Tucson, AZ: Travels with Josh

Young Adult Friends

Hello my name is Joshua Ponter. I am a member of Haddonfield Monthly Meeting in South Jersey’s Philadelphia area. I have embarked on a year-long mission to travel around the country collecting stories about the founding of different meetings and looking at the way we practice Quakerism today. I will be blogging about my travels on the PYM website. Find my latest entry below. Please email me at JPonter1@gmail.com if there is anyone from your meeting who would like to sit down with me and speak to some of your history — or if you would like more information on me or my project . Thank you!

Part 13

Tucson, AZ

Thus far I have mostly been able to visit what many term conservative Friends Meeting. By this, I mean those meetings who worship in a traditional style of “unprogrammed” or “Waiting Worship.” I have been really looking forward to getting out west where the number of Programmed, specifically Evangelical orientated Churches become more prominent. This was the primary reason I decided to head toward Tucson. Though it was somewhat out of my way I was really eager to attend Tucson Friends Church.

Unfortunately, despite several attempts to make contact I did not hear back from the church until a few hours before their service actually started. Fortunately,Tucson also has a traditional Friends Meeting. Pima Friends is located further down town in the center of the city and did respond to my request almost immediately! =)They were nice enough to let me camp out in their parking lot and I was able to attend several different gatherings they hosted including a Young Adult Friends Potluck, a Muslim worship group, and a sewing circle. They also allowed me to make use of a much-needed shower and washing machine. (I am told simply turning my clothes inside out does not constitute good hygiene.) My stay also coincided with the Tucson Folk festival, which happened to be just a few blocks walk from the meeting house. All and all I was glad things turned out the way they did.

I was torn between attending worship at this place, which had so generously hosted me, and the Church I had originally come to visit. However when I woke up that morning I saw people walking into Pima Friends and I realized they had an early worship as well as a later one. I ended up being able to attend both Pima and the Evangelical service.

As I mentioned before, Tucson Friends Church is an Evangelical church, which was quite different from what I was used to in terms of Quaker worship. I believe it is a member of Evangelical Friends Church Southwest, although to that point, the folks I spoke to were not entirely clear. Started in the 1950’s, Pima and Tucson Friends were, at one point, one and the same; a single Friends Meeting under the care of a single Yearly Meeting. In the 1970’s they decided to go their separate ways. The reason for this wasn’t entirely clear but I got the impression that it had something to do with edification i

n regards to Jesus of Nazareth.

There was a lot of language used in the program that has to do with accepting Jesus (Christ) as their lord and savior. It was only through this deification can people, I guess, get to Heaven? Again, this was not entirely clear, but I am looking forward to learning more. There was a lot of singing with electric guitars, a bass, a full drum set, even a keytar (one of those guitar/keyboard things I have only ever seen in music videos from the 80’s). The lyrics of the music seemed to reflect the message though in a somewhat untraditional sense. That being said, they did alternate what I would learn is called “Praise Music” with the more traditional hymnals, which with I was familiar and thus able to join in. Towards the end, they had a brief period of what they called open worship. I am told what used to be called “in the style of Quakers” has recently turned into a time for people to ask for prayers and to share personal testimony in response to a query given early on which was, “What has the Lord (Jesus) done for you in the past year?”

So one of the questions, which I have been eager to ask, given the dramatic differences between this and a typical Quaker Worship was: “What makes you Quaker?” I was able to sit with a group of Friends after the service and enjoy their monthly potluck. Talking over a meal is an interesting thing. As imprudent as it seems to ask people this type of question with their mouths full, it seems to give one time to think; to avoid the rote answers we so often give to questions that merit some considerations. The vast majority, if not the entirety, of the congregations were folks from an other-than-Quaker background, some with no prior religious affiliation and others who were raised in other Christian faiths. They were drawn to this church because, “While we have a pastor it is not through he which that we reach God.” The idea being that the pastor who may lead the church in some respects but is not a Quaker by training. He not the conduit through which they reach God, or in their case Jesus. He is merely a guide and that connection to Jesus (or Christ) comes from within one’s self. This is essentially the question, which lies at the root of this journey, and the question that I would like to leave you with today, dear reader. If you consider yourself a Quaker, what does that mean to you?