Storytelling image above – by Richard Morse
After checking in to Annual Sessions Wednesday afternoon, picking up their room cards, and getting golf cart rides to their housing, Friends connected around a TCNJ catered dinner of barbecued chicken, salad, and baked potatoes with an array of toppings. They sat in groups – building friendships or reconnecting after separations. They shared tea, coffee, and apple pie with whipped cream.
They visited exhibits, and the pop-up PYM library, brought by volunteers from Friends Center.
As we gathered in plenary, Sandra Boone Murphy led us in a blessing referencing the fact that we are meeting on Lenape Nanikote lands. George Schaefer and Joan Broadfield then accompanied the group in singing Teach Me to Stop and Listen.
The highlight of the evening’s plenary was a Faith & Play story told by Melinda Wenner Bradley, PYM’s Youth Religious Life Coordinator. She opened the hearts and minds of Friends with a story – which she characterized as a BIG Faith & Play story, because she was supported in the storytelling by 9 volunteers with 9 baskets filled with Faith & Play materials.
The story was called ‘Listening for God’
Each circle of Friends surrounded their story telling facilitator – placed cross legged on the floor with a basket of abstract wooden child and adult figures and props (scrolls, a feather, a red circle, a cinnamon stick, pieces of pink salt in a round box, a small rectangular box, a container of sand to represent the desert, and a seashell to symbolize listening).
Seated Friends listened, focused and attentive, as Melinda told her story of listening, holding each piece with thought, reverence and love before she placed it on the blue cloth (the underlay) which she slowly unrolled as the story emerged. She literally spilled the story out onto the cloth, offering beauty of thought around each spoken word.
The story closed with four wondering questions: I wonder what part of this story you like best; I wonder if there are other ways you have felt God’s presence: I wonder what helps you to listen to God; I wonder what you wonder about this story.
The Faith & Play manipulatives, which represented people, experiences, and God’s presence, emerged as an integral part of the powerful spiritual teaching, learning, and sharing.
As we lapsed into the reflective part of the program, Friends rose to speak their ministry:
- A Friend recalled worship at Seaville Meeting, NJ, with meeting for worship in summer on the beach. She spoke of seagulls, dolphins, water and the wind – which is like the spirit of God … so powerful!
- Another Friend mentioned the prophet Jeremiah – who had the feeling of needing to speak run like fire in his bones. He said “And when we are closest to God one can feel as if there is a fire in the bones. That fire must be let out.”
- We were reminded that in the dark nights of the soul – God is there to sustain us, and rescue us from fear.
- Two Friends spoke of the story-telling. One said each of us has a different way that we listen for the Divine, but we all fit onto that square of cloth that Melinda unrolled as she told her story. The other said; “When I look at the blue underlay. I think of the biblical people in the desert who looked up at the magnificent stars each night. And when we look at the stars today, it may look dark and difficult, but there is bright mystery, and promise within the depth of what is offered to us by nature.”
- A student spoke of a message on the walls of their school – Diversity is what we share together.
- And finally, a friend brought closure to the worship with this paraphrased thought: “stories matter, stories in photographs, text messages, we all have some of these inside of us and they don’t get heard. I am grateful to hear and see these stories laid out visually and to hear the stories other people tell.”
We share this with our PYM community so that you too, may join in the graceful, sustaining and satisfying worship we’ve shared on our first day of the 339th Annual Sessions.
It’s not too late to come. Meeting for business begins Thursday morning at 9:00. Workshops start at 3:00, the pool is open from 1-4 PM, and please know you can show up as a day commuter, sign in, and join in, sharing our sense of joy in being together as one faith, one yearly meeting.