Is it only the newcomer among us who needs the welcoming and orientation within our meetings? Doesn’t any Quaker experience new responsibilities, new situations, and the need for welcoming by groups new to them throughout his or her life? We would like to share some of our own experiences. In some we were incredibly blessed; in some there was frustration or awkwardness; but in all there was the opportunity to learn.
There was the first time David spoke in a meeting for worship. This was two or three years after his first experience of having a message, but not the courage to deliver it. Finally David responded and shared a simple message. After worship another Friend corrected him on a detail in the message. Might she have been so blunt if she had known him better, perhaps realizing this was a first? This was quite in contrast to Virginia’s experience where her first message was followed by a "Thank you for speaking today" and a statement of hope that others new to the meeting would speak. Virginia was certainly not sure she would ever speak again, and David, although embarrassed, knew someone had heard his message. By being responded to we were also challenged to learn more about vocal ministry. Fortunately, our meeting has provided numerous opportunities through "second-hour" discussions, retreats, and spiritual formation groups to explore vocal ministry and the role of both the minister and other participants in this ministry.
In the first several years after we were married and moved to Ohio, we greatly enjoyed driving through the countryside, with no destination or even direction. One day we happened to see a wonderful old meetinghouse in Waynesville. Virginia jotted down the time of worship, and the following First Day we attended our first unprogrammed meeting for worship in Ohio. After worship we were approached by two of the members, a husband and wife, who invited us to lunch in their home. As the wife worked miracles in the kitchen, the husband told us about the meeting and its ministries. Although we attended the meeting for only a year or two, the door of these people’s home was always open to us and our children, and the conversation within dwelt on hearing God and witnessing through one’s life. We’ve always admired the depth of their hospitality and strive to do the same within our home.
David’s first assignment to a yearly meeting committee was to Ohio Valley Yearly Meeting’s Executive Committee, which at that time chose yearly meeting sites and brought forth nominations for yearly meeting committees. David had not yet attended a yearly meeting session and knew almost nobody in the yearly meeting. He felt he was a poor choice for this committee and contributed little. Our monthly meeting now strives to name individuals by recognizing their gifts and experience. Ours is a small meeting, however, and we frequently face appointments for which we feel inadequate. Within our monthly meeting and yearly meeting we are seeking ways to provide advice and support for those serving us. This is difficult to do, with issues of time, distance, and the availability of people to provide the care.
Virginia is grateful for an experience that she once had: at one of her first yearly meeting sessions she was asked to take time to sit in worship with two other Friends. The nature and purpose of the worship was not explained to her; she was just invited to be a part of it. The sense of spiritual attentiveness felt at that time has lingered, and through reading and practice Virginia has come to value greatly what among Friends are called "opportunities." There remains a strong feeling of the power of waiting worship that calls one to search deeply and share their needs and joys during the course of their day-to-day life or work for the meeting.
We are grateful for the many invitations extended to us over the years. Our life keeps throwing new situations at us, and in response we call upon those many lessons shared with us by others. A few of these are: let others know that they were heard; be available to offer hospitality and to share your witness; recognize gifts; be a part of the care; and invite all to go deeper.
© 2003 David and Virginia Wood