The Health of the Meeting Community

Reno Friends recently gathered for a Worship Sharing to talk about how we communicate and resolve conflict as a group. After two members left our Meeting last fall, we felt it was important to consider how we might listen to each other with more empathy and consideration, while also honoring individual leadings, contributions and concerns.

Worship Sharing is a powerful process Quakers often use when addressing contentious or difficult issues. Worship Sharing guidelines ask participants to speak out of the silence from their deepest heart, avoiding debates and cross-talk. We used queries about the health of the Meeting community as prompts, and returned to the silence regularly, as is common in the process.

Small spiritual communities often struggle with the tension between supporting the needs of individuals while managing expectations and focusing on what is best for the group. At Reno Friends  we have sometimes stumbled in finding this balance partly because we don’t always know what people are thinking and feeling. During our Worship Sharing we talked about the art of “listening even beyond words”: by pausing to listen closely to each other without pre-judgment, we could build more durable bonds of respect and caring despite differences of opinion.

We also talked about the role of language in our Quaker experience, reminding ourselves that some may feel triggered by terms that others find dear to their heart. At the same time, we agreed the Meeting should be a place where people feel free to use the spiritual language that speaks to and for them. We recognize that Silent Worship – sitting quietly with others to listen to “God’s still small voice” – takes courage and tolerance. So we talked of listening beyond the words to the spirit and experience underneath, and trying to find connection there.

We also discussed what helps members and attenders feel supported and connected, including our camping trips and hikes, potlucks and discussion groups, even our joy in gathering to spruce- up the Meeting House garden or to cook and serve food to the homeless.  We agreed that we like the beauty and simplicity of Quaker worship, including the lack of structure and rules, but that this type of spiritual practice also requires us as individuals and as a group to step forward when something is amiss, or to reach out when someone is hurting. 

Moving forward, we agreed we need to do a better job addressing conflict in a direct and compassionate way, and to rely more on our Quaker processes (such as convening a clearness committee or worship sharing) to help identify solutions. We recognize that we need to focus more on the path to unity in resolving our differences, and that we need patience sometimes to find our way to compromise that will satisfy and uphold the purpose and health of the group. And we need to remember that none of us is perfect, and that we must be generous with our forgiveness.

At the end, we agreed to share more about our Quaker experience, especially with newcomers.  A Quaker Meeting can seem like an iceberg – there’s a lot going on beneath the surface, even if you cannot see it. We treasure our Quaker testimonies and feel held together by them, so we agreed to talk more about their power in our lives. We are also curious about each other’s spiritual paths, which can provide rich material for spiritual development in the group.  To that end, we have decided to hold monthly open discussions on spiritual journeys every third Sunday before worship, starting in September.

Learning to work better together is part of our evolving experience of God, in our hearts and in the group. It was healing for our Meeting community to gather in a spirit of compassion and tolerance to talk about both our stumbling blocks and successes.  Perhaps we should gather for this purpose every spring, turning the Light on ourselves to check how we are doing.

Wendy Swallow, Blog Editor, Reno Friends Meeting

The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting.