Quaker Life editorial and Los Angeles Times article

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Johan Maurer

Feb 17, 2013, 11:17:10 AM2/17/13
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November 17 2003 at 5:01 AM Johan  (no login)
We Need To Talk! (Commitments, January-February 1999)
By Johan Maurer

I am excited about the challenge of Bruce Bishop's "Salt and Light" column in this issue of Quaker Life (page 10). To me, the question of what God expects uniquely from Friends deserves wide consideration among all of us. It will be one of the questions raised at the upcoming Triennial sessions of Friends United Meeting, but we don't need to gather at one big conference to give this question high-quality attention; we can raise it in our local and yearly meetings and exchange our experiences here in the magazine and elsewhere. Would you be willing to raise this question among those you know who care about the future of Friends?

There is one specific aspect of the question of Friends' part in the purposes of God which merits some special attention ­ and that is the character of Friends evangelism. For years I've heard Friends disagree on the nature of evangelism, the role of Friends' distinctives (peace, equality, simplicity, decisionmaking by prayer-based corporate discernment), the importance of racial and economic inclusiveness vs. the effectiveness of homogenous church growth, and so on. I have even overheard Friends belittling each other's viewpoints behind each other's backs. But I have rarely if ever heard these differing viewpoints aired openly by their advocates in each other's presence.

Many of these issues gained new visibility about a year and a half ago, when the Los Angeles Times published an article about growth among Southwest Yearly Meeting Friends in suburban L.A. Entitled "A Glitzy Spin to a Gentle Faith," the article implied that Yorba Linda Friends and others like them had abandoned classic Quaker faith and practice in favor of rock music, glossy promotion and blatant appeals to affluent individualism. [See article below.]

In the weeks following its publication, the article was widely discussed among Friends in Internet discussion groups. Some Friends accused Yorba Linda Friends Church of abandoning Friends altogether and selling out to generic evangelicalism; others pointed out that new people were being drawn to Christ and were in fact being introduced to Quaker faith and practice in small groups and by the examples of leaders in the church. They made the important point that most of Yorba Linda's critics had never visited the meeting. Such exchanges are just what we need; we just need to have them in places other than the Internet, and with many more Friends.

Some of us feel strongly that our Friends testimonies have an important evangelistic role to play. As we work publicly for peace, demonstrate equality in our dealings with each other and the world, and make public choices to live more simply, we point to the Savior with our words and deeds. Others say that Friends' testimonies have become stylized and antiquarian in their expression, and only serve to repel newcomers. These Friends may not disagree with the testimonies themselves but would say that they are discipleship issues; conversion comes first, and then the Friends distinctives should be made part of the discipling process in small groups and classes.

What if both groups are right? What if the "results" depend on the passion and conviction of the individuals working in their own specific settings, their spiritual gifts, and their faithfulness in practice, rather than the merits of the theories? Will we ever know unless we (all of us who care about evangelism) come together and compare notes on our experience, and pray together for vision and a respectful division of labor? Please let me know if you would be interested in such a consultation. We can meet at the FUM Triennial sessions to plan next steps.

http://www.fum.org/QL/issues/9901/commit.htm [QL archives are disabled and, when they reappear, will be at a different address]

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Re: Quaker Life editorial, January/February 1999 December 8 2003, 1:34 AM 

"A Glitzy Spin to a Gentle Faith; Evangelical Quaker congregations in the Southland, taking cues from megachurches, are playing down silent worship and turning to flashy services. The trend is paying off."

ESTHER SCHRADER. The Los Angeles Times. (Record edition).Los Angeles, Calif.: Aug 17, 1997. pg. 1 
Full Text (3011 words) 
Copyright, The Times Mirror Company; Los Angeles Times 1997 all Rights reserved)

It is another rocking Sunday at one of Southern California's fast-growing evangelical churches.

The squeal of electric guitars calls the faithful to prayer. The ballplayer-turned-pastor hugs thousands of people streaming off shuttle buses from distant parking lots. In the lobby stands the model of a planned multimillion-dollar sanctuary as big as the Crystal Cathedral.

As a microphone-waving singer at the altar of the Yorba Linda church sways to a tune titled "My Life in You, Lord," collection plates fill with checks. A well-dressed couple rushes from their Mercedes to slip into a back pew.

These are today's Quakers--nouveau California-style.

In this city founded and shaped by the faith built on austerity, silent devotion and religious independence, three congregations of the Society of Friends--popularly known as Quakers--are at the vanguard of a breakaway movement to blend one of America's most fiercely individualistic religions into the evangelical Christian mainstream.

Led by the Yorba Linda churches, the largest community of Friends in the country, dozens of congregations across Southern California and the rest of the West have broken with their faith's roots.

Taking their cue from the region's vast megachurches, they are drawing new members with golf trips and cruises, World Wide Web sites, baptisms on beaches and Quaker rock CDs.

The transformation is as much about substance as style. While embracing Quaker history as their own, the evangelical Friends churches have dropped the faith's pacifist convictions and the philosophy that silent worship leads to godliness. Instead, they preach a Bible-thumping revivalism at odds with traditional Quaker ways.

It is a stunning change for the heirs to a religion whose faithful were persecuted in England and the United States for rejecting church ceremony, and for their devotion to a simple way of life.

With their plain dress and "thees" and "thys" setting them off from their neighbors, Quakers helped create the conscience of a young America. They were early advocates of prison reform and of abolishing slavery. William Penn and other Quakers reached out to Native Americans. Hundreds of Quakers in England and America died as martyrs for their beliefs.

"The worship services are very noisy compared to the old Quaker meetings, but that is where the culture that surrounds us has come," said Gayle Beebe, a former pastor at Rose Drive Friends Church in Yorba Linda and a professor of pastoral theology at Quaker-founded Azusa Pacific University.

"Really, church is just a heck of a lot of fun to go to."

Traditional Quakers view the transformed churches with dismay, torn between their faith's historic tolerance of difference and their growing conviction that the spinoff churches are no longer Friends at all.

"I'm willing to let them do whatever they want. I don't care if they have electric guitars and drums. But they have to let the Holy Spirit get a word in edgewise," said Johan Maurer, general secretary of Friends United Meeting, the Quaker umbrella group that most Friends churches in California have left.

"It's all men with microphones instead of the more reflective moment," Maurer said of the new-style Quaker churches. "I worry a little bit that these congregations are practicing a wholesale repudiation of tradition."

While even traditional Quaker services and congregations today span a wide spectrum of practices and beliefs, most are still small--averaging fewer than 100 people--and emphasize extended periods of silent worship.

There has been an evangelical strain of the Quaker faith for more than a century, and many Friends churches in California have long practiced that form of the religion.

Discarding the traditional Quaker emphasis on analysis and interpretation of the Bible as a text written by people over the ages, many of the evangelical Friends churches embraced instead the fundamentalist Christian belief in the Bible as the absolute word of God.

Radical Changes Began a Decade Ago

But the radical transformation of the more than 20 Los Angeles-area evangelical Friends churches began about a decade ago, when church officials, faced with stagnant or declining memberships, began looking for ways to appeal to more people.

The movement was led by the massive Yorba Linda Friends Church and the two other Friends churches it has spawned in the city, according to officials at Friends Church Southwest Yearly Meeting, an association of evangelical Friends churches.

The Yorba Linda churches, for example, offer occasional baptism and communion services, which are not part of conventional Quakerism.

Along with the changes in beliefs, the evangelical churches also began to pull further away politically from the traditional Quaker fold. Today, most align themselves strongly with political conservatives, preaching against abortion and homosexuality. Most traditional Friends congregations do not.

By 1993, the differences between the growing churches and traditional Quaker meetings had become so vast that the 43 Quaker congregations in California and Nevada that are members of Southwest Yearly Meeting broke away from Friends United Meeting, the world's largest umbrella Quaker organization.

One congregation requested a continuing relationship with the larger group, which set up a mechanism for that. The church later left the yearly meeting.

Southwest Yearly Meeting officials and members defend their break with tradition, saying the raucous evangelism of the new Quaker churches is true to the spirit of the religion's first years, when Quakers preached on street corners in London and zealously sought converts.

"Our churches have taken the best of the heritage and modified it," said Don Worden, director of development at Friends Church Southwest Yearly Meeting. "For some reason, God seems to be blessing their efforts, and people are responding."

At Granada Heights Friends Church in La Mirada, one of the breakaway congregations, the Quaker tradition of praying in silence for extended periods has been largely left behind. Sunday attendance has grown over the last five years from about 700 on average to more than 1,200.

"Learning to worship in silence is something that is more difficult for us in this day and age than it was a generation or two ago," said Ed White, interim pastor at the church in the southeast Los Angeles County city.

"Have you driven the freeways recently?" he said. "Do you note that everyplace you go people are trying to move faster and farther? Silence, stopping, are not part of our culture, unfortunately."

By the measure of numbers, the new-style Friends churches are revitalizing the religion. While attendance at traditional Quaker churches is shrinking, the evangelical churches are drawing tens of thousands of new members raised in other Christian faiths.

Evangelical Group Sees Numbers Grow

Since 1988, congregations in the main evangelical Friends organization have grown by more than 20% a year, to about 40,000 today, according to the Friends World Committee for Consultation, an international association of Quakers. Meanwhile, membership in the three other Friends communities in the United States is down, from 86,000 in 1988 to below 80,000 today, the organization estimates.

Few of the newcomers to the churches come seeking Quaker traditions, pastors and members of the evangelical churches acknowledge. Even fewer embrace Quaker pacifism, modesty and de-emphasis of worldly goods. To these converts--primarily young, affluent couples deserting other evangelical Christian denominations--the new churches offer a hybrid of the evangelism they grew up with and the warmth and focus on Scripture of the Quaker faith.

Friends churches have learned from their competitors, the megachurches, how to draw new members. They offer convenience, accessibility and a modern menu of programs--child care, singles clubs and private schools among them.

"I haven't even heard about any of this Quaker stuff, the Friends, whatever you call it," said Michael Coelho, 25, leaving the Yorba Linda Friends Church after a worship service on a recent Sunday. The young businessman joined with his wife this spring.

"We were just looking for a Christian church, just a place to call home. They have great stuff here. We just joined the {the church's} Honeymooners Club."

The more than 300,000 Quakers in 60 countries today have come a long way from the religion's beginnings 350 years ago, when the faithful worshiped in silence, without pastors or other spiritual leaders, dressed in plain clothes, and sought to live apart from society.

Like many religions today, Friends have orthodox, moderate and liberal branches. And centuries of Quaker missionary activity in Africa have had their effect. Today, the more than 5,500 Quakers who worship in Yorba Linda are eclipsed in only one city--Nairobi, Kenya.

But nowhere else have Quakers transformed themselves as they have in Southern California.

"Whenever any religion gets to California, it seems to present itself in a kind of generic, market-variety way, and something is lost," said Harvey Cox, a professor of divinity at Harvard University and a Quaker by birth, who is a leading authority on trends in Christian evangelism.

"Personally, I regret seeing the Quakers blending in. They had a certain dignity. They had a very strong belief that there is God in every person, and they were strongly against the hierarchy and pomp and circumstance and rituals these churches practice. These churches are growing, but into what? It does cut off their distinctive voice. And that's really a shame."

When Frank and Hannah Nixon and other Quakers founded Yorba Linda Friends Church 85 years ago this month, they helped mold the then-isolated farming community in the pious Quaker image.

Moving from Whittier, the first Friends community in California, Quakers built prosperous farms in Yorba Linda. When the city grew, the Quakers worked to keep it quiet and family-oriented.

In 1937, when the town had only one liquor license to grant under law, Yorba Linda Friends Church bought it and burned it. The ploy kept Yorba Linda dry for decades.

Streets and libraries were named after Friends families. Cinemas were discouraged by Quakers who shunned movies and other forms of entertainment. Even today, the city has no movie theaters. The city's biggest attraction is the library dedicated to Richard Nixon, Yorba Linda's most famous Quaker son.

But in 1986 the church at the center of Quaker life in Yorba Linda changed gears, in part, church officials said, to draw new members. Church officials appointed as pastor John Werhas, a former infielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers with no Quaker background.

Church elders dropped the traditional "Meeting" from the church's official name. A rock band specializing in evangelical "praise music" became a regular part of services. Exhortations to convert more people became central.

Today, lyrics to hymns are projected on giant screens behind the pulpit. In a break with the Quaker tradition of governing by the consensus of an entire congregation, a church executive board makes final decisions on business matters. Church officials say no more than 3% of people who regularly attend services at the church are Quakers by birth.

"I look at our church as a place where people have fallen deeply in love with Jesus Christ," Werhas said. "We're definitely a Friends church, and we fall under that leadership, but other than that I don't look at our church as a denomination."

Planned Sanctuary to Rival Cathedral

With attendance on an average weekend up from about 250 in 1985 to more than 3,500 today, the church is building a 2,800-seat sanctuary, the same size as the Rev. Robert Schuller's Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove. Next door, church officials plan a giant parking lot where 10 single-family homes had been.

Church officials plan to leave the current 750-seat meeting hall standing and pipe in services to overflow crowds on video monitors.

The two other Friends churches in town, also evangelical, are growing fast too. Rose Drive Friends Church drew about 1,100 people on Sundays a decade ago. Now more than 2,000 attend on an average weekend. Sunday morning services are so crowded that the church last month instituted an overflow service Saturday nights.

A third Quaker congregation, Canyon Hills Friends Church, opened in town in 1990 and now has about 300 members.

"When you say 'Quaker,' people think of the picture on the oatmeal box, and that's not what we're about today, as you can see," said Mary Perry, whose grandparents were--along with the parents of Richard Nixon--among the Quakers who founded Yorba Linda, and whose husband is pastor of one of the city's three Friends congregations.

"I guess we're not nostalgic. I mean, there were so many wonderful things about those early Quakers," she said. "But when you see so many people getting to know the Lord through our churches today, how can you regret that?"

The roots of the evangelical fervor driving the Southern California Friends churches stretch back to the Civil War, when some Quakers broke with their pacifist brethren to fight for the North. Those Quakers contended that their faith's emphasis on equality for all people gave them the moral authority to battle against slavery.

Returning from the war, Quaker soldiers brought with them a missionary passion and a love of church music learned from fellow soldiers from different Christian denominations. With those influences came a still more basic change in belief--a conviction that the way to heaven was through an instantaneous experience, rather than through the gradual path to holiness of Quaker faith, said Thomas Hamm, author of a book on American Quakerism.

Despite that 19th-century break in theology, most of the new Friends congregations preserved key Quaker traditions even though some adopted evangelical techniques. They called their sanctuaries and congregations "meetings," not churches. Most rejected baptism and communion as empty ritual. Some departed from the Quaker norm to hire pastors and organize choirs. But almost all prayed in silence for significant periods to "hear the voice of God," and encouraged men and women to rise to speak "when God's spirit moved them," Hamm said.

Less and Less Time for Silence

Today the most traditional Quaker meetings worship silently for an hour or more.

But in the new California version of the venerable Quaker faith, there is less and less time for silence.

"You have to keep up with the times to keep families and young people interested," said Larry Mendenhall, senior pastor of Canyon Hills Friends Church. "I mean, people are not going to go and just sit and look at each other for hours. You have to make it interesting."

Louise Marshburn, 85, came to Yorba Linda as a young woman, when she married into the Marshburn family, one of the oldest Quaker names in the city.

Today, three generations of Marshburns live in a group of houses on a street named Marshburn Circle, across from City Hall. Family members--wealthy farmers who made their money selling carrots and parsley off their vast landholdings--say they have followed the Quaker practice of donating a large part of their income to charity.

The Marshburns still go to church in Yorba Linda, and Louise says she has grown to love the new style of her old Quaker meetinghouse.

But, sitting on a recent day on a wooden pew salvaged from that long-gone haven, Marshburn said she sometimes misses the tranquil Quaker meetings of Yorba Linda's youth.

"It gave you time to reflect on all the Lord has done for you," Marshburn said. "It seems like there's so much going on at church today, you don't have time to reflect."


Friendly Persuasion

The Society of Friends, commonly referred to as Quakers, is a Christian denomination growing rapidly in Orange County. An overview of local membership, plans for a new sanctuary in Yorba Linda:

Growing Congregations

Over the last decade, the average number of Friends attending Sunday morning services at Yorba Linda's three Quaker churches has more than tripled:

1996: 4,832

Fast Facts

* Quaker religion founded by George Fox in northern England in 1647.

* Quaker Oats Co. was not founded and never owned by Quakers. A consortium of oat milling companies formed the company in 1901, and chose the name and symbol to identify their product with the honesty and thriftiness Quakers were known for.

* Quaker William Penn founded Pennsylvania in 1682 as a haven of religious freedom.

* The Quaker American Friends Service Committee, founded in 1917, actively promotes nonviolence, social equality and human rights. It received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1947.

* Business empires founded by Quakers include Hershey Foods Corp. and London-based Barclays Bank PLC.

* "Friendly Persuasion," a 1956 movie based on the novel by Yorba Linda author Jessamyn West, starred Gary Cooper as a Quaker forced to reconsider his pacifism at outbreak of the Civil War.

Current Look

Size and seating of Yorba Linda Friends Church, where a new sanctuary is planned:

Seating: 750

Square footage: 36,000

Number of students: 590

Parking: Limited, most off-site with shuttles

Proposed Plans

Seating at the new $15-million church would be the same number as at the Crystal Cathedral. Groundbreaking goal is 1999:

Seating: 2,862

Square footage: 70,000

Classroom: 30,000 square feet

Number of students: 700

Parking: 900 cars on 6 acres

Source: Friends Church Southwest Yearly Meeting, Friends World Committee for Consultation and Finding Friends Around the World 1988; Researched by ESTHER SCHRADER / Los Angeles Times

John Price 
(Login floop.com)
Numbers February 19 2004, 6:10 PM 

It would appear from this article that the Southwest Yearly Meeeting is concerned with numbers, money, convenience, and not wasting too much time talking to God. If it's true as written, I'm dismayed.
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