Quaker Quest: The Other QQ

Prompted by a post by Contemplative Scholar about evangelism among (unprogrammed) Friends (Should Quakers Become More 'Evangelical'?, I looked up the Quaker Quest website. I attended a short presentation they did at the FGC Gathering under the aegis of the FGC advancement and outreach. Their tagline is Quakerism -- "a spiritual path for our time."

Quote: "Quaker Quest aims to help you find out about the Quaker way of life. We have found that people enquiring about us want to hear what we have to say, talk to each other and us about it, get an idea what sort of people we are and experience Quaker worship."

I highly recommend the website: http://www.quakerquest.org.

It includes a forum for discussion, which appears to be just over a month old. Okay, lunch break is over. I'll have to think about how we might apply this in San Francisco another time.


Martin Kelley said...

Hi Chris, Let us know what you think after you've explored it a bit. I've never experienced it but it's always come off to me as a bit shallow, Friends as nice middle-class liberals, the message of the last half-century. It seems that a lot of older Friends are really get excited by Quaker Quest and wanting to adopt it here in the States but I have my doubts. It seems to me that today's seekers are looking for something more robust and are more sophisticated than seekers fifty years ago. Any kind of outreach is better than the nothing we normally do. What pieces of Quaker Quest in particular intrigue you?
Yours, Martin @ Quaker Ranter

Chris M. said...

Martin: Thanks for asking! What made Quaker Quest stand out for me was their intention to answer the questions that seekers -- newcomers -- actually ask them!

At Hampstead Meetig in London, they supposedly started their very first series in 2002 by talking about Quaker history, 17th century England, etc. etc. Few people stuck around meeting after that.

With the next go-round, and ever since, it was said, they started by answering the questions that seekers of today -- not 50 years ago -- were actually asking them, such as, "Do you believe in Jesus? Do you believe in the Bible? Why do you worship that way? Do you really believe in peace?"

That's a much different place to start: what the new persons want to know, not what I want them to know.

Of course, Quaker history and theology will inform the answers, and a savvy speaker will be sure to reference them. But those aren't the questions people are asking, in QQuest's experience, anyway.

Now, if the Quakers who are on the panels are nice middle-class liberals, that's the viewpoint you'll hear from them.

One other thing I liked is that each evening is segmented in a combination of panel discussion, small group, panel discussion, Q&A, and then at least 30 minutes of waiting worship. "You've heard about it, now let's try it!"

Okay, Robin M. and I are moving tomorrow, gotta try to get some sleep!

-- Chris M.

Martin Kelley said...

Hi again Chris,
Good luck moving, sorry I can't just pop across town to help lift things.

I totally appreciate what you say about answering the real questions people have. I think Friends tend to duck into history in order to keep from talking about their beliefs. Perhaps a lot depends on who's answering the question; my ambivalence may be a reflection of my ambivalence to parts of British Quakerism.

Here's a questions then (for when you're unpacked a bit or on coffee break): are the leaders of the exercises encouraged to give their own answers or a catch-all inclusive answer. The problem when talking about "what Quakers believe" is that you have to be so general and/or use so many verbal footnotes to include all fringes that the seeker is liable to lose attention and walk away with a impression of Quakers that over-emphasizes the edges.

Anonymous said...

Dear Chris and Martin:

I’m happy to find you both in the same room in cyberspace. Chris, I wish I could be helping you and Robin move; in fact it would delight me just to see you both again. I hope your move, wherever you’re moving to, is a blessed one. The reason I’m writing, however, is Quaker Quest. NYYM’s Advancement Committee has shown interest in it, and so have I. I see three positive potentials in it:

1. It allows for a variety of spokespeople to make presentations about Quakerism: Hallelujah! This means that alongside what might be a theology-avoiding, umbrella-group Quaker majority viewpoint in my meeting, I or someone like me might also get to witness to the power of the living Jesus Christ to establish Gospel Order in the community and effect the salvation of the individuals within it. This works both ways: if I speak publicly about what Quakerism is, the Friends that are uncomfortable with my Christianity won’t have to grit their teeth and plug their ears; they’ll get their chance to speak, too.

This cuts both ways: if I were in the sort of Christian Quaker meeting the majority of whose members, say, denied that Muslims worship the same God as Christians do, or that Jews can be saved without verbally acknowledging Jesus of Nazareth to be the Messiah, I’d also get a chance to express my universalist understandings.

2. If my monthly or quarterly meeting put on a Quaker Quest program, we’d soon find out how varied our theologies actually are, and might actually start talking about them, instead of just smiling and exchanging pleasantries with one another at social hour and never, never talking about our own experiences of the Divine and how we try to make sense of them. This doesn’t mean that “right” theology would then triumph over “wrong” theology and everyone would get saved – I cannot believe that God would damn anyone simply for having wrong notions about how things work – but rather that we’d all start to grow wiser as we learned to appreciate alternate world-views, and learned what part of our own might be superficial, superstitious, fear-based, unexamined, or indefensible.

3. If my monthly or quarterly meeting put on a Quaker Quest program and the result is that we all came out sounding too shallow and lukewarm for the deep and ardent souls that came to check out the Quakers, then the deep and ardent souls would be warned away from a place where they’d never be happy. Perhaps they’d discover one another and found a different faith community that was more like what Quakers ought to be. And then we’d be goaded by the presence of this new community into going deeper and working harder.

That said, I’m a little unhappy with Quaker Quest’s website statement. It sounds like pastel-colored ranterism, individualism without discipline: “we have always valued the individual's relationship to the Divine over any forms…. We try to value each person equally.” George Fox said he had not come to take people away from all forms, but from forms without power. As for valuing each person equally, yes, we should, but within that context of equality, there’s a difference between spiritual giants and unformed babes, and if the giants are discouraged from teaching the babes, and the babes from thinking that they’re in need of spiritual education, then we’ve failed to be a community worthy of the name. Nonetheless, the website statement’s a beginning. I’m grateful for it. I’m hopeful.

My best to you all,

John Edminster

Chris M. said...

@Martin: As I understood QQuest, panelists are encouraged to answer for themselves. Hence the pamphlet series they're publishing, "Twelve Quakers on..." which provide 12 different points of view on a topic. I haven't found the pamphlets so inspiring as to buy any yet, I admit.

@John: Your thoughtful comments are much appreciated. Who among us has the courage to admit he or she is indeed a spiritual babe? It's a hard thing to admit.

As for actually talking about our varied theologies, yes, that is vital. It's one of the things I value about College Park Quarterly Meeting and Pacific Yearly Meeting -- many of us are able to make that leap and reveal ourselves that way.

And if there is a varied panel of speakers, as you point out in (1), then those with more spiritual heft will shine through, overcoming the tendency towards pastel-colored ranterism, as in (3). They can take people to the feet of Christ and leave them there, as Fox counseled Friends to do.

-- Chris M.