Sunday, March 16, 2008

Christ-centered worship group

I've come home this evening feeling energized and elated about the new Christ-centered Quaker worship group. Attendance is growing: Ten of us met Sunday evening in Baltimore, a jump from the four who worshiped together at the first meeting in December. Our group is a mix of young and older, surburbanite and urbanite, male and female, black and white, gay and straight, married and single. People seem to be brimming with grassroots excitement and the sense of being part of a bigger movement that is bubbling up in our culture with Christ at its center.

Kevin led us in singing Shaker songs and Rachel, with her guitar, introduced us to two songs by emerging church leader Brian McLaren. One lovely McLaren song spoke of how we are Jesus's hands and eyes in the world, and as such should be kind. It was such a simple heart message that I was almost moved to tears. The Shaker music, with its simplicity and stress on humbleness, was also perfect.

Rachel learned her songs at Brian's "Everything Must Change" DeepShift conference in Vienna, Va. last week. We had silent worship between the singing, shared joys and concerns, and discussed ties between the emerging church and Quakerism. We noted the synergy and affinity between Christ-centered Quakers and the emerging church. Both hunger to "possess what they profess," (orthopraxy), to live in simplicity, and to shed the nonessentials to get to the core of what it means to follow Jesus. And as a sign of the "way opening," the pastor of the Metropolitan Church near Kevin's house has offered us free use of his building should we need it. We are also talking about expanding to meeting twice a month.

What I like best about the group has been experiencing the intense sweetness--or to use the Quaker term, tenderness--of the worship. I felt I was not "sitting in silence" on Sunday but in the palpable midst of Christ's presence. I was worshiping God with my whole heart, soul and mind. The sense of love's surround brought me to a place of gratitude and joy.

I also am feeling hope. Homewood Meeting appears to be supporting rather than suspecting Kevin in his leading to start this group. While Christ-centered Quakers (including me) still speak of feeling the sting of some Quakers' hostility to Christianity, and of a tendency to stereotype all Christians as fundamentalists, our group shows little or no paranoia about being attacked for gathering together. I may be overly optimistic, but I am praying that more and more individuals are discovering the growing swell of Christians who are gentle, caring and loving people trying to form a new kind of Christian identity.

1 comment:

Bill Samuel said...

I'm glad the group in Baltimore is so spiritually rich for you. May it continue to be a place where people allow Christ to speak to them without trying to rigidly impose forms through which Christ is asked to work.

There seem to be fellowships that draw both from the heritage of Quakerism and from the emerging conversation springing up around the country. I have stumbled across two fellowships that describe themselves as emerging Quaker churches in NC, there is a new group in MN, a group has been started in IN, and I'm sure there are others. Several established Friends churches, particularly in NW Yearly Meeting, are moving in this direction.

You and I, Diane, tried to do something like this years ago, long before the term Convergent Friends was coined (and in the early days of Friends in Christ, before the term Emerging Church was coined). Apparently our effort was premature in that it wasn't quite the time yet for an ongoing worship group of this nature to be established. But I believe such precursors are part of the process of something new being birthed. And of course we did successfully initiate two Bible study groups that have continued for 7 and 5 years.

There is a Convergent Friends gathering in April in Indiana, in connection with the FWCC Section meeting, and Rachel Stacy of your Baltimore group is keynoting. Hopefully that will be a time for networking among those already interested and sparking interest in others.

It is good Homewood (where I was once a member)is supportive rather than dismissive of the Baltimore group. But I wonder is that is part of the interest group network approach which has spread among Friends as well as other denominations. So you may have a Buddhist group, a Course in Miracles group, a Wiccan group, a Christian group, etc., and it's not too clear what is held in common.

I've been very interested in the direction Cedar Ridge Community Church has taken of explicitly rejecting the interest group model, and having all activities focus around the mission and vision that as a community we forged together. Of course, there were a few (maybe even more than a few) who didn't really buy into this, and we have lost some people. But I think there is a richness to the community growing together around the common mission and vision, which most seem to be taking very seriously. Amidst the turmoil of a leadership transition and forging a new sense of direction, Cedar Ridge is a little smaller numerically but I think stronger and with a brighter future than before.

And Cedar Ridge is a good case study in how a faith community of some size can focus in without rigidity and with a great deal of freedom for folks to grow. I think many Friends and others feel moving from the interest group model to a common focus means dogmatism and cutting off creativity and freedom in the Spirit, but I believe Cedar Ridge is proving that this does not need to be the case.