Monday, August 11, 2008

Joyful Alaskan Friends

I've been in Anchorage for four days now and while I've been here, I've been in four different churches. Maybe I'm making up for all the time I didn't go to church when I was in college!

Yesterday I was feeling like I didn't really fit in anywhere. On Thursday night, I went to First Tap at the Bear Tooth Theater. I was thrilled to see two of my oldest friends, Meghan and Inger (by oldest, I mean that I have known them the longest, not that they are old), but it really isn't my kind of thing. The next night, I went to a Christian concert at Anchorage's very own megachurch―even less my scene. And yesterday was filled with activities related to my parents' church: in the morning, we all did a 5K to raise money for oppressed people in Burma; later, we went to the Saturday night service.

But I am happy to say I have had great success connecting with Alaskan Friends. I did not become a Quaker until after I left Alaska, so I did not have any ties with Alaskan Quakers before this week. On Friday, Shannon H met me for coffee and had lots of great ideas for the next Quaker Women's Theology Conference. It was wonderful to talk to her, but it also reminded me how much this conference has meant to women over the years. I hope I don't let everyone down!

Shannon warned me that I might have trouble getting in touch with Anchorage Friends Church and she was right. The first number I found was disconnected, the second connected to a voicemail, but I never heard back after leaving a message. This morning, I thought I would try one more time and amazingly, someone picked up. I asked when worship started and the response was 10 a.m. I looked up at the clock: 9:50. I threw on some clothes, grabbed a bagel, and was out the door.

When I walked into Anchorage Friends Church, the service had already started. I sat down and tried to follow the speaker, only to realize that he was speaking in Inupiat. The woman I was sitting next to smiled at me and whispered that the English class was next door. Gratefully, I went over to attend a lesson in a language I could understand about not showing favoritism.

After Sunday school, I approached the teacher and told her that I was organizing the women's conference and asked whether she was the one to talk to about inviting others. She told me to go into the sanctuary and she would let me know.

The service began with reports from each of the Sunday school classes: children, English, and Inupiat. We also sang several songs, mostly in English. There were about 45 people present and I would guess that I was one of three or four non-Native Alaskans. I had heard that Friends were very active missionaries in Alaska and the membership of Anchorage Friends Church definitely supports that!

Then there was time for announcements. After a few people spoke, the woman at the microphone looked at me and said, "Don't you have an announcement?" So I went up to the front, explained who I am, and invited all of the women present to come to the next women's conference. As I sat down, I heard several people murmuring about the conference and one person said, "What a blessing it would be for our women to go to that conference!"

The message for the morning was from a woman who had recently attended an Alaskan Friends conference. She was a wonderful speaker, and conveyed a message that another woman had given at the conference about getting to know people who are different. At one point, she encouraged everyone to walk around and greet others, and she specifically said to welcome the Friend who had come from Washington to tell them about the women's conference. Several women came up to me and gave me hugs. I was touched by how open and welcoming everyone was.

After the service, a woman asked whether I was going to come back for the evening service. I told her that I would like to, but I had plans to attend Anchorage Friends Meeting. I was looking forward to this meeting because it is held in St. Mary's Episcopal Church, where I starred as baby Jesus when I was two months old.

I arrived at the church a little early and helped a Friend set up chairs in a circle. He looked outside and wondered aloud whether anyone else would come on such a beautiful day. The two of us began worship and over the hour, three others joined us.

During worship, I felt led to share a breathing prayer I learned from Peggy. There are many ways to say the prayer, but in that space I prayed, "Lord, you are here in this place. Your presence fills it. Your presence is joy." Later, another Friend shared a message about joy, and after the meeting, I learned that it is the custom at Anchorage Friends Meeting to share their joys and concerns. I have been thinking about joy a lot lately, and the meeting spoke to my condition.

After worship, we had tea and truffles and got to know each other. I learned that one of the attenders came from Twin Cities Friends Meeting and we talked about how they recently had a year of discernment. I also talked up the women's conference and they said they would spread the word. I am very hopeful that we will get a few Alaskans at the next conference―everyone seems interested!

A few days ago, I was listening to an interview of a Benedictine nun on my way to work. As Sister Chittister described how purposeful and spiritual her life is, I was daydreaming about how joining a convent might be nice. In the midst of my musing, I got a very clear message: "That is NOT the plan I have for your life." Now, it is one thing to hear from God when I am sitting in Quaker meeting, but it is quite another to get divine messages when I am taking the MT41 Express Downtown. I was a little shaken, but pretty clear that monastic life is not for me.

Today, at Anchorage Friends Meeting, I got another message: "This is what I want you to do." I feel clear that going to visit other meetings and churches is what I am supposed to be doing right now, and organizing the women's conference gives me a reason to do that. Even though I hate the idea of talking in front of groups, each time I go to another meeting or church, I feel blessed. I am also beginning to see a benefit to having moved so many times: I am connected to so many people and places, even if I don't fit perfectly in any one place.


  1. This is such an exciting post to me! I don't know if you knew I'm attending TCFM. I probably wouldn't know the person you met that was from here, but Jeremy might.
    I love that you were daydreaming about being a nun and felt a clear word that that wasn't for you! =) I too enjoy visiting with lots of Friends, though I don't think I've heard anything clearly as far as this being a calling. (And I don't have - currently - any multi-branch Quaker conference to plan. =)

    I have found in my life though, that if you follow God's leading you'll be given what you need to do what has to be done - including the courage to stand up and talk in front of a group of people!

    Keep posting updates about the work with the PNWQWTC. I was only able to attend once, but it is such a unique thing and I want to see it do well (which I'm sure it will). =)

  2. Ashley, I am so glad that you had such a nice trip. I can't wait to hear more. Did you recognize the language as Inupiat? I don't think I could tell the difference between Inupiat and say Yupik.

  3. I can tell that the insights you'll gain by visiting many Friends meetings is going to give you a perspective that will be very valuable to the Freedom and University Friends!

  4. It is so nice to get comments while I am gone -- makes me feel like I'm missed! :)

    Aimee -- thanks for the encouragement. I did mention you and Jeremy to the TCFM Friend and she said his name sounded familiar. It's funny to see how connected we all are. I plan to keep posting about the women's conference and I definitely hope to see you at the next one.

    Emily -- I didn't recognize the language (and I think one person identified it as "Eskimo," which didn't seem appropriate for blogging!), but I asked someone at the end of the service.

    Richelle -- I feel like the more meetings I go to, the more I see how diverse Quakers are. I doubt that University Friends or Freedom Friends will start having meetings in indigenous languages, but I am very glad to have such different perspectives on Friends!

    See you when I get back!


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.