Welcome!

Welcome!

I often wonder what exactly other people think about our Quaker meetings. What do they really know about us? What kind of welcome do we extend? How hard do we really try to share it?

I first found out about Quaker meeting when my first year college room mate, an inveterate explorer of whatever type of spirituality he could find, came home enthusiastically one day. I was a convinced dropout from the Catholic church (ask me about that some other time) but I was reading my Bible and open to new ideas.

“Hey, Brown!”, my room mate said in his raspy voice. “You ought to come and check out this Quaker meeting!” Not having anything else to do on Sunday morning, I came along.

I found a quiet welcome at Mt. Toby Friends Meeting. Nobody asked me who I was, where I came from, or why I was there. The quiet worship felt like the home I’d been looking for all my life. I came back the next week, and the week after that, and for the rest of my four years of college. I got to know them, and they got to know me. I poked around in the library and found some books and Pendle Hill pamphlets. A couple of families invited me over for a meal (a huge plus for a college student!). Another family asked me to join them for a weekly evening of folk singing (another story).

They didn’t have a big outreach program, but they welcomed me in their own way. I’ve been in a lot of Quaker meetings since then. Some were warm and welcoming, others felt cold and unattractive. I won’t name any names.

Welcome has always been a big concern of mine. At different times, I’ve focused on whether the meeting has been ready to welcome people with different abilities, who spoke different languages, who came from other countries, or whose sexual orientation wasn’t exactly like mine.

I’ve wrestled with the question of whether the meeting I’m in should be more open to the way visitors and newcomers worship – should we change, or should they get used to our tradition? Most of the time, the meeting has opted not to change or even experiment, and the other people have moved on. Sometimes I think that’s OK, other times I think we’re poorer.

Many Quaker meetings send out invisible (or sometimes not-so-invisible) signals about whether they accept people of different political beliefs, dietary expectations or spiritual journeys. (Full disclosure: the meeting where I’m currently serving is somewhat divided politically and most Friends have agreed to disagree, except on Facebook. They hold a huge pork shoulder barbecue every November, which would make some Quakers faint, and what’s more, they serve it on Styrofoam plates. Still working on that one. They are also some of the kindest, most hospitable and genuinely welcoming people in this part of North Carolina.)

They have had LGBT members for over 100 years (including having them in major positions of leadership) and not made a fuss about it. Most don’t drink, but some do, and it’s not an issue. Older members reminisce about helping relatives raise and harvest tobacco. People used to come in their “Sunday best”, but today they wear just about anything, and almost everyone gets complimented about how nice they look. Some have tattoos and dye their hair interesting colors.

I wish that more Quaker meetings (including mine) would have the nerve to print some version of the following welcome, which has been circulating around the internet for a while and was originally attributed to a Catholic congregation:

We extend a special welcome to those who are single, married, divorced, gay, lesbian, not sure, filthy rich, dirt poor, yo no habla Ingles. We extend a special welcome to those who are crying new-borns, skinny as a rail or could afford to lose a few pounds.

We welcome you if you can sing like Andrea Bocelli or can’t carry a tune in a bucket. You’re welcome here if you’re “just browsing,” just woke up or just got out of jail. We don’t care if you’re more Catholic than the Pope, or haven’t been in church since little Joey’s baptism.

We extend a special welcome to those who are over 60 but not grown up yet, and to teenagers who are growing up too fast. We welcome soccer moms, NASCAR dads, starving artists, tree-huggers, latte-sippers, vegetarians and junk-food eaters. We welcome those who are in recovery or still addicted. We welcome you if you’re having problems or you’re down in the dumps or if you don’t like “organized religion,” we’ve been there too.

If you blew all your offering money at the dog track, you’re welcome here. We offer a special welcome to those who think the earth is flat, work too hard, don’t work, can’t spell, or because grandma is in town and wanted to go to church.

We welcome those who are inked, pierced or both. We offer a special welcome to those who could use a prayer right now, had religion shoved down your throat as a kid or got lost in traffic and wound up here by mistake. We welcome tourists, seekers and doubters, bleeding hearts … and you!

Just how welcoming are we?

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Disclaimer

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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