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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.

Opening to the Light

But in the central innermost region of our minds there shines one pure ray of direct Light from the very Throne of God; one ray which belongs to each one individually; which is for that one supreme and apart; the ray which shining from the heavenward side of conscience, and so enlightening and purifying it, must of necessity dominate the whole being.

      ~ Caroline Stephen, 1834-1909

Have you ever wondered how Quakers center down and open to the Light? How they sit patiently for an hour in silence, waiting for messages from the Beyond That Is Within? In April, Reno Friends gathered for a worship sharing to explore these questions.

Here are some of the secrets we shared:

  • Call up an image of a calm space or place that you love and put yourself there.
  • Look at each person in Worship and hold them in the Light for a moment.
  • Think of Silent Worship as a secret space where you can let go of worldly cares and anticipate the pleasure of not needing to do anything for an hour but listen to Spirit.
  • Settle into “being” rather than “doing” for an hour.
  • Think of staying centered in the Holy Light and know that if you can do that, you will automatically do the right thing.
  • Think of the “Passing Clouds” move from Tai Chi that reminds us things rise, then pass, then other things rise and pass, all in endless motion. Crises pass.
  • “Catch the draft” of the group as it sinks into silence.
  • Come in with no expectation and try to be in the moment.
  • Follow the breath.
  • Imagine your concerns and distractions as a bundle that you can hold in the Light and ask, “Help me quiet and find the serenity underneath that will help me deal with all this.”

Towards the end of the sharing, I had the privilege of teaching a couple of my own practices from Tai Chi and yoga. These are practices, amongst others, I do every morning and before I arrive for Silent Worship. One of my big challenges with sitting for an hour is my physical restlessness. I’ve found moving meditations helpful in settling this restlessness so I can sit. These practices also help me get out of my own way and become a purer conduit for the Light. They remind me of the natural rhythms of life: ebb and flow, give and receive, do and be, breathe in and breathe out.

Here are the two simple practices I shared:

  1. Standing Mountain and Drawing Down the Light. This is a practice from yoga, which is done standing (can also be done in a chair). Standing Mountain is the foundational pose in yoga that aligns the body, grounds it into the earth, and opens the heart. Drawing Down the Light is done by sweeping the arms up towards the sky and then placing hands in prayer position above the head. Slowly the hands are drawn down the front of the body, pausing at the heart in gratitude, and then floating down towards the ground. At the end of the downward sweep, the hands are released, palms turn up and sweep back up to the sky to gather more Light. The idea is to empty oneself and become like a lantern or a vessel filled with Light, or Prana as it is called in yoga. You can also visualize the Light purifying you and removing any blocks within you so that Divine Energy can flow freely through you and out into the world. When I do this practice, I also like to reflect on being that which connects Heaven and Earth.
  • Pulling in the Light. This is a practice from Qigong/Tai Chi. It begins with a standing position (it can also be modified for those who prefer to sit), opening into the Tai Chi stance with the left foot extended in front of the right, in a slight lunge. The hands are cupped together beginning on the left side of the body, then the hands extend in a circle out and around and back in towards the right side of the body. At the same time, the body moves forward onto the extended left leg and then rocks back onto a bent right leg (like a slider rocker). While doing the movements, visualize offering Light to the world around you as you extend out, then pulling Divine Light in to your body as your hands return. Pause at your heart and say a silent blessing of gratitude for all that sustains your life before beginning the next circle. Complete nine circles on the left, then shift to the right and complete nine more circles. The sequence is finished by bringing both hands together in front of the chest, facing the palms down, and releasing them towards the ground (settling the Chi). This brings both strands of energy—giving and receiving—together in balanced harmony, honoring that Life is a circle.

Afterwards, some Friends expressed interest in learning and practicing more of these moving meditations. In April, Business Meeting approved “Embodying the Light” classes on June 12, July 10 and August 14 (all second Wednesdays) from 6:30-7:45 pm in the Meeting House. Classes will draw upon Tai Chi/qigong and yoga practices with the intention of embodying the Light in our physical bodies and our daily lives. Learn about becoming a clearer vessel for the Light, clearing blocks, releasing tension, being present in the moment, feeling the flow of inner energy, improving balance and breathing, and strengthening the muscles that carry us through physical life. These practices are also helpful in decreasing back, muscle and joint pain, plus they are a wonderful way to wind down mid-week and get a good night’s sleep. Movements will be gentle and easy so anyone can do them. They can be done in a chair if standing is difficult for you. Most of the practice is done in silence as a moving meditation. Following the movement, there will be time for questions, discussion and reflection.

I look forward to sharing these practices which have helped me deepen my own spiritual practice, improve my health, manage stress, flow through life with more grace and Light, and recover from two hip replacement surgeries within one year.

Rhonda Ashurst, RFM Blog Contributor

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

The Health of the Meeting Community

Reno Friends recently gathered for a Worship Sharing to talk about how we communicate and resolve conflict as a group. After two members left our Meeting last fall, we felt it was important to consider how we might listen to each other with more empathy and consideration, while also honoring individual leadings, contributions and concerns.

Worship Sharing is a powerful process Quakers often use when addressing contentious or difficult issues. Worship Sharing guidelines ask participants to speak out of the silence from their deepest heart, avoiding debates and cross-talk. We used queries about the health of the Meeting community as prompts, and returned to the silence regularly, as is common in the process.

Small spiritual communities often struggle with the tension between supporting the needs of individuals while managing expectations and focusing on what is best for the group. At Reno Friends  we have sometimes stumbled in finding this balance partly because we don’t always know what people are thinking and feeling. During our Worship Sharing we talked about the art of “listening even beyond words”: by pausing to listen closely to each other without pre-judgment, we could build more durable bonds of respect and caring despite differences of opinion.

We also talked about the role of language in our Quaker experience, reminding ourselves that some may feel triggered by terms that others find dear to their heart. At the same time, we agreed the Meeting should be a place where people feel free to use the spiritual language that speaks to and for them. We recognize that Silent Worship – sitting quietly with others to listen to “God’s still small voice” – takes courage and tolerance. So we talked of listening beyond the words to the spirit and experience underneath, and trying to find connection there.

We also discussed what helps members and attenders feel supported and connected, including our camping trips and hikes, potlucks and discussion groups, even our joy in gathering to spruce- up the Meeting House garden or to cook and serve food to the homeless.  We agreed that we like the beauty and simplicity of Quaker worship, including the lack of structure and rules, but that this type of spiritual practice also requires us as individuals and as a group to step forward when something is amiss, or to reach out when someone is hurting. 

Moving forward, we agreed we need to do a better job addressing conflict in a direct and compassionate way, and to rely more on our Quaker processes (such as convening a clearness committee or worship sharing) to help identify solutions. We recognize that we need to focus more on the path to unity in resolving our differences, and that we need patience sometimes to find our way to compromise that will satisfy and uphold the purpose and health of the group. And we need to remember that none of us is perfect, and that we must be generous with our forgiveness.

At the end, we agreed to share more about our Quaker experience, especially with newcomers.  A Quaker Meeting can seem like an iceberg – there’s a lot going on beneath the surface, even if you cannot see it. We treasure our Quaker testimonies and feel held together by them, so we agreed to talk more about their power in our lives. We are also curious about each other’s spiritual paths, which can provide rich material for spiritual development in the group.  To that end, we have decided to hold monthly open discussions on spiritual journeys every third Sunday before worship, starting in September.

Learning to work better together is part of our evolving experience of God, in our hearts and in the group. It was healing for our Meeting community to gather in a spirit of compassion and tolerance to talk about both our stumbling blocks and successes.  Perhaps we should gather for this purpose every spring, turning the Light on ourselves to check how we are doing.

Wendy Swallow, Blog Editor, Reno Friends Meeting

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

Judgment vs. Discernment

Reno Friends Meeting is currently taking a hard look at how we interact with each other. As part of this process, I’ve been thinking more about the importance of discernment in our Meeting life.  Discernment is a process dear to Quaker hearts, and an important tool to figuring out the proper path for both the Meeting and ourselves as individuals. But what does discernment entail, and how does it differ from judgment?

One of the Quaker queries on the topic of personal relationships is: “What barriers keep me from responding openly and lovingly to each person?” In my experience, judgment is one of those barriers.

Judgment often comes from an ego-based place and it tends to have a hard edge to it. When I’m judging, I notice tension in my jaws, tightness in my heart, narrowing of my eyes. It often comes out as criticism of another’s thoughts, actions, beliefs. “I can’t believe she could think that!” “How could he have done that?”  “Who could hold such a belief?” It is about condemnation from a self-elevated place. In this place I have forgotten “judge not lest ye be judged.” I want to change the other to be more like me, because—in that moment, I think I’ve got it all figured out. There is a strong element of righteous indignation that makes me feel superior to whomever or whatever I’m judging.

Judgment is also about force, forcing my opinion on someone else. The other thing I notice about judging is that I’m often judging something in myself that I have projected onto the other person.  “Remove the log in your own eye, before seeking to remove the splinter in your neighbor’s,” Jesus said. If I’m particularly riled up about something, I can be sure it is a reflection of something I’m doing myself that I don’t like.

Discernment is related to judgment, but it comes from a different place. Here’s a good definition I found online: discernment is perceiving without judgment and with the intention of obtaining spiritual direction and understanding. It is about seeing with the eyes of the soul. Discernment seeks the truth from a higher perspective and it is softer than judgment. When I am discerning, I am not tense, my heart is soft and open, I am curious about the other’s thoughts, actions, beliefs. I ask questions and listen for the answers, not to pounce on them in order to correct, but to better understand them. Meanwhile, I’m also checking in with myself, hopefully my Higher Self, and my heart and gut. I’m trying to better understand myself in relation to the other (I’m also seeking the log in my eye). Out of this practice, I may be influenced to change my mind, or to refine or reframe my thinking. I see the other’s way of seeing/being/thinking as equal to my own, not less than. I may also decide that my perspective rings more true to me and works better and that I’m sticking with it. But, I don’t go the extra step of judgment and try to force it on the other. Often this is a place of agreeing to disagree and moving on. It is about mutual respect and empowerment to make different choices and hold different beliefs, and still like each other. It doesn’t mean we go along with something we disagree with in order to please or remain connected to another. Sometimes discernment requires us to withdraw from an activity, group or relationship.

When I feel the hard edge of judgment in my body and hear it in my words and thoughts, I am learning that I need to stop and softly bring my attention to my heart. I like to hold the image of one hand on my heart and one hand on the heart of the other. From this place of compassion, I seek to understand both of us and empower both of us to be in our truths, whatever that may be. I give myself permission to be changed/influenced by the other. I also give myself and the other permission to decide to back away or disengage if that serves Truth. If I decide to disengage, I will do it with loving kindness and not harshness.

Rhonda Ashurst, Blog Contributor, Reno Friends Meeting

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

Yearly and Quarterly Quaker Meetings

Quakers in the Reno area gather for silent worship each Sunday morning. Like most Quaker groups that worship weekly, Reno’s Quaker worship community is known as a Monthly Meeting.  Most of our members and attenders come from Reno and the surrounding area, including Lake Tahoe and Carson City.

Meeting is a term shared through the network of organizations that knits Quakers together across the world and within the United States. Once a year, Quakers from Nevada, California, Hawaii and Mexico gather in what is known as Pacific Yearly Meeting, a five-day event with speakers, workshops, committee meetings, worship and communal meals. There are regional “Yearly Meetings” across the United States, and most Monthly Meetings belong to one of them.

Reno Friends Monthly Meeting is also part of a regional gathering of Quaker Meetings in northern California and Nevada known as a Quarterly Meeting. Our Quarterly, College Park Quarterly Meeting, meets every three months except during the summer, when Pacific Yearly Meeting is held.  At Quarterly, we get a chance to commune with other Friends in our area.  When the Paradise fire devastated part of the Sierra foothills last fall, Chico (CA) Friends Meeting called on College Park Quarterly to help raise aid for fire victims whom Chico Friends were helping with meals and shelter. Quakers across the Sierras were happy for a way to contribute, and Chico Meeting felt supported in its efforts.

Most Quakers find Yearly and Quarterly Meetings critical to connecting with far-flung Friends and getting a chance to discuss our faith, to share in silent worship, and to find common ground on important issues of the day. Because most Quaker Meetings have no clergy, and there is no Quaker church hierarchy, these Yearly and Quarterly Meetings are vital to keeping smaller Meetings like Reno Friends connected to the larger universe of Quaker life and practice.

Many Quaker Meetings are relatively small gatherings. Sometimes I feel we sit here on the edge of the desert all alone; that’s why the Yearly and Quarterly Meetings are so important. The first time I went to a Quarterly Meeting – held at a retreat center outside of Grass Valley, California – I was thrilled to make new friends and hear different perspectives on Quaker issues. Years later, as I was serving as Clerk of Reno Friends, I attended another Quarterly and met a woman who was clerk of her local Meeting. It was profoundly helpful to share our struggles and successes at our Meetings, and our efforts to support our members.  We sat outside in the twilight for several hours that night, kindred souls, opening our hearts.

Among children and teens, Quarterly and Yearly Meetings can be central to their efforts to find other “kids like them.” Quarterly and Yearly Meetings often hold separate meeting events for little ones and “youth meetings” for teens so they can practice their Quaker process and talk about issues dear to their generation. These youth meetings often surface important topics that are then taken up by the adult meetings.

Each Monthly Meeting, including Reno Friends, encourages people to attend the Quarterly and Yearly Meetings, and most Monthly Meetings choose a representative to present issues and report back. “Reps” are usually reimbursed for their travel and Meeting costs.  If you are an attender or member at Reno Friends and are interested in serving as a representative so you can experience these large Quaker gatherings, please speak with our Clerk, Steve Wolgast.

Wendy Swallow, Reno Friends Meeting,

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

What is Worship Sharing?

Quakers typically spend an hour every Sunday morning worshipping together in silence.  During this time, individuals sometimes rise to share a message that has come to them out of the silence.  Such messages are not planned in advance, nor are there suggested topics.

Occasionally, however, Quakers gather for a more directed form of worship-based conversation that incorporates silence as a foundation. This process, known as worship sharing, is often used to address issues that are unusually contentious or serious, or that call for deeper reflection.

According to Quaker sources, worship sharing grew out of dialogue techniques such as those used by Alcoholic Anonymous that arose in the 1960’s. The worship sharing group sits in silence to contemplate a particular query, everyone taking a turn to say how she or he feels about the issue. Participants are urged to avoid cross-talk and to listen deeply to each speaker. The silence is allowed to return between speakers, giving everyone a chance to root again in the power of the quiet.

Meetings often use worship sharing to heal after a period of conflict, or to articulate how to solve a difficult problem. Some Meetings use worship sharing to get at a deeper understanding of spiritual differences or to consider how to address a public need. Reno Friends has used it to explore how it could help the homeless in Reno. Another time we gathered in worship sharing to heal after a fractious few months that threatened to split the Meeting.

Sometimes I think of worship sharing as our secret weapon:  when we begin to spin apart, we gather in silence, and with purpose, to address the forces pulling us apart. Once everyone’s feelings, concerns and hopes are laid on the table, it is much easier to start knitting the Meeting back together.     

Worship sharing is conducted with some basic rules that help the gathering stay worshipful instead of devolving into argument or lecture. Baltimore Yearly Meeting has drawn up the following guidelines, which are typical:

  • Begin with centering silence. Reach deeply into the sacred center of your life.
  • Listen carefully and deeply to what is spoken, not distracted by your own thoughts.
  • Do not respond to what anyone else has said, either to praise or to refute.
  • Leave a period of silence between speakers to reflect and keep centered.
  • Expect to speak only once, until everyone has had a chance to speak.
  • Speak from your own experience. Concentrate on feelings and changes rather than on thoughts or theories. Use “I statements.”
  • Consider the time so as to not take more that your share. You may have many responses to the queries; pick just one or two to share. You may pass if you like.
  • Respect confidentiality; whatever is said in the group, stays within the group.

Reno Friends will gather for another worship sharing on Sunday, March 17, at 11:30 am an event prompted by the departure last fall of two Friends from our Meeting community. Please join us if you would like to better understand this Quaker process or share wisdom that may bring us back together and help heal our Meeting.

Wendy Swallow, Reno Friends Meeting,

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

The Meeting Community, Part II

Though Reno’s Quaker Meeting is small, it somehow provides a bountiful community for Nevada Friends. There are those with decades of Quaker experience, others who have recently discovered Quakerism, and many in between. All of us are searching for spiritual solace in the silence, yet we have different needs and different approaches to questions about God and religious principles. When we make collective decisions, we usually do so with little drama, but sometimes there is strife. When that happens, it fills our Meeting House with sadness. 

We lost two members last summer because of conflict. That prompted us to ask how we could improve our group dynamic to ensure that people in the Meeting feel heard and understood?

During my recently concluded five years as Meeting Clerk, I sometimes felt caught in the center of a vortex created by everyone’s differing visions of our Meeting. Quakers tend to be ambitious, rarely satisfied with the status quo. But with all our varying ideas of what we should do and how to proceed, we sometimes struggle to set appropriate priorities.

A Friend recently commented that all communities are imperfect, like the individuals who make up the group, and that it is important to know how to address conflict rather than to wish it away. A perennial question in our Meeting, for example, is whether to limit potluck offerings to vegetarian dishes. There are strong feelings across the board, and we have yet to reach unity on that issue. In the meantime, we ask everyone to be sensitive – and to label their dishes.

On more important topics – such as what social initiatives to undertake or classes to hold – we often unearth deeper divisions. Are we Christian-based, or Christian-rooted? Are we interested in exploring the subtleties of prayer, or are we more interested in understanding different approaches to the silence? This ferment of beliefs and ideas can be one of the joys of being in a Quaker Meeting, but how do we discern what is best for us as a community? How do we work together rather than be driven by one person’s leading? How do we step outside our own ideological beliefs long enough to listen to others with compassion and acceptance? Worshipping in community requires searching for common ground and that Quaker grail: unity. But how do we do that?

Britain’s London Yearly Meeting answered this question in 1916, a time of great international turmoil and stress, with words that can serve today as a guiding light: “True unity may be found under great apparent differences. This unity is spiritual, it expresses itself in many ways, and we need divine insight that we may recognize its working. We need forbearance, sympathy and love, in order that, while remaining loyal to the truth as it comes to us, we may move forward with others to a larger and richer experience and expression of the will of God.”

Reno Friends will gather in March for a worship sharing session to explore how our Meeting can reach across differences for better understanding.  Please join us if you have an opinion or concern to share, or want to support the group in this process.  The date and time will be announced in the February newsletter.

Wendy Swallow, Blog Editor, Reno Friends Meeting,

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

The Meeting for Worship (from PYM’s Faith & Practice)

The Meeting for Worship is at the core of Quaker practice. There, Friends gather together in expectant silence, waiting upon God. Meeting for Worship is different from solitary prayer. The strength and focus of the community draw one who is distracted back toward the Center. In the embrace of the Meeting, an individual may be more willing to be searched by the Light that exposes weaknesses and shortcomings, and challenges the worshiper to transformation. Together, we can more clearly see Truth; we can better receive and understand continuing revelation.

The Philadelphia Quaker William Penn wrote the following query, which captures this spirit in the language of his time: When you come to your meetings…do you sit down in True Silence, resting from your own Will and Workings, and waiting upon the Lord, with your minds fixed in that Light wherewith Christ has enlightened you, until the Lord breathes life in you, refresheth you, and prepares you, and your spirits and souls, to make you fit for his service, that you may offer unto him a pure and spiritual sacrifice?

Conducting worship under the leading of Divine Will, Friends assemble in the silence without prearranged program. Each tries to still the inward clamor of personal anxieties and ambitions, listening for the voice of the Inner Guide, endeavoring to be faithful to its instruction. Such faithfulness may require an outward silence. It may require one to rise and speak words that do not come easily, which may not be fully understood, or which may be uncomfortable. It may require action, or restraint of action, by some individual or the whole Meeting, outside the Meeting for Worship.

During worship, all share responsibility for vocal ministry. God may call upon any one, regardless of experience or education, age or gender, to be a messenger. No one is excluded from the possibility of such service just as no one is appointed in advance to preach or pray at a particular Meeting for Worship. When someone does offer vocal ministry, Friends seek to be open, notwithstanding any hesitations or imperfection in the speaker’s words. An unexpected message may touch hearts, reveal the wisdom from the Source, and encourage the growth of the Seed within.

During Meeting for Worship, Friends seek connection to one another and to God dwelling among them. In some Meetings, the vocal ministry will have a common theme, each message deepening and enriching the other, and connecting to one’s own thoughts. Some Meetings are entirely silent. At a gathered Meeting, “the sense is present that a new Life and Power has entered our midst” (Thomas Kelly, The Gathered Meeting). Not every Meeting is a gathered Meeting, and not everyone has the same perception of a particular Meeting.

In nurturing its worship, a Meeting that is experiencing an extended period of arid silence might try to encourage those who are reluctant to speak to be faithful to the call when it comes. Another Meeting, where many vocal messages have come from speakers with questionable discernment, may seek to encourage a greater spiritual depth in both the silence and the words. Seeking what George Fox referred to as the “universal, true, and perfect worship,” Friends return in faith to God for guidance.

Wendy Swallow, Clerk of Reno Friends Meeting,

(Note: Instead of writing a blog this month, I chose an important section from PYM’s Faith and Practice. We will hold a Quakerism 101 class on Speaking in Silent Worship on Sun. March 18 from 8:45 am to 9:45 am in the Meeting House, if you are interested in learning more.)