Wednesday, January 25, 2006

A Talk on Quakerism for a Catholic Audience

Recently, I was invited to speak about "Quaker Spirituality" at a Women's Spirituality Group in the Roman Catholic parish of St. Andrew the Apostle in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. The event took place yesterday evening and seemed to me to go very well. I wrote out what I wanted to say in advance, then boiled it down to an outline and spoke from that. The following is the full speech as written in advance and no doubt differs in several places from whatever it was that I actually said. Comments are welcome.

Even though they didn’t work for the late Admiral Stockdale when he debated Al Gore, I’m going to start tonight by answering two questions: Who am I, and what am I doing here?

Who am I? My name is Rich Accetta-Evans. I am a member of the 15th Street Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, a local Quaker congregation in Manhattan. (Quakers use the word “Meeting” to mean a worship service, and also use the same word to describe the worshipping community itself – just as Catholics can sometimes use the word Church to describe worship -- “I am going to Church” and also to describe the people of God who identify as Catholics – “I am a member of the Church”.)

What am I doing here at the St Andrews Women’s Spirituality Group? Well, my primary connection with the Roman Catholic Church is through my wife, Janet, who has been a deeply committed Catholic all her life, and also through my son Nicholas, who has grown up as a Catholic and is a practicing Catholic today. It was with Janet’s encouragement that I attended a meeting of your Women’s Spirituality Group in November, because I heard your announcement that men were welcome and because I very much wanted to hear the talk given by Jane Sammond about Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker movement. I have been an admirer of Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker for many years. I want to thank Janet for inviting me that night, all of you for accepting my presence, and Terry Febles in particular for speaking to me right after the meeting and inviting me to come back and talk about Quakerism.

I’ve had a lot of time to prepare and it’s possible that I’ve over-prepared. I confess that I am working from a speech I’ve written in advance, but the key phrase is “working from”, not “sticking to”. I will be happy if the flow of conversation moves us away from what I have written into unexpected territory. I want to “speak with” you rather than “speak to” you. I am hoping and assuming that this will be a dialogue rather than a monologue. I not only welcome questions at the end, but I hope you will feel free to jump in with both questions and comments as we go along.

Since this is a dialogue, I hope it’s clear that is no one’s intention here today to “convert” anyone from Roman Catholicism to Quakerism or vice versa. (Especially not vice-versa, please, since there are few enough Quakers in the world already). What I hope for from our dialogue is what I would hope for from a dialogue between people of any two faith traditions: that we gain a better understanding of each other, learn what our commonalities are, learn what our differences are, and come to appreciate both. If I get to it before I run out of my breath or your patience, I hope to mention some things that I already believe Quakers would do well to learn from the Roman Catholic Church, as well as some things that Catholics might want to look at in Quaker experience.

I will add that I think ecumenical and inter-faith dialogues in general are very important and useful and I am delighted to at last participate in one. As far as I know, Quakers have not been very involved in such dialogues at the national or international level. There have been meetings between Catholic and Lutheran theologians, between Christians and Jews, and between Jews and Moslems. A few years ago, I believe that Pope John Paul II had a meeting with a patriarch of the Eastern Orthodox Church. But not many world religious leaders have met with the Quakers. This isn’t because of any prejudice against Friends or desire to snub us. It’s because we are really a very tiny group. Quakers sometimes say that we are a fourth branch of Christianity, along side of but distinct from Roman Catholics, Orthodox Catholics, and Protestants. I myself have said this and in fact that’s how I look at us. But I must admit that in view of the demographic statistics it takes a lot of chutzpah for me to make such a statement. According to an Encyclopedia article about Quakerism, there are about 600,000 Quakers in the entire world. I suppose there are that many Catholics in a single Borough of New York City. In all of New York State plus Northern New Jersey and Southwestern Connecticut there are only 6000 Quakers. My own Meeting in Manhattan has less than 200 members, and it is the second largest of the five Meetings in New York City. Many Quaker Meetings scattered across the cities, towns, and rural areas of North America have only 5 to 20 members.

Basic Questions About Quakerism

I have been using the words “Quakers” and “Friends”, I have said that in my opinion Quakers constitute a fourth admittedly tiny branch of Christianity, and I have mentioned that I belong to a Quaker Meeting. But I haven’t defined what Quakerism is or said very much about what it is like. So let me start over with some basic questions again. What is the “Religious Society of Friends”? Where does it fit in the family of world religions and Christian denominations? How do Friends worship? What do we believe? How is Quakerism different than other faith traditions, especially Catholicism? And how – if at all – is it the same?

At this point a confession is in order: my answers to these questions are only my answers. If you talk to another Quaker you may get slightly different answers – or even dramatically different answers. Even though Quakerism is a tiny movement, it is also a many-faceted movement, and there are many ways of looking at it. What I know about Quakerism comes from being a Quaker for over 35 years, from being pretty active in my Meeting and visiting others, and from doing a lot of reading and correspondence. But no one has conferred on me any right to speak authoritatively for all Quakers. There is a story about an old Quaker farmer, meant to illustrate the idea (or maybe the stereotype) that Quakers are sticklers for the literal truth and don’t like to affirm anything they aren’t absolutely sure is so. This farmer was asked whether a certain sheep on the hillside was white or black. “Well,” he said, “the side facing me is white.” Since he couldn’t see the other side of the sheep he wasn’t willing to say what color it was. In that spirit, please remember that whatever I say about Quakerism in the rest of this talk I am really saying only about the side of Quakerism I can see. There are other kinds of Quaker Meeting than the one I attend. And sitting on the bench beside me even at my own Meeting are some dear and wonderful Friends who may see the Quakerism we practice together very differently than I do. (One very lively area of discussion is the relationship between Christianity and Quakerism; I am not going to address that issue here.)

Still, I am going to answer those questions the best I can. I am going to start by describing a typical Sunday morning Quaker worship service. Then I am going to explain the origin of Quaker worship practice by going back into Quaker History. In the historical part of the talk, since this is after all a women’s spirituality group, I am going to concentrate on the role of Margaret Fell, a particularly important woman in the early history of Quakerism and in my opinion a great spiritual leader. Finally, as I mentioned before, I hope to mention some things that I think Quakers and Catholics can learn from each other.

The Experience of Quaker Worship

Should you ever decide to visit us (and – by the way – you are very welcome to do so) your first impression would probably be that it is a strikingly different place from a typical Catholic or even Protestant Church building and that the worship that takes place there is strikingly different from the liturgy of the mass. Nevertheless, having attended mass at St Andrews and elsewhere fairly frequently and having attended Quaker Meeting for over 35 years, I actually see some important similarities.

Let’s start with the differences, and especially with a list of all the things that St Andrews has but the Quaker Meeting and the Quaker Meetinghouse do not: At Fifteenth Street Meeting, during the hour of worship we have:
· No altar
· No pulpit
· No baptismal font (because we have no water baptism)
· No statues
· No pictures
· No priest
· No hymnals
· No prayer books
· No lectionary of pre-selected readings
· No communion bread
· No wine (or even grape juice)
· No liturgical calendar of seasons or holidays to be observed

You may ask what’s left. What DO we have? Well, here is where the commonality between our worship and Catholic worship may come in. Because what we have you also have. We, like you, have the presence of God. The fundamental faith decision that lies behind our manner of worship is that if we have this Divine Presence we believe we really don’t need anything else in order to worship. And if we don’t have or aren’t conscious of the Divine Presence then nothing else we might lean on will make true worship possible. One recent Quaker writer named Lloyd Lee Wilson has said that Quaker spirituality is a spirituality of subtraction. We have subtracted from our outward practice a great many things that we know other Churches have found to be precious and even holy. We have done it in order to clear a space for a direct encounter with the most precious and holy One of all. The moments in the Catholic liturgy that feel most familiar to me as a Quaker are the moments of silence. There are some Saturdays when the priest or deacon says something like “Let us pause to remember our sins and ask God forgiveness” – followed by a very brief period of silence. Or, after reading a list of people to pray for because they are sick or because they have passed away, the priest or deacon may invite the people to “add their own intentions in silence”. Finally, at the moment when the priest elevates the consecrated host and says the words “This is Jesus” there is often a profound and reverent hush, however brief. Each of these brief silences feels to me like a little piece of Quaker Meeting.

It’s possible that this seems a little abstract. Let me return to describing more concretely how I experience a typical Meeting for Worship. As I come into the Meetinghouse, a large brick building erected in 1865, I will usually be greeted by one or two Friends who stand at the door and welcome all who come in. These are members of a committee called the Greeting Committee. (Although our spirituality is a spirituality of subtraction, one thing we haven’t subtracted is committees – almost all of the work of the Meeting is done by committees. It is more or less expected that members will participate in committee work if they are able.). I may briefly chat with one or two people in the lobby, but once I go into the Meeting room itself all conversation stops.

The meeting starts at 11 a.m., but I usually try to be in my seat by 10:45 or 10:50. The Meeting room is pretty large. It has a high ceiling and tall windows with clear glass (not stained-glass thank you very much). There are lots of long wooden benches with cushions for comfortable seating. When I first attended the Meeting back in the early 1970’s there were no cushions. A senior class at the Quaker school next door to us donated the cushions sometime back in the 1980s. They are much appreciated now, though I think at first there was some grumbling that they detracted from the atmosphere of plainness and simplicity that we try to cultivate. Some rows of benches face toward the front; some are turned at right angles and face each other; still others at the front of the room face toward the back. It’s sort of like a big circle, but a big more rectangular than that.

I pick a spot on a bench, sit down, and close my eyes. Most other people close their eyes as well, though this is not a requirement and I actually have not heard it mentioned very often. It just seems the most natural thing to do. After closing my eyes I begin a process a lot of Friends call “centering down”. Basically this is nothing more than trying to forget myself, overcome self-consciousness, let go of whatever seemed important to me before I came into Meeting, and just wait quietly for God. Sometimes I use some simple prayer to help me do this. Other times I find that the only way to let go of a particular distraction is to first bring it up, as it were, and pray about it silently and then let it go. Our worship is sometimes called “silent worship” and it is sometimes called “unprogrammed worship” for reasons I will explain shortly. But my favorite term for it is one that is used very commonly in the so-called “Conservative” meetings of Ohio, North Carolina, Iowa, and a few other places: these Friends call Quaker worship “waiting worship” because it consists of “waiting on the Lord”. To me, the word waiting conveys just the right balance of quietness and eager expectation. I am fond of the scriptural quotation “They that wait upon the Lord will renew their strength.”

I am not the only person “centering down” or “settling in” during the first 15 to 30 minutes of worship. All present are doing the same. There will always be some Friends who come in late, and there will be some sounds of creaking floorboards and benches as people find their places, sit down, and settle in. But gradually it becomes very still and hushed.

What happens next - after we center down the best we can - is, as Friends understand it, both private and individual and communal or corporate at the same time. It is different from praying or meditating at home by oneself. We look inward, but we are also drawn both upwards to God and outwards to each other. There are times, though it doesn’t always happen, and we can’t really make it happen at will, when we feel in the silence that God has brought us into a very precious bond of unity with each other. We even have some words that we use to describe such a Meeting: it is said to be “gathered” or to be “covered”.

I don’t want to give the impression, though, that nothing happens in the hour of worship except this “centering down” and occasionally this sense of being “covered” or “gathered”. Many Friends like to quote the promise of Jesus that “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst”. We very much believe that God is there when we meet together (and also when we don’t, of course, but the point is that when we meet together we open ourselves to God in a special way). And because God is present, we believe that God will inspire us or move us to worship Him (or Her) in the way that is most appropriate for our condition at that time and that place. Some meetings proceed entirely in silence from beginning to end, but usually there will be several spoken messages during the hour. Friends give such messages when we feel them given to us by the Spirit and when we feel powerfully moved to offer them to the group. We refer to this as “vocal ministry”.

All of the basic elements of worship that take place in any Catholic or Protestant or Jewish or Moslem worship service have their parallels in a Quaker worship service. That is, the worshippers may
· Confess sins or weaknesses,
· Repent and ask God’s forgiveness,
· Offer thanks,
· Offer praise,
· Pray for the needs of others and ourselves,
· Hear spoken ministry that enlightens, challenges, encourages or exhorts us.

What makes the Quaker Meeting seem so different is that none of this is scheduled or programmed for us. We don’t come to Meeting with a fixed idea of what we will pray about or meditate about that day. We do not come with a plan to speak or a plan to not speak. We come, rather, in a spirit of openness, ready to seek for the Light in the silence, to let the Light search us, and show us our own spiritual states. I may come to the meeting quite satisfied with myself but be shown in the silence that I have been selfish or cowardly or insensitive or greedy in some particular area of my life and I need to be helped to do better. Or, on the other hand, I may come to meeting feeling low and despondent and find in the Silence that I am reassured of God’s love and care. If another Friend is moved to speak some words of ministry I may find surprisingly often that they are helpful to me – that they “speak to my condition” as Friends say. If the words of ministry are not helpful to me, I let them go and continue to wait in the silence.

It could be asked: what is gained by practicing this rather pared-down and Spartan form of worship? Why do Quakers deprive themselves of the liturgical supports that most other Christians find so helpful? We do have our reasons and they are important to us. To give a feeling for what those reasons are and how we came to them I’m going to give a compressed overview of Quaker history, especially the history of our founding in the 17th century. Ordinarily, to do this I would probably start by talking about the ministry of George Fox, one of the most important early Quaker leaders and the one usually credited with being our founder. Certainly I will mention George, as he is very important, but I am not going to begin with him. I am going to begin with a woman named Margaret Fell.

Margaret Fell and the Origins of Quakerism

Quakerism arose in the Northern part of England in the middle of the 17th century. It was less than 50 years after the first publication of the King James Version of the Bible and only about 100 years after the English Church under Henry VIII had broken away from Rome. Religious fervor was running high, but so - - in many quarters - - was a growing sense of disillusion. The Protestant reformers had promised to cleanse the church of corruption, but they quarreled among themselves about what practices and traditions were corrupt and what ones weren’t. The clergy were supported by tithes collected from the general population by the state, and some were thought to be more interested in this comfortable living than in preaching the gospel.

A powerful feeling against monarchy and aristocracy was strong in the land, and the Puritans under Oliver Cromwell had toppled King Charles I and beheaded him, but this ushered in even more unrest and conflict. A great many people, intensely reading their Bibles and pursuing their prayers shared a sense that something was still amiss. They felt that neither the break-away from Rome nor the violent Puritan revolution had really resulted in a Church that was truly in the Spirit of Christ and the Apostles. Some itinerant preachers who weren’t really tied to any particular existing Church began criss-crossing the country airing their views and holding debates. There were Levellers and Diggers and Seekers and some people called Ranters.

This is where Margaret Fell enters the picture. Margaret Fell eventually became the wife of George Fox, but she was a significant figure in Quakerism decades before that happened, and her role was never simply that of a helper or assistant. It is quite possible that if Margaret Fell had not become involved in the early Quaker movement there would be no such thing as Quakerism today.

Margaret and her husband Thomas Fell were sympathizers with the general ferment of their times. They belonged to a local church, were well-off enough to have a large house and some household help, and were respectable members of their community. Thomas Fell was actually a judge. But they also made their home available to many of those wandering preachers and they were intensely interested in the religious and social issues of the time. In 1652, Margaret was 38 years old, was already the mother of several children, and was the day-to-day manager of her household when she had her first encounter with Fox.

Fox was the son of a weaver, had once been apprenticed to a shoemaker and worked as a shepherd, but he had left his trade, broken off all ties with his family, and begun traveling through the countryside on a kind of spiritual quest that then turned into a spiritual mission. He was convinced that Christendom had somewhere lost its bearing. He had looked for help from all kinds of Catholics and Protestants including Purtitans and Baptists and various kinds of separatists, but they hadn't been able to speak to his condition. He observed that they often didn't live by even their own teachings. He thought that their claims to authority, whether based in scripture or in tradition, were hollow if they weren't led by the Spirit. He said that neither formal ordination nor university training could qualify a person to be a minister. He said that true baptism and true communion were spiritual realities, not ceremonies. He said that to preach for money, especially money raised by the state, was to make a disgraceful trade of what ought to be freely given. By 1652 Fox was 28 years old. He had already carried his message pretty far and wide. He had spoken in market-places against cheating in merchandise, in courtrooms where he warned the judges to "judge justly", and in houses of worship (which he called "steeplehouses") whenever he could get the floor. Often he was well-received by a portion of the population, and strongly rejected by others. He had already been in prison twice before he met Margaret Fell, once for over a year. Margaret later described their meeting this way.

"And in the year 1652 it pleased the Lord to draw him towards us; so he came on from Sedburg, and so to Westmoreland, as Firbank Chapel, where John Blayking came unto him; and so on to Preston, and to Grarig, and Kendal, and Underbarrow, and Poobank, and Cartmel, and Staveley; and so onto Swarthmore, my dwelling house, whither he brought the blessed tidings of the Everlasting Gospel, which I, and many hundreds in these parts, have cause to praise the Lord for. My then husband, Thomas Fell, was not at home at that time, but gone the Welsh circuit, being one of the Judges of Assize and our house being a place open to entertain ministers and religious people at, one of George Fox his Friends brought him hither; where he stayed all night. And the next day being a Lecture, or a fast day, he went to Ulverston Steeple house, but came not in, till people were gathered; I and my children had been a long time there before. And when they were singing before the sermon, he came in; and when they had done singing, he stood up upon a seat or form, and desired, that he might have liberty to speak and he that was in the pulpit, said he might. And the first word, that he spoke, were as follows: He is not a Jew, that is one outward; neither is that circumcision, which is outward but he is a Jew , that is one inward; and that is circumcision, which is of the heart. And so he went on, and said, how that Christ was the Light of the world, and lights every man that comes into the world; and that by this Light they might be gathered to God. &c. and I stood up in my pew, and wondered at his doctrine; for I had never heard such before. and then he went on, and opened the Scriptures, and said; the Scriptures were the Prophet's words, and Christ's and the Apostle's words, and what, as they spoke, they enjoyed and possessed, and had it from the Lord and said, then what had any to do with the Scriptures, but as they came to the Spirit, which gave them forth. You will say, Christ says this, and the Apostles say this but what can thou say? Are thou a child of Light, and have walked in the Light, and that thou speaks, is it inwardly from God? &c. This opened me so, that it cut me to the heart; and then I saw clearly, we were all wrong. So I sat me down in my pew again, and cried bitterly and I cried in my spirit to the Lord, we are all thieves, we are all thieves; who have taken the Scriptures in words, and know nothing of them in ourselves. So that served me, that I cannot well tell, what he spoke afterwards; but he went on in declaring against the false prophets, and priests, and deceivers of the people. And there was one John Sawry, a Justice of the Peace, and a professor, that bid the churchwarden, take him away and he laid his hands on him several times, and took them off again, and let him alone; and then after a while he gave over, and came to our house again that night. And he spoke in the family among the servants, and they were all generally convinced; as William Caton, Thomas Salthouse, Mary Askew, Anne Clayton and several other servants. And I was stricken into such a sadness I knew not what to do; my husband being from home. I saw, it was the Truth, and I could not deny it; and I did, as the Apostle says, I received the Truth in the love of it and it was opened to me so clear, that I had never a tittle in my heart against it; but I desired the Lord, that I might be kept in it, and then I desired no greater portion."
After this, Judge Fell came home, Margaret introduced him to George Fox, and the judge welcomed him and his Friends. Margaret came to be known as a Friend herself, though the Judge did not. In the years after that, George Fox and roughly sixty other traveling ministers of like mind continued to travel around England and to gather groups of those they had "convinced" into regular meetings for worship. One of these meetings was held in Margaret's house. In addition, Margaret kept up a steady correspondence among all these ministers, raised money for them when they were imprisoned, advised them when they had difficulties, and facilitated communication among them. Over the next ten years her house became a focal center of the Quaker movement. A summary of her life found at, quotes the journal of a contemporary Friend named William Caton:
"Oh! The love which in that day abounded among us, especially in that family! And oh! The freshness of the power of the Lord God, which then was amongst us; and the zeal for Him and His truth, the comfort and refreshment which we had from His presence - the nearness and dearness that was amongst us one towards another, - the openings and revelations which we then had!"
In 1658, Thomas Fell died. In 1659, King Charles II was restored to the throne of England and the Puritans routed from power. The Quakers' troubles, however, were far from over. Over the next several years all Quaker leaders were severely persecuted, their lands were seized for non-payment of tithes and they were often arrested for refusing to swear loyalty oaths to the king. Margaret's statement about the loyalty oath was:

"...this I shall say, as for my allegiance, I love, own, and honor the King and desire his peace and welfare; and that we may live a peaceable, a quiet and a godly life under his government, according to the Scriptures; and this is my allegiance to the King. And as for the oath itself, Christ Jesus, the King of Kings, hath commanded me not to swear at all, neither by heaven, nor by earth, nor by any other Oath."
After six months in jail and a trial, Margaret was sentenced to life in prison and forfeiture of her property. Her answer to that was "Although I am out of the King's protection, yet I am not out of the protection of the Almighty God."Even in prison she wrote prolifically, sending epistles of encouragement to other Friends, and religious pamphlets to the general public. One particularly important paper she wrote at that time was called "Women's Speaking Justified, Proved and Allowed of by the Scriptures, All Such as Speak by the Spirit and Power of the Lord Jesus And How Women Were the First That Preached the Tidings of the Resurrection of Jesus, and Were Sent by Christ's Own Command Before He Ascended to the Father". This pamphlet defended the Quakers' widely criticized practice of encouraging women to give ministry during their meetings for worship. She was finally released from prison in 1668. She was married to George Fox one year after that, but never spent much time in his company thereafter as either she or he was at any given time either abroad on religious journeys or in prison. George Fox died in January 1691. Margaret Fell survived him by 11 years, dying in April 1702.

By the time Margaret died, a new generation of Friends was predominant in the Society. Some of the old fire was gone, and there was more of an effort to codify things like simplicity and plainness that had been left more to the Spirit in the early days. It was in this period that plain black clothing, like that of the Quaker Oats man, had come to be almost a costume of Quakers. One of Margaret's last writings was a warning against this tendency. She wrote:

"Our monthly and quarterly meetings were set up for reproving and looking into superfluous or disorderly walking, and such to be admonished and instructed in the truth, and not private persons to take upon them to make orders, and say this must be done and the other must not be done: and can Friends think that those who are taught and guided of God can be subject and follow such low mean orders? So it's good for Friends of our country to leave these things to the Lord, who is become our leader, teacher and guider, and not to go abroad to spread them, for they will never do good, but has done hurt already: we are now coming into … that which Christ cried woe against, minding altogether outward things, neglecting the inward work of almighty God in our hearts, if we can but frame according to outward prescriptions and orders, and deny eating and drinking with our neighbours, in so much that poor Friends is mangled in their minds, that they know not what to do. For one Friend says one way, and another another; but Christ Jesus saith that we must take no thought what we shall eat, or what we shall drink, or what we shall put on: bids us consider the lilies, how they grow in more royalty than Solomon. But, contrary to this, we must look at no colours, nor make anything that is changeable colours as the hills are, nor sell them, nor wear them: but we must be all in one dress and one colour.
This is silly poor gospel! It is more fit for us to be covered with God's eternal Spirit, and clothed with his eternal Light, which leads us and guides us into righteousness, and to live righteously and justly and holily in this present evil world. This is the clothing that God puts upon us, and likes, and will bless. This will make our light shine forth before men, that they may glorify our heavenly Father which is in Heaven, for we have God for our teacher, and we have his promises and doctrine, and we have the Apostles' practice in their day and generation: and we have God's holy Spirit, to lead us and guide us, and we have the blessed truth, that we are made partakers of, to be our practice. And why should we turn to men and woman teaching which is contrary to Christ Jesus' command, and the Apostles' practice?
...Friends, we have one God, and one mediator betwixt God and man, the man Jesus Christ; let us keep to him or we are undone."

What Can Catholics and Quakers Learn From Each Other

There are many things about which Quakers and Catholics must agree to disagree as long as we are faithful to our respective traditions. I as a Quaker am not going to be persuaded about trans-substantiation and the real presence of Christ in the physical elements of communion. If I were so persuaded, I think I would in good conscience have to leave the Society of Friends. Catholics, I imagine, are not about to say that there is no need of a priesthood, or to dispense with the seven sacraments, or any other fundamentals of the Catholic faith. Yet there are things about Catholicism that Quakers could adopt without becoming Catholic, and I will tentatively suggest (it's not really my call) that there may be things about Quakerism that Catholics could adopt without becoming Quaker.

What I think that Quakers could learn from Catholics is this: any religious community, however narrow it has to be because of its particular beliefs and practices, ought to be big enough and wide enough to embrace all classes, nationalities, stations in life, and education levels. The Roman Catholic Church puts Quaker meetings to shame in this respect. In Catholicism I see a rich mixture of national backgrounds and social and economic classes and racial groups. I see that masses are sometimes held in several languages within one parish. I see that there are first, second, and third-generation immigrants in local parishes. In all too many Quaker meetings, by contrast, we have become a very narrow stratum of people. We make excuses for this, but I think the experience of the Catholic Church shows it doesn't have to be that way.

Another thing Quakers can learn from Catholics is a little more assertiveness about defining our beliefs. For complicated reasons we have become very diffident about this. Sometimes people come to us and worship with us for quite a while before they hear very much about what we hold to be most essential in our faith. We have been careful not to offend sincere seekers who may differ with us, but not so careful to make sure that we are offering them something worth seeking for.

What I think Catholics might take from Quakers is this: a fuller confidence in the spiritual gifts and potential contributions of so-called "lay" believers. I say "so-called" because as a Quaker I don't distinguish between laypeople and clergy. I realize that the Roman Catholic Church does distinguish and will continue to do so. But it seems to me that even within this distinction there is room for far greater participation by people who are not in religious orders. I offer no prescription for how that could be done, just my observation – based on my experience in Friends' meetings – that all of God's people have some part in the body of Christ.

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Blogger Don said...

I really enjoyed reading what you had to say. I see a real value of silence and solitude in my life and Quakers seem to value that. I also deeply admire the positions you take on peace and social justice.

8:31 PM, January 25, 2006  
Blogger Paul L said...

Nice job, Rich, especially after you got going. I especially liked your focus on Mararet Fell whose spirituality and organizational pragmaticism I am beginning to appreciate more and more.

I understand perfectly well why you had to do it -- and do it myself -- but I can't help thinking it is unfortunate that we have to start every proclaimation of the Gospel as Understood by Friends with such a lengthy disclaimer.

12:28 PM, January 26, 2006  
Blogger Rich in Brooklyn said...

Thanks to Don and Paul L for their comments. I have just become aware of Don's blog Reflections of a Secular Franciscan and hope to soon add it to my sidebar. Paul L's Shower of Blessings has been on my sidebar for some time.

Paul, I agree with you that my talk got off to a slow start, and also that the need for disclaimers is a little disheartening at times. But, for the record, I'd like to clarify that most of my lengthy introduction was intended to clarify who I am and my intentions in giving the talk. The "disclaimer" part I think you're referring to was really just in the eighth paragraph.

I really enjoyed your post on the "innoffensive" 23rd Psalm, though.
- - Rich

5:10 PM, January 26, 2006  
Blogger Jessica said...

Thanks! What a nice introduction to Quakerism, particularly for a former Catholic exploring Quakerism online. Maybe I'll actually find the gumption to go try out the local meeting one of these days.

9:37 AM, January 27, 2006  
Blogger Amanda said...

Rich, thanks for this. I am going to send it to my mom....I think it is a very good general introduction, and you make a wonderful bridge between the Catholic and the Quaker!

12:56 AM, January 29, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just dicovered the original post. I am, and have always been, a practicing Catholic, but I attended Quaker meeting regularly for six or seven years. Catholics have many forms of spiritual exercise outside of Mass, including both solitary and communal mental and contemplative prayer. I viewed Meeting as a wonderful way to focus on God, all the while from within my Catholic faith.

At the risk of being offensive but in the spirit of the Quaker testimony of integity, which I respect enormously, I will add that the reason I stopped attending was that the Meeting as a community adopted a minute that they would join two people of the same sex in marriage. That is contrary to Catholic moral teaching; it was the first thing I found in Qaker practice that was (as opposed to a different way of worshiping). When it happend I felt I could no longer participate in Meeting, but leaving was very hard. I still miss the silence and the good people who are Friends.

4:24 PM, June 19, 2006  

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