Quakers in Seoul, from my archives

Today I finally went to my first Quaker meeting. I’ve been curious about them since my cousin Rick told me about their lobbying work and website, both of which I feel are terrific tools for social justice.

Since my friend Bill left Seoul, I don’t want to bother going all the way up to Songbuk-dong to the English mass that’s rather old fashioned. After mass there’s this awkward social time when people gather outside and mingle. The men flock together, the white “soccer moms” flock together and the women of other races flock together. It’s this weird grouping after church that bugs me. Also, the soccer mom group feels so uninviting since I’m not married, even though with a degree and interest in children’s education I can contribute to their conversation. When Bill lived here I could join the men’s group, where there was more interesting talk without being perceived as a hussy. (It’s all so ridiculous.)

We have mass at Sogang in Korean every Sunday, but that’s hard to follow. (Impossible.) Twice a month there’s English mass, a new event, and I’ve been going there and am satisfied. Yet I thought I’d see what the Quakers were like to fill out the other 2 Sundays a month.

I went with Linda, who’d been before. When we arrived there were a few people (say 5) quietly sitting and we joined their circle. Then more people came in quietly. At 11 we started to meditate without any direction or discussion. That continued for 50 minutes. Evidently in the U.S. latecomers aren’t permitted, but here stragglers, noisy ones, kept coming even at 11:40.

At 11:50 one man started reading something in Korean. Fine. That wasn’t translated so I have no idea what it was about. Then an American man started speaking. He said, “You know it’s really hard to talk to you people.” The tone was tense and full of simmering frustration, perhaps even hostility. He sort of rambled. Perhaps he didn’t want to upset anyone. Yet he was clearly upset. He talked about the concept of covenent. That it’s like a promise, but stronger. He wanted to convey that if you join a religious group you enter into a convenent agreeing to be willing to let that religion or faith or group change you rather than you changing it. I can see his point, though I don’t agree completely. I think sometimes you might have a responsibility to change it. All this would depend on how long you’ve been in the group and what you tried to change. Dealing in such generalities is meaningless anyway.

Someone proceeded to translate.

Then a Korean man commented that this was his second time there and he thought the service would benefit from changing the format so that they read more scripture. Aha! I see what the first guy was talking about. The main thrust (for a few centuries) of Quakers is the silent, communal worship. Here some new guy who doesn’t know much about the tradition saying, “Change your ways ‘cuz that’s how my church does it.”

There wasn’t any discussion, just more silence. Linda asked if they had a query for the month. Evidently, the tradition is to offer a query at the start of every month as something for individuals to meditate on.
In 1682, London Yearly Meeting started asking representatives from quarterly and monthly meetings a number of factual questions on Friends and their activities. In the 1700s, these questions were revised to allow them to be used to ensure consistency of conduct among Friends as well as the reporting on the state of the Society. In 1833, they were rewritten and expanded to emphasize evangelical principles and to encourage Friends to consider whether they should not adopt them personally.
Further revisions and extensions took place every 20 – 40 years. The present text was approved by London (now Britain) Yearly Meeting in 1994 (English Quakers)
Here’s a few examples:1 “If pressure is brought upon you to lower your standard of integrity, are you prepared to resist it? Our responsibilities to God and our neighbour may involve us in taking unpopular stands. Do not let the desire to be sociable, or the fear of seeming peculiar, determine your decisions.”
Advices and Queries, 1994, No.38

2 We are subject to all the persuasive powers of commerce and are influenced by family, friends and neighbours. Take time to understand yourself, your real needs and your true potential. Try to bring all your actions in line with this understanding and your knowledge of the world around you.

3 “Try to live simply. A simple lifestyle freely chosen is a source of strength. Do not be persuaded into buying what you do not need or cannot afford. Do you keep yourself informed about the effects your style of living is having on the global economy and environment?” (ibid)
Interesting points to ponder.

One guy perked up at Linda’s question and said that would be nice if they went back to that tradition. No one commented further. My guess is the current group consists of some anti-query types.

The service was sort of falling apart. Lots of tense, disappointed quiet, so Linda and I left and went out to lunch.

From October, 2006