From the Quaker toolbox: making a testimony happen

12/16/2016 § 9 Comments

New England Yearly Meeting has asserted two testimonies recently, and I am watching with keen interest how we go about accepting the challenge we’ve given ourselves. We sometimes forget all the tools Friends have used to make this happen.  We have used these tools for centuries.  They are the ways Friends teach, learn, experiment, and realize a testimony (in the sense of “make it real”).

It’s not only “going from words to life.”  “Life,” the living out of the Spirit’s guidance, also tutors us in how to talk about, think about, understand, what we’ve been led to live.  The divine Word is also divine act:  creation’s Let there be!  , now being enacted in the substance of our living: part of the mystery of Incarnation.

As you read this catalog (in the comments, add things I’ve missed!!!), I urge you to remember that “unity” around a testimony is not the same as “unanimity,” because each of us, in grappling with what the testimony means for us,  will bring to it different constraints and resources.  (We are all familiar with this, insofar as we have grappled with our living out of “simplicity” or “peace.”)   These are not methods to force anyone’s conscience! In the Lamb’s War, we are to use the Lamb’s methods.  I will return to this at the end of this post.

A. Meeting actions
1. Minutes. It’s glib to say that “it’s easy to pass a minute.” Anyone with a concern who’s worked to bring it to the meeting for business, and then participated patiently and persistently in the deliberation, debate, revisions, delays, questions, threshing and committee work that likely ensues before the meeting feels easy with the minute — such a Friend will say “What do you mean, ‘easy’?!” But in truth, how often a minute is passed by a meeting, and essentially no measurable change results in the lives of most of the members! Yet a minute can be a powerful starting point, a tool that equips us, gives us a way into the next layers of change and following. You could say that when a meeting has gotten to the point of affirming a statement on a matter, it has undergone something like convincement. How do we move then to conversion, not of “the meeting” in some abstract way, but of the meeting in all its members?
After all, a testimony is a way of saying “We are clear in this matter of what God’s will is for us, and consequently we can say that this should be characteristic of every Friend.”  A minute codifies the understanding thus far, and should begin the work of grounding the witness not only in reason and present circumstance, but also in Friends theology and Scripture.

2. Meeting for business.  In meetings where there are committees, we tend to delegate testimony work to one or another committee (Peace and social concerns, for example) or the Meeting on Ministry and Counsel.  But a testimony is something that bears, to some extent,  on all aspects of our group life and work, so even if it’s in right ordering to ask a particular standing or ad hoc committee to pay special attention to the testimony, all committees ought to explore its implications, from the point of view of the committee’s charge — and this can be a way to bring it “home” to the committee members, too.

But the meeting for business is a time of united worship, where as much of the body as possible is present together, and so the clerk can serve the meeting’s growth by finding room on the agenda for some consideration — even if it’s only a period of focused worship — of the testimony.  This will be increasingly useful if other activities within the meeting are also exploring it in other ways.  No action need be on the agenda, until it arises as a clear leading, and then gets taken into the “seasoning” processes.    When we read the Queries at our meetings for business, we bring forward at least for that time something the Society has agreed is an important challenge, and so with a fresh testimony — the only result may be increased awareness, or some opening to ministry — but the issue is kept alive in the meeting’s mind.

3. Visiting committees.  For most of our history, meetings at every level have felt it important from time to time to ask a few Friends to visit in homes under the weight of some concern.   These visits can be educative in intent — making sure that each member is aware of the meeting’s commitment, and explaining how it came about, etc..  They can be information-gathering:  Do you know about the meeting’s minute?  What issues do you see?  What do you think, what are you doing, what do you hope Friends will do, what might help you address and live into the testimony?

4. Threshing sessions. These seem to me sort of like meeting-sized worship-sharing, in which information can be passed, questions asked, issues raised – but in a spirit of worship.  Meeting  leadership should be present, and in addition to any other role, seek to feel the meeting’s condition, and to be on the lookout for indications that some other more specific work would be helpful (such as something else on this list!).

5. Meeting media — newsletters, announcements, list-servs, websites. Circulate the news until it’s not news to anyone in the  meeting community.

6. Public declarations.  Letters to the editor, to politicians, to area organizations;  websites;  epistles to other meetings, etc.  To quote William Penn, when he was encouraging Friends in the ministry (in Rise and Progress, see the Library on this blog for a copy!):

Your country folks, neighbors, and kindred want to know the Lord and his truth, and to walk in it.  Does nothing lie at your door on their account? 

Being on the lookout for places to announce, articulate, perhaps defend, the testimony will do at least three important things which make for spiritual growth:  First, it will challenge you to understand ever better what it is you’re led to, and why, and what the implications are beyond the nurturing confines of the meeting.  Second, it may provide an occasion for a spiritual opening in any who encounter the declaration.  The prophet’s words are certainly true of our times:   I will send a famine on the land:  not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord. (Amos 8:11).  Third, it may make you visible to others, in other communities, who are being led in a similar fashion, and so build a sense of unity between Friends and others.

7. Dedicated worship.  Appoint a public meeting for worship with the specific concern to hold the testimony in prayerful consideration in the divine presence.  The meeting might open with a reading of the key minute, but the whole tone here is not one of information sharing and deliberation, but waiting on the Lord, each in our current condition, with an expectation of guidance, solace, challenge, and accompaniment.

8. Naming and nurturing gifts.  Concerns and testimonies are channeled through individual hearts and minds, and individuals’ “experiments with truth” (as Gandhi would say).  Some Friends may find more laid on them than personal transformation;  part of their faithfulness may require them to travel, or teach, or engage in a visiting ministry, or some other action.  Does your meeting have a practice of noticing, identifying, encouraging, and overseeing gifts in ministry and service?  If not, now’s the time to work one out!  New England Yearly Meeting is rich in meetings and individuals who are experienced with this process, and there are of course a jillion things to read, too.  If you don’t know where to begin, reach out to Yearly Meeting Ministry and Counsel, or the Yearly Meeting secretary, and say “We would like to get ready for when gifts are activated among us — who knows, maybe there are some already present, and we didn’t notice!  Now we want to learn how to notice!”  You will get lots of help! (Penn once again, talking about good and wise people who may be found in meetings — “yet it does not always follow, that they may have the room they deserve in the hearts of the people they live among…”  May this not be true of your meeting!!!)  If your meeting has not yet done this work, Now is the time!  Penn again:  Behold, how white the fields are unto harvest… and how few able and faithful laborers there are to work therein!    This takes work, organization, persistence, hope, and information — and nothing is more urgently needed.

9.  Clearness committees!

B.  Acts of individual concern

  1. Prayer.  Everyone means something different by “prayer.”  Start with your version, and bring the testimony (perhaps in the form of the originating minute) into your prayer intentionally — more than once, but patiently, openly, sweetly, expectantly.  Now would be a good time to ask someone else in your meeting “What do you mean when you say ‘I’ll pray about it,’  or ‘I’ll hold it in the light'””
  2. Talking with your friends.  Just because a meeting for business has threshed an issue, and emitted a minute does not mean that you know what your friends think — or maybe even what you think.  Dialogue and dialect are powerful and free!
  3. Opportunities.  By this I mean “informal periods of worship with another Friend or Friends.”  There are good guides for this practice, ancient among us, and somewhat revived over recent decades.  One simple way to start:   settle into worship for a while (± 20 minutes), and then in the quiet, cleansed atmosphere created by such intimate worship, slowly surface and ask the question, or name the issue,  closest to your heart.
  4. Following leadings in ministry.  Be on the lookout for a sense that a concern has been laid on you.  Hold it steadily in prayer and reflection, until some clarity about the leading, and the first step you should take to follow it.  Then bring it to a discerning Friend or two, and as the way opens, bring it to the meeting for clarity, support, oversight.  Don’t let it go until the leading is definitely taken from you!  Once again,there are plenty of people and books to consult, as you begin and go on in the work, as it is given you to take part.  Your meeting should have resources about this (see A8 above) — if it doesn’t, well, I will repeat myself:  Now is the time!  Behold, how white the fields are unto harvest… and how few able and faithful laborers there are to work therein!    This takes work, organization, persistence, hope, and information — and nothing is more urgently needed.
  5. Seeking to understand how this testimony is rooted in the whole edifice of your faith. Study, think, explore, dream, listen.

    The point, Friends, is that  — in our testimonies of simplicity, abolition, and everything else — we have needed all of these and others I have not added to the list.  “Success” means that every Friend can see the importance of the testimony, and sees that they cannot ignore it.
    To put it in terms of the NEYM Climate Change minute:  Not everyone will be called to make climate change their first priority, to drop everything else to work on that. Jesus did not say “Sell all you have and give it to the poor” to everyone he spoke with! But we have been led as a body to unity, to a unified statement that, to the extent we understand the Divine will for us, this issue must be incorporated into our understanding of the Gospel as held by Friends, and none of us is free to ignore it — just as we accept that it is our responsibility to come to worship with hearts and minds prepared.  What that looks like will vary, and most of us have misgivings that we are not as faithful as we can be;  but that discontent can be a God-sent goad, preserving us from complacency, and keeping the door open to fresh responses to the divine initiatives that may come to us inwardly, or from the witness or words of others.

    The two watchwords on my mind this morning as I write this are:  Behold, I stand at the door and  knock and  to turn ourselves and all we possess into the channel of universal love becomes the chief business of our lives.  The listening and the following, the seeing and the turning take preparation of our selves and our beloved communities. We have the resources, we have the Teacher, we have each other— let’s be about the work!


§ 9 Responses to From the Quaker toolbox: making a testimony happen

  • […] Amor vincat: From the Quaker toolbox—Making a testimony happen. […]


  • I really liked this post. Thank you! I do have something to add to your list: testing/developing a new testimony against Scripture, against Quaker tradition, and against the lives of its prophets, those already living under the weight of the concern.

    Scripture. I don’t feel beholden to Scripture in the sense that I would reject a new testimony if it could not be found in Scripture or even if it seemed to contradict Scripture; the abolition of slavery is an example of the latter. But I do think we should at least be able to articulate a new testimony in biblical terms, if possible, if only to be able to communicate it to the rest of the church, to those for whom the Bible is an important source of religious authority.

    Quaker tradition. Likewise, I do not feel responsible to the Quaker tradition so much as I feel responsible FOR it. That is, at the least, we should not veer away from Quaker tradition with a new testimony without being able to explain why we do, or worse yet, without even knowing that we are. Someone should have our tradition in mind when we consider a new testimony, or any collective action, for that matter.

    Real lives. How does the testimony look in action? Does it feel loving and true? Is is bringing light into the world?


    • briandrayton says:

      Thanks for this comment!
      I would only reply that you here describe several ways to test the authenticity of a leading (and are reminiscent of Hugh Barbour’s “Five tests” which can be obtained from the website of the Tract Association of Friends). These are complementary to the techniques my post describes, which are ways that Friends can use (and have used) to help a community-wide enactment of a testimony — and of course along with that will come the kinds of testing of individual and corporate leadings that you bring forward.
      — brian


  • kfsaylor says:

    The point, Friends, is that — in our testimonies of simplicity, abolition, and everything else — we have needed all of these and others I have not added to the list.

    “Success” means that every Friend can see the importance of the testimony, and sees that they cannot ignore it.

    I recommend to you that “success” can also mean that Friends do not see the importance of a testimony, ignore it,and do not participate in the advancement of it. The definition of success as the adoption of an outward testimony by every Friend is a contrivance. It does match with the reality of spiritual life. Some Friends may be of a conscience to embrace a Climate Change testimony and for the sake of conscience they should embrace it. Other Friends may be of a different conscience that either rejects the scientific assumptions and methods behind Climate Change theory or that may not see it as important and ignore it. The use of outward institutional practices and methods to recommend outward testimonies like Climate Change as a concern is certainly valid and has been the practice of many Friends since the notion that the inshining Light itself in itself was not sufficient to rule and teach and outward forms were needed and helpful. The resulting outward methods, practices, and institutional constructs were introduced and imposed upon the gathering of Friends in the 17th century over against the consciences of many other Friends through intimidation, slander, labeling, and excommunication. There were are Friends who know the direct experience of the inshining Light itself in itself as sufficient and complete to guide and teach without reference to or regard for outward testimonies, institutions, or persons. In fact, the appearance of the inshining Light upon their conscious and conscience teaches a independency from any and all outward formal helps, structures and persons. These “formal helps” are not needed or valued.

    A conscience that scruples against ignoring Climate Change should be embraced in the same way that a conscience that scruples against taking up Climate Change as a testimonial. It is certain a valid role for an outward institution like the NEYM to recommend concern over climate change to the conscience of other Friends, especially those Friends whose conscience embraces a role at all for any outward institutions, practices, and traditions. However, it is a design of imposition and a trampling upon the prerogative of the inshining Light upon the conscious and conscience as guide for any outward testimony to be established as something every Friend should follow and attend to. To promote and advance an outward testimony as incumbent upon the conscience of all Friends to follow and attend to under the pretense of being a leading or sense of a Meeting (Monthly or Yearly) is to participate in a Politic of Contrivance. No outward institution has such a prerogative. A testimony “cannot be ignored” only when by the appearance of the inshining Light a conscience is convicted against ignoring it. Those who share such a conviction, and the institutions they support, have no role in dictating that all Friends should attend to their conviction. The moment they move from attending to their conviction to telling other Friends, who do not share their conviction in conscience, they must or should follow their conscience even though they do not see it, is the moment they participate in trampling upon the prerogative of the unshining Light and turn their conviction into mere politic of contrivance.


    • briandrayton says:

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. I think perhaps that you have seen “dictate” where I did not use it. Your comments raise issues which were debated at some length around the testimony of John Perrot. Perhaps other Friends have comments?


      • kfsaylor says:

        That Is fair enough. It may be the case that I see dictate where you did not use it.

        As to Perrot. Yes there are some similiarities. Friend Williams Rogers wrote in “The Christian Quaker … ” in 1680:

        ” … we have no Ground to believe, either from the Scriptures of Truth given forth by inspiration, or from the Light of Christ in our Consciences that any man (according to the motion of Gods Spirit in this Gospel Day.) ought to take upon him the giving forth of Outward Rules, or Prescriptions relating to Faith or Discipline in the Church, with an intent that they should become a Bond upon others to submit thereto, further than from a recommendation unto the Conscience a service may be seen therein, according to the measure of Light given from him, who is the fullness …”


      • ERIC EDWARDS says:

        In my opinion, kfsaylor confuses the “Testimony” of direct experience
        of the Divine (his/her own terms for the Divine are fine with me, just not my own),
        with the results of that experience. Independency of outward helps to that special experience is true, but Inward Experience teaches not independency of self or any truth in particular but a condition of sensitivity and weakness, humility in the face of truths from many directions, and a desire to grasp and dealwith how the Divine speaks from other lives we have no special access to except their “confessions.” In other words, connectedness and human Dependency are the direct consequences of the inshining Light, and how to live with that is the search we undertake with others of Like Mind. Since we don’t have to argue about access and we can’t search that out anyway, we can wait with each other for clarity on what we might be doing with or because of such access……thus regular times to meet together and all that other other impure stuff arises, which kfsaylor hints we might do without….but most Friends I know already understand that the Invitation from Christ is in every way not a rule but an advice from some pretty convincing and occasionally convicting speakers.


      • kfsaylor says:

        I appreciate Eric’s engaging outside the of any specific outward construct. I confess that by the appearance of the inshining Light in my conscious and conscience I regard outward set times and places with little respect … preferring to step outside any set times and places and engage as opportunity offers.

        I testify to the witness (experience) of a conscious anchored in and a conscience informed by inshining immanent Presence as sufficient and complete itself in itself without regard or respect for outward forms or advices. This is not an experience of an independency of self as Eric has charaterized. It is a shift away from dependency upon or reference to outward political and religious forms, “confessionals,” advices, theologies, agendas, traditions, practices, etc. (even those that may have come through or distilled out of direct “access”) into self anchored in, informed by, and identified with inshining Light itself in itself. This experience is a coming out of dependency upon outward constructs whether religious or secular and a dependency upon direct experience of the inshining Light itself in itself … the inshining Light itself is the mediator and there is no need for the mediations of outward advices or confessions. In this experience, human being is guided by the relative direct and unmediated illumination of the Spirit itself in all actions so that the increase, decrease, or stasis, of the Light itself informs actions and relationships not outward advices or confessionals … even those that may have resulted from direct or unmediated experience itself in itself. The very process of waiting upon outward distillations or advices or confessionals from “direct access” is no longer valuable or helpful in this experience because the action of the Light itself in itself is the council and mediator. The distillations are mere shadows of heavenly things and have no value as points of reference because in this witness (experience) the heavenly thing itself in itself is known and is our source of identification.

        In this different way, there is an independency from the process of looking to the the various distillations of the Brethren or community. In this independency human being comes into a shared dependency upon the inshining Light itself as guide and mediator and the process of looking toward or being convinced or convicted by outward speakers is come out of.

        Eric is correct in stating that many Friends, if not most (by their own admission), look toward outward set times, places, processes, practices, institutions, etc. (largely established in, or which are a remnant of, Foxonian tradition) as ways and means to “wait with each other for clarity on what we might be doing with or because of such access.” For some of us, including some of the first and early Friends who would not conform to the outward forms (set times and places) George Fox and his party established, these outward forms and processes are of no value. There is a different way that has been witnessed (experienced) even from the very beginnings of the gathering of Friends. This witness knows as sufficient and complete in itself the inshining Light itself in itself upon the conscious and conscience, which is the Throne of God, and has come out of all outward political and religious processes, traditions, ideologies, advices, practices, institutions, and does not look to the distillations or lines of other persons. These distillations simply do not inform actions or “what we might be doing.”

        For of us, and in this different way, the dog of the sufficient and complete nature of inshining immanent Presence itself in itself as guide, teacher, and mediator, is out of the kennel and will not return to that which it has come out of. The dog cannot be kept down by the outwardly established fencing of the Brethren.


  • I think that the work that you’re doing is useful and necessary in that it provides a structure/order for individuals to become oriented, focused, reflective, more aware, and self-disciplined: in short, to become a people. It seems like the work that Moses was given to do once the Hebrews had left Egypt. I am glad that there are people to do this work, and also hope that you keep in mind the danger that is intrinsic to it, namely that the processes, principles (the Law) once in place becomes the de facto standard, because they are observable and functional. (These large cycles of human endeavor toward knowing God always have the same dynamic, and those who are responsible for the beginning stage of creating social order need to humbly keep in mind what is the specific boundary of their calling. Perhaps that’s one of the meanings of Moses not being allowed to enter the Promised Land.) The danger for someone with knowledge of our tradition as well as knowledge of human nature is that the intricacies of the order he has enabled become the standard of righteousness, which standard, if followed, establishes an independency that pays only lip-service to God. More than any other in the community, those who have this role must have the self-restraint and humility to yield their influence when the time is right. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required (Lk.12:48).


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