Have you ever left for a period of time and then come back to Quakerism?

Barry Crossno, Friends General Conference

When I first started attending Dallas Monthly meeting, it was very sporadic. A friend took me, because they had been Quaker and thought it might fit for me. What I found was an  intellectual fit, but I didn’t really find a way into the community at first. There wasn’t a big wide bear hug waiting for me when I arrived,so I found myself going very intermittently. It was a period of time when I was starting to have some mystical experiences that I wasn’t quite sure how to process. That was part of this coming to Quakerism. It’s not that I ever left. It’s more like I had a very slow start. My commitment to Quakerism didn’t happen until I moved from Dallas to New Mexico, where I started attending the Taos Worship Group. It was the right time and the right place and the right people for my Quaker practice to finally coalesce. Years later, I moved back to Dallas, and I found an incredibly different experience. I was embraced. My membership process was pretty intensive, but I’m grateful for it. It took me a lot of searching, and I prayed a lot around that time about Quakerism, because in some ways culturally it was a challenge for me, having spent a lot of time in the Buddhist community. What I got back in prayer was: stay the course, become a Friend, this is your path, live into this.

For more of Barry’s story, click here

Jen Karsten, Pendle Hill:

As a young child, I didn’t experience a conscious need for religion, and was feeling almost a rejection of anything that seemed to have an institutional frame that I didn’t feel like trying to fit into. I had to be dragged to Meeting. I didn’t often want to attend. By the time I went off to college, I really would only go to Meeting one or two times a year. One habit my mom had that I really valued, actually, was that she likes to explore smaller, low-attendance meetinghouses. It was a fun adventure for my mom and me to take together-so that felt special. That was the thin thread that kept me connected. I was traveling, living in different cities, and swept up into a life where there was a lot of activism and a lot of exploration of different practices. It wasn’t really a rejection of Quakerism as much as a rejection of anybody telling me what to do. Then I had a cancer diagnosis in my late 20s. You asked about the spiritual piece of return and separation–you know, when you get really really sick like that, and you wonder if your mortality is at stake, there comes a sort of questioning and bargaining. I was drawn back into a strong desire to be reassured, and to connect with something greater than myself. That, coupled with getting married and deciding as a pair that we wanted to raise our child as a Quaker and within a faith community, led us back into checking out different Meetings.

For more of Jen’s story, click here

Shan Cretin, American Friends Service Committee:

There are days when I think Quakerism needs to be grabbed by the shoulders and shook hard! But I feel like this is my spiritual home and a place where I should take responsibility for the things that I don’t think are going well, or that I think need to change-not just leave.

For more of Shan’s story, click here

Gretchen Castle, Friends World Committee for Consultation:

When I was first out of college, I went to Montana for a year. It was a wonderful place to be and the meeting was very tiny- it was 6 people in a living room, which was lovely for a time. I felt like I needed more, so for a while I went to this really remarkable church that was of a Catholic nature, but very radical. I did volunteer work with one of the priests and served on the board for his organization that helped people with disabilities. It was through that connection with him and our conversations about spiritual life that I found it was good for me to be in that energy. It felt a little bit odd to not continue to engage with Quaker meeting, but on the other hand, that experience helps me appreciate today how very different every meeting is, big or small. When I moved again I did find another Quaker meeting. I think that’s the only time I’ve really ever left it.

For more of Gretchen’s story, click here

Gabe Ehri, Friends Journal:

It’s always been circumstantial. When I was at Haverford College I enjoyed going to Haverford Friends Meeting, when I went, and I found it a useful practice for self-reflection and working things through in my head. But I didn’t really feel like I was part of a spiritual community. My home Meeting sent me a subscription to Friends Journal so I was reading that during college, and that was a way to keep up with Quaker thought and what Quakers were doing at a time when I was integrating all these other learnings into my brain. I never felt like, outside of Sundays, I wanted to be involved. I had enough social community in other parts of my life. It wasn’t a falling out or frustration, other than that what I had tried wasn’t clicking for me at that point.

For more of Gabe’s story, click here

Christina Repoley, Quaker Voluntary Service:

I think growing up in the unprogrammed tradition, I got an unintentional or subliminal message that the Christian aspect of our identity as Quakers was not very important, or in some cases not welcome. I think what I saw in particular at the Catholic Worker community, and also in the Mennonite community, were groups of people who were very clear about their identities—very clear about claiming their Catholic identity or Mennonite identity or more generally Christian identity. Being very clear that formed the basis of their really radical engagement with the world and in social justice issues.The people who I saw engaging in that work were doing it in a very grounded and joyful way, even though they were engaging with really difficult issues. It just wasn’t something I experienced in the Quaker community as I was growing up. It may just be that whatever you grow up in, or what you see the most—you can see something else in someone else’s tradition that you don’t in your own. A person who grows up in a Catholic Worker house might have the same experience at a Quaker Meeting. Some of it’s just getting out of your own experience and seeing the world in a different way, right? But I think there’s also truth in that liberal Quakers have not been clear about our identity, and not been as clear about claiming-certainly not a Christian core of our identity. But even more broadly, speaking about our faith identity in a clear way, and that our prophetic tradition comes out of that faith identity.

At one point I was attending the Mennonite Church and the Quaker Meeting in Atlanta because the Mennonites met in the evening and the Quakers met in the mornings, so I could do both. I loved both communities but at some point I felt like I just couldn’t be a full participant in two different faith communities. I had to choose one. I felt, “Well, I’m a Quaker, so I have to choose my own tradition, my own community,” as much as I loved a lot of things and a lot of people in the other group. It felt like, that’s just who I am and I’m not willing to give that up yet. Again, it was comparing and seeing things that were imperfect in my own tradition and my own experience and finding those in other places, but then coming back and saying, “Well, if I want it to be different for my Quaker experience then I need to be responsible for helping to make it different.” 

For more of Christina’s story, click here

Drew Smith, Friends Council on Education:

No, never left. As a kid, like a lot of kids, even kids who grow up Quaker, there are things that just didn’t make any sense to me or didn’t feel particularly helpful at the time. Sitting quietly and not saying anything while I was fidgeting for an hour was complicated. I didn’t always understand, going from the Presbyterian Church to a Quaker meeting, what some of the messages the adults shared were about. But what really struck me was the level of respect and listening that older people in the meeting had for one another. I talk to people who are new to Quaker schools, in my job now, an awful lot, and can think of some messages that, on the face of it, didn’t make any sense. Watching the other people in the meeting, older people in particular–the fact that they maintained their good quiet composure, that they appeared to be listening, just like they had to others–that still resonates as an important lesson and as the sort of thing that caused me to realize that maybe this was for me, too, not just for my parents.

For more of Drew’s story, click here

Colin Saxton, Friends United Meeting:

No, I haven’t, but I’ve thought about it. Really hard. There was a period in my life where, back in the early to mid-90’s, I became frustrated with Quakers. I was frustrated with our conflict, I was frustrated with what felt like the lack of integrity sometimes. I was just about ready to leave. I was a pastor at the time, and I’d had an invitation to think about serving at a Mennonite church. So I gave it some serious thought, and what came to me, was a very strong sense of, “How could you leave your family?” I had to sit with that question and think about it. They had made a commitment, a deep investment in me, and I couldn’t turn my back on that. In doing that kind of reflection, I realized that the very same things I was frustrated with others about were, of course, my own issues, too. So, rather than abandoning ship, I had a sense of, “I need to get more deeply engaged. And I need to come at this from a different perspective.” That was a transforming moment for me, because it was around that time that several people had begun talking with me about the idea of being superintendent of the yearly meeting. I wasn’t anywhere prepared for that. The experience of going up to the door and say, “I’m leaving,” made me re-engage in a better way.

For more of Colin’s story, click here


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