United Society of Friends Women Fall 2016 Brunch by Hannah Billen ‘20

On Saturday, September 17th, I had the opportunity to attend the United Society of Friends Women (NCYM) annual gathering with Wess Daniels. Growing up in an unprogrammed meeting in Seattle, the Bible and Christianity were not central to my experience as a Quaker. So, attending a gathering of Christ-centered Quaker women was a little out of my comfort zone. Although I am coming to value and love the Bible as a part of my faith, I am still not used to sitting in pews and hearing Bible readings during Quaker gatherings. It is sometimes hard for me to connect this type of Quakerism to the faith that I was raised in. One of the only things I am sure about my Quakerism is that it believes in the Light (or the Light of Christ, the Divine, the Spirit, that of God, etc.) within all people, and the women of USFW are clearly living out this belief through their service and mission work. Their support of Friends Campus Ministry NCYM, Friends Center, Belize Friends School, FEMAP, and of many other wonderful programs is an inspiring testimony to their commitment to their faith and to Christ-centered service. The theme of their gathering was “Joy in His Presence” (Psalm 16:11). Not only were they joyful, but they were passionate, loving, powerful and incredibly welcoming. There was a deep sense of community which I felt was extended to me without a moment’s hesitation.

I grew up completely disconnected from Friends outside of my Beanite, unprogrammed yearly meeting. Most of the Quakers I interacted with had theological beliefs and practices very similar to those of myself and my family. I love and appreciate that community which has been so generous and supportive, but my beliefs about what it means to be a Quaker were not often challenged. Programmed Friends were “the other branch”, and I almost never interacted with them. Moving to North Carolina and seeing what it means to be Quaker for others, like the women I met at the USFW annual gathering, has pushed me to think about my faith in ways that are exciting, sometimes difficult, and always fulfilling. I am so grateful for the women of USFW for their gracious welcome and for their support of Friends Center.

Excerpt from Abe Kenmore’s (’17) Meeting for Worship Message from August 2016

And yet — I feel like being a Quaker is every bit as important to me as it was when I arrived on campus, having chosen it in part for the QLSP program and the Quaker ethics. My personal faith has not changed overmuch, but what I have gained is a new appreciation of community. When I applied to colleges, I intentionally went for small liberal arts schools where the community — academic and otherwise — would be strong, rather than a larger or more prestigious school. I had grown up in communities — Quaker communities, social justice communities, my home-schooling community. But I had never been in a community quite like the one offered by QLSP.

In my year level, we have often joked about how much crying we did the first year we were all together. It seemed like ever check in, someone had some issue weighing heavy on their heart. I have never been in a community that was so open to sharing not only joys but sorrows, and I think that without it, my experience at Guilford would have been much harder.

…And when I studied in England, one of the first things I did was seek out a meeting there. It was a large meeting, and at the end of 5 months of attendance, most people still did not know who I was, and I would have new introductions every week. But I joined a community of other young friends who gathered for worship and baked potatoes every week, and we had potlucks and pub visits together, sat around and talked about school and home, ran into each other at college, and more. We could share our feelings of frustration or loneliness or hope and excitement, and know that they were being heard.

I have not had many theological revelations in college. When I sit in silent meeting, my mind still wanders more than not. And yet, I have discovered in the past few years a power in community that I had not realized, at least consciously, in my home meeting. I miss meeting when I don’t go, even if I spend the hour of silence hour thinking about my essays, or a book I’m reading, or something even more mundane. But then I go sometimes to QLSP and share the grief and joys on my heart, or I go to Friendship and hear a powerful message that keeps me thinking and meditating. I eat potluck with Friends, or drink tea, and talk about life. And I find myself grounded to the world, to my community, and to myself, for another week. It is this — the necessity of spiritual community, a community that can truly hold grief and joy and everyday life — more than anything else, that I have learned while at Guilford.

Abraham Kenmore, College Meeting for Worship, 28 August 2016