Monday, March 18, 2013

Crafting a Quaker Meeting Mission Statement

The past few days, my Meeting has been struggling with whether or not we should revise our Mission Statement. We saw no need to worry about it until a Facebook page was constructed on behalf of the entire gathering. Much of the commentary and debate thus far, to me, has been little more than hair-splitting and semantic. Some Friends think that this entire endeavor is nothing more than a waste of time. Part of me agrees with them. 

The current rendering is 83 years old and not gender-neutral.

The purpose of the Friends Meeting of Washington, D.C. is to foster simple spiritual worship and such activities in various fields of service as Friends may feel themselves called to undertake. As a help to these ends we purpose to maintain a place of worship where Friends and others who are like-minded may meet in religious fellowship and seek through a waiting worship the renewal of their spiritual lives and the quickening of their powers of service to the Divine Father and to their fellow men.

A proposed draft reads,

The Friends Meeting of Washington (FMW) is a Religious Society of Friends (Quaker) spiritual community that exists to foster worship and service. Our community includes and supports individuals seeking to learn about or live in accordance with Friends’ practices and beliefs. In this effort, FMW welcomes those seeking spiritual growth through silent worship, convenes knowledge-sharing and worship opportunities, maintains and shares a Meeting House, and sponsors many projects oriented toward peace, social justice and compassionate service to others. 

I must admit I cannot find much fault with either version. Both have their merits. My first inclination is to keep my distance from this entire process. Dodging this issue forever may not be possible. As clerk of Ministry & Worship, I know that this work will likely end up in my hands before all is said and done.

These are my primary concerns. I've served on Epistle Committees at conferences and gatherings and found a particular frustration in summarizing the views of Friends in one concise statement of purpose. I identify and work with activist groups who would find it antithetical to their very nature to try to take on a mission statement. Every group defines itself, to an extent, through language; some groups have much more stringent definitions of what and who they are.  

I am very aware, as a Friend pointed out, that we do a generally insufficient job of outreach to the outside world. We are not given the opportunity to define ourselves on our own terms when we fail to take control of the discourse. I'm glad to see that we are seeking to use social media to reach out to the Washington, DC, area. But as for my stance on this issue, I have to say that I am tempted to not fix the part that isn't broken.

It is curious that it took the construction of a Facebook page to call to light an issue that had never been a problem for decades. A new administrative secretary has been updating and revising documentation that has lain fallow for a long time. I'm glad we've undertaken this work, but I wonder about the idolatry of paperwork. Early Friends were often criticized for excessive amounts of publication, though in fairness, that was the nature of the time.

The Founding Fathers often sought to define the purpose, nature, and direction of our nation through essay wars and innumerable written tracts. The poison pen could and did wound its target. Character assassination by quill and ink was a preferred tactic for getting one's way and used with frequency. Did that amount of debate and scrutiny strengthen our Union? Conventional wisdom as understood today would resoundingly say yes.

This does not mean that I advocate venom in place of peaceful dialogue. My intention here, in this post, is merely to draw a contrast between a few important points in our history. I am for any effort that advances our common purpose, but in this context I would certainly not take on the role myself. The environment is always potentially combustible, especially for people so adamantly independent in nature.

I will say this. Whatever we write down must be backed up by our actions. My own leading as a Quaker has been informed by a fairly simple mission statement of my own. I do not wish to radically change the Religious Society of Friends, either by language or by action. I do, however, want us to be Faithful to what we say we are and what we say we do. Whatever mission statement the Meeting adopts ought to seek the same ends.

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