A Friends meeting community has so much to offer: rich silence in an era of noise, deep worship growing from expectant listening, spiritual insight for one’s life, a Peace Testimony rooted in personal and corporate spiritual integrity, a method of business that respects each individual’s access to divine guidance, a gathering of seekers and finders, and more. When people new to Quakerism come through our doors, many taste enough of this goodness that they want to return.
Quakerism is strongly dependent on religious experience. It has been said that Quakerism needs to be learned through osmosis, through the experience of worshiping with a meeting community over time, and there is much truth to this. At the same time, in our noisy, fast-paced, peripatetic era, many people new to Quakerism need help more quickly. One successful approach to orienting attenders and new members is through the Inquirers’ Weekends on Basic Quakerism that are jointly sponsored by Pendle Hill and Philadelphia Yearly Meeting.
The Inquirers’ Weekends, currently held twice a year at Pendle Hill in Wallingford, Pa., provide an opportunity for people who are attending different meetings to come together with others to learn, ask questions, and talk about their experiences. There are always at least two leaders who, in reflection of Quaker diver- sity, are usually different from each other in some significant ways including gender, age, race, yearly meeting membership, theology, and Quaker experience. The majority of leaders are unprogrammed Friends, although many have experience with programmed Friends and some-times with Quakerism internationally.
The first Inquirers’ Weekend took place at Pendle Hill in 1989 as a variation on the "Enquirers’ Weekends" sponsored by British Friends, and they have been held ever since. The British Enquirers’ Weekends were designed for people who knew very little about Quakerism and who may never have taken part in a meeting for worship. Here the emphasis has been on helping Friends meetings to educate and integrate attenders and new members into the local meeting community and into Quakerism in general.
The Inquirers’ Weekend (to paraphrase an early publicity piece) is for anyone desiring an introduction to Quakerism. The leaders and participants together explore the basics of Friends worship, beliefs, practices (including Quaker decision-making and Friends expression of faith in daily life), terminology, and the organizational structure of Quakerism. In a relaxed atmosphere there are also opportunities for worship, informal sharing, celebration, and free time.
An important aspect of every Inquirers’ Weekend is time spent responding to the specific questions that participants bring. These can include questions like: What do Friends believe about abortion? What can I do if I get distracted during meeting for worship? Are Quakers Christian? How do I join? Sometimes several large easel pads are filled with questions that the leaders and participants can then address.
Many meetings hold their own basic Quakerism courses, which can be ideal in helping attenders not only learn about Quakerism but also get to know other Friends in their own meeting. Where a meeting is small or believes it lacks the resources for such a course, an Inquirers’ Weekend can help. In addition, an Inquirers’ Weekend can supplement a meeting’s course. People may feel free to ask questions at an Inquirers’ Weekend that they might be too embarrassed to ask at their own meeting. Friendships are made across meetings. Many participants also value time spent sharing personal spiritual journeys and discovering what drew each other into a Friends meeting.