Thursday, May 22, 2008

A Different Kind of Love Letter

Over the past few months when I have sat in silent worship at University Friends Meeting, I have been filled to overflowing with love for the people there. This powerful swell of love has completely surprised and unnerved me. It also makes me feel a little guilty, like I am being disloyal to Freedom Friends Church by loving people in another meeting.

As I think I made abundantly clear in my love letter to Freedom Friends, that church is easy to love. Freedom Friends is kind of like a puppy. You have to love it because it is so sweet and little, it tries so hard to be good, and it has an enormous amount of energy and potential. I have a strong sense that Freedom Friends need me, and it's hard not to love a church that needs you.

I don't feel like University Friends needs me, or even knows I am there most of the time. It is a meeting with a completely different character than Freedom Friends, to the point that I am sometimes surprised that they both fall under the label of Quaker. University Friends is more like a gruff grandfatheryou know he probably loves you deep down, but sometimes it is hard to tell. The meeting is older in every way; the people who formed the meeting began to meet in the 1930s, and I would guess the average age of attenders on any given Sunday is above 50. There is an underlying sense of loss at the meeting because many of the young families have left for South Seattle Preparative Meeting.

University Friends is also tired. This year has been designated a Year of Discernment for the community because there were not enough people to fill the committee roster. This is not because anyone is lazy. On the contrary, there are many people at the meeting quietly doing an enormous amount of work to keep the meeting going. The Year of Discernment is a time set aside for everyone to reflect on whether University Friends in its current structure is meeting the needs of its members and fulfilling its ministries.

Silent worship is very different at University Friends than at Freedom Friends. It is a more mature meeting and the quality of silence is different. People generally are slower to speak and more likely to have a longer and more polished message than the speakers at Freedom Friends. And if there are more than a few speakers, it makes people question whether the messages are really coming from God or if the person speaking just really wants to talk. This kind of editing makes me sad because I feel like they are not really listening.

One problem that has become clear to me is that University Friends does not do a very good job welcoming Young Adult Friends. Because the meeting is so close to the University of Washington campus, students wander in fairly often. It is easy to dismiss people who do not seem like they are going to come back, and unfortunately many Friends cannot distinguish between a college student coming in for the first time and a late-20s professional who has been attending regularly for months. My soon-to-be-roommate and I have been actively trying to change this by grabbing any new people we see and adding them to the YAF email group, but neither of us are members and we often miss people.

I feel like I am painting a pretty bleak picture of University Friends. That is not my intention. I have met many wonderful people at University Friends who demonstrate God's love in the way they live their lives as well as in the messages they share in worship. Although the meeting is tired right now, it has a rich history and members who are willing to to work to make it a thriving and welcoming community again.

I think this is why I have such a strong sense of love for the meeting. I love the community for what it is, and I love it for what I know it could be. I want to nurture and encourage the people who are there and give them a little extra strength for the work ahead. There are so many people who are searching for a community and a spiritual path. If we become the community I know we can be, they will find us.


  1. Hello Ashley - I've just discovered your blog, via QuakerQuaker, and I have been reading through the archive with many nods and laughs and comments of,'Oh, I know just what she means...'

    I've added you to the blogroll on my blog at - I hope that's OK. I'm looking forward to reading more. I'll be holding you in the Light as you move!


  2. Heather,

    I am honored to be added to your blogroll. Thanks for holding me in the light while I move!



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