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Among Friends: Expanding the Definition of Home

“This morning I had my first South African Quaker Meeting experience. I couldn’t be happier that I found a meeting house so close to where I live (a 10 minute walk away!). I plan on going every Sunday morning that I can. The people there were very friendly and welcoming.”

The above is from an email I sent in 2007 to my friends and family updating them on my new life in Cape Town, South Africa. I had recently begun a five‐month study abroad program for American students, and was attending the University of Cape Town for my second semester of junior year. Just three weeks into my time there, I had sought out Quakers and found them at Cape Western Meeting. I still remember the hand‐drawn map I made to navigate the oddly angled side streets walking from my house in Rosebank to Mowbray, the suburb where the small, single‐story meetinghouse was located with its green tin roof and well‐kept yard.

I knew I would be welcome to worship with these Cape Town Friends, and it was comforting to have this community and space to retreat to on Sunday mornings, while I was adjusting to a new time zone, new classes, new lingo, and living alongside eight new people under one roof. I realized during this time that being Quaker thousands of miles away from home can expand the definition of what “home” is and open up more opportunities for enriching connection with others, crossing perceived boundaries between cultures along the way.

The Religious Society of Friends is a theologically diverse body of spiritual beings and faithful communities on every continent of the world all sharing one name. How do we boldly declare the values and insights of our respective branches of Quakerism without denying the legitimacy of other Friends?

Starting with the tone‐setting perspective of “We Think We’re Separate” and the common‐ground‐seeking “What Unites Us,” we hear from two leaders of a Quaker organization that was created to grapple with this very diversity: Friends World Committee for Consultation. Through insight from their work and her own personal experiences, FWCC Section of Americas’ Robin Mohr shares a new approach to navigating the world that hinges on intentionally practicing communication with “people who are not like us, including other Quakers,” while the World Office’s Gretchen Castle spells out the message this practice will reveal: “Our ability—or inability—as Friends to work toward true acceptance of our multiplicity is a statement about how we want the world to change.”

British Friend Elaine Green, in her overview of the different branches of Friends, reminds us what it takes to get along: “handfuls of humility and courage to embrace and respect beliefs and practices different from our own experienced truth.” But perhaps one of the best ways to get to know one another is simply to show up, listen, and be present, as emphasized in the Quaker practice of intervisitation. Joan Dyer Liversidge recounts how the intervisitation program developed by Baltimore Yearly Meeting and Friends United Meeting changed the way they viewed peacebuilding. As one participating Friend discovered, “The peace work I do is through the Intervisitation Committee.” Let us first practice peace at home, and I think we will find it expanding beyond borders.

 

Gail Whiffen is associate editor of Friends Journal.


Posted in: Among Friends, Crossing Cultures

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