Monday, May 7, 2012

Yes, Quakers Still Exist

I refuse to make a joke about oats. Trust me, I was planning on it. But after experiencing a Quaker religious service (otherwise known as a "meeting") for challenge no. 29, I have nothing but respect for those who call themselves "Friends." These were some of the nicest people I've ever met, faithful and hopeful despite a dying membership and dwindling funds.

Below is a description of Quakerism straight from the website of the Fifteenth Street Religious Society of Friends, where I completed religious service number six out of ten. Pay close attention to the third paragraph, for this is the essence of this religious service experience:

So on Sunday off I frolicked to the Fifteenth Street Religious Society of Friends. It went a little something like this:

9:30 - I arrive and take a seat. Fourteen Friends sit in remarkable silence and stillness inside the sanctuary. Rows of pews on all four sides of the square room face inward toward the center. There is no light beyond the sun coming through the large windows. It looks like the inside of the church that burned down in The Patriot. RIP Heath Ledger.

9:34 - Another Friend arrives. The door creaks rudely.

9:36 - A dog barks.

9:39 - My pinky twitches. I fear I have attracted too much attention.

9:44 - No one has said a word yet. I observe the positions of the others: one with her hands in her lap, cupped and facing upward; another with his shoulders back, outstretched arms resting on the pew; one with her elbows resting on her knees, her head down and hands clasped together.

9:51 - I accept the silence and begin to attempt some sort of meditation. It goes well until someone coughs and I have a near heart attack.

9:58 - My back hurts.

10:05 - Police siren.

10:08 - Thirty eight minutes of silence. I'm starting to wonder if my sarcastic internal monologues are interfering with the Quaker energy. I vow to open up myself to messages from above.

10:11 - I could really go for some pancakes.

10:14 - I hear an owl. I know, right? An owl!

10:17 - I send a silent message to whoever might be listening, expressing my gratitude for my health, my family, my friends, my employment status, and my recent betrothal.

10:25 - Five minutes left. Wondering if I should say something just to freak everyone out.

10:30 - An elder Friend rises from the pew, signaling the end of the "meeting." All others follow suit, start shaking hands with one another and saying, "Good morning."

At this point the elder Friend, an old man with a cane, thick-rimmed glasses and a fedora, addressed the group in a shaky, kind voice. He invited everyone for snacks in the hall so that they could discuss what was experienced in the silence of the last hour. Then he made a heart-breaking plea for funds. I took a look around at the FIFTEEN members that had come to worship that day. They each shared his look of desperation. If the man in the fedora had a credit card machine I would have maxed mine out right then and there out of sheer pity.

I find Quakerism to be such an interesting faith, one that exists on the utter fringe of our day-to-day life, but what I realized in this visit is that its few members need each other and their meetings and their space to worship. This is a huge part of their life, and its being slowly taken away by skyrocketing rents and a lack of exposure.

I actually felt bad for showing up, for making them think that I may be interested in joining their community. I led the Quakers on and genuinely feel horrible about it.

And so this is for them: I realize that you have no good reason to give your hard-earned money to some Quakers you've never met in NYC, but if for some reason you feel so inclined, or are under the influence of alcohol and happen to be a generous drunk, click HERE to donate money to keep their church up and running.

Good morning.

1 comment:

  1. I have attended several Quaker meetings. I love it. The people are great. They show their religion in deeds rather than words. They were instrumental in the Underground Railroad, and they still participate in activism for equality and human rights.