Exeter Friends Meeting of Caln Quarter and rural Berks County, remains faithful to the Spirit of life that embraces all creation. We meet weekly in worship and support our members in loving care and affection.
We are a small Meeting generally gathering less than 20 worshipers each first day. Our small size allows us to know and relate to each other more easily, and fosters a deep sense of belonging. Friends feel that our beloved community is genuine, authentic and well cared for.
During the pandemic we welcomed 5 new members into our midst and yet one more in the past 4 months. This new energy has enlivened our community after several years of losing dear Friends, and challenges us to teach and revisit our history and testimonies and ask how they apply to our contemporary lives. As our attendance grows and our vision broadens, so has the richness of our worship and understanding of Truth.
After two years of having no children in our first-day school program, we found that many of the supports and resources we needed to teach our young Friends about our faith and principles had atrophied. We made a concerted effort to ready the Meeting for the return of our young ones by 9th month, 2022. We have three adults who can now teach from a Friendly curriculum designed for a wide range of ages when young Friends attend. Our youth also share in our worship at the beginning of Meeting.
Exeter has seen a significant turnover of its key leadership positions with a new Clerk, Assistant Clerk, clerk of Pastoral Care, Recorder and Recording Clerk. We have laid down our building and grounds committee and absorbed its duties into our committee of the whole. Our new leaders are working diligently to learn their new positions. The clerk and assistant clerk have attended the Quaker decision making and Clerking workshop at Pendle Hill this past year.
We have also established a worship and ministry committee that works faithfully to sustain our varied discussion of topics that address current concerns, traditions, and members’ and attenders’ stories of spiritual journeying. We often challenge ourselves with queries, some established and others arising naturally from our innocence and seeking. Friends feel that this pre-worship sharing builds trust and allows us to know each other better, planting seeds that enrich worship.
We dutifully care for our 264 year old meeting house and burial grounds. Twice yearly, spring and fall, we come together to repair, clean and maintain our place of worship. Laboring (and resting) together, strengthens us as a community. We have, also, recently reopened our burial grounds to members wishing interment in simple (green) burial, this under the care of Pastoral Care and a coordinator who helps the family of the deceased navigate the technicalities of this process and calls upon the Meeting’s resources as needed.
Other community building activities include, Friendly-8s meals and fellowship; a monthly book club that has brought together many of the women of our Meeting. We also provide a monthly meal at a local homeless shelter. As we strengthen the spiritual fabric of our Meeting through fellowship and service, we believe we make an example of our lives that may speak to others who join us..
Exeter has a new website that serves as an online invitation to visit and represents well our activities and principles. Some attenders have expressed appreciation. It also provides a portal for members to have easy access to our current and historical documents.
The Meeting has made a commitment to continue our hybrid meetings indefinitely as it allows us to join with our members and attenders while they are distant from our meeting house or need to isolate. We feel it broadens our worship experience and maintains relationships that would have lapsed for periods of time in the past. It has also allowed us to connect with others beyond our community as well as during Quarterly and Yearly Meetings. We have been fortunate to have two or three members who were able to connect to our video conferencing system with their phones, though now, we have invested in a dedicated device that we have configured so that anyone within the Meeting can set it up and begin the meeting.
Relationships with other communities
We enrich our understanding of Quakerism when members sojourn to other Meetings and return with new perspectives and ideas. It also allows us to appreciate the Spiritual nurturance we foster within our cherished community.
Though we are quite rural, we endeavor to maintain good relations with our nearest neighbors which helps us when we need to address concerns along our boundary lines such as fallen trees or broken fences.
Annually, we pause from time to time to consider how we can best allow the funds that accumulate from our endowment funds may best be applied to the needs of our community and other organizations that share our concerns. This past year we assisted a Meeting in Detroit to fund a new meeting house in a neighborhood that will allow it to sustain its work in their community. The remainder we felt strongly should be divided among three local food banks as hunger’s threat expands throughout our area.
As mentioned previously, we gather at a local homeless shelter once a month to prepare a meal, but Friends are open, as we have been in the past, to share our energies and caring with others within our wider Society and those within our closer urban neighborhoods.
Addressing racial and ethnic inequities
We are aware of the inequities perpetuated by our culture, economy and society. We have read and challenged ourselves on this topic. Most of us at Exeter Meeting do not face and confront this concern during our daily lives or in our home communities. They are not integrated racially. Most of us understand our greater privilege because of our race.
We have supported members in a variety of ways when they have encountered or confronted bias in their schools and workplaces and daily lives. We recognize the uniqueness of our members and their families and lean in as active listeners when others suffer unjustly. If more than a friendly presence is needed, then we look to other means of support.
Friends feel challenged by this query to widen our circle of concern, even as one of our members looks to organizations serving our nearby urban center, Reading. Raising these concerns with our sister Meeting in Reading, may also strengthen and widen our influence within the community.
Similarly, some members are looking for affinity groups within our Yearly and Quarterly Meetings and asking how to find and join those efforts. This with the clear understanding that we are a small community of older adults and young families. We understand our constraints and limitations.
Challenge of Climate Change
Exeter does not have a climate ambassador to the Climate Sprint group within PYM and we have not addressed this concern broadly. We appreciate our simple but sturdy meeting house as it requires little to maintain and is heated, in part, through a renewable energy source.
We have done a systematic energy use audit this winter and are looking for additional ways we can reduce energy consumption. We are also inquiring into the feasibility of installing solar panels to drive our meeting house more closely to net zero and repay some of our past carbon debts.
At least one member expressed an interest in addressing climate change by holding industries accountable for corporate waste, to take more action than saying we are an example of climate consciousness. More information to engage is needed, perhaps from PYM or our Quarter to inform possible meaningful action – beyond email communication.
Learning and Yearnings
We are not a large Meeting. We support two permanent committees that care for the internal needs of our people and organization. Internally, we feel strong, even as our membership holds divergent opinions on many things; we mesh, more than we clash. We try to listen to each other without pre-judgment.
We revel in our new members as they broaden our knowledge and experience. And these new members are asking what more we can do, how are we called to serve? Some members are looking at concerns and leadings that result in action and the Meeting feels prepared to support such leadings among our members, regardless of our size.
How can the Yearly Meeting support Exeter
We encourage the Yearly Meeting to support and demonstrate the tradition of traveling in ministry by example.
Elders traveling in pastoral care, as well, can begin to address some of the queries present by PYM before this, our annual self examination. Many of the committees and “sprints” depend on people falling onto the right website page or that a larger Meeting might have a concerned and dedicated representative who meets regularly with the committee to consider action. Perhaps some of the work of these committees can be shared directly with Meetings who do not have representatives – in person.
Exeter “feeds” itself as we see fit and to some extent as concerns flow down from PYM, perhaps PYM can share some of the manna with us concerned Friends who are not sure how to connect. Especially on:
- More effective communications and outreach
- The work of the PYM committees and sprints working on concerns of racial justice and climate change
- How action follows from our spiritual practice, rather than from a sense of worldly obligation.
Such visitations might serve as traveling elders and ministers have served in the past – as those who know how to ask the right provocative questions.
Stan Dalton, Clerk