Occasionally we attend meeting at the New Garden Friends Meetinghouse in Greensboro. New Garden was established in 1754, making it one of the oldest continuously operating Quaker meetinghouses in the country.
The vibe at New Garden is quite different from what one would expect at most churches, particularly in our part of the country. At the door attendees are greeted with signs announcing that war is not the answer. In the lobby (or what other traditions might call the narthex) there is a collection box for Chosenfast, an awesome homeless ministry in Greensboro. There is also a table with pamphlets and brochures from organizations like People of Faith Against the Death Penalty, the American Friends Service Committee, and material on how to protest and oppose the war in Afghanistan.
New Garden has two services, one programmed and one completely unprogrammed. The unprogrammed meeting is the more traditional one. The Friends just sit quietly in a large room with benches arranged in a type of semi-circle. Only if someone feels led by the Spirit to speak is the silence broken. In the programmed service (which we attend) there is music, a reading from Scripture and a Quaker writing, then a brief message from the pastor, following which there is an extended period of silence, unless and until someone is led to speak.
The music is old-fashioned, and having become accustomed to more contemporary praise music it doesn’t do much for me. Still, it’s a nice break and some of the folks there sing beautifully.
We attended on New Years Day and the message was about resolutions, drawing on Phillipians 4: 4-9. After the pastor spoke for a few minutes the silence began. In our culture it feels really strange to be in a room full of people all sitting silently. I’m so unused to it that I sometimes have trouble meditating in that environment. My mind is reluctant to settle down. This time, I did relax and enjoy some peacefullness after a few minutes.
After 10 or 15 minutes of silence a few people stood up and spoke. One, an author who has recently published her memoir, quoted Wendell Berry, and spoke of the importance of sharing stories. Someone shared their practice of adopting a theme for the coming year, rather than a resolution. Someone stood up to say that deeply entering into the stories of others generates love and that it is a lie to say that familiary breeds contempt. Four or five persons spoke and no one said more than a few sentences.
Eventually, after the silence had settled back in for a while, the pastor shook the hand of the person next to him, which signals the end of the meeting.
Cherie is a convinced Quaker (meaning someone who has come into the tradition rather than being born into it) and I know going to meeting at times is important to her. The Quaker tradition is all new to me, but I do enjoy the occasional visit.
As I continue to learn about the Quaker tradition, I’m finding lots to like about it. I do prefer at least a little liturgy in my worship experience, and the Quakers make Baptists seem high-church. Still, there is a beauty in the simplicity of their worship.
The program given to attendees includes this on the front:
What do Quakers say?
There is something sacred in all people.
All people are equal before God.
Religion is about the whole of life.
We meet in stillness to discover a deeper sense of God’s presence.
True religion leads to respect for the earth and all life upon it.
Each person is unique, precious, a child of God.