One additional thought: any discussion of gathered meetings for worship would be incomplete without mentioning Michael Sheeran’s book Beyond Majority Rule, and especially Martin Kelley’s commentary on it. In my previous posts, the distinction between gathered and focused meetings seemed connected to one’s religious outlook, and thus related to the divide between Christ-centered and universalist Quakers that has bedeviled our faith for centuries. But as Sheeran and Kelley argue, the more fundamental divide in the liberal branch of Quakerism is between those who seek contact with the divine and those who don’t. Kelley in particular notes the particular historical context for this division:
The unstated condition behind the great Quaker reunifications of the mid-twentieth century was a taboo against talking about what we believe as a people. Quakerism became an individual mysticism coupled with a world-focused social activism – to talk about the area in between was to threaten the new unity.
It’s been about 15 years since that post was written, and that in-between area, a community life that nurtures and shapes both individual devotion and social concerns, still feels like the most underdeveloped part of Quakerdom. We would do well to pay more attention to it.