When I was a member of the Friends World Committee staff, one of my most important jobs was arranging regional conferences at which Friends of different origins and viewpoints would be able to gather, worship, and compare notes on either other's faith and practice. This job was rewarding--Friends were able to observe similarities and true differences first-hand, instead of relying on rumor and assumptions. It was also frustrating--so many Friends did not have the opportunities or resources to attend conferences, and many simply were not conference-goers by temperament. A few had been burned by less than respectful encounters at previous gatherings.
Nothing can replace being together in person, but short of that, the advent of Friendly weblogs has provided a whole new dimension of fellowship and consultation to the Quaker world. And nobody has played a more crucial role in the development of this new pattern than Martin Kelley. I started my "Can you believe?" blog in June 2004, and it could not have been more than a few days before I received a kind note of encouragement from Martin. I have no doubt that many others have had a similar experience.
Back when I was involved with Quaker Life magazine, I wrote an editorial nearly every month. I didn't realize how addictive that form of expression would be! For me, maintaining a Friendly weblog has allowed me to indulge that need, with the very important added benefit of receiving almost immediate feedback.
Cherice and Chris have wonderfully summarized many of the blessings of the world of Quaker blogging and the Grand Central Water Cooler of the community, quakerquaker.org. I agree with everything they've said. Not only do we discuss important ideas and leadings that cumulatively help us be more faithful people, we also give each other glimpses of our personal worlds and generate new ties of mutual care. (I certainly experienced that when my mother died.)
The ripple effects of the world of Friendly weblogs goes out beyond the immediate reading/writing community of bloggers. One practical example: several blogging discussions have resulted in or have been reflected in Friends' periodicals. By ourselves, and within the limits of cyberspace, we will not reach everyone who deserves access to this kind of affectionate and unanxious cross-Quaker arena. Meetings, conferences, retreats, and ceaseless intervisitation are more important than ever, especially across lines that the powers that be tell us not to cross. But our online community can be an incubator--not just of fertile ideas (such as Robin's "convergence") and courteous challenges, but also of a spirit of reconciliation, of weeding out false dichotomies from conflicts actually worth having, of the mutual love and forbearance that the Children of the Light ought to enjoy even in the midst of controversy.