In recent months, a stream of newcomers has come to Reno Friends Meeting to try out the Quaker approach to worship. We’re always thrilled to see new faces but sometimes worry newcomers will be surprised by what they find. Unlike most churches, who worship with words and music, Quakers sit together for an hour of contemplative silence, punctuated occasionally by an individual standing to share a message from the heart. Coming into silent worship for the first time can feel like dropping into a new dimension. And so I wondered – what brings someone to a Quaker Meeting?
Talking with our recent newcomers, I’ve found that people have come to our Meeting for a range of interesting reasons. Some of our newcomers said they knew about Quakerism and had considered trying it for some time. For others, the idea of silent worship was a completely new experience, but one they thought might meet their needs at this point in their lives.
As the political climate has heated up, several told me they felt a hunger for silence. One visitor even shared that her prior church experience had gotten “too noisy.” She came to Quaker Meeting looking for something more contemplative. Another newcomer said he wanted to figure out for himself what to believe, and needed a quiet space to sort through his questions and doubt.
One young man told me he had heard so many interesting stories about Quakers, he had to check us out. He had read about Quakers fighting during wartime for the right to be conscientious objectors, and of their early efforts to promote abolition in the United States. More recently, he had heard of their social justice work and their resistance to paying taxes to finance wars. Other newcomers said they were also intrigued by the Quaker testimonies, which guide us to live lives of integrity, simplicity and stewardship of the Earth and our communities. Some said they appreciated the Quakers’ acceptance of everyone, no matter where they are from or whom they love.
All these comments resonated with me. I first sought out the Quaker silence many years ago because I was weary of ministers telling me what to think and believe. I loved that Quakers asked themselves “queries,” probing questions about important issues, rather than following a common creed that everyone must agree to. I found the silence of worship challenging at first, but soon came to treasure the deep centering and mental quiet that grounded me each week at Meeting. Now, when I occasionally attend a traditional church service, I feel there’s little room for me to consider what is in my head and heart, and I long for the silence.
But the newcomer with the most intriguing story was the one who said he had taken a quiz at an online “religion calculator,” which concluded he should be a Quaker. So he came to see what the Meeting was all about. After hearing about the online site, I tried it myself. I was happy to learn its “Spiritual Belief System Selector” concluded I am worshipping with the right group. It’s an interesting quiz, designed to sort religious preferences and beliefs in a systematic, even-handed way. If you’re curious about what belief system you align with, try it out at http://www.selectsmart.com/RELIGION.
Of course, we welcome anyone curious about silent worship and the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). We invite you to join us at 10 am on a Sunday morning at our Meeting House in Reno.
Wendy Swallow, Clerk of Reno Friends Meeting
email: wswallow54 (at) gmail.com
The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting.