“So, how do we let people know?” That was the first question my friend Mary Lee and I had when we felt that God wanted us to start a new worship group focused on theological hospitality and based on Quaker listening worship. We hoped to create a space where people could come share their spiritual experiences in their own language and where we would listen to God and each other together in love and care. We felt certain that other people were, like us, looking for such a place.
But how to let such people know about the new group?
Well, since God says, “See, I am doing a new thing!” (Isaiah 43:19) and we were participating in doing a new thing, Mary Lee and I decided to try a new way. Instead of phone calls or newspaper ads, we’d use electronic media. Once we chose a meeting date, we sent emails announcing the new group to folks we thought might be interested in such a fellowship. We invited those folks to pass that email along to any of their friends.
Then I wrote a series of short blogs on the new group, why we were starting it, what our hopes for it were, and where we’d be meeting. Other bloggers and compilers of posts on worship and Quakers picked some of my posts up and spread the word.
When the time for the first gathering came, Mary Lee, my wife Nancy, and I sat in our living room wondering whether anybody would come, considering our, for Quakers, unconventional way of inviting folks. While we’re not remotely like the Amish, many people seem surprised that Quakers have electricity—let alone know how to use computers and electronic media.
About ten minutes ahead of the meeting time, a car pulled into our long country driveway. Another soon followed. Then another. Then another. As folks filed into our living room, we were happily surprised to see that we did not know many of them. They weren’t on our invitation list. They came because they read the blog or a friend passed along the email announcement. Twenty-five people came that evening—some driving over an hour to get there.
That was five years ago, and the “Fellowship of Friends” (the name chosen by early participants—in person and on-line) continues to meet. Sometimes there are ten; sometimes thirty. Many of the original attendees have dropped off due to distance or moving away. Others have taken their place. The group is constantly changing and renewing itself.
All of our contact in between gatherings is done via email and on Facebook. We use Facebook to keep each other up to date on prayer concerns and other news. We email questions we need to decide together so that everyone can participate in decision making. We use Facebook ads to let new folks know about the group.
While our advertising is “virtual,” our gathering is face-to-face in the flesh. We haven’t felt like we are ready to make the leap to Skype-ing the worship time for those folks who can’t make the drive or are unable to come for other reasons.
Who knows, though? God is doing lots of new things. J. Brent Bill is a Quaker minister, retreat leader, author, and photographer. His books include Awaken Your Senses: Exercises for Exploring the Wonder of God (with Beth Booram), Sacred Compass: The Way of Spiritual Discernment, and many more. He lives on Ploughshares Farm, 50 acres in exurban Indiana being reclaimed as native hardwood forest and tall grass prairie.
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