Letting our Light shine

In the last two months, the Quaker Worship Group in Whitehorse witnessed an increased interest in the Quaker tradition of seeking God and the Quaker form of worship. As a very small and very isolated group, the concern of how to build community has been raised on several occasions.

William Swainson - doing Quaker outreach Yukon style at -30 degrees (photo credit: Celia McBride)
William Swainson – doing Quaker outreach Yukon style at -30 degrees (photo credit: Celia McBride)

Within the last year, we have reframed and updated the entry in the listing of religious services in the local newspaper. We have also updated the listing on the website of the Canadian Yearly Meeting and established a dedicated email address. However, the increased interest seems to have come mostly from the relationship-building done by the individuals from our Worship Group. I have finally dared to tell others in this secularized world about my interest in the Quaker way and the decision to join the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). The reactions I have witnessed have ranged from surprise to curiosity. But it is not the curiosity that has brought new people to come and experience silent worship and the warmth of community: It has consistently been the personal invitation.

A direct invitation on a different level has also contributed to the increased interest: Half a year ago, our Worship Group had to look for a new space to meet. For quite a while, we met in members’ homes, because it is most consistent with the Quaker tradition that God can be experienced anywhere – we don’t need a temple or a church. When we had to seek a public venue for our meetings for worship, we asked the United Church congregation if we could use their Upper Room. They received us with open arms, and “Quaker worship” started to show up on their facility booking schedule. Which in return yielded some curious questions about Quakerism.

It was at that point that we extended an invitation to the minister and congregation of the Whitehorse United Church. The invitation was published in the church newsletter and announced during the service by the minister, a gesture of interdenominational collaboration that I honour very much. And to my surprise, there was instant uptake. I am glad that we dare to let our Light shine, no matter how small our candle is and how much darkness we seem to see all around us.

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The Canadian Yearly Meeting has resources for Quakers to let their Light shine: a Quaker Education Programme that is mainly for “inreach”. Outreach falls under the mandate of the Home Mission and Advancement Committee.

I invite you to come and experience the Quaker way for yourself. Welcome to the nearest meeting of Friends.

If you are in Canada, find the closest location here: Quaker Groups in Canada.

In the United States: Friends World Committee for Consultation search page.

In Britain: Quakers in Britain – Find a Meeting.

For the rest of the world: the Friends World Committee for Consultation maintains a contact list.

For Africa: http://fwccafrica.org/

For Asia/West Pacific: http://fwccawps.org/

For Europe/Middle East: http://www.fwccemes.org/fam/

For Latin America: http://fwccamericas.org/find_friends/index.shtml

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I found a related story, by Lyn Fitz-Hugh from Seattle, about how people find to the Quaker way and what our contribution can be. It is published on The Friendly Seeker blog.

Several years ago my Quarter had a theme “Don’t hide your Light”. I was asked to be on a panel about the subject. Mostly it was addressed from the point not hiding our individual gifts and beauty. But I talked about it from the point of view of Quakerism and Quaker outreach. Afterwards, I led an interest group on outreach – about ¼ of our attenders showed up to it! Just out of spur of the moment curiosity I asked us to start by going around the room and asking everyone there how they first found Quakerism. (Since then I have continued the experiment by asking different Friends as I meet them – with very similar results). The stories were interesting, but disturbing to me in one similarity – how accidental the encounter was and how hard it sometimes was to find Quakerism.

A frequent theme was people “church shopping”. People would describe the frustration of seeking and not finding what they wanted – years spent in churches that did not fit them. They would describe things like going to check out the Unitarians and discovering the Quaker’s meeting in the basement. Quite a number had found us by seeing a Meeting House sign and wondering…. But more sad to me were the stories of people who knew well some Friend – a coworker or a distant relative and being impressed or interested by what the Friend said, but NEVER being invited by the Quaker to visit their church. (Including one story where the person broadly hinted to their coworker with no result). In these stories usually years to decades later something made them decide to find the nearest Quaker Meeting to them and go.

Quite commonly positive exposure to Quakers through Quaker camps, schools, relatives or the peace movement made people tuck away the idea of Quakers until some moment moved them to find us. A number of people described how hard it was to find a Meeting while actually trying. (They looked up Quakers not knowing it was listed under Friends, etc.) There were only a few stories of people who knew a Quaker and were invited to come to Quaker Meeting. But all the stories pretty much end the same way. “When I finally came to my first meeting, I sat there in the silence, in relief and new I had finally found what I was looking for. I was home.”

Friends, we can do a better job than this! We can do better than listings that only a person who already knows the name of the Meeting can find. Or Meeting houses whose sign do not speak to passers by. We can do better than failing to invite the people we know to share one of the joyous experiences of our lives out of…shyness? Embarrassment? The fear of evangelizing? I don’t believe anyone would fear evangelizing if they heard some of these tortured stories of true Seekers trying to find us! (http://thefriendlyseeker.blogspot.ca/2011/08/quaker-outreach-or-letting-our-light.html)

3 thoughts on “Letting our Light shine

  1. Thank you for this post. We are a very small, rural worship group in the NPYM that is gradually growing. We have slowly begun to actually voice invitations and have received positive indications that it is not perceived as (oh horrors) prostelytizing, but rather giving an opportunity to a potential seeker to experience worship in a shared community of silence. Peaceful Blessings, Barb

    1. Thank you Barb. It is good to hear that other groups are making similar experiences.
      I have the sense that some people are simply yearning for a place to meet where they are not sold any ideas (or cookies, or dogmas, or..). Recently we did a round of introductions in our group because there were so many new faces present. And it was wonderful to hear the diversity of people’s backgrounds and the variety of ways to come together for worship.
      All the best to all the isolated friends!

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