There are many ways one can categorize different types of Friends. You could parse them out by theology, architecture, history, etc. But the most readily apparent and non-subjective way to sort Friends is by their attitudes toward paid ministry.
Being Quakers, we have our own lingo for this. Programmed meetings have paid pastors and usually some set order of services; unprogrammed Friends sit in silence until congregational members feel the prompting of the Holy Spirit and arise in ministry. There are even semi-programmed meetings that do a little bit of both.
Grand sweeps in history led to these distinctions; influencing factors include generational changes, a desire for outreach and evangelism, changes in transport and communication, an ossification of worship, a fear of outsiders, good intentions that led to unexpected consequences.
But where are we today?
How are programmed churches doing? Personnel costs are rising while many Friends churches are losing membership. So-called bivocational ministry, where a part-time pastor earns much of their salary elsewhere, is becoming a necessity at many Friends churches. How are we adapting and who are we learning from?
What’s the relationship between congregational leadership and the pastor? What is the role of church elders or the church’s clerk? What differences of customs and relationships are there between Quaker pastors and pastors of other denominations?
How does a church work to maintain a Quaker identity when a pastor has been trained in another denomination? Is this even a priority; should it be?
We’re interested in hearing not just from programmed Friends churches in the United States but from all over, including East African countries such as Kenya, Rwanda, and Burundi, where the majority of pastored Friends churches.
Some Quaker churches have marked out a halfway point, offering semi-programmed worship that incorporates a significant portion of time to traditional silent worship. How does this look? How does a church strike a balance?
Unprogrammed Friends are not exempt from these questions. One reason many of their meetings have been able to function without staffing was because of significant volunteer commitments from non-working wives and financially independent retirees. This hasn’t led to the greatest diversity of leadership. And many people have less free time to devote these days.
There are hundreds of unprogrammed Friends who get a paycheck from a Quaker institution. What is the relation of paid staff to committees or boards that guide their work? In recent years I’ve noticed that the “Quaker leadership” is sometimes used to refer exclusively to professional Friends. Why is that?
But also: what aren’t unprogrammed Friends getting done because of our continuing reluctance to hire Friends to engage in our work? From building and grounds issues to advancing our social justice committees, there’s only so much we’re able to accomplish on volunteer labor.
As always, these ideas are just suggestions. We’re happy to read whatever readers think about the current state and future of our Quaker institutions.
Submissions due May 11, 2020.