More quarterly meeting thoughts

Well, the last posting (“Who Killed Quarterly Meeting?”) certainly drew a response – more comments on this topic than anything which has appeared in this blog to date! Thanks for all your ideas, and here are a few more to stoke the discussion.

I remember years ago visiting with an older Friend from Sandwich Quarter in New England Yearly Meeting. She said that in her mother’s time, that Quarterly meeting was so big that there were special chartered trains to bring all the Quakers, and a fleet of schooners came across from Nantucket to bring everyone to Quarterly meeting!

I also remember what we did in New York Yearly Meeting in the early 1980’s. In our area there were 3 small, weak quarters – two of them descended from Hicksite groups, and one of them an old Orthodox quarter. When I met with the leaders of the various meetings, they remembered that their grandparents had carried down memories of the old Orthodox/Hicksite bitterness, but they didn’t really know what the arguments had been about.

We managed to bring together the 10 local meetings, with about 300 members, into the new Northeast Quarter. (Strange fact of Quaker geography: Northeast Quarter, in New York Yearly Meeting, is just across the border from Northwest Quarter in New England Yearly Meeting. But Northeast (NYYM) is to the WEST of Northwest (NEYM), and Northwest (NEYM) is to the EAST of Northeast (NYYM). Go figure.

Most of our gatherings drew at least 30-40 people (10%+ of the membership), and our annual retreats often drew over 100 people (30% of the membership).

Besides worship, lectures and discussion groups, children’s activities and family fun, the Northeast Quarter also sponsored 2 years of the Quaker Studies Program, which drew participants from 7 or 8 monthly meetings. The Quaker Studies Program helped produce a whole new generation of monthly meeting and committee clerks, First Day School teachers and Friends active in social concerns. So, add serious adult study groups to the list of important services which a well-run quarterly meeting can provide.

So much depends on good leadership. We didn’t wait for someone to volunteer – in so many quarters, the clerk winds up being the last person to turn down the job. We went out and recruited the best people we could think of to be clerks, speakers, program planning people, and so on. We asked each meeting to contribute $2 per member to the quarter, which gave us about $600 a year to work with – enough to pay travel for a couple of speakers and offer reduced registration fees for our annual retreats. Quarterly meeting wasn’t a tired relic of the past, but an active gathering serving the present day.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but some of the yearly meetings here in the Midwest have declined in numbers to the point that they might do better to think of themselves as large quarterly meetings. We make noises like a full-size denomination, but we struggle to keep things going. Would we be better off as independent quarterly meetings?

 

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All of the posts on this blog are my own personal opinion. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the members and attenders of the meeting where I belong or any organization of Friends. For more information, click on the "About Me" tab above.

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