At the meetinghouse door the visitor met an older Friend who made him welcome with a few well-chosen words. As this was his first time attending a meeting for worship, he felt shy and uncertain. She beckoned him to come into the meeting room with her. "Sit thee here," she said, pointing to the seat beside her. He was grateful to have someone to sit beside. But the older Friend did much more. As she settled into worship, slip-ping into that familiar deep openness to God’s Spirit, she silently drew the visitor with her.
Many Friends have had the precious experience of sitting near a weighty Friend and being drawn by that Friend’s experience into a deeper, more prayerful place. The experience—not just a verbal description—of finding oneself in the presence of God, in communion with one’s fellow worshipers, is what we have to offer to someone who comes to meeting for worship.
Lots can be written on how to make visitors feel welcome, or how to orient newcomers to Quaker faith and practice. But the most valuable thing we have to offer is a corporate experience of being in the Divine Presence.
Our meetings often serve as gateways for refugees from other churches where perhaps there has been a misuse of Biblical or religious authority. Refugees tend to bring their emotional and theological wounds and ideas with them. Our meetings provide a safe haven, where no demands are made. Folks can creep into the silence and in time begin (perhaps again) to pay attention to divine nudges and whispers. This is the function of the meeting as gateway.
Newcomers will need more than this, as may even longtime attenders and members. The Religious Society of Friends has much more to offer than the absence of what refugees are fleeing. Early Friends left the other churches of their day not only because they were not receiving spiritual nourishment there, but because the Quaker message was so compelling. They summed up this message as "Christ is come to teach his people himself." It was not an intellectual construct. They experienced the Spirit of Christ gathering them together to be a faith community that could hear this voice and live these teachings in their daily lives.
What a radical concept: that God tells us how to live, that we can discern God’s instructions, that we will be empowered to live a countercultural life that witnesses to the Life and Power we encounter in meeting for worship.
What is the best orientation for new folks? To share the depth of our own experience with the Quaker tradition as we humbly open ourselves to the Inward Teacher. When we have been seasoned by the Light, have come under divine teaching, have been transformed, our lives will witness to the Divine Life that motivates us. All that we do will be a living testimony. Then we have something wonderful to share with newcomers.
©2003 Marty Grundy