Thursday, September 6, 2012

Theaological diversity among Friends

In July, I co-led an interest group at FGC Gathering with John Hunter from NC.

Actually, it was two interest groups merged into one: "Theological Diversity Within Our Meetings," and "Every Quaker Has a Place in This Meeting."

The interest groups sub-committee had asked John and me if we would merge our proposed interest groups, since on the surface they seemed so similar.  John and I emailed with each other, spoke on the phone, and agreed; once at Gathering, we met, settled on how we'd facilitate the evening, and finalized our queries.  What we came up with was somewhat different than what either of us would have done on our own; I think it was an interesting compromise, and led to a richer experience for the folks who attended -- and certainly more so than if there had been two separate interest groups, because among other things, there was definitely a richer mix of Friends present than those who would have chosen to go to one of the interest groups over the other.

The two interest groups were:

Theological Diversity Within Our Meetings - A great Strength of Quakerism

We all "have a place in the choir" at our home meetings.  This is true even as we may hold different personal theological beliefs.  We will explore how unity in such diversity might be a great strength for Quakerism.  A presentation will be followed by small groups where we each may explore our own theological assumptions and how we are included in our meetings and in the wider body of Friends.

Every Quaker Has a Place in This Meeting
Three Friends walk into Meeting for Worship: a Christian, a Pagan, a Jew, a Buddhist, a Non-Theist.  Each gives vocal ministry from their own experience; all experience gathered worship.  Come create the rest of the story: coming together, supporting each other, building community, helping each other sing in our own unique voices, singing in harmony. 

(They do ask you, when you put in a proposal, to consider the Gathering theme...)

58 people attended -- the room was certainly full!

We opened with silent worship.  John and I introduced ourselves, talked about what we planned to do with our evening (hour and 45 minutes), asked those present to introduce themselves -- your name, where you're from and where you attend Meeting, if you do; one word describing how you feel right now; one word describing what drew you to this interest group. 

John and I each gave our presentations, and then we divided the room up into small groups, handing out slips of paper with guidelines for Claremont Dialogues (similar to worship-sharing, but with some differences) and with the queries/prompts for the dialogues. 

The small groups seemed energized, respectful, and enthusiastic.  I very much liked the feel of the energy among them.

The small groups didn't all "feel" the same to me -- many of them seemed to develop their own short-term sense of group identity.  Some were quieter in their listening; some more boisterous, as folks' answers sparked resonating or sympathetic laughter from others in the group; some intensely talkative.  At least one was quiet and intense during the dialogue rounds, finished early, and then took the rest of the time for what seemed to be deep and enthusiastic conversation. Each group really did seem to have its own little bubble of energy and space around it, as cramped as the room was. 

(I confess I was vastly entertained by the myriad ways timekeepers in each group chose to undertake their tasks: everything appeared from watches, to people watching the wall clock, to smartphone apps going "Ding!" every few minutes and prompting more laughter.) 

Towards the end, we brought the group back together for large-group discussion to talk about what we learned -- any surprises, etc? 

There was a marvelous sunset out the wide windows of the room we were in, which someone pointed out, and we took a moment to open all the shades and admire it. 

We ended with silent worship. 

A number of people stayed for more conversation; some left for other commitments; some stayed for a bit then headed out for other commitments.

I felt blessed.

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Would you like me to facilitate a similar workshop in your Meeting, Coven, Church, Circle, or other spiritual group?  Contact me at stasa dot website at gmail dot com. 

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1 comment:

Morgan said...

Here's the info John supplied about Claremont Dialogues:

'Claremont Dialogue:

'A topical listening process developed at the Claremont Friends Meeting in the 1960s and widely utilized by Friends since.

'It is very similar to Worship Sharing, but differs in that it is a bit more specific about the set expectations for speaking and therefore a little less susceptible to abuse by some Friends who are unaware of their tendency to dominate conversations.

'A facilitator is chosen for each group and keeps time. Out of some brief silence, each person in the group has the opportunity to speak to the posed question or topic, but no one is required to do so. No one should make a direct response to another's comments. In each round, all group members must speak or “pass” before proceeding to the next round. The facilitator will help each person to limit their comments to about 2 or 3 minutes to each prompt. Only after all “rounds” are completed, may gentle questioning and more interactive conversation begin, if time permits. Since sharing may be deep and personal, it is acknowledged that information shared should be treated with tenderness and with measured confidentiality outside of the group.'