Good byes only hurt because what came before was so special. Lessons from Dr Who.

This weekend I enjoyed watching the latest episode of Dr Who.  In brief, it’s a show that follows a reincarnation (“regeneration”) of an alien being called the Doctor, who travels through time and space to save humans and other species, with the aid of a various crew of companions – some more willing and able than others.

As I watched this morning, instead of my usual prayer and contemplation time, it occurred to me that there are many stories within these stories.  One is about loss, and longing, and disappointment and faithfulness.

Jodi Whittaker as the latest incarnation of Dr. Who is running about, fighting evil, figuring out problems, trying to save humanity across a number of times and places. A clever aspect of this particular episode is how the Dr. encounters and involves her previous companions, from other incarnations of her/himself.

The companions all have found their own lives, after/outside of their travels with the Dr. We’ve seen this before in other episodes – traveling with the Dr is the ultimate thrill ride (even on a boring day!) and one can become easily enamored with it. That’s probably a good thing, since it’s also so challenging and dangerous most of the time.

Throughout this episode the companions keep meeting each other.  They all have different opinions of how their travels went – and they have certainly been shaped by their own experiences and joys and trauma.  Those perceptions have been woven into the way they describe the Dr. to others,  as a benevolent adventure seeking sage, an exasperating bumbling fool, a fellow who loves deeply but then leaves in a minute with no notice and without any further contact.  The companions are wildly different in their perceptions of what has “happened” to them traveling with Dr Who in their separate pasts.

It occurs to me that this television program holds lessons about change, and sadness, and joy for us all in our Quaker meetings now.  In the past year, I’ve been aware in my travels and conversations how much has been uplifted, unpleasantly and shockingly changed in the way our world looks and we gather. For some of us!  For others, maybe we are solidly rooted in unchanging routines and behaviors that provide a comfort and security.  Or just stuck a little, which might have certainly been pre-pandemic.

Just like those traveling companions of Dr Who – I know many Friends who hold strong experiences of their “own” Quaker meeting.  Maybe it is a place of refuge, a meeting of learning.  Maybe it was a place where your kids grew up and felt safe and encouraged.  Perhaps your meeting gathers in a historic building, filled with history and books filled with tales of faithfulness from previous generations. Maybe your meeting was a gathering place for folks protesting a war, or seeking justice in our world.  Perhaps it’s a place where you entered into a marriage covenant – or were told your type of relationship was not acceptable to a marriage under the meeting’s care.  “The Quaker Meeting” has as many memories and current interpretations as there are Friends who have gathered there.

I remember when the Quaker meeting I was a part of decided to shut down and move to Zoom for worship in early 2020.  I lost the possibility of sitting in waiting worship in a room with others (which is still the most preferred way of worship for me). I lost my ability to attend worship with my kid.   I lost the small conversations after worship with others, asking about our experiences in our lives at that time.   Moving to zoom was (I think) the right decision.  It kept us safe while we figured out how to be in a world with new pandemic risks.  Staying there (on Zoom) was really hard for me. The new way of being with each other had both challenges and advantages.  Many Quaker meetings encountered both, and we still seem to be asking both practical and spiritual questions about how we gather.

What this episode of Dr Who reminded me is that loss is ok.  Sadness is to be expected. There’s anger, and frustration, and tender Joy as we remember the past. It’s also very specifically personal, depending on what has been important to each companion (or Friend!).  At the end of this episode, we learn that yet again the Dr is destined for another regeneration.  She’s got a little time left, to enjoy and reminisce with her current companion.  They choose to sit on the Tardis (the traveling spaceship in this series) and gaze from space at the earth.  They also eat some ice cream.  The Dr reminds us that “good byes only hurt because what came before was so special”.  It seems wise counsel for today.

Those companions each made a choice.  They uprooted their lives and chose to travel the universe in excitement and Joy and challenge with Dr Who. The best ride and journey ever.  Does your walking with the Divine, while being a part of a gathered Quaker community seem like that?  It does to me most of the time.  I think I appreciate the routine, the fellowship, the support and love from my fellow Quaker companions.  But I also recognize it’s the path itself, the way I am being led, that is what also speaks most deeply to me.  This happens regardless if I am in a historic meetinghouse, in my living room on a zoom screen, at a college campus or on a city bus.  While I long for the specific communities and places that I have loved in the past, it’s the worship itself, the sitting and listening for the still small voice that keeps me returning.  Sometimes that’s painful to remember how it used to be different.  Sometimes it’s also great in a new and unexpected way.  Both are part of the agreement.

When Jodi Whittaker first “became” the Dr – there was also some controversy!  I wrote about it here.

Is your meeting going though change, or having conversations about where you are feeling led, perhaps in a way that looks like “laying down” or other change?  Here’s a great resource for thinking about those concerns with your Meeting and Friends. 









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Prepare your heart for your showing up. World Quaker day 2022

The Story of the Wedding Banquet (Matthew 22 – The Message)

22 1-3 Jesus responded by telling still more stories. “God’s kingdom,” he said, “is like a king who threw a wedding banquet for his son. He sent out servants to call in all the invited guests. And they wouldn’t come!

“He sent out another round of servants, instructing them to tell the guests, ‘Look, everything is on the table, the prime rib is ready for carving. Come to the feast!’

5-7 “They only shrugged their shoulders and went off, one to weed his garden, another to work in his shop. The rest, with nothing better to do, beat up on the messengers and then killed them. The king was outraged and sent his soldiers to destroy those thugs and level their city.

8-10 “Then he told his servants, ‘We have a wedding banquet all prepared but no guests. The ones I invited weren’t up to it. Go out into the busiest intersections in town and invite anyone you find to the banquet.’ The servants went out on the streets and rounded up everyone they laid eyes on, good and bad, regardless. And so the banquet was on—every place filled.

11-13 “When the king entered and looked over the scene, he spotted a man who wasn’t properly dressed. He said to him, ‘Friend, how dare you come in here looking like that!’ The man was speechless. Then the king told his servants, ‘Get him out of here—fast. Tie him up and ship him to hell. And make sure he doesn’t get back in.’

14 “That’s what I mean when I say, ‘Many get invited; only a few make it.’”


I heard this story a few weeks ago.  It stuck with me at first, as one of those stories in the bible that didn’t make much sense – and in fact, as someone who is always thinking “everyone is welcome at Jesus’ table” I was taken aback that anyone would have been asked to leave simply for what they were wearing.  As I further held the story though, another reading spoke to me.

We hear at first of a king who invites the “typical” guests.  He is probably surprised at their lack of enthusiasm.  They simply go back to whatever they are doing, even when sent more messengers and urged to attend.  Some of these invited folks even harm the servants doing the inviting.  The opposite of hospitality in that time, and ours!

And yet, the table is still set.  The meal is prepared and ready to be eaten.  The king needs some guests.  His servants invite whomever wants to attend this wonderful wedding feast without concern for their social status.  Sounds pretty great, yes?  This is a gospel story, so of course I’d expect a tale about a big table, open to all, the feast and blessings of God.

But then it turns unexpectedly for me.  The king notices a guest not dressed properly.  A wedding of this time and scope – it would have been expected that all would dress in the nicest clothing they owned.  When asked about his lack of formal dress, the guest does not have a ready answer.  Perhaps he didn’t have nicer clothes. Perhaps he was in a rush.  The fact that we are told that he doesn’t have any sort of explanation seems important to me in this story.  He’s kicked out!  No dinner for you!  If this story is about being God’s kingdom – why the heck does that happen?

To me, this story is not really about clothing, or who’s in and out, or what kind of dinner kings serve at weddings.  I’m thinking it might teach a lesson about personal preparation, and how our hearts are opened and able to be seen.

There are two groups of folks I notice in this story. The first are those specially invited guests who just don’t even bother to attend.  We don’t hear much about why they stay home – maybe they have more important things to do?  It’s hard to believe a king’s wedding banquet would not appeal to them.  The invitation is clear.  The message is for them.  But, they seem to decide to stay home quite quickly and without argument.  Maybe they are working in the fields, or caring for children – but we hear none of their other reasons.  The story seems to just say they weren’t interested.  I wonder if they had a clear sense of what they were being invited to, how fabulous the food would be, the good wine, all of that.  We don’t hear much of them after this first invite and refusal.

This second group – who are they?  The king sounds desperate to get anyone to attend the feast.  He sends out servants to gather whomever they can find to attend.  I’m sure they were busy, regular folks.  Maybe they don’t get to attend many fancy parties.  Maybe they were wondering where they would find any dinner at all, never mind find a fancy one. And yet, suddenly a magical way forward appears.  It’s time to get some clean clothes and show up!  I can’t imagine they had proper wedding attire for a king’s feast.  Maybe they all chose their best clothing – clean, but still worn and threadbare.  Maybe their shoes were shined and cleaned, but had worn soles or a few little holes.  Maybe they had to use flowers from the backyard in their hair, instead of fancy jewels.  I can picture them scrubbing off weeks of dirt and grime from the fields, excited and wondering about what new things they will see at the king’s table!

The king surveys his wedding guests.  He notes one guy who sticks out as unprepared.  He’s described as “improperly dressed”.  Maybe he just stumbled in at the last moment.  Maybe he didn’t clean up and still smelled of the animals he cared for at home.  Maybe he didn’t try to wear his one worn pair of shoes. We don’t hear much about his actual appearance.  I think that’s on purpose.  In a room full of folks that are probably poor or not the most desirable of society, he still sticks out. He has no answer when confronted about his clothing. He doesn’t say “well I tried my best but I’m poor, or my family is too large, or I wanted to bring a gift but I couldn’t.”  He seems kinda speechless and surprised he’s been confronted.   The king tells him to leave, and not come back.  There’s no defense or excuse offered.  No asking for mercy, or ability to stay.

It’s a pretty quick little parable.  We are told it’s God’s table – and yet this guy clearly does not get to sit and eat where we’d expect all would be welcome.

I keep thinking this is a story about his own preparation, not his capacity to hold his own with the rich and the powerful of the kingdom.  Others were able to attend.  I’m sure they didn’t all own the proper clothing.  What really prompted the king to expel this one person so forcefully?

It seems to me that the attender’s attitude of preparation is an important piece of this.  He did not bother to choose the right clothing.  He didn’t have a clear reason for not trying.  Maybe he just went along with all the others, kinda trickled in, figured he’d stick around if the food was good, maybe leave if it wasn’t quite for him.

Today is a day we are told is “World Quaker Day”.  It’s asking us a question with its theme – “Being the Quakers the world needs”.  I’m not clear in our complicated world what is needed.  We’ve been shown God’s kingdom here on earth can be found and created, in love.  We are told int his parable that kingdom is like that big banquet table that a large number of folks didn’t want to sit at.  Some did though.  They dressed and prepared, and were filled with wonder and I imagine enjoyed a good meal.  They decided they would be open to whatever happens, and their physical state simply represented their inner willingness to show up.

That guy who was asked to leave?  It sounds to me like maybe he wasn’t clear to attend in his own heart.  Maybe he wasn’t ready to see, or to be a part of the festivities.  He wasn’t able to stay, and certainly couldn’t be of use to others at that table.

As often happens, I ask myself where I am in this story.  Am I really willing to be prepared, to make that effort scrubbing and cleaning and wearing my best clothing, showing up for that special feast?  I don’t even know what the place looks like, I’m not a fancy person of great means.  I suspect I would not be on that first special guest list.  But if I am invited – if I hear that still small voice saying “come to the banquet” it would be best if I was willing to be fully prepared.  That starts in my heart, in my perspective, not in any particular clothing.  I can’t be sure of what’s at the table, who I’m sitting next to, how it all works.  The only thing I can carry is myself, clothed in the best preparation I am able, and walking with a clear decision to move in a certain direction. The rest will happen around me, and I trust I will be able to participate based on the attitude of my heart, which will then be reflected in my clothing, my awareness, my interest in others and what is required of me.

That question we are asking today – “Being the Quakers the world needs” has little to do with the world at any particular moment.  It has to do with my being the Quaker in the world, and finding myself in the right place to be well used as needs arise.  That’s the place that my quiet listening and prayer alway leads me to.  In this parable the king reminds us his original guests didn’t attend because they were “not up to it”.  Where do I find myself when faced with an important invitation to be of help in the world?  I hope I will say to myself and others “Yes, I am up to it!”

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Way will open – pathfinding as expression and nurture of gifts

September is traditionally a time of change and evaluation for me.  Perhaps inspired from my years as a teacher, or the the patterns  of school for my family – I find myself looking ahead in my year with plans and musings about change.

Quakers are often on a different time table than “the world”.  This can involve more waiting, more discernment, and more patience.  It can often be frustrating for those that are clear to move on and take a particular action.

I’ve had a series of timely (??) reminders this week about a conflict that arises for me.  I tend to always be looking for the “next opportunity” in my work life.  I sometimes call it “pathfinding”. I’m by nature a creator, and I love creating new systems, putting them to use, and modifying them for further implementation by others. I often joke with friends that my ideal job lifespan is about 3-4 years! I do good and challenging work, create a better system than I first encountered, and feel complete.

This is of course not always practical.  Sometimes I need to stay in a particular place of employment or creative work even if it seems a little uncomfortable (for a paycheck, or to complete a series of tasks).  But I’m always looking for small, short opportunities in which I can grow and hone my skills.

This is often the perfect system for Quaker work.  As we in our meetings and churches seek to be faithful to what is before us, we also are often required to be adaptable, to invent new systems, and to change.  There is nothing better (for me!) than a discrete, time sensitive project that support ministry and faithful process forward.

I’ve noticed of late (just this month, in fact) that the external Quaker timeline often does not fit this motion for me.  But surprisingly, the nudges I feel towards learning and service often simply find other places to land if I am listening carefully.

S0me examples:

A few years ago I asked my meeting’s nominating committee about my desire to more involved in the meetings’ mentoring/support of a local organization,  I was asked to contact a member of our nominating committee for a conversation, and after two months of phone calls we never did connect.  Soon after I learned that the actual naming to that support system was simply informal, and there was a whole other system I never knew about that named Friends to that work.  In the meantime – another meeting asked me to walk with them in a mentoring/support capacity – essentially asking me to use the gifts that I’d hoped to use in my own meeting. The nudge was accepted in a different way – but I am so grateful that the skills I felt i wanted to grow were nurtured.

In a beloved teaching job a few years ago, I was part time and last to be hired.  Layoffs were imminent in that school system, and I found another position elsewhere. When the budget crisis eased, they wanted to promote me to another position – but I had already made plans to leave for another job.

In the past year I’ve been hoping to learn more about social media/communications work for Quakers. I’d jumper at the chance to volunteer for a number of organizations where I could use my skills.  Despite five organizations saying they needed volunteer help – only one responded within a 6 week timeframe from their ask.  I volunteered, learned a huge amount, and helped their organization.  Six months later I have heard from two other organizations, now ready to accept my previous offer of help.  I’m already on to another path of learning!

In this age of zoom, I longed to be a part of my meeting’s weekly planning group considering tech and zoom.  I was told they didn’t need my help, and had enough folks already (which I’m sure was true).  In the meantime, I ended up attending another meeting, more local, that asked for help.  I also learned from them how willing they were to be local, meet in person, and provide a landing place for my teen who had no Quaker home.  Again, I had a leading and a nudge to help, but it simply needed the right place to “land”.   Is it possible we all now are in the places we need to be?

I have many more examples.  And I don’t think anyone in these situations was doing the “wrong” thing – I just have been lucky to find places where the learning for me was deep, and timely, and what I needed in that moment.

Today is our first day of our new season of Meeting with my local meeting community (where I am now a member).  I live right down the street, were are involved in the local community, I have been given support for travel in Gospel Ministry as well as a structure that is supportive of my family and being at home in this place and meeting community.  Geography has become hugely important in this next phase of my learning.  There are Friends here who are able to teach me new things, and we will learn together.  We are just as flawed and confused as any other group of humans, but this is the place God wants me to be right now.

Some of those other ministries I felt called to are still working out for others – and it’s clear to me that those places are simply to be landing places for the work of others.  My prayer for us all has changed in this time – that we are given what we need, when we need it, so we can grow in a wider community.

What’s your experience of a timeline of ministry?  Do you need to wait and be patient, or move on and do the work in front of you, or another response?


I have learned a lot from Emily Provance’s writings on a culture of experimentation.

Seth Godin talks a lot about risk and motivation and timelines.  Here’s one example. – a podcast about pathfinding and failure.

Julia Cameron talks a lot about the risks of being an artist.




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The Unwritten Rules of Meeting for (Digital) Worship – part one

Part One – where are we now?

A number of years ago I co-lead a weekend workshop called “The unwritten rules of meeting for worship”.  You can read more about that experience here.

Now that we are once again shifting the way we attend worship in/after a pandemic, I’ve been in a lot of conversations about what “attending” worship means to our communities.  Some things I’ve experienced in the recent past:

A meeting for worship gathered in a large meetinghouse built in 1706.  Windows open, high ceilings, no masks or vaccinations required of attenders. Distanced, as there are only about 5-8 folks on a given First day. No electronic connection, worship is only held in the meetinghouse.

A meeting for worship, that used to meet in one physical location before the pandemic, now meets occasionally while “experimenting” to return to their rented space, but most often exclusively worship held on zoom.

A meeting for worship located simultaneously in many separate spaces – traditional meeting room in a meetinghouse (without zoom connections), a back room with a hybrid experience on zoom, and outside circle of folks unmasked.  At this time Friends may also participate on zoom (and are joined by a meeting in the back room at the meetinghouse).

A meeting that sets a specific time for personal worship at home, and then logs into a zoom meeting for afterthoughts and fellowship.

A meeting for worship that began during the pandemic, and has always met exclusively on zoom and does not have a physical space to meet.

A meeting for worship at the entrance to Raytheon Technologies, in witness to the development of military bombs, that met monthly before the pandemic and still meets monthly on a busy sidewalk.

A midweek meeting for worship, “drop in” anytime between 8:30 and 10 am.  This small group used to meet in one quiet living room in a Quaker center – and now one attender also brings a laptop to invite folks to join simply on zoom as well.

A First day meeting for worship, with paid staff to run the technology – 50 Friends in a meetinghouse, another 60 online on zoom.  All connected, with tech hosts in both places.  Hybrid forum before, and afterthoughts after also take place.  There is also childcare provided for those at the meetinghouse location.

A meeting that is on zoom exclusively ever other week – and a hybrid zoom/meetinghouse location on opposite weeks.

A meeting where Friends mostly meet in person on a Sunday evening – and a few folks join online in a simply hybrid set up on laptop or phone.  Other previous members of their meeting, who now attend a new local meeting, join with this group for post-meeting fellowship.


There seem to be as many examples of “going to meeting for worship” as there are meetings out there now.  What do they have in common?

Hopefully, there is shared discernment and unity about how attendance is supported for each of these gatherings.  People meeting in one physical space without internet are not concerned about those not “in the room” – as they functioned pre-pandemic.

So how do we define what is “correct and acceptable” now?  What are the criteria we are using – and what are the “unwritten rules” we may not be transparent about with everyone in our community?

What’s the shape of meeting for worship for you now?

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Holy experiments, encouraged in deep community

Show up hungry. Show up on our doorstep hungry.

SHOW UP CURIOUS.  Show up without something to give, without enough time, SHOW UP LATE and in need of stories and the right questions AND TO BE HELD.

SHOW UP HUNGRY.  – Maggie Fiori, NEYM Youth Minister and artist

As an educator, parent, Quaker minister, general creative – I’ve learned to value to powerful energies of taking risks and embracing new paths.  We as Quakers talk about “continuing revelation” and in the best sense of the words being open to new ways of being, and being agile and attentive is what I think we mean.

Our Yearly Meeting youth programs have been a stunning example of that for me.  When faced with such change in times of Covid, where so much of their programming was impossible, they listened, they reacted, they invented.  The responses weren’t always the immediate “right” solutions – but they were loving, careful responses where Friends learned what the next right step was.

I’ve often said that Quakers are a people of process, not product.  What I’ve meant by that is not that results are unimportant – but rather that the way you get there, and how you discern leadings and next steps, is part of a holy and creative process.  This act of creation for a teacher/artist/minister is part of the work itself.

There’s another piece to this process that is hugely important. It is the container that holds the work.  While the work and focus itself may seem shifting and changing, the container that holds the creative emerging work is strong, and flexible, and loving and consistent.  In this case this is the network of Friends that are thinking about youth among us – and all that support youth, and were youth, and may be involved in Quaker youth development. In other words, our entire Quaker community!  But, there are specific people close to this shepherding and care.

I’m speaking as a parent of a teen who struggled mightily during this Covid time.  Zoom was not an option, being in person was not an option. But she was still spoken to as part of the wider community.  She was sent postcards and texts from Quaker adults and mentors. She was invited to every gathering, without expectation that she would be able to attend, or any criticism if she could not be present. When so much was in flux, the invitations themselves were a ministry of welcome. Friends provided weekly art hangouts, serious discussions, times for bread baking and play. Numbers of “attendance” may have dwindled – but the flexibility to see other ways of being attendive to each other emerged and were valued.

Last week a number of these Friends and their support systems gathered at our home.  It was such an experience of ministry to see them in community with each other.  That teen of mine could not be in the overwhelming large group.  But even on this day, a few stopped into the kitchen where she was preparing dessert, to chat quietly and just say hello and “ I see you.”

I cannot overestimate the importance of those supports and community. For ministry to flourish, ministers need a home base of loving listeners. I look forward to seeing what God gives these folks next, as things continue to change and grow and evolve.

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On the Road again…

Yesterday my trusty old car hit a milestone.  300,000 miles.  MUCH of it in person travel in Gospel Ministry.  It seems like a good time to reflect on that as I look to travels in the next few months.

This car has taken me to countless Quaker Meetings in New England.  It’s carried me to Ohio Yearly Meeting (Conservative), FGC gathering, North Carolina YM (Conservative), New York YM, Philadelphia YM, Woolman Hill and Powell House and Quaker Spring.  It took me to Pendle Hill with Friend Jonathan, where I met Friend Jay and learned of an upcoming witness on a little lobster boat, and later on to his appearances in court.  It has brought my daughter to NEYM youth gatherings. This car has carried books for book groups, equipment for hybrid meetings, and supplies and coffee for NEYM Sessions. I’ve met hundreds of Friends and worshipped with hundreds of Quaker communities.  This car has taken me to work with Friends in Cambridge.  It’s taken me the shortest physical distance of all – one mile down the road to my own Lawrence/Andover Quaker meeting.

Covid-19 certainly curtailed my physical travel.  It gave me time to reassess what travel in Gospel Ministry means, and what support I needed. It seems good closure and a great opening for the next season of ministry for me.

I now have a new travel minute, have landed in a new local meeting since a move in 2019, and plans to visit Friends in North Carolina and New York this summer, before our own New England YM.  I’ll also travel virtually to Friends in Ohio YM, and Philadelphia YM.  Friends have offered to accompany me in prayer and in my car.

I’ve added a travel calendar to this website, so Friends can accompany me in prayer as led.  I’d love to visit you!




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Where next for Quaker gatherings?


Recently I’ve noted an uptick in conversations about how we will gather as Friends longterm going forward.  That’s not surprising – the “emergency” of having to jump onto zoom or decide what to do in the wake of the virus is waning.  We know more about how to keep each other safe, and the advent of vaccines has been helpful for many.


What new obstacles might me encounter?  What new opportunities might we find as we move into this new shape of gathering?  As I listen to the concerns of many, I am struck by how being agile and flexible, and attending to the needs of our own individual meetings, might hold an answer.

It seems like those meetings who have a clear sense of what they are led to do, and a center of who they are led to be – are having an easier time with discernment.  The technology is often the easy part – but the bigger questions about outreach and membership and what is gathered worship (and where can it happen?) seem important to think about first.

I’ve thought often about a time pre-pandemic when I had to think about our parameters for worship.  While planning for a large Yearly Meeting gathering, there was a concern for where we would hold the opening worship.  Some Friends wanted a very quiet room, off to the side, where we could be assured of deep silence.  Others felt this was the perfect time to be in a public place, with a public witness of worship with Friends right in the center of the the campus.  Both of these these experiences and locations had spiritual merit.  How would we choose?

Quakers seem to me to be a people of process. We have a tradition of listening deeply, considering what we hear, being open to new paths, and retaining what is still called of us.  How are we using that skill to listen for what is required of us now?

One of the gifts of traveling among Friends is that I am introduced to many modes of gathering in worship and fellowship and service in communities.  Saying “we Quakers do this” seems very tricky to me sometimes!

There are meetings that switched to zoom, and are still there have not returned to any in-person worship.

There are meetings that stayed open in-person in all but the worst parts of the pandemic, with open windows and folks masked and sitting 8 feet apart.  They may not have had internet, or did not feel unsafe based on their sense of risk at the time.

There are meetings that had weekly tech discussions, purchased and learned about complicated equipment to discern how to be a blended meeting, and worship takes place both in a meeting house and online. They hired tech help.  They created new volunteer positions.

There are meetings that use a different version of technology every week to create an experience – maybe they started with a simple phone connection, now they’s added a camera, or a microphone.

There are meetings that have gained new members from all over the world – and welcomed back former members who had moved away and can now join virtually – but probably rarely if ever “in person” again.

There are meetings that are encouraged and enlivened by this new activity, this ease of gathering, this accessibility for many.

There are meetings that are exhausted.  Sometimes the burden of a hybrid meeting set up falls to those in the meetinghouse. Meetings that we already struggling to find volunteers have been stretched.

There are meetings that have lost attenders in a move to zoom.  Parents, kids already “zoomed out”, physical learners and those who need in person engagement. Will they return or have they found other spiritual homes?

In some ways these questions do not seem new for the Religious Society of Friends.  They just seem to be happening in response to a more universal moment in time.

What has been your overall sense of this time for your meeting?

Many of these current conversations are happening in a Facebook group I manage:

Quaker Gatherings: best practices and creative explorations

Come check it out!




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A view of “the great people to be gathered” – worship at Britain Yearly Meeting

In 1652, George Fox journeyed towards the north-west:

As we went I spied a great high hill called Pendle Hill, and I went on the top of it with much ado, it was so steep; but I was moved of the Lord to go atop of it; and when I came atop of it I saw Lancashire sea; and there atop of the hill I was moved to sound the day of the Lord; and the Lord let me see atop of the hill in what places he had a great people to be gathered.

This week I’ve been attending Britain Yearly Meeting via zoom. I’ve been deeply grateful for their planning, their framing and clear directions, and inclusion of various Friends in various physical and geographical spaces.

Yesterday was the gathering’s large meeting for worship.  It was an intentional, multi-location gathering. Some Friends were in the traditional main gathering space, which Quakers in BYM call “the Light”. Others (like me!) were in our homes all over the world.

A third group of attendees delighted me.  They were meetings of many sizes, gathered  in various locations, all using their own single connection as a group  to the wide body.  As I scrolled down on my phone I saw group after group, sitting in expectant waiting.  Here’s a  description from Paul Parker, BYM recording clerk: “the extraordinary experience of All-together worship on Sunday morning, with 78 meetings joining from their meeting houses, 250 Friends online, several hundred in Friends House, the Young People’s Programme in Hemel Hempstead, and many Friends worshipping together with us all in spirit. “

This was for me a new experience in gathering.  In most large gatherings I’ve been involved with at this point, it’s been assumed that there is one “meeting place” geographically, folks in a room.  There are then other folks that zoom in as individuals.  See diagram 1: All the connections center those physically located in the Quaker meetinghouse.


Not this morning at Britain Yearly Meeting worship (afternoon for them!)  Here each zoom window showed a group of Friends, each in their own worship gathering, their own local meeting or worship group.  How does this shift change how we think about gathering?  See diagram 2: All the connections center around those physically located in varied spaces – including Quaker meetinghouses and other small groups/individuals.

In addition – there were even more groups worshipping at the same time, in their own groups and homes, not connected via zoom at all.  Some other helps I noticed:

** Even in unprogrammed worship, the clerk had the authority to call on Friends, and direct microphone spacers to them in the Light, or ask the tech hosts to unmute folks with a raised digital hand who might have a message to offer.

** Behind the clerks table was a large screen with tiny zoom boxes.  I don’t think anyone there in person could make out individual faces, and there were over 200 zoom boxes at times, more than could be displayed on a single screen.  But it seemed to me that it was a constant visual reminder for those in the room or the rest of the body, gathered together and located in different physical spaces.

** The clerk in meeting for business would often tell Friends “we have time for more ministry” or “we have time for one or two more messages”.  The body was kept informed of time limits.  Discipline was required of everyone, and expectations were laid out in advance and very clear.

“and the Lord let me see atop of the hill in what places he had a great people to be gathered.” – Im seeing this in a new light today.  I do not think that Pendle Hill was THE place to gather on that day.  Or any day. George Fox didn’t see it that way either – he was shown “all the places”.  Maybe I saw them today too.

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A mover and a Quaker (not Shaker)

Yesterday I had the honor and gift of accompanying in prayer a group of faithful individuals, being sentenced by the state for their faithful actions.  You may read more about the details here.

One particular moment stayed with me after that day.  The judge, in his efforts to explain his decisions, told us that Friend Jay (one of the four participants on trial) was obviously the “mover and the shaker” of the group – i.e. an instigator and responsible for more of the actions, and therefore the fines.  I have some factual insights that would disprove that – but the phrase and its implications – and what I heard in that moment, has remained with me.

Friend Jay’s not a “mover and a shaker” – he’s a mover and a Quaker. And some of this is a silly play on words – but for me it reminds me of the greater motivation in all of this.

The actual Shakers (this is not what the judge meant of course, but this is what I heard) were a religious sect that had an astounding successful presence right down the road from Concord (where we were at the time) in Canterbury, NH.  They were innovative – the first group to bring wired electricity to the area.  They were community builders – they took in orphans and unhoused folks, gave them food and purpose and a family if they chose to stay.  They were spiritual – they made everything they did about being attentive to God.

The Quakers were not the Shakers.  I’m often confused with that group, by folks who just think old-timey bonneted religious extinct folks are all the same.  So where did the Shakers go?  As part of their long term plan to increase their numbers, they required all members to live a segregated life, away from the world, in their communities.  They would interact in small ways with the locals – but membership and belonging was defined by being not a part of “the world”.  They also were celibate – so they did not produce their own community members and future generations.  This didn’t work out long term.  There are a few Shakers left, but not many. Quakers did this too in some ways in our history.  We called it not being “of the world” and spoke of a “hedge” dividing us from all the other folks of other religions who didn’t act like us.  We built our own schools and communities to provide for our own membership.  Our plain dress, and plain speech showed a physical separation from those around us.  Being peculiar was a religious call, not just being a little weird.

But back to Friend Jay, the Quaker-not-Shaker. What did the judge get wrong?  Here’s what I saw yesterday, and throughout these actions.  Jay experienced a clear call from the Divine.  It wasn’t neat and pretty – sometimes it fit the wider movement, sometimes not. Jay tested this leading with his community.  Both West Falmouth, and then Portland Meeting accompanied Jay in this process.  He may not have always been led to follow the laws of the land – but he was required to follow the discernment of his oversight committee and they multiple Friends he prayed with and sat with and listened to God with. Jay didn’t act alone.  Sometimes it was with others on a bridge, and a lot of folks praying for him after they heard about it on social media, in NEYM committees and lots of places.  Jay wasn’t in this for personal free publicity.  I had to bring that up – the judge and the prosecution kept asserting that “free publicity” was a motivating factor.  I’m sure in some secular ways it could be.  It was not here. His support teams (and the actual publicity teams of various organizations and news outlets) made sure of that.   Jay’s actions were not determined by possible outcomes.  Thomas Merton (not a Quaker) says “we are not called to be effective – but be faithful”.  That does not exclude wonderful, successful positive outcomes.  But the call is to do the work, and let God change hearts, or do the other things we can’t see.  Jay was called to do his piece. He cares deeply about results – this is an emergency.  But he trusts in the One who can do more than any of us humans can.  We Quakers partner with that One. Jay’s actions were always led by Love.  This is what is so hard about all of this.  That Divine love requires love of our neighbor – and that includes the law enforcement folks, the coal train drivers, the judges, they system that is failing us.  We do not have to love the system and human failures.  But we are required to embrace and encourage the love and that-of-the-divine in everyone in each moment. I find that harder sometimes than the big actions – the work of our hearts.

We Quakers also believe that this access to the Divine – peace, love, goodness, benefit to all – is not limited by being named a “Quaker” or being “religious”.  You know who else did all that stuff I observed Jay doing?  The others in this movement.  AND yes, the three other folks on trial – AND all the folks who donated time and money and prayers and food and the little things that made it possible for these folks to do their powerful part.

The judge at one point referred to their actions as seeming to be of “the privilege of having the time and wealth to be a nuisance”.  A hobby of political action and attention-getting, if you will.  He missed the point.  He dismissed the actions of so many, the upswell of love and all the little ways known only to God and to those who speak them.  The people who are called to save us all. (photo of trial support, by No Coal No Gas campaign)

An ironic note: the judge graduated from Haverford.  He noted that perhaps his Quaker education there, and Jay’s at Earlham (both small Quaker colleges) was different.  I agree. 😉

I also noted, in our debrief afterwards, a sharing from the whole community.  We wondered in sadness about the systems of law that fail so many.  This experience exposed us to how others in our world are treated – not just by destroying their clean air and water and living environment via climate change – but by removing their very humanity and dignity.  The judge reminded us that the defendants were “good people” – not like the “drug addicts and thieves” he saw so often in court. I am exactly like those drug addicts and thieves.  Beloved by God all the same.  So is the judge.  To have that conversation, and hear the defendants worry about the judge’s well being and humanity in this system, was also very “Quakerly” to me!  Walking humbly, in love and mercy, is required at all times.  What a gift it is to be with a community that demonstrates that experientially.

Resources to learn more:

about Jay’s climate actions and a little lobster boat

about the Climate Disobedience center and their ongoing work

local NH actions through the eyes of another faithful minister/reporter, Arnie Alpert

More about Quaker support committees





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Not Bowling Alone.

In 2000 Robert Putnam wrote an important book – Bowling Alone. Putnam talks about social capital, asserts some theories about how we connect in communities, and what drives us as humans. If you are someone who thinks a lot about community (in religious and work and secular settings) like me, this is fascinating work.

David, my dear spouse and my partner in life, is a bowler.  He began in middle school, and has been in bowling leagues (with his parents and friends) basically his whole life.  He’s been in his current adult bowling league (and all of its forms) for over 28 years!

What do I observe about this group?

It has fluid yet consistent overall membership, based on a clear and common goal.

They bowl!  They don’t exchange recipes or study chess. Folks know what they are getting involved in, with dues and rules and a schedule and clear objectives.

People are supported at whatever level they bowl at.  The bowling rankings give you a handicap.  This allows someone like David (a pretty adept lifelong bowler) to bowl on a team with a relative newcomer.  As long as that person is willing to follow the basic bowling rules of the game, their score is weighted to challenge them but not overwhelm while they are learning and having fun.

Social opportunities are varied, organic, and at times slightly more organized.  They always have at least a very basic shared theme of “bowling”.  A few times a year they have a potluck dinner – before and during bowling. At the bowling alley.  Once a year is a catered bowling banquet with music.  It has fun games and awards based on the year’s bowling scores. It rewards beginners, new bowlers, oldest attenders, pretty much anything you can celebrate.

It welcomes varied physical and mental abilities.  This surprised me at first.  I didn’t know bowling was possible if you were in a wheelchair (it is!).  This league has folks from all walks (and rolls) of life.  It is fully accessible as long as you are willing to bowl.  And the game of bowling itself has accomodations for physical limitations. The league meets in an accessible public place, with good parking.

Folks figure out how to get each other to/from bowling league.  The group meets on Sunday nights.  My husband drives two folks every week who need a ride and come from Lawrence.  He doesn’t have to drive lots of folks, just these two.  He accepts that is part of the agreement of bowling in a league for him.

There are organized “field trips” a few times a year beyond the bowling alley in Lowell.  Folks compete in a few state tournaments, and there’s a banquet.  Those always also have a bit of bowling – they are not just getting together to visit.  There is always a clear sense of what this group is formed by and focuses on.



Other people are welcome to watch (spouses, kids) as long as they can follow the clear rules of bowling.  No walking on that special floor in regular shoes, no running around, no drinking alcohol if you are underage.  You can hang out and watch, but don;t get in the way of what the folks are gathered to do.

So….how does this relate to your Quaker meeting?  This bowling league has outlasted a number of area churches, with no signs of stopping. We live in a world where lots of folks can participate in community online, or locally through work our hobbies.  What does a Quaker meeting provide that keeps folks returning and nourished and supporting of all in the community?

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