Barclay Press #5

In worship on Sunday, I’ll be talking about communion. I’ve been reading things I haven’t read in awhile, like Barclay’s Apology and Jack Willcuts’ Why Friends are Friends and Elton Trueblood’s A People Called Quakers. I’ve read things I haven’t read before, in particular Thomas Kelly’s essay on symbolism in The Eternal Promise. Kelly has perhaps the best expression of the Quaker view on the sacraments that I’ve read.

But what is making me restless and prayerful for Sunday are the e-mails I’m reading. I wrote several in our church family, people who come from other church backgrounds, and asked these questions:

What are some of the ongoing questions/challenges/critiques you have of the Friends’ practice of not using elements to practice communion?

What do you miss about regular communion with the elements? What is important to you personally about that practice?

What parts of the Quaker view are most helpful to you? Has the non-use of elements brought about any different understanding or experience?

There are many things I love about our Quaker perspective. There are some things I push back against. But aside from that, what’s standing out to me is that only a few have anything to say in response to the last question. That troubles me; it tells me that we are not articulating well, we are not calling people toward, we are not setting before them the beautiful example of lives lit aflame by the all-consuming presence of the bread of life.

(For those on my blog: feel free to give your own responses to these questions, too.)

13 thoughts on “Barclay Press #5

  1. Growing up in a Nazarene church where communion was a very common place activity, the significance was lost on me. It wasn’t until I became a Quaker that it became meaningful. The two times I have taken communion since attending a Quaker church were profound and moving experiences. One of them took place in a Bible study with other Quaker women- we spent 5 weeks leading up to Easter reading a Max Lucado book and really digging deep into Christ’s death and resurection and then we all took communion together. It was quite powerful. The second time was with my husband and kids at a Baptist church where we were helping with the music. I saw it coming so as I was quickly explaining what was going to happen to my kids, I realized the pastor was actually giving the explanations himself. It was a beautiful service and message and our hearts were prepared to partake when the time came. On the other hand, we had a very bad experience when visiting another church that takes communion every Sunday as people are exiting the church. . . apparently they just line up, grab a “snack” and head out the door. It was weird and we chose to skip it. All that to say, communion did not have any meaning for me until I became a Quaker.


  2. I think every local Meeting should have the freedom to do what they want in addition to set silence. If the Spirit moves them to sing, dance, clap, have communion, spoken prayers, then I’m all for it. I miss some of these things myself, especially the lack of music. I think Quakerism was meant to be open and free from sacraments that had lost their meaning. But it shouldn’t mean that a small group of people can’t come up with sacraments that mean something to them. I think Friendship means we are all friends, no matter what.


  3. What parts of the Quaker view are most helpful to you? Has the non-use of elements brought about any different understanding or experience?

    Interestingly enough, my recent reading of Ben Pink Dandelion’s The Liturgies of Quakerism has had me thinking about this quite a bit, so it seems as if this may be a place for me to process it all more formally…

    First and foremost, I’d like to go back to “Quaker view” itself and raise up several of the latent complications and complexities that exist in those two words alone.

    1) I don’t think there has been much of a unified “Quaker View” past 1680, and even then there were various strains of thought that were pulling in different directions.

    2) “View” seems so intellectualized and austere. My most helpful/powerful experiences within the Society have not been through intellectualization and human perspective, but rather, as a result of fully holistic and vibrant experiences that are views and sensations and inspirations and…and….

    I feel like this is highly relevant to the points you bring up in your post because I believe that first generation of Friends had an understanding and experience of the whole world as divine and sacramental. They were in God’s Day and the Second Coming was right around the corner. They didn’t have time to wait and settle/argue upon the “View” they thought best, they had to get to the business of service and spreading the Gospel. Quakerism, at it its inception, was meant to be the vanguard into the rapidly approaching and present Kingdom of God. Fox saw that Christ “is come and coming to reign.” God was present to them fully, and was becoming more full, Meeting after Meeting. Their fleshly world was ending!!!

    I find myself in a somewhat similar situation.

    To be sure, I do not see the world the same way my Friendly forebearers saw it, however I do believe that my direct experience of the Divine is substance enough. That is, the experience I receive and perceive as Spirit Led, the outward expression thereof that my community affirms as seemingly of God, has been more than adequate to alter my life irrevocably, to baptize me. And where has that experience found me? Mostly in the silent, waiting worship of Friends outside of external sacrament.

    For me, the power of the silence is its ability to press down. If I am to be “pushed off the bench” to speak aloud a message, I must be, as much as my humanness allows, certain that it is for the Body gathered. Similarly, when I begin to feel as if I have come under the weight of a concern, it is in the Silence that I can truly tell if it is a Leading for me, or merely another thing to worry about. Even then, it is not until I have connected with others that I begin to feel mreo fully confident of my sense of things. And there’s the rub: without as many instructive forms for worship or service, we are forced to rely on each other and the indwelling Spirit within and around to lead us into the depths. There is no manual.


  4. I too have been reading Ben Pink Dandelion recently, his “Introduction to Quakerism.” An argument that has stayed with me is that since “Christ has come to teach His people Himself,” early Friends felt that the remembrance rituals of communion were unnecessary and moot–we’ve got the real thing right here, why worry about the wafers?

    I’ve seen how quickly and easily humans can confuse symbolic and the real and make a fetish of ritual. Unfortunately I can report that this confusion is just as prevalent with “unprogrammed” Friends who think that the scripted program of silent worship is what makes us Friends. Without that shared, felt presence of Christ in our midst we lose our Quakerly rationale against communion. Going back to remembrance communion is just as valid a liturgical path as having a Christ-less silence. The Holy Spirit can descend and feed us in either forum (in any forum) but the distractions of the ritual make it harder to hear His small voice. I sometimes go to very scripted worship with my wife and find that what really matters is the faith of the congregation and their trust in the living presence of the Holy Spirit.


  5. I happen to LOVE the way Quakers practice communion. While I think it would be beneficial to have physical communion at times, I think the practice of open worship is really important. I think it leaves us wide open and vulnerable to the holy spirit. Bread and wine are beautiful ways to celebrate both the sacrifice Jesus made for us and the reminder that he is with us pursing a personal relationship with each of us, but sometimes I think they can get in the way and become the thing itself instead of the means to remind us of the truth. I see less space for abuse (which isn’t to say NO space for abuse) with silent worship. We sit there for five minutes, ten minutes, an hour or more, depending on the place and there’s really nothing there to hide behind. We are there with Jesus, no holds barred. Sometimes I feel that it makes me come face to face with God whether or not I want to. I like the vulnerability open worship forces me to live into. God speaks in the silence. Jesus sought God out in the quiet. God sought Elijah out in the quiet. God whispers to us. Open worship gives us the opportunity to commune with him in a way in which we are able to hear.


  6. I see you’re maxed out on this topic but I’ve been thinking about it since you posed the questions and want to respond to the last one at least. The Quaker view has been helpful to me in that it teaches that anyone can commune with Christ anywhere, at any time. Remembering Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and immediate accessibility can be triggered by the most ordinary of things – a child’s giggle, a beautiful sunset, moving music – and we don’t have to wait till “Communion Sunday” to let ourselves experience it as something holy, precious and ordained.

    Non-use of the elements in church encourages me to use my heart and mind to reach out and sense the presence of the Spirit without distraction in good ways, ways that are meaningful and make a lasting (transforming) impression when I’m willing to do it. And, I think that’s worth pursuing regularly in community through silence and open worship.

    I also hope you’ll read Phil Smith’s writing for Listening Life this week ( He did a nice job of putting forth the Quaker way of communion.


  7. Very important stuff this! I brought in this new year in Prague with Richard Rohr and the climax of the gathering was taking communion in the “richard rohr” style – it was one of the most moving experiences of my life. It will take me a while to digest all the implications of that. Do have a look at Richard’s web-site if you haven’t yet heard of him:


  8. I wrote about a communion service I participated in a year ago, in this post Communion, Experimentally.

    More recently, it is important to me to remember that Jesus’s inclusive table practices, while scandalous to the respectable people of his day, were serious examples of hospitality and diversity, as we would understand them today.

    I think it is good for us to think of every shared meal as a practice of the social side of “the Lord’s supper.” Every time we break bread or take a drink can be an opportunity for communion with our brothers and sisters. We should pay attention to who is at the table and who is excluded, who has enough to eat and who doesn’t.

    The Quaker sense of the spiritual side of communion – of unity with God – has to be articulated very clearly, because it’s not at all obvious to a casual observer. Some people attend meeting for worship for years without feeling that sense of gathering. But I think it is easier to see if you know to look for it, if you expect it to happen, maybe not every time, but commonly.


  9. Pingback: Aj Schwanz » Blog Archive » Communing and Consuming

  10. Friends!

    My deepest thanks. I’ve read and pondered each of your posts. I don’t have time now to respond to each, but thank you. The richness of your experience and thoughts speaks to me. Another great reminder of how beautiful our blog community can be.


  11. The part of “high church” communion which impresses me is the sharing. Folks are given the cup and given the bread. The bond comes from feeding another and giving another drink.

    Just having a Friendly pot-luck doesn’t quite do it. What if part of our Friends pitch-ins included a time to feed other and offer other drink?


  12. Pingback: Getting rooted in visible witness (Links) – The Quaker Ranter

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