By Colin Saxton
All around the world, members of the Religious Society of Friends are feeling the stirrings of renewal at work in us and seeking to be expressed through us. The inner voice of the Holy Spirit is calling us to a deeper place and a more complete and transforming immersion into the life and power of God. Despite differences in experience, perspective, and culture, many of us long for a greater sense of connection and a more stable spirit of community to unite and sustain us as Friends. In our world full of conflict and need, we feel moved to share something of the life and message we have received from Christ, believing it is the source of hope for real change and meant for all people.
What is interesting, at least in my experience, is how so many people outside the Society of Friends also seem to be seeking the very same things! Listen carefully to the people around you. There is a groaning and hunger for change. There is a deep desire to see and be part of a transformation. Some express it in negative terms, frustrated with mere religion and the confining nature of institutions. They long for a transforming encounter with the living God. Others wish to be part of a religious movement that stands as an authentic alternative to the sometimes mind-numbing and spirit-quenching nature of everyday life. Many feel drawn to the life and teachings of Jesus but have struggled to find a community where the One who is said to be risen is actually visible in their midst. They think, “If only there were a people who embodied his life, who took seriously his teachings, and who shared his message in a winsome, courageous, and consistent way… Now that might be a group worth joining!”
As conflicts continue to rage-both in neighborhoods and nation-states-others are worrying and wondering about practical alternatives to the same saber-rattling, military spending, and conflict avoidance we humans are apt to rely on. “Where,” they wonder, “is a group who offers a different way?”
Listen. Listen to the conversations around you. They connect with the very testimonies that have defined Friends throughout our history. How do we live a life of “enough” in a world polarized by over-abundance and poverty? Can we make decisions in a way that is more satisfying and uniting than either a simple vote or single leader’s dictate? What does it really mean to live out equality in a world of such diversity? How do I learn to live with integrity? Are there people of faith who work for justice? How can I make a difference in my world? These questions, the very ones you Friends have been working on and working out in your local communities and around the world, are the same ones gnawing at the souls of the people around you.
The opportunity is before us, if we will seize it, to connect the message and ministry of God to others around us in a way that satisfies some of the hunger they are experiencing.
I find it remarkable how much appreciation there is for Quakers. In my travels, it is a common occurrence to find myself in conversation with a stranger who asks me what I do for work. Whenever I mention Friends, the person almost inevitably lights up and begins to recite all they know about our past history and how inspiring they find it. Often, they are able to trace their bloodline back to some early Friend who was involved in our community. I hear the same sort of love and appreciation when I gather with leaders from other denominations. Friends are widely known and respected for our past contributions and for the values we have upheld!
What is disturbing in these conversations, however, is how often the stranger I am speaking to also says something like, “I have never met a real live Quaker before!” or “I thought you all died out years ago?!?” Hmmm… Similarly, I have had other Christians cautiously quiz me on why Friends are so small in size, remain so hidden, and keep so quiet…at a time when it appears we have something so wonderful to offer the world.
Again, there is an opportunity before us. What will we do with it?
Maybe some Friends are right that we tend to live a bit too much in our past. It is a good past, even a glorious one. Even so, it is not enough to simply remember and retell what Fox, Fry, Fell, Woolman, Pennington, or Gurney did so long ago. We can learn from and be grateful for our rich history, but our primary challenge is how to live faithfully in the present.
At this point in our history, there exists this unique opportunity for us to better connect with the people around us. As we do, Friends are realizing it is now time for us to move together into the future in fresh and bold ways that better reflect God’s leading among us and which speak more clearly to the needs of our time.
But as we discern this clearer sense of leading, many recognize the equal need to be refreshed, reanimated, and empowered by God’s Spirit among us. In the process of re-examining our work and witness in the world, we need to become a more fully gathered people.
Our hope for this 40 Days of Prayer for the Future of Friends is that God will, indeed, use this time to gather us and reshape us. As our current FUM Triennial theme declares, we are: A Great People to Be Gathered — in Christ, in Community, for Mission. May we go even deeper in and further on in this season of intentional prayer and listening to Christ together.
As we continue to move faithfully into the 21st century, we are more clearly envisioning FUM as a global association of orthodox Christian Quakers being gathered by Christ into a life of deep and transforming spiritual intimacy, beloved community, and faithful witness and ministry. We are:
• Gathered in Christ — As individual members and as a whole community, we seek to be transformed by the real presence of the risen Christ in our gatherings for worship and through the disciplined nurture of our communion with God. Through our intentional and faithful listening to Christ, we experience his leadership and the power that transforms us into God’s image and enables us to do God’s will. As a great people being gathered, FUM commits to know, love, and obey the One who speaks to our condition.
• Gathered in Community — In a world often marked by division, violence, and injustice, FUM seeks to make visible an alternative — the beloved community of Christ where love, forgiveness, truth, and compassion are nurtured and practiced. Through our diverse local meetings/churches, yearly meetings, and wider association, we partner together in ways that demonstrate the reconciling power of Christ and unite us in a common purpose. As a great people being gathered, FUM strives to live out Jesus’ prayer for his followers “…that they may be one as we are one” (John 17:11).
• Gathered for Mission — As one expression of the body of Christ, we are called to continue Jesus’ ministry here on earth. As a community of ministers, we partner together across the world to heal, reconcile, work for justice and peace, evangelize and disciple, care for the earth, and gather people into fellowships where “Jesus Christ is known, loved, and obeyed as Teacher and Lord.” By equipping and resourcing individuals and groups, FUM seeks to faithfully respond to Jesus’ invitation and command to “go into all the world” in his name (Mark 16:15).
The continued formation of such a community, we believe, moves ahead by our willingness to stop what we are doing, cease striving, be still, and know that God is God among us.
For the next 40 days, Friends all over the planet are invited to join with one another in a season of listening, prayer, and discernment. This is an opportunity to loosen our grip on our lives and our life together in order to open ourselves up to the possibility that Christ may be seeking to redirect or refocus us. For local or yearly meetings who are stretched and pulled by differences and conflict, this time for gathering may help us re-experience that unity which transcends our diversity. As we all lay aside our individual agendas and perspectives for God’s, we may begin to uncover more common ground and language than we have been imagining. More importantly, we may even recognize the common Spirit of Christ, at work in each other, who holds us together and forever in the bond of peace.
Imagine the possibilities of several thousands of Quakers all joined in prayer, reflection, discussion, and action for forty consecutive days! What could God possibly do in and through us in that amount of time? I can’t wait to find out!
As you begin to explore this devotional guide for the 40 Days of Prayer, you will notice it includes a daily meditation, queries to reflect on, action steps to consider, and a suggested focus for prayer. We hope local meetings/churches will encourage the wide use of this reader. It is available in print (contact the FUM office in Richmond), as a digital e-mail attachment, and on the FUM website (www.fum.org) both as a download and each day on the homepage. While the exercises throughout the 40 Days of Prayer can be done individually, we encourage couples, families, study groups, classes, and meetings/churches to consider creative ways to share the experience. Maybe the 40 Days of Prayer can be a Sabbath from the normal schedule of home and meeting. Could we consider taking a break from our busy-ness in order to create space for God and one another? Could our future be worth this kind of investment?
On the FUM website, there will also be opportunities to share what you are hearing and experiencing throughout the 40 Days of Prayer. At the conclusion of the 40 Days of Prayer, we also invite meetings and churches to write and report on how the Spirit moved among you. What inspiration occurred? How did you see Jesus show up among you? Where did you sense God calling you as individuals and as communities?
You will also note the 40 Days of Prayer (10 October–18 November) concludes with the FUM Day of Discernment. There are special instructions in the back of the reader for that event. All Friends are encouraged to participate in the important work of discerning our future together.