By Randy Quate
In his first message as Pope, Francis I stated that the role for older people in the church is to pass on optimism and hope to younger generations looking for spiritual guidance in a modern world full of temptations. Though Quakers and Catholics may be at very different places in practices and beliefs, the Pope definitely speaks my mind. Recently, while trying to envision a new Friends movement that could reach a new generation, I providentially met a man named Mike Berry.
Mike is the founding pastor of CrossRhythm Church in Annapolis, Maryland. CrossRhythm is an intergenerational church with a high percentage of young adults and a mission to reach a new generation for Christ. He was introduced to me by a mutual friend who understood that Mike and the leadership of this young church identify themselves with the principles of the Quaker faith. This congregation believes that their mission and the testimonies of Quakers are the same, sensing kinship with the history of Quakerism and with the Friends’ message.
In January I made a trip to Annapolis, Maryland, to train the leadership at CrossRhythm Church in Quaker business practice, decision-making and leadership. They later held their first business meeting using these principles. During the silence, this dynamic group experienced a Spirit-filled, gathered meeting and continued worshipping throughout the business meeting. I am overjoyed to see the richness of Quaker history, faith and practice becoming a channel for an energized church to fulfill its mission in a fresh way. North Carolina Yearly Meeting and CrossRhythm Church are presently exploring how their fellowship can become part of NCYM-FUM.
This experience has riveted a divine thought in my mind. The picture of this budding church causes me to believe that the best years of Quakerism are not behind us but before us. There are those who are seeking the inward knowledge of Christ. When this influx of people embrace the way of Friends, the result will probably look a little different from what many Friends in North America are accustomed to. In fact, a new Quaker explosion will probably evoke that fear provoking word: change.
What could Quakerism in America look like in the future? The meeting of the future, in my estimation, is going to birth a new breed of Friends. I believe a new Quaker explosion is on the horizon if certain components emerge in equally strong measure throughout North American Friends fellowships. Some of these components may seem severe in light of where we are now; others will be more subtle but equally as significant. I believe the following ingredients will be present in those Friends meetings where a fresh flame emerges. The future Quaker meeting/church should be:
There was only One who spoke to the condition of George Fox, and it was Christ Jesus. The term “Christ-Centered” must become more than a theological name tag that reveals what “brand” of Quaker we are. Christ-Centered has to become descriptive of the lives we live as a community of faith, collectively and individually. This Christ we center in is the Preexistent Logos, Jesus of Nazareth, the Sacrificial Savior, the Risen Christ, and the Present and Coming King seamlessly woven into One whose presence is in the midst.
Our history is rich, but our history must launch us into a present-day movement. I have a friend who says that some Quakers are like a person driving a car with a rearview mirror the size of the windshield. That type of historical bondage enslaves vision and hinders the adaptation needed to be relevant in ministry. However, when history becomes a true catalyst for new vision, it is serving its purpose well. I don’t think there would have been one Quaker in the first generation of our history who would have wanted us to laude their achievements yet lose their fire. Our history as Friends is amazing and exists primarily to stoke the flame of spiritual transformation and cultural illumination by the light of Christ.
Early Friends were not busy defending the Bible; instead they were focused on living it. While the author of scripture was the focus, the use of scripture was the means to proclaim that conviction. Scripture has been and still is the most reliable guide for Friends as the Holy Spirit applies its truth to our souls.
Eagerly Applying Friends Testimonies
The future is rich for us, if we are deeply rooted in the Quaker expression of the Christian faith. It will be a movement that will avoid the extremes of generally Wesleyanized evangelicalism and Quakeristic cocooning.
I was once on a task force that hired a consultant to help us look at our declining numbers and increasing conflict. Some in the group were insistent on training the non-Quaker facilitator on Quaker language, like saying “meeting” instead of “church.” It was like we were rearranging a sock drawer while the house was on fire! As we look at ourselves, there should be a sense of urgency to see our future flourish. As a knife collector, I describe a pocketknife that has maximum value as “uncarried, unused and unsharpened.” That will not describe the wave of the future as Friends find new ways to use our history and testimonies to foster an awakening through the Holy Spirit. There will be a deep social consciousness to this fresh wind. Human trafficking and sex slavery are just two areas where grass roots energy is emerging. A New Underground Railroad could be the mark of this new day, and there will be more to come.
The cocooning of Friends in many areas of North America has several causes. One could be that we have many rural Meetings comprised of intertwined families. Such familiarity can cause us to creep into complacency and become inward focused. The tendency of others is to conversationalize Quaker history, so that we talk about the great works of God through our historical lineage, but never endeavor to do something great for God ourselves. The Holy Spirit through a missionary zeal in early Friends, generated the Quaker explosion of the 17th century. I believe a new breed of Quaker will emerge who will not only know and value the Valiant 60 and Mary Fisher’s journey to the Sultan of Turkey, but will journey across the street and begin to introduce neighbors to life with Jesus along the Quaker path, thereby igniting a new explosion.
Tuned Into a Different Generation
Churches across America are being challenged to attract and retain our high schoolers and young adults. The exodus of these young people from the traditional church has been widely noted. Young adults in NCYM love their home meetings, but are drawn increasingly to other non-Friends churches to be with folks their age and to experience more passionate worship and teaching ministries. However, we have noted that many of our young adults in NCYM still orbit Friends by participating in yearly meeting events. Quaker youth and young adults repeatedly speak of going to other denominations and missing the unique worship and ministry of their home meeting. You can take the person out of the meeting, but you can’t take the Quaker out of the person. We are all grateful for the contributions of every generation of Quakers in every Friends meeting. We want to engage Friends of every age into vital, intergenerational fellowships. However, for that to happen, we will have to face the need for some change and we will have to have meaningful conversations across generational lines. A fresh approach to Quakerism will attract the young and speak to their lives in ways that can keep them with us, helping us be a more intergenerational movement for years to come.
I received an email from Len Sweet through a mutual friend. Len is a noted Christian author who has a gifted insight into the state of the church in America. He said, “George Fox and Quakerism will be rediscovered in the 21st century and may be the best answer in presenting Christ to the postmodern mind.” Wow. Maybe it takes a Methodist to tell us what we should already know. To quote John Punshon’s title, there is a “reason for hope”!
Randy Quate is the General Superintendent of North Carolina Yearly Meeting. He is married and has two children.