Nikki Mosgrove is a member of Trenton (N.J.) Meeting and works for the Princeton Area Community Foundation. She also serves on the board of trustees for the Lawrence Township Community Foundation and is a member of the Junior League of Greater Princeton. Recently, she was named to the Nominating Council of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting (PYM).
How did you come to Quakerism? What were your previous experiences of faith?
I grew up Baptist in Trenton, third generation in the same church. Although I attended Baptist services, I went to a Catholic grammar school, and that was another faith influence. Years later I attended Boston College for my undergraduate degree, and during my junior year I converted to Catholicism. Incidentally I ended up receiving my graduate degree from yet another Catholic institution, Seton Hall. So I spent the first 20 years of life as a Baptist, and the next 20 years as a Catholic. But by 2012, I was no longer attending Catholic services. I just couldn’t stomach the way the church was being managed. I’m not talking about a particular church but rather the hierarchy. My spirit could no longer accept certain dogmas. While I know many wonderful Catholics, I could no longer participate in that system.
I started researching a number of faiths in 2012 because I wanted to find a new faith practice before I turned 40 the following year. Quakerism stood out, and I wanted to become the most familiar with it. What attracted me was the lack of creed and dogma. It was like the pendulum completely moved the other way, away from the hierarchy and the system that told you what to believe, how to pray, and even how your house of worship should smell. I moved away from having every little detail spelled out for me to a place where I felt free. I visited Trenton Meeting in January 2013 the week I turned 40.
As for my Catholic and Baptist roots, I definitely still admire some of their saints and their work for humanity, especially Saint Francis of Assisi. My Baptist roots will never go away. I have to listen to Gospel music every single day. That’s how I prepare for the day, with worship and praise to go out the door and fulfill my day. It’s funny, my Baptist upbringing and the Catholic tradition don’t really enter into the worship space when I’m at meeting. Those two traditions still influence my day-to-day life but not in the worship space.
What was your first meeting for worship like?
I did not understand it before I went. I read Faith and Practice before I went to my first meeting. I read it twice actually. I’m a geek, and I love studying all religions. Meeting for worship seemed really odd. When I got to the meetinghouse, I thought, well, this is sparse. It’s not at all what I envisioned it would look like on the inside. You didn’t have ornate windows or plush cushions. It was bare, but it was real. To be honest, I was not expecting to get much out of it, but when it began I felt a sense of community and the presence of the Spirit. There has to be something more spiritual or metaphysical about more than one person gathered. I think one person may have spoken that first meeting, but what struck me was that the message they gave resonated with me and where I was in my life. Afterward the fellowship was just awesome.
I really felt that I didn’t need the scripture reading. I didn’t need a homily or sermon. I didn’t need a bangin’ choir. I still felt a sense of community. So I said, “Okay, this is different. I guess I’ll just keep coming.” Then eventually at the end of 2013, I applied for membership. There aren’t that many members who actually live in Trenton, but our meeting is so dedicated to that community and that neighborhood. That’s a beautiful thing.
I also appreciated that there was no proselytizing. This has come up in discussions about how meetings can be more welcoming to people of color. My answer is that we need to just be who we are as a witness in the community, to be active members of the community, and still not proselytize. If people see our goodness, our heart, and our reaching out, that is how we will attract more members of color. Trenton Meeting had a barbeque in our community, and the community showed up. They were very appreciative because they could come and eat as much as they liked. If they had gone to another church or a soup kitchen, they’d get one plate. They told us that they got to fill up and that they were fed. That was really great for me to hear. I don’t really know how we, as Quakers, recruit. We just have to live our faith, and they will come.
How do you center yourself in meeting for worship?
It usually takes me a little while. If I am visiting Princeton Meeting, then it is easier because it’s a crackling fire in the winter or birds chirping in the spring. I visit there every now and then when I want to get a different message. When I am at Trenton Meeting, it takes me longer because it is an urban environment. I incorporate what is going on into my worship. You may hear loud music or you may hear an argument on the street where people are cursing. I will wish that whatever it is they are going through in their life right then, that peace and joy and light will accompany them. Then I center. I try to find a stillness somewhere in the chaos. Every once in a while I’ll get a message, maybe once or twice a year. Otherwise I just enjoy our time as a community and the messages that others bring forth.
How have you been involved in your meeting?
Since becoming a member of Trenton Meeting, I’ve served on various committees. I currently clerk the Counsel, Ministry, and Worship Committee, which has been a challenge, a wonderful challenge. I didn’t realize that everything comes through that committee. I have found that the older members are always there to give me guidance. It feels like I am being held up in love by them. It is teaching me to have a spiritual basis for administrative work. Previously, it was my practice to be more analytical and task-oriented instead of seeking guidance first, whether that be through prayer or reaching out to more experienced Quakers.
How do you see Quakerism working in your life?
I tell people that being Quaker has prepared me for where I am in my life right now because I need a quiet space. I’m this humanitarian who wants to save the world. I’m involved in every group and know about everything going on. When I come to meeting, that is the only time where I get to center myself and be still and quiet. I believe that things happen for a reason. I believe I found Quakerism and then I found this world where I am interacting with people that have incredible resources, and I’m able to help those individuals see the jewels in the community where they can invest. So I just give away money all day. I don’t think I could do it if I didn’t have a sense of humility and stillness that living the testimonies gives me.
I also find myself being even more inclusive. I’m working toward including everyone in the conversation and opening up space for different ideas. Our testimony of equality is incredibly important. We are all equal in the eyes of God. And we talk a good game, but it takes courage to be open. Along with being a new Quaker, I have been open to other faith practices. Last weekend I was at continuing sessions for PYM and the weekend before that I was at a women’s prayer breakfast at the local Baptist church. If anyone of any faith or ethnicity had anything negative to say about another group, I would speak up. I feel comfortable in that regard. I feel like being a Quaker has helped me face adversity. It’s like a suit of armor. It gives me strength.
What would you like to see for the future of Quakerism?
As a whole, I would like to see us more present in the world, specifically as individual Quakers. I would like to see us personally make a commitment to be change in our own communities. I do really believe in individual action. Collective action is important, but I think we need to step out on faith a little bit more as individuals and be the change that we wish to see in the world. There was a member who passed away recently, and she was the smallest most diminutive person in the meeting. I can say small because I’m only five feet tall. She was such a dynamic person who made a lot of change, and she was just one person. We do a lot of contemplating, collaborating, and thinking, thinking, thinking. It’s time for us to do. That’s what I would like to see, but I’m an Aquarius.