Healing in Meeting for Worship at the 1995 FGC Gathering

What is the ground and foundation of the gathered meeting? In the last analysis, it is, I am convinced, the Real Presence of God.
—Thomas R. Kelly, 1940

I arrived at the Friends General Conference Gathering that year, 1995, in Kalamazoo, Michigan, without any expectation of what would happen—a miracle of healing during worship. I had been having flashbacks of my wife’s car accident, probably posttraumatic stress syndrome. I thought when I arrived the flashbacks were subsiding, but on Saturday evening at the opening ceremony they came back with a vengeance—vivid and painful. The next day was difficult; I had them all day. I went that Sunday afternoon to meeting for worship under the care of Friends for Lesbian and Gay Concerns [FLGC; now called Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Concerns, FLGBTQC—eds.]. I had been attending this worship every year at the Gathering since 1986. Worship was underway only a few minutes when the tears started. I cried the whole hour. I knew that it was safe to cry there. It is amazing in itself that one can cry safely in Quaker meeting for worship.

The next morning, at Bible half hour, the text was Jesus’ words from the Cross: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" The words cut to my soul. Why, God, had you forsaken me? Where were you for me now?

Marian’s accident was on January 8, 1991. She was quadriplegic on arrival at the hospital from a spinal cord injury due to a neck fracture. She had other injuries including multiple fractures of her right leg and lung injuries. After major surgery, two weeks in the ICU, and then physical therapy, she slowly improved. After four months, she left the hospital in a wheelchair. She still could not bear weight on her right leg. We debated whether to go to the Gathering that year, and, after phone calls to the FGC office to see if the site was wheelchair-friendly, we decided to go. When we arrived Marian was taking a few steps on crutches so we managed quite well. By November that year she was walking with a cane, and by January of the next year walking without any aids. She had made a remarkable, miraculous recovery of about 95 percent of her function. We remain grateful.

I did well through all of this. I returned to work three weeks after the accident. I was able to minister to Marian’s needs, visit her twice a day in the hospital, work full-time, and manage things at home. Then, about three years later, the flashbacks started: the phone call: "Your wife has been in a serious car accident and is in surgery. You had better come." Then the panicky drive to a hospital two hours away; seeing her for the first time paralyzed; the blood transfusions; seeing her labor to breathe and then put on a respirator; facing anti-abortion pickets going to the hospital the morning after the accident with signs saying, "This hospital kills"; and many more.

These flashbacks gradually increased in frequency and intensity and took over my life. I could work, and as long as I kept busy I could function, but during any quiet moments they were there. I knew I needed professional help, and I started counseling. We decided not to use medication, but nonetheless the flashbacks gradually lessened. I was improving when I arrived at the Gathering and thought they were gone for the most part, but it was not to be. They came back again: intense, distressing—as if I were there again.

One recurring flashback that week was precipitated by an early plenary session. Harvey Gilman, a Friend from Britain, spoke about angels. He probably said other things, but I only remember the part about angels. He suggested that we should function more like angels, messengers of God, to each other. The day of the accident, once I had gotten to the hospital and had taken care of the things one needs to do in these crises, the wait began. I felt terribly alone, desperately wanting someone with me. I had made multiple unsuccessful attempts to reach my son who lived about two hours away. I was sitting alone in the intensive care waiting room with my head in my hands, crying. The cleaning lady came in. After a few minutes of perfunctory cleaning she came over to me, sat down, put her arm around me, and asked what was wrong. After I explained, she suggested I call the police in the city where my son lived, and got up and left. I had never thought of that, did so, and soon Paul was on the phone and on his way to join me. An angel? No, a cleaning lady; but why did she not finish her cleaning?

I continued to attend FLGC worship each afternoon. The messages started reaching me. Some messages spoke of pain and anguish. The pain was different than mine, yet touched me. Out of the pain rose up other messages of comfort, forgiveness, thankfulness, hope, love, and joy. The messages spoke directly to me. I had told no one what I was going through—no one. Yet the messages were clearly meant for me. Healing started. The tears diminished. The flashbacks lost their intensity and then stopped altogether. It was the miracle of the gathered meeting for worship. I am convinced it was the real presence of God.

I have not had any serious flashbacks since then. When the Gathering returned to Kalamazoo in 1999, I had forgotten all about the previous experience. In my workshop on the second morning, a woman mentioned a friend whose child was in a serious car accident. The memories flooded back along with some of the flashbacks but they were brief. That year I was able to share for the first time what had happened four years before in FLGC worship, and to thank the FLGC community for their contribution to my healing. And I remain thankful.

Rich Van Dellen

Rich Van Dellen is a member of Rochester (Minn.) Meeting. He writes this in gratitude to FLGBTQC, and he expresses empathy for returning war veterans and others who have posttraumatic stress syndrome.