Hi. I'm a Quaker. (or: the one where I talk about my religion.)

15 March 2011

So, I don’t talk about my faith much.  I’ll openly talk about the fact that I’m a Quaker but not so much as to what that means.

I’ve been a Quaker since I can remember — in fact, I’m considered a “birthright” Friend because both of my parents were members of the Meeting when I was born.  It doesn’t really mean much now, and not too many people used the term “convinced” for members who joined later.  However, when it comes to my family, I’m one of the last practicing Quaker left.  My Grandpa (dad’s side) still considers himself a Quaker, and I’d venture to call my mother a Friend as well.  Some of my extended cousins might still go to Meeting as well, but I’m not sure.  My family has a long history of Quakerism.  Many, many generations through my dad’s side.  It’s been the Quaker records that’s allowed my Grandpa and his nephews to go so far into our genealogy.

I went to a Quaker Meeting since I was a kid — until just before our Meeting collapsed and they sold the Meeting House*.   I went to Quaker retreats and even worked at the Quaker summer camp I’d attended for years.  I attended a Yearly Meeting** or two.  I even did an internship at a Quaker press for Friends United Meeting***.  Being a Quaker is just a part of who I am.

But defining “Quaker” is hard.  Especially now as things have gotten muddy.  It’s like Christianity, how it only takes a few extremists to muck it up for everyone.  It only takes a few odd Quakers to give everyone the wrong impression.  Quakers have no written doctrine — so it makes it super easy for people to say “this is what Quakers believe” and have a whole variety of definitions to follow.  We attract a lot of people with a social justice background, and pagans.  But what people have failed to remember is that Quakerism is rooted in Christianity and monotheism.  If you read George Fox’s**** writings it’s very clear.  In fact, the “true” name our of group is actually Religious Society of Friends.  Fox sought out other “Seekers” (people seeking The Truth), and they took the name from the John 15:15-16 passage about Jesus calling us “friends”.

One of the main tenets of our beliefs is that there is “That of God” in everyone. This gets interpreted into “The Christ Within” or “The Inner Light” or simply “The Light”.  When we pray for others, we “hold them in The Light”.  Think of it this way: churches and such are spiritual hot spots to connect with God.  The Light is like having Unlimited-G.  You’re always going to have that connect to God — and unlike AT&T, the service and connection is amazing.  And that connection is in and available to everyone.  No restrictions.  Some choose to listen, others don’t.  But we all have that connection, and thus, we’re all equal in the eyes of God at that basic nature.  (As my mom’s, non-Quaker, pastor***** said, there’s nothing we can do to make God love us any less, and there is nothing we can do to make God love us any more.  God’s love is infinite.)

We really are simple.  We just use a lexicon people aren’t familiar with.  We respond to queries rather than do devotions.  Some of us still use “thee” and “thou” and every other variation on it.  We go to Meetings, organized by Clerks.  We talk about “the seed” and “The Light”.  But it’s all about seeing That of God in others, and stripping back the excess to truly connect with God and listen to God.  An early Quaker, Isaac Penington, wrote: “Give over thine own willing, give over thine own running, give over thine own desiring to know or to be anything, and sink down to the seed which God sows in thy heart and let that be in thee, and grow in thee, and breathe in thee, and act in thee…”

Now, I could go on quite a bit more… but I think for now I’ll stop.  If you’ve never been to a Quaker Meeting for Worship, I invite you to go.  If you’re in Chicago, you can even join me, as I’ll be attending a Meeting on Clark St south north of Montrose when I move back.  If you have any questions, I’ll definitely be willing to answer as best I can.

*(Meeting = gathering together.  We’ve got a Meeting for Worship, as well as Meeting for Business.  The Meeting House is the building.  Basically, it means church.)
**Yearly Meeting means two things.  One, it’s actually a yearly (annual) meeting of all the Meetings associated with it.  And two, it’s the larger organization that encompasses a lot of Meetings.  I was part of the Indiana Yearly Meeting (which actually had some member churches from Ohio and Michigan too).  Now, though I go to a Meeting in Indiana still, I’m a part of Illinois Yearly Meeting — and our Monthly Meeting is associated with the Chicago area.  (If you’ve read the TrueBlood series, you’ll sort of get the idea because it’s similar to their vampire politics in dividing up regions, except we don’t have “sheriffs” or “kings/queens”… but the strange dividing things up and hierarchy is similar.)
***Friends United Meeting is sort of like other churches’ main conference/parent group.  It sort of divides Friends up into three different groups.  Evangelical Friends International, Friends United Meeting, and Friends General Conference.  The former more conservative/evangelical than the latter.
****George Fox is the founder of the Quakers, just like Menno Simon started the Mennonites.
*****Quaker Meetings break down to two groups: programmed and unprogrammed.  Unprogrammed are the traditional Meetings (generally found in the less evangelical groups, though).  Unprogrammed means gathering in silence, focusing and listening to God; if someone feels lead by the Spirit to speak, then they will.  That message might be intended for everyone or just one person.  A Clerk facilitates the Meetings.  The Clerk is not a pastor, but just someone to keep record as well as leading us in starting worship and bringing it to a close.  Programmed would be similar to other denominations’ churches.  There’s a pastor who leads a sermon. There’s still silent worship, but it doesn’t account for the entire service.

  • This introduction to Quakerism does many things well. I particularly liked the paragraph that begins, “But defining ‘Quaker’ is hard,” because it handles some very dangerous pitfalls truthfully, without giving offense.

    A teeny-tiny criticism: “tenet” is spelled with one “n”. A slightly larger one: there are Friends here in the U.S. that belong to none of the three groups you listed in your footnote. As a Conservative Friend, I am one of them!

    • Erini

      True, not all friends fit into one of the larger umbrella groups. But I would reckon to say that the majority of them have some association with them. At least in my opinion.

      And thank you! There are so many difference among Quakers — some that I personally feel have hurt the group, because I feel that they’ve strayed too far from the origins of Quakerism. But it just shows that there is truly a need for an understanding of our history, to know why and how we became who we are and why we worship this way. Though these other people may, in my mind, muddy up Quakerism, there is still Truth to be found in them and through them.

  • Wow, I am so glad that you wrote this post. I really love learning about other religions and I’ve attended a variety of religious servies. I guess I consider myself Catholic more than anything, at least it is the religion that I always identify the most with, but I see so many truths in other religions. Quakerism (?) sounds like it is definitely something I would like to check out. I think the only problem is that I don’t know any Quakers where I live.

    • Erini

      Quakerfinder.org! It’s a site through FGC, but I believe they list pretty much any and all meetings they could find. (There’s probably some smaller, house meetings not listed…)

      My senior year, part of my AP English class turned into AP Religion. We had guest speakers from different churches (my class only had Christians come in, and someone speaking about Masons… the other AP English class I think has someone speak about Islam and Judaism)… I loved it. I’m a firm believer that you should keep seeking until you find a place that feels like home, where you can grow. For me, it seems hard because everything else is so different than Quakerism. I do feel at home in my mom’s church, but it’s nothing like the Friends Meeting I’m attending now. 🙂

  • I really enjoyed reading this, because it was a glimpse into something I have a limited knowledge but also I feel like I learned more about you, as a person. It takes a certain type of courage to speak so openly about your beliefs, because they are usually very personal. You explained it all well.


    • Erini

      Thanks Lorraine! I’ve always loved studying Quaker history & theology. I even contemplated pursuing that in grad school.
      … I’m always a little cautious when I get into God-talk or mentioning the J-man. Like people won’t take me as seriously or all of their preconceived notions about religions will filter their view of me when I admit I’m a Christian. So I tend to do the “let them get to know me, and hopefully see good things through me” thing first, and neglect actually informing them of who I am.

  • Yes you are right, it has pained me alot when people tell me that Quakers are not Christians only because a few odd people have deciding to stir things up in a nonpositive way. Thanks for writting this is practically my experience. 🙂

    • Erini

      You are more than welcome, Friend. 🙂 I still tell people that it’s a Christian religion “though not all Quakers are Christians”… When I was attending Goshen College, a Mennonite friend discussed with me the fact that culturally he was a Mennonite, but as he was not spiritual, religiously he was not. I think understanding that distinction can be important. However, it is the religion and belief that has shaped the culture and made it what it now is. I hope non-theist Friends will (continue? begin? to) acknowledge that.

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