Quaker Memorial Meetings — A Great Gift

June 15, 2014 § Leave a comment

I went to a Quaker memorial meeting for a f/Friend yesterday. The meetinghouse of the host meeting (New Brunswick, New Jersey) would not have been big enough for the gathering, so it was held in Kirkpatrick Chapel, the beautiful chapel of Rutgers College. 

Time constraints, I think, prevented us from centering down for a good while before the speaking began; another group was scheduled for the space, I hear. A couple of prepared messages from family followed directly after the clerk’s introduction and then the meeting opened right away to other messages. Even so, the sharing was good and there were some nice passages of quiet time between some of them. And we ended with How Can I Keep From Singing? Lord, how I love that song, just as John did, the man we were memorializing.

From reading the journal of Elias Hicks, it seems that, in the elder days, we would get two kinds of vocal ministry at meetings for burial. Hicks himself seemed to relish these occasions and often stepped up to the challenge. He seemed to favor the kind that I would paraphrase thus: you never know when you will be called before the throne of judgment, so for the sake of your immortal soul, you better live a life of righteousness. Are you listening, you youngsters? We don’t get that kind of message much anymore, but from Hicks I get the sense that exhortations like this were the main event.

These days, however, the other kind inevitably pours out in a lovely stream of good will: testimonies to the ways in which the Light was manifest in the life of the deceased, reflecting the inner work that the Holy Spirit and that person had done together.

Oh, people don’t always make it so spiritual, especially those who are not Friends. Most folks just relive an aspect of their relationship with the person whose life is being celebrated and they share their love with the rest of us. But it’s so good, whether it’s phrased in a religious way or not.

And there’s almost always some good humor. Often quite a lot of laughing, in fact. And a good number of the gathered meetings I’ve attended have been memorial meetings.

So—what a blessing this is! The Quaker meeting for celebration of a life and the Quaker meeting for marriage are two of our most precious gifts to the world, I think. No empty forms; not one homily, but several, from the heart, usually, not the head; no rote prayers or scriptural theologizing about the afterlife; just human love encapsulated in personal words.


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