Julie’s church in the news

The Philadel­phia Inquirer wrote an arti­cle on Julie’s tra­di­tion­al­ist Catholic church this week and even pro­duced a video that gives you a feel of the wor­ship. Because of the two lit­tle ones we try to alter­nate between her church and Friends meet­ing on First Day morn­ings (though my crazy work sched­ule over the past few months have pre­cluded even this). I’m in no dan­ger of becom­ing the “Catholic Ranter” any­time soon (sorry Julie!) but I do appre­ci­ate the rev­er­ence and sense of pur­pose which Mater Ecclessians bring to wor­ship and even I have cul­ture shock when I go to a norvus ordo mass these days. Com­men­tary on the Inquirer piece cour­tesy Father Zuhls­dorf. That blog and the Closed Cafe­te­ria are favorites around here. Here’s a few pic­tures of us at the church fol­low­ing baptisms.

PS: I wish the Catholic Church as a whole were more open-minded when it comes to LGBT issues. That said, the ser­mons on the issue I’ve heard at Mater Eccle­siae have gone out of their way to empha­size char­ity. That said, I’ve occa­sion­ally heard some under the breath com­ments by parish­ioners that weren’t so char­i­ta­ble. Yet another rea­son to stay the Quaker Ranter.

Are Catholics More Quaker?

I guess folks might won­der why the son of the Quaker Ranter is get­ting bap­tized in a Roman Catholic church…

An updated note before I start: I don’t want this to be seen as a cri­tique or put-down of any par­tic­u­lar indi­vid­u­als but to point out what seems to me to be a pretty obvi­ous larger dynamic within Quak­erism: our reli­gious edu­ca­tion pro­grams have not been doing a very good job at trans­mit­ting our faith to our young peo­ple. One mea­sure of such pro­grams is how many chil­dren we retain as actively-participating adults; by such mea­sures I think we can say Quak­ers are failing.

And, a few per­haps obvi­ous dis­claimers: 1) there are deeply faith­ful peo­ple who grew up in Young Friends pro­grams; 2) there are reli­gious ed instruc­tors who are wor­ried about the mes­sage we’re giv­ing our young peo­ple and fret as I do; 3) there are a lot of mem­bers of the RSoF who just don’t think teach­ing dis­tinctly Quaker faith­ful­ness is impor­tant and wouldn’t agree that there’s a problem.

I don’t think it’s use­ful to read this with­out also look­ing to my early arti­cle, The Lost Quaker Gen­er­a­tion, which mourns the friends I’ve seen drop out of Quak­erism (many of them “birthright,” i.e., born into Quaker fam­i­lies), and We’re all Ranters Now, which argues that our soci­ety of seek­ers needs to become a soci­ety of find­ers if we are to be able to artic­u­late a faith to transmit.

On June 30, 2000, Julie and I met at a national gath­er­ing of Quak­ers. Four­teen months later we were mar­ried at the Wood­stown Friends Meet­ing­house under the care of the Atlantic City Area Friends Meet­ing. Roughly four­teen months later, when the sparkles in our eyes were meet­ing with an approv­ing nod from God and our baby was con­ceived, I was co-clerk of Atlantic City Area Meet­ing and Julie was clerk of its Out­reach Com­mit­tee. Ten months later, our infant son Theo was bap­tized at Mater Eccle­siae Roman Catholic Church in Berlin, N.J. It’s Julie’s new church; I myself remain Quaker, but with­out a Meet­ing I can quite call home. What happened?

I don’t want to try to speak for Julie and why she left Friends to return to the faith she was brought up in. But I do have to tes­tify that the rev­er­ence, spirit and authen­tic­ity of the wor­ship at Mater Eccle­siae is deeper than that in most Friends Meet­ing­houses. It’s a church with a lot of mem­bers who seem to believe in the real pres­ence of Christ. A dis­claimer that Mater Eccle­siae is unusual, one of the few churches in the coun­try that uses the tra­di­tional Tri­den­tine Mass or Roman Rite, and that it attracts ardent fol­low­ers who have self-selected them­selves, in that they’re not going to their local parish church. I don’t think it’s the Catholi­cism alone that draws Julie–I think the pur­pose­ful­ness of the wor­shipers is a large piece. Despite all the dis­trac­tions (chants, Latin, rote con­fes­sions of faith: I’m speak­ing as a Friend), the wor­ship there is unusu­ally gath­ered. But more: there’s a ground­ed­ness to the faith. In a one-on-one con­ver­sa­tion the priest explained to me the ways he thought Quak­erism was wrong. I wasn’t offended–quite the con­trary, I loved it! It was so refresh­ing to meet some­one who believed what he believed, (Hey, if I didn’t believe in the degen­er­a­tion of the Roman Catholic Church or the empty pro­fes­sions of hireling priests, I might join him. I also feel com­fort­able pre­dict­ing that he would wel­come my joust­ing here.)

What I can talk about is my mis­giv­ings about the prospect of rais­ing up Theo as a Quaker in Philadel­phia Yearly Meet­ing. The weak­est ele­ment of the Reli­gious Soci­ety of Friends is its children’s reli­gious edu­ca­tion. This is some­thing I’ve seen man­i­fested in two dif­fer­ent kinds of ways: con­tent and results.

Quak­ers have remark­ably few expec­ta­tions of their chil­dren. It’s con­sid­ered remark­able if older chil­dren spend a whole ten min­utes in Meet­ing for Wor­ship (I’ve heard adult birthright Friends boast that they’ve never sat through a whole hour of Quaker wor­ship). Quak­ers are obsessed about lis­ten­ing to what chil­dren have to say, and so never share with them what they believe. I’ve known adults birthright Friends who have never had con­ver­sa­tions with their par­ents about the basis of their faith.

Quaker reli­gious edu­ca­tion pro­grams often forgo teach­ing tra­di­tional Quaker faith and prac­tice for more fad­dish beliefs. The base­ment walls of the Philadel­phia Yearly Meet­ing youth cen­ter is painted over with danc­ing gods, while of the big events of the Young Friends’ annual cal­en­dar is a “Quaker sweat lodge”. A cul­ture of touch and phys­i­cal­ity (“cud­dle pud­dles”, back­rubs) is thought charm­ing and immod­est dress is con­sid­ered a sign of rebel­lious indi­vid­u­al­ity. Quaker schools pub­lish brochures say­ing Meet­ing for Wor­ship is all about “think­ing, with God given lit­tle notice.” When Quak­ers want to have “inter­gen­er­a­tional” wor­ship, they feel they have to pro­gram it with some sort of attention-keeping play­time activ­ity (Mater Eccle­siae echoes Quaker tra­di­tion here: “inter­gen­er­a­tional” means chil­dren sit­ting through and par­tic­i­pat­ing in Mass with the adults).

Too many of the peo­ple my age and Julie’s who were brought up at Friends are igno­rant of basic Quaker beliefs and are unaware of Quaker tra­di­tions (FUM, EFI, Con­ser­v­a­tives) out­side the easy-going East Coast lib­er­al­ism they were raised in. For them being a Friend is act­ing a cer­tain way, believ­ing a cer­tain brand of polit­i­cal phi­los­o­phy and being part of a cer­tain social group. Too many Young Adult Friends I’ve known over the years are cliquish, irre­li­gious, and have more than their share of issues around inti­macy and sexuality.

Don’t get me wrong: these kids are often really good peo­ple, chil­dren to be proud of, doing great things in the world. Many of them are open-hearted, spiritually-sensitive, and in deeply grounded rela­tion­ships. But only a very few are prac­tic­ing Quak­ers. And when I look at the reli­gious edu­ca­tion they get, I can’t say I’m sur­prised. If I were to raise Theo as a Quaker, I would have to “home school” him away from most of the reli­gious edu­ca­tion pro­grams offered locally. When all the kids scram­ble out of wor­ship after ten min­utes I’d have to say “no” and tell him to keep sitting–how weird would that be?

Theo has a bet­ter chance of shar­ing the tra­di­tional Quaker val­ues of the pres­ence of Christ, of Holy Obe­di­ence, and of bear­ing the cross by being raised as a Catholic in a tra­di­tion­al­ist church. It’s more likely he’ll turn out Quaker if he’s bap­tised at Mater Eccle­siae. Julie and I will be teach­ing him rev­er­ence by exam­ple. I’ll share my Quaker faith with him. I’m sure he’ll par­tic­i­pate in Quaker events, but con­sciously, selec­tively, guard­edly (in the old Quaker sense).

If Friends believe they have a faith worth holdling, they should also believe they have a faith worth pass­ing on. Do we?

Related Read­ing

  • Beckey Phipps con­ducted a series of inter­views that touched on many of these issues and pub­lished it in FGCon­nec­tions. FGC Reli­gious Edu­ca­tion: Lessons for the 21st Cen­tury asks many of the right ques­tions. My favorite line: “It is the most amaz­ing thing, all the kids that I know that have gone into [Quaker] lead­er­ship programs–they’ve disappeared.”
  • I touch on these issues from the other side in The Lost Quaker Gen­er­a­tion, which is about the twenty– and thirty-something Friends that have drifted away