Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Emerging Church Idea Emerging

I had never heard of the "emerging church" until I stumbled on these blogs. Maybe it's not talked about much in Canada. Reginald Bibby's latest book Restless Churches talks about church renewal in Canada, but in no way is he talking about post-modern thinking. In fact, except for a couple of good quotes and some meticulous statistics on church growth/stasis in Canada, it's a bit of a yawn.

Now that our meeting is moving to larger quarters, I'm thinking more about the whole post-modern thang and how to tie that into meeting growth. And even more, how to "sell" it to our meeting.

So I've roamed around the web and culled the basic principles of the "pomo" movement and how it must apply to religious groups. And I created a list of some 15 outreach ideas based on these principles. I know I'll have to work up to them, get the meeting thinking about post-modernism little by little until they start asking the right questions.

And this is always the problem. Once I see the big picture of things, I have difficulty slowing down enough to ease someone else into the idea. Once I gain an inch of ground, I toss all my careful plans out the window and charge in like cavalry.

For example, I can just picture the recording clerk's face at next MM if I were to suggest we start a weekly book club called "Quakerism on Tap" that would meet at a pub. Or if I were to suggest we instigate a city-wide "Drum Down the Sun" on the waterfront every Sunday night during the summer as an act of worship of creation. With just a little slip of the tongue, I could easily end up doing this.

Or worse, if I suggested that we start actively "planting" worship groups in all the surrounding small communities (fertile ground, those small communities. After all, what else is there to do? One has already started up spontaneously at a little town that can only charitably be called a Bend In The Highway.)

There's more. When we finally get our new meeting space, I'd propose having a big sandwich board out in the front. No lamps under no bushelsr. The board would use real language, not Quakerese: something like "Quaker Meeting for Listening, 10:00, No perfect people allowed (All others welcome) [www....]." And I'd propose a second sandwich board right beside it where we put up a long juicy quote of the week, something from Faith and Practice maybe. Something that would change every week, for the entertainment and curiosity of the dog-walkers and park-goers. I'd want them to go home with something to think about.

Maybe as a compromise with the traditionalists, we could try placing more (yawn) ads on the church page of the newspaper (which nobody reads). But this time, use a plain font and language, such as what I suggested for our sandwich board. Or maybe something like "Clergy doesn't do it for you? We have no experts. Quaker Meeting for Listening, 10:00 [address]." It has to be a contrast to the heavy gothic fonts and gagging sermon titles of the other ads.

Or better yet, write the whole ad in texting language. (RU 4 rl?)

So how will I win over the we-don't-proselytize Quakers with this?

I'll tell them outreach has to be cool and funky.

And then wink.

Yes, I can just picture the recording clerk's face...


At 8:28 PM, Blogger Martin Kelley said...

Hey Nancy,
My two cents, having followed the emergent church movement for about three years now, is that there's already people being "cool and funky" with the outreach at the pub and park. The postmodern stuff seems interesting on paper but it kind of gets lame in reality.

A lot of the EC style is so watered down in an attempt to be hip and mainstream that it ends up being rather boring and unchallenging. There's a sincerity but not a realness. I think that what the Emergent Church needs is a dose of tradition--not the hodgepodge it's trying to cobble together now--but a real tradition that's spent 350 years figuring out how to be real disciples of a risen Christ come to teach the people himself. Most Emergent Church folks I've had email correpondences with know and respect Quakers and I suspect if we really live our own tradition fully, joyously and openly we'll be preaching to their condition. Well, I did write about this a while ago.

Both pub crawling and drumming sun worship are totally not Quaker (sorry). I like the creativity and the impulse to move outside the meetinghouse but if we're going to reach out it seems like we need to find ideas that point to the witness of our faith & tradition. But what would that look like. Hmmm.

At 10:49 PM, Blogger david said...

hey! i'm all for the pub crawl. drumming? seems a tad extrovetted to me . . .

At 1:29 AM, Anonymous Robin M. said...

I like the ideas for the sandwich boards and ads!!! In real language or text message language - we just need to tell people what we're really about. And then we have to practice it.

Maybe the effort of putting Quaker doctrine into normal language will help folks discern what they really believe. And then, maybe they'll be even more excited to be Quakers already.

"And this is always the problem. Once I see the big picture of things, I have difficulty slowing down enough to ease someone else into the idea. Once I gain an inch of ground, I toss all my careful plans out the window and charge in like cavalry."

Ohhh, yes. I know this problem experimentally.

At 8:45 AM, Blogger Nancy A said...

The comments so far have given me pause. Does "cool and funky" have to be a surface thing, or could it be a really genuine interest in meeting people where they are in life? Should quakers be entirely consumed by their own spiritual quests into, say, historic roots or deep traditions, such that newcomers have to sink or swim? Are they allowed to be who they are and start where they are? Or in effect, do they have to leave till they become quaker enough to stay?

I ask these questions very sincerely because in effect I think this is what quakers do in outreach. We assume that newcomers arrive at our meetings fully formed as Quakers ("I was a Quaker all my life, but I just didn't realize it")? I realize some people make these comments, but is it the norm for newcomers to already "have it," or is it something they gradually learn? How is it possible for younger newcomers to say this, when they are young? They can't have this experience. So then are we making it impossible for younger people to join us by holding expectations not in line with their reality?

I can say quite honestly that I didn't "have it" when I started coming out to Quakers. The first year of silent meeting was horrid, spent listening to the demons howling in my head. If it weren't for the books people put in my hands, I don't know if I would have made it. I was typical of my generation, no different from any others, except that I wanted something more from life.

Moreover, during those years, five of us used to get together to meet at pubs to talk through the quaker thing. Two of us were single, one married with no kids but a hectic job, and two with new babies and needed to get away. The pub was the logical place, alive and vibrant. It fit our moods at the time. (And as I recall, David, I think Colleen came out with us once, before we started meeing at L's house for singing)

Ironically, at about the same time, I used to frequent young adult Friends gatherings. I remember being taken aback the first time they pulled out the drums. But I was new to quakers, so I just assumed this was how it was done. I got used to the drumming, and even picked up a set of bongos myself at a yard sale, thinking they were de rigueur for my new religious life.

Fortunately, these early experiences of heteropraxis helped form my quaker chutzpah.

Some years later, I was eldered once -- once! -- for reading in meeting, at a quaker camp of all places. The woman very kindly told me (in front of the others) that Quakers don't read in meeting. I simply raised a cool eyebrow and said, "Well, now, I'm reading in meeting, and I'm a Quaker, so..." The topic wasn't brought up again.

Are pubs, drums and reading in meeting not Quaker? Those three things were the quirky trinity that kept me in quakers all those years ago: the books, the bongos, and the beer.

Me and who else? That's kind of how I feel about the whole thing.

At 8:46 AM, Anonymous rex said...

I put an ad in a local alternative zine: "Quakers even question their own questions on their quest for peace & justice." It's not copy-righted!

At 12:33 PM, Blogger Joe G. said...

Wow, so many good things here.

First, to Martin's observation about the EC style. I've noticed the same thing. When evangelicals, who typically try very hard to be "different" from "the world", go "hip" it can be cringe-inducing.

I wonder why this is so and I think I have at least some superficial understanding of this. Unfortunately (or fortunately???), a lot of the "hip" stuff comes from those on the fringes who reject a lot of the mainstream or rebel against the norms espoused by Evangelicals.

Here's an example: recently, I stopped listening to a podcast where 2 dis-affected life-long evangelicals, somewhat inspired by the EC movement, kept swearing to "prove" that they weren't confined by the old stodgy evangelicalism (mind you they never used God's name in vain). It was like listening to two adolescents who finally used all those forbidden words. For those of us who have used them for decades, and yes I include myself in that mix, it seemed entirely pointless. So what?

OTH, Nancy you makes some good points. Is it possible to be "hip" and be "real"? The whole question of hipness raises issues of consciousness. For example, if someone knows she or he is "hip" are they no longer hip? My guess is probably so. But, what I think you raise is updating styles and approaches based on where we are coming from now. For example, must every piece of literature that comes from an unprogrammed Meeting or organization look "plain" and "simple", which invariably means "black and white" with straight-forward fonts and clean lines? How about a little splash of color? Or color photos? Or a new font??? If the "new" stuff is truly from a person's experience how can it not be real even if it may appear to be "hip" to others less familiar with that style. I like your ideas and I've purposely done a few things on my blog or podcast to break myself out of the "mold" or "proper Quaker" formats.

You also bring up the whole issue of how to teach others about Quakerism. My guess is that you're the norm: I was that way, too. True, there was "something" there that I found "clicked" with me. But, to assume that I "knew" what Quakerism was all about, which I suspect a few attenders do, was completely off base. It's taken me a long time to learn and grow. Some of the lack of "training" has something to do with the way in which unprogrammed Meetings function as well as good old fashioned being too busy or being too lazy to do anything different about it. :)

Good post!

At 6:59 PM, Blogger Liz Opp said...

Nancy, how are you doing with these comments?

I sense your enthusiasm, energy, and eagerness to put your gifts to use! And, I could say, word for word, what you and Robin M. affirm:

"Once I see the big picture of things, I have difficulty slowing down enough to ease someone else into the idea. Once I gain an inch of ground, I toss all my careful plans out the window and charge in like cavalry."

Robin M: Ohhh, yes. I know this problem experimentally.

One thing I wish Friends had taught me early--directly by sitting me down and talking with me, or tangentially by putting a book or pamphlet in my hand for me to read, or indirectly by modeling the practice themselves--it would have been how we test our leadings.

Yes, hang onto your enthusiasm for your ideas. And also consider engaging in the Quaker practice of testing your ideas with others.

When I came to Quakers as a young adult, I was involved in some New Age activities and self-empowerment groups. Just today I was invited to join a similar group--and I declined.

I declined because my frame of reference for my faith journey is informed by a more pure form of Quaker faith and practice. Sharing a drum circle was a way for me to connect with others in the circle, but it did not connect me with Quaker peers and seasoned Friends, the practice of expectant waiting and deep listening, or the experience of a group's unprogrammed worship.

I believe each of us as convinced Friends must make the choice of the extent to which we embrace Quaker customs. And each Quaker meeting and worship group will also face a similar choice and discernment process around that choice.

You lift up some important questions, and coming across comments like these electronically may land in a way they are not intended. As an "ex-cavalry rider" myself, I hope you'll sit with all that has been presented in these comments and seek out guidance from those in your meeting whom you trust... and check in with God about it too.

Liz, The Good Raised Up

At 7:17 PM, Blogger Johan Maurer said...

Nancy, your swirl of ideas, and the energy around them, and your willingness to take the risk of listing them to this diverse audience, is so exciting. You're on the right track, both in generating ideas and in testing them.

In fact, my first response is encourage you to take risks. We evangelical Friends would have to cross some, ahem, barriers before doing a pub-based outreach. But there's nothing intrinsically wrong with it, except that you'll exclude most recovering addicts.

In any case, don't be afraid to try things that might fall flat on their faces. Your expansive heart is the key.

Second, another thing you're already doing: build alliances. Bring others in; do the communications work of identifying cautions, analysing whether those cautions are needless ones, and then building a frame that transforms the caution into a ramp rather than a barricade.

For example, almost every Quaker culture has a worry that goes more or less like this: "If we attract new people, how will we know they're Quakers?" Jane Dunlap of Wilmington Yearly Meeting had a great response to this: "Why do you assume that most newcomers are dunces?"

If your outreach is truly based (in Alcoholics Anonymous language) on attraction rather than promotion, those you attract will already have thought through their reasons for coming, based on the way you attract—the message you have for the world combined with the points of access you provide. Of course this requires Quakers to be honest: if you SAY you have a transforming faith with a radical discipleship, but you REALLY have a club for quiet introverts with long attention spans, then the gum-chewing, boombox-listening aerobics instructor whose heart is EXACTLY in the right place may come through your door, but will trigger all those hidden filters.

So, part of the work of building alliances is, without denying your own heart, to find out where the hearts of others in your meeting are, and then to separate issues of packaging (often issues of Quaker culture) from primary issues (which at times in our history led to those packages).

Reading in meeting is a great example. During my years in Canada, most Canadian meetings still had a table in the center with a Bible or two on it. I often took a Bible and spent five or ten minutes near the opening of meeting reading it quietly, then slipping it back. Since unprogrammed meetings in the USA by and large don't have that tradition, I have taken to bringing my own Bible, but when in unprogrammed worship, I still read for a few minutes, simply to ground myself in the whole body of the church, past and present. After all, our lives and witness are still adding to the record that Scripture began. The discouragement of reading during meeting is rooted in a healthy insight: we are not solitary meditators, we are immersed in a corporate experienced, as Thomas Kelly says so beautifully in "The Gathered Meeting." But too often the valid teaching at the core becomes part of an impermeable packaging and loses its humane intent.

I would love to see you continue to treat the meeting for worship with the dignity and care that it truly calls for, and that Canadian Friends do well in my experience. However, the meeting can do so many more things before, after, and at other times ... Taizé meetings for worship, meetings for loud music, experimental semi-programmed meetings with Vineyard-style Christian music or Catholic charismatic music, or whatever feeds people spiritually. Book groups and movie groups are great. Anne Thomas (Ottawa Meeting, now in NS) has a syllabus for a Jesus movie series that is truly excellent. I'd love to see a Friends book group tackle Annie Lamott's books Traveling Mercies or Plan B, or Ben Richmond's incredible new revisioning of Friends faith, Signs of Salvation.

But whatever you do, it has to be something you really want to do, just presented with transparency and creative accessibility, not something intended to pander to our idea of someone else's desires. A friend of mine went to a community fair in London a few years ago, and noticed that a Quaker meeting had put up a booth (great idea), with a banner, "You don't have to be Christian to be Quaker." The booth had books on various religious paths for sale. Almost nobody went to the booth while my friend was there. Nearby was a booth maintained by evangelical Christians, with books on Christian themes, but reflecting the languages and interests of the community's diverse population. THAT booth had lots of visitors.

The InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at Reed College (a decidedly skeptical and secular college here in Portland, Oregon) has put on open-stage music festivals where Christian AND non-Christian bands are invited to perform on an equal footing. The Christian bands are genuinely cool, they're not trying to pander, but what I really love is the openness to share the stage and the social space with anyone else. This is different from my college years.


PS: On a practical level, some of those signs and messages you might like have already been written. I love the whimsical ones that were produced a long time ago by (then named) London Yearly Meeting and distributed by Friends General Conference. "Don't just do something—sit there!" comes to mind. Also, "Tired of organized religion? Don't throw out the baby with the bathwater." Most recent posters from Britain YM seem far more self-important and intended to draw in political progressives rather than those seeking spiritual liberation.

PS #2: See my Evangelism and the Friends testimonies forum for some thinking by Friends all over the Quaker spectrum on issues of identity and communication.

At 8:10 PM, Blogger Martin Kelley said...

Hi Nancy,
I think my earlier comment ended up sounding harsher than I meant. Sorry about that.

I should speak more experientially, I think. I was part of a cool young Quaker crowd ten years ago. It was fun. We hung out in pubs and I'm sure I hit a drum once in awhile. I went on some good dates, tore up some great house parties, and had good conversation over coffee and bagels. But looking back, most of those folks aren't involved with Friends now and while it was a pleasant enough time I can't honestly say I learned too much about being a Quaker in all that. It was a cool hipster urban social clique and if anything the Quaker identity was a filter to make sure it was the right "kind" of people. What we sell is what people buy and if what we're selling is coolness, then it'll be a passing fad (there's something in here about building your kingdom on sands vs. building it on a rock).

At 8:40 PM, Blogger Nancy A said...

I see your point now, Martin: it's not enough just to get people inside the door and interested - we also have to somehow give their experience staying power.

What makes people stay?

At 2:07 AM, Anonymous Robin M. said...

Nancy, you know you have a cool blog when people start to leave comments as long as your original post...

Rich Acetta-Evans, aka The Brooklyn Quaker, wrote some time ago about how he wasn't a Christian when he first became a Quaker, and he was glad that Friends accepted him as he was when he started, but he didn't think that the RSoF had to change to come to where he was, he accepted that he would grow into being a Friend. I paraphrase him here, but this idea speaks strongly to my condition, and reflects my own experience.

Pub-based discussion groups and drumming are fine, I think, if you want to do it, but I think it is important to distinguish between activities that are individual choices and activities that are endorsed by the Meeting/Religious Society of Friends as being part of our tradition.

What made me stay was partly meeting other people who were engaged in their spiritual lives and a lot that I feel like God didn't really give me a choice. Also, Quakers were the first people to take my account of my mystical experiences seriously but not as extraordinary. I found people who just nodded knowingly. I found people who were doing what I was trying to do all by myself (respond to God's call) - and they'd been doing it together for 300 years. It was a profound relief and an huge encouragement.

I think what we mostly need is fully functional adults, mentally healthy people, who are solidly grounded and experienced Quakers and at the same time friendly and open to newcomers. Personally, this means I can't let myself get so caught up in the work of my Meeting and the tumult of my children that I don't have time on Sunday to say hello to new people. I liked Johan's point that "whatever you do, it has to be something you really want to do, just presented with transparency and creative accessibility, not something intended to pander to our idea of someone else's desires." This is the key to most successful Meeting activities I know. If it doesn't feed the spiritual life of the leader, it won't last.

I think we have to teach more clearly who we are and what we do. In fact, I think it is the process of teaching and preparing to teach adults and children that has helped me the most to clarify my own thoughts, to test my own leadings more thoroughly, to convince me more completely, to understand our practice more solidly.

I happen to have given up alcohol last year as counter to my following God's leadings in my life. Not that I was drinking so much before - "the world" would not have said I had a problem, most people haven't noticed that I stopped accepting alcohol. It just was something that didn't help and I realized it had to stop. I came back to the query, "Is your life so filled with the Spirit that you are free from the use of alcohol...?" And if not, why not? The leading became very clear and the action became easy, as they say, the burden became light. So I won't be leading any pub discussions myself anymore.

Last, re: reading in meeting, I think it is a fine way to start to center oneself, and should probably start 15 minutes or so before the scheduled start of Meeting for Worship, so that one would be ready to worship more freely at the appointed hour.

But knitting in meeting, now that is just wrong. :)

At 4:47 AM, Blogger Anna Dunford said...

It's late and I promised myself an early night which is rapidly evaporating but I thought you might be interested to read this - http://observer.guardian.co.uk/review/story/0,6903,1635227,00.html

A novel approach to outreach, what lessons are there in it for us?

Oh and whilst we may lose many who come along for the publife/social aspect we also get to keep a fair few too, it is certainly an approach I've come across with other churches in both Scotland and Aotearoa New Zealand and seems to be successful. Meeting the spirit? Mine's a whisky...

At 4:50 AM, Blogger Anna Dunford said...

oops, the link didn't seem to copy right, try again (if it still doesn't work it is 'In God they now Trust' on Guardian Unlimited taken from the Observer 6th November)


At 4:53 AM, Blogger Anna Dunford said...

grrr, technology... add


to the end of what is already there!

off to bed...

At 9:22 AM, Blogger Larry said...

Johann wrote: Re "doing a pub-based outreach. But there's nothing intrinsically wrong with it, except that you'll exclude most recovering addicts."

I don't think that would exclude recovering addicts; I think it would attract them. They would understand and empathize immediately with what you were doing, very likely want to join you.

I dealt professionally with 800 of them over a period of ten years, so that's a 'professional opinion'.

Nancy, don't worry about the 'emerging church'. Just do you own thing: you are the emerging church.

I love your "use real language, not Quakerese". I have to confess that Quakerese bugs me to the nth degree. It suggests a strong unconscious need to be tribal, which is by its nature exclusionary.

When I came to Quakerism 22 years ago, I had lived as a professional religionist and 'commited Christian for the previous 27 years (well, sort of). Being a Quaker made me more evangelistic than I had ever been as a preacher.

To lean over backward not to invite someone to meeting is not quakerly at all.

I have been interested in rapprochment with other Christians more than with the great public unwashed, but it works both ways: using foreign language on them can only scare them.

Well you got wonderful input ; thanks for letting me put in my 2 cents.

At 5:53 PM, Anonymous Kate said...

In God they now trust - none of Anna's attempts worked for me. It's the story of Church Lite that I mentioned while watching it.

At 1:46 PM, Blogger Aj Schwanz said...

Wow: so much to comment on - makes one's head a little swirly, eh? :)

I think what I have going for myself as a Quaker is that I'm genuine in expressing my faith: it's a day in, day out kind of thing - not a once a week activity, but a lifestyle. If I tried to minister or do outreach in a way that wasn't me, it'd come across painfully fake, especially to this upcoming post-modern generation.

Bono once said that if Jesus were alive today, he'd be a bartender in San Francisco, ministering to the "lepers" of our day - folks with AIDS. It wouldn't be doing something because it was hip: it would be something authentic to him.

Emerging's great if that's who you are. I think this conversation reminds us to keep it fresh, to have our minds continually renewed by God as He points out new areas He's working in. But he made us one way for a reason: it'd be a shame to tell Him that it's not "trendy" or "culturally-relevant" enough and shelve it.

And nice move when you were being "eldered" - *that's* the kind of spirit God's looking for, methinks. :)


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