Imagine a well-loved, respected member of your meeting, say, a woman of about 70. Do you have her competent, friendly, loving face firmly in mind? OK, now imagine her behind the wheel of a golf cart—yes, I know she doesn’t play golf, but stay with me. Our Friend and her golf cart are on a large, moderately hilly, immaculately groomed university campus in the mountains of southwestern Virginia. There’s a beautiful blue sky overhead, and the temperature is comfortably warm. Is the picture becoming clearer?
It’s time for you to enter the image. You’re walking along a wide, smooth sidewalk on your way to a meal. Suddenly, around the corner of the building in front of you appears our Friend, driving the golf cart, filled with elderly or mobility-challenged Friends, at maximum speed! You carefully step to one side of the sidewalk; she whizzes by with her passengers on the other. As she passes, you see that her face is transfigured by the blissful combination of service and power.
Speedy golf carts notwithstanding, it was a mellow week. Was it the theme? Was it the large campus with lots of walking? Was it the beautiful weather? Was it sugar-shock from the nearly always available ice cream? Whatever the cause, this year’s Gathering of Friends General Conference seemed notable for the absence of major crises and for the simple pleasures of being together for a week.
The 2001 Gathering offered the typical, wide range of morning workshops, with several afternoon workshops to address the needs of youth workers and others. Evening sessions offered plenary speakers, music, and interest groups. New England Friend Steve Curwood, host of National Public Radio’s Living on Earth, encouraged us to apply our testimonies of plain speaking (and plain thinking) to a deeply holistic appreciation of being part of all of life on Earth. Quaker theologian Ann Riggs, fresh from a consultation of the Historic Peace Churches in Bienenberg, Switzerland, offered several arresting images of stillness: the peaceful stillness of a warm summer afternoon, the deceptive stillness of silence in The Magic Flute, and the transformative stillness of Jesus dead upon the cross. Folksingers Robin and Linda Williams, familiar to many Friends from A Prairie Home Companion, gave a rousing, two-set acoustic performance. Baltimore Friend Stan Becker used quite a variety of slides to convey his concern about population growth and the future of the planet with a combination of humor, humility, and urgency. After an evening devoted to interest groups, Joe Volk, executive secretary of Friends Committee on National Legislation, finished up the week by sharing stories of social witness arising from Quaker stillness.
Committees are already hard at work, preparing for next year’s Gathering in Normal, Illinois, to be held from June 29 to July 6, under the theme "To Be Gathered Still." Friends in Illinois Yearly Meeting and FGC staff and volunteers look forward to welcoming you there.