Among Friends

ufm Meeting-House
University Friends Meeting, Seattle, WA

When people ask how my husband and I became Quakers, I sometimes reply, “We missed the bus to the Episcopal Church!” I go on to explain, “Then we realized we could take a later bus and still make it to the Quaker meeting we’d thought about visiting, and the rest…”

That missed-bus experience in Seattle took place thirty-six years ago, and ever since then, the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) has been our spiritual home. In the early days of attending meeting (the term Quakers use instead of church, synagogue, or mosque), I read and talked to people to understand the faith. Often I was directed to the Journal of George Fox, the Englishman most often identified as the founder of Quakerism. His journal dates back to the 1650s, and I struggled with the language and unfamiliar historical and cultural context.

One thing I’ve learned about George Fox is that he was a fervent seeker. He resisted the Church of England’s dogma and reliance on priests as intermediaries (along with many other things he objected to in the Church). A profound moment for him was when he encountered the Divine directly, out of the silence. What he came to trust was his lived experience. “This I know experimentally,” he said. Today we might use the term experientially, and Quakerism is viewed as an experiential theology.

Glenthorne.jpgQUIP agendaRecently, I experienced the Divine experientially when I visited the “cradle of Quakerism” in the county of Cumbria, Northwest England. My initial reason for planning this, my first trip to the UK, was to attend the annual conference of QUIP – Quakers Uniting in Publications. This international group of Quakers who write and/or publish meets annually, alternating between the UK and the US. The theme of “Writing at the Edge,” and the setting of Glenthorne Conference Centre in the Lake District, were irresistible—for me and the 30 or so others who came from not only the UK and the US but also Belgium, Bolivia, Sweden, Russia, and Germany.

Gil and Chris.jpgFollowing the conference, I stayed in the area for a few more days to tour “1652 Country,” led by QUIP friends, Gil and Chris Skidmore. The region’s name was given by Friends to describe the part of England, and the year, that Quakers first drew together. My knowledge of British history is shaky, but with the help of Gil and Chris and the book, The Cradle of Quakerism: Exploring Quaker Roots in North West England, I deepened my understanding of the time and its role in the emergence of Quakerism.


As I sat on hard, wooden benches in stone meeting houses, I imagined people worshipping there hundreds of years ago, never knowing if soldiers would arrive to arrest them for these illegal gatherings. I walked among tombstones in Quaker burial grounds, created because Quakers weren’t allowed to be interred in Church of England cemeteries.

burial ground gate.jpg


(You can learn more about Quaker Burial Grounds in this QuakerSpeak video.)

Swarthmoor Hall.jpg


hallAt Swarthmoor Hall, the home of early Quaker leader Margaret Fell and a meeting place for George Fox, I worshipped in the same room Friends have met in since the 1650s.



Firbank Fell view







I hiked Firbank Fell, the site now memorialized as another place Fox preached in 1652.Firbank Fell









Brigflatts interiorAnd, at Brigflatts Meeting House, built in 1677 at the height of Quaker persecution, I stood in the “preaching box” from which Fox reportedly spoke.GF preaching box




Friends House LondonFH2.jpg




Less than a week later, I was in London, worshipping with contemporary Quakers—1100 of them—at Friends House. The occasion was the annual gathering of Britain Yearly Meeting (BYM), the charitable organization which supports and works on behalf of all Quakers in Britain. Yearly Meeting is also an event—a time when Quakers in Britain (and around the world) come together to worship, make decisions and spend time as a community. I was one of several visitors to BYM from the US; others travelled from Australia, Bolivia, Norway, France, Africa, Russia, and Sweden.

bym crowd.jpg

Throughout my travels, I had a deep sense of being among Friends­—and friends. Whether serving up porridge (oatmeal) at breakfast, looking for the car park, trying to decide on which pudding (dessert) to have, or understanding the difference between crisps (potato chips) and chips (French fries), I found much in common with others who follow this same spiritual path of Quakerism.

I remain grateful that there was a bus that dropped us at University Friends Meeting all those years ago. And I’m equally appreciative of the buses and trains that took me the places I wanted to go in the UK; I’m not yet comfortable driving on the left side of the road—and those roundabouts!

driving on left


*Afterthought #75—Guidance from the Road

This month’s Afterthought has travelled a long way, as I’m part way through a trip to England. It’s my first time in the UK, and the introduction has been especially rich as it’s included a conference with the international group Quakers Uniting in Publications (QUIP) and a tour of the “the cradle of Quakerism.”

My travels are giving me a lot to think about, so perhaps this is more a forethought than an afterthought. But, this last-day-of-the- month post is brief as usual and was prompted by a road sign in the village of Grasmere in the Lake District of Northwest England.

town sign

Much of my spiritual journey has focused on “giving way”—to the Divine, to the release of fear and worry, and to forces such as nature over which I have no control. Those acts of “giving way” challenge me.

These past few days, as I’ve sat in 17th C. meeting houses, walked through Quaker burial grounds, and read about early Quakers such as George Fox, Margaret Fell Fox, and many others who were persecuted for believing they had a direct connection with God, I’ve thought of their courage in not giving way to the Church of England and government. Of being able to carry the load of leading other seekers and putting their faith into action in ways that have endured for over 300 years.

However I look at it, though, the guidance to “give way” is good on the road, and in my heart.

*Afterthoughts are my blog version of a practice followed in some Quaker meetings. After meeting for worship ends, people continue in silence for a few more minutes during which they’re invited to share thoughts or reflect on the morning’s worship. I’ve adopted the form here for last-day-of-the-month brief reflections on headlines, quotes, books, previous posts, maybe even bumper stickers.

*Afterthought #69 – Reblog: Quaker Indian Boarding Schools

Writing companion and fellow Quaker,  Gretchen Wing,  posted an essay earlier this week that needs to be read widely. I’m re-posting it here as we end a month filled with so many revelations about oppressive (and illegal) actions and mis-use of power. The history Gretchen writes of describes Quakers’ complicity in suppressing Native American culture and wisdom through the creation of Quaker Indian Boarding Schools.

I join Gretchen and Quaker teacher Paula Palmer (who recently wrote an article in Friends Journal on this issue) in asking myself the questions being asked by Native organizations:  “Who are Friends today? Knowing what we know now, will Quakers join us in honest dialogue? Will they acknowledge the harm that was done? Will they seek ways to contribute toward healing processes that are desperately needed in Native communities?”

*Afterthoughts are my blog version of a practice followed in some Quaker meetings. After meeting for worship ends, people continue in silence for a few more minutes during which they’re invited to share thoughts or reflect on the morning’s worship. I’ve adopted the form here for last-day-of-the-month brief reflections on headlines, quotes, books, previous posts, maybe even bumper stickers.


Facing History and Ourselves, Quaker Style: Indian Boarding Schools are Our Shame, Too

by Gretchen Wing

Facing History and Ourselves is the title of a book and a mini-course in Holocaust Education. I took the course and used the book myself in my high school teaching. But what about that uniquely American, slo-mo Holocaust, the attempted eradication of Native culture? In grad school I learned about the Indian boarding schools of […]

via Facing History and Ourselves, Quaker Style: Indian Boarding Schools Are Our Shame Too — Wing’s World

Joy in the Midst of Trouble in the Midst of Joy

Autographing books on Lopez Island

Spotlights made my silvery hair glisten, but apparently didn’t reveal the perspiration on my brow when I stood before audiences in Stehekin and on Lopez Island, two remote communities in Washington State. The smiling faces before me calmed my jitters as I introduced my new memoir, Hiking Naked: A Quaker Woman’s Search for Balance, to friends and supporters. The butterflies flitted away as I read and noticed heads nodding; while signing books, I heard stories of similar experiences of seeking clarity about calling.

Hiking Naked Final CoverThese past two weeks have been especially joyous for me. After nearly two decades grappling at my writing desk, trying to make sense of my disillusionment with work I’d felt led to, I now have in my hands the story of an intense time of seeking. As I place it in others’ hands, I discover the commonality of this experience, complete with its despair and revelation.

Quaker author & activist, Eileen Flanagan

Yet, in the midst of celebration, I’m aware of the difficult times around me—both within my inner circle and around the globe. And once again, Quaker friend Eileen Flanagan recently offered wisdom about how to maintain spiritual footing in the midst of trouble. I commend her blog post, Spirituality for Troubled Times, when any of us feel off-kilter in the swirl of disasters, violence, disease, and threat. Here are seven practices Eileen expands upon in her essay:

  1. Recognize both oneness and difference.
  2. Cultivate compassion.
  3. Know thyself.
  4. Be faithful to a grounding practice.
  5. Don’t assume that your grounding practice is all you’re called to do.
  6. Don’t go it alone.
  7. Don’t forget about goodness, beauty, and joy.

Sound advice, no matter the times.

To learn more from Eileen’s expertise and roundedness, consider her online course, We Were Made for This Moment.  While a new class has already started, she repeats them  regularly.