Small Quaker church tries to take hold in Wilton

WILTON – It didn’t appear to be a very significant meeting, what with only five people sitting in a circle, but it might end up being very significant.

That small group is an attempt to start a new church – a local Quaker church.

Known formally as the Religious Society of Friends, Friends’ churches are called “meetings,” and the Souhegan Friends Meeting was started by Darcy and Brian Drayton.

The Draytons belong to the Weare meeting, which is some distance from their home in Lyndeborough.

After they met Jeffrey and Jessica Hipp, who live in Temple, they decided to try to form their own meeting closer to home.

The Wilton gathering, held in the auditorium of the Pine Hill Waldorf School, is called an “allowed meeting,” with “Weare taking care of us and permitting this initiative,” Brian said. “If we continue with a steady core, eventually it can become a separate meeting of our own.”

There are about 65 meetings in New England and seven or eight in New Hampshire. Quaker churches are small, and the Draytons will be happy if they attract a few more people and have a meeting with six or eight.

“We are very shy about proselytizing,” Brian said. “That’s one challenge in New England – getting the word out.”

In fact, when they travel it’s kind of a game for him and his wife to try to find where the nearest church is located and how well the location is publicized.

The Weare church is actually in Henniker, “in the middle of nowhere,” they said, which was fine years ago when it was surrounded by farms and farm families, but the location eventually came to seem too remote.

But now, of course, the Internet makes it possible for anyone to learn where to find a church, and Jeffrey Hipp, a web site and data base developer, is working on a website for the Souhegan Friends Meeting.

The Religious Society of Friends is a faith that emerged as a new Christian denomination in England during a period of religious turmoil in the mid-1600s.

Four Quakers were hanged on the Boston Common, but the movement spread through New England, and eventually 17 governors of the Connecticut colony were Quakers, a term that was originally a derogatory until the Friends adopted it for themselves.

In England a judge had mocked founder George Fox’s exhortation to “tremble and quake at the word of the Lord,” calling him and his followers “Quakers.”

“The judge later joined the movement,” said Brian.

An ‘attender’

The recent meeting at Pine Hill included Glynn Graham, who was there as an “attender,” meaning an interested non-member, and everyone is invited to do the same.

Darcy and Jessica took turns minding the Hipps’ 17-month-old son, Eli, in another room.

Worship traditionally starts in silence, and a pamphlet by the door explains the part silence plays in worship.

“For us, the core of worship is not in the things we do, but in spending time being aware of God’s presence – listening and learning” in spirit and in truth, said Brian.

“We call ourselves friends because of Jesus’ comment to his disciples, ‘I have called you friends’.

“If we continue in silence and that is OK,” Brian said, “but sometimes someone is called upon to speak, and that too is OK.

“Worship builds community. We listen in the silence to the Inward Teacher, and we listen together. Gathered in the Spirit, we are drawn towards unity with each other, and learn the lessons that make it possible for us to love our neighbor as our selves.”

After their meeting, the Draytons and the Hipps each explained how and why they joined the church.

When she was in her 20s Jessica Hipp left the very conservative Christian faith she grew up in and couldn’t find anything to replace it.

Visited India

A trip to India to search for “the God I grew up with” ended in disappointment, and a few years later she attended a Quaker meeting.

“I felt the freedom to ask questions within a spirit community,” said Jessica, who is the enrollment director at Pine Hill. She found it was “a supportive place without pre-defined answers – just living the questions day in and day out.”

Jeffrey Hipp grew up in Texas in a Southern Baptist family, where he found “some good and some not so good,” aspects of the church and left it when he was in college.

He went through an “obligatory Buddhist phase.”

In a Quaker meeting in Austen he felt “nourished and challenged in a way I had longed to be …” in a faith rooted in Christian tradition, but with room to explore.

During his first few years as a Quaker he questioned whether he was even a Christian, “but this could be my home, regardless.

“Far more important is my relationship to God, without a label,” he said.

Brian Drayton, a plant ecologist working in science education research, grew up in an Episcopal family and was sent to Catholic schools, but came to feel there was too much that was unnecessary in these religions, including the liturgy.

As a young student in Cambridge. Mass., he heard there was a Quaker meeting house and visited the empty meeting house one day, “and felt like I had come home, that I had arrived at the place I needed to be.”

Quakers are Christian, but there is “a lot of diversity in terms what people believe,” he said, and the religion is not very hierarchical.

Darcy Drayton, a retired Pine Hill teacher, grew up with an atheist father and an agnostic mother and was sent to a Congregational Sunday school.

In the 1960s she became acquainted with young people who were part of the counterculture Jesus movement, and she liked their peaceful, non-judgmental ways, but it didn’t seem right for her.

When she heard that Quakers believe that Christ can speak directly to a person without mediation through a minister or a priest, she was interested.

The Quaker faith, she said, “allows for continuing revelation … and there can be new discoveries.”

One of the great things, Jeffrey said, about being a Quaker is that they are part of an extended worldwide network. “Jess and I know hundreds of Quakers.”

10:30 worship begins

The Souhegan Friends Meeting gathers on Sundays at the Pine Hill Waldorf School, 77 Pine Hill Rd., Wilton. Worship is from 10:30-11:30 a.m. tea and conversation afterwards. Child care is by arrangement – call ahead. Because they are new and small there is no formal First Day (Sunday) school

For more information, call Darcy Drayton at 654-6001 or Jessica Hipp at 978-430-4342.