The Weirdest Thing I Have Ever Been To
This is a rare treat. A candid report on a Quaker worship service by an complete outsider.
I teach Psychology at the local college. The class before mine is American Religions. Quakerism is featured quite largely in their text. When their teacher found out that I was a Quaker pastor, he invited me to speak to his class. Since then I have become a favorite interview and research subject.
Below is the "Field Report" of a young woman named Kelli. I have her permission to share. She spent time on Quaker info.org and with the F and P of Freedom Friends. She interviewed me and attended our worship service. She was raised Catholic and occasionally attends a non-denominational Evangelical church. She is about 20 and married. I have not edited her report. The pictures are the ones she included. (note - her pictures have not transferred - I have added notes where she had pictures)
I am not interested in having us correct her small factual errors. I am very interested in what you think of this very fresh view.
by Kelli X
Quakers or religious Society of friends started in the 1640’s. They were a group of people who were dissatisfied with the established church who believed one could get the direct experience of Jesus Christ without mediation of clergy or like minded people. The founder of the Quakers was George Fox and he found other people who thought like him and they began to spread their message. As they expanded they faced opposition and persecution. Many were imprisoned or beaten especially in the British Colonies. The Massachusetts Bay Colony would banish the circle of friend’s members or punish them by death and hanging. They were most welcomed in Rhode Island and made up most of the population. They also came to be in Pennsylvania. They made peace treaties with the Indians have good relations with them after that. In 1947 the friends accepted the Nobel Peace Prize for 300 years of working for peace. There are approximately 160,000 friends in North America but occupy many parts of the world including Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. The religious circle of friends also helped or contributed to found current states such as NJ, Delaware, Penn and RI.
(picture of Quakers protesting war and a picture of George Fox)
For my field assignment I ventured to the land of Quakers. At first to be quite honest I thought that the Quaker religion was very much like Amish and expected it and the people to be very strict; wearing bonnets, having long facial hair and such. I am very surprised to learn that not only are Quaker people everyday people but they actually believe in a lot of what I believe in its just that they have made it a religion.
(picture of Presence in the Midst)
For my research on this paper I attended a church in Salem called Freedom Friends Church and interviewed Peggy Senger who is the pastor at this church. I went on a Sunday to a “meeting” there at 10:30 am. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary they hold meetings on Sunday just like a lot of others, the building didn’t really look like a church, but it’s the address I was given so I went inside.
The first thing I noticed that was different was it was very small just like a regular room. There were a few pews but instead of all facing to the front they faced each other with half on one side of the room and half on the other. There were no podiums or places where anyone stood up front. I watched as the people came in and they all sat wherever they wanted some not even sitting in the pews but in back at a table or in some chairs against the wall. A lady pulled up a music stand and pulled out her guitar and everyone picked up these binders that had hymns in them. I assume that these are the same hymns they always sing because they go in alphabetical order and it doesn’t look like any ever get added or taken out. We sung about 4 songs. I then expected the pastor to get up and stand at the front and start a sermon or something but it was just the opposite. She sat down right across in the pew and drank a beverage and just talked to everyone. She said it was time for gratitude’s and whoever wanted to could say anything they would like about what they were thankful for in that day or week or whatever. Almost everyone said something they were grateful for but not in any order just whoever felt like speaking. Next she said if anyone had concerns or cares or had something on their mind they could say that at that time, again some people spoke up about whatever was on their mind. The next thing was she said we were going to take some time and talk to god and you can do whatever is necessary to do that but it’s a time for you to talk to god and for you to listen to what he is telling you. You can do this by reading scriptures, coloring, or maybe saying something out loud if necessary. But in this time everyone was silent, I had no idea what was going on no one spoke. After about what seemed like a long while (to me) she prayed. It wasn’t a prayer I ever heard before, most churches I have been to, the prayer was organized almost written down? This pastor just talked… like she was just having a conversation with god but so everyone could hear. After that it was over. I didn’t know what to think it was pretty much the weirdest thing I have ever been to. I couldn’t get over how there was no sermon and basically the entire thing was silent for you to just sit there and think. I really enjoyed it though for the fact that it was welcoming. I didn’t feel really like an outsider and I didn’t feel stiff after I had sat down but I felt that this was kinda like a place to just hang out with fellow people and talk to god.
The church I went to is a semi programmed and socially progressive Quaker church. It has been around for about five years and as Peggy Sengerson (the pastor) told me they are an “experiment” taking on all sorts of the different beliefs that many Quakers have with a few basic key ones. They believe in a few key things I think are important to share. They believe in God, Jesus and spirit. They believe god is our creator and loves every single person no matter what and that he is creator. They believe Jesus died for our sins and was resurrected conquering sin, death and hell once for everyone. They do not believe that communion or baptizing is something that you need other people for but is between you and god. One of the big things they believe in is peace. They don’t agree with war, violence of any kind, or anything else that corrupts holy living. They are one of the few religions that do not have to participate in war but as Peggy was telling me you have to go thru a lot to prove that you’re a true Quaker to get out of this. They don’t believe in capital punishment, abortion, domestic violence and child abuse. They believe in simple living meaning that greed, envy, and security based on wealth are not examples of holy living. They have these meetings to conduct business. In bigger societies they have yearly meetings but not at hers. Conducting business in their place is a big deal because there is no boss. Everyone has the right to think what they want but basically if not everyone agrees no one agrees. If they do have a problem that comes up and can’t decide on an answer they leave it and come back later.
Three things that the Freedom Friends Church opposes greatly are Slavery, Fundamentalism and Evil. Slavery, not just of person to person but of yourself and your addictions to anything. Fundamentalism as they think that what they believe is on the correct path to what god wants but they in no way saying their way is the only or right way to go. They are truly against trying to be evil or anything that has to do with it. I asked Peggy how you don’t do that and she said like for example when everything is going wrong and you want to hate something or someone you think instead of all those bad things what can I do to make this better or make the situation better?
I could go on and on for days about all the interesting things I learned from her or how most of it actually makes sense to me. I really am glad I chose this religion and think I have learned a lot about it and also about being open minded to other types of religion because I think we are all getting the same message from god just in different ways.
(picture of Hold On - Let Go quilt at FFC)
Either Hold On - to God, to each other, to the truth - or Let Go, of your expectations, fears or anything that keeps your from proximity to God and to freedom. Sometimes the answer is do both.
That was great Peggy! I hope Kelli gets to try out a programmed and un unprogrammed meeting someday. I love the part where she says it was the weirdest thing she has ever been to - and yet she felt welcomed and comfortable! Such a nice description of FFC. =)
We regularly have groups of students from the local universities coming to Twin Cities Meeting to experience Quakerism. I think it would be very interesting to read their reports or hear what they think afterwards.
I think it could be very instructive to read/hear how "outsiders" view our meetings for worship. Do visitors feel welcome? Do they have any way of finding out what is going on? Do they feel comfortable or uncomfortable?
I am impressed that she asked questions and sought out information about understanding what she had seen and experienced. Much better than what often occurs as with a reporter from the Oregonian some years ago who attended meeting and left to write about it without ever asking a thing and spread a whole lot of misunderstanding.
Thanks for this.
I too am thinking of attending a meeting for the first time soon (since I live in the UK it will be unprogrammed).
I am sure I will post something when I do.
I really appreciated this little snippit of Kelli's essay: "...I felt that this was kinda like a place to just hang out with fellow people and talk to god."
What a wonderful impression for someone to come away with!
The Lamb's War
"This pastor just talked… like she was just having a conversation with god but so everyone could hear."
*big huge grin*
What impressed me about this report is how the Kelli's previous experiences in church shaped her expectation, and how startlingly counter-cultural the meeting was for her. She didn't seem to think that renouncing addiction or fundamentalism was so weird, only the mode of worship. For someone like me who worries about how Friends meeting has become so complacent and predictible, this is an encouraging reminder that we do indeed have a distinctive place in the church and in the community and that we should be open to more people like Kelli.Post a Comment
I'm also impressed that your meeting has its own Faith and Practice document that made sense to a newcomer.