May 2022: The Quaker Divide

by Mary Linda McKinney

Over the last couple of years, I have spoken with dozens and dozens of Friends and have heard the same frustration, the same hurt over and over: I can’t bring my authentic spirituality into my Quaker community. Friends have told me, “I’m a Christian and my meeting does not welcome Christian expressions of faith.” In equal measures other Friends have said, “My meeting is primarily Christian but I am not. I don’t feel safe sharing what I really believe with them.” What I have heard from many Quakers is that we Friends have a heartbreaking mistrust of other Friends who speak different theological languages. Friends don’t trust the people we worship and wash dishes after potluck with because we have diverse experiences of Spirit and express ourselves in varied ways.

My stars! Does this make me sad. And, frankly, I think this mistrust and exclusion is tearing us apart. I think it closes us off from the movements of the Spirit and blocks us from faithfulness. It prevents us from being Beloved Community, from truly knowing one another. It causes rifts and hurts and power struggles. I suspect it drives away seekers who are looking for a spiritual community. I know it alienates long-time members and attenders who yearn for experiences of being gathered into unity by the Presence but whose meetings share little intimacy beyond an hour of silence each week.

How do we bridge this enormous divide? How do we learn to trust one another and find what unites us? My sense is that we need to talk. We need to make specific and intentional time for Friends in community to sit down and share with one another about what is true and real for us, what is suspected, hoped for, believed, experienced…and also about the experiences we have not had that make us unable to express what we do not know.

Faithful Meetings was created to provide Friends communities opportunities for these conversations. Topics and practices important to Friends will be introduced for each gathering and folks will have space to explore their meanings and significance. We will listen for what is alive for the group, for where Spirit wants to lead us, with plenty of time to follow those leadings.

If you are interested in learning more about Faithful Meetings, register here to join an information session or email me at to discuss bringing a Faithful Meetings information session to your community.


I use the word “God” to describe my experience of the flow of Divine Energy that infuses and unifies as it flows through everything. I’m also comfortable using the word “Christ” to describe that Divine Energy within me, which intimately knows every smidgen of my being. I use “Christ” because when I read about Jesus, I recognize God flowing through him (much more fluidly and consistently than I’m aware of God flowing through me) and understand why he is referred to by both his human name and his profound connection with the Divine Energy: Jesus Christ. I also see this Energy in Hindu texts where Krishna is guiding Arjuna, feel it in Sufi hymns of praise, and hear it when my Native American siblings offer prayers to Spirit. In my way of understanding, Christ is present in all of us, inviting us into the Divine Flow so we can “walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in every one.” In my experience, God is always with us, inviting us to recognize the flow and to join it.

But that’s just my way of understanding it. I don’t expect you to use the same words or have anything like the same understanding. What words do you use to describe your spiritual experiences? How do you understand words like “God” and “Christ”? How do you describe your relationship with Spirit?

If you would like, please share your responses to these questions in the forum.



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6 thoughts on “May 2022: The Quaker Divide”

  1. Pingback: July 2022 - The Quaker Divide Part III: Culture - School of the Spirit Ministry

  2. Pingback: June 2022: The Quaker Divide - Part Two - School of the Spirit Ministry

  3. My relationship with the Spirit has deepened over my 76 years. From my Mennonite upbringing, I learned the value of being a part of a faith community. In my early forties I was led to Quakerism and am still a part of the same meeting. Over the years my personal connection with God/the Divine has deepened through various traditions and practices. (yoga, proprioceptive journaling, worship sharing, interfaith activities, gratitude journaling) My Quaker membership has offered enriching experiences. But over 30 some years the group has gotten hamstrung by conflicts over physical things (the type of flooring, a piano in the meetingroom, replacing a rose with a pollinator garden, having a child care renting the meeting space) When one person’s longtime helpful commitment became a power that would not let others feel included, various people left, sometimes a group, occasionally a couple or a person. With the absence of humble acceptance, people felt they can’t rate and find a welcoming stable home in our community. Many times life changes drew people away, but their place in the meeting never firmed, rooted in unconditional love. Covid became an excuse for some to drift away. I continue to be one of the few who attend regularly via Zoom or in person, but my inner life is nurtured in workshops delving into creation spirituality, The Great Story and native spirituality. I learn from essayist David Whyte, poet John O’Donahue, 14th century writer Julian of Norwich, medicinal herb educator/producer Pamela Boyce-Simms, and teachers of native spirituality. From the last I experience reciprocity with nature, a sense of sharing within “the seamless plenum” of the cosmos, as described by Quaker Mary Conrow Coelho in The Depth of Our Belonging: Mysticism, Physics and Healing. I am learning about the needs of pollinators as I tend a new, small garden of native plants. I am blessed to experience new connections with nature. Spirit now guides me through nature, and I long for connections with others in my Meeting as I experience with Quaker Earthcare Witness online. That seems like a possibility as there is interest and concern around making our whole property a resource for all beings, including our neighbors. Through my experiences with Spirit in nature, I am developing more unconditional love, but I am still deeply sad that so many people have stopped worshipping with us. I want reciprocity in conversation beyond silent worship.

  4. The essay had me thinking in meeting this morning (okay, and some time before meeting) but took me in a little different direction. I am frustrated by my meeting experience but for a different reason. I’ve never felt judgement or divisiveness in my own meeting from a message I’ve spoken or anyone else that either included a Jesus or bible reference or failed to include one, or included a reference to a Hasidic tale or any other work. What frustrates me is something I often find in other place but not here. I’ve worshiped in Hindu and Jain temples and knelt and prayed with Muslims and the thing that’s uplifted me in those places is feeling part of group endeavor to find the Divine in the everyday or to thin the veil we feel between us and Spirit. Once in a long while in Quaker worship there is a deep and full silence, but more often than not Friends arrive, sit for an hour, catch up a little with one another after meeting and then disappear until the next week (or maybe not for several weeks). If we are indeed a community knitted together by our joint effort to find God, it’s hard to feel that. I’m not troubled when I’m with my Hindu friends that they have a different belief or different ritual. Those don’t seem to matter to them or to me. We have a mutual bond by virtue of our seeking and desire for God. I know they have a sincere spiritual practice. I’m not sure many Quakers do.

  5. Joan Liversidge

    Thank you Mary Linda for speaking what many of us experience in our Quaker communities. This issue has also fed our many divisions over the years and continues. Our meeting started an adult education program last winter where we invite a friend to share their spiritual journey in about 10 to 20 minutes and then invite others into a dialogue. It has bee fruitful by providing a safe place to speak about our experiences of the divine with each other. We will continue this next fall. Curious about the format the faithful meeting program is taking to help us become more open and trusting of each other so that vocal ministry may also be more genuine, heartfelt, and spirit led.
    We are also wanting to become more diverse, welcoming and inclusive. Our recent experiences in the pandemic of change has wrought more divisiveness regarding how we use technology in worship . For example some of us want an introduction to worship to bring friends together in what is expected and how we worship together in a hybrid format. As we struggle with whether there is an intro and what it is, some are still resisting the use of technology. Change is difficult for us humans. So much work to be done. And yet many of us believe that Quaker’s have a message for the world if we can gather ourselves and overcome our own divisions to get the message out! God bless

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