Nottingham Monthly Meeting Interchange Reports
Within the Yearly Meeting, Nottingham Meeting is relatively small, on the rural end of suburban, geographically diverse, with three old Meeting Houses under our care and finds Spirit moving in distinct but overlapping points of community.
A monthly book discussion (with dessert!) has been going virtually continuously for over a decade. A nudge from our insurance company is causing us to find excuses to gather more often at Little Elk Meeting House, where we have been beginning worship with music.
Adult religious education on 4th First Day at the Oxford Meeting House has most recently been sharing passages from J. Brent Bill’s Sacred Compass: The Way of Spiritual Discernment.
For several years now, we’ve ended 1st and 3rd First Day worship at the Brick Meeting House with a circle in which we have shared sources of gratitude, expanded on prayer requests, spoken of our joys, sorrows, and leadings. That circle has become a vehicle for turning motions of love emerging in discussion and worship into concrete action. A recent adult discussion was prompted by part of President Obama’s words about the Trayvon Martin verdict,
And then, finally, I think it’s going to be important for all of us to do some soul-searching. . . . in families and churches and workplaces, there’s the possibility that people are a little bit more honest, and at least you ask yourself your own questions about, am I wringing as much bias out of myself as I can? Am I judging people as much as I can, based on not the color of their skin, but the content of their character? That would, I think, be an appropriate exercise in the wake of this tragedy.
The rich sharing – including the query, “what can each of us do to make a difference,” – led to soul-searching that continued during worship. In the circle that followed worship, one person said she would ask a fellow student, who is African American, if she could visit his church with him. Another person said he was going to research where the shirt he wore was made to find out if it was made in substandard factories. And another said she would send cards made with her photographs to each person for whom a prayer request had been made in Meeting.
The next time we joined our circle at the Brick, the three persons reported back to us: the first person was laying the groundwork for asking to visit her fellow student’s church; the second had discovered that the shirt had been made overseas, prompting him to find and purchase a made-in-USA shirt; and the third had sent out the cards and would continue to do so. How moving are these simple acts! Actions that did not require a committee, nor planning, nor expenditures of money. They were small actions, but came from the heart of each person and made a profound impression upon those of us in the circle. It is one of the first times we can recall seeing such direct, personal action arise from a Meeting discussion.
As the Meeting has shrunk in size, we’ve worked hard to bring our expenses in line with our resources. At one point, the set of contributions to local agencies and organizations was our largest budget item; now the Yearly Meeting Apportionment tops the list. While we have only a tiny share of the Yearly Meeting budget, we want to meet our obligations with integrity. For the past couple of years, in approving our annual budget, we’ve established a number we are confident we can meet, agreed to pay that amount quarterly, and agreed to consider trying to close the gap between our commitment and the apportionment set at Annual Session as our end of year finances become clearer. For example, the 2012 Apportionment was $3750 (a 25% increase over the 2012 amount that we deficit-spent to cover). We committed to paying $3,000 and in December were able to provide an additional $375 (half the gap), despite running a bigger deficit than we had hoped. This year, we’ve budgeted $2,800 toward our $3,440 apportionment and will continue finding ways to live more cheaply with abundance of Spirit.
In this age of cell phones, we found paying for a phone line to the Meeting House in Oxford hard to justify. On the other hand, we do not want to lose opportunities for seekers to find out about our worship community. As an experiment, we are using Google Voice to provide a phone identity for the meeting (in Web listings, Friends Journal etc.). If you dial 484-758-0750, the call will ring the phone for several volunteers in the Meeting. If none of us answers, the call is shifted to voicemail and an email is sent to those volunteers, so one of us can attend to the call as quickly as possible. (We all too rarely remembered to check the old answering machine in the Meeting House.) Similarly, we’ve rigged the email address for the meeting (firstname.lastname@example.org) to forward to a circle of volunteers to ensure that inquiries receive attention. We’ll keep you posted on how it works.
Small Meetings often find the rich heritage of multiple historic Meeting Houses and burial grounds a bit of a burden. We’ve recently seen them as opportunities for connecting with fellow seekers. The Brick Meeting House in Calvert, Maryland (which for decades hosted East Nottingham Preparative Meeting) now serves as the gateway to a tour of the Nottingham Lots – thirty-seven 500-acre parcels granted by William Penn in 1701. A granite map stone directs one to markers on each Lot. The community energy behind this project and curiosity about renewed activity around the Meeting House prompted us to commit to hosting Meeting for Worship here (previously a summer event) year round (first and third Sundays at 10:30). We’re getting 15-25 people on a First Day, many of whom would be unlikely to come north to our Meeting House in Oxford, PA, despite its advantages in terms of electricity, indoor plumbing, and thermostatically controlled heat. The Cecil County Maryland Historical Trust, which since 1975 has owned the “Little Brick” property in Rising Sun (where West Nottingham Preparative Meeting met until 1904), celebrated the bicentennial of that Meeting House on October 1. Meeting members were there with displays giving visitors an opportunity to learn not only about the rich heritage of the Quaker settlers of this region but also that Spirit continues to move us in joyful companionship and service today. Revival, to be great fun and quite enriching.