Theology at Thresholds: Learning from a Practice ‘In Transition’

in Ecclesial Practices
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Recent developments in contemporary theology and theological ethics have directed academic attention to the interrelationships of theological claims, on the one hand, and core community-forming practices, on the other. This article considers the value for theology of attending to practice at the boundaries, the margins, or, as we prefer to express it, the threshold of a community’s institutional or liturgical life. We argue that marginal or threshold practices can offer insights into processes of theological change – and into the mediation between, and reciprocal influence of, ‘church’ and ‘world’. Our discussion focuses on an example from contemporary British Quakerism. ‘Threshing meetings’ are occasions at which an issue can be ‘threshed out’ as part of a collective process of decision-making. Drawing on a 2015 small-scale study (using a survey and focus group) of British Quaker attitudes to and experiences of threshing meetings, set in the wider context of Quaker tradition, we interpret these meetings as a space for working through – in context and over time – tensions within Quaker theology, practice and self-understandings, particularly those that emerge within, and in relation to, core practices of Quaker decision-making.

Ecclesial Practices

Journal of Ecclesiology and Ethnography

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9

Pastoral Epistle from Yearly Meeting in 1717, reproduced in part in Christian Discipline of the Society of Friends: Church Government (London: Friends’ Bookshop, 1917), p. 34.

27

On holiness, see Carole Dale Spencer, Holiness: The Soul of Quakerism (Colorado Springs: Paternoster, 2007); on Quakerism and heterotopia, Gay Pilgrim, ‘British Quakerism as Heterotopic’, in Dandelion and Collins, eds., The Quaker Condition, pp. 53–67.

32

Christine Dutton, ‘Unpicking “Knit and Natter”: Researching an Emerging Christian Community’, Ecclesial Practices1 (2014) 31–50.

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