Quakers – Friends Meeting of San Antonio

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Sunday #20 – Friends Meeting of San Antonio – A Quaker Presence in South Texas

I’ve only met one Quaker family in my life. My eldest daughter developed a strong friendship with a young Quaker girl, so we all got to know her family. I’d describe each member of that family as peaceful and filled with wisdom that seems to surface from a deep well. So, I’m curious if other Quakers exhibit the same qualities. An online search proved valuable; I found a Quaker Meeting in San Antonio.

Surveying the Quaker website, I learned that this Friends meeting in San Antonio is unprogrammed, meaning that the service would have no pastor-led message or music. Instead, I would experience absolute silent worship. I immediately wondered what on earth I’d have to talk about in the next blog post.

Before attending the service, I telephoned the family I’d previously met in Colorado to ask a few questions about programmed versus unprogrammed services; I also got a few other questions answered. I learned that the most common misconception about Quakers is that they are somehow related to the Amish. This may be due in part to the photo on your Quaker Oats morning cereal – funny how we make associative assumptions without much knowledge.

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I also did a little Wikipedia research and learned that in 1650, George Fox became dissatisfied with the teachings of the Church of England and broke away to teach and preach a more simplified way of worship. The followers of Fox became known as “Quakers” because Fox bade others to tremble or “quake” at the word of God. Also interesting is the fact that the greatest concentration of Quakers is found in Kenya, though I’m not sure why. Likewise, I learned that 89 percent of Quakers practice programmed worship with song, prayer and a pastor’s message, while only 11 percent of Quakers worship in silence.

Preconceived Ideas about Quakers

I have only a few possible thoughts about Quakers. The first was in place before I met this family and the other two developed after meeting the family.

  • Like most, I previously believed Quakers to be somehow related to the Amish
  • Quakers are peaceful people
  • Quakers live simple lives

Arrival

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Running a few minutes behind, I zipped into the parking lot and immediately found a place near the front. The building looks much like the front of a home and one wouldn’t know the difference if it were not for the sign out front. As I made my way through the entrance, a woman that I’d previously spoken to on the phone greeted me. She walked me to the sign-in book that was positioned outside a courtyard-like area that reminded me a bit of what might be found in a Japanese garden. Then, she led me to the worship area. I stepped into a beautiful meeting room with a wooden floor, three walls of what resembled wooden pallets, a large expanse of glass overlooking a forested area, and three sets of cushioned pews with about 25 people sitting quietly with their eyes closed.

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Service Begins

I slipped into a back pew and began to sit in absolute stillness for the next hour. As a current student of yoga and meditation, this did not seem odd to me, as it might to others. I relished the idea of sitting completely silent for 60 minutes, just connecting with God. As I sat with these other people – all in their 50s, 60s, 70s and up, I concentrated on my breath and let various sounds pass over me. I heard the hoot of an owl, chirping from birds, the whirl of car tires as they passed by on the street outside, and the pleasing sound of a gentle rain shower as the drops fell onto the roof and against the windowpanes. Occasionally, a sneeze or a cough startled my meditation, but then I’d go right back to focusing on my breath.

At one point, I heard someone stand and say a few divinely inspired words, then the person sat down and silence resumed. After an hour, people began to shake hands with one another. Everyone made introductions, and then we had a break before the next part of the service called a “Forum.” During the break, several people came up to me and introduced themselves personally. I learned “Janet” had been a lifelong Quaker. Quakers are known as pacifists and are often conscientious objectors during a time of war. I also learned that Sunday’s forum would be on “The Experience of Emptiness.” That sounded interesting, so I decided to stay.

Thirty minutes later, the Forum began with two men reading the words of Buddha, Thomas Merton and Gary Whitting. Their writings centered on emptiness and detachment. Then we broke up into groups of five and six to share thoughts about the readings. Oddly enough, I learned nothing from the subject matter; but the forum process taught me a great deal. Before going into these groups, we were instructed to let each person speak from their feelings about the readings, followed by a few moments of silence after each person spoke. We were told that we should listen intently to what was being shared, but when it came to our turn (if we so desired to share), we were not to agree or disagree with anyone who had shared before us.

Somewhere within this group sharing, I began to feel something I’ve only felt once before. Years ago, my family invited Eric and Ellen Weihenmayer over for dinner. Eric is the first blind man to climb Mt. Everest. As I prepared for that dinner, it struck me that Eric would not see me the way others see me. He would not judge or evaluate me for my weight, what I wore or how I moved because he couldn’t see me. Instead, he would experience me only from the words I used and the way I listened to him. WOW! I had the same epiphany yesterday when I realized that sharing thoughts and ideas could be something totally different from what I previously had known. Within this group sharing, I could allow God to speak to me through other people. All I had to do was listen.

Post Service Commentary

I’m still deeply affected by my experience with the Quakers, also known as the Religious Society of Friends. That experience is truly hard to describe. Without music, without the offering, without the message or pastor-led prayer, what is worship? From yesterday’s experience, I think I have a better understanding – it’s the silent space where you can experience the divine presence of God.

What’s Next?

When I think I’ve experienced it all, something new like the Quakers show up to remind me that I haven’t. So, I must keep stretching. This past week, I heard that my good friend Dr. Bob Blaich is to speak at the Universalist Church in Denver about his book “Your Inner Pharmacy,” so I wondered if San Antonio had a Universalist Church. A quick Web search resulted in a Unitarian Universalist Church, so I may just head there next Sunday.

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12 comments on “Quakers – Friends Meeting of San Antonio

  1. Martha McManamy says:

    Mar
    Marcia,

    I like your description of San Antonio meeting. It is not dissimilar to what you might experience in any unprogrammed meeting in the US, Europe, Asia or Australia. I could fill you in on why there are so many Quakers in Kenya (missionaries in early 20th century), why we are called Quakers (early Quakers were mocked for trembling in worship, not exhorted to tremble by George Fox) and whether Quakers are pacifists (we are one of the only religious groups that do not have a creed, so we are not all known as pacifists, though most of us indeed believe in non-violent solutions to conflict).

    However, anyone can do this research. More importantly, I feel you have captured well the listening spirit you will generally find at Quaker meeting, and the friendly openness with which newcomers are invited to join in. Your description is not unlike what you would find at our meeting in Amesbury, Mass.

    Martha McManamy
    Clerk, Amesbury Friends Meeting

    • mhn125 says:

      Dear Martha,

      Thank you so much for sharing the additional information and corrections to my post on the Quakers. Would love for you to also share your thoughts on why so many Kenyans are Quakers, so please enlighten readers. My guess is that Kenya had some pretty strong missionaries there, but I’d love to know the answer.

  2. Dawn Amos says:

    Hello Marcia,thank you for announcing this blog entry to our meeting in southern Illinois. I particularly sensed sincerity and truth in your experience of the meeting, that you aren’t merely relating factual research (the “outward motions”), but really captured what is going on in our meetings.

    As to the Quakers in Kenya, it goes back to the “types” of Friends. Friends have had many schisms over the centuries. I’d say the spectrum of Friends’ worship styles and foundations mirrors that of Protestantism in general – from barely or even non-theistic, to universalist, to Christ centered, to Biblical fundamentalist, and it takes concerted effort for us to hear each other carrying the common Fox teachings we share. Similarly, there are Quaker groups that won’t “proselytize”, and others that want to share the Good News. It was the latter type that naturally went abroad to found more churches, and in high population densities this resulted in fascinating concentrations of Quakers in Kenya and central/south Americas.

    When a North American or European unprogrammed progressive universalist Quaker visits a Kenyan Quaker church, the culture shock is remarkable. My experience is that we each have great ways to connect with the Spirit. A little silent introspection goes a long way in Kenya, and some joyful prayer, singing and movement gives me more gratitude and love of God and my fellow worshipers. We have an international organization that fosters these cross-branch relationships: Friends World Committee for Consultation (FWCC).

    Thank you again,
    Dawn Amos
    Carbondale, IL
    Southern Illinois Quaker Meeting

    • mhn125 says:

      Hello Dawn,

      Thank you so much for sharing your perspective on the high numbers of Quakers found within Kenya. So very interesting.

  3. Gary Marx says:

    Thanks for your blog entry, Marcia. Perhaps Wikipedia is correct that only 11 percent of Quakers attend unprogrammed meetings, but there are many of us. And I feel a kinship with those in Massachusetts and Southern Illinois, as well as in South Texas.

    Gary Marx, clerk
    Penn Valley Meeting
    Kansas City, Missouri

    • mhn125 says:

      Yes, Gary. I thought I’d find a great deal more programmed versus unprogrammed meetings, but that wasn’t the case when I went to the lead site for Quakers. Wikipedia may have very well been wrong, because it does seem like there are a lot of unprogrammed meetings. I will say, it was quite refreshing. It’s kept me thinking all week.

  4. Pam Caprio says:

    Dear Martha, Wonderful blog, a beautiful meeting house , very different from what we have here in PA. Our meetinghouse, is on the National Historic Landmark status and it dates back to the 1700’s. Our meetings for worship are also unprogrammed as are most of the meetings in Southeastern PA and in New Jersey. However, we always have a period of singing prior to worship. There are many variations of us, but we all believe in that of God in everyone, equality for all and non-violence.

    Pam Caprio, Co-clerk
    Buckingham Friends Meeting
    Lahaska, PA

    • mhn125 says:

      Hi Pam,

      1700’s….WOW! Would love to join you if I’m ever up that way. I’m discovering there are many variations and likely my one visit is not completely representative of all Quakers.

  5. […] people, I began to feel that this service and these people felt very similar to those I met at the Quaker Meeting a few months ago. Sure enough, I find out later they are known to be […]

  6. […]  As I walked into the meeting room, it immediately took me back to the Quaker service I attended – lots of earthiness with lot of stone and rough wood. In fact, the idyllic setting […]

  7. danielfryar says:

    I just stumbled upon this today looking for Quaker Churches in San Antonio.
    First, I am delighted to find that there was a gathering of Friends here in San Antonio and I look forward to visiting them sometime.
    Second, I am very excited to read through your experiences on this blog! Thank you for doing this. I appreciate your writing, your openness (and open-mindedness), and your great idea and commitment to carry out this project and share it with others.

    • mhn125 says:

      Daniel,

      I’m delighted you found the blog and that it was helpful to you in locating the Friends of San Antonio. I’ve been wanting to go back to this one and your post was a reminder to me to do so.

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