by Eleanor Coss
Quaker Meetings for Worship are one of the things I find hardest to explain to people who have never experienced them. It sounds so dull: you sit in silence for an hour and try very hard not to think about what you’re going to have for lunch. Then someone stands up and says something which may be relevant to you and may not. Then you go back into silence and try not to think about what was on TV last night. And so the hour goes on. Anyone who has attended a few Quaker Meetings knows that that is what happens sometimes. And sometimes, there is something in the room that is so powerful, so life-changing, that to deny it is to deny the best part of what it is to be human, what it is to live in God’s world. Someone once said to me that I should go to every Meeting open to being changed. It is that change, that ability to take me from my petty absorption in my own troubles and fix me more firmly in the world, which keeps me a Quaker.
For me, being a Quaker is also indivisible from being part of the Quaker community, and particularly immersing myself fully in the community at residential events. First this was my Area Meeting’s annual camp, then later Young Friends General Meeting and Yearly Meeting Gatherings. At these, I had my first kiss, got my first job, and slowly and painfully took so many other vital steps to travel from the religion I had inherited from my parents into a life and faith of my own. Most importantly, all the developments in my outward life were supported and enabled by the changes God was working within me.
I did not originally use that language. I was an independent-minded teenager, adamant that I was a Quaker but not a Christian. As I grew older and experienced more, I found I could no longer be so adamant. I realised, much to my disgust, that I was both a Christian and a Quaker. Now, my journey has taken me further still. I find I am a Quaker who, through gathered worship, joyfully knows we can enter the presence of Christ within, and be transformed by him. To deny or refuse this experience would be to deny a part of myself – and one of the better parts, too.
So, I am a Quaker because being a Quaker has made me who I am, and cannot now be untangled from my character. I am a Quaker because being a Quaker gives me the means to be a better human being, and compels me to keep trying even when I want to give up. And I am a Quaker by joyfully joining my community when it’s easy, when it’s hard, when I have to disappoint a whole raft of people just to go, when I can only join them online. Whatever and however I can, I do, open to being transformed.