At worship this week, we had about a dozen newcomers, several of whom were environmental activists. It was exciting to have so many new folks join us for worship.
One of the customs of our Meeting is to invite newcomers to introduce themselves before the rise of Meeting. When the closer ends the silence, we greet those near us, the children report on what they did in First Day school, we have newcomer introductions, and then various people make announcements.
The closer ends the silence by turning to the person next to hear, shaking hands, and saying, "Good morning." It was months before I realized that the morning greetings were not spontaneous. After several years as an occasional attender, my husband asked me how we all knew that worship was over. He thought (as I had before him) that we were all so spiritually attuned that we knew when to end the silence.
We invite the newcomers to share their names, where they're from, and a little bit about themselves. These newcomers got into the spirit, and many of them shared their previous Quaker experience and/or why they were interesting in Quakers.
Towards the end of introductions, a woman said that she'd always heard about Friends, and that she was interested in exploring our religion. Then she stopped, confused, and said, "Do you call this a religion?"
The Meeting was filled with merry laughter. I love it when we laugh together like this right after worship; no other laughter feels so free or so full of joy as post-worship laughter.
The closer affirmed that we do indeed call this a religion, and we went on to announcements.
It's a good question, though. "Do you call this a religion?" We are the Religious Society of Friends and yet many people seem confused about our status as Christians or even a religion. We don't use the outer forms that other religions use: no minister, no choir, no cross on the altar. Our chairs are arranged in three concentric ovals (we're soft chair Friends; some visiting Friends have intimated that this is sinful while others have threatened to take our chairs back to their home Meetings). How would anyone know that we're a religion instead of a meditation group or a group of people who just happen to like to sit together in (mostly) silence on Sunday mornings? Most of us don't even wear funny hats, and the funny hats we do wear don't match.
"Do you call this a religion?"
Thinking about this question later, I am reminded that we shall know Christians by their fruits, that people will know we are Christians by our love. In a similar fashion, I think that people will know our Meetings are a religion by the power of the Spirit who joins us in worship. It's part of the strength of our style of worship that people can attend Meeting with very different ideas of the Divine and still gather at the same well to drink from the same cup.
The other thing that makes me think that our Meeting is a religion, and a worthy one at that, is the example set by the older people in the Meeting. They are an extraordinary group of human beings, deep in love and compassion and wisdom. Whatever practices they follow have obviously borne fruit, and I yearn to grow into their kind of Light in what remains of my life.
I don't worry too much about whether others call what we do a religion. What does the name matter? If we earnestly try to turn our hearts to God, to sit together in waiting worship, and to follow the promptings of the Light revealed to us, then it doesn't matter what we're called.
I thought of the many other times and places where I feel the sense of worship: around trees, in meditation, at concerts, in acts of service, walking, dancing, in the presence of the ocean, listening to a child, making love with my husband, experiencing sudden natural beauty, doing mundane chores, knitting, sharing a cup of tea with a friend. I am reminded that it's all sacred, that God is everywhere, and that all I need to do is open my heart and be where I am, right now.
God bless you all, Friends.