Confessions of a Quaker Heretic

“And oh! How sweet and pleasant it is to the truly spiritual eye, to see several sort of believers, several forms of Christians in the school of Christ, every one learning their own lesson, performing their own peculiar service, and knowing, owning, and loving one another in their several places and different performances to their Master, to whom they are to give an account, and not to quarrel with one another about their different practices!” Isaac Pennington, 1659

 

For just over a year now I have been a member of another denomination while still maintaining my membership in the Religious Society of Friends. Our Faith and Practice discourages sentimentality concerning membership in Meetings we are no longer able to partake in and the holding of duel membership. I am in full agreement with this functional approach. Nevertheless I find myself in the circumstance of not having a functional Friends Meeting nearby. As I mentioned in a prior post Big Island Monthly Meeting, for a variety of reasons, simply doesn’t function on this side of the island. I wish that were not the case but it would be less than truthful to claim otherwise.

Life would be simpler I suppose if I could do as Jesus advised (in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke) and wipe the dust from my feet and move on. The finality of such a judgment seems too harsh though. I prefer to remain on the sidelines as loyal opposition, reminding people of the potential we still can obtain. Is it that no one is beyond redemption or that I simply am not ready to once and for all leave Friends? I am uncertain.

So why did I join another church? It wasn’t primarily for the worship. I still find “the silent assemblies of God’s people,” as Robert Barclay put it, the most pure in practice. It was the sense of community I found there that drew me to my new church home. I think no one can survive long spiritually in a Meeting or Church without being part of a strong community. I remember several years ago when I served on the Pacific Yearly Meeting Faith and Practice Revision Committee the struggle we had trying to put into words what was obvious to us, that the Testimony on Community is at the center of our faith, even though it is the hardest Testimony to articulate.

When I worship with the church community there is hardly a moment of silence during the entire service, yet the music on occasions speaks to that still small voice within. Likewise the sermons are often very inspiring. The pastor, who I’m convinced often acts as a covert Quaker, is skilled at speaking to the principals of his faith in a heartfelt manner that is as moving as any vocal ministry I’ve heard in Quaker Meeting. During communion we are advised that is it quite acceptable to remain seated in silence, partaking in the “common union” with others, which I do. No one forces me to partake in anything I’m not comfortable with. The time of community prayer is different than the language I’m used to in Meeting, but when you listen to the desires of the heart it isn’t really different than our asking to hold someone in the Light.

I find my new congregation very receptive to Quaker beliefs and even some practice. I’ve been asked on at least two occasions to conduct the worship service when the pastor has been out of town. When I have led the group in worship I include moments of silent waiting and it has been well received. If I occasionally refer to the programmed worship as Meeting for Worship, ask that someone be held in the Light, or call the building a Meetinghouse there is appreciative understanding. Recently I was elected to serve on the Board of Directors for the church in a secretarial capacity taking minutes and keeping track of records. They refer to this position as Clerk, a little different than how Friends use the term but still part of their vocabulary. In the taking of minutes I find myself using terms like “Unity” and “approved” with no objection noted. We all desire to do God’s will even if the structure of how things are done is different than what I’m used to.

We are in the process of building a new church building which is ambitious for a congregation of only about thirty members. I find myself being more generous than I have been in years about sharing financial resources. I sincerely hope that Friends on the Big Island will find a similar determination to build a permanent home someday.

Language and practice may differ slightly but the same Spirit is being served. The problems of our world, such as injustice and continuous warfare, are too big for any one faith tradition to address. Our very planet is crying out for mercy and we are called to be God’s hands. I ask for your continuing prayers as I continue to discern how best to move forward. Whether I remain a member of the Religious Society of Friends or not Quakers are my tribe and I will always hold dear the faith and practice of Friends.

James Naylor

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2 thoughts on “Confessions of a Quaker Heretic

  1. Thank You Rick – you spoke to our hearts and condition, as we continue to struggle to find Quaker Fellowship here on the Big Island of Hawaii.

    We have embraced this challenge with our own informal Family Meeting, and participation in Fellowship with the local Adventists and the Hilo Community Church. This provides us with a community that the local Quakers are unable to provide.

    Despite sending heartfelt, comprehensive letters to Pacific Yearly Meeting about these concerns, after more than a year, all we get is Silence from that body as well.

    This confirms my belief that Quakerism is essentially an inward path, and sometimes without the embrace of a gathered Meeting.

    We share your prayers and hopes, and thank you for writing about this mutual concern.

    With Aloha, Art Wall, for the Wall Family in Hilo.

  2. Aloha Rick,
    Neighborhood Place of Puna has a much underused meeting room that is available on most Sundays. We are located in the old Girl Scouts building accross from the Humane Society in Keaau. If you think that some the Quakers on the East side of the Island would be interested in exploring the use of the conference room, please give me at 965-5550. Paul

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