Category Archives: Reno Friends News

Quakerism 101

Have you ever wondered how Quakers came to be? The Religious Society of Friends can be a puzzling spiritual community, different in so many ways from other protestant religions. Even those familiar with Quakerism have unanswered questions. Who were the Early Friends, and how did they manage to invent such in interesting new way to seek God? What led them to worship in silence? How did they arrive at consensus around the Quaker testimonies?

Looking beyond the simple dress and distinctive Quaker hats of Early Friends, you might be surprised to find commonality with these passionate men and women, the founders who struggled to find spiritual truth and community in the political and social chaos of 17th-century England. To explore this rich legacy, Reno Friends this fall will offer six sessions of what we call Quakerism 101, reviewing the emergence of the Early Friends and how their faith developed, and taking a closer look into some of the nuts and bolts of Quaker practice.

The classes start on Oct. 2 with a look at Quakerism’s roots during the English reformation and at several important Quaker founders. The second session (Oct. 16) will explore The Light Within, the direct and unmediated experience of the Divine in each of us, plus Quaker Universalism. The third session (Oct. 30) will delve into the meaning of attendership and membership in a Friends Meeting.

We will hold two more sessions in November. On Nov. 6, we will examine Quaker Process and our management of Meeting business. On Nov. 20, we will look at worship and ministry, our spiritual life, activism in the Quaker community, silent worship and what it means to be a gathered meeting. The last class, on Dec. 11, will dive into Faith & Practice, our Quaker guidebook, as well as the core Quaker testimonies: Peace, Equality, Integrity, Simplicity, Unity and Harmony with Nature.

Many Quakers have written of their own understanding and experience of God, their faith and the testimonies down through the centuries. This trove of wisdom is rich indeed. Here is one of my favorite examples, drawn from the testimonies presented in Faith & Practice:

“We who are members of the Society of Friends have little to fall back on except as our experience with truth. We cannot resort to ritual or creed or ecclesiastical decisions for guidance.  We must find our way by seeing the hand of God at work in the weaving of the fabric of daily life.”

– Quaker Clarence E. Pickett.

Even if you think you know all about Quakers, please join us for this exploration into the heart of the Quaker world.

 

Wendy Swallow, Clerk of Reno Friends Meeting

 email: wswallow54 (at) gmail.com

The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting.

The Great Applesauce Giveaway

Every fall the children in our First Day School (FDS) collect apples from the tree behind the building where our First Day program meets on Sundays. The kids have picked up the fruit mostly so there wouldn’t be a big mess. But this fall FDS decided to put the apples to good use by cooking up food for Reno’s homeless. That’s how the Great Applesauce Giveaway was launched.

“We had been talking about homelessness and why someone might be homeless and hungry, and the kids wanted to help. This seemed like the perfect opportunity,” says Erin, our long-time FDS teacher. She put out feelers to the Reno Friends community asking if anyone had extra apples or problem apples. When one of the Quakers said she had plenty, the First Day School decided to meet on a Saturday and glean what they could.

The children enjoyed picking up and sorting the apples, and talked about how they were taking care of the land by eliminating a rotted mess of neglected fruit. They brought their harvest to the home of one of the kids, then peeled and chopped and boiled the apples. They had fun taking turns with an old-fashioned apple peeler, but still, it took a long time; several people worked into the evening. When it was done, however, they had lots of paper containers full of applesauce.

The next day, the FDS kids passed out the applesauce containers, and spoons, in front of one of Reno’s homeless shelters. “The cups were all gone within a few minutes,” Erin remembers. “Everyone could see what we were doing and they all came over.” It was a moving experience for the youngsters, Erin says. “It was very emotional; we were overwhelmed by how much greater the need was than we could fill.” One mom says the response from the homeless touched her son profoundly, and the First Day School kids soon agreed they would try to think up more projects to help. Later, they read about Elizabeth Fry (1780-1845), a Quaker from England who worked in prisons and reported that no one ever asked the prisoners what they needed. People might bring supplies, but only the supplies they thought the prisoners needed, not what they truly wanted. And so the FDS children decided their next project would be to buy supplies for the homeless – but only after asking them what they need.

Reno Friends First Day School is available, for free, every First Day (Sunday) morning from 10 to 11. The First Day School explores age-appropriate issues and stories that teach the children about Quaker values and testimonies, such as the Peace Testimony and the Equality Testimony. For more information, look at the Reno Friends’ website under “All About Reno Friends.”

Wendy Swallow, Clerk of Reno Friends Meeting

 email: wswallow54 (at) gmail.com

The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting.

Welcoming the Syrian Refugees

At our November Business Meeting, Reno Friends debated a topic that days later would  command the front page: whether to welcome Syrians refugees in northern Nevada. The federal government is working through local non-profits to find homes and livelihoods nationwide for the 10,000 Syrian refugees it has promised to take. Our Meeting had been asked what it could do.

The Syrian tragedy is all too familiar today: refugee families slogging their way through the Balkans in a cold rain, drowned children washed ashore after their boats swamp in the rough Mediterranean Sea. Young men, many of them, but also elderly, parents, women, kids and babies — more than 4 million in all enduring a terrifying journey to escape terror and war.

Reno Meeting decided we would do what we could. A few days later, the Friends Committee on National Legislation, the national lobbying arm of the Quakers, wrote us to urge our Senators to support funding for the processing and settlement of Syrian refugees in the United States. Several of us called to ask the government to authorize the spending.

Then came the horrifying attacks by ISIS in Paris and Beirut. With several hundred dead and ISIS threatening to attack American cities, governors of many states declared they were unwilling to allow Syrian refugee families to settle within their borders. Governor Brian Sandoval of Nevada chose a different path: rather than an outright refusal, he said Nevada would accept no Syrian refugees until the White House had reviewed the resettlement program to make sure it was as thorough as possible. To date, nine Syrians have been resettled in Nevada, according to the Las Vegas Sun.

I understand the fear we harbor in our hearts. I lived through 9/11 in Washington, D.C., and remember well the paralyzing anxiety of another attack. I worried about friends and family riding the Metro, visiting popular landmarks like the Smithsonian, or just driving through the city. I know how hard it is to feel unsafe, to fear that a random act of terrorism will destroy the life and freedoms we often take for granted.

But does that mean the United States should turn away Syrian refugees? There is a remote danger that some of the refugees could be terrorists or be radicalized in the future, but so can American citizens and immigrants already living among us. Does fear of the few mean we should block the many who are worthy and desperate? And wouldn’t the Syrian children now enduring hardship to reach a better world be less likely to mature into terrorists if we took them in and cared for them?

These are difficult, complex questions. Nothing here is simple. But for me, this is a time when being a Quaker helps. Our Peace testimony asks us to recognize the child of God in everyone, and to do what we can to end violence and promote justice and human understanding. At the same time, the Integrity testimony urges us to be true to our word. “When lives are centered in the Spirit, beliefs and actions are congruent, and words are dependable,” says our Quaker guide, Faith and Practice.

It is, after all, the season of Peace. Let us open our hearts.

Wendy Swallow, Clerk of Reno Friends Meeting

 email: wswallow54 (at) gmail.com

The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting.

The New Jim Crow

Several years ago, Reno Friends committed to finance the operating costs of the Nevada chapter of the Alternatives to Violence Project. AVP’s volunteers lead conflict resolution workshops inside Nevada prisons, seeking to empower inmates to lead nonviolent lives. The Meeting’s decision was not difficult: Quakers embrace the principle of nonviolence, and they have cared deeply about prison issues since the early members of the Society of Friends were jailed for their beliefs.

In this tradition, Reno Friends will gather Wednesday evenings this month and next to discuss the game-changing book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, by Michelle Alexander. Alexander, a law professor at Ohio State University and former director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Racial Justice Project in Northern California, argues that changes made to state and federal sentencing laws during the 1980’s – particularly those for non-violent drug offenders – have resulted in the imprisonment today of more black men than were enslaved in the United States in 1850.

The United States is now the world’s leader in incarceration. Our nation’s prisons and jails hold 2.2 million people, five times as many as were imprisoned 30 years ago, according to the Friends Committee for National Legislation (FCNL). Alexander says sentencing laws that require mandatory minimums for nonviolent crimes are a legacy of generations of discrimination. She says the War on Drugs focused heavily on black drug users in cities, and prosecutors are twice as likely to seek mandatory minimum sentences for black defendants as for white. Today African-Americans serve almost as much prison time for nonviolent drug crimes (58.7 months) as whites do for violent crimes (61.7 months).

Incarceration has long-term effects. One in three black men in America are now incarcerated during their lifetime, and those who are convicted struggle for years to overcome the repercussions of their criminal record. According to FCNL, some states ban formerly incarcerated people from driving or getting the professional licenses they need to be a hair stylist or an accountant. Federal laws also permanently ban those with felony drug convictions from receiving welfare or food stamps. Many released prisoners are banned from public housing; not surprisingly, many become homeless.

To guide our discussion, Reno Friends will follow a book-group curriculum provided by Chris Moore-Backman, director of the Chico, CA, Peace and Justice Program. The group will meet from 6:30 pm to 8 pm every other Wednesday, starting Oct. 7 and continuing Oct. 21, Nov. 4 and Nov. 18 at our Meeting House at 497 Highland Avenue in Reno. The class is free, but you will need to buy or borrow a copy of the book. If you would like to join us, please email me, the Clerk of Reno Friends, at wswallow54 (at) gmail.com to sign up. We hope to see you there!

Wendy Swallow, Clerk of Reno Friends Meeting

 email: wswallow54 (at) gmail.com

The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting.

Why Reno Friends Go Camping

Every fall the Reno Friends head to Grover Hot Springs State Park near Markleeville, California, for a weekend camping trip. We hike, swim in the hot springs pool, huddle in tents when it rains, and cook epic meals over bonfires. Most important, we talk — sometimes casually, sometimes with intensity. For a group that worships in silence, our time together around the campfire feels precious and important.

Last year, the forest fires that sent smoke across the Sierras required we cancel our camping trip, but we managed to muster a good-sized group for a day hike in the alpine meadows near Mt. Rose. Reno Friends try to get together for at least one outing or social activity every couple of months. We have shared lunch at a fun restaurant, cheered the Reno Aces at the ball park downtown, and hiked up Peavine to check out the spring wildflowers. What I love best about these outings is talking with other Friends, discovering details about them I hadn’t known. Each time I find myself deepening the connection to someone in the group.

Early Friends, often ostracized and sometimes persecuted for their simple living and radical spiritual and political beliefs, referred to their meetings as the Beloved Community. And no wonder—they must have needed each other’s support every day.

I think of that sometimes as I look around our Meeting gathered for the monthly potluck or an adult First-Day School discussion or teaming up to pull weeds and trim bushes during the spring or fall cleanup. I’m glad others bring beliefs and opinions that challenge me to think more deeply and test my own understanding and social norms. To see that of God in everyone, as Quakers strive to do, it helps to have these opportunities to know one another better.

In the Light,

Wendy Swallow, Clerk of Reno Friends Meeting

 email: wswallow54 (at) gmail.com

The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting.

 

The Maple Leaf

Recently a Reno Friend offered the Meeting a large photograph of a maple leaf. It was a vivid image, the veins of the leaf quite pronounced, branching and spreading in all directions. The Friend told us she became attached to the image after another Reno Friend suggested the leaf illustrated that there are many paths to God. Her hope was that we would hang the painting in the Meeting House.

Other groups might say yea or nay quickly, without much deliberation. Not the Quakers.  Meeting House decoration can be a loaded question. Early Quakers were notoriously “plain-living,” eschewing fancy dress and sumptuous furnishings. They also rejected the ornate Anglican and Catholic church buildings of their day, and many Quakers still prefer to keep their Meeting Houses simple. Yet we have found that sometimes this “blank slate” interior, combined with the silence of our worship, can leave visitors wondering what we are about.

At Reno Friends we have occasionally used our Meeting House walls to showcase local artists  or to hang posters with Quaker messages. But none of these are permanent fixtures. Indeed, we have a policy prohibiting permanent art on the Meeting House walls: we would not want to promote any particular path toward God.

In the Quaker tradition there is even a testimony against proselytizing; we believe each person must determine the truth for themselves. As Quaker Clarence E. Pickett said: “We who are members of the Society of Friends have little to fall back on except as our experience with truth. We cannot resort to ritual or creed or ecclesiastical decisions for guidance. We must find our way by seeing the hand of God at work in the weaving of the fabric of daily life.”

After some discussion, our Meeting decided to accept the picture of the maple leaf for temporary display. While it hangs on our wall, we’ll each have time to consider what the leaf means to us.  There are many paths to God, enough for each to have their own.

In the Light,

Wendy Swallow, Clerk of Reno Friends Meeting

 email: wswallow54 (at) gmail.com

The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting.

A New Home on the Web

When my husband and I moved to Reno seven years ago, we went searching for a spiritual community online….

I checked out several different religious websites, but was attracted to Reno Friends Meeting by the personal feel of its site.  There were bios of attenders, welcoming faces, and a treasure trove of material on Quakerism.  We went to Silent Worship the next weekend and have been attending ever since.

Today, though, that original Reno Friends website feels out of date.  How quickly technology changes!  In an effort to reach out to the Northern Nevada community, Reno Friends has built a new web site that we hope will be easier to use and more inviting to newcomers.  Building on the WordPress blog platform, we reorganized and distilled content from the old site, building a site we hope you will find useful, attractive and easy to navigate. It will also be easier for us to manage internally, enabling more frequent updates.

As part of our redesign, we have added this monthly blog about the interesting things we’re doing at the Meeting — whether it’s the annual fall camping trip to Grover Hot Springs or the new class on Quaker Testimonies.  We will also fold the monthly newsletter into the website and provide a more robust calendar of future events.  My hope is that the Reno Friends website will become a resource and home for everyone interested in Quaker practice and philosophy in the Reno-Tahoe area.

In the Light,

 

Wendy Swallow, Clerk of Reno Friends Meeting

 

 email: wswallow54 (at) gmail.com

 

The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting.