What would you make of this statement:
"We seek to help Friends engage in a continuing process of renewing and integrating their experiences of the historical, spiritual and theological foundations of Quakerism and our Quaker Testimonies as the basis for our practice, social witness and service."Would you think this is a vision statement crafted by a group of Quaker bloggers? or a minute that was approved by the Ministry & Counsel Committee of Friendly Monthly Meeting, U.S.A.?
It is a statement that comes from what I believe to be one of the Best Kept Secrets among unprogrammed Friends: the Long Term Plan of Friends General Conference.
Before I launch into my love for that particular document, I want to underscore a couple things.
- 1. Friends General Conference (FGC) is an organization that provides services and programs to Friends in Canada and the U.S., primarily to Friends (and their yearly and monthly meetings) who worship in the unprogrammed tradition (i.e. Liberal and Conservative Friends).
2. FGC is not intended to be an overarching organization that develops policy and procedures for its constituent affiliated meetings--though many Friends mistakenly put FGC in that role. FGC's history of providing services to unprogrammed Friends comes out of a confluence, of sorts, of concurrent conferences held at the turn of the 20th Century: First Day School associations; Friends' religious conferences; and a gathering for "philanthropic labor."
3. The policies and procedures that FGC develops, including its Long Term Plan (LTP), are intended to guide the FGC staff and governing body (Central Committee) with carrying out its responsibilities. Yearly meetings and monthly meetings remain responsible for their own decisions and for care of their own responsibilities (e.g. whether or not to marry same-sex couples).
Okay, back to what I really wanted to write about.
When it's printed on paper and shared with Friends, the Long Term Plan starts with FGC's Minute of Purpose. The online version includes a whopping six introductory paragraphs (yawn...).
MINUTE OF PURPOSESo how cool is that, that in the Long Term Plan, several key elements of our faith are right there, front and center! And as a newcomer to serving on FGC's Central Committee, when I read that Minute of Purpose, I knew I was in the right place!
(Approved by Central Committee, Tenth Month 21, 1995)
Friends General Conference is a Quaker organization in the unprogrammed tradition of the Religious Society of Friends which primarily serves affiliated yearly and monthly meetings. It is our experience that:
* Faith is based on direct experience of God.
* Our lives witness to this experience individually and corporately.
* By answering that of God in everyone, we build and sustain inclusive community.
Friends General Conference provides resources and opportunities that educate and invite members and attenders to experience, individually and corporately, God’s living presence, and to discern and follow God’s leadings. Friends General Conference reaches out to seekers and to other religious bodies inside and outside the Religious Society of Friends.
Beyond the opening Minute of Purpose, the LTP includes goals (4); objectives (19) to help us meet the goals; and action steps (half-a-squizzilion of 'em), all of which flesh out the Long Term Plan.
Now, in my six years of serving on FGC's Central Committee, I would say that Goal IV itself is lifted up a fair amount, probably because the language that it contains reflects some of the yummiest part of Friends' traditions and experience:
Goal IV:Of course, any Quaker who knows me knows that I have come under the weight of making our faith explicit ("articulating" it) and being intentional about modeling Quaker practice and Quaker tradition with integrity, authenticity, and spiritual groundedness as best we can, especially if we want to convey our faith to future generations.
Articulate, communicate and model core experiences, values and principles of Friends, such as the direct experience of God, the miracle of the gathered meeting, the meeting for worship for business, the balancing of individual leadings with corporate discernment, and the call to live and witness to our faith.
But THIS is what I'm really excited about, and I think FGC doesn't give enough attention to it:
Goal IV, Objective 3.
Help Friends engage in a continuing process of renewing and integrating their experiences of the historical, spiritual and theological foundations of Quakerism and our Quaker Testimonies as the basis for our practice, social witness and service. (emphasis mine)
Just how do we go about helping Friends "renew and integrate" the primitive Quakerism that is built upon certain "foundations"--foundations that have been undermined by pop culture, oppressive religious dogma, and a quietist form of our faith?
As I have been living with that question during the past three years or so, I have at last begun to see a few opportunities that could become part of the answer. Some of those opportunities have to do with the Quaker blogosphere and the Convergent conversation. Other opportunities have to do with waiting for an opening to speak with Friends in my local community, about our roots, our foundations, and the basis of Quaker theology.
Most recently, as I have invested more of my time and energy into helping prepare for FGC's 2007 Gathering in River Falls, Wisconsin, I have found that the Gathering Committee* is not necessarily connected to nor has any awareness or understanding of FGC's Long Term Plan. And I just find that to be a shame.
Thankfully, though, the FGC committee that guided Central Committee through the process of crafting and implementing a long term plan is still in place, and I've forwarded my concern onto them. The clerk of FGC's Committee for Discernment in Long Term Planning--fondly known as DiLTP--was grateful for my bringing it to her attention. (Doesn't everyone like to be let in on the secret?!)
P.S. Here's my formula for some of what constitutes FGC:
Quaker youth + books + online directory of meetings +
+ First Day School materials + a reprint of Lloyd Lee Wilson's
popular writings + week-long summer Gathering =
Friends General Conference
More specifically, here are some of FGC's most beloved and sought after services and programs.
Quaker Finder, for when you are on the road on business or vacation and want to find out what meetings are in the area where you are staying (FGC is including more and more Quaker churches on this service, too!)
QuakerBooks, formerly known plainly as "The Quaker bookstore." You can get ANY book you want (or CD or DVD or videotape) from QuakerBooks of FGC!
Traveling Ministries Program, for when your meeting wants to find a qualified, seasoned Friend to address a tender or difficult concern with which it has been holding or wrestling.
Quaker Youth Ministries, because young Quakers are not necessarily the future of Quakerism; they are right here, right now, the present of Quakerism.
FGC Gathering, also known to many Friends simply as "FGC," which drives Central Committee members crazy because of course FGC is "more than the Gathering..." I used to get a chuckle out of seeing banners at the Gathering that supported the misnomer. The banners used to read, "Welcome to FGC!" Now they've all been updated to read, "Welcome to the FGC Gathering!"