The Ministry of Existence

We've been admiring Quakers (also known as the Society of Friends) from afar for some time now. Through studying and teaching U.S. history, I've learned a lot about their origins, development and beliefs. ( has a great overview article here and a fantastic podcast from BBC Radio 4 discusses the history of Quakers in Britain on In Our Time with Melvyn Bragg.) We love the commitment to peace, justice and equality.

Years ago I met a professor at a Quaker university who explained that her students called her by first name because it demonstrated their belief that all are equal in the family of God. I loved that idea.

In Houston, we visited the Live Oak Friends Meeting House a few times. The Skyspace there is a breathtaking way to meditate as the sun sets. We attended the Houston Peace Festival there were I was so impressed at the variety of social justice causes Quakers participate in. A modern dance company performed a piece illustrating a place where different people groups lived in harmony next to one another.

A few years ago, we toured Friends House London a part of Open House London. Again we were impressed to learn about Quaker initiatives and the diversity of Friends.

We've been in limbo regarding church attendance for a while now. When I got pregnant we hardly went because I was so ill. We felt we had outgrown our church anyway and decided it was time to move on. We have visited churches on and off the last year but never felt connected.

So a few weeks ago we started visiting Friends meetings again. Quakers in Britain are unprogrammed, meaning the meeting is silent. AboutQuakers describes this as "an active silence of a community gathered together in expectation." If one feels moved by "Inner Light" to share, they do so. Christ is the light that lives in each of us. There is no single minister because everyone is a minister. The meeting begins when the first person enters the room and ends with the shaking of hands and the exchanging of peace. (If you are really interested in Quaker faith and practice, Advices and Queries is what to read.)

It's hard to be silent for an hour. It's even hard to be silent for half an hour, which is what we do because one of us takes Dash out of the room (she begins and ends with us in the meeting). The first time neither one of us could settle into it. Years and years of "programmed" religion did not allow much space and time for quiet. Decades of works-based faith (that simultaneously claimed good works don't secure salvation) left me to interpret this sort of silence as "doing nothing."

But by our second visit, we welcomed the silence. I drank it in, really. I just listened. I struggled. I let go. I felt the Spirit in the room and inside me. It was amazing. Of course I do not expect a magical experience each time, but I am in love with the whole idea of it.

Everyone said how happy they were to have Dash there, and one woman told me she loved her ministry. My tiny baby has a MINISTRY. Merely because she exists. I have a ministry, because I exist. Eric has a ministry, because he exists. All are equal in the family of God.

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