Faithful Meetings Snapshot: We Have Launched!

by Mary Linda McKinney

 

 

I write with joy, gladness, and gratitude to share with you about the first Faithful Meetings opening retreat. Forty Red Cedar Friends participated. It was a loving, tender time with a community that cares deeply about all of its members. It is my sense that this community had everything they needed and Faithful Meetings brought a structure within which they could realize it.

As a facilitator, I try very hard to meet people where they are and invite them into intimacy. Building connections and trust is the focus of the opening retreat. With this goal in mind, we began with a two hour worship and worship sharing in which we responded to the queries:

  • What is something you bring to this gathering, a gift, orientation or trait, that you can share with us?
  • What is one thing you need from us to feel safe, comfortable, or accepted?

I began by modeling what I was asking this community to do and shared from my own experience and needs. A good number of Friends joined us via Zoom so I invited them to share first. It was important to integrate these Friends as thoroughly as possible.

 

 

Red Cedar Friends Meeting has been carefully intentional about remaining connected throughout the pandemic, finding ways to support and include everyone. Their path may not have been perfect but their intention was genuine and hopeful. The Faithful Meetings opening retreat was delayed by six months because they needed to continue to work through concerns about safety and inclusion. The community made the decision to have everyone mask while in the gathering with the exception of speakers sitting before the OWL camera to speak. We arranged the room in a U configuration with my chair and a speaker’s chair set like umlauts [those dots you might see above vowels in some foreign languages] about 5 feet from the camera and mic with the large screen monitor and laptop to the side.

 

 

When folks in the meetinghouse spoke, whether they were called on or were speaking out of the silence, they rose from their seats, walked to the speaker’s chair, removed their masks and talked. While cumbersome and sometimes awkward, particularly for those who are more introverted, this system had the benefit of slowing us down and allowing us to spend time in reflection. It also made clear to the folks in Zoom that their participation was integral to the gathering. We communicated about communication often, reminding one another to speak slowly and project our voices so that everyone could hear. These reminders were done with love and humor and often led to laughter and learning. Rather than disrupting worship, the calls to speak in a way that could be heard took us deeper into it because the intention was toward connection.

The worship and sharing on Friday evening grounded and prepared us. I began Saturday with the guidelines I asked the community to agree to with me. A quote about the difference between “comfort” and “safety” by Friend George Lakey resonated with a number of people and was a catalyst for the group to explore the idea of feeling internally secure enough to risk being vulnerable with one another.

I next invited us into another worship sharing session, this one designed to provide an opportunity to share experiences of worship, questions, reflections, concerns, or noticings. These worship sharing check-ins are a feature of Faithful Meetings with the intention of giving those gathered the time and space to name what they experience as individuals in worship and in community together.

After lunch, Friends met in breakout groups to respond to the query: What is a spiritual experience that changed you in some way?

We next explored the idea of “spiritual practices” and talked about why one might engage in an on-going practice. We named different practices we’ve done and what we gained from them. I encouraged everyone to find a practice they might be willing to commit to doing, at whatever level of commitment they felt comfortable, for the duration of Faithful Meetings.

We ended Saturday with another worship sharing check-in, heavy on the worship.

We gathered Sunday morning during the time Red Cedar Friends Meeting holds their early worship. A visitor, brand new to RCFM and to Quakers, arrived for worship and bravely joined us as we did a morning check-in. Folks had earlier been given a journaling exercise to explore their  understanding of and relationship with the Divine. Everyone was sent into breakout groups to worship share around the query: What is true for you about the Divine right now?

After meeting for worship, we ended our retreat with another worship sharing check-in to reflect on worship and the entirety of our weekend.

Other than to invite some physical movement on Saturday afternoon, there is nothing I would change about the retreat. Each of the topics and all of the queries and questions were met with curiosity and willingness. Friends shared openly in the large group, sometimes quite deeply, and from what I have heard, very rich sharing usually happened in the small group sessions.

One person, who had not been able to attend the retreat until the very end, said they could feel the benefit of the retreat on those present even without having been there. That is my hope for Faithful Meetings, that everyone who participates in it will feel more intimately a part of their meeting and will use their energy and sense of belonging to connect with others.

If you are interested in learning more about bringing Faithful Meetings to your community, register to attend the May Faithful Meetings information session or contact me at faithfulmeetings@schoolofthespirit.org.

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