Being together

Barclay Press is part of a large Quaker family. I’ve been in Philadelphia over the weekend, making connections with parts of that family. On Thursday, I had lunch with Gail Whiffen and Martin Kelley, editors at Friends Journal. After lunch, we picked up doughnuts from Beiler’s at Reading Terminal Market and walked back to the FJ offices. We talked about the myriad Quaker organizations and institutions and wondered, in the face of significant cultural pressure, if there might be new ways for Friends to be together.

On Friday, Chris Mohr gave me a tour of the Friends Center, where I had a chance to visit the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting library and the cubicle nearby where the work of the Tract Association of Friends happens (including their most recent book, A Language for the Inward Landscape, which we carry in our bookstore). Chris shared some maps and historical photographs; and we traded stories, mostly on the special difficulties and opportunities that come from the financial and relational connections between Friends meetings and Friends ministries.

On Saturday morning, Patricia Stewart bought me coffee. She and I met a year ago at a gathering of QUIP – Quakers Uniting in Publications. Patricia caught me up on the work of Friends House Moscow, an organization she has served alongside people like Johan and Judy Maurer. Over coffee, Patricia told me about youth-led protests in Russia, protests marked both by joyful exuberance and a passion for moral change: integrity, accountability, and dignity.

Later on Saturday, I met with a writer, Yelena Tower, and we discussed several ideas she has for a book-length writing project. Yesterday morning I worshiped at Central Philadelphia Meeting. Right now I’m in the air. We’re supposed to land in Denver in half an hour or so. Tonight I’ll be home, and tomorrow morning I’ll be back in the office at Barclay Press.

Quakerism has a historic reputation for being a faith that gets things done, and you can see – in our conference centers and colleges, our publishing houses and mission-sending agencies, our diplomatic work, our peace work, our work in prisons and in our own communities – that Friends have done a lot of work. But the work isn’t done. And part of the problem for us now is that we’re not always amenable to working together.

I wonder if that might change.

I wonder if there might still be a place for Friends.

I wonder what might happen if we learned new ways of being together.

And after this weekend, I’m encouraged. We have a lot of good people, good organizations and institutions, good work to do. This gives me hope.

Eric Muhr