I was intrigued by the opening quote in a recent article in “Quaker News (Winter 2011, No 81):
“As Quakers, we don’t do outreach … when people need us, they will find us”.
I have heard similar remarks amongst Unitarians. We say that as a free and open faith we do not proselytise and never have done! (Well actually we have done but that is history).
The article, by Alistair Fuller, recognises an ambivalence amongst Quakers to outreach and also that to be truly effective, outreach needed to be an integral part of how Quakers live, both as individuals and in community.
“Effective, enthusiastic outreach flows from a meeting that is vibrant, rich, warm and welcoming, involving Friends who are deeply rooted and nourished in their own faith”.
So it is more about how one lives as much as what one says. Quaker meetings are more successful in attracting, and holding, attenders and enquirers when they have paid proper attention to the quality of their life together and have similarly together thought about and planned their outreach.
Quaker Week is a national initiative with a focus on local activities which has now been running for five years. The impact appears to have been in two ways; meetings have been bolder and more imaginative in findings ways to be more visible and accessible and they have been more effective in outreach when Friends are excited by their own Quakerism and more confident to share it. “This relationship between inreach and outreach has been the most significant piece of learning as a result of Quaker Week”. Nationally the Quakers plan an outreach conference in January 2013 to explore and develop this thinking.
This rightly confirms my own thinking that the quality of experience offered by Unitarian communities is in the end the vital factor of whether people who find us will actually stay. Raising our visibility nationally, and as importantly, locally is crucial but what the Quakers call inreach is so important. What would it be like to enable us to truly say that our congregation is vibrant, rich, warm and welcoming?