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Quaker Losses I Would Like to See

Nancy Marshall
On Loss (May 2023)

We cling to old ways, even when they inhibit our spiritual growth. Sometimes we do not remember why the old ways were put in place, which means their use has lost its validity.

First, let’s lose our use of “First Day,” and “Fourth Month,” etc. Do you know why we use those words instead of “Sunday” or “April”? Early on, Friends did not want to use the names of Roman and other gods, whose names had been used to name days and months. But if I knew them once, I’ve forgotten most of them. For example, I’m pretty sure “Thursday” was named after Thor, a god of war. But what is “Monday?”

Today, we do not worship any of those gods by saying those words. Most of us don’t even know which ones stood for what. In clinging to this old custom, we misuse our testimony of simplicity. For example. I could say, “I’ll be teaching First Day School on the fourth First Day of Fifth Month.” Huh? Or, for simplicity’s sake, I could say, “I’ll teach Sunday School on May 28.” Not only is that simpler, folks who were not raised Quaker will understand it as quickly as real “Quaker insiders.” If we want to include newcomers, we either have to go to great lengths to teach them the private handshake, or we can use current language everyone understands – without bowing down and worshipping false gods.

Also, let’s lose our custom of concentrating first on finding a keynote speaker for any regional Quaker gathering before we put effort or resources into planning the children’s program. We give lip service to how important the children are, yet it’s always our adult program that we make sure we have in place for regional and yearly meetings. Instead, we should commit to the children’s program first. Putting children first may open our souls to the possibility that they will stay in the Quaker community. As the quote from Jesus goes, “And a little child will lead them.”

Finally, let’s lose the word “Quakerism” and replace it with “the Quaker Way.” “Isms” refer to ideologies that are clearly defined, almost to the point of rigidity, ones which do not change. “The Quaker Way” is less specific; it calls us to adhere to centering down, listening for the Spirit, keeping our integrity, and letting way open.

Since our beginnings, we have changed. We have changed our dress, our understanding of slavery and racism, our openness to LGBTQA+, and environmental concerns. I hope Friends will see that if we embrace these losses, we may gain opportunities more in keeping with our testimonies of simplicity, equality, and integrity.

– Nancy Marshall, Phoenix Friends Meeting (IMYM)


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