Sandy Olson was the scheduled speaker at semi-programmed meeting for worship on November 10, 2013.
“Our life is love, and peace, and tenderness; and bearing one with another, and forgiving one another, and not laying accusations one against another; but praying one for another, and helping one another up with a tender hand.” Isaac Penington, 1667
I rise this morning to speak about being and remaining open—both being and remaining open, open to visitors, eager to welcome newcomers and open to the guidance of the Spirit.
As you know this fall at Minneapolis Friends we have been engaged in Quaker Quest, a series of sessions for the public. The series continues at 3 pm this afternoon with an exploration of “Quakers and equality and justice” and concludes one week from today when the topic will be “Quakers and integrity.” With these sessions Quakers in Minnesota and elsewhere in the United States are announcing to the public that we are still open, that we remain alive and well. Other Quakers have told me when they disclosed their Quaker identity, people have responded with surprise. “You mean there are still Quakers? You’re not just in history books or on cereal boxes?”
The public tends to associate Quakers with the history of Pennsylvania or Quaker oats. Drawing on the association with oatmeal, the West Newton Friends Church in Indianapolis, Indiana, is promoting their public session with posters. The headline of the poster reads “Quakers are more than….” Instead of saying “oatmeal” they include an inviting picture of the hot cereal. We considered doing this but headed in a different direction. By offering sessions to the public we are saying “We are still here after all these years. We are opening our doors to you. Please come and check us out.” If you happened to come this morning because of an article, ad, poster, banner or brochure, we are very glad you are here. I stepped into a Quaker meetinghouse for the first time in Richmond, VA, in 1987 to hear a panel discussion of “Quakers and God.” This was not a Quaker Quest session, but I have been involved in Quaker Quest to say thank you to Friends for taking such good care of me, for helping me up “with a tender hand.”
Our Quaker Quest process at Minneapolis Friends began two years ago this weekend. On Nov 12, 2011 we gathered in this room for a lively workshop. Our facilitators invited us to state our understanding of Quaker beliefs and values. We considered why people might want to find a Quaker meeting and also explored possible barriers to finding this place. We identified ways we connect with each other and became aware that newcomers might feel excluded instead of welcomed.
In February of 2011 we agreed to hold the sessions we are now offering. Instead of welcoming visitors with a handshake, we want to welcome you with open arms. We want to preserve, extend and amplify the warmth of early Quakers, a warmth so eloquently expressed by Isaac Penington and printed in the bulletin today. When we are at our best and truly living as a beloved community “Our life is love, and peace, and tenderness; and bearing one with another, and forgiving one another, and not laying accusations one against another; but praying one for another, and helping one another up with a tender hand.”
That is our goal. We do not always live up to that possibility.
Isaac Penington wrote the words I just shared in a letter to his home meeting when he was in prison. How can we preserve, extend and amplify the warmth of early Quakers here at 4401 York Ave South in Minneapolis in 2013 and for years to come? That is a question we need to continue to explore as a community. Compared with early Quakers, we do not write letters with a quill and a bottle of ink and send them by horseback to a distant relative. Instead we can communicate almost instantaneously through many different channels. I used “copy and paste” to transfer Penington’s words from one part of this text to another.
We cannot “copy and paste” the fervor and warmth of early Friends. Doing so would be a mistake because we live in a different time. However, I believe we can retain the best of what Friends have offered. Currently persons who are not participating in a church community often describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious.” We are the Religious Society of Friends and when we are at our best we are deeply, keenly, eagerly, avowedly, mysteriously and diversely spiritual. I believe we are at our best only when we keep our feet near the fire, when we nurture the spiritual life between and among us. To retain our vitality, to have anything of substance to offer the public we absolutely need to be and remain open to the guidance of the Spirit.
In the remainder of the brief time we have together this morning, I suggest that we invite the presence of the Spirit by sharing a hymn before we return to silence. That’s why you have hymn books by your side. The hymn I suggest we share is #166. We often sing this at the beginning of a semi-programmed Meeting before the designated speaker shares a few words. The hymn “Open my Eyes, That I May See” asks the Spirit to open our eyes, open our ears, open our mouth and open our mind. As individuals and as a group, our witness must remain attuned to the on-going, faithful and profound guidance of the Spirit.