Church incognito; of silence and community, my experience at a Friends Meeting (Quakers)

Now prior to attending a Quaker service on April 12th, my knowledge of them was very limited. I knew they were prone to be progressive and peaceful, prone to social justice both in small and large ways. With that in mind I decided to go to the one nearest me.

As I got to the door I was greeted warmly and was handed a pamphlet about Quakers. I was encouraged to attend the church meeting as I was a bit early for the service. The meeting addressed some financial issues, and after that a call to silence occurred, and what was lively discussion quickly became collective quiet.

Quietness, sheer quietness. It reminded me to a certain extent John Cage’s 4’33 piece, but there was something sacred to it that I was unfamiliar with on a larger scale.

The silence was broken by a handshake, and it became mutual and communal. I met a good portion of those gathered as there were less than 30 people gathered for the meeting. We gathered together outside the sanctuary, they were curious as to my interest and I divulged to them this project, they were glad that I was there and I could feel it too and it was not a shallow feeling in the slightest.

After having engaged those around me, I took some time to be on my own in the form of reading over the titles on their many bookshelves. A lot of the books I have read or have some knowledge of; progressive Christianity books alongside books by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, my kind of library!

***
Shortly there after the service started, a service that didn’t involve singing but rather praying and meditating and mindfulness all in silence. I was aware of this in advance, and as their website puts it;

“Our Meeting is based on silent worship. It is

possible that no one will speak during the entire

meeting. Anyone is free to speak if he or she feels

moved to it by a leading from the Light within. Each

message will help someone, but our needs differ. If

the message does not “speak to your condition,” try

to reach the spirit behind the words. We maintain

silence for at least a few minutes after vocal

ministry to give time for a message to reach a quiet

center.”

I adapted to this style quickly…albeit too quickly, as I found myself listening to nature outside and the grumblings of stomach inside (mine as well as others). My thoughts found its center time and time again, but I admit I grew internally restless because I am unaccustomed to such a service. I mentally made note of the congregation makeup; one kid, two adults close to my age, and a lot of people in their mid 50s and older. More women than men, and all seemed content to be there.

At the 53rd minute of the service, a woman stood up and talked about wildflowers and faith, how sometimes it is visible to ourselves and others, and other times it lays dormant. And yet it is there even if we don’t see it. It was beautiful and simple, and she was the only one who spoke during the service. It started in silence and ended with communal handshakes.

After the service we gathered in the dining hall to partake in banana bread, fruit, and cookies. I met even more people and they too wanted to hear about my church incognito project. I took time to listen as much as I could, and I talked about what being a Quaker means to them.

I realized from the individuals I talked to when I posed the question “what does being a Quaker mean to you?” that a lot of them resonated with the mysterious nature of God, the part of God that cannot fully be grasped. They were okay to live in the unknown-ness and it caused no distress to them. I also gathered that a lot of them were first generation Quakers coming from mostly Catholic church backgrounds.

I talked a great deal to one woman in particular because as we got to talking it became evident that we’re in the same work field! It was interesting to hear about her perspectives and experiences, and what she hoped to imprint upon others and integrate into her practice.

The Quakers I spent time with were wonderful, hospitable people. Not only to I the visitor but to each other, tending to the needs of each other out of love in the context of community. It was good to engage in their core values, but more importantly to see them in action because that is what matters most, faith in action.

~Nathanael~

Church incognito; from darkness into light, my experience at St. Athanasios Greek Orthodox Church

On April 11th and part of April 12th I attended St. Athanasios Greek Orthodox Church to usher in Pasha, or Easter. I first noticed that for a 11pm service the parking lot was packed! I almost had to park on the grass on the property, but thankfully I didn’t have to. As I approached the entrance I heard some chanting, which sounded live (until they cut it off midway). There weren’t any seats in the sanctuary, so I and a lot of other people were directed to the overflow seating arrangement in their dining hall, in which we caught the service in the form of HDCS (high definition church service) played via projector and projection screen.

It was a bit on the noisy side at first, not in a bad way but one of hopeful anticipation. A bit of cantoring based upon the scripture reading from the gospel of Mark, first in Greek followed up by English, all the while signing the cross was done in homage. And after the gospel reading it got dark, really dark, they actually made it even darker in the building by unscrewing light bulbs for a brief time.

The priest had a lit candle and altar boys and girls came forward and had their candles lit, and from there they lit all the other candles in the church. It was beautiful! I have never been part of a candlelight service that moved from darkness into light. I was left in awe at this practice because I find it to be the nature of things; the darkness before dawn, the bad that seems to prevail in the world and yet God…and good, is pushing forward all the more.
People were leaving at a quick rate and so I moved from the overflow seating arrangement to the sanctuary.

When I got there I took time to take in the icons; I appreciate iconography (I have a few) and to see the host of saints, the holy family, Jesus, etc. was beautiful and I took it in with all my senses. The pine resin incense took me back to my first time attending a Greek Orthodox service, also on Pasha, many years ago with my father. These things are not common in the Protestant tradition, but I appreciate them nonetheless because it resonates with me the mystery of faith and certainly the unknown-ness of God that I will never fully grasp while I am living but striving to learn more but never know all (not that it is humanly possible in the first place).
I left shortly after 1am and there were still a lot of people gathered to worship and celebrate Pasha together. It was good to be a part of this service, I enjoyed it greatly for it nourished my mind as well as my soul.

~Nathanael~

Church Incognito: In the beginning…

Because of a change in my work schedule, I now have a traditional Saturday and Sunday weekend. So I have decided that I will help out with my church’s youth group on Saturdays and visit different churches in my area on Sundays.

I am undertaking this task because I like diversity in community, that is, the more we might appear in our differences the more we are actually the same. I’ve grown up in the church and there are some traditions of faith that are unfamiliar to me, and so it is my intention to engage in said traditions of faith both in showing up, but also by interacting with those who attend if I am able to do so.
I have no guidelines as to what places I will attend, but I will allow the Holy Spirit to prompt and guide me in finding God in church (building) and Church (the people). I will be honest and sincere with others. I will listen, take notes, and BE and perhaps even DO with others. I will have fun. I will listen with open ears and an open heart. I will be dutiful in writing about my experiences here.

Onward and upward!
~Nathanael~