Memoirs – Recalling early encounters with AMM

A recent Adult Religious Education program has collected short memoirs from people in the Meeting. This group of entries is people recalling their first time coming to Alexandria Monthly Meeting.

From LG

“It was the longest 45 minutes of my life.” That statement from a pastor of our church was the reason that I decided to attend my first Friends meeting.

Our pastor was fresh from seminary and he explained how one of the requirements was to attend different churches, so he chose a Quaker Meeting. It was an unprogrammed meeting and no one spoke for the first 45 minutes of the meeting, which he found interminable. It made me want to see what the experience of a silent meeting would be like.

Once we moved to Alexandria, I discovered that there was a Friends Meeting nearby, and I put it on our list of new churches to try. At our first meeting in 2003, we approached the meetinghouse and noted the traffic spikes in the adjacent road near one of the entrances to Fort Belvoir. It was an incongruous note for a Quaker meeting.

I don’t remember how many minutes it took before someone spoke at the first Meeting, or even whether anyone did speak. I do remember that I loved the quiet time to settle and take in the spirit. We returned after another week or two, and, again, I loved it.

We had a couple of bumps in the road and ended up at other churches for the next 10 years. When the last church fell apart, my husband remembered that I loved the Quaker Meeting and suggested that we return there. We had found our church home.

From PJ

For the most part, I lived my life as a Presbyterian. Baptized as one, childhood Sunday School as one, and stayed one as an adult. While not Evangelical, I always had a conventional approach to belief – there were Christians and non-Christians and God wanted everyone to believe in him and God related to humans through a Christian lens.

I love the author C.S. Lewis and count the Narnia series among my favorites. There is a scene in the last book in the timeline, “The Last Battle”, that caused me to rethink the limitations I was placing on God in how he relates to his children. I realized God meets us where we are and is part of our lives in ways we may not understand – especially in others. This fundamentally changed my worldview of who I worshipped – a much larger and diverse presence than I could ever fully know.

This was the beginning of my journey to Quakerism. When, some time later, my wife suggested we spend time with Alexandria Monthly Meeting, I was ready and it just clicked.

From DH

When I visited Alexandria Friends Meeting (at Woodlawn) for the first time, Warren Treuer was sweeping the front steps. I didn’t realize it was a special Sunday, but it was. Cynthia and Ewan Cobban were going to be married right after meeting for worship. As I remember, worship just flowed into an exchange of vows. It was the most natural thing in the world, and very beautiful. Alexandria was the third meeting I tried after we moved to Arlington in August 1998.

The first was Langley Hill, because I knew some Friends who were members there. It was nice enough, but a bit frenetic. Over the course of a few weeks I discovered, to my embarrassment, first, that they changed the time of worship on days when they had business meeting, and second, that they made anyone who was even a little late wait in the lobby for fifteen minutes, until the children came out. The real problem, though, was that there was so much going on. I was always being urged to get involved, and I was tired. I didn’t want to do anything.

Then I tried Friends Meeting of Washington, where I had attended the year (daughter) Rebecca was born. I liked the meeting, but Rebecca wasn’t happy there.

So, I came to (Alexandria Meeting at) Woodlawn, and there was Warren sweeping the steps. It was beautiful, and peaceful, and the meeting room felt like a pool of prayer. There were children for Rebecca to be with, and I could rest.

From CR

I grew up in rural Minnesota, the daughter of a Bohemian mother and German/Austrian father. In the 1940s there were a lot of kids like me who helped their parents manage the family farm. As youngsters, my siblings and I could all drive a tractor, milk cows, kill a chicken for Sunday dinner and chop wood for the fire. I think it made us strong and resilient as did walking a mile to our county school.

Our neighbors were Swedish or German and we all attended mainstream churches. And although we had very little diversity in this corner of Minnesota, we also were not taught to hate. My parents were Catholic and we rarely missed a Sunday mass at our small local church. Prayer was a part of our daily family routine and is a part of my heritage that is still with me. My father was a very spiritual person and he helped me see that the beauty of nature is God’s gift to us. As a young, newly graduated teacher, I sought adventure and moved to California. Later, I taught in Germany and England with the Department of Defense Dependents Schools. I enjoyed the military families and their children. A positive thing about the American overseas military schools is that they were fully integrated as was base housing, so children often lived next door to families who were different from themselves. Thus, we lived in an almost color blind society. Another experience in living with diversity came from my work with children with disabilities. While in England, I studied and was qualified as a special educator. I learned so much from working with children with disabilities and their parents. Their courage and perseverance offered an important example of how to live despite adversity.

While living in London, I discovered the Friends Meeting in Hampstead Heath. I was welcomed warmly and begin to learn about Quaker history and beliefs. Later, my husband and I were married at the Jordan’s Friends Meeting, a lovely historic Meetinghouse dating back to the 1700s where William Penn and some of his family are buried. Discovering Friends was the beginning of my mature spiritual quest.

When my husband and I returned to the U.S, I found Alexandria Monthly Meeting and my journey continued. I feel very blessed by the people I have met at AMM and by the caring community I find here.

My spiritual understanding continues to evolve and AMM nourishes this.

From JT

I became a Quaker in the Fall of 2023. I hadn’t expected to, would have said it impossible. I had retired from the Army after 25 years, often deployed overseas, and work in Defense. Had you asked me in 2019, would have thought it a joke.

But in the Clearness Committee and with a small group of Friends, I had come to understand my beliefs in a different way. I have always been committed to the Peace Testimony in my own way. Reducing the occasions of war was my life’s work in the military, in Psychological Operations. Something like “using non-violent means to create behavior change for battlefield effects” was how we put it. Wording doesn’t matter, bottom-line is my job in the Army was to reduce the violence of war, keep it fenced in to combatants, and make sure there was a remedy.

Strikes me as a good Quaker job.

What really struck me, though, was my first exposure to the Alexandria Monthly Meeting – Tom Fox. Tom Fox was Quaker in Iraq, part of the Christian Peacemaking Teams trying to end the violence – but without the protection of armor and weapons. Never got a chance to meet him. In
2005 he was captured, and in 2006 killed, a martyr for the chance to bring peace to a violent place.

I remembered talking about him when he was captured. I had such respect.. We might have disagreed on the politics about me being there, but none could argue what it took for him to be there. It’s an honor now to be in worship the same place he was. I hope he’d appreciate it. Wish he could be there, too, but I feel a peace and community, knowing his spirit is in that Meeting House.

From AB

My long journey to Alexandria Meeting began many years ago in West Texas. I am a first generation Mexican-American born in El Paso, Texas.

I was raised bilingual and bicultural in Texas and California. My father’s seasonal work as a construction worker uprooted my family to and from Texas and California a handful of times during my youth. The family focus was on survival and transcending economic hardship. I recall how devoted my parents were to the Saints and distantly, to the Catholic Church as they understood it. I cherished the focus on community but was puzzled by the ambiguity of my religious roots.

I graduated from high school and went to California for undergraduate studies on scholarship to play baseball. I then went on to graduate school in Nebraska, and from there to the Peace Corps in Honduras to ostensibly put into practice everything I had learned up to then. My professional career started in Washington, DC with the US Government, and extended overseas working with smallholder farmers in over 20 countries while working for the United Nations., then back to Washington, DC.

I never gave much thought to my religious foundation until I learned in college how oppressive the Spanish inquisition was in Mexico. I knew I had to follow a different spiritual path. My life journey led me toward the Religious Society of Friends. I found a space that allowed me to celebrate that common thread among people. I found a space that focused on building community and recognized the good in people. And a space where my family and I could seek divine guidance in harmony with like-minded people.

I recall the words of my young daughter after her first visit to Quaker Meeting at Alexandria Monthly Meeting, “Daddy, I really like this place and want to come back.” And we have, time and again, for the past 16 years. It pleases me to know that my children, now young adults, consider themselves Friends and Quakers, and are soon embarking on their own spiritual journey.

From DH

The first person I spent time with at Alexandria Friends Meeting was John Mason. As I remember, he greeted me after worship and invited me to talk over lunch. I loved the chance to have a meal and a real conversation.

At Friends Meeting of Washington we stood around after meeting with cups of coffee in the winter, or lemonade in the summer, but I don’t remember actually talking with anyone. The Alexandria tradition of a “friendly meal” was a surprise and a delight. In the course of our conversation, I told John that I was an historian, and he gave me a copy of the little book of excerpts from Chalkley Gillingham’s journal to take home with me. I sat down that afternoon and read it cover to cover, and was entranced. Chalkley Gillingham had been giving speeches on the abolitionist circuit, and realized at some point that it wasn’t enough. He wasn’t changing anyone’s mind. He needed to actually do something, and what he did was help organize the Quaker abolitionist community at Woodlawn, to demonstrate how farming could be done without slave labor. The message seemed to be aimed straight at me. I needed to live my beliefs, not just talk about them.

I began attending meeting at Alexandria every Sunday, and chose a place to sit where I could look at Chalkley Gillingham’s portrait hanging on the opposite wall. I wanted to be part of his meeting. After all these years, I still do.

From CR

I was fortunate in many ways in my youth to have a good family and to have all my basic needs met. Later, I was able to attend college and became a respected professional in my work life. I felt quite good about getting to the self-actualization step on the hierarchy as an adult. During my middle age years, I discovered Friends and later became an active member of Alexandria Monthly Meeting (AMM).

Attending AMM has allowed me to continue to learn, to explore spirituality, and to enjoy a sense of belonging with people I care for and admire. In recent years, Even as an aged person, I have been helped in my yearning for greater spiritual understanding and connection through witnessing the work and examples of Friends. Time and again I have seen Friends reach out to care for others, to actively work against racism, to care for the meetinghouse, and to feed the hungry worshipers after First Day meetings. Friend’s work has been grounded in the Spirit. I have been immersed in a circle of individuals who are living out God’s message in our community. And I feel, these Friends have modeled the basic message of Jesus to love one another. While I would not say that I have achieved self-transcendence, at least I can see the top of the mountain and will continue to climb with the help of my Friends.

From GE

The Fairfax County paper map had a traditional symbol of a blue building with a cross marking a Quaker Meeting House just south of Woodlawn Road. I had driven by dozens of times without noticing it. We decided to visit the next First Day.

As we walked up to the porch we were greeted by an older man with the an enormous bear paw of a hand. He looked like he had slept in his tweed jacket since the 60’s, scruffy beard and all. That paw gripped my hand as much as his eyes did with an open and somehow compassionate embrace. His other hand went to my shoulder as he welcomed me and then included my wife and two daughters. Hello Floyd Magor.

Within a few weeks we were comfortable in what for me was the first spiritual home where I felt welcomed. My historic reluctance to be “religious” somehow fell into the background after a chat with Floyd on the porch after meeting. When I said, I was really there for my girls to have an understanding of “church”, he asked what could it bring to me? A harder question to answer. He recognized my reluctance to respond and offered a suggestion. “Why don’t you just attend for a while and then see where it takes you?” We did, after a couple of weeks he suggested I join the Property Committee for an annual fall leaf raking.

I can’t rake leaves without thinking of that exchange and how it shapes my life.