Meetings, large and small, grow and strengthen their membership by inviting the public into their meetinghouses. Outreach events succeed best in attracting seekers when a meeting invites others to join it as the meeting explores its own path.
Each of the meetings below planned events that shared what is unique and grounded in Spirit in their witness, ministry and peace work. This story describes the events and some of their outreach efforts. These meetings each received financial support from the Membership Development Support Fund. MDSF projects may also support current members and attenders in their development as Friends, to strengthen Meeting communities so they are attractive and welcoming to new people.
What started as a conversation about how to begin to identify and heal racism in Reading Meeting culminated in relationship-building across the community, a thought-provoking performance for an audience of a hundred, new attenders at meeting and newer attenders becoming members.
The centerpiece of this work was a performance of Show Me the Franklins: Remembering the Ancestors, Slavery & Benjamin Franklin by Quaker playwright Amanda Kemp of Lancaster Meeting. This play focuses on the enslaved African Americans who lived and worked in the home of Benjamin Franklin and on how our ancestors might have experienced slavery and features an opportunity for the audience to articulate how they can heal wounds of racism and create new possibilities in their community.
A goal of the event was to bring together people of different faiths and ethnicities to begin a process of healing in the city. The meeting did this by working cooperatively with members of historically Black churches, other churches and teachers from local schools to plan the event and publicity for it. The planning sessions were occasions for fellowship where participants shared food, ideas, and concerns about the community.
The publicity effort was a big success. Community members heard about the event from
- Posters throughout the Reading area.
- Newspaper articles.
- Local TV featured Amanda Kemp and Marie Ryan, Coordinator for Caln Quarter, talking about the play and the vision for the community
- Listings at all of the local colleges
- Announcements by the Berks Council of Churches and local churches
Despite a major blizzard the day before the event, there were over 100 people in attendance. A survey distributed at the event indicated that many attenders were familiar with the meeting and the social justice work of Quakers but several had not known of the meeting at all. Some enthusiastically said they’d be back.
In addition to developing relationships within the community and drawing people into an event and conversation around race, the meeting was pleased that newer attenders took a very active role in the planning and a few of those attenders become members in the months after the event. Additionally, several new people attended meeting on Sundays following the performance.
A PYM grant from the Meeting Development Fund helped Reading Meeting cover the costs for publicity materials and allowed the meeting to open the show to the public for free.
Buckingham Meeting has a tradition of offering a film series in order to provide the faith community an opportunity for involvement in the Quaker testimonies of Peace, Community and Service. The series is open to the public and draws in non-Friends as well as increases the participation of newer attenders. The meeting applied for a Meeting Development grant to increase the publicity for the series in 2011 so that the series could have a broader impact.
Publicity, internal and external, includes:
- Paid advertisements in the local newspaper
- Flyers posted around town and at local Quaker events
- Email reminders to an established list of interested people
- Announcements in Quaker newsletters and websites
- Weekly announcements at meeting
The 2011 series addressed topics of war, environment and conscientious objection. It included the following films:
- The Response
- Garbage: The Revolution Starts at Home
- Soldiers of Conscience
- Cats of Mirikitane
The five month series in 2011 brought in a new attender. Additionally, people who had already been attending meeting increased their involvement in the meeting, three of them having become actively involved in working groups during this period.
The meeting has had positive feedback from people who attended the films. One participant commented “I like to come to the discussions after the film because everyone can have their say”. This man enjoyed a place where everyone is welcome to speak without repercussion and to share ideas. Another regular participant contributed $100 with a thank you for the enjoyable evenings. The meeting values the films and the publicity for them as an important means of putting the Quaker “face” before the public.
Haddonfield Meeting became more aware of significant numbers of people who have attended the meeting for several years who were encouraged to begin the process of becoming members because of meeting discussion series on theology that would allow them as individuals to grow more deeply into their faith. This prompted a new series they titled “The History of Haddonfield Friends: Racial Justice and Our Community”
The series was held over five Sundays and included the following sessions:
- Slavery in Haddonfield: A brief chronology of events and actions relating to slavery which involved members of Haddonfield Meeting.
- Show Me the Franklins: A play by Amanda Kemp (Lancaster Meeting) about the missing undocumented perspective of the people enslaved by the Franklins and others.
- Civil Rights and the Camden 28: A presentation of minutes and other information relating to the Meeting and the nearby community of Camden during the civil rights period were presented in a dramatic reading.
- Racial Justice and Equality Today: Worship sharing groups considered several questions including how the series had affected people personally and what activities might be appropriate for them as individuals or for the whole Meeting.
- Internalized Oppression: A multi-media presentation and discussion which helped participants to explore the many ways that individuals oppress others.
The Series received higher than usual participation at most First Day programs. In each of the sessions, following the presentation of information, some fairly deep conversations took place. Many of the newer members and attenders who participated in session 4 did not have previous experience with worship sharing and asked that more such opportunities be created for the meeting to engage with each other on in this manner. During and following the series, some Friends in the meeting engaged in conversations about the series with friends and acquaintances – thus carrying the conversation outside the meeting and indirectly informing them that the meeting was willing to take on these difficult discussions. All of these factors in turn have helped to contribute to a stronger sense of community in the meeting. In particular, stronger bonds have been established between a number of Friends in the meeting, particularly the team that developed the series and including both those who have been members for many years and some who began attending within the last five years.
The Series, in the end, was very important to the meeting – to individual members and as a corporate body. It has set in motion a process to help them address issues of racial justice internally and with others in the community.