1) In this past year, how has your meeting worked to create and strengthen the reality of a Beloved Community? How has your meeting fostered an environment in which members and attenders of all ages know they are loved, cared for, trusted, and respected?
The term “Beloved Community” seems to have an obvious meaning, but does it? Heading to the internet, we find philosopher Josiah Royce, 1913, refers to “Beloved Community” as stated by the Apostle Paul as meaning we are God’s beloved.(1) Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. popularized the concept of a beloved community(2) as a community in which everyone is cared for, absent of poverty, hunger, and hate.(3) While Barnegat Meeting did not consider the terminology in 2022, we are a group that consciously worked at caring about each other and the larger community.
How did Barnegat Meeting sustain a Beloved Community in 2022?
Barnegat Meeting paid particular attention to being inclusive. We showed – and continue to show – love, care, trust and respect for all members and attenders. This is partly because Barnegat Meeting has become progressively smaller over the years. Those who are active have become very close; we have become “little f” friends. We have had no clerk since April, 2021, and we rotate the clerking of Meeting for Business, giving us a shared responsibility. We respect each other’s efforts and are tolerant of each other’s inexperience. There are so few active members and attenders that we let each other know if we will not worship on an upcoming Sunday. We check in with each other if “a regular” does not attend worship and we don’t know the reason. While we have formed close bonds, we are attentive to being welcoming to newcomers. We stay and chat with newcomers after Meeting for Worship and with anyone who wanders in if we are working in the building or on the property. We offer coffee, tea, snacks, literature, and tours. We have met people seeking their ancestors, not seeking a faith home. We have met people who think the building is a museum. We have met people who wonder what kinds of meetings are held at the “meeting house”. We have met people who are familiar – or unfamiliar – with Quakerism and want to talk about it. We explain Quaker concepts in simple terms.
Who is a member of the Barnegat Friends community?
Periodically we update our contact list. In the past we inquired within our group about inactive members on the list, but we did not contact them. In April 2022 we called everyone on the list. We discovered some members who moved away many years ago expect to be buried in the cemetery though they have had no contact with the Meeting since moving. Several inactive members joined the event mailing list. Some came and visited after the calls. Philosophically many inactive members consider themselves lifelong Quakers without being active in any Friends Meeting. Only three of the twelve listed members are active in Barnegat Meeting. To reflect the declining membership activity, the Meeting decided in March, 2023, to designate inactive members as emeritus members and not count them in membership reports. Since 2021 a few new attenders worship steadily but not every Sunday. We are pleased to see them but, usually, they rush off after worship, exchanging only brief greetings. We recognize many of us were drawn initially to sit in silence at Sunday worship and engage in no further activity with the Meeting but gradually became more involved. We hope that we can engage newcomers by being welcoming and informative.
What is Barnegat Meeting’s future? What is the future of Quakerism locally?
We worry about the Meeting’s continued existence and also have hope for the Meeting’s future. In late 2020 the Barnegat Meeting became alarmed about declining participation and started a very active outreach program. We learned we can attract individuals who are interested in the event topics, who solely participate in events. We are not attracting many “seekers”. As in the past, some simply walk in the door. We observe most are older, and couples are rare. We were insular and isolated. We now visit other local Meetings and observe the same trends. We are extremely concerned about the ability of our Meeting and other Meetings in our geographic area to continue to exist.
(1) https://iep.utm.edu/roycejos/; accessed March 24, 2023
(2) https://www.rejoicingspirits.org/together-we-are-beloved-community; accessed March 24, 2023
(3) https://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/19/01/achieving-kings-beloved-community#:~:text=Beloved%20community%3A%20a%20community%20in,Martin%20Luther%20King%20Jr.; accessed March 24, 2023
2) How have you sought to be neighbors and in relationship with other communities?
Barnegat Meeting members have many interests and support many causes individually. In 2022 some Meeting members started actively visiting other Friends Meetings and forming personal connections with their members and attenders.
As part of outreach in 2022, the Meeting became more active in local organizations, such as the community garden, the historical society, and Barnegat Communities That Care. The Meeting hosts a weekly American Sign Language class and a monthly needlecraft club, and has open houses and other outreach events. Barnegat Meeting has become better known locally. We make charitable contributions and have begun to give greater support to local nonprofits and less to large national and international charities.
3) How has your meeting been called to address issues of racism this past year? What additional concerns and initiatives have your meeting or meeting members been led to address?
Barnegat Meeting gives financial support to non-profits that work to address racism. One individual represents the Meeting in the AntiRacism Collaborative of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting and shares information with Burlington Quarter.
During 2022 Barnegat Meeting hosted two public events pertaining to addressing racism and related social issues: In a presentation entitled “Quaker Activism at a Local Level: Mutual Aid, Town Politics, and News”, speaker Ali Mctar discussed the Princeton Monthly Meeting’s initiatives and his experiences as an academic who studies early Quakerism and as a mutual aid and prison-abolition organizer.
Barnegat Friends hosted Karen Reiner and Tamara Johns, the co-leaders of the South Jersey Chapter of “Our Stories — Brave Conversations on Race”. The interactive program was attended in person and through Zoom and was a discussion on our experiences about race and racism, including sharing stories of what we learned about race as children, how our perspectives were shaped by the environment in which we were raised, and by our subsequent life experiences. The goal of the program is to help build more understanding and compassion and, ultimately, to create more peace in the world through the sharing of individual stories.
4) How has the Spirit guided our work on climate change? Has our meeting addressed the five action areas identified in the climate change sprint report?
While individual members and attenders have concerns and have taken actions related to climate change, the meeting as a group has not committed to specific actions. The small number of members and attenders makes it difficult to attend to every issue of concern.
The meeting has not appointed a Climate Witness Liaison.
5) Learnings and yearnings our meeting wants to share:
The most pressing ‘yearning’ our meeting has is for growth in membership. Stagnant membership and attendance continues to be a problem for Barnegat meeting despite local publicity offering various programs via Zoom and on-site and Open Houses. Through our interactions with members and attenders of other meetings within Burlington Quarterly Meeting, it appears membership is in a state of crisis for most meetings.
6) What are things PYM might do to support our meeting?
We feel PYM could greatly enhance the awareness of the existence of Quakers by participating in advertising venues outside of Quaker-specific publications and organization. We are not aware of PYM advertising with local affiliates of National Public Radio and Public Broadcasting System, which are likely to have listeners and viewers with interests that align with Quaker values.
It would be helpful for PYM to reach out to Meetings that are not updating their contact information on the PYM website. Keeping listings current would help Meetings interact. It would be very worthwhile for PYM to conduct an examination of the differences between Meetings that are growing and thriving and those which are shrinking. Annual membership record updates could be more meaningful if accompanied by a survey to determine whether Meetings maintain contact with inactive members. A look at the organizational strength of Meetings could be part of the survey. Effectiveness of outreach programs could be assessed and used to update the outreach resources provided by PYM.