Reflections on Doing Quaker Research

For class we were asked to write a short reflection on our spiritual journey and how it’s led us to doing the kinds of dissertations we’re preparing for.  I thought I would post it mainly because I don’t think I’ve written much about my personal journey, my “convincement??? or why I am doing the research I am.  This is not a full blown story, just something brief that will give you an idea of where I am coming from and where I am going.


I think in many ways when I was younger I struggled for stability in my family, school and home life. My parents were divorced, I rarely saw my dad, and my mom who I lived with was married to a man I didn’t connect with very much.  We changed schools a lot growing up, and I moved around enough that it was difficult for me to ever have close friends.  This along with poor experiences in a anti-denominational churches made ideas of traditions and stability appeal to me greatly.
When I read about the Quakers in undergrad I resonated deeply with their stories and felt that they helped me understand my own spirituality; their values, the way they followed Christ, talked about him and the way the viewed the world and people all made sense to me in a way no other group had.  I remember later reading Barclay’s Apology for the first time, thinking, “this is what I have always believed but never knew how to put it into words!??? I almost instantly began calling myself a Quaker.
But when I went from what I read to the actual seeing Friends’ churches and practice in real-life things seemed pretty different (please understand this doesn’t include all Quaker churches just the ones I was experiencing).  A burning question in my mind as an undergrad student entering a master’s of theology program was “where did we go wrong,??? and “why this disconnect????  What has happened to the Friends church (conservative, moderate and liberal) that has kept us “quiet??? and without the kind of radical narrative of our Quaker mothers and fathers?
The powerful stories of British and American Quakers no longer seemed to match the way Quakers are seen today and that was devastating to me.  Not only had I found a tradition that was wonderful and I connected with spiritually, but I was also creating tons of friends within the Friends Church!  I was becoming theologically and emotionally attached to this group of people (all of whom I still love and respect dearly).  Since this time, seven years ago, I have been on a quest to figure out how to help the Quakers be more Christian and Christians be more Quaker, how we can get back to having a good story.  The dualisms we live with now should not exist.
Lastly because I am interested in the arts, culture and creativity (and what that has to do with the kingdom of God) I have found great interests in studying church in today’s Western culture.  The emerging church is one such movement that I’ve studied and participated in.  I have found that for a majority of these churches there doesn’t appear to be the dualisms that many other protestant churches face.  They seemed to have found some clues for overcoming issues that face the Friends church.  That said I have spent time researching and writing about these two movements that on the outside appear to have little to do with one another, but on the inside may be very strange bedfellows.  Ultimately then I am interested in helping to update Friends practice and theology in a way that helps us to reclaim our powerful narrative, not just in new and creative ways but also in old tried and true ways like following the Light of Jesus and loving the outcast. My research will focus on orienting Quaker practice for the postmodern world.

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Wess

...is the William R. Rogers Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC., PhD in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, served as a "released minister" at Camas Friends Church, and father of three. He enjoys sketchnoting, sharing conversation over coffee with a friend, listening to vinyl and writing creative nonfiction.

4 thoughts on “Reflections on Doing Quaker Research”

  1. Hey Wess,

    Love your stuff–howzabout adjusting the black-on-black type to help us less-illuminated PC screen users ;-).

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