My next attempt at ‘read it, experience it’ is Quakerism. If you have followed me for any length of time, you will know that I have not felt at home in the church for some time and have long been experimenting with other denominations and churches. While on vacation I picked up a book called “Living the Quaker Way,” by Philip Gulley. I have enjoyed it immensely thus far. In my heart, I believe that always have been Quaker. There are so many beliefs that I share with the Quakers that the wider Protestant denominations do not value or share. One of the main ones being non-violence. In researching private schools near me, I found a Christian school which offers a program to take your Armed Service Vocational Aptitude Battery. Why in the world a Christian school would so closely espouse a career path in the armed services, has always flummoxed me. It seems completely antithetical to living Christ-likeness. Nationalism as a whole all seems contrary but is nearly universally uplifted and lauded throughout Protestant denominations. The Quakers historically abhor violence and refuse to respect country as a reason to even prefer one people to another. Not only this, but the treatment of the gay community has long been a thorn in my side when it comes to the most of the Protestant churches. The Quaker meeting I attended had a beautiful statement on their website about the contribution and Divine light in fellow gay Friends. This universal recognition of the fact we are all made in God’s image is so refreshing and simple. And that’s the overarching theme that is innervates me about the Quakers: simplicity. From their theology to the the way they want to live, simplicity is first. All those simple rules we were taught as children and quickly forsook in place over superior attitudes have stayed simple for the Quakers. I love that.
The service, or lack thereof however, I do not know. I attended an unprogrammed meeting which I had initially thought was called deprogrammed. Perhaps I have been watching too much about cults. In unprogrammed meetings the attendees are silent. They are silent to leave room in the quiet for the still small voice, and they only speak if so moved by the Holy Spirit. If they desire to speak, they first wait and try to discern whether their doing so is self serving in any way or whether it is of God. Many long-term attendees do not speak often or at all, and many of the meetings are spent in total silence. The one I attended was one of those.
We walked in an several people were already sitting very still and quiet. In fact, they did not move or acknowledge our entry at all. We looked around for some indication of where the children have their separate time, but couldn’t find any. Eventually a woman moved very quietly toward us and showed us to the children’s area. The meeting had not had children around for some time and had packed away most of their children’s stuff. Once we got my son settled in, I continued back to the non-service. I took my seat and made eye contact with one gentleman, perhaps the pastor, who smiled then returned to close-eyed meditation. For the first 15- to 20- minutes of silence, I was easily distracted and very impatient. The ceiling is lined with boards and I counted them: 167. After that I day dreamed about what I would be writing about this when I got home. It wasn’t super positive. It often involved the irony of a silent meeting taking place beside the train tracks. But after some time avoiding the silence, I got my Bible out and decided to relish it. I opened to a random passage in Hebrews 5. The part that really stood out to me was Hebrews 5:11-14.
Of whom we have many things to say, and hard to be uttered, seeing ye are dull of hearing. For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.
From this I gleaned that I was a baby. My reluctance to sit in silence and be a teacher, and affinity to sit back and allow a pastor to preach to me was a result of my immaturity in faith. After reading that, I closed my eyes and let the silence wash over me, thinking perhaps I could use a little silence in my life.
After the service, we were greeted by the church. In talking with them I realized many things. First and foremost, being Quaker is highly unusual these days. most of them had teenage children who did not attend, or grown children who left. Children were extremely rare in their meetings, indeed so rare that a young woman who arrived after us heard our son talking, smiled, left, and returned with her daughter some 20 minutes later. She was very excited to have another child there. It also seems that being a Quaker can mean an awful lot of pressure. In speaking with one lady, she mentioned that many people become burned out quickly because of the responsibility of being responsible for the service, the furnishings, the set up, everything. Because the meeting does not operate as a church, but believes that the people are the church, they deal directly with any and all problems and needs, including the speaking during the meeting. To me, the silence seemed so restful, but I can imagine that when a visitor arrives, one might feel pressure to fill the silence even more than usual. I felt no such pressure being new to the congregation.
Before we left the young woman with the baby and I exchanged numbers. I am going to go over at some point and help them revamp the children’s area. I’m not sure if I am going to be a regular attender, but I could see myself needing a bit of silence to begin my week once in a while. What primarily interests me is making friends with kindred spirits. Whether I need to attend their silent services or not, hopefully I can make a couple Friends who perhaps can bring a little peace and kindness into my life.
Special thanks to Clare, who has very quietly invited me to experience the Friends in the past. I finally made it happen!
From the author of the book that finally moved me into attending: If the church were Christian