By J. Brent Bill
Outreach. Isn’t that just advertising? Aren’t we Quakers against advertising — creating a false need in someone for something they don’t want or need? Like a new car or whiter whites? No, outreach isn’t the same as advertising!
That’s one thing that we are stressing in the New Meetings Project (NMP), a program of FGC. We are pleased to be able to support Friends who feel called to help establish and nurture vibrant Quaker communities. We know that many people are drawn to the Quaker way and want help to begin that journey. The NMP’s purpose is to provide the support and tools needed to make the Quaker way visible and accessible to all seekers interested in exploring Quaker spiritual practice. The role of the NMP is nurturing and supporting new worship groups and meetings in the United States and Canada. One of the ways we are doing that is creating sets of resources to help groups that are starting — including how to do outreach.
That’s because the role of outreach is not about advertising but is about sharing our spiritual search and insights with those who want to listen. It is showing love to others, and trying to be with them through their joys and sorrows. For Quakers, outreach is not about converting people, but rather about helping them understand what we value, do and how we seek to support each other in living our faith. Our role is to encourage, provide resources and help build the confidence of those who cross our life’s path. It is the corporate responsibility of Quakers to speak of our faith and learn how we work and worship together.
Therefore, outreach is the work that monthly meetings and worship groups do to reach the non-Quaker community. Outreach can include:
1. Letting the public know of a meeting’s presence: when and where it holds meeting for worship and other activities, how to find the building, and who to contact for more information. Being clear and open about how to find meetings for worship is welcoming, in and of itself. The unspoken message is an invitational one: “You are welcome among us, and we will benefit from your presence.”
2. Informing people about Quaker beliefs and practices: testimonies, who is welcome to meeting, and how we worship and function. We may hold back on speaking about these things for fear that we will be perceived as pushy proselytizers. However, there are folks in our neighborhoods, in our work places and in our communities who yearn to be welcomed into such a faith community. Sharing our Quaker testimonies and practices is a service to those in need of this kind of spiritual nurture.
3. Engaging interested members of the public in a deeper level of discussion of Quaker faith and practice. Community has always been a critical part of Quakerism.
Early Friends felt knitted together in the experience of gathered worship, and this sense of connection spilled over into all aspects of their lives. They worked, traveled, witnessed and suffered together, and they cared for each other’s families in times of need. They sought to recreate the intense spiritual fellowships of primitive Christianity. The word, Friend, was rich with meaning.
We cannot return to the days of early Friends, but we can respond to the deep hunger for community in today’s hectic, scattered world. Our meetings hold open precious time and space for individual reflection and spiritual growth. They also challenge us to become a gathered people, connected to each other, listening to each other and caring for each other. This, in and of itself, is outreach.
Brent Bill, a life-long Friend, author, and recorded minister, is the coordinator of FGC’s New Meetings Project. He’s a member of West Newton Friends Meeting in Western Yearly Meeting.