Thursday, 20 February 2014

A first visit to the Quakers of Newcastle (1)

On Sunday I paid a visit to the Quaker Meeting House.

It's not something I've ever done before and not something I would have considered doing for much of my Christian life.  It's not as if I'd never had the opportunity.  At college it would have been a short walk on a Sunday morning to their meetings - from my bedroom, down the college stairs and into the library.  But I chose never to visit and always to go somewhere more obviously lively and generally more charismatic in a Holy Spirit revival sort of way.

The Quakers were seen, by most Christians I knew, as those strange people who don't believe much and don't have the proper God or proper Biblical preaching in their services.  The pacifism bit was all very well - most of us approved of that - but what about the important things in the Bible?  The general view was that Quakers must have forsaken the vision of George Fox, their founder, otherwise they would be highly evangelical, wave Bibles and have a proper traditional creed.  We believed this without actually knowing anything about George Fox.  Quakers were highly suspect.  Apart from nice Quakers like Richard Foster, who "despite" being a Quaker, could write books we liked.  I remember once being assured by an ex-Quaker that some Quakers are Christians.

I think the only time I've ever been in a Quaker Meeting House I was about twelve or thirteen.  I was attending a meeting of the Crawley group of Friends of the Earth who that evening were quizzing the MP, Nicholas Soames, on environmental matters.  I don't know what Soames said but I can remember being unimpressed by his words but impressed by the number of times he removed and replaced his glasses while talking.  Not a spiritual gathering - but still one that fits nicely into the Quaker ethos.

But much has been changing.  In the last few years I've met Quaker members, Quaker attenders and others who used to attend but stopped for various reasons.  And my own faith has changed almost beyond recognition in the last year.  I can think now what what have been unthinkable before.  And I can do things that I would have shunned - such as visiting the Unitarians a couple of weeks ago, another group I'd have found extremely suspect at one time.  Or at many times.  Is that for the best?  I think so.  The changes have been based on an increase and broadening of love and a new appreciation for the wonder that is life.

A week previously I'd felt great pain at church.  I've written about that here and here

The question is how to not feel such pain while not walking away totally from Christianity - or throwing the baby out with the bath water as a local vicar put it this week, with the assumption that there is a baby at all.  Certainly at this point just walking away would not be honest to myself or authentic to who I am.  But I know I can't continue at this time to sit in the same services - or at least to solely sit in the same services.  And as I wrote in those other posts, I almost feel more for Jesus now than when I worshipped him so desperately and wholeheartedly as the one and only incarnate God who paid for my sins by dying.  I've lost my old faith but Jesus somehow can become more to me now.

I've been pondering the Quakers for a while as a place to visit one day.  Someone told me that the previous week's service had been entirely silent and since I'm finding the Christian words and liturgies so difficult I thought it sounded blissful.  Walt Whitman wrote:

“Re-examine all you have been told...
Dismiss what insults your Soul.” 

It's a well used quotation at MCC and I decided that such a Quaker meeting couldn't possibly have much that would insult my soul.  And so I decided to attend (unless the weather was foul - I felt too half-hearted to sort out my spiritual path if I had to get soaked to do it!).

Hence attending on Sunday without really knowing what to expect except that it would be a quiet service of silence unless people felt moved to get up and say something.  I felt good about attending.  It felt like the right choice to go there and see what happened.

The Quaker Meeting House is in easy walking distance from home - but on such a cold, windy morning I caught a Metro half way.  And so with a sense of hope and an assurance that I wasn't going to feel awful listening again to the language of blood sacrifice to appease a jealous God, that language I once loved so much, and with a joy to be heading somewhere new, comfortable to be me, I approached the House.

I've passed it many times in the last few years.  This time I was going in.

But now I need my bed.  So I'll write about the welcome I received, the service, and what followed tomorrow.  Rest assured, I entered happy and left happier.  I will be returning to that place and those people soon.

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