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La Jolla Friends Meeting: Quaker group builds on concepts from the 1600s

La Jolla Quaker Friends Ellie Hitchcock, in front of the meeting spot at 7380 Eads Avenue.
La Jolla Quaker Friends Ellie Hitchcock, in front of the meeting spot at 7380 Eads Avenue.
/ Milan Kovacevic

Editor’s Note: This is the 13th in a bi-monthly La Jolla Light series examining various faith communities in our town and the people within them. Reporter Linda Hutchison and photographer Milan Kovacevic take us into the familiar buildings for insight on what goes on inside … and why. Read previous installments at lajollalight.com

Walking along Eads Avenue, just south of Pearl Street, it would be easy to pass the unassuming bungalow and not realize it is a house of worship. There are no stained glass windows, bell towers or spires, no music or hymns drifting out the doors on Sunday mornings.

There are, however, two indications that this is more than a regular house: The plaque near the front door reads “Peace is Priceless” and a freestanding sign rising from the water wise garden announces “La Jolla Quaker Meeting.”

For more than 60 years, the La Jolla Quakers (or Religious Society of Friends as they are officially called) have been meeting here. The group was founded in 1949 by several Quakers from Pasadena, who first gathered at St. James By-the-Sea Episcopal Church. In 1952, they bought a small cottage at the back of their current lot and built a new one in front. It is used for worship services and the original bungalow in back, with a kitchen, is used for social events and meetings.

The La Jolla Friends Meeting practices what is called waiting worship, also known as un-programmed. The hour-long service is not planned in advance and is often silent until members feel moved by the spirit of God to speak. Nor is there any organized ministry or doctrine, according to Ellie Hitchcock, the group’s current clerk.

“It is a flat organization, run by members,” explained Hitchcock “There is no divinity school. Everyone is a minister and is prepared to minister to people. We believe that every human has the light of God within and that everyone has access. Our worship service speaks to that place, center.”

The message on the post in front of the Quaker’s meeting place reads ‘May Peace Prevail on Earth,’ in Spanish.
The message on the post in front of the Quaker’s meeting place reads ‘May Peace Prevail on Earth,’ in Spanish.
/ Milan Kovacevic

These ideas sprang from the reform movements of the 1600s in England, when many individuals experienced religious transformations and broke away from the dominant Anglican Church. One such lay preacher was George Fox. His early followers were called Seekers, Seekers of the Truth, Friends of the Truth or Children of the Light, and were sometimes prosecuted. Fox himself was put on trial and told the judge “to tremble and quake at the word of the Lord.” The judge then asked Fox if he was a quaker, and when Fox answered yes, the label Quaker was born. For many years it was a derogatory term, but now is used interchangeably with Friends.

From its earliest days, the Society of Friends has been committed to simplicity, honesty, and peace, equal rights for men, women and children.

“In the 1600s these ideas such as women and children speaking up were radical, but they have lasted. Women are given equal

standing, responsibility and education is highly valued,” said Hitchcock.

“This informs who we are now. We are the peace church and oppose violence as a way to solve problems.”

Although some early Quakers in the United States owned slaves, they soon played a pivotal role in the abolition of slavery. They also lived peacefully with Native Americans and applied their Quaker values to transforming prisons, hospitals, schools and libraries.

“They were instrumental in the formation of our country, with democratic principles. They were a small group but with a large influence,” said Hitchcock.

Today there are approximately 350,000 Friends around the world. In the United States, many early Friends settled in the northeast, especially Pennsylvania. Two American presidents have been Quakers – Herbert Hoover and Richard Nixon. More Quakers live in Africa than any other part of the world, with approximately 133,000 in Kenya, followed by about 86,000 in the United States, 33,000 in Bolivia, 20,000 in Guatemala and 15,000 in Britain.

There are several branches of the Religious Society of Friends, but the two main strains are those with ministers and those without (un-programmed), about 11 percent of the total. In lieu of laity, the La Jolla meeting is run by several clerks who oversee 10 to 15 committees, such as religious education, peace and social action, and usually serve three-year terms.

All decisions are made by the whole group. “We do not vote, but reach unity, “Hitchcock explained. “If we are not all in agreement, it could be worthwhile to hear other points of view and we discuss until everyone has been heard. It is sometimes magical watching people come to unity. When decisions are made this way, they stick.”

Casey Peto, Sue Rios, Ellen Hitchcock, Kip McBane and Elizabeth Bills.
Casey Peto, Sue Rios, Ellen Hitchcock, Kip McBane and Elizabeth Bills.
/ Milan Kovacevic

In addition to regular Sunday worship at 10 a.m. followed by a social gathering, the La Jolla Friends hold a business meeting once a month, attend Southern California regional meetings three times a year and a larger Pacific region meeting once a year. At this meeting, the Friends’ guidebook “Faith and Practice” is analyzed and revised every few years.

Other activities for La Jolla Friends include Bible study, singing groups, Sunday school, a men’s group, Graceful Aging for those age 80 and older, hosting meditation and environmental groups, and a Thursday group that decorates blankets for cancer patients. In addition, the group actively supports local and global organizations and events such as San Diego Coalition for Peace and Justice, San Diego Veterans for Peace, LGBT Pride Parade, Martin Luther King Day Parade and Afghan Refugee Girls’ Primary Schools.

La Jolla Friends Meeting

Address: 7380 Eads Ave., La Jolla

Phone: (858) 456-1020. Website: lajollaquakers.org

Year Established: 1949

Members: 65

Average Sunday Attendance: 40-50

Sunday Worship Services: 10 a.m. First Day (Sunday) School 10 a.m. for infants to teens, 11:15 a.m. fellowship

Leaders: Ellie Hitchcock, clerk of La Jolla Friends; Jane Peers, adult religious education clerk; Stephanie Freeman and Eric Scott, communications co-clerks; Jack Leshefka, funds and budget clerk; Gwyn Enright, library clerk; Kip McBane, ministry and oversight clerk; Sharon Tracy, nominating clerk; Jim Summers, peace and social order clerk; Gil Field, property clerk; Stephanie Freeman and Pam Sample, retreat co-clerks; Jack Leshefka, scholarship trustees clerk; Burton Housman, Oliver Ryder and Kip McBane, state of the society letter clerks.

Groups and Programs: Bible Study, Singing, Forum for Concerns, Stories that Shaped Us alternate Sundays at 9 a.m. Gracious Aging group meets first Monday each month at 1 p.m. Men’s Group meets third Tuesday each month at 7 p.m. Saturday workshops in Italian, Adult Religions Education Discussion, Discernment. (Call for times and locations.)

Community Projects: Blanket decorating for cancer patients, participation in American Friends Service Committee, Friends Committee on Legislation (California), Friends Committee on National Legislation, Friends World Committee for Consultation, Friends House Moscow, Friends Journal, Nonviolent Peace Force, Peace Resource Center, Pendle Hill, Quaker Bolivia Link, Quaker United Nations Office, Western Friend.