George Fox’s journal can be summed up in three sentences. Here goes: “God was like, ‘I want you to point, speak (or yell) and fasten your seatbelt.’ And I was like, ‘ok.’ And boy, was it a ride!”
According to Fox, God did not say, “Build me up some meeting houses, and then sit on a committee…maybe become clerk after a few years.” God told Fox to be a harbinger. However, Fox couldn’t have completely fulfilled his mission without Margaret Fell.
Speaking metaphorically, Margaret Fell provided soil, water, sun, and sustenance to Fox’s seeds of life. Without both Fox and Fell, Quakerism would not have survived for as long as it did. Margaret Fell, our co-founder, gave Fox’s divinely inspired message the infrastructure it needed to grow. She is the one who came up with these, “Monthly, Quarterly, and Yearly,” meetings of ours. We are using the same structures she invented some three hundred and fifty-odd years ago.
Possibly, things have changed since then.
I’ll suggest we are running on George-Fox fumes and rusty, Margaret-Fell-exhaust pipes. I’ll suggest our messages and our structures got stale. I’ll invent a new one (and yet it’s exactly the same). Here goes: Bring the necessary soil, water, sun, and sustenance to whatever life unfolds in your path. Be a harbinger; be a word (and even just one) as this noise-ridden world spirals on. Why do that? Well, because you are a Quaker. You are a Liberal Quaker.
Amid the shouting and sensation, I submit my concurrence with the assertion that we are vital and growing. This phrase, however, has only just begun to transform from an assertion to a burgeoning fact. To continue growing, we must stick with what is vital within and among us. This means focusing our attention on what we are being called to do and matching our callings to the structures that best support them; nothing more; nothing less. If this is the strategy, then so many tremendous things may come.
At the 2012 Fall Young Adult Friends retreat, we had a fascinating (and informal) conversation about the question of “yearly meeting membership at large.” It hit the life that continues to resonate through us. Our discussion, though, resurfaced broader concerns about our falling numbers, the growing diaspora of young Quakers, and our potentially debilitating attachment to structure. Young Adult Friends don’t have a monopoly on Life, and their presence alone doesn’t fix the reality that some of our governance structures aren’t working to support the Life of the Spirit in the twenty-first century. Yet I contend that simply offering membership at large, or waving the requirement to be a member of a meeting before serving on a standing committee, may not solve our problems. Restructuring structure alone is not the strategy I’ve been discussing. We have to restructure our attention to God. From there, we can know what structures to change, and what new strategies to employ.