Visit to the Quaker Church
Part of a series about My Faith Journey.
On Nov 26th, 2018 I visited Salt Lake Quakers in Murray, Utah. The Quakers (or "Society of Friends") originated in 17th century England as a break-off from the Anglican church. They have historically been pro-peace / anti-war, advocated for the abolition of slavery, favored prison reform, and are famous for simple attire / simple living. (Wikipedia article on Quakers)
I attended with my eldest daughter Lisa. She had a school assignment on the use of silence in religious worship. The Quakers have a rather different form of worship where everyone sits in a circle in silence. It's a very contemplative practice where people sit with their own thoughts, but don't sit alone. Occasionally, as people feel "inspired", or "moved upon", they will break the silence to share some insight that has occurred to them. Participants are encouraged to "not share too much or too little". It's not uncommon for a whole hour to pass in complete silence. I would describe the Quakers as a "mystic Christian tradition" in that they have no formal / hierarchical leadership and believe that everyone has direct access to the divine power.
I was interested in attending with her because I was aware of the Quaker presence in the burned-over district where Joseph Smith lived (Quakers are mentioned in D&C), and I wanted to see what kind of influence Quakerism might have had on Mormonism.
Participants wore street clothes, in keeping with the old Quaker tradition of wearing simple attire. Average age skewed toward the older side (say, 50s - 60s). There were two children in attendance (who looked a little bored) and one baby (who needed to be taken out when he started crying). They opened with a hymn that was very reminiscent of the LDS hymns I had grown up with.
The day we attended was kind of an unusual day, in that the "silent" service was somewhat more directed: one older gent in the circle led with a few quotes about gratitude to get us thinking in that direction. One of the quotes was from an old Catholic Saint, one was from Mohammed, one was from the 23rd Psalm, and one was from Winnie the Pooh. I was told that there was more talking than normal today. Neither my daughter nor I said a word.
After the worship service, everyone went downstairs to the social hall under the chapel for lunch and conversation. I asked people what faith tradition they were raised in, and why they chose Quakerism. One person told me they were raised in a Mennonite tradition and found Quakerism to be pleasantly familiar. One was raised Methodist, but prefered a more contemplative form of worship. When I asked one person if they were a theist or a non-theist, their reply was "somewhere in between". Many of them were interested in who we were and why we were visiting. My daughter talked about her school assignment, and I talked a little about my faith journey. As a whole, the people we talked to were very open and engaging.
I can really see the influence Quakerism had on Mormonism, particularly in the practice of Fast & Testimony meeting, where members sit quietly, but come up to bear their testimony when "moved upon by the spirit". The lay-clergy of Quakerism also felt familiar, though it was nice to see a lack of big hierarchies and central leadership.