I usually say that I started attending Madison Temple Church of God in Christ after Michael Brown was killed. By then I had been an unprogrammed Quaker for 35 years and was not faint in my faith. Gathering on First Day in a home or church building, I basked in silent worship, welcoming the corporate quiet as much as the ministry of someone led to speak. Verbal ministry in an otherwise silent meeting promotes a common goal: “to dig deep, sweep clean, and search” as described by the authors of the Oxford Handbook of Quaker Studies. Strong and energetic in my faith, I have regularly attended Friends worship wherever I’ve lived, have been active in regional and national Quaker groups, and have written a historical novel about the first days of Quakerism. Yet cell phones and COVID-19 had a lot to do with me attending a Pentecostal church. Here is my story.
White people have been assaulting and executing Black people since slaves were forced to this continent but beginning with the beating of Rodney King by members of the Los Angeles Police Department in 1991, the films of bystanders finally brought these senseless attacks and murders to my attention. It was the 2012 slaying of Trayvon Martin, wearing a hoodie and eating Skittles that initially started me on the road to action. In the fall of that year my mother died, and my daughter Hannah reconnected with my soon to be son-in-law, Rick McClure, a tall, handsome, African American young man.
Two years later, Michael Brown was gunned down and left to lay for hours in the Ferguson, Missouri, streets. I had a batch of Black Lives Matter T-shirts printed and I distributed them to my friends. After a string of murders I began to walk in the Martin Luther King Jr. Day event in Seattle. “Say the names, say the names,” Black women shouted behind me as we proceeded through the neighborhoods. For hours they called out names. Not long after that, in July, 2014, Eric Garner gagged, “I can’t breathe,” eleven times before his death following a prohibited chokehold by a White police officer. These killings and others like them were recorded on cell phones and played over and over on the nightly news. In the fall of that year, Tripp, my biracial grandson, was born.
In 2016, Colin Kaepernick, a professional football player, set off a range of national protests when he took a knee in protest of the murders during the pre-game playing of the national anthem. Hundreds of people across the nation of all ages and ethnicities began to copy the action, further motivating me to do something as well. I paced my two-room apartment with indecision. In a divine flash, it occurred to me to contact Cleve and Kathie Wright, the only Black family I knew. Their grandson, Ammon, attended the school for children who were deaf and hard-of-hearing where I worked. (As the mother of four daughters, the youngest two of whom are deaf, I had been working in deaf education for almost 55 years). I asked if I could attend church with the Wrights. I wanted African American friends, and the Wrights were friendly and approachable; I knew they’d shepherd me. It was September of 2016 when I finally got up the nerve to go and share a worship service with them. It wasn’t an easy decision and I was uncomfortable as I sat, the only White person among the dozen or so others in the congregation. I trusted that I was opening to what I was being called to do: show up and vote with my body against the insanity of the murders with the only thing I had—myself.
It wasn’t an easy decision and I was uncomfortable as I sat, the only White person among the dozen or so others in the congregation. I trusted that I was opening to what I was being called to do: show up and vote with my body against the insanity of the murders with the only thing I had—myself.
When I was asked to introduce myself I spoke of Michael Brown, how I didn’t know what to do about all the killings, and how I had decided I’d call the Wrights. After that first time at Madison Temple Church of Christ, I began to alternate between my attendance at the Pentecostal church and my Quaker meeting. I began to financially support both and also attended a district dinner that fall with the Wrights. I visited them in their home to learn something about the church history. Once or twice we went out for a meal and I continued to depend on the family for spiritual support and basic understandings. Their daughter, Chelsea Wright also began to more regularly attend services, sometimes with her son Ammon.
When at church, I Initially sat alongside the senior Wrights and engaged silently in praise. I sang the songs, music not typically a part of Quaker worship, and tried to learn the words. There was no book of songs and no church roster. There were no names of those who led parts of the service in the program and no name tags. Most of those orchestrating the service used titles of respect when they called out to someone—deacon, mother, missionary, first lady—so it was hard to learn who was who and how they were related to one another. When we greeted each other during the service, I asked the names of those who shook my hand and tried diligently to remember them. At first, out of courtesy, I was referred to as Doctor Luetke, although in keeping with historical Friends who didn’t use titles or language that divided classes, as a college professor and professional in the field of deaf education I had never used the title. This is a practice that is core to my Quaker testimony of equality, that there is that of God in everyone.
I was deeply touched by the sincerity of the minister, Pastor Edgar Gray. During his prayers, his chin would quiver with the strength of his convincing faith. I began to come down to the front at the beginning of the service and stand with the others to receive his blessing. About this time, I remember asking Kathie Wright if it was disrespectful not to wear a hat, noticing that many of the older women wore stylish hats. At Quaker worship we typically wear jeans and T-shirts but at church a lot of the women dress head-to-toe in matching outfits. Many of the men come handsomely clad in suits, some with matching ties and handkerchiefs. There were some that didn’t dress so fancy but I never felt more Quaker than when I stood in church in my plain dark dresses, black tights, and practical shoes.
I began to make friends at church and looked forward to the sincere hugs from Paulette Moore, the Bible readings of Barbara Young, the dignity of Mother Gladine Gray, and the announcements delivered by Cleve Wright. If I was asked at the time about my First-day activities, I’d say I was Quaker and give the name of my meeting with a quick mention of my alternating appearances at Madison Temple. I attended monthly and quarterly Quaker meetings and served as recording secretary for various Quaker organizations. The previous summer I had gone on a Quaker pilgrimage in central England; when I returned, I felt led to begin writing a historical novel, The Kendal Sparrow. I had a clearness committee (to get clear on what Spirit was asking of me), and wrote faithfully for several hours early every morning before going to work. I was held in the Light by my meeting and family as I worked on the project.
When I told people of my attendance at a Pentecostal church, it seemed the only thing anyone knew about the tradition was its practice of speaking in tongues. I was challenged to expand that definition as I articulated the richness I was discovering. How much do we really know about another’s faith practice anyway? Are not Quakers sometimes frustrated when all someone knows of us is that we are against war? Pentecostalism, as defined by Wikipedia
is a form of Christianity that emphasizes the work of the Holy Spirit and the direct experience of the presence of God by the believer. Pentecostals believe that faith must be powerfully experiential, and not something found merely through ritual or thinking. Pentecostalism is energetic and dynamic.
Would not many Friends say the same of Quakerism?
Truth was, in the two years I’d been attending Madison Temple, I didn’t think I had heard anyone speak in tongues. At times there was a faster pace to the pastor’s preaching and the interjection of various repetitive phrases—amen, praise the Lord, hallelujah—but this didn’t seem atypical to me. I had witnessed Spirit alive and available in Quaker worship, too, where sometimes comprehendible words are inadequate. In my own quiet devotion, I express gratitude and praise in many forms, finding the lack of words intimate and freeing. For the most part, when the congregation of Madison Temple is praising, heads are bowed, eyes are closed, and people are dancing, singing, and mumbling, as if they are alone in the sincerity of their prayers and thanksgiving. Some stand as I do, Quaker still (e.g., head bowed, chin resting on clasped hands) and move inward. In both types of services, I have felt Spirit move.
Some stand as I do, Quaker still (e.g., head bowed, chin resting on clasped hands) and move inward. In both types of services, I have felt Spirit move.
Way opened when in 2018 as I was deep into the editing phase of The Kendal Sparrow and the renowned Quaker historian, Rosemary Moore, who was editing the novel for historical accuracy, commented that the first Friends were pentecostal! Not knowing of my religious behavior, she commented,
[First] Quakers said that Christ was returning, and the evidence was the quaking in the meetings. Think Pentecostal services. Your Quaker characters are much too calm and rational and modern.
Indeed, Edward Burrough, one of the main characters in my novel, wrote about speaking in tongues in mid-seventeenth century Friends meetings. In his “Epistle to the Reader” introducing one of George Fox’s newly published books, he paraphrased Acts 2:4, writing: “We spoke with new tongues, as the Lord gave us utterance, and his spirit led us.” Informed by Rosemary Moore, I rewrote the character of Thomas Holme based on my experience at Madison Temple, as well as what is recorded of Burrough in primary sources.
Often I witnessed how members of Madison Temple praised actively and fully to bring the historical Jesus into their hearts and conscience, reaffirming, as Don Nori wrote in You Can Pray in Tongues, that Jesus, having died and been resurrected two thousand years ago, “continues in relationship between humans and God though salvation… His Spirit… lives to keep his promises to all who turn in expectant faith toward him.” That expectant faith is one Quakers practice as well. That is to say, both Quakers and Pentecostals acknowledge the limits of human language and are called to sacrifice their will, listening to the indwelling presence of Spirit. Members of both groups continually work to examine the weakness in their hearts, seek forgiveness, change their lives—always seeking goodness and God/Spirit. This direct experience, however obtained, allows the Divine to reign and trust to grow. I have heard members of both faiths talk of “the still, small voice” Elijah is said to have heard in 1 Kings, and it brings a smile of affirmation. I am Christian, trying to live as Christ once did and relying on a greater plan than is known to me.
Initially I attended not to the differences in the worship of the Quakers and Pentecostals, but to the similarities. There were many. The ministry of both faiths remind us that primarily we should be concerned with a personal, internal divine connection, which we give many names among them God, father, Christ, Holy Spirit, Spirit, Inner Light. In both services I can seek the arrival of Spirit, unsatisfied with a shallow, superficial experience. In both spaces, I have had direct experiences with God/Spirit and they fill me, often making me cry.
I see that many of the rituals at Madison Temple, such as anointment, laying of hands, and communion have a Quaker parallel as well. For example, as London Yearly Meeting stated in 1928, eucharist or communion for Quakers is explained:
In silence, without rite or symbol, we have known the Spirit of Christ so convincingly present in our quiet meetings that his grace dispels our faithlessness, our unwillingness, our fears, and sets our hearts aflame with the joy of adoration. We have thus felt the power of the Spirit renewing and recreating our love and friendship for all our fellows. This is our Eucharist and our Communion.
As I first observed and later began to participate in the rituals at Madison Temple, I began to understand meanings of the sacraments that are not outwardly practiced in Quakerism. I was nudged by the comment of a Madison Temple friend: “My relationship with God,” he said, “is not based on anybody or an organization or church, but to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and His teaching.” With that comment, something was released in me. I turned my focus on my spiritual journey, and on my continual effort to live a Christ-like life. I started going to Bible study with church friends.
Another twist of faith occurred. In 2019 Pastor Edgar Gray died, not long after the unexpected death of his son and rising pastor, Eddy Gray. A new pastor, Pastor Berks and first lady emerged and brought their congregation with them, merging with ours. Now there were more people in attendance each Sunday and many more children. That fall, I began to interpret for a deaf woman, Chinwe, who before the merger had relied on the fingerspelling abilities of her young, hearing children and on notes that people took for her. I saw this as a great faith: that she would come to church for years and not have complete access to what was being said.
Chinwe’s understanding of English was far better than my ability in American Sign Language so she accepted my use of Signing Exact English. We both suffered when I attended Quaker worship and wasn’t present in church. It was a gift when the COVID-19 pandemic forced both Quakers and the Madison Temple Church body (and its bible study) onto Zoom and I could attend all the services. Zoom also allowed me to see the names of most of the people from not only Madison Temple but also my Quaker meeting. Switching back and forth between the two religious services over four years caused me not to know many of the Friends that had recently started attending Salmon Bay Meeting.
In mid-April, 2020, I was called to be with my brother Bill as he lay dying. From church, I found a mantra: My pain is great but God is greater. It sustained me as I attended both Quaker meeting and the Madison Temple services over Zoom one Sunday before driving to Red Lodge, Montana to be with him. I had been begging to come, but Seattle was the epicenter of COVID-19 and my younger brother Charlie, a doctor, asked me to wait.
Perhaps it was Spirit that made Charlie, as he told me later, wonder why “he was trying to control things.” One Sunday, after I had attended both Quaker and Madison Temple church services I got a text from Charlie telling me to come. It was only one of the many miracles that happened that week. Bill was in horrible pain and he and Charlie both had bouts of crying in frustration as they fought through each day in Red Lodge.
I packed in five minutes, but I later discovered that I had everything I needed in Red Lodge even though it was 60 degrees in Seattle and about 20 (and snowing) there. I thought to stop for groceries on my way out of town, a marvel because nothing was open due to COVID-19 as I traveled. I don’t drive much anymore but because of the virus there were few cars and only a couple of trucks on the highway. I felt held by both Quakers, Pentecostals, and numerous other family and friends as I traveled east on I-90. The scenery was geologically beautiful. Almost immediately I was in the evergreen forests and jagged rock faces of the Cascades and after that a huge lava plateau full of history. The highway is skirted by the gushing Columbia River and, outside of Spokane, huge fields of wheat and groves of fruit trees. I was surrounded by beauty and reminded that God is everywhere and that I was accompanied.
Pastor Berks told me later that they were praying for my arrival before Bill died and it was good to know their prayers had been answered. I was thankful too. I only had a short time with my brother, but I spent Monday afternoon and Tuesday sitting with his dog near his bed or lying by his side, periodically whispering and kissing him. He was in extreme pain and his heart was beating abnormally fast. At one point he mumbled something about St. Michael who was “going to come down.” Neither Charlie or I were sure what he meant but we learned later from the Internet that Saint Michael comes for people in their hour of death and escorts them to heaven.
I was alone with my brother when he died. I was lying beside him, watching his expression, and telling him all the things I had been saying for two days: we loved him; we knew he loved us; Mom and Dad were waiting for him. I have a little altar by my coffeemaker in my apartment and every morning I pray there. I have pictures of my parents, a Quaker button, and a photo of my pastor and first lady—and I talk to them. I’d been telling Mom and Dad for a month that Bill was going to be joining them. As I lay beside him, I noticed the deer grazing outside the window and I told Bill that they’d come to say goodbye; that fish, deer, and elk were with him. Over and over I kissed his cheek and smoothed his hair. I remembered Saint Michael, the archangel, and told him he was there to help him find his way. When Bill died, I buried my head in his shoulder and sobbed with gratitude. He had been held in Love: the quickness and grace of his death was a blessing.
When Charlie came in, we sat near Bill in silence and then said Psalm 23. After that, we recited the Lord’s Prayer, which we had said at Dad’s memorial, and a year after that, for my mother. We washed Bill’s body and dressed him in clothes Charlie had picked out earlier. The following day we arranged for his cremation at the morgue, and the day after that, we went fishing. We used Bill’s gear, ran with his dog, and enjoyed the mountains, expanses, and streams that he loved.
When I returned home to Seattle, I read Bible verses sent to me by both Quakers and Madison Temple friends. In a Quaker pamphlet on grief I found the words from Psalm 118, “This is the day that the Lord has made; I will rejoice and be glad in it.” The song was a familiar one—we sang it often in church—and I often sang it myself in the mornings before I prayed. Again I found joy in the melding of my Quaker and Pentecostal faiths. By that Friday I had decided that “service heals sorrow” and in Bill’s name I arranged to buy and help deliver food to those in need. This “grocery ministry” is that of Michael Gray, a friend from church. I felt renewed in trying to be my best self and to continue to take responsibility for my spiritual life. I believed more than ever, as a friend said in Bible study, “God puts us in situations so we can grow.”
I felt renewed in trying to be my best self and to continue to take responsibility for my spiritual life. I believed more than ever, as a friend said in Bible study, “God puts us in situations so we can grow.”
There are still a few awkward moments at Madison Temple. All the church members now call me by my first name, as I have requested, and sometimes add the prefix sister. When I am aware of my Whiteness, I appreciate the many times in the lives of African American people when they are made to feel different. Like myself, the vast majority of unprogrammed Quakers in the United States are privileged middle- or upper-middle class people (although historically, and as portrayed in The Kendal Sparrow, first Friends were often illiterate and of the working class). Whether those in the congregation at Madison Temple would call themselves upper or lower class, I have no idea. Even after four years, I only know what a few people do or did for paid work before retirement. At Madison Temple, status is given to those who hold rank in the church, have the gift of ministry, and can explain Bible verses; to those who assist with the adult service or with the children’s program, etc.
I see my faith as an unfolding journey, with a strong belief that the right thing will happen. I am a happy participant in all that has come my way, and all that is evolving and informing. It is like an unfinished jigsaw puzzle that I am completing with an invisible Friend; my journey is with all that is holy and is not linear. I try to walk, as Quakers, say, “cheerfully over the earth,” happy to be with a wide swath of people who want to actively demonstrate love of community, joy, patience, kindness, faithfulness, and responsibility—in no particular order. As Cleve Wright recently wrote to me:
GOD is Spirit and therefore too expansive and dynamic to be put in any category (Pentecostal, Quaker, Mormon, Catholic, etc.). Maybe we have different names for this Universal God.
We are, indeed, all beloved children of God. After all, as I used to tell my oldest, adopted deaf daughter when she wanted to find her birth mother, “You can’t have too many people love you.” With a rich theology and practice in worship, I am now a “Pentecostal Quaker.”