My journey back to the Quakers

By Rebekah Schneiter,
Oregon writer
Out Numbered Blog

Five years ago, my husband and I left a lot behind. We left our home of 14 years. In those 14 years we got married, finished graduate work, had two of our three children, established careers, and had been part of the Quaker church.

Five years ago we needed a change. I’m not sure we knew this at the time, but in retrospect our move was a good thing.

Initially I still felt a connection to the Quakers we’d left behind. I was working on a book project that kept me in contact with likeminded women, and my grandparents were still back in Newberg. My grandparents had been deeply involved in the Friend’s church their whole lives together, raised my mom that way, and had been instrumental in my decision to go to George Fox University. I admired my grandmother. She had been welcomed and trusted by this denomination. She had served as an elder, something that never happens in most Evangelical Christian denominations. My grandma was a woman who sought God in her life and knew the value of group discernment. (When I doubt my faith I often think of my grandmother. Her faithfulness renews my belief in a loving God.)

I was not raised in the Quaker church, quite the opposite, but my mom still passed on some of the simple Quaker truths to me in her parenting. When I left my childhood home for college, I found a group of believers who affirmed my giftings and nudges of the Holy Spirit. My viewpoints were challenged, and I found myself digging deeper into my understandings of what it meant to be a Christ-follower.

My husband had been raised in the Quaker denomination and became my partner in this new way of looking at the world.

When we moved and left Newberg, I don’t think we realized how much we would come to miss the Friend’s church and the values it would teach to our children.

In the last five years we’ve continued to grow spiritually and in our worldview. All our experiences and relationships have deepened our ideas of what it means to be the Light. I regret none of them, nor do I regret or question our move.

But lately we’ve felt uninspired by church and church community. Organized church makes us routinely uncomfortable and continues to look awkward and strange. Maybe I’m seeing church more and more as an outsider, not sure.

So on Sunday we did something very daring, daring because visiting a new church where you know no one is really quite scary…even if you’ve grown up in a church. We drove to Eugene with our three boys, forgetting to prep them about Open Worship/Quaker silence.

We pulled into the sparsely filled parking lot and I instantly felt we had made a mistake, “We are totally going to stick out.”

My husband laughed, “Well, you did wear bright pink.” Nice.

We walked on. We were kindly greeted at the door and several people gave reassuring smiles. The pastor came up to us and told us he’d love to speak more to us after the service. I asked if there was anything for the children during church, nope. This could get interesting.

There was nothing especially good-looking about this group, and there was plenty of white hair present. But the contrast to our regular Sunday place of worship was strangely comforting and welcomed.

An older man took pity on us and brought each of our boys a clipboard, paper, and markers. They were elated.

The singing was simple. The overhead was never in sync. But there was a calm, and that calm and spaciousness in worship made it impossible for me to sing any of the songs without tearing up. So I just listened and looked. I heard C’s sweet voice singing the unfamiliar tunes, tunes he didn’t know, but tunes I knew from memory. His desire to sing and contribute also touched me. Our oldest clapped after each song and was actively listening to those sharing their prayer requests and struggles. We had two extended times of quiet and it was in these spaces that my soul was fed. In a strange way, my hope in God’s love was restored in those moments of stillness, and when the pastor stood and really meant what he asked, “Are all hearts clear?” I felt that I was a welcomed member of this group of God-seekers.

My little family of men left our morning with the Quakers strangely refreshed. I told my husband of my experience and he said he felt the same way. When I asked C what he thought he said, “I loved it!” Did he sense the same things we had? I guess Sunday was a God-sighting for me. I felt the Spirit of God in a nostalgic way, a way in which reminded me of my 20’s and greatly reminded me of my grandma.

My grandma died this last March at 99-years-old. One can’t get too upset when a loved-one lives to be 99. She was more than ready, and we were too, but I still miss her. I still miss sitting next to her during Quaker worship and seeing her slowly rise to my left, hand shaking a bit as she felt God urging her to speak to the collective. I guess she was a bigger part of my understanding of God than I’ve let myself comprehend. Probably because it would be just too much for my emotions to handle.

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