I try to worship somewhere on Sundays whenever possible. Most often I go to an un-programmed Quaker meeting for mostly an hour of silent worship.
Three weeks ago I attended West Hills Friends Church in Portland, OR and two weeks ago I worshiped at Freedom Friends Church, a semi-programmed Quaker Church in Salem, OR co-pastored by Peggy Senger Parsons and Alivia Biko. On Sunday I worshiped at my local Friends Meeting in Hartford, CT.
Most people know little about Quakers (no we do not drive horse and buggies, and we do not get a cut from the Quaker Oats company). In the US we have Quaker meetings and Quaker churches. Most Quaker meetings in the US and UK do not have a pastor, and the worship is unprogrammed–we sit down, settle into silence and wait. Someone, anyone really, may speak out of the silence. Sometimes what someone says moves me and inspires me. Other times the message confuses or annoys me (especially those National Public Radio messages, which always start”The other day on NPR…)
Most Quaker churches are programmed or semi-programmed with pastors and a specific order of service. I have been to few of these, so I can’t say much more.
Theologically Quaker churches contain people who adhere to a more traditional view of Christianity while Quaker meetings lean towards a more liberal or universalist view. In fact, in Quaker meetings you may find people who do not identify as Christian at all but may be pagan or theist or atheist. Quaker churches may not always be safe places for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people while Quaker meetings usually seek to be open and affirming (and often but not always succeed).
I am a Christ-centered un-programmed Friend (and I would like a venti no-foam, de-caf, soy latte, please). I believe in Jesus and I prefer the silence. In many ways I surf between the two worlds of programmed and un-programmed Quakers–never completely home in either.
At Freedom Friends Church they started with a few songs, an opportunity to share joys then concerns, a prayer time and lastly a period of silence of about 30 minutes with a handful of messages rising from the congregation. They had no sermon.
More and more I believe that this sort of format works well for people new to Quakerism. In the old days people hung out more and spoke about what happened in worship and learned about faith and practice over a meal or while working on a project. But today most people blow into meeting and blow out with little opportunity to know what happens behind the veil of silence.
Personally I think that every un-programmed Friends meeting should have a semi-programmed meeting once every four months. This would be the meeting where one could invite friends who have expressed an interest in coming to meeting. About this I will have more to say at a later time.
On Christmas Eve I attended Catholic mass with my dad. I didn’t want him to go alone as my sister Maria was with her in-laws in Long Island and my sister Nardina and my brother Manuel live far away. So I attended mass–the LONGEST HOUR OF THE YEAR! Actually it ran for 55 minutes, but I swear it felt more like three hours.
Even though the priest told jokes and the choir sang some of my favorite Christmas songs (albeit in a key that most humans should not attempt) the whole affair dragged on forever. Now I know that some people get a lot out of Catholic mass, and that having grown up in that tradition, I do not experience it as an adult convert. But throughout the service, just when I began to really focus on God and listen, they interrupted me with another song or prayer or collection (two times!) or people shuffling down to the altar for Communion (I remained in my pew) or an Irish blessing as we left. How can anyone worship with all that racket going on?!?
Today in Umeå Sweden, where I reside until 17 January, I will meet with a small group of people interested in Quaker worship. They do not have a Quaker meeting here, just a few people who have begun to research Quakerism and connect with Quakers via the web and a retreat center near Stockholm.
They have met very few Quakers, so I feel a concern that they may get the wrong idea from me. I am still a baby Quaker. In the un-programmed Quaker meetings we do not have a concept of a Quaker missonary–that would be blasphemous or something. But here I am in Sweden about to meet with these folks as we share our faith and more importantly the experience of worshiping together. Hmmm, maybe I can start a new wave of vegan, comic, queer Quakerism…