Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Next Chapters for Quakerism

Just a few months away from my 61st birthday, I’m aware of stiffness in my joints and how white is overtaking blonde in my hair.  I’ve noticed, too, how gray the heads are in my Quaker meeting, and I can’t help but worry about the future of this spiritual community.  

The latest issue of Friends Journal gives me hope, though, that there is new energy to write the next chapters for Quakerism.

In Coming Alive-Discerning the Next Chapter of Quaker Service, Christina Repoley writes of her journey to find a way “to live my Quaker faith.”  Despite her fire “to make a difference in the world” following graduation from Guilford College in 2002, she struggled—as many young, inexperienced people I know do—to find fulfilling work. She knew that earlier generations of Friends had found such support through workcamps organized by the American Friends Service Committee, but those no longer exist. While Christina discovered people in a  Catholic Worker Movement house in Philadelphia who shared her belief in the relationship between peace and justice work and faith, she still yearned for Quaker-based places to act on her desire to serve.  She noticed, too, that she wasn’t alone:  “I wondered why so many young people in my young adult age group were drifting away from the Quaker faith.”

Christina’s questions led her to conversations with Mennonite friends whose desire for faith-based, meaningful work had been met through Mennonite Voluntary Service (MVS) and Mennonite Central Committee (MCC).  Both programs offer young adults opportunities to live in community and to serve others and reminded Christina of the AFSC workcamps of the past and the Quaker Youth Pilgrimage she’d participated in as a teenager.

After ten years of listening—inwardly and to those who shared her vision—Christina found openings and help to establish a Quaker Voluntary Service (QVS) house in Atlanta.
In August 2012, QVS welcomed seven young adults for a year of living in intentional community and working with local peace and social justice organizations. A year later, QVS opened two more houses—one in Philadelphia and another in Portland, OR—and accepted twenty-one new Volunteers into the three-city QVS network.

Christina isn’t alone in her yearning to put faith into action, though, and those desires aren’t limited to young people. Gray-haired Lynn Newsom writes in Friends Journal as well about her own search in My Path to Quaker House. Thirty years after first volunteering at Quaker House, a Fayetteville, NC center that provides counseling and support to service members who are questioning the military, Lynn found herself back on the organization’s board as it searched for a new director.After contacting all the people she thought would be “perfect for the job,” she had a revelation about herself and her husband, Steve:

Suddenly it hit me. Steve and I could and should take on the position. I ran to the kitchen and announced to Steve, as he sat peacefully with his tea, that we would be perfect for the job. “What job?” he replied.

Lynn describes the many opportunities and openings she’s experienced since retiring (for a second time) as an art teacher and sharing the post at Quaker House with her husband. “There is no doubt in my mind that I was led and continue to be led on this path,” she writes.

The searches Christina and Lynn write about are examples of persisting to seek clarity about a leading and about remaining open to the ways Spirit works in our lives. Their stories suggest there are many   chapters in Quakerism yet to be written.

What are other ways Quakers can support young people who are drifting away from Quakerism?
How do you put your faith into action?
When have you felt led to action?


  1. One of the benefits of blogs is the opportunity for dialogue with readers. Sometimes readers respond to a post via e-mail rather than here. My longtime friend and spiritual mentor, Mickey Edgerton, often e-mails me thoughts that were prompted by posts; with her permission, I’ve re-printed her response to this one.

    "Thank you so much for this entry. I got to meet Christina Repoley last year when she came to Foulkeways to speak with a number of us about the Quaker Voluntary Service, accompanied by Ross Hennessey, the leader of the new Germantown QVS house. I got to go to the recent open house at the Germantown QVS house and meet those volunteers along with several of their support folks from the three Philadelphia Monthly Meetings. I am so thrilled by this new movement involving young adult Friends, the Holy Spirit is definitely moving among them. I see a very important aspect of their work as ministry to the Monthly Meetings whose members serve on their support committees. These young people are teaching the local Meetings HOW to give that Spiritual support. I have had a hard time in recent years deciding whether it even mattered if the Religious Society of Friends would survive. It seems to me that it can't survive if it is not making any or much difference in our troubled and ailing world. And, if so, it doesn't matter. These young folks have a vision that will, is already, making a difference, and thus may make our precious Society worth preserving. If the winds of the Spirit get our attention and galvanize us into responding, Quakerism can once again be a force for healing and prophetic leadership. I have hope again after many months of discouragement. Thanks for spreading the word.”

  2. Wherever readers comment, I appreciate knowing what they think about something I’ve written. Thank you, Mickey, for your “eyewitness account” of the hopeful work of QVS.