February 1, 2008

Breaking bread at a mixed wedding

Over on Aj Schwanz's blog, she's written a post about Quakers, symbols, and communion--with a dash of consumerism thrown in, too.

I left a comment there but wanted to expand it a bit further.

Aj's post reminds me of a "mixed wedding" I went to a few years ago, where one partner of the couple was very active as a Quaker and the other was very active in the United Church of Christ (UCC).

I didn't mind the initial rituals that were leading up to the Quaker part of the wedding--the Meeting for Worship--given the one partner's religious practice... but where the rubber really met the road for me was when the person presiding over the programmed part of the afternoon--a UCC minister?--invited all of the attenders to "break bread" and participate in a form of expanded or secularized communion.

Before offering the communion, there was a long and careful explanation of what the couple's intention was in offering this breaking of bread, as well as a carefully worded statement that it would be okay if Quakers didn't didn't participate.

I watched Quaker after Quaker rise to receive the bread and drink, along with family members and other friends of the couple. And I sank further and further into my chair, wishing that my own sweetie could have been sitting next to me to confer with, rather than being off in the reception hall, setting things up as part of the arrangements committee...

Granted, I knew that many of these Friends who were approaching the front had had a Christian upbringing--Lutheran, Methodist, etc. And I believed that many of these Friends accepted the intention of the ritual, feeling in their hearts they could lay their concerns aside ("Quakers don't do this, but the couple is inviting us to join them in this sacred act, so I shall honor their request").

But in the end, I just couldn't join in. A lot of it was because I had had a Jewish upbringing, not a Christian one. But I also flashed on Woolman's experience with Native Americans and still found no comfort or instruction there for myself in my current situation.

In the last few moments when the ceremony was wrapping up, I understood that it didn't matter to God what I did; that the couple would know my love for them, regardless.

And I knew that God already accepted me, whether I broke bread or not: I was already Loved.

So, since I couldn't resolve the inner conflict I was experiencing at the time, and since Quakers avoid taking action when they are not clear, I stayed in my seat and fell into worship for a few moments. It was one of the most difficult things I've had to do among Friends.

Those who know me know that I often worry that my deep regard for Quaker tradition and practice--including the stripping away of empty forms in order to keep a clear path between ourselves and God--sets me apart from many others. But recently I shared with a committee on which I serve that as a Quaker, I'm not called to be faithful to other Friends in the meeting:

I am called to be faithful to how God leads me, and I seek support from Friends in the community to help me in my faithfulness and obedience.

Often, rituals or not, it's the only way I know how to be me, deeply.



Anonymous said...

Very interesting post. Once again, a reminder that everyone needs to be aware of culture and what certain situations might feel like to other people.

Liz Opp said...

Hi, Allison--

Thanks for keeping in touch. ...Could you please email me so I might ask you a question about your own blog?

lizopp AT gmail DOT com


Anonymous said...

Thank you for you for your post. It brought back memories of my struggles with Quakerism at the start of my journey and I was coming from the other side of communion. I was a practicing Lutheran on my first visit to Quakers. Communion was a central part of Christianity as I saw it and for a long time I thought the Quakers had thrown the baby out with the bath water. I think that communion was the only command Jesus gave for worship ("do this often in remembrance of me").

As a Lutheran I was taught (and believed)that the bread and wine, once blessed, were his body and blood.(I know, I've heard disparaging remarks about blood sucking Vampires) as a Quaker I believe that Jesus is present in me and I no longer feel the need to proclaim my belief with symbolism. I attempt to live life proclaiming his presents.


Anonymous said...

For whatever it may be worth, dear Liz, I would most certainly refuse to participate in any outward "communion" such as you describe.

I'd refuse for two reasons: In the first place, because I feel that such an outward thing is a mockery (in the literal sense of that word: an image or sign without actual substance) of the true and inward reality; and in the second, because it misleads people as to the nature of the true communion in a way that I regard as pernicious, and possibly perilous.

Liz Opp said...

Glenn -

Thanks for your comment and for sharing a bit of your spiritual path. I always benefit from the reminder that we are all on different places in the journey, and so we benefit from different things.

It's not a "better than/worse than" dichotomy, or even a question of what defines spiritual maturity. It's about opening ourselves to the Light and being faithful to what we have been given, while also living into Love's possibilities.

Marshall -

Thanks for letting me know you would have kept your seat. I hadn't realized how much I still question if I had done "the right thing," even though my concerns were different from what you raise here.

I hope to see you at Midyear Meeting (and I hope IYMC's website will be updated soon to include more information about it).


Anonymous said...


I used to feel the same confusion when I attended Catholic mass with family members at weddings and other events. It's been a long time though, since I got over the confusion. I am not catholic any more. the hardest thing I did like this was refusing to be godparent to my brother's first child. I know I hurt his feelings, but since Quakers don't baptize, it seemed very hypocritical to accept.


Liz Opp said...

MaryM -

Thanks for your comment, which gives me pause.

I don't know the first thing about baptisms and godparenting, other than the secular version of being a godparent--being identified as a person who might care for a minor if the parents die.

A Quaker friend of mine accepted being a godparent for a mutual friend's son, and I think both fFriends took the responsibility very seriously.

If I were approached in that vein (the secular version that I've been exposed to), I imagine I would lay aside the confusion in order to make myself available for such an unlikely yet tragic event, in the name of Love.

On the other hand, if I were approached with the attitude of "This is just a formality," I can easily envision myself declining as well.

Thanks again for taking the time to comment. It seems like your experience is still a hard thing for you to write about...


jez said...

When in Rome, do as the Romans do...

If I'm at Catholic mass with my Catholic babcia/grandmother, then I will take the bread.

Likewise, if my babcia were to attend a Meeting for Worship, I would expect her to follow the customs that we have in our Meeting.

However, I'm not sure that I would do it in all circumstances.