That which Unites Quakers
by Caroline Lane
I first became a Quaker by joining Lincoln Monthly Meeting in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Some of the founding members of the meeting had come to Lincoln from elsewhere and were keen for Lincoln Meeting to affiliate with a larger community of Friends. Fortunately, there were traveling Friends from Friends General Conference who supported us in that endeavor. Our nearest options were two yearly meetings in Iowa, one conservative and the other, Iowa Yearly Meeting, orthodox, a group of programmed meetings. One of our older members had grown up in the Iowa Conservative Yearly Meeting and urged us to attend some of their mid-year and yearly gatherings. There we found people deeply committed to Bible study and waiting worship. We were warmly welcomed at these meetings and soon agreed to apply to join them. What followed was a visitation much like a clearness committee for someone applying for membership in our Quaker meeting. After we had been accepted, the meeting attended the next half-yearly meeting and one of the elderly conservatively dressed Quaker women welcomed us with home baked cookies for the children. Members of Lincoln Meeting were appointed to serve on various committees and have remained active participants.
When we moved to New York, we first settled near Croton Valley Meeting. I began attending regularly and soon applied to transfer my membership. New York Yearly Meeting at that time was already a combined meeting of Orthodox and Friends General Conference. So even as I became more active, I was aware of the controversies that split the Quakers during the 19th Century, and the 20th Century actions to re-unite the two branches. I also became aware that there were Quaker meetings that were more evangelical and had sent missionaries to Africa and South America. Friends World Committee for Consultation was bringing all such meetings together to find that which united us instead of that which separated us.
In 1989, I took early retirement from teaching and my husband and I moved to Wales where we had owned a small cottage as a holiday house for nearly 20 years. The market town for the rural area where we lived was Oswestry and Oswestry Quaker Meeting had about twenty active members. We were greeted warmly and soon became actively engaged in the life of the meeting. I took the opportunity to attend a weekend peace conference at Woodbrooke, the Quaker Study Center in Birmingham. During the course of that conference, I was stunned when an idea was proposed to establish a committee for some purpose (I forget what) and the response was a horrified “not a committee!” Suddenly I began to wonder if there was a special Quaker example of the famous quote “America and Britain are two countries divided by the same language.” I never actually found an answer to why the reaction had been so horrified. What I did experience was serving on local committees for children’s programming, quarterly meeting committees for revising practices for membership, and a yearly meeting committee to promote the Alternatives to Violence Project in which I had long been a Facilitator. Predictably, the committees were both prayerful and diligent in performing the service required of them. Now looking back, I wonder if the fear was that by establishing a committee, people might be complacent that the work would be done by the committee and Quakers on the benches need do nothing.
Some of our Friends in Oswestry were active in the establishment of the Quaker Bolivia Link bringing together Friends who were used to silent waiting worship and those who had been established by the more evangelical branches. Still, there was more to unite than to separate.
My husband and I took the opportunity of traveling on the Continent and we made it a practice to attend Quaker meetings in the places we visited. My husband was bilingual in German and I had studied enough that I could converse. Wherever we worshipped we found the same expectant waiting worship, closed by handshakes and discussions and/or conversations that centered on concerns of peace, equality, and bringing help to those who were needy.
After some twenty years in Wales, we returned to the US to be nearer to family. We transferred our membership to Flushing Monthly Meeting. Again, I find satisfaction in serving on local, quarterly, and yearly meeting committees. We do work on behalf of Friends and hope that others in the Meeting support our work as actively as they are able. As Quakers everywhere, we know that we are all called to minister in our own way and that ministry takes many forms. In working together in the Spirit, we find that there is far more to unite us than that which may separate us.