Inward Transformation through Outward Action
The final and perhaps most important characteristic of Quaker service is its inward focus. During all of the Quaker work projects I have been involved with, we have had a time of worship sharing and reflection. We encourage participants to look within and to be honest about their feelings and insights. Such sharing is not always easy: truth-telling never is. But for this reason, Quaker service tends to be a memorable and life-changing experience.
The Unique Situation of Western Friends
I'd like to conclude with some comments about Gilbert White's article. Gilbert writes from a long and deep experience working with Friends and the Service Committee dating back to the early days. He notes that while Friends are eager to revitalize the spirit of volunteer spirit, the AFSC seems to be heading in a different direction.
Gilbert is correct is noting that volunteer service will not be a major focus of the Service Committee in the near future. But youth work is and will continue be.
Why has youth work become so important to the AFSC? Several years ago, AFSC had all but abandoned its youth work, much to the chagrin of many Friends, but now the AFSC has made youth one of its main focus areas. One reason that the AFSC finally started paying attention to youth is that many of us kept raising this concern over and over again, and as the saying goes, the squeaky wheel finally got some oil. It is my hope that we Quakers can continue to nudge the AFSC in a Friendly direction, as the Spirit leads. That's one reason why I stick around.
I also stick around the AFSC because the situation of Friends out here in the West is quite different from that in the East. In the East there are large concentrations of Friends in big cities such Philadelphia, New York, Boston, and Washington. The AFSC and the Religious Society of Friends are such large entities that they can get along pretty much independently.
It's not quite the same story here in the West. There are only 4,000-6,000 unprogrammed Quakers west of the Mississippi spread out over an enormous geographical range, and the AFSC is equally scattered. There are probably more Friends in the 50 mile radius around Philly than there are in the entire West. Because we are spread so thin, we Westerners need each other, and we can help each other, in ways that may not be the case back East.
Joint service projects like the one started by IMYM and Southern California Meeting serve a special need that we have here in the West. But what we are doing to revitalize Quaker service and the AFSC out here in the West may also be what George Fox would call a "pattern," a model for how Friends and the AFSC can work together, and for how Quaker service can still be re-visioned for the current age.
Helping to nurture the spirit of Quaker service in myself and others has been a vitally important part of my spiritual development. I will always cherish the lessons I learned from my experiences working with adults and teens in a variety of settings. But above all, I will value the friendships I have made, and the encounters I have had with people.
There is an old Quaker story about a newcomer to Meeting who sits in the silence for what seems like eternity, and finally turns to an elder Friend sitting nearby.
"When the does the service begin?" asks the newcomer.
"When the worship is over," was the reply.
For me, Quaker service is not something that begins when worship ends, it is a form of worship. When I am working with Friends on a service project, there are times when I feel the almost palpable presence of God working alongside us. When Jesus said, "I am always with you," I don't think he was referring only to times when we are in a contemplative mode. God is as much with us when we are in motion as when we are at rest. I hope and pray that each of us has had, or will have, the feeling of being connected to God, and each other, through service.p