Quakers are not just about oatmeal, motor oil



Image: Quakers are not just about oatmeal, motor oil:Eric Nute, who grew up in Pennsylvania as a Quaker, has attended the meetings in Sacramento for a couple of years. Photo by Andrew Nixon/The State Hornet. :

Michael Stockinger

Tucked away on 57th Street across from an Antique Mall lies a curious building, The Sacramento Friends Meeting – a Quaker religious center.

When Quakers are mentioned, typically the first images that come to mind are Quaker Oats Oatmeal and Penn State Motor Oil, but many don’t know how they ended up on these labels.

“Friends, in most circles have a pretty good reputation, so the association of Quakers with goodness and virtue and stuff like that makes it desirable to put them on labels and they don’t have anything to do with what’s inside the box,” Friends member Walter Kersey said with an easy laugh.

The religion began in 1652 with George Fox who was dissatisfied with the Church of England and decided to do some soul searching, according to the Friends website.

“The result of this is a form of worship where people gather together and wait collectively and individually for the divine presence to make itself known,” Friends member Kit Newman said.

Fox believed that everybody could have a personal relationship with God and that intermediaries, such as a priest or preacher, can’t interpret God’s messages for you ?” only you can.

Worship usually takes place in silence with members making their own connections with God and interpreting it on their own.

“From time to time during our silent worship, an individual may be led to stand up and speak a brief message that they’ve been given and that they sense is intended for the benefit of the group,” Friends member Luretta Fairman said.

“We do have occasional verbal expressions during our worship, but it’s not unusual for an entire hour of worship to go by with nothing spoken at all,” Fairman said.

Sacramento State student and Friends member Stephen Myers, who is currently working on his teaching credential, grew up in Indiana in a community of Quakers and moved here five years ago.”I grew up in the pastoral Quaker tradition,” the 30-year-old student said. “For the most part, they were simple country folk.”

Myers said that these Quakers are much different and accepting than other groups of Quakers, especially those from his home state.

“On issues of abortion and accepting, whether gays are going to hell, I’ve heard we are one of the more progressive spiritual communities out there,” Myers said. “We have members from the Bay Area who give ministry or talk to other Quakers in public meetings about refusing to become legally married as straight people because gay people are denied legal marriage.”

“There are a lot of good, thoughtful, spiritual-guided political stances in our community,” Myers said.

The Friends Meeting has been around since 1939, while the small meeting house that consists of only a circular worship room, kitchen, and committee room, has only just celebrated its five year anniversary.

The building on 57th Street is the first meeting house of the group in Sacramento, whereas in the past they usually practiced in various houses of members and the YWCA.

“We were just wanderers,” Friends member Frances Taylor said.

The meeting house’s worship room is a non-dec0orated circular room with chairs placed in a circle where members wait for a connection with their creator.

“The architecture of the room reflects something of our beliefs in that there is no front, whereas other churches would have a lectern or pulpit or alter in the front area,” Newman said.

While The Sacramento Friends Meeting doesn’t have a pastor, other Quaker communities do, and have services reminiscent of protestant churches which caused a rift between members.

“The main ones that split were the ones that decided to have ministers and just a regular sort of church body,” Taylor said.

There are other Quaker meeting centers that are more Christ-centered, in that Jesus Christ is a focal point in their beliefs and worshiped as a personal savior, but this isn’t the case with the Sacramento Friends Meeting, Newman said.

“We allow people to believe that Christ was God, but we certainly don’t insist on it,” Kersey said.Central to many Quaker groups are their testimonies on simplicity and against war and violence.The testimony of simplicity keeps Quakers humble in what they have, own and want. In other words, they believe in keeping their lives simple and uncluttered.

“Not to the extent of the Amish, but, in general, we aim at simple living,” Newman said.Typically, Quakers are pacifists because of the peace testimony, which argues against all types of violence and war.

“The Quaker originated in the 17th century right in the middle of the English civil war, which was mostly about religion, so George Fox and the other folks suddenly realized there was no religious beliefs that justified killing,” Kersey said.

The Friends are also open to many types of beliefs and used to hold an interfaith meeting, which is currently on hiatus, where those of different faiths are invited to come together and pray for peace.

“We have all the way to the fundamental beliefs to people who don’t have any particular expression to what they believe,” Newman said.

Michael Stockinger can be reached at [email protected]