Memorial Meetings in the Manner of Friends

A woman called me once with a question: did Quakers have funerals? Her mother, who had been a First Day School teacher at a Colorado Friends Meeting, had recently died. The woman, who had little experience of Quakerism herself, wondered whether the Colorado Meeting would hold a service and what such a service would be like.

As the Quakers are a spiritual community that worships in silence, this question gave me pause. I knew that Quakers held Memorial Meetings but had never attended one. I also knew that Quakers do not celebrate the ritualized sacraments of more traditional Christian faiths because they believe that every moment is sacred. To celebrate one moment as more sacred than others diminishes the sacred in the everyday. If they don’t celebrate the sacrament of a formal funeral, what do they do? I told the woman I would find an answer and get back to her.

When I checked our Quaker guide, Faith & Practice, I found that Friends’ Memorial Meetings for Worship are done the same way Quakers do most things:  gently, tolerantly, inclusively, and wrapped in the healing power of the Silence. On the appointed day, Friends gather for the Memorial Meeting and sit down in silence. Sometimes a member of the Meeting will start by rising and explaining how the Memorial Meeting will progress. Other Meetings hand out a written explanation. As memorials often bring non-Quakers into our Meeting Houses, it’s important to tell people what to expect.

The Memorial Meeting progresses organically. After a period of settled silence, someone from the Meeting – or a member of the family of the deceased – may read a prepared memorial message about the person. After that, Friends and attenders may rise and share personal memories or thoughts. As in all Meetings for Worship, such messages should come from the Light, with pools of silence between them so that all can reflect on what has been shared. Sometimes a poem will be read, or a hymn will be sung, but all in the context of the Silence. Those who have attended Memorial Meetings say they are often deeply spiritual events.

As it turns out, Reno Friends will be holding a Memorial Meeting soon, as one of our dearest members passed away last week. Ricki Ann Jones was a powerhouse of love and open-heartedness. She came to us just five years ago, having moved from Berkeley, California, where she was a member of Berkeley Friends. She had recently had a stroke, which garbled her speech, and her tiny frame was disabled by other health problems. But she burned with a love for others that illuminated the room. She adopted our Meeting as her Reno family, planning outings and parties, and engaging in adult education classes, spiritual discussions and book groups, always looking for a way to share and bring joy. We will miss her deeply; indeed, the Meeting House will not feel the same without her. May she rest 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.