I have found over the years that there is a certain lack of common knowledge about who Quakers are. No, we're not the celibate Shakers, nor the Ludditely Amish or Mennonites. Or a guy who markets oatmeal in an old-fashioned hat.
Friends have a long history - over 350 years - and much has been written about them. George Fox founded the Society of Friends in England, and it soon spread to America.
The branch of Friends that I belong to and the Meeting I attend feature unprogrammed worship. This means simply that we sit in silence together on pews in a beautiful and simple Meetinghouse built more than 150 years ago (photos by Ed Mair). We sit in expectant waiting, listening for a message from the Light.
Friends are a tolerant bunch and, while it is at base a Christian faith, no one is quizzed on their individual belief system. One might be listening for a message from God, another for a message from Spirit, another for a message from within, and another might be mindfully meditating. All are welcome. If someone feels moved to share a message, she or he stands, speaks, and then sits.
That's it. We have First Day School for the children, fellowship and refreshments, and a monthly business meeting. We hold peace vigils as well as social potlucks.
The five Testimonies guide our lives:
Historically, Friends have been rabble-rousers in the name of peace and equality. Mary Dyer was hung on the Boston Common in 1660 for preaching Quakerism. John Woolman traveled the American colonies urging people to give up their slaves. John Greenleaf Whittier, the poet and abolitionist, was on the building committee of the Amesbury Meeting, where I am a member. Many modern Friends have been conscientious objectors in time of war. See my earlier post on this topic, too.
I came to Friends as an adult. I find that quiet individual worship in community suits me, as do the Testimonies. Being a Quaker seems to suit Lauren, too. It's not for everyone, though. I knew someone raised as a high Episcopalian and he really couldn't handle all the silence. When I visited his church, I couldn't take all the busyness!
Did you know what Quakerism meant? If you have ever sat in silent Meeting for Worship, how was it for you?