Our worship and our Meeting community:
During the past year we have been emerging from the impact of the COVID pandemic. We have shifted our Meetings for Worship from all online to hybrid format. These adaptations of worship have worked differently for different members of our community. Deep worship, spiritual connection and fellowship with the Meeting feel within reach over Zoom for some but not for others. We have many young adult newcomers attending worship via Zoom and in person. Our outreach efforts to connect with newcomers have grown and changed in response. Small Zoom breakout groups for online fellowship after worship have provided a way to connect intimately with people we might not have met or spoken with during coffee hour in a busy physical space, and an opportunity for deep sharing. Online and hybrid worship are complicated, requiring volunteers, training, hiring helpers, and much effort to make them work successfully, but having an online option means our Meeting for Worship can include people for whom travel or in-person worship are impossible, as well as Friends who are geographically distant from our meetinghouse.
Our Meeting is in some ways struggling, our Meeting community is spread out, and we are trying to fit it back together, but don’t know exactly how. How do we get the Meeting back into the center?
We yearn for all to experience the joy of deeply gathered worship, so we give more attention to the quality of our worship. We have both the challenge and the benefit of our meetinghouse being located in a place where many people stop in to visit and sometimes stay. Newcomers bring welcome new energy. Both newcomers and some long-time Friends may not be familiar with or fully grasp the nature of Quaker worship and practices. One impact of COVID was to make online Worship serve the purpose of assuring us of our connection to one another. To address our desire to go deeper in Worship, the Committee on Worship and Ministry is experimenting, asking individual committee members to share at the start of some Meetings for Worship about how they prepare themselves and what they do during worship. While these pre-planned messages are unusual in our unprogrammed context, they provide either affirmation of what other Friends may also do in worship or a window into several seasoned Friends’ approaches. Another activity supporting the deepening of our worship is the participation of some members in a weekly Bible Study group, which those who participate have found deeply centering and nourishing.
The vitality of our Meeting depends on the strength of in-person worship and our presence and connection with one another. We miss seeing children in our meetinghouse. During the pandemic our Meeting’s demography has continued to shift. It is a challenge to attract and hold parents and children as attenders without an ongoing in-person First Day School.
Over the years we have lost some members through conflicts and hurts. We are exploring how to grow our capacity and skills for transforming conflict and healing hurts.
Although our immediate neighborhood is not highly residential, we are engaged with the neighborhood and nearby communities in several ways. One of our closest neighbors, Friends Select School, has purchased and beautifully renovated a building within Friends Center for its upper school STEAM classrooms. Friends Child Care Center, with a diverse staff and student body, has moved into newly renovated space in the Friends Center building. These projects were supported by our Meeting as an equity partner in Friends Center. We have a care relationship with Friends Select, as well, and are actively engaged with the school through our members who serve on the Board as well as the families of our young people who attend the school. As a Meeting we are engaged with several communities in the city and nearby through our stewardship of Friends Southwestern Burial Ground in Upper Darby, PA, together with the Monthly Meeting of Friends of Philadelphia (Arch Street). We are a sponsoring Meeting for the Quaker Voluntary Service house in Philadelphia and QVS fellows who work in a variety of social justice organizations in the city. As a member congregation and as individuals we participate in the social justice work of POWER Interfaith.
A number of members carry ministries on behalf of CPMM connected with the efforts of organizations such as Philly Thrive in the Greys Ferry neighborhood and the Black Doctors’ Consortium, among others. We hope to build on our beginning relationship with Ujima Friends Meeting. We are geographically near to the Chinatown neighborhood, though we have not often thought of that as part of our neighborhood. Through POWER Interfaith some of our members are responding to the threat to Chinatown from a proposal to locate a new stadium there. A ministry of our Meeting has supported the growth of the Fair-Trade community in Philadelphia and the region involving many, young and old.
Working for racial justice, for a Meeting in which all experience equity, inclusion and belonging:
For several years we have lifted up a query at the start of each Meeting for Business and each committee meeting: “How does this decision support CPMM in its goal to transform into an actively antiracist faith community?” In addition, we acknowledge with a Land and Water statement that where we gather is part of the traditional lands of the Lenni-Lenape people, honoring the land and their stewardship of it, and acknowledging the need for repair of relationship and connection with the Lenni-Lenape, the land and the water.
Our standing committee on Racial Healing and Wholeness supports our work for racial justice and healing. The committee sponsors the ongoing White Noise Group, a support group for members of European descent who wish to address racial prejudice and race-based inequities in our lives. It also sponsors an ongoing group reading and exploring experientially the book “My Grandmother’s Hands” by Resmaa Menakem.
Under the auspices of the Racial Healing and Wholeness Committee, CPMM sent eight members and attenders to a recent City-sponsored four-day workshop on “Building a Culture of Reparations,” together with 12 other congregations in and around the city. We anticipate deeper engagement with Black reparations will grow from this seed. We are aware of the need to go much further than saying appropriate words. The Meeting’s and individual members’ engagement with the work of community organizations for racial justice go part of the way, but there is a yearning and growing energy on the part of both long-time and newer members and attenders to address the need for Black reparations.
Response to the Climate Crisis:
Many members are active with organizations addressing the human-made climate crisis and the need for racial eco-justice, including the Eco-Justice Collaborative of PYM, organizations such as Earth Quaker Action Team and Quaker Earthcare Witness, Philly Thrive and more. Our Committee on Peace and Social Concerns finds opportunities for us to engage with this issue. A large group of members met over the summer to share what they are doing to address climate change, inspiring and motivating one another.
Following the leadings of Spirit as individuals and as a body:
How are we guided by Spirit in addressing these urgent concerns, transforming racism and mitigating the climate crisis and its impacts? We have the intention to seek and follow such guidance. We feel impassioned about causes and initiatives in the wider world, and concurrently as a Meeting we struggle to fill our too-numerous committees and fulfill their charges. We are seeking greater clarity about what the true work of the Meeting is and how this work can best be done when we have relatively few members who can actively engage with that work. We are exploring new ways to identify and address the Meeting’s necessary tasks, while freeing more of our energies for Spirit-led work in the world. Making time for intimate sharing within committees and in other small group gatherings is a vital part of the spiritual life of the Meeting, increasing the joyfulness of committee participation and our closeness and love for one another. Some are able to make large contributions of time and effort but only in a shorter period than our normal three-year committee term. How can we provide opportunities for meaningful short-term engagement so that more can share this joy and purpose?
We feel overburdened and we are also filled with excitement and hope. We have many challenges, and we are very excited about CPMM and want to do what is needed to keep it vital and viable.
CPMM has many members following spiritual leadings actively through ministries, some formally recognized by our Meeting, some of long standing which have grown beyond our Meeting, and some receiving the support of the Gifts and Leadings Committee without formal recognition from the Meeting. We value openness to the leadings of Spirit as a community, and we struggle to know how to be led as a body. People are able to speak about their individual spiritual beliefs and journeys in our Meeting, and we also have not done this exploration consistently, deeply or openly enough to really know each other’s diverse beliefs and experiences. That exploration both requires and builds trust and can lead us to the common ground we share, the foundation for spiritual leadings we might receive as a community. Within that dialogue we might discover that a shared sense of our corporate leadings is possible without either an imposed belief or a sense that “anything goes.” Are we willing to go deeper with one another, to hear all the voices, experiences and beliefs among us, all the seeds of truth?