This letter was read aloud at Meeting for Worship with Attention to Business at Chester Friends Meeting, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting on May 13, 2012. Following the reading of this letter, and with the recommendation of a membership clearness committee, the Meeting formally approved my membership. I am posting this letter here so that I can share it with anyone who is interested in reading it.
In January of 2011, I sat at a crossroads in my spiritual life. The events of my life up to that point had challenged me to question my faith and the particulars of my beliefs. It had been clear to me for quite some time that I felt affirmed by Quakerism, and I had been walking amongst Quakers for several years. But I was not yet clear about whether I identify myself as “a Quaker”, or whether I just really like Quakers. I do my best thinking through journaling, so I presented myself with the query: “What would be true about me if I were a Quaker?” I came up with a list, which I lovingly dubbed my “Quakifesto”. It is as follows:
I am a Quaker if I:
- attend Meeting for Worship regularly
- participate in Meeting for Worship with Attention to Business
- intentionally incorporate silence into my life (moment of silence before meals, pausing before entering into a deep conversation)
- strive to speak honestly and avoid telling lies
- live in integrity with my ethics, and continue to seek truth about what that means
- live as simply as possible, and continue to seek truth about what that means
- believe in peace — that is, I believe that peace is possible, and I believe that it is worth striving for — and continue to seek truth about what that means
- believe in nonviolence — that it is possible and worth striving for — and actively work to eliminate violence from my life and others’ lives
- work actively for peace and justice in my family and community
- honor the Earth, nature, and the planet; actively striving to live as sustainably as possible — in a manner that will allow others rights and freedoms to live their lives as well
- seek to connect with “that of God” or “the Inner Light” in all living beings, being open to listening for the truth and wisdom that may be channeled through each and any other
- honor “that of God” in myself/my “Inner Light” and treat myself as a temple for the Divine
Once I read through the list I’d made, I then asked myself: “Are these things true about me right now? What will my life look like when these things are true?” It felt to me that most of the things on the list were true about me, either as current active practices in my life or as practices I am working toward, but I didn’t yet feel quite ready to identify myself as a Quaker. Something was still missing.
Reading through the Quakifesto I wrote now over a year ago, I feel now that I know what the missing piece was, and I believe I knew this when I wrote it, too. The missing piece was membership in a Monthly Meeting. I have attended a number of Meetings, as I’ve moved around quite a bit in the last few years, but never the same Meeting long enough to feel like I really “belonged” there. I struggled with this realization somewhat, knowing that “formal membership” has different meanings and barriers for different individuals, and that accepting that as a criterion for Quaker identity could be in conflict with my belief in Equality. I finally came to clearness on this, with the understanding that my Quakifesto was meant to define MY Quaker identity, not anyone else’s. Thus, I can make a statement like “I identify as a Quaker if I belong to, and am actively involved in, a Monthly Meeting” without saying “Anyone who identifies as a Quaker must be part of a Monthly Meeting.”
Soon after I wrote this, I attended Meeting for Worship at Chester Meeting for the first time. I had attended various other local Meetings, while in residence at Pendle Hill, and soon it was clear that I was choosing to go to Chester week after week. I loved the customs of including children in Meeting for Worship, and of closing the silence by singing together. I felt warmly welcomed into the community, like my presence was truly valued, not because of any preconceived judgments about who I am or what I might bring with me, but simply as a fellow seeker with a passion for the intersection between spirituality and social justice desperately seeking community.
I’ve been involved in Quakerism for quite a while now, and have been blessed with a network of friends and support people whom I’ve gotten to know through FLGBTQC, FGC Summer Gathering, Pendle Hill, my brief time at Earlham College, and other conglomerations of Friendly folks. Many of these people have known for some time that I am looking for a Meeting to join, and have been wonderful resources for me in my process. I have been noticing the sorts of things I say about Chester Meeting when I am explaining to other Quakers why I love it there so much. Some of the statements I hear myself make again and again are:
- I feel like everyone there is very dedicated to both faith and practice. There is a clear commitment to living out one’s beliefs in the real world.
- The community really bands together to support each other in whatever projects or leadings each individual is passionate about. Each person’s gifts are celebrated, and the Meeting makes space for these gifts to be practiced.
- It is a small Meeting, yet it is the most racially diverse Meeting I’ve ever seen.
- I have never felt like an “outsider” in this community. I have never felt like I am treated differently, despite any number of the things about me that are “different” from the majority of the community.
- This Meeting feels like it is set up well to receive continuing revelation. We are constantly trying to think outside the box and come up with new and interesting ways to live out our spiritual lives.
When I started using the words “my Meeting” instead of “the Meeting I attend” to refer to Chester Meeting, I knew it was time to take a look at that, and discern whether I am ready for membership. I’m excited to have reached the point in my spiritual journey where I’m ready to take the step forward from asking “Am I a Quaker?” and “What do Quakers do?” to “How am I a Quaker?” and “What do I do as a Quaker?”
I’ve been blessed with, and most grateful for, the accompaniment of my clearness committee as we discerned my readiness for membership. In reflecting on that process, I have to say that it was different from how I imagined it. I figured I would show up and be asked a lot of hard, soul-scraping questions about my theology and my spiritual journey and my level of commitment. Instead, I found myself asking many of the questions, reveling in the opportunity to get a taste of the stories and the wisdom that this Meeting has to share. I’m a writer — as you might have noticed — and my mind tends to conceptualize things in the form of stories and/or verses. I feel like this Meeting — and indeed, Quakerism as a whole — is an ever-evolving story, with pieces being passed down through time, and still other chapters yet to be written. I would be honored to be a part of that story.
When I started writing this letter, I thought that it would mostly be about me, but I feel like it has written itself to mostly be about YOU, and about US. Still, I’d like to close by telling you a little more about me, in case you were curious to know a little more about this strange person with purple hair who’s shown up in your Meeting. I am, of course, a writer, and I am also constantly operating from a leading to create welcoming spaces wherever I go; gifts I hope to put to good use by serving on the newly-forming Communications Committee. I’m also a singer — I am lost in the world if I’m not part of a choral ensemble of some sort! I’m a certified massage therapist, and I both practice and teach Reiki and energywork. I taught myself to crochet about a year ago, and now I like to make everything from scarves to bags to puppets. I love to cook and share delicious vegan food. I have an active yoga practice, I read Tarot, and I’m into a lot of Pagan and eclectic forms of spirituality. I also really like board games, especially Scrabble — so if that happens to be your thing, you know where to find me!
I thank you all for the warmth and love with which you’ve welcomed me in this Meeting. I look forward to creating many more beautiful memories with you.
Peace and blessings,
Oliver Danni Green