28 February 2019

Trustworthy, part two: a colony of heaven

 Most -- but not all -- of my small sample have experienced a trustworthy faith community. 
The sample size was small and self-selected, but it's clear that unhappy experiences are not unusual.

When I first put together the "trustworthy church" survey, I thought that stories of trustworthy and untrustworthy churches/meetings, and experiences of churches becoming more trustworthy, would be the most interesting answers. In fact, many of those accounts really were fascinating -- some were inspiring, and, as you can guess, some were just plain awful. In many cases, I realized that I already knew the situations in some of the stories, and that's making me very cautious about repeating them here, even with permission. We Friends need to grow our numbers if for no other reason than to increase anonymity!

The pleasant surprise in these surveys, however, were responders' wish lists of qualities they would like to see in a meeting or church. It should have been obvious to me that this category ("What qualities or features would be most important to include in any congregation you'd consider joining?") would often be the hard-earned result of the good and bad experiences already recounted by each person.

Here are some of those features -- similar answers combined....
  • Sincerity, openness, warmth -- among regulars and also with guests and visitors. (Maybe the most frequently repeated request.)
  • No hidden screens -- if you say you welcome everyone, that the good news is for everyone, then "everyone" includes all sexual orientations, social and economic classes, and the full variety of cultures, races, nationalities, abilities. Differences are acknowledged with candor and humor.
  • Unanxiously Christ-centered and biblically literate, ready to engage with people on the boundaries of our definitions, and beyond.
  • Grounded in Quaker teachings, aware of the varieties of global Quakerism.
  • Concerned with both faith and practice, including the practice of social justice.
  • Not in denial about evil, but not obsessed with sin, purity, certainty.
  • Hopeful, positive, but willing to have difficult conversations. 
  • Engaged with the surrounding community.
  • Clear, accessible paths to membership, with transparent explanations of the differences between regular attendance and membership, and the responsibilities of membership and leadership.
  • No gender differences in leadership or in the process of becoming leaders.
  • A culture that welcomes questions, encourages significant conversations, and encourages participation in worship and leadership.
  • The liberty to focus on things of transcendent importance rather than trivial distractions.
  • Able to deal with imperfect people, to weather conflicts arising from gossip and other inevitable crises and friction.
  • Encouraging and educating for spiritual growth, helping each person discover and use their spiritual gifts.
  • Small enough for genuine relationships, large enough to sustain programming that goes beyond just governing and maintaining the church.
  • Small groups.
  • Mutually accountable leadership that is willing to uphold the community's agreed standards and confront violators.
  • Concern for evangelism, both locally and globally.
Some phrases stood out to me so strongly that I was reluctant to combine them with other statements, even if they might be similar. Some examples:
  • A good church provides both comfort and challenge. A healthy church helps people learn how to be better together.
  • There are no qualities or features reflected in an outwardly visible church that would prompt me to join in membership.
  • A church's policies, presented on its front-facing website, in its bulletin, or on its signboard say a lot about what a congregation intends or how it thinks about its purpose and identity. But I can tell when I enter the sanctuary, from who's in the room and up on the platform, whether this is a church where I'm allowed to be myself.
  • Conflict is seen as an opportunity for growth rather than Satan's trash fire.
  • Women in leadership, affirming, focus on service of community, common faith in Jesus and reliance on scripture. [This was all one sentence, which in itself I found moving.]
  • Any urge to condemn or expel is a disqualifier in my view -- and there, again, I am not quite living up to the standard I am demanding.
  • God is Love, if love is not central in the congregation -- not for me!
  • A real commitment to listen until we all can plead anyone's case to their satisfaction. 
Finally, here is a book of Christian discipline, a Faith and Practice, all in one paragraph:

The primary feature would be a genuine knowledge of God and Christ. I'd want to see some effort had been given to studying Scripture and early Friends writings, additionally contemporary writers who have studied these original resources and written sensibly about their findings. I'd want to see good character, not only in major issues such as marital fidelity, but in minor day-to-day behaviors, such as not monopolizing conversations or podium time, etc. In short, I'd want to see some self-awareness and discipline counteracting the fallen nature's tendency to self-aggrandizement. I'd like to see a creative, personal approach to worship and socializing: the house church where each brings a psalm or prayer, and worshippers gather around a table to share and joyfully have a meal together sounds like an ideal. I'd like to see true friendliness and concern about one another's lives. I'd like to feel that the group was truly the body of Christ, a colony of heaven. I'd like to hear others minister the Word of God. (Don't think I've made such a wish list since I was six-years-old, and writing to Santa.)

Please let me know if you'd like to add to or challenge any of these responses. You might also recognize something that you contributed, but that got weakened by my combining it with other statements -- and that you'd like me to restore to your original language or urgency.

Part three of this series will look at some of those personal experiences reported in the survey, and what they might mean for our choices as we seek (or build) trustworthy congregations.

(Back to part one on the cost of betrayal.)

A question for any church conference: What would happen if the Holy Spirit did indeed fall upon us? (It's a question I've asked myself before several momentous Friends United Meeting triennials over the decades, and after one very over-controlled Friends pastors' conference.)

Mark Russ reports on a Woodbrooke gathering on diversity and inclusion -- including evangelism and "the heart of our dilemma as liberal Quakers."

Fred Clark on Benjamin Lay, an "unQuakerly Quaker" and the apostasy of slave-holding.
...[W]e sometimes describe people like Benjamin Lay as being “ahead of their time.” Which they of course weren’t, because no one can be. That odd phrase — “ahead of their time” — is sometimes meant as a compliment, but it is also sometimes employed to deny people like Lay the same gracious solicitude we’re eager to bestow on their contemporaries. We tend to be, in other words, more willing to forgive people like Edwards and Whitefield for being disgracefully wrong than we are to forgive people like Benjamin Lay for being defiantly right.
Mike Farley: Contemplation, like pain, is not a private enterprise.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty: a photo gallery, Boris Nemtsov, a life and death in pictures. (Here's a link to my related blog post, Boris Nemtsov 1959-2015.)

War resister to war resister: Rory Fanning's conversation with Hilel Garmi in Israel.

Delta Moon keeps their lamps trimmed and burning.

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