MoF Classic: OC Pilgrimage, Station 02: OC Friends Meeting.

Because I’m focusing on NaNoWriMo and writing 50,000 words of fiction this month, I thought I’d pull up a few posts from the archives. This particular post was written about 3.5 years ago and was part of my OC Pilgrimage series, where I attended various churches and visited religious sites in Orange County and reported on them. I’m reposting this to reflect on my current association with the OC Friends Meeting as CatGirl and I prepare to be its representatives in DC.

Liberal Quakerism is in many ways the antithesis of modern Mormonism, which is probably why I like to escape to the local Meeting on occasion. Jana shares some of my sentiments–she’s said many times that if she weren’t born into the LDS Church she’d be a Quaker. If I have a second church home, it’s the Orange County Friends Meeting.

I have to make a distinction between liberal and other types of Quakerism here. There are various flavors within the greater Society of Friends, such as the Evangelical Friends who have structured (“programmed”) meetings, permanent ministers and basic creeds concerning Jesus’ divinity. The Meeting I visited is of the “unprogrammed” variety within the Liberal Quaker tradition. There are no creeds, no ministers, and no real structure to worship.

The OC Meeting meets in downtown Santa Ana, on the 2nd floor of a run-down office building. They could meet in a non-descript suburban strip mall or office park, but they’ve chosen to situate themselves in an urban environment. They support programs for at-risk youth within the same community. Most of the meeting for worship takes place in a small room, on inexpensive but comfortable chairs arranged in a circle.

So what do you do at a liberal Quaker meeting? Simple! You sit.

That’s it.

Well, you also listen. And sometimes, when lead by the Spirit, you speak.

But mostly you just sit and listen.

Over the space of about an hour (I got there a bit late), I counted:

22 attendees.
2 non-Caucasians.
7 people who looked under 40.
One woman over 90 (but didn’t look it).
A dozen hideous feedback screeches from the two hearing aids in her coat pocket.
2 sirens.
6-7 cars blaring Latin music (with accordions).
6-7 cars blaring hip hop music (with deep bass).
Male Quaker voices: four.
Female Quaker voices: six.
There was an abundance of speaking because towards the end of the meeting, attendees responded to the “queries” read by the Meeting’s clerk (a woman). The queries consisted of soul-searching questions, in this case regarding seeking and following the Spirit.

The quiet sitting is one of the things I find appealing about the Society of Friends. For all of my affinity to and study of Buddhism, I have a hard time meditating in the Eastern Zen or transcendental ways. Even though liberal Quakers are reluctant to espouse any creeds (and you’ll find them coming from Christian, Jewish and atheist backgrounds), the tradition is rooted in 17th Century English Protestantism. I’ve found that I love meditating in the Christian tradition.

In my mind, Quakerism has a wonderful blend of accessible Christian mysticism–a focus on the experience of “that of God” within every human–and then acting within the world on the revealed light and truth received. This is the tradition, though it has been relatively small in numbers throughout history, that produced William Penn and his great political experiment, suffragists like Susan B. Anthony and Lucretia Mott, prison and social reformers like Jane Adams and Elizabeth Fry, early U.S. patriots like Thomas Paine and Dolley Madison, and countless abolitionists and pacifists. Also Dave Matthews. And Walt Whitman. Note the number of famous female Quakers! This cutting-edge progressivism and powerful activism is the other side of the silent, mystic Quaker coin.

So, to wrap up my Mormon-Quaker comparison:

Where Mormon men wear white shirts and dark suits and women are required to wear skirts or dresses, Quakers dress comfortably in jeans and corduroy and a few pairs of Birkenstocks. This is part of a long tradition of being “plain” in appearance.

Where Mormonism has a strong vertical hierarchy, Quakerism is about the flattest, most egalitarian of religions I know. Everything is run by committee and from what I’ve heard and read, sometimes it’s a miracle that things get accomplished.

Where Mormonism has well-defined gender roles, there is no visible difference between men and women in Quakerism.

Where U.S. Mormon culture can be heavily jingoistic, Quakers deplore war and emphasize the humanity of individuals before their citizenship.

Where modern Mormonism tends to preserve social fossils like second-class status for men of African descent (until 1978) and women (still going strong), Quakerism is sometimes decades (or even centuries) ahead of their time.

You can tell that I’m just a wee bit biased towards the Quakers. Why am I not a Quaker then? Because Mormonism is family.

But I’m not adverse to calling myself a Quakerish-Mormon. A Quaking-Mormon? A QuakMon? I’ll have to puzzle this out…

7 Comments

  1. I’m so glad that you reprinted this, John. It brings back lovely memories of my first impressions of worship with Friends. Noticing the gender balance and clothing were huge on my radar initially–because of the contrast with Mormonsim. It’s interesting how much less I notice them now.

  2. Thanks for re-posting this. Someday I need to read all of the old MoF posts from before I started reading!

    I’ve had some interest in the Quaker, uh. Faith? Religion? Philosophy? Ideology? (Same questions I have about Buddhism.) I should have attended a Meeting when I had the chance, back in SLC. There are no Quaker groups here, that I’ve found. I’ve picked up some books at the library by Quaker authors or about Quakers, and I definitely like what I read – but at the same time, I tend to shy away from anything that claims Christian roots. I assume that bitterness will dissipate over time, but for now, it’s there.

    There are several elements here that are foreign to me in coming from you, John, because I’ve only read you for maybe the past 2 1/2 years and you’ve evolved beyond this point. For example, you mentioned “the Spirit” several times – and that “Mormonism is family” was a bit jarring. 😀

  3. Thanks for reposting. I hadn’t joined the MoF world yet when it first ran.

    Growing up my Mom used to take us to the local Friends Church on Mother’s Day, and sometimes Easter and Father’s Day. Never a big fan of the LDS style of celebrating Mothers, I grew up having witnessed true celebrations of parenthood in one place, and role polarization in another. With the Friends I loved that we were always embraced and welcomed – and that I didn’t have to wear a dress. I made wonderful friends who have stayed near me through life.

    I am sure to some the whole “dress” issue is a non-issue. But to me that whole attire part of Mormonism stands to separate men from women, and class from class. We’re taught to love one another and welcome one another, but, perhaps especially with women, you are judged on what you wear and how nicely your children look. It has always been difficult for me to reconcile that social aspect with the spiritual.

  4. Serendipity to read this now. I have recently started attending an unprogrammed meeting in Portland, and will likely become a member. Since leaving my “goddess systers” in Salt Lake City two years ago, with whom I’d meet on the full or new moon for our eclectic paganish worship (and about whom I wrote my bachelor’s thesis on marginal Mormon women who find a fit within goddess worship), I’ve been missing spiritual community.

    This past Sunday, during Meeting, I was thinking about how my brief but powerful experiences at Quaker meeting align with the parts of Mormonism I liked from my upbringing – that my relationship with God was my own and that I was entitled to personal revelation, that all people have divinity potential within them.

    The stillness I experience in Meeting is the sort I envisioned when, as a little girl, I was taught to listen to the Still Small Voice. I never heard that stillness when distracted with the messages about my sinfulness and my indignation about my “role” as a female. Decades later, I found stillness within myself. And now, years later, I am finding a place to share that Stillness with others.

  5. I attended the SLC (liberal, unprogrammed) Quaker meeting probably 10 months ago or so just once. I enjoyed it, and it was interesting, and if I had friends who attended I might possibly visit more frequently.

    However, I’ve found I just have no desire or need to have that sort of religions/congregational/spiritual experience anymore. I’m very happy being an atheist, and get my needs for social interaction met quite well in other ways.

    Furthermore, I like being able to sleep off my Sunday-morning hangovers. 😉

  6. Phoebe

    Remember also The Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania founded by Quakers in 1850. This was the first school in the US to offer women MD degrees. Romania Bunnell Pratt, the first Utah woman to go east to study medicine earned her MD degree there in 1877. Ellis Shipp and other female medical students from Utah followed in her footsteps.

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