Tradition at Pendle Hill

During the years Charlotte Fletcher added her sweetness and merriment to the Pendle Hill community, we celebrated her birthday by gathering, still in our pajamas, for a big breakfast, always including grits. Charlotte chose that over the usual ritual permitting the celebrant to choose a dessert for supper. (By custom, desserts appeared only on birthdays. Then candles would be stuck in the chosen goodie, blown out while dozens of diners circled the birthday table singing our special Pendle Hill birthday round.)

Traditions, whether national, religious, school, or familial, bind us together throughout our lives. In a small community like Pendle Hill, the glue of tradition gathers folk for a half hour of worship every day after breakfast. Afterward, if it’s Wednesday, custom helps propel them toward work in the kitchen and gardens and cleaning the art studio— until, when the bell rings in mid-work-morning, tradition (along with an appetite for snacks and fellowship) gets everyone to "popcorn break."

Of course, Pendle Hill’s mission includes bringing to life, both within individuals and among us, the spirit of another, long-ago Pendle Hill. Guidance is sought in daily meeting for worship, in individual retreat times in the Spring House, in classroom and studio, and in times of informal sharing or more formal clearness committees. Staff, students, sojourners, conference attendees, young interns, and seasoned Friends-in-residence all visit the Center of Study and Contemplation seeking to clarify their callings. So gathered in intention are Pendle Hill’s mostly transient occupants that perhaps it is no surprise that community traditions flow freely from group or individual experiments and, just as easily, slip away when no longer needed. So-called from earlier history, "Chester Mission" is the little basement room where we could take items no longer needed, or go to find a sweater for a cold work morning. The name seemed unacceptable to a student one year, so we agreed in community meeting to rename it "The Clothing Exchange."

Some terms a small group would take supper to the living room on trays for a weekly poetry sharing group. Some years there would be a regular silent meal or silent table, or a reading during an otherwise silent meal. Many of the 16 years we were there included a wonderfully foolish winter evening meal at which, with the help of a roaring fire in the dining room fireplace, we all pretended we were at the beach.

Before we arrived and for some years afterward, summer brought a time of gathering after each day’s work to watch the evening primrose flowers open. There was only one year of ritual bedtime stories in the dorm, but Festival Week’s individual and class presentations marked every term’s ending. Sharing serious goodbyes by candlelight in the barn and "Log Night" continued. Log Night, so named because Anna Brinton originally read out in review the log she kept of the term’s happenings, is now, or at least was through 2006, an almost-anythinggoes, dining room-staged talent show climaxing in helpyourself banana splits.

During the decades that storyteller Bobbi Kelly worked at Pendle Hill, there was another food-related tradition known as "stone soup night." Early in the day, Bobbi would start some water boiling in a huge pot and everyone in the community was welcome to visit the kitchen in order to add what ingredient they wished (probably only in the vegetable category so that it could work for vegetarians). The interesting and usually delicious result would be served for supper, while Bobbi told us the Stone Soup tale.

One new tradition, now a half-dozen years old, is lighting the large, student-built star Lloyd Guindon somehow hoisted to the top of a huge Canadian hemlock near Pendle Hill’s Main House. The star lifted my spirits that winter even before Lloyd told me he would leave it lighted while, after civil disobedience, I spent a week away from Pendle Hill in federal prison. Perhaps the lighted star will become one of the long-lasting traditions as did the goodbye song, sung with hands linked in a circle around the Meeting Room: "May the long-time sun shine upon you, all love surround you, and the pure Light within you guide you all the way home."

A Year at Pendle Hill, 1998-1999

(Probably read on final Log Night)

The members of this small community Are so much family there is no way They can pretend to stand alone. We Unavoidably become each others’ Precious, dangerous and necessary Eyes and arms and mouths and the one body We together build develops every year A personality remembered later as: That was the year of Women’s Lib protests. The year the students read Pooh bed time stories Every night in Chace. The year so many staff and residents gave up sugar. The winter term when weather forced a dawn’s light ice patrol. The time ofTai Chi daily on our little Pendle Hill.

This is the year we welcomed Deborah, Moved her to better lodgings in our hearts And said goodbye. This is the year of Surgery emergencies and accidents For Sally, Tim and Tom and Kit, Briana, Sister Nancy, Shirley, Chris, a year of Stretching everywhere: to cover jobs, to Have enough to give, to grow. Also a Year of healing arts practiced to some degree By everyone, of Bobbie’s chaplain skills And listening, massage, Reicke, of Meung Sook’s Yoga, curing hands and ginger tea, strength From two Susans and a host of multiplying Kindnesses, of loss, but also cob and straw and choosing life again. This is a year when pain and rainbow both spoke out in Will, of vigils and our struggle not to mirror war, of facing failure in our welcoming, of Hendrick’s pain and courage, and the rallying. This is a year of generosity in stories, opening prison doors. It will not be remembered as an easy time and yet each soul and season gave us what it could and we are going, rich with gifts and possibility. As for myself this year I have been close enough to death to learn to love not only flowering but Firbank’s cinder block back stair.

Janeal Turnbull Ravndall

Janeal Turnbull Ravndal is a member of Yellow Springs (Ohio) Meeting and edits its monthly Quakershaker newsletter. Before retiring to Friends Care Community in Yellow Springs, she and Chris spent one year as students at Pendle Hill and then 15 years on staff. Before that, they lived ten years at Olney Friends School and 15 years at The Meeting School.