Sallie Jones and Leslie Leonard from Birmingham Friends Meeting, West Chester, PA, share a story about their program, Exploring Quakerism for Newcomers. The program provides an overview of Quakerism and how Friends meetings work. Two members of the meeting lead the program and orient seekers to the faith and help them build relationships within the meeting.
When adult seekers demonstrate interest in our meeting by attending week after week, how do we demonstrate our commitment to them? One way is to invite them to take part in a series of classes which cover the basics of Quakerism, some of its nuances, and how the meeting works. Birmingham Meeting has such a program for seekers called Exploring Quakerism for Newcomers facilitated by two members of the meeting.
Our approach is inspired by resources from Friends General Conference aimed at helping meetings welcome seekers into the life of the meeting and assisting them in their experience of Quakerism. As facilitators we want the participants to feel comfortable asking questions in a friendly, informal setting so they can learn about Quaker faith and practice and our meeting and discover ways to get involved if they are interested.
Our explorers’ series usually takes place in the fall or winter and includes four sessions in which material is presented about such topics as Quaker beliefs, meeting for worship, vocal ministry, Friends testimonies, and examples of how Quakers make decisions and put leadings into action. We have chosen not to include Quaker history, knowing participants can access that information in many other places.
Accessible Language and Interesting Resources
We make an effort to use materials written in accessible language and point out other resources for those who may be interested. Questions and discussion are encouraged, and each week participants are invited to suggest other topics for a future session. The sessions are scheduled at the convenience of the participants with every effort made to include everyone in every session. There is no homework!
In the first session, everyone introduces themselves and talks about their spiritual background and what led them to Quakers and to Birmingham Meeting. After reading aloud about the “Light Within” from Faith and Practice, the group learns about worship sharing by experiencing it directly, responding out of silence to a query about their individual experience of God. In each session we watch one or more QuakerSpeak videos. The videos are short, cover many topics and show a greater diversity of Friends and Friends’ experiences and understanding than a viewer might encounter in their own meeting.
Tapping into a Wealth of Material from Faith & Play
The Faith & Play story Friends Meeting for Business is shared both as an example of how Friends make decisions and to demonstrate one of the ways the children in our meeting gain knowledge about Quaker faith and practice. Just like our young people, we adults find ourselves drawn into the stories and enjoy the open-ended questions that invite wonder and reflection.
Prior to the pandemic, the sessions were held in the home of one of the facilitators, and light refreshments were served. This year the series was held on Zoom, which provided greater access to the series, including one individual who lives in another state. New families are invited to have the “Exploring Quakerism” series in their home, where children can participate if they like and parents don’t have to arrange childcare. The group size has varied from year to year at 3-7 individuals.
Small Group Settings are Key
Attenders have said how much they have appreciated getting to know a few people in the small group setting. The introduction has helped them feel more comfortable in our meeting community and interested in participating further in our work days and social events. For others the series has helped them decide whether they will continue as seekers in the Quaker way. We would be happy to share our ideas and materials for “Exploring Quakerism” if this is something you feel called to do in your meeting.
Photo Credits: Tod Baseden from Birmingham Monthly Meeting, Westchester, PA