I started seeking a faith community when I was ten years old. I knew exactly what I was looking for. I knew because I knew God; I knew God as a loving being who was beyond requiring specific ceremonies, who spoke to all His children directly, and who grieved when He saw any of His children in pain. (I was also pretty sure that God wasn’t literally male, but it helped me to think of Him with a gender, and I didn’t think He’d mind.)
It took me seventeen years to find Quakers.
It wasn’t that I didn’t know Quakers existed. It’s just that I thought they were something like the Amish. Quakers aren’t out there in theological circles—or, for that matter, in popular culture. We’re out there in the peace activism world, but I wasn’t a peace activist, so I didn’t find us. I can remember many times, especially once I’d graduated from college and become a full-fledged adult, when I wept because I was convinced that I would never find my faith community, that I would simply be alone in my journey with God.
When I finally did come to Quakers, it was a matter of desperation. I’d tried everything else! So even if Quakers did turn out to be Amish, what did I have to lose?
The first meeting I went to was entirely silent, which frankly annoyed me because I didn’t know anything more after the first meeting than I did before it. In the second meeting, someone stood up and quoted George Fox: “There is that of God in everyone.” And that was it. I knew I was home.
In time, what started as overwhelming gratitude (I’ve found you!) turned into serious anger (Where the heck have you been?) and, now, hope (We can do better. We can make sure nobody else ever has to search for us for seventeen years.)
Now, here’s the thing about outreach:
It is everybody’s job.
That’s the kind of statement that always gets some resistance, mostly because we recognize as Friends that we all have different gifts and that not all of us all called to the same things. And this is most certainly true. But outreach isn’t about a single thing. When we try to pull it out—make it the work of a particular committee or define it as a short list of tasks—we end up talking about a small piece of outreach but not actually the entire picture.
Let’s see what happens if turn the question inside out, so it’s not “How do we do outreach?” but instead, “What is the path of the seeker?” What has to happen for the seeker in order to get from person looking for a faith community to integrated member of a Quaker meeting with a strong sense of belonging and purpose?
I think there are six basic steps:
1) I know that Quakers exist.
2) I have found a Quaker meeting in my area.
3) I have decided to visit the meeting.
4) I have visited the meeting and have decided to come back.
5) I have developed a sense of belonging in the first few months of attending.
6) I am experiencing long-term spiritual nurture, and I’m providing this nurture to others as well.
Now the questions for Friends become:
1) How can we make sure that seekers know Quakers exist?
2) How can we help seekers find our local Quaker meeting?
3) How can we make it easy for seekers to decide to visit the meeting?
4) How can we make sure that the first visit helps seekers decide to come back?
5) How can we help new attenders to develop a sense of belonging?
6) How can we provide long-term spiritual nurture to all of our members/attenders and create opportunities for each Friend to provide that long-term spiritual nurture to others?
This is why outreach is everybody’s job. All of us have gifts directly related to at least one of those six steps.
Can you immediately see where your own gifts are in this sequence?
Does it raise up other thoughts or questions?