This report has been prepared based on input collected from two threshing sessions and an on-line questionnaire, each method involving about 25 Friends. Several themes emerged including 1) how we are doing in balancing administrative work with nurturing our spiritual journeys, 2) welcoming newcomers, 3) in-reach to those attending and to long-time members who rarely attend, 4) outreach to those in the community, and 5) how we feel when Meeting is at its best. In addition, children attending First Day School voiced their opinions on important matters of what they might want to experience and offer. Responses from children on what they want to experience included less hatred in the world, less pollution, more love, and more fun. The children want to give help, hope, and love.
Maintaining an appropriate balance between administrative duties and nurturing the spirit.
We were without a Clerk and Treasurer for the first half of 2010. Through a series of inventive and insightful sessions, Nominating Committee helped us rotate through different responsibilities and enabled us to understand our many gifts and talents. Friends expressed thanks to those who rotated through the clerking position. Through these experiences, we gained valuable insight into some of our administrative burdens in an effort to overcome impediments related to expectations of overly high organizational frameworks. Friends have also applied more focus on improving the depth and quality of our Meeting for Worship. Many have been more intentional about arriving on time and helping Meeting settle into prayerful silence by reducing noise and interruptions. Last year, a very small number of dedicated Friends sustained our First Day School program. This year, several others have contributed to share the joy and responsibilities associated with nurturing our wonderful children. Although we still have a ways to go in helping to slake the thirst of all Friends, it seems that we have made a conscious effort to attend to our spiritual journeys in a more intentional manner. In the coming year, we will strive to continue to deepen our worship and offer more diverse opportunities for people of all ages.
Welcoming New Friends
Our Meeting recognizes that newcomers offer us vitality, growth, diversity, and the opportunity to strike up new friendships. Over the past year, we have worked on plans to contact visitors, initiate conversations with newcomers, and make ourselves more obviously available for questions and comments. Although those who have recently joined us report that FMM is indeed a welcoming place, some feel that they are not given enough introductory information about how unprogrammed worship works and what we do while we are gathered together. In the past year, we have developed an informational pamphlet about FMM and a welcoming bulletin to help introduce Quaker worship to those joining us for the first time. We have planned second-hour sessions on a variety of topics and we hope that some of these can help fill in the background. Friends recognize that regularly scheduled orientation sessions are critical to engaging newcomers into the fabric of our community and that these sessions also serve a valuable purpose of continuing adult education. Friendly Eights, potluck meals, service work and participation on committees can facilitate more conversation and interactions.
In-reach to those attending and to long-time members who rarely attend
Responses to our on-line survey suggest that many Friends are concerned that we expend insufficient efforts attending to the needs of long-time attenders and members. In particular, we often let several months elapse before contacting a Friend whom we have not seen for a while. Although some Friends drift away because they are led to walk different paths, some may feel that our lack of attention signifies a lack of interest in their well-being. Several of us have started contacting Friends whom we have not seen lately and this is an opportunity for each one of us to contribute in a highly personalized way. Friends understand that we each take ownership of in-reach and pastoral care and do not need an organizational structure to attend to each other. Many long-time attenders feel that there are many new attenders that they do not know. Conversely, some new attenders feel that they also do not know many FMM Friends. M&C interprets these reports as an indication that we could benefit from a larger number of social and service activities that foster fellowship, provide opportunities for social discourse, and build our sense of community.
At various times, we have had a robust group of high schoolers and many of us miss their presence and vitality. We understand that we may have a lower number of young friends due to demographics and we also recognize that we need to maintain a critical mass to encourage those who are among us to attend. Our kids appear to have a genuine ownership of Meeting for Worship while at BYM summer camps, but this seems to be missing at FMM. We also have a fair number of young Friends who volunteer at Soup Kitchen but don’t attend Meeting. Although we can’t duplicate the entire camp experience here, we might be able to get help from camp leaders to improve the experience for middle and high school aged kids. Perhaps we could sponsor more activities that engage and focus on our children to help build ties between their families.
Outreach to those in the community
Several Friends reflected on the rich and spiritual nature of the Quaker experience and the idea that others might want to learn and engage if they were aware of us. Although Quakers may be notoriously shy about recruiting new members, many feel that we could do a lot more to get the word out that we are here and that our worship has unique values. One of our strongest appeals is the way we connect with each other as we join together in the silence and that we hold onto people joining together in quiet. We still model this in a time when quiet is frequently missing from our daily lives in our world. Some people are looking for this refuge in their lives.
How do we feel when Meeting is at its best?
Friends voiced a number of mostly positive responses to this question. One reported that sometimes Worship is in the head and sometimes it is truly transcendent. Another feels that we must be doing something right because Meeting is a healing place that increases the feeling of solace, refreshment, and energy. Friends note that being a Quaker involves expending more effort than in a church with a pastor and other professional leadership. Quakers have to establish their own deep worship and it is important to be open and compassionate with each other. In a deep Meeting for Business, we are able to reflect on our ability to pray in a meaningful way and true worship happens while we conduct our business. Many Friends appreciate the opportunity to approach substantive issues during business sessions. We are continuing to learn how to be more discerning about when to give vocal ministry and how to be more accepting of the messages that flow through others. Some report that they come to Meeting to feel part of a group of faithful people to help figure out what to do in the world and that we look to each other as spiritual comrades to gain insight for the strength to make a difference.
Queries for consideration:
How will we deepen our Worship and our awareness of a collective spiritual journey?
How will we enhance the experience of young people in First Day School and other activities of Meeting, including Meetings for Worship?
How will each one of us support, welcome and integrate Friends of all ages (newcomers and those who have been attending longer) into our meeting community?
Submitted for Ministry and Counsel,
Greg Tobin (member M&C)