Barbara Mays, a musician, writer/editor and mother, describes herself first as a Hoosier. She returned to Richmond, Indiana, in the mid-’90s after working at Pendle Hill, and she’s glad to be back home. She had decided early that she was going to be a journalist, and she’s “still making a living with words” as editor of Friends United Press, a publishing project of Friends United Meeting (FUM).
She’s not demonstrably gregarious, but she’s definitely a people person. She lives in a courtyard apartment in a compact neighborhood that includes many different cultures, age groups, and family mixes. She likes “being able to just walk across the street to good food and friends, entertainment, and a great place to meet.”
Her parents attended Friends Memorial in Muncie, Indiana. She chose Quakerism for herself in the early ’60s. While studying journalism at University of Indiana in Bloomington, she was active in a local meeting. Now, once again, she’s a member of Friends Memorial, where she raised her kids.
Barbara manages to stay in touch with her three young adult children by phone and e-mail. She’s been reading Thomas More’s Care of the Soul; one of her “care of the soul” decisions was to commit more time and money to be with her kids.
A former Friends Journal Board member, she’s learned that she needs to be “connected to the big picture,” the variety of Quaker worship and cross-cultural experiences. “It’s quite a blessing. Last year, attending the FUM Triennial sessions and worshiping with the large body of Kenyan Friends was really wonderful.” One of her prayers for Friends is that more people can have those broadening opportunities.
Barbara finds that people generally are curious about Quakers, and wishes we could find a way to “be who we are and still feel more comfortable reaching out, without an agenda, in hospitality.”
She returned to her current work as FUPress Editor in 1998. She held the same position from 1981 to 1988. “It’s much the same but the technology has really changed.” While she loves her work generally, she especially likes working with the authors. “How fortunate I am to be able to read nourishing material all the time and call it work!”
One of her challenges is determining what to publish—what the Religious Society of Friends and even the wider market needs, wants, and will find useful. The press publishes about two books a year.
Currently she’s working on the complete Margaret Fell letters with annotations. The primary editor, Elsa Glines from Berkeley (Calif.) Meeting, has worked on it for about ten years. It’s a little over 500 pages long, and she admits she probably would never have read all of those letters on her own, but she finds the project exciting. She was doing her first reading at about the same time the Iraq war resolution was being debated in Congress. She says, “If I wrote President Bush in the same style and was as free with my language as Margaret was, they would haul me away! She was so courageous.”
Barbara has had varied work experiences—five years as administrator and fundraiser for the Richmond United Way, two years at Pendle Hill as a housekeeper, two years doing fundraising and marketing for the Richmond Symphony Orchestra. She especially enjoyed her connection to the arts community.
She nurtures her spirit in several ways, including journaling and reading. She’s teaching a writing course at Earlham School of Religion. A dance workshop at the FGC Gathering renewed her interest in ballroom dancing.
Barbara was a part of the committee that spent ten years putting together a new Friends hymnal. For her it was a profoundly positive experience. She remembers a time when the committee was meeting at Pendle Hill, singing through some of the material they had collected. Someone walked by and said, “Oh, there are those people that sing all the time and call themselves a committee!”
Barbara still sees herself primarily as a writer. Earlier, she wrote a number of songs, and spent a year as religion editor of a local newspaper. Recently, she ghostwrote a short book. She has hopes that some day soon she will be able to return to writing. “But,” she says, “I really trust God’s timing in that.”
© 2003 Kara Newell