Before moving to Oregon, I was a member of an unprogrammed Friends Meeting in Tucson, Arizona. My family felt closely connected to many people in the Meeting, particularly three other families. We socialized, traveled and celebrated holidays and family occasions with these families and were supported by them and others in our Meeting during times of illness, loss and hardship.
Once in Oregon, I attended several unprogrammed Friends Meetings, but worshipping with these Friends left me feeling homesick and heartbroken. After a time I began to worship with a community of Lutherans and Catholics. I was welcomed into that community and became quite active and happy there.
One thing, however, began to bother me. Our Pastor would say things like, “because we are Christians, we…” or “as Christians, we…” This didn’t ring true for me. When she spoke of the acts of love, welcome, inclusion or service that we performed or feelings or motivations we felt because we were Christians, I knew that I did not, in fact, do or feel those things because I was a Christian.
I’ve often heard Quakers describe themselves as ‘Seekers after truth’ and that resonates with me. I believe that whatever loving or kind acts I commit or thoughts or feelings I have are because I am a person wanting to be moved by the Spirit of Truth, the Spirit of Love. My favorite query is, “Do we center our lives in an awareness of the presence of God so that all things take their rightful place?” I would hope that my life and intent are motivated by that query, rather than by focusing on Jesus to the exclusion of the God to which he pointed.
I began to feel like a fraud and started to attend what I saw as less prescriptive churches, such as Unity or Unitarian. I found the messages in these churches to be entertaining, but they felt shallow to me. I was missing the Quaker experiences of silence and queries that led to self-examination and growth and allowed the Spirit to lead me to a deeper place.
When I first came to West Hills Friends, I was wary. I had heard warnings and cautionary tales about ‘church’ Quakers and programmed Friends. I didn’t need to worry. What I found at West Hills was a community of other people who strove to align their thoughts, feelings and actions with the Light that guided them. Perhaps some find that the Light speaks to them through the life and teachings of Jesus, perhaps others feel or experience the Light differently. It didn’t seem to matter. What I feel that we all have in common is that we are seekers after Truth wanting to be led by Love and Spirit. West Hills Friends is a sanctuary where I am held and cared for as I seek the Truth and where I find that awareness of the presence of God that I want to move and live from.