In powerful way, listening can really generate a sense of community and belonging. This was felt recently when eighteen Friends from across the yearly meeting gathered for a Clerks’ Listening Session Tuesday, July 13th, from 7:00 to 8:30.
They shared joys, concerns, and experiences of the past year as well as particular hopes or questions they wished to share as our yearly meeting community heads into our annual five-and-a-half day gathering to worship, learn, and grow together in fellowship and business.
Hosted by Philadelphia Yearly Meeting’s Clerks, Jean-Marie Prestwidge Barch and Frank Barch, the 90-minute session felt like a beautiful moment to be connected and in shared community before the intensity of Annual Sessions. It allowed Friends a block of time to develop and share a vision of how beloved community is held and nurtured when Friends come together.
At the session, it was noted that the Clerk’s role is supported by the “prayers, wisdoms and presence of others” in a meeting and that Friends can be attentive to the fact that in worship and business, Spirit chooses many vessels. While the Clerk is important to that process, “clerking is the job of everyone in the Meeting, and everyone is invited to serve as an elder … it is all of our jobs.”
During the pandemic, Friends noted how Quaker Faith and our many meetings, were able to hold space for the extraordinary and changing needs of their members and attenders.
Joys included the ease of inter-visitation with Zoom worship, the growth of community to include Friends at a distance, the Zoom-enabled presence of disabled Friends, increased participation from new attenders, and the joining of entirely new participants.
Always, there were Friends who rose to the challenges of meeting the many unexpected needs.
A conversation about how Friends can manage the discerning of difficult decisions, ones that embrace change, led to this important piece of advice: through open listening Friends can be present to each other in ways that “move past the shame, guilt, confusion that so many feel” into a place of understanding deeply what equity or justice is about in a person’s own soul. Meetings need to step into their work with understandings of complexity, a tolerance for mistakes, and a willingness of their clerks and communities to embrace both patience and deep listening skills.
As Friends came to the end of the hour, the clerks asked each person present to go out and invite a Friend, or many friends, to come to Annual Sessions.
As Jean-Marie noted, “we need your prayers, wisdoms, and presence at yearly meeting” and we “love the rich conversations!”