© Copyright 1998 by Roi Allen

Chapter 5: Influence of the Quakers (Friends)

Robert wondered if it would ever be possible to get Penny to visit his church on First Day morning services. When he felt a little more secure in their relationship, he would ask her to visit the St. Leon Friends Church.

His church - - why did he call it his? For one thing, he became a follower of the Lord Jesus in that meetinghouse. He and both brothers were forced to attend Sunday School there for the last few years. Lila and Chauncey never attended, unless they had made a rash promise to the pastor to attend a revival service. They did, however, insist that the boys go every Sunday morning. It was the church where Grandma Lewis had been attending for much of her life. Also, Lila understood it to be less liberal than the other church in town.

By now, Robert had been a Christian long enough and had lived a noticeably good life that the Ministry and Oversight Committee decided to put his name up for an office in the Sunday School. He was nominated for assistant superintendent of the Sunday School and was nearly unanimously elected. This helped to make it his church.

Although Lila tended to object, Robert had asked to become a member of the church. After the waiting period was finished, his name joined the twenty-three others listed as members of the local Friends Meeting.

He had suggested to the Ministry and Oversight Committee members that they needed more than just the one service per week. That suggestion did not go beyond the committee as they felt the expense was too much.

Only a few of the twenty-three members were living in the community now. They kept their membership even if they moved far away, usually because they wished to be buried in the church’s cemetery with their family members. Of the few members who did attend regularly, most were retired and on fixed incomes and could not support the church too well.

The meetinghouse was old, a very tall structure with high ceilings inside. That meant the heating bill was quite a problem for the treasurer. They paid a pastor to drive from Adrian on Sunday mornings. They had utilities to pay. They always provided good literature for Sunday School classes and take home papers to be read on Sunday afternoons. The summertime months required payment of a neighbor to mow the church and cemetery lawns. Robert really did understand that they needed to be cautious in their spending.

He finally decided that it had apparently been good that they were not having evening services any longer. Because of this fact, he had been attending neighboring churches (except on First Day mornings). And, because of attending Lester Chapel Church, he had met Penny.

Robert had great respect and love for many of the people at his church. He especially was drawn to an eighty-year-old man named L.G. Wibel. Brother Wibel had been an evangelist in his younger days and was now retired. He was the teacher for the old folks’ class. As assistant superintendent, Robert had the privilege of visiting any classes he chose. He chose Brother Wibel’s class often.

“Paul and Timothy”, that’s what he overheard a couple of the women say one day. They were not being secretive but were expressing admiration. When they realized that Robert had heard them, they explained.

Eula explained while the other sister nodded agreement, “We just said it reminds us of Paul and Timothy, in the Bible. You know, Paul was the aged preacher, but one of his closest friends was Timothy, the young convert. We think you and Brother Wibel resemble those two.”

After considering a while, Robert seemed to agree. He was spending a lot of time at the Wibel home. They lived in the town where he worked. Often, Robert chose to grab a quick bite to eat on his whole hour of lunch break. He then had a half hour or more to spend with the Wibels before returning to his job for the rest of the day.

Robert learned a lot in Wibels’ home. Quite often, Mr. Wibel went over his thoughts about the upcoming Sunday School lesson when Robert visited them on his lunch hour. When it seemed like a really interesting lesson, Robert usually decided to sit in on the old folks’ class for Sunday School.

That’s how it was this week. The lessons for the last few weeks had been focused on Quaker beliefs, practices and history. Robert was fascinated by L.G. Wibel’s interpretation of the teachings of George Fox, who founded the Society of Friends and of the teachings of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism. Robert was not yet aware that some of the beliefs of those two men of the past were not in full agreement. Besides, Brother Wibel was not about to point out the differences between the doctrines of the two.

On Sunday morning, Robert secretly wished Penny could be with him to hear his dear friend (a friend and a Friend). No doubt, she would enjoy his eye-opening teachings as much as he did.

Often, Brother Wibel used a version of a phrase to emphasize Bible teachings. It was, “That’s Bible teaching, not Wibel teaching”. He used it a lot this week, explaining that some of George Fox’s thoughts were not explicit in the Bible but were inferred. When he was in agreement with Fox, he would say, “That’s Wibel, not Bible”. Robert liked that; it made the honesty of Brother Wibel more evident.

It was a great lesson. Robert hoped he could share some of the thoughts with Penny later that day. It did seem a little different from the thoughts of some other people. Yet, Brother Wibel made everything seem so much in line with Bible teachings.

After church that morning, Robert did not linger to visit as he usually was in a habit of doing. Instead, he was clearly in a hurry to drive the six miles to Lester Chapel Church to pick up his lunch guest.

And, she was waiting. Beulah and Bill and their son were waiting with her, knowing that Robert would arrive as soon as he could get away from the Friends Church. How great to see the copper-haired Penny!

“Hola!” she yelled before he got the car stopped. She was walking toward his old car and opened the door herself, before he had time to get out and open it for her. “Com esta?” she asked.

“Hi!” answered Robert. “I guess that’s Spanish, right? How you doing? Ready to go, I see.” Then, waving to Bill and Beulah, he drove off with his prize.

Penny followed Robert into the house and greeted everyone she saw, even stopping to kiss Grandma. “Hi, Grandma,” she greeted. “How’s it going today? Do you remember me?”

Sarah Sullivan looked at her with a confused smile and started to make wordy sounds, which no one really understood.

“That’s OK, Grandma,” comforted Penny. “My name’s Penny. I was here yesterday, remember?”

The response was a somewhat blank, “Yeah.”

Lila came out from the kitchen with flour on her hands and invited Penny to join her, “It’s not proper to ask the guest to help, but I thought you might want to be part of the cooking team.”

Exuberant, Penny accepted the invitation, “Oh, I never get a chance to cook. I’d love to help. What can I do?”

Robert went to his room to deposit his Bible and take off his suit jacket as Penny joined his mother. When he got back downstairs and into the kitchen, he saw Penny with her hands in the noodle dough, all covered with flour and trying to roll the dough out to be cut into noodles. He had seen his mother doing that hundreds of times. In fact, he often made the noodles himself, anymore.

Lila was talking, as usual, “Maybe the noodle dough looks kind of rich. That’s because I made an angel food cake. Angel food cakes take thirteen egg whites so I use the thirteen yolks for the noodles. My boys love the rich noodles that result from only the yolks.”

Looking at Penny’s attempts, Lila decided to come to her rescue. Penny had rolled out the dough on the floured counter top. However, instead of cutting the dough into squares to be piled on top of each other so that many noodles could be cut at once, she was cutting one noodle at a time.

“Here, Dear. Let me show you how I do it.” Lila cut the dough into eight inch squares and stacked several on top of each other and cut down through the stack a few times, making uniform noodles for the broth. “That may be easier for you, if you want to try it that way.”

Ben had been watching and just rolled his eyes in a mocking fashion. Robert saw him mouth, “Dumb blond.”

Not much embarrassed, Penny said, “I don’t cook much. My mom never wanted us kids to bother when she cooked. And, she always said that I do everything backwards.” Looking up to see if anyone was laughing at her and noticing nothing of the sort, she continued, laughing, “Mom said I even mop the floor wrong. She said I wring the mop the wrong direction. That’s silly, I think. How can you wring the mop wrong?”

No one really knew how to answer so they just chuckled along with her.

When Lila called everyone to come to eat, Penny went in to lead Grandma to the kitchen. Everyone was quickly around the table and clearly about to begin filling plates, but Lila stopped the activities.

“I know we don’t usually do this, but we have a guest, Robert’s friend,” she announced. “I wondered if I could ask Penny to say a table grace before we eat.”

Kerry and Ben both raised eyebrows at the suggestion but paused to see what would happen. Chauncey, who usually waited until everyone in the family got their plates filled before he took any food, just remained patient, as usual.

Penny warmly accepted the invitation to have a short prayer to thank God for the food. After her prayer, they began their noisy chatter as the bowls of food circled the table.

Kerry, who considered himself a gift to women, felt the need to explain, “Penny, did you notice that you’re between the two men of the family? That was my idea. I’m showing Robert how to treat a lady.”

“Yes, I noticed,” Penny answered. “How lucky can I get to be surrounded by these three gentlemen.” Ben noticed that she glanced at him as she spoke. Clearly, she was including him. It was a good feeling, even if it was the ‘dumb blond’ who was providing the inclusion for him.

The first meal with Penny as guest was a joyous occasion for everyone, especially Penny. Although no one remarked about it at the time, most of the Lewis family noticed that Penny ate quite heartily. In fact, she refilled her plate several times, remarking on the cooking skills of Lila.

“I just love to eat,” she announced unnecessarily.

Everyone except Grandma and Ben were involved from time to time in the mealtime conversation. Penny learned some things about their family, and they learned a few things about her plans for nursing school after getting a teaching degree.

“Are your parents living?” Lila finally asked Penny. She had hoped the information would come out in the conversation more naturally, but since it did not, she decided to become direct about getting some background.

“Yes,” answered Penny. “My mom lives in Bay City. My dad is remarried and lives in Midland. I see Mom about once a month.”

Robert figured this was a chance to get some background information which he had wondered about for some time. He joined into the questioning, “Are they retired?”

Penny seemed quite willing to share some of the family history. “Not Mom. She cleans in a nursing home there at Bay City. She hopes to get social security in a few years and then retire.”

“And your dad?” Robert interrogated.

The response was not quick to this last question. Penny was obviously weighing her words before speaking. Finally, she answered, “I’m not sure. Like I said, “ I don’t see him a lot.” Seeing that her answer was rather incomplete, she added, “My dad used to be a pastor. After he and Mom broke up the home, I lost contact with him, especially when he remarried about five years later. We didn’t have much material goods when I was a child, and I feel my dad could have done better.” She paused a long while, making for some uncomfortable silence around the table. She then added, “He’s sick, I think. My youngest sister, Janet, keeps in touch with him and has told me that he has leukemia.”

Robert felt the atmosphere was getting too tense so he decided to change the subject. “Penny, I think you would have liked the Sunday School lesson I heard this morning at my church. I wish you could have been there.”

This subject change was not a move which made everyone feel comfortable. Ben rolled his eyes and decided to be excused, telling Lila that he was going to the neighbor boy’s house to practice his music. Chauncey got up and walked to his favorite chair in the living room to smoke. Kerry, too, said a few polite words and excused himself for other pursuits. Only Robert, Penny, Lila and Grandma stayed around the table.

With few people around to hear her, Penny decided to reveal her thoughts about Robert’s wish for her to attend the St. Leon Friends Church. She began, “I don’t know how to say this, but I really do not want to attend that church. They have some ideas that I really don’t accept. I’m sure some of the people are good people, but I feel they have some problems in their practices.”

Robert was not prepared for this type of announcement; it surprised him a great deal. He had not figured that Penny was so outspoken. Too, he had no idea that anyone could find something wrong with the church which had been so instrumental in his becoming a Christian and in his spiritual growth.

“What?” inquired Robert. “I have seen nothing wrong with the Quakers. They seem just like the people at Lester Chapel and at Buckingham Church. In fact, the lady who pastors at Buckingham is a Quaker, too. What have I overlooked in the Friends people?”

Not wanting to open a Pandora’s Box of problems, Penny skirted the areas of her concern with, “Let’s discuss it another time. For now, just borrow one of the disciplines of Lester Chapel Church and compare it with that of the St. Leon Friends. I think you’ll see some big differences.”

Both Lila and Penny were eager to end the conversation for now. No one wanted to ruin this good day with talk of religious differences.

Penny suggested, “Let me help with the dishes, Mrs. Lewis.”

Lila countered with, “No, I and Grandma will do them a little later. And, call me Lila, OK?”

Before any response was possible, the telephone rang. Lila went to answer it and with a concerned look, offered the receiver to Penny, saying, “It’s for you, Penny.”

Lila led Grandma to the living room, and Robert followed, allowing Penny some privacy for the call.

After a couple of minutes, Penny entered the living room. The call was finished. No one wanted to ask her about it as it was her business, not theirs.

Penny said, “That was Ramona on the phone, Ramona Santana. She’s one of my college friends. She said that my dad called the emergency number at school and says I should call him soon. She gave me the number.”

“Go ahead and call from our phone,” offered Lila. “We won’t bother you. I want you to use it.”

“No,” replied Penny. “He knows I don’t want to talk to him. He should not be calling me; he needs to let me call him if I ever decide I want to.”

“But, maybe it’s a family emergency,” suggested Robert. “You should at least find out.”

“He’s tricky,” said Penny. “Ramona says that he claims it has something to do with my younger sister, Julie. I doubt there’s anything to it. See, Julie is really close to my dad, but she doesn’t live any better than he does. She’s divorced, has a son, and lives a pretty wicked life. I think it is some kind of trick to make me talk to Dad.”

No one knew what to do except let Penny make the decision to ignore the call from her father. Robert felt that she should have at least tried one call, but he allowed it to be her decision.

They visited another hour or so. Then, Robert drove Penny back to Bill and Beulah’s house, promising to see her at the evening service.

As he drove back home, it occurred to Robert that he had not been attending the Buckingham Church nearly as often as he had formerly done. Since meeting Penny, he attended the Friends Church and Lester Chapel most of the time. He had found someone who was beginning to be important in his life. Surely, this was of God. Surely, it was becoming about time for Robert to find a church home and settle down to serve and worship in one particular church rather than drift from one to another as he had been doing.

If so, which church should be his? Was there really something about the St. Leon Friends Meeting that he should have noticed, something which marked it as a less-than-perfect group with which to be associated?

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