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What Does Quaker Membership Mean?

Several weeks ago Reno Friends met online for a spiritual discussion about membership, which was something of a rare event. Usually, modern-day Quakers don’t talk much about who’s a member and who’s an “attender.” Many devoted Quakers spend their lives as attenders of Monthly Meetings, volunteering for leadership roles and participating in Silent Worship, Business Meetings and social events, but deciding against the step of membership. In truth, that pretty much describes me: I’ve been attending Quaker Meeting (with varying levels of devotion) since I first went to the Florida Avenue Meeting in Washington, D.C., more than 35 years ago. I’m a really good attender.

Recently, however, I’ve been wondering if it isn’t time to become a member. A Reno member I deeply respect (a life-long Quaker and thoughtful guy) asked me about it the other day, saying that since I’m so active in the Meeting, why don’t I take the leap? “Because I have doubts,” I told him. He nodded sagely.  “We all have doubts. Looks to me like you are contributing as members do, so you might as well become a member.”

Membership in a Quaker Meeting is not a simple affair, partly because membership is a question not just for the individual but also for the Meeting. To determine if someone is ready, the Meeting convenes a Clearness Committee of several members who sit with the person seeking membership for a series of discussions. Clearness Committees can be convened for any number of reasons; if someone needs help working out a personal or spiritual problem, they can ask for a Clearness Committee and the Meeting will put one together for them. Clearness Committees are there to help the individual find clarity. Those on the committee are told to ask questions rather than doling out advice.

In the case of membership, a Clearness Committee might ask whether the person thinks they are ready for the commitment implicit in becoming a member, or whether they feel they know and understand enough about the Quaker testimonies and Quaker process. It’s also an opportunity for the person to air doubts or concerns. Those who come out of the Clearness Committee convinced they want to move forward write a letter requesting membership, which is considered first by the Ministry and Oversight Committee, and then by the Meeting as a whole at Business Meeting. Both the individual and the Meeting need to agree that they are a good fit for one another.

Quaker membership has this sort of weight partly because Quakers originally developed as a persecuted group in England, back in the 17th century, and membership provided a form of protection and support for Quakers who were thrown in jail or impoverished because of their faith. At that time, people in jails had to pay for their food, so Quaker Meetings would collect funds so that members who had been jailed for their religious beliefs wouldn’t starve, and to also help their families survive.

In our spiritual discussion the other day, several members of our Meeting shared what it meant to them. One person said she became a member after years of attending because she finally felt she was truly “home.” Another said that becoming a member served as a public acknowledgment of spiritual growth that had already happened. Another pointed out that getting new members could be affirming for a Meeting, as it would mean attenders valued the group and wanted to participate on a deeper level.  

What I know is that, in my heart, I am a Quaker. I believe in the power of Silent Worship, having found it a grounding and liberating form of worship. I agree with the Quaker testimonies, and believe it is important for Quaker values to be alive in the world. I also deeply appreciate that the Quakers are a religious organization that does not require me to decide about spiritual questions or state a creed. My spiritual doubts are gently tolerated by the Quaker faith, and the focus on action over words is fundamental to how I want to live my spiritual life. When I really think about it, I know I will never be a member of any other church again.

So maybe it’s time I ask for that Clearness Committee. I’m curious what they will ask, and how I will answer.  

Wendy Swallow, Blog Editor, Reno Friends Meeting

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

Silent Protest vs. Speaking Our Truth

A Reno Friend recently shared a photo from social media that reminded me of something fundamental to the Quaker faith. It wasn’t a photo of Quakers; it was a photo of Turkish protestors, gathered to stand against their government’s crimes –   and they were standing in silence. Below the photo (which was published by The Free Thought Project) was a caption: No yelling. No screaming. No fighting. A more efficient form of protesting: Thousands of people standing in complete silence, protesting in squares & public places in Turkey. Baffling the police by creating a calm curiosity, instead of tension and aggression. Along with the photo, the Reno Friend sent a comment: “Quakers have been using this form of protest for years!”

Given the many noisy and angry protests across the United States in the last few months, I’ve been thinking more about the nature of protest. As Quakers, it feels important to speak out against injustice, to share our truth as our Integrity testimony urges us to do. For many, that often means we must speak, even shout and make signs. To be bold and loud with our message.

But as the Turkish protesters discovered, there is also a power in standing silently in the face of unfairness and prejudice. To stand up and simply be counted. To witness; to be there when it matters.

So is there a conflict between silent protest and the Quakers’ Integrity testimony?

Silent protest has long been used to demonstrate disapproval or refusal, and the Quakers have understood its power for hundreds of years. Back in the 17th century, when the Quaker faith was founded, many Quakers were imprisoned for their steadfast silence in the face of the government’s demand that they deny their faith.

And the Quakers never stopped protesting in silence. In 1969, hundreds of Quakers staged a silent, day-long vigil outside the White House to protest the Vietnam War and the slow pace of the Paris peace negotiations. In 2017, several hundred Quakers climbed a hill in the north of England and stood in silent protest against a local fracking proposal. And it wasn’t just any hill; it was Pendle Hill in Lancashire, the place where Quaker founder George Fox had a vision of people gathered together, which sparked his decision to start the Quaker church. People came from all over the country to join the fracking protest. As one participant said: “Silent protest is the ultimate in nonviolent direct action. Who can object to that?”

Silent protest has been deployed by many others, as well, including Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. Indeed, for those engaged in civil disobedience and non-violent protest, silence can be the most effective method. When a small band of black students tried to integrate lunch counters in the south in the sixties, the power of their protest was that they offered no provocation, which made it harder for the police to respond with force. The protesters’ silence said it all.

So perhaps there is no conflict between the Quaker way of silence and the Quaker Integrity testimony. There are, after all, many ways to “speak.” The question, instead, is how do we deploy truth-telling that’s uplifting and supportive, rather than destructive?

For Quakers – and anyone looking for a peaceful way to protest – it is possible to speak our truth through silence. We just need the courage to put our bodies, rather than our voices, on the line. We can stand in integrity with others without muzzling our message. We can shine Light on truth, and trust that collectively, as equals, we can set in motion the wheels of change.

As George Fox famously said, “Let your life speak.” Our actions can speak as boldly as our words.

Wendy Swallow, Blog Editor, Reno Friends Meeting

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

Love thy Neighbor: No Exceptions

…And yet we could hurt no man that we believe loves us. Let us then try what Love will do: for if men did once see we love them, we should soon find they would not harm us… William Penn, 1693

Back in May, when the Black Lives Matter protests were beginning after George Floyd’s death, Reno Friends had an opportunity to love our neighbors. Due to the pandemic, we were meeting for worship outside in our garden, so we could be together but also keep our distance. We had sent a letter to our neighbors asking if they could bring in their dogs during our hour of Silent Worship.

On the Sunday after the protests in Reno’s downtown, we sat for peace and equality. As we were settling into our chairs, we noticed a number of people and dogs in our neighbor’s yard. Suddenly, loud, acid rock began playing out of a bedroom window facing the garden. I went over and let them know we were about to begin worship and asked if they could bring the dogs in and turn the music off. The grandmother told me that it was difficult to control the dogs. I understood in that moment that she had absolutely no control over the actions of the young men playing the music.

We decided to choose the path of peace and, leaving our garden, selected a tree out in the park where we had a lovely Silent Worship. We were joined by two squirrels, one ironically seeking sanctuary from a bully squirrel who was chasing him. The timid one hid under a lawn chair until he could race through the midst of us back to his burrow.

Shortly after that first Sunday, the Ministry and Oversight Committee decided to extend a gesture of neighborly friendliness and peace toward our neighbors, even though we were unhappy about the loud music that had disturbed our garden worship. We put together a gift bag for the family’s little boy, who is about three years old and loves to greet the USPS and UPS drivers. It contained a UPS truck and a satchel of small letters and packages designed by one of our members, as well as some construction vehicles the child would likely see on the streets. We also made a goodie bag of cookies, espresso mix, and chocolate for the rest of the family.

I was planning to deliver our gifts, but circumstances kept delaying me. In the meantime, we continued to meet for worship in the garden on Sundays and noticed the neighbors were making their best efforts to keep their dogs indoors and that there was no more loud music.

About two weeks later, my not-so-still-small voice inside said, “Go buy some flowers and deliver it all, now.” I remember arguing that it was lunch time and I didn’t want to bother them. But the voice was relentless, so I went, picking up flowers on the way. I’m so glad I listened. It was a little after noon when I pulled up to the Meeting House and saw the grandmother out on the porch with the dogs.

I took the gifts to the gate and she came over. I introduced myself and said I was with the Quakers next door and we wanted to offer these gifts of neighborly friendliness and peace. She said we didn’t have to do that; that she was trying her best to keep the dogs in and quiet, but she couldn’t always control her boys. She apologized for what had happened.

She went on to explain that it had been a very hard time recently for their family. Her mother had died two weeks earlier. They had a celebration of her life while she was still alive, as this had been her wish, and several family members had come into town to be part of it. That was why there were so many people next door that Sunday after the demonstrations. I suddenly understood the tension I had felt when I’d gone over to talk with her.

I told her I was sorry for their loss and that we absolutely wanted them to have these gifts. I was even more glad I had come as I was led, and that I brought flowers. I expressed our gratitude for the efforts they had made the last two Sundays, which were very pleasant out in the garden. She told me she’d requested that her family respect our time in our garden, since it is only “one hour a week.” I asked her to let us know if they have a family gathering we need to work around, and we will find a tree in the park again.

We chatted for a bit (it was her lunch break, so the timing was perfect). I learned that her daughter’s family lives with her, and that she is grateful for them, as she is never alone. She said she wanted to support our worship as she saw how much it had pained her mother not to be able to go to church at the end. She also told me she is a spiritual person, though she doesn’t attend church. I invited her to sit with us anytime she would like, even if it’s from her own porch. She smiled at this invitation, thanked us for our gifts and wished me a good day.

In July, we had a Zoom spiritual discussion on the subject of Loving thy Neighbor (No Exceptions). There was rich and poignant sharing about the challenges of loving others without exception, particularly when we disagree or feel upset with each other. Friends shared these insights:

  • Sometimes it’s helpful to agree to disagree. We can stand in our own integrity and truth, while respecting the different position of the other person.
  • There is power in holding those with whom we disagree in the Light.
  • It is important to approach interactions with curiosity and compassion.
  • Before communicating when upset, it is prudent to deal with anger/fear in oneself first. Then we can be clearer when we reach out to the other person.
  • It helps to remember that we all struggle, and that we don’t know what another is experiencing.

Our experience with our neighbors and the spiritual discussion that followed brings to life something another Friend had spoken about during Worship: Be kind to others; you never know what pain and hardship they may be going through. It is also a testimony to the current need and power of loving thy neighbors, especially those you might not choose as friends. It seems to me now is a time for us to live this testimony in our everyday interactions out in the world. The peaceful change we seek lies within us.

Rhonda Ashurst, Blog Contributor, Reno Friends Meeting

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

Continuing Revelation

The coronavirus pandemic has raised many challenges for society, but one of the most difficult are the restrictions on gathering for worship. Like many other church groups, Quaker Meetings have struggled with whether to meet online through Zoom, or outdoors, or in tiny groups – but for Quakers, it is all complicated by the fact that we worship in silence. There’s no service, no minister or choir, to videotape and upload to our website. Instead, we sit in silence and, occasionally, someone feels moved by a message rising in their heart, and they stand and share it with the group. But not always; many gathered Meetings for Worship pass without a single message. Despite that, however, we do feel the Spirit moving amongst us. There is something about being together that makes the Silence more powerful.

So how to worship if we’re also trying to keep everyone safe? At the moment, Reno Friends are sitting in silence in our Meeting House garden, separated by six feet and our masks, hoping it doesn’t rain. In the fall, when it gets too cold to sit outside, we may take our worship online, using Zoom to gather in silence. We are learning that we have to keep reinventing what we do.

For Quakers, that’s not a stretch. We believe that the spiritual journey is one of continuing revelation, which springs from our personal experience of the divine Inward Light. One of my favorite Quaker expressions is “way will open,” which means that the proper course will reveal itself in time. But it also means we don’t necessarily know what comes next. It takes patient discernment of leadings and insights to find our path. We each listen to the “still small voice” inside us, then share what we’ve heard with the others for seasoning and, hopefully, eventual unity. We keep becoming, over and over.

The idea that revelation is ongoing, rather than set in stone by a creed or biblical text, is fundamental to the Quakers’ understanding of God. According to Central Philadelphia Monthly Meeting: “Continuing Revelation” means that… the Holy Spirit’s creative activity among us did not end with the first generation of Apostles at Pentecost. The Spirit continues to speak and reveal God’s insight and wisdom to us if we are willing to listen. While God is ‘unchanging,’ our understanding of God’s wisdom is not, and may increase or diminish overtime and over generations.”

This pandemic is nothing if not an exercise in continuing revelation. One week we are told to disinfect our groceries, the next week it turns out that may not matter. But, as Quakers, we know we must keep listening and reading and weighing alternatives to figure out how to live within our Light and do what God calls us to do. We also know that we must sometimes turn over knowing to the Spirit, and live patiently with the little we can know for now. 

At the moment, it feels helpful to consider this guidance from British Yearly Meeting: “Be aware of the spirit of God at work in the ordinary activities and experience of your daily life. Spiritual learning continues throughout life, and often in unexpected ways. There is inspiration to be found in the natural world, in the sciences and arts, in our work and friendships, in our sorrows as well as in our joys.” In short, there is continuing revelation all around us.

Wendy Swallow, Blog Editor, Reno Friends Meeting

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


Last winter, a young couple from South Lake Tahoe visited our Meeting. When we ended Silent Worship and asked for afterthoughts, the man spoke. During the silence he’d been meditating on their work making snowshoe trails through the forest. It was a snowy winter, so there was a recurring need to set new trails to help people unfamiliar with the area find their way through the forest. In his reflections, he’d been pondering the deeper meaning of leaving trails for others to follow along the path of life.

A couple of weeks ago, my partner and I stayed a few days in a cabin, and cross country skied in the mountain meadows near Tahoe. The first thing we did was get a trail map with suggestions from a local expert on which trails would be best for us to try. We usually stick with a set trail our first time in a new spot. When we follow the trails of others, I don’t have to think about the path. I notice the sky, the mountain peaks, birds in the trees, the glint of sunlight like diamonds on the snow, the crisp feel of the air on my face.

As we become familiar with the lay of the land, however, we often wander off to create our own trail. This requires more focus on choosing a course over hills and through trees, and a willingness to take risks. Sometimes it works out beautifully and we find an awesome new way through the woods and meadows, enjoying new vistas and spots for lunch. There is a thrill to making fresh tracks in the snow, particularly when it has just the right firmness and you can float easily over the top crust without breaking through.

Other times, we don’t choose the best way. On this trip, the snow was hard-packed and icy. We decided to cut off the main trail and find our own way down to the meadow below. Unfortunately, I picked a hill too steep for me to get down safely. Sometimes you can’t tell that until you are committed. I fell. Assessing the situation, I pulled off my skis and went the rest of the way down on my hands and knees! At the bottom, I put my skis back on and we floated through the meadow, over shorter hills, and back to the car. Another time when we tried breaking our own trail, we had a lovely ski, but ended up on the other side of a river and had to walk a mile back to our car with our skis and poles over our shoulders! It was exhausting.

In reflecting on trails, I’ve come to see that sometimes it’s critical to follow a trail someone else set who knows better than you where to go. Other times, I enjoy the adventure of discovering a new path and seeing where it will take me. Some of those are delightful and worthy of sharing; others need to be marked with a big sign saying, “Don’t go this way!”

Here are several queries to explore this topic:

  • How do I discern when to follow the trail another has set vs. when to break a new trail for myself?
  • What blocks me from heeding the wisdom of those who have gone before me?
  • What blocks me from heeding my own inner wisdom and charting a unique-to-me course?

Please join us on Sun. Apr. 17 at 8:45 am in the Meeting House for a Spiritual Discussion session on Spiritual Paths and Breaking Trails.

Rhonda Ashurst, Blog Contributor, Reno Friends Meeting

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

New Year’s Resolutions for the Spirit

I love the fresh opportunity the New Year brings, but this January I’m going to try something different when it comes to resolutions. Instead of worrying about my appearance (especially losing those last pesky pounds), I’m going to focus on resolutions for my spirit.

To be honest, my spirit could use a tune-up. Like most of us, I’m often overwhelmed trying to balance work, family and community, sometimes taking on more responsibilities than I have energy for and ending up disappointed in myself. As we age, we may need to re-evaluate this calculus, revisit our values around work and commitment, and find more time to sit quietly and listen for guidance from God. The question I’m asking this January is: how can I move forward in the New Year with a more solid foundation for my spirit so that I can bring my best self to the world?

Here’s a list of ten spiritual resolutions I am considering. Perhaps some will resonate for you:

1.  I will take advantage of the Silence to reconsider my choices around work and commitments.  Which things are most important? Am I being realistic in the projects I take on? Can I still contribute while doing a bit less and giving myself more time to regroup and refresh?

2.  I will take advantage of the Silence to reassess my energy and my gifts. Am I honoring my strengths by taking on commitments that line up with what I can do competently and happily? Can I give in these ways without depleting myself?

3.  I will spend time with people who lift me up. I will intentionally seek them out and connect with them.

4.  If a new commitment arises, I will give myself permission to sit with it and ask for spiritual guidance before jumping in. I will respond to my spirit and heart, rather than to the chorus of “shoulds” in my head.

5.  I will give myself time for a hobby or activity that makes me happy and relaxed. The goal is to do something I’m interested in, and to do it without judgement.

6.  I will take time to sit in silence and listen to God, especially when things turn difficult.  If a bad day is unfolding, I will retreat for a half hour to calm my heart and listen to what arises. I will practice lifting problems into the Light so I can understand them better.

7.  I will make things simpler. When given a choice, I’ll try the doable way and learn to accept help gracefully. I will save my energy for the most important things.

8.  I will take an occasional retreat day: Every now and then (maybe once a week), I will give myself a day off without deadlines or engagements, to read, relax and do easy chores. This will give me time to reconnect with my happy self.

9.  I will take time to consider my faith journey and deepen my connection with Spirit through readings or retreats or gatherings that expand my faith experience.

10.  I will take advantage of the Silence to ask myself: what would I do if I were not afraid?  I will think of new ways to deal with recurrent problems, and try to imagine a life lived fearlessly.

Wendy Swallow, Blog Editor, Reno Friends Meeting

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

Peace in these Times

To write this blog, I’ve had to tear myself away from the political news and center in the silence for a bit, just so I can return to a semblance of peace. Without a doubt, we are living through extraordinary times, ones that challenge us to remain calm and loving. It’s too easy these days to fill with rage, to want to rant at someone, to gnash our teeth. The Peace Testimony, which reminds us to be “an instrument of Peace,” is a central fixture of the Quaker faith, and yet sometimes it just feels too hard. How are we to meet public malfeasance, abuse of power and war-like behavior with love? How are we to talk to those who disagree with us and honor that of God in them when we are angry and upset? How do we follow the road of peace in times of conflict and polarization?

This may be one of the single most difficult challenges before us. As Quaker minister J. Brent Bill has said, “I forget to wear the grace of God when I am mad… or on the spiritual war-path.” We all struggle to remember to wear the grace of God, especially in such tumultuous times. But does that mean we should acquiesce, stay silent or – heaven forbid – just forgive and forget?

No. Because being a Quaker does not mean being passive. I’m reminded of the famous quote from Quaker founder George Fox: “Be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations wherever you come; that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them; then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone.”

Does Fox suggest we sit at home and just play nice with the people we already like? Hardly. He says we must get out into the world, live by our values, and find a way to answer that of God in everyone. This is an active command. It means putting ourselves into uncomfortable places, sometimes pushing where it is hard, sometimes finding another way. When society seems divided into warring camps, Fox is saying we need to leave the safety of our compatriots and venture into foreign terrain, because that is where the solutions live.

There are so many divisive issues these days, and most of them are complex, with thorny details that make it hard to decide on best solutions. Should we support peace-keeping in foreign lands or bring our troops home? Should we open our borders or put kids in cages? All of these questions require careful consideration, and sometimes it is tough – amid all the commentary and political noise – to determine what parts have the Light in them.

Fox said the Light is there in everyone, even those with whom we disagree. Few people are evil; most want the best for society, and long to live in a place where they feel supported, safe and appreciated. Many are spontaneously generous, and help others in times of disaster and need, without asking which camp they are from. If we can do that in the face of hurricanes or wildfires, we should be able to sit down together and try to find common ground.

Most negotiators and diplomats know that it helps to start by defining what both sides can agree on, and then working forward from there. The Quaker way would suggest we set aside our own opinions, and instead listen instead to the voice of God in each person. This can be challenging when someone is condemning someone else, or ranting about unfairness, but sometimes we need to listen beyond the words that present and search deeper for the Light inside us all.

Conflict-resolution strategies that can help when you are faced with someone angry or hateful include: staying calm; managing your own response (which means thinking before you react); setting limits so that you don’t feel overwhelmed or threatened; and responding to challenging questions with an open heart. It won’t always work, but sometimes just the effort can make a difference.

In Meeting last week, one of our attenders talked about the Peace testimony and how therapists know that what we resist, or stand against, often grows stronger. Instead, she suggested, we should consider how to create something different rather than just resisting, and to do that by discussing alternatives and searching for fresh solutions. That doesn’t mean there aren’t times when we should resist; there are.  But with real listening and an effort to understand those who are different from us, we have a better chance at discerning which approach is most likely to create the best outcome for all involved.

Wendy Swallow, Blog Editor, Reno Friends Meeting

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

Bad Quaker

Every now and then, someone in our Quaker Meeting says, “I’m just a bad Quaker.” If one of us gets caught complicating an issue in Business Meeting, or if someone doesn’t have time to make food for the feed-the-homeless dinner, they might drop their head in defeat and say something about being a bad Quaker.

I’ve also occasionally heard of people who left Quakerism because they felt they couldn’t live up to the Quaker testimonies. “It was just too hard,” they say. “Too much pressure.”

Why does this happen? My theory is that we are forgetting the purpose of the testimonies. The testimonies represent the collective Quaker wisdom about how to live a good and spirit-focused life. Each regional Yearly Meeting of the Society of Friends in the U.S. has a slightly different list of testimonies, but the standard group are what in Quaker education are called the SPICES:  Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality and Stewardship.

Simplicity means to value spirit over material objects and to keep your life uncluttered by things and too much busyness.  Peace is the famous Quaker commitment to nonviolent conflict resolution and Quakers’ refusal to support wars. Integrity means to speak truthfully and follow through with your commitments.  Community means to support, aid and respect others in the communities you live in, including the Meeting. Equality means to accept everyone as precious in the eyes of God – all genders, races, economic levels, etc. Stewardship means to care for the earth, the Meeting, one’s town and nation, by giving both your effort and financial support to the degree that you can.

Wow. That is a lot to live up to! Each testimony is both personal and global in scale, so it’s understandable that a person could feel overwhelmed. Being a good Quaker can also sometimes feel like all the fun in life has been sucked away. Does it mean you can’t buy a new dress for a special event?  Does it mean you must tell your mother-in-law what you really think?  Does it mean you need to spend all your free time trying to correct injustice in the world?

But here is what we must remember: the testimonies are not rules handed down by the patriarchs. (“Unprogrammed” Quakers – those who worship only in silence – don’t have patriarchs or any clergy.) Instead, the testimonies are the collective wisdom and guidance of generations of Quakers sitting in silence and listening to God. And one of the most important principles of Quakerism is that each person listens to their own experience of God. Spiritual nirvana is not the goal: the goal is learning to let down your defenses and put away your ego when you sit in silence and listen to God. Being a good Quaker is not about earning gold stars, and the testimonies are not commandments. Their purpose, in part, is to clear away the debris of everyday business and help us see more clearly the way to live a spirit-centered life.  

In my youth I spent a few years in the orbit of a Jesus movement that had many slogans. After I left the group, I forgot most of those bite-sized bits of spiritual wisdom, but one stayed with me: “Please be patient; God is not finished with me yet.”

This is the balm that can help us relax about being good or bad Quakers. Not being able to live up to the high calling of the Quaker testimonies just means you are struggling to follow the path, and all spiritual travelers will tell you they struggle to stay on the path. And, according to Quaker understanding, everyone is building the spiritual path that makes sense to them, that incorporates their experience of God. This is what makes spiritual journeys so interesting.

The testimonies serve best as guidance when they are combined with sitting in silence to hear what God has to say. Sometimes God and the testimonies will lay out a challenge; other times they will combine to light an easier way through difficulties. Quakers often say “the way will open.” This I too find reassuring: the path ahead doesn’t need to be a daunting obstacle course.

Please be patient with me: I’m listening for God to open the way.

Wendy Swallow, Blog Editor, Reno Friends Meeting

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

A Gift

Every other month Reno Friends (the Quaker Meeting I attend), serves dinner to the homeless and hungry living on the streets of Reno. We each prepare food and then help to serve it. I bring my homemade bread, which often brings smiles and sometimes the sharing of a memory about the last time they had homemade bread. Often this is a distant childhood memory from a home long gone.

As each person comes by, I offer them a slice and a smile. Sometimes I compliment them on something they are wearing that shows their personality and style. I’ve seen people from every demographic group come through the line. I realize homelessness can happen to anyone. Sharing homemade bread and a moment of kindness is something I enjoy giving to them. I wish there was more I could do to help. I write to lawmakers in support of low income housing projects and other ways our community is considering to address this growing issue. Somehow it never seems like enough.

Last night I was serving and a woman came up to me wearing a pretty strand of pearls. I complimented her on them. To my uncomfortable surprise, she began unwinding them from around her neck. I said, “Oh no, you don’t have to give them to me. They are yours.”

She looked me right in the eye and said, “I want you to have them. I’m grateful you come here to feed us.” With that she placed them around my neck and I knew it was very important to her that I accept her gift. Tears welled up in my eyes and I embraced her and she embraced me back. I thanked her for her gift to me. She accepted a piece of my bread and thanked me.

I was incredibly moved by this exchange between us and I still tear up when I remember it. She gave me something very precious to her, one of her few possessions. She gave it freely without a thought about letting it go. She needed to give it to me; she needed me to receive it. I needed her to give me a life lesson, about receiving graciously from someone I see as being in need of my giving. She helped me see that the idea of holding onto a possession was less important than the joy of sharing, of giving.

In the exchange that happened between us, we were part of the eternal dance of life in which giving and receiving is endlessly intertwined. The giver needs a receiver; the receiver needs a giver. We are all doing this dance every moment of every day. As I breathe out, the plants around me breathe in; as they breathe out, I breathe in. Many are the hands and life energies that sustain my existence on this planet. My task is to be a good steward of that which passes through my life and to keep passing it on, using only what I need. And when another has a need to give to me, to receive it graciously with an open heart.

I’m still soaking in the deeper meaning of this experience. I don’t have all the words and I’m sure it will continue to be revealed to me over time. To remind me, I’ve wrapped them around the lamp next to my computer where I will see them every day.

Rhonda Ashurst, RFM Blog Contributor

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

Who We Welcome

One of the central tenets of the Quaker faith is the Equality Testimony. As stated in the Pacific Yearly Meeting’s manual Faith & Practice, the Equality Testimony starts with this simple statement:  “Friends testimony on equality is rooted in the holy expectation that there is that of God in everyone, including adversaries and people from widely different stations, life experiences, and religious persuasions. All must therefore be treated with integrity and respect.”

Sometimes, however, someone wanders into our Meeting House who doesn’t understand our basic principles. We welcome newcomers, certainly, but we recognize that – with no liturgy or minister or worship program – the silence of a Friends’ Meeting can appear like a blank slate, open for anything. This can pose a risk to those gathered together to listen to God.

Recently, a new attender stood up after Silent Worship and, to everyone’s surprise, said disparaging things about gays and lesbians. This was more than unsettling to the Meeting, as it struck at one of our core beliefs. The Quakers have long been a “welcoming congregation,” a church that provides a safe and sacred space for the GLBT community to worship. At the same time, the Quakers consider themselves a tolerant crowd – tolerant of spiritual doubt, tolerant of different approaches to talking about God, tolerant of how individuals define their faith journeys.

 But tolerance should not be something Quakers hide behind. In response to this unpleasant “sharing,” the Meeting leaders met behind the scenes and came up with a plan. First, we sent one of our members to talk with the person and help him understand that such anti-gay speech was not okay in our Meeting. The person was encouraged to return as long as he could respect our principles. The attender listened respectfully, and then said he would not be returning to RFM.

Given the state of affairs, the Meeting agreed it was an important moment to clearly state who we welcome to worship with us. At our next Meeting for Business, the following minute was approved:

Minute: As is stated in the Equality Testimony in Faith & Practice: “Friends recognize that unjust inequities persist throughout society, and that difficult work remains to rid ourselves, and the Religious Society of Friends, from prejudice and inequitable treatment based upon gender, class, race, age, sexual orientation, physical attributes, or other categorizations.  Both in the public realm – where Friends may ‘speak truth to power’ – and in intimate familial contexts, Friends’ principles require witness against injustice and inequality wherever it exists.”

We (Reno Friends) understand that not everyone will fully agree with this testimony, and we hold all in the Light who struggle with these issues. But given that the Equality Testimony is central to the Quaker faith, we believe it is important that we keep our Meeting House a safe and sacred place for all who worship with us. We ask that those who attend worship respect our testimony in word and deed.

It is easy to turn away or try to ignore speech that carries a hateful message, but our Quaker Integrity Testimony asks us to speak up and confront such talk. As Quakers, we stand for fairness, inclusiveness and equality, and that cannot get blurred.

Wendy Swallow, Blog Editor, Reno Friends Meeting

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