A movable feast: Quakers in a mobile society

The network of Friends meetings is still limited.  Based on this map, (and this one) Quaker meetings are mainly in North and South America and Africa, followed by fewer in Europe, Asia, the Middle East.  According to a Friends General Conference map from 2002, even Friends in the U.S. are spread out, leaving a lot of room between meetings for Friends to live.

In this modern world, as people begin to marry and move due to work or calling, I find it compelling to look at how Quakerism is working with those less geographically rooted members in terms of membership to local meetings; members who join a local meeting but find a calling beyond the geographic reach of either their local meeting or even the reach of Friends meetings currently serving local communities around the world.  These are the Quaker middle-ground: neither fully participatory in the life of the meeting, nor missionaries for the spread of Quaker community.

mobile phones

However, as Quakers find themselves more and more mobile, it seems that Meetings are still central to their lives–friendships, spiritual affinity, and participation in the life of the Meeting remain an important part of being members of Quaker communities. I would posit that as this group of mobile Quakers joins meetings and then spend more time away from them than in them there is a certain strain on the meeting.  More members mean more care is needed by the localized Quaker community with mobile Quakers now being a part.

In my limited knowledge of Quaker history, it seems that in the past, when Quakers moved beyond their local meetings, they would set up a similar system at their new location–meetings based on locality–which drew in new members.  A new localized community of Quakers would grow up.  However, today, Quakers may live half the year in another part of the country, with another meeting, or even live abroad for several years, with no local meeting, before returning to their home meeting.  Setting up a new meeting is a long endeavor and, with mobile Quakers being mobile, probably twice as challenging due to the geographic restlessness they are a part of.

Personally, I’m feeling the strain of a Friends community which is localized and in need of care, while committee membership dwindles, and those members who are beyond the immediate community who need support for their callings and leadings.  I’m sure this is not uncommon in today’s world–many demands are placed on us for service to our communities and others.  But how should we, as Quakers, respond to these changes?  I offer some queries:

  • What roles do meetings play for the more mobile Quakers?  What does membership mean to them?  What does their membership mean to the Quaker community they are joining?
  • What roles to Quakers who are more mobile play in their home meetings?  What are the responsibilities they can hold?
  • What are a meeting’s responsibility to maintain community with members who do not live in their geographic area?  How can meetings support their members living abroad for an indefinite time if there are no Quaker meetings available to them?
  • How do new technologies promote community among disparate members of Friends meetings?
  • How does the new global economy impact local membership in Friends meetings?  How can meetings respond to this change by supporting members who are mobile, while maintaining responsibilities to localized members?

5 thoughts on “A movable feast: Quakers in a mobile society

  1. I get emails from this mobile set all the time, asking questions, seeking advice. I often don’t really know what to say. This morning my inbox has one from a woman in her late 20s who’s been attending the local meeting on and off since she was 12. Most of the members are twenty years older than her, they’re not very committed and the worship is spiritually lifeless. She’s spent some quality time at a Catholic Worker house and a Vineyard community and is now wondering whether to move to another city to start an intentional house of Friends.

    Many meetings don’t know what to make of someone like this. Mobility is part of it but so is care and commitment and a culture of genuine interest in one another. I’m not sure what I’ll say to today’s correspondent…

  2. This is a useful post, and I find the queries very helpful. Currently, our meeting has quite a few mobile members, and we’ve done different things for different people, as the situation warranted–anchor committees for some, committee membership for others that revolves around their travel schedules, etc. But it is never easy, and we sometimes find ourselves getting tripped up in “the way it used to be,” when Friends could devote their entire Sunday to meeting business. Thank you for this.


  3. Glad this is a relevant post to several folks–it’s been on my mind, but in need of some seasoning. I didn’t mention it in the post, but some might posit this as a generational gap, another “young Friends” issue, but I see it happening in many age levels for many reasons.

    I know this also may be a challenging post, as it’s not the surface-y Quakerism that most people know about and one that exposes a concern many of us face in our Meetings internally. I’m glad folks are willing to share their experiences here for others to learn and grow.

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