Even a simple church could use a how-to

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.

A visually attractive version of the advice may be seen at the unofficial Conservative Quaker site and a plainer version (that more of the “manner of Friends” right?) at the official OYM (C) site.

By Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.


  1. Yeah, a simple church, reduced to its essentials, it sounds good to me too. But. In the Quaker version, it’s not as simple as it appears on the surface. In the Quaker version, there is first of all the Discipline of the Yearly Meeting to be attended to, and the Queries that the Yearly Meeting sends out. You should probably have read George Fox, and works by other weighty Friends. You have to be willing to subject yourself to the discipline of Clearness Committees and elders, you have to know how to sit in silent expectation, you have to learn how to do consensus. And there’s more to know besides.

    It has always seemed to me that doing church simply means pouring far more personal effort, time, and self-discipline into it than if you do conventional church. And maybe that’s what’s holding lots of us back from really doing simple church….

  2. I imagine the word “conservative” here would confuse many people, and some might think it refers to political conservatism. The conservative friends are actually the theological moderates in Quakerism, I think. Is that correct?

    I also feel a lot of affinity with the Friends, while realizing that I’m not one of them. I think I’ve met a few conservative friends, and also visited a group of strongly Evangelical Friends in NYC in the 70s.

    Well, back to the task of trying to connect with Unitarians and/or Universalists who have not given up on or forgotten God and/or universal salvation.


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