One of Emma Turcotte’s teachers in high school was an Earlham alum, and he encouraged her to go there as well—that’s where she first learned about Quakers. Even then, she recalls, she didn’t really delve into faith and practice until a year abroad at a settlement in New Zealand. “I really loved it,” she says, “and the next year—senior year—applied to be in Quaker Voluntary Service.” Now she attends Beacon Hill Friends Meeting in Boston.
In this episode, Emma is joined by other Friends who discuss their initial experiences with Quakerism—and how they’ve led to an enduring commitment to worship. We invite you to share your Quaker origin story in our comments section.
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Emily Provance: I started searching for a faith tradition when I was 10 years old, and I knew that what I was looking for was a tradition that would teach that God speaks directly to all people. And it was about 17 years before I found Quakers, and I knew I was home in my second meeting for worship.
What Brought Me to Quakerism?
The first meeting for worship that I ever went to was at my home meeting, Fifteenth Street, and it was completely silent and I was so annoyed because we got all the way to the end of the hour and I knew nothing more about Quakerism than I had when I walked in. But in that second meeting somebody stood up and gave vocal ministry (spoke in meeting) and he said that George Fox had said, “There is that of God in everyone.” That’s the thing that has stuck with me for years and that’s how I knew.
Lisa Graustein: I was born into Quakerism. My mom was Catholic and my dad was Quaker. I grew up attending both Catholic church and Quaker meeting in New Haven, Connecticut where I was raised, and when I was 12 as I was facing confirmation in the Catholic church it was clear that was not the right landing place for me and became a Junior Member of New Haven Meeting (part of New England Yearly Meeting).
Emma Turcotte: So I had never heard of Quakers before, and I went to undergrad at Earlham; I’m from Indiana originally and I had a high school teacher who pushed me in that direction (it was his Alma Mater). So I went to Earlham and that’s where I first learned what Quakers are and who Quakers are. I didn’t really get as involved with Quakerism during my time there until my junior year when I actually went abroad. I went to New Zealand and part of that study abroad program was living at a Quaker settlement. I really loved it, and the next year–senior year–applied to be in Quaker Voluntary Service, which I did and which is what brought me here.
Michael Levi: So my introduction to Quakerism came in middle school from a friend of our family’s. My brother and I were spending a weekend with them when our parents were out of town and one Sunday morning they took us to meeting because that’s what they did. In a strange way, the meeting felt very countercultural to me, and the other thing, I think, was that the First-day school teacher I had took me seriously and I actually got to talk about things that I’d been thinking about and my opinion was respected, and so I kept going back.
What Has Kept You Worshiping with Friends?
Wess Daniels: What’s kept me worshiping with Friends has been– I think it’s shifted over time. it’s hard to really kind of– I don’t know if there’s really a through line. I think one thing is as a tradition, and when I say that I mean like all of our little branches and different groups all sort of fit under what I consider to be the Quaker tradition– so within the Quaker tradition there’s a lot of room to move around. And when I came into Quakerism I was an evangelical, and over time while I still connect with some of that my theology, my experiences, my understanding has shifted quite a bit and I haven’t run out of sort of runway in the Quaker tradition so to speak, and so I think part of it is just the spaciousness.
Derek Brown: But even more than the worship itself, the theology of Quakerism stood out to me. This was a faith that really took the teachings of Jesus seriously. It was an intensely personal faith, one where you approach God without anyone between you; no mediator, and when you gave your life to Christ you are one in whom Christ dwells (that of God in everyone). But it’s also one that your life is a testimony; one that demands you take the words of Jesus seriously when he calls you to live your life as if the Kingdom of God is real, is coming, and is here, and I thought that was missing in a lot of my experiences in Church growing up where there was an emphasis on personal spirituality but perhaps not an emphasis on living that lifestyle outside of the Church or outside one’s personal devotional life and so I thought Quakers had bridged that gap by really transcending both faith and also practice.
Lisa Graustein: I love Friends faith. I love that we believe there is that of the Divine in everyone and we believe that the realm of God and Heaven is here and now, and so to me I believe there is no separation between expressions of faith, my spiritual life, and social activism; that it’s all part of greater whole of making manifest the vision that the divine has for us and how we can be with each other.
Ron Hogan: It is, at it’s best, a community that is actively engaged in helping to bring about the Kingdom of the Heavens here on Earth the way Jesus talks about in the gospels; you know, that this isn’t supposed to be like a bonus level where once you’re through with this world then you move onto the next. It really is a utopian vision of what the world is supposed to be like now, and obviously it is slow building, but you put in the work anyway.
- 1) What brought you to Quakerism?
- 2) Why are you still worshiping with Friends?
The views expressed in this video are of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Friends Journal or its collaborators.