Think Outside the (Quaker) Box

“Is Capitol Hill Friends a ‘programmed‘ Meeting?”
A visitor to the William Penn House asked this yesterday. We explained that Capitol Hill Friends has an hour of unprogrammed worship, but that we also eat dinner together, read the Bible and sing.
It makes sense that some Friends around here might imagine that we are a pastoral group. It is easy to divide the Quaker world into two camps – “programmed” and “unprogrammed.”(1) Often this is code for “Evangelical” and “Liberal.” Because Capitol Hill Friends is the only Quaker group in the DC area that is corporately Christian, some must think that we are a programmed, Evangelical Meeting. And from the perspective of Liberal Quakers in the DC area, I can imagine we might look pretty evangelical and “programmed”!
But at Capitol Hill Friends we see things differently. We find our primary identity neither in the Liberal nor Evangelical Quaker streams. We cannot shoe-horn our faith into either Evangelicalism or Liberalism. Instead, we seek to put our trust in the love and presence of Jesus. He is here, now, teaching us how to be his friends.
Something new is emerging at Capitol Hill Friends. It does not fit neatly into the old binaries of 20th century Quakerism. Rather than getting bogged down in fights between Liberals and Evangelicals, we are simply trying to follow Jesus. This feels risky, because he leads us to unfamiliar places. But there is freedom here, too.
Jesus releases us from the culture wars that are tearing at the fabric of the United States, including the Quaker community. Jesus sets us free from dogmatic worldviews that make us feel both secure and terribly afraid. As we lean on Jesus, we are liberated from the need to fit our lives into tidy little boxes – or to confine others to them. He uproots the seeds of war, whose roots have sunk so deep into our hearts that we hardly notice them anymore.
Rather than basing our identity on worship style, I would prefer to focus on faithfulness. Do we live in the life and power of Jesus Christ? Is our whole personality being remade in his image? Do we embody his love and justice in our communities? Does Jesus gather us together as a community, teaching us to be his friends?
1. See this brief (and oversimplified) explanation of the difference between “programmed” Friends and “unprogrammed” Friends.