On the evening of Tuesday, October 13, 2020, about 125 leaders from monthly meetings met in community and mutual support via video conference.
Facilitated by Philadelphia Yearly Meeting’s (PYM) General Secretary, Christie Duncan-Tessmer, supported by PYM co-clerks Frank Barch and Jean-Marie Prestwidge Barch, and organized by PYM’s Community Engagement Team (Olivia Brangan, Melinda Wenner Bradley, TJ Jourian, and Zachary Dutton) the event shared information, gathered data about needs, and organized conversations aligned with community interests.
Breakout groups were led by Friends Counseling Coordinator, Janaki Spickard Keeler, Community Engagement Coordinator, Olivia Brangan, and Youth Religious Life Coordinator Melinda Wenner-Bradley.
Below is an interview with Zachary Dutton, Associate Secretary for Religious Life, that summarizes the evening’s content, followed by notes from three breakout groups and further contact information.
What was the leadership gathering about, and how did PYM connect Friends for support and inspiration?
The web of connection to others around us that we feel in worship is the same sort of web that our yearly meeting represents. We are connected to each other, and we need our whole community for support and inspiration in the spiritual journey.
As monthly meeting leaders gathered, our shared experience as a yearly meeting community was palpable. We noticed we aren’t really an entity called Philadelphia Yearly Meeting (PYM) with a line going back to other meetings like a hub and spokes. We are a people with meetings and ministries, one to another, flowing as a river bringing life or a tree with many branches reaching for the light in all directions.
How does this event fit with others you have held in the past? How does it differ?
In the past, similar gatherings have been held for clerks of monthly meetings. We expanded the concept this time around to include committee clerks and other Monthly Meeting community leaders.
The clerk role is a big one with lots to do. Being the one who carries the news of this gathering back to the whole meeting adds yet another thing for them to do. When we decided to include all the leadership roles in the meeting, the connections can be shared and expanded. This decreases pressure on clerks and increases the ‘community of practice’ that is supporting the meeting; together we strengthen the circle of spiritual labor that grounds our meetings.
Going forward what other events like this are planned?
The intention is to have two gatherings of monthly meeting leaders throughout the year, and a third during Annual Sessions. The next leadership gathering will be happening on Tuesday, March 2nd, from 7:00-8:30pm.
There is a standard agenda. The presiding clerks of the yearly meeting have a spot to focus on topics that are important for all of us. Our staff have a spot, as a connection to the wider community, and they share what’s going on across the yearly meeting. The biggest spot is for agenda items lifted up by monthly meeting leaders themselves. This information was solicited from Monthly Meeting Leadership participants as part of the sign-up process. We then had TJ share the list of common themes that emerged.
The initial discussion covered conversation related to the three issues facing our yearly meeting at this moment, membership, addressing racism, and climate change. (Resources generated on these topics can be found under 2020 Annual Sessions)
We also discussed the role of bridge contacts and the new anti-racism collaborative. In small groups, participants talked about various ways in which we can support each other during pandemic times—staying in relationship, addressing mental wellness, and supporting worship and spirituality.
As we head into winter, we look forward to sharing more resources connected to the various concerns, work, and witness.
Questions?: Zachary Dutton may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Breakout Group Themes and Ideas Generated
Coping & Mental Health
Janaki Spickard Keeler, Friends Counseling email@example.com
Friends in this group discussed how anxiety, fear, grief, and isolation have touched us all and affected our worship communities. We had conversations about strategies our meetings are using—with various degrees of success—to help members who are suffering.
Friends described creating opportunities for in-person worship, particularly for those members who have trouble with Zoom. They talked about committees contacting individual members who have not made it to worship for some time; and creating opportunities to socialize safely or find connections grounded in a sense of purpose and meaning, such as vigils and service opportunities.
- NAMI’s COVID mental health coping strategies guide
- The Friends Counseling Service’s psychotherapy services
- The Fall Mindfulness Meditation series
- November 14th Saturday Morning Class: Getting Better Sleep
PYM and Friends Counseling Services look forward to continuing this conversation, as we recognize that we have a lot of work to do to support each other during this difficult time.
Melinda Wenner Bradley, PYM Youth Religious Life Coordinator firstname.lastname@example.org
Notes from the session follow
- It is important to find ways to stay “tethered” and connected to one another. This can mean listening to the needs of community members, and individuals or families may need to be reached in different ways.
- Many meetings use letters, cards, and personal notes to connect with community members.
- It was noticed that some older members have trouble connecting online or do not wish to connect in this way. Phones calls to them have helped greatly in staying in touch. For older folks who are not Zoom comfortable, one meeting had several Friends be designated to visit homes and/or meet outdoors.
- For children who are suffering Zoom fatigue, Schuylkill Meeting has started having a dedicated meeting once each month particularly with the intention of connecting with the children. They sit outside with social distancing and have a 20-minute meeting for worship followed by 20 minutes of social time. They have also been reaching out with mailed postcards written by members of the meeting.
- Lehigh Valley Meeting reported that they are finding that younger Friends with children—and the children themselves—are exhausted by Zoom at work and school, and so have become less open to connecting in this way. They wondered if others have experienced this, and if they’ve found alternatives?*
- Providence Meeting has been hosting in-person breakfasts each month in their parking lot, offering in-person teas on Fridays in the yard at meetinghouse, and the following hour convening an online version of the same program. They also had a worship-sharing session, sponsored by Care and Counsel Committee, around the worries and concerns about both the election and the pandemic.
- West Chester Meeting is shifting their Friendly 8s from pre-Covid times to become multigenerational “Home Groups” for check-ins and time together.
- Other ideas:
- Games you can play on Zoom;
- Saturday morning coffee on Zoom;
- Reading groups;
- Conversation spaces;
- Meals together;
- Hosting a weekly vigil (Merion Meeting) as both in-reach and outreach;
- Creating opportunities for all-ages worship in online spaces. Special care needs to be given to families who may feel discouraged about joining online worship sessions with children on Zoom. How can they be supported?**
* Fall Religious Education Planning: Connection and New Directions is written with a concern for meetings and families this fall
Worship and Spirituality Olivia Brangan, Community Engagement Coordinator, email@example.com
Notes from the session follow
In our group discussion, we explored the query, “How do we bring along our virtual community of online worshiping as we navigate our way to safely re-opening our meetinghouses?”
During the group discussion, we shared experiences that reached across many meetings during these virtual times.
Many reflected that using the Zoom platform was a gift during COVID-19, as spiritual connections were sustained, and folks who had moved away found solace in joining from a distance. Some meetings shared that new seekers have joined them in recent months.
Ministry and Care has played a pivotal role in some meetings in staying connected with Friends who do not have an inclination for technology and others shared that a need for a support group would benefit many communities.
The teleconferencing platform has provided a wonderful spiritual connection for some folks, while others shared that many of their community members have not found the same experience.
We talked briefly about the ways in which technology may be integrated into safely re-opening our meetinghouses, although opinions and experiences differ. We came to a sense of understanding that we wished we had additional time together to discern the many issues around nurturing connections and engaging in community. We also came to unity that our breakout group will continue to connect using a Google group, which is in the development stage. We were grateful for our time together.
Survey results on Topics of Interest among Meeting Communities
COVID-19, Connection, and Spiritual Life (36) and Specific to being online (16)
Peace and Social Concerns (26)
Membership (16) and Outreach (13)
Quaker Faith/Practice Broadly (13)
Fundraising, Property & Financial Concerns (9)
Governance and Clerking (6)
Building/holding Community (4)
Religious Education (2)
Related PYM Articles
- Hybrid Meeting for Worship at Pendle Hill
- Pew Research on Worship in a Pandemic
- Four Meetings that Host in-person Worship
- Lehigh Valley’s Experience – Outdoor worship