Though Reno’s Quaker Meeting is small, it somehow provides a bountiful community for Nevada Friends. There are those with decades of Quaker experience, others who have recently discovered Quakerism, and many in between. All of us are searching for spiritual solace in the silence, yet we have different needs and different approaches to questions about God and religious principles. When we make collective decisions, we usually do so with little drama, but sometimes there is strife. When that happens, it fills our Meeting House with sadness.
We lost two members last summer because of conflict. That prompted us to ask how we could improve our group dynamic to ensure that people in the Meeting feel heard and understood?
During my recently concluded five years as Meeting Clerk, I sometimes felt caught in the center of a vortex created by everyone’s differing visions of our Meeting. Quakers tend to be ambitious, rarely satisfied with the status quo. But with all our varying ideas of what we should do and how to proceed, we sometimes struggle to set appropriate priorities.
A Friend recently commented that all communities are imperfect, like the individuals who make up the group, and that it is important to know how to address conflict rather than to wish it away. A perennial question in our Meeting, for example, is whether to limit potluck offerings to vegetarian dishes. There are strong feelings across the board, and we have yet to reach unity on that issue. In the meantime, we ask everyone to be sensitive – and to label their dishes.
On more important topics – such as what social initiatives to undertake or classes to hold – we often unearth deeper divisions. Are we Christian-based, or Christian-rooted? Are we interested in exploring the subtleties of prayer, or are we more interested in understanding different approaches to the silence? This ferment of beliefs and ideas can be one of the joys of being in a Quaker Meeting, but how do we discern what is best for us as a community? How do we work together rather than be driven by one person’s leading? How do we step outside our own ideological beliefs long enough to listen to others with compassion and acceptance? Worshipping in community requires searching for common ground and that Quaker grail: unity. But how do we do that?
Britain’s London Yearly Meeting answered this question in 1916, a time of great international turmoil and stress, with words that can serve today as a guiding light: “True unity may be found under great apparent differences. This unity is spiritual, it expresses itself in many ways, and we need divine insight that we may recognize its working. We need forbearance, sympathy and love, in order that, while remaining loyal to the truth as it comes to us, we may move forward with others to a larger and richer experience and expression of the will of God.”
Reno Friends will gather in March for a worship sharing session to explore how our Meeting can reach across differences for better understanding. Please join us if you have an opinion or concern to share, or want to support the group in this process. The date and time will be announced in the February newsletter.
Wendy Swallow, Blog Editor, Reno Friends Meeting, firstname.lastname@example.org
The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting