As part of an ongoing initiative to grow our meeting, London Grove Friends adopted a yearly evaluation process in Ninth Month 2021 to keep this intention fresh in our minds. In 2022, our Committee of Clerks suggested that we broaden our evaluation to focus on the health of the meeting in general. The resulting Health and Growth of the Meeting Status Report, presented in First Month 2023, forms the basis for this report, with additions relevant to the questions posed by PYM. Thus, this report begins with a summary of responses to three queries selected for our own evaluation process. Responses were generated by small groups on 11-20-22 and gathered from individual Friends via email. This report continues with a reflection on our membership growth efforts, a section addressing PYM’s queries, and a summary, concluding with invitations to our members and attenders to sustain the positive momentum documented in the report.
1. What are the challenges and opportunities for enhancing the worship of our meeting, and what are we doing to address these?
Caring relationships were cited as a foundation for enhancing worship, as illustrated when we rally for important family events such as memorial services. It can be a challenge, however, to respond to people who are suffering deeply. How can we encourage people to share their burdens, listen closely, and create a safe and trusting atmosphere?
One challenge to fully engaging in worship is the intrusion of other concerns within and outside the meeting that can distract us .
There is an opportunity to encourage vocal ministry. Some may feel uncertain about offering it. There is a challenge related to encouraging Friends to speak, but not too much or too often. We could nurture our worship and vocal ministry with a workshop or First Day School session on vocal ministry, expressing appreciation for vocal ministry, and additional worship sharing opportunities.
It was noted that the ideas and traditions newcomers bring can enrich our worship. Our style of worship is quiet and may not mesh culturally with newcomers’ preferred styles. There is continuing discussion about the best way to orient newcomers to silent worship without being intrusive, with informational cards as the most recent solution. While some Friends feel we should introduce more structure into our worship in the form of a spiritual reading or prayer, others strongly feel that, in an unprogrammed meeting, such programming interrupts the silence inappropriately and creates a distraction rather than giving newcomers the opportunity to learn the practice of silent worship. “Opening Exercises” at the beginning of adult First Day School provided spiritual messages and singing before the pandemic, but this practice has not resumed.
Zoom continues to be cited as both an opportunity and a challenge. While it kept us together during the pandemic, and enables those who cannot attend in person to join us, concerns about its effects on the quality of worship surface from time to time, along with a desire for people to make the effort to attend in person if possible.
2. How does our meeting communicate Friends’ presence and principles to the wider community?
Friends cited the Plant Sale, the Kindergarten, the presence of Quaker teachers in the wider community, the meeting website, and the booklet of “elevator speeches”, What Quakerism Means to Me, as ways we have communicated our presence and principles.
Responses to this query focused more on things we could do rather than things we are doing. One group concluded: “In truth, we do not communicate much about our meeting to the wider community; they may know our name, but they do not really know who we are or how we might be a meaningful part of their lives.”
Forums focused on significant current events continue to be mentioned as another way to reach out to the larger community, but they require a lot of work and may not be as effective as they were in the past.
Other suggestions for communicating our presence and principles more effectively include:
- Publicize Minutes related to our core principles. In particular, partner with other meetings to publish a Minute about Christian Nationalism.
- Frequently refresh our web page and rework our Facebook page to communicate our principles and create interest.
- Place pamphlets in libraries and other community gathering places.
- Continue reaching out to younger members who do not attend.
3. How does our meeting welcome those new to Friends and integrate them into our community?
Friends cited this as a strength of our meeting, particularly the work of Care and Membership Committee during the past year to create an “on-ramp” toward meaningful involvement with the Meeting. It is felt that we do a good job of welcoming new attenders, genuinely and earnestly.
Our meetinghouse and grounds play an important role in providing space for fellowship.
The new “Welcome Center” created by the Library Committee provides a space to welcome newcomers and introduce them to Quakerism.
Additional steps were suggested, including:
- Provide a phone number that is answered.
- Encourage all members to read the pamphlet What Quakerism Means to Me and work on their own “elevator speech” to explain Quakerism to newcomers.
- Consider sending postcards to local addresses, such as These People Are Quakers postcards used in the past, or invitations to special events that are open to the public.
- Take time to engage with visitors and learn enough about them to tailor our welcome to their needs and interests.
- Use the “business cards” that Care & Membership created to be handed out to newcomers, with the website address and a space for the email address of the Friend welcoming the newcomer.
- Do more fellowship building activities with people new to Friends, such as dinners & breakfasts.
- Invite sharing in small groups.
- Be mindful of not overburdening new attenders with committee work and new roles before they are ready.
- Utilize the renamed Support Fund as a means of growing the meeting and encouraging active participation by prioritizing financial assistance to active meeting families for participation in London Grove Kindergarten and/or Quaker activities like camps, conferences, and PYM activities.
Progress on Ad Hoc Task Force Recommendations
Another way to assess progress on growing the meeting, and the health of the meeting in general, is to return to the specific recommendations made by the Ad Hoc Task Force on Membership Growth in 2021. Significant additional steps have been taken this year in response to those recommendations.
- A new website, which was in development at the end of 2021, has been launched. One new attender commented that this website was one of the things that attracted him to London Grove as he explored Quaker meetings in the area.
- Our connection with Allen A.M.E. Church continued to grow, with two shared worship experiences, and participation by London Grovers in additional Allen A.M.E. events. An ad hoc committee is actively exploring next steps for expanding this relationship
- Interest in holding one or more Forums to which the wider community could be invited remains strong, with the Climate group actively considering a Forum in 2023.
- The Meeting actively considered moving Meeting for Worship to a later time as the Ad Hoc Task Force recommended, but unity was not found to take this step.
- Children are now joining the first 10-15 minutes of Meeting for Worship, as the Task Force recommended.
- Thanks to the efforts of a few dedicated Friends, we are once again prepared to welcome children every First Day morning, and up to seven children have been attending. (More volunteers are needed to sustain this momentum.)
- An Ad Hoc group focused on Kindergarten Connection and Outreach was formed through a sign-up process that grew out of small group discussions in June. This group is focusing on specific strategies for increasing interaction between the Meeting and London Grove Friends Kindergarten.
- Another Ad Hoc group carried out a “Toys and Necessities” drive for Kennett Area Community Services during the Christmas season. This group is now facilitating our participation in a Lenten Food Drive sponsored by the Kennett Area Ministerium, which helps to increase the meeting’s visibility as well as meeting KACS needs.
Another way to assess membership growth efforts is to look at the numbers. Our Recorder reports that 7 adults and 4 children have been added to our Directory. Two new attenders have requested membership. Anecdotally, we can say that our new website and our renewed ability to provide a program for children every First Day have played a role in this growth, as have Care & Membership Committee’s efforts to recognize and support new attenders. We continue to welcome visitors regularly, and some of them are returning.
Connections to PYM Queries
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?
Responses to our queries #1 and #3, above, highlight multiple efforts to strengthen our meeting community. In addition, our Care & Membership Committee, at its monthly meetings, considers members and attenders who may need additional support and reaches out as the Spirit leads. Email notices, and sharing at the end of worship each First Day, bring other members and attenders into these efforts. This committee periodically facilitates small group discussions and sharing times, followed by soup luncheons, on First Day mornings after worship. Multiple committees assume responsibility for providing monthly coffees before Meeting for Worship, as well as after-worship refreshments during the summer. The return of traditional in-person Christmas celebrations buoyed our spirits. All of these gatherings create opportunities for fellowship for members and regular attenders as well as newcomers.
2. How have you sought to be neighbors and in relationship with other communities?
As noted under our query #2 above, the meeting has identified this as an area for growth. At the same time, many connections to the larger community can be noted. Examples include our ongoing relationship with Allen A.M.E. Church and the activities benefiting KACS, mentioned above. Although our Plant Sale, a past source of financial support for local organizations, has been laid down, the Meeting decided to broaden the purpose of our Leadership Fund and rename it the Support Fund to include financial support for local community agencies. Our Peace & Social Justice Committee allocates financial support to external organizations from the Pennock Chase Funds, and makes Helen Corson Peace Awards to graduating high school seniors and Upward Bound students who have demonstrated peacemaking skills. The London Grove Friends Kindergarten continues to be a strong witness to our Quaker values in the larger community, as well as providing a valuable service to families.
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?
Shared worship activities with Allen A.M.E. Church have taken London Grove participants out of our largely white “bubble” as well as providing powerful spiritual enrichment. A group composed of representatives from both congregations is meeting to discern next steps in fellowship, study, witness, and action. London Grove was led to provide financial support to Detroit Monthly Meeting in their efforts to acquire a new meeting space and continue their Quaker presence in that city. The meeting also chose to make a significant contribution from the Leadership/Support Fund to humanitarian efforts in Ukraine through the Mennonite Central Committee. The clerk and assistant clerk of the meeting are participating in “Beyond Meeting for Business,” focused on equity-centered meeting facilitation, sponsored by Westtown Meeting and funded by the Shoemaker Fund.
4. How has the Spirit guided your work on climate change? How has your meeting addressed the five action areas identified in the Climate Change Sprint Report? Has your Meeting appointed a Climate Witness liaison?
London Grove Monthly Meeting’s Climate Change Working Group had a productive 2022. Our activities continued our focus on the three areas recommended in 2020 by the Eco Justice Collaborative: Education, Leading by Example, and Advocacy. Highlights of our 2022 activities included:
- Approval by London Grove members of a Minute addressing the threat of Climate Change. The Minute affirmed four commitments by our community and concluded with, “We challenge ourselves and our community to address, mitigate, and reverse climate disaster in support of these Quaker values and goals.” The Minute was forwarded to Western Quarterly Meeting for their consideration.
- A program was offered addressing development of strategies for maintaining a Zero Waste Lifestyle in the home. The program was well received and has been adopted as a lifestyle choice by a number of participants.
- We also hosted a First Day program featuring an outside speaker who presented an overview of energy production and consumption in the United States and shared that trends in fossil-free electricity production and energy-use efficiencies are cause for optimism.
- A yearlong initiative to analyze the economics of placing solar panels on the London Grove campus has been ongoing, and will continue. We are targeting being prepared to make a recommendation to our members in 2023.
- We have not, as yet, found unity on a decision to appoint a Climate Witness Liaison.
All members and attenders are welcome to participate in any of this group’s monthly meetings to learn more about its activities.
5. What learnings and yearnings particular to your meeting would you like to share?
In our efforts to grow our meeting, we have learned the importance of establishing intentions and goals, and keeping them in our collective consciousness, even when progress seems slow at times.
We have reaffirmed that a focus on strengthening the meeting community is an important part of welcoming newcomers and growing our meeting. At the same time, responses to our query #2, indicate a desire to become more visible in the wider community. Greater visibility would support further growth as well as a stronger witness to Quaker testimonies and values.
6. What are things the Yearly Meeting might do to support your meeting?
Opportunities to participate in Yearly Meeting activities remotely through Zoom have benefited our meeting. There is interest in inviting Yearly Meeting staff to visit for purposes of consultation and information-sharing.
Summing Up and Looking Ahead
Taken together, this yearly examination shows considerable evidence of a healthy meeting. We continue to nurture the relationships among us in many ways, strengthening the spiritual community that supports us in the work to which we are called. Friends feel we are doing a particularly good job of welcoming newcomers, some of whom have recently taken on significant roles in the life of the meeting. We recognize that the quality of our worship is central to the overall health of the meeting. The Quaker values of Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality, and Stewardship find frequent expression in the life of the meeting and in our individual lives.
At the same time, the recent small group discussions, reported above, reveal some challenges. For example, responses to our query #1, focused on worship, show some differences in how individual Friends perceive the health of our worship and how it can be strengthened. This is to be expected, and can be part of our strength as long as we acknowledge these differences, hold them tenderly, and allow space for the Spirit to lead.
Recalling last year’s status report, we are heartened by the contributions Friends have made in 2022 to strengthen the meeting and promote its growth. We are also aware that a few Friends are doing the lion’s share of the work in some areas, and will need help to sustain the positive steps they have initiated. As we celebrate the health and growth of the meeting, our clerks have invited Friends to keep the momentum going by taking the following steps.
- Rededicate ourselves to the spiritual practices that nurture the Light within and prepare us to worship together, thus allowing our gathered Light to shine more brightly.
- Consider new ways each of us may offer our gifts to meet the needs of the Meeting.
- Reflect often on the words we can use and the opportunities we may have to invite others to join us in worship at London Grove.
- Consider how we are called as a Meeting to live our faith in the larger community.
We continue to listen with joy and appreciation to learn where the Spirit may lead us next.
- Edna Collins, Clerk
- Sandy Reber, Recording Clerk
- Terry Anderson, Assistant Clerk
- Jessie Mooberry, Assistant Recording Clerk