Saturday, August 23, 2008

Doin' It Quaker Style

Doin' it meaning worship that is. As many of you know I am a member of the Religious Society of Friends (aka Quakers). I came to the Quakers as a refugee after a religious odyssey that took me from Roman Catholicism to Fundamentalism to Evangelicalism to Pentecostalism to Anglicanism and ultimately (or penultimately?) to Quakerism. A long and winding road indeed. I do not regret any of the stops I made although some proved more useful than others.

For me the Quaker way provides something other than a belief structure. We don't have any established creeds to which we ascribe or affirm. Each Quaker has his or her own beliefs, but we do hold onto values that we have grown to cherish through the years (peace, integrity, simplicity, etc). It has also proved to be a healthy environment for me as a person who is gay.

But if you want to see a Quaker sputter a bit, ask the Friend, "So what do Quakers believe?" It's kind of like asking vegans, "So what kind of meat do you eat?" For me being Quaker is not so much about what I believe, but more about what I practice, especially the practice of silence and stillness in worship.

paul (lower case "p")recently e-mailed me about his first foray into a Quaker meeting. I asked if I could share some of his initial experiences on my blog. He agreed, so I hand it over to Paul.
Four weeks ago I attended my first Quaker meeting. It was really something, kind of felt like coming home, it is very familiar somehow. We gay folk, or anyone who doesn't fit the status quo really, are often outsiders, strangers. Some of us spend our whole lives hiding in order to fit in, which is a contradiction in terms, I know, but to get the feeling of acceptance we hide the part or parts of us we know won’t be accepted. When we find a place where we can simply be who we are, it's profound, like an orphan coming home. I say “orphan” because many of us have never really had a home, so I guess this is what it feels like.

Quaker service is not like any church I have ever been to. Before service there is what is called “Bible Workbench.” I guess one might compare it to “Sunday school,” but it’s nothing like it really. Instead of a teacher, there is a moderator, and the “workbench” is an open discussion on a portion of bible scripture. All viewpoints are welcomed, the only ‘rule’ is you cannot disparage another’s comment... thought you are free to disagree.

After “Bible workbench” there is the Quaker worship service. This also is not like any “church” service I have ever been to. In every church I have been to, there is singing, often musicians, praying out loud and a sermon from a pastor or preacher. Generally lots of bells and whistles. In contrast, a Quaker service is an hour spent in silence. Any participant who believes they have a message to give, is free to give it, but my experience has been that there is more silence than messages. Bells and whistles are fine just like chocolate cake is fine, but a steady diet of it isn't very healthy. I don't think it can be a substitute for "stillness." Especially if it's true that we have to "be still" to "know" who "is God." The bells and whistles can actually impede the event and distract us from "God" replacing God with a God substitute, an image of our own making (which seems like idolatry). “Stillness" seems the absence of all such ideas and images in and effort to encounter the Who is right now.
If you want to find a Quaker meeting near you, check out
To read other blogs by Quakers about Quakerism, check out

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At 4:30 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is really interesting to read about your first quaker meeting paul. I remember my first one in a similar way.

Still after a year or so in meetings I feel sort of amazed and scared of the lack of pomp and circumstance. I really freaks me out from time to time. All the noise distracted me in a nice but not that healthy way.

When I came out in my old fundy environment I became the strange freak no one understood. Now in my quaker environment I am no more strange than the others. Everyone has their own spectacular story and I am no more than me.

At 4:44 PM , Blogger paul said...

Hi Alexander,

Thank you for your response. I haven't told anyone about being gay yet... I'm kind of having fun with it because I know it doesn't matter. There's something really wonderful about just being able to be casual about who I am, then at some point mention a cute guy or something. I was kind of a misfit spiritually in churches, never quite fit in, gay or not.

Re the "noise" you speak of... what really gets interesting for me is quieting the inner noise, thoughts and feelings. I like the attitude and approach. I love the community.


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