Visits that matter

Last weekend was a special experience – with two other Friends from our meeting, I drove 8 hours from Richmond, Indiana up to northern Michigan. We went to visit Friends of the Light, a small but vibrant Quaker meeting in Traverse City.

I had met their pastor, Joe Kelly, several years ago during one of those random after-supper porch moments at Indiana Yearly Meeting. We hit it off together and enjoyed some music, and promised we’d meet again some day.

Last winter Margaret Fraser, the clerk of the New Association of Friends and a member of Friends of the Light, came to visit our meeting. A long-time friend and former member of West Richmond, she shared a terrific message here, describing how Friends of the Light gathered almost 30 years ago. At the end of her message, she pointed out that now she’d made the long trip to come see us, she expected Friends from our meeting to return the visit after the snow had melted. So we went!

I sent out an e-mail to folks from our meeting, asking if anyone would like to join me. I had 3 spaces in my car, and eventually 2 other Friends, Chris Nicholson and Marilee Gabriel, offered to come along.

The long drive flew by, as we talked, listened to each other, and caught up on each others’ thoughts, reflections, dreams and prayers. The car rocked as the CD player belted out French-Canadian folk music, songs from the Great Lakes, old-time gospel hymns and Latin chants. Marilee used her cell phone to locate an outstanding lunch place in Kalamazoo. We were in Traverse City before we knew it.

Joe Kelly was waiting on the steps as we drove up. Their meetinghouse is a tiny jewel, built in the early 1900’s by Quakers who had settled in the area. When the logging boom was over, most of the Quakers moved to Puget Sound in the Pacific Northwest, and the meetinghouse stood empty for many years, until Friends of the Light asked to take over the building.

Friends of the Light

Friends of the Light is an unusual group for a Quaker meeting. The members and attenders include teachers, social workers and craftspeople, but also people struggling with addictions, mental health issues and abusive backgrounds. Maybe every congregation has people with these issues, but at Friends of the Light, people are really up front about it. More than any congregation I’ve seen, these folks are open about their struggles, and they welcome everyone who walks in the door.

All weekend, I had the feeling that people in the meeting were showing us their “holy places” – places which had special meaning, places where they prayed, or places where God somehow felt “more real”. We walked through the meetinghouse, and then walked 2 blocks down to the bay, where I bent down to wash my hands in the crystal clear water.

We had supper at the home of one of the members, where the expected multiplication of food took place – there was more than enough, and it was all delicious. I sat next to one of the recognized ministers of the meeting, a retired cook who told me in detail how to make a gourmet-quality rhubarb pie and then turned to a deep spiritual discussion.

After supper, we gathered in a large circle and talked about the New Association of Friends. The folks from Friends of the Light had many shrewd questions and thoughtful comments. After the gathering broke up, we drove to the home of our overnight hosts, Peggi and David Tucker. In the last light of the evening we looked at their garden (Peggi is a Master Gardener) and David took me on a tour of the large and well-equipped machine shop where he earns his living. We spent an hour in conversation in their living room, and I gave David an impromptu lesson in playing the banjo and Appalachian dulcimer before we all went to bed.

I’m an early riser, so in the morning I went to unprogrammed worship at 9:00, where the worshipers were myself, 2 members of the meeting, and a rescue dog who laid in a patch of sunshine on the floor. It was a wonderful time.

More people arrived at 10:00, and we sang several songs and choruses while people were gathering. Worship at Friends of the Light is very informal and led by the Spirit. I had prepared a message to share, but I put aside the notes I’d brought and spoke from the heart instead. I read from a little-used passage in Numbers chapter 11, and talked about how God calls all of us to be ministers.

After a long time of quiet prayer, I reached for my banjo and played a song about an auctioneer who was ready to sell an old violin for a couple of dollars, when a stranger came forward, tuned it up, and played a beautiful tune on it. When the music was over, it sold for thousands of dollars. The difference? “The touch of the Master’s hand. . .” It was a good choice for Friends of the Light, and several people were singing along softly with me before it was over.

Joe and Linda Kelly invited us to lunch at their favorite restaurant, where we laughed and shared stories and listened to more of their hopes and prayers for their meeting. As we shook hands in the parking lot, Joe said, “You know, our meeting is so isolated, we really didn’t think you’d come. . .”

I thought about those words many times during the long drive home. The meeting where I serve is close to a Quaker college and a Quaker seminary, and we have dozens of visitors every month. But many Quaker meetings can go for years without being visited intentionally by Friends who have come on purpose to listen, worship and learn, and to enjoy the “holy places” their hosts want to share.

The next time someone asks me to come spend a weekend at their meeting, sign me up!


8 Responses to “Visits that matter”

  1. 1 Palma Richardson June 13, 2013 at 5:51 pm

    Josh, Thanks for such a nice account of your visit here to Friends of the light in Traverse City. I really enjoyed having you, Chris, and MaryLee as visitors here last week-end. hopefully it will inspire others to visit us. I have visited several Quaker Meetings over the last 15 years and it’s a fun experience to worship with other Quaker Meetings. We’re all different but we’re all the same too. Hope to see you again and maybe do some more music. Palma

  2. 2 Palma Richardson June 13, 2013 at 5:52 pm

    I can see I should have edited that before I posted it!! Oh well.

  3. 3 Diane June 13, 2013 at 6:30 pm

    You could have kept driving, you have an invitation to visit Farmington Maine Monthly Meeting anytime.

  4. 5 Julia Soria June 13, 2013 at 6:42 pm

    Josh, I miss Quakers so much. (We’re attending a UCC church here. Few Quaker Meeting have a functioning choir, much less one as great as WRF choir.) Visiting isn’t the same as being part of that life. Nonetheless, I sure hope Joe and I get up your way soon. I would have loved to go to Traverse City with you — and to spend all that time with you, Marilee and Chris!

  5. 7 Kathie Scott June 13, 2013 at 9:54 pm

    Dear Josh, Chris & Marilee,
    It was so great to have you visit last weekend. It was a beautiful evening with wonderful new friends! I feel much more positive about the New Association of Friends. Thanks for the great introduction. I loved the music & sharing worship with you. My flowers even performed for the evening!
    Kathie Scott

  6. 8 Marilee Gabriel June 15, 2013 at 6:28 pm

    It was such a wonderful visit. I’m so glad we went! Come visit us at West Richmond Friends too! Our visit with Friends of the Light was a good lesson in the warmth of Quaker hospitality and the joy of sharing of worship together and conversing together face to face about hopes, struggles and community. We were reminded of how the early churches exchanged visits from each other in the Spirit of love and fellowship.

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All of the posts on this blog are my own personal opinion. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the members and attenders of the meeting where I belong or any organization of Friends. For more information, click on the "About Me" tab above.



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