31 December 2006

Stone Soup for the Soul

or: On the Role of Leadership in a Friends Meeting

Pacific Yearly Meeting has given its monthly meetings the charge to consider the Jubilee Year and what it might mean to Friends. Initially, this led to great confusion in our Meeting as we tried to figure out what connection the Old Testament Jubilee could possibly have to our modern lives. Our society is so very different from that of the Israelites, and the scope of the Society of Friends is quite limited economically.

Our Meeting has taken some small and not-so-small steps to try to review what we are doing in light of the Jubilee Year. Are we as a corporate body acting from the center? Are our structures and institutions alive and in congruence with our needs and values? What can we do to center down corporately and make our Meeting a living embodiment of the Light?

This summer, some of our beloved Friends (who also held strong leadership roles in the community) moved far away. The Meeting (and I myself) was in a kerfluffle before they left but, to my surprise, the Meeting did not falter once they were gone. Their departure, instead of being a crisis, was an opportunity for the Meeting to go deeper, to develop new strengths, and to rejoice in the members who remain.

In past years, some of our Meeting traditions have grown heavy for those who are trying to carry them. It has become abundantly clear that we cannot continue to do these things as they have been done. We have chosen to lay some of them aside and to continue others in a simpler form.

Which leads us to Christmas Eve.

It is the custom of our Meeting to have a programmed celebratory family worship on Christmas Eve in the evening. I woke with a start the Saturday after Thanksgiving to realize that Worship & Ministry had done nothing to plan for this annual event. The Christmas Eve service is a cherished oasis of sanity and connection in my own holiday celebration. It has also traditionally been a fair amount of work for either a member of Worship & Ministry or a planning committee.

I started thinking about how we could have a wonderful Christmas Eve worship that would include everyone and not strain Worship & Ministry's slender resources. Since Christmas Eve came on a Sunday, we'd already have unprogrammed worship in the morning so perhaps we could make the evening worship a bit less programmed than it usually is.

As I mulled it over, I got the idea that the whole worship could be musical, with the music provided by members of the Meeting. All that Worship & Ministry (which was starting to look more and more like me) would need to do would be to get the ball rolling.

And so it came to pass. The committee approved the idea and sent me and another member of the committee off with their blessings. We talked to the musical members of the community and they started organizing themselves to prepare numbers, lead carols, and copy song sheets. A few Friends volunteered to help with the set-up.

We had a lovely musical evening with instrumental music, a sing-along, and sacred circle dancing followed by a bountiful potluck. I worked steadily and joyfully, without undue stress or exhaustion.

I left the Christmas Eve worship feeling blessed by my community and also with a sense that this is how Friends are meant to organize. Historically, unprogrammed Friends have deliberately eschewed professional leaders and ministers. We are a religion of clergy, and that means that each person brings her gifts to the community.

I and the other Christmas Eve facilitator went back to Worship and Ministry with new enthusiasm for stone soup events. Our business for the evening was to plan our spring Meeting retreat (an event that has historically burnt out the clerk of Worship and Ministry), and the committee explored ways to share responsibility more widely in the community.

One of our possible themes for our retreat is "What would our Meeting do if we were truly Spirit-led?" At one point, the clerk of the Meeting suggested that we might make the weekend an experiential potluck, with individual Friends bringing activities and gifts to share as their potluck dishes.


Chris M. said...


I'm so glad to hear that your meeting has come through the loss of some of your very involved Friends -- and they were pretty weighty! -- in good order.

Thank you for your reflections about collective leadership, too. This may be helpful as SF Meeting considers the PYM queries in the coming months.

-- Chris M.

Liz Opp said...

I really enjoyed this post, Heather. You weave together the threads of leadership, shared responsibility, calling forth one another's gifts, and being faithful to our nudges and leadings!

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up