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?