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!
It has been my experience that plans rarely work out the way I plan them. Even when they do it never feels the way I expected when the said plan comes to fruition. Before I left my mother expressed her great concern that I would fail in this endeavor. I don’t think she was afraid of me being a failure but more afraid that the trip would not turn out the way I had planned. I had to reassure her by saying something to the same effect of what I just told you, dear reader. The fact is I never know what to expect. It was with this frame of mind I arrived in Atlanta.
The first thing I didn’t expect were the hills. Who knew there were zero flat roads in the area? Also, it was cold. I know many of you reading this are in places where it has barely been above freezing, thus I expect I shall not receive a great deal of sympathy for my plight, but try to look at it from my perspective: I have now driven thousands of miles across 8 different states to avoid the cold, yet still was caught in about 2 feet of snow somewhere in Virginia. I was finally able to switch back to flip-flops about 2 weeks ago and now have had to dig out my winter jacket again. In some of my circles this is what they would call a luxury problem. The truth is I am grateful for the fact I do own a winter jacket because many people do not. Of course, at least some of those people live in Hawaii… <- Next adventure. I am also grateful for some of the seemingly random connections that happen to occur so often these days.
So, a while ago my mother decided to invite some strangers she met online to stay at her house while the DNC was in town. (And yes, Julia, you are strange, but I can think of no higher praise =) In return she offered her house up in Atlanta should it ever be needed. Another unexpected development of being on the road is a lack of address. Don’t get me wrong, living off-the-grid is just as glamorous as it sounds but I do occasionally miss the luxuries of things like online shopping or needing to receive a replacement car registration because my original one ended up in a very cold, muddy puddle at the beginning of my trip. As such, I found myself in need of an address while I was in Atlanta.
I am a little unsure of how to describe the dynamics of the household and may have to come back to that. It was certainly warm, if not serene. I felt like part of the family almost instantly. That may be because I was put to work shortly after I walked through the door.
On Sunday I got to visit Atlanta Monthly Meeting, which can be summed up in one word: BIG. I met a young woman in Savannah who had been at Atlanta for awhile. She had given me a few Friends’ contact information so that I could try and get in touch before hand, with the warning that I would not be able to grab somebody after meeting. I watched in awe as members and attenders filled the very large meeting room like the swell of an ocean filling a tide pool. Will it ever stop? It was curious though, as the room settled and the doors closed I felt that familiar sensation of stillness that I have come to expect at all unprogrammed meetings. I had thought the sheer size would be an obstacle or at least create a distraction from that divine presence, but found this to be hardly the case. If anything, that sense of fullness was a thing to make my heart swell in such a way that the awe and beauty of every detail in the plain room seemed to come alive in vivid lucidity and that omnipresence of love was quite overwhelming. My new Friend’s predictions were indeed correct and I found myself almost lost in the chaotic bustle of the crowd at rise of worship and made a hasty retreat secure in the knowledge that I already had appointments to meet with a couple people in the upcoming days.
The first person I met with was an older lady who had been a teacher at the Quaker school associated with the meeting and is still very much involved in such educational activities. From her I learned that Atlanta Monthly Meeting started in the 1950’s and to this day is composed ofpredominantly convinced Members of which they have about 100. On any given Sunday they have around 150-200 Attenders, with at least a few first-time visitors every Meeting, and over 400 names in their registry. While I am now sure where their size comes from I have a feeling that it had something to do with Atlanta being a major metropolitan area and the Meeting being the only one around for several hundred miles. In the 50’s they started at a local YMCA and moved around a bit before buying the land to build this meeting house in the 90’s. The Friend’s School was originally on the premises but had to move as its numbers swelled, and the classrooms are now used for children’s First day school and AFS offices. While their meetings are primarily unprogrammed they do have occasional programmed sessions that seem to focus on youth and family.
My next meeting was with a younger gentle man, a fairly new member, and a father of an 8 year old. His story is rather personal so I don’t think I will relate it in this writing. It was really interesting to hear how much of his experience reflects my own. Though the circumstances were extremely different his experience with God was almost identical to mine. As such it gave a great deal of credibility to the somewhat over defined but somehow never understood “spiritual experience.”
Recently I have started asking the question, “What does being a Quaker mean to you?” The answers I received from both of these individuals were almost identical. I was going to tell you what they said but instead I will leave you with that question and ask again, “What does being a Quaker mean to you?”