February 2023 ⏤ Friendly Bumpers

by Mary Linda McKinney

 

 

My spouse, Mark Wutka, became a member of Nashville Friends Meeting when he moved here from Atlanta to be with me in 2011. We’d met years earlier when we were both chaperones in our yearly meeting’s teen program, Southern Appalachian Young Friends. Through SAYF and other yearly meeting events, Mark had worshiped in Nashville on occasion and had positive feelings about my meeting so he was happy to participate in the clearness process with Atlanta and Nashville Friends and then transfer his membership.

While he valued Nashville Friends Meeting, he has long thought of North Carolina Yearly Meeting-Conservative as his spiritual home. When pandemic lock-down happened and he realized he could worship with Friendship Friends Meeting by Zoom, he was very happy. After a few months of regular attendance, he asked FFM if they would consider him for membership. A committee was formed with Friendship and Nashville Friends and they explored what might be possible. What they came to was for him to be a member of both meetings for a time. They call his membership in Friendship Friends Meeting a “sojourning membership” but it is actually kind of a reverse of that as he is staying in place but worshiping afar.

Friendship Friends have resumed in-person worship and have committed to the technology needed to continue including the Friends who are unable to be physically present in their gatherings. I’ve joined Mark for worship a couple of times in Zoom and we worshiped in person a few months ago and from my perspective, it seems that this community has embraced the opportunity to include distant Friends as fully as possible in the life of their meeting. Mark is certainly grateful for this.

What this means is that while Friendship Friends Meeting, a 7 hour drive away, has gained the gifts and energy of Mark, Nashville Friends Meeting, which is walking distance from our home, has lost them.

I hear about disruptions like this among Friends communities frequently. Meetings have lost seasoned members due to the aging population of our Religious Society of Friends (as have most churches in North America). Some newcomers find Friends meetings but come with little understanding of Quaker faith and practices. Communities, desperate for bodies to fill roles, invite relatively green Friends into committees and positions which either overwhelm and scare the newcomers away or put new folks into positions of authority without seasoned Friends to act as guides.These problems had been on-going when the pandemic hit, creating even greater challenges. Some communities that formerly held one weekly worship or maybe two, now find themselves with what seem to be multiple small groups with weak connections. Established patterns are changing and there may not be enough elders to anchor the shifting needs of the community.

Confession: When I first became clerk of a committee, I was utterly clueless about what that meant. I’m a pretty slow learner and it took me years before I started to comprehend the spiritual elements of clerking. In spite of that, I don’t think my meeting gave me the responsibility prematurely. If left to my own devices, then no, I should not have been put in the position. But I had bumpers around me in the form of elders. Marian, Dick, Hibbard, Penelope, and Sita were models and mentors, encouraging and subtly guiding me as I bumbled forward with hubris and good cheer.

Back when Mark and I were Friendly Adult Nurturers with SAYF, we served alongside a FAN who was particularly gifted at mentoring. The teens in SAYF were between 12 and 18. A few regularly attended their local meeting for worship but most did not. Some had no Quaker background and found a community where they could be themselves when invited to a retreat by a friend. Three times a year, the business of the community would be conducted. Wren (who, if I remember correctly, was a non-theist Friend) would often sit within whispering proximity of the teen clerk. As the group labored over this or that issue, Wren would sometimes quietly offer a word or a suggestion to the clerk or a simple question to the group. She did it with seemingly no attachment to a particular outcome and in such a way that the clerk or the group could consider it and either leave it or claim it. She helped guide many Teen Friends in good Quaker process without pedantically teaching anything. From my perspective, she followed leadings of the Spirit that flowed through herself and our community. Some of the most spiritually profound and gathered business meetings I have experienced were with SAYF.

Our Friends meetings and churches need elders like Wren and the dear folks who nurtured me when I was a baby Quaker. But, with disconnected communities that include fewer oldsters, fewer kids-growing-into-adult-Quakers, and fewer newcomers, we do not have the same opportunities to grow the kind of mentoring relationships that have been so important throughout the history of the Religious Society of Friends.

Faithful Meetings creates opportunities for communities of Friends to grow in spiritually and emotionally nurturing relationships. Grounded in Quaker faith and practices, Faithful Meetings invites newbie and long-time Friends to consider and share about what it means to be a Friend. A person doesn’t have to be a Formidable Old Quaker to be an elder or to spiritually nurture another. I saw beautiful eldering among the Quaker teens in SAYF all the time. To use my own language and understanding, to elder is to help another grow into the person God created them to be. To see one another with the eyes of God is far easier when we create trustworthy spaces where we can show up as our real selves. Faithful Meetings creates spaces where Friends feel safe enough to be ourselves and dynamic enough to make us willing to leave our comfort zones and take positive risks toward becoming our fullest selves.

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2 thoughts on “February 2023 ⏤ Friendly Bumpers”

  1. “ What this means is that while Friendship Friends Meeting, a 7 hour drive away, has gained the gifts and energy of Mark, Nashville Friends Meeting, which is walking distance from our home, has lost them.”

    I wonder, do you have thoughts about localism among Friends? I remember being disturbed at my first YM function to see Friends enthusiastically embracing acquaintances from across the state but realizing that many Friends had never visited the meetings within half an hour’s drive. Then I had to ask myself why I was disturbed! But I think it is that we pour a lot of our energy into relationships with people far away, but the day to day challenges of living – Can you watch my dog while I’m on vacation? Can you babysit my child while I do a date night? Can you water my plants while I’m out of town? – we really need our local community, which often languishes.

    1. I consider this question a lot. On the one hand, folks should follow leadings to worship where they will be most spiritually nourished. On the other hand, we should do everything we can to grow each meeting to be the community that Spirit is calling it to be. If we can do that, perhaps fewer people will find their spiritual needs better met elsewhere. But it has to begin with creating true community that is grounded in seeking the will of God. I think we each need to carefully discern the kinds of communities and relationships God wants us to commit to so we can know best where to put our energy.

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