Quaker Service at Candler
Diversity is something that is celebrated at Candler. Diversity is something sewn into the basic fibers of the Christian faith. Christianity emerged from a complex mix of cultures, languages, religions, ethnicities. It was a Jewish Sect, from a Greco-Roman world, spread among fellow Jews and Gentiles alike, in Greek and Aramaic language. The New Testament itself talks about the multifaceted nature of the Church from the very beginning, with Peter, Paul, and James not always on the same page as to what it means to be followers of Jesus (Acts 15). By the way, a great introduction to the diverse cultural and religious context of the New Testament and early Christian church is Candler professor Luke Timothy Johnson’s The Writings of the New Testament: An Interpretation. Minneapolis; Augsburg Fortress, 1999. pp.1-91.
As a student here, I was exposed to many different theological perspectives, and had pleasant conversations and heated debates—inside and outside the classroom—with people from various ends of various spectrums. Worship is another place where diversity at Candler is celebrated. Last week the Candler community got together for a first in our chapel: we had a Quaker Meeting/worship service. Dr. John Snarey, (pictured right, blue shirt) Candler professor of human development and ethics and a Quaker, relates that students have held Quaker meetings in the past, but never in the chapel.
Christina Repoley, (pictured above right, orange shirt) a first-year student at Candler, planned the Quaker Meeting service at Candler. It was attended by roughly 35 people, and featured a capella singing, a brief introduction to Quakers, and a proper meeting. For Quakers, there are traditionally no clergy members, so no one “in charge” of a Meeting. George Fox (1624-91), an Englishman and one of the founders of what became known as the Quakers, or the Society of Friends, spoke of the “Christ within” everyone. Fox reasoned none are set above any others, and each member of the community has the spirit of Christ within them. Meetings take place in silence until someone in the community is lead by the Spirit to share with the rest of the meeting. Sometimes many people share, sometimes no one shares. Sometimes people share for several minutes, sometimes the words are very brief.
According to Candler professor Brooks Holifield, early Quakers’ “aim was …to recapitulate the experience of the same Spirit who had moved the first Christians.” “Their worship—which alternated between devout silence and ecstatic outcry—game them the name Quaker” (Theology in America: Christian Thought from the Age of the Puritans to the Civil War. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003: pp 320-327).
Quakers today are sometimes confused with Amish, who are a religious group of the Anabaptist tradition. Quakers today don’t tend to look like the guy on the Quaker Oats box. Quakers were known for their opposition to slavery—many abolitionists were Quakers—and today are often involved in pro-peace movements. Along with Mennonites, and the Church of the Brethren, Quakers are a historic peace church, meaning they believe that Jesus advocated non-violence and that violence on behalf on governments is contrary to Christian teachings and morality. The American Friends Service Committee is a national Quaker organization, with offices all across the country, that advocates for non-violence, justice, and reconciliation, and human rights.
Candler’s Quaker service featured four people sharing during the 30 minutes of otherwise silent time. I personally loved the service, but I have a special place in my heart for the contemplative side of religious practice. It is a time of listening to that “still small voice” (I Kings 19: 11-12) of God that is drowned out in so much of our busyness. I appreciated the time to sit with my mind, to let it wander, and to bring it back, letting it wander, and bringing it back until it settled down a bit. It was kind of like letting a child run around and tire herself out before resting.
As a United Methodist, I appreciate John Wesley’s idea of the Quadrilateral. The concept of the Quadrilateral is that individual Christians (and institutions, denominations, churches, etc) have four sources of authority from which they draw: Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience. We all use these different sources, and all of have a different combination of these four. Whereas some Christians place priority in Scripture or Tradition over Experience, for instance, Quakers hold Experience as the primary source of God’s revelation. Holifield mentions that early Quakers revered the Scriptures as the inspired word of God, but believed that God continues to speak to each individual, and this ongoing revelation is primary: “In dealing with the relationship between the Inner Light and scripture, for example, early Quakers could both cite the Bible as an authority and insist that it remained subordinate to the Spirit within” (Theology, 321).
Quakers are one of the Christian voices here at Candler. Come visit with us, worship with us. We’ll probably worship in your tradition, whichever one you come from, and you’ll worship in the traditions of others. Our Quaker service reminded me to listen, to stop talking, to stop thinking, and just listen. I saw an apros pro bumper sticker to this point: “Don’t just do something, sit there.” A time for speaking and words, yes, and a time for silence and listening, too.