My husband, Adam, and I were blessed to serve as co-directors of Powell House, New York Yearly Meeting’s retreat and conference center, for three and one-half years during the late ’80s. We came there as a family with two young children (then two and five years old), eager to serve Friends—and eager to sustain Powell House as a welcoming environment for young families like us. One of my favorite memories is of our interview with the Powell House Committee (its Board of 30 or so Friends from the yearly meeting). We’d come to the end of a weekend of meetings with various groups, including staff and Board. Matthew, my youngest, was at the age when babies don’t want to leave their moms. Friends kindly permitted me to answer questions and explain my vision with little Matthew in my lap for most of the weekend. During the final business meeting, the clerk of the Committee was given a paper crown as part of some light-hearted fun. She gamely put it on, while we all smiled, and continued to conduct the meeting. At this point, Matt decided these folks really were okay. He climbed down and joined the clerk, sitting next to her for the rest of that session. Adam and I knew we’d found a family-friendly Quaker environment where we and our children could thrive.
So much of what we do in life involves offering a warm welcome and hospitality. Welcoming the stranger is how our private worlds expand and grow. In this issue, we have a number of articles that touch upon this topic. Tom Hoopes, in "Young Families and Quakerism: Will the Center Hold?" (p.10), offers numerous suggestions about how meetings can create an environment that welcomes and attracts families with young children to become actively involved. He shares his own story of being invited to bring his boys along to a committee meeting that provided activities for his children while he met with the committee. In "Vibrant Meetings Grow the Society of Friends" (p.6), Lynn Fitz-Hugh says plainly, "Mentoring newcomers is of key importance." She speaks to much of what will bring newcomers in the door and keep them there: healing conflicts, reaching out to those who stop coming to meeting, involving our young people in the life of the meeting, and clearly sharing our Quaker faith and practice. In "Seeing That of God in Our Immigrant Neighbors: Immigration and Friends Testimonies" (p.17), Danielle Short takes us to a different perspective on welcoming the stranger into our midst, speaking plainly of the economic injustice and painful hardship that is a part of current immigration pressures and conflict. She calls us to open to the needs of immigrants in light of the Quaker testimonies. She writes, "Community is not just about those closest to us, or those with whom we feel the most comfortable."
Today, my two young children have grown into young adult Friends. My daughter, Susanna, learned to love Friends conferences and gatherings while we lived at Powell House. When she was old enough, she enthusiastically attended many gatherings of young Friends, telling us that they were transformational experiences for her. She was among the cohort who attended a gathering of young adult Friends from many yearly meetings at the Burlington (N.J.) Meetinghouse in early 2007. Anna Obermayer, a fellow attender of that meeting, reports on her own vital experience in "Kindling a Spark: Young Friends Voicing a Need for a Radical, Spiritual Quakerism" (p.14). "The young adult Friends in Burlington hungered for a deeper, more connected faith than what they felt had been offered," she reports, "And they were prepared to take action."
May Friends everywhere not only welcome the strangers who come to us, but our own growing offspring as well.