Blessed by the Witness of God

Quaker Camp 2007

Blessed by the Witness of God

by Pamela Haines, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting

This article appeared in the December 2007 issue of Friends Journal under “Reports & Epistles”

It was Friday night. We had finished with introductions, and were looking toward getting ourselves organized for the time ahead. Someone stood up to share a thought, which grew into a heartfelt message. When he sat down there was a pause, which grew longer and deeper, and we found ourselves in the sweet cool water of a gathered meeting. In astonished recognition, gratitude and anticipation, we realized that Quakercamp had begun.

The initial vision was simple: to create a space where Friends could be together with enough unscheduled time that the Spirit could work on us, so that truth could rise, and what happened one day could affect what happened the next. Gradually, over the months of planning a shape emerged. Olney Friends School in Barnesville Ohio was chosen, as an inexpensive site with ties to Ohio Conservative Friends, who have helped our religious society so much to be fed from the deep pools that nourished early Friends.

The idea of an initial weekend gathering of those who had found similar nourishment in participation in Young Friends of North America was expanded to include current young adult Friends who are seeking the heart of our faith, where all branches of our Quaker tree can be together in worship and witness. The week that followed was planned with just enough structure to hold us together—a morning of preparation for worship, worship and worship sharing, an open afternoon for visits, small groups and play, an early evening presentation by Ohio Conservative Friends, followed by an open plenary time for whatever might rise up to be addressed.

Those who came were drawn together by a common hunger—to know God experientially, to be present to the Spirit, to be led. We had anticipated the blessing of having that experience across generations. An unexpected blessing was the richness of the interaction among FGC and Conservative Friends.

The evening presentations on community, prayer, scripture, eldering, and meeting for business led to deeper understanding of our common heritage. During a group that a Friend from the liberal tradition called to share her understanding of Barclay’s Apology, a conservative Friend in plain dress listened closely, nodded at times, added a few words. His parting comment was that if she could bring a real appreciation of Barclay to liberal Friends it would be a great service. Conservative Friends shared their love for the scriptures, and morning Bible study became a rich time of reflection together. As the week went on, local Friends joined more and more fully into the experience till by the end we were truly joined in the Spirit. One elder observed that this was her first experience of a mixed gathering of Friends that truly worked for members of her beloved Ohio Conservative Yearly Meeting. What a gift to be able to help water each other’s roots!

Each day helped shape the next. A late afternoon intergenerational session on sexual ethics that developed unexpected depth was continued the next day. One Friend’s discomfort with the way confidentiality was handled led to a lunch conversation that flowed into an afternoon group that led to a set of queries for Friends of all persuasions on confidentiality and openness. A newly-convinced Friend, engaged in absorbing the treasure of our heritage by putting quotes of early Friends to music, sang the words of George Fox, William Penn and Isaac Pennington to us in the time following worship. A group met the next day to support her in her ministry, and interest was expressed in bringing her gifts for Ohio Yearly Meeting sessions. On our last evening together, when a proposed set of queries on sexual ethics led to significant discomfort and the prospect of division, a young adult Friend offered words that allowed us to move forward in unity.

Worship preparation included not only Bible study but times of singing, meeting for healing and lamentation. Worship was never too long. At meal times we were nourished by the simple fare provide by Olney Friends School and by conversation both informal and topical. In the afternoons you might find Friends in pairs on a bench or under a tree talking intently, young adults deep in discernment on next steps in creating an all-inclusive young adult Friends group, individuals in silent reflection, group games full of movement and laugher, a cluster of folks gathered around a common topic, the sound of a concertina floating across the lawn. Clearness meetings sprang up (and flowed over into at least one car ride home). Several Friends who rarely ask for help expressed deep gratitude for the spacious welcoming spirit that opened the way for them. Late evening sings were sweet. Even the all-ages soccer game, campfire and swims in the pond seemed touched by grace.

George Fox tells us that when we have learned to live lives that allow us to walk cheerfully over the earth answering that of God in everyone, we will come to be a blessing in them, and make the witness of God in them to bless us. It was a small bit of earth that we were walking over that week, but the blessings, both given and received, were real.

A second Quakercamp is planned for June 22-28, 2008 in Barnesville, Ohio.