Gathering Quakers

Posted Jul 13, 2012 | New Media Project


By J. Brent Bill, guest blogger

“So, how do we let people know?” That was the first question my friend Mary Lee and I had when we felt that God wanted us to start a new worship group focused on theological hospitality and based on Quaker listening worship. We hoped to create a space where people could come share their spiritual experiences in their own language and where we would listen to God and each other together in love and care. We felt certain that other people were, like us, looking for such a place.

But how to let such people know about the new group?

Well, since God says, “See, I am doing a new thing!” (Isaiah 43:19) and we were participating in doing a new thing, Mary Lee and I decided to try a new way. Instead of phone calls or newspaper ads, we’d use electronic media. Once we chose a meeting date, we sent emails announcing the new group to folks we thought might be interested in such a fellowship. We invited those folks to pass that email along to any of their friends.

Then I wrote a series of short blogs on the new group, why we were starting it, what our hopes for it were, and where we’d be meeting. Other bloggers and compilers of posts on worship and Quakers picked some of my posts up and spread the word.

When the time for the first gathering came, Mary Lee, my wife Nancy, and I sat in our living room wondering whether anybody would come, considering our, for Quakers, unconventional way of inviting folks. While we’re not remotely like the Amish, many people seem surprised that Quakers have electricity—let alone know how to use computers and electronic media.

About ten minutes ahead of the meeting time, a car pulled into our long country driveway. Another soon followed. Then another. Then another. As folks filed into our living room, we were happily surprised to see that we did not know many of them. They weren’t on our invitation list. They came because they read the blog or a friend passed along the email announcement. Twenty-five people came that evening—some driving over an hour to get there.

That was five years ago, and the “Fellowship of Friends” (the name chosen by early participants—in person and on-line) continues to meet. Sometimes there are ten; sometimes thirty. Many of the original attendees have dropped off due to distance or moving away. Others have taken their place. The group is constantly changing and renewing itself.

All of our contact in between gatherings is done via email and on Facebook. We use Facebook to keep each other up to date on prayer concerns and other news. We email questions we need to decide together so that everyone can participate in decision making. We use Facebook ads to let new folks know about the group.

While our advertising is “virtual,” our gathering is face-to-face in the flesh. We haven’t felt like we are ready to make the leap to Skype-ing the worship time for those folks who can’t make the drive or are unable to come for other reasons.

Who knows, though? God is doing lots of new things.

J. Brent Bill
J. Brent Bill is a Quaker minister, retreat leader, author, and photographer. His books include Awaken Your Senses: Exercises for Exploring the Wonder of God (with Beth Booram), Sacred Compass: The Way of Spiritual Discernment, and many more. He lives on Ploughshares Farm, 50 acres in exurban Indiana being reclaimed as native hardwood forest and tall grass prairie.

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  1. 1 @tim_hutchings 31 Jan
    So... why not Skype the meeting?

    There are Quaker groups that meet online, gathering in a chatroom or virtual world for times of silence. You can't see anyone else in these groups - you just don't see anyone typing - but they exist. I'd love to find out how Quakers might discuss the appropriateness of this kind of distant meeting.
  2. 2 Pat Pope 31 Jan
    Wow, I hope you do consider adding a virtual component. Would love to check this out, but I'm in Ohio.
  3. 3 Brent Bill 31 Jan
    Hi Tim --

    Thanks for the question. Why not, indeed. And the short/best answer for us is that we have not felt led to do so. We have felt to this point that this needed to be a group based on the physical face-to-face type of gathering that engenders trust and sharing because we are sitting together, touching each other, smelling each other, and able to read body language and expressions well.

    But that's what we've decided and I wouldn't say it needs to be the norm. In fact, while Skyping with a group gathered recently in Rhode Island for the annual Gathering of Friends General Conference, the question of virtual Meetings came up. And one woman who was attending the Skype-coversation shared how her first encounter with Friends was via an on-line Meeting. She said that it was different, for her, than when she attended her first Meeting in person, but that it was very real and powerful for her. She said she sensed the presence of the other participants and that the Spirit moved through that group in powerful ways.

    I think the question is not, "Can it be done?" or "Why not do it?" but rather, what are we as worshipping community called to do. How does this fit with what we feel our mission and purpose are as a faith group are calling us to do? But then I think congregations/worship groups ought to do that with every part of their communal life -- why do we do what we do?

    And that includes virtual interaction.
  4. 4 Brent Bill 31 Jan
    Hi Pat --

    Well, since there sounds like some interest, I'll bring it up to the group and see what they feel God wants us to do.




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