Last weekend, I spoke with Anne Bennett (see previous post for bio) at one of Friends World Committee for Consultation events in preparation for the 2012 World Conference. Anne told a story of meeting with the Dean of Trinity University in Belfast. The Dean sat on the other side of the wooden office table and tried to figure out whether Anne was Catholic or Protestant because that label would help her address Anne correctly. Anne, knowing what the Dean was doing, cut to the chase and identified herself as a Quaker. The Dean leapt out her chair, ran around to the other side of the desk and embraced Anne. She did this all while exclaiming "You were the one's that fed us! During the famine, you fed us!"
Anne told this story to illustrate the religious "credit" that the Religious Society of Friends must work to preserve. Much of the history of Quakerism has been mythologized. For example, I personally did not have a role in the underground railroad, WW2 relief work or feeding the hungry during the potato famine (not in historical order!), but when I identify as Quaker to non-Quakers, it is these stories and more that emerge as part of that Quaker identity.
I have many reflections to offer about attending the National Council of Churches Centennial Gathering in New Orleans, LA. One of those reflections is on an interaction I had with a Cuban delegation that was also present.
I was in a small group with two Cuban men discussing the Christian Understanding of War in an Age of Terrorism. I had come into the small discussion group late and joined the discussion in silence. At one point another member of the group asked me to introduce myself and when I identified as being part of the Religious Society of Friends, the two Cuban men got really excited. Through a translator they said "We love the Quakers! They feed pregnant women! The Quakers provide canned meat and vegetables to pregnant women of our churches. They are very good people!"
Being in this ecumenical environment poses its challenges and delivers gifts. I am proud of my faith community and I hope that I can live up to its reputation.
"On the last day, Jesus will say to those on His right hand, "Come, enter the Kingdom. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was sick and you visited me." Then Jesus will turn to those on His left hand and say, "Depart from me because I was hungry and you did not feed me, I was thirsty and you did not give me to drink, I was sick and you did not visit me." These will ask Him, "When did we see You hungry, or thirsty or sick and did not come to Your help?" And Jesus will answer them, "Whatever you neglected to do unto one of these least of these, you neglected to do unto Me!" Matthew 25: 31-46