Questpost 8: session 1

We had a standing room only crowd at our first session – about 10 Seekers and maybe 30 Friends, 10 or so from our own meeting the rest curious supporters from the Yearly Meeting. I felt strangely calm all day. Our speakers did well, with room for improvement (isn’t there always room for improvement?) None managed to nail the five minute time limit, and they each wound down awkwardly when our time keeper gave them the high sign from the back of the room. But they created a wonderful mix of Friends, ably representing our membership: Bill, 84 and a life-long Quaker, and WW2 C.O.; Sandy, a middle-aged convinced Friend who grew up in an intellectual Brooklyn Jewish household; and Emily, a Haverford College senior, about to embark on her second journey to Africa to do peace and reconciliation work there.

Because of the unexpected numbers, and the 3 – 1 Quaker – Seeker ratio, I decided to blend the small discussion groups, rather than try to weed out the Seekers and separate them into separate groups, which seemed invasive to me in the moment. Unfortunately, our discussion leaders had to struggle a bit to quiet the Quakers in their groups and draw the Seekers out, proving the soundness of QQ’s design of having 3 -4 Seekers per 1 Quaker in the small groups. Our one nervous moment came when a Navy veteran spoke at length during the open Q&A session, and seemed upset with Bill’s story of being a C.O. Bill stood when he was done and invited him to talk privately after. Conflict averted – how Quakerly!

Our meetinghouse was full – the nursery taking care of Seeker and Quaker kids alike, the kitchen humming with snack trays being assembled, and even our large meeting room pressed into service when Elaine took some of the Quakers present in there to lessen the numbers of Quakers in discussion. It all felt like it was proceeding as planned.

But I returned again and again to my own sense of calm, even though I was “hosting” the session – welcoming everyone and guiding the session from one component to the next. Why wasn’t I more nervous, I thought. Is it my actor training? But I have been quite nervous in Quaker contexts before, actor training be damned. I should be on pins and needles, I thought, this is the culmination of my work as Outreach Coordinator at my meeting.

Or is it? In reflection, I sense that the Spirit was with me – and all of us – in a rightly ordered, Divinely led gathering. When we open ourselves to the rightness of something and not pick it part with fretting, it can become a joy, the way true ministry is a joy even though it may travel a perilous journey to birth. I was calm because over all I sensed the comfort of God’s love. I felt convinced there were no mistakes to make. I was sure of our preparation, and excited to meet our guests.

I also sense that I have understood these sessions as one part of a much larger movement: the renaissance of American Quakerism. No, I will not be drawn into the controversy stirred by the question, what Quakerism do you mean? I am committed to a Way that seeks no controversies. The Quakerism I mean is neither liberal nor conservative (pernicious terms devoid of meaning to me), it neither of this tradition nor that. It is simply the way I worship, with the people gathered around me when I worship. And this Quakerism that I feel in my bones, the one I am sharing with my Friends through Quaker Quest, this Quakerism is growing now.

I was calm because I sense that the greater challenge is not in the attracting of new Friends – Quaker Quest is teaching us how to do that – but in the assimilation of them in to members of our Quaker communities, welcoming their new energy and new ideas, while still, somehow, remaining true to the legacy left to us by Rufus Jones, Elise Boulding, John Woolman, Lucretia Mott, William Penn, Margaret Fell and George Fox. Questpost 8: Session 1 Thursday, April 10, 2008