The sound of crickets was faintly heard over the profound silence that filled every inch of the room. Six people, including me, sat in pure silence, with our eyes closed, patiently waiting for someone to speak or for the allotted worship time to be over. This is what a typical weekly Quaker worship meeting is like at an Adelphi Friend Meeting.
This week was different, however; the meeting took place at the University of Maryland’s Memorial Chapel for the first time. The small room had 11 chairs set up, with only six of them filled, and two small tables in the corner with informative pamphlets placed on a conservative black tablecloth.
Chloe Schwenke, an alumna and a Quaker human rights activist, led the hour long meeting. She explained that there will be four meetings on campus this semester to gauge students interest in Quaker worship. They usually meet in another chapel nearby in Adelphi. This past Wednesday was the first meeting they hosted on campus but I was the only student present.
Only university graduate students have attended the meetings in Adelphi, except for a couple of undergraduates who occasionally came around to worship.
The meetings last an hour, 30 minutes of which is a time called expectant waiting, where attendees sit in pure silence. In Quaker worship, expectant waiting is defined as a time to quiet one’s thoughts and have a moment for God to speak to each person, in order to listen and look for the “inward light or Spirit.”
If at any time, someone receives a message from the Spirit, they may share it with the group and break the silence. At the end of worship, it is customary to shake hands with the people sitting next to you.
“Our purpose is to listen to God’s presence” said Schwenke. “We don’t put God in a box, we let people define what it means to them in their own lives.”
Alex Beane, a junior public health science major who occasionally attends the Adelphi meetings, describes expectant waiting as a time to listen to herself and sort out her thoughts. She is one of the undergraduate students who associates as a Quaker and occasionally attends the meetings.
“I sit down and reflect on what I need to think through, that I didn’t have time to pay attention to throughout the week or that I didn’t want to listen to, and truly listen to my inner self,” Beane said.
Quakerism has been around since the 17th century and was one of the first religions to abolish slavery and perceive men and women as equals. The religion has no authoritative figure or clergy, and as described by the other participants in the meeting, the most important thing in the religion is community and inclusiveness.
According to Schwenke, anyone can participate in worship or join the religion, no matter where they come from or what religion they subscribe to. Quakers in Adelphi recently hosted an LGBT worship to openly discuss equality within the community.
Alaine D. Duncan, a licensed acupuncturist and somatic experiencing practitioner who was also at the meeting, says that we need this kind of religion now more than ever.
“The Quaker religion is on the opposition of capital murder and war, now especially with so much violence in our world, I feel that we need this type of time and meditation to feel connected with each other and our community,” Duncan said.
Beane attempted to start a Quakers club last year but was not successful because there aren’t many Quakers on campus. According to Beane, most Quakers in Maryland attend Quaker colleges. As a result, this university has very few Quakers on campus.
Like Schwenke, Beane would like to see the religion expand throughout Maryland and include more diverse backgrounds.
“We are now trying to expand to have more diversity because right now most Quakers are white older people. We want to introduce more diversity and ethnicities, especially on campus.”
Photo by Alicia Cherem