May 24, 2015 § 3 Comments
When newcomers come to a meeting, the first thing they encounter is the culture of the meeting, the way it feels and the way it operates. Even if they go directly into the meeting room, even here they are surrounded by the unspoken assumptions and agreements about identity, behavior, and relationship that comprise a community’s fellowship.
But hopefully, they don’t get a chance to go directly to the meeting room (unless that’s what they want to do) because someone has greeted them at the door and then the greeter and the rest of the Friends in the gathering space offer them the meeting’s hospitality.
If we want our meetings to grow, we must be warm, welcoming, and interested in new people. Fellowship is the second item under “a vital religious life” in my list of the three essentials for Quaker advancement.
Hospitality. Is your community warm and welcoming to all? Do you have greeters who meet newcomers at the door on First Day and help them find their way into worship, mentally, emotionally, and physically? Do all the members take responsibility for making newcomers feel welcome, well informed, and comfortable, not just when they first come in the door, but also after worship, and when they return, if they do?
Inclusiveness. How homogenous is your meeting population and are people of all races, all classes, all sexual orientations, and all cultural styles welcome in your meeting? Is your meetinghouse accessible? Is your bathroom? Do you have equipment for the hearing impaired? Do you welcome children into your worship?
Pastoral care. Do the Friends charged with pastoral care in your meeting feel confident in their roles and responsibilities? If not, how can you help them? Does your meeting regularly encourage the members and attenders to come to the pastoral care committee with their concerns and do members know whom to approach? Are you prepared with a network of mental health and other professionals who can give your committee advice or to whom they can refer Friends when the concern seems too deep or difficult for the committee, or seems to require professional attention?
Membership. Is there any meaningful difference between being a member and being an attender of your meeting? Is your meeting clear about what membership in your meeting means and what it expects from its members? Are your clearness committees for membership clear about these things? Is it easy for attenders to find out what membership means in your meeting, what the meeting expects from them, and how to apply for membership? Does your meeting think of membership as a covenant, as a set of mutual promises and responsibilities in which members expect to contribute to the spiritual and material life of the meeting and in which members invite the meeting to proactively engage with their spiritual lives? Or is your meeting too afraid to intrude to be proactive in its spiritual nurture and/or do your members consider their religious lives to be a completely private domain in which the meeting has no business?
Willingness to change. New people bring new energy to the meeting, energy that might change the culture of your meeting. Does your meeting reflexively resist change? Is your meeting overly attached to the way your meeting “feels” today and its unspoken assumptions and agreements?
Eldering authority and mandate. Does someone in your meeting have clear authority and a clear mandate to protect your fellowship from inappropriate behavior? Are you and they clear about what “inappropriate behavior” deserves attention? Do these Friends feel equipped to act with some confidence when needed?
Conflict. Does your meeting forthrightly address conflict when it arises in the meeting? Do you have members who are not attending because of some conflict with the meeting or with other members? If they have left because of some difficult person, is that person still attending? (If your meeting has lost even one member because of a disruptive person, you might as well have lost the disruptive person.) Does your meeting seek outside help if it finds it too difficult to deal with a conflict on its own? Is your quarterly or regional meeting and/or your yearly meeting prepared to respond to such a request for intervention with people who have the gift of mediation and with resources? (See the video and other resources available from New York Yearly Meeting’s Conflict Transformation Committee.)
Emotional blackmail. Do you let members hold the meeting hostage with their emotions, threatening to leave or to do something else if the meeting does “x” or doesn’t do “y”, especially in meeting for worship with attention to the life of the meeting?