True Confessions of a Closet Quaker

Don’t tell anyone that you saw my name here. The members of my parish might not understand my motivation to visit a Friends meeting occasionally, let alone write in a Friends publication. Yet here I am, another First Day, seeking the Spirit-filled silence that every Friend navigates on an ongoing basis.

Now I understand that meditative silence is not a Quaker invention. In fact, if silence were the only definition of a Quaker meeting, the Religious Society of Friends might be lumped into over 1,000 "Christian Meditation" groups that meet regularly around the world. While the silence of a Friends meeting is well rooted in the Gospels, Christians of many varieties throughout history have implemented the practice.

The experience I have had within my own tradition is that silence can certainly be sought out, but it is fleeting and often filled with a tension to keep the liturgy going. I find it sad that we tend to crowd out even sacred spaces with things to do, rather than cultivate a place to simply be with God. As a fellow Anglican, I can relate to what George Fox must have felt as he longed for less empty forms and more authentic spiritual encounters in the early days of his ministry.

Like Fox, I seek a more authentic Christianity. Please do not misunderstand— there are certainly many dedicated, faithful Christians within the Episcopal Church, but somehow I sense that for that faith group the implementation of Christian values into daily life and practice is fundamentally missing. Case in point: the Episcopal Church formally appoints ministers to serve as chaplains in the military, and it does not as an organization oppose war. I think that this is a fundamental violation of the Christian message, and I am troubled by the acceptance of violence among a contemporary body of believers.

I need to indulge my inner Quaker. Every once in a while I take a Sunday—I mean First Day—off to visit one of several local meetinghouses. By occasionally playing hooky, I can escape the sensation of just going through the motions of increasingly empty-to-me liturgical forms. Or of preaching to people who hear words, but are not generally willing to go out into the streets to actually work for change. In the meetinghouse, I can finally find a place that is more concerned with social justice than maintaining the ornate surroundings of the steeple house.

Mind you, I am no Pollyanna. The divisions I see among the Children of the Light trouble me too—programmed and unprogrammed, liberal and conservative, evangelical and universalist. These labels cause me to pause and wonder if there is a place for me within yet another fractured community of believers.

However, I find myself drawn to a faith community that historically and presently seeks to have an authentic faith life. A community that constantly asks, "How can we do better?" Or "How can we testify to the power of Peace, Equality, Simplicity, and Truth in our lives?" And then, after asking, actually does something after meeting to bring the testimonies to fruition in society.

Jesus asked us to choose the narrow path. He taught us to respond to his teaching in faith. He invites us to be good and faithful servants. We are called to act.

To put it plainly, I may soon be leaving ordained ministry, the Episcopal Church, and the familiarity of my tradition. This is inevitable. One can only play hooky for so long before someone catches on. In this case, it was I who needed to realize something was not quite right in my spiritual life. Fox would be proud—I have carried on for as long as I was able, but now I am compelled to change by integrating faith and practice.

You may be asking yourself, "Now how does this relate to my life?" Meetinghouses across the world get new members all the time. What is so special about the faith struggle of an Anglican/Episcopal minister? Many seekers probably start by reading and being inspired by The Journal of George Fox. I continued my Quaker education by reading the powerful testimonies of the early Friends, and I was inspired by their bravery in so many difficult circumstances. The fact is that the dangerous world they encountered still exists, and our faith still requires that we respond with a witness of love.

I am inspired by the spiritually motivated activism I observe within the community of Friends. The Truth you stand for has encouraged me and moved me to action.

As Parker J. Palmer wrote in Let Your Life Speak, "I must listen to my life telling me who I am." By the Grace of God, I finally hear the message.

Erik Lehtinen

Erik Lehtinen is a deacon currently serving within the Episcopal Diocese of Albany, N.Y. He will soon join a Friends meeting in the same area.