower social/economic background by my fellow Friends! That is to be treated at arms length or even ignored. For the most part, Quakers, in spite of their lofty expressions of humanitarian ideas, do not want to get their hands dirty with direct association to the “great unwashed.”

    I remember many years ago, attending Meeting for warship at Connecticut House at Yale University (meeting has long since relocated) and a very dignified and exquisitely well spoken woman standing an “giving testimony.” She spoke with a New England accent that I will never forget!

    She began by quoting Jesus’s famous admonition that “the poor will always be with us.” Then she went on to ask if she as a good Quaker must befriend and have direct contact with them. She stated her discomfort or even dislike for the poor because she had little in common with them. There have been many other troubling experiences of society class bigotry I have witnessed and needed to endure among my fellow Ivy tower Quaker friends.

    If Quakers are not to survive and if the will eventually dwindle away as the Shakers have, it will be a direct result of their failure to put stated lofty humanitarian ideas into practice by direct involvement and a lack of socially class tolerance.

  37. Al-Hanouf
    I am so sorry that you have witnessed and endured such classism among Friends. I am sorry you have seen ideals regulated to proclamations rather than lived out practically. I hear you and believe you and am sorry that is happening with us. I hear your truth as a message that both calls and resonates.

    Though I love Jesus’ life and message I feel comfortable in many expressions of the Divine and the Light in all of us. I feel most akin when action and justice concerns come with deep individual and communal contemplation. Thank You for being here and helping us.

  38. Five months ago, I left Omaha Friends after attending for 25 years. The meeting declined from 20 or so attenders to 2 or 3. This decline in a city area of over 1M and several Colleges was not understandable to us.

    My reason for leaving was was an underlying emphasis on progressive liberal ideology at the expense of any spiritual concerns. Second hour discussion would often devolve into an argument with someone walking away hurt. This became more extreme with the election of Trump. I didn’t vote but the constant negative reaction was dispiriting.

    My attraction to Quakers is the direct experience of the Light of Christ within which Fox so elegantly described. This experience is very real to me and I felt a kindred spirit in Fox. However, I had Quakers tell me the Light really doesn’t exist or is just a metaphor.

    Recently, I came across Fox’s Epistle to the Whole Earth written in his younger days. He describes what he means by silence as the stilling of the mind from thoughts, emotions, and imaginings. Then the Light of Christ is revealed and one speaks. This is the same mechanism described in great detail in the Yoga Sutras with the Light unnamed.

    My attempts to refocus the meeting on spirit was a lost cause. Quaker’s have a great potential to help lead towards a positive future by following leadings from that stillness rather than following others that have a darker agenda.

  39. I have often I read and heard about a particular Quaker worship as not being nurturing or spiritual at all.

    I wonder at those particular meetings if the subject of this lack of nurturance is brought up
    in a meaningful way. Such a discussion would help focus on a solution to this difficult and troublesome issue. Talking about an unfulfilling worship, caused either by political ranting or other inappropriate behavior is not easy. The process would be challenging. But because many meetings have significantly long attenders, I would think there would a level of trust and understanding among all those experienced Quakers. Working together to solve a problem is a good way for a meeting to bond more strongly. Plus Quaker meetings and worship is self-led. We have committed as a faith to do this. Our Faith came about as an alternative way to relate to God and to each other. Our alternative way of relating to God is to relate directly to God without a priest or any clergy. We can relate to each other directly, too.

    Maybe this is what we need to think about. How can such a fundamental problem like the presence of inappropriate messages start and continue in any meeting for worship? Have we as Quakers really looked at how we solve problems and relate to each other? Unresolved problems within a meeting or any other group can indicate other issues such as a difficult individual, or a difficult group dynamics like a general lack of energy, not enough religious education, a need for leadership or conflict management training. As Quakers we are encouraged do the hard and loving work of sitting across from each other to discuss and argue to solve problems and make each others lives a little better.

    If we do not want to do this work, that is a choice, and it might be okay for some. But I am not convinced meaningful Quaker communities can survive with such an unwillingness to do the hard and loving work, that is fundamental to Quakers, of sitting across from each other, discussing, arguing, sometimes happily, and sometimes not so happily, figuring out how to live and worship together.

  40. Dan O’Keefe, I hear you and suffer from a similar sense of lack of nurture in my meeting. It may be a lack of eldering. It is the elders of the previous generation who, often silently, kept meetings afloat. Although there are gifted younger Friends arising, it doesn’t seem to fill the gap sufficiently. And some of them choose not to attend regularly, for reasons mentioned above. It takes more than one to nurture a healthy meeting. True worship can only occur through a healthy humility; egos too often get in the way.

  41. Dec. 11, 2019
    Reading a discussion of whether Quakerism will survive and what it needs to do, since it seems to be dying out as are most Western traditional religious groups. I was raised as a some-time evangelical Christian, but have tried most sects through the years, including various Quaker groups. I have not found what I need, but I really care about supporting ways to find that inner and outer conviction of a Power of Love beyond our obvious shortcomings. So what do people need TODAY to find the inner conviction of working with a Power Greater than Ourselves for the Good of Everyone, no matter the colour, race or creed? The following are what I think are some suggestions for what people need TODAY.
    1. Mindfulness practice—
    2. Sense of group support—
    3. Sense of connecting beyond the mundane plane
    4. A sense of meaning so suffering is not the end- all of what we see as “global events”
    5. NOT some panacea of the future salvation of the believers: LIFE NOW
    a. We are all beautiful, needed, wanted, contributing—but
    *need support to know this and to act it
    b. We need to learn how to be good parents, children, neighbours
    *need respected guidance, discovery to make it on our own through sharing and modeling
    c. A sense that whatever we do in the name of healing, recovery, forgiveness
    makes ALL the difference in our being acceptable and OK beings,
    BUT how to define what bad things, according to the dictates or mores of our
    society, are forgivable, but not to be condoned or supported.
    d. Some sense that needed change is being accomplished in some way or another.
    6. Some practical guidelines and goals for what it is to create our own beingness, our families and our society, both local, national, etc. AND global.
    e.g. a. What is it to SHARE?
    b. How do we not be the elite of the world just because of or in spite of circumstantial residence or upbringing in a “privileged” position?
    c. How do we feel we fit into the more intellectual approach of Quakerism if we are not very “educated” in the liberal sense?
    d. How do we act “out in the world” if we are few and very busy trying to “make a living’?
    7. Does Quakerism really offer something different from what all churches need to offer if “religion” is to survive in this age?
    a. What is “spirituality”?
    b. What is the purpose of one’s gathering?
    c. Does Quakerism need to tell the world something unique or is it “just one more way” to find the power of “God” for helping us cope in a changing and scary world?
    d. If it is “just one more way”, however valuable in its own way, then is it part of the Universal “plan” for “churches” to no longer be the pathway into focusing on the power within? Jesus certainly did not promote creating alternatives to the temples. Did he advocate destroying them? What did he advocate? Do Quakers use Jesus as a role model? If so, do the Gnostic Gospels and/or other gospels show us Jesus more fully than those chosen for the Christian Bible? If not, who/what is the model for acting as a loving person/society? Does the Old Testament offer much for Quakers to learn from or to depend on?
    e. Most religious sects, etc. have some strong cultural coup d’etats in their history. Does the world need more political activism within a denomination, or does it need more strong and deep supported and guided ways to find that inner power beyond ourselves so we trust our abilities to act for LIFE whenever and wherever we are “called”, right now, today and tomorrow?

  42. The state of Quakerism in many ways depends on your definition of who or what is a Quaker. Around the world there is an ever growing category of “Spiritual but not Religious” people. These people are not atheist or agnostic. They are, in my view, essentially Quakers. They make up over 20% of the US population and are nearly 60% of Europe.

    Quakerism as a belief system has never been stronger. More people than ever believe that they can experience God’s guidance without the need of church or clergy. At the same, Jesus’s direct teachings (Love God, Love thy neighbor, keep God’s commandments) remain widely accepted by over 80% of the US population, even among millennials.

    So the question at issue is not a problem with essential Quaker doctrine. It is the paradox of why are Quaker Meetinghouses increasingly empty when Quaker beliefs are increasingly popular?

    This in turn begs the question of “What is the role of community in Quaker life?”

    After all, we hardly need to come to meeting just to sit in silence for an hour. Even Christ himself guided us to pray in secret, not to be seen by men “like the hypocrites do” (Matthew 6:5-6)

    So what is the role of Quaker community, or what should it be?

    In my view, the answer is right in our name. Friendship. George Fox initially called the group he started Friends of the Truth. Later this became the Religious Society of Friends. Friendship was at the core of Quaker community life at the beginning.

    Based on what has been written here, it seems that, over time, other concerns (for example, activism) have supplanted friendship at the core of Quaker community life. This, it seems to me, is the critical error. Not because activism isn’t important. It is very important. But our friendships must come first because without them there will be no community.

    My vision of a Quaker future is a focus on building and sustaining our mutual friendships, at all ages, starting from the very youngest First-day school and youth programs. After school activities, soccer teams and potlucks. If kids know they will see their friends at meeting and have a good time, they won’t stop coming at middle school (or any age).

  43. We’re at a crucial fork in the path. What is Quakerism today? Is it still a religion? Is it Christ-centered? Are we going to talk about God, sing religious songs, and make God a primary aspect of lessons in First Day School?

    Or — is this a social club where highly-educated people come to participate in group-based meditation and reinforce their own political beliefs? A place where we teach our children Christ-relevant concepts like kindness, peace, and social justice, but don’t provide specific religious education?

    We can’t be everything to everyone. If Quakerism shifts back to our more religious roots, the agnostics and atheists may no longer feel at home. If we continue on our current path of becoming secular, we’ll lose those who seek a religious/spiritual community.

    If we refuse to decide, then Quakerism will die off with the Baby Boomers.

    So the first step is to get off our butts and make a decision. Then we can do the important work of attracting the young adults and families who are critical to our future. (And Varthan is spot on — we need to make Quaker meeting FUN for kids and teens. You need a critical mass of families in order for that to happen.)

  44. Wanting to determine the future of “Quakerism” is wanting to control and that is already unQuaker. The most fundamental aspect of the Quaker tradition is that we have no creed, no dogma. When folks want a definition of Quaker beliefs and who is Quaker and who is not, the image that comes to my mind is the Israelites fabricating their golden calf while Moses was on the mountain. Many who have called themselves Quakers have fallen into that apostasy over the years.

    A saying I like from a pre-Quaker, maybe someone who was closer the imagined ‘primitive Christianity’ that the first Quakers aspired to:
    “Concepts create idols; only wonder comprehends anything. People kill one another over idols. Wonder makes us fall to our knees.” –Bishop Gregory of Nyssa, ca. 376 AD

    And then there’s that wonderful observation from Isaac Penington: Our life is love, and peace, and tenderness; and bearing one with another, and forgiving one another, and not laying accusations one against another; but praying one for another, and helping one another up with a tender hand,

    Aspiring to be a Quaker is HARD!!! And I admit that I’m not always up to it.

  45. Too many meetings have become rudderless ships run on ego and hierarchy. This means we’ve lost our way, though we continue to uphold the basic structures put in place over 350 years ago. Without Elders, who steer the ship, too many of us have become lost. Not knowing our history doesn’t help.

  46. In 1975 I joined the Religious Society of Friends and felt a connection to historical Quakerism. Today’s Quakers or Friends still use the same names but have drifted so far from our roots as to become something unrecognizable by George Fox or William Penn. When I moved to Indiana I became active in a FUM meeting. The FUM’s The Richmond Declaration point blank denied belief in the Inner Light. Not only was pacifism not emphasized in my new “Quaker” meeting, most members equated taking up arms and going to war, with patriotism.
    Meanwhile, the FGC was drifting away from historical Quakerism in a different way. I remember seeing atheistic books such as “Dear Gift Of Life” promoted in the FGC headquarters in Philadelphia. When I would return to my original BYM home, there would be “Buddhist Quakers”, “humanist Quakers”, Friends whose religion was left wing politics. Some told me that picketing in front of the US Capitol is the greatest spiritual experience they ever have.
    The AFSC and FCNL have forfeited their role as peacemakers by becoming totally one sided on Middle East policy. They will endlessly bash Israel and the United States, while looking the other way when Hamas, the PLO and Hezbollah make heroes out of suicide bombers. These organizations have in writing the most homicidal hatred of Jews which is ignored by the “Quaker Peace Organizations”. I have brought up real peace movements, such as “Hand in Hand”, and Road to Recovery, which are striving to build trust between between Palestinians and Israelis. The AFSC and FCNL members have never heard of them. Meanwhile, while advocating for women’s and LGBT rights, the AFSC totally ignores the abuse women and LGBT receive by Islamist’s in Iran and other Muslim countries. Everything wrong in the world is the fault of white male heterosexuals, Zionists , America and long dead Europeans.
    I have become active in another denomination whose beliefs and practices are far closer to the spirit of historical Quakerism.

  47. I am afraid that Quakerism is going the way of the DoDo bird because it has unhinged itself from the one essential thing that any religious community needs to survive — a narrative, a story that serves as its engine and identity. I’ve been a member of three different Quaker meetings. My experience is that they are little more than the Democratic Party at prayer, increasingly reduced to a program of ethics devoid of any mystical content that has substituted a “progressive” social agenda in place of a core Christian faith. As such, those innate spiritual longings, which drove us to seek a faith that promises a direct personal experience of the Divine, now have nowhere to go. For the early Friends there was no confusion when it came to identifying the “Inward Light”. Quakerism sprang from the deeper Christian narrative of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus who functioned as the archetype and engine of the Quaker movement. Embedded in the larger Christian milieu early Friends found their meaning and mission in the language and religious imagery of the gospels. But now, having rejected scripture, tradition, and ritual through which the Christian narrative has typically been transmitted, Quakers have lost both common vocabulary of faith and a coherent story that might give meaning to our struggles, suffering, and efforts to build the beloved community.

  48. Four years ago I fled the evangelical Church because they were controlling, exhausting, dogmatic, hateful, and overly focused on their numbers and trying to get newcomers. After years of healing and refusing to speak with God, finding trust in myself (turns out, I’m not a wretch afterall) and inward peace, I had been considering trying out a Quaker meeting. But this article sounds just like what I ran from. Glad I found it before I got sucked back in to that captivity.

  49. How can modern Quakers stand for anything if they stand for EVERYTHING? What group identity do you have if the only common thread among “Christian Quakers”, “atheist Quakers”, “transgendered Quakers”, “Wiccan Quakers”, “Buddhist Quakers”, and all of the other PC groups that now fall under the “Friends” umbrella is a call to social action? You folks once stood out in the world as a beacon. Now you’ve thrown out Christ-centeredness and have twisted Quaker message in the name of “inclusion”, to the point of fracture and silliness. You are no different than uber-liberal Episcopalians in Boston who decided to not have a Christian image over the door to their refurbished cathedral, because it might “offend” someone. Instead, they put up a sculpture of a nautilus shell, because it’s “spiral shape is welcoming and symbolizes the dance of life that we are all in, etc., etc.” (rolls eyes). George Fox and the early Quaker martyrs would WEEP to see how you have squandered your spiritual inheritance.

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