In this series of stories, we’ll highlight the workshops being offered on Workshop Saturday, June 25. Sessions Coordinating Committee and staff experimented this year with offering a one-day online event that includes five workshops on different topics of interest to Friends in our yearly meeting. We will gather and listen deeply together on a day of connection, learning, and meaningful conversations.
Read on to learn more about the facilitators and intentions of this Workshop Spotlight, and register for a workshop by Thursday, June 23.
Interview with Linda Lotz & Irene Oleksiw
Q: Can you give us a short introduction? What are three things you like to share about yourself in an introduction?
Linda — Effective June 1, I retired as Coordinator for Haddonfield Quarter (after seven years) and Administrator for the SouthJerseyQuakers, a collaboration of Friends from Burlington, Haddonfield and Salem Quarters. I am a member of Haddonfield Monthly Meeting.
Irene — Lead for Caln Quarter’s 8-part Growing Our Meeting series in 2020-21, Serve on PYM’s Membership Development Granting Group and the Granting Committee, Clerk Worship & Ministry Committee, Downingtown Friends Meeting.
Q: If relevant to the workshop, tell us about your professional qualifications/career/work life.
Linda — My professional career and volunteer activities have focused on a variety of local, national and international issues, grounded in a desire for peace, justice and civil liberties. Between 1985-2009, I worked with the American Friends Service Committee, serving with the International Programs unit in Philadelphia and the Pacific SouthWest Regional Office, Pasadena CA. In between those 20 years of service, from 1996-99, I was interfaith Coordinator with the Los Angeles Living Wage Campaign and Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice, LA (CLUE,LA).
Irene — 40+ year career in commercial banking on two fronts: Trained institutional investors and bank managers how to evaluate the financial soundness of banks; Developed reporting environments within banks to enable commercial bankers to track and improve business development and credit risk management. Skills in finance and risk management, data analysis, project management, collaborative problem solving, training
Q: Tell us about your Quaker belonging. When were you introduced to Quakerism? What does belonging in a local (monthly) meeting mean to you?
Linda — The Harrisburg 7 indictments were announced just as I was graduating from college; so a return to my home in Harrisburg, PA seemed important. The trial of these clergy and other anti-war figures was accompanied by a series of events featuring other national, faith based anti-war leaders, including prominent Quakers and AFSC staffers. My job at the local YWCA provided an opportunity to meet many of these figures, as various Defense Committee events – talks, plays, and other educational programs – were held at our building located a block from where the trial was being held. I came into contact again with local Friends following the Three Mile Island nuclear accident, as we sought to keep Unit 1 – not involved in the accident – from being reopened. For many years after that, I was attracted to Friends’ beliefs but didn’t formally become a member of the Religious Society of Friends until the early 2000’s. Haddonfield Meeting has become a special place for me, nurturing my spiritual life, with Friends playing a key role in my personal life, and providing grounding for my professional work. In time, I became involved in Haddonfield Quarter and Philadelphia Yearly Meeting activities, creating additional opportunities for personal growth and connecting with other Friends.
Irene — 30 years ago, my husband and I were looking for a church home that would accommodate our vastly different spiritual backgrounds. We became attenders at Downingtown Friends Meeting and raised our 2 youngest daughters, both pre-school, in this welcoming, bubbling community. We became regulars and then contributors at Caln Q’s annual Camp Swatara weekend, initially drawn by the extensive child care (welcome respite!). At Meeting, we cemented friendships by working on the crew for the annual Fall Festival, an event drawing people from the greater community. Over the years, we’ve been spiritually enriched by engaging in Friendly Bible Study, serving on Worship & Ministry and participating in programs of the inter-faith groups to which our meeting belonged. Several times, my husband ran a comprehensive program on how to become a Quaker for which I assisted, learning more about the faith and connecting with Friends outside our meeting who attended. I’ve sung with many other music lovers in our meeting’s Christmas chorale and ongoing hymn sings. Downingtown Meeting has been an anchor of my spiritual life and an extended family for us and our children.
Q: Tell us about your workshop. What makes you passionate about what you will be covering? Does it relate to any of the answers above? Why do you think your workshop is critical/very important for Friends and other members of our community?
Linda — The morning session will focus on ways for meetings and quarters to work together on outreach and membership development, in order to rejuvenate and increase membership in our monthly meetings and to strengthen the overall Friends community. Other members of our SJQ team, including Charles Hardy (Trenton), Joshua Ponter (Haddonfield) and Carleton Crispin (Woodbury), will be among the resource people for our discussions in the morning.
As we sought to re-build Haddonfield Quarter, after the loss of our field secretary due to the financial crisis of 2008-10, Friends recognized that it was critical for us to attract new people to our Friends’ community, especially young families. Each year, the number of Friends was slowly dropping and several of the meetings in our Quarter had only a small number of active members. In 2018, Friends from the three Quarters decided to collaborate on a new outreach project – “SouthJerseyQuakers” – using social media to reach out to the public as well as strengthening our connections across the three Quarters. Our project now includes a website friendly to new Seekers, advertising on social media, a monthly newsletter, the SJQ YouTube Channel with 40+ videos on various topics, and various other ways to assist our 27 meetings in the areas of outreach and membership development.
It is possible to rejuvenate small and medium-sized meetings, and attract new people — but it takes dedication, time, and support from nearby meetings and the Quarter. Friends from Barnegat and Cropwell meetings will talk about the kinds of activities they have used to become more visible in their communities and begin to integrate new Seekers into their community. Staff from the SJQ project, who have been working them and other meetings, will reflect on several problems faced by many meetings and how some Friends have sought to address these problems in ways that help to grow and strengthen our Friends community in South Jersey. There will also be time for other Friends to share approaches used in their meetings to attract new Seekers.
Irene — Quakerism is a wellspring of spiritual inspiration and guidance for those seeking to strengthen their inner light without the constraints of dogma. It carries many social justice banners for those who want to plug into such activity with like-minded Friends. However, for lack of skills and support, so many of our meetings are shrinking. That’s not inevitable if we make membership development a strategic priority.
Q: What do you hope will change for people who learn from you in your workshop? How do you see this change improving the faith, happiness, community impact, etc. of an individual who participates in your workshop and their wider circles of community?
Linda — We hope participants will come away with ideas on how to adapt activities used by other meetings to grow and strengthen their own meeting, as well as the importance of Friends working together across their Quarters and beyond in order to be more strategic – especially in the ways we present ourselves to the general public.
Irene — Membership development — outreach + new attender integration — can be ineffective without informed guidance on best practices and a knowledge bank for meetings to reference. If this workshop is successful, we’ll end up defining a framework for a unit within PYM that focuses on a support function which is vital to any thriving organization.
Q: What are some other ways people can learn more about/do more in the area/subject you will be covering in your workshop? Where do people go from here?
Linda — We recommend two videos on the SouthJerseyQuakers channel on YouTube. Both videos include links to resource materials.
“Facebook for Friends” – co-sponsored by the SouthJerseyQuakers as part of the Caln Quarter Membership Development Series – provides helpful information for both those starting to use Facebook (and other social media) for outreach as well as those wanting to become more effective in their digital outreach. Emily Provance and Roma Narkhede talk about how to prepare and schedule posts, sources of information to be included in posts, and various strategies on how to make a meeting’s newsfeed more effective in reaching potential Seekers.
“Growing Our Family of Friends: Outreach Basics” features Sarah Greenblatt, Carol Suplee, and Lynnette Davis, who provide an overview of outreach approaches for Quaker meetings, including “nuts and bolts” tips for contacting traditional media (newspapers, tv) and effectively navigating the new world of digital media (social media, blogs).
Irene — Present a proposal to the appropriate PYM body to define this unit, leveraging certain existing PYM activities and building out from there.
Image: Linda Lotz (left), Irene Oleksiw (right)