Roland Barrett was the scheduled speaker at Semi-Programmed Meeting for Worship on August 23, 2015
Several years ago, while I was searching for a new spiritual home, I took a seminar on peaceful conflict resolution. In the seminar I read an article about the Quakers. I was intriqued and decided I needed to find out just “who are the Quakers?”
I started my research with the book “Friends for 350 Years” and then the George Fox Journal. I learned how George Fox was seeking his spiritual home in the 17th century. How he looked for God in all sorts of religious groups, and then discovered that God is deep inside each of us, in the light in our hearts. He traveled throughout England preaching that: “The Lord showed me, so that I did see clearly, that he did not dwell in these temples which men had commanded and set up, but in peoples’ hearts… his people were his temple and he dwelt in them.” Fox, viewed as a radical, was persecuted and imprisoned for his beliefs. In spite of this he gathered a huge following – the Friends. Viewing George Fox from my previous tradition I saw in him a great saint.
I followed the history of the Friends into America.
I learned of Mary Barrett Dyer (I guess I was attracted by her name). She refused to deny her Quaker faith in Massachusetts and was executed, becoming a Quaker martyr.
And of course, William Penn, philosopher, Quaker, and founder of Pennsylvania, where he advocated democracy and religious freedom.
John Woolman, one of the earliest American abolitionists.
Lucretia Mott, abolitionist and suffragist.
The list of Quaker heroes, and may I say it, saints, is long.
Looking for Quaker meetings locally, I found Minneapolis Friends Meeting in an internet search. I got up enough courage to show up at a worship meeting to see for myself, in the flesh, who these Quakers were.
I continued to attend meetings, and over time I discovered Quakers who were doctors, teachers, factory workers, cooks, lawyers, artists, pilots, administrators, writers, actors, homemakers, military veterans, EMT’s, musicians, chaplains, contractors, business owners, scientists. A veritable stew of Quakers. I enjoyed them all, but to be honest, i was in awe of most of them.
Shortly after my early attendance at Minneapolis Friends, my wife and I visited our youngest daughter, living in Las Vegas, Nevada. One day we went hiking in a beautiful desert canyon in what is called the Valley of Fire. Walking through the canyon I told my wife “This would be a wonderful place for a Quaker worship”. A few days later I searched online for the Las Vegas Quaker meeting. I found it and was startled by the website title page. The background was a picture of the Valley of Fire.
I found the time and place for First Day meeting and showed up on time. It was a large protestant church. Services were just ending. I asked one of the people leaving where I could find the Quaker meeting. They said “probably around the side by the parking lot”. I walked around the parking lot and found a sandwich sign in front of a side door announcing the Quaker meeting. I went in the door into a dark room. It looked like a conference room, but no one was inside. Being a little nervous I went back outside just as a man about my age came walking across the parking lot. “Are you here for the Quaker meeting?” he said. Then he took my arm and escorted me inside. He turned on the lights and positioned a few conference table chairs in a circle in the center of the room. He said, “We can get started.” We began our silent worship. Shortly another older man joined us and sat down. Then a fourth man, with a dog on a leash. He freed the dog as he sat down. And the dog started wandering around. About 5 minutes went by and the man next to me grabbed my arm and said “I need to tell you something. I don’t want you to be alarmed when our meeting clerk shows up. He is homeless, and his appearance may frighten you”. A few minutes later the clerk shows up, looking very much like a grizzled prospector that just walked in off the desert. He removed his backpack and sat down. We spent the remaining hour in silent worship. At the end we got together for a delightful discussion lasting about 30 minutes and then we all left.
So have I found out “who are the Quakers?” I think I have. They are simply everybody. Young and old, rich and poor, married and single, black and white, gay and straight, involved in a myriad of occupations, and some have homes, but yes, some are homeless. We Quakers are everybody, but we come together as Friends in our commitment to be guided by the Quaker testimonies – the spices of life – simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equality, and stewardship, and.. .most importantly, to live our lives recognizing that of God in every person and all creation.
So, my friends – “walk cheerfully over the world answering that of God in everyone.”