The Religious Society of Friends arose as a community of the Spirit, centered in regular, shared worship. Ostracized and attacked by mainstream English society, Quakers developed a loving social community which, while not immune to struggle and conflict, supported their personal growth, their care for one another, and their work in the larger world.
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?
I first started attending Quaker meeting because Silent Worship spoke to me like no other church service I’d ever experienced. After a few months of attending, I decided to deepen my commitment to the Meeting by making regular contributions of my time and financial support.
Reno Friends Meeting hosts several community groups in our Meeting House, providing space for organizations that share our Quaker values and have no home of their own. For the last year, members of the Adult Children of Alcoholics and Dysfunctional Families have gathered inside our space on Thursday nights. This 12-step fellowship program is designed to promote healing for those who struggle with neglect, shame, abuse and other legacies of growing up in a home led by alcoholic or dysfunctional parents.
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.
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.
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.
When Reno Friends gathered for a spirituality workshop last month, one of the most revealing questions to the group was “What keeps you from committing your life more deeply to Friends’ practices and the Quaker Way of life?”
The first time people attend a Quaker Meeting, they often find Silent Worship mystifying. It looks like nothing is happening, and that there’s no apparent reason why everyone has gathered. There’s no minister guiding the worship, no liturgy lending structure, no music filling the soul. There are just Friends, each head down in her or his own private silence.
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.