Thursday, November 11, 2010

When we were hungry, You feed us!

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


  1. Very Interesting and thought provoking piece. There is no doubting the wonderful work Quakers did in the past. I just wonder about the present. In Friendship. P.

  2. As Quakers do not publicise their 'good works' even Quakers do not always know what is being done in their name. In Britain we started the Circles of support and accountability for released child abusers to help them stop re offending. This was so successful that it has been continued nationwide and become a national,not a Quaker body. The Quakers are the ones who were asked to train the ecumenical accompaniers who volunteer to observe in Israel/Palestine and help to calm the atmosphere. Just two examples that spring to my mind and a modern response to modern problems which live up to our tesimonies. Mary Meeks

  3. I would like to offer thee, Rachel Stacy, that perhaps thee might think, rather than living up to someone else's Measure of the Truth, which is daunting and actually impossible, that thee need only live up to thy Measure of the Truth, whatever that is and wherever it leads. If the Lord is calling thee to answer the small heartbreaks of children as their caregiver, that is the thing to be accomplished, and if the Lord is calling thee to answer the heartbreaks of large injustices in the world, then that is the thing to be accomplished. As long as thee is living up to *thy* Measure of the Truth, thee will be strengthened by the Lord to accomplish his purposes. However, if thy sense is that thee is not living up to thy Measure of the Truth, then that is a thing to be deeply concerned about.

  4. Padraic
    Its important to qualify your statement with SOME Quakers did wonderful work in the past. just as SOME Quakers do so today.What we know about our past is that very many Quakers enslaved black people and fought tooth and nail to hang onto that privilege.SOME Quakers fought tooth and nail against enslavement by anyone, including other Quakers. There are no good old days. Only people being people. Just like now....
    In Friendship, in real time

  5. Thank you Quaker in the Costwold for your well made point. I think the world now needs Quaker insight into ethical finance if we are to come through our current troubles and avoid possible civil unrest and international wars as people scrap for reduced goods.
    In Friendship

  6. This week, I heard that Britain Yearly Meeting sold off its £500,000 of shares in BP, having just recently defended this investment as ethical. It is a strong act for anyone and any public organisation to be prepared to stand up and say, "it is possible I was mistaken" and change. How refreshing that was to hear. I hope that this announcement will now be followed by the publication of all the other financial interests and investments held by BYM. Transparency is required of a Quaker. Plain living is a transparent life.