Greenleaf Weekly Meeting in Newark, Ohio, is out on the edge of normalcy. We hold meeting for worship outside on benches in a small cove, but this means there is no burden of maintenance or seeking funds. When it rains we simply have fellowship with Friends or others, and this keeps our outlook alive. When the seasons change to winter, we stop our meetings and put that time toward local mission work. This format may not be the norm, but it offers a fulfilling life to some lone Quakers.
Three winters ago, after losing a grassroots homeless volunteer group in the big city, we were searching for a new local group in our small town. One day we decided to just set up our own table downtown, figuring even if we could only offer coffee and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, it was better than doing nothing. Off we went each First Day, and within a few weeks we had built up our supplies and were serving about 20 people each trip.
We tried calling local businesses to get permission to use their facilities, but nothing came of it. We decided the new downtown farmers’ market would suit well: it was covered, had power, and with benches saw many homeless throughout the day. Even though they were closed for the season, we set up our table and indeed plugged into an outlet for the crockpot and coffeemaker. The week before Christmas word had traveled and an organizer for the market showed up. As scared as we were knowing we didn’t have permission to be there, we were surprised that they joyfully allowed us to stay and use the shelter house. They even put up a Facebook post that reached thousands. There was no greater joy than serving on Christmas morning, and by the end of a six-week short season, we had served about 100 different souls.
Last winter came quickly and was quite long. We created an online fundraiser for the purchase of a trailer, which would allow us to get around permissions and help protect us from the cold. We recall many days the winds blew so much the coffee was barely warm moments after brewing. Many Friends and others donated and in a few days we had $600—not enough for a trailer, but then God delivered us the use of a vending trailer via a nonprofit that only used it in the summer, leaving the $600 to supply us all winter!
We ran this “very professional to us” trailer for 13 weeks, and served over 300 unique souls! Changing from First Day to Sixth Day as a church down the road offered hot food during their service, we found several homeless would be waiting our arrival each morning. Winter was hard, with many weeks out in the single digits. The trailer allowed a much better outreach for us and more importantly for those we served. When the season came to a close, some other locals asked to carry on the outreach through the year. Being this was God’s mission and not ours, we gladly passed on the torch and everything we had accumulated.
This year we’ve partnered with a church down the road, Trinity Episcopal, to help those on the streets. We have visited with them twice in their mission work, and cannot wait to start our outreach in their facility, which has a kitchen and central heat! We find it comedic the members of the church see us as experts in the homeless community, when we simply and blindly follow where God leads us. We tell them: God makes preachers, teachers, givers, etc. We are but workers. God takes care of the rest.
Some have asked us questions such as, “Where is Quakerism in all this?” “How does this save them?” and “How does this help you grow?” Our reply is simple: spread hope, spread faith, love thy neighbor, and pray they turn their eyes to God. This is all that is needed, as God can grow, guide, and protect any willing seed.
We do this not for growth in our meeting nor for any doctrinal decree; we do this as Quakers who believe feeding those less fortunate is true communion with God. Sharing His love with the poor, the hopeless, the faithless, is exactly what Christ did. I share our story in hopes that it speaks to those smaller groups out there who also can make a big difference. The world might not recognize the work, others may try to “correct” the work, but set all that aside and follow where the Spirit guides in all things. In meeting for worship we sit, but in the community let us stand.