Each summer — as the program year winds down — we invite Fellows to reflect on their experience and write a testimonial to share with Friends. Gideon Nachman, a young adult Fellow who served in Boston during the 2019-2020 program year, shares about exploring and deepening his faith practice with Quakers during QVS.
There are many ways in which I’ve changed since the start of my QVS year. Some were small and incidental and some were large and grinding. Still others I don’t yet know how to put into words; all I know is that I feel different than I did before—that I feel called in new ways, that I have tremendous clarity in issues that seemed knotty or irresolvable before I became a Fellow last August. One of the changes that I’ve definitely noticed during this QVS year is my participation in meeting for worship and how I have grown more comfortable with actual Quakers and the Quaker process in my life.
I’m not a birthright Quaker. I didn’t go to a Friends school, or a Quaker summer camp. None of my friends growing up were Quaker. I had heard of the religion, sure, but mostly in history textbooks. I assumed American Quakerism was as dead and fusty as Puritanism or Separatism. My broad sense was that the Pilgrims colonized Massachusetts, the Antinomianists went to Rhode Island, the Dutch Merchants went to New York, and the Quakers clung onto William Penn’s foothold in Pennsylvania.
My education gestured broadly at the Native Americans already living on these lands, but the basic sense I received was that the Quakers were just another player in the vast, continual dividing of the Northeastern United States for European interests. I didn’t particularly think about it much beyond that and certainly didn’t do any further research on Quakerism until I went to my first meeting almost four years ago.
How alive it was!
I was shocked. Something I had only heard about as a paragraph in a textbook was in fact a room full of people, many who looked like me, but many of whom did not as well. I was younger than most participants, probably more confused too. This was very much a living, breathing, organic space full of joy and sorrow and meditation and love and horror. I had never been in communal silence before. I had never sat expectantly for a message before. I was raised Jewish and all my previous religious experiences were mediated by a Rabbi or read from a book. It wasn’t really for me. I assumed I was just another member of the broad church of skeptical, unobservant American secularism.
But I was not. Quakerism felt right to me, and I kept attending meetings. I started with my local meeting in Brooklyn, and then when I moved to London I attended Wandsworth Meeting. When I came back to the States, I settled in Boston and joined Friends Meeting of Cambridge.
“QVS has allowed me an entry into the Quaker community that goes beyond the meetinghouse.”
But that was the extent of my Quakerism. I came to meeting for worship on Sundays, sat near the back or in the balcony, only felt moved to speak once, and then—as soon as the first hands were shaking—I dashed out. I so loved the unhurried, peaceful silence of it, that I cringed at the thought of small-talk afterwards. The chatter of announcements seemed somehow to be a sullying stain on the purity of the silence and I did everything I could to avoid it. I felt that, not having been born a Quaker, I had somehow stumbled into a great and communal secret and that if I stayed around any longer I would be exposed as a fraud or a poser.
So, where does QVS come into play with all of this?
Well, since this year started, I have been asked to live out the Quaker testimonies more fully and intentionally. I have been asked to stick around, to stay behind, to share my thoughts and experiences. I now don’t feel nervous about staying after the rise of meeting, or talking with various committees. I’ve learned that there was never a reason to be nervous about it in the first place. I’ve started to both feel more comfortable around other Quakers and to begin to feel more comfortable calling myself a Quaker.
QVS has allowed me an entry into the Quaker community that goes beyond the meetinghouse. I’m really grateful for that. The program has asked me to meet with many different types of Quakers doing many different types of work and has pointed towards ways in which the testimonies can be taken into my personal and professional life. Even though I knew intellectually that I would always have been welcomed by the meetings in my area, now, as a QVS Fellow, I actually feel more comfortable becoming a part of this broader community.
I also need to mention my spiritual nurturer here. I have been extremely lucky to have been matched with a local Quaker who just gets it and he has been one of the joys of the past twelve months for me. I wouldn’t have ever talked to him had I kept just attending meetings and rushing out as soon as they were over. I appreciate the QVS program matching us together.
With COVID-19 putting some of the service and community aspects of this program under strain for me, I’ve had a chance to reflect on how the spiritual aspect remains undiminished. I expected I would grow spiritually this year, but not at this level or this direction. I think this newfound comfort with Quakerism is a direct example of the QVS program encouraging me to push myself a little in a direction that felt scary at first, but then felt quite rewarding. Thank you for that opportunity and I appreciate the chance to serve as a Fellow.
More about Gideon
Gideon Nachman is from Brooklyn, New York, where he lived for 18 years before traveling north to Cambridge to attend Harvard University. He graduated from there in 2016 with a degree majoring in Literature and minoring in East Asian Studies. He also joined an improv troupe, the campus comedy magazine, the beekeeping society, and was a folk/blues DJ for the college radio station. Among other jobs, he has spent the past two years as a volunteer crisis counselor at the Crisis Text Line, a nonprofit that provides free and confidential support to those in severe emotional, psychological, and mental stress. After college, he attended his first Quaker meeting in the fall of 2016 at the Brooklyn Meeting House and has not stopped going since. He has tried to attend meetings wherever he’s lived post-graduation, including the Wandsworth Meeting in London and now the Friends Meeting in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
He’s excited to orient his life further towards Quaker principles and to deepen his connection with the spiritual community already present in the Boston area. An avid WWOOFer, he can’t wait to continue the work he’s been doing on sustainability and environmental responsibility with the Better Future Project.