9/12/2009

I've got sticky everywhere

Well, the title has little to do with anything. I did get it in my head last night as I left a certain meetinghouse in a town we Charm City. I was walking to my car and the reused salad container (the kind you get in the grocery store) was leaking watermelon juice and balsamic vinegar down my leg. The song is a Breeders song. If you think about it...sticky everywhere isn't really that pleasant. That could perhaps discribe what I am going to say in this post.


I was happy and feeling fulfilled. The group I have been working to start as part of my "volunteering" with AFSC had had its first open to the public event. It went well. We had had a potluck and "fundraiser" for a group called "No More Victims" that one of our group members was feeling called to do something for. We had it after the Women in Black Peace Path along Charles St. It was raining yesterday so there wasn't a big turn out for the Peace Path which is unfortunate, but we had probably 30 some folks for the potluck which was better than I had hoped for. And the Meeting Peace Committee had even agreed to sponsor us and come...so that is always nice.


I wasn't able to get off work in time to join the peace path but had been hoping to get there early to do set up for the potluck. I didn't get there as early as I had hoped but since we had people form meeting agree to help it all came together well. However, Quakers are Quakers. I kept getting told how do things (since I never go to simple lunch I don't know the process) and being asked if I had ever been there before by people I have talked to after meeting. And generally being treated in ways that if I hadn't resigned myself to Quaker ways long ago would have pissed me off.


I love Quakers. I know that my spiritual home is with Quakers, but that doesn't mean I like everything about us. In fact, I think we are actually very annoying at times. There is a general way of treating people that are not seen as being part of the meeting that is condescending and standoff-ish. Young people are seen as being something novel but not to be trusted or counted on...and that is our own doing for not making more of a presence in meetings. However, I have been coming to this meeting for 3 years --fairly infrequently mind you...but enough that I should at least look familiar. I don't expect to be remembered or even to have someone remember that the familiarity is from meeting. But it would still be nice to be treated in a welcoming manner and maybe as if I had a brain. I realize that these are very unkind charges to be making. And if you ask me for specific examples, it would be hard to say why it is I feel this way. I think what makes it worse is that meetings play favorites, picking a young adult that comes with some frequency or who was active as a teen and choosing to hold them up as this shining example and ignoring those of us who come infrequently and may be having our own struggles and tests of faith--those of us that need support and kindness.


This even happened in my home meeting when I returned from Guilford and having been the Quaker Leadership Scholars program for FOUR years. No one made an effort to get to know me (excepting those that I had pre-existing relationships with) and even when I tried to come regularly and get involved in committees still felt like an outsider at the rise of meeting.


I would have let it all go. Done the dishes (which is a long-standing ministry of mine at gatherings like this) and been done with it. However, I asked a friend of mine, who I met at college to come and support this venture. She is familiar with Quakers and has attended meetings in the past though being raised and part of another denomination. She grew up in an intentional faith-based community. We both share a passion for social justice, service, a need for spirituality, and community. As she came to help with the dishes I said, "Thanks for coming, I hope it hasn't been too awkward." She said it wasn't but was a lot like a quieter version of the intentional community she grew up in. We laughed. She said she thought it was funny that no matter where you were old Quaker men all look the same, with food in their beards. I said that the woman all tend too look the same and in a few years I would have my own lady beard and awkwardly out of style way of dressing. We were laughing at this (and please don't be offended, I make horrible jokes about what I love) when someone from the meeting came in and squawked about whether or not we were doing the dishes correctly. I said I had read the signs that were posted and followed that (this was the fourth person to do so). It irked me abit that rather than being thanked for doing this without being asked to do it, I was helping out. But rather than thanks the first thought was "they must be doing it wrong."

I mentioned to her that I disliked how hard it was to get to know people at meeting. That I had been coming to this meeting on and off for three years--and yet almost no one even recognized me. That there is the core group of people at any meeting, that they do it all, and complain about how hard it is to get more people involved. Yet, they can be so standoff-ish. That no one attempts to talk with others after meeting. That it is one thing if you are new to Friends but once they find out that you are a friend they seem to get awkward. She said that she had always felt that way after the meetings she had attended. That there was a lack of warmth. I said I hated that feeling and wanted to be involved and a sense of community. She said to come to her church (which is a large congregation). I said that I had started going to a worship group. That we all wanted more community and accountability than we were getting (not to mention more christ-centered meeting).

I am not doing justice to the odd sense people get after meeting. But if outsiders are seeing it and young friends who want to be involved, included, in community and accountable for living a mindful life--than there is a problem. If those that are hyper-involved in meetings are feeling burnt-out and taxed then it is essential we change our after meeting practices. True that part of this accountability means that I need to go to meeting regularly...which is hard when you feel like there is not a genuine interest in your presence there. At that point I usually think...I could still be asleep. I miss being a part of a community. I am glad that I have the opportunity to start attending something that may be closer to what I crave than what I get at established meetings but sad to that Quakers can be so condescending and rude. But like family, I love that which will always be apart of me at the same time know that sometimes the real gift is that family (or religious community) you create is what sustains and supports you.

So next time you see someone new at meeting...or maybe you have seen them a few times...standing off to the side alone, try talking to them about the weather or things that the meeting is working on....chances are they will appreciate it. And that they will be just as awkward as you--they are afterall at a Quaker Meeting.

19 comments:

Martin Kelley said...

Sigh. I can relate to a lot of this. You've described my 20s & early 30s among Friends.

I gave a presentation at the local quarterly meeting last night and talked about the growing interest in deep communities, accountability, etc. Everyone seemed interested but these things are so deeply part of current Quaker culture that I don't know if they can be changed.

I'm to the point where I'm remembered but I'm not sure the underlying phenomenon is all that changed. I'm 42 and I'm *still* often the youngest person in the room. I visited a meeting in June. I told them I didn't have an active meeting, reminded them of the sentimental attachment I have to their meeting, and said that it's geography and worship time synced well with my wife's new church. HINT HINT HINT GUYS! But no, no gleam in anyone's eyes and nothing more than the cursory two minute chat. Everyone had to rush off to one thing or another. We had to change the 3yo's diaper and they asked us to lock up the place. It's not the first time we've locked up a meeting because we stayed 15 minutes after the rise of worship. If anyone ever said to me "hey you guys want to come over to our place and we'll russle you up some lunch?" I think I'd start bawling and sign the membership transfer papers right then and there (I am such a cheap date!)

Most recently I was a regular at a meeting an hour and multiple tolls away. It was good worship but I rarely got past the two minute chats. When a stupid flair-up happened (clerk screaming at my wife, complete generational dynamics going on, she said it felt like her father was yelling at her), I realized that even after three years I didn't have any close personal ties to anyone. Only one person called me as the weeks went by and I didn't come back.

I'm not sure how to crack this friendliness/community nut. When I do get stories out of older South Jersey Friends, it seems these meetings did provide a deeper kind of friendship and community at some earlier point in their lives. I rarely see new faces in these meetings and the average attendance age is climbing into the upper 60s. I already see meetings in the first stages of demographic collapse though no one will admit to it (they just say how there's an ebb and flow to meetings or explain how so-and-so just wasn't there that day).

Hystery said...

So much of what you write sounds all too familiar. I've attended two meetings over the past two or three years, one big and one little. At the little meeting they know my name but it still feels socially awkward to be there. With only five or six people at any given meeting, there are still people who all but ignore me. At the big meeting I realized that they not only don't know who I am, they don't know anyone else either! It really surprised me when "newcomers" introduced themselves as people who grew up in that meeting! Good grief. It isn't even that "big" of a meeting.

But it isn't all their fault. After worship, I'm the one standing off to the side pretending to be very interested in the material on the bulletin board feeling too shy and self-conscious to walk up to anyone to introduce myself.

Prodigal Valentine said...

....when someone from the meeting came in and squawked about whether or not we were doing the dishes correctly. I said I had read the signs that were posted and followed that (this was the fourth person to do so).

When a stupid flair-up happened (clerk screaming at my wife, complete generational dynamics going on, she said it felt like her father was yelling at her)

With only five or six people at any given meeting, there are still people who all but ignore me.

You know, there's this verse about fruit trees, in the Christian canonicals.

I'm beginning to thank my lucky stars, that I'm too isolated, to attend a face-to-face Meeting. I'm also seriously starting to question whether Quakerism is all it's cracked up to be (or all it claims).

Elizabeth Bathurst said...

It's definitely a problem, but it's not everywhere. I never attended West Grove Meeting in NCYM-C without an invitation to lunch from someone. Friends Meeting at Cambridge, however? Hasn't happened yet.

cstraw said...

Martin, you make me laugh! Cheap date indeed! Point well taken about demographic peril and standoffishness.

I am as guilty as anyone in neglecting the visitor and failing to live up to the hospitality that any guest deserves. Moreso because I feel welcomed by the meeting as a (relative) newcomer myself.

Our meeting has, I think, been working hard to open up and welcome new attenders. A variety of tactics have been employed, but I think this is a perfect opportunity to mention that *you* have helped a great deal by taking on the contract to build our website. Thank you!

Chris
Haverford Monthly Meeting

Anonymous said...

I've seen it go both ways. I've been mobbed at some meetings, and ignored at others (interestingly, I find it tends to go along YM lines, and I'll just leave it at that).

I think a lot of people who are drawn to Quakerism are introverts. When you get the rare extrovert (like me, or my father), we tend to get thrown in front of every newcomer who walks through the door. Not saying that this is right or acceptable, but it is what happens.

Mia

Raye said...

JN, I have had similar experiences to yours only a very few times out of the dozen or so Friends meetings I have attended.

It is uncomfortable, to say the least.

Still, I very much want to say, for anyone reading this far down in the comments (c; that this is not the experience I have had at the Monthly Meeting and Yearly Meeting I belong to.

Perhaps it is understood when the words "Quakers" and "Quaker culture" are used (hi, Martin!) that there are particular Monthly or Yearly Meetings that we are referring to.

But just in case someone who is not conversant with Friends much at all is reading this, looking around to find out about Friends, I felt that a voice to indicate that this is not the universal experience might be useful.

Thanks for this post. Friends need to be shown where they are not following the Lord. Hospitality is a vital gift for any meeting, and if it is not being well cultivated, someone needs to make some changes.

Gennyfer said...

Maybe it is just that, more of an introvert/extrovert thing. I've heard quite a few Quakers say that they had never felt comfortable socially before, then came to Quakerism and finally felt at home. Maybe the Silence of Meeting gives them this feeling of welcome because they are more profoundly introverted and have a more difficult time figuring out how to reach out to others. Perhaps some of us are more extroverted but what if a particular Meeting, or even just on that particular day, has a preponderance of introverts?

I grew up in two Meetings and as a child, loved going to Meeting. In my first meeting we even went to each Quarterly Meeting and were very involved. As an adult, for a variety of circumstances, I've never felt that same sense of belonging and welcome. I find myself a rather forlorn, non-practicing Friend.

The, in my heart of hearts I hope not, final blow came from a similar circumstance to the one you describe. I attended Meeting with my husband. He is visually impaired and uses a cane. It was my 3rd or 4th time at this meeting but his first. We have 5 children and settling in to Meeting can be tricky for us especially when he is navigating a crowded, unfamiliar building. I lead, he follows, and we both herd children. People cut in between us. We are out walking, often in crowded places, including train stations, Malls at Christmastime, grocery stores, and kids school events. Children aside, we've never had this happen anywhere else. While we were there, only one person spoke to him.

My non-Friend husband felt extraordinarily unwelcome. How do you press through this and remain a friend? I haven't figured it out.

Anonymous said...

A few observations:

I frequently leave almost immediately after rise of meeting because I usually work on Sunday. I suspect that I'm not in a unique situation. It used to be the case, not so long ago, that everything was closed on First Day; but now it is a 24-7 world and I think that effects the spaciousness one can expect at the end of Meeting.

I think it is a very fine thing for members to share a meal after Meeting and interact on a more informal basis; we do this at the Meeting I attend (and on the rare First Day I have off I participate). On the other hand, I realize how overscheduled everyone is. On the third hand, if you think this would be a good idea, then step forward and offer it; you might ask some members to assist.

I also suspect that, as someone who really loves the silence of silent worship, that at least some people want to carry that silence forward; that is to say that I suspect some members are still in the silence and it might feel jarring to break it. But there are ways to overcome this.

Just my two cents,

Jim

AndyM said...

The situation described in the original post certainly reminds me of my early days in two Meetings. In fact, I'm currently starting out as a regular attender with a new community, and find it somewhat daunting.

But I have to say: when I was a practicing Catholic, I had very similar experiences when first attending several churches. Similarly, I've had some struggles with new jobs, new schools, etc.

Perhaps the problem is not unique to Friends, but pervasive in the culture? Just a thought.

QuakerK said...

Perhaps the problem is believing that socializing and community building (or, to use a word with deeper meanings, fellowship) can be taken care of over coffee after meeting for worship. I found that I was much more engaged with members of my last meeting when we organized potlucks the families in the meeting. Small groups (Bible study or other study groups, worship groups, even committees) would help, too. I know that mega-churches (at the opposite end of the size spectrum from Quaker meetings) place a great deal of emphasis on getting members and attenders into some of their smaller groups.

David

practicalmysticmusings said...

I think it's the nature of groups and how friendships develop. With the best will in the world, after meeting sometimes you will want to catch up with someone else who you know. When I first started going back to meeting as an adult last year (I was raised a friend and only started going back to meeting when my little boy was 4 and I was 38.)I remember feeling abit awkward but I just decided to relax, look at the notice boards and play with my little boy after meeting. At our meeting, we have tea and cake afterwards - which give you something to do! I recognised that people weren't deliberatly avoiding me - it's just they were keen to catch up and talk to someone they knew.

It is easier if you have kids though - you quickly get to know the other parents VERY soon - and make friends with them. Again, I deliberately found a meeting (which was luckily not too far from home) which had a children's meeting - therefore more young families.

But just stay with it - the more you go, the more comfortable you feel and the more people WILL get to know you!

Hystery said...

I actually find it much, much harder to get to know people because I have children. I think people avoid me because I'm with my kids or when they talk to me, they speak of my children as though I am an appendage of my offspring. My presence as an individual is overshadowed by my maternal role.

In my own meeting, I think what is needed is more opportunity for fellowship that invites laughter and fellowship that invites community contemplation and spiritual exploration. I appreciate this blog post because it has me thinking of ways to contribute to a friendlier meeting. Thank you.

James Naylor said...

I don’t mean to scare off people who may be interested in Quakers (fellow seekers, like travelers or potential converts ;)). It may be important to realize I criticize what I love, anyone who knows me knows I am harder on myself than anyone or thing. I often express my love and concern through criticism. I still try to attend meeting, however, not as regularly as I think god pushes me to do so (that is another post). But as Raye indicated I want us to think and start discussing the 300lb gorillas in the meeting house.

I am guilty as Hystery writes of standing there looking very interested in the Meeting literature when really I am too shy or self-conscious to introduce myself. Perhaps I don’t know enough about Quakers to know what people mean by Quaker culture and what-not that indicates certain yearly and monthly meetings. I have passed through several regions of the country. What I do know, is that the meeting I went to very infrequently in college (which may have been used to flakey college students) was very welcoming, I even got letters from one elderly couple all during my time at Guilford all due to one chance discussion after meeting. In another part of NC my friend and I resolutely attended meeting almost every week for a few months before really get included in after meeting conversations. This was all due to one individual in meeting who took it upon himself to befriend us.

It really isn’t after meeting fellowship I am looking for. It is acknowledgement. I would be more inclined to attend the things that the meeting offers that would provide a sort of fellowship if I felt like someone would acknowledge my presence. There is a little “breaking of bread” together after meeting but the couple times I went it was painfully awkward. What I am trying to say is that what I perceive as standoffishness after meeting makes me less likely to want to participate in the life of the meeting: less likely to go to adult ed, talks, potlucks, etc.

I am lucky though. God wants me to attend to my spiritual needs and I know that. As a result, I was told (by god) at meeting a year ago to start volunteering with AFSC and as result, I have gotten to know more F/friends in the area. More people talk to me and I have a kind of (unacknowledged) spiritual Friendship going with someone now. There has also been someone at the meeting I sometimes go to who has never given up on showing me kindness and encouraging me to attend events, even when the invitations would go unanswered, and with whom I am attending the worship group with. Granted, I didn’t go to it last week and won’t go this week…but I will go and go regularly. God told me it is what I need to do and I am determined to attempt to follow such things these days. But I feel like I am a part of something and that there is a community at the worship group that I am not getting from the established meetings in the area.

Perhaps some of the phenomena I am trying to get at are inherently part of human nature. However, I think it is easier to ask the “in-group” to make concessions like talking new comers and being hospitable, that it is to ask of the newcomers or “out-group” members to put themselves out there more than they have already done by attending meeting. I am disillusioned to hear some of the descriptions of Friends, not being sensitive to newcomers and welcoming. However, I have found more often than not, if you say you are at a meeting for the first time and are curious about Quakers folks will talk to you after meeting but if you say, “I live here now, but am originally from Blank monthly meeting” they smile and go on about their way.

All I ask is that we examine where we might not be living up to our professed values as Friends, start a discussion, and perhaps, someday find ways to make corrections. In this way, I have been very pleased to see all the comments here. Thank you, F/friends for having taken the time to have a thoughtful, loving discussion.

James Naylor said...

Wallflower, wallflower/Won't you dance with me?/I'm sad and lonely too./Wallflower, wallflower/Won't you dance with me?/I'm fallin' in love with you./Just like you I'm wondrin' what I'm doin' here./Just like you I'm wondrin' what's goin' on. –Bob Dylan, Wallflower


As always, I find Bob Dylan is speaking to my condition as well.

Paul said...

I have learned you have to be proactive among Quakers and not wait to be spoken to or to be welcome. As a Quaker of Color I am use to being treat invisible by Quakers. So why do I attend Meeting? Because this is where God has called me!Also I know what is done to me is also done to Jesus.
When I become invisible, Jesus also becomes invisible He holds my hand in worship says,its going to be ok Paul.Just stay faithful.
Paul
Silence gives us a new outlook on everything. We need silence to be able to touch souls. The essential thing is not what we say but what God says to us and through us.
Jesus is always waiting for us in silence. In that silence, He will listen to us; there He will speak to our soul, and there we will hear His voice.
Mother Teresa

Rik Panganiban said...

Awesome conversation on a phenomenon that clearly is striking a chord among Friends from all over.

I've been fairly regularly coming to Brooklyn Meeting for a couple of years, but only feel in any way connected to a handful of people there. Partly it's my own junk -- feeling dual allegiance to 15th Street Meeting, avoiding getting involved in Committee work, etc. And partly due to the typical reservedness and shyness of Friends.

Whenever I give verbal ministry or even just announce something, it always gives normally shy Quakers an opening to engage with me. It's the slightest of openings, but it will often suffice.

I try and do my best to say hi to newcomers or just folks who look like they could use a greeting and a chat during Coffee Hour. It's always an interesting and warm conversation.

KnittinStix said...

I am 22 and just became a member of my Meeting's Advancement and Outreach committee. Now I feel a huge drive to be extra-friendly, especially toward other young adults. I did not volunteer for Advancement but was suggested by the Nurturing Gifts and Talents committee. However, I think that if young people were to volunteer for Advancement, it might help ameliorate things.

Just a thought.

~Adria

Coffee Girl said...

I have been a Quaker attender my whole life (my mother was an attender) and I only recently became a member. At my clearness committee several of the Quakers present asked why it took me 34 years to become a member, and your post wraps it up nicely. When I came to my present meeting, people were kind, but not effusive and welcoming, but it was with my decision to participate in the winter Friendly Eights dinners that connected me to the other members of my Meeting and urged me to join. My Meeting has also begun investigating our approach to welcoming, determining how we can be better at that, and engage the attenders that we have. I have attended Meetings all across the country at which I did not feel welcome, but I finally found a spiritual home for which I know I am blessed. It took me being a little more outgoing than I normally would to start the ball rolling. I agree with what so many others have said, the introverted nature of Quakerism often draws other introverts, and bridging that divide can take work on both parts.