The Quaker Traditions Series is a set of articles on the Quaker faith. In his role as Associate Secretary for Religious Life, Zachary Dutton has listened deeply to Friends in the community. Working with the PYM staff community engagement team he has provided answers to framing questions for this four-part series. The answers are reflective as opposed to definitive.
The gift of the Quaker faith is that it is one of continuing revelation, so the article speaks to the ‘here and now’ of our faith even as it is tied to, and reflects, our history and tradition. If you have thoughts on these questions, please share them with Zachary – his email is at the end of this article. He is always looking for new ways to be in relationship with our wider Quaker community.
Can you talk a bit about Communal Spiritual Practice?
Communal spiritual practice is a key aspect of Quaker spiritual formation.
Examples of communal spiritual practices are: worship, clearness committees, worship sharing, addressing our business together in worship, collective movement and exercise like yoga or tai chi, reading tarot together, reading sacred texts like the Bible together, workshops, Godly Play and Faith & Play stories, children’s meeting, group meditation, and spiritual support and accountability groups.
We need spaces for communal spiritual practice to teach one another and organically find the right spiritual teacher(s) for each of us. Our tradition tells us that different spiritual teachers emerge at different times in life for different people, and this should be honored.
Quakers call these teachers “ministers” and “elders” and there should be many of them in any community. It is why we don’t usually have just one pastor, priest or minister to lead our community in our spiritual formation.
Communal spiritual practice also reinforces individual spiritual practice by creating space in which it can take place with others. It is easier to remain motivated in a discipline knowing others are doing the same with you now and into the future.
How does individual spiritual practice relate to prayer and the Divine?
Quakers have found that individual spiritual practice helps to maintain a connection to the divine center of our beings.
Prayer is the traditional type of individual spiritual practice. Of late, many other practices have emerged, from meditation to exercise.
Establishing a regular practice that involves focusing the mind and settling into one’s center is fundamental to the Quaker tradition. It is an expression of the foundational notion that there is that of God in everyone and that everyone has access to God’s love and wisdom through this “godliness or goodness” within them.
When we talk about pastoral care, what does it look like in the Quaker faith?
Pastoral care is relationship work. It is emotional labor, spiritual attention and care, facilitating effective communication in conflict, helping individuals in community find common ground, and reminding each other of our tenderness and affection for one another.
Through pastoral care, or relationship work, we are able to return again and again to the joy of being together in community. In modern times, other terms like mutual accountability, conflict transformation, and truth and reconciliation have emerged. We need pastoral care to maintain the connection and sense of love required for individual and communal spiritual practice to achieve what it is meant to. We also need to ensure everyone takes responsibility for this work, not just people with a particular gender identity or committee assignment.
In the past, pastoral care was a task reserved largely for women and in the spheres of meetings for suffering or care for children and their religious education.
Now, relationship work and pastoral care are the responsibility of elders in the community, who provide this ministry as curators of our tradition. Elders also pass our tradition on to successor generations, who then weave the condition of their own time into the fabric of tradition.
Next week we’ll post a new piece on Worship.
Wednesdays on the Practice of Worship
If you are interested in furthering your own spiritual practice, sign up for the 7:00pm Wednesday Weekly Worship Series . Zachary Dutton will be facilitating a Central Philadelphia Monthly Meeting program that shares a new type of mid-week worship each Wednesday in February. Dates and presenters are below.
To receive the Zoom information for Wednesdays on the Practice of Worship (or share your thoughts about the Quaker traditions article) contact Zachary Dutton at firstname.lastname@example.org.