Where two or three gather, there's a worship group

I’ve been studying the Quakers more than usual lately. Not just the Friends General Conference — the main fellowship for liberal Quakers, including many who aren’t necessarily Christian — but others, including the Holiness pastoral Quakers, and the Conservatives, with whom I would likely be most at home, should I ever go to the Friends. (No plans, though.) They’re a interesting continuum, and I suspect offer many lessons both personally and for the institutions I care about.

A friend — not a Quaker — pointed out QuakerMaps.com as a resource for finding Quakers in North America and Europe, and its a good ministry worthy of emulation. And one with an actual funding model. (Perhaps not by a U.S. Unitarian Universalist, who are almost entirely in a single fellowship in the UUA; thus causing a duplication of effort.)

But before I saw that site, I downloaded a PDF of the world map of Quakers, by the Friends World Committee for Consultation. Take a look.

The thing that touched me was the implied seriousness with with Jesus’ promise that  “where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:20) The lone worship group in Croatia has (or had) two members. Also in Lithuania. The one in Greece has three; Estonia’s lone group has four. Denmark Yearly Meeting, in essence a national body, has 29 souls meeting in three different places. And I wonder how many more tiny groups are hidden in the statistics of relatively larger groups.

Which isn’t a romantic impulse to tininess. Perhaps members of these little groups are frustrated by their small numbers. Or not. And it must be more work per capita to keep small meetings going, though it isn’t like faith is a wholesale business. And while some may be dwindling, legacy groups, I gather that others are much newer.

I could go back and forth like this all day, so suffice it to say that there’s a recognized place in the Friends environment for the smallest gatherings — even those that have no settled space and meet far less frequently than weekly. (“By arrangement” seems to be the mode of choice in some European countries.)

Recognition and respect — that’s worthy of emulation, too.

With this post, I open the category Quakers.

4 Replies to “Where two or three gather, there's a worship group”

  1. I’ve spent some time with the Friends — I’ve worshipped with one of those tiny meetings (5 members), and was quite friendly with another one (6 members) near one of the UU congregations I served. I’m afraid those two tiny meetings were in fact frustrated by their small numbers — they were very concerned about dying out, and felt it was a lot of work to keep going with so few people.

    And speaking as someone who once worked for Church of the Larger Fellowship, and once served on CLF’s board, I think it is important to remember that there is a place for the tiniest of UU congregations — those tiny congregations can find a home in CLF. This is not unlike the arrangement some Friends meetings have, where a given monthly meeting may be responsible for more than one meeting or worship group; e.g., Dartmouth, Mass., monthly meeting is responsible for two meetings, one programmed, and one unprogrammed and seasonal. CLF provides excellent care and support for tiny UU groups around the world; CLF is a recognized place for the smallest of UU gatherings. Anyway.

    As you do, I too feel quite friendly towards the Friends. Not only did I attend a Quaker college; not only is one of my dearest friends a Friend; not only do I value the testimony of Friends on peace, on simplicity, on integrity; but I really like what some Friends have to say about theology. A good deal of my personal theology is informed by the thinking of such Friends as George Fox, Rufus Jones, and Douglas Steere.

    On the other hand, the actual workings of consensus drive me batty; I’ve never taken to the connectional polity of the Friends; and what Friends call “eldering” doesn’t work for me. As close to them as I feel, it’s pretty clear to me that I could never be a Friend.

  2. I agree or resonate with much of what you say, Dan, except about the CLF. Some small congregations may use the resources — and I’ve heard of “church in a box” for decades — but I found, as a Christian, the CLF newsletter so depressing that I asked to have my unsolicited ministerial subscription terminated. I certainly wouldn’t recommend the CLF to a small Christian church, and those are the ones I know best.

  3. Scott — The newsletter hasn’t been thrilling in the last few years, true. But what I heard back from CLFers during my time there was how much it meant for isolated religious liberals, from across the theological spectrum, to be connected with such an institution. I’m sure there are many tiny Friends worship groups who don’t have much in common theologically with the monthly or quarterly meeting that oversees them, but it’s that identification with a sympathetic religious community.

    Also, it’s different for you — living in the DC area, you are relatively close to lots of UU options. But I was corresponding with religious liberals in Zimbabwe, Russia, on a navy ship at an secret location, etc. — people who held on to CLF as if it were a lifeline, and it didn’t matter so much what the newsletter looked like.

  4. Many Unitarian Universalist congregations in D.C., and still nothing I would want to attend. (Almost all are so far from transit they might as well be on a submarine.) And the problem with Quest was content and direction, not appearance or tone. For that, I hold on to the Savior of All Fellowship newsletter, which is as thin and homespun — and small, but rich — as anything. I’ve written about it a couple of times.

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