I had a good visit at Olympia Friends Meeting last week (wow, was it only last week?), which seems to be a very vibrant meeting. There were about 80 people attending that morning, in a space small enough that there weren’t many open seats left. I appreciated this, because I think the quality of a meeting for worship/group meditation is greater when people sit closer together.
While sitting there, I felt some impulsion to speak about the need, as people of integrity, to be wary of believing things that have little evidence supporting them. But this went away, in part because there was a group singing before meeting began, and the last song they sang had stuck in my head: “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen”, an old black spiritual. Eventually I stood and spoke about the need to show our love for each another by taking care of each other during hard times, even in material ways. I mentioned the traditional office of “overseers,” and how most liberal meetings laid them down in the 19th century (in part due to the influence of Progressive Friends, which I didn’t mention), and suggested we try to revive that function in some form, at least in those meetings that haven’t already. Other people spoke about their experiences needing or giving help; one spoke about how it’s difficult to know when you should help someone, and when you should just be with them.
After meeting, despite having so many people, we went around and gave our names and shared any thoughts we had that we didn’t want to share in meeting. I think this is wonderful, and I’m glad they do it. There seems to be a sentiment that it takes too much time unless you have a small group, but I think it’s worthwhile enough to do even if it takes half an hour.
During this time, someone confirmed that the meeting does in fact have an Oversight & Pastoral Care Committee, which got a good publicity boost I hope. My little sister (who wants to attend regularly now) sang a little song, which I’ve forgotten to ask her the name of.
After the close of meeting, one Friend from the Philadelphia area said her meeting there had a committee like this also. She also brought up the issue of “overseer” being an unpleasant name now due to its association with slavery. (This was also raised in the comments to Richard’s post linked to above.)
I’m not really sure what term I’d prefer. “Pastoral care” seems more clear, but it’s not ultimately a good metaphor for care of people I don’t think, being derived from “shepherd” (someone who watches sheep so they can be fleeced and eaten later). I like the term “mutual aid,” but it’s a bit moot since I’m not actively involved in one local meeting at the moment.
In the coffee hour, I met a girl applying to attend The Meeting School in New Hampshire, the uncle of a member of North Shore Friends Meeting, and a Friend who lived in the Longfellow House across from Friends Meeting at Cambridge decades ago when Henry Cadbury and others attended there. It’s a small world.
I don’t have any photos, sadly, because US Airways lost my luggage, and it’s still stuck in Seattle somehow 8 days later… :(