Continuing Sessions reporting is broken into two reports. This web story on the activities of the morning, and the full minutes of Meeting for Business, taken by Recording Clerk, Kri Burkander, with accompanying reports, all in PDF format.
Our day began with a short period of worship and an acknowledgement, given by Boone Murphy, that the Arch Street Meeting House land upon which we gathered is the ancestral homeland of the Lenape People. Amy Taylor Brooks, Clerk of Quaker Life Council, then welcomed Friends to Fall Continuing Sessions.
Zachary Dutton, Associate Secretary for Program and Religious Life, opened the morning session with Melinda Wenner Bradley, Youth Religious Life Coordinator, who led Friends in a Faith & Play story. The story was centered on the gifts that we bring to our meeting communities and how we are embraced by circles of self, our meetings, our Quarters, and our Yearly Meeting. We have other, overlapping circles, of family, community, friendships, and neighbors.
To tell the story, Melinda broke it into ten sections, which a multi-age group of volunteers read out loud. As is common with Faith & Play storytelling, hearing the words made them resonate more deeply, and a feeling of listening fell upon the community.
While pieces of the story were read, Melinda built a picture using pieces of colored felt and graphic representations of people to create a “big” version of the story on an easel for everyone to see.
As the narrative concluded, Friends felt its Truth.
Melinda broke the assembled multi-generational body into conversational groups of two and three asking them to share with each other those parts of the story that resonated.
Participants were then given an exercise – to draw or write about the Query – “What gifts do you have to share with your family, your friends, and your meeting community?”
People formed groups of five to eight people, and one by one, talked about their individual gifts. Some gifts mentioned were; service, music and singing, love, optimism, humor, gratitude, listening, truth telling, empathy, stewardship, writing, discerning, unconditional love, cooking, and recording.
As individuals in community, Friends were asked; “What gifts have you discovered and what gifts have you been given in your meeting?”
Stories emerged in conversations. One Friend told about how the leak of a meeting’s heating system, and the destruction of the floor, led to an investment that allowed them to rebuild the kitchen in addition to repairing the heating and the floor. It was an example of the gifts of community in solving the problem by creating a center of ‘oneness’ and acting together – from that center. Another Friend noted that their Monthly Meeting’s placement of them on a committee led to very meaningful work across all of the local churches.
As the morning exercise continued, Friends reformed in wider groups to consider queries related to gifts in their quarters, collaboratives, and within the Yearly Meeting body.
One Friend shared how she had been allowed to have dual membership – in both her original monthly meeting (now at a distance) and the one she was currently living next to. That same Friend noted how she brought the gift of the pre-retreat concept to our Yearly Meeting from her prior yearly meeting. Being embraced in two Friends communities allowed her a powerful sharing of good ideas from one to the other. A different Friend noted how the gifts of others had helped him move beyond his own status quo with respect to non-violent action. A fifth said she’d benefited from being part of a multi-generational community that allowed her to see how people could deal with aging throughout a long and rich life. She felt that being part of meeting members’ life journeys helped her to better understand how she should move forward in facing those same challenges.
The exercise closed with the reminder that gifts from others open us up to the vast diversity of life.
We bring to this work a willingness to listen, and by listening, know we are all part of something much bigger. When Friends go deep like this, they arrive at a ‘different place’ and individual differences tend to fade away.
Friends who participated in the morning’s activities noticed there is always a feeling of conflict between staying with the warmth and local connection of home meetings, versus heading to monthly, quarterly, or yearly meeting gatherings elsewhere and missing meeting for worship at home. Having the possibility of belonging to a bigger gathering makes the broader ‘Quaker meeting’ feel real. A Friend noted that she makes it a practice every August to visit other meetings, by worshiping with them, she can “feel the spirit” around the yearly meeting. She finds this very enriching.
Zachary Dutton drew the morning’s activities to a close by thanking Melinda for her work. He asked the group to help carry the deep and grounded feelings of the morning forward and to use the morning’s work to hold the “spiritual center” of our community during meeting for Business. We then entered into a period of worship during which several messages were shared. We then broke for lunch, during which families reunited, Friends mingled at tables and Bridge Contacts from about 25 meetings met to connect with each other and provide feedback to Olivia Brangan, Community Engagement Coordinator.
We closed our day with presentations from Middle School and Young Friends who’d spent the afternoon working with the query: “Who are we as Quakers.” They lifted up their own self-portraits—drawn on rolls of brown paper—and shared them with all assembled.
PYM’s youth, who attend Fall, Spring and Annual Sessions, are at the heart of the future of our Faith, and their self portraits are an example of sharing we hope that meetings across the yearly meeting will follow. So far, we’ve received two self-portraits from meeting communities; they are posted on our website. We hope there will be many more.
Friends then said goodbye to one another, checking in, sharing hugs and farewells. Early Friends used to ask: “How does the Truth fare with thee?”, and as we head into fall and winter holidays we hope that we continue to hear from Quaker communities who are counting numbers of Friends in worship ‘on the benches’ each Sunday, and offering more self-portraits posted to the PYM website. We also hope that more Friends will come to our Sessions, so that we have a center of strength and unity as we engage in our Faith and its practice.