How Does Culture Influence Quaker Worship?

When Ayesha Imani found Quakers, she knew this was where she belonged. But she also felt limited by the culture she perceived in Quaker meeting—that is until she tried worshiping with other Quakers of African descent.

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Jon Watts

Jon Watts launched and directed the QuakerSpeak project for its first 6 seasons. Keep up to date with Jon’s work at his website.

23 thoughts on “How Does Culture Influence Quaker Worship?

  1. I met Ayesha the first time several years ago at Sessions (at Muhlenberg College) and immediately loved her. She has a deep, lovely, exciting Spirit living within her that bubbles out. I’m so glad she’s in education, I’m so glad she’s happy being a Quaker. Thank you for speaking with her and sharing her wonderfulness.

  2. Tears sprang to my eyes when Ayesha said of the first gathering of Friends of African Descent, that it was amazing; it felt like coming home. I was there and I felt the same way, also- even though I am pale-skinned and of European descent ( i.e. white)! I felt called to be there with my two young children and welcomed without reservation. The rightness, the wholeness, the joy was, indeed, palpable. I have been working, as best I know how, as led, to the best of my discernment, toward that beloved community both in the Religious Society of Friends and in the world. I’m so grateful to Mama Ayesha and others who have persisted and grown that blessed community around them.

  3. Thanks for this! I’ve been in groups where saying “amen” is common, and where I’ve gone to my knees, but not in established meetings. I would like to see more loosening up in meetings, in general.

  4. Oh yes, oh yes!
    I’ve been fortunate to have lived around the world, and I so agree that our worship reflects the cultural forms and restrictions of where we happen to be. That’s not a criticism, merely an observation.
    At one point I became aware that in our small fairly rural meeting, most of our very names reflect the national origins of the first Quakers with all that signifies culturally, leaving out other ethnic groups living in our area.
    I have often felt profoundly moved to fall on my knees or lean my head on the bench ahead of me and weep. Over time I have conformed, not because anyone did anything to compel me, just because nobody else knelt or wept. I was grateful to a few who raised their hands in joy.
    I love my meeting with all my heart, yet I recognize our form of worship as culturally shaped.
    Reading this thoughtful and beautiful piece, I may yet burst into song or slip to my knees in gratitude.

  5. I believe that when there is a gathering of Friends of color, white people (l am one) need to respect that and not register for such events. My Friends of color tell me they need a safe space to be with each other, and that’s what those gatherings are for. I implore white Friends to respect that. Not respecting it is yet another example of the white supremacist, albeit often unconscious, attitudes of white Friends in the US.

  6. Ayesha is captivating and captivated by the Spirit. I loved meeting her here and hearing her speak so freely.

    Thanks for posting this.

  7. Praises to Ayesha and praises to her words! She is so connected to the spirit that we all wish to experience. Gratitude.

  8. I have read that there are fairly large numbers of Quakers in Africa and I wonder if meetings there are different than my very quiet Pacific coast meeting.

  9. Thank you Ayesha for you explanation. I have heard about cultural differences being a problem in Meetings but I didn’t know the specifics until I listened to you talk about it. It seems that our Meetings could be so enriched by the liberated expression of other cultures.

  10. As I began listening, all I could think was “Yes! Yes! Yes!” How can our culture “not” be reflected in and affect what emerges in our meetings. Thank you, Ayesha. This is something for all of us to reflect upon as God makes her/him/them self(selves) known to us.

  11. This Quaker Speak video was fresh and Spirit was at work. I appreciate Ayesha’s words. It is wonderful to have it be okay and comfortable to have the liberty she speaks of- in ministry and in taking part.

  12. “You may find yourself having difficulty really being free in the Spirit. And it seemed to me that there was this liberty of the Spirit that really was at the root of Quakerism, but as Quakerism developed and developed among a particular race and a particular class over time—different from the class that it started with—then Quaker meeting began to kind of perform itself in a way that was very cerebral and reflected the cultural orientation of the white, middle class folk who had gathered.

    And though I found that to be a rich experience, I also believed that I wasn’t operating in the liberty that the Spirit had set me free in. Not that the people there were doing something that they were supposed to do differently, but that I was not following the Spirit in the ways that I was always led to, “Ayesha Imani

    These words sum up my thoughts and experiences with the RoSF for over thirty years. Why I attend a
    queer-affirming racially diverse Methodist church.

    1. Paul (& others), We are slowly building a remote-friendly Quaker meeting to be led by and centered around disenfranchised people. We already have a progressive, Christian-oriented meeting that has offered to sponsor us and help us become a full meeting. We will not met on Sunday mornings so perhaps it’s compatible with your other worship activities. If you would like more information, please check out the facebook group called “Somatic/Indigenous Christian Quakers” and join or just message me with your contact information. You are also welcome to email me at

  13. Thank you, Ayesha Imani, for your clarity and passion and openness. And thank you, QuakerSpeak staff, for creating this and making it available.

    In San Francisco, those of us who watch QuakerSpeak videos together regularly, as well as those who came for the anti-racism group we hold once per month, learned from watching this. We also heard other voices besides Ayesha’s by following up with Ujima Friends Peace Center’s own video .

  14. Thank you, Ayesha, for giving me a glimpse into what Quaker worship might look like in a culture different from my own White American one. And for doing it in a way that joyfully accepts what each person and each culture has to bring, rather than privileging one over another. It made me a little bit sad to feel “left out” of African American Quaker worship, but a lot happy to make space for that worship, whether in my own (predominantly white) meeting or in another setting that is “free” of people like me.

  15. I am a ‘birthright’ Quaker, raised in programmed meeetings, attended unprogrammed meetings for about 20 years, and for the last 17 yearrs have belonged to a Black Baptist church in my community. I am a ‘white girl’, and as a Quaker I felt called to join an African American Baptist church. Sometimes I say, I had to be a Baptist to be the Quaker I am called to be.

    I loved this video and it fit with my experience, but from a different perspective.

    Thank you so much.

  16. Ayesha , so joyful to know the depth and blessed satisfaction of the abundance of the Spirit in your worship at the Peace Center.

    Thank you for letting us know of your unique connection to the Spirit.

    I love it.

    Blessings Claire

  17. I’m a black Scottish Quaker and loved Ayesha’s video. It was wonderful to be reminded about the many ways of acheiving liberty of the spirit. Thanks so much for this, Helen

  18. The Light resides within me,
    Reverberates within me,
    and Radiates from me as me.
    This dynamic is manifest in every circumstance and context of our lived experience. To connect with ourselves and others from this place of authenticity is the greatest gift we bring to all creation.
    “This reminds us that God indeed finds His/Her homliest home within each one of us.” (Julian of Norwich)

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