It’s amazing how many people come by our meetinghouse every day, and how different they all are. There are the folks from the meeting, of course, who come to the office to see me, or to drop things off or pick things up. There are tradespeople who come to work on the copier, or inspect the fire extinguishers, or deliver packages. But there are lots of other people who come in the drive but never enter the meetinghouse.
There’s the photographer from a nearby architect’s office, for example. At least once or twice a week he pulls in and parks during lunch hour. He told me he likes it because it’s quiet, and he can eat his sandwich and listen to the birds and read his Bible in the middle of the day.
Then there are the police who often park right behind the brick gateway. Our meetinghouse sits at the top of a hill with a road curving down below, and it’s tempting for drivers to go speeding past. Our parking lot is a good place for the police to have a speed trap during the day, or for two patrol cars to meet for a coffee break in the evening. I often see them when I’m out walking the dog, and they roll down their window to visit.
A surprising number of people pull into the Springfield Friends parking lot to stop and make cell phone calls, or send text messages. Especially on Saturdays, I often see two cars pull in, the doors open, and one or two children walk from one car to the other – probably exchanging the children for weekend custody visits. Those always make me sad.
There’s a large historic cemetery next to our meetinghouse – the oldest graves go back to the late 1700’s – and we often get visitors who are tracing their family on the gravestones. They’re easy to spot because they almost always carry cameras and notebooks, and they apologize for coming by. I often help them find the place they’re interested in, using the excellent guidebook prepared by the Springfield Memorial Association, and a lot of the time the family wants to buy a copy.
One day, a pickup truck pulled in and parked right outside my office window. The driver got out, left the door open, and came around so that the truck screened him from the road. He proceeded to strip down to his underwear, wiped himself down with a washcloth and some bottled water, and put on clean clothes – he obviously thought no one was here, and he needed to change for a meeting or an interview.
The pedestrians are even more interesting than the cars. We have a lot of immigrants in our neighborhood, and every afternoon two older Pakistani women come walking up Elva Place from their home 200 yards away. They’re clearly getting their daily exercise and our meetinghouse is the turnaround point. They’re very shy and always turn back before I can greet them.
When we first moved here, there was a gaunt older woman with the high cheekbones and piercing eyes that said she came from the mountains, wearing a ragged dress and worn-out shoes, who walked past every afternoon. She said her doctor told her to walk 2 miles every day for her heart, so she would go twice around the large block made by Springfield Road, Brentwood, Fairfield and Bellemeade. Then one day she stopped coming, and I never found out what happened to her. I hope it was because she was able to move in with family, or find a better place to live.
Then there’s a very young African-American mother, still in her teens, who walks past pushing her baby in a stroller. We always smile and greet each other, and I always ask how the baby’s coming along, which earns me an extra grin.
It’s surprising how many people in the neighborhood don’t know who we are – one person told me she’s lived here all her life and thought we might be a church, but the sign said “Friends Meeting” and she didn’t know what that was.
We don’t interact nearly enough with the people in our neighborhood, and I think that’s true of most Friends meetings in other places as well. We come here on Sunday to worship, and occasionally for other gatherings, but we seldom talk with our neighbors, who live nearby and see our building every day.
This year we put up a new sign with 8-inch letters which can be changed easily, and we started putting up different messages each week. The new sign has drawn a lot of attention, and it’s even started a friendly marquee rivalry with the Methodist church down the street – a group we didn’t interact with before.
Several times a year our meeting holds big fundraising dinners which draw 200-300 people – a barbecue, a gigantic fish fry, a chili cook-off. Those are great, but the visitors seldom come back on Sunday morning. More recently, we’ve invited a local gospel group to come and sing during the dinner – here in North Carolina, the combination of gospel music and pork barbecue is nearly irresistible.
For much of our history, Quakers frowned on making a big deal of public holidays. But last year for the Christmas season, we put electric candles in all the windows of our meetinghouse facing the road, which drew a lot of attention. People slowed down to enjoy the lovely lights in the evening, and the lights also brightened their day in the dark of early morning as they went off to work or to school.
One of our members is trying to organize a Spanish Bible study here at the meetinghouse, and classes in English to help the new families in the neighborhood adjust to living here. Another member wants to start a 12-step group, which may not make our meeting grow right away on Sunday morning, but it’s a great ministry for us to support.
Growth is always tied to outreach – on the web, on the street, in the community, in the neighborhood. Quakers are a pretty introverted bunch – we need to shake loose and interact with the people who are all around us. It’s not enough to have a good write-up in the history books – we need to make history in our own generation, and find fresh ways to minister and witness to the love and light of God.