Phil Lord

Convinced Friend? Phil Lord, a Philadelphia lawyer, describes himself as "hooked." "When I started private practice with Hal Commons, our office was on Germantown Avenue, around the corner from Germantown Meeting and Germantown Friends School. Hal was attending meeting and telling me about it. It sounded interesting so my wife and I went and enjoyed it; we became members. I was hooked! And I’ve stayed hooked. I love Quakerism.

"It wasn’t so different from what I knew in Brooklyn, New York, where I was born and grew up, in the Bedford-Stuyvesant area. I was deeply involved with my church (Plymouth Brethren) as a youth. There was no pastor. Only men could speak—very different from Quakerism! But in terms of structure, and a democratic feel to worship, it resembled Quakerism. As a youth I felt that Christianity called me to do good works in the world. Quakerism gave me the nexus between faith, social action, and political consciousness. And meditation was a bonus.

"My parents, immigrants to the U.S. from Barbados, are no longer alive. I was the youngest of their four sons and received lots of attention and love. My brothers, now all deceased, were important in my life. I learned so much from them, even though their lives were much more troubled than mine.

"Twenty-two years ago I met my wife, Meldine, in her native Barbados, and we were married six months later. She is a writer as well as the bookkeeper for our firm. Our top priority is our two sons, whose education has been at both Friends and public schools—I think they got the best of both. Our older son is pre-med in his second year at Morehouse College. Our younger son is in high school and loves football. Both are excellent writers, unpublished novelists, and poets. They’re both very verbal; we have frequent debates in the house—all in fun—they’re good thinkers and analysts. My family and my work are my greatest joys."

Phil graduated from Boston University Law School. "I started practicing law here in Philadelphia with the Northwest Tenants Organization, a legal services project, helping tenants form tenants’ councils. It combined my social consciousness and legal work in a special way. After the tenants’ organization lost its funding, I worked for legal services for seven or eight years.

"Then I started private practice with Hal Commons—we had the fortuitous circumstance to have the name Commons and Lord, which everybody thought was British! I have built my practice representing groups that do community development, which is about 80 percent of my work.

"When I look at people who have steered me in different ways than I would normally have gone, I realize Hal Commons was very important. He introduced me to Quakerism; and I wouldn’t have gone into private practice without his encouragement. He is still my good friend; we have lunch every month or so."

Phil has much to say about his chosen faith.

As a professional, a logical thinker, and a compassionate, sensitive human being, he finds the Quaker Peace Testimony central to his faith. He tells a poignant story of why that is true. "It was in college, at Brown University, that I began thinking about pacifism. I applied to be a conscientious objector during Vietnam, and in my struggle I visited one of the elders of my Plymouth Brethren meeting and told him I was concerned about what it meant for a Christian to be going out and killing people. He told me that I shouldn’t be afraid, that some people are cowardly but I wouldn’t be one of them. After that ‘encouragement’ from the most respected member of my meeting, I decided I would resist rather than be a conscientious objector—I would just not go. As it turned out, I had asthma and a deferment so I didn’t have to go at all.

"When I learned about the Peace Testimony in Quakerism, it was an interesting lens through which to see how a testimony can influence and inform your spirituality. My vegetarianism is, for me, also an expression of the Peace Testimony.

"The Equality Testimony is more natural for me, but also more troubling. Quakerism in the U.S. is not as diverse as I would like it to be. One of my big disappointments is not having a community in which my children felt comfortable. I had a really good experience growing up in my church when I was a young person, and I’m sorry my kids haven’t had that experience." But as a founding member of the Fellowship of Friends of African Descent, formed in 1991, Phil has enjoyed its biennial gatherings, which "have been tremendously enjoyable, a good part of my life."

The September 11 event brought Phil some new insights. "I came to the worship at my meeting that day. There was a peace vigil just before the meeting. When I saw the ‘peace’ sign, I thought, ‘Wait a minute, we don’t want to say ‘peace’ because that sounds like the opposite of war; war is the wrong perspective.’ That was a surprising insight to me. To me, it was a heinous crime.

"I was also frustrated by the lack of diversity in the meeting. I had listened to the ‘terrorists’ saying that U.S. cultural hegemony around the world was oppressing their ability to have an Islamic theocracy, really a different kind of hegemony. And I realized that the real problem was in not valuing differences as opportunities to learn and grow. Quakerism does it better than any other faith I know about, but I wish we could open it up a bit more."

Phil nurtures his spiritual life in several ways. "When I was growing up quiet time was emphasized, and I still like to do that. And running. I run 30-45 minutes through the park and it really is meditation for me—the beautiful scenery all seasons of the year and just breathing help me de-stress, reflect, and get in touch.

"I am a Christian Quaker. I know there are a lot of different folks in Quakerism, especially among unprogrammed Friends. I’m open. I think all religions have much to contribute to Christianity and Christianity to them. I appreciate insights from other faiths, but my commitment to Jesus and Christianity has always been part of my life."

Phil is disarmingly self-revealing. He struggles with stress as a result of his tendency to overcommitment, which he is gradually getting under control. Some of his stress comes from working with people whose body rhythms are different from his own. "I’m a morning person, so I like to work around morning people." On a lighter note, he says, "I’m a terrible flute player—you don’t want to hear me! I got a flute, took one lesson, and I really enjoy it a lot. You know I’m in a good mood if I’m playing the flute."

About his chosen hometown, Phil likes the trees here in Philadelphia. "After Brooklyn, it is sort of rural in Philadelphia!" He thinks deeply and speaks his beliefs softly but strongly; his smile is always at the ready; and his sense of humor is never far from the surface. Convinced or hooked, he’s a Quaker leader whose voice we can trust.

Kara Newell

Kara Newell is a member of Reedwood Friends Church in Portland, Oregon. © 2002 Kara Newell