A Laboratory for Community

My first recollection of hearing about Pendle Hill, the Quaker study center near Wallingford, Pa., was from the spoken ministry of Anna Morris, a member of my meeting, who during the 1970s gave glowing accounts of her spiritual encounters there. Later, after I joined the staff of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting in 1976, I remember Pendle Hill as a hospitable setting for several retreats. And then in 1982, when I was among a group of about 40 Friends preparing to travel together to the Friends World Conference that year in Kaimosi, Kenya, I really grasped what a resource Pendle Hill is. For five days we met together. The circumstances were challenging: we arrived on a Sunday only to learn that Kenya had been rocked by an attempted coup. It wasn’t until Wednesday of that week that we were told that the airport in Nairobi had reopened and we could depart the next day as planned. Against this backdrop, our orientation meetings, worship, and meals together at Pendle Hill were intense, and the solitude of the evenings in our rooms in Chase, a dormitory modeled on a monastery, felt like a gift. When we left for our plane, I sensed that we all were grounded and ready for the life-altering experience that awaited us in Africa.

Douglas Gwyn, author of the article "Pendle Hill: The Experiment Continues" in this issue (p. 16), shares that someone once said to him, "Pendle Hill is not a community; it is an experience in community." That is certainly what I felt in 1982. What I take this statement to mean is that Pendle Hill is a place where a vision of community is tested and refined— a community whose purpose is to be porous and to enable transience. It offers hospitality, a rich environment for learning, space for solitude, and a setting for centering and preparation from which to move on—to reengage—refreshed and inspired.

In offering this opportunity for grounding, Pendle Hill can be a powerful instrument of the Religious Society of Friends and its witness in a troubled world. As an institution, it inevitably reflects all the struggles, contradictions, and hopes against great odds that we Friends have as we encounter oppression, inequality, and selfishness in the world around us—and in ourselves. Pendle Hill offers a setting in which to enter that spiritual space in the Center, in which we can be tender, heal, and grow.

Last fall, when Friends Journal announced our intention to publish this special issue, we had no doubt that we would receive sufficient material to fill the magazine. This we did—and more. Behind the scenes, we had many helpers, including one in particular—Meg Hodgkin Lippert, granddaughter of Pendle Hill’s first director of studies—who worked tirelessly to encourage potential authors to come forward with submissions. As a result, we not only have a wide variety of material for the magazine, but even more to be published on our website through June and July, as well as additional articles that we plan to publish in future issues.

Whether or not you have personally experienced Pendle Hill as a student, teacher, conference participant, staff, or Board member, we expect that there will be much of interest for you here. These diverse writings on Pendle Hill offer a unique window into what we are as a spiritual movement, as well as a window outward for the vision that Friends offer for a transformed world.