Group: Religious Society of Friends, 2012 Chapala Street
Service Attended: Sunday, 10am
Number of Members: 45
Special Offerings: Seeker’s Meeting for prayerful discussion, first Sunday of each month after worship meeting; Quaker Spirituality Reading Group, every Thursday evening; devotional telephone message updated weekly with members’ thoughts can be reached at 646-0939; active in Alternatives to Violence Project workshops, Death Penalty Focus, and Conscientious Objectors and their Supporters.
Contact: 687-0165, or on the web at http://sbmm.scqm.org/
Santa Barbara Quakers - who call themselves “Friends” - meet weekly in a light-filled room on Chapala Street. Chairs are arranged in concentric circles facing the center of the room, which contains a table and a vase of flowers. Each Sunday, a different Friend assumes the role of welcoming worshippers, greeting each Friend with a kind smile and the words, “I’m so glad to see you.” In keeping with the Quaker belief in the equality of all people, there are no clergy in the Quaker tradition. For over 300 years, male and female Friends have shared leadership roles.
Friends are guided by the belief that the light of God is present in everyone. Sunday meetings are a time to connect with this light in one’s self and others, and to silently worship the presence of Spirit - as many Friends refer to God - in one’s own life. For a little over an hour, Friends sit in silence, speaking only when one feels moved to share a reflection on the joy or sorrow of existence, and God’s place therein. This sharing, known as vocal ministry, occurs only when Friends feel moved by the Spirit within. Although there are no images of God or saviors in the Quaker meeting room, and no altars or elaborate rituals, this time of shared silence and reflection is nonetheless experienced as worship, in that Friends pause to listen to the Spirit within their fellow human beings and within themselves, trusting that the words spoken will serve as spiritual guides. In this way, Friends gather to worship the presence of God within each person.
This method of worship goes hand in hand with the Quaker commitment to simplicity - to speak plainly and openly at all times and to consume only what one needs. In this vein, there is no need for Friends to dress up for Sunday meetings.
At the particular meeting I attended, comments ranged from philosophical quandaries to personal trials, but each touched upon God’s eternal presence. One person spoke of her feelings about the quote, “Nature is God made visible,” reminding us that nature is not only beautiful, but can sometimes be frightening or bleak. But there is Spirit there as well, she argued, saying that our “personal landscapes” similarly contain both the bleak and the beautiful. Indeed, the hour-and-an-half gathering seemed to contain both extremes of human experience, which arose due to the simple act of sitting silently and listening to one’s own feelings and thoughts reflecting of the comments made; thoughts that elicited both tears and laughter.
The meeting’s openness to struggle and ease was particularly clear to me during the portion of the meeting in which we went around the room, saying our names and speaking any “afterthoughts” we might have. As two women engaged in an emotional discussion about how, if at all, to expose one’s children to the horrors and tragedies in the world, a baby cooed and laughed on her father’s knee, content as could be. “She is so naturally trusting of the world,” her father later said. “There’s so much to learn from her.”
The meeting ended with informal discussions amongst Friends and oatmeal cookies, as members exited the gathering as casually and gracefully as they had come in.