What is Quaker Meeting like when you’re deaf? For Jane Fernandes, it is profound. And, she says, it’s a rare experience to find a group of hearing people who value silence.
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- Jane Fernandes says, “As a deaf person, it’s rare when a group of people wants to cherish silence.” What does it mean for people to “cherish silence”? Why do you think that it’s so rare?
- For Jane, learning about Quakerism was a prerequisite for her job and it turned out that the religion spoke to her. Why did you first explore Quakerism? How did your exploration change as you began to understand it more deeply?
The silence of the meeting is in concert with my natural state, and it doesn’t happen often. So it’s rare that’s it’s a good thing—that it’s a wonderful thing—to be silent and everyone in the room is working toward that silence. The deeper we reach silence, the more profound our meeting is. So it’s different. Outside and inside are different. In the meeting is a more holy place.
My name is Jane Fernandes. I worship at Friendship Friends Meeting here in Greensboro, North Carolina. I am president of Guilford College in Greensboro, North Carolina.
When I first learned about Quakerism, probably, was in school. I learned a little bit about Quakerism. I probably learned a little bit about the Underground Railroad. That’s the main way I learned what it means to be a Quaker, and probably not much else has happened to me since then—until I applied to be the president of Guilford College.
When I had the interview, they had a lot of questions, but one of the main questions we were asked to speak to the community about is how and if, we would uphold Quaker heritage, and what would that look like to us.
So obviously at that time I was already saying “yes, I would do that, and I would have to learn”. But on some level, I just felt it fit me. There was no question about it. I dove in. I was already there, ready to dive in. So I’m very blessed that I had the chance to find out about Guilford College.
Attending Meeting for the First Time[My husband] Jim and I moved here. On Sunday morning of the first week, we woke up and he said, “Let’s go to a Friends Meeting.” And later, he told me that he picked this meeting because he knew it was “unprogrammed,” and that meant that he would not have to interpret.
We were born and raised as Catholics. So when we went to church, we sat in the pew and he interpreted the whole time, every mass. Every ceremony. Every celebration. Every service. But the first time I worshiped here, I loved it, because for me, as a deaf person, it’s rare when a group of people wants to cherish silence. It is rare. It’s rare. And that opportunity to just sit there and think, pray very deeply, that’s a wonderful thing. I enjoyed that very much.
Experiencing Silent Worship as a Deaf Person
In terms of my life, I was born deaf, and my mother was also born deaf. What I learned in my life was that I was expected to take in all the sounds, all the noises. That sounds are very important. I must learn them even if I can’t hear them. It’s very important. But those are very superficial things, and they’re really not me. So in the meeting, it’s one place where if I don’t say anything, if I don’t hear anything, that’s good. It’s fine. It’s good. Not that it doesn’t matter, it’s good. It’s a positive state.
Because I’m centering in myself, and I’m connecting with God, in the only way that I can, the only way a human being can do that. So it’s great for me. I’ve not been in a group of people that understands that, and a group of hearing people who strive to be in that state that I was born in. So it’s a wonderful thing for me.
The views expressed in this video are of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Friends Journal or its collaborators.