By Rishi Singh ’18
Quaker author Robert Barclay once said, “When I came into the silent assemblies of God’s people, I felt a secret power among them which touched my heart; and as I gave way unto it, I found the evil weakening in me and the good raised up.” This sentiment encapsulates what many Quaker institutions, including Friends’ Central, view as the aim of Meeting for Worship: a gathering for communal centering silence. I sat down with three members of the Friends’ Central community to discuss their experience with Meeting for Worship: Mr. MacFarlane, Anna Schall, and Ezra Kruger (‘18), who all agree that the time is meaningful and sacred. They also agree the tone of messages shared in Meeting for Worship have shifted in the last two years, particularly the messages from students. Mr. MacFarlane credits the senior class for year to year changes, saying, “From a faculty standpoint, I think it really depends on the students, and that comes from the top down, typically.” Ezra, on the other hand, believes that the changes in messages are due to students’ drive to voice their concerns and ultimately better our school.
Despite the lack of consensus on why this shift occurred, the shift is evident. Anna Schall, who has been a part of our community for the same amount of time as the seniors, has found that many members of our community feel moved to speak about their experiences within the Friends’ Central experience and how that experience has changed, “It does feel like, starting with the election last year, to Sa’ed Atshan being ‘put on pause’ and Arial and Layla being put on leave, there was a big shift that happened. It did become political, and it did become a space where students were speaking their minds, and that’s really great. It is absolutely valid for someone to take those experiences and have some message that is based upon them.” She points out that Meeting for Worship is a place to share any message without being punished.
The idea is one that is presumably attractive to students who feel otherwise unheard. This is an advantage that Mr. Mac says, “reflects that we are trying to develop student voices, real deep learning, that’s not just about getting a grade for a transcript, and a sense that we are looking at the whole child.” He vocalizes the idea of a school community supporting more than only academic pursuits, but he also notes the importance of keeping in mind that Friends’ Central is more than a Quaker institution; it is a high school. “It has to be different because it’s a school setting. What Mr. Felson, our old head of school, used to say–which I think is right–is that Meeting for Worship is a risky business. You gather almost 400 adolescents in a room in the middle of the week and you give them silence that they are free to break at any moment, and you’re gonna hear some things that don’t feel good. You’re going to worry about how these things land on other students.”
The sense of consideration for those around us seems to fall in line with the lessons in humanity that many of us have learned in our time at FCS. However, Ezra believes “polarization is not necessarily bad. If we are aiming to be a Quaker institution then stipulations around messages goes against that entirely.” While Anna says, on behalf of the religious life committee, that “Meeting for Worship is open to interpretation. It is a space where you can access wisdom from people who are having completely different experiences.” They each espouse the duality of ‘speaking your truth,’ even if it is one that is critical of other individuals, in an environment that unequivocally encourages inclusivity.
Perhaps the greatest benefit of Meeting for Worship is having the opportunity to discern for ourselves what is necessary to express, to impact those sharing our space. There is a lot of freedom that comes with the practice, and therefore, we must have a sense of probity. As Anna puts it, “[The Religious Life Committee] has certainly never defined Meeting for Worship. What’s really cool about Quakerism is that we will all have different answers to what it is.” Developing a personal understanding of the time we allot for centering silence is more important than striving for an experience we feel we should have.