An Alignment of Leadings
The study and the work that I do is grounded in the value of connection. Through connection, we are more powerful, and life is more meaningful. To those who know me well, I’ve become a broken record on this point. Likely due to confirmation bias, I have lost count of the many times this core message has been reaffirmed in my own experience. It has burgeoned (or is in the process of burgeoning) into what Quakers call a leading—to work against the apparent isolation pervading our society and all that is detrimental to which it has been shown to lead, like issues regarding health and stigma.
We are experiencing the culmination of a sort of fragmenting about which post-modern social theorists lamented as the beginning of a more meaningless and phrenetic existence. I don’t think we are at a permanent loss for meaning, however, but we are challenged to find meaning anew. Social media and other technological advancements provide some hope and also tremendous risk. I do not ascribe to the argument that social media only exacerbates social isolation, because I think it can be a tool for making connections more robust. Yet it can in many cases end up perturbing an already stressed socio-economic conundrum in the West, as the middle class shrinks, economic inequality grows, and racial disparities persist. Each can be causes in various ways of social isolation, where simply working to bring people together to cultivate relationship and connection in person is part of a broader set of solutions.
For the future that I am able to foresee, with all its uncertainties, my service on staff as Associate Secretary for Program and Religious life of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting (PYM) affords me the privilege to align my leadings with PYM’s current mission and vision. I will be paid to do this work for as long as my service remains a sensible way to help forward this vision and mission. I bring gifts and skills to the role, which I would be happy to apply to other positions should the time come. These other positions need not be with Quakers. My spiritual journey, my leading of connection, is grounded in the Quaker Way, but I am not a servant of Quakers, per se. The Quaker community helps keep me accountable to my leadings, it helps keep my integrity intact, and it helps me set aside my ego. Quakers help me remain a servant of God, no matter what I do for money, and which happens to mean, for this moment, that I am hired to help Quakers give life to the leadings under the weight of which they (and I) follow.
I am No Professional Quaker
So, no, I am not a professional Quaker. I do not aspire to work for Quakers for the rest of my life, and I did not aspire to work for Quakers when I started doing so. The notion of a professional Quaker maligns the intent of paid service. If we ask people, usually skilled and highly competent people, to help our communities with our work and witness and to help us full-time, we should pay them to do so.
Yet cultivating a field of people who have a habit of working for Quakers not as a ministry, per se, but as a career in itself is not healthy for our religious tradition. The Quaker Way, among other things, is premised upon the dynamic interplay of faith and practice. We are ever evolving in our continued revelation, and this should usually mean that when we choose to pay someone to help us with our work and witness, we do so because their gifts, skills and leadings are in alignment with what we require for this, our next adventure—whatever that may be. People who get paid to do work for or on behalf of Quakers are not professional Quakers, they are just the opposite. They are amateur Quakers, who’ve chosen to set aside their egos in service of a broader community and a larger vision. The true professional Quakers are all the others, who have to balance service with the many other parts of their lives, including, for many, their careers.
So, yes, I am an amateur Quaker. My role in the body of Friends is to help us see all that we might accomplish when we are together, and this means, for example, that I highly limit my own voice and curtail my active participation in governance decisions. We usually leave these things up to the professionals.