Individual Formation and Corporate Faithfulness

A question has been raised in some circles about how a program like Deeper Roots, which offers an opportunity in Quaker spiritual formation for individuals, relates to the spiritual health of the home meetings of its participants, and what effect the program might have on the public witness of participating individuals and their meeting communities.  These are fair questions.

To begin to answer them, we understand that the fundamental unit of our life as Friends is the meeting community, not the individual.  We are not called and equipped to hold and exercise all the spiritual gifts individually, but as a body or a sports team to hold and exercise the gifts and abilities necessary to do the work God has set out for us, as a collective.  In parallel fashion, we see the work God calls us to embody and carry out not to be demonstrations of personal holiness or sanctification, but rather to be incarnate colonies of the Kingdom God here amongst the kingdoms of the world in this present moment – witnessing to the universal potential of God’s blessing, that it is possible for every person and every part of creation to be living in Shalom, in Gospel Order, right now.  

This understanding causes us to view individual formation as an exercise in increasing the spiritual health and depth of the community rather than as an exercise in individual improvement.  One of the core areas of the program is Authentic Spiritual Community, in which we explore the characteristics of healthy faith communities and the practices which can help us improve the spiritual health and depth of our home meetings.  Returning to the sports team metaphor, our aim is not to produce a star player, but rather to help develop that person about whom it is said, “When she’s on the court she makes the whole team better.”  I want to help develop that person who not only has the ability to make the whole team better, but has the innate desire and commitment to do just that.

When our meetings include people like that, they become living testimony that it is possible to overcome the challenges and obstacles of living together in harmony with each other and with all the rest of Creation.  That witness, that testimony, can be a powerful encouragement to folks outside our meetings, and an invitation for them to try to live in like manner.  It also provides a context for discerning where we are particularly called, as a community of faith, to address our efforts to heal the world.  Finally, it provides sustenance and guidance as we engage in the life-long effort first to live harmlessly on the earth, and second to begin the work to heal its hurts and wounds.  As William Penn said, “True godliness don’t turn men out of the world, but enables them to live better in it and excites their endeavors to mend it.” 

(The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the apprentice authors, and not official statements of North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative) or Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) of the Religious Society of Friends.)





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