Giving praise, requesting prayer, eyes watching God
When I told a friend I was visiting a Quaker church, he gave a quizzical look. “Are those the people who don’t use electricity?”
Um, no. That’s the Amish, immortalized by “Weird Al” Yankovic’s satire. The Quakers, or the Religious Society of Friends, originated in 17th century England and are best known for being a peace church with a long history of human-rights advocacy.
The Sacramento Friends Community Church sits on a quiet street in East Sacramento. I was greeted warmly at the Sunday morning service and, once seated, admired the diversity of churchgoers. The meeting room looked like a standard Christian church, with pretty stained-glass windows, but without a crucifix. We sang opening hymns, accompanied by an organist, and then the pastor asked for prayer requests.
With refreshing informality, people spoke up from their seats, “giving praise” for a recent turn of blessing and requesting prayers for challenges. One young woman requested prayers for the people of Myanmar, in particular a 13-year-old girl her family sponsors through World Vision. The pastor, James Healton, knew everyone by name and jotted down notes as they spoke.
After a guitar/vocals duet and a scripture reading, the meeting shifted into a brief period of “silent, open worship.” (A full silent-worship meeting is offered Sunday evenings.) I bowed my head, unsure what to do but figuring I should look reverent. The disembodied voices of congregants began to rise up, sending prayers to heaven like helium balloons. In between prayers was a meditative silence.
The tradition of silence in the Friends movement has roots in the belief that all people possess an “inner light” of divinity and can have direct experience of God. Friends meetings follow one of two worship styles: programmed worship, like the one I attended, which resembles a typical Protestant service; and unprogrammed, where participants meet in silence and speak when they feel led by the spirit. (The latter style is practiced by the Sacramento Friends Meeting, located near CSUS.)
After some people shared prayers aloud, the pastor returned to the pulpit. It happened to be Mother’s Day, so his sermon was on “A Tale of Two Mothers.” He told the Bible story of Sarah, Abraham’s beautiful but barren wife, and Hagar, Sarah’s servant.
“In those days, a woman’s worth was determined by her ability to bear children,” Pastor Healton explained. He told of how these two women “represent two covenants, two ways of relating to God: One is the covenant of slavery, and one is the covenant of freedom.” As a storyteller, Healton was earnest and enthusiastic, but with a fair amount of cheesiness for good measure. He translated scripture to modern-day lingo, earning laughs for his boisterous skits.
“Look to the Lord,” Healton advised, describing Christ’s miracle of walking on water. “If you look to yourself, you’ll falter and fumble and fail.” He closed with some thoughts on the law of God, using the latter analogy to illustrate how belief is what keeps God’s law.
“It’s an attitude of the heart,” he said.
After the 90-minute service, all were invited to stick around for refreshments and fellowshipping. Though not inspired, I felt peaceful, appreciative of how community can strengthen individuals.