Pentecost Sunday in Quaker Meeting

In spite of walking in the cold rain after meeting for worship on Pentecost Sunday, I smiled. I enjoy meeting for worship. As a visiting U.S. academic on sabbatical in England, I particularly appreciated the opportunity temporarily to become a "regular" in meeting for worship. Having extensive experience in unprogrammed and programmed worship, I value the predictable deep meetings for worship in my adopted Britain Yearly Meeting venue.

Having been born and reared Quaker, I also have found other venues to enrich my spiritual journey. The other major arena for me is the Benedictine monastery. For the moment it took the form of a Benedictine-run Hall—one of Oxford University’s family of colleges. It was not unusual for me to stop by St. Benet’s for early morning Lauds, praying the Psalms. Then I proceeded to meeting. Such was the case on Pentecost Sunday. Heading the short distance between monastic setting and meetinghouse, I marveled at how liturgical communities strung ’round the globe observed Pentecost as the foundation of the Church.

I am thoroughly Quaker, which means that I appreciate the significance of Pentecost: the gift of the Spirit to the disciples and believers. But this significance is not limited to a single Sunday in May. These thoughts constituted my mental soil, as I joined others gathering in the silence—hoping, no doubt, for that same pentecostal gift of the Spirit. In those early minutes of waiting, it came to me that typically we prepare ourselves for Pentecost by hope—possibly even expectation—that the Spirit will be presented to some or all who gather. At least, I had hope.

The hour passed, hands shaken, and not a word about Pentecost. In fact, there had not been a hint. I had pondered the two primary biblical texts narrating the story of Pentecost. The best-known text (Acts: 2) is what I call the charismatic one. Here the gathered disciples experience the Spirit come with a sound like a mighty wind, with tongues like fire. And then, being filled with the Spirit, the global diversity of the group speaks in tongues. The other Gospel text (John: 20) I call the inspiring one. This Pentecost actually happens on Easter Sunday evening with a more restricted audience of gathered disciples. In this scene the resurrected Jesus speaks and, amazingly, his first word is "Peace." He breathes (inspiro) on the disciples and admonishes them to receive the Spirit.

My thoughts returned to meeting for worship. Clearly, this Quaker Pentecost Sunday had not been charismatic. No tongues of fire here! There were sounds of wind, but it was normal; its only function was to drive the menacing rain even harder. Upon further thought, however, I concluded it had been Pentecost. We had been breathed upon—whether by the resurrected Jesus or not is a further interesting theological question.

There had been two spoken messages thematically focused on silence. Paradoxically, silence is a kind of "universal tongue." It has the capacity to unify the global diversity. It provides a crucible for a deep gathering of individual spirits into the unity of the One Spirit. In this kind of unity are found seeds of peace. In this Pentecostal season may these seeds germinate. May they grow in each of us to become pacifistic ambassadors of the Spirit of the one who said, "Peace."

The Pentecostal charge is always a missionary one—to be sent. As ambassadors of the Spirit, we will be sent into the world as peacemakers. This is why it is important to have a community—a church—to re-group. And this is why Quakers should celebrate that every Sunday might again be Pentecost.

Alan Kolp

Alan Kolp is a member of First Friends Meeting in Richmond, Ind., and attends Cleveland (Ohio) Meeting.