Being Visible

When we look at outreach from the seeker’s perspective, the first step is, “I know that Quakers exist.” This is no small thing. A fair portion of the world genuinely believes that we are extinct; this includes a number of history teachers and, apparently, Snapple. (A few years ago, Snapple printed a “fact” on their bottle caps that read, By 1900, there were no more Quakers, a once dominant group on Nantucket.)

One of our problems is that there aren’t very many of us. Estimates indicate that there are around 400,000 Quakers in the world today. (We’re not so good at standing still to be counted.) In a world of eight billion people, that’s .005% of the world’s population. For every person in the world to personally know a Quaker, we’d each have to go make 20,000 friends. That might be ever-so-slightly out of reach.

But here’s what we can do: we can be visible. Unlike some other religions, Quakers are not instantly recognizable. (Well, most Quakers aren’t—there are still a few of us who dress Plain.) This isn’t about public evangelism; it’s just about public visibility. It’s about showing a human being (ourselves), labeled “Quaker” in some way.

I do it with a bracelet. I wear a black rubber bracelet that says Quaker every time I leave the house. Never yet has anyone asked me about it, but occasionally I catch people staring at it in the grocery store line or on the subway. And I figure that once they’ve seen it, that’s enough—that’s the goal. Now this person knows that there are people today who call themselves Quakers.

These bracelets aren’t sold anywhere, as far as I know. I ordered two hundred of them last August, and I’ve been giving them away to other Quakers, everywhere I go, for a year. I recently ran out—hooray! More are coming.

If a bracelet’s not your style, there are other ways to make this happen. Last spring, my friend Jennifer Swann and I co-facilitated an outreach workshop, and we asked participants to come up with a list of ways to be visibly Quaker. Here’s some of what they suggested:

– Quaker swag (bracelets, hats, T-shirts)

– Bumper stickers

– Social media posts and Quaker memes shared on your personal social media accounts

– A Quaker quotation in the signature of your emails

– Quaker yard sign

– Quaker books on your bookshelves at your office

– Not avoiding the word “Quaker” when it comes up naturally in conversations

That last one deserves a little explanation. What we meant was a scenario like this:

NEIGHBOR: Hey, how you doing?

QUAKER: Good. How are you?

NEIGHBOR: Oh, great. You got plans for the weekend?

QUAKER: Yeah. I’m going to a conference.

NEIGHBOR: Cool. Have a great time.

Now, let’s add one extra word:

NEIGHBOR: Hey, how you doing?

QUAKER: Good. How are you?

NEIGHBOR: Oh, great. You got plans for the weekend?

QUAKER: Yeah. I’m going to a Quaker conference.

NEIGHBOR: Cool. Have a great time.

Did you see it? Chances are good that adding that one word isn’t actually going to change the flow of the conversation—although it could, if the person was curious and decided to follow up, and that might not be a bad thing. But really, the only difference is, the neighbor now knows you’re a Quaker. Before, the neighbor might not have known that. It’s not about evangelizing. It’s just about making sure the neighbor knows that Quakers are a thing.

In what other ways can we be visible as Quakers?

8 thoughts on “Being Visible

  1. Pins! (aka buttons) I have a pin on my purse that I got at Britain YM’s HQ from their outreach table. They had a big pile and said I could take home a bunch for free if I wanted. It says “I’m a Quaker—Ask me why“. In the airport on the way home from Britain, someone did! He asked what sort of mission my meeting has, so I told him about our food bank partnership.

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