Transformative Return for Quaker Communities

Photo by Dave

What if there is no going back?

As the United States shifts again, seeking the right fit and comfort in addressing a yearlong pandemic, hugged by politics and grief, we find ourselves being asked to tap our own inner guidance on what comes next. We are not a collective voice, let alone united, but responding to this wild year has centered on how we tap into our inner guidance, and for me with Quaker roots, it has begged my imagination to dream up something new.

Can I imagine my spiritual home, that of Quakers and meetinghouses, being more vast and inclusive than ever?

What if all the centering, listening for the Divine, and consensus-building practices found in the Quaker faith were the kind of mutual and deeply sought actions our fellow neighbors and country people hunger for? I’ve begun to sense a deep knowing that there is no “return to normal”—we’ve been drug under the white-hot light of awareness, and we have been exposed.

I know as we begin to return to our meetinghouses and worship spaces, the logistics of connection and accessibility will begin to dominate our conversations. We often focus on what we know well: the logistics of what is and the maintenance of our own status quo (though we may never venture to name it so).

The possibilities of what can be are often laid to the back burner, to a sometimes already tired committee tasked with making sense of our drastically shifting community. I am hoping we can collectively imagine so much more.

Without transformation in how we gather and connect, it won’t just be people like me—miles from any meetinghouse—who are dropping through the cracks of an old system. Our communities are fractured, tenuous, and sewn together through a complex series of coax cables and phone lines.

If this season has felt like a bleak one, then I want to congratulate you on arriving at this very moment. Our friends and families may feel fragile, but I promise, you’ve been preparing. Transformative community change is a heavy and healthy lift, one that is fast moving on our horizon.

In Emergent Strategy, adrienne maree brown wrote, “Building community is to the collective as spiritual practice is to the individual. . . . Being a part of movements is complex work, it requires a faith.”

So before we all welcome folks into our spaces and invite them to settle down on rows of creaky benches, smell the long-awaited scents of a room closed off, and fire up the doldrums of committee work, let me offer a set of active reflections for the Quaker communities brave enough to recognize there is no going back and also for those preparing for the transformation ahead.

There is personal work for each of us to take on, even before we arrive back to our Quaker communities. It is the small habits, when practiced intentionally, that have the greatest ability to scale. In this process I wonder: when am I able to share my whole self? What do I need from my Quaker communities and space to do that? This past year brought forth the opportunity to sense what is on the horizon of our growth.

As we rejoin to worship in physical space, I am reminded that moving at the speed of trust, one of the principles of emergence cited by brown, encourages us to focus on critical connections more than critical mass, that our resiliency as a community is bound in our relationships. I wonder, how have meetings practiced community care in the last year? And how will we steward this care into its next iteration, not on the backs of a few but woven together, flexing and sharing the weight of change?

Through the pandemic I have encountered generous hosts, keenly aware of our need for safety, care, hospice, and mental health. What would it mean for our neighbors if the meetinghouse were also a place with generous hosts, known for our energetic warmth, self-awareness, and intentional care for the local community? In what circumstances might the meeting be called to action by our neighbors? As a community, what would these actions look like? It may be easy to drop into a routine, however when we are poised for community transformation, our charge is to constantly assess and address ourselves in a changing environment.

My dearest hope is that we move outside of our habits and routines, reevaluate our practices, and begin to envision our Quaker communities as transformative spaces for all.

7 thoughts on “Transformative Return for Quaker Communities

  1. This is such an opportunity to take what we’ve all learned from the past year, from our own experiences, from our connections, and from the news. I welcome the uncomfy conversations that are desperately needed to keep the momentum of learning going.

  2. This article speaks to my experience over the past year of Covid induced changes to my meeting’s practices.

    When the Covid restrictions were promulgated we were immediately able to move MfW online via Zoom and those possessing smart phones or computers were able to continue attending.

    As somebody disabled by Secondary Progressive MS the departure from our normal physical meeting space was welcome because our physical meeting space is on the 17th floor of a high rise building and only accessible by lift and the lift service is uncertain due to power outages.

    It also benefited regular attenders who lived far from the physical meeting place. They no longer faced the hassle of a lengthy commute to meeting. It also enable F/friends in far away places like Zimbabwe and the UK to join us in MfW on a regular basis.

    MfW for Business has also been conducted via Zoom. Our Clerks and minute taking Clerks seem to have been able to manage their roles adequately via Zoom.

    There are of course costs associated with Zoom. The meeting has purchased a package deal from Zoom and is subsidising those who cannot afford the data costs of attending MfW and MfWfB.

  3. Change is inevitable and messy. It can throw or invite us into the unfamiliar where all genuine growth resides. It can trip us into confusion where clarity resides. Growth and clarity will emerge in their own good time for each one of us. We can remind ourselved that there is always a still point in the centre of chaos, so seek the stillnes and sit a while therein, for in stillness we encounter profound connection.
    Quakers have been doing this for hundreds of years so don’t hide this Light under a bushel.

  4. Thank you, Keira. “Without transformation in how we gather and connect, it won’t just be people like me—miles from any meetinghouse—who are dropping through the cracks of an old system.”
    I want to offer here that families with children are among those other people too often dropping through the cracks of practices, schedules, and who is made to be comfortable in our meeting communities. This is not true everywhere, of course, and there are Friends meetings and churches who create multigenerational community with care and joy. I’ve heard sadness and worry that because of the pandemic, families have been less present in meetings — “Will they come back?” But the pandemic also interrupted old patterns and created the opportunity to re-create our ways of being together, as the author shares so beautifully. I hold a deep, almost desperate, hope for our Religious Society here in North America that we will seek to transform how we gather and connect in ways that better serve children and the adults raising them. Let’s ask “why” we do the things we do, re-ground ourselves in those truths, and reject “that’s the way we always do it” as the only reason to do anything! We can seek to create for our children a multigenerational experience of faith, where belonging to our worshipping community is preparation to live a life consistent with the principles of our Quaker faith.

  5. I first attended Quaker meetings in Hobart, February 2019. With the advent of online conferencing I’ve been able to join meetings in the UK, outback Australia, Pittsburgh, PA, Washington, DC, San Francisco, CA and Auckland, NZ. Although the meeting times have sometimes been awkward Quakers are a global organization. Online meetings allow this wonderful organization to connect internationally. I look forward to the establishment of global groups with various themes.

    The important issues that concern me the most, racism, child rights, climate change, Africa, poverty, extinction, peace etc are global. Our world is very well connected now and we need to embrace change. I do look forward to physical meetings but for now think global, act local.

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