Bringing Haverford College’s Quaker past into the present
By Beth Curtiss
The living room in the college apartment was small but full of light from the windows. Mismatched chairs and futons sat in a circle around the edges.
A large poster, hand-colored in crayon, adorned one wall, filled with illustrations surrounding the words “simplicity, peace, integrity, community, and equality.”
Students wearing sweatpants and old t-shirts trickled in. Some came out of their rooms with wet hair. Others turned the corner from the kitchen with mugs of coffee. Several hurried in through the front door, shrugging off light jackets. There are about 20 in all.
It was Sunday at noon, and it was time for the Haverford Quaker Community, or QuaC, to hold its weekly Meeting for Worship in Quaker House.
Molly Minden, a Haverford sophomore, explained the basics of Quaker belief to a pair of visitors. Quakers believe in something called the Inner Light, she said.
Many believe that this Inner Light is the manifestation of God or the divine. Worship consists of listening to it, and, if moved to do so, speaking any messages that come from this Inner Light.
Minden soon called the meeting to order. Students hurried to sit down on the futons, chairs, and footstools. Silence fell.
For the next few minutes a few more students trickled in and took chairs from the kitchen, enlarging the circle. But the silence did not lift.
Some closed their eyes. Some stared ahead. A few fidgeted for a few minutes, and then quieted their bodies. One sat reading for a few minutes, and then put down the book and shut his eyes. A few sipped their coffee intermittently.
Time passed. Still. the silence did not lift.
As if at some unseen signal, a sigh suddenly rippled around the room. The students sat up straighter, laughed, shook hands with their neighbors, and exchanged murmurs of greeting. An hour had passed, and worship was over.
Noah Lavine, a junior, suggested a round of names. He also invited everyone to share anything that they had been thinking about that had not rise to the level of a message to be spoken during worship.
Some students spoke their names only. Others shared their thoughts. One, Eli Blood-Patterson, a junior, read a long passage about Quaker pacifism out of the book he had been reading at the start of worship.
Others shared questions about faith in their lives, the presence of God in the world, or the future. One student said that he had been watching everybody else fidget during worship and that it made him wonder what was the best position.
“Missionary,” another quipped. Laughter rippled around the circle.
A few students made announcements-when to meet to help write up the group’s experience at a recent conference; the fact that there was fresh pumpkin bread available for all in the kitchen-and then the meeting broke up.
Students milled around and talked with one another amidst the bustle in the adjoining kitchen, eating slices of the freshly baked pumpkin bread.
Rose Abernathy, a Haverford freshman, hovered with a piece of pumpkin bread and a mug of coffee. She went to a Quaker high school, she said, and they had to go to meeting every week.
“I don’t really think of myself as a Quaker, but I really enjoy having a break from my busy week,” she said. “Everyone is very caring for each other. It’s just nice if someone is worried about something, everyone else will give them a hug.”
She was not the only non-Quaker present. Allison and Christine Letts, twins and both sophomores, were raised Unitarian-Universalist.
“I was interested in Quakerism as a concept, but I had no practical knowledge,” Allison said.
She started coming to QuaC after a friend took her to a Quaker meeting in town.
Her sister Christine was attending her first meeting that day. The day before, she had gone on a retreat sponsored by the Haverford College Quaker Affairs Office. It was open to any Haverford student, Quaker or not.
“I kept hearing that it was impossible to be stressed out at Pendle Hill, and that sounded good for me,” she said.
She enjoyed it so much that she decided to attend this week’s meeting.
At least a third of QuaC does not actually identify as Quaker, the Letts sisters estimate.
Patrick Lozada, a junior, is a member of the remaining two thirds. He was involved in Quakerism in his large public high school. He particularly enjoyed attending Quaker conferences, and met many of his eventual Haverford friends through these conferences.
“It was very important to me; it was one of the reasons I attended Haverford,” he said of the Quaker community.
However, he thinks that he is in the minority in finding Quakerism to be such a vital part of campus life.
“It doesn’t play as large of a role today,” he said. “Ultimately a lot of our traditions and the way we do things are influenced by Quakerism. But thinks like the Honor Code or things like consensus are no longer Quaker things, but Haverford things.”
Several other students agreed. The Letts sisters are in an a capella group which does everything by consensus. They did not know, however, whether or not other a capella groups did the same.
Martin Blood-Forsythe, a senior, said that not all groups did.
“But most of them are consensus-based,” he said. “But I would say that that’s a carryover from the fact that everything at Haverford is done by consensus.”
Still, where it influences it has great influence. Allison Letts is a member of a committee within QuaC called Nurture and Care, which she says that she joined because of the difference they made for her.
“In a lot of meetings it’s to develop the spiritual well-being of the community,” she said, “but here it’s also for the social well-being.”
The group does things like coordinating dinners with other Haverford clubs with like interests and sending out greeting cards to new members.
“I love the community and how strongly connected I feel to this community,” she said.