In March 2020 LVMM closed its meetinghouse doors and it remains closed for worship. However, the life of our Meeting has continued in creative and fruitful ways. For Friends, Meeting for Worship draws the community together out of a shared hunger to know the Christ within and to care for one another (Faith and Practice, pg. 6,7 ) During the pandemic this hunger for Light seemed pronounced and further, within our shared sorrow and vulnerability, care for one another became vitally important.
Virtual worship became the way to connect, to see and to hear one another. Vocal ministry enhanced the truth of Light’s presence. On Zoom we are not distanced. We are not six feet apart…we are shoulder to shoulder. We are not masked…we can see one another. We can “unmute” and speak and hear one another. The Worship and Ministry Committee attended to the quality of worship by opening and closing our time. They would monitor “the room” assisting with “tech needs”. This was particularly helpful in maintaining a silent space and we would simply unmute to give a message. Following this time a Friend designated to do a roll call would introduce a worshiper who would then say good morning or just give a wave. One could then make an announcement about the life of our Meeting or share a personal message of joy or concern. It was this design that helped us learn what was happening in the lives of members and attenders and guided our connection with one another.
The Zoom platform with its advantages was also a disadvantage. Although we had the joyful experience of people from a distance joining us, including members who had moved and new attenders from other countries. For some Friends, for various reasons, a “virtual meetinghouse” was not attended. For some, outdoor worship became a valuable substitute when weather permitted. Our mid-week Meeting for Worship attendance increased during quarantine. It seemed the opportunity to connect was welcomed.
LVMM has 117 adult members, seven children under 21 years and six associates under 26 years. We lost four long-term devoted members: Annette Benert, Dee Kruschwitz, Kris Gallup, and Howard Gallup. We welcomed Kurt and Lorelei Oelschlager as new members. Attendance at Virtual Meeting for Worship has averaged in the 40’s and occasionally reaches 50. Our Nominating Committee was able to find 85 members and attenders who generously agreed to serve on committees or in named positions (119 total positions of service), a tribute to the commitment and care of our community.
The Care and Concern Committee, charged with care of Friends, required a refocusing on their efforts and needed to more closely follow the health and welfare of our members and our meeting as a whole. Memorials planned by this committee for two deceased members are on hold and one was held via Zoom (the attendance and honoring of our Friend was not diminished by the virtual platform in this case). The committee assisted with a wedding in Mexico, and only through Zoom was this joyous event possible. Another avenue for news and care of one another is through a weekly publication named “The Light Board”.
The Worship and Ministry Committee is also charged with the care of attenders and they too use a flock list to ensure attention to friends. Further, in addition to “hosting” our Meeting’s worship, this committee prepares and leads a monthly Query discussion, and this has continued throughout the pandemic. Our queries over this past year included themes of interconnection with all of life to include earth, examining darkness of night, season and self and its restorative dimension, the meaning of membership, the joys, learnings and challenges over the year, what it means to gather remotely for worship, and eldership with a concern for unity. Our February query gave attention to PYM’s Statement Concerning the January 6th Capital Insurrection and their accompanying queries.
Throughout the pandemic the Adult Religious Education Committee enriched us with programs, many of which could only happen virtually. We were privileged to meet with Quakers from Latin America including Mexico, Bolivia and El Salvador. We shared beliefs, worship and educational practices. The committee featured a panel of younger friends, many whom are now living outside the Lehigh Valley; they reflected on the question “How I Do ‘Quaker’?” Additional programs included Mass Incarceration in the LV, stewardship and how to manage our money in ways that cohere with our Quaker values. Eileen Flanagan, a Quaker activist, offered a program focusing on “Finding our Role in This Time of Social Change”. A group of Friends are now meeting to view Eileen’s video series on the subject.
Our Religious Education Committee, charged with the First Day School program, faced the challenge of young friends’ lack of response to programming on Zoom. Eventually, with the Adult Presence Committee’s support our two paid child care workers created a monthly newsletter for young friends. The publication is an impressive, creative piece of news and art.
The Social Concerns Committee needed to make some changes in their outreach programming but continued to remain active. Primarily they were instrumental in creating a fund for “Jail Release Assistance”. Monies from our Meeting and individual contributions were used to help five people with bail and housing. Out local newspaper recently featured an article on our bail fund. The annual fund-raising Harambee, a Kenyan meal to raise funds for education support for young Kenyan women, took the shape of a faux-meal. The monthly meal prepared for Safe Harbor, a transitional shelter for homeless women and men, continued. Friends were encouraged to continue with monthly postcard writing on issues of concern to local and state representatives.
Although some of our committees have not been able to function according to their “job descriptions,” they have all continued to meet virtually. Members continued to be faithful to their stewardship and contributed generously to faux frugal feasts in support of the PA Avenue Interfaith Food Pantry. The library is not being used during the pandemic but the Library Committee has stayed abreast of adding to its collection. One of our members has continued to be a “mobile librarian,” delivering books to members in a safe manner. Hospitality Committee was inactive, but they used their budgeted money to donate to a local interfaith food pantry in honor of Friends who would be alone for the Christmas holidays due to the pandemic.
When the Connections Committee realized they did not want to wait to plan “live” events they found ways to “connect” friends socially online. In December they hosted a Carol Sing on Zoom where individuals sang or played an instrument while the rest sang along while muted. They hosted a virtual scavenger hunt and an origami workshop. The committee revised and then delivered new Meeting directories by email. Although not under the care of this committee but under the care of the whole community we managed to have our favored Christmas Eve program, with Zoom to the rescue again, making the celebration of love and joy a reality.
LVMM has a newly formed committee, Outreach and Communications, because the Meeting realized there was a need to have some oversight of our various communications and technologies. Members include the website manager, the newsletter editors, administrator for our internal and external Facebook page. They recently prepared a LVMM Tech Manual as a guide in using these avenues of communication, as well as instructions on scheduling and hosting a Zoom meeting.
Further, our Meeting has an active participation with a local peace organization, LEPOCO, The Lehigh Conference of Churches (sponsor of the annual Peace Pilgrimage), and the Bethlehem Interfaith Group, BIG. These groups found ways to continue their mission virtually throughout this past year.
Presently an ad hoc Reopening Committee is actively researching options for Meeting for Worship. They, along with the whole meeting, are discerning when our meetinghouse can safely reopen. Recently, they along with the Outreach and Communications Committee, held a Threshing Session for our meeting to explore hybrid meetings.
Under the care of our whole Meeting a Black Lives Matter Vigil began on Juneteenth 2020 and has continued. We have an ideal place for our witness as our property is adjacent to a major road; there are many stories to be told of responses from passersby, and one Friend on vigil noted:
“I try to breathe messages of hope
to the passengers as they rush by encased
in closed containers, May you be well.
May you be loved, May you be at peace.”
This report portrays our Testimonies lived out in some new ways. It is also a testimony to Friends and attenders guided by the Light within and their care for one another. In the darkness and crisis of a pandemic we found ways to connect and to care. We experienced the power of Light and the truth of ongoing revelation, and ways opened.
Louise H. Young
Clerk, Lehigh Valley Monthly Meeting