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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Ambitious first year starts Quaker worship

Published: September 27, 2013
Section: Featured, News

There are only around 86,000 Quakers in the United States of America. In fact, the highest concentration of members of the religion is in Africa, with around 134,000 Quakers in Kenya.

Here at Brandeis, there is at least one Quaker: Jake Silverman ’17. A first-year new to campus, Silverman was so desperate to find a place to worship, he created one himself.

“I missed the quiet and time for reflection,” Silverman said this past week. “I came up with the idea kind of in the middle of the summer, when I realized how much I missed Quaker meeting. I was like you know what, its not really hard to get a bunch of people to sit in silence somewhere, I wouldn’t really need funding. It was something I really wanted to do.”

Silverman prefers a kind of service called “waiting worship” where people gather to sit in silence. According to statistics gathered by the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain in 2012, today 89% of members practice programmed worship with singing and a message from an authority figure like a pastor. Only 11% of Quakers practice “waiting worship.”

“In silent meeting or waiting meeting, you sit down and you are quiet for however long the meeting is and you focus on your inner light,” said Silverman. “Quakers believe that everyone is capable of doing great things through their inner light. God is whatever it means to you, it is a personal connection.”

After arriving on campus, Silverman contacted religious figures, such as Reverend Walter Cuenin, the Catholic chaplain, and Matthew Carriker, the Protestant chaplain. Silverman found many people were willing to help him hold services.

“The fact that this school has a Jewish culture so well established but I can go and say hey, I want to start a nominal Christian meeting and be met with nothing but support says a lot about this school,” said Silverman.

Carriker comments that there are many religious authorities on campus who want to meet the needs of students, from Imam Talal who runs the Muslim Prayer Space in Usdan, to a Hindu Spiritual Advisor who will soon be hired.

Silverman hosted his first meeting Sunday, and will be arraigning them bi-weekly for the rest of the year and beyond. Meetings are held in the Protestant Chapel.

“It’s because it is the plainest of the three chapels,” said Silverman. He explained that one of the core fundamentals of Quakerism is simplicity. “Meeting houses are very plain…with no adornments or stained glass, no pulpit, very old and simple, and the meeting is silent.”

Carriker explains that technically, Quakerism is a form of Protestantism. “Most Quakers consider themselves to be Protestant, but it is difficult to universalize. Quakers are considered Protestant, since at the time of their founding they were breaking away from the established Church of England,” Carriker said. He also mentioned that a Quaker last held his current post as Protestant chaplain.

Silverman was inspired to become a Quaker after hearing a high school teacher of his speak. Originally raised Jewish, Silverman had a bat mitzvah. His brother is an orthodox Jew. But Silverman sought out a different path after attending a Quaker high school.

“One of my teachers who is a Quaker gave a speech in Meeting, and he talked about how rare it is to have quiet in your life, and have that silence as a time for peaceful quiet reflection,” said Silverman. “I thought about that, and was like yeah, that’s true, and ever since then it has started meaning more and more to me.”

While Silverman still attends High Holidays with his parents when at home, he considers himself fully Quaker.

“Quakers are all very nice people, in living your life they say be a good person, work hard and help people. They’re so welcoming, so nice and so respective,” he said.

Carriker notes it is a positive thing to have a diverse array of religions represented on campus. “Various Christian groups have different emphases, beliefs and traditions…the challenge, and yet the ecumenical invitation, is to live into Jesus’ injunction in the gospel of John ‘that they may all be one.’” Carriker went on to explain that this signifies that “we act with love and compassion, even when we disagree.”

While only two people attended Silverman’s last meeting, he plans to advertise more and continue promoting the Quaker Meetings. “We sat for half an hour and it was quiet,” he said. Silverman plans to host these meetings for all four years he is at Brandeis.