This week I’ve been having a heavy Web crush on the Conservative Quakers — more details later — and it will have to suffice for now to say that this is the smallest branch of the Religious Society of Friends will continue to hold my interest.
They have no national body (and don’t seem to be pining for one) but are made up of yearly meetings (in the United States, regional bodies) in Iowa, Ohio and North Carolina with affiliated monthly meetings (congregations) in other states, Scotland and Greece. Individual Conservatives may be found in other yearly meetings, particularly New England and Canada. But there’s no getting around they’re the smallest bunch of a small branch of Christ’s church. While there’s evidence of renewed spiritual fruitbearing and a more deliberate public witness, I suspect that if you found every Conservative Quaker in the world, there would be a scant two thousand.
A word about how Quakers organize new communities. It seems a not-unfamiliar way to organize is to begin with a Worship Group, which does what it means, with a silent, patient leading of Jesus Christ, making utterance when given. A Worship Group may become a Preparatory Meeting, under care of a Monthly Meeting of which members the Preparatory Meeting are. This is not unlike a dependent branch or remote chapel in other systems. The Preparatory Meeting may or may not become a Monthly Meeting.
I attended worship for some time with some liberal Friends General Conference Friends in a then-Preparatory Meeting when I was at college in Georgia: there I began to appreciate the Quakers and realized I wasn’t one of them. That same yearly meeting also has worship groups, some as a small as two worshipers. Which makes sense: Jesus promised he would be in the midst of them when two or three came together in his name, not when some administrative quotient was met.
In some circles, including among some Unitarian Universalists I know, there is a earnest desire for a simple church. A church reduced to its essentials and thereby granting the greatest opportunity, risk and immediacy to its members. Worship Groups, “in the manner of Friends” or not, would be a good place to start, but how.
The Ohio Yearly Meeting (Conservative) has a suggestion, and I was touched by its graciousnes. It advises, in essence, do it, even if you don’t join us, which speaks well of them.