NORMAN — Sunday evening inside the small chapel at St. John’s Episcopal Church, 235 W. Duff St., you will find a group of individuals who seek the serenity of the enlightened spirit that comes from love, prayer and service.
Meeting for a little over a month, members of the University Quakers Meeting at St. John’s gather at 5 p.m. A typical service, according to Quaker Minister Cap Kaylor, involves members going into silence for 45 minutes.
“To those unfamiliar with Quaker spirituality, the silence of a Friend’s meeting may seem very puzzling and unlike any worship experience they have ever had. Nothing appears to be happening. But out of that communal silence have come the collective insights called the testimonies that make up the Quaker path,” Kaylor said.
After the meditation time, 15 minutes are dedicated to sharing insights that have come from the meditation period.
“Everybody holds hands as a sign we are coming out of our individual contemplation and moving back into human community and human service,” Kaylor said.
The newly formed group had been members of the Norman Friends Meeting (The Religious Society of Friends), which meets at 10 a.m. on Sunday at St. Anselm of Canterbury, 800 Elm Ave.
“Some of us were attending there for several years. The facilities there were limited because the building is used for a lot of other things,” Kaylor said. “There were newcomers who joined the group who were younger families who were having children. There really weren’t the facilities there to take care of the children. A big part of Quaker worship is just silence. The kids just weren’t quite ready for that yet.”
Kaylor adds that through the graciousness of St. John’s Episcopal Church, the group was invited to become a part of its parish community by Father John Helt.
“Its worked out very nicely for us because this little core community has been able to meet there and bring the children because we’ve been able to plug into St. John’s nursery care. So the kids can be dropped off there, leaving the parents some quite time,” Kaylor said.
Kaylor describes the Quaker religion as a non dogmatic spiritual path that affirms every person’s potential to connect with the central mystery at the heart of human experience.
“For some people, that central mystery at the heart of human experience that they seek to connect with, some call it God, others call it Christ, others call it Spirit and a lot of people choose not to name it at all,” Kaylor said. “There is that conviction in Quaker spirituality that there is what the Quaker’s call that of God in each human being, and not only with each human being, but with each creature and within each experience in life. That the more we become aware of that reality, the more we come to a fuller understanding of the absolute interconnectedness of creation. The oneness, the fundamental unity underneath all of creation. Out of that encounter, comes certain insights that the Quakers call testimonies.”
One of the testimonies, Kaylor said, includes the commitment to absolute quality among human beings.
“Quakers were among the first denomination where they had women leading communities. The Quakers were among the very early people involved in the abolition movement, part of the Underground Railroad. They were among the first people to be involved in prison reform. They were very involved, as best they could, at taking care of mentally ill people in the 17th Century when all they did in most societies was lock them up in dungeons, Quakers would go in there and try to take care of these people. It all stems from the commitment of absolute equality,” Kaylor said.
Not taking any more than what you need from the world or other people also is a testimony of the Quaker faith.
“Because your luxuries may end up depriving somebody of their necessities of life,” Kaylor said.
The Peace Testimony, involves the Quaker’s commitment to nonviolence.
“That’s one of the things that got Quakers in trouble when they first started because they refused to bare arms against other human beings. For that they had been imprisoned and tortured and outlawed in various countries that they belong to,” Kaylor said.
Integrity Testimony, Kaylor said, means something different to every person.
“For me, it’s just don’t lie to yourself,” Kaylor said.
Kaylor adds that some could link the Quaker religion to that of Buddhism.
“I think Quakerism is the closest thing in Western spirituality to Buddhism because of the Quaker meditation techniques. I think one of the things that sets Quakerism apart is that the Quaker spiritual experience is committed to a communal revolution, that God speaks not just to the individual, but to the whole community and our own insights have to be tested against the wisdom and experience of the community,” Kaylor said.
Kaylor hopes that the congregation will grow in membership and in the community.
“I think my excitement would come from being able to make connection between the Quaker community and other religious communities in Norman who are gathered together around the same core values as we are. I’d love to be able to work with people on peace issues and equality issues.”