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Quaker Community

June 8, 2010

Yesterday, I had coffee with Christina Repoley.  She happens to be a Friend from the unprogrammed tradition, attending Chandler School of Theology at Emory.  By pursuing her interest in pastoral ministry, Christina is rocking the boat.  Maybe someday soon, unprogrammed meetings in Pennsylvania or North Carolina will provide NW Yearly Meeting with a new generation of pastors.  Or maybe the way we Quakers think about worship and leadership is changing.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the old categories that divided us no longer apply?

Earlier this year, Christine Leonard-Osterwalder called me from Hawaii.  Her worship group had outgrown its practice of meeting in homes.  Although her own background was with the United Church of Christ, Christine felt a strong affinity for Quaker theology and practice.  After becoming a frequent visitor to the WHF website, she thought I might have something useful to say about organizing a spiritual community.  So, she arranged a time when we could talk by phone.

Do these encounters provide a glimpse into the future of Quaker community?  Will changes in technology make it easier for us to find our fellow travelers?  Or perhaps labeling these brief conversations “Community” stretches the concept beyond its breaking point.

If we haven’t yet entered the future, we have certainly departed the past.

Currently, NW Yearly Meeting has focused its attention on the structure of area gatherings.  In the past, these gatherings provided Friends with an important opportunity to expand the circle of community beyond that of the local meeting.

Although Quarterly meetings have a fine history, I think their usefulness has passed.  Simplicity is a Quaker value… but dressing like the fellow on the Quaker Oats box is no longer a meaningful structure for expressing this value. To put it bluntly, proximity is no longer the obvious platform for community.  At one time, community had to happen within a certain geographical area: the only way people could connect was face-to-face (and within the distance they could travel by horse or by foot).  This simply isn’t true anymore.

I urge our yearly meeting to look for creative and innovative ways of building community.  It will be life-draining for us to invest our energy in preserving an old structure.

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2 comments

  1. Mike, welcome to the “Quaker blogosphere.” On my blog I posted an “article” I read over 40 years ago on the occasion of the laying down of Quarterly Meetings. I entitled it “The Myth of Midwestern Quakerism.”

    I have been participating in “Quaker Faith and Fellowship”on the web which is exploring the meaning of a Friends “community” in cyberspace. Of course QuakerQuaker et. al. are pursuing similar questions. No answers but some good questions.

    How about sitting down over a cup of coffee and having a nice chat. (That is something I do miss.)


    • Thanks, Tom! I added your blog to my “Q Continuum.” Of course, I’d love to sit down over a cup of coffee. The hard part will be finding a good café halfway between Oregon and Minnesota.



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