I’ve written a number of times about Quaker’s practice of considering answers to a set of queries. https://jeffkisling.com/2017/11/02/advices-and-queries/
This month’s advice and queries are about outreach. My response follows the queries. I left out the last names of the people mentioned since I don’t have explicit permission to share their stories. It is for educational purposes that I’m sharing my responses. You might consider your answers to these queries, either for yourself or with a group. Each Quaker meeting considers these queries together, and a response representing the group’s discussion is written. Thus, my response below would be one part of the combined response for the meeting, i.e. mine is NOT an approved response.
Friends believe it is essential to express in words and deeds the faith that sustains us and the convictions that arise from that faith. It is important to speak with integrity and courage ourselves as well as to listen to others with open hearts and minds. We seek fellowship with a branches of Friends and with other seekers of Truth. We recognize the oneness, of humanity in the Spirit and believe that in learning from one another we may come to respect differences. Truth is greater than any of us may know, individually or as a group.
As we work and share with others within our communities, we may find opportunities to invite them to attend our meetings for worship and other meeting activities. A genuine welcome to everyone is consistent with Friends’ testimony of acknowledging the Divine Spirit in each person and of our belief in the dignity and worth of every human being.
- Do we encourage intervisitation within the Yearly Meeting and with other Friends?
- What are we doing to share our faith with others outside our Friends community? How do we speak truth as we know it and yet remain open to truth as understood by others?
- In what ways do we cooperate with persons and groups with whom we share concerns? How do we reach out to those with whom we disagree?
- How do we make the presence of our meeting known to the larger community? Do we invite others to share in our Meetings for Worship and other meeting activities? Do we welcome everyone and appreciate the gifts that differences such as race, creed, economic status, disability, age, gender or sexual orientation may bring to us?
Peter and I continue to build on our relationships with Native and White friends we made during the First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March last September. Alton and Foxy came to Des Moines to helped Peter put siding on his garage. We held a reunion of Marchers while they were in Des Moines.
I was glad to visit with Trisha and Lakasha, from the March, when they were on the program of the Sunrise Movement’s Green New Deal tour at Drake University this spring.
I attended the first National Network Assembly at the Des Moines YMCA camp near Boone this summer, where I was again able to visit with a number of people from the March who were also attending the Assembly, including Christine, Donnielle, Regina, Fintan, Ed and Kathy.
Peter and I had other opportunities to connect with Native peoples when we helped Paula Palmer give some of her programs related to “toward right relationships with Native peoples” (TRR). I got to know Jim of West Branch Friends Church where one TRR program was presented. And I got to know Linda from the First Unitarian Church where another TRR program was held. Since those TRR sessions, Peter and I have worked with Linda, Virginia and others to work on ways to continue to build right relationships with Native peoples.
Virginia is another person I have gotten to know since I returned to Iowa. Virginia is very involved in the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), as is Linda. Virginia accepted our invitation to attend Bear Creek meeting. The pre-meeting was sharing about people we know in common, and some of the work Virginia and Bear Creek have been and are engaged in. Virginia joined us for the meeting for worship that followed.
Des Moines Valley Friends invited me to speak about my recent experiences with Native peoples during a second hour gathering.
My friend Rezadad and I traveled to Scattergood Friends School on one of the school climate strike days to talk about what we have been working on related to the environment.
Many Bear Creek Friends continue to be involved with the Prairie Awakening ceremony at the Kuehn Conservation Area. Unfortunately this year’s program was curtailed when rain began to fall.
Members of the Knight family, Bear Creek Friends and Rob participated in a sacred ceremony when two trees were planted on the meeting grounds in memory of Roy and Wanda Knight.
SELECTED (APPROVED) RESPONSES
Friends noted that Meadowlarks are joining us for singing, worship, and outlook two weeks from today. This comprises outreach to other meetings. Another F/friend talked about our web page as a tool for reaching a broader community and described a business card for the meeting. It was noted as well that a F/friend had spoken as Quaker at a meeting convened by a local university on the topic of “Women of Faith.” Her discussion group at the meeting was described as well attended and people were interested in the similarities between the topic “discernment” and Quaker concept of clearness.
We expressed concern about our relations with broad ecumenical groups. Our principal association at the moment is through the Great Plains Religious Media organization which maintains a web page with our meeting listed although they don’t yet have a pointer to our page. This group is principally small and more liberal religious groups. We feel it appropriate that we should make efforts to participate in ecumenical groups around our city.
We discussed associations that focus on issues of concern to Quakers in the community such as Nebraskans Against the Death Penalty and Nebraskans for Peace. We usually support these groups through regular donations and through invitations to speak with our group. Furthermore, many members of our meeting are active participants in these and similar groups. We discussed outreach to those of divergent beliefs, noting that we feel that regardless of doctrine and dogma there is an ultimate truth in all faiths. Our belief in the Light Within All argues against the notion of evil people, but we acknowledge that intolerance of beliefs can be a problem. Quaker religion is primarily a seeking religion rather than a structure. To a newcomer the silence can be intimidating. Quakers need to be aware of how they are perceived both by newcomers to a Friends Meeting and by the world at large where we are sometimes confused with Old Order Amish.
Intervisitation through the Eastern Iowa Gathering is most
fruitful. Being an active Friend in our jobs, neighborhoods and larger
community makes a difference in our lives as well as those whom we touch.
Though we are not evangelical, it is often energizing and enlightening to
invite friends to join us in our Meetings for worship or other activities.
The practice of private meditation during the week is a good way to remind ourselves of the need for inner peace and to give us strength to be mindful of our presence in all family and community contacts.
Generally, we find it sometimes difficult to visit other meetings even though we think it is a fine idea. Some meetings in the conference aren’t part of a yearly meeting and need closer involvement with other meetings. A couple of us have visited various of these. Another person has visited several, and wants to visit more. One problem is the distances between us and others, a three- to six-hour drive.
One person suggested that there are millions who might find joy in meeting. So the question is, how do we let them know? She added that she was drawn to the Quakers because they do not proselytize. They share their beliefs through action. One person does library volunteer work and talked about Quakers to a co-worker. Another enjoys spirited discussions in his men’s group, where he is the “token liberal.” In summary, someone suggested that we “be ourselves and recognize that we’re all in this together” and that we should be open to others.
Many of us are members, at least in part, of more than one faith. One speaks candidly for himself in these various places. Self-control is important. Choke back the “you’re wrong,” listen, and only afterward speak. Coming to meeting has made one person more patient. She has learned from the silence to listen and can now listen to other people without having to be upset, without having to disagree. Listen, be quiet, and have “something peaceful to say” without forcing it on the other person.
Another, visiting from Miami, mentioned the other Kansas City Quaker meeting. An attempt to link with them in the past has been unsuccessful. She also mentioned the Mennonites and getting together with like-minded groups to protest the Iraq bombings. Someone else reminded us that our reaching out to our neighbor next door has not been successful. Someone suggested inviting him to a potluck sometime. Reaching out sometimes succeeds, sometimes doesn’t. John Woolman was able to gently talk to people with violently opposing views. It’s sometimes possible to alienate even those with whom one is agreeing, when attempting to reach out. Even simple listening may not be very loving. Sometimes you won’t be able to persuade, and listening is all you can do. “Walk softly.” One person thinks that society has become more relaxed about differences such as interfaith and interracial dating. Discussions are “more respectful than they used to be.”
One person wondered that even inside Meeting “how do we be respectful of differences?” Another suggested that we do well at this. Someone else mentioned that we leave ourselves open to difference when we say that each has his own truth. We have to expect disagreement. There is not enough racial diversity in the Society of Friends in this country, though there are increasingly many African Quakers. The remaining question is how do we reach out without proselytizing? Quaker silence is not for everyone. There may be an occasional person who is interested, or for whom it might be suitable, and one can point the way for them. One person had a friend who expressed interest in the Meeting. When she described it to him, though, he said he didn’t think he could sit in silence for an hour. There was a general feeling that our meeting is good at welcoming all sorts of people.