Elijah Walker grew up in Northeast Arkansas, and moved to Portland two years ago to do Quaker Voluntary Service. He stayed on for a second year, the alumni fellowship. He works at West Hills Friends Church, which is a liberal, semi-programmed meeting in Portland. You can hear some of Elijah’s messages on the church’s Soundcloud page.
Bio and article written by Emily McGrew, QVS Alumni Fellow serving with AFSC in Philadelphia as the Friends Relations Fellow.
Excerpt from “Quaker and Transgender, Part 1: An interview with Elijah Walker” Read full article here.
Emily McGrew: Tell me a little about your journey to Quakerism.
Elijah Walker: I grew up Missionary Baptist in rural Arkansas. I always felt really drawn to Spirit-led worship, which wasn’t really a thing in my church. My journey kind of went all over the place when I came out as transgender when I was 17. My church wasn’t affirming. I explored a lot of different denominations at that point, went to an Episcopal church, Disciples of Christ, and a few others … tried on atheism for about five minutes and that didn’t work for me.
A few years ago, I was feeling like it was time to find a church that was a good fit, and a church that could affirm my identity as a trans person, and also my call to ministry. I really didn’t know anything about Quakerism at that point, but I was drawn to a Spirit-led worship model, I was drawn to non-hierarchical leadership, and to the peace church tradition, so that led me to Quakerism pretty clearly.
I was living in a town that was about two-and-a-half hours away from the nearest meeting, so it didn’t really make sense for me to commute to meeting every Sunday. I tried it out once, and within five minutes of open worship at this unprogrammed meeting in Memphis, within a few minutes I just felt very clear that it was a good fit for me. And at that point, I didn’t know about all of the different branches of Quakerism. I was just under the impression that unprogrammed meetings, that was the norm. I basically read everything I could get my hands on about Quakerism, watched QuakerSpeak videos, started learning about Quaker Voluntary Service, and I decided QVS is like the best immersion experience in this practice. I decided to do QVS because I wanted to be a Quaker, which I don’t think is the typical experience for QVS fellows.
I moved here to Portland, and fell in love with the Convergent Friends model out here. There are several unprogrammed meetings, and programmed and semi-programmed meetings out here, which all have a relationship together and worship together once a month. I love that model in particular. I fell in love with West Hills Friends. It’s been an amazing journey to get here.
Emily: How do you experience Quakerism and your spirituality? What does that look like for you?
Elijah: It’s kind of interesting, because at the time of joining QVS and really diving into Quakerism, I wasn’t sure how I felt about Jesus and more Christian language around spirituality, but as I’ve gotten deeper into Quakerism, what I’ve found is that I’m seeking Christ not as a savior, like I thought when I was a kid, but I’m seeking Christ as a friend and an inner teacher. My spirituality is very much focused on following the leading of my inner teacher, which is Jesus.
Over the past year, part of my work at West Hills is to create a worship group for people who have been traumatized or hurt by the church at large. In that worship group, we call it Fifth Day, we meet on Thursdays, we seek to reclaim the liberating message of Christ. That has been one of the biggest parts of my work and of my spirituality over the past year, reclaiming the message of Christ as liberator, as friend, rather than the oppressor, which I think has been the narrative of American Christianity.
Also, I’m kind of an odd duck in that I am charismatic, and sometimes I might speak in tongues under my breath during open worship. I’m kind of sacramental too. I found myself in open worship at West Hills, and I kept feeling this leading to make the sign of the cross, and I kept saying “No, I’m not doing that, there’s no way I’m doing the sign of the cross in Quaker meeting for worship.” And I looked over a few minutes later, and the person next to me was doing the sign of the cross. It was hilarious to me. (Hear Elijah preach about this story here). So in my spirituality, I’m more likely to try things outside of what’s considered normal in Quakerism. I think that’s ok, I think whatever enriches my spiritual life is worthwhile…. (continue reading full article here.)
Read part 2 of “Quaker and Transgender,” an interview with Kody Hersh, here.