“Organized religion” continues to take a beating in the polls — at least in the kind of popular surveys taken in the United States. Americans like to constantly monitor their temperature on nearly every matter. Once again, the polls reveal that people are spiritual… just not religious.
I am not debating the veracity of these polls: I think they accurately reflect the mood of the day. People want, in their best moments, a deeply transformative and personal connection with the Divine. True to the independent nature of the times, we also want this experience on our terms — without the extraneous trappings or perceived limitations of religious tradition or confining community.
But personal expectations and reality often collide when two or three gather around a shared spirituality. As soon as someone dares say, “Hey, we should get together again,” something resembling “organized religion” emerges. Soon, coffee must be brewed, questions arise about how to care for the children, where to gather and so forth.
Many, many of us long to be part of a sustaining and strengthening community of faith as we are being personally “spiritual.” We want others who will prod us toward truth, holiness, goodness and compassion. We want to be among people who by their lives, collective work and witness are seeking and seeing God’s Kingdom come on earth just as it is it is already realized in heaven.
And it is hard… it doesn’t ever happen by accident. Over the years of being in, or ministering among, Friends meetings/churches, I’ve often heard Friends struggle over how to intentionally create missionally focused fellowships. That is, how can the community organize itself around who God is calling it to be and what God is calling members to do together?
Somewhere between using a standard business plan and flying by the seat of our pants, there ought to be a way of discernment — prayerful and serious reflection — that guides us and keeps our attempts at organization vital and life-giving. In work with local communities, a set of queries was developed for discussion and to guide action. I share them with you in the hope your meeting/church thrives in the coming year and gets organized in a way that your experience of Christ deepens, community is strengthened and ministry bears more fruit than anyone imagined possible.