Growing Our Quaker Community
by Margery Post Abbott, Carl Abbott, Chris Cradler, & Larry Ferguson
Multnomah (Ore.) & Bridge City (Ore.) Meetings
It has been 25 years since members of Portland, Oregon’s Multnomah Monthly Meeting (MMM) decided to form a new worshiping community and 18 years since that core grew into Bridge City Friends Meeting (BCFM).
In the early 1990s, MMM was outgrowing its space in a twice remodeled industrial building. The upshot was a four-year envisioning process with no resolution. MMM looked at larger buildings ranging from churches to a derelict school. We considered and rejected a proposal to divide into three separate meetings for different sectors of the city. We engaged in joint discernment with a progressive Jewish congregation that was also looking for better space, but both sides decided it was better to remain friends than partners.
Then, over a few months in 1996-97, a core of experienced members came to clarity to start a worship group that would not share the building. In 2004, BCFM became Portland’s second unprogrammed meeting. There were regrets and tears, but no battling personalities, no standing in the way, and no fights over money. The step was healthy for both the new and the old meeting.
Formatting Bridge City Friends Meeting
After the years of indecisive visioning. a Friend stood at business meeting to suggest the need for a new Friends meeting in Portland. That catalyzed planning among a core of interested Friends. MMM minuted this process as “setting off” a meeting, and these “set off” Friends felt energized with this opportunity to develop a separate identity, sense of purpose, and culture. They envisioned:
worshiping in a smaller group with a close sense of community and deeper spiritual connections
meaningful religious education programs for children (including Biblical literacy) and Junior Friends, and their presence in meeting for worship
active participation in many aspects of sustaining a spiritual community beyond weekly worship (such as committee work, intergenerational gatherings, and service projects)
Two months later the group began meeting weekly at a Friend’s nearby home. They offered children’s program from day one, serving to bond the adults as well as the young ones. BCWG created committee structure as needed, moving to rental space within months.
The creative process that brings such purposeful energy together among Friends exhilarated us. The close and loving nature of our friendships grew, including stronger connections between children and adults. Most striking to us: with deeper spiritual interactions we developed a generous tolerance that honored the wide diversity of religious and spiritual practice amongst us, spanning Wiccan to Christocentric to world religions experiences.
BC Friends became aware that some old friends at Multnomah felt pain and loss, exacerbated by our joy and excitement, and worked hard at compassion in interactions with MMM. As Bridge City became a recognized monthly meeting, the two clerks worked closely to be tender to the multitudes of decisions and feelings this final separating entailed, particularly membership transfers and division of funds.
Building the Change
Friends often cite the biblical promise “Behold I set before thee an open door. Knock and it shall be opened.” At times it felt more like repeatedly kicking until it popped open, but eventually way did open for Bridge City and Multnomah to formally minute that they are separate monthly meetings within North Pacific Yearly Meeting.
Many from MMM felt excitement that this was the culmination of natural growth of unprogrammed Friends in Portland. The meetings are different in size and distinct in personality. Multnomah has been the larger worshipping community which tends to attract more visitors and new people. Bridge City’s smaller membership allows them to foster a community of close relationships.
As the new worshipping community began to grow and Bridge City became a preparative meeting, we xperimented with committees that included participants from both group, most importantly the Committee for Ministry and Pastoral Care. After a few years it was clear that each meeting needed to focus on their own evolving needs.
We shared financial resources. MMM’s small building fund and general fund were divided in proportion to the number of members in each meeting. The two meetings jointly administer a fund that supports the spiritual life of unprogrammed Friends in Portland by paying for retreats, spiritual development for individuals, and expenses of Friends traveling in the ministry.
The change has an unexpected bonus for Multnomah. Because many experienced Friends and former clerks joined Bridge City, space opened for a new generation of leadership. We learned that there were skillful, grounded Friends willing to step forward.
In sum, both meetings have been enriched by our Friendly separation.
Margery Post Abbott and Carl Abbott are forty-year members of Multnomah Meeting. Chris Cradler and Larry Ferguson were MMM members who became founding members of Bridge City Meeting.