Monthly Archives: October 2022

Why do Quakers take forever to get anything done?

This is part of a series called “answers for a small-f friend.” These articles are deliberately simple, informal, and under 200 words…the kinds of answers that I might give casually over a cup of lemonade. 

If you’re wanting to go deeper, I recommend Faith and Practice (any yearly meeting’s version) or Quaker Process for Friends on the Benches by Mathilda Navias. If you’re a video person more than a text person, try the QuakerSpeak series, available online.

Do you have a question I should add? Let me know in the comments.

Why do Quakers take forever to get anything done?

We don’t always. But we often do.

Finding sense of the meeting takes time. Everyone needs a chance to speak. We have to assemble everyone. Sometimes we wait a few months for the next gathering. And if we then discern a need for more preparation, we have to wait for the next gathering.

Humans get into bad habits, though. Sometimes Friends think, “It takes forever—so why worry if it takes a little longer?” Individuals delay in getting reports or notes written, or they’ll have objections and wait until the last minute to raise them. When we waste everyone’s time because we didn’t do our homework (read ahead of time, contact the committee), that’s rude.

(Sometimes an objection is made at the last minute for good reason. But usually, it could have been dealt with sooner.)

Many Friends’ groups now permit clerks or secretaries to speak on their behalf, without corporate discernment, when something is both urgent and important. This takes trust and doesn’t always work perfectly. But it makes things possible that otherwise wouldn’t be.

I wish people didn’t make light of “Quaker time.” Ideally, it’s about “God’s time” or “at the right time.” That doesn’t always mean slow.

What do Quakers say about Jesus?

This is part of a series called “answers for a small-f friend.” These articles are deliberately simple, informal, and under 200 words…the kinds of answers that I might give casually over a cup of lemonade. 

If you’re wanting to go deeper, I recommend Faith and Practice (any yearly meeting’s version) or Quaker Process for Friends on the Benches by Mathilda Navias. If you’re a video person more than a text person, try the QuakerSpeak series, available online.

Do you have a question I should add? Let me know in the comments.

What do Quakers say about Jesus?

Oof. This is a hard question. Also a question I wish people asked more often.

Even by the 1800s, Quaker Christology differed from branch to branch. 

Some Friends believe Jesus is our Messiah who redeemed us from sin on the cross and was literally resurrected. Some of this group says it only counts if you accept Jesus; others say it counts no matter what.

Some Friends believe Jesus lived and died and was divine but don’t believe in the redemptive crucifixion or literal resurrection—but the story as metaphor is central to their faith. Some of this group say Jesus was uniquely divine (Son of God), some not.

Some Friends believe Jesus was sent by God with a specific ministry: to live and demonstrate a sinless life.

Some Friends believe Jesus of Nazareth was an ordinary good man worthy of emulation.

Some Friends don’t think about Jesus at all.

I know there are perspectives, and combinations of perspectives, that I didn’t articulate.

What concerns me most is when one Friend assumes (without asking) that they know what another Friend thinks about Jesus and then gets angry about it. So weird. Just asking is almost always more helpful than preemptive condemnation.

What happens if we get stuck and can’t find sense of the meeting?

This is part of a series called “answers for a small-f friend.” These articles are deliberately simple, informal, and under 200 words…the kinds of answers that I might give casually over a cup of lemonade. 

If you’re wanting to go deeper, I recommend Faith and Practice (any yearly meeting’s version) or Quaker Process for Friends on the Benches by Mathilda Navias. If you’re a video person more than a text person, try the QuakerSpeak series, available online.

Do you have a question I should add? Let me know in the comments.

What happens if we get stuck and can’t find sense of the meeting?

Danger, Will Robinson! Often, when we can’t find sense of the meeting, we’re forgetting to trust the community’s discernment over our own. Have we each articulated our individual understanding of Spirit’s call? Have we listened vulnerably? Have we released our own perspectives and stepped back to look at the whole?

If yes, the clerk might ask whether anyone thinks they can articulate the sense of the meeting. Sometimes clerks need help.

If that doesn’t solve it, then:

Is it possible we started by asking the wrong question?

Is there internal harm within the community that needs to be healed before we can hear Spirit clearly?

Does God need us to prepare more thoroughly before we move forward?

As a default, if we can’t find sense of the meeting, we continue with whatever is the current status quo. I’ve seen Friends use that to get their way: I don’t want change, and if I’m stubborn enough, change can’t happen. But I’ve also seen Friends accused of that when it wasn’t true.  

Deep community trust and solid teaching about what “sense of the meeting” really means usually prevent stuck-ness. If we are stuck, there’s a bigger problem than the issue at hand.

Do you think Quakers will stop being Christian?

This is part of a series called “answers for a small-f friend.” These articles are deliberately simple, informal, and under 200 words…the kinds of answers that I might give casually over a cup of lemonade. 

If you’re wanting to go deeper, I recommend Faith and Practice (any yearly meeting’s version) or Quaker Process for Friends on the Benches by Mathilda Navias. If you’re a video person more than a text person, try the QuakerSpeak series, available online.

Do you have a question I should add? Let me know in the comments.

Do you think Quakers will stop being Christian?

No. 

Some Quakers already aren’t Christian. But about 95% of us are. And almost 90% of us are either pastoral or evangelical Friends, nearly all of whom are fervently Christian. 

Also, the yearly meetings that are growing swiftly are nearly all deeply Christian pastoral or evangelical yearly meetings in Africa or South America or Central America. Yearly meetings that contain fewer Christians are mostly shrinking—at best, holding steady. (But I don’t believe that’s a cause-and-effect relationship because Christian North American yearly meetings are also mostly shrinking.)

So just mathematically, I don’t think the Religious Society of Friends will stop being Christian.

Will liberal unprogrammed yearly meetings totally stop being Christian? I don’t know, but I doubt it. These yearly meetings already have Christian and non-Christian Friends both. Anecdotally, I hear that most are more respectful and welcoming of Christian theology now than they were in the 1990s. If these yearly meetings don’t die out and don’t split—and both of those are distinct possibilities—then I suspect they’ll continue to encompass Christians and non-Christians both. 

Even for Friends who aren’t Christian, Christianity will always be theologically foundational to Quakerism. Its precepts influence us, even if we aren’t conscious of them.

What’s the difference between a pastoral Friend and an evangelical Friend?

This is part of a series called “answers for a small-f friend.” These articles are deliberately simple, informal, and under 200 words…the kinds of answers that I might give casually over a cup of lemonade. 

If you’re wanting to go deeper, I recommend Faith and Practice (any yearly meeting’s version) or Quaker Process for Friends on the Benches by Mathilda Navias. If you’re a video person more than a text person, try the QuakerSpeak series, available online.

Do you have a question I should add? Let me know in the comments.

What’s the difference between a pastoral Friend and an evangelical Friend?

There’s no way to answer with 100% accuracy.

For one thing, evangelical Friends are pastoral Friends, in the sense that they have pastors and programmed or semi-programmed worship.

Sometimes we make the distinction to indicate affiliation. If a meeting belongs to Friends United Meeting, we probably say “pastoral.” If a meeting belongs to Evangelical Friends International, we probably say “evangelical.” We make this distinction verbally to explain why a group would or wouldn’t be part of a particular gathering or communications network.

Outside the United States, the pastoral/evangelical labels are partly historical shorthand for which missionaries brought Quakerism to the area.

Some evangelical Friends are hard to recognize as Quaker. They might have more in common with general Christian Evangelical movements than with the Religious Society of Friends. You might see water baptism or physical communion.

But it’s unhelpful to generalize about evangelical Friends because the spectrum of belief and practice is vast. Some evangelical Friends are extremely Quaker in theology and practice.

The distinction between pastoral and evangelical Friends is so complex that “what’s the difference?” probably isn’t the best question to ask. “Why does that label matter in this context?” is probably more helpful when conversations get confusing.

Is there anything all Quakers have in common?

This is part of a series called “answers for a small-f friend.” These articles are deliberately simple, informal, and under 200 words…the kinds of answers that I might give casually over a cup of lemonade. 

If you’re wanting to go deeper, I recommend Faith and Practice (any yearly meeting’s version) or Quaker Process for Friends on the Benches by Mathilda Navias. If you’re a video person more than a text person, try the QuakerSpeak series, available online.

Do you have a question I should add? Let me know in the comments.

Is there anything all Quakers have in common?

No. But will you accept 99%?

Nearly all Friends believe that God speaks to everyone, without needing an intermediary.

Nearly all Friends assert that God guides us, that we’re given particular work to do by God, as individuals and as communities.

Nearly all Friends participate in corporate discernment.

Nearly all Friends agree that every person is immeasurably precious, worthy of respect, and deserving of opportunities for redemption even if they’ve done wrong.

Nearly all Friends strive for peace over violence, individually and societally.

Nearly all Friends recognize children as spiritual beings, capable of receiving and sharing spiritual wisdom from the divine, though in need of special protection until they mature.

Nearly all Friends say women are called to ministry as often as men.

Nearly all Friends value spiritual transformation over physical fulfillment of sacraments or liturgy.

Nearly all Friends try to tell the truth strictly and act with integrity.

Nearly all Friends have faith that our world can become better for everyone. We need not wait for a Second Coming.

Nearly all Friends are willing to engage in conversation, and possibly ongoing relationship, with any other Friend simply because both are Friends. Which gives me hope. 

How come we say “sense of the meeting” and not consensus?

This is part of a series called “answers for a small-f friend.” These articles are deliberately simple, informal, and under 200 words…the kinds of answers that I might give casually over a cup of lemonade. 

If you’re wanting to go deeper, I recommend Faith and Practice (any yearly meeting’s version) or Quaker Process for Friends on the Benches by Mathilda Navias. If you’re a video person more than a text person, try the QuakerSpeak series, available online.

Do you have a question I should add? Let me know in the comments.

How come we say “sense of the meeting” and not consensus?

A group finding consensus requires everyone to agree. Even in cases of compromise, consensus means 100% agreement that the compromise is for the best.

“Sense of the meeting”—what Quakers do—is different. It’s about trusting the group’s discernment more than our individual discernment. 

Friends ask a question and wait for guidance from the Holy Spirit. Then, Friends speak their individual understandings of how Spirit is leading. Once an individual speaks something, that individual no longer has any ownership of what’s been said. It’s like putting a puzzle piece in the middle of the floor and backing away. When we’ve heard all the speaking, we consider what we’ve heard. 

“Sense of the meeting” is the group’s singular understanding of how Spirit is leading after receiving all the puzzle pieces. We find it after hearing individuals’ plural understandings. We learn to identify it with practice. Our spirits, bodies, feelings, and brains can all help. 

Sometimes we recognize the sense of the meeting even when our own individual discernment still disagrees. If we know the group has been faithful, we affirm the discernment even if we as individuals don’t agree. That’s because we trust the group’s discernment more than our individual discernment.

Did people used to get kicked out of Quaker meetings? What for?

This is part of a series called “answers for a small-f friend.” These articles are deliberately simple, informal, and under 200 words…the kinds of answers that I might give casually over a cup of lemonade. 

If you’re wanting to go deeper, I recommend Faith and Practice (any yearly meeting’s version) or Quaker Process for Friends on the Benches by Mathilda Navias. If you’re a video person more than a text person, try the QuakerSpeak series, available online.

Do you have a question I should add? Let me know in the comments.

Did people used to get kicked out of Quaker meetings? What for?

Not exactly, but close enough.

The phrase was “being read out of meeting.” This happened when a Friend behaved in a way that other community members—especially elders—believed to be wrong. 

Friends received warnings first. They’d be spoken with about their behavior. It might be drinking, or skipping worship, or gossiping, or cheating someone in business, or courting (dating) someone outside the faith. In 1832, a woman from my home meeting was read out for not wearing sufficient underwear.

If speaking to the Friend a few times didn’t change the behavior, then the Friend might be read out of meeting. This was minuted. They could still come to worship but could not participate in corporate discernment. That also meant they couldn’t marry in the meeting or send their children to a meeting school or be guaranteed help if imprisoned or impoverished. 

The initial intention of this process was to provide mutual accountability in spiritual growth. It also ensured that the people called Quakers had consistency from one Friend to the next. Both are reasonable goals, but the practice caused a lot of pain and drastically shrunk our numbers. I do not know of any Friends who do this today.

Do you have a travel minute?

This is part of a series called “answers for a small-f friend.” These articles are deliberately simple, informal, and under 200 words…the kinds of answers that I might give casually over a cup of lemonade. 

If you’re wanting to go deeper, I recommend Faith and Practice (any yearly meeting’s version) or Quaker Process for Friends on the Benches by Mathilda Navias. If you’re a video person more than a text person, try the QuakerSpeak series, available online.

Do you have a question I should add? Let me know in the comments.

Do you have a travel minute?

Yes. But I don’t use it the way Friends used to.

A travel minute is like a corporately discerned bathroom pass. It’s a letter written by a traveling minister’s home meeting saying that the meeting has affirmed the minister’s discernment that they should be traveling. The minute asks the receiving meeting to care for the person and receive them and listen to them. Visited Friends endorse the minute, which means writing notes on it about how the visit went. That provides feedback and accountability. 

My minute lives online. It’s signed by my monthly and yearly meetings and was corporately discerned. But I don’t have it read out loud as part of every visit or workshop, and it’s not usually endorsed. If people ask to hear or see it, that’s always an option, but using it 100% of the time gets weird in modern day. Friends used to get a new travel minute for every trip. Much of my work is online. I work with multiple continents every week. What counts as travel in the ministry and what doesn’t? I wish we had a better system for the 21st century.

What are liberal Quakers?

This is part of a series called “answers for a small-f friend.” These articles are deliberately simple, informal, and under 200 words…the kinds of answers that I might give casually over a cup of lemonade. 

If you’re wanting to go deeper, I recommend Faith and Practice (any yearly meeting’s version) or Quaker Process for Friends on the Benches by Mathilda Navias. If you’re a video person more than a text person, try the QuakerSpeak series, available online.

Do you have a question I should add? Let me know in the comments.

What are liberal Quakers?

It’s a misleading title. “Conservative” unprogrammed Friends are called that in the sense of conserving the old traditions. But somehow, not-Conservative unprogrammed Friends have ended up called “liberal” unprogrammed Friends despite this being the opposite of the wrong meaning of “conservative.” But there’s really no good name for this branch.

Liberal unprogrammed Friends are around 9% of Quakers. They are the most secular branch. Some are Christian, but others reject Christian concepts. Many are God-centered, but some would prefer God not be mentioned or think of the Divine as something other than a Being. A few are specifically non-theist or atheist.

Liberal unprogrammed Friends do tend to be on the political left. Their meetings often engage with left-leaning political causes. For many, work on environmental stewardship, peace advocacy, anti-racism, voting rights, support for immigrants, and so forth are deeply Spirit-led, regardless of whether God language directly appears in their writings and speeches.

In most liberal unprogrammed meetings, theological diversity within the group is considered an asset. These Friends generally do not expect others to share their religious beliefs, though they do expect certain types of behavior to be shared.