Coming, as most of us modern Quakers do, from other faith traditions, it’s fair to ask ourselves just what we carry with us into the Quaker circle.
My own family, for instance, was quite active in the Evangelical United Brethren denomination, now merged into the United Methodists. Despite the many Sunday mornings spent listening to quarter-hour sermons, however, I find myself remembering very little. There was one telling us not to waste time (because time was a gift from God), another about our bodies being temples that should not be abused by smoking or drinking, another about non-conformity as a Protestant duty (this back in the gray-flannel ‘50s!), as well as the annual money sermon, reduced to a plea for financial support. Surprisingly, I recall no Bible stories. The senior pastor, a quiet and bookish man, quoted many volumes along the way, yet my sense is that he was likely much more effective in his hospital visits and pastoral counsel than he was in the pulpit. The youth pastor, meanwhile, taught me more about organizing and managing successful political campaigns and establishments than about matters of the Holy Spirit.
More influential, I suspect, were the short trailside vespers of our Scout troop. One boy, a preacher’s kid, even spoke of the church being the people, along the lines of the Quaker argument I’ve previously presented. And then there was the twilight circle of rowboats and candles when we camped at Lake Vesuvius – that awe of the stilling day and waters reflecting something of our current worship.
It all seems so long ago, and so far back. Yet a few turns later, emerging from a yoga ashram, I encountered a circle of Friends who began opening the Scriptures to me, and then a few Mennonites who restored the hymn legacy, and something from that past took shape, in a new way. Maybe the last laugh, though, belongs to those EUB officials of my youth who tried to steer me into their ministry – and a faith I soon rejected fully. After all, it opened the way that landed me into free Gospel ministry here.