A Seeker Finds Welcome
by Vanesa Julye
I have been a member of Central Philadelphia Monthly Meeting (CPMM) for three years. When I walked into the Race Street Meetinghouse after a 15 year absence from Quaker worship, I felt as if I were returning home. I was warmly received and immediately comfortable.
I chose to serve on the First Day School Committee and also teach First Day School. My participation in the committee, teaching the children and attending special meeting events, such as Meeting Weekend and Christmas Dinner, has helped make Central Philadelphia an important religious community for both me and my son. I look forward to attending worship and talking with Friends after worship in the Cherry Street room over coffee and tea. Several attenders and members have become good friends. I feel strongly connected to CPMM.
I have discovered a richness of support in Central Philadelphia which has expanded my confidence and made clear my identity as a Quaker. As my spirituality has deepened, my need to worship with a group of Friends who share my cultural and ethnic identity has increased. I need to experience the fellowship and spirit of other Friends who live in a spiritual home similar to mine. As an African American, I receive nourishment, validation, and rejuvenation through worshipping with a group of people of color I do not find anywhere else. I am fortunate that Central Philadelphia does have several people of color who worship there on a regular basis, yet that is not enough.
This summer I felt called to convene a worship group for people of color. After seeking clearness with other F(f)riends, including the clerk of my meeting, I sent a letter to Central Philadelphia Monthly Meeting’s Worship and Ministry Committee asking for sponsorship of my group. Then I was blessed with the opportunity to attend the Gathering of the Fellowship of Friends of African Descent. During that Gathering I found the worship very powerful. My soul was nourished. At one point I even felt, “Yes, this is it, this is how worship is supposed to feel.”
When I expressed my longing for the opportunity to worship together on a regular basis, several Friends were excited. In September, we had our first worship of Friends of color. It was wonderful sitting in Central Philadelphia’s meeting room worshipping with fourteen other people of color, including a few members of our meeting and others from various parts of Philadelphia, New Jersey, and even one person from Kentucky.
I appreciate the support and guidance I have received from Friends and my meeting in sharing my ministry. Attending worship at Central Philadelphia Monthly Meeting is important to me and it is still my primary spiritual community. My participation in the worship group of Friends of color, while it fulfills a vital need, will not replace my attendance or involvement with CPMM. Yet I know in many ways it will enhance my connection with Central Philadelphia Monthly Meeting.
Now that my meeting is a comfortable place for me, I find myself being called to help make it welcoming for other people of color. Maybe some First Day in the future I will be able to look around CPMM’s meeting room during our regular worship and see several people of color in each section of the room. However, until that time arrives, I will be able to worship with a group of Friends of color the third Sunday of each month.
Vanessa Julye is a member of FGC Central Committee and serves as Associate Secretary for Friends World Committee for Consultation. FGC thanks her very much for sharing her experience.