Merion Friends Meeting
Reflections of a Roman Catholic practicing Quakerism

Many Friends find it odd that I feel at home in a Friends Meeting. After all, isn't Quakerism the exact opposite of Roman Catholicism, with its defined creed and catechism and with its extensive system of ritual and sacraments?

In fact, many Roman Catholics share Friends' social concerns and work side by side with Quakers ministering to the poor, the sick, the mentally ill, prisoners, and victims of racial discrimination as well as in working for world peace. And although Catholicism teaches that the sacraments are necessary to fully share in the Kingdom of God, there is never any doubt that God is among us and that anyone may directly communicate with God. Despite its hierarchical structure, Catholics are taught that the "Church" is comprised of all believers, and the clergy are servants of the People of God, not masters governing mindless slaves.

Like many who were born Roman Catholic, I never agreed with 100% of Church teachings, and felt that many other articles of dogma were of too little importance for Christians to divide themselves into separate communities over. The idea that all people ought to be united in a single faith is emphasized in Roman Catholicism, and it holds together many who may dissent on the details.

But while having a designated ministry can provide a vehicle for God to act in the world, it can also sometimes be a hindrance to people's spirituality. In particular, the tendency of some Church leaders to support right wing politicians so long as they claim to oppose abortion -- regardless of how greatly they differ from Church teaching on other matters -- is deeply disappointing to me. And the insistence on Catholics worshiping in the parish in which they live can mean sitting through Mass every week where that particular worship service is more a hindrance than a help to your personal spiritual life.

Quakers welcome everyone to their Meetings. You can attend any Meeting where you feel comfortable, and they do each have their own spirit. You don't have to disavow your current faith or promise to stop attending its services. Instead of providing a set of beliefs you must agree with, the Society of Friends has a set of questions -- "Queries" -- that challenge you to search your own conscience and bring your concerns to God within your own heart as well as with the community during Meetings for Worship. Many people who are an active part of Quaker communities are "attenders" rather than "members," and that's perfectly acceptable. Many "unchurched" Roman Catholics may find a spiritual home in a Quaker Meeting.

--Eileen Carpenter