A Visit to Fairfield Meeting & Phil Gulley

Quaker-meeting-house-in-IndianapolisHad a great visit this First Day at Fairfield Friends, near Indianapolis.

Fairfield is a small town Hoosier Quaker congregation, famous as the locale of a series of best-selling novels by its pastor. Phil Gulley. More on Phil and these books here

Phil is also famous – or notorious, take your pick – for his theological books, in which he has tossed out the “burn in hell, sinner” theology he was raised on for a welcoming Universalist approach to Christianity. He laid out this change of mind in a book, “If Grace Is True,” which among other things made him the target of a long-running heresy-hunt in his Western (Indiana) Yearly Meeting, which we hope is now over. More on that here.

Turns out, Phil is just as charming and welcoming as his writing suggests. And a highlight of my visit was the pre-worship adult class. This day it was being led by a religion professor from a nearby university. The professor is Jewish, married to a Christian member of Fairfield Meeting. He was analyzing the story of Abraham & Isaac in Genesis 22 (More on that story here.)

Besides his own incisive commentary, he brought to the text ancient rabbinical views, Christian reflections – and he had the Quran open as well, to consider its re-telling of the story in Surah 37:

[Isaac says:]

100. “O my Lord! Grant me a righteous (son)!”
101. So We gave him the good news of a forbearing son.
102. Then, when (the son) reached (the age of) (serious) work with him, he said: “O my son! I have seen in a vision that I offer thee in sacrifice: now see what is thy view!” (The son) said: “O my father! Do as thou art commanded: thou will find me, if Allah so wills, one of the steadfast!”
103. So when they had both submitted (to Allah), and he had laid him prostrate on his forehead (for sacrifice),
104. We called out to him “O Abraham! …
105. “Thou hast already fulfilled the vision!” – thus indeed do We reward those who do right.
106. For this was a clear trial-
107. And We ransomed him with a momentous sacrifice:
108. And We left for him among generations (to come) in later times:
109. “Peace and salutation to Abraham!”
110. Thus indeed do We reward those who do right.
111. For he was one of Our believing Servants.”

The three approaches are clearly not identical (some Islamic interpreters believe that it was Abraham’s other son, Ishmael, who was to be sacrificed). Yet they were used at Fairfield not as the basis for controversy, but as different sources of light on a challenging text. Enlightening and well done!

The worship was programmed but loose, with some silence and a thoughtful, low-key message by Phil. He has written somewhere that there are few things more appealing than an open and welcoming church, and Fairfield underlines that insight. I hope to get back there again.

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