Saturday, February 23, 2013

Convergent Friends

I actually have been writing quite a bit lately . . . just not here.  In addition to the legal writing I do every day for work, I have been doing the kind of writing that is important, but not necessarily for a wider audience: personal statements, scholarship and grant applications, a workshop description.  

As you might imagine, I end up writing about Quakers a lot.  One paragraph that is part of a longer essay seemed worth posting, a description of convergent Friends:
One of the growing edges in the Religious Society of Friends is a movement called “convergent Friends”: Quakers coming together across the branches of Friends to try to discover the best of our tradition.  This is a movement toward reconciliation.  It is not based on the idea that we all have to worship the same way or believe the same things, but on the conviction that there is still life in the Religious Society of Friends, that God is still speaking to and through us, and that we can learn about the Spirit among us―however we name that Spirit―by sharing our experiences of the divine and listening deeply.
I will be heading down to California tomorrow evening to interview at Claremont School of Theology on Tuesday.   I would appreciate your prayers for safe travels and for clarity and grace while I am there.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Three Meetings

"For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them."  Matthew 18:20.
Over the four Sundays this month, I have worshiped at four different meetings.  In addition to one week at my home meeting, Freedom Friends Church, I had the opportunity to visit Friends at Multnomah Monthly Meeting, Oakland Quakers, and Salem Friends Meeting.  I felt warmly welcomed at each meeting, and they were all different, so I thought I'd share a little about those experiences.

Multnomah Monthly Meeting

Some friends and I got tickets to see The Book of Mormon in Portland on January 6, so I stayed at their house the night before.  The play was at 1pm, so I knew I would not have time to go to 10am worship, but I kept feeling a nudge to go to Multnomah Monthly Meeting that day.  I asked my friends if I could borrow their car to go to early worship, and they said that I could.

Stark Street Meetinghouse
The Multnomah MM meetinghouse, from the meeting's website.

Early worship at Multnomah begins at 8:15am, and tends to be a relatively small and quiet group compared to 10am worship.  When I arrived, there was only one other person in the room, and we ended up with about a dozen.  I was happy to see my friend Joe S, and we sat together in companionable worship.  There was no vocal ministry, but the worship had a warm feeling to it.

After worship, we went around the circle twice.  The first time, we shared our names and anything that arose for us during worship.  Most people spoke.  I said that I don't get a chance to worship at Multnomah very often, but as I sat in worship, I remembered other times I had been there; I was grateful for the opportunity to visit and spent some time in prayer for the life of the meeting.  The second time around, we were invited to share anything that we wanted Friends to hold in the Light.  A young man who was worshiping at Multnomah for the first time―he had recently moved from a meeting in California―said that he thought the practice of going around the circle twice with these prompts was wonderful and he wished every meeting did it.

As we were getting ready to go downstairs for tea, Joe mentioned that he had seen Christina R walking by, and she would be giving a talk about Quaker Voluntary Service after 10am worship.  I was thrilled.  Christina and I have known each other for years online, but had never been in the same place at the same time.  I went downstairs and introduced myself, and we were both delighted to finally meet in person and have some time to talk before she went up for worship.

Oakland Quakers

A couple weeks later, I went down to Oakland for a long weekend to visit family.  A number of young adult Friends that I know have recently moved to the Bay Area, so I suggested a small-scale YAF invasion of Oakland Quakers, a worship group hosted by Pam C and Helen H in their living room on Sunday evenings.  (I met Pam and Helen at a Convergent Friends workshop at Ben Lomond Quaker Center a few years ago and had wanted to visit Oakland Friends ever since.)  So on Sunday night, I picked up my former housemate Eric B at a BART station, and we met up with Suzanne F for worship.

Again, there were about a dozen people gathered for worship, though that felt like a lot more in a living room than it did in Multnomah MM's large worship room!  The meeting was almost completely silent.  Near the end of worship, I felt led to read God's call on Samuel in I Samuel 3:1-11.  After reading, I held the Bible in my lap, waiting to hear if God would lead me to give a message as well as the reading, but I did not feel led to speak further, and that was the only vocal ministry.

At the end of worship, we all introduced ourselves and Pam asked me to say a little about Freedom Friends.  I described our independent, inclusive, Christ-centered meeting and then asked Suzanne if she would talk about New City Friends, the meeting she was a part of in Detroit, which sounds similar to Freedom Friends.  Friends from Oakland Friends shared how they had read through the entire Bible together and said that they do not often have vocal ministry in their meetings. 

After worship, Eric and I went to Suzanne's house for dinner.  Suzanne is another Friend that I had known for quite a while online, but had never met in person, and I am glad that we had the opportunity to meet and worship together. 

Salem Friends Meeting 

Although I am a member of Freedom Friends, it is not actually the closest Friends meeting to my house.  Salem Friends Meeting is in my neighborhood, less than a 10-minute walk away.  The two meetings have a good relationship and I try to visit a few times a year.

This past Sunday morning was drizzly and cold, and as I ate breakfast, I debated about whether I should go to worship at Freedom Friends or Salem Friends.  I was leaning toward going to Salem Friends, but felt guilty about missing worship at Freedom Friends two weeks in a row.  I was praying about it when suddenly this message appeared in my head:  
"God doesn't care where you go to meeting this morning.  You could stay home and read a novel, and that would be fine with God.  Go where you want!"
I laughed and headed out the door to walk over to Salem Friends.

Like Multnomah and Oakland Quakers, worship at Salem Friends is unprogrammed, and there were about a dozen people gathered for worship that day.  The worship was mostly silent, with one Friend sharing a message about her work with the Alternatives to Violence program at a local prison.

At the rise of meeting, we all introduced ourselves and then it was time for Salem Friends to decide where to give money.  Salem Friends owns their building and are committed to giving away extra money that they take in.  I believe they do this quarterly, and I always seem to be visiting on the Sundays when they discuss where to give!

Friends recommended some local charities―a women's crisis center, a halfway house, the humane society, which recently got a larger influx of dogs than usual―and Friends allocated amounts for each.  When the discussion seemed to be winding down, I asked if I could suggest something.  Friends were happy to listen, so I told them that, earlier that week, I had received a message from QuakerQuaker saying that the site was in need of money to continue.  I shared that QuakerQuaker has been an important community for me, and encouraged Salem Friends to contribute, and they did. 


I am never quite sure what the distinction is between traveling ministry and intervisitation.  I think these visits were probably more like intervisitation than traveling ministry―I did not travel with a minute or under a concern, and any vocal ministry I gave felt somewhat beside the point.  But I did feel led to visit each of the meetings and I am glad that I followed those leadings.  And, as Lloyd Lee Wilson says, you never know why you are there.  I am grateful for the connections with Friends and the opportunities I have had to gather for worship.