Church Hop: Quaker

bench(This series of posts is by an anonymous couple who’ve decided to launch an experiment: a summer of church hopping. Every post will include the perspectives of each in a “she said/he said” format.)

She Said:

Over the past few months, we’ve tried several churches that are entirely new to us: Episcopal, United Church of Christ, Unitarian Universalist, and Community of Christ. Out of all of these meetings, none departed so much from my previous experience as the Quaker meeting we went to today.

The Quakers, also known as the Religious Society of Friends, meet in unassuming buildings without stained glass or fancy decorations. In fact, the group we joined today occupied a few rooms in a small private school. When we arrived, we were invited by a greeter to make name tags for ourselves. My kids and I followed a volunteer to the room designated for kids while my husband joined the adult group for an hour of quiet meditation. I wanted to stay with my kids until they felt comfortable, which ended up being a full forty-five minutes. The volunteer, a woman in her sixties, read some stories to the small group of kids while they colored or listened. The volunteer picked a few Quaker classics, like Thy Friend, Obadiah and We’re Going to Meeting for Worship. She also read a few books about trees and began a simplified bio of Susan B. Anthony (I didn’t know she was a Quaker!) before the kids were invited to join the adult group.

It was these fifteen minutes that were unlike any religious meeting I’ve been to before. Instead of facing a podium or altar, everyone sat facing one another in a circle. According to the program that was handed out, Quakers “believe that there is that of God in each person. Meeting for Worship is a time to get in touch with that part of ourselves, and that of each other. We worship together in expectant silence.” Some people closed their eyes as they meditated. A few times, one person would stand and speak what they felt inspired to say. Quakers also believe in an Inner Light that guides everyone, a concept that feels very similar to the Light of Christ idea. When they felt prompted by this Inner Light, they would stand and speak. But mostly it was quiet and peaceful. No music. No spoken prayer. No sermon. Just thoughtful quiet.susan

My six-year old sprawled languidly on my husband’s lap, and my five-year old wriggled on mine, repeatedly whispering despite my reminders that it was time to be reverent. I guess that’s why kids are only invited in for the last fifteen. An hour would be absolute torture! But maybe after practice they would learn to appreciate the stillness. The other children there certainly seemed to have gotten the knack of it. And as for me, I was surprised by how spiritually nourishing those fifteen minutes felt. I imagined myself opening a conduit directly to God, asking for help as we seek to be good and compassionate. The stillness was broken when a designated person shook the person’s hand next to him. Everyone began shaking hands and exchanging greetings. Something about this worship style reminds me of sitting in the Celestial Room of an LDS temple. The peacefulness of it sparks me to want to learn more.


He Said: quaker meetinghouse

We decided to write this column anonymously because we wanted to speak candidly without causing unnecessary stress to friends and family who might not know about our struggles yet. I’m finding, however, that there is an unexpected benefit: my ignorance is displayed every week, and no one has to know that it’s me! I really do appreciate those readers who have pointed out errors in my thinking and knowledge. I’m not generally an ignorant person, but, when it comes to religion, I’ve been in the Mormon bubble for far too long.

A major reminder of my ignorance of the Christian world came the other day when I took one of those “What religion should you be” quizzes online. You answer questions about your beliefs, values, and preferences, and then it tells you which religion you match up with the best. My result was “Liberal Quaker.” I had no idea there was such a thing! Of course, the first thing that came to mind was oatmeal, oatsand I had some vague association of the Quakers with colonial America, peace, and Richard Nixon, but I hadn’t heard of a liberal variety of Quakers. We decided to check it out.

I still don’t know a lot about Quaker origins and theology (although I’m sure I’ll get to it as I work my way through The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Christianity), but I sure enjoyed their worship meeting: 35 minutes of complete silence, followed by 25 minutes of what we would call “testimony meeting,” but without all the “I knows.” When I first arrived, I thought to myself how boring it was going to be to just sit in silence for so long, but after a few minutes I focused my mind on thinking about where I’m at in this religious journey as the summer draws to an end, what my values are, where I would like to be in the future. I loved it. In fact, I didn’t want it to end. As a basically stay-at-home dad with two small children in the house, I had forgotten what quiet sounds like.

The real name for the Quakers is the Religious Society of Friends, and these Friends lived up to their name during the snack and social time after the worship meeting. Very friendly folks, and not the least bit pushy. Like most of the congregations that we have visited, they were a small and generally older group, but there were a few younger people, too. I look forward to learning more.