Archive for the 'Outreach and growth' Category

What do Quaker pastors do?

To a lot of people, the words “pastor” and “Quaker” don’t belong in the same sentence. I don’t know how many times in the last 40 years I’ve been told, “Quakers don’t have pastors!” Even though many Quaker meetings have had pastors since the 1870’s, and even though more than 2/3 of the Quaker meetings in the world are programmed, there’s still a great deal of ignorance about what Quaker pastors do.

We don’t do sacraments like baptism or communion — or at least, the great majority of us don’t. On the other hand, a lot of pastoral work is sacramental, using the classic definition that a sacrament is an “outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible reality”. Pastors and ministers try to help people see that God is real, that God is very near, and that the same love, grace and healing which it talks about in the Bible are available to everyone today.

Most pastors preach — trying to share a full range of Scripture, sharing accurately what the Bible says, bringing God’s word alive for people today. Good pastors preach in such a way that other people will be drawn to speak. Good messages  give permission for people to ask honest questions, and good pastors respect sincere doubt.

Pastors make calls and visits in an unimaginably varied range of circumstances. I visit people in homes, hospitals, at their place of work, anywhere I can find them. I’ve done pastoral calls in prison cells, crawling in the basement carrying a flashlight with service techs, in supermarket aisles, on roof tops, in class rooms, in law offices and banks, sitting on the dock by the lake, eating watermelon on the back porch. Go where the people are.

Pastors teach – sometimes to people who aren’t interested in learning. I teach Bible studies, Quaker history, how to run committees, prayer classes, marriage clearness groups, all kinds of interesting subjects. If I wasn’t a full-time pastor, I’d probably be a teacher.

Pastors listen  a lot — to people, to the Holy Spirit, to oneself, to the world, to the meeting. Most of the mistakes I’ve made in pastoral work happened when I wasn’t listening enough.

Even though it’s not sacramental in the traditional sense, pastors hear a lot of confessions and carry all sorts of confidences.

Pastors pray — pray often, pray deeply, pray for ourselves and for others. Sometimes my prayers “work” (what I prayed for happens), but a lot of the time prayer is more about just being there and asking God to be here with us. My prayers aren’t better than anyone else’s, but I do try to pray a lot.

Pastors need to study, long after whatever training program they take is “completed”. Even a master’s-level program is just the beginning of all pastors need to read, learn, reflect, and write about. The learning really never ends, since the world keeps changing (and keeps staying the same).

Depending on their personal gifts and calling, Quaker pastors can be involved with peacemaking, truth telling, reconciliation, counseling and referral, writing, chaplaincy, prison ministry, youth work, evangelism and missions, ministry with the poor, retreats and conferences, motivational speaking, translation, historic preservation, ecumenical ministry, pilgrimage, hospice, mental health and addiction, agriculture, environmental concerns, and a few dozen other things. Just about every Quaker pastor I know covers the “main things” (worship, pastoral care, organization) but also has some kind of special schtick that God has called them to. Really good pastors work to support the ministries of others in the meeting.

Representing the meeting to the community and to other Friends — we’re the ones they turn to for information about Friends,and for the “Quaker position” on all kinds of subjects we know nothing about. We get tapped to serve on community boards, ministerial associations, charity events, and historical tours. We spend hundreds of butt-numbing hours on boards and committees.

Many pastors spend a lot more time than they want to on maintenance. It’s always demanding, it’s often neglected, and it can easily take over our time and define our ministry in ways we’d rather not spend so many hours on. I’ve overseen the installation of roofs and elevators, pumped out flooded basements, fixed sound systems, done janitorial work, painted every room in the meetinghouse and the parsonage, dealt with mice and cockroaches in the meetinghouse kitchen, sealed leaks, planted flowers, and cleaned gutters, usually because there was no money, it really needed to be done and no one else was available to deal with it.  Personally, I like to fix things — things that are broken, things that don’t work well, things that could bring beauty and life to the meeting.


Pastors are supposed to understand and uphold Quaker beliefs, be the local experts on Quaker history, know where to find things in Faith and Practice, have memorized all the major Quaker journals and be able to quote from them at a moment’s notice. The pastor is frequently the contact person, educator and fund raiser for Quaker missions; I’ve been lucky enough to go and see a few mission sites for myself.

Some Quaker pastors evangelize — preach in public and try to convert people (yes, there are Quaker evangelists!). Nearly all Quaker pastors try to share the good news, help save people who are lost or confused, and encourage people to grow in faith, hope and love.

Pastors are often called on to give thanks for old ministries and meetings, and help with gracefully laying them down when their day is done. Much more fun, we’re called to be midwives and assist at the birth of new ones.

Even though there are many pastoral Quaker meetings, there are fewer people who are willing to spend their working lives as pastors. I often wonder if Quaker pastors are a dying breed. Fewer meetings have the financial resources to support a full-time pastor, and a lot of young potential Quaker pastors have or want to have a family. Most Quaker pastors need things like a home, a car, health insurance, retirement savings, and income to pay off their educational loans.

Still, it’s an interesting and (mostly) rewarding calling, and I encourage readers to ask questions or suggest new ways that Quaker pastoral work can be done in today’s world.




Out in the parking lot

It’s amazing how many people come by our meetinghouse every day, and how different they all are. There are the folks from the meeting, of course, who come to the office to see me, or to drop things off or pick things up. There are tradespeople who come to work on the copier, or inspect the fire extinguishers, or deliver packages. But there are lots of other people who come in the drive but never enter the meetinghouse.

There’s the photographer from a nearby architect’s office, for example. At least once or twice a week he pulls in and parks during lunch hour. He told me he likes it because it’s quiet, and he can eat his sandwich and listen to the birds and read his Bible in the middle of the day.

Then there are the police who often park right behind the brick gateway. Our meetinghouse sits at the top of a hill with a road curving down below, and it’s tempting for drivers to go speeding past. Our parking lot is a good place for the police to have a speed trap during the day, or for two patrol cars to meet for a coffee break in the evening. I often see them when I’m out walking the dog, and they roll down their window to visit.

A surprising number of people pull into the Springfield Friends parking lot to stop and make cell phone calls, or send text messages. Especially on Saturdays, I often see two cars pull in, the doors open, and one or two children walk from one car to the other – probably exchanging the children for weekend custody visits. Those always make me sad.

There’s a large historic cemetery next to our meetinghouse – the oldest graves go back to the late 1700’s – and we often get visitors who are tracing their family on the gravestones. They’re easy to spot because they almost always carry cameras and notebooks, and they apologize for coming by. I often help them find the place they’re interested in, using the excellent guidebook prepared by the Springfield Memorial Association, and a lot of the time the family wants to buy a copy.

One day, a pickup truck pulled in and parked right outside my office window. The driver got out, left the door open, and came around so that the truck screened him from the road. He proceeded to strip down to his underwear, wiped himself down with a washcloth and some bottled water, and put on clean clothes – he obviously thought no one was here, and he needed to change for a meeting or an interview.

The pedestrians are even more interesting than the cars. We have a lot of immigrants in our neighborhood, and every afternoon two older Pakistani women come walking up Elva Place from their home 200 yards away. They’re clearly getting their daily exercise and our meetinghouse is the turnaround point. They’re very shy and always turn back before I can greet them.

When we first moved here, there was a gaunt older woman with the high cheekbones and piercing eyes that said she came from the mountains, wearing a ragged dress and worn-out shoes, who walked past every afternoon. She said her doctor told her to walk 2 miles every day for her heart, so she would go twice around the large block made by Springfield Road, Brentwood, Fairfield and Bellemeade. Then one day she stopped coming, and I never found out what happened to her. I hope it was because she was able to move in with family, or find a better place to live.

Then there’s a very young African-American mother, still in her teens, who walks past pushing her baby in a stroller. We always smile and greet each other, and I always ask how the baby’s coming along, which earns me an extra grin.

It’s surprising how many people in the neighborhood don’t know who we are – one person told me she’s lived here all her life and thought we might be a church, but the sign said “Friends Meeting” and she didn’t know what that was.

We don’t interact nearly enough with the people in our neighborhood, and I think that’s true of most Friends meetings in other places as well. We come here on Sunday to worship, and occasionally for other gatherings, but we seldom talk with our neighbors, who live nearby and see our building every day.

This year we put up a new sign with 8-inch letters which can be changed easily, and we started putting up different messages each week. The new sign has drawn a lot of attention, and it’s even started a friendly marquee rivalry with the Methodist church down the street – a group we didn’t interact with before.

Several times a year our meeting holds big fundraising dinners which draw 200-300 people – a barbecue, a gigantic fish fry, a chili cook-off. Those are great, but the visitors seldom come back on Sunday morning. More recently, we’ve invited a local gospel group to come and sing during the dinner – here in North Carolina, the combination of gospel music and pork barbecue is nearly irresistible.

For much of our history, Quakers frowned on making a big deal of public holidays. But last year for the Christmas season, we put electric candles in all the windows of our meetinghouse facing the road, which drew a lot of attention. People slowed down to enjoy the lovely lights in the evening, and the lights also brightened their day in the dark of early morning as they went off to work or to school.

One of our members is trying to organize a Spanish Bible study here at the meetinghouse, and classes in English to help the new families in the neighborhood adjust to living here. Another member wants to start a 12-step group, which may not make our meeting grow right away on Sunday morning, but it’s a great ministry for us to support.

Growth is always tied to outreach – on the web, on the street, in the community, in the neighborhood. Quakers are a pretty introverted bunch – we need to shake loose and interact with the people who are all around us. It’s not enough to have a good write-up in the history books – we need to make history in our own generation, and find fresh ways to minister and witness to the love and light of God.

Church keys

One of the most moving moments in starting work at a new meeting is being given the keys to the meetinghouse. It’s a symbol of trust, of having arrived, of being one of the meeting leaders.

Many years ago I attended an unprogrammed Friends meeting in a rural area. Seven miles out in the country. After I’d been coming for about a year, I was asked to come early each Sunday and unlock the meetinghouse and turn on the heat. The key was kept at the neighbor’s house about 200 yards away. It hung on a nail on the door leading from the garage into the kitchen, and anyone who needed to get into the meetinghouse knew where to find it.

When I came here to North Carolina, I acquired a new set of keys – one to the meetinghouse door, and one to the office. That’s plenty for me – I hate carrying around a heavy, bulky key ring. But over the next few months, I found out that different people in the meeting had other keys that I didn’t have – a key to the back door, a key to the kitchen door, and so on.

There was a moment of panic in January when the fuel oil for the meetinghouse ran out, and nobody knew where the key to the oil tank was. We could get more oil delivered – but without the key, we couldn’t put it in the tank! I finally called the former handyman, who told me where it was hidden in the boiler room in the basement.

I kept finding places for which I didn’t have the key, and no one could tell me where to find one. In the office there were three large key rings with dozens of unmarked keys – probably over half for locks which don’t exist any more.

So I spent an hour going round the meetinghouse with the key collection. As I discovered a key that worked, I tagged it with one of those round metal-rimmed tags and a Sharpie marker.

A couple of people in the meeting thought it was a mistake to put tags on the keys. “What if someone broke into the office? They’d take the keys and be able to get in anywhere?” These folks would rather have an anonymous collection of keys, and be able to choose the right well-worn key from memory – even if it means that the new pastor can’t find anything!

It made me think that there must be many other “keys” in the meeting – not just physical keys, but ways to open people’s hearts and memories, their longings and fears and dreams. Just because I’ve got the key to the meetinghouse doesn’t mean I can get in anywhere I want.

Sometimes it’s a matter of knowing the right phrase, the right prayer, code or password. I’ve had to wait and listen to people for a while before they let me into what they’re really thinking or feeling.

A key is a complicated thing – a carefully shaped piece of metal, with a unique pattern of ridges and grooves which lets it move the invisible pieces inside the lock and free it to turn and open the door. Compared to the size of the door, or the whole building, a key is a tiny thing – but if it’s lost or missing, a whole church can be kept waiting outside till it’s found.

Sometimes a physical key can unlock a door into a chapter in the meeting’s past – no one knew where the key was to a large room which was used for many years for a school aftercare program. The program was laid down at least 10 years ago, but it’s still an important memory for many people who came to this meeting because of it. Now that I’ve found the key again, maybe we could re-purpose the room for a new ministry that will help bring life here again.

In some churches, the key is a symbol of power and control – the person who has it doesn’t want anyone to come in, or to have access to whatever they’re fiercely protecting. Fortunately, the meeting where I am now doesn’t have many locked areas.

I expect to keep finding more church keys – ones which open my understanding of the budget, unlock the hurts in an extended family, or open the doorway to all kinds of gifts and ministries. One key doesn’t work in every situation, and sometimes I have to call in a locksmith.

What are the keys to your meeting?


P.S. – just as an historical and cultural note, when I was growing up in Vermont, a “church key” meant something else entirely. It was an item at the bottom of the fishing tackle box which came in handy on a hot day. This meaning has gone out of common use since the invention of pop-tab cans.

can opener


Opening the doors

A lot of Quaker meetinghouses are pretty old, and mostly we love them. We enjoy the sense of history and connectedness to the past, and many meetings spend a great deal of time and effort preserving their buildings and keeping them as “authentic” as possible.

Quakers also don’t like to spend money – many meetinghouses were built when they had a lot more members, and when there were many fewer demands on our funds. Some Quakers also think that it’s “unspiritual” to spend money on buildings, when there are so many important causes and ministries out there asking for help.

So, we tend not to spend money on updating our buildings. “It was good enough 50 or 100 years ago, it’s good enough now.”

This means that many Quaker meetinghouses aren’t well adapted for full use by people with various abilities. They have too many stairs, bathrooms which are impossible to get in and out of, doors that are too narrow, cupboards and shelves which are out of reach. At worship, few meetinghouses provide inviting space for wheelchair users. People with limited hearing often complain they can’t follow what speakers are saying. Most meetings don’t even have large-print hymnals and Bibles for worship!

More important, many meetings have what I call an “attitude barrier”. It’s simply too much trouble to make changes to accommodate people with different abilities – even if they know these folks want to come and participate! Instead of stretching their imagination and resources to be open, many meetings just can’t be bothered.

For the last 20 years, the meeting where I work (West Richmond Friends) has been working to make our meetinghouse, our worship and all of our programs as fully accessible as possible. Some of the things we’ve done have been expensive, but most of the changes have been in our attitude.

  • Our new elevator, installed in 2006, makes it easy for people to get to both the main floor and the lower level. We chose an entrance under the archway between the meetinghouse and the Friends School next door, so that cars can load and unload under cover from the weather. Greeters are always available on Sunday to help operate the elevator and assist people who need help.
  • Most people who need a wheel chair bring their own, but we also have extra wheel chairs available to move people around on either level of the building – if someone gets tired, for example.
  • We created “parking spots” in our worship room so wheelchair users don’t feel crowded. Each parking spot also has a rack which hold both of our two hymnals, a Bible, pencils and 3×5 cards for taking notes. A table near the entrance to the worship room holds large-print Bibles, hymnals and bulletins, as well as the special hearing system which captures and amplifies what’s said during worship.
  • We have one ADA-compliant accessible rest room, and this summer we’re converting a second. All bathrooms in the building also have grab rails installed for safety.
  • Sermons on tape are available for most worship services; many sermons are also posted on our web site. Worship bulletins are also mailed regularly to homebound Friends who ask for them.
  • Walkers, commodes, canes and other equipment are available for long or short-term loan. These are donated by families and individuals.
  • In the meetinghouse kitchen, we’ve set up a special drawer at knee level, which holds a few dishes, cups and table ware. This is so Friends in wheelchairs don’t have to ask for help or wait when they need these things at a potluck meal.

These are just a few examples of things we’ve done, and our meeting is always looking for new ways to be more accessible and inviting.

The elevator was expensive – it cost about $42,000 when it was installed 8 years ago. Some Friends questioned whether it would be used enough to make it worthwhile. We’ve been surprised by how many new people have come to our meeting (and stayed!) because of the effort we’ve made. The elevator is used at least 10-15 times every week. If it lasts for 30 years (and it will probably last much longer than that) it will work out to about $25 a week – a small price to pay for making our worship and our building fully accessible.

More important than the money, though, has been our meeting’s across-the-board change of attitude. We’re not being condescendingly generous – we recognize that we need these folks in our meeting! We want to be open to everyone, and we’ll make whatever changes are needed to include these Friends in all parts of our worship and program.

Dreams and Visions

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that I’m the kind of person who likes facts and numbers. Wishful thinking, ignoring trends and blindness to reality are anathema to me. I don’t deal very much with dreams and visions.

So I was pretty startled last week when I woke up with one of those persistent dreams which don’t make much sense. For some reason, I kept dreaming that we were making saw horses at the meetinghouse – really good ones which would be capable of holding a lot of weight, strong and level to do good work.

The dream stuck with me when I woke up, and I wasn’t sure what it meant or what to do with it.

Then, a few days later, I was up at the meetinghouse early on Sunday morning. I usually get there by 7:00 or 7:30 to make sure that the heat is turned on, and then I go around unlocking the doors for when people start to arrive an hour or so later.

Our meetinghouse was built in 1916, and the front entrance was built more to be impressive than accessible – it’s up a long flight of 13 concrete steps. Almost no one comes in that way any more – people mostly come in the side door on SW 7th Street, or else through the door on the other side of the building under the archway, where we have an elevator.

As I was unlocking the doors, I looked out the front door onto the new-fallen snow. There were no tracks outside, and the steps hadn’t been shoveled. I thought to myself, “Why bother? No one’s coming in this way anyhow.”

I turned away, and then I stopped and came back. What if someone new, someone who’s never been to our meeting before, tried to come to worship and the front door was locked? Maybe it won’t happen this week, or next week – in fact, I think it’s pretty unlikely. But I unlocked the door anyway, and next time it snows, I’ll make sure the steps are cleared off.

Last month, the small group which prepares for worship met to start planning for the New Year. At our meeting, we usually let whoever is the speaker that week choose their own topic and whatever Bible passage they want to use. As pastoral minister, I normally bring a prepared message twice a month, and on the other Sundays one of the other folks form the meeting or a guest speaker brings the message. We like the variety of messages this system brings, and we also treasure the “freedom of the pulpit” which is a strong part of our meeting’s tradition.

This time, though, we decided to try something different for a change. For each Sunday from New Year’s to Easter, we chose a series of passages from the gospel of Mark. We’re inviting the speaker to take that week’s passage and wrestle with it, and share whatever they can.

What do moments like these mean? I’m no expert in interpretation. But if I had to make a guess, I’d say:

1) We need to be ready to do some kind of building. I’m not sure if it’s just our meeting, or the New Association of Friends, or Quakers in general. But we’ve been cutting back and scaling down for years. Maybe it’s time to change to a different attitude. Instead of laying down meetings, we should be building new ones. Instead of cutting programs, we should see what new programs would serve our meetings and our communities. If old ones have served their usefulness and need to be laid down, that’s OK. But what new things could we be building?

2) We need to make sure that all the doors are open and inviting, and that there are plenty of different ways for people to come to our meetings. Those “doors” may be real and physical – our meeting experienced real growth when we made the effort a few years ago to make our building more accessible to everyone. But open and inviting doors are often a metaphor for the kind of attitudinal work and program changes we need if new people are going to feel welcome when they come to our meetings. Very few people want to spend their religious lives in museums – they want a spiritual home where they can feel welcome, unpack the things they’ve brought, and be free to move the furniture around a little. Every Quaker meeting I’ve ever known needs to do more work in this area.

3) We need to spend more time with the stories of Jesus, and be willing to let new people take a try at explaining them to us. I’m convinced that people really are hungry for the presence of God, and that they won’t be satisfied with worn-out and recycled stuff. Tradition and testimony are important, but so is listening to what is in people’s hearts and minds today. And if we really want to be Friends of Christ, we need to be listening more to Jesus.

Best wishes for a blessed Christmas season, and for the New Year in 2014!

Membership – II

Last week I ran into someone at a community event, who told me with great pride that he was a “birthright Quaker”, even though he doesn’t belong to a Friends meeting and hasn’t gone to meeting for worship in more than 50 years.

This happens fairly often, and it always puzzles me, since most yearly meetings in the U.S. removed birthright membership from their Faith and Practice early in the 20th century. Before then, if you were born in a Quaker family, then you were automatically considered to be a Quaker.

It was a great way to keep up the membership numbers, especially in the days of large families. And it’s nice to think of people handing down their sense of belonging, sort of like a family heirloom or a precious jewel. I’ve known many people who have proudly told me that they were “birthright Friends” because one of their Quaker grandparents told them when they were little.

The reality, though, is that birthright membership no longer exists, and it hasn’t for quite a while. No one is “automatically” a member. Quakers are more in line now with other groups which insist that to be a member, you have to make a positive declaration that you want to be one – usually as an adult or at least as a teen.

Many yearly meetings have a provision for junior members – children who are allowed to join if their parents make a request for membership on their behalf. It’s almost the same as the old birthright membership, and it can be a loving way for meetings to welcome younger children.

Unfortunately, the experience of many Quaker groups is that the majority of these young Friends drift away some time during their late teens or young adulthood. It’s probably better for us to look at other paths to membership if we really want to grow.

A big part of the cultural and theological struggle among Friends today centers around membership questions – What do people have to do to join? Who is “acceptable” as a Friend? Who sets the rules – the local meeting or the yearly meeting? Is someone who joins Friends in one meeting automatically acceptable by another meeting?

A number of yearly meetings belonging to FUM state, rather dryly, “Friends receive into adult membership those whose faith in God and in Jesus Christ as personal Savior and Lord is manifest in their lives and who are in unity with the teachings of Christian truth as held by the Religious Society of Friends.”

Although this statement covers a lot of ground, many Friends have adopted other “tests” for membership, usually unwritten – is this person sufficiently evangelical, or sufficiently liberal, to get along with us? Is this person straight, or do we accept gay and lesbian people as Friends?

Another big question is, how difficult should it be to become a member of our meeting? Some Quaker groups set the bar fairly high – they expect people to have read several Quaker books, perhaps go to a couple of retreats or go to a series of classes. Other Quaker groups set the bar fairly low – they accept anyone who says they have accepted Jesus as their savior, or perhaps if they know the words to the George Fox song.

Many local meetings have nearly given up the whole idea of membership – if you come to meeting 2 or 3 times, you’re considered a member, until you stop coming. That’s it.

The majority of Friends in the world today undoubtedly think of themselves as Christians, and I certainly fall into that group. However, I have also known many wonderful Friends who are not able to do so, for a variety of personal or deeply-principled reasons. I guess I’m not inclined to be part of the “theological police” – even though I’m a Christian, I don’t have the itch to throw other people out.

I’m sure that there will be readers of this blog who want to hold out for a “high” view of membership – members of Friends should be well-read in the Bible and in Quaker writings, deeply committed in their Christian life, widely-traveled in Quaker gatherings, active donors to many Quaker causes, regular writers of letters to Congress and to their local newspaper, and so on. I admire Friends who fit this picture, but they will probably make up a fairly small minority in most meetings.

In practical terms, members:

1) attend worship regularly, unless they’re unable to do so
2) take part in the life and activities of the meeting
3) love and accept the other people in their meeting
4) continue to test and shape their religious beliefs and daily practices, and help others to do the same
5) help the meeting to discern God’s will in monthly meetings for business
6) support the meeting financially to the best of their ability

 I’m sure there will continue to be fairly wide differences among Friends who want a more consistent theological characterization of membership — probably one which matches up with their own theology, whatever it is. 

While I want to encourage a lively and ongoing discussion of beliefs and experiences among Friends, I think that it’s best if our working definition of membership is simple, accessible, and behavioral, and as open as possible. 

Membership – I

Few topics get Quakers talking as much as membership. For some people, knowing “I’m a member” is terribly important. It’s like being married, or like being a citizen of a country. Being a member is a statement to oneself and to the rest of the group about faith and commitment and things like that.

For other people, membership isn’t too important. And that’s not a put-down, either – it’s always surprising to find out how many of the best people in our meeting aren’t members. These are people who “belong” because of what they do, not because of what the membership roll says.

To some extent, membership is a choice, a voluntary move; people choose to be Friends rather than Methodists, or Catholics, or Buddhists, or whatever.

In another way, though, membership is not a choice. Many people report joining Friends out of a feeling that “this is where I belong, this is my place.” For these people, membership isn’t a choice, but rather a discovery of where they’ve belonged from the beginning. I have met many people who’ve told me, “The moment I walked into Quaker meeting, I knew I was home.”

Many churches of all denominations have been reporting declines in membership for a long time – 40 or 50 years. Sometimes this has been a drastic drop in response to a crisis, a scandal, or a policy change in the denomination. More often, the decline reflects a shift in population from rural to urban areas, or a move to some other part of the country.

In some cases, this decline in formal membership has been paralleled by a decline in the number of people at worship on Sundays. In many yearly meetings where I have been able to study the numbers in detail, though, I’ve seen a different trend: membership has declined, but attendance at worship has remained much more stable.

It’s a commonplace that people born after the Baby Boom tend to be less interested in being members of a church. In response, some churches have done away with membership altogether, and focus entirely on the number of people who show up at worship. Most Quaker meetings have tended to blur the distinction between “members” and “attenders”, and membership carries no special perks with it.

In spite of these larger trends, Quakers still argue passionately about membership. In my next post, I’m planning to talk about some of these distinctively Quaker quirks and quibbles. I’m looking forward to some lively feedback – and to hearing lots of questions from readers.


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.


Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 535 other followers