On Sunday I went to church, well Quaker Meeting actually. I have been attending my local Meeting House sporadically for a couple of years now, often with an old collegiate friend. However, I have dipped in and out of various Meetings around Cheshire/Lancashire (NW England) over more than two decades. Due to my ill-health and especially my disabilities, I cannot get to a Meeting by myself and there is not always someone who can transport/take me. However, when I do attend I love it. The meditative communal silence is nothing like personal meditation: there's a vibrancy; a sense of a living entity; a oneness that defies explanation. I suppose one might call it an hour of the numinous (Numinous).
During this week's service part of Quaker Faith & Practice was read out. Below I cite 10.3 from Chapter 10 (Quakerweb), a long quotation which really is worth reading through:
The Religious Society of Friends is organised into local meetings, each of which should be a community. It is our search for God's way that has drawn us together. In our meeting we can each hope to find love, support, challenge, practical help and a sense of belonging. We should bring ourselves as we are, whatever our age, our strength, our weakness; and be able to share friendship and warmth.
Some of us now live away from our families; some of us move house quite often. Although surrounded by others we may be leading isolated and lonely lives. It is important that our meetings welcome newcomers warmly and that we include them in invitations to our homes
Our sense of community does not depend on all professing identical beliefs, for it grows from worshipping together, knowing one another, loving one another, accepting responsibilities, sharing and working together. We will be helped by tried and tested Quaker methods and procedures, but the meeting will only live if we develop a sense of community, which includes children and adults alike. If all those who belong to our meeting are lovingly cared for, the guidance of the spirit will be a reality. The celebration and commemoration of life's great events draw us together as we share the occasion and rejoice or mourn with one another.
Our shared experience of waiting for God's guidance in our meetings for worship and for church affairs, together with careful listening and gentleness of heart, forms the basis on which we can live out a life of love with and for each other and for those outside our community.
The sense of love & oneness, unity if one will, is tangible, despite many folk being strangers to one another. This is an active living embodiment of the sentiment Jesus expressed to John and his disciples and followers. John 13:34-35 states:
"A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. / By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."
Quaker worship differs from many others' religious acts in that what binds us together in worship is not what we believe or do not believe, but what we do. It is an expression of agape (ἀγάπη) or love-in-action. It is the inclusivity that Christ preached, but which is so often lacking in the exclusivist denominations and religions, where one can only belong if one does, says and believes exactly the same as others. We Quakers allow for individuality within communal worship, it adds to each Meeting's distinctiveness. It is a given that we are all at different stages in our spiritual walks. No-one is looked down upon including the atheist, the agnostic or the doubter: for even they have something to contribute to the holistic unity.
During the Meeting I shared a picture of us all playing Ring-a-ring-o'-roses, a game where all hold hands in a circle and which allows for new players to join in simply by the outstretching of hands towards one another. A simple act of welcome and inclusion. At the end of our hour we shake hands with one another much like the sharing of peace in some churches. This is a physical expression of our shared humanity.
I am not saying that Quaker worship is best nor even better than this or that. It suits me, my personality, my individuality; and my ego is added to the collective identity. I am at once an individual and a part of a community, a member of a body of worshippers.
Quakers do not sing together - at least I have never experienced such. However, during last Sunday's get-together the words of an old song (©Kingsway) from the seventies came to mind:
"Bind us together Lord;
bind us together,
with cords that cannot be broken.
Bind us together Lord;
bind us together;
bind us together with Love."