Nurturing Our Meetings

When I first attended Friends meeting in my early 30s, I knew that I was in the right place, but there was much about Quaker process and the structure of the meeting community that I still needed to learn. Over the years, I’ve perceived that meetings seem to have a life cycle of their own, rising with energy and vitality based on the enthusiasm and dedication of various members or ebbing as members move on, die, or struggle with great differences on matters of importance to all. Every meeting has its own culture. This is not surprising, considering how much our meetings depend on the contributions of the individuals connected to them.

How is your meeting doing? Is it bursting with vitality or in a period of difficulty? Perhaps you are experiencing both! Whatever condition you find your community in, we anticipate that the articles in this issue will offer food for thought and perhaps some new approaches to your undertakings together.

Several things in this issue merit a special note. Margery Mears Larrabee has written a substantial article on "Spirit-Led Eldering" (p. 24) that I hope you will take the time to read. Because of the eldering abuses of earlier generations of Friends, many today steer clear of interactions with others that may seem judgmental or harsh. Margery Larrabee suggests that eldering is "a process of assisting one another, from a centered place, to stay true and faithful to the Spirit in all aspects of our lives." She goes on to say, "Challenging experiences of my own, and others I have known, have shown the tremendous value of authentic affirmation as well as the positive power of Spirit-led truth-telling and plain speaking."

When my husband, Adam, and I were co-directors of Powell House, New York Yearly Meeting’s retreat and conference center, we had the opportunity to become acquainted with Josh Brown, a dynamic Friends pastor in that united (affiliated with both Friends General Conference and Friends United Meeting) yearly meeting. Knowing that we Friends have not been immune to concerns about possible abuse of our meetings and our members, I was delighted when Josh sent us "Does Your Meeting Need a Bill of Rights?" (p. 17). Being aware that Friends can be touched by cases of sexual harassment, major disputes over money and property, or abuse of power, Josh led Friends from West Richmond (Ind.) Meeting in an extended discussion that resulted in a "Bill of Rights" with clear delineation of what can be expected when one attends or joins that meeting. I was particularly impressed that Josh kept the group focused on positive expectations.

You will not find specially marked "archival articles" in this issue as you have in other issues of this 50th anniversary year. But we editors have, in fact, included previously published material in this special issue on "The Meeting Community," because we felt that those pieces rounded out the new material we received. Look for these articles on page 12 ("The Meaning of Silent Worship" by Mariellen O. Gilpin), page 20 ("Beyond Consensus: the Quaker Search for God’s Leading for the Group" by Matthias C. Drake), page 22 ("Clerking: A Semi-Serious Look" by Marjorie M. Anderson), and page 29 ("Spiritual Discernment within the Nominating Process" by Perry Treadwell). Also republished from earlier issues are Signe Wilkinson’s "Fieldguide to Quaker (unprogrammed) Ministry" (p. 11) and Sydney Chambers’ and Carolynne Myall’s "Speaking into the Silence" (p. 14); both of these may produce a smile.

We hope that the content of this issue will be useful to you and your meeting—and that it will enrich your continuing journey together.