I was sent of the Lord God of heaven and earth to preach freely, and to bring people off from these outward temples made with hands, which God dwelleth not in; that they might know their bodies to become the temples of God and of Christ; and to draw people off from all their … ceremonies, … customs, traditions, and doctrines of men; and from all the worldâ€™s hireling teachers, … I exhorted the people to come off from all these things, directing them to the Spirit and grace of God in themselves, and to the Light of Jesus in their own hearts; that they might come to know Christ, their free teacher…
— George Fox, 1651
Traditionally, Quaker meeting houses are plain. There are no religious statues or paintings, no crosses or crucifixes, and no stained glass windows. Traditional Quaker worship is equally plain. Creeds, sacraments, liturgy, and prepared sermons are all absent. Friends gather for worship in an unadorned room in silence. Centering down into stillness we attend to the divine spirit, the inward light of Christ, moving within us as individuals and as a community.
Paintings, crosses, and stained glass are all outward symbols, or representations, of the divine. Worship in the manner of Friends calls us to strip away, and seek beyond, all outward forms and be transformed by the direct experience of the divine. Thus, a traditional Quaker meeting house, void of all symbols and representations, is an ideal setting in which to seek the inward light.
Given Friendsâ€™ 350 year tradition of plain meeting houses, the presence of stained glass windows was a source of conflict when Valley Friends purchased this formerly Presbyterian church in fall 1999. Our Quaker need for a plain worship space argued for replacing the stained glass with clear glass. We were also mindful that the windows have both historical and emotional value in the Dayton community, our new home.
We sought to reconcile our differences by listening deeply to one another, praying for each other, and seeking to lay down personal preferences and ideas. Our process was complicated by the inclination of Friends to respond to the religious symbols in the windows, challenging, affirming or reinterpreting them. In retrospect, we realize that our discussions about the window symbols underscores the danger inherent in outward forms. The symbols diverted our attention, lent themselves to various interpretations, and led us into unresolvable theological debate about representations of the divine.
As individuals it was impossible to reconcile our diverse intellectual and emotional responses; as a community it was essential to transcend them. Thus, when we were able to lay aside our personal positions, a Sense of the Meeting, a communal leading of the spirit, arose in the 18th month of the conflict to leave the windows in place and provide for their preservation. In accepting these windows as part of our meeting house we affirm their historical value and we honor those in Dayton for whom the windows are important expressions of love and faith.
With this decision, we accept that we must be vigilant that the windows do not distract us from our defining purpose as Friends, the direct experience of the divine. This will be our challenge as a Quaker community for as long as we are stewards of this building.