Central Philadelphia Monthly Meeting offers Philadelphia Yearly Meeting a snapshot of our activities in the midst of the continuing COVID19 pandemic. We remain strong in the faith, but acknowledge our difficulties at the outset.
1) Although we have moved from a strictly virtual to blended meeting for worship, a small number of members and visitors come to the Meetinghouse in person. Members make it a point to greet visitors and to socialize with them at the rise of meeting even though our space and hospitality services are currently limited.
2) We miss our children and families who suffer from Zoom overload and concern about protecting the health of young people.
Nonetheless, our vitality remains undiminished in important respects and we may answer PYM’s queries with a degree of reassurance, as follows.
In July 2021 PYM approved minutes of action to be taken on anti-racism and climate change. How has your meeting been called to address these issues? What other concerns and initiatives has your meeting been led to address this past year?
We recognize that systemic solutions are necessary to address both racism and the climate crisis. This is an important concern of CPMM Friends. At each meeting for business, the clerk reminds us that on 12/8/2019, we united in the decision to ask ourselves regarding each decision, “How does this decision support CPMM in its goal to transform into an actively anti-racist faith community?” In addition, each agenda starts with the acknowledgement that the land on which we gather is part of the traditional territory of the Lenni-Lenape.
We have an active and longstanding committee, Racial Healing and Wholeness, which meets regularly in an effort to make CPMM more welcoming to Friends of Color and provides continuing education to our community. In addition, our Peace & Social Concerns Committee maintains an ongoing relationship with Ujima Friends Peace Center, a worshipping community of people of African descent dedicated to reducing violence and providing a safe haven with educational, cultural and recreational opportunities for adults and young people.
Racial Healing and Wholeness Committee is sponsoring a group to read, discuss and work with the exercises in the book My Grandmother’s Hands, by Resmaa Menakem. The book facilitates a deep exploration of the impact of racism on Black, Indigenous and People of Color, and on white people as well.
The meeting recently created an ad hoc Committee to review the meeting’s finances and investments with the goal of more effectively and creatively using our resources to promote racial equity.
The Friends Southwestern Burial Ground committee and others have given service to the care of the burial ground, especially through engagement with neighbors, the Muslim community, police and others around issues of safety, racism and gun violence.
As for climate concerns, several members of CPMM have been active in the PYM EcoJustice Collaborative, particularly in the matter of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. Central Philadelphia Friends have also been instrumental in the activities of Earth Quaker Action Team (EQAT). In addition, a number of Friends keep us informed through our voluntary listserv of political/policy developments related to climate change and encourage us each to take action when appropriate.
How has your meeting evolved as a spiritual community given the ongoing opportunities and challenges of the pandemic?
The meeting has facilitated a number of meaningful programs devoted to spiritual development and accountability, attention to gifts and awareness of developing leadings, discussions about white privilege, and various topics in adult religious education.
CPMM held two well-attended listening sessions – January 15 and 25, 2022 – to invite the community to express feelings, insights and concerns about the challenges of the pandemic as those impact the life of our meeting community. These sessions have reminded us about what it means to be a spiritual community and how we nurture that and provide pastoral care to one another.
New people have attended Zoom worship from across the United States and even from other countries, raising a question about how we can invite them to participate more fully in our meeting community. There are some members of our meeting who do not gather with us on Zoom; we ponder the question of what we should be doing to keep in contact with them in addition to outreach by our Membership Care Committee. One suggestion is to find more opportunities for fellowship in small groups outside of worship to strengthen our sense of community. A small number persist in gathering in-person, as at our 12th-month dinner on December 19, 2021, but others do not yet feel safe.
Microphones, introductions of everyone in the worship room by Worship and Ministry, and special welcomes to visitors by the Attenders and Outreach committee have enhanced the quality of blended worship, providing better connections between those online with those in the worship room.
Approximately once a month, CPMM families are invited to a virtual game night on Discord for an evening of “hanging out” and having fun.
What practices and strategies are employed by your meeting to help members and attenders of all ages prepare for worship – whether in meeting for worship or in meeting for business?
We are trying to address the challenges particularly those faced by families with young children, who are exhausted by Zoom but are wary of meeting in-person. Our Attenders and Outreach Committee faithfully greets those who venture in the door, and our Worship & Ministry Committee constantly refines our forms and procedures of worship in keeping with both safety and community concerns.
That said, it is our experience that preparation for worship is an organic part of our community life. As noted in our response to Question 2, the meeting has facilitated a number of activities and groups which help facilitate our grounding in the Spirit — not only on First Days, but also in our daily lives. For example, a small but committed group of F/friends gathers weekly by Zoom for Bible study. Their discussions cover a wide range of passages from Genesis to Revelations. Participants include Friends from New York Yearly Meeting, Baltimore YM, Ohio YM, PYM members from other monthly meetings, and a member from Amsterdam. In addition, we have several Spiritual Accountability Groups to support and mentor Friends who carry a ministry under the care of the meeting; informal gatherings, such an on-going Spiritual Reading Group, and occasional gatherings of parents of small children to share and worship together. All of these activities deepen our understanding of worship, of silence and of how the Spirit is found in our loving relationships with each other.
What is most needed to strengthen the communal witness of the meeting to the local community and beyond?
We do the best we can via virtual outreach. Our inability to work face-to-face, to greet and touch those to whom we minister is, if not a stop, an impediment to our ability to show our good faith and our belief in that of God within them.
CPMM is a member of POWER– an interfaith multi-racial grassroots organization of over 50 congregations in Pennsylvania committed to racial and economic justice on a livable planet. A number of our members are active in the work of this organization.
Is there a query or are there queries that your meeting would like to respond to that have not been included here?
The CPMM community has a large and varied scope of interests, as illustrated by our 21 committees. Nominating Committee and others are leading an effort to consider: how can our committee structure best support our current interests without overwhelming participants?