Have I ever felt more like an alien arriving in a place where I didn’t belong? I stood in the pouring rain at one of many tables at the 1990 Earth Day Fair in downtown Portland, still astonished that I had managed to find this place, since I was navigating in the days before the MAX, the Internet, GPS, or even cell phones in a town as unfamiliar as the planet Mars. I looked into two kind faces from under my umbrella. What was a Quaker meeting doing at Earth Day? For that matter, what was a Quaker meeting? I hesitantly filled out a request for the West Hills Friends newsletter, not realizing that this church was just 15 minutes from my home or suspecting that this moment was the beginning of my journey back into organized religion, which I had fled the minute I was old enough to leave home.
Through the spring and summer, I read the newsletter with rising excitement. These folks were not at all what I expected and with each issue, I had more and more questions. Then, in the fall, the Gulf War broke out and Ken Burns’ heart-breaking documentary on the Civil War filled my living room. I looked from my husband, who had been drafted during the Viet Nam War, to my dear little 3 year old son and was afraid for his future. Who could help me protect him? I remembered the Quakers who had helped boys I knew to evade conscription and decided to venture into West Hills Friends.
There I found worship that could not have been more different than the solemn liturgical services I had grown up with. What the heck were these people doing? Before I knew it, I was one of “these people” and was teaching pre-school Sunday school just six weeks later. At first, it was all a bit too Jesus-y for me, but I felt so warmly embraced that I just didn’t care. Finally, someone in Oregon knew my name and cared if I lived or died! If my new friends are willing to accept me just as I am, I thought, I should accept them in exactly the same way.
Then one Sunday, I took home a pamphlet about the Northwest Yearly Meeting’s Faith & Practice on Sexuality from the rack in the lobby. I was shocked, hurt, and scared as I read these harsh words. I made an appointment with the young pastor, Mike, who had offered me so much encouragement from the moment I arrived, and tearfully told him that I could not be part of West Hills Friends if this was what the meeting believed.
After hearing me out, Mike said, “There are other people here who question what is in that pamphlet. Please don’t leave because of that. We need people to help us with this conversation. If this pamphlet is making you not want to come to church here, maybe we should take it off the rack.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. How could the feelings of an alien from two thousand miles away matter this much? Why did I, a newbie to all things Quaker, have a voice in such an important concern? This was my first lesson in how the people of WHF live into the call to see that of God in everyone.