Becoming Visible: Quaker Outreach at Colleges

Last week I traveled up to Boone, North Carolina to assist the SPICE (Acronym for core Quaker testimonies: Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, & Equality) Quaker student group at Appalachian State University with their table at the Student Involvement Fair. These fairs are quite common at college campuses at the beginning of the school year and each club and/or student group can have a table to introduce fellow students to who they are.

IMG_20160815_145740677As a religious club, the SPICE club was in the same room with all the other religious clubs
on campuses. We were next to the Presbyterian/Episcopal club, and near other denominational campus ministries, like the United Methodist Wesley Foundation and Catholic Campus Ministry They were also at least half a dozen parachurch groups, like Cru, formerly known as Campus Crusade for Christ. There were a lot of variety for students to choose from. I am glad Quakers appear as one of the options.

During the fair the SPICE group had a cardboard display about their group and they had printed stickers with their name on it and wrote on the back their meeting time for the semester. (Their meeting time changes each semester dependinIMG_20160815_150928812 (1)g on the class schedules of the members.) I brought with me a life-size Quaker Man from my meeting, First Friends Meeting of Greensboro, and some chocolates to give out.

Throughout the event, we gave out chocolates and stickers to App students. We asked people if they had heard of Quakers or if they were interested in being involved with a faith community based on simplicity, peace, integrity, community, and equality. By the end of the event, we had a list of 12 student names and contact information and had given out all of the SPICE stickers.

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Joe & Harriet wtih Quaker Man

Now, the SPICE group leadership, made up of Ellen, Harriet, and Joe, are reaching out to these students and planning some great events for this upcoming semester. I am working with them this year to help their efforts to reach out to the larger campus community at Appalachian State and to help plan events

Just imagine if Quakers were on more college campuses, what if we were able to reach a dozen students each year on, say, 25 campuses. What impact would that cause on students’ lives? What impact would that have on the future of the Religious Society of Friends? We have a powerful message to share about a faith centered on peace and community. This message to share that needs to be shared alongside other ministry groups on college campuses. Students are indeed eager to hear it! We need to become visible on these campuses!

As I wrote earlier in the summer, I am currently working on setting up a network of Quaker campus ministries at non-Quaker higher education institutions to support students like Ellen, Harriet, and Joe, in developing Quaker groups on their campuses. These groups help to sustain Quaker students in their faith journey during college. I welcome any support in helping to identify:

  • Quaker students you know at non Quaker institutions
  • Quaker student group at non Quaker institutions
  • Quakers who have a leading to work with college students

If you can help or want to get involved in any way, please fill out this form or contact me at gregwoodsquaker@gmail.com

 

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What Am I Doing Next? AKA Announcing a New Ministry

By Greg

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My clean former office after I de-cluttered it!

Tuesday was my last day of working for Friends Center at Guilford College. A lot of people are asking what I will do next.

Here is my answer: I am taking a leap of faith and embarking on creating a new Quaker ministry! I am working to start a network of Quaker campus ministries on non-Quaker campuses in the United States.

This idea has been floating around in my mind since I interned with Princeton University’s Office of Religious Life during the last year of seminary three years ago. During my internship, I started a Quaker student group to worship with weekly.

I was surprised at who came to the group. There were several students who grew up identifying as Quakers, while others came who did not identify as Quakers, but they went to Quaker schools growing up and they cherished and missed the weekly meetings for worship. Then there were occasional visitors who were intrigued about Quakers.

Over the years, I have been involved in a lot of conversations about Quaker renewal and how to grow the Religious Society of Friends. None of these conversations have involved

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Talking about this idea at Emerging Practices in Quaker Outreach in late April (Photo by Chris Mohr)

talking about working with college students on college campuses. While I was a student at Princeton Theological Seminary, many of my classmates talked fondly of their denominational campus ministry and that helped them to discern their call to ministry. At the same time, I know of several Quaker leaders who came to Quakerism during college at non-Quaker institutions, but we do not have any network or coordinated effort to assist Quaker students or students who may be interested in Quakerism at these institutions.

I envision creating a network of campus ministries to help reach young adults at non Quaker higher education institutions as well as creating resources to help Quaker students and Quakers in general support campus ministries in their area. My hope with creating this network is to support Quaker students at non-Quaker institutions, develop future Quaker leaders, and to reach college students who would be interested in Quakerism if they have the chance to hear our messages.

For the next year, with the help of my family, I have been released from full-time work to pursue setting up this network. Also I have a support committee from my meeting, First Friends Meeting of Greensboro, to support me in this work.

You can help me with this effort by helping to identify:

  • Quaker students you know at non Quaker institutions
  • Quaker student group at non Quaker institutions
  • Quakers who have a leading to work with college students

Here is a Google Form you can fill out or you can email me.

I welcome any help, input, and prayers as I take this next step! I am scared and excited at the same time!

Are Young Adult Friends Ready to Lead?

In March, I gave a talk via Skype to the Midwest Interbranch Young Adult Friends Gathering on the future of Quakers and the need for Young Adult Friends to take leadership.  – Greg

In 1652, a 28 year old uneducated young man climbed Pendle Hill and at the top of that hill he had a vision of a great people gathered. This vision is what brings us together today. George Fox saw that the time was ripe for a major shift in his society and I will argue that we are in a time today where a major shift is needed in our society.

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George Fox preaching (Source)

George Fox and early Friends were a radical band of seekers. They caused a lot of ruckus
and they were unafraid of voicing their convictions and telling others that their beliefs were completely wrong. They had a powerful message for the masses that Christ Jesus came to teach himself. They certainly were not afraid to share that message with anyone. They even had the gall to try to convert the Pope and the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire.

Early Quakers had fervor in part because of the political climate that England was in due to an ongoing civil war. Many felt that they were near the end of days and that the Second Coming of Christ was imminent. In part, I would argue that we are in a similar time period. Even though I do not think that the Second Coming of Christ is imminent, we are reaching a critical point in history, a time that we need to be on fire again.

More than 350 years after early Quakers began preaching their message, I sense a burning desire among people today to find a community that is uncorrupted by the current corporate church culture. Because of the recent culture wars and the obscene wealth that some churches flaunt around, many people have left the church in disgust and some of them have become refugees within Quakerism, especially liberal Quakerism. But a lot have just left the Church altogether, which is why we have a lot of people, identifying as a “none” and/or Spiritual But Not Religious.

We are seeing an upheaval in society with the Occupy movement a couple years ago and now with Climate activism and the Black Lives Matter movement. These are callings, yearnings for a major shift in society. Most of these movements have offered/are offering temporary community, which only lasts as long as the next victory looks possible. The Indian social activist Arundhati Roy said about 15 years ago, “Another world is not only possible, she’s on the way and, on a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”

Quakerism has a lot to offer these movements, much like what early Quakers were offering in 1650s to the English society. In some ways, what we have to offer will not look much different than what early Friends were offering, yet in other ways they are completely different.

Early Quakers did believe in the sacraments, but not in the outward forms of the sacraments because first they did not believe that Jesus required them in the Bible and second they felt that the practice of outward sacraments over the centuries had made the practices to become empty, devoid of meaning. They wanted to recapture early Christian fervor to revive Christianity from its dull, hierarchical form that it looked like by the 1640s and 50s because the church had become institutional and corrupted. Early Friends wanted to find an uncorrupted faith that was rooted in community.

One of the most radical things that early Friends offer was the idea that an individual could have a direct relationship with God. They were raising up the idea of individualism in a time when people were grouped in the masses. As Quakers, we still believe in direct revelation, but our most radical offering to the wider world is a heartfelt commitment to community in the face of growing individualism. Other churches invite people to the table for outward communion on a weekly or monthly basis. But our inward communion happens whenever two or more are gathered for worship. We are participating in this sacred communion tonight. This communion has the power to sustain people hungry for change longer than any short-term victory could ever provide.

The time right now is ripe for a major shift. Quakers can provide a place to spiritually support this important work and the people involved. Are we willing?

Are we as Young Adult Friends willing to take on leadership for this shift? The shift in the Religious Society of Friends should come from Young Adult Friends. We have been at the forefront of change since the 1650s. As a denomination, we were founded by a young adult, someone younger than I am. Then in the 1860s, not too far from First Friends Meeting, it was young adults within Indiana Yearly Meeting who insisted on gathering outside of the yearly meeting program to sing and offer vocal ministry. This helped to lead Quakerism outside of the Quietism period. It was young adult Friends in Philadelphia who started meeting together in the 1910s- 1920s. This effort helped to lead to the founding of the Friends World Committee on Consultation and the unification efforts to rejoin the Hicksite-Orthodox yearly meetings in the Philadelphia area and other surrounding yearly meetings.

Sometimes I see more young adult Quakers at rallies and at retreats than I do at meeting for worship on Sunday morning. Are we living up to or down to what is expected of us? What are we offering to our meetings? Are we opting in? I don’t think it is easy to be a Young Adult Friend in a lot of Quaker meetings. Some are great, but many are indifferent or even hostile. Older Quakers tend to ask people in their late 20s or early 30s if they still in college. Or else regard us as not willing to stick around, so Friends do not even try to learn the names of young adults who attend their meetings/churches. I have been to some meetings where no one will greet you even if they know you are a newcomer. Sometimes it is not easy, but are we making an effort? What alternatives are there? We could also be starting our own worship groups and inviting people into a deeper communion together. For example, in Greensboro along with others I have started a monthly young adult group where we meet for potluck and worship. Young Adults come from different meetings and even no meeting to meet together for this time of fellowship. Are we willing to step up and lead?

We already have young adult Friends changing the landscape of the Religious Society of Friends and inviting non Quakers in at the same time. I want to highlight the work of a Young Adult Friend Christina Repoley and the founding of Quaker Voluntary Service. (A disclaimer: I am on the board of the organization.) Christina graduated from Guilford and wanted to find a way to serve Quakers. Like other young adult Quakers, she quickly found herself living in Philadelphia and a while she started working for a Quaker organization. But she did not feel supported by Quakers in general.

During her time in Philadelphia, Christina became friends with several young adult Mennonites and they had fond memories of service opportunities from Mennonite Voluntary Service. Christina wondered why is there was nothing like that in Quakerism. This question led to an almost a decade long journey that led Christina to finding people to help her build what is now Quaker Voluntary Service.  Along the way, Christina invited others, including other young adults to join her in her vision. Her vision became a collaborative effort that bought Quakers together from different branches to dream big. Ten years after graduating and feeling unsupported by Quakers, the first cohort of young adults moved into a QVS house in Atlanta, GA.

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2015-2016 QVS Fellows

Now four and half years later, there are about 25 young adults living in houses in four cities. About half are Quakers and the momentum is still growing. QVS is re-engaging young adult Friends into Quakerism and introducing others to Quakerism for the first
time. Local meetings in these four cities are feeling re-energized by these QVS Fellows. All this has happened from a young adult Friend who was frustrated by a lack of support by Quakerism.

What ideas do you have to re-energize the Religious Society of Friends? What ideas can meet the needs of the people who are hungry for something more?

One idea I have is the formation of a nationwide Quaker campus ministry program. Other denominations and faiths have programs to nurture their college students who do not go to their denominational schools, but not the Quakers. There are some local efforts here and there across the country, but they greatly vary in quality and effectiveness. These ministries attract non Quaker students as well. Despite knowing that some of our leaders have come to Quakerism while attending non Quaker institutions, Quakers have made no effort to make a big push to offer a nationwide campus ministry program or much less materials to help Friends thinking about reaching out to college students. I have witnessed that college students are searching for something more meaningful, something more fulfilling than what the regular college experience can offer. Many students realize they have a need for a time for quiet reflection, which Quakerism can offer.

Whatever we do, we need to be mindful that it takes time. I know that I find this frustrating because I am a very impatient person. It is very hard for me to practice patience, but I am trying my best.

Last weekend, my IMG_20160309_165304972.jpgpregnant wife Jenn and I planted seeds for our garden and put them in a window sill, to be planted outside in a couple weeks. The next day during meeting for worship, I realized that when she gives birth in late June, we will hopefully be harvesting some of the produce that came from these seeds we just planted. In both instances, I do not know what the fruits of our/her labor will be exactly, but I do know that we can only hope that with love, patience, and maintenance, we can give both the plants and our baby the best chance to thrive in the outside world.

Whatever we try will not necessary thrive. Within a garden, not everything bears
fruit. One year might be a bumper crop but another year we could have a drought and everything could be lost. Along with all of this is the knowledge that we are not in total control, so faith and hope are important components of gardening and parenting. Faith and hope are also important in ministry and working on finding a way forward. How are we preparing the ground to grow these vital ministries to meet the world’s need? How are we working to support each other?

More importantly, are we Young Adult Friends willing to step up and lead the Religious Society of Friends in a new direction?

 

More on Quaker Theology of Continuing Revelation

I gave this sermon on August 9, 2015 at Spring Friends Meeting.

As I had forsaken all the priests, so I left the separate preachers also, and those called the most experienced people; for I saw there was none among them all that could speak to my condition. And when all my hopes in them and in all men were gone, so that I had nothing outwardly to help me, nor could tell what to do, then, oh then, I heard a voice which said. ‘There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition’, and when I heard it my heart did leap for joy.

– George Fox

In June, when I was last here, I mentioned the Quaker theology of continuing revelation. In that sermon, I said, “Some within our yearly meeting find this theology of continuing revelation distressing, but I find comfort in this theology because it honors Friends’ longtime witness that God is still speaking to our condition today, both as a corporate body and as individuals. We should always be listening for how God wants to use us and our abilities as disciples of God’s grace within today’s ever-changing world.”

Today I want to expand on this point and, by doing so; I will make a passionate defense for the theology of continuing revelation within modern Quakerism and within our yearly meeting.

For me, as a Christian Quaker, the words of George Fox, written above, still inform how I view my relationship with Christ: Christ as a heavenly guide, still leading us two millennia later. In the Gospel of John 1:9, it is stated that “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” This is the Light that is still among us and within us.

If we honestly believe that God has stopped speaking, all that God have ever said is in the Bible, let’s just close up shop right now and start calling us the Historical Society of Friends. Let’s just read the Bible as a historical novel that has no relevance to how we live today. Let us stop having waiting worship and pretending that we will somehow hear the voice of God today. Let us board up this meetinghouse and do our study of the Holy Scriptures in private.

But I do not believe this and this meeting does not believe this either. Throughout my readings of the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament, I see God is always present in the journeys of God’s people, even at the most difficult points of time. God was present with Moses, God was present with Ruth and Naomi, God was present with Christ on the cross, and God was present with the women as they discovered that the tomb was indeed empty. And God is still present with us today through God’s son, Jesus Christ, and God is still speaking to our condition today.

Why would God abandon us generations later and not continue to reveal Godself to us? In a way Quakerism should be described as a corporate journey towards building God’s Kingdom here on Earth.

Friend Lloyd Lee Wilson from our sister yearly meeting North Carolina Conservative writes: “God continues to teach those who make themselves available to be taught how to live according to the Divine Will in the present day. Continuing Revelation does not involve a new Gospel, but teaches us how to live out the Everlasting Gospel in our current circumstances.”

Our current circumstances bear some resemblance to First Century Palestine where an Empire was in charge of a large part of the world and injustice was rampant throughout the countryside. Yet, in many other ways, Twentieth First Century USA is also vastly different than First Century Palestine. We know more about the wider world and how the world functions than humans have ever known before. These scientific advances have largely helped the world to prolong and improve life. Some believe that these advances have led us into a new age where God is not needed; we have advanced beyond the need for Christ

Yet, I do not want to replace my belief in Christ with believing in only scientific knowledge, as some New Atheists have suggested. Science without morality has brought us the atomic bomb and other increased capabilities to kill each other, which have only increased misery in our world. We still need to offer moral guidance for the world and to proclaim that God is still present within our world and within our lives

Friend Lloyd Lee also reminds us that this is not a new Gospel that is being created through the continuing revelations we receive. Some liberal Friends have interpreted the theology of continuing revelation as a way to disregard the Bible and I think some conservative-theologically Friends within our yearly meeting fear that more liberal-theologically Friends are using/will use this theology as a way to discount the Bible and Christ. We are not trying to create a new Gospel but trying to understand what God’s message means in today’s context.

I want to go further with this and say that God will reveal Godself according to our individual and corporate abilities. For example, not in the too distant past, this meeting would not have approved of same-sex marriage. Friends here have now realized that God’s love applies to the LGBTQ community. But what if I brought a message advocating for the inclusion of the LGBTQ community to this meeting in 1990 or 1970 or even 1950? Would it have been too much for the meeting? What has happened in the intervening years? God hasn’t changed, instead we have changed and we are still changing. I often wonder what beliefs do we hold today that future generations will be stunned to learn about and think, “What were they thinking back then?”

Also, since Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, Missouri, one year ago today, we have started to look deeply at racism within our community and within ourselves in a different way than we have before. The shout of Black Lives Matter have brought this topic to the forefront in this country and we are slowly responding. We still have a ways to go in confronting the embedded racism within our midst. But that is the Good News: God will continue to be with us as we stumble towards creating God’s Kingdom here on Earth.

Before I end my message today, I want to speak about the dangers within continuing revelation. I have already spoken about how people think that we have surpassed the need for Christ and the Bible. I have also seen people with big egos run over others by saying that this is the will of God or that God has told them that others should follow them. Yet, this should not be happening as much as I see because Friends over the centuries have developed corporate and individual discernment processes to test leadings of individuals and of the larger bodies.

Within the theology of continuing revelation, we still need to heed this framework that Friends have developed over the last three centuries to test and carry leadings. Sadly I do not see many Friends heeding this advice and a lot of the strife within our yearly meeting is due to a lack of commitment to corporate discernment and discipline.

Let us continue to not only deepen our individual and corporate discernment into what God is revealing to us while we gather together, but also recommit to practices of testing and carry leadings among us to be certain that we are listening to God, not our egos.

God still needs us to be God’s disciples within the world and to work towards building God’s Kingdom here on Earth.