I recently told a friend, “I think somewhere within myself I’m becoming a Quaker.”
“You’re having an Aquakening!” he replied. “Lots of my friends are.”
Of course, I laughed. What a silly, wonderful, and apt term: An Aquakening. My friend is not a Quaker, and in actuality, neither am I. I also don’t have any tangible plans right now to become one, at least officially. It’s just that lots of my hopes for church these days are beginning to look a lot like the Religious Society of Friends.
I realized this months ago when I wrote down a list of things I dream about for church. I recognize that others may have a very different list or feel quite alive in church cultures different than what I might articulate. But here is one thing I dream about most of all —
In its faith convictions and its practices,
I want to participate in the life of a church community that values egalitarianism as a core, identity value.
Of course, egalitarianism —
a recognition of the worth of all, particularly, uplifting marginalized people;
an invitation for full participation and leadership;
and a practice of sharing power collectively —
is never lived perfectly in any community. Hardly. This is something that must be reflected upon, worked through, and course-corrected all the time. But I wonder, what would happen if egalitarianism were held as a core, identity value to the point that a church community would not really be itself apart from this perspective and practice. . .?
What might this look like? Well, here’s the list of wonderings I created a few months ago. I find myself desiring. . .
1) Highly participatory worship, where everybody has an opportunity to speak, with a conviction that it’s best when multiple people add their voices.
2) Egalitarianism as a high shared, community value and norm, rooted in faith and practice, as articulated above and below.
(An aside: In my own tradition, the Presbyterian Church (USA), this seems to be more of a method than a norm, i.e. we’ll practice this in some ways when we can. The PC(USA) actually has some of the best written language for sharing power — the Book of Order, one of our Constitutional documents, talks a great deal about that — but in practice, in a variety of ways, I don’t think we often do this well.)
3) Moving toward much less difference between clergy and laity, both in both role and perception, perhaps even being clergyless, i.e. I’d like to see more church communities organized in ways where agreed-upon group norms, procedures, and shared practices guide the collective, rather than a person, class of persons, or even a particular role.
This is not to diminish the value of people having strong, theological education. But I wonder, how do we more intentionally hold this education with and for the collective, as opposed to it being held primarily in a class? In actuality, I think this is often the case. And ultimately, I’m getting at this: How might we better empower the collective with theological education, so that more and more people have it, share it, and live from it together?
In my statement above, I also do not mean to diminish the reality that some will have particular gifts for leadership. Of course! This is to be celebrated. But again, how can that leadership be connected more deeply with and for the collective body, so that it compounds the egalitarianism? So that all people have particular ways of leading? What I intend to lift up is the particularity of leadership. What I intend to disrupt is the norm of hierarchy.
4) A conviction that church is always embodied as a community on behalf of a larger community, which is to say that the vision for church always exists on behalf of the neighborhood, town, city, and world to which it belongs. Without that connection, it ceases to be itself.
I dream of a church that is primarily building-less, where the concept of church means more and more, an embodied group of people who live and love alongside neighbors, rather than a place we go or don’t go to (“Do you go to church?” “I go to church.” “I don’t go to church.”) What if that understanding, conception, and framework could completely open up in a different, transformative way? Even if folks meet from time to time inside a building?
And the vision of community on behalf of a larger community always means that social action and justice alongside neighbors will be one primary reason for the church’s existence. If we want to follow Jesus, we have to walk in the way of Jesus. This means kinship with and among the marginalized, healing (both personal and collective), and the transformation of our connections — with God (who is Triune, and also a community) and one another, both in interpersonal relationships and society at large.
These things are on my mind all the time. When I wrote them down months ago, I looked and realized, “Oh, huh. . . The Quakers do all of these things.”
Maybe I need to learn more about that.