Being Relevant Outside the Meetinghouse

As promised, this is the first of a series of ten blogs about ten cultural flips for multiage inclusion. It’s not enough to shift our culture. We really have to flip it.

Cultural Barrier #1: Perception that Friends’ meetings are internally focused and irrelevant

Why is this a barrier to multiage inclusion?

Today’s younger generations have largely grown up with no attachment to any particular place. I’m thirty-four years old, and not counting multiple apartments in the same town/city, I’ve moved a total of nine times, living in Illinois, Pennsylvania, Texas, northern Utah, Georgia, Arkansas, Vermont, southern Utah, and New York City. For awhile, I didn’t even have a permanent address.

It used to be that Quakers grew up in a meeting and stayed in a meeting. We knew everyone in our Beloved Community; the affairs of the meeting were our affairs because the meeting itself was so much a part of our identity. But for the transient young person, this is no longer the case. Younger Friends have moved so many times that they often don’t know the minutiae of what’s happening in business meeting. And the more hours the meeting spends on internal affairs, the more the young Friend perceives nothing happening in the meeting that is relevant to them or the world more generally.

The word perceives is important here. While I would argue that it’s important for meetings to actually be relevant outside their own walls, when it comes to multiage inclusion, it’s also important that the meeting appears to be relevant. Sometimes you have to stick around to hour three of business meeting before you hear about the contributions to the local homeless shelter.  Newcomers and younger Friends are unlikely to ever make it that far.

Culture Flip #1: Doing frequent work and service in neighborhood communities outside the meetinghouse walls

What does this look like in a monthly meeting?

In a post a few weeks back, Eight Changes Your Meeting Can Make Right Now, I phrased it this way: “Participate in town events. Organize work days to help at the local school or library. Prioritize local giving in your meeting budget. Listen to your neighbors. Study white privilege and systemic racism. Learn about gender inclusion . . . Allot the funds for donations and meaningful programming first, with a preference for things happening outside the walls of your meetinghouse. Then, set aside what’s essential for facility maintenance. If anything is left, assume you haven’t given enough away.”

Can you, as a meeting, commit to a certain number of service projects in the neighborhood community each year? Can you ask individual Friends in your meeting for ideas about what could be done and invite various people to take on the leadership of such projects—not as members of a formally nominated committee, but as volunteers for just that one event?

Not long ago, I got a grant through a program with Duke Divinity School. My charge was to find a way to spend $5000 on an innovative initiative within my denomination. I wanted to encourage exactly the kind of stepping-outside-the-meetinghouse projects that I’m describing here, so I designed a mini-grant program open to all Friends within New York Yearly Meeting. If you created a project that involved Quakers and non-Quakers doing something together—outside the meetinghouse—that was meaningful to the neighborhood community, you could get a reimbursement for up to $200 of the costs. Friends met the challenge with everything from murals to gardening to book clubs to a butterfly release; you can watch a video about the work here.

For Quaker Outside the Lines, we also required at least one post on social media about the project, using #quakeroutsidethelines—because for visitors and newcomers and anyone who’s not a regular participant in your business meetings, if you don’t find new ways to be visible about the work, no one will ever know.

How is your meeting doing meaningful work outside your meetinghouse walls?

How are you making this work visible, so that visitors and newcomers will know right away that you prioritize doing relevant service in your neighborhood community?


The Cultural Barrier The Flip!
Perception that Friends’ meetings are internally focused and irrelevant Doing frequent work and service in neighborhood communities outside the meetinghouse walls
Equating seriousness with sacredness Behaving as though joy and gratitude are as holy as struggle and lamentation, including 50/50 time division for the whole meeting between play together and work together
Frequent use of Quaker terminology without context Practicing brief, clear explanations and contextualization of all terms and references to institutional structure, every time, in the moment, as we go
Communicating solely through paper publications and websites Developing a meaningful presence on social media (for internal communications and outreach)
Idolatry of Quaker process Building a permission-giving culture (the default answer is ‘yes, and how can I help?’ unless there is a strong, Spirit-led reason to hesitate)
Valuing traditions over the needs of living Friends Regularly reexamining physical facilities, procedures, and practices in the light of how they are working for our communities today; recognizing the difference between our Spirit-led testimonies (which are eternal) and how we express those testimonies (which may need to change as circumstances change)
High financial cost of participation in gatherings Shifting to pay-as-led pricing; changing locations and structures of gatherings so the actual cost is lower
High reading level (high school and above) of almost all of Friends’ written materials Using shorter sentences and simpler vocabulary in all documents
Isolation of parents (among Friends and in society in general) Providing childcare at all meeting events without exception; prioritizing spiritual and practical nurture of parents
Consistent physical separation of age groups Aiming for multi-age inclusion around 50% of the time, including integration both ways (younger Friends in traditionally older Friends spaces/activities, older Friends in traditionally younger Friends spaces/activities); providing meaningful support to make full participation possible in both directions


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