On a hot October afternoon, 13 people gathered in a circle in the Santa Barbara Friends Meetinghouse on Chapala Street to discuss, embrace, and deepen their understanding of Quakerism and spirituality.
Well, Quakerism isn’t a word actually used at the get-togethers. Organizers call them a Meeting of Friends, and the powwows are different than many other religious gatherings. Some Friends in the group believe in a God, while others question such an existence, and ministry is met with philosophical discussion embedded in a belief in real world practicality and accessibility. The group launched their Quakerism 101 series on October 2.
The series’s five remaining weeks — the meetings are held Thursday evenings — provide not only a history of Quakers, or Friends, over the past 200 years, but also offer acceptance, support, and growth for those looking for a spiritual base. While Quakers do believe in God, they welcome all seekers. Seekers can be people who are interested in the faith and spirituality in general, but may also question or doubt God’s existence.
The sessions will revolve around Michael L. Birkel’s Silence and Witness: The Quaker Tradition and evolve into a discussion of how those taking part can use these lessons and their faith to impact the community. Discussion ranges from philosophical interpretation to personal understanding and experience. The sessions illustrate the organization’s use of common tools like consensus, mediation, and believing there is a “light” in all, according to Santa Barbara Friends member Pat Hardy. These tools uphold one of the Quakers’ major tenets: equality. Quakers believe that if everyone has the “light,” or is capable of good and receiving God’s love and assistance, then all are equal.
“The purpose of this series is really explaining what Quakers are about — what we believe and how we take action on those beliefs and how it manifests itself in the community,” said Hardy. The Quakers have contributed to social change, she went on, by taking part in many efforts including the anti-slavery movement, feminism, civil rights, and giving birth to Mothers For Peace during the Vietnam War.
The Santa Barbara Friends started meeting in 1952 and have been part of the community ever since, working with PUEBLO and facilitating prison workshops. “Even though there’s a small number of us, we’re involved in the community,” said Hardy. However, many don’t even know Quakers exist here, a problem Quakerism 101 hopes to solve.
Regular Santa Barbara Friends meetings occur Sundays at 10 a.m. with participants who range in experience from three or four months to over 40 years. Hardy acknowledged that the group has gotten smaller over the years, but said members are imbued with deep spirituality and discussion that continues to grow.
The special Quakerism 101 series takes place on Thursdays from 6-8 p.m. at the Santa Barbara Friends Meetinghouse on Chapala Street. The final session is Sunday, November 6. Call (805) 687-0165 for more information.