By Deborah Haines
Have you heard about Quaker Spring?
For the past four summers, Quaker Spring (formerly called QuakerCamp) has been held in Barnesville, Ohio. This year we will be gathering on the campus of the Meeting School in Rindge, New Hampshire, from Friday, June 17 through Wednesday, June 22. Everyone is welcome!
So, what is Quaker Spring? It’s an opportunity for Friends to come together to sit at the feet of the Inward Teacher, to explore the inward landscape, to listen to the winds of the Spirit. We have worship and Bible study in the morning, time in the afternoon for conversation (or play, or rest), and evenings devoted to group discernment. Often there’s singing, or dancing, or picnicking. It’s a time to rejoice in God’s goodness, and to know each other in that which is eternal.
To some extent, Quaker Spring grew out of my personal frustration with the frenetic pace of the Friends General Conference Gathering. I love lots of things about the Gathering, but it’s enormously complicated. It requires the work of several staff people, which makes it expensive, and hundreds of volunteers, which makes it very busy. Why so much programming, when all God requires of us is to be present in love?
So a group of us decided to try something different: a simple, inexpensive Quaker gathering with no workshops, no plenary speakers, no staff, as little overhead as possible, and lots of time to be present to each other and to God. It would be an informal, worship-centered version of the FGC Gathering, a time to find out what Spirit-led Quakerism is all about.
For our setting, we chose Barnesville, Ohio, where we could worship in Ohio Yearly Meeting’s Stillwater meetinghouse, camp out, or sleep in the dorms of Olney Friends School, eat in the school cafeteria, and take long walks through the woods and pastures. We planned just enough of a daily schedule to provide an underlying rhythm for our time together. We wanted to create a framework that would gently remind us not to get lost in busyness, but to look deeper, and to experience the spaciousness of God’s time.
I think we called it “Quaker Camp” because of my memories of a weekend I spent in the woods with a group of Girl Scout leaders years ago. There was really nothing to do all weekend but cook meals and take walks. It was beautiful. There was time enough for everything, and time to spare. It helped me rediscover the joy of simply being alive.
But many people seemed to interpret “camp” as “highly organized activity for children,” which wasn’t what we intended at all, although families are most welcome. In 2009, we decided we needed another name. During deep worship together we found ourselves drawn to a passage from the writings of George Fox that grabbed at my heart when I first read it years ago:
“For there is the flock lying down at noonday, and the feeding of the bread of life, and drinking of the springs of life, when they do not speak words…”
We chose the name Quaker Spring. There is rest for the weary, comfort for the lost and the lonely, nourishment for the faint of heart, living water for the thirsting soul. There is total, trustful dependence on God for everything we need.
I think I used to imagine the flock at rest as a covenant community of the faithful. Maybe I was hoping to find my true flock at Quaker Camp. But the experience of Quaker Camp/Quaker Spring has helped me understand that I am not personally called to covenant community, although others may be. It has been laid on me that I am not to choose who should or should not belong to my flock.
My own meeting, fractious as it is, is my beloved flock, and so is Quaker Spring, and so is any other group I find myself worshiping with. God does the gathering. All we have to do (the challenge and the joy) is to stop running around bleating at each other and simply settle down in the presence of the living Christ. We can experience that blessed rest anytime, anywhere, if we are willing.
A few years ago I was troubled to hear a valued Friend complain that worship in her meeting didn’t feed her soul. I prayed and worried about it and eventually came to two conclusions. First, complaining is fundamentally incompatible with worship. And second, we come to worship to learn from the Inward Teacher who knows our every need. If we are not being fed in meeting, it may be that we are not attending to the One who is right there among us, holding out to us the Bread of Life.
These two understandings—that complaining undermines worship, and that we need to attend to the Inward Teacher instead of relying on each other’s wisdom—are deeply woven into the expectations of Quaker Spring. We do not come together to tell each other the truth as we conceive it, but to invite everyone into the place where truth is revealed. We do not come to find a refuge from Quaker meetings we find unsatisfying. We come simply for the joy of being together in the presence of God.
Is Quaker Spring a Christian Quaker gathering? Christian-Universalist might be closer, although theology is really not the point. To me, Christ is the Word spoken at the moment of creation, the Light that lights everyone coming into the world, the manifestation of God wherever we find it. In my experience, God’s love is infinite and all-inclusive; it is no more possible to step outside the circle of God’s love than it is to step outside the universe. As John Woolman said:
“There is a principle which is pure, placed in the human mind, which in different places and ages hath had different names…. It is deep and inward, confined to no forms of religion nor excluded from any, where the heart stands in perfect sincerity.”
There are Christ-centered Friends who might find Quaker Spring a challenge because we do not define a circle that bounds us. There are liberal Friends who might find it a challenge because the living Christ, whom some call Jesus and some call Light, is indisputably the foundation stone.
Quaker Spring is intended for those who are willing to go deeper than words, to set aside judgment for a time, and simply experience God’s mercy. “For he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust….Be ye therefore perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect.” Who are we to judge? Why not just gather in contentment and humility, to see what Spirit has to teach us?
So Quaker Spring is open to everyone. Come if you are weary, or thirsty, or lost, or full of the joy of spiritual discovery and longing to share. During this week there will be time enough and time to spare. As Kenyan Friends like to say: God is good (All the time); All the time (God is good).
Deborah Haines is clerk of Alexandria Monthly Meeting, Baltimore Yearly Meeting. She was one of the founding organizers of Quaker Spring in 2007. She serves on Quaker Spring’s ongoing planning committee.