Spark, May 2009

Submitted on 05/01/2009
SPARK
15 Rutherford Place
New York, NY 10003
New York Yearly Meeting News
Volume 40
Number 3
The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) May 2009

Contents


Welcoming New Attenders

The Process of Inclusion:
Making Space for New Attenders

How do we weave new attenders into the fabric of our meetings? Although we may put time and effort into publicizing our meetings, sprucing up our sign out front, and welcoming seekers when they cross our threshold, the process of making room for new attenders seems fraught with difficulty. In my limited experience as a Friend, we seem to be good at saying hello to seekers, but are less sure of ourselves when it comes to making space for the energy and ideas that new attenders bring to the table. “We don’t do it that way . . .” is an oft-heard response.

As was pointed out to me once by a weighty Friend, the problem with new attenders is that they want to do things differently; they change the dynamic of the meeting and bring fresh energy to the meeting, sometimes in ways we hadn’t considered before. On the other hand, the Friend went on, the benifit of new attenders is that they want to do things differently; they change the dynamic of the meeting and bring new energy to the meeting, sometimes in ways we hadn’t considered before.

One problem stems from a lack of awareness that anything is wrong. Some Friends attribute the movement of new attenders into and out of the meeting, even after a year or so, to the person “not being a good fit.” They don’t recognize that the meeting itself has subtle but persistent barriers to fully actualized membership. There may be structural obstacles, such as a nominating committee that gives preference to those they “know.” There may be social barriers, such as a meeting’s natural tendency to stratify socially into groups based on years of attendance.

Even if Friends are aware of the need to change, a second problem may present itself: a lack of understanding of how to make the situation better. What best practices can remedy this impasse? This issue of Spark offers a helpful beginning to this important conversation.

To my mind, mentorship is something that is greatly needed—though not in the traditional sense of “eldering” new attenders, getting them to hew to a particular line. Rather, mentorship could take the form of listening as attenders seek to find their place, both spiritually and socially, in the meeting. Mentors could help attenders see their ideas and efforts in the broader context of the community of which they are a part. A mentor could suggest ways to discern a leading, and help attenders successfully navigate the waters of the meeting to bring the idea to fruition.

We need to encourage new attenders to serve on committees that speak to their leadings, not just on the committees that need new blood. If the committee doesn’t exist, and is needed, we need to form it, and support our new attenders through our participation.

Some new attenders will become hungry for information about Quakerism, and about how to become a “good” Quaker. Engaging with new attenders’ thirst for knowledge becomes an opportunity. Meetings can look in the mirror to examine their practices and the ways they live their faith. A Quakerism 101 class can educate both new attenders and seasoned Friends alike. A meeting-wide Powell House retreat can open new doors, helping us understand and appreciate the many avenues we bring to faith.

These and other efforts to embrace new attenders often bring communities together in surprising and wonderful ways, allowing us fresh opportunities to learn about each other, and bolstering our beliefs in the process.

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Welcoming Seekers

To the right below you can see a photograph of the Flushing meetinghouse sign.

Our sign, in bold black lettering, identifies us and invites in four languages, English, Korean, Chinese and Spanish, a stark visual contrast to our weathered meetinghouse.

Welcoming meetinghouse sign

On two of the walls of our social room we have illustrated panels with text about Quakers throughout our history whose lives were testimonies of peace.

On a third wall, we have illustrated panels of the World Peace Testimony, people from many periods in history and many faith traditions, many cultural traditions, whose lives also were testimonies of peace.

One statistic has it that 138 languages are spoken in Queens, NY, where Flushing is located. The Flushing branch of the Queens Borough Library has collections in 44 languages. When classes of schoolchildren come for a tour of the meetinghouse, they sometimes assume they will be visiting a museum of some weird historical denomination. And then they come to the wall of the World Peace Testimony, and they see the heroes of their own traditions on our walls. That can be very exciting for them.

Our garden and historic cemetery beckon, especially in the spring.

The first welcome seems so easy. I get up, introduce myself, ask if the visitor has ever been to a Quaker meeting before, and before long conversation ensues.

It is the subsequent welcome which I sometimes forget to pay attention to: Once someone has been attending for a little while, how do I invite their creative participation in our meeting? I am often so intent on accomplishing a particular task or piece of work that I can foreclose someone else’s creative input just by showing them how I want something done.

If I actually do that, then I will go back and apologize, but I am learning to remind myself how it felt to be a newcomer in my meeting and to remind myself that I am now part of the “old guard.” I think this is the heart of the issue: I may continue to recall my newcomer experience so intensely that I am not paying attention to the fact that a new attender cannot know this. (It can get even more byzantine with generations of old timers and older old timers and there has on occasion been evidence of that even in some small meetings.)

And, in addition to the generosity of spirit that I need to keep available to newer attenders, I also have to make that available to longer-time old timers than myself: they are the Friends who kept this meeting going for a long time before I walked in the door. This is just as important in creating a welcoming sense of community, because the newcomer will be alert to those tensions as well.

On the matter of further outreach: Living in an urban setting I may speak to as many as ten people before I leave my building. Many of them do not believe as I do, many of them hold radically different political opinions from mine.

When we say, “Good morning,” on the elevator, and I am asked, “How are you?” I will say how I am feeling. If I am upset about ratcheting up the military incursions in Afghanistan, I say so. If I am asked, “Where are you going?” I say I am going to a Quaker meeting, rather than saying I am going to Flushing or I am going into the city, not in the hope that I will convince someone to change their religious beliefs or practices, or in hopes of converting them politically, but simply to take an opportunity to give expression to my awareness of the sacred. No matter what our religious or political differences, or even what we mean when we talk about the sacred, it feels like I am reminding myself of the sacred. And them, too. Then we often respectfully disagree, but there is no dismissing the considerations, the very large questions and concerns.

That is really the only further outreach I am led to: I have no interest in “converting” anyone. Our faith traditions are expressions of deep and intimate relationship with the Divine, others no less than ours, and it is important to remember and remember again our relationship with the Divine rather than to insist that one is more perfect than the other.

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An Attender Speaks Out

I must confess I had an advantage when I first attended meeting—I knew several of the senior members from my work with local historical societies. (In fact, I realized I knew even more inhabitants of the meeting’s burying ground, which I took as a good omen.)

But friendliness (little “f”) goes just so far. As an attender from an old-school Catholic background, I could see the wonders and strengths of Quakerism. But with that outsider’s perspective, I could also see the differences between George Fox’s 17th-century Quakerism and my meeting’s 21st-century Quakerism. And there seemed to be a lot of them. Big ones—peace vigils supported but not attended, etc. Smaller ones—memorial services and special events bemoaned because of the work involved in cleaning and cooking.

Attending Meeting for Business I realized attenders can have quite a bit of say and may even belong to certain committees. I was asked to join one and, following a leading, I did. We have a good committee with powerful ideas. Ideas supporting and demonstrating strong Quaker values. Universal Quaker values, the committee thought—until Meeting for Business. The scary thing was rejection came with the all-too-familiar “we don”t do that here/we’ve never done it before’ litany that sounded like every club I’ve belonged to, every entrenched board of trustees I’d come across before.

I’d read about Quaker process and had high expectations of behavior at Meeting for Business. Unfortunately, it was the Women’s Auxiliary all over again—except coed and in a more sacred setting.

Excellent ideas, and—more importantly for a small group with aging membership—the energy and willingness to do the work. “No” to the ideas. “No—it’s new.”

No—it’s new will not bring in the new members a meeting needs. How can they find out about the meeting with little advertising and an in-progress Web site?

No—it’s new will not introduce new members (or refresh ones who have stopped attending) with the fire of George Fox and the early Quakers. A belief that had people traveling through northern England in the 1600s to spread the news, despite the physical hardships of travel and the ever-present threat of jail, torture, and death. A new message, “Christ has come to teach his people himself.” A powerful life-changing, world-changing message. A dangerous message to share in the 1600s. And today—no, it’s new.

Please, really welcome attenders and new members to your meeting. Give their new ideas prayerful consideration. They may be inappropriate. They may just be different and new.

Respect the energy and enthusiasm of these new people. Don’t consider it something you once had too, but grew out of. The Quakerism you were born into—or became convinced of—is still a powerful force for bringing God’s presence into the real world to real people.

Embrace Christ, embrace George Fox, embrace new members and attenders—together Quakers can again raise some holy hell.

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Advancing the Truth

As with most Friends my considerations of Advancement began with the idea that we needed to grow our meeting, expand our first day program and raise awareness in the wider community that Poughkeepsie Meeting exists. I was wrong on a fundamental level. We are not called to advance Quakerism. We are called to advance the Truth as we corporately discern it. We are called to advance the Source of our leadings and our faith, and no more. Whether in response to new seekers who may find their way to our door or in our outreach to the wider world, our motivation should only be that.

It seems that one problem we have with New Seekers is our reticence to openly share our faith, Light and ministry. We never hesitate to discuss our good old testimonies and ways that we worship, but often with little connection to their Source. In contrast, our ancestors in faith were pro-actively reaching out to all who would listen, particularly in other faith communities. They did this not to seek converts, but rather sought simply to proclaim the truth of God’s love and God’s immediate presence. Quakerism grew as new Friends were drawn into that Light. Because that approach remains alien or frightening to modern Friends, advancement remains a tough pull and Quakerism has become little more than a fading historic remnant.

We have a powerful, radical and distinct message to share with the world and I believe that a re-statement of our testimonies to the world might be a good place to begin. When presented as what God is telling us now, in this moment, then will we begin to advance what truly matters and perhaps a great people may be gathered once again.

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Friendly Eights, Friendly Thirteens, Friendly Eighteens

It is undeniable that Old Chatham Meeting’s growth over the last 15 years has changed the very character of our meeting. How could the addition of young families bringing a clutch of vibrant children, determined seekers searching for deeper spiritual lives, long seasoned Friends transferring from other meetings, and individuals with backgrounds, experiences, interests, and professions so rich and diverse not produce a meeting more creative, more energetic, more capable of serving each other and witnessing our Quaker testimonies to the wider world, and yes, much more demanding?

Our meetings may be symbolized by a number of suggestive metaphors. My own imagination is fed by my love of working in the earth with growing things. Key to this metaphor is change, organic change involving living forms that will not and cannot be controlled or manipulated in an exact manner. Uncertainty and risk are inherent. Integrating newcomers into our meetings may seem too risky to some Friends. But might we not embrace this uncertain change, this evolution in our meetings, in the way that we might regard our calling as individuals and as spiritual communities to seek to open ourselves to an unfathomable transformation by the Living Spirit? Don’t we look to our own spiritual transformations with hope, possibly more faith in the Spirit than in ourselves, and with anticipation that the unknown before us can only expand and enlarge our capacity to love and to serve?

Our inscrutable futures are determined by small and subtle actions. These small actions lead to small changes in attitude, and actions and attitudes play one on another to produce, with some mysterious grace, a changed and changing, a transformed and transforming entity. And so it might also occur in our meetings. Can we have more faith in those first small actions that seem too petty to figure in anything so magnificent as Transformation?

Complementing the welcome we extend to a newcomer when he or she first arrives at our meeting, the newcomer will experience our gesture of welcoming at the close of meeting as well. We have implemented two changes. Rather than have newcomers identify themselves in that period following Worship when afterthoughts are given and announcements made, we always ALL introduce ourselves to each other. Even if no one relatively new to the meeting is present, we’ve come to learn that it takes some Friends several years to learn everyone’s name, even with frequent repetition. And in that very first Meeting for Worship, at subsequent meetings, or in our newsletter, the newcomer will probably not hear or read the phrase “attenders and members.” The single word Friend almost always substitutes for this phrase which some hear as delineating the “outsiders” from the “insiders.” And newcomers will not wonder that first day, or for months to come, if the meetings and activities announced are open to them; they will be specifically encouraged to attend.

Meeting sign

Truly welcoming newcomers into the life of the meeting calls us to consider the implications of the name we have come to be called, Friends. With some sensitivity to the boundaries of someone not yet drawn into the life of the meeting, individual meeting Friends need to make an effort to come to know the newcomer in a way that the word Friend implies. As monthly meetings and as a Yearly Meeting, we are unquestionably institutions. Some might say organizations. But a life lived in the grace of the Living Spirit is not, and cannot be made to be, an institution.

To begin to apprehend how a newcomer might come to be a satisfyingly engaged meeting Friend, someone, not necessarily the first or even second person to chat with the newcomer, must open themselves with true interest to who this person is. This usually happens in a spirit of mutuality, not too differently from the way we come to know the interests, aversions, talents, difficulties, and gifts of those we have come to identify as our personal friends. This does not mean we assume the newcomer seeks personal friendship, or if they might, that we presume they would want a close personal friendship with us. But recognizing that the finest part of this individual, that part that wants to flourish, that part that would rise up as a gift revealed, is probably in very close proximity to what we might call “that of God” in this person, at least one Friend needs more than passively to allow the newcomer to reveal him or herself. None of us seeks to know “that of God” of an other with an interview or a survey.

Taking up the metaphor of the garden, what happens when a “volunteer,” a plant that appears unexpectedly in a carefully cultivated design, begins to reveal its remarkable qualities? Sometimes some rearranging of plants in existing beds needs to be made, and sometimes designs for whole new beds suggest themselves. At Old Chatham, we have dug and planted a number of new beds. Just as plants become stunted and unhealthy if continually added to the same modest and increasingly crowded bed, new people added to a meeting require that more space be provided for everyone to thrive: more and new spiritual, emotional, and social space. Long time Friends and newcomers can then begin to relate to each other in conformations to which no one can claim ownership, providing the possibility of working and being together on more equal footing. Newcomers will learn from seasoned Friends, and seasoned Friends may be inspired and gain a new perspective from newcomers, perhaps perceiving their meeting in a fresh way. A few years ago, noticing we had quite a number of newcomers to the meeting, we began having Friendly Eight dinners to facilitate spending some time together. Sometimes Friendly Thirteens or Friendly Eighteens. Newcomers responded enthusiastically, often offering their own homes for the pot-luck dinners. When we came to understand we needed a more organized structure to gather to hear of newly discovered areas of expertise, passions, experiences of service in areas removed from most of our lives, and paths followed in other spiritual traditions, than afforded by conversations after Meeting for Worship, we began having periodic Meetings for Learning. Having a professor of religion among us led us to ask her to lead a long wished-for book group. It had been more than a decade since we had enjoyed music before Meeting for Worship; not knowing we were missing what had not been possible for years, two newcomers spontaneously offered to perform together before meeting.

Meeting committees are proactive in drawing newcomers into their work, frequently co-opting someone whose gift or talent answers a need it finds in a particular activity. The Nominating Committee is altogether proactive in how it goes about its work. When Nominating Committee begins its year’s work, in addition to requesting meeting Friends speak to a committee member if they feel called to the work of a specific committee, an individual from the committee speaks personally to those not yet serving on a committee, almost all of whom are newcomers. They provide a directory of meeting committees with scope of work described, and answer questions. When a short time later they talk again, the newcomer has most often identified an area of meeting work through which to serve the meeting. This is when our teenagers still attending First Day School, though not newcomers in the narrow sense, are integrated into the meeting committees, where their capabilities, points of view, and capacity for taking on responsibilities are valued and honored.

Serving on a committee, an individual new to Quakerism has the opportunity to begin learning the ephemeral Quaker process, our very particular language, Quakerese, and often something of the Yearly Meeting structure. And too, everyone has the chance to come to know each other for the unique people they are, before, during, and after the committee meeting. The very task of scheduling a meeting reveals personal details Friends would not otherwise know of each other; we come to know that one person teaches yoga on this evening, another practices with their band on another evening, someone else sells their baked goods and preserves at the farmers’ market on Friday afternoons, and yet another does hospice work another day.

Our garden has expanded over the years, new beds designed and tended, plants added to existing beds to enhance structure and give needed interest to emphasize an inherent theme, young transplants settled in where the large trees’ protecting shade allow them to lay down roots, rich compost from vegetation whose season has been spent dug in to feed and give life, small hidden areas created for quiet study and reflection, and large sunlit expanses opened where the gardeners may enjoy each others’ company over a meal, share ideas, and muse over that very first garden, the Kingdom of God.

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Ministry of Nominating

Looking back on my life in meeting, I recognize that I have had and continue to have men and women who love me. I experience something of God in their lives as their welcome is strong and our sense of community is entwined creating a vital growing meeting.

The first step in welcoming is noticing that someone is attending meeting regularly, as this is an important part of developing a meaningful relationship. Being open and present for new attenders requires intention and desire. As we pay attention to the noticing, our connecting takes us into a deeper place of seeing gifts, accepting, receiving and loving each other.

When Nominating includes participants of meeting into service this act is rooted in seeing—in seeing others as God does. God’s house welcomes everyone into service no matter how young or old, rich or poor, color of skin, gay or straight, member or attender. Nominating is one of the places that finds space and welcomes the gifts of new attenders into the community. For Nominating, the act of seeing makes space as gifts emerge, filling hearts with grace as they are called out into the community to be alive with their new energy and at times challenging possibilities, strengthening the meeting.

My nominating experiences have helped me become better at hospitality. God welcomes strangers, inviting them to share in our worship and to get to know our community as a way of loving our neighbor in the same way God loves us. We can bring the new active attender gently into our community as we stay open to receiving each other in fullness and truth. Noticing, seeing and hospitality are just some of the ways that nominating committees become God’s welcoming arms for the new active attender.

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Welcoming Young Adults

Brooklyn Monthly Meeting is a large meeting—about 100 people at worship on First Day. Our own children often start to resist coming to meeting when they are about 12 years old. They want to “do their own thing” and then they go off to college. Only a few come back on a regular basis.

But New York is a big place and for years we noticed that very few people in their 20’s came to our meeting. We didn’t have any plan for reaching out to them either. However, in the winter of 2006 I started noticing that each First Day three or four young adults would introduce themselves at rise of meeting. After a few weeks of this pattern I felt I should do something. I got up at rise of meeting and said, “We are thinking of forming a group of young adults. If you might like to be part of it, please give me your name and e-mail address.” The “we” in that sentence was not quite the truth. None of us had discussed this idea, but I knew that many people would be happy if young adults started coming to our meeting. And as weeks went on more and more young adults showed up and each day I went over to them and asked if they would like to be on the list. Often they were busy talking to each other but some also asked me questions about the meeting and shared some of their experiences. Many of them had gone to Quaker schools and others had grown up in a Quaker meeting. Some had not had any experience with Quakers. One new young woman stood at rise of meeting to introduce herself and said that she had taken an Internet quiz aimed at seekers. The quiz program told her that her answers to the questions suggested that she would feel comfortable in a Quaker meeting.

After about four months of talking with the young adults that showed up, I had 50 some names and e-mail addresses. It was time to do something with that list. I e-mailed out to them the fact that there were now 50 people on the list and I thought it was time to get a group going. I said that I was in my 60s and I shouldn’t be deciding what they did. I said I hoped some of them would step forward to help lead this group.

One person, Jessica Harbaugh, said she would take some leadership. That was the spring of 2006. My participation then was to support Jessica. I turned over the e-mail list to her. We discussed various possible events that would help. In the summer I was going away for a month, before I went she and I had a long discussion. She contacted Ministry and Counsel about having some support from them. Jessica organized monthly potluck dinners for the group. I had suggested ways to hike and go to the beach without a car. In the fall I went with them on the first hike just to show them the way.

More and more young adults keep coming to meeting. More members of that group have taken a leadership role. Most Sundays there are three or four new young adults who introduce themselves and there are often about 20 people attending who are in the 18 to 35 age range. More and more of these young people have started to serve on committees. An older member, who serves on the welcoming committee, has arranged quite a few fun gatherings for everyone: folk dancing, swing dancing, contra dancing, square dancing. At these events we have been so pleased to have a wide range of ages attending (ages 5 to maybe 75) and there have been quite a group of the young adults at those events.

For quite a while now the young adults have been leading their own activities. The whole meeting is thrilled to have these younger adults as part of our meeting. A number of them have become members.

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The Difference between Welcoming and Integrating New Friends

There is a big difference between welcoming a newcomer and integrating new Friends into the fabric of our communities. When we welcome a newcomer, we are letting them know that they are welcome to join us as we are, to have a seat at the table we have set. When we integrate someone into our community, we make space for them, allowing ourselves and our community to be changed in the process. We ask them to be a part of deciding how the table is set, and what each of us will contribute to that process.

Most of our meetings are good at welcoming. Very, very few are good at integrating new Friends and receiving all that they have to offer. Many of our meetings are concerned about their small numbers and aging population. They see newcomers as the solution to sustaining the life of their meetings. But they are trying to preserve what is, not recognizing that opening that circle to even one new member will change the whole community. Thus, newcomers are welcome to join what is a much-loved community, but discouraged, in ways conscious and unconscious, from doing anything that might change that community. They end up feeling frustrated and shut out. Many leave after a year or two, even when they have felt an initial good fit with the rest of the meeting. If we aren’t valued for who we are and what we bring, if our gifts and energies do not find an outlet in a community, most people will look elsewhere.

A friend of mine from college days, Mary Ann, started attending Twin Cities Friends Meeting in the mid-nineties. After she had been there six months or so, she named loudly and publicly that there was an “inner circle,” a group or a level of community she felt excluded from. Many members were puzzled, as at the time we really needed people to serve on committees. From our perspective, there were openings for being a part of things all over the place. Several of us told her “Try serving on a committee.” She did, and a year later she reported back that her perception had been askew, that by joining in the work of the meeting, she found that the circle was not as closed as it had first appeared. She urged others to also join committees.

What is important for me in this story is the difference in perception between Mary Ann and the rest of the community. She saw a closed door. We saw lots of needs not being met. If she hadn’t been assertive in naming her perception, we would never have guessed that others might also see closed doors. How many of our communities appear to be closed doors to newcomers? Quite a few, I think. I hear a lot from newer members of meetings that they are frustrated and feel shut out. Some are on the verge of leaving. I hear from a lot of meetings that they have lots of attenders coming through, but relatively few “stick.” I hear from youth and young adults that they struggle to find a place in the fabric of our communities. I hear that a very small fraction of the Friends who have worshiped in Prison Worship Groups for 10, 15, 20 years, join in Friends worship upon release. I talked with one woman who is active at monthly, regional, and yearly meeting levels, who said that she experienced the community that forms at Silver Bay to be cliquish and very hard to break in to. I asked her how many years she had attended. She said seven years.

There is a general pattern here we must address. Our self-image is that of a welcoming, open door, but others are perceiving us differently. It is very hard for people who have been a part of a community for many years to see how much they try to maintain the status quo, what is, and how hard that can be for newer people who want to be a part of things. We cannot preserve what we have now by adding new people. What we have will change.

We need to become skilled at integrating new people, new energy, new ideas into the life of our meetings. It is a spiritual as well as a logistical imperative. How can we genuinely welcome all that a new person brings? We have to be ready to be changed in the process.

NOTE: This article originally appeared in the November 2008 issue of Spark.

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Education and Support of New Attenders

 

The future of our meetings, indeed the future of Quakerism, may be largely dependent upon our perceptions about and the manner in which we nurture our children and our newcomers. As a member of the FGC Religious Education Committee, I have been blessed over the past six years to visit numerous meetings and hear of their enthusiasm and energy for children’s programs. Less clear to me is our energy for nurturing those who come to us as adult seekers.

For seven years I have been working with the education and support of new attenders at my meeting in Lake Forest, Illinois. My understanding of their needs and of what works and what doesn’t is ever-evolving and continues to mature as I learn from each group of seekers. Following are several things I have learned thus far.

Integrating new people into the fabric of our meetings involves more than greeting them warmly on Sunday morning or mailing them copies of our newsletters. We need to make a commitment to their nurture, spiritual development, and integration into our community.

At the FGC Gathering this past summer a Friend asked how I get new attenders to commit to continued class attendance. It is my belief that it is not the newcomers’ commitment but mine that makes the difference. The seekers have already demonstrated interest by coming to our meeting. How do we demonstrate our commitment to them and to our future?

One way is to have a class that is facilitated (not taught) by a leader or team who demonstrate(s) Quakerism while exploring its nuances with the seekers. This program needs to continue throughout the school

year (hence the commitment).

In our meeting, we use a manuscript written by Marsha Holliday called Exploring Quakerism: A Guide for New and Seasoned Friends. (Exploring Quakerism was produced through the FGC Religious Education Committee and is available at www.quakerbooks.org.)

We meet at the convenience of all who plan to attend. This is important. At the rise of an early autumn meeting, I announce that we are holding a class for F/friends who are curious about Quakerism and interested in studying our values and beliefs. Anyone interested in attending this newcomers’ class is invited to meet with me in a specified corner of the meeting room for five minutes to explore scheduling. We then set up a class day and time that works for everyone concerned, including me. This concept is in stark contrast to choosing a time, announcing the class, and hoping people show up. Meeting first to determine the best time for the initial class demonstrates our commitment to be inclusive and meet the needs of the attenders. At each class, we set up or affirm the dates and times of two more classes accommodating everyone’s schedule.

The class usually follows a normal school year. We try to keep the classes open and flexible, announcing the week before one is to be held what our topic will be and that the class is open for additional attenders. Sometimes they are held monthly; flexibility is more important than maintaining a rigid schedule.

One of the many things I like about the material we use is that it begins with the group’s exploration of our experiences of God. We start by introducing ourselves and talking about our spiritual backgrounds and what led us to Quakers and to this meeting. I participate in this sharing. Usually, we discover that the class is a reflection of our community’s diverse spiritual backgrounds, which I point out, adding any groups (such as “no formal religious upbringing”) that may not have been mentioned during the introductions. After that, we participate in worship sharing about our individual experiences of God. This is important because the experience of God is foundational to Quakerism and it gives us an opportunity to learn about worship sharing by experience rather than discussion.

Because of the highly personal and confidential nature of these classes, I do not recommend having them at a time or in a place where other members of the meeting might casually walk in during the sharing.

I believe we need to spend more time assisting new attenders in their experiences of Quakerism and less time teaching concepts and history. The latter is like inviting people to dinner and spending our time selecting a china pattern while forgetting to cook the meal.

To that end, as we progress through our material, we spend time on open-ended questions. We explore what people like and what they do best. I listen to their concerns and help them unpack their baggage from negative faith-based experiences. Our task is to assist new attenders in integrating seamlessly into our meeting tapestry. We teach them the nuances of Quakerism (such as speaking only once in meeting for worship) as well as the local meeting’s cultural etiquette and traditions (such as when the children join us for worship) and how to navigate the physical spiritual home. (My class members learn the rules of the kitchen.) We explore their gifts, and at our last class I bring in members of the meeting’s committees to discuss the work of the meeting.

Let’s spend our time cooking a luscious feast of welcoming for those who are curious about who we are. Let’s lead them home to Quakerism by focusing on them and their needs while giving them a map to guide them through Quaker culture and tradition. This is also the map that leads to our future. Let’s travel it together in peace and love.

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Around Our Yearly Meeting

AVP-USA Returns to NY Birthplace for 2009 Gathering
Many NYYM Friends, all seasoned facilitators of Alternatives to Violence workshops, are busy planning and preparing for the 2009 annual AVP-USA gathering which takes place at Adelphi University on Long Island May 22-25. The AVP movement had its start in the NY prison system in 1975 under the care of Quakers. But it has since evolved into an independent, non-sectarian organization whose recognized transformational power has led to its adoption and adaptation in many areas of conflict around the world. Still, the participation of Friends, particularly in the NY region, is significant. Witness the AVP-USA Planning Committee--all NYYM Friends.

Nadine Hoover (Alfred), who is currently doing trauma healing work in Aceh, Indonesia, will be returning to NY for the gathering to conduct a workshop on trauma healing. As the second in three generations of AVP facilitators in her family, Nadine notes that first generation AVPers are passing from the scene which, for her, underscores the critical nature, timing and location of this 2009 gathering: “This moment in history,” says Nadine, “will require special attention to the core elements that make AVP what it is and that are needed to sustain it while being open to new light and creativity. New York should be the place to help nurture the deepest roots of AVP at this juncture.”

Fred Feucht (Purchase), who is arranging workshops for the event, reminds us that “AVP-NY remains under the care of NYYM and continues to be one of our most important witnesses to the Quaker testimonies of peace and social justice.” All Friends in the region, whether attending the gathering or not, are encouraged to attend the Sunday, May 24, presentation of the powerful Off-Broadway play The Castle in which Rochester Meeting member and Morningside Friends Meeting attender Angel Ramos, along with several others, shares his real-life story of incarceration and redemption. For information or to register, contact Shirley Way at 800-909-8920, avpnyso [at] aol.com, or use the conference Web site at www.avpusaconference.org.

Worship Group and “Parent” Meeting Growing in the Light
Dansville Worship Group, which began meeting in October 2008 under the tender care of Alfred Monthly Meeting, continues to meet once a month. The desire among Dansville Friends and attenders to increase that frequency to twice monthly is strong. NYYM Friends who would like to share their experience and ideas on how to support and enrich both worship group and “parent” meeting as they grow in the Spirit are invited to contact Alfred Meeting Friend Suzanne Blackburn at kandsblackburn [at] gmail.com or 585-468-5274.

Outreach to Campus Youth Seeks Your Support
Whether the campus near you consists of an urban grid or sprawling tree-lined acres, the NYYM Working Group on College Ministry needs your input. We seek to facilitate effective outreach to college and university students, faculty and staff, letting them know about the spiritual life and fellowship available to them at a Quaker meeting. If you are led to this type of advancement and outreach or would like to be the contact person for your meeting, contact John Menzel, jpmenzel [at] optonline.net. Or call the NYYM office at 212-673-5750.

Thomas Kelly’s Message Lives in Personal Story of N.J. Friend
The circle of meetings in NYYM who have invited Peter Lang (Chatham-Summit) to share his spiritual journey in the company of Thomas Kelly continues to widen. Quakertown, N.J., Dover-Randolph, Chatham-Summit, and soon Bulls Head-Oswego meetings will all have had the opportunity to enjoy and ponder “My Journey with Thomas Kelly: Seeking the Light Within.” Peter weaves a fascinating tapestry of his life and career working with the blind throughout which he has felt guided and sustained by Kelly’s signature work, A Testament of Devotion. It was Kelly who led Peter to Quakerism over 40 years ago and whose message Peter feels remains alive and relevant to contemporary Friends. Peter can be reached at 973-267-9342.

Quaker Endowment Fund Supports Young Friend’s Leading
Recipient of a grant from the Clarence and Lilly Pickett Endowment for Quaker Leadership, Sarah Mandolang (Alfred), spent the summer of 2008 engaged in a wide range of training and social action that literally took her around the world. Starting with three weeks of “training for trainers” at Training for Change in Philadelphia, (www.trainingforchange.org), she then spent time in northern Uganda at an elementary school for war and AIDS orphans teaching therapeutic art, followed by six weeks doing AVP training in Indonesia. It comes as no surprise, then, to learn that Sarah is pursuing an independently designed BS degree in Peace Studies at SUNY and is due to graduate this year. Friends interested in Sarah’s pursuits or the Pickett Endowment may contact her at 607-587-9111 or the Pickett fund at pickettendowment.quaker.org.

Quakerism 101. Croton Valley Meeting will be hosting Quakerism 101, a six-session basic course for adults adapted from Philadelphia Yearly Meeting’s publication. It is a course to familiarize new and old members/attenders with the faith and practice of Friends, and is meant as an opportunity for spiritual growth as well as intellectual discourse. The materials covered will include Quaker history, beliefs, worship, social witness, and decision making. There will be reading assignments. We hope to have different facilitators for the sessions: we are pleased that Linda Chidsey has agreed to participate.

The sessions will meet on Sundays, May 10 through June 14, 2009, at 9.30 A.M., and will end with meeting for worship at 11 A.M. at the Croton Valley meetinghouse, Lake Road, Mt. Kisco, NY. Participants should be willing to share their own experiences and perspectives; this is not a lecture series. Most of all, it is hoped that the course will be enjoyable!

For further information/registration, e-mail Polly Goodwin, clerk of Croton Valley Meeting, at pollygoodwin [at] verizon.net.

Nine Partners Offering Opportunity for Extended Worship
Growing out of the desire of Friends from among several meetings in the Quarter, Nine Partners Quarterly Meeting held its first extended worship on February 28, 2009 at Bulls Head-Oswego Monthly Meeting.

Anne Pomeroy (New Paltz)reports that the turnout was good and even drew Friends from outside the Quarter. “All present were enthusiastic,” says Anne, “and are looking forward to the next gathering!”

Plans for two more extended worship opportunities this year are in the works. Contact Anne at 845-384-6090.

The Committee for Aging Concerns is seeking committee  members who have an interest in services for the aging and who have any of the following skills: employee supervision, financial management and program planning and evaluation. At this time the primary focus of the committee is overseeing the ARCH (Aging, Resources, Consultation and Help) Program which provides services to aging Quakers and their caregivers, or Quaker caregivers within NYYM. If you are interested or have any questions please contact Sarah Miller (Old Chatham) at 518-439-0643 or snapdragon329 [at] yahoo.com.

Dear Friends who love to sing—the dates for the next singing weekend are September 25–27, 2009, again at Mohawk Valley Meeting. It promises to be near peak fall color, and better weather for camping than an early spring weekend. If spending a weekend singing with Friends and sharing good food grabs your fancy, please mark your calendars now.

Poughkeepsie Friends to Worship on Oakwood Campus during April and May: An Invitation to All!
Poughkeepsie Friends Meeting and the Oakwood Friends School community will worship together at Oakwood on Sunday mornings, at 10:00 A.M., in April and May. This “worship experiment” will allow the two communities to come together in worship and build a closer relationship. Friends from near and far are invited to join them in worship and fellowship. First Day School and child care will be provided as well as brunch for all in the Oakwood dining hall following worship. Oakwood Friends School is located at 22 Spackenkill Road, just off Route 9, in Poughkeepsie. For further information, call the school at 845-462-4200 or e-mail baily [at] oakwoodfriends.org.

Young Adult Friends Spearhead Consultation on Living Our Faith
Thirty-six Friends from across the country and the generations gathered at Pendle Hill Feb.12–15, 2009 to attend the Quaker Volunteer Service Consultation.Co-sponsored by FGC Youth Ministries and Pendle Hill Quaker Retreat Center, the by-invitation-only gathering drew Friends already deeply committed to Quaker service who felt called to consider ways to support and nurture each other’s “individual pool of Light” and work toward connecting their individual, often isolated, pools into “a blessed, illuminated, loving community.” The amazing, tender fruits of their 4 days of laboring together, which included the possible formation of a national network of communication to support Quaker witness and service, are captured in a moving Epistle soon to be available to Friends at www.nyym.org/epistles. For more information visit www.Quakeryouth.org, or contact Emily Stewart, Youth Ministries coordinator at emilys [at] fgcquaker.org.

Raised hands

Christopher Sammond Article on Racism to be Reprinted by NEYM
In the spirit of hope and new beginnings in our country and on the heels of the recent release by FGC of the Quaker myth-breaker Fit for Freedom, Not for Friendship, New England Yearly Meeting will be reprinting NYYM General Secretary Christopher Sammond’s thoughtful article on race entitled “Racism Is a Spiritual Issue,” which first appeared in the January 2008 issue of Spark. It will be printed online and in the spring issue of The Freedom and Justice Crier, the newsletter of the Racial, Social and Economic Justice Committee of NEYM. The article speaks to the historic and present day experience of racism among Friends and the critical importance of recognizing it as fundamentally a spiritual problem. Christopher, who served 7 years on FGC’s Committee for Ministry on Racism, writes in his article: “If there is something in the fabric of our community that we are not able to talk about, some of the energy that might give us greater life in the Spirit is bound up, frozen, unavailable.” To read the entire article go to www.nyym.org/spark/2008.1.shtml.

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Meetings for Discernment

On Saturday, March 14, 106 Friends from 44 meetings and worship groups gathered in Poughkeepsie Friends meetinghouse for a day of extended worship and discernment. Friends were asked to consider “What is your sense of how Spirit is moving in your meeting or worship group?”

Just over half of the group was there by appointment from their meetings. Twenty-two Friends from around the yearly meeting served as elders, holding the group in prayer and helping us stay grounded. Two Friends recorded their sense of the themes that rose up in the spoken messages. Angi York Crane of Dover-Randolph and Mary Kay Glazer of Ticonderoga served as assistant clerks. The meeting was clerked by Heather Cook as assistant clerk of the yearly meeting. The hospitality that Friends at Poughkeepsie worked hard to provide was deeply appreciated.

We settled into silent worship for an hour before Friends spoke to their perception of the condition of their faith community. We were privileged to gather, to listen deeply to Spirit speaking through each other, to honor the joys and concerns that were raised up about our communities. At times our collective energy flagged, but on the whole the six hours we spent in worship passed without our noting its passing. We received some powerful ministry.

Themes that rose up conveyed meetings’ difficulty in naming and being transformed by conflict; disagreement with Friends United Meeting’s personnel policy while feeling love and unity with Friends who uphold it; a sense of optimism and renewal, of being called to greater faithfulness; and of wondering how to share what we are given with the wider world.

The meeting approved the nomination brought forward by the naming committee of five Friends to start service on the steering committee. They are Janet Hough (Chappaqua) serving 3/2009–7/2009; Ann Davidson (Farmington) and Bill Webb (Butternuts) both serving 7/2009–7/2011; Carolyn Emerson (Conscience Bay) serving 3/2009–7/2012; and Lu Harper (Rochester) serving 7/2009–7/2012.

The next meeting for discernment is scheduled for Tuesday, July 21, at Summer Sessions in Silver Bay, NY. These extended meetings continue to offer opportunities for individual growth through deep worship, and for our deepening as a gathered people.

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Hudson NY Monthly Meeting Breaks Its Spell?

An elder Hudson Friend asked years ago, “How is the meeting? It never dies and it never grows.” That was a wake-up call—one of many—and Hudson Friends collectively DO seem to have awakened. When this long-time Friend moved away, we roused ourselves only to a lethargic “good bye.” Only in retrospect did it seem that we were not applying The Golden Rule within our meeting. We used also to have a rise of meeting call which segued a bit fast from “Good morning Friends” to breezy comments on the weather. Now a slightly gentler call brings us to our feet, to shaking hands, to that millennial “gathering in a circle” to share our after thoughts, spiritual or worldly news.

How does this translate to a growth of the meeting, such that the clerk can be absent, knowing that any of several members and regular attenders can be entrusted to open the meetinghouse, and the meeting’s SOUL?

Many sparks sparked our rejuvenation. One was the appearance at meeting of a bellydancing Quaker, a Christocentric Friend who found her previous church too sure of its answers. Hudson Friends were pretty sure Jesus wasn’t the answer for us, but this Friend’s spiritual and intellectual integrity opened us to discussion about the subject. Used as we were to go round and round with ideas, with not enough people to implement them, this new Friend said, “Let’s just do what we can.” That led to spring cleaning, which led to rather lame attempts to scrape paint and repair rotting wood ourselves, which led to a $6,000 grant from Philadelphia Yearly Meeting’s Building Fund—and two $1,000 contributions from regular attenders—to hire a historical renovation specialist, which led to the local historical society’s offer to assess the work and to organize fundraisers, which led to an architect’s offer to design the Hudson Friends Peace Garden, which led to a local gardener’s offer to plant it.

Another spark was a communal sense of responsibility for the care of the meeting—the building itself, but also spirit of all the Friends who founded Hudson and built our little meetinghouse in 1832, for the aging Friends who kept us going in freezing times and warm, times of 1–2 attenders to our current 5–7, often rising to 12–15.

Another spark was the seriousness—not always softly-spoken—with which our meeting took up the challenge of responding to Friends United Meeting’s policy of denying employment to couples unless they were a female and a male, married by the state. This led to visitation to meetings in Mexico City, Montclair NJ, Putney VT, Brooklyn, Poughkeepsie, and Old Chatham, and to making friends with folks from Rochester, Albany, Saratoga, and many other meetings.

Another spark was the marriage in 2002 of two members of the meeting, which led to difficult discernment, threshing and thrashing over same-sex marriage. The wedding brought 75 friends and family, fundamentalist Christians, ex-Friends, children, and seniors, together, in such a united way that a life-long Friend, who’d left for a Lutheran congregation, said, “This is the feeling I’ve been looking for for a lifetime.”

In short—or in sum—as a German colleague said at the convening of a giant international dance congress in Dusseldorf years ago, “Stay open! It’s the MOST important thing!”

I think that’s what Hudson Friends try to do—to stay open. To the fundamentalist church across the street. To a communal home for the differently abled around the corner. To the occasional attenders. To the members who only occasionally attend. To those who keep in touch only by e-mail. To the regular attenders who have pressured lives and don’t need the pressure of joining. To the non-Quakerly Friends who are impatient, who interrupt, contradict, raise their voices, attend irregularly, while realizing that, as long as they are respectful of the meeting’s communal life, they make their contribution to the meeting in their own way, as Hudson Meeting marks out its uniquely meandering path within greater Quakerdom.

We used to have more problems, when, in our politeness, we swept things under the carpet. Walking on it became lumpy and uncomfortable. So we rolled it up and put it away. Sometimes the dust flies around a little more obviously now, but it settles. That carpet we now lay out for new friends/Friends and visitors. Symbolically, we often keep the door open in summer. Do profanities, barking dogs, car alarms, car radios, kids playing “disturb” the silence? Maybe there is no such thing as an “interruption”—only life’s many facets and opportunities, which, if we stay open to them, provide us with access to what the Dalai Lama calls the positive emotions.

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What Do You Believe?

Spark articles sought

The September 2009 issue of Spark will focus on the diversity of Friends’ spiritual experiences and beliefs. We are hoping this issue will represent the many different experiences that individual Friends have regarding the Spirit/Truth/Christ Within/Universal Principle/God/Inner Teacher/Goddess/Etc. that resides within. Articles might include the ways our varying spiritual backgrounds have affected our individual beliefs, and the ways our varying beliefs and experiences influence our action in the world, as well as what those beliefs and experiences are. All varieties of belief are welcome and encouraged.

I have been asked to coordinate and gather articles for this issue. If you are led to contribute to this issue, please contact me at isaacson1 [at] verizon.net. If you would place the words “diversity of belief” in the subject line of your e-mail, I’d appreciate it. I’d like to receive responses from interested Friends by mid-May, with the finished articles due 1 August. Sooner is better. Articles may also be mailed to NYYM, 15 Rutherford Place, New York NY 10003.

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FGC Gathering Highlights

The Friends General Conference 2009 Gathering will be at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA, June 27–July 4. This year’s theme is Wings of Joy, Fire of Love, Rooted in Spirit. Registration is open! Visit FGCgathering.org for details.

Plenary presentations will include an exploration of our roots in the Spirit with Ben Pink Dandelion; the stories, reflections, and prophetic challenges of Shane Claiborne; and reflections from Hollister Knowlton. Also at the gathering will be outspoken poet, activist and educator Nikki Giovanni.

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Spring Sessions

Space for God to Work in Us and on Us

On the first weekend of April, almost 100 Friends from around our yearly meeting gathered in Long Island for a weekend of worship, work, and fellowship. We do this every spring and fall, yet something felt different this time.

One Friend said a committee meeting left him feeling renewed. Another spoke out of worship about feeling healed by what we were witnessing, with different strands of her experience with Friends weaving together. Another Friend said that he came to a particular committee meeting by accident, and that he was leaving it with heart and mind changed. Our time together was enhanced by the presence and work of young Friends. Friends were glad they were there, rounding out the picture of our yearly meeting, and hope that more will join us in the future.

Hosting and being hosted in each other’s homes or camping out in a meetinghouse with strangers gives us the opportunity to know each other more intimately. Conversations last longer. We get the fuller picture of who we are. We also get to need each other. On Saturday night two Friends rescued six others whose car broke down; they are now connected in a unique way.

As with any family gathering, there were misses, misunderstandings, and regrets. Increasingly Friends are trusting that when we reach out to each other in pain and uncertainty, these broken places are where we can connect deeply, and be transformed. We seem to be less interested in being the walking wounded, and more interested in living in the power of healing and moving forward.

Energy and excitement were apparent in the work brought forward. We approved two new committees in the Nurture section: the Youth Committee, coordinating yearly meeting committees working with youth, and the Young Friends in Residence Committee. These committees matured from working groups to task groups and now to full committees after years of discernment and seasoning. Friends expressed being moved by holding the witness of Friends working to end torture, to help the world on the path of peace, and to assist refugees.

We seem to be maturing as a body, evidenced not only by our fruits but also by how we labor together. The clerk did not need to ask us to hold the recording clerk in prayer while she prepared the minutes. Increasingly we are willing to leave space for God to work in us and on us. We listen to each other more deeply -listening to the Divine inside our words and in our silences, and listening to what is not being said. We are listening with open hearts.

The last vocal ministry of the weekend presented a lovingly challenging query about spiritual homelessness and hospitality, of how we perceive and receive the “other,” and asking how we can keep our hearts open back in the testing ground of our home meetings.

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Minutes from NYYM Spring Sessions April 4–5, 2009

Minutes in HTML and PDF (opens in new window)
(PDF documents require Adobe Reader, which can be downloaded free here.)

Summer Sessions at Silver Bay

Equality: Living into the Testimony

Complete information is here. (Opens in new window.)

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Notices

This column is prepared from information about membership received from the local meeting recorders.

New Members
Paul Flint – Brooklyn
Regina McIlvaine – Brooklyn
Susan Medlar – Housatonic

Transfer
Cynthia Hill, to Rochester from Central Finger Lakes.

Deaths
Margaret Currie,member of Bulls Head-Oswego, on October 10, 2008.
Betty McMillan, member of Brooklyn, on January 5, 2009.
Daniel L. Wade, member of Chatham-Summit, on February 22, 2009.

Marriages/Covenant Relationships
Tabitha Gray, member of Buffalo, and James Richard Emmick,
on February 6, 2009.
Katherine Hilger, member of Chatham-Summit, and Phillip Velem,
on February 2, 2009.

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