I have spent a lot of time over the past five years traveling among Friends, both in person and online. I have been to evangelical, liberal, and conservative yearly meetings. I have worshiped with Friends in meetinghouses and churches from Alaska to Nairobi. I have read posts by Friends who are as close to me as family and by others who I have never met, but who I know to be kindred spirits.
All of this travel among Friends has been a privilege and a blessing. It has also given me a vantage point on the Religious Society of Friends that I think is unusual. I was reminded of that yesterday when I saw two posts online by Friends.
The first was by Becky A, who is currently serving as superintendent of Northwest Yearly Meeting. In her post, On Our Way Rejoicing, Becky wondered what it is that Friends do together that is so worthwhile. She proposed the following statement:
The NWYM of Friends churches are compelled to share the good news that Jesus Christ is alive and present today to teach us himself; that we identify ourselves as Friends of Jesus when we do what Jesus tells us to do individually and corporately; and that this Friendship is open to all.The second post was by Cat C-B, entitled An Open Letter to my Christian Quaker Friends: Part 1 of 2. In her post, Cat said,
. . .the same spiritual integrity that made me show up and keep showing up for Quaker meetings--because I was called, and I knew it--has also kept me loyal to and part of the Pagan community that formed for me a soul capable of hearing a spiritual call in the first place.For someone looking in from the outside, it might seem impossible that these people are part of the same religious society. But I know better. I have followed the ministry of both of these women for years, and I can attest that they are both faithful Friends.
It is hard for me, when I travel among Friends, to hear the ways that some Friends fear other Friends. I wish all of you could see what I see.
We are all working so hard to be faithful. We are trying to listen to the voice of the Spirit, however we name that divine presence. Friends are also making a valiant effort to listen to each other across our differences, but we sometimes end up hurting each other, often through misunderstandings of the language we use.
Whenever I am with Friends, regardless of the kind of Friends, there is always a moment when I have the clear sense that these are my people. It is not always the same—sometimes that feeling comes in open worship, other times in prayer, singing, or individual conversations. Regardless of how it happens, I know then that these are Friends who are committed to each other and to listening to the voice of the Spirit together.
But now I am preparing to leave my Quaker bubble. In just over a month, I will be moving to Atlanta to be a part of a different faith community: my class at Candler School of Theology, a Methodist seminary.
When I was coming back from the World Conference of Friends last year, I had a fairly long layover in the London airport. There were several Friends around, and I ran into them a few times. I was sitting on my own in one of the lounge areas, when I heard a clear message:
Go to the chapel to be with your people.I shrugged and said, okay—it wasn't like I was doing anything. I had spent time in the chapel during my layover on the way to Kenya, so I knew where it was. I had the vague idea that I might find some other Friends in there and we could have a final meeting for worship.
But that's not who was there.
When I went into the chapel and settled into prayer, the people who joined me were: Hasidic Jews, wrapping tefillin. Muslims praying toward Mecca. A young Catholic woman making her way through the Rosary.
Quakers are my people. And those are my people. We are the people of God.