Archive for the 'Leadership' Category

What do Quaker pastors do?

To a lot of people, the words “pastor” and “Quaker” don’t belong in the same sentence. I don’t know how many times in the last 40 years I’ve been told, “Quakers don’t have pastors!” Even though many Quaker meetings have had pastors since the 1870’s, and even though more than 2/3 of the Quaker meetings in the world are programmed, there’s still a great deal of ignorance about what Quaker pastors do.

We don’t do sacraments like baptism or communion — or at least, the great majority of us don’t. On the other hand, a lot of pastoral work is sacramental, using the classic definition that a sacrament is an “outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible reality”. Pastors and ministers try to help people see that God is real, that God is very near, and that the same love, grace and healing which it talks about in the Bible are available to everyone today.

Most pastors preach — trying to share a full range of Scripture, sharing accurately what the Bible says, bringing God’s word alive for people today. Good pastors preach in such a way that other people will be drawn to speak. Good messages  give permission for people to ask honest questions, and good pastors respect sincere doubt.

Pastors make calls and visits in an unimaginably varied range of circumstances. I visit people in homes, hospitals, at their place of work, anywhere I can find them. I’ve done pastoral calls in prison cells, crawling in the basement carrying a flashlight with service techs, in supermarket aisles, on roof tops, in class rooms, in law offices and banks, sitting on the dock by the lake, eating watermelon on the back porch. Go where the people are.

Pastors teach – sometimes to people who aren’t interested in learning. I teach Bible studies, Quaker history, how to run committees, prayer classes, marriage clearness groups, all kinds of interesting subjects. If I wasn’t a full-time pastor, I’d probably be a teacher.

Pastors listen  a lot — to people, to the Holy Spirit, to oneself, to the world, to the meeting. Most of the mistakes I’ve made in pastoral work happened when I wasn’t listening enough.

Even though it’s not sacramental in the traditional sense, pastors hear a lot of confessions and carry all sorts of confidences.

Pastors pray — pray often, pray deeply, pray for ourselves and for others. Sometimes my prayers “work” (what I prayed for happens), but a lot of the time prayer is more about just being there and asking God to be here with us. My prayers aren’t better than anyone else’s, but I do try to pray a lot.

Pastors need to study, long after whatever training program they take is “completed”. Even a master’s-level program is just the beginning of all pastors need to read, learn, reflect, and write about. The learning really never ends, since the world keeps changing (and keeps staying the same).

Depending on their personal gifts and calling, Quaker pastors can be involved with peacemaking, truth telling, reconciliation, counseling and referral, writing, chaplaincy, prison ministry, youth work, evangelism and missions, ministry with the poor, retreats and conferences, motivational speaking, translation, historic preservation, ecumenical ministry, pilgrimage, hospice, mental health and addiction, agriculture, environmental concerns, and a few dozen other things. Just about every Quaker pastor I know covers the “main things” (worship, pastoral care, organization) but also has some kind of special schtick that God has called them to. Really good pastors work to support the ministries of others in the meeting.

Representing the meeting to the community and to other Friends — we’re the ones they turn to for information about Friends,and for the “Quaker position” on all kinds of subjects we know nothing about. We get tapped to serve on community boards, ministerial associations, charity events, and historical tours. We spend hundreds of butt-numbing hours on boards and committees.

Many pastors spend a lot more time than they want to on maintenance. It’s always demanding, it’s often neglected, and it can easily take over our time and define our ministry in ways we’d rather not spend so many hours on. I’ve overseen the installation of roofs and elevators, pumped out flooded basements, fixed sound systems, done janitorial work, painted every room in the meetinghouse and the parsonage, dealt with mice and cockroaches in the meetinghouse kitchen, sealed leaks, planted flowers, and cleaned gutters, usually because there was no money, it really needed to be done and no one else was available to deal with it.  Personally, I like to fix things — things that are broken, things that don’t work well, things that could bring beauty and life to the meeting.

 

Pastors are supposed to understand and uphold Quaker beliefs, be the local experts on Quaker history, know where to find things in Faith and Practice, have memorized all the major Quaker journals and be able to quote from them at a moment’s notice. The pastor is frequently the contact person, educator and fund raiser for Quaker missions; I’ve been lucky enough to go and see a few mission sites for myself.

Some Quaker pastors evangelize — preach in public and try to convert people (yes, there are Quaker evangelists!). Nearly all Quaker pastors try to share the good news, help save people who are lost or confused, and encourage people to grow in faith, hope and love.

Pastors are often called on to give thanks for old ministries and meetings, and help with gracefully laying them down when their day is done. Much more fun, we’re called to be midwives and assist at the birth of new ones.

Even though there are many pastoral Quaker meetings, there are fewer people who are willing to spend their working lives as pastors. I often wonder if Quaker pastors are a dying breed. Fewer meetings have the financial resources to support a full-time pastor, and a lot of young potential Quaker pastors have or want to have a family. Most Quaker pastors need things like a home, a car, health insurance, retirement savings, and income to pay off their educational loans.

Still, it’s an interesting and (mostly) rewarding calling, and I encourage readers to ask questions or suggest new ways that Quaker pastoral work can be done in today’s world.

 

 

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Update on North Carolina Yearly Meeting – II

In my last post, I gave you the bottom line – North Carolina Yearly Meeting, after 318 years of more-or-less unity, have decided that separation is inevitable. Depending on your perspective, this is cause for either grief or relief. According to some Friends, the bickering and fighting have been building up for the last 20 or 30 years.

It looks like the breakup may actually be happening now. There’s a lot of pressure for meetings to choose sides, even though the “sides” are poorly defined. Some meetings still don’t want to choose, or are still longing for a way to stay together.

The wedge issue which is seldom mentioned out loud but which has been effectively used to break up the yearly meeting is homosexuality. Problems with this issue aren’t unique to North Carolina Yearly Meeting or to Friends in general; churches across the United States have been trying to find ways to unite or divide.

The pressure is on for the yearly meeting to split into just two groups, and for monthly meetings to choose sides if they haven’t done so already. From many conversations with Quaker leaders, I think that the reality is that there are really three groups, which is making things more complicated.

To draw the picture with a very broad brush, though, here’s my view of the groups in North Carolina Friends.

Group A – meetings which were basically satisfied with what they see as a “traditional” yearly meeting. I’d call them the “centrist” group – many of these meetings have LGBT members but they’re basically keeping quiet and not making an issue of it.

Group B – meetings which embrace a more liberal theology; some are openly and enthusiastically accepting of LGBT members and are willing to hold marriages under their care without regard to sexual orientation.

Group C – meetings which want a much more evangelical statement of faith and want the yearly meeting to have both the ability and the resolve to kick out meetings and pastors which don’t agree with them. These meetings strongly reject homosexual practice and do not want to associate with Friends who tolerate or accept it.

Many of the meetings which were most outspoken in Group C withdrew early from the yearly meeting. Group B have mostly hung in, which has caused more Group C’s to withdraw or threaten to do so.

Originally, Group C wanted to kick out Group B, and drag the A’s along into their camp. A lot of the stridency in Group C appears to be coming from a fairly small group of pastors, while a lot of the cohesiveness in Group A and B seems to be rooted in the rank-and-file membership.

As this same kind of struggle has played out in other yearly meetings, the division has worked out differently, and a lot of the time it’s been a battle for the soul of the center. In Western Yearly Meeting a few years ago, some of the most outspoken meetings on both the liberal and evangelical sides left, and the center mostly held together.

In Indiana, about 60% of the members from the right and right-of-center managed to claim the title of “Indiana Yearly Meeting”, about 35% became the New Association of Friends, and about 5% of the membership wound up becoming independent.

Here in North Carolina, it’s unclear to me at this point how the numbers will work out. If monthly meetings were truly left to themselves to decide their own future, my guess is that Group A might be 40-50% of the membership, Group B might be 10%-20%, Group C might be 40%, and at least 10% might go independent.

Whether meetings will be allowed honestly to choose for themselves is still an open question. Most Friends are talking only in terms of 2 groups, not 3 (or more).

If Group A (the centrists) can agree to make acceptance of homosexuality a matter for local meetings to decide, or at least take it off the front burner, they could probably combine successfully with most of Group B for a while.

If Group C succeeds in making homosexuality the litmus test for the entire group, they may drag a few more of the Group A meetings along with them.

Most of the leaders I have spoken with from Group B meetings seem sincere in their desire not to split the yearly meeting. Their meetings’ support and acceptance of LGBT people is a matter of conscience and conviction, and many of these Group B leaders are widely respected outside their own monthly meetings.

Meanwhile, almost every time two Quakers from North Carolina get together, the question they can’t resist asking is, “What way is your meeting going to go?”

I believe in unity among Friends, to the greatest degree it’s possible to obtain, and I’ve spent most of my working career trying to bring Friends together. I’m still a newcomer to North Carolina, but I’ve seen similar struggles among Quakers from all across the United States, and they sadden me tremendously, almost beyond my ability to bear.

In my next post, I’ll be talking about the cost of separation – something which Friends only whisper about, but which deserves closer examination.

Church keys

One of the most moving moments in starting work at a new meeting is being given the keys to the meetinghouse. It’s a symbol of trust, of having arrived, of being one of the meeting leaders.

Many years ago I attended an unprogrammed Friends meeting in a rural area. Seven miles out in the country. After I’d been coming for about a year, I was asked to come early each Sunday and unlock the meetinghouse and turn on the heat. The key was kept at the neighbor’s house about 200 yards away. It hung on a nail on the door leading from the garage into the kitchen, and anyone who needed to get into the meetinghouse knew where to find it.

When I came here to North Carolina, I acquired a new set of keys – one to the meetinghouse door, and one to the office. That’s plenty for me – I hate carrying around a heavy, bulky key ring. But over the next few months, I found out that different people in the meeting had other keys that I didn’t have – a key to the back door, a key to the kitchen door, and so on.

There was a moment of panic in January when the fuel oil for the meetinghouse ran out, and nobody knew where the key to the oil tank was. We could get more oil delivered – but without the key, we couldn’t put it in the tank! I finally called the former handyman, who told me where it was hidden in the boiler room in the basement.

I kept finding places for which I didn’t have the key, and no one could tell me where to find one. In the office there were three large key rings with dozens of unmarked keys – probably over half for locks which don’t exist any more.

So I spent an hour going round the meetinghouse with the key collection. As I discovered a key that worked, I tagged it with one of those round metal-rimmed tags and a Sharpie marker.

A couple of people in the meeting thought it was a mistake to put tags on the keys. “What if someone broke into the office? They’d take the keys and be able to get in anywhere?” These folks would rather have an anonymous collection of keys, and be able to choose the right well-worn key from memory – even if it means that the new pastor can’t find anything!

It made me think that there must be many other “keys” in the meeting – not just physical keys, but ways to open people’s hearts and memories, their longings and fears and dreams. Just because I’ve got the key to the meetinghouse doesn’t mean I can get in anywhere I want.

Sometimes it’s a matter of knowing the right phrase, the right prayer, code or password. I’ve had to wait and listen to people for a while before they let me into what they’re really thinking or feeling.

A key is a complicated thing – a carefully shaped piece of metal, with a unique pattern of ridges and grooves which lets it move the invisible pieces inside the lock and free it to turn and open the door. Compared to the size of the door, or the whole building, a key is a tiny thing – but if it’s lost or missing, a whole church can be kept waiting outside till it’s found.

Sometimes a physical key can unlock a door into a chapter in the meeting’s past – no one knew where the key was to a large room which was used for many years for a school aftercare program. The program was laid down at least 10 years ago, but it’s still an important memory for many people who came to this meeting because of it. Now that I’ve found the key again, maybe we could re-purpose the room for a new ministry that will help bring life here again.

In some churches, the key is a symbol of power and control – the person who has it doesn’t want anyone to come in, or to have access to whatever they’re fiercely protecting. Fortunately, the meeting where I am now doesn’t have many locked areas.

I expect to keep finding more church keys – ones which open my understanding of the budget, unlock the hurts in an extended family, or open the doorway to all kinds of gifts and ministries. One key doesn’t work in every situation, and sometimes I have to call in a locksmith.

What are the keys to your meeting?

 


P.S. – just as an historical and cultural note, when I was growing up in Vermont, a “church key” meant something else entirely. It was an item at the bottom of the fishing tackle box which came in handy on a hot day. This meaning has gone out of common use since the invention of pop-tab cans.

can opener

 

Pastoral calls

Hi, all – I’m back from vacation, during which I did my best to put aside my work and not to think any Quaker thoughts at all!

In my last post, I said that one reason that I’m a Quaker pastor is that I love visiting people. In a typical month, I make between 30 to 50 calls and visits.

Many people today don’t seem to know what to expect in a “pastoral call”. In the old days, a visit from the minister meant cleaning the house from top to bottom, everyone scrubbed and on their best behavior, the family Bible dusted and on prominent display in the parlor. Those days of artificial formality are past!

Folks in our meeting are pretty busy, and I make lot of “quick visits” by e-mail or phone. I also get dozens of messages every day from people who want to share news, ask questions or ideas. People often pull me aside for a moment during coffee hour, but those conversations are usually interrupted and always short.

Even in today’s high-tech world, many people prefer a face-to-face visit rather than a phone conversation or e-mail. I hold regular office hours 4 mornings a week for people to drop in at the meeting office. Office hours are “interruptable time” when I can set aside whatever I’m doing and spend time listening.

Visits take place in homes or hospitals, but can also be at work or at a coffee shop. Several times a month, I run into people from our meeting in the grocery store. We block the aisle and catch up on things for 10 or 15 minutes. Not everyone likes to sit down in a chair and open up – some people talk more easily when we’re out on a walk, or working together on some manual task.

Sometimes people want to talk about an illness or personal problem, but often folks just want me to get to know them better. I’ve started thousands of conversations by asking people to tell me about the photos they keep on the mantel or by their bedside.

If we talk about important personal issues in a pastoral conversation, people can expect complete confidentiality. One of the most important ministries we can offer is simply listening – providing a safe place to share doubts, difficult situations and deep questions.

People talk about every subject under the sun – parenting problems, whether to sign a living will, whether pets go to Heaven, questions about a book they’ve read or a message they heard in worship. Sometimes a pastoral conversation is a kind of mini clearness committee, other times it’s a celebration of life. People share journals, recipes, meaningful mementoes, crafts they’ve done, job applications they’re working on. We talk about divorce, illness, career changes, aging parents and moral crises as well as vacations and grandchildren.

Sometimes, the best thing I can do is simply be there – in an emergency room, or in a surgery waiting room, or in the long hours sitting by the bed when someone is dying. Holding someone’s hand can be the most important kind of ministry there is.

When I come calling, I never ask for money. In fact, I don’t know how much anyone gives to the meeting, unless they choose to tell me. That’s the treasurer’s job, not the pastor’s. I may use a visit to share some news, invite people to participate in a meeting-related activity, or talk about an opportunity for ministry.

In the old days, the pastor was expected to pray at every visit. I’m always glad to pray with people, but I don’t like to be pushy – prayer isn’t something to be embarrassed about, but it is very personal. Some people in our meeting like to have quiet prayer time together. Out of the quiet, it may be easier to share what they’ve been thinking about.

As Friends consider new patterns of ministry for the 21st century – new forms of worship, new spiritual communities, new ways to organize – I hope that we’ll remember that direct, person-to-person care is one of the most important ministries of all.

Opening the doors

A lot of Quaker meetinghouses are pretty old, and mostly we love them. We enjoy the sense of history and connectedness to the past, and many meetings spend a great deal of time and effort preserving their buildings and keeping them as “authentic” as possible.

Quakers also don’t like to spend money – many meetinghouses were built when they had a lot more members, and when there were many fewer demands on our funds. Some Quakers also think that it’s “unspiritual” to spend money on buildings, when there are so many important causes and ministries out there asking for help.

So, we tend not to spend money on updating our buildings. “It was good enough 50 or 100 years ago, it’s good enough now.”

This means that many Quaker meetinghouses aren’t well adapted for full use by people with various abilities. They have too many stairs, bathrooms which are impossible to get in and out of, doors that are too narrow, cupboards and shelves which are out of reach. At worship, few meetinghouses provide inviting space for wheelchair users. People with limited hearing often complain they can’t follow what speakers are saying. Most meetings don’t even have large-print hymnals and Bibles for worship!

More important, many meetings have what I call an “attitude barrier”. It’s simply too much trouble to make changes to accommodate people with different abilities – even if they know these folks want to come and participate! Instead of stretching their imagination and resources to be open, many meetings just can’t be bothered.

For the last 20 years, the meeting where I work (West Richmond Friends) has been working to make our meetinghouse, our worship and all of our programs as fully accessible as possible. Some of the things we’ve done have been expensive, but most of the changes have been in our attitude.

  • Our new elevator, installed in 2006, makes it easy for people to get to both the main floor and the lower level. We chose an entrance under the archway between the meetinghouse and the Friends School next door, so that cars can load and unload under cover from the weather. Greeters are always available on Sunday to help operate the elevator and assist people who need help.
  • Most people who need a wheel chair bring their own, but we also have extra wheel chairs available to move people around on either level of the building – if someone gets tired, for example.
  • We created “parking spots” in our worship room so wheelchair users don’t feel crowded. Each parking spot also has a rack which hold both of our two hymnals, a Bible, pencils and 3×5 cards for taking notes. A table near the entrance to the worship room holds large-print Bibles, hymnals and bulletins, as well as the special hearing system which captures and amplifies what’s said during worship.
  • We have one ADA-compliant accessible rest room, and this summer we’re converting a second. All bathrooms in the building also have grab rails installed for safety.
  • Sermons on tape are available for most worship services; many sermons are also posted on our web site. Worship bulletins are also mailed regularly to homebound Friends who ask for them.
  • Walkers, commodes, canes and other equipment are available for long or short-term loan. These are donated by families and individuals.
  • In the meetinghouse kitchen, we’ve set up a special drawer at knee level, which holds a few dishes, cups and table ware. This is so Friends in wheelchairs don’t have to ask for help or wait when they need these things at a potluck meal.

These are just a few examples of things we’ve done, and our meeting is always looking for new ways to be more accessible and inviting.

The elevator was expensive – it cost about $42,000 when it was installed 8 years ago. Some Friends questioned whether it would be used enough to make it worthwhile. We’ve been surprised by how many new people have come to our meeting (and stayed!) because of the effort we’ve made. The elevator is used at least 10-15 times every week. If it lasts for 30 years (and it will probably last much longer than that) it will work out to about $25 a week – a small price to pay for making our worship and our building fully accessible.

More important than the money, though, has been our meeting’s across-the-board change of attitude. We’re not being condescendingly generous – we recognize that we need these folks in our meeting! We want to be open to everyone, and we’ll make whatever changes are needed to include these Friends in all parts of our worship and program.

My favorite Quaker quotes

Hello again — I’ve been “off the air” and haven’t posted for a while. I thought I would share some of my favorite classic Quaker quotations of all time.

Quakers are highly quotable, and Friends have always enjoyed saving and sharing these great snippets and one-liners with each other. I’m sure I have missed some of your favorites — feel free to post them in your comments.

  1. “I saw also that there was an ocean of darkness and death, but an infinite ocean of light and love, which flowed over the ocean of darkness: and in that also I saw the infinite love of God…” – George Fox
  2. “You will say, Christ saith this, and the apostles say this; but what canst thou say? Art thou a child of Light and hast walked in the Light, and what thou speakest is it inwardly from God?…” – George Fox
  3. “There is that near you which will guide you. O, wait for it, and be sure to keep to it…” – Isaac Penington
  4. “Our life is love, and peace, and tenderness; and bearing one with another, and forgiving one another, and not laying accusations one against another; but praying one for another, and helping one another up with a tender hand.” – Isaac Penington
  5. “There is a spirit which I feel that delights to do no evil, nor to revenge any wrong, but delights to endure all things, in hope to enjoy its own in the end. Its hope is to outlive all wrath and contention, and to weary out all exaltation and cruelty, or whatever is of a nature contrary to itself…” – James Nayler
  6. “Take heed, dear Friends, to the promptings of love and truth in your hearts, which are the leadings of God.” – London Yearly Meeting
  7. “The humble, meek, merciful, just, pious and devout souls are everywhere of one religion; and when death has taken off the mask, they will know one another though the divers liveries they wear here makes them strangers…” – William Penn
  8. “A good end cannot sanctify evil means; nor must we ever do evil that good may come of it…let us then try what love will do…” – William Penn
  9. “Love is the hardest lesson in Christianity; but for that reason it should be most our care to learn it…” – William Penn
  10. “…the Spirit of Christ, by which we are guided, is not changeable, so as once to command us form a thing as evil, and again to move unto it; and we certainly know, and testify to the world, that the Spirit of Christ, which leads us into all truth, will never move us to fight and war against any man with outward weapons…” 1660 Declaration to King Charles II
  11.  “We are not for names, nor men, nor titles of Government, nor are we for this party nor against the other…but we are for justice and mercy and truth and peace and true freedom, that these may be exalted in our nation…” – Edward Burrough
  12. “For when I came into the silent assemblies of God’s people I felt a secret power among them which touched my heart; and as I gave way unto it I found the evil weakening in me and the good raised up…” – Robert Barclay
  13.  “…to turn all the treasures we possess into the channel of Universal Love becomes the business of our lives…” – John Woolman
  14. “I expect to pass through this world but once. Any good therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again…” – Stephen Grellet
  15. “You are never tempted by a devil without you, but by a devil within you…” – Elias Hicks
  16. “It is an honor to appear on the side of the afflicted…” – Elizabeth Fry
  17. “I give myself this advice: Do not fear truth, let it be ever so contrary to inclination and feeling. Never give up the search after it; and let me take courage, and try from the bottom of my heart to do that which I believe truth dictates, if it lead me to be a Quaker or not…” – Elizabeth Fry
  18. “Those who go forth ministering to the wants and necessities of their fellow beings experience a rich return, their souls being as a watered garden, and a spring that faileth not…” – Lucretia Mott
  19. “I long for the day my sisters will rise, and occupy the sphere to which they are called by their high nature and destiny.” – Lucretia Mott
  20. “Has a separation ever caused more people to hear the Gospel? Ever enlarged the Church? Ever shown to the world more of the gentleness and meekness of Christ? Has a separation ever caused the world to exclaim, `See how those Christians love one another?'” – Allen Jay

Are Quakers wise givers?

This post is inspired by the article, “Doing Good Well” by Charles Schade, which appears in the February issue of Friends Journal. I think that many Friends organizations are long overdue for the kind of evaluation which he shares. It’s also very helpful that he presented the various organizations side-by-side so that readers could compare them (similar to my own post, What Does Your Yearly Meeting Web Site Say About You? ).

Quaker organizations don’t do transparency as well as we think – when I visited web sites like charitynavigator.org and greatnonprofits.org, not even the AFSC had a rating.

I have served for quite a few years in three different yearly meetings on committees which were responsible for setting the budgets for giving to large Quaker organizations. Charles Schades’s guidelines would have been very valuable to us. Many yearly meetings practice what I call “budgeting by inertia” – they simply give the same amount, unchanged year after year (sometimes decade after decade!) without question or discussion.

When I served as clerk, I tried to get Friends to think a little more about their giving to Quaker organizations. Here are some of the questions I ask:

  1. Has the group asked us for financial support? Have they asked for a specific amount? Have we given to this group previously?
  2. If we’ve given to them before, did they send us a receipt, thank-you or acknowledgment?

  3. Did they send us a copy of their budget or a financial report?

  4. Are we making a meaningful contribution? Does our gift make a difference? Or is ours just a token gift?

  5. Do we help publicize their work in our meeting? Are we educating ourselves about the work of this group, or about the conditions they are trying to help?

  6. What percentage of their budget is being spent on fundraising?

  7. Is the group effective? Has their work made any difference, either in the lives of individuals served or in the problems the group is trying to address?

  8. Are the goals or mission of the group in harmony with those of our meeting? Do any Friends have serious reservations about the goals, mission or activities of the group? If so, are we willing to labor with them?

  9. Have we had any personal contact with the group? Has anyone from our meeting visited there recently? Are they willing to send someone to visit with us?

  10. If our support for the group is ongoing, has our giving to them kept pace with inflation? Have we given the same amount for many years? What rationale is there for the amount we give?

Charles Schade’s article is addressed more towards the clarity and transparency of the receiving organization, while my questions are aimed more at the process and self-evaluation of the donor organization. In my experience, Quaker meetings tend not to be thoughtful donors (which means we aren’t very good stewards).

I hope Charles Schade’s article read and discussed widely, both by local and yearly meetings and (hopefully) by the organizations which ask us for support.


Disclaimer

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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