Takoma Park Friends Meeting is 15 years old as a preparative meeting under Adelphi Meeting. For the past three years Friends have met at Sangha, a fair-trade store and community center in downtown Takoma Park. Meetings for Worship range from five to twenty-five people, averaging about twelve or fourteen depending on the season, with about 40 people on the mailing list. This report is based on comments gleaned during a threshing session on First Month 7, 2007.. Rather than distinguish between attenders and Quakers in this report, all speakers are considered as Friends.
Comments on the Meeting in general:
Several Friends discussed the flow of people through the meeting and the continually changing character of meeting; one called it a “taster.”. For many people this is their first, and sometimes only, introduction to Quakerism. The Meeting’s central location and Metro accessibility were praised and considered as contributing to this flow of people. Sometimes attendees stay with the Quakers, sometimes they move on. Another Friend indicated that it is important to remember that people have callings or personal reasons that they have to leave meeting.
One Friend praised Takoma Park Friends Meeting as unique, with the appropriate number of people, consistent attenders, and a minimal critical mass. However, another Friend said that it would be nice to have more people. The Meeting is small enough that when people leave, it creates a hole, and those present are often overwhelmed with what needs to be done.
One Friend asked whether meeting for business might be too small or too informal, and whether too little time is spent on items of business, but another questioned how much formality or structure is necessary.
Quality of worship:
A Friend who could not attend the threshing session sent a message to be read aloud. She described meeting as accepting, peaceful, and intelligent, and said that is an appropriate way “to contemplate the awe and majesty of creation and the human lifecycle.”
A Friend described Takoma Park Friends Meeting as a “taster.” He stated that the meeting size is small, it is Metro accessible, and the afterthoughts portion offers an opportunity to discuss issues of importance.
A Friend described the constantly changing character of meetings for worship as sometimes similar to a political rally or sometimes a therapy session, and said that meetings for worship are like a journey through different styles.
One Friend said the intent of the speaker is important in deciding the appropriateness of the message during meeting for worship. Afterthoughts are helpful because it is an open time period. Messages are not distinctly labeled or categorized.
One Friend stated that meeting is very comfortable because there are few judgments.
Afterthoughts and worship sharing:
Several Friends described afterthoughts as an open and nonjudgmental time to express themselves, but one asked whether it might not be best to change the afterthoughts portion to something similar as that conducted at Adelphi meeting, which has a period to discuss joys and concerns.
There was some discussion on the definition of “joys and concerns” and the difference with the designation “afterthoughts.” Joys and concerns tend to be more personal and specific than afterthoughts. Afterthoughts has a softer threshold, to encourage members to contribute more. Friends may bring up thoughts that did not rise to the level of message during meeting for worship. The idea originated during the Vietnam War. It was used to allow members to discuss their feelings and interests in a more appropriate context.
A Friend said that afterthoughts is a good idea because it separates message from thought. Another Friend stated that afterthoughts provides the opportunity to express thoughts that have not crystallized. If members have a too exalted idea of what a message is, they will miss the message. A Friend suggested changing the name of afterthoughts in order to get as far away from the idea of thinking as possible.
Several friends discussed hesitation to speak in Meeting. One Friend said that when you have a message, God tells you to provide it. Another Friend suggested that God will find other ministers if you don’t deliver the message.
During 2006, the Meeting was active in outreach, staffing a booth at three local fairs and music festivals. Friends gathered on the First First Day of most months for a potluck after Meeting for Worship, made a retreat to Catoctin Quaker Camp in August, and celebrated the holidays with a potluck Christmas party. Friends gathered excess food from the nearby Farmers Market and took it to a local soup kitchen; this project was started by Friends several years ago but now includes the participation of members of other local churches as well. The Meeting also hosted Second Hour discussions on the third First Day of most months as its adult education activity.
A Friend was pleased with the social time during the Christmas party. Friends discussed the idea of incorporating song and music in Friends’ social gatherings.
A Friend noted that many members typically gather after Meeting for Worship to have lunch to discuss things on an informal face-to-face basis at local restaurants.
One Friend expressed disappointment in the Catoctin Quaker camp retreat, particularly in the lack of structure and organized activities from the first year to the second. The retreat in 2006 was smaller than the previous year, in part because it occurred in August instead of September.
A Friend noted the heavy impact of volunteer contributions to the Meeting. The manner in which things are done is often determined by those volunteers willing to carry out the activity. As an example, she mentioned how a banner including a rainbow was created for the tent that the Meeting uses in its outreach activities at street fairs and festivals. She posed the question: “what do we want to decide corporately and what do we want to decide individually?”
Community support and care:
Over the years the Meeting has struggled to find a balance between its limited resources and the needs of Friends. Friends felt that they were lacking connection in some supportive ways. When someone is ill or in need, Friends are often not aware of the issue and thus can’t support that individual. Some felt that meeting is not big enough to support others in need, but others disagreed, saying that there are small ways to support one another that aren’t being done, and that it’s important to find and do the small things.
One Friend suggested that Friends may not be sharing their struggles or concerns because Takoma Park Friends Meeting has had a history of being unable to meet their needs. He suggested using confidence-building measures to demonstrate that meeting is able to support the small things and that members are interested in supporting each other. People may begin to feel trust and not feel that they will be burdening the meeting. Examples of how individuals at meeting have been supportive included providing meals to a family with a new baby, and support for a Friend serving on a Yearly Meeting committee. A Friend suggested that, since Quakers are good at listening, we could have a community of listeners, not counselors or problem solvers.
A Friend indicated frustration that when a system is set up, members usually get overwhelmed. The system fails and the alternative, informality, feels exclusive, favoring people who are more active or whose needs are known, and leaving out others. One Friend suggested that Quakerism might suffer from problems other religious traditions do not because of its lack of structure. Perhaps in addressing some matters, more formality might be necessary. We might need to be aware that we are being informal and be more deliberate when the thorny issues are addressed. Another Friend responded that when thorny issues arise, people leave meeting.
A Friend discussed the increasing number of children now attending meeting. The Friend suggested that following improvements in that area, large changes at meeting might be accomplished through small measures. Taking small steps encourages families to bring children. If that is true, there is a great potential for change.