Traveling to my yearly meeting for the first time in 2009 set me on an unexpected path. Growing up in New Orleans, the eastern-most meeting in South Central YM, I had never attended yearly meeting before. Having recently graduated from ESR, I supposed it was time. When I arrived in Bruceville, TX I was greeted by a newly forming group of Adult Young Friends. Talking with them I realized that we had a common question: What does it mean to be a Quaker today? It seemed that young people in our Religious Society were disappointed with their understanding of Quakerism and were hungering to learn more about the roots of their faith and its practice. I returned home and asked the question in my monthly meeting. They replied; “if you figure it out, let us know.”
I resolved to travel to Pendle Hill. I expected to stay for only one term, but after that term was over I knew that there was still more for me. Living at Pendle Hill gave me a terrific opportunity to meet with Friends from across the country, and indeed the world. Listening to them over meals and in worship I realized that many Quakers were asking the same question: what does it mean to be a Quaker today? I began to tell a story to the Friends that I met. I told them that in the 20th century many people came into Quakerism because of the Religious Society’s stance on equality and peace. It was a very violent century and so it makes sense that the testimony of pacifism was held up above the other testimonies. Many people I met agreed with me.
I also the chance to travel to Guilford College that year as well as Ben Lomond Quaker center for small gatherings focused around “Convergent Friends,” an emerging group within Quakerism that I believed might be addressing the question that seemed to be burning among us. The power of these experiences was not in the answers that arose but in the opportunity to connect with other Quakers in worship, joining together to seek communion and Truth. I came to believe that when we travel to Quaker events we need to have less time in workshops and more time in worship, that our spiritual practice must be the ground of our life as Friends.
I was once in a very powerful worship with several young Friends and Deborah Shaw. None of us felt able to break the silence and close the meeting. Finally, Deborah said, “we separate in body Friends, but not in Spirit,” and we were released. Being in a place like Pendle Hill with many traveling Quakers, and traveling myself across the United States, I and realized that though we are not physically present with one another we are bound together in God when we practice. We can sense the common Truth of our experience as we seek the answer to the perpetual question of what we are, and how we are, as Friends today. Many revelations came to me during that year and continue to follow me since returning home to New Orleans. When I travel to South Central Yearly meeting, to Kansas last Fall, to ESR for the Leadership Conferences, being in worship and meeting with Friends brings a continual unfolding of my sense of where Friends are and what we could be.
Mac Lemann, ESR '07, is the clerk of the Friends Meeting of New Orleans, Board Chair of the New Orleans Food Cooperative, and is renovating property damaged by the failure of the flood-walls after hurricane Katrina.