Norval Reece of Newtown Friends Meeting gave a lecture for Western Yearly Meeting in July of 2014 on how good stewardship and good governance make for good outreach. The transcript took a viral tour through the Quaker internet, and we have now posted it to the PYM website below as a source of inspiration for how our continued vitality depends on our continued sustainability.
Good evening, Friends. It’s good to be back in Western Yearly Meeting.
I think my parents, Glenn and Velma Reece, would be pleased. They always hoped I might amount to something someday. And here I am. So thank you Peggy Hollingsworth and Friends.
Mom and Dad taught us five kids – Jerald, LeRoy, Lavona, Esther and me — the important Quaker things in life: the difference between right and wrong, respect for other people, practice the Golden Rule, and go to church on Sunday and always put something in the collection plate. They understood stewardship.
Coming to Western Yearly Meeting brings back a lot of memories of growing up in Plainfield – including those evenings when Tom Newlin and I would sit down after helping out in the dining room and split an entire cherry pie and a quart of ice cream. Well, those were the days!
The theme for these sessions, Stewardship, is something with which I have often wrestled.
What does stewardship mean? What does it involve? What should we be doing to be good stewards?
Like many, I have traditionally thought of stewardship in terms of giving – money, time, talents and skills. Giving is central to stewardship. But I’ve begun to think more in recent years of that part of stewardship that is about preserving and protecting. Being stewards of the world around us, from our values to our form of government and our natural environment.
For many years I was a private Quaker. Now I’m a public Quaker. It has to do with stewardship.
I want to talk tonight specifically about stewardship of the Religious Society of Friends – of our churches, meetings, Yearly Meetings. Quakers have been around for 350 years. Many of us have assumed Quakers will always be around. I no longer believe we can take this for granted. We Quakers are more prone to think about righting the wrongs in society at large – feeding the hungry, preventing the next war, providing equal opportunities for all — than to think about ourselves. To do the latter seems somewhat self-indulgent. Self-promotional. UnQuakerly. I will suggest otherwise in this presentation and make some specific recommendations for your consideration. I do this not as a theologian though I have studied theology, nor as a social activist though I have been one, nor as an historian though I’m a history buff, but as a pragmatist from the bottom-line world of politics and corporate America and as one who loves the Religious Society of Friends.
My comments are in four parts: 1) a review of some personal experiences to indicate how I have become a public Quaker, 2) a look at the perception of religion in today’s world of high technology and individualism, 3) a brief, candid appraisal of the Religious Society of Friends, and 4) some suggestions about what we might do as stewards of the Religious Society of Friends.*
So, this talk is part confessional and part a call to action.
I have just come from Cape Cod. Down the beach from our house, across the salt marsh, is a wooden shack on the shore which all the children consider to be full of mystery, great treasures, and answers to all their questions — the “Doctor’s Boathouse.” Dr. Horatio Rogers was a fishing buddy of the father of my wife, Ann. He was gruff in manner with a heart of gold and the owner of this wonderful shack. “The Doctor’s Boathouse” had the best tools for miles around for fixing boats, fishing tackle, broken toys and almost anything.
But the Doctor had certain rules. 1) You had to be invited to enter the Doctor’s Boathouse. 2) If you were really special, the Doctor would let you borrow a much-needed tool. And, 3) what you borrowed had to be returned in better condition than it was when you borrowed it. “Had to be,” otherwise you might not be invited back, an inconceivable thought. The “Doctor’s Boathouse” and its contents were in very good condition — always.
I think of the Religious Society of Friends as being the Doctor’s Boathouse. It’s a magnificent, mysterious place with everything we need. All of us who share it have met the Doctor’s first two rules. We have been allowed in and we have “borrowed tools” from time to time. We have benefited from our Quaker faith communities. But what about Dr. Rogers’ third point: are we leaving it in better shape than we found it?
I like the quotes selected from the Gospel of Luke and John Woolman regarding stewardship. They are action-oriented and provocative. From Luke 12:42, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager…?” and from John Woolman’s Plea for the Poor, “To turn all we possess into the channel of universal love becomes the business of our lives.” These quotes are action-oriented in capital letters. They are transformative in nature. We are not being asked to just “do something” for someone or for society or for our Friends Church or our Yearly Meeting. We are being asked to be someone, to become someone. “Be” a wise and faithful manager and “become” a channel of universal love. They are provocative because they challenge us to be better.
Whenever I am challenged to be better, to do better, I find it helpful to keep in mind three radical theological assumptions of Quakers: 1) all people are equal in the eyes of God and have the light within, the Christ within; 2) continuing revelation is possible, of understanding more about God and our life on this earth than we now know; and 3) the perfectibility of man, the promise that we can become better people, improve our behavior, our attitudes and our thoughts regarding other people and the world around us.
These three basic, radical Quaker concepts have punctuated my own improbable life and multiple careers.
I grew up in a wonderful, protective, comfortable Quaker cocoon. Every child should grow up this way. I stretched my intellectual and social world in college, and stretched my spiritual and theological world in divinity school and in India. My beliefs were refined, tempered, and case-hardened by travel abroad and by my professional life as a social and political activist in the ‘60s, a state government employee in the ‘70s, a corporate executive in marketing and finance in the ‘80s, and an international cable television entrepreneur in the ‘90s.
Aristotle said there should be three phases to one’s life: the first phase should be devoted to the best possible education, the second to working and raising and caring for a family, and the third to serving society. I unintentionally have done this, though I managed to rearrange Aristotle’s last two points into three separate careers – one with the Quakers doing service work, one in politics and government, and one in cable television.
After graduating from DePauw and Yale Divinity School I went to India with the American Friends Service Committee for two years running an international affairs group at the Quaker Centre in Delhi and organizing work camps in Indian villages and Tibetan refugee camps. When I finished my term in India, I cashed in my plane ticket home to hitchhike around the world. Along the way, I trekked in the Himalayas, climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa, went down the Nile on a barge, and spent six weeks in the Soviet Union at a work camp/seminar on a collective farm.
When I returned home, I plunged full time into working in the civil rights movement and organizing protests against the Vietnam War. I ran political campaigns, lobbied, met with candidates for president, marched with Martin Luther King. Jr. in Selma, ran for the US Senate in PA as a candidate against the War in Vietnam, lost but helped elect Milt Shapp Governor and became his Special Assistant and then the Secretary of Commerce in Pennsylvania. After state government, I entered the private sector as Vice President for New Market Development for Teleprompter, the largest cable television company. Later I started my own cable company which helped bring independent news to Communist Poland and held the first public stockholders’ meeting there in fifty years.
Through all these years my religious life was that of a private Quaker. It’s not that people didn’t know I was a Quaker. It’s just that I left it there. For twenty years I was immersed in political and human rights issues which seemed to be, and sometimes were, matters of life and death. For another twenty years I was involved in corporate America and starting my own business ventures. I was very comfortable in my Quaker cocoon, being a private Quaker.
Along the way, I did manage to fall in love, marry Ann Benson, and we had two boys. We didn’t attend Quaker Meeting on a regular basis during this period until we moved from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to Bucks County so I could commute to New York City for my new job in cable television. We joined Newtown Friends Meeting, in part, because it had an active religious education program for kids.
I learned a lot from being involved in social activism, politics, government, and the competitive corporate world. It puts a huge magnifying glass on ordinary activities. Here’s what I learned.
In order to be successful, one has to be: 1) very well organized, 2) focused in one’s message, 3) direct and simple in one’s comments for mass media, 4) self-promotional as a candidate for public office if one expects to convince people to support you and your campaign issues, 5) aware that the style and manner of one’s presentation are important (Hence, thousands of students went “Clean for Gene” for the McCarthy for President campaign in 1968 by getting haircuts, shaving and wearing “real clothes”), and 6) patient when delivering one’s message, realizing that some people’s perception of what is true may be more important to them than the truth itself.
These were new lessons for a Quaker kid from Indiana.
In protests, politics, government and business, I readily used strategic planning, prioritizing goals, advertising, promotion and fund raising to get my message across. It was absolutely necessary for success, whether the goal was civil rights, to end the war in Vietnam, to double the size of our company, or to bring uncensored news to people in a communist country.
I was very comfortable during this period in keeping my life-long Quaker faith to myself. I compartmentalized my religion and kept it separate from my “worldly activities.” The thought never occurred to me that the skills I put to good use in the secular world might have any relevance to the Religious Society of Friends. The thought did occur to Thom Jeavons when he was General Secretary of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting (PYM) in the early 2000s. We were having lunch one day and talking about my various ventures and adventures when Thom asked, ‘If you’re willing to use these skills for politics and business, why not for your religious beliefs? Are they less important?’
Good question. Good question for all of us. Before long, this “private Quaker” became a “public Quaker.”
The State of Religion in the United States
So, what is the relevance, if any, of all of this for the Society of Friends, for Western Yearly Meeting, for our local churches and meetings…and stewardship?
Public opinion polls have indicated for many years that “organized religion” is on the decline in the United States. Membership is down and attendance is down in virtually every religious group. More people now consider themselves to be “spiritual” rather than “religious”. This turn away from organized religion seems to most observers to be a negative reaction to traditional top-down, creedal religions. People today seem to want to define their own truth and follow their own insights rather than those of “the church.” That should be good news for an independent-thinking, individually-oriented group like the Quakers.
The State of the Religious Society of Friends in the United States
But, we are also on the decline numerically. Some Quakers like to take comfort in the fact that we are small in numbers but big in influence. That what counts is quality not quantity. This is true to a large extent, but this is only part of the story. Quakers have been in the forefront in many ways historically. Quaker business people helped launch the industrial revolution in 17th and 18th century England by having fixed prices, agreements based on trust, and caring for the interests of their employees. William Penn helped launch American-style democracy by establishing the “Holy Experiment” in Pennsylvania based on a staggering number of firsts: freedom of religion, women’s rights, limited power of government, private property, free enterprise, free press, humane penal code, and the right to trial by jury. It is no wonder that Thomas Jefferson called William Penn “The greatest lawgiver the world has ever known.” And, of course, the Religious Society of Friends became the first religious group to ban slavery in the United States, and Quaker women were in the forefront of the women’s suffrage movement. In 1947, “all Quakers everywhere” were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, accepted on their behalf by the American Friends Service Committee and the British Friends Service Council.
So, yes, a small group can have a big impact. And Quakers have had a huge impact historically. But what about today?
The Earlham school of Religion published in 2005 its Comprehensive Case for Support withsome sobering statistics. “Over the past 30 years, membership in North American Yearly Meetings of the Religious Society of Friends has dropped precipitously. Between 1972 and 2002, total membership in these meetings has declined by 28,594; from 121,380 to 92,786….” The report goes on to say, “This signifies a drop in membership of approximately 23.5% in just 30 years.” And later adds, “If these downward trends in the Society’s membership were to continue unchecked, American Quakers would become extinct sometime late in the 21st century.” Friends World Committee for Consultation, Section for the Americas, provides some more recent data — the number of Quakers in North America fell further to 88,053 in 2007 and to 77,660 in 2012. Overall, we have seen a 36% drop in 50 years.
Yet, during the last 17 years, my home meeting, Newtown Friends Meeting, in Bucks County, Pennsylvania has increased in membership by a whopping 46%. Why? And how? Keep tuned until later in this talk.
I used to have a financial consulting company which provided valuations of media companies, cable TV companies, TV broadcast stations, cable programming channels, and so forth. We appraised them for banks, the IRS, private equity firms, pension funds and others considering buying these companies or investing in them. If my company were evaluating Quakers in America today as an investment opportunity, what would we find and what would we say? My summary might read something like this: Dynamic, aggressive, history-altering past performance; currently holds some valuable real estate; perception of Quakers historically is of high quality, integrity, prudence, trust and dependability; little knowledge or understanding by general public of current Quakers who seem to have no plans for growth or expansion. In short, investing in Quakers today would involve a strong historic brand name with considerable risk – a good, undervalued entity but a risky venture.
I also asked my friend John Spears, a deeply religious and generous member of Princeton Friends Meeting, a stock analyst and one of four managers of the $20 billion Tweedy Browne financial management firm in NYC, for his independent judgment of Quakers today. I asked if he would invest in Quakers if they were listed on the stock exchange. Here’s what he said:
“If it were a public company, no, I do not think I would buy it. I think the Quaker brand and old Classic Quaker product is a great brand/a great niche product that used to have wider appeal, but it has been mismanaged, mispackaged, mismarketed, undermarketed- and the numbers on membership and attendance and financial support over the last few decades show that the Quaker product is losing market share and financial support…. the message, the benefit to people of Quakerism, is generally not selling well in competition with other religions…”
John goes on to say, “But I think the Religious Society of Friends has turnaround potential. Some of the franchises of the RSOF, such as Newtown Meeting, have been competing well, offering a product that appeals to people, that is gaining market share. The organization has speculative potential over the long run. For that turnaround to occur there needs to be significant adaptation of best practices at the local level. It is not a slam dunk at all that this will happen given the corporate culture.”
Did I say John Spears is one of Wall Street’s most highly regarded analysts?
But, lest we despair, here are some remarks made last March by a young convinced Friend, Ross Hennesey, who set aside his intentions to become a college professor to work with the Quaker Voluntary Service (QVS) as the director of the Philadelphia unit. Quaker Voluntary Service is the two-year-old dynamic organization started by thirty-five-year-old Christina Repoley which now has offices in Atlanta, Philadelphia and Portland, Oregon with one year service internships for 10-12 young Friends at each site, which operate under the care of a nearby Friends meeting or church. The young interns share a house, meals and regular worship together and are assigned to different charitable agencies in the area for their work assignments. Here’s what Ross said:
“I have on more than one occasion been told I am part of a dying religion. My non-Quaker friends are baffled by why I spend so much time and energy with you. They don’t get it, neither the silence, nor the tired debates we circle around and around long after they have ceased being relevant. Our congregations are aging…. And while we may be great listeners, we are terrible at communicating the things that matter most to us….Who among us is laying the plans for Quaker utopias? Who are the innovators who are speaking relevant Truth and organizing us into communities that will not only survive, but thrive, that will change the world to be more just, more peaceful, and more equitable?
Ross continues to say, “Quakerism for the 21st Century…needs a panoply, a bouquet, of individuals and organizations, old and new, that move us forward…. Rufus Jones’ idea of continuing revelation…freed Quakers to pursue Spirit beyond the confines of tradition or text. But more than that, this idea…also contains within it both a promise and a threat. It is the promise that each generation which inherits this ongoing story acts as midwife to an unfolding of Truth lived out. But if we ever let this generational pact be broken, Truth will arrive to us still-born. This is why I have thrown my lot in with you peculiar people. This is why I am a Quaker. It is the faith commitment that the greatness of our community is yet to come, that we still remain a great people to be gathered.”
I don’t know about you, Friends, but I find that flat-out inspiring.
These descriptions are anecdotal perceptions of the Society of Friends today. They are from different perspectives and say different things but share a common theme: The Society of Friends is not in great shape at the moment; we have an incredibly inspiring history with an impact on society way out of proportion to our numbers; there are some signs of new vitality and we have great potential — if we act on it.
But, returning to the John Spears hypothetical analysis of Quakers today, we are not potential investors. We are the investors. The owners. We are the stewards. So, what could we be doing? What should we be doing?
Be Active Stewards
First, we need to do something different. As a religious group, we are perceived to be in decline. Membership is getting older and fewer in numbers. To return to Cape Cod for another analogy, there is a saying among sailors that, “When you’re racing a sailboat, if it’s not doing well, do something different.” When you’re sailing you are dealing with several variables: the speed and direction of the wind, the speed and direction of the tide, the set of the sails, the rudder, and where the weight is distributed in the boat. Any of these things can slow down or speed up your efforts to get you to where you want to go. So, if we Quakers want to do better than we are doing, we have to “do something different.”
Second, it seems to me that we need to be more accepting of each other and of those who visit our churches and Meetings. We need to be a big tent with an open door and a welcome mat. Each of us is in a different place in his or her spiritual journey and we need to accept that with patience and love. We need more listening and less talking about our differences. Our history as a Religious Society of Friends has its own irony. It is punctuated on the one hand by courageous stands for people’s rights and liberties around the world, and on the other hand by internal strife that has divided us into many factions.
This sounds odd to any group of Quakers, but I think we Quakers need to practice more humility and forgiveness of each other and spend less time being security guards on God’s highways. We need to leave the security and checkpoints to God. Our efforts should be to keep the highways open to everyone. I struggle with this all the time — having the humility to recognize that people are at different stages in their spiritual journeys and that someone else’s journey is at least as important and valid in God’s eyes as my own. At times, it’s tough.
Third, we need to share our beliefs.
These three points are all related – changing the way we do things, being a big tent with a welcome mat and an open door, and getting outside the tent to share our beliefs with others.
George Fox, of course, shared his beliefs — dramatically at times. He walked barefoot in the winter through the streets shouting “Woe to the bloody city of Lichfield!” And he interrupted a Church of England service by walking down the aisle shouting up to the Anglican priest in his elevated pulpit, “Come down thou deceiver!” He was not a private Quaker.
Quakers Going Public
In our present “age of spirituality” as contrasted to “organized religion,” there is considerable data to suggest that what we believe as Quakers is what a lot of people are searching for. I am told by a marketing professional that the word “Quakers” receives an average of 27,000 searches on Google each month. We’re not sure who these people are or why they are searching for the term Quakers, but it’s a lot of people.
Why then are Quakers not more dynamic, more visible, and more growing as a Society?
Partly, because people don’t know we’re here. A marketing and branding specialist, Bill Fellows, a member of Newtown Meeting, recently gave a presentation to our adult class. He said he knew of no scientific studies of current public perception of Quakers but his distinct impression from contacts around the country are that when most people think of Quakers, they think: 1) we’re dead, 2) we’re Amish, or 3) we make oatmeal. We need to get out of our comfort zones in front of our metaphorical Quaker TV sets, get out of our Quaker cocoons, and spread the word that we’re alive and well and receiving visitors. In our eagerness not to proselytize, we need to take care not to deny to others that for which they may be searching in their own lives. I am haunted by the story of a man in Newtown, Pennsylvania who came to Meeting one Sunday and startled me afterwards by saying, “I now know I am a Quaker. I want to join. I have lived here for 25 years and I never knew you existed until last week.”
That should never happen if we truly care about people in our communities.
And I heard recently from a relative of a person who is an attender of Newtown Meeting that “Newtown Quaker Meeting is the most important thing there is to my brother. It has saved his life.” I get chills when I hear something like that.
I believe that proper stewardship of our local Quaker churches and meetings involves both outreach and inreach. Outreach: making sure we are known and available to people in the wider community. Inreach: making sure we are taking proper care of our meetings and churches of which we are the beneficiaries, making sure we are “leaving our Doctor’s Boathouse” in better condition than we found it.
Newtown Meeting decided to “go public” 16 years ago. We opened our doors, told people who we were, where we were, and invited them in. The results are remarkable. While Quakers in North America have decreased in membership over the past 50 years by 36%, membership in Newtown Friends Meeting has increased by 46%. From January 1, 1997 to May 4, 2014, the membership in Newtown Meeting increased from 210 to 307. There are now 244 adult members and 63 children members under age 18. And, there are a total of 77 (It’s recently been as high as 92) children registered in Newtown Meeting’s First Day School! And we have more applications for membership in process as we speak. That’s steady growth of abut 2 1/2 % or about 5-6 new members a year.
Nor has Newtown Meeting’s rapid growth seemed to diminish the spiritual vitality of the Meeting. Rather, it has enhanced it. In a survey we did of Meeting members and attenders, (yes, we actually did a survey) in 2010 we asked, “How satisfying is the Meeting for Worship?” and 98% checked “excellent (69%) or good (29%).”
So what specifically does Newtown Meeting do and what are some things we can do to help Friends churches and meetings prosper?
Here is my personal list of suggestions, gleaned from experiences at Newtown Meeting, among other Friends, and in the political, business and secular worlds. Each of these suggestions has been tried and worked somewhere else. They are in two areas: governance and inreach/outreach. Both are important for increasing membership. You are probably already doing some of these things, and if others strike a chord, I hope you will give them a try.
Pick skilled managers for projects and clerks of committees. Relying on people to volunteer for jobs may not get the best people for the tasks. When running a business, one has to pick the most experienced and best skilled people for the task at hand. Quakers should feel the same burdon of responsibility to our churches and meetings (shareholders) to try to to match skills and experience with jobs to be done.
Delegate authority. If someone has the ability to do a specific job well, don’t saddle him or her with a committee unless the task requires corporate consideration. Name tags, press releases, notes of congratulations and condolences, and web sites are all activities that can each be done by an individual member. Sometimes even Quakers don’t need committees for a task.
Trust people. This goes with delegating authority. If there is someone experienced and knowledgeable willing to do a job, trust them to do it.
Periodically review the need for all committees. Down-sizing can be a positive experience. It can force one to look hard at priorities, trim the sails, and become more efficient – and it might even increase attendance at meetings for business.
Have term Limits. Having term limits helps rotate responsibilities, avoid stagnation in leadership, and involve new ideas and new talent. A single two-year term for Clerks and Assistant Clerks and a limit of three consecutive terms of three years each for other clerks and committee members seems about right.
Use Ad Hoc Committees for short-term tasks. Don’t burden standing committees with short-term jobs best done by a few skilled people. Shock everyone by laying down an Ad Hoc committee once the task is done.
Manage your money. Adopt realistic budgets based on current income. Protect your principle for major capital improvements or rainy days. Ask your most experienced finance and business people to handle the money.
And here’s a specific recommendation: take a good look at investing your funds with one of the best-kept secrets in Quakerdom, Friends Fiduciary Corporation. I joined their Board of Directors three years ago and they are doing an outstanding job. (http://www.friendsfiduciary.org/). Friends Fiduciary was started in 1898 by Quakers for Quaker organizations and today is the not-for-profit manager of $290 million invested for the benefit of 322 Quaker churches, meetings, schools and organizations, including ones as far away as Ramallah Friends School. They do a better job of investing Quaker money according to Quaker principles and getting a good return on investment than anyone I know. In 2013 the net performance for its flagship Consolidated Fund was +18.56%. And they just launched the Quaker Green Fund which is 100% fossil-fuel-free.
Inreach and Outreach
Hold First Day classes for adults and children. A survey of members and attenders at Newtown Friends Meeting said this is second in importance only to the Meeting for Worship, and it is number one for young families. This can be a key factor for growth. At Newtown Meeting, when the kids have religious education class, the adults have religious education class. They seem to be inter-dependent. One feeds the other. The better one is, the better the other one is. Parents have a program to attend each time the children have one to attend. Some recent Adult Class series have included Spiritual Journeys, Quakers in the Arts, Quakers at Work, Young People Panels on ‘What’s Happening,’ World Hot Spots, The Bible, What Recent College Graduates Are Doing, The Book That Most Influenced Me, The Quaker Book of Wisdom, My Favorite Charity, Quaker Organizations, Religions of the World, and Quaker Testimonies.
Use name tags. Name tags are useful for everyone, especially for visitors and new attenders. First, they’re kind and convenient. Second, and most interestingly, “getting a name tag” for a new attender can become a stepping-stone to membership, a sort of first degree of acceptance. People seem honestly thrilled to be asked if they would like to have a name tag. Use a professional looking clip-on badge. Stick-ons don’t carry the message; they seem temporary.
Have designated greeters. Our places of worship should be more welcoming than any commercial establishment. We need to go out of our way to talk with visitors, ask where they’re from and how they heard about us.
Host social events. Developing friendships is important bonding for any organization. Plan small group activities, have after-worship refreshments, ask visitors to introduce themselves at the rise of worship and sign a guest book, organize Friendly Eights dinner parties at people’s homes, schedule kids’ nights and family nights.
Monthly Newsletter. Provide hard copy for those who want it and put it on the web site for others. This is your regular communication vehicle to those in college and remote locations as well as the home-bound.
Encourage young folks to have their own projects. Simple Suppers, Lasagna Dinners, sales of donated books – these are great mixers and ways to raise funds for needy causes. Newtown Meeting kids have also helped make four popular “Healing Quilts” with hand prints of meeting members to loan to people who are ill and give them a “hug from the meeting.”
Invite attenders to join committees, activities, and your church or meeting. Put people to work right away. Be sure your Guest Book has space for kids’ names and ages, phone numbers, and email addresses. It’s helpful to the person who follows up. Have“How to Become a Member” on your literature table (one page, five short steps). And don’t forget to ask long-term attenders to become members. Quakers have offended more people by not asking them to consider membership than by asking them to do so.
Get a Web site if you don’t have one. This is important. In political campaigns, we used say, “if you’re not on television you don’t exist.” Now, if your group doesn’t have a Web site, folks think you’re dead or dying. Include photos. An increasing number of people are having their first or second contact with Friends Churches and Meetings via the Web. For detailed information about this, ask a teenager.
Put up a new sign and get in the newspaper. It will cause tongues to wag. And people will know where to find you. Most towns have a local, weekly shopper. They have little staff and love getting articles — especially if you write them. Newtown Meeting has an article in its local paper almost every week. Use the term “Quakers” instead of “Friends,” and never call something a “Monthly Meeting” in public or say “First Day” or “clerk” unless you explain it. Keep it short and simple, attach a photo, and always try to include something informative about the people who call themselves Quakers.
Don’t neglect your friends. Invite early and often to your church or meeting people in nearby Friends schools and organizations. If you don’t have any nearby, make your First Day School into a religious education school for the community and promote it. “Quaker education” is an attraction with a strong brand name.
Contact new arrivals in town and update your literature. Every new family that moves into our area code of Newtown, Pennsylvania, gets a nifty 5” X 7” picture postcard that says “A Hearty Welcome from Newtown Quakers.” Update any Quaker literature on your table that has that “1957 look.”
Do Quaker Quest. Quakers are great entrepreneurs. History has borne that out. Perhaps it’s because we are taught to think for ourselves, act for ourselves, and be responsible for what we do. But some of us may not be the most disciplined people in the room. Recognizing that, British Friends, a few years ago came up with “Quaker Quest”. It’s a proven step-by-step program for opening the doors of your Meetinghouse to the outside world. Having served on the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting Quaker Quest Committee, I have seen it at work and endorse it completely. The Friends General Conference Quaker Quest conducted an impact survey in 2010 of 62 Meetings in 30 states, and found that 76% of the Quaker Meetings which had a full day workshop or public session of Quaker Quest experienced growth! Check it out at their website www.fgcquaker.org.
And, finally, announce Quaker Week this fall. Newtown Friends Meeting (PA) has done this and it is encouraging all others to do so. This is another gift from the British. Quaker Week 2014 is England’s eighth annual Quaker Week. It will run October 4-12 and the theme this year is “Let Your Life Speak”. Quaker Week is strictly voluntary. Churches and meetings can take part or not as they feel led. And if they don’t like the dates, they can pick another week to fit in with local events. Quaker Week in England gets a lot of good press – partly because it is so unusual for Quakers to call attention to themselves. One article in a British newspaper said, “The aim of the Week… is to encourage Quakers to drop their traditional modesty and to let their souls ‘sing a different song.’” And another article referred to a Quaker Meeting in Scotland as having, “The Glasgow Library scheme where there was a ‘human library’ at the meeting house on Saturday when visitors could “borrow a Quaker” for 40 minutes for a chat and cup of coffee.”
The goal is to get every Quaker Church or Meeting to have one event each year to which they invite the public – an open house, a short talk about “Why I am a Quaker,” or “My Spiritual Journey” by a member. Or it could be a talk about the founding of your local church or meeting or Western Yearly Meeting. Or about some well-known Quakers like John Woolman, Judi Dench, William Penn, Lucretia Mott, John Greenleaf Whittier, the Barclays of Barclays Bank, Joan Baez, Susan B. Anthony, the Cadburys of Cadbury Chocolates, or Bonnie Raitt. Or about some well-known people most folks don’t realize were raised as Quakers like James Michener, Daniel Boone, and James Dean. You get the idea.
This is something you can do rght away. Shock everyone by declaring Quaker Week for Western Yearly Meeting to occur this fall. Encourage every Friends Church to have an event to which it invites the public. If you pick the week of October 4-12, it will put you on the same calendar with English Friends. Send out news releases statewide and locally.
We need to open our doors, invite the world in, and heartily embrace friends from all sectors of society — economic, ethnic, political, racial — and get on with sharing the gift George Fox and others have given us.
Fox extolled us to “Be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations, wherever you go, so that your carriage and life may preach among allsorts of people, and to them. Then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in every one.”
To me, that’s being a public Quaker. That’s what we each need to be. That’s stewardship.
Norval D. Reece is a birthright Friend and former Chair of the Board of Advisors of the Earlham School of Religion, former clerk of Newtown Friends Meeting (PA), and former Secretary of Commerce for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. He currently serves on the Board of Directors of Friends Fiduciary Corporation, George School, Haverford College Corporation, and the American Friends Service Committee’s Centennial Campaign Leadership Committee. He and his wife, Ann (Benson) have been married for 47 years and they have two grown sons, Tim and Stockton.
* Various points mentioned herein have previously appeared in some of the following articles and material written by Norval Reece:
- How to Add Spirit, Spice and Kids to Your Meeting, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting Pastoral Care Newsletter, Vol. 18, No.1, September 2010
- Learning from Quakers in Corporate America, Friends Journal, September 15, 2012
- Notes on Writing for Newspapers, Bucks County Quarter Workshop, June 6, 2009
- Ten Points on How to Go Public: Considerations for Promotion, Advertising and Fundraising for Quaker Quest, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting Quaker Quest Working Group, 2008
- Newtown Friends Meeting, Bucks County PA, A Case Study: Adding Vitality and Growth to a Friends Meeting, Earlham School of Religion Leadership Conference: Friendly Marketing, August 16-18, 2013
- My Spiritual Journey, Newtown Friends Meeting Adult Class, December 5, 2004
- Nurturing Vital Quakerism: Newtown Meeting’s Toolbox for Going Public and Growing, Friends General Conference Newsletter, Summer 2010
- A ‘Case Study’ of Recent Growth in Newtown Friends Meeting, Bucks County, PA, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting Quaker Quest Working Group, May 6, 2009