Where silence is golden

Two small buildings and a large community garden on West Vine St. in Fort Collins mark home base for the local Quaker community. But buildings aren’t a major focus for this small but vibrant group of people who focus on their members and attenders rather than on their place of worship.

From the 1960s when Quakers began meeting in the Fort Collins area until 1994 when they bought an old farmhouse and established a permanent place of worship, they held services in each others’ homes, often in the evenings. These days they meet at 10 a.m. every “First Day,” (That’s Quaker for Sunday.) for silent worship. Membership hovers around 50 but some live far enough away that average attendance is 25 to 30.

After the service they gather in the First Day School, the building adjacent to the meeting house, for coffee and social time. Once a month they enjoy a potluck lunch together.

Greg Schubert, who recently completed a three-year term as clerk of the church, experienced a long journey into Quakerism, not unlike others in the congregation. “There aren’t many of us in this part of the country who are “birthright” Quakers,” he explains. Schubert grew up a Methodist, a denomination he describes as a close cousin of the Quakers. Both had their beginnings in England in response to disagreements they had with the Anglican Church in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and both were generally looked down upon for their unorthodox beliefs.

Schubert became a Baha’i when he was in college, drawn to the religion that grew out of Islam because of its emphasis on gender equality and a dual acceptance of science and religion. As he continued his search for religious experience, he found Buddhist practices appealing for a time. Exploring beliefnet.com on the computer, he took a quiz offered there and learned he might find the church home that best suited his beliefs and principles with either the Unitarians or the Quakers. “I knew about the history of the Quakers but learned about present day Quakers through information on the web,” Schubert said.

And he added that he met his wife, Rebecca, through a dating site offered by beliefnet.com. They had their first date at the Quaker Meeting House in Boulder and were married within the year. Rebecca had been a Quaker for some time and the pair found that they held similar beliefs, ideals and principles.

An informative booklet prepared by the Fort Collins Quakers explains the basic beliefs and practices of Friends, a term commonly used to describe the Quakers. They have no doctrine; instead they have generally held beliefs: They do not designate special holy places, practice sacraments make use of ritual objects. A unique decision-making process seeks unity and at the same time recognizes that the majority does not always have the truth. They believe in the equality of all people—women, children and minorities and use words like thee and thou rather than “you” which can indicate a social difference. Women have always been prominent in Quaker organizations.

As early as 1660 Quakers were taking an active stance against war and in more recent times have become well-known as conscientious objectors. Quakers believe in acting politically and globally. The American Friends Service Committee was formed during World War I to provide relief to European victims of war and make it possible for conscientious objectors to serve. After World War II, the Friends Committee on National Legislation became the first religious lobbying group in the United States.

The Fort Collins Quakers are an unprogrammed congregation meaning that they have no pastoral leadership. In fact, they have no paid staff at all. Someone from the congregation is designated and serves as clerk to represent the group for a three-year term.

Folding chairs are set up in rows facing each other for the silent worship service. There is no formal procedure, no music, no sacraments. Attenders and members alike share in silent communion, only speaking when they have carefully processed their desire to speak. After a time of “centering down” they make sure that their message is one that is intended for those around them not for themselves, that it is appropriately timed, that it is not simply a response to someone who has spoken previously and that others will not mistake their words as “academic or parental” or a political announcement. When their intended message has passed all these internal tests, then the member will speak. Usually the message is brief–between one and three minutes. No one responds. In other words, This is not the time or place for discussion.

“Sometimes no one speaks during an entire service,” Schubert explained. “We call this expectant waiting.” On occasion he has attended a large church with relatives where he is acutely conscious of the sound level. He says, “I can’t hear myself think.”

No offering is collected during silent worship. Instead members and attenders contribute privately, giving money to the treasurer about once a month or when they are able. The booklet explains that Quakers “do not value spending money on ornate buildings or fixtures…No member receives any money for services rendered.” Quakers prefer to spend their money on causes that foster peace and justice and generally keep their homes, cars and clothing simple.

This small congregation is active in the community. They are part of the Homeless Initiative, work with Faith Home Hospitality, with foreign students they support the food bank. Through committees within the church they care for the building and grounds, serve coffee on Sunday mornings, handle religious education for children and adults and conduct pastoral care through a ministry and counsel committee. They also connect with regional and national Quaker groups.

Schubert suggests that anyone interested in learning more about the Fort Collins Quakers is welcome to visit their website: www.info@fortcollinsquakers.com or 970-491-9717.

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