The gift and limits of online worship
Pendle Hill online morning worship has been an incredible gift to me over the past weeks (“Transcending Geography,” an interview with Francisco Burgos and Traci Hjelt Sullivan, FJ June/July). It is a source of comfort, of grounding, challenge, and inspiration, as attending every meeting for worship also can be. Being virtually gathered in the Barn offers an additional source of inspiration, making it possible to worship with other Friends literally from around the world. Such a curious paradox, from our isolation comes a rich source of connection and community.
I don’t miss the additional opportunity of worship sharing in our small groups of three or four people, feeling the presence of that of God in these Friends as they ponder the queries, deepening the sense of connection. Life in the pandemic would have been very different for me without this beginning to my day, and I am very grateful to the Pendle Hill staff who have created and faithfully maintain this connection. I look forward to seeing how this experiment will evolve, and lead the way for monthly meetings to navigate online presence.
Downers Grove, Ill.
I have joined the online worship at Woodbrooke (UK) from time to time, and we have been holding online worship at our local Quaker meeting in South London with very deep worship and nurturing ministry. Some Friends have joined by telephone if their online technology wasn’t up to it.
We are now considering what happens when we are able to return to the meetinghouse but are still social distancing. There will be space for less than half our usual number, and many will need to socially isolate, so it is clear that online worship will need to continue.
Feeling God’s presence at the meetinghouse and at home
I was glad to read of Friend Debbie Ramsey’s leading to visit the meetinghouse at Stony Run Meeting in Baltimore, Md., during this time of pandemic (“An Awkward Pause,” FJ June/July). I have often of late wondered if others have been led, as we few members of Fairhope (Ala.) Meeting have been, to be at the meetinghouse at the appointed hour. With a large space and three-to-five attendees during this time, we have met after cleaning all commonly touched surfaces. We have no handshakes or hugs and sit more than six feet apart from each other. The doors remain open so all one has to do is walk in, sit, and worship.
I appreciated Debbie writing about her experiences. Our meeting, Cincinnati (Ohio) Meeting, has a Zoom meeting with the pastor’s message and about a half hour of meditating silence. Generally there are Friends who offer their own observations, generated on occasion by our pastor’s message.
To feel God’s presence in my living room is gratifying and is the same as if I were in the meetinghouse! As someone said last week “where two or three are gathered, there I am also.” I always thought it meant in one place, but learned it could be anyplace in the world.
I too felt the need to visit our meetinghouse so I went last Sunday. The building was built in 1784 and has a beautiful garden to sit in whilst enjoying the silence and holding loved ones in the Light. I hope we may be in the physical presence of Friends at meeting for worship again very soon.
Who ends membership?
I disagree with the conclusions in the article entitled “Lapsed, Released, Let Go, Discontinued” in the June/July issue of Friends Journal. In her article, Carolyn Hilles-Pilant advocated for laying down membership from “long-inactive” Quakers who do not respond to inquiries or have not contributed financially to the meeting.
The only way to become a member of a meeting is through a request by an individual for membership, or, in the case of children, from a request by their parents. The only way to terminate a membership should be by request of that same member, even in the case of adults who became Quakers as children.
A simple way to solve this issue is for each meeting to hold two membership lists—one for active members and one for inactive members. Each meeting can determine how each member gets on each list and what each list means.
Taking membership away from a person who identifies as a Quaker is unreasonable. On a practical level, we have too few Quakers in the world. On a spiritual level, which of us—or which of our committees—is capable of judging what is in a person’s heart or intentions?
Let’s give our members the benefit of that doubt. The “integrity” of a membership list is not worth the hurtfulness we may cause by cleaning out our files.
Something the author did not address, and which is under consideration in New England Yearly Meeting and elsewhere, is how we hold the memberships of young adults. Many of these Friends grew up in a monthly meeting, attending yearly meeting retreats and annual sessions and Friends General Conference Gatherings, and feel deeply rooted in Quakerism. At the same time, they may move rather frequently for education or work, and demands of career and raising young families of their own makes it hard to participate regularly if there is no meeting nearby. During this phase of life filled with transitions, I wonder if we need to rethink how we can maintain ties with these amazing people who grew up in our community.
When circles and lines create barriersSaying no, drawing lines
I became a convinced Friend in part because of the existence of what was then called Friends for Lesbian and Gay Concerns. I have followed the missives from the Sierra-Cascades Yearly Meeting that have become a regular feature of Western Friend magazine, and read with interest Sarah Katreen Hoggatt’s “Drawing Circles, Not Lines” (FJ June/July). Perhaps because my own experience among Friends had been very different from hers, I find myself conflicted by some of what she reports. Whether it’s a line or a circle used to keep the “unacceptable” on the other side, I worry that it can become a barrier between us and our neighbors.
John van der Meer
Our slavery past
I have seen several references to James Nayler preaching against slavery in the 1650s, though I have not been able to run down the documents (“Slavery in the Quaker World” by Katharine Gerbner, FJ Sept. 2019).
I think any Quaker history is incomplete without the story of Friendly efforts to provide reparations, beginning in the 1770s, and reaching their peak in the 1780s and 1790s—quite successfully, apparently, in Delaware and in Chester Counties, Pennsylvania.
So Quakers today are okay, then? We don’t own slaves, but many of us own wealth while thousands in our own country (and around the world) do not have the wherewithal to put sufficient food on their plates nor heat their homes in winter. Many of these people are working. One could argue that this is a form of slavery (or equivalent abuse) at arm’s length. We (British) Quakers are almost exclusively White, educated, middle class, comfortably off, and relatively elderly. How, having a testimony to equality, can we live with our consciences?
The whole premise of these doctrines is so incredibly arrogant. It’s clear that “supremacy” of some kind is part of their basic premise. No one is arguing that. But if it’s “European supremacy,” what is the basis of that? I think Gerbner’s research reveals that the justification evolved over time. That the presumption was a given—Europeans presumed themselves superior, then went about trying to justify this—which they needed to do to keep on living in and profiting from the economy of which slavery was the basis.
No basis of equality would ever be accepted because in reality the inequality was necessary for the project from the beginning. Then as now, religion is a powerful tool for both social control and for hope and liberation, and then as now, it is used for both. I daresay we will be judged—by history if not by God—by what fruits our own religion produces in us and our society.