Meredith and Michael Carlone became members of New Garden Meeting in Greensboro, N.C., in May 2014, and have since had a wonderful experience raising their family as part of the community. Their 14-month-old son, Milo, is an associate member of the meeting. Meredith works at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro as assistant dean of operations in the university’s School of Education and also serves on the board of the Women’s Resource Center of Greensboro. Michael recently left the furniture business and is now in an MBA program and staying at home to take care of their son. Michael, having a Catholic background, and Meredith, who has a mainline protestant background, became Quakers as they started a family together. They started attending meeting together in Greensboro, eventually settling in at New Garden Meeting.
How did you come to Quakerism?
Meredith: I was in grad school in Vermont and friends took me to meeting and I enjoyed the peacefulness of it. Since that time I moved around a lot. When I moved to Greensboro, I was looking for something, and found myself at a couple different Quaker meetings, but I liked New Garden the best. I didn’t attend regularly at that point. Then Mike and I got together; we were getting married and we knew we were going to try to have a family. We wanted a faith community for Milo. We tried a couple of meetings, and New Garden felt like the right one for us.
Michael: When Meredith and I met, religion was in our lives, but we weren’t doing anything structured. It was easier to identify what didn’t fit for us. I was never a particularly good Catholic; I was kicked out of my confirmation classes for questioning the priest about women’s role in the church. Meredith and I talked about it, and had been to a couple of meetings. At some point we each separately took the same Beliefnet quiz, which is an online quiz that asks questions about spiritual beliefs and social issues. We both ended up having Liberal Quakerism as one of the top two fits for our belief system. In a way, that was affirming and confirming.
What keeps you coming back to your meeting and to Quakers?
Michael: When we started, there was a much beloved pastor who’d been there four decades and was great. He was very good at engaging people in thought. We were lucky to also have seen an interim pastor and now a new pastor, so we have had different experiences. A lot of things we ascribe to fit the testimonies. But it doesn’t mean that we haven’t been challenged since then. We talk about simplicity a lot now, which is mostly a product of our Quaker experience. Our meeting also has a lot of strong women. It’s hard to describe without experiencing it. I think that is unique to have such a concentration of women that are committed and have done a lot. I find that inspiring as well.
Meredith: Aesthetically, I like the meetinghouse. It’s like any other meetinghouse: very plain, very simple. We have big windows here and beautiful grounds. You can see the trees and you can see the azaleas in the spring. There’s this peacefulness and this calmness that’s in that room when everybody is there. Also, Mike and I both hold social justice as a value in our lives. We want our son to be raised with those same ideals. At some point at meeting we saw some of the high school students stand up and speak. What these kids can articulate and are thinking about is really impressive at such a young age. If our kid can grow up and think and speak like they did, then we’ve done all right.
What has been your experience of the silence?
Meredith: Part of the reason that I like the silence is I think that in this society we so seldom give ourselves the space to be quiet and to reconnect with ourselves, with our center. It’s a gift to myself to stop and to reflect on the message, or sometimes my mind goes somewhere else, and that’s okay. I’ve practiced meditation and I practice yoga. To me it’s a natural, comfortable space to reconnect with myself. We are not consistently regular attenders just because of the nature of our lives right now with a 14-month-old. I miss it when we don’t go. It’s a noticeable part of my life now.
Our new pastor has started inviting children to come up front for the whole meeting, which is really nice and inclusive for families. We’ve tried that instead of the nursery, but it’s really hard for me to center when I have my son there. As much as I love him and adore him, I’m a mom and I’m watching out for him all the time. I do want him to grow up in that space as he gets a little older.
How do you see the Quaker way working in your life, and affecting decisions you make for your careers and your families?
Meredith: I was a Peace Corps volunteer after college, and so when I came back to the United States, I felt that there was a sensory overload. I remember my friend saying, “She’s not into stuff!” With Quakerism, I keep going back to the idea of simplicity, and thinking about what we do for our son for Christmas. Neither of us really feel the need to get him anything because he’s provided a warm house and he has so many toys that have been given to him by friends, family, and neighbors. With our larger family, we would rather not do presents, but we spend time with each other. There is a Quaker influence there. To have connections with people, you don’t need stuff.
Michael: There are some places where there’s a lot of opportunity. Meredith is on the board of the Women’s Resource Center here in town and she’s helped recruit and increase the diversity of the board members for that organization. Meredith has had a lot of community engagement that I think is consistent with the testimonies. Recently, I’ve had the opportunity in my MBA program to do some of my own projects. One of those is focused on a sustainability topic. Quakerism certainly made it easy to conclude that it was a worthwhile topic because it provides consistency with what we say and support.
Since being part of the meeting, in what ways have you learned more about Quakerism?
Michael: We went to go see a speaker, Philip Gulley, who was being hosted by First Friends Meeting in Greensboro. He was giving a presentation about the testimonies, and some members of the meeting also talked about their own experience. That was very early on, and the opportunity to have that broad overview was important. Later, there was a Seekers’ Series. It was four Sunday afternoons together with a mix of people like us that were newer and wanted to know more. There were some who had been attending for a long time, even decades, that wanted more awareness. It was a mix of history, how the meeting works, and a chance to hear individuals reflect on their experience as members of the meeting. For us, we didn’t need any convincing, and there wasn’t anything that came up that seemed like a surprise. It helped fill in a lot of facts and a lot around the edges. As the controversy in North Carolina has been flaring we have had no shortage of resources when we have questions. It’s not been any particular person, either; it’s been a community of people.
What are some of your hopes for Quakerism and the wider world of Friends? What are growing edges?
Michael: Our meeting has had good relationships and engagement with other faith communities, certainly locally, and very importantly across racial boundaries. I think that for the state of our community, the state of our nation, we, individually and as a meeting, must have a favorable influence in those relationships. Another hope is more of a global concern. How do we take care of our planet? I think we collectively pay too little attention to the state of our environment locally and globally. How do we create more collective effort toward that?
Meredith: This is difficult. Even though I’ve been familiar with Quakerism for quite a while it still feels new. If I have to say what I envision for Quakers, my first thought is, “do I have the right to say that?” I do like the social justice piece, especially with our meeting. I think we collectively see the world as a better place; it is a very optimistic faith.