Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Northern Yearly Meeting

I recently attended (with my family) a Quaker gathering of Northern Yearly Meeting-- those meetings here in the upper midwest who are part of Friends General Conference (FGC).

I want to say all kinds of clever things about the experience, but I have nothing very clever to say. I had the chance to attend some annual sessions led by Liz Oppenheimer on the development of a Quaker Identity.

It was very interesting to have a session on quaker identity among Liberal Friends led by a Conservative-leaning Friend.

These can be misleading labels. It has nothing to do with politics. Liberal Friends have a wider definition of Quaker theology. They may include non-Christians and even non-theists in their meetings. Conservative Friends have a narrower definition of Quakerism that is much more in line with historical beliefs of Friends.

What struck me as very interesting is that the main difference between Liberal and Conservative Friends is not in how they develop their individual quaker identity, but in what they demand of a corparate Quaker identity. Conservative Quakers wish for more accord between members.

I understand the desire for this shared spirituality that goes beyond simply shared practice. If all a meeting shares is silence in worship, it could seem empty without an underlying element of common belief.

I am firmly on the turf of the Liberal Quakers. I believe there is a a place for a wide range of beliefs, but I cannot yet articulate the place of Universalism within the Religious Society of Friends.

So much of what Liz was saying resonated with me. I believe that Liberal Friends have lost something and need to reclaim the framework for sharing faith and practice instead of having a room full of individuals. Quakerism is a corporate practice.


Blogger Martin Kelley said...

Hi Kiara,
I'm glad you met up with Liz at the yearly meeting sessions. Thanks for sharing your impression of Liz's session. It's good to know that this sort of conservative-leaning liberal Quaker mix many of us are struggling to figure out has some wider appeal!
Your Friend,
Martin Kelley, Quaker Ranter

12:05 PM  
Blogger Liz Opp said...

Thanks for your comments about the Quaker identity workshop... I'm quite humbled by the kind words of a few Friends, but I'm rather embarrassed for having to find out about your blog through Quaker Ranter!

Just to set the record straight regarding my own journey among Friends: for a good many years, I too had been "firmly on the turf of the Liberal Quakers." I needed a place among Friends where my non-belief in Christ was accepted so that my faith in God and my disciplines among Friends could deepen. I had that place among Liberal (aka Hicksite) Friends for a long time.

But in my own case, I have now been led to Conservative Friends, as have a few others in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Still, I have never met a Conservative Friend—and I don't imagine myself being—so narrow-spirited as to say, "You can't be among Friends if you believe this or that," though I want to be able to say, "For us, as a worship group (or meeting), something very real and powerful happens when we worship God in this manner and practice our faith in this way." Setting boundaries in order to preserve a sense of corporate identity or "accord," as you call it, Kiara, is not intended to be exclusive; it's intended to be faith-affirming. It's a tricky line to walk.

Who knows? Maybe after I attend Iowa Conservative's annual sessions later this summer, I'll have to rewrite my workshop and reshape my understanding of who believes what among Friends!

Glad to have met you, Kiara. And I so appreciated your participation in the workshop during its test run.

Liz, The Good Raised Up

8:30 PM  
Blogger Larry said...

Thanks for your post (and to Liz for her link to it). I want to address one thing you wrote:

"I cannot yet articulate the place of Universalism within the Religious Society of Friends."

Well said. I want to try to share my 'articulation' of it: With 22 years of unprogrammed Quaker experience (after many more years in more conventional Christian groups) I have come to define myself as an evangelical Christian Methodist Quaker Universalist. Rather than just trying to be sensational I really believe that all of those terms can and do exist together in (if not perfect) harmony.

You probably know that Universalism in this country began primarily as a reaction against the adamant insistence of tradionalists that "all 'nonChristians' are going to hell". That was their primary original point of divergence from traditional theology. Of course connotations of the word have broadened immensely in the last century or so.

As for my own faith, I see (of course) that of God in everyone. I also see the light of Christ at least potentially in everyone (I'm not sure there's any difference in those two categories.)

Visiting Jewish hospital patents I frequently tell them that most of the Jews I know are better Christians than most of the 'Christians' I know.

It isn't about what you believe; it's about what you do; that betrays your true faith.

Someone asked my seminary professor if he thought Gandhi went to heaven; he replied "I don't know; when I get there I'll ask him." That's the way I feel about many of our 'nonChristian' friends.

Thanks for provoking this outburst.

10:57 AM  
Blogger Kiara said...

Liz, didn't mean to be sneaky. I'm a closet introvert (well-disquised by my lack of shyness).

I look forward to hearing about your experiences among the Conservatives.

I'm still pretty early on in my Quaker journey. Thank you for sharing how you came to be where you are.

I really enjoyed your workshop. It provoked a greqt deal of thought.

9:08 PM  

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