After the Pulse Nightclub shooting in 2016, Friends at Orlando Meeting called for a special worship. Later they learned that Quakers from all over the world had joined them.
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I think when there is violence in the world—a distressing event in our own lives or the community—the call to go into worship is not the only thing that Quakers do, but it ought to be the first thing that we do. What we’re really doing when we hold someone, or something, or a situation in the Light is that we’re opening ourselves up. We’re clearing away mental chatter. We’re getting out of our thoughts and we’re allowing voice of Spirit to show us what is the answer here.
How Quakers Respond to Tragedy
My name is Stephanie Preston-Hughes. I’m a member of the Orland Quaker Meeting in Orlando, Florida, and I’m a licensed mental-health counselor by profession.
The Pulse Nightclub Shooting
On June 12th, 2016, in Orlando, Florida there was a shooting at the Pulse Nightclub, just a few miles down the road from the Orland Quaker Meetinghouse. I woke up that morning to dozens of messages on my smartphone asking if I was ok—did I hear what happened at Pulse? I felt like I’d just gotten catapulted into some nightmare.
I’ve been out as a gay person for more than 20 years and been a Quaker for 15 years. I have many gay male friends who are Latino and who went to Pulse regularly. I used to go to Pulse, and during worship that Sunday I was struck with grief on a personal level. What if students I had counseled in my therapy office were there? What if my own friends and coworkers were there?
Worship as a First Response
I started getting lots of text messages and emails, not only from Quakers in my own Orlando Quaker monthly meeting but also other Friends in Florida and people on the Friends for LGBTQ concerns listserv. My first response was to think, “Oh my gosh, what do I do?” And it occurred to me that I had no idea what to do in response to this massive tragedy and the only thing I could think was, “We have to worship.”
After many people said, “What are we doing Stephanie? What are we doing?,” I recognized that the answer was simple: we just have to worship.
Being Held in the Light
It was like lightning within hours, and I later learned that Friends Meetings in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canberry, Australia, Pendle Hill, Ohio, Durham, North Carolina, almost every state, many countries in Europe, other continents—held worship at the time. It was a powerful moment of learning for me. I knew and have always known in my head that I don’t have to have the answer and I don’t have to know what to do. But in that moment of tragedy, when I was really deeply affected by this terrible act of violence in my own community and I really didn’t know what to do, the first thing I went to was, “I just have to worship, that’s all.”
Worship That Leads to Action
It was from that coming together of Spirit that Friends here in Orlando and Friends in other communities sent minutes of support to us and made donations to LGBTQ organizations in Orlando. I still have an email folder that I saved of, I think, 500 or so emails from around that time. When I feel a sense of disconnection I look at those because it reminds me. I have that learning in my body that being held in the Light in a difficult time makes a difference. It makes all the difference.
- Have you been to a “called meeting” in response to a tragedy? What was your experience of worship in that context?
- Stephanie Preston-Hughes says, “What we’re really doing when we hold someone, something, or a situation in the Light is that we’re opening ourselves up. We’re clearing away mental chatter We’re getting out of our thoughts and we’re allowing voice of Spirit to show us what is the answer here.” Do you find it challenging to find a path forward in the face of tragedy? How can Quaker worship help in a dark time?
The views expressed in this video are of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Friends Journal or its collaborators.