September 14, 2014
I went back to Germantown Meeting this morning after a long absence. Germantown is the first Quaker meeting I joined and being back in that meetinghouse brought a flood of memories. I greeted quite a number of F/friends from my years spent worshipping there, and my mind conjured many others no longer with us.
The meeting room is large, almost barnlike, and unadorned. The walls are beige, the trim and ceiling creamy white. There are large double windows on three sides. The fourth has a bank of raised facing benches. Apparently a second floor U-shaped gallery was originally planned but never built. You can imagine how it would fit the room and make it a little less imposing. In the middle of the ceiling is a circular, wooden, slatted fan for ventilation. For generations, children have tried to count the number of slats to occupy themselves during the silence of meeting.
I first was drawn to Quakerism at Haverford, and fitfully attended New Haven meeting while in graduate school, but it was at Germantown in the mid-late 1970s that I first began to attend meeting regularly. And it was at Germantown I first became a member. What a turn in the road that proved to be.
I struggled for several years with the question of whether I should join. Did I believe enough of what they believed, I wondered, even as I found value for me in going to meeting. Finally I wrote a letter requesting membership saying I didn’t know what I believed, but would they take me as a seeker? They would and they did.
I see now more clearly the commitment I made. It wasn’t a commitment to believe certain things. It was rather a commitment to be part of a community, a local one that nested inside some larger ones and thus made me a member of those wider communities, too. At the same time, and more importantly, it committed me to continuing seeking using the spiritual practices and disciplines of Friends, especially the practice of waiting worship.
I see more clearly now what it means to make a commitment. I haven’t made that many in my life, and I expect few of us do however often we speak of commitment. We may make a decision that turns us in a direction (to live in a certain place, or to work somewhere) but in a few years we may well make a different decision, turn in yet a new direction. Those aren’t commitments. They were choices, but they didn’t have enduring consequences. The commitments we make are the choices we make that fundamentally shape our lives. Marrying someone should be such a commitment. Having children certainly is. These are commitments to enter into enduring relationships.
Becoming a Friend was another choice I made that has had enduring consequences. Joining Germantown Meeting opened the door to friendships that have lasted for decades, but it isn’t the relationships that define this commitment. This commitment, for me, is grounded in the promise to myself to worship regularly in the manner of Friends, and to lead my life as I am led through such worship. That’s why Germantown is a place of beginning for me.
(Two days later, I added some thoughts about what it means to make a commitment.)