Nurtured and Nurturing

We’ve covered the first five questions of seeker-oriented outreach:

1) How can we make sure that seekers know Quakers exist?

2) How can we help seekers find the local Quaker meeting?

3) How can we make it easy for seekers to decide to visit the meeting?

4) How can we make sure that the first visit helps seekers decide to come back?

5) How can we help new attenders to develop a sense of belonging?

Now, let’s take a look at the sixth and final question:

6) How can we provide long-term spiritual nurture to all of our members/attenders and create opportunities for each Friend to provide that long-term spiritual nurture to others?

When we consider outreach from the perspective of the seeker, the journey is not complete until we have reached this step. The new member of the meeting is fully integrated, which means not only receiving long-term spiritual nurture but working to provide that same spiritual nurture to others.

How will we know we’re doing this?

The meeting provides religious education opportunities for people of all ages. Meetings find a variety of ways of doing this. Some have religious education as a whole, often based in storytelling, with all ages working together to explore Quaker faith and practice. Others have regular First Day School for children and/or teens and a separate series for adult religious education.

In providing religious education—especially for adults—we often assume that those gathered have a stronger knowledge base than they actually do. If your meeting hasn’t talked within the last year about the basics—expectant listening in worship, individual and corporate discernment, why Quaker business process works the way it does, and how our faith guides our everyday lives—then it’s time to do it again.

Friends speak often about how their faith influences all areas of their daily lives. And speaking of how faith guides our everyday lives—there’s really no need to wait for religious education opportunities to have that conversation. Are Friends brave enough and safe enough during meeting gatherings to share their struggles with listening to God? Do we ask one another for prayers? Do we talk with one another about how Spirit influences our behavior at work, our choices at school, and our relationships with our neighbors? Do we tell each other about our spiritual practices, such as prayer, private worship, walks in the woods, or reading Scripture? Quakerism is an apprenticeship tradition, so speaking about these things on a regular basis is an important part of mutual spiritual nurture.

The meeting prioritizes meeting the needs of parents of young children. All Friends deserve our loving care, but I believe we can only be fully engaged in mutual spiritual nurture when we prioritize the needs of parents, because parenting may be the single most difficult and most vital ministry to which a person can be called.

Friends often say things like “if we nurture the parents, we nurture the kids.” That’s absolutely true. But we should also remember that parents are not only extensions of their children. They themselves are valuable and whole presences in our communities, and they themselves deserve particular attention and nurture during the years when they’re doing the extremely difficult work of raising kids.

Friends are familiar with each other’s gifts, and committee service is rooted in this. Many Friends’ meetings are beginning to recognize the importance of understanding spiritual gifts. Each of us has gifts—things we do uniquely well—and these gifts come from God and are to be used for the benefit of the broader community. In this way, we are designed to be mutually dependent.

Sometimes it can be hard to see others’ gifts. We might be so blinded by our frustration with someone (he never makes the coffee right!) that we can’t notice the wonderful things about them (he puts in too many coffee grinds because he’s distracted, listening to Friends who have gone to him for comfort. Hmm…maybe he should be serving on the pastoral care committee instead of the social hour committee?)

It can also be difficult to see our own gifts. The tasks we find particularly easy or joy-full are often strong indicators of spiritual gifts, but it can be tempting to undervalue our own contributions in those particular areas exactly because we find the task relatively easy or fun!

Meetings can tackle these problems by building a practice of intentionally noticing and affirming the spiritual gifts of one another and especially by emphasizing this in the work of nominating committees.

Children and teens are welcomed and supported as participants in meeting functions. Though we don’t always do it perfectly, we generally make the assumption that our eventual goal for adults is full participation in all meeting functions (to the degree that they are led). But sometimes we don’t think that way about children or teenagers. Sometimes we figure that as long as there’s a First Day School program—and as long as we tell the teens “you’re always welcome in meeting”—that the job there is through. Instead, I challenge us to assume that the goal for children and teens is also to be able to participate meaningfully in all meeting functions (to the degree that they are led)—social gatherings, committee meetings, business, worship, work days, and so forth.  We must provide the necessary support that makes this possible. (That’s not to say that there shouldn’t be separate programming for children and teens, but if a child or teen does feel led to participate with the broader community, this should always be a highly-supported option.)

This is the last of this series of blog entries. The seeker has proceeded from discovering that Quakers exist to finding a local meeting to deciding to visit to deciding to come back to developing a sense of belonging to becoming a fully integrated, nurtured-and-nurturing member of the meeting community. Only now can we say that the work of outreach to the seeker is complete.

Is your meeting doing these five things so that all Friends received long-term spiritual nurture to all of our members/attenders and create opportunities for each Friend to provide that long-term spiritual nurture to others? If not, might you personally feel called to step up in any of these ways?

And again for the gratitude challenge—I talked in the first blog of this series about the ways in which outreach has many parts and how each of us has gifts and callings to participate somewhere in the broader definition of outreach. Are there people in your meeting who provide religious education opportunities, speak about how their faith guides their everyday lives, meet the needs of parents, pay attention to Friends’ gifts, or welcome and support children and teens as full participants in the meeting? If so, can you set an intention for yourself to notice their work and thank them for their service sometime in the next week?

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