Welcome to Daily SPARC – each weekday our chaplains, friends from the Penn Religious Communities Council and other voices from campus will be posting messages of support and encouragement. 

Today’s message is by Penn student, Catherine Campbell C’20: 

Just outside Philadelphia, there is a small Quaker retreat center, one of only a few such places in the country. Each morning, since its founding ninety years ago, Friends have gathered there for worship, held silently, without an officiant of any kind. Despite being a certified, capital-“F” Friend myself, I had never been to the center until I became part of the Spring 2018 Interfaith Dialogue in Action class (colloquially known as iBelieve). We began the course with a retreat at quiet, tranquil Pendle Hill. SPARC couldn’t get rid of me, so I became the TA for the class this semester, and we visited again. A second time, I brought new friends to experience Quaker worship with me in the little meetinghouse on the retreat center campus. In each case, only a dozen or so people have generally followed, after the first person found a seat among the benches and began meeting for worship just before 8:30am those mornings.

Now, of course, Pendle Hill is near to empty, and only a few residents are still sitting there in the morning, sharing the silence. In place of the few benches of visitors, however, there is now a camera and an active Zoom call. When the center’s staff offered the opportunity to “Join us online for worship in the Barn,” the response was overwhelming: more than 130 people typically log on to sit in silence with F/friends across a vast geographic range each day. 

If we must lose so much, if we must be so far apart, if we must all share so much mourning, we must also be sustained somehow. We can’t sit together, as Friends ordinarily do, but we still have need of space to listen for the presence of the unknowable. Even more than that, we need to remember our places in communities, and remember how to take care of one another in the ways that help those communities thrive, whether we are in fact sitting next to one another or not. Somehow, there are blossomings happening, here and there, in these strange times.