July 16, 2005

Continued reflections on the Gathering:
Exploring Quaker identity, Part I

This Quaker identity thing is hard to sum up.

I should have had my first clue when I was struggling so much with piecing together all the ideas and notes I had accumulated since the Gathering of 2004. Writing this and the concluding post(s?) are likely to be equally as hard.

Still, the workshop on Quaker identity at this year's Gathering in Blacksburg, VA seemed to have touched on a nerve. I'll break it down into what happened on each day (approximately), hoping that will help me share the exercises, insights, questions, and openings that I and others experienced during the week.

SUNDAY, July 3: Getting Ready

On Sunday, after a brief time for worship, I introduced myself to the 20 or so participants, which included one Friend who was born into a Quaker family. The rest of us were either convinced Friends, relatively new to Friends, or somewhere in-between. We were Friends from around the continent, though I don't recall any Friend from the western part of the U.S.; one Friend was from Canada. And we ran the gamut, too, in terms of age, from young adult Friends to at least two living in Quaker retirement centers.

I talked a bit about the very "experimental" nature of the workshop, in this case meaning that it was a topic I had not presented before and therefore we would all be learning together about what was working and what maybe needed some attention. I also explained that one Friend in particular was there to hold me and the group in prayer, and that that Friend's service, too, was part of an ongoing experiment in my own Quakerism.

No one bolted out of the room, so I guess folks were okay with all this.

I passed out blank index cards, read aloud the brief description of the workshop that was included in the advance Program, and asked them what one or two things from the description (or elsewhere) drew them to the workshop.
There is a difference between spiritual formation and spiritual formation of a Quaker identity. Through personal sharing we may alleviate some of our spiritual hunger, explore what builds identity, and experience some of what may contribute to a meaningful Quakerism. Presenter’s Quakerism is God-based; workshop draws on that orientation.
When I read through the cards later, a good number of Friends indicated that the words "yearning" and "deepening" had caught their attention. An equally large number of Friends indicated they were there because of the phrase "God-based." Two Friends were in the workshop, in part, because "Martin Kelley of the Quaker Ranter recommended it." (Talk about pressure!)

I talked about the flow of the week, explaining that while I had some of my own ideas and exercises in hand, I would mostly be taking my cues from the group in terms of how fast or slow to move along; how much time to engage in discussion; and so on. We closed with worship and were on our way.

MONDAY, July 4: Getting set

Monday was handouts day, after opening worship. I like preparing a packet of handouts that can be used almost like a self-study guide. I gave the group time just to leaf through the pages (no use talking while everyone wants to see what they've just been given), and then I said: "Turn to page 2, we're gonna do a little exercise."

I asked the group to consider their journey among Friends; to reflect on their experiences that seemed to shift their understanding of what Quakerism meant for them, and how their attitude toward themselves as Quakers shifted as well. I asked them to make a sort of "identity timeline," writing on one side of the line what the experiences were [going to Gathering; going to my first MfW for Business; serving on my first clearness committee, etc.], and writing on the other side of the line what the learning or "A-ha!" was.

Then I shared a definition and a model about identity development, and they broke into small groups to share how their timeline reflected these other pieces. Or at least I think that's what I asked them to do.
A dynamic process in which there are changes in awareness of oneself in relation to others and an expression of those changes. As we develop our identity, we experience changes in our attitude, beliefs, knowledge, behaviors, values, views toward others, views toward ourselves, etc.

ONE MODEL, based on stages* we go through:
  • Veiled, pre-encounter: ignorant that I have an identity [as a Quaker];

  • Unveiled, encounter: precipitating event or series of events provokes my self-examination [as a Quaker];

  • Conflict of allegiance: inner conflict usually following a sense of betrayal or disillusionment; often the conflict focuses on the question, "Where do I belong?";

  • Integration: new learning or understanding is integrated; greater investment in being a bridge between groups with different views [about Quakerism];

  • Sustainability: maintaining relationships among Friends; continued self-examination of my own Quakerism and of Quakerism in general.
  • *NOTE: This particular identity development model is adapted from the racial cultural identity development model as described in the 1990 version of Counseling the Culturally Different: Theory and Practice. Also, rather than linear as presented here, think of this model as circular, coiling up on itself with each new learning over time.

    Well, let me stop here for a while. I'll prepare another post with how we went from "Getting Ready" and" Getting Set" to "Go!" and then "Wait, Rewind!" and "Go Again!"



    Robin M. said...

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. Eagerly awaiting all of it...

    Joe G. said...

    I second Robin's "thank you's". Much appreciated.

    I also hope that you're laboring with summarizing the workshop for a series of posts will assist you in your reflections of "what worked" and "what didn't work" for future presentations (if thee is so lead to do so, of course).

    Take your time. We can wait to read more! :))

    Rob said...

    Hi Liz,

    I can't thank you enough for so faithfully reporting on your experiences from the workshop. I also appreciate the paradigm for thinking about our Quaker identity. I'm not sure where I fall (surely it changes), but I can say that I certainly relate to the conflict of allegiance stage. Perhaps I am most challenged by articulating my 'new' values as they are shaped by my experiences with God as a Friend. I often feel like I lack the words to describe the experience; other times, I'm not even sure what the experience was and struggle to understand it in my own mind.

    Let us contine to discover it together.

    Thank you again,