What I’d really like

OK, let me dream a little.  We’re in the early stages of setting up a new association of Friends, and there are a lot of ideas floating around on various blogs and discussion groups. Here are some ideas for what I would really like.

I want worship to be the real center of activity and purpose for this new association. I want opportunities to worship with Friends from other meetings. I’d like these opportunities to happen several times a year, held at different locations so I can see their space and get a sense of their life together. I need to get out of my own meetinghouse, and stop thinking that the world of Friends centers around where I worship every Sunday.

Too often, in the old Indiana Yearly Meeting, worship times became just another battleground, another place for us to disagree. I want a sense that when we come together to worship, that everyone truly is welcome. Whatever style of worship we have, whether programmed, semi-programmed or unprogrammed, I want a sense each time that we are offering our best to God, and that no one there is judging the style of worship, the music, the speaker or anything else that day.

I want lots of opportunities for Friends of similar interests to get together. Some of these may take the shape of ongoing committees (hopefully few) while other opportunities may take the shape of workshops or interest groups which meet for a season and can be continued or laid down without a lot of fuss.

Regardless of their job description or task, I want committees where the main purpose is to encourage and advise, rather than regulate and control.

And while I’m on the subject of committees, Friends, we really need to change the culture of how committees function. I like the idea of committees being broadly representative, but I’m much more interested in having committees which are energizing and active. In my experience, smaller groups often function better than larger ones – half a dozen people are often more effective than twenty, if everyone on the committee works and contributes to the discussion.

I think that committees need their own life of worship and fellowship, and I think it’s well worth it for committees to spend plenty of time in prayer and getting to know each other at a deep level. The real “business” of a committee often isn’t what’s on it’s agenda.

That said, a well-prepared agenda is important, and leadership is crucial. I’ve wasted too many hours on yearly meeting committees which have no idea what they’ve done, what their business is, what resources they have, who they should report to, or even who is in charge of the meeting. Clerks should be nominated, and should be the best person available – if you leave it to the committee to choose its own leader, the clerk winds up being the last person to say “no” to the job.

I’m willing to experiment with alternative ways of holding committee meetings and interest groups. I’d rather use Skype than conference calls, so we can see each others’ faces as well as hearing voices. But I’m also willing to experiment with holding retreats and weekend work/worship gatherings. Anything to get away from the pointless, clueless, lifeless meetings I’ve attended for 20 years, sitting on tiny chairs in Sunday School rooms, where no one is excited about being there and no one has done the things they signed up to do last time.

Frankly, Friends, our work ethic sucks. We often bring concerns half-prepared to business sessions, and then expect other people to take over our concerns, fund them, publicize them, and make them happen. “Support” is a very cheap word, and I’d be happy to ban it from general use for a few years till we rediscover the reality of what it means.

I want to contribute to Quaker mission and service work, but I’d like to change what that means. I have spent more than 30 years on committees which sent money to Quaker organizations, and most of the time we simply sent whatever amount we sent the year before. It would be fun – and sobering – to be on a group responsible for promoting mission and service work which spent most of its time understanding what that work is about. And I’d like to see us emphasize sending our own people on mission and work trips to see with our own eyes, and worship there in person, before we send money.

I’d like us to do a few things really well, even if it means sacrificing a lot of things we’ve traditionally done. This is our golden opportunity to re-invent what a group of meetings can do together. I understand (and love) Quaker tradition, but if all we do is replicate the old yearly meeting, I’m not interested. Let’s do something new.

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7 Responses to “What I’d really like”


  1. 1 Roger Dreisbach-Williams January 13, 2013 at 9:08 am

    Truth is always appreciated, especially when it isn’t comfortable.

  2. 2 Steven Davison January 13, 2013 at 9:40 am

    This is a great list of desiderata, Josh. I would like to suggest a shift in structure and focus that, as a new yearly meeting, you have a unique opportunity to consider. The shift I am suggesting is from committees organized around a concern with members nominated by a nominating committee to ministry nurtured by an up-to-date and robust culture of eldership that adopts and adapts the traditional faith and practice of Quaker ministry.

    Committees are comprised of Friends whom the nominating committee knows have some experience and interest in the committee’s work. Committees tend to sett their agendas in a process of brainstorming and discussion in which the ideas for what to do are sorted out by a discernment process that may or may not include real worship. Friends on the committee who have more or less clearly identified leadings must compete with the other items being considered for priority on the agenda. Once it sets to work, the committee must compete with other committees for funds, nominees, and time on the yearly meeting floor. Committees are forever—they are very hard to lay down, even when they become dysfunctional or moribund. And they are the commit-ee, the thing to which you make your commitment—rather than the ministry, or God.

    By contrast, ministries are the work of Friends who are called to serve God in some clear way. The discernment regarding the ministry’s value and course is mostly in the hands of the Friend’s local meeting. So is the subsequent support and oversight, which could include minutes for travel or service and their endorsement, and, perhaps, even recording and release. When the service has run its course, the ministry is laid down, and so are its support and oversight committees.

    The problem is that many meetings nowadays don’t know the faith and practice of Quaker ministry well enough to manage the discernment and eldership well enough (this is true in the unprogrammed branch, anyway; is it true for programmed Friends, as well?). This makes any transition from committee structure to a structure of ministry support virtually impossible in the short term. Such a shift would take a while and require a vigorous combination of religious education and spiritual nurture.

    Usually, a yearly meeting has enough Friends who ARE versant in Quaker faith and practice regarding our tradition of ministry to manage such a culture of ministry and eldership at the yearly meeting level, but they are too few to guarantee that any individual meeting has a critical mass of elders.

    Therefore, what I am proposing would look like this: The new yearly meeting convenes committees organized around concerns (like mission work, peace, advancement, religious education) as meetings have in the past. (I think you do need standing committees to run the business of the yearly meeting—money, property, personnel, and the like.) The primary function of these newly formed committees would be to serve as culture dishes for the ministries of its members and laboratories for finding ways to develop a more mature culture of eldership in the local meetings.

    For instance, many Friends named to such committees do have a great interest in the committee’s mission, and often real experience, as well. But they also often do not yet have clearly defined leadings in this area themselves. They have a concern but they have not yet crossed a threshold of discernment to know just what God wants them to do about it specifically. Thus, instead of having brainstorming sessions and discussions to sort out the committee’s agenda, the committee holds clearness committees for each of its members to help them discern their own ministries. If the committees don’t know how to do this, they teach themselves and then learn by doing it.

    Some Friends will discover in this process that they are actually called to do something else, and will leave the committee. Others will end up as before—concerned, but still unclear about their own calling. A third group will include Friends who have just been galvanized around a call.

    As ministries emerge more clearly from this process of clearness, the committee shifts its focus to finding ways to support and oversee them. In the meantime, once they have their chops, they begin taking their work to monthly meetings, explaining the faith and practice of Quaker ministry, conducting clearness committees for those in local meetings with concerns that have not quite gelled yet, and training meetings in how to do this for themselves, so that the committee structure at the local meeting level begins to work the way the committees at the yearly meeting level do.

    • 3 Bill Samuel January 15, 2013 at 6:50 pm

      What many churches have moved to is ministry teams instead of committees. Ministry teams are composed of those with a real leading to the ministry and a commitment to follow through. These are established as those with the calling identify themselves, rather than have a set based on established ideas about what the community should have. There would be needed some sort of structure to receive leadings of Friends and facilitate the process of team formation. This seems to me a much more appropriate way to move than the elaborate committee structures that have developed in the latter half of Quaker history.

      This new body has the chance to be a laboratory for implementing ways of functioning that come freshly out of worship and discernment, having no existing structure to deal with. Its experience with these ways could prove very useful for older bodies as they seek to renew the way they carry out their functions.

  3. 4 Joyce Brown January 13, 2013 at 11:12 am

    Brilliant! You could not have set forth a more beautiful foundation. Well articulated. Well done. Joyce

    On Sun, Jan 13, 2013 at 7:57 AM, arewefriends

  4. 5 Christine Greenland January 15, 2013 at 4:30 pm

    Steve — I had an interesting experience after meeting this past week. A friend announced the work of the nominating committee, and I allowed that I’d be interested in Friends World Committee, but needed help in discernment about whether it was rightly ordered for me to re-engage with the yearly meeting when I’ve felt spiritually disconnected for some time, to me a clear sign that I’m not led to the structural/business aspect of the work. Others may be.

    When Another Friend expressed interest in the same endeavor, I realized that she has more gifts to bring to that work… God’s way of telling me, perhaps, that I shouldn’t to the work myself, but what I should do is encourage others.

  5. 6 Lawrence Cullen Jones January 18, 2013 at 7:33 pm

    I am moved by all of this. I feel at home.

  6. 7 Gina January 23, 2013 at 5:27 am

    Remember that mission work and ministry doesn’t necessarily mean going to Africa or Latin America or Asia. It also doesn’t necessarily mean church planting or bringing people to Jesus (if you can all agree that Jesus is a good idea). Work within your own communities as well, but broader than the people who show up on First Day or on Fourth Day for Bible study or whatever. Meetings who spend all their ministerial energy on building “fellowship” and becoming a close-knit community without actually doing anything create a humanist idol of the collective self. This is how we become That Place Where People Go To Gossip, Drink Coffee, Eat Casseroles, And Plan Political Protests.

    As a member of my congregation’s Finance Committee, I also want to point out (as the committee that funds all of the other committees) that the purpose of church finances and budgets should be discussed in terms of ministry. I am sick and tired of talking and arguing about debts and mortgages and loans and endowments. The rest of the Meeting doesn’t get it and our presentation at Meeting for Worship with Concern For Business makes their eyes glaze over. Our money and people and time and stuff are here to serve God, and our budgets should reflect that. If the money budget crashes and burns spectacularly but we fulfill Christ’s call, all will be well. Lilies of the field and all that.


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All of the posts on this blog are my own personal opinion. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the members and attenders of the meeting where I belong or any organization of Friends. For more information, click on the "About Me" tab above.

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