July 12, 2006

Freedom Friends at FGC Gathering

Well, it figures that I'd be adding another post here or there as I remember other significant meetings and events that happened at the Gathering.

(FYI, on this blog's home page, on the lower right-hand side, there is now a listing of Gathering-related posts.)

On Wednesday night of the Gathering, during the evening's picnic dinner, I was wandering around the field looking for just the right conversation to join, when I heard someone call out--

Hey, that must be Liz Opp!
I looked toward where the voice was coming from but didn't recognize the faces who were there, so I kept on walking.

But something drew me back to that spot just two or three seconds later.

"Did someone here just call out, Hey, that must be Liz Opp?" I asked.

And then a woman responded,
Yeah, I did. I'm Peggy.
The look on my face must have told her I was clueless, and as I was taking in the scene of this unfamiliar woman wearing black cowboy boots and her head resting on a motorcycle helmet, she added,
Peggy of Freedom Friends, Peggy Senger Parsons.
Ohhhh, Hello!!

So then I was introduced to clerk Alivia Biko and I took a seat to listen in on the conversation.

I don't remember much of what was said, but at one point, I turned to Peggy and told her I was looking forward to attending the session the next day when she and Alivia would be speaking about Freedom Friends.

She wondered what I was talking about.

I couldn't tell if she was serious or not, so I decided to err on the side of taking her seriously. I pulled out the paper that had a list of FGC outreach events and pointed to the one that said Friends from Freedom Friends Church would be speaking about their experience.

Well, whether or not they knew ahead of time that they were scheduled to say something about Freedom Friends Church, Peggy and Alivia were great the next day in how they asked us to participate in a worship service in the manner of Freedom Friends.

The room was set up in concentric squares, and Peggy and Alivia spoke out of the opening silence about the attenders and visitors who come to Freedom Friends, their own history among Northwest Yearly Meeting and their departure from it, and what we as attenders of Freedom Friends might expect to experience during the course of worship...

I liked hearing about the use of a box full of pieces of paper that have a significant quote, query, or advice on them, that worshipers could draw from, pick one out, and contemplate it during worship. I also liked that worship starts with a description of what Freedom Friends are about, especially since most attenders there seem to find the church through the internet. It takes the guesswork out of what these particular Friends believe and how they worship.

Then we moved into a period of sharing concerns and joys, with Peggy wrapping up that sharing time with vocal prayer.

I don't remember some of the other programmatic things that were talked about, or the opening song we started with, but I remember that the period that is typically used for open worship was, for this particular session, reserved for Alivia and Peggy to speak out of the silence about their own journey and leadings to establish Freedom Friends.

Somehow, hearing each of their stories helped me understand a teeny weeny bit about programmed, pastoral Friends churches. I had not known, for example, that among EFI churches, there can be Friends who travel in the ministry, which had been a part of their story.

What struck me was Peggy's and Alivia's integrity and sense of call. Here are two Friends, striving to be faithful and obedient, living up to the measure of Light they have been given, one day and one worshiper at a time.

What also struck me was that the manner of worship for Freedom Friends is not one that would work for me, but it clearly works for others. And the same can be said for the unprogrammed manner of worship for liberal and Conservative Friends, that it works for some but is not for everyone.

Towards the end of our time, Chris M. lifted up the question, Do either of you, Peggy and Alivia, have a message on your hearts for those of us here?

We fell into worship, and after a couple of beats, Peggy offered this:
There are embers smoldering among us, and they need to be blown on.
We sat motionless and held that ministry for just a while longer before other comments were addressed. Shortly after that, I needed to leave as part of a mini-exodus: a number of us were headed to a meeting related to next year's Gathering.

It is now very clear to me that Freedom Friends Church is indeed "passionately Christ-centered, passionately Quaker, and passionately inclusive." I was glad I could make it to this particular session.

Having met and heard from these two passionate Friends, I'll now read Peggy's Silly Poor Gospel with a different lens. Thanks, you two, for making the trip to Tacoma. And thanks to the faithful Friend in FGC who helped smooth the way for them.


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Robin M. said...

Thanks Liz for this post. I was sorry to have to leave with my kids in the middle of the worship service, but it was Chris M.'s turn to stay with the grownups. Sounds like maybe he was meant to be there.

It was a pleasure for me to meet Alivia and to see how many people were excited to welcome the two of them to FGC.

Liz Opp said...

"...people were excited to welcome [them] to FGC."

Yes, Robin, that's true.

It's amazing what can happen when we lift up what we have in common--Love, and nurturing the Religious Society of Friends--rather than focus on what divides us.


Anonymous said...

Thanks, Liz, for capturing so much of what Peggy and Alivia shared with us. Another piece that particularly stuck with me was Peggy saying that Freedom Friends Church has no set length of worship: when Peggy senses that meeting may be ready to close, she asks, "Friends, are your hearts clear?" In fact in the presentation, Peggy waited for Alivia to finish speaking, and asked Alivia if her heart was clear, before moving on to the next piece she was ready to talk about. I love imagining what it would be like to try that in our unprogrammed meetings!

Lisa Hubbell
(Strawberry Creek Meeting, Pacific Yearly Meeting)

Liz Opp said...

Lisa - Thanks for lifting up this piece, which was dear to me as well. The thing is, I had recalled it when I had nearly finished this post, and so I had hoped that either a reader here or another blogger elsewhere would mention it.

And you give words to the question that was lingering in my own mind and heart: What might it be like to close worship not by wondering how close to the end of the hour it was but by asking if all hearts were clear?


Mark Wutka said...

I have occasionally wondered what would happen if we ended MfW when it was really over rather than by the time on someone's watch. At the closing worship of the NCYM-C gathering, Lloyd Lee Wilson said something to the effect of "Are all hearts clear?"

I talked with him afterwards about the question of stopping at a particular time or not, because that has been weighing on my mind for some time. I don't recall that we came to any particular conclusion, although he did relate that he did not use a watch to determine when to ask if all hearts were clear.

To me, it is a matter of faith.. trust.. that we would be willing to sit there for as long as God wants us to be there, rather than sitting down and saying "Okay, God, you've got one hour."

With love,

Liz Opp said...

Hey, Mark -

I don't recall now where I was at the Gathering when I heard a young adult Friend describe that there are extended meetings for worship held at his meeting.

They start at a designated hour and there is no timekeeper other than the Spirit. The Friend mentioned that it is not uncommon to worship for four or even six hours.

Myself, when I close worship--either as clerk of a committee or convener of the worship group--I do take a moment to do an "inward check," testing the question, "God, is there something more that is to be said?"

Sometimes the answer has come back, Yes, and so I wait--and often someone else adds a piece that allows worship to be closed.

Still, I do like the question, "Are all hearts clear?" We must be faithful enough, though, to answer if we are not.

Well, off I go to look at your reflections on North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative)!

Liz, The Good Raised Up