Since the first week in February, Zachary Dutton has facilitated a Central Philadelphia Monthly Meeting program that shares a new type of mid-week worship from 7:00-8:00 PM each Wednesday. In his role as Associate Secretary for Religious Life, Zachary Dutton listens deeply to Friends in the community; today’s interview focuses on worship, meditation, and upcoming ‘Runway to Sessions’ programming.
You’ve been running Wednesday Worship for more than a month now; how have they gone; what have you learned from them?
They have been wonderfully deep, moving, and illuminating. Attendees have expressed awe and inspiration at the diversity of techniques people have for settling into their center and embracing liberation in the spirit with each other.
The last one is scheduled for April 14th, with Friend Ayesha Imani; what are your expectations for that one?
Ayesha is an elder and mentor of mine, and I’m excited to learn from her. She gave me the language around being liberated in the Spirit, which I love. I think she plans to focus on opening space for everyone to find their way into worship with this as their goal.
You have invited a range of presenters to share how they prepare themselves for worship. Can you talk about what that diversity of leadership has given to the worship series?
Yes! Some presenters have invited attendees to imagine we are worshiping with our ancestors, others have invited people to imagine they are in the most peaceful place sitting next to someone they love deeply, while others have invited worshipers to practice using mantras to center down, which includes the lyrics to ABBA’s song “Dancing Queen.”
You have a Masters in Theological Studies; tell us what you see as a need among Quakers for spiritual growth? How does this relate to other faiths?
I would say openness and relationship. Quakers are quintessential seekers, grounded both in a sense of inner knowing and truth that are universally accessible alongside the awareness of the mystery of divine inspiration.
The relationship between and among these can be very messy sometimes, and it can also be very challenging. So we need community, relationship, and love to help navigate them together.
It’s why our tradition is both a blessing and sometimes a curse, because continuing revelation calls us into transformation, into the willingness to see how power and inequity inform the need to change even things that we hold the most dear about our religious and spiritual practices.
What are your thoughts/ideas on engaging a younger audience in worship?
My sense is that younger people are slightly more oriented to the need for a sense of purpose. This is what has, in part, informed this particular experimentation.
Elaborating what we are actually doing in worship on a more practical level will also illuminate what, more broadly, we are actually aiming to accomplish with the whole practice of worship.
Friends Counseling Services is running a mindfulness series. Can you speak about what people have gained from the series?
In many ways, the two are related. Mindfulness is definitely one of the ways that I think many people center down towards finding liberation in the spirit.
What do we need to know about the Runway to Annual Sessions?
It’s going to be full of workshops, community gatherings, and other opportunities leading to the second all-virtual Annual Sessions in our history as a yearly meeting.
I think that the mindfulness meditation series, the midweek experiments in worship, and the runway to annual sessions taken together provide opportunities for people to find a supportive spiritual community during a very challenging time for all of us.
The community engagement team touches people across the yearly meeting; we have just witnessed another shooting targeting a marginalized group. Do you have any resources to share?
During times like this, when we face yet another tragedy, meeting communities should be prepared to welcome seekers who are often moved to attend Quaker worship for the first time in search of solace and experiences that can speak to the condition of our ailing hearts.