Hello my name is Joshua Ponter. I am a member of Haddonfield Monthly Meeting in South Jersey’s Philadelphia area. I have embarked on a year-long mission to travel around the country collecting stories about the founding of different meetings and looking at the way we practice Quakerism today. I will be blogging about my travels on the PYM website. Find my latest entry below. Please email me at JPonter1@gmail.com if there is anyone from your meeting who would like to sit down with me and speak to some of your history — or if you would like more information on me or my project . Thank you!
So, I have been in Texas for a while now (it turns out it’s a big state). I have been trying to write this entry for just as long. I’ve kinda had a block. I initially thought I would do one entry for each quarter of South Central Yearly meetings I visited. Instead, I’m allowing myself to give a brief overview on my time in TX and Louisiana, and refer back to individual experiences as time goes on.
In Alabama I met a man who knew a woman who was a member of Baton Rouge Monthly Meeting. He mentioned she might have room for me to park my camper for a few days and offered to put me in touch. When I contacted her, I was told that while yes they do have room she would not be there, as they had their Quarterly Meeting that weekend; and btw, would I like to come? Thus, I ended up at the three-day-long Bayou Quarterly Gathering.
Map of my first leg:
Bayou Quarter consists of the established Monthly Meets of New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Galveston, and Live Oak (Houston), as well as Acadiana Preparatory Meeting (Lafayette). At this point I would like to remind my readers that the stories I have been collecting are less about accuracy and more about the people and the way we tell them. My inference being that the stories we tell each other say more about who we are as Quakers today than the thorough and well-documented histories in our archives. I am going to start by sharing a story and structure of South Central Yearly Meeting and work my way down.
South Central Yearly Meeting is divided into three Quarters: Arkansas/Oklahoma, Bayou, and Cielo Grande. I am told that SCYM began as a cluster of independent meetings who then decided to join up to form the yearly meeting. They were then divided up into three Quarters, like slices of a pie or pieces of pizza, based on geography. (Now I’m hungry and missing pizza… FYI pizza in the south is terrible.) The vast geographical distance seems to make communication, between the Quarters and within the Yearly Meeting, less frequent and requires a great deal more independence than I am used to seeing.
The business meeting at Bayou Quarter was mainly focused on planning this year’s Yearly Meeting Gathering. This is the second year of a two-year commitment. Every other year the Quarters rotate and another takes their turn to host. The typical things were discussed, like what workshops to plan and when to plan them. They also explored ideas and options for the Quarterly Gathering that might increase attendance. They seem to have the continual process of having trouble fulfilling commitments, a dilemma I have heard fairly often in my travels. While Meetings often seem to have enough attenders to have their commitment needs met, people seem to be unwilling to insert themselves into that part of what it means to be Quaker. Another piece I have heard quite frequently is the issue where people who have had long commitments or a series of commitments over an extended time become “burnt out.” Many go as far as deciding to take a break from meeting all together. The remainder of the time in business was spent discussing the needs and issues that arise in various individuals within the Quarter, as well as eating.
While they may utterly lack any concept of what makes pizza a pizza, I have had some amazing food over that past month or so. I’ve been treated to crawfish, king-cake, gumbo, poboys, muffuletta, Texas BBQ, Tex/Mex, and a vegetarian buffet in a Hare Krishna temple in Dallas. I tend to have a try-anything-once policy in life, which absolutely extends to just about anything I can put in my mouth. In the case of southern food, I definitely would have liked to experience more, andit is something I am going to miss as I travel west.
From there I stopped in Houston. The woman I stayed with in Baton Rouge put me in touch with a man who offered me some parking on his street in which to stay for a few days. Liveoak Friends meeting is in a newer building, which has a James Turrell art instillation similar to the one at Chestnut Hill Meeting. I am not sure how much this is a draw on attendance but they certainly seem to have a fair amount, as well as a varied and full schedule for Sunday mornings including worship at 8:30 and 10:30 and an adult first day school discussion in-between. My host suggested we leave his house in the morning at 10:15 to get there for worship. I started to say I kinda want to check out the first day school discussion but was cut off mid sentence. “Great we can do the full day!” my host replies. That is how I ended up being there from 8:15-1:30. I tend to be up around 7:30 everyday anyway. The thought that I am turning into a morning person is somewhat terrifying. Folks told me before I left that this trip would change me. I thought they meant I would become more mature or responsible, not that I would start waking up before noon, as had been my custom. On to Dallas.
I had originally planned to head right for Dallas after visiting Baton Rouge to visit my little brother. His work schedule changed and he was not available until the following weekend. It worked out well though. My partner was able to get a flight that weekend and come join me for a few days. It was wonderful to visit with Holly and Tim, and to meet his partner and see the life he has set up for himself 1,500 miles away from home. Dallas monthly meeting has a small meetinghouse they own. It had once been a regular quaint little house, but they were able to convert it into a Quaker meeting. They have worship and discussion twice a week on Wed and Sun. It seems to work out well for people’s schedule to pick one or the other at which to attend. The attendance this Sunday was fairly small with about a dozen (F)friends including Holly, Tim, and myself. The discussion was an interesting change of pace. Up until now, every discussion group or first day school revolved around ideas concerning racism, its implications, and how to fight it. This one went a little deeper and we discussed how emotions effect our actions including those surround things like intolerance.
With that I believe I have you all caught-up. Until next time!