These were some of the words listed on the Welcome sign at Pipe Creek Monthly Meeting in Union Bridge, MD. I will get back to these words later, but here’s what was going on:
I was with two Friends who are members of Gun Powder Meeting, and actively involved in Friends Schools as educators. They are also kindred spirits in our shared desires to challenge ourselves to connect to the core values of Quakerism and peace-making in a divided and contentious world. With these Friends and 5 others, we had just spent the prior evening sharing a picnic supper in a meadow surrounded by woods and hills. I had asked to get together with this couple as a part of my own clearness and discerning process about Quakerism in the world, and the potential role that William Penn House can play in both that larger world and in the Society of Friends.
The evening discussion was very enriching. Increasingly, as I venture in the world of Quakerism while deepening my own internal journey of what it means to identify with and be called to Quakerism, I have been asking people “what is the core, unshakable truth and value of Quakers?” The answer has been almost universally in the spirit of “there is that of God in all” (with secular/universalist/Christian variances). Much of our discussion from there revolved around, if this is our unshakable truth, then everything else must be held open with an element of doubt; that, when we adhere to an issue – from war to Republicans and conservatives – we have to challenge ourselves to not place this ideology above our core value. It is not easy, we all agreed. We shared some ideas about resources that can help us to do this work, and we shared personal experiences of when we do really put ourselves out there, letting go of our ideology and trust in that core belief that there is that of God/goodness in all, and we operate with love, the world really can seem wonderfully changed. “Continuing Revelation” was a term used to describe this. We also discussed how Friends are ideally not holders of Truth, but Seekers of Truth, and seeking is a journey of continuing revelation.
One of the topics we discussed was the role that Quaker process plays in both our faith and practice. We talked about how the practice at its best works well, as God moves in all of us. We also acknowledged the Quaker process can be misused to the point that it creates paralysis, such as when lengthy Meetings for Worship with a Concern for Business are tied up with wordsmithing minutes and epistles for hours without perhaps a healthy discussion of whether this effort will ultimately make a difference. I questioned whether, sometimes, we are more committed to seeing that we do our process right so that we sometimes are hindered from doing the right thing. Other side conversations included the role that service can play in helping us to go out and explore the world, recognizing that it is important that service be truly transformational not just for those who serve, but for those being served and the world, and that, for some, service and Workcamp experiences can help ground and deepen people in their faith. All in all, it was a very rich and rewarding time together.
Then, the next day, as I was graciously being given a ride to Shady Grove Metro (I had ridden my bike up on Friday, and the rain Saturday gave me an easy way to accept the ride offer, as I was whipped from the hilly humid ride), we drove through Union Bridge. My hosts had never been to Pipe Creek Meeting, and had been wanting to. Just when we thought we might be on the wrong road, there was the Meetinghouse and, after a tour of the wonderful cemetery, we saw the welcoming sign that included citations that Quakers do not have credes, but that we are seekers of Truth. But it was the statement “We believe that Peace is Better than War” that really struck us and has stuck with me. I find this so much more open and engaging than “War is not the Answer”. While I truly believe war is not the answer, I also know that this is truly my belief. By holding it as that, rather than as a definitive statement, I think there may be more openings for conversation. By also believing that peace is better than war, I suspect many people who may at times see war as an answer will also agree with our this statement, and from this common ground, who knows what might come. As many of us who gathered Friday evening can attest, if we hold true to our core faith, and trust in continuing revelation, wonderful things will come.