There’s an old Quaker joke about the newcomer visiting their first Quaker meeting. They sit down and follow the example of everyone sitting silently until handshakes and the rise of meeting, then timidly ask the Friend sitting next to them “Wait, when does the service begin?” The answer comes back: “Now that the worship has ended.” Ba-da-domp!
As corny as the joke is, there is a long history of Friends preaching and witnessing outside of the confines of the meetinghouse. George Fox’s Journal is full of unconventional worshiping; he had a particular penchant for preaching from any bit of high ground he could find, like a tree or rock outcropping. His contemporary James Naylor is most remembered for re-enacting Jesus’s Palm Sunday entry into Jerusalem by dramatically riding a horse down a main road into Bristol.
Modern-day Friends continue to find unconventional places to worship, from bank lobbies to White Nationalist rallies. Many more Friends find their Quaker training and balance give them surprising skills in their work (our January 2017 issue on Quakers in the Workplace has a lot of great stories). As a religious movement that began as a response to the churchiness of other denominations, it’s part of our DNA to challenge the idea that worship is limited to a set place or time.
In March of 2019, we’ll look at the broader issue, “Outside the Meetinghouse.” Some ideas we’ve been wondering about:
- How do we interact with the town and neighborhoods where our Friends meetings are located, especially when they don’t look like our meeting membership?
- What does non-branded Quaker activism look like and how does it interplay with our Quaker identities and processes?
- Quakers sometimes talk of “opportunities”–unexpected moments of worship between two or more Friends who find themselves together. What kind of experiences do we have of this and can/should we do it more?
- What about unconventional ministries, for example in prisons?
- How do we use billboards or local events to let neighbors outside our meetinghouses know what’s happening inside–and letting them know they’re invited to share the worship?