Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Those Wacky Quakers

New Garden Friends Meeting, located in Greensboro, NC, is a very distinctive place- even among the very distinctive people called Quakers. It sits across the street from a Quaker college (Guilford) and next door to a large Quaker retirement community (Friends Homes). It is very difficult to say that anything is "normal" among Friends, but for the most part Quaker meetings and churches are divided into two categories- programed (pastors, choirs, sermons and other elements of protestant worship) and unprogramed (no pastor, no music, silent worship broken by people speaking from leading of the Spirit). New Garden was both, choosing to call itself "semi-programed." Among the elements of traditional Quaker worship that New Garden had preserved was the facing bench. In early Quaker worship, there was no pastor to sit "up front" and preside over the Meeting for Worship, so elders would sit there, facing the gathered worship community. They would, among other things, end worship when they sensed it was time by simply standing and shaking hands. New Garden ended worship in that same manner.

One particular Sunday during my time (1979-1983) as a youth minister at New Garden I found myself sitting on the facing bench. It was a very special Sunday, because we were introducing the new President of Guilford College, Bill Rogers, and his wife Beverly. Bill Rogers had come to Guilford from Harvard and was a distinguished educator. Beverly was an elegant and dignified woman who looked the part of a college president's wife- a bit stuffy! As people gathered for worship I introduced myself to them and we all took our seats on the facing bench. I sat next to Beverly, who asked me how often I had to sit up front like this, and I replied "not very often." Another moment passed before she leaned over and said to me "You know what I hate about sitting up front like this? You can't pick your nose!" She immediately returned to sitting up straight and looking quite dignified, leaving me to stifle a loud laugh and try to pretend I was having a coughing fit. I thought I was going to fall off the facing bench! She never even smiled. After worship she thanked me for helping make her first Sunday at New Garden a memorable one, and that was all that was said.

I was reminded that day that God can use anyone or anything to inspire us. Some inspire us to greater faith, some to to greater accomplishments, and still others to greater learning. Bev Rogers reminded me that Sunday morning that God also inspires us to great laughter and greater joy, even in the midst of dignity and seriousness. Thank you Beverly.  And may God grant us all a good laugh everyday as a blessing and a holy moment!

Because of Jesus,

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